Russia Analytical Report, July 1-8, 2019

This Week’s Highlights

  • As one of the authors of a 170-page white paper on Russian strategic intentions written for the U.S. Department of Defense, Jason Werchan of U.S. European Command writes that “Russia’s vertical decision form of governance gives it both significant flexibility and a competitive edge over the U.S. when it comes to conducting gray zone activities.” To effectively counter Russian efforts, he argues, the U.S. executive branch must identify “a lead federal agency for comprehensive gray zone activities to generate a true whole-of-government effort.”
  • For much of the post-Soviet era there was a widespread belief that the central focus of Russian military reforms was “improving capabilities required for dealing with local small wars and insurgencies,” according to University of Nottingham professor Bettina Renz; but Russia's “views on future conflict and the utility of force were never limited to small wars and insurgencies.”
  • OPEC’s agreement with a Russia-led group of non-OPEC countries to maintain quotas established in December for another six to nine months “confirms the shift in power within the market away from the producers,” writes Financial Times columnist Nick Butler. “The exporters are being forced to adapt by the impact on the oil market … by the U.S.  Russia’s vulnerability lies in the fact that, for reasons beyond its control, excess supplies of both oil and gas are undermining prices and therefore reducing the flows of revenue through the state companies.”
  • In exploring the paradox of American Russophobia, Sean Guillory at the University of Pittsburgh writes that he is “increasingly inclined” to see Russophobia as racism due to its use of “racist language and concepts.” As a prime example the author cites former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s comments “that ‘the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’ and that it’s in Russian ‘genes to be opposed, diametrically opposed, to the United States and Western democracies.’ Such notions of biologically determined, collective behavior,” Guillory writes, “elevate Russians to a racial category.”
  • “The European Union has portrayed its efforts to combat Russian disinformation as a high-profile success, with officials declaring that they helped protect the elections and deter Russian propaganda. But interviews with more than a dozen current and former European officials, as well as a review of internal documents, reveal a process hamstrung by disagreements,” according to Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Matt Apuzzo. “Now,” he writes, “even officials who believe deeply in the effort say the bloc's claim to have deterred Russian attacks is significantly overstated. Without changes, they warn, the alert system could quickly become obsolete.”
  • A plan published early this year by Moldova’s president for resolving his own country’s problem with a breakaway territory may offer a basis for “a phased peace process” to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, writes journalist Konstantin Skorkin for the Carnegie Moscow Center. The plan envisages a neutral status for Moldova, and a role for the country as a platform for Russia-EU dialogue with the aim of resolving the [Transnistria] problem.”


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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

“We must stop our nation's push for relentless war,” Oliver Stone and Dan Kovalik, The Boston Globe, 07.02.19. The authors, a high-profile filmmaker and an instructor focusing on international human rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, write:

  • “Former president Jimmy Carter recently made a profound and damning statement—the United States is the ‘most warlike nation in the history of the world.’ Carter contrasted the United States with China, saying that China is building high-speed trains for its people while the United States is putting all of its resources into mass destruction. Where are high-speed trains in the United States, Carter appropriately wondered.”
  • “As if to prove Carter's assertion, Vice President Mike Pence told the most recent graduating class at West Point that it ‘is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life. … You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen.’"
  • “Moreover, it was recently reported that the Pentagon is preparing for war against both Russia and China.”
  • “The United States … is the rogue state by any true measure. And this truth is not lost on the citizens of the world who, in two global polls, ranked the United States as the greatest threat to world peace.”
  • “We must demand that our government stop putting resources into war and destruction and instead put those resources toward building, meeting human needs, and saving our environment.”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Arms control:

“An Impossible Dream: Reagan, Gorbachev and a World Without the Bomb,” Walter Clemens, New York Journal of Books, 07.02.19. The author, an associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, reviews a new book by Guillaume Serina, writing:

  • “Here is a reader-friendly book that provides much of the context for the arms control negotiations that helped to weaken the Cold War and halt it for a decade. The author, Guillaume Serina, is a French journalist based in Los Angeles. The book has been translated from the French by a journalist for The New York Times who has also written an interesting afterword.”
  • “Mikhail Gorbachev’s introduction to Serina’s book offers a succinct and basically accurate summary of the arms negotiations in the mid-1980s and some of the problems that persist to this day.” 
  • “The afterword by David Andelman recalls his conversation with Reagan’s Soviet specialist, Harvard historian Richard Pipes. Pipes confided that the SDI, whether it ever succeeded as a missile defense, was intended to bankrupt the USSR and threaten its survival. Some observers credit Reagan with achieving this goal, but it probably played only a supporting role.” 
  • “This book’s treatment of many issues is marred by the author’s failure to master the realities of earlier agreements and the balance of forces in 1987. How the translator, a veteran journalist, could let these errors go unchecked is mystifying.”
    • “Serina in several places describes the ABM treaty signed by Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev in 1972 as banning all ABM defenses. In reality it permitted each side to have two fixed, ground-based defense sites of 100 missile interceptors each—reduced in 1974 to one site each.” 
    • “Serina assumes that SALT II, signed in 1979 by Brezhnev and Jimmy Carter, went into effect. Owing to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it was never ratified. For some years, however, both sides tried not to exceed its limits.”
    • “Serina says the Kremlin’s SS-20 missile aimed at Western Europe had a range of less than 65 miles, when its real range was 3,400 miles. He confuses it with other missiles based in Eastern Europe. The SS-20 (mobile and armed with three warheads) was always based in Soviet territory.”
    • “Serina implies that the two sides were roughly equal in intermediate-range missiles before the treaty and so had to make comparable sacrifices by eliminating them. In fact, the Soviets had deployed many times the number of intermediate- and medium-range missiles possessed by the Americans.”
    • “Further understating the Soviets’ concessions, Serina says almost nothing about the U.S. and NATO forces untouched by the INF treaty. Besides the French and UK arsenals, there were NATO aircraft armed with nuclear weapons plus U.S. aircraft carriers and submarines also armed with nuclear weapons, a far more lethal arsenal than anything the USSR could put at sea and keep there.” 
    • “Like many other commentators, Serina assumes (p. 230) that the U.S. legislature ‘ratifies’ treaties. The Senate may advise and consent but the president ‘ratifies.’”


“ISIS's Second Comeback: Assessing the Next ISIS Insurgency,” Jennifer Cafarella with Brandon Wallace and Jason Zhou, Institute for the Study of War (ISW), June 2019. The authors—ISW’s research director, counterterrorism research assistant and Evans Hanson Fellow, respectively—write:

  • “The Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) is not defeated despite the loss of the territory it claimed as its so-called ‘Caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria. It is stronger today than its predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was in 2011, when the U.S. withdrew from Iraq. AQI had around 700-1000 fighters then. ISIS had as many as 30,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria in August 2018 according to a Defense Intelligence Agency estimate.”
  • “ISIS built from the small remnant left in 2011 an army large enough to recapture Fallujah, Mosul and other cities in Iraq and dominate much of eastern Syria in only three years. It will recover much faster and to a much more dangerous level from the far larger force it still has today.”
  • “ISIS will seek to reestablish territorial control in Iraq and in Syria. It will likely succeed if the U.S. withdraws.” 

Conflict in Syria:

  • See Counterterrorism section above.

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“No, Russian Twitter trolls didn't demonstrably push Trump's poll numbers higher,” Philip Bump, The Washington Post, 07.01.19. The author, a data-focused national correspondent for the newspaper, writes:

  • “A new study, reported by NBC News and Axios, suggests a link between Russian social media efforts (specifically on Twitter) and Trump's support in the polls during the election campaign.”
  • “So what does the study say? Well, the research team from the University of Tennessee took tweets identified by Twitter as coming from accounts linked to the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) and matched them to Trump's poll numbers, as tracked in polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight. The central finding is that ‘a gain of 25,000 re-tweets per week over all IRA tweets (or about 10 extra re-tweets per tweet per week), predicted approximately one percent increase in Donald Trump's poll numbers.’ ‘Compared to its time-average of about 38 percent,’ the report says about this graph, ‘support for Trump increased to around 44 percent when IRA tweets were at their most successful.’ That's a reference to the July 14 data point shown above: When the IRA tweets had the highest average retweet number, Trump's position in the polls was at its highest.”
  • “But it was also similarly high in late November and early December 2015, when the IRA tweets averaged very few retweets. In fact, the correlation between the two sets of data isn't really that robust. It has an r-squared value of 0.27, according to the data used for the above graph. The closer an r-squared value is to 1, the more robust the correlation. In other words, the correlation here isn't that strong.”

“An EU Lesson on Combating Vote Meddling,” Matt Apuzzo, New York Times, 07.07.19. The author, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter based in Brussels, writes:

  • “The European Union has portrayed its efforts to combat Russian disinformation as a high-profile success, with officials declaring that they helped protect the elections and deter Russian propaganda. But interviews with more than a dozen current and former European officials, as well as a review of internal documents, reveal a process hamstrung by disagreements like the one that killed the Austrian alert [about tweets pushing disinformation about a political scandal].”
  • “Most countries did not even contribute [to the alert system], records show, and the network became a jumble of unanalyzed information, some of it potentially useful, some not.”
  • “Now, even officials who believe deeply in the effort say the bloc's claim to have deterred Russian attacks is significantly overstated. Without changes, they warn, the alert system could quickly become obsolete.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“The weakness of OPEC+ is evident. The oil production deal led by Russia and Saudi Arabia cannot stop the market trend,” Nick Butler, Financial Times, 07.08.19. The author, an energy business adviser and visiting professor at Kings College London who authors a regular column for the newspaper, writes:

  • “The agreement between the oil cartel OPEC and a group of non-OPEC countries led by Russia to maintain the quotas they established last December for another six to nine months confirms the shift in power within the market away from the producers.”
  • “In the short term, the defensive deal agreed in Vienna is designed to prop up prices at their current levels. The cartel and its new allies, including Russia, Kazakhstan and Mexico, will continue to take some 1.2 million barrels a day of potential supply off the market.”
  • “But the immediate market reaction and the further fall in prices in the following days show that the shift in income and wealth away from producers is one that even an agreement by OPEC+—led by Russia and Saudi Arabia—cannot halt.”
  • “The exporters are being forced to adapt by the impact on the oil market of the one major player not represented in Vienna last week: the U.S. American shale production—up from almost nothing 10 years ago to 8.5 million b/d in May with a further rise predicted over the next five years—has reshaped the entire global market. Because of that rise, the loss of production from Venezuela, Libya and Iran has been shrugged off. In addition, the U.S. has met most of the gradual increase in global demand seen in the past few years.”
  • “Russia’s vulnerability lies in the fact that, for reasons beyond its control, excess supplies of both oil and gas are undermining prices and therefore reducing the flows of revenue through the state companies.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Russian Strategic Intentions,” Strategic Multilayer  Assessment (SMA) White Paper, U.S. Department of Defense SMA Program/NSI, May 2019. Due to the length of the paper, we were unable to include all of the contributions, but some of the most notable are summarized below.


  • Dr. Jeremy W. Lamoreaux (Brigham Young University, Idaho): “One of the most significant sources of conflict (potential and real) between Russia and the U.S. in Europe is the differing perceptions of how the global international system ought to be. The U.S. sees Europe, Western, Central and Eastern, as part of the U.S.-led liberal international order in which political, economic and societal liberalism promote a vibrant, dynamic and open system. Russia’s perception, however, is that the global international system ought to be a balance of powers where differing powers live and let live, where one power does not force its ideologies on the other.”
  • Dr. Robert Person (United States Military Academy, West Point): “A deep-seated sense of geopolitical insecurity motivates Russia to pursue strategic objectives to establish an uncontested sphere of influence within the post-Soviet region, secure for Russia a seat at the table of other great powers in critical regions outside its sphere and contain and constrain America’s unilateral and multilateral pursuit of its own interests globally. Since 2007, it has developed a sophisticated set of gray zone tactics of ‘asymmetric balancing’ through which Russia pursues its strategic ends within relatively limited means.”
  • Dr. Thomas Sherlock (United States Military Academy, West Point): “Russian society often finds domestic problems much more worrisome than U.S. military power or a ‘color revolution’ fomented by the West, both of which the Kremlin has framed as important threats in its efforts to mobilize domestic supporters and isolate opponents. Drawing extensively on opinion surveys in Russia, the paper concludes that a majority of Russians are likely to believe that the Kremlin should not emphasize costly policies intended to counter U.S. military power or other potential American threats.”
  • Richard Weitz (Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute): “Russian strategists are adept in selecting gray zone tools optimized to their target. The Kremlin’s gray zone portfolio includes paramilitary forces and other proxies, economic and energy exploitation, media and propaganda manipulation and additional assets[.] Russia’s hybrid warfare approach blends military and civilian elements to have maximum impact on the target. Hybrid tactics are most effective when the target entity is deeply polarized or lacks the -capacity [sic] to resist and respond effectively to Russian aggression.”
  • Dr. Christopher Marsh (Special Operations Research Association): “Russia has a propensity to act in the gray zone between peace and war, where they can deny involvement and quite often get away with actions that violate international norms, if not international law. As we look to the future and try to anticipate it, we must focus on Russia’s gray zone activities and how they may counter vital U.S. national interests.”


  • Dr. Daniel Goure (Lexington Institute): “Russia’s ability to manage risk in the so-called gray zone is a function of its successful integration of all the instruments of state power. The threat to resort to the deployment of conventional forces or to employ nuclear weapons is a time-tested tool of the Kremlin’s crisis management strategy.” 
  • Daniel J. Flynn (Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI): “Since the end of the Cold War, Russia’s approach to deterrence has evolved as its capabilities and assessment of the strategic environment changed. Russian military planners are adopting comprehensive approaches to deterrence involving the orchestrated employment of nonmilitary and military means, including information, space, conventional military and nuclear capabilities. Russia’s concepts also include options for preemptively employing force to induce shock and dissuade an adversary from conducting military operations and to compel a de-escalation of hostilities.”


