Russia Analytical Report, July 12-19, 2021

This Week’s Highlights

Since instability generated within Afghanistan represents a threat or a challenge to the wider region, there needs to be coordination with neighboring countries: China, India, Iran, and possibly others, writes Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center. This can be done both bilaterally and through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)... By contrast, cooperation with the United States after the completion of its troop withdrawal can only be very limited, and not merely due to the ongoing U.S.-Russian confrontation.

Americans like to call their country the “land of the free,” but the United States still has the highest incarceration rate in the world, nearly double that of Russia, writes Harvard University professor Stephen Walt. The United States should continue to play an active role in international affairs, but Americans should rethink what that role should be, he argues. Instead of assuming the position of “leader of the free world” is its birthright, the inevitable result of its hard power, or something that flows naturally from its supposedly “exceptional” virtues, the United States would do better to ask itself exactly why it might be in other states’ interest to follow either its example or advice, Walt writes, noting that regrettably, that’s not an easy question to answer just now.

Russia's State Armaments Program–2020 was successful insofar as it was adequately funded, managing to retrofit much of its legacy Soviet equipment to modern standards, according to a new analysis released by the RAND Corporation. The next SAP's goals will be harder to accomplish because it calls for the procurement of new and highly sophisticated systems in large quantities, the report argues, adding that complete execution of the plan is unlikely without increases in manufacturing capability, funding, and political will.

The trouble is that the pantheon of Soviet gods has been obsolete since before the days of perestroika, but it has not been replaced by any new heroes, writes Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Stalin stands in for the lack of modern heroes, and overshadows all the most important historical events of the twentieth century, symbolically compensating for the failures, defeats, and setbacks of more recent years, he writes, arguing that in Russia, there can be no modernization without de-Stalinization.

Vladimir Putin has just signed off on Russia’s new National Security Strategy, and its geopolitical arithmetic reflects a Kremlin view that can be described as “deter the U.S., ignore the EU, partner with China and India,” writes Russia Matters Director Simon Saradzhyan. While taking pains to formulate Russia’s national security priorities in relations with other countries, overall, the 2021 strategy appears to prioritize the development of domestic components of national security significantly more than the preceding version, he argues. Overall, one can’t help getting the impression that the 2021 document is distinctly more inward-looking than the preceding version, Saradzhyan writes.


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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant developments.

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:

“Afghanistan After the U.S. Pullout: Challenges to Russia and Central Asia,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.13.21. The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “There are two problems with U.S. overseas deployments outside the Western world. One is when Americans enter a region by force, disrupting the geopolitical status quo. The other is when they pull out, leaving behind a mess. … In a nutshell, the nature of the Afghan problem for Central Asia and Russia lies in Afghanistan becoming a source of instability for the region. … For Russia and the Central Asian countries, it is the refugee flows and the subversive transborder activity of [Islamic State]-like organizations that constitute the main problem. In addition, Afghanistan under the U.S.-backed regime has become a leading source of narcotics transported across Central Asia to Russia, which is now a major market for them.”
  • “Russia and the Central Asian countries have no resources, reason, or resolve to intervene by force in Afghanistan. That would be supreme folly and would end badly. … To neutralize military dangers and terrorist threats that might originate from Afghanistan, the Central Asian countries and Russia have substantial resources in the region and beyond.”
  • “Of even more importance than military means are security assets that would be used to prevent the infiltration of extremists—including those masquerading as refugees—from Afghanistan to Central Asia and from there to Russia. … The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and its likely impact on the region presents a major test for the CSTO, which has yet to earn its stripes as a security provider for the region.”
  • “Since instability generated within Afghanistan represents a threat or a challenge to the wider region, there needs to be coordination with neighboring countries: China, India, Iran, and possibly others. This can be done both bilaterally and through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), to which China, India, and Pakistan belong alongside Central Asian states and Russia, and where Afghanistan and Iran are observers. As with the CSTO, the U.S. departure from Afghanistan needs to re-energize the SCO.”
  • “The Afghanistan policies of Russia and other partner countries will only be as successful as the expertise that informs them and the understanding of the fast-moving situation. A basis for that expertise exists, but it needs to be developed and expanded.”

