Russia Analytical Report, July 20-27, 2020

This Week’s Highlights 

  • New technologies and areas of contention have disrupted the nuclear balance, writes Elizabeth Sherwood Randall, a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. “With more and new players, domains and capabilities, and no rules of the road governing usage, classical notions of strategic stability offer scant guidance. Deterrence now has to work across a much broader and more complex landscape,” she warns. Traditional arms control will thus be “far from adequate to address the dangers of today’s and tomorrow’s realities,” though it should remain a goal. “Washington should also try to start a new high-level dialogue with Moscow about strategic stability, despite the current state of the U.S.-Russian relationship,” while “the United States and China should begin a serious exchange about establishing guardrails and potential constraints on the most destabilizing capabilities.” 
  • Climate change demands cooperation, not competition in the Arctic, according to Thomas Graham and Amy Myers Jaffe of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Fletcher School’s Climate Policy Lab, respectively. “At a time of deepening distrust between the United States and Russia,” they write, “the danger is that even actions taken for legitimate security reasons could spark unnecessary geopolitical tensions.” For example, Russia “considers the Northern Sea Route to be within its territorial waters, whereas the United States maintains that the passage is in international waters.” The most urgent goal, the authors argue, “would be a code of conduct to regulate military activities in the region and reduce the risks of incidents escalating into armed conflict.”  
  • Meanwhile, Russia and China’s Arctic partnership is not an alliance—it is driven by business, argues Elizabeth Buchanan of Australia’s Deakin University. “Despite mutually beneficial interests in the region, commercial realpolitik is at the heart of their engagement,” she writes. And “as climate change decreases year-round ice coverage, Beijing is likely to … seek free transit of the parts of the Northern Sea Route within international waters.” 
  • “Both the EU and Russia share an interest in avoiding a world framed by a Sino-American bipolar rivalry, which would reduce the normative and geoeconomic clout of Brussels while undercutting elements of Moscow’s great power status,” writes Zachary Paikin of the Global Policy Institute and the Cooperative Security Initiative. The EU should “offer Russia cooperation on the basis of their shared commitment to a multipolar world order,” he argues. France, which has called “for re-engaging with Russia but encountered resistance from other EU members,” could push this “compromise proposal—one rooted in cooperation with Russia at the external level, but defense of the rights of small states and opposition to spheres of influence at the intra-European level.” 
  • The time has come for a radical rethink of U.S. foreign policy, argues Michael H. Fuchs of the Center for American Progress. “In the past decade,” he writes, “the United States, Russia and China have at various points cooperated on nuclear issues and climate change.” Washington will still need to “ramp up pressure on China” in response to Beijing’s repressive and aggressive policies, but “cooperation on existential threats such as climate change and pandemics must be a priority as well.”  
  • Several Ukraine watchers are expressing concerns about the country’s trajectory. The Financial Times’ Tony Barber describes apprehension in Western capitals and international financial institutions about President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s ability and determination “to be the truly reforming leader that Ukraine has needed since independence in 1991.” Melinda Haring and Doug Klain of the Atlantic Council worry that “Ukrainians’ once bright dreams of reform are going up in smoke,” noting that after the president “sacked his reform-minded government in March, many of the fresh leaders brought in to root out corruption, deliver economic growth, and continue westward integration have found themselves not only without a post, but under investigation and the subject of harassment and even attacks.” And a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer of Brookings, asks whether Zelenskiy is delivering on his promises of reform, warning that “Ukraine’s past 30 years are filled with episodes of rising hopes turning to disappointment. Zelenskiy should ask himself whether Ukraine and he personally can afford another one.”

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

New Cold War/saber rattling:

“Russia’s Behavior Risks Weaponizing Outer Space,” Beyza Unal and Mathieu Boulegue, Chatham House, 07.27.20. The authors, a senior research fellow at Chatham House’s International Security Program and a research fellow with its Russia and Eurasia Program, respectively, write:

  • “Russia tested a new anti-satellite weapon capability releasing a small projectile from its Kosmos-2543 sub-satellite. … By releasing a small projectile from the Kosmos-2543 sub-satellite, the U.S. claims that Russia has launched a new projectile into orbit with relatively high speed … leading to concerns about the potential of Russia to develop this technology as a weapon to target foreign satellites.”
  • “It is not the first time Moscow has relied on a Russian doll—or matryoshka—approach to launching satellites into outer space. … While it is possible that Russia’s matryoshka satellites have indeed been developed to carry out routine repairs of Russia’s space fleet, they also have the potential to interfere with and destroy other satellites, with such action needing to be considered a threat until Russia demonstrates otherwise.”
  • “Russia is not the only state investigating anti-satellite weaponry capabilities. There is a wider trend (e.g. China, India, U.S.) to demonstrate advanced space capabilities with nefarious, if not directly offensive, intent. But for the past few years, Russia in particular has been provocative in testing its space weapon capabilities.”
  • “By exploiting asymmetric advantages in space, Russia seeks to leverage its capabilities against competitors in space and in other domains, falling in line with its wider military strategy as well as its current Federal Space Program for 2016 to 2025. … Russian space activities also have a cyber and electronic warfare angle.”
  • “Despite Russia’s calls for a treaty to prevent the placement of weapons in outer space, there remains little international trust in Russia’s behavior in space so far.”