  • Dr. John Schindler (The Locarno Group): “Although NATO continues to possess impressive overmatch against Moscow, that edge is dwindling, and Western vulnerabilities in certain military areas are alarming. Moreover, the unwillingness of Western experts and governments to confront the ideological—as well as political and military—aspects of our rivalry with Putinism means that the threat of significant armed conflict is rising.”
  • Dr. Marlene Laruelle (George Washington University): “Russia is the only external actor (in Central Asia) that can display three forms of power: remunerative, punitive, and ideological/normative. Remunerative power, the main carrot that Moscow used in the region during the happy decade of the 2000s, is now difficult to exert given the current economic slowdown. So far, the Kremlin has never used punitive power on the Central Asian states. Ideological power could prove the most enduring, because it is not purely state-centric but is embedded in social and cultural interactions between Russian and Central Asian societies.”
  • Dr. Mark N. Katz (George Mason University, Schar School of Policy and Government): “While Moscow and Washington actually have some common interests in the Middle East (e.g. their mutual opposition to Sunni jihadists such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant … and Al Qaeda, and shared support of the same governments), Russia also seeks to take advantage of any difference between the U.S. and various actors in the Middle East to increase Russian influence with them. Thus, despite sharing common interests, Russia is unlikely to collaborate with the U.S. in pursuit of them.”
  • Ms. Malin Severin (UK Ministry of Defense Development, Concepts and Doctrine Center (DCDC): “The Russian ‘light footprint’ approach with private military contractors (PMCs) and embedded advisors to African regimes, as cultivated and refined in Ukraine and Syria, will almost certainly remain an essential part of the Russian operational ‘toolbox’ in the future.”
  • Dr. R. Evan Ellis (U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute): “Russian engagement in Latin America is limited in both the resources it has available to dedicate, as well as the range of countries and sectors in which it principally focuses. Its engagement is generally episodic and often reactive to U.S. activities in what it considers its own ‘near abroad.’”
  • Dr. Jeremy W. Lamoreaux (Brigham Young University, Idaho): “Russian influence in Europe happens primarily through ‘hybrid warfare’ techniques. To counter this, the United States ought to take steps to strengthen economic, political and societal liberalism across Europe.”
  • Maj. Adam Dyet (U.S. Army, J5-Policy USCENTCOM): “Russia’s actions in the Middle East are deeply rooted in its strategic culture. Moscow has a worldview shaped by several historical experiences of invasion and an underlying fear of military encirclement. This culture continues to permeate Russian strategic thinking and is exacerbated by the breakup of the Soviet Union.”
  • Dr. Joseph Siegle (Africa Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University): “[Russia’s] engagements [in Africa] often take the form of propping up embattled and isolated autocratic leaders of countries that are rich in natural resources. This provides Moscow considerable leverage with these leaders and the ability to undermine previously negotiated political settlements, access natural resources under opaque agreements and weaken democratic governance standards.”


  • Dr. Belinda Bragg (NSI, Inc.): “Success in the gray zone hinges on the ability to influence populations, and state and non-state actors, and minimize the influence of actors inimical to U.S. interests.”
  • Mr. Jason Werchan (USEUCOM Strategy Division & Russia Strategic Initiative): “Russia’s vertical decision form of governance gives it both significant flexibility and a competitive edge over the U.S. when it comes to conducting gray zone activities. To effectively counter their efforts, it is imperative the Executive Branch identifies a lead federal agency for comprehensive gray zone activities to generate a true whole-of-government effort.”

“Optimism for Improved US-Russian Relations Is Necessary, But Should Remain Cautious,” Paul Saunders, Russia Matters, 07.03.19. The author, chairman and president of the Energy Innovation Reform Project and a senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest, writes:

  • “Thomas Graham’s assessment of U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin is thoughtful and calibrated in setting out the state of the U.S.-Russian relationship and quite cautious in looking into the future. Even so, Graham’s take may be too optimistic.”
  • “The first problem is in the continuing politics of Russiagate.”
  • “[Elites] are also disturbed because they do not understand Trump’s objectives in dealing with Moscow. The president has yet to define systematically and persuasively what he thinks he can get from Russia, why he thinks he can get it and why he thinks we should want it.”
  • “Considering that the United States has been the leader in imposing economic sanctions on Russia for the last five years, that Congress is very unlikely to ease sanctions or to stand aside if the administration sought to do so and that Trump might not even be able to unify his own administration behind him on this … Trump’s apparent aspiration to increase bilateral trade seems surreal.”
  • “Few other components of a possible U.S.-Russia agenda provide greater grounds for optimism.”
  • “U.S. officials might seek more active talks on Ukraine, but there is no visible evidence that either Washington or Moscow is prepared to be more flexible.”
  • “Strategic stability is similarly challenging. Graham is accurate in describing the impact of Trump’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and may be right that the shock of this step and its implications will persuade Democrats that Washington needs “closer contacts” with Moscow. But do the Democrats who take this view have confidence in Trump and his national security adviser, John Bolton, to pursue talks on strategic stability? More pointedly, if the administration negotiated a treaty, how many Senate Democrats (and Republicans) would be prepared to approve it?”
  • “The strongest case for optimism about U.S.-Russian relations may well be less in its details and more in the fact that without optimism, however cautious, it will be much more difficult to build a workable U.S.-Russia relationship that advances and defends U.S. national interests across many global regions and issues, including the familiar litany of the expanding China-Russia relationship, nuclear weapons, non-proliferation, European security, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Afghanistan, to name only a few.”