“Could the United States Still Lead the World if It Wanted to? The answer is yes—but more depressing than you think,” Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, 07.15.21. The author, a professor at Harvard University, writes:

  • “If there’s one idea that still commands a broad consensus inside the foreign-policy community, it’s the United States is and should remain the leader of the free world.”
  • “The strongest argument in favor of this view is essentially negative: No other democracy has sufficient economic or military power to exercise decisive ‘leadership’ (however one defines it), and no other democracy really wants the job. But the lack of a plausible alternative isn’t enough: We still need to ask if the United States is presently capable of exercising the role that advocates of U.S. global leadership recommend.”
  • “The first question we need to answer is whether the United States is a good model for other liberal states. The second question is whether its policy judgments are ones that others should trust and follow, especially with respect to foreign policy. On balance, the answer to both questions is ‘no.’”
    • “Let’s start with question one: Is the United States an attractive model that other free societies should emulate? The right-of-center Economist certainly doesn’t think so, insofar as its annual Democracy Index downgraded the United States from the category of ‘full democracy’ to ‘flawed democracy’ back in 2017 and has kept it there ever since.”
    • “And it’s not just politics. Americans like to call their country the ‘land of the free,’ but the United States still has the highest incarceration rate in the world, nearly double that of Russia. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof pointed out last month, the country also ranks only 28th on the nonpartisan Social Progress Index.”
  • “The United States should continue to play an active role in international affairs, but Americans should rethink what that role should be. Instead of assuming the position of ‘leader of the free world’ is its birthright, the inevitable result of its hard power, or something that flows naturally from its supposedly ‘exceptional’ virtues, the United States would do better to ask itself exactly why it might be in other states’ interest to follow either its example or advice. Regrettably, that’s not an easy question to answer just now.”

“Civilized nations' efforts to deter Russia and China are starting to add up,” George F. Will, The Washington Post, 07.16.21. The author, a political and foreign affairs columnist for the newspaper, writes:

  • “The British Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender recently broke away from the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group to conduct a Black Sea mission that triggered Russia's reflexive dishonesty. This was one episode among several lately that demonstrate increasing resistance to Russian and Chinese assaults on a rules-based international order.”
    • “The British government says the Royal Navy strike group's 26,000-mile cruise is ‘the UK's most ambitious deployment for two decades.’ The group, which includes a U.S. Navy destroyer and a Dutch frigate, conducted combat operations from the Queen Elizabeth in the eastern Mediterranean, attacking forces of the Islamic State, as the Royal Air Force has been doing for seven years from Cyprus.”
    • “Before it left Britain in May, the government said the strike group would be ‘confident but not confrontational’ in the South China Sea, where China illegally claims near-total sovereignty. Unfortunately, ‘nonconfrontational’ means that the group will not sail through the Taiwan Strait.”
  • “The Financial Times recently reported U.S.-Japan joint military exercises—presented as disaster relief training—in the South China and East China seas, and ‘top-secret tabletop war games’ in case of ‘a conflict with China over Taiwan.’”
  • “Henry Kissinger has said, not unreasonably, that we are in ‘the foothills’ of a cold war with China. And Vladimir Putin, who nurses an unassuageable grudge about the way the Cold War ended, seems uninterested in Russia reconciling itself to a role as a normal nation without gratuitous resorts to mendacity. It is, therefore, well to notice how, day by day, in all of the globe's time zones, civilized nations are, in word and deed, taking small but cumulatively consequential measures that serve deterrence.”

“Defense Acquisition in Russia and China,” Mark Ashby, Caolionn O'Connell, Edward Geist, Jair Aguirre, Christian Curriden, Jon Fujiwara, The RAND Corporation, July 2021. The authors write:

  • “Since the 70s and 80s, U.S. defense acquisition has focused on sophisticated technologies, such as precision-guided weapons and stealth. Meanwhile, Russia and China have sought to modernize their legacy equipment while concurrently developing new and increasingly sophisticated systems of their own. This report discusses recent research into the research, development, and acquisition (RDA) processes of Russia and China—both doctrinally and in practice—and identifies areas in which each country excels and where each country has challenges. … On paper, the RDA processes of both countries are similar to those of the United States, but that is not the whole story.”
  • Key Findings:
      • “Russia maintains a large arms export market but struggles to produce its most sophisticated systems in strategically significant quantities.”
      • “Russia's State Armaments Program–2020 was successful insofar as it was adequately funded, managing to retrofit much of its legacy Soviet equipment to modern standards.”
      • “The next SAP's goals will be harder to accomplish because it calls for the procurement of new and highly sophisticated systems in large quantities. Complete execution of the plan is unlikely without increases in manufacturing capability, funding, and political will.”
      • “China appears to be on a path to mitigating some of its historical shortcomings in RDA execution.”
      • “China's reliance on intellectual property theft means its weapons are years behind, but the Chinese recognize that shortcoming and are investing in and growing their organic capabilities through joint ventures and acquisition of foreign technology.”
      • “China's inability to manufacture highly sophisticated parts continues to limit its status as a first-rate developer and producer of state-of-the-art military materiel, but progress is apparent.”
      • “Successfully developing an indigenous aircraft engine and producing it in large quantities will signal a turning point in the capabilities of the Chinese defense industry.”

“Can the Russia-India Friendship Survive in the New Bipolar World?” Alexei Zakharov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.16.21. The author, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, writes:

  • “India is being pushed closer to the West—above all, the United States—by its difficult relations with China, not least the ongoing conflict between Indian and Chinese troops in the Himalayas. At the same time, India is trying to keep some distance from the West, and one of the reasons for that is its reluctance to damage relations with Russia.”
  • “India does not want to allow a hegemony of one power in Asia, even if that power is the United States. And so, despite its complex relationship with China, there is a consensus in India that it is not in its interests to join either side in the U.S.-Chinese standoff. For this reason, India is unlikely to enter into a military alliance with the United States.”
  • “There are two fundamental problems in Indo-Russian relations right now.”
    • “The first is that Moscow is incapable of expanding its relationship with New Delhi beyond the confines of cooperation in the military and energy sectors. Economic ties are not developing as expected: despite calls to increase the trade turnover to $30 billion by 2025, the indicator has hovered around $10 billion for the last few years.”
    • “The second problem is that Russia’s confrontation with the United States is forcing its Asia policy to tilt toward China, which cannot fail to impact its relations with India.”
    • “Another source of annoyance for New Delhi is Moscow’s relations with Islamabad.”
  • “Russia and India are moving ever closer to the two global centers of power: China and the United States. This divergence is gradually burning the bridges of Russian-Indian friendship. Their partnership resembles a marriage that is falling apart, in which the only thing stopping the couple from getting a divorce is their many years of interdependence. There is still room for pragmatic dialogue between Russia and India, but they no longer share a similar vision of the future.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

“Russian hackers are sowing havoc. So why are we letting Moscow write the U.N.'s rules on cyberspace?” Ivana Stradner, The Washington Post, 07.12.21. The author, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes:

  • “On June 29 the Biden administration took an action that sent a radically different message—by announcing its support for a U.N. effort to draw up international ‘rules of the road’ for cyberspace—an effort largely directed by Russia.”
  • “In all likelihood, Russia will establish revisionist rules that bolster authoritarianism by building on its competitors' affinity for cheap talk over decisive action.”
  • “The United States needs to radically alter its approach when it comes to Russia and cybersecurity. Although the nature of cyberspace means that some limited international cooperation is necessary, Washington should stop acting as though U.N. treaties are a solution.”
  • “Above all, the United States should learn from history. It was successful nuclear deterrence, not the United Nations, that prevented a Cold War apocalypse. Russia, China and non-state actors—all of which routinely violate international law—will not abide by any reasonable treaty system; they will use it, instead, to tie the hands of their rivals. But the United States can stop them from launching cyberattacks by vigorously pursing new offensive and defensive cyber-capabilities.”
  • “Russia's influence over cyber rule-making at the United Nations is dangerous, and the Biden administration must not allow the fox to guard the digital henhouse—not least in the wake of two major hacks. Make no mistake: Deterrence, not multilateralism, will determine America's cyber prospects with Russia.”

Elections interference:

“A blockbuster document purportedly from the Kremlin raises lots of questions—about itself,” Philip Bump, The Washington Post, 07.15.21.

  • “On Thursday morning, the Guardian published a document which, … purports to be an internal Kremlin memo prepared for a January 2016 meeting and focused on establishing an effort to interfere on Donald Trump's behalf in the November elections.”
  • “But now we have to point out an earlier time that the Guardian had a big scoop on the question of Russian interference in the election. That was the November 2018 report that Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had traveled to London and met with Julian Assange at the Ecuadoran Embassy a few months before the release of material hacked by Russia on WikiLeaks, the outlet founded by Assange.”
  • “It, too, was a massive allegation—but one that was never substantiated. The evidence was thin at the outset, and it was not corroborated in Mueller's research or in subsequent reporting. It was quickly embraced for how tightly it tied Trump's campaign to the Russian effort, but it's hard to assume that it's accurate. No correction or retraction was offered, so the Guardian clearly stands by it. The lead reporter on that report was Harding, also the lead reporter on the Kremlin document story.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Gazprom’s folly: In seeking to deliver Nord Stream 2, it may undermine its own access to EU markets,” Alan Riley, Atlantic Council, 07.16.21. The author, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, writes:

  • “After six years of debate and controversy over Nord Stream 2, the pipeline is now close to physical completion. Gazprom now wants to ensure that it is not just completed, but that it also receives all European Union (EU) regulatory clearances rapidly so that the pipeline can then be brought into full operation.”
  • “Given that these regulatory clearances are contained principally in the 2009 EU Gas Directive, and raise a series of questions as to how Nord Stream 2 can be brought into compliance with the directive, this process may take some time.”
  • “There is now compelling evidence that Gazprom, which wholly owns the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, will try and force the hand of the EU and German authorities to grant it regulatory clearance. … However, Gazprom’s attempt to gain leverage is extremely unwise.”
    • “In the first place, it will make it easier for opponents of the pipeline to challenge its regulatory clearance. For instance, it will be easier to sustain the argument that Gazprom, as the owner of the pipeline, poses a supply security risk to the EU in respect to Article 11 of the Gas Directive.”
    • “Secondly, if Gazprom seeks to force the EU to undermine the integrity of its own legal regime under economic pressure, it creates an existential threat that the EU has no choice but to resist. The EU is, above all, based upon the operation of its legal order, which is underpinned by the principle of uniform application of EU law.”
    • “Thirdly, as with the 2009 gas crisis, this attempted leveraging of Russia’s gas supply for political purposes is likely to trigger a reaction from the United States and the EU to enhance the supply security of EU member states, as well as neighboring countries such as Ukraine.”
  • “It would not be difficult for the EU and United States to develop collectively a two-pronged gas and renewable strategy.”
    • “The first prong would seek to ensure that Europe has sufficient supplies of trusted gas from reliable suppliers.”
    • “With greater access to trusted gas, it would then be possible to safely roll out and expand renewable capacity across Central and Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“What's the harm in visiting Russia?” Stephen Kinzer , The Boston Globe, 07.18.21. The author, an opinion columnist for the newspaper, writes:

  • “'Travel is fatal to prejudice,’ Mark Twain trenchantly observed after a lifetime of wandering. The US State Department seems to fear he was right. Last month it issued a scary warning to Americans: ‘Do not travel to Russia.’ The official reason is that American tourists could be victims of terrorist attacks or ‘harassment by Russian government security officials.’ That's hard to swallow. This warning is the latest blow in a campaign to discourage Americans from learning about life in other countries.”
  • “Much American news coverage of Russia—and of China, Iran, Syria, Cuba, and other places our government considers enemy territory—is written in the United States and deals with diplomacy or geopolitics. It's not easy for consumers of our mass media to learn what life is like for ordinary people in other countries, or how the world looks to them. One way is to travel to those countries. But that carries a risk: It may provide insights that contradict what our leaders tell us.”
  • “A couple of years ago I traveled in Russia. At one provincial capital, Novosibirsk, I left my train and wandered alone for several hours. I was far off the beaten tourist track, but no one seemed to notice or care. The same was true everywhere I went. This experience naturally leads me to wince when I hear the State Department warning Americans to avoid Russia because of the danger of terror attacks. My impression is confirmed by the Global Terrorism Index, which reports that Russia has lower levels of terrorism than the United States, Britain, or France.”
  • “It's easy to understand why governments seek to restrict what citizens learn about other countries. An ignorant population is easier to manipulate. The United States, though, was founded on the Enlightenment principle of free inquiry. We should not exaggerate threats abroad as a way of keeping Americans at home. For those who cannot travel, the next best thing is to hear the news as people in other countries hear it. We should ban foreign news outlets only in the most extreme cases.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Putin’s babies,” Ben Aris, bne IntelliNews, 07.14.21. The author, chief editor of the news outlet, writes:

  • “Russia’s economy is expected to stagnate for the next two decades with growth stuck at 1.5%, according to recent research. There are several factors slowing growth, but the most important is the population is shrinking, as the catastrophe of the 1990s hits the demographic curve, Iikka Korhonen, chief economist at Bank of Finland Institute for Economies in Transition (BOFIT), said in a paper this month.”
  • “The irony is that dealing with Russia’s demographic problems has probably been one of the Kremlin’s biggest successes, even if it hasn't fixed the problem. … What the Kremlin managed to do was not only stave off disaster, but thanks to an extensive Mother and Child program Russia’s population grew for a decade. [Putin] can take the credit for 4 million additional babies being added to the population since 2006.”
  • “With 11.6 million foreign-born migrants, as of 2019, mostly from Central Asia, Russia attracts the second-highest level of immigrants in the world after the United States. However, in 2018 the number of migrants didn't compensate for the fall in the natural population for the first time. Since then it has gotten worse. … In the short to medium term Russia’s easiest solution to its demographic problem is to attract more migrants.”
  • “Despite the undeclared war between Russia and Ukraine, the biggest national group is from the latter, which account for more than 60% of people applying for citizenship. There are some 3 million Ukrainians living and working in Russia today–more than the 2 million working in Poland–and as part of the Kremlin’s strategy to annex the Donbas by stealth the government has recently eased the citizenship requirements, making it easier to get a passport. According to reports earlier this year the authorities in Donbas have made it compulsory to hold a Russian passport to hold some publicly funded jobs such as teacher or doctor. However, even migrants are not going to solve Russia’s falling population problem and what could be done has been done. At the end of the day Russia has little choice other than to wait 20 years for the demographic dent to work its way through.”

“Russia’s History Wars: Why Is Stalin’s Popularity On the Rise?” Andrei Kolesnikov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.19.21. The author, a senior fellow with Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “In May 2021, 56 percent of Russians polled by the independent Levada Center agreed that Stalin was a ‘great leader’—double the figure in 2016, when the Stalinization of mass consciousness had already been a clear trend for several years.”
  • “The trouble is that the pantheon of Soviet gods has been obsolete since before the days of perestroika, but it has not been replaced by any new heroes. There’s always President Vladimir Putin, of course, but even he has lost half of his appeal as a great historical figure in recent years: back in 2017, 32 percent of Russians polled considered the president the most outstanding figure in Russian history, up there with the poet Alexander Pushkin, and outranked only by Stalin. Now, with 15 percent of the vote, he only just makes the top five, behind Peter the Great and just ahead of Yury Gagarin, the first man in space.”
  • “Attitudes to Stalin in Russia are intrinsically tied to the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II, over which Stalin presided, and which has become the sacred cornerstone of modern Russian identity.”
  • “The memory of repression has failed to become the glue of the nation that memory of the war has. For many Russians, it’s not just a nonessential part of their country’s history, it’s an ideologically controversial period.”
  • “Stalin stands in for the lack of modern heroes, and overshadows all the most important historical events of the twentieth century, symbolically compensating for the failures, defeats, and setbacks of more recent years. In Russia, there can be no modernization without de-Stalinization.”

“As a new Russian election season begins, the Kremlin's fraudsters are working overtime,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, The Washington Post, 07.14.21. The author, a pro-democracy activist, writes:

  • “One of the Kremlin's most durable propaganda narratives—still repeated surprisingly often by journalists and commentators in the West—holds that, for all his faults, President Vladimir Putin remains popular among average Russians. Those who resort to this argument seem to forget a small detail: It isn't difficult to win elections when one's opponents are not on the ballot. For years, the Kremlin ensured the absence of strong alternative candidates by any means necessary—from bureaucratic tricks to timely court sentences to, at worst, physical elimination.”
  • “The trouble for the Kremlin is that disqualifying opponents no longer guarantees victory. Such is the level of growing public fatigue with Putin—as there would be with anyone holding on to power into his third decade—that the incumbents are starting to lose even in the absence of an alternative. This was manifested most vividly in the 2019 Moscow City Duma election, when pro-regime candidates lost in nearly half the districts—in many cases, to no-names and spoilers—as voters were looking for any available way to send a message.”
  • “In Moscow, according to the independent Levada polling center, Putin's party is at 15 percent. Yet the Kremlin is signaling plans to keep its two-thirds majority in the next parliament—a mathematically impossible feat given the poll numbers. Perhaps the only remaining way to make this happen would be outright, old-school fraud. The last time the Kremlin resorted to this, in 2011, Russia saw the largest street protests of Putin's rule. And this was long before the public's current restlessness with a man trying to set himself up as president for life.”

Defense and Aerospace:

  • No significant developments.

National security, law-enforcement and justice:

“Russia’s New Security Strategy: Deter US, Ignore EU, Partner with China and India,” Simon Saradzhyan, RM, 07.15.21. The author, Director of Russia Matters, writes:

  • “Vladimir Putin has just signed off on Russia’s new National Security Strategy. .... My comparison between the 2021 document and its 2015 predecessor reveals that the Kremlin has strengthened its determination to deter the West and engage the East (Asia), which it sees, respectively, as declining and rising, while starting to pay more attention to domestic components of national security, such as human capital.”
    • “While the 2015 strategy contained clauses for cooperation with the United States and the European Union, with multiple goals to be pursued jointly, and even for the development of relations with NATO, the 2021 version contains no such language when describing Russia’s interaction with what the Kremlin sees as a declining West.”
    • “Moreover, the new document does not mention the European Union at all, indicating that in the Russian leadership’s view, the European Union no longer matters—at least in matters of national security.”
    • “The document mentions the United States four times, and all these references are negative, as is the sole reference to NATO, accusing the United States and the alliance it leads of exacerbating ‘military dangers and military threats to the Russian Federation’ and even of attacking ‘traditional Russian spiritual, moral, cultural and historical values.’”
    • “In contrast to its treatment of the United States, all three of the 2021 document’s references to a rising China are positive, though not without a caveat. The 2021 document—like the preceding version, as well as statements by Russian leaders—is careful to distinguish Russia’s partnership with China from that with India, which is mentioned in the new strategy twice. Russia’s relationship with China is described as a ‘comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction,’ while the relationship with India is described as an ‘especially privileged strategic partnership.’ That distinction, which reflects Moscow’s desire to retain deep cooperation with New Delhi in spite of its growing ties to Beijing, is especially illustrative of Moscow’s desire not to keep all its eggs in one basket, given that Chinese leaders routinely describe relations with Russia as a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership.’”
  • “While taking pains to formulate Russia’s national security priorities in relations with other countries, overall, the 2021 strategy appears to prioritize the development of domestic components of national security significantly more than the preceding version. One section, entitled ‘National interests of the Russian Federation and strategic national priorities,’ starts with a description of national priorities, the first of which is the ‘preservation of the people of Russia and the development of human capital,’ and discusses at length how to retain and improve the quality and quantity of that capital in Russia.”
  • “Overall, one can’t help getting the impression that the 2021 document is distinctly more inward-looking than the preceding version.”

“The brittle facade of Vladimir Putin’s Russia,” Philip Stephens, Financial Times, 07.15.21. The author, the newspaper’s associate editor, writes:

  • “This month the Russian government published its updated National Security Strategy. Anyone who has shown a passing interest in the Kremlin’s worldview will be familiar with the general thrust.”
  • “Nationalist autocrats need enemies abroad to justify political repression at home, and the Russian president has long found his in the west. So a beleaguered Russia has been encircled by a hostile US and its NATO allies. The enemy forces—some, including the US, now officially designated ‘unfriendly states’—are moving their militaries closer to the nation’s border. Washington is deploying its international financial might against Moscow. Western economic sanctions are an integral part of this multipronged attack on Russia’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
  • “The threat, the document continues, reaches beyond the military and economic. The attack is cultural and civilizational. Westerners are spreading social and moral attitudes that ‘contradict the traditions, convictions and beliefs of the peoples of the Russian Federation’. The country must be defended against foreign ideologies and values.”
  • “Putin’s sole concern is the preservation of his own power. He will happily steal Russia’s future to safeguard his own position. That is what he [is] doing by throwing in his lot with Xi’s China—he will be gone before Russia pays the price.”


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Double Ally: How Seoul Stays Friendly With Both Washington and Moscow,” Fyodor Tertitsky, Carnegie Moscow Center, 05.17.21. The author, a senior research fellow at Kookmin University in Seoul, writes:

  • “South Korea’s partnership with the United States is fundamental to its foreign policy. Nevertheless, Seoul adroitly fulfills its obligations to Washington without undermining its relations with Moscow. South Korea has taken a softer position vis-à-vis Russia on a number of issues.”
  • “Following Georgia’s bombardment of its breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August 2008, South Korea was one of the few countries to denounce Georgian aggression and support Moscow, which backs the self-proclaimed republic … Following the Ukraine crisis, South Korea was also the only U.S. ally not to revoke its visa-free regime with Russia (currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic) … Nor did Seoul impose its own sanctions against Moscow in response to the annexation of Crimea, although it does comply with the sanctions of the United States and its other allies, and does not recognize Crimea as part of Russia.”
  • “There are several reasons for this successful balance … First of all, Russia and South Korea don’t have major trigger points for conflict … Second, there are no major historical or ideological irritants in their bilateral relations, such as those both Moscow and Seoul separately have with Tokyo …Third, the two countries maintain a positive image of each other.”
  • “The only scenario in which a deterioration of Russia-South Korea relations seems at all likely is an escalation of the standoff between Moscow and Washington to a state in which the fight against the Kremlin becomes the number one priority for the White House. In that case, Seoul really would be forced to show solidarity with Washington, and the Russia-South Korea friendship would become a thing of the past. However, the most likely forecast is for the continuation of the status quo.”

“What Will Happen to EU-Russia Relations after Merkel Leaves Office?” Tony van der Togt, The National Interest. 07.15.21. The author, an associate senior research fellow at the Clingendael Russia and Eastern Europe Center in The Hague, writes:

  • “After Merkel leaves office, the fundamentals of German (and EU) relations with Russia will probably not be changed. A new Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Chancellor is expected to bring further continuity, even as a coalition with the Green Party could mean a more critical attitude towards Russia on its repressive internal policies and aggressive foreign policy, combined with a renewed push for closer cooperation on Russia with Central and Eastern European neighbors. But also such a more critical attitude towards Russia’s internal and external policies has already started to emerge earlier with Merkel at the helm.”


“Is Putin Ready to Move Against Ukraine?” Mark Episkopos, The National Interest. 07.17.21. The author, a national security reporter for The National Interest, writes:

  • “Russian President Vladimir Putin has published his hotly-anticipated essay on Ukraine … Putin offers some of his toughest messaging yet on the ongoing civil conflict in Ukraine’s eastern territories, going as far as to suggest that ‘Kiev simply does not need Donbas.’”
  • “The larger implications for Ukrainian-Russian relations are even starker. ‘Russia is open to dialogue with Ukraine and ready to discuss the most complex issues,’ he wrote. ‘But it is important for us to understand that our partner is defending its national interests but not serving someone else's, and is not a tool in someone else's hands to fight against us.’ As long as Ukraine remains what Putin considers to be an anti-Russian platzdarm, there is nothing more to discuss between Russia and Kiev. Nor is this impasse likely to be solved with a change of government in Ukraine, for Putin’s underlying grievance is … the Ukrainian state as it is currently constituted.
  • “Russian hardliners and hawkish political commentators have previously suggested that the Kremlin erred in extending diplomatic recognition to the Ukrainian government that emerged in the aftermath of the Euromaidan revolution. This essay is as close as Putin has gotten to ‘correcting’ that supposed mistake. ‘We will never allow our historical territories and people close to us living there to be used against Russia,’ he insisted, warning ‘those who will undertake such an attempt’ that they ‘will destroy their own country.’ To assess this rhetoric merely as a signal that Moscow is preparing to take a specific military action is to miss the scope of what the Russian President is trying to convey. Putin’s opus is nothing less than an act of moral and political divestment not just from contemporary Ukraine, but from the very possibility of Ukrainian statehood outside the Russian sphere of influence.’

“How to Break the Cultural Gridlock in Ukraine,” Nicolai N. Petro, The National Interest, 07.12.21. The author a professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island, writes:

  • “Ukraine’s independence in 1991 created a nation-state whose two predominant cultural constituencies were unevenly divided between urban and rural, between wealthier and poorer regions, and between the more and less educated. The historical disbalance in favor of the Russian-speaking in each of these groups automatically made the status of the Russian language in Ukraine an issue of political contention.”
  • “In the Galician narrative … The reason there is corruption in Ukraine is that Russia has imposed its slave mentality on Ukrainians; the reason the country is not more prosperous today is because of Russia’s colonial trade practices; the reason Ukrainian politics continue to be unstable is that Russia is always intervening. Since all problems point to Russia, the solution is to sever all ties with Russia.”
  • “By contrast, in the Maloross narrative, which predominates in the half of the country that lies East of the Dnieper river, Ukraine is a distinct nation with indelible cultural and religious ties to Russia. Many Maloross Ukrainians see Russian and Ukrainian ethnic identities as interchangeable and still believe, as Vladimir Zelensky did in 2014 and Vladimir Putin does today, that the two are one people. Rather than blame Russia for Ukraine’s woes, Maloross Ukrainians blame the policies of the Ukrainian government. They see the solution not in separating Ukraine from Russia, but in restoring their close ties.”
  • “The only approach that might actually reunite all of Ukraine is a complete course reversal.”
  • “We should be working toward a new Treaty of Westphalia, the gist of which would be this: Russia and the United States should each take a step back, Russia and Ukraine should each take a step back, and all parties would stipulate that both Ukraine and Russia must, at the end of this process, become part of a new pan-European security arrangement.” 

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors: 

“Moldova's president now has a legislative majority to push through her anti-corruption agenda,” Marius Ghincea and Vlad Iaviță, The Washington Post, 07.15.21. The authors, a doctoral candidate at the European University Institute in Florence and a London-based freelance journalist respectively, write:

  • “Moldova held snap legislative elections July 11. After a months-long wrangle between Maia Sandu, the pro-Western president elected in November, and the pro-Russian majority in the legislature, new elections were called when the Parliament failed to name a new prime minister. Sandu's Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) won this election in a landslide, with 52.8 percent of the vote. The second-place party, the pro-Russian Socialists, took only 27 percent. During the campaign, parties focused on two issues: extensive domestic corruption and whether Moldova should more closely align with Russia or the West.”
  • “Sandu's landslide victory creates an opportunity for systemic reforms in Moldova, with substantial assistance from international partners. Institutional reform — assessing and modernizing judicial procedures and the public bureaucracy — fighting corruption and boosting economic development are the key issues that will dominate Moldova's politics.”
  • “But Sandu's success depends on substantial international assistance. Western partners, especially the European Union and the United States, but also Romania, would need to support Moldova. This means direct infusions of capital to fund structural reforms, as well as foreign direct investment and technical assistance. If Sandu is successful in implementing her agenda, support from the E.U. and the United States could help lock in a pro-Western direction for Moldova.”

“Svetlana Tikhanovskaya: ‘With Biden’s Help We Will Prevail’,” Jacob Heilbrun, The National Interest, 07.18.21. The author, editor of the National Interest, writes:

  • “I spoke with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the elegantly dressed thirty-nine-year-old leader of the opposition in Belarus, on her first visit to Washington, DC. Tikhanovskaya, who selects her words deliberately, made it clear that she is looking to the Biden administration to bolster the beleaguered opposition and democratize Belarus, stating ‘With Biden’s help we will prevail.’”
  • “She avers that Lukashenko’s rule ‘can’t last long.’ A recent Chatham House study indicates that over half of Belarusians believe that Lukashenko should go now or before the end of 2021. A scant 10 percent support a fresh term in 2025. But as the latest round of arrests in Belarus indicate, the pillar of the regime—the security services—remain loyal. During her visit, Tikhanovskaya will have to demonstrate that hers is more than a moral crusade. For now, Lukashenko doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Quite the contrary.”

“Stand for democracy, Mr. Biden,” The Washington Post Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 07.17.21. The editorial board writes:

  • “Svetlana Tikhanovskaya… represents all that the United States and Mr. Biden hold dear: a popularly elected leader, and a champion of democracy, rule of law and civil society who has courageously stood up against dictatorship in Europe. Mr. Biden should meet with her at the White House to demonstrate to the people of Belarus - and the world - that the United States is prepared to defend democracy and confront autocrats, and not just in news releases.”
  • “Ms. Tikhanovskaya is at the front lines of the contest between democracy and dictatorship. No single visitor to the White House could carry more symbolism and meaning at this juncture.”