Russian Moves in Afghanistan Are About Regional Stability, Not Revenge on US, Artemy M. Kalinovsky, Russia Matters, 07.22.20. The author, a professor of Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet studies at Temple University, writes:

  • Russia’s engagement with the Taliban is not, primarily, about punishing the U.S. or getting revenge for Washington’s support to the mujahedeen fighting Soviet troops in the 1980s. Rather, Moscow is pursuing a pragmatic policy aimed at securing stability and security in Central Asia.
  • Russian officials seem to have decided that there was little chance of the U.S. achieving anything like stability in Afghanistan, and that the Taliban were more likely than not going to be a dominant force for the foreseeable future. Moscow’s decision to open a channel to the Taliban, and ultimately supply the group with arms, reflected a desire to be on good terms with whoever ruled the country [and] … a changing security calculus. The appearance of the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan worried Russian officials much more than the Taliban.
  • Evidence of Russia providing military and medical supplies to the Taliban began surfacing in 2016, although political ties almost certainly go back further. … The more recent accusation, concerning bounties for killing American soldiers, seems less credible. Russian support to the Taliban so far has been quite limited … enough to establish a relationship with the group and allow Russia to play a role as a peacemaker, but small enough for other parties to look the other way.
  • Whatever schadenfreude Russian commanders might feel about ISAF’s difficulties in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that their policy in Afghanistan is motivated by revenge. U.S. politicians may feel betrayed by Russia’s engagement with the Taliban, but to understand what Russia is up to, they need to stop imagining that Moscow’s every move is somehow intended to undermine the U.S. If anything, Russia’s engagement with the Taliban is a result of disappointment with American power, rather than an attempt to undermine the U.S.

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant developments

Impact of the pandemic:

“A Foreign Policy for the Post-Pandemic World. How to Prepare for the Next Crisis,” Michael H. Fuchs, Foreign Affairs, 07.23.20. The author, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, writes:

  • “A single event can reset U.S. foreign policy for decades… The 9/11 terrorist attacks created a brief moment of … unity that could have inspired an era of deeper global cooperation, but the United States squandered the opportunity. … [I]t launched unnecessary wars that … [did] immeasurable damage… Those catastrophic policies were … the work of individuals who had long advocated for a more aggressive U.S. foreign policy and took advantage of the crisis to enact one.”
  • “The current pandemic has the potential to spark even greater changes in Washington. … Liberal internationalist policymakers and scholars have long argued that the greatest threats facing the country … are transnational in nature and require transnational solutions—above all, diplomacy, multilateralism and a foreign policy that empowers other countries to tackle their domestic problems before they spill across borders. … What would such a rethink look like? Washington must quickly reorient its foreign policy toward the gravest threats—with climate change, pandemics and the erosion of democracy and human rights at the top of the list.”
  • “[T]he biggest reforms will require congressional action. Lawmakers will need to increase foreign aid budgets. … Above all, they will need to spend less time arguing over the size of Pentagon budgets (which need to be significantly reduced) and more time investing in the management of nonmilitary threats.” 
  • “The United States must lead the charge in strengthening … institutions [such as the WHO, IMF and World Bank].”
  • “[T]he pandemic may have intensified the U.S.-Chinese rivalry, but it has also driven home the importance of preserving some space for cooperation between great powers. … Washington will need to ramp up pressure on China in response to Beijing’s [repressive, aggressive behavior]… At the same time, cooperation on existential threats such as climate change and pandemics must be a priority as well.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments

Nuclear arms control:

“The Age of Strategic Instability. How Novel Technologies Disrupt the Nuclear Balance,” Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Foreign Affairs, 07.21.20. The author, who served as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy under President Barack Obama and is now a distinguished professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Nunn School of International Affairs and a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes:

  • “Policymakers and defense planners today have to contend with a system of complex interactions that are far less predictable and therefore harder to manage or control [than before new technologies and the spread of competition to new domains]. Preserving stability and avoiding escalation become exponentially more difficult in this environment.”
  • “There is now a broader array of capabilities that can be considered ‘strategic’—meaning that their use can have consequences significant enough to potentially impair or disable the target’s ability to respond effectively and thereby to deter aggression. … [A]dvances both in nuclear weapons … and in other technologies and capabilities create new uncertainties that undermine deterrence and potentially create incentives for escalatory behavior.”
  • “On the classic nuclear front, Russia is working to achieve prompt, penetrating and precise strikes on distant targets. … The Chinese nuclear arsenal is considerably smaller but also expanding.” Other contested domains with potentially strategic implications include cyberspace, outer space and biotechnology.
  • “With more and new players, domains and capabilities, and no rules of the road governing usage, classical notions of strategic stability offer scant guidance. … [S]imply returning to traditional arms control will be far from adequate to address the dangers of today’s and tomorrow’s realities.”
  • “The United States can play a major leadership role in both reducing tensions and building new norms. U.S. strategists and planners need to … develop a framework for synchronizing deