Russia Analytical Report, Jan. 3-10, 2022

This Week’s Highlights

  • “Russia, the United States, NATO and other states in Europe must rebuild the foundations of European security that emerged from the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe,” write former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Goldgeier, a professor at American University. “Russia has the right not to fear invasion by the West. NATO members have the right not to fear invasion by Russia. And Ukraine has the right to pursue a democratic future free from Russian interference and intimidation. These fundamental rights would be easier to preserve if the Helsinki architecture were restored,” argue Daalder and Goldgeier.
  • “The aggressive turn in Russian foreign policy is often explained as the strategy of a corrupt ruling clique to cling to power by diverting public attention,” writes Peter Rutland, a professor at Wesleyan University. “The majority of Russians oppose further military intervention in Ukraine. Putin is not worried about public opinion; he is concerned about his historical legacy as a leader capable of reversing the strategic setback of the Soviet collapse. On the U.S. side, President Joe Biden pursues a foreign policy driven by the economic interests of ‘middle-class America,’ alongside a rhetorical return to Wilsonian universal values on the global stage and a new emphasis on countering Chinese expansion.  That complex and contradictory combination leaves little space for Russia to find common ground with the United States, in either interests or values.
  • “There is room for negotiations [on the situation in Ukraine],” writes The New York Times’ editorial board. “Minsk-2 ... does offer a basis on which to revive a search for a resolution of the fighting in eastern Ukraine. … There are also ways in which the United States and NATO could signal that they have no immediate intention of bringing Ukraine into the alliance or giving it advanced weaponry, while not surrendering their right to do so. Meeting Russia’s offer to hold talks on European security may not be the worst way to narrow the rift between Russia and the West.”
  • “One might reasonably assume that cutting Russia off from the principal communications system of the global banking system would inflict grievous damage on its economy. In reality, although it would take the Russian financial sector some time to adjust, the harm such a cutoff would cause is far from clear,” writes Adam M. Smith, former senior adviser to the director of the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. “Since 2014, when the notion of stripping Russia’s access first surfaced in Washington, Russia has taken steps to protect itself.” 
  • “Unlike a few doomsayers in the West, I do not think Russia will launch a major invasion intended to subjugate all of Ukraine,” writes Harvard Prof. Stephen M. Walt. “Not only would this trigger powerful economic sanctions and lead NATO to reinforce its eastern members militarily (something Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want), reoccupying all of Ukraine would force Moscow to try to govern some 43 million angry Ukrainians. Stubborn and resentful nationalism was one of the reasons the old Soviet empire broke up, and these same forces would make any attempt to reintegrate Ukraine a costly running sore Moscow can ill afford.”
  • “The main outcome of current events [in Kazakhstan], whatever else happens, will be the end of Nazarbayev’s long reign,” write Carnegie Moscow Center’s Alexander Gabuev and Temur Umarov. “So far, two important aspects of his legacy are clear.  First and foremost, the system he built has made it possible to keep the elite more or less consolidated, despite the inevitable struggle for power and money.  The second aspect of Nazarbayev’s legacy revealed by the protests is that the current model of governance in place in Kazakhstan has a multitude of defects that have angered millions of people who missed out when the resources pie was shared out.”

NB: Next week’s Russia Analytical Report will appear on Tuesday, Jan. 18, instead of Monday, Jan. 17, because of the U.S. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday.


I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

Nuclear security:

“End of an Era: The United States, Russia, and Nuclear Nonproliferation,” Edited by Sarah Bidgood and William C. Potter, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, 2021. The editors, director of the James Martin Center’s Eurasia Nonproliferation Program and the director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, write:

  • “The United States and Russia were able to find common ground on a variety of challenging proliferation issues, even during periods of considerable bilateral tension. To some extent, collaboration was the continuation of past practice in a policy sphere in which both parties recognized shared national interests. Objectively, many of those interests remain complementary. What has changed most dramatically in recent years is the process of diplomatic intercourse.”
  • “There is no simple way out of this predicament, but a starting point is recognition of the sources of the problem and an understanding of the stakes both sides have in its successful resolution.”
  • “The advent of the Biden administration provides a welcome and necessary occasion for undertaking a wide-ranging assessment of areas where contemporary U.S. and Russian interests align, including—indeed, especially—in the nuclear domain…. A strong case can be made that the two countries are doomed to cooperate.”

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:

“US-Russia Relations: The Year of Living Dangerously,” Peter Rutland, PONARS Eurasia, 01.08.22. The author, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought in the Government Department at Wesleyan University, writes:

  • “The aggressive turn in Russian foreign policy is often explained as the strategy of a corrupt ruling clique to cling to power by diverting public attention from economic stagnation at home. This diversionary theory is unconvincing: although the annexation of Crimea boosted Putin’s popularity, a majority of Russians oppose further military intervention in Ukraine. Putin is not worried about public opinion; he is concerned about his historical legacy as a leader capable of reversing the strategic setback of the Soviet collapse.”
  • “On the U.S. side, President Joe Biden pursues a foreign policy driven by the economic interests of ‘middle-class America,’ alongside a rhetorical return to Wilsonian universal values on the global stage and a new emphasis on countering Chinese expansion. That complex and contradictory combination leaves little space for Russia to find common ground with the United States, in either interests or values.”
  • “Prospects for some kind of diplomatic reconciliation look slim. As things stand, the minimal conditions of one side are beyond the maximum concessions offered by the other. Russian and U.S. officials have agreed to meet in January. They will have to find a creative solution to the current impasse, one which enables each side to come away claiming a political victory that they can then proclaim to their respective domestic constituencies and foreign partners. Presumably, by insisting on dealing bilaterally with the United States, Putin is assuming that if Washington concedes, the Europeans will swiftly fall into line, not least because of their precarious dependence on Russian gas imports.”

“Beyond Ukraine: How to Revive the Vision of a Europe ‘Whole and at Peace’,” Robert Legvold, The National Interest, 01.07.22. The author, the Marshall D. Shulman Professor Emeritus in the department of political science at Columbia University, writes:

  • “NATO will never agree to foreswear admitting Ukraine to the alliance, let alone in a legal form. But it might be imagined that it would declare a ten or fifteen-year moratorium on considering the question. On [Russia’s] second demand, the United States and its NATO allies might make plain that they do not intend to turn Ukraine into a NATO bridgehead by pledging that their training facilities in Ukraine will not be converted into operational bases. Moreover, they could offer limits to the types of arms they will supply, if, in turn, Russia promises to thin out its forces on the Ukrainian border and withdraw Russian soldiers and officers supporting the First (Donetsk) and Second (Luhansk) Army Corps.”
  • “None of this, however, can happen until Moscow feels confident that the Ukrainian government will not seize the opportunity that these steps would create to militarily crush the separatist governments and not until Kyiv and its Western supporters trust that Russia no longer seeks to exploit the ongoing military instability in Donbass to constantly wrong-foot them. For that, the seven-year Ukrainian stalemate must be broken.”
  • “A Euro-Atlantic security community from ‘Vancouver to Vladivostok’ is a faded fantasy, but a momentum shift away from a remilitarized confrontation cutting through Europe’s most unstable regions from the Arctic to the Black Sea should not be beyond imagination.”
  • “Information warfare, including cyber interference in the politics and into the infrastructure of other countries, which is both a cause and consequence of poisoned relations, can and should be curtailed.”
  • “In Washington and Moscow, they might even pause their single-minded prosecution of their currently congealed Cold War and think harder about a workable path out of it. Otherwise, the unknowns that lie ahead are potentially large and dark, maybe even the ‘guns of August.’”

“What Is Russia’s Logic for the Current Crisis?” Maxim A. Suchkov, War on the Rocks, 01.07.22. The author, acting director of the Institute for International Studies at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, writes:

  • “Putin’s current ‘ultimatum’ is ... a third attempt to coerce the United States and its European allies to review the entire European security architecture as well as alter the Western approach towards the post-Soviet space. This is a matter of strategic importance for Moscow. … The urgency of the Russian proposals most probably has to do with Ukraine.”
  • “Russia’s gambit with the United States is based upon two considerations: its perception of how the United States sees Russia and Russia’s assessment of the top foreign policy priorities of the Biden administration.”
  • “On the first, while the United States doesn’t see Russia as a peer competitor on a global scale … the American military and intelligence community takes Russia as a serious adversary, especially in terms of nuclear and precision weapons, in cyberspace, and space capabilities.”
  • “On the second account, Moscow appears to believe that the Biden administration is better placed for serious deal-making at the moment. First, because there is an increasing domestic demand in the United States for a more restrained foreign policy ... Second, and most importantly, Moscow is skeptical that Biden is going to run for a second term and therefore may be thinking about his political legacy now.”
  • “Putin’s remark in his latest phone call with Biden that ‘too many mistakes were made in the last 30 years [in U.S.-Russian relations]’ is a ball pass to Biden. The Russian president believes that his American counterpart  now has the opportunity to benefit from these proposals and do away with yet another ‘damned question’ of U.S. foreign policy in the post-9/11 era—[the] ‘Russia problem.’ As both Russia and the United States enter a qualitatively new stage in the making of the new world order, this may be an attempt to orient the forthcoming conversation in Geneva to some vision for the future rather than continuing to argue over the past.”

“Russia Invites Calamity if It Invades Ukraine,” Editorial Board, The New York Times, 01.09.22. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “There is room for negotiations. … Minsk-2 ... does offer a basis on which to revive a search for a resolution of the fighting in eastern Ukraine.”
  • “There are also ways in which the United States and NATO could signal that they have no immediate intention of bringing Ukraine into the alliance or giving it advanced weaponry, while not surrendering their right to do so. Meeting Russia’s offer to hold talks on European security may not be the worst way to narrow the rift between Russia and the West.”
  • “Reports from Washington indicate that the next array of sanctions, should Russia move on Ukraine, could include a crippling ban on sales of electronic chips, among other penalties, that could sever it from the global financial system, adding to Russia’s already considerable economic woes. These are the realities that Mr. Biden and the new chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, who is seeking his own meeting with Mr. Putin, must impress on the Russian president and his lieutenants.”
  • “Mr. Putin should be made to understand that invading Ukraine isn’t worth the price, above all for Russia, raising rivalry with the United States to dangerous levels, excluding Russia for good from European security forums, alienating much of the world and bringing untold misery down on the Russian economy.”

“No reward for Putin’s aggression,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 01.09.22. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “The challenge for [Western and Russian] diplomats on both sides will be to identify areas of common ground within this melee that could serve as the basis for further talks and eventually structured negotiations. Fortunately, there are some, even if it means reinventing some of the treaty provisions that Russia has violated or neglected in the past.”
  • “Russia’s lopsided demand that it and the U.S. refrain from deploying ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles outside their national territories could be the basis for talks to replace the 1987 treaty on such weapons which collapsed in 2018 after Russian violations.”
  • “Russia and NATO could explore new controls on conventional force deployment and exercises and agree to renewed transparency and communications. NATO has ruled out creating “second-class” members where it could not station troops. But it might conceivably reconsider deployments in frontline countries if Moscow made peace with Kyiv and accepted limits on placing its own forces or arms in Belarus or Kaliningrad.”
  • “Progress will require goodwill on both sides and Russia shows none by holding a gun to Ukraine’s head. Russian de-escalation along Ukraine’s borders is a prerequisite for any substantive negotiations. Putin may have every intention of walking away and using the failure of talks as a pretext for attack. The west must hope for the best from its diplomacy while preparing for the worst by underlining its readiness to impose tough sanctions and to bolster Kyiv’s defenses.”

“A Dangerous Moment for Europe,” Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal, 01.07.22. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Mr. Biden has held off significant deliveries of additional military aid to Kyiv. Assistance sent after Russian tanks begin rolling across the border may arrive too late. The White House apparently fears that making an invasion more costly would provoke the Russians ... But Mr. Putin may interpret that reluctance as a sign of U.S. weakness.”
  • “Mr. Putin has long desired to rebuild a Greater Russia sphere of influence, and he clearly thinks the first year of the Biden Presidency is a moment of opportunity. It's hard to know if this is partly a personal calculation about Mr. Biden and his will and capacities. But Mr. Biden's willy-nilly flight from Afghanistan can't have given Mr. Putin any greater fear about U.S. resolve.”
  • “No one wants a Russian invasion, but worse than a new war in Ukraine would be to let Mr. Putin intimidate NATO into a retreat from Eastern Europe in order to avoid an invasion in the short term. Mr. Putin would pocket that concession, use it to shore up his standing at home, and wait for the next opening to look for more. Would the Baltic states be next? An invasion of Ukraine would be a tragedy for that country, but letting Mr. Putin dictate Western security terms would be worse for everyone.”

“The future of Europe hinges on the coming talks between the West and Russia,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 01.08.22. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Russia has presented the United States and its allies with draft treaties that would prohibit Ukrainian NATO membership and otherwise constrain the alliance's military freedom of action within its own territory.”
  • “The Biden administration has rightly rejected those terms, though officials should be even more aggressive in explaining, to global audiences, the sheer brazenness of Mr. Putin's threats against Ukraine—which of course come on top of his illegal 2014 seizure of Crimea and, through local proxies, part of eastern Ukraine.”
  • “Probably Mr. Putin's rhetoric is just a cover for his true objective: to dominate Ukraine, lest its democracy succeed and provide a nearby alternative to his kleptocracy. If, however, he intends serious dialogue, there may be something to discuss. The United States could propose, say, a restoration of the now-defunct INF treaty on intermediate nuclear missiles in Europe, and a return, with modifications, to the limits on military deployments in the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. Mr. Putin repeatedly violated both in the past—prompting a U.S. withdrawal from the INF in 2019. But Russia's definitive military de-escalation should be a precondition of any agreement.”
  • “What the United States cannot do is allow Mr. Putin to win concessions at the point of a gun. In the—all-too-likely—event that he is not bargaining in good faith, and does invade Ukraine, President Biden will have to help that country defend itself, rally NATO and ensure that Russia pays a heavy price.”

“Europe Strong and Safe. To Deter Russia, America Must Help Revive the Region’s Security Architecture,” Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Goldgeier, Foreign Affairs, 01.05.22. The authors, the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a professor of International Relations at American University, write:

  • “Neither the outcome of [NATO’s 2008]  Bucharest summit nor the alliance’s geographic reach is the real reason that Russia amassed more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border. Putin’s true aim is to curb the ability of Ukraine and other countries in eastern Europe to control their own fate.”
  • “The core of any discussions between NATO, Russia and other European countries … should focus on rebuilding the European security structure that emerged from the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.”
  • “Russia, the United States, NATO and other states in Europe must rebuild the foundations of European security around the core principles established back then. Russia has the right not to fear invasion by the West. NATO members have the right not to fear invasion by Russia. And Ukraine has the right to pursue a democratic future free from Russian interference and intimidation. These fundamental rights would be easier to preserve if the Helsinki architecture were restored. Doing so will be difficult. But as the Cold War demonstrated, even the fiercest adversaries can find ways to prevent the nightmare scenario of great-power war returning to Europe.”

“For Russia and US, National Security Must Be Embedded in Mutual Security,” Robert Legvold, Russia Matters, 01.06.22. The author, the Marshall D. Shulman Professor Emeritus in the department of political science at Columbia University, writes:

  • “Common sense has long suggested that the safest and soundest level of national security resides in mutual security between and among states struggling in the scrum of international politics. During the brief halcyon years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this idea was at the heart of the pledge by U.S., European and Russian leaders to create a Euro-Atlantic Security Community from ‘Vancouver to Vladivostok.’ The pledge was not honored for lack of creativity and political will, but the basic idea remains key if the worst is to be averted and steps easing the crisis surrounding Ukraine are to be found. What then is to be done?”
  • “Russia’s latest military build-up near the Ukrainian border has once again put Moscow and Washington on a collision course in their pursuit of security, with each claiming rights that seem to infringe on the other side’s. Russia, for its part, insists on its right to reinforce and move its military forces about as it likes within its borders; how it chooses is nobody else’s business. The U.S. and its NATO allies, in turn, insist that Russian neighbors, including Ukraine, have the right to choose with whom to ally and what organizations they wish to join; Russia does not have a veto over their choices.”
  • “At the moment, Russia and the West are focused on imposing unilateral negative incentives … with Russia threatening to invade Ukraine if it ends up in NATO (or NATO ends up in Ukraine) and the West threatening unprecedented sanctions if Ukraine is invaded. The escalatory risks inherent when countries insist on countervailing rights are thereby in danger of crossing the threshold into violence.”
  • “Instead, positive incentives are what is needed, but only if mutually beneficial. The measures taken would have to promise greater security with reduced risk than each side currently believes is better achieved through unilateral negative incentives. The goal should logically be national security embedded in mutual security, and the logical path toward this would be steps leading away from the use or threatened use of military force to resolve conflicts of interests.”

“Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping twist history to justify wars of aggression against Ukraine and Taiwan,” Max Boot, The Washington Post, 01.05.22. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Ukraine is far weaker militarily than Russia, and Taiwan is far weaker than China. So if you believe, as Mao Zedong did, that ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,’ then their fate is sealed. But, if you believe as the Founding Fathers did, that governments derive ‘their just powers from the consent of the governed,’ then Ukraine and Taiwan—democracies both—are actually more legitimate states than the dictatorial Russian and Chinese regimes.”
  • “Let there be no misunderstanding: If Putin expands his offensive against Ukraine, or if Xi launches an attack on Taiwan, these will not be wars of ‘national reunification.’ They will be wars of aggression against sovereign states that should be resisted by all law-abiding nations with every means at their disposal.”

“SWIFT and Certain Punishment for Russia? There Are Better Ways to Deter Moscow Than Threatening Its Banking Access,” Adam M. Smith, Foreign Affairs, 01.04.22. The author, former senior adviser to the director of the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, writes:

  • “Even if the EU disagreed with the policy, there are several ways the United States acting unilaterally could push SWIFT to remove Russian institutions. … According to its own rules, SWIFT has the ability to remove members if a member ‘adversely affected . . . SWIFT’s reputation, brand or goodwill.’ The United States has several means by which it could persuade SWIFT to conclude that Russian institutions had done just that. … Biden could also unilaterally restrict SWIFT’s ability to rely on any part of its network that touches the United States if it continued to service Russian banks.”
  • “One might reasonably assume that cutting Russia off from the principal communications system of the global banking system would inflict grievous damage on its economy. In reality, although it would take the Russian financial sector some time to adjust, the harm such a cutoff would cause is far from clear. Since 2014, when the notion of stripping Russia’s access first surfaced in Washington, Russia has taken steps to protect itself.”
  • “What is more, even if Russian banks were removed from SWIFT, companies and financial institutions in the West—especially those in Europe that rely on Russian gas—would need to find ways of working around any SWIFT restrictions.
  • “Meanwhile, the collateral costs of booting Russia from SWIFT could prove to be high. Even if Moscow might not call such a move an ‘act of war,’ it is unlikely that the Kremlin would accept a delisting without imposing its own countermeasures.”
  • “Removing Russia from SWIFT would likely not produce the outcome that many policymakers hope. But there are some sanctions and other tools that might dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine.”

“What It Will Take to Deter Russia,” Jim Townsend, Foreign Affairs, 01.07.22. The author, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, writes:

  • “Economic sanctions alone, no matter how personally painful they may be to Putin and his cronies, will not be enough to prevent the Kremlin from using tactics that have proved effective in the past. ...When it comes to sanctions, Putin’s pain threshold is very high and his political resilience appears bulletproof. He is increasingly confident that he will outlast his Western adversaries—and, indeed, none of the foreign heads of state who pushed to sanction Putin after his Crimean adventure remain in office.”
  • “To deter Putin, Washington and its partners must persuade him that his provocations will also be met with a military response that will weaken the impact of his favorite coercive tactics and dramatically undermine Russia’s ability to strong-arm concessions from its neighbors. By strengthening their military capabilities in Europe and increasing their presence along Russia’s periphery, the United States and its allies can both shore up neighboring governments’ confidence in their ability to withstand Russian bullying and shake Putin’s confidence that his Western adversaries lack the means and the will to resist his aggression.”
  • “This buildup of U.S. and allied forces could include returning U.S. and allied air force combat squadrons to long-shuttered but now reopened European bases, bolstering allied ground forces deployed permanently to Europe with additional armor and missile defense batteries, and reinforcing the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet with a carrier strike group rotation and destroyer rotations to ports in northern Europe.”
  • “Putin’s favorite tool of military intimidation must be undermined by a renewed U.S. and NATO military posture in Europe that inspires confidence in those nations under pressure and so strengthens them to withstand Putin’s provocations.”

“Russia Thinks America Is Bluffing. To Deter a Ukraine Invasion, Washington’s Threats Need to Be Tougher,” Chris Miller, Foreign Affairs, 01.10.22. The author, assistant professor at The Fletcher School, writes:

  • “The West’s threat of economic sanctions can work only if the proposed measures would make Russian military action against Ukraine expensive enough to alter the Kremlin’s cost-benefit calculus... for sanctions to work, they have to be costlier than the vast benefit Putin perceives in controlling Ukraine. That doesn’t appear to be in the offing.”
  • “If the Kremlin thought one percent of its own GDP was a fair price for Crimea and the Donbass, it would surely be willing to pay more to acquire the rest of the country.”
  • “There’s no doubt the United States could obliterate Russia’s connections with the global financial system: U.S. officials have discussed blacklisting major Russian banks, preventing banks from converting rubles into dollars, and disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT interbank communication network. But implementing any of these measures would be costly to allies in Europe. It would also directly affect China, the largest consumer of Russian commodities.”
  • “In terms of their impact on the global economy, tough financial sanctions on Russia could well be the largest use of sanctions since the United States targeted Japanese finance and oil imports before World War II. This is why Russia may think the United States is bluffing when it threatens dramatic sanctions. The Kremlin believes it has a far higher tolerance for risk than its American or European counterparts.” 
  • “If Biden is serious about using sanctions to shape Russia’s calculus, his administration needs to sharpen its messaging. The administration should name the Russian banks it would blacklist, the specific transactions it would prohibit, and the companies that would be in danger of going under. Then the Kremlin might start taking its sanctions threats more seriously.”

“Globalization Was Supposed to Prevent War; Russia May Be Showing the Opposite,”  Gerald F. Seib, The Wall Street Journal, 01.10.22. The author, executive Washington editor for the news outlet, writes:

  • “[W]hile the U.S. is loudly threatening harsh economic reprisals against Moscow for any move on Ukraine, it also is reluctant to take steps to curb Russian energy exports, or to expel Russia from the dollar-denominated international finance system. Why? Because, in today’s global energy market, such moves would risk raising energy prices for U.S. consumers … while also hurting the economies of European allies.”
  • “Nor is it just energy that gives Russia leverage in a globalized economy. … These fears were certainly less acute during the Cold War, when the world had limited economic interaction with the Soviet Union. Globalization may have given Mr. Putin more of a stake in economic stability, but it also has given him more leverage than his Kremlin predecessors enjoyed. … And if that’s true in the case of a potential conflict with Russia, imagine what it would be like with China.”
  • “If taking control of Ukraine is so important to Russia, and taking control of Taiwan is so important to China, they may be more willing to pay the economic price to achieve their goals than the West is to stop them. And because they run authoritarian regimes willing to crush any internal unhappiness over the economic ripple effects from their choices, they could conclude—perhaps correctly—that they can endure the economic pain more easily than can those trying to stop them. In that sense, economic globalization may turn out to have an asymmetric effect on the balance of power, to the detriment of the U.S. and its allies.”
  • “Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, warned last week of a world in increasing disarray, and noted specifically that Mr. Putin ‘has shown himself to be comfortable using military force, energy supplies and cyberattacks to destabilize countries and governments he views as adversarial.’”

“Russian truculence causes concern in Sweden and Finland,” Tony Barber, Financial Times, 01.04.22. The author, Europe editor for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The question is whether Russia’s truculence may backfire by prompting Stockholm and Helsinki one day to seek the safety of formal NATO membership and the alliance’s Article 5 mutual defense clause.”
  • “For the moment, that seems unlikely. A Finnish government defense report, published in September, kept open the option of applying to NATO. But in reality Finland’s political parties are divided on the question and the public shows no great enthusiasm for full NATO membership. It is a similar story in Sweden.”
  • “After the Soviet Union’s collapse, Sweden and Finland signed up for NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 1994, just before they entered the EU. And in 2016 they signed host nation support agreements with NATO, which offer alliance forces access to Swedish and Finnish territory in the event of a military emergency. In short, there may be little need for Sweden and Finland to become full NATO members, because it already seems close to inconceivable that the alliance would stand aside if they came under attack.”
  • “What lessons do these arrangements hold for Ukraine? Not many, unfortunately. In Putin’s eyes, Ukraine is simply not a legitimate state in the way that Sweden and Finland are. Arguably, the challenge for Biden is not to bring Ukraine into NATO—an objective which, in any case, many NATO allies are lukewarm about—but how to make Putin accept Ukraine’s inalienable right to national independence.”

“The Betrayal Myth Behind Putin's Brinkmanship; To justify his aggression against Ukraine, the Russian president says that NATO once promised not to expand eastward beyond Germany. The historical record shows otherwise,” M.E. Sarotte, The Wall Street Journal, 01.07.22. The author, the Kravis Professor of Historical Studies at Johns Hopkins University, writes:

  • “According to Mr. Putin, ...Westerners promised that if Moscow let Germany unify, NATO would extend ‘not one inch’ eastward. In his view, the West reneged on that pledge and got away with it, since there was no binding agreement on this issue.”
  • “Mr. Putin's narrative rests on a crucial omission, however: the actual content of the treaty that enabled German unification, the Final Settlement of Sept. 12, 1990. During the negotiation of this treaty, then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his American and German interlocutors did indeed speculatively discuss a ‘not one inch’ pact. But in the end, the settlement codified the opposite: … the treaty enabled NATO to extend that guarantee [Article 5] into eastern Germany. … The Final Settlement of 1990 applied exclusively to Germany. On this, all parties agreed. But they did not agree on what that meant for the future. NATO member-states took it to mean that the treaty allowed enlargement to countries east of Germany … Russia, by contrast, understood the treaty as prohibiting NATO enlargement east of Germany.
  • “The written historical evidence does not support Mr. Putin's narrative of betrayal. Still, Western negotiators should be cognizant of how deeply many Russians feel the psychological weight of these diplomatic battles, decades after the fact. In Mr. Putin's telling, Russia lost its former status not because of the Soviet collapse but because it was cheated by the West—an easier narrative to accept.”
  • “In exchange for Russia's refraining from dismembering Ukraine further, the U.S., NATO, and the OSCE should broadcast the limits of their intentions. They should offer Moscow nearly any form of inspections, talks and visits it desires to confirm those limits. … There are worse outcomes than allowing Mr. Putin and his subordinates to claim that they forced NATO to show its cards. Deescalation in Ukraine could allow the West to leave behind short-term worry about combat with Russia and go back to long-term strategizing about China.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“Statement from Ernest J. Moniz and Sam Nunn on P5 Statement on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races,” Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), 01.03.22. The authors, a former U.S. Energy Secretary and a former U.S. senator, write:

  • “Leaders now must instruct their governments to take concrete steps to this end, including:
    • “Accelerating individual and collective efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear use by strengthening safeguards that could prevent unauthorized, inadvertent or mistaken use of a nuclear weapon (‘fail-safe’);”
    • “Expanding and deepening dialogue on risk reduction in bilateral and multilateral channels;”
    • “Reducing the role of nuclear weapons in national security doctrines and postures; and”
    • “Further reducing nuclear arsenals, beginning with negotiations and agreement between the United States and Russia on a successor to New START that further limits and reduces the arsenals of both.”
  • “While it is unfortunate that the tenth NPT Review Conference was postponed again due to the global pandemic, the delay provides additional time for the NPT nuclear-weapon states—and all states parties to this crucial Treaty—to continue working to advance the goals of the NPT and ensure a successful Review Conference. We urge the nuclear-weapon states to take advantage of this opportunity by building on today’s positive statement and implementing tangible measures to reduce the risk of conflict and arms races and strengthen the foundation for further nuclear reductions.”

“Arms Control Between Nuclear-Armed Rivals,” Michael Krepon, Arms Control Wonk, 01.10.22. The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes:

  • “If leaders seek to avoid war, added increments of diplomacy, unlike added increments of nuclear deterrence, can move rivals away from the nuclear precipice. Diplomacy remains far more cost effective than spending large sums for nuclear deterrence, but diplomacy is habitually short changed. In three of the four nuclear rivalries, it barely has a pulse.”
  • “Treaties are the most notable and hardest-to-achieve instruments of diplomacy designed to reduce nuclear dangers. Some treaties, bilateral and multilateral, remain in effect, but new U.S.-Russia treaties are presently beyond reach. New treaty making related to the other three rival pairs is an even more distant prospect.”
  • “The primary mechanisms for controlling and reducing nuclear dangers in current circumstances are low profile, but crucial diplomatic instruments—instruments that have a track record of success in preventing mushroom clouds, whether as supplements to treaties, or despite their absence. I’m referring, of course, to norms and to a wide panoply of confidence, security-building and nuclear risk-reduction measures. These practical remedies are well known; they are generically applicable to all four pairs of nuclear-armed rivals. Nuclear-armed rivals that wish to avoid mushroom clouds can find common cause in reducing nuclear danger. But not when leaders believe that extreme risk taking is either unavoidable or can succeed.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Why The Kremlin Lies: Understanding Its Loose Relationship With the Truth,” Christopher Bort, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 01.06.22. The author, a visiting scholar with Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “Even if Western governments could compromise on key positions … Putin’s duplicitous packaging fosters an assumption that he is merely testing his interlocutors for signs of weakness and has no intention of fulfilling his end of the bargain.”
  • “Yet alongside Putin the deceiver there is also Putin the dealmaker. He and his spokespeople believe that the terms they’re offering are clear and that it should be self-evident to the West that they are willing to trade away things they don’t need—like violence by so-called separatists or medium-range missiles in Europe—in return for something they really want, like a non-aligned Ukraine or verifiable limits on missile defense.”
  • “The problem with any deal probably would not be the seriousness of Putin’s intent to bargain but rather the divergence between his expectations and reality. Even if Putin somehow managed to put in place the formal arrangements for the federalized, neutral Ukraine he seeks, many Ukrainians would not go along quietly and Russian-backed violence probably would resume. As for the agreement with the United States on mutual noninterference … whenever independent Western actors … subsequently challenged or criticized the Russian regime in the future, it’s likely that Kremlin-backed influence actors would dial up their own activities against the United States.
  • “The lack of trust would cut both ways. Many in the West would be ready to walk away from an agreement on mutual restraint in cyberspace, for instance, the first time a Russian criminal group attacked a key Western firm with ransomware. And reasonably so, thanks to Moscow’s routine use of deniable proxies.”
  • “Few are willing to bargain with a serial deceiver. But the costs of ignoring [Putin’s] offers and seeking to deter him through punitive measures alone are potentially high too. If he does not get the deal he seeks, or at least a counteroffer that he thinks addresses his interests, he will continue to use or ratchet up his leverage until he either gets what he wants or sees that the West is willing to out-escalate him.”

“The West has enabled Putin long enough. It is time to stop,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, The Washington Post, 01.07.22. The author, a Russian opposition politician, writes:

  • “The Kremlin has an old habit of using the Christmas holidays to bury bad news. … This past holiday season showcased that tradition once again, except that this time, Vladimir Putin's regime broke its own record, squeezing months' worth of repression into a single week.”
  • “Two of Russia's most respected human rights groups—Memorial International … and the Memorial Human Rights Center—were shut down at the request of Putin's prosecutor general. … One high-profile political prisoner, Yuri Dmitriev, had his sentence extended from 13 to 15 years; another, Andrei Pivovarov, was denied his appeal to move his hearing from a remote (and journalist-free) location.”
  • “A prominent opposition lawmaker in Siberia associated with jailed Putin rival Alexei Navalny was indicted on an ‘extremism’ charge that could get her 12 years in prison. … The justice ministry issued its latest batch of ‘foreign agent’ designations, slapping the label on a new group of pro-democracy figures, including Russia's best-known satirical writer, Viktor Shenderovich. … Meanwhile, a senior lawmaker from Putin's party suggested that it is time to start stripping Kremlin opponents of Russian citizenship—as was done to dissidents in the Soviet Union.”
  • “What is more surprising—indeed, shocking—is the willingness of Western democracies to act as accomplices to Putin, providing him not only with much-needed international acceptance but also with a lifeline in the form of access to Western financial systems—a lifeline the Kremlin uses to challenge the West's own interests.”
  • “As U.S. and NATO leaders prepare for next week's talks with Kremlin officials over Putin's proposed Yalta-style security arrangement in Europe, we hear familiar Western arguments for yet more appeasement. They range from outlandish suggestions to expel the Baltic countries from NATO to the much more troubling call by the German chancellor for a "new start" in relations with Putin. We know how appeasement ends.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • No significant developments.

Defense and aerospace:

“Russian Military Forecasting Translation Volume:1999–2018,” Clint Reach, RAND Corporation, January 2022. The author, a policy analyst at RAND, writes:

  • “This translation volume compiles texts by Russian military experts and covers key factors in Russian military forecasting. These factors include the military-political situation and the military potential of global leaders, such as the United States, China, Russia, Germany, and Japan, among others. Russian strategic deterrence potential is a mitigating factor to threats resulting from hostile intentions of a militarily superior opponent.”
  • “This volume offers a case study in how the Russian military science community conducts and applies forecasting to inform military planning. A RAND Corporation researcher examined materials from 1999 through 2018 to understand some of the key inputs that the Russian military uses in its planning process. The military-political situation, the combined military potential of both Russia and possible allies and adversaries, and the ability of Russia's strategic deterrence potential to mitigate military threats are the key considerations in developing a forecast. The results of the forecast aid decisions on force structure development and military training.”

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

  • No significant developments.


“What a sensible Ukraine policy would look like,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Washington Post, 01.04.22. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Instead of demanding de-escalation before progress in talks could be made, imagine if Biden had taken the first steps toward negotiations between the two countries. What would a sensible U.S. posture look like?”
  • “The United States has no significant national security interest in Ukraine. A civil war has been internationalized into a geopolitical struggle. Ukraine’s people are divided, with millions speaking Russian and looking to the East. The poverty rate is over 50 percent. We’re not about to spend the money and energy needed to bolster the country internally.”
  • “Instead of ramping up military aid to Ukraine and allowing loose talk about Ukraine joining NATO, Biden could call for a joint guarantee of Ukraine’s independence and neutrality. The United States and NATO would agree not to station troops or offensive weapons in former Soviet republics; the Russians would guarantee not to threaten them with military force. Both would pledge not to interfere with those countries’ internal political affairs.”
  • “Despite all the bellicose blather, the real security interests of Americans are clear. Ukraine is not among them. Even if Ukraine were part of NATO, no U.S. president would go to war with Russia to defend it. Paradoxically, NATO now largely exists to manage the risks created by its existence. We have a compelling interest in cooling tensions with Russia, and in sustaining the independence of countries on its border. That may be uncommon sense in today’s national security establishment, but it surely is wiser than a conventional wisdom that seems intent on gearing up for a violent conflict on Russia’s border.”

“The Ukraine crisis will end inevitably in a redivision of Europe,” Thomas Graham, The Hill, 01.04.22. The author, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes:

  • “Once Russia had begun to recover from the profound political and socio-economic crisis of the first post-Soviet decade under President Putin, the only question was when and where Moscow would take a stand against what it has seen as Washington’s encroachment on its security. It is, in fact, remarkable that Russia has thrown down the gauntlet only now, when its margin of safety in Europe is at its narrowest since the Russian Empire was established 300 years ago and entered the European balance-of-power system.”
  • “What is unique about the current situation is that Moscow insists on redrawing the map of Europe before a major test of arms and not as a consequence of one. If the United States (and the West as a whole) engages, the outcome is not likely to be a stable security structure with a clear dividing line, but rather one in which the competition for Ukraine—through which the line will be drawn—moves into a different phase, centered more on shaping the country’s internal development through active engagement inside Ukraine, rather than by force of arms from outside.”
  • “The United States and its European partners will seek to consolidate a pro-Western Ukrainian state that can be fully integrated into Euro-Atlantic institutions, whereas Russia will act to prevent that consolidation and draw individual pieces of Ukraine solidly into its orbit. The challenge is to reduce the risk that this contest will end in a trial of arms and construct one in which victory will come instead from the steady accumulation of incremental advantage over time.”
  • “Neither side is about to capitulate, but both are likely to agree to measures that meet their minimal security needs, while leaving open the possibility of achieving their ultimate goals in the future. So let the diplomacy begin.”

“How the U.S. could help prevent the Russia-Ukraine crisis from morphing into war,” Rajan Menon, LA Times. 12.30.21. The author, a professor of international relations at City College of New York, writes:

  • “Two of the various recent proposals aimed at preventing an armed confrontation between Russia and Ukraine stand out, even though neither will resolve the crisis.”
  • “The first advocates beefing up Ukraine’s army with substantial supplies of American weaponry, particularly anti-tank and air defense missiles, and dispatching additional advisers to ensure that Ukrainian soldiers are ready to use the armaments in short order. Here’s an extravagant version of this idea: a massive airlift like the one the United States started in 1948 to ensure the flow of basic necessities to West Berlin after the Soviet leadership blocked the transportation routes connecting it to the West.”
  • “The second, less dangerous plan: creating a neutral Ukraine that won’t join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or become Russia’s ally.”
  • “There’s a third solution, albeit one that would require big concessions by Ukraine and Russia. The 1995 Study on NATO Enlargement, which specified the terms for admitting new members, states that they should first resolve “ethnic disputes or external territorial disputes” involving them. This provision, while not phrased as a precondition, could nevertheless be invoked to defer Ukraine’s entry into the alliance indefinitely — but without shutting the door forever. In exchange, Russia would acknowledge Ukraine’s inherent right of self-defense, per the United Nations Charter, including the freedom to acquire arms and receive military training from countries of its choosing. Ukraine would reciprocate by pledging not to permit Western military bases in its territory—Russia has denounced the U.S.-financed expansion of the Ukrainian Black Sea ports of Ochakivand Mykolaiv to accommodate American warships—and to extend that ban to NATO members’ military aircraft and cruise or ballistic missiles. In return, Russia would agree to a demilitarized zone along its side of the Ukrainian border.”
  • “This formula doesn’t amount to a comprehensive settlement of the Russia-Ukraine dispute, but it could give each side something to tout as success while tamping down the immediate crisis.”

“An Austrian Solution for Ukraine?” Stephen F. Szabo, The National Interest, 01.08.22. The author, an adjunct professor at the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University, writes:

  • “While no one wants to talk about spheres of influence, it is clear that both strategic concern and geographic proximity favor Russia while neither the United States nor its NATO allies would want to get involved in a war over Ukraine.”
  • “If Ukraine is lucky, it can end up as the next Austria. It is neither in the Ukrainian interest or that of the West to continue the strategic ambiguity that now exists. NATO is not weaker with a neutral Austria and would be more stable without the continuing ambiguity of Ukraine. U.S. security commitments are severely overstretched in both Europe and the Middle East, and the China challenge is now forcing a major strategic reappraisal in Washington. A Russian invasion or escalation in Ukraine would increase America’s strategic overstretch and weaken its position in Asia. Given its recent experience in Afghanistan, it does not need another unstable and corrupt government with a large minority population as an ally. It is a time for cold realism rather than an outdated nostalgia for American exceptionalism.”
  • “This leaves open the question of EU membership, which in many ways triggered the crisis in 2014. Austria, while not a NATO member, joined the European Union in 1995 without objection from the USSR. This would be an issue for the EU, not NATO. Given the pervasive enlargement fatigue which has stalled, if not killed, any expansion of the EU into the western Balkans and the development of the Eastern Partnership as an alternative to membership, Ukrainian membership would be a distant prospect at best.”
  • “It is not in the interest of either the West or of Russia to allow the confrontation over Ukraine to continue. When the American and Russian teams begin this month to negotiate over Ukraine, they should look to Austria for a way out.”

“Why U.S. Strategic Interests Do Not Include Ukraine,” Raymond F. Smith, The National Interest, 01.04.22. The author, a retired senior U.S. Foreign Service officer, writes:

  • “Ukraine, like every other country, wants to survive and prosper as an independent state. Neither its internal nor its external situation is enviable. It is a deeply corrupt, mid-sized economic basket case that is home to a large, disaffected Russian minority. It shares much, albeit sometimes contentious history with Russia, its most significant neighbor, a country that is also larger, nuclear-armed, and wealthier. Ukraine has two broad strategic choices: to reach a modus vivendi with Russia that satisfies both countries’ essential interests; or to conclude a strategic alliance with another power that will allow it to defy its larger neighbor. The United States is the only other power potentially capable of successfully supporting the second choice. That is the option Ukraine has been pursuing, with U.S. encouragement.”
  • “Creating a more stable international system requires taking Russia's vital interests into account, as well as Ukraine’s. Guiding, and helping, Ukraine toward balancing its desire for closer ties with Europe and its need for acceptable ties with Russia serves the fundamental interests of both Ukraine and the United States. It will help Ukraine avoid what could become a national tragedy. It can help draw Russia into a more productive relationship with the West, lessen the temptation of a military alliance with China and decrease the threat of a conventional armed conflict that could escalate into a nuclear one.”

“Biden's 2022 Foreign-Policy To-Do List,” Stephen M, Walt, Foreign Policy, 12.28.21. The author, the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University, writes:

  • “Unlike a few doomsayers in the West, I do not think Russia will launch a major invasion intended to subjugate all of Ukraine. Not only would this trigger powerful economic sanctions and lead NATO to reinforce its eastern members militarily … reoccupying all of Ukraine would force Moscow to try to govern some 43 million angry Ukrainians.”
  • “If Russia does opt to use force, I’d expect a more limited incursion ostensibly designed to ‘aid’ pro-Russian proxies in Ukraine’s eastern provinces—and perhaps an additional buffer zone to protect these areas. This approach would be similar to the ‘frozen conflicts’ Putin waged in Georgia, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and elsewhere and be consistent with his tendency to undertake actions that may have been unexpected but also were relatively low risk. … The big question for me is how much damage Putin will try to inflict on Ukraine in the process. He may be tempted to ‘teach them a lesson’ … but punishing Ukraine also increases the risk of a harsher Western response.”
  • “Biden is in a no-win situation here. There’s little appetite for a shooting war in an area far away from the United States and right next door to Russia, and sending more arms to Kyiv won’t tip the balance of power enough to deter a limited Russian foray. Yet hard-liners would condiment any diplomatic deal that defused the issue as the worst sort of Neville Chamberlain-like appeasement.”
  • “This unappealing situation is a reminder that open-ended NATO expansion is ideologically appealing but strategically myopic. … The challenge Biden (and NATO) face now is figuring out how to preserve Ukrainian independence without appearing to succumb to Russian blackmail. It would have been easier (though far from simple) to reach an agreement on Ukrainian neutrality back in 2014; it will be much harder to do so today.”