“The Paradox of American Russophobia,” Sean Guillory, The Moscow Times, 07.03.19. The author, an associate of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, writes:

  • “The Russian government’s current use of Russophobia is nothing new. The Russian charge of Russophobia has been in use since 1867, when Fyodor Tyutchev coined it, ironically in French, to chastise Russian liberals who demonized the autocracy and ‘cherish[ed] Europe.’ Ivan Ilyin argued that Russophobia underpinned European desires to dismember and exploit Russia. Today’s Kremlin echoes much of Tyutchev and Ilyin in its use of Russophobia to discredit its domestic and foreign critics and discursively discipline Russian identity.”
  • “Yet, at the same time, this doesn’t mean Russophobia doesn’t exist. It has a historical genealogy outside of Russia that can’t be ignored. Its origins in the English language trace to the early 19th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of its initial usages was by John Stuart Mill in 1836. Mill wrote ‘the real cause’ for increasing British military budgets was that ‘Ministers are smitten with the epidemic disease of Russo-phobia.’”
  • “What is Russophobia? This is the crucial question. Not all anti-Russian sentiment classifies as Russophobia. Emphasis should be placed on the phobia part of the word. According to one definition, a phobia is an ‘irrational fear’ and ‘may result from displacing an internal conflict to an external object symbolically related to the conflict.’ … Taking phobia as a means of displacement as a core tenet, I prefer to narrowly define Russophobia as when Russia, its government or its people are positioned as civilizational threats.”
  • “One of the most controversial aspects of Russophobia is whether it’s a form of racism. Russians are not a race. However, Russophobia utilizes racist language and concepts. I’m increasingly inclined to see it as racism.”
    • “The racist moment is best seen in former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s comment that ‘the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, are almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’ and that it’s in Russian ‘genes to be opposed, diametrically opposed, to the United States and Western democracies.’ Such notions of biologically determined, collective behavior elevate Russians to a racial category.”
  • “It is the slippage between historical stasis and progress that makes Russia so easily slide from an object of American mania to a subject of American menace.”
  • “Interestingly, the denial of Russophobia plays a similar role in American discourse as claims of its ubiquitousness does in Russia: disciplining politics. As British Minister to Washington Sir John Balfour said in 1947 in reference to U.S. congressional reluctance to approve the Marshall Plan, ‘The high pitch of Russophobia should go a long way towards keeping the unintelligent and emotional in line.’"

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Dawn Breaks on New Era in EU-Russia Relations,” Fyodor  Lukyanov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.08.19. The author, editor in chief of Russia in Global Affairs and presidium chair of the Moscow-based Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, writes:

  • “Several recent and unconnected events presage a new phase of development for Europe. What that phase will look like, no one can predict, but it’s clear that the era is over of building an all-Europe house using blueprints devised immediately following the Cold War.”
    • “Presidential elections in Ukraine ended unexpectedly, not just in that the new president is a former comic actor, but in terms of the scale of his predecessor’s failure. For however people might feel about Petro Poroshenko, he embodied a clear political worldview and goal for his country: to move away from Russia and toward the West, at any cost.”
    • “Neighboring Moldova, meanwhile, has seen its own small miracle. Sworn enemies—those who support aligning their nation with Russia on the one hand, and Europe on the other—joined together to rid the country of their oligarch leader, who had essentially privatized the state. That unlikely union was backed by Moscow, Brussels and Washington.”
    • “Then the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which had insisted for the last five years that Russia could not return to the organization after losing voting rights back in 2014 over its actions in Ukraine, suddenly resolved the issue in a matter of weeks and welcomed Russia back into its fold.”
    • “And over in Georgia, mass protests sparked by the ill-fated appearance of a Russian Duma deputy in the Georgian parliament resulted not in the usual cannonade of propaganda by Russia, the EU and the United States, but in a weary shrug.”
  • “These events do not signify that the long-awaited rapprochement of Russia and leading European countries has finally begun, following years of crisis. What is actually happening is that the political and ideological structure of Europe itself is changing.”
  • “The EU will now spend years focused on resolving its internal problems. Its energy, desire and resources for dealing with its external configuration will be significantly diminished. The main task now is to minimize risks and expenses.”
    • “Ukraine will be encouraged to establish a less confrontational status quo with Russia, which happily coincides with what voters want.”
    • “What happened in Moldova was an attempt to restore at least some relevance to state institutions so that they can manage for themselves.”
    • “Georgia, meanwhile, is remote even geographically, and is not a priority.”
  • “The EU is taking up a defensive position, using the language of its transatlantic ally: ‘EU first!’ This is not isolationism but pragmatism, which in the case of the EU—as an integrated alliance built on a set of values—signals a revision of the ideas at its heart and a sharp decrease in any desire to project power, including soft power.”
  • “The deconstruction of the ‘European house’ means communications between various segments of the European world must be streamlined, especially since, unlike during the Cold War, there will be no clear structure for any conflict with Russia: It will likely be fluid and ever-changing. Previously, the main instrument for such communication was considered to be the OSCE, but times have changed.”
    • “As surprising as it may seem, the Council of Europe could lay claim to the role previously fulfilled by the OSCE, as the only space bringing together everyone, making it the lowest common denominator.”
    • “If strategic dialogue is resumed, it will in any case be between Russia and the United States. For everything else, the Council of Europe is quite enough, not least because Washington, with its current idiosyncratic wiles, is not part of it.”
  • “The relationship between Russia and the EU is entering a period in which any kind of ambition is most likely irrelevant, at least until the global re-forging of the landscape that is taking place both in the global arena and inside individual countries leads to the appearance of some at least vague outlines for the future. A house may no longer be being built, but perhaps we will now get by without fortified structures.”


“Could the United States and China Be Rivalry Partners? In the long sweep of history, when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, alarm bells should sound: extreme danger ahead,” Graham Allison, The National Interest, 07.07.19. The author, a Harvard professor, writes:

  • “The strategic rationale for the relationship between the United States and China has collapsed. After a quarter century in which American presidents sought to integrate a rapidly developing China into the American-led international order, the United States has concluded that what it thought was a ‘strategic partner’ is in fact a ‘strategic adversary.’ After decades of keeping its head down following Deng Xiaoping’s injunction to ‘hide and bide,’ Xi Jinping’s China has discarded that cloak and become increasingly assertive.”
  • “At this point, policymakers in Beijing and Washington understand that they are locked in a classic Thucydidean rivalry. China is a meteoric rising power. The United States is a colossal ruling power.”
  • “In the long sweep of history, when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, alarm bells should sound: extreme danger ahead. The past 500 years have seen 16 similar Thucydidean rivalries. Twelve ended in war. ‘Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?’ develops this diagnosis of the predicament leaders of the American and Chinese governments now face. As Henry Kissinger has noted, Thucydides’s Trap offers the best lens available for cutting through the noise and news of the day to the underlying dynamic in relations between these two great powers.”
  • “Must Donald Trump and Xi Jinping and their national security teams follow in the footsteps of leaders of earlier generations to war—a real, bloody and potentially devastating World War III? Or could they become as imaginative and agile as leaders of the four cases in the past 500 years in which war was averted?”
  • “Over the three years since my manuscript went to the publisher, I’ve been searching for ways to give a positive answer to that question—in effect, to escape Thucydides’s Trap. To date, I’ve identified nine potential ‘avenues of escape.’ Each, of course, has pros and cons. At this point, none of the viable options seems compelling.”
    • “The one that I’m now most actively exploring with both Chinese and American scholars combines an ancient Chinese concept of ‘rivalry partners’ and an insight President John F. Kennedy came to after having survived the Cuban Missile Crisis—he called for the United States and the Soviet Union to coexist in a ‘world safe for diversity.’”
  • “Rivalry partners sounds like a contradiction. But it describes the relationship the Song Emperor of China agreed to establish with the Liao, a Manchurian kingdom on China’s northern border, after concluding that his armies would not be able to defeat them.”
  • “Sustaining this rivalry partnership required managing recurring crises and adapting to new conditions. Nonetheless, the era of peace between the two rivals that followed lasted 120 years.”
  • “The question today is whether American and Chinese statesmen could find their way to a twenty-first century analogue of the Song’s invention—one that would allow them simultaneously to compete and cooperate.”
  • “Rivalry, indeed intense rivalry, is inevitable. But if the brute fact is that neither can kill the other without simultaneously committing suicide, then intense coopetition is a strategic necessity.”


“Ukraine’s New President Needs a Strategy on Donbas—and Fast,” Konstantin  Skorkin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.03.19. The author, a journalist focusing on Ukraine’s Donbas region, writes:

  • “Volodymyr Zelensky won Ukraine’s presidential election back in April as the candidate for peace. Now, a hostage of his own high ratings, the new president must demonstrate to the Ukrainian public that he is taking decisive steps to resolve the armed conflict in the country’s Donbas region.”
  • “Putin is clearly waiting for Ukraine’s parliamentary elections to see what the position of [Viktor] Medvedchuk and his Opposition Platform-For Life party will be in the new configuration of power. As the main pro-Russian faction, the Opposition Platform is competing for second place, meaning that Medvedchuk could be transformed from a goodwill ambassador with ill-defined authority into deputy speaker of the parliament, with drastically increased influence.”
  • “Meanwhile, Europe expects a new road map on the Donbas from Zelensky. His administration has promised to unveil a strategy, but so far it seems there is none, and Zelensky is simply improvising while biding time until his party’s victory in the parliamentary elections.”
  • “To bureaucrats in European capitals, the situation in neighboring Moldova may appear promising… In February 2019, a plan was published on the website of Moldova’s president for the Munich Security Conference. The plan envisages a neutral status for Moldova, and a role for the country as a platform for Russia-EU dialogue with the aim of resolving the problem of Moldova’s own breakaway territory, Transnistria. The plan notes that ‘the Moldovan project could serve as the basis for establishing a phased peace process to resolve the conflict situation on the territory of Ukraine.’ If things go to plan in Moldova, then it really could become an example of how European officials would like to see the Ukrainian crisis conclude.”
  • “After the parliamentary elections, however, Zelensky will have to decide on his strategy for the Donbas. After all, the reforms he promised are not possible without resolving the key issue of war and peace. Yet even the peace process itself will require Zelensky’s team to make a departure from the post-Soviet rules of the game, for which a replacement has not yet been found.”

“A People-Centered Approach to Conflict Resolution in Ukraine,” Céline Marangé, War on the Rocks, 07.03.19. The author, a Russia and Ukraine research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Research, or IRSEM, in Paris, writes:

  • “For peace to happen, new thinking is needed. Giving up a military stance in favor of more humanistic and humanitarian approaches is not a sign of weakness; it requires strength and faith. It is, in fact, a way for an increasingly pro-European Ukraine to embrace European values, promote fundamental freedoms, and break with the Soviet past.”
  • “There should be, in addition to diplomatic and military efforts, a people-centered approach to conflict resolution that focuses on the basic needs and rights of Donbass people on both sides of the contact line.”
  • “If the ultimate objective is to reintegrate the population of the separatist territories, some concrete steps could make a difference.”
    • “The Ukrainian government should stop linking the payments of pensions and social entitlements with IDP registration, a system that punishes and weakens the most vulnerable, especially the elderly, and stirs up resentment against Kyiv.”
    • “The creation of administrative centers in the separatist territories, as Zelensky suggested during the presidential campaign, could improve living conditions, even though the delivery of cash would be a problem.”
    • “The opening of new checkpoints on the contact line would foster people-to-people links.”
    • “The de-mining of the grey zone where mine plans are nonexistent—or unreliable after five snow melts—should be a priority.”
    • “Lastly, the Ukrainian government and the international community could more boldly support grassroots organizations that help IDPs and affected people or bring humanitarian relief on both sides, as well as organizations founded by people from the Donbass itself to spread information and monitor human rights violations in the region.”

“Crimea, Economic Sanctions and Rallying Around the Flag in Russia,” Timothy Frye, Wilson Center/The Moscow Times, 07.02.19. The author, a Columbia University professor and co-director of the International Center for the Study of Institutions and Development at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, writes:

  • “On February 28, 2014, pro-Russian gunmen seized key buildings in Crimea. In response, the United States levied economic sanctions against Russia on March 6. Approval ratings for the Russian leadership then soared and remained high for more than four years. Were these high ratings due to the annexation of Crimea or the imposition of economic sanctions?”
  • “To try to separate the effects of the annexation on support for the government from the effect of sanctions, I conducted two surveys in Russia in late 2016 and early 2017. I asked all respondents to rate their approval of the leadership (rukovodstvo) of Russia, the United States and the European Union on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is highest approval.”
  • “The results were striking.”
    • “I found no evidence of a sanctions-induced rally-’round-the-flag effect in Russia.”
    • “I found that imposing sanctions is not costless for the United States and the EU. Reminding respondents of the sanctions lowered approval of the United States and the EU among respondents in Russia.”
    • “Respondents sharply reduced support for the Russian government when they were reminded of the poor performance of the economy since 2014.”
    • “The mere mention of Crimea caused support for the Russian government to soar.”
  • “The rally-’round-the-flag phenomenon in Russia that began in 2014 was driven by the reason why the sanctions were put in place, the annexation of Crimea, rather than by the economic sanctions.” 