“History Advises Biden to Match Signals with Actions in Ukraine,” Jeffrey Frankel, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 12.24.21. The author, the James W. Harpel Professor of Capital Formation and Growth at Harvard University's Kennedy School, writes:

  • “As Russian troops mass along the border with Ukraine, the White House has been calibrating its response. President Joe Biden has warned that in the event of an invasion, the US and allies would make Russian President Vladimir Putin pay a heavy price. Likely measures would particularly include economic sanctions such as a cut-off from the SWIFT payments system and turning off the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Good. It is possible that such threats will deter Putin.”
  • “Biden has also said that he would not send military personnel.  Also, good, given that a threat to intervene militarily would be a bluff. Americans and Europeans are not in fact prepared to send troops to Ukraine. Even though the Russian invasion of a sovereign European country is a terrible thing, reminiscent of 1939, all perceive that Putin feels his country’s interests to be at stake in Ukraine more than Americans do.”
  • “In 2008, Western leaders promised that Georgia and Ukraine could eventually join NATO.  (President George W. Bush wanted immediate steps toward membership, while other NATO members agreed only ‘someday.’) But the most important principle of the alliance, Article V, reads, ‘The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.’  Nobody was prepared to come to Georgia’s defense in 2008, nor to Ukraine’s defense in 2014 and subsequently. Why, then, promise accession to NATO? It simultaneously undermines western credibility and yet provokes Putin.”
  • “The bottom line: match signals to actions when possible. At least, raise the correlation between the two.”

“Ukraine Can’t Afford Presidential Prosecutions,” Vladislav Davidzon, Foreign Policy, 01.05.22. The author, a reporter, writes:

  • “The prosecution of former presidents has become something of a ritual in several post-Soviet states—with at least three former leaders of Kyrgyzstan being prosecuted, for instance. But that is something that Ukraine has wisely avoided until now. Ukraine is in many ways a flawed and vulnerable democracy with shaky institutions, yet it has been very good in routinely rotating its government and respecting the security of former heads of state.”
  • “Likewise, delegitimizing the man [Petro Poroshenko] who negotiated the Minsk accords hurts the image of Ukrainian political legitimacy in the international arena in the midst of a serious crisis. The Ukrainians are outgunned and outmatched by a tough opponent whose defense expenditures are 10 times its own. What Kyiv has on its side in this David and Goliath matchup is the luster of its moral and democratic legitimacy. With thousands of Russian tanks along its border, Ukraine’s friends should not keep quiet while the country risks perpetrating a possibly serious mistake and tarnishing its international image.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Turmoil in Kazakhstan Heralds the End of the Nazarbayev Era,” Alexander Gabuev and Temur  Umarov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 01.10.22. The authors, the chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center and a research consultant at Carnegie Moscow Center, write:

  • “The root of the current protests lies in the fact that in the past two years, the material well-being of many Kazakhs has noticeably deteriorated. Inflation rose to 8.9 percent in 2021 from 7.5 percent in 2020. It was even higher on food items … In 2020, the amount of personal borrowing hit a record high, growing 12.3 percent from the previous year.”
  • “The pandemic has hit Kazakhstan’s labor market hard. According to an express poll by the Eurasian Economic Union, the official unemployment rate went up by 12 percent in 2021. The worst hit were domestic migrants, mostly young men … The large number of frustrated young men with nothing to lose is the most likely explanation for how quickly the protests became radicalized and turned violent.”
  • “It looks as though President Tokayev is the biggest winner from the current crisis. ... The current protests have given Tokayev a sudden opportunity to shatter the mainstays of the dual power system.”
  • “The Kazakh government was visibly unable to stop the unrest in big cities on its own ... Asking for outside help to resolve what is essentially an internal conflict was a risky move. Nationalist sentiment is growing in Kazakhstan with every year. … It looks like Kazakhstan’s own siloviki can continue to regain control over the country with minimal help from their CSTO colleagues. … In that case, both Tokayev and Moscow will emerge as winners.” 
  • “As for Kazakhstan itself, the main outcome of current events, whatever else happens, will be the end of Nazarbayev’s long reign. So far, two important aspects of his legacy are clear.  First and foremost, the system he built has made it possible to keep the elite more or less consolidated, despite the inevitable struggle for power and money. … The second aspect … is that the current model of governance … has a multitude of defects that have angered millions of people who missed out when the resources pie was shared out. Yet that model is so intrinsically woven into the structure of the country’s economy and political life that the new government (to be announced shortly) is unlikely to be able to change it.”

“Russia Takes a Gamble in Kazakhstan,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 01.06.22. The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “The Kremlin was caught off guard by the sudden crisis in Kazakhstan, which, having started as a protest against fuel price hikes, spread across the vast country at lightning speed … and descended into violence in the former capital city, Almaty. … In Kazakhstan, Russia had the same problem as in Belarus: the ruling regime has managed to monopolize Moscow’s political contacts in the country.”
  • “Tokayev is by no means Moscow’s client, yet allowing him (and Nazarbayev too, at long last) to be toppled would, in Moscow’s thinking, allow the forces of ultra-nationalism to come to the fore, likely followed at some point by Islamist radicals. So Tokayev must be saved, just like Belarus’s longtime leader.”
  • “Russia responded to the appeal [by Tokayev] swiftly and organized a CSTO peacekeeping force, sending 3,000 paratroopers to Kazakhstan on Jan. 6. The CSTO’s other members—Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan—are also sending token contingents of between seventy and 500 troops. This is the bloc’s first real engagement since its founding in 1999. Sensitive to popular sentiment in Kazakhstan, Moscow has been careful from the outset to limit the mandate of the force to securing strategic installations and other important assets, leaving the task of dealing with protesters to Kazakhstan’s police and army.”
  • “Military intervention in Kazakhstan is a significant move by Russia, and is fraught with risk. If the Russian forces’ mission were to expand, that would lead to the mass alienation of the Kazakh people from Russia, or even their outright hostility and resistance. This, in turn, would reverberate in Russia itself, where the first polls suggest that twice as many people oppose the dispatching of troops to Kazakhstan as support the move.”
  • “Alternatively, if Russia succeeds in propping up the regime and making it more pro-Russian—not just in words, but also in deeds—then Kazakhstan, like Belarus, could become a more reliable ally and partner for Russia. … At this point, the odds appear to favor the latter scenario, which explains the Kremlin’s decision to go ahead with the intervention.”

“The Kazakhstan protests escalated quickly. Here's why,” Pauline Jones and Regina Smyth, The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage, 01.08.22. The authors, professors of political science, write:

  • “Our research on protest and reform helps explain why a sharp increase in fuel prices broke public trust in government. Protests cascaded across the country as citizens realized the depth of popular discontent and shared frustrations that linked economic and political grievances.”
  • “While the protests were sparked by outrage over a dramatic rise in fuel prices, they were energized by a shared grievance with much deeper roots—the failed promise of reforms dating back to 1991, when Kazakhstan declared its independence from the Soviet Union. When Tokayev succeeded longtime President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2019, he promised reform, and most Kazakhstanis believed him.”
  • “Research by political scientist Regina Smyth reveals that two dynamics associated with mass protest were present in Kazakhstan. First, years of local protest actions had improved citizens' capacity to self-organize. And second, the population had increased its demands for meaningful reform when controlled elections failed to provide accountability. In the face of a suddenly imposed grievance, like uncapped energy prices, these developments can rupture government-society relations built on trust.”
  • “Tokayev has labeled the protests as a ‘terrorist threat’ and, bolstered by Russian troops, appears to have no plans to back down. Government personnel changes this week suggest instead that he is preparing to use Russian support to strengthen his military and security forces to regain control of the streets. Kazakhstan may now see big changes—but not as protesters intended.”

“Riots in Kazakhstan,” PONARS Eurasia, 01.07.22.

  • Eric McGlinchey, associate professor at George Mason University, on “Succession and Legitimacy”:  “If not the autocratic stability of Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan, what then is the political future of Kazakhstan? Here neighboring Kyrgyzstan holds insight. Should Kazakhstan see continued elite fragmentation, presidential turnover will be frequent. This turnover can happen both through the ballot box and through widespread protests. Democracy may not be in Kazakhstan’s immediate future. Critically though, the current and, lamentably, deadly political rupture unfolding in Kazakhstan has opened a window through which Kazakh democracy can be envisioned.”
  • Mariya Omelcheva, professor of strategy at the National War College, National Defense University, on “The Broader Implications of Turmoil”: “First, the political undercurrents of the uprising, triggered by concerns about rising gas prices, signal the frailty of Kazakhstan’s model of political succession ... Second, the uprising in Kazakhstan considerably reduces the likelihood of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. ... Third, Moscow’s swift dispatch of paratroopers to Kazakhstan under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization can be seen as a prelude to the Kremlin’s response to a similar set of circumstances at home.”

“Russia may have bolstered its hand in Kazakhstan. But the danger remains high,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 01.08.22. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Tokayev appears to have displaced former Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had continued to rule behind the scenes even after tapping Tokayev as his successor in 2019 and was said to be ailing in recent months.”
  • “Belarus could be a future destination for Nazarbayev, the once-omnipotent ruler of Kazakhstan who named the new capital after himself. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday he had spoken with Nazarbayev and ‘discussed in detail the state of affairs in Kazakhstan.’ That was the first public mention of the former ruler since the crisis began a week ago.”
  • “Some U.S. experts believe this week's events could enhance Putin's confidence at a moment when he is threatening to invade Ukraine, another former Soviet republic. Kazakhstan had been occupying a middle orbit between Russia and the West during Nazarbayev's time. Putin, wanting stability along his nation's borders, clearly wants Kazakhstan more tightly in Russia's gravitational field. But that's easier said than done.”

“Kazakhstan/commodities: Russian troops provide cold comfort,” Lex, Financial Times, 01.06.22. According to the column:

  • “Russian President Vladimir Putin is putting boots on the ground in Kazakhstan. Civil disorder has broken out in the Central Asian nation noted for its wild beauty, corrupt authoritarianism and mineral wealth. A mooted doubling in the price of liquefied petroleum gas used for heating during freezing Kazakh winters triggered protests. They now channel broader discontent.”
  • “Awkwardly, western consumers may now depend on Russian troops to stop a revolution from rocking volatile commodity prices. Oil and natural gas are Kazakhstan’s key exports by value. It also produces about 40 percent of the world’s uranium supply. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called for Russian help when dissent persisted even after he cancelled the LPG price increase and fired ministers.”
  • “The country produces meaningful amounts of crude, about 1.8m barrels a day, a fifth of Russia’s output. Riots in Almaty contributed to a small rebound in Brent prices this week, back more than $81 a barrel.”
  • “The thinly traded uranium spot market is more vulnerable. On Wednesday the price had jumped 7 percent. This follows a year in which uranium has climbed by half, approaching decade highs on growing nuclear bullishness. Kazakh output is triple that of number two producer Australia.”
  • “The semi-retirement in 2019 of Tokayev’s predecessor, former authoritarian leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, has failed to stabilize mineral-rich Kazakhstan. Any commodity watcher secretly relieved by the arrival of Russian paratroopers should be very careful what they wish for.”

“Kazakh protests are a warning for other ex-Soviet autocrats,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 01.06.22. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “The bloodshed in Kazakhstan is a bitter end to 30 years in which the ex-Soviet republic had seemed—despite occasional flurries of unrest—an example of stable authoritarianism. … One lesson for democracies and autocracies alike is the explosive political risk of rising energy prices—even in a country, like Kazakhstan, with big reserves.”
  • “With no clear leaders or demands, and an upsurge in looting that suggests they may have been infiltrated by criminal groups—or provocateurs—the protests might have struggled to gain the critical mass to turn into a revolution. But Tokayev was sufficiently unsure of his own security forces’ ability to put them down that he invited in the Moscow-based Collective Security Treaty Organization to help restore order.”
  • “Moscow had reason to accept the request. Alongside Belarus and Russia, Kazakhstan is one of the founders of the Eurasian Economic Union that Vladimir Putin has assembled as a kind of anti-EU and pressed other ex-Soviet states to join. All three countries are also dominated by ageing autocrats.”
  • “Russia’s intervention may prevent the arrival of a new, unfriendly, government in its sphere of influence, in contrast to the revolutions in Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2003. But, as in Belarus, if the Tokayev regime survives, a crackdown on opposition is likely to follow. Discontent will only be driven underground to fester.”
  • “Putin is likely to see it, without foundation, as western interference timed for the eve of the negotiations. Kremlin delegates will surely be instructed to drive through the president’s demands to curb NATO. As he eyes what is happening to Nazarbayev, a man from whom he has drawn inspiration, Putin may be all the more eager for a diplomatic, or failing that military, success that he can sell to his own public.”  

“Kazakhstan’s Unprecedented Crisis,” Paul Stronski, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 01.06.22. The author, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “Protests over gas price increases that started on New Year’s Day in the city of Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, have spread across the country and turned violent, in the first large-scale challenge the Kazakhstani leadership has ever faced.” 
  • “The crisis comes amid rising labor and occasional ethnic unrest in a country where the bulk of the population sees few day-to-day benefits from its massive oil wealth. Low salaries, late paychecks, poor working conditions, environmental devastation and rampant corruption have been problems for years. The pandemic added to these woes … Inflation hit working- and middle-class citizens the hardest. As Kazakhstanis stretched budgets to buy essentials, they grew more resentful of wealthy elites who park assets offshore.”
  • “Recent years also laid bare a poorly functioning social safety net, a problem exacerbated by the lack of economic opportunity for most of the country’s young people. This is especially true for ethnic Kazakhs from rural areas and smaller cities who have moved in droves to run-down suburbs of Almaty and Nur-Sultan.”
  • “The protests also come on the heels of a repressive turn. For decades, the Nazarbayev government promised systemic change, including increased political freedoms, judicial reform, improved governance and a crackdown on corruption. When Tokayev took office in 2019, he followed this pattern of promising reform … But instead of opening up society, Tokayev cracked down on dissent.”
  • “Tokayev’s decision to call on the CSTO and Russia for help is a risky move. CSTO involvement has internationalized what essentially started as a domestic protest movement by adding an unpredictable and often untrusted partner (Russia) to the mix. … The social contract between the state and the people has visibly been broken. For Kazakhstan to get back on the road to stability, real reform is needed, although it is unclear who will be around and able to push that change through.”