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Tale of Two Presidents Reveals Risks of Post-Soviet Power Transition,” Arkady  Dubnov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.04.19. The author, a journalist specializing in post-Soviet Central Asia, writes:

  • “The last week of June was not a good one for two former presidents of post-Soviet countries. Armenia’s second president, Robert Kocharyan, once again found himself in pretrial detention following a month of freedom, while Kyrgyzstan’s fourth president, Almazbek Atambayev, has been stripped of his status as ex-president and immunity from prosecution by the Kyrgyz parliament, signaling imminent charges and possibly a prison term.”
  • “The two investigations have several undeniable similarities.”
    • “Both former presidents believe, not without reason, that the cause of their problems is the hostile attitude toward them of their countries’ current leaders: Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan and Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov.”
    • “In addition, both men are prepared to try to prove their innocence without fleeing the country.”
    • “Both former presidents are typical clan leaders with notable numbers of supporters.”
    • “One final thing that the former leaders have in common is that their fates illustrate clearly how complex and risky the process of handing over power remains in the post-Soviet arena.”
  • “The handover in Kyrgyzstan was the first time in Central Asia that an elected president had served their constitutional term and relinquished power to the next elected president. Only then did problems emerge that could now torpedo what had appeared to be a democratic transition of power, since all those involved in the conflict are pointedly ignoring legal solutions to the crisis. The situation in Armenia looks a little more optimistic, since legal methods are so far leading attempts to resolve the crisis, even though this is a crisis that ultimately occurred as a result of a power transition that was formally legitimate, but essentially illegal, having been brought about by revolution, albeit a peaceful one.”
  • “Both transitions are encumbered by the burden of the past, which is particularly important in view of the fact that they are unfolding next door to Russia, which one way or another will have to experience a similar burden in the near future.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“The Russian oligarchs are gone. Long may they prosper!” Henry Foy, Financial Times, 07.02.19. The author, the newspaper’s Moscow bureau chief, writes:

  • “‘You know, first of all, we do not have oligarchs any more,’ the Russian president told the Financial Times last week. ‘Oligarchs are those who use their proximity to the authorities to receive super profits… these are practically non-existent.’”
  • “Mr. Putin is mistaken… Russia’s oligarchs are alive and well, as Mr. Putin knows: He had scores of them assemble at the Kremlin in December.”
  • “Yet there is a sliver of truth to his statement. The original cadre of Russian oligarchs, whose storied exploits shaped the country’s post-communist history, are certainly fewer in number. They have not been replaced by a meritocracy. Instead, a new breed of politically connected tycoons have taken their place. These are Mr. Putin’s men.”
  • “The names might have changed, but the old business is simply under new management.”

Defense and aerospace:

“Russian responses to the changing character of war,” Bettina Renz, International Affairs, Volume 95, Issue 4, July 2019. The author, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham, writes:

  • “For much of the post-Soviet era there was a widespread belief that improving capabilities required for dealing with local small wars and insurgencies was the central focus of Russian military reforms. As a result, Moscow's military assertiveness and return to geopolitical rivalries since 2014 came as a surprise to many in the West.”
  • “The Russian Federation's views on future conflict and the utility of force were never limited to small wars and insurgencies.”
  • “Regarding the West, joint peacekeeping in the Balkans and cooperation with NATO in various emerging security challenges were considered useful for improving the Russian armed forces' capabilities in these areas and as opportunities for Russia to be involved in solving significant international problems on a par with other Great Powers. However, Moscow never signaled an intention to become integrated within the Euro-Atlantic security community as a demilitarized state that would take a position subordinate to the United States.”
  • “As soon as it emerged that neither Russia's CIS neighbors nor the West shared its long-term vision of the region as its exclusive ‘sphere of interest’ and Moscow felt that it was being sidelined in international decision-making, the need for strong conventional forces returned to the center of Russian thinking and it adopted a more confrontational approach.”
  • “Owing to the prioritization of military reforms since 2000, which accelerated with the modernization program announced in 2008, Russia today is again in a position to deter what it sees as the West's encroachment on its declared ‘sphere of interest’ and to ensure that its views on the course of international developments, for example in Syria, are taken into account.”
  • “This poses a serious challenge to its neighbors, because of the restrictions it places on their pursuit of an independent foreign policy, particularly regarding future membership of NATO and the EU. As for the United States and the West, they will have to take into account, when making future decisions on the use of military force, Russia's apparent willingness to use, and confidence in using, its military in pursuit of its interests both within and beyond the CIS region, given the potential danger of spiraling tensions and escalation.”

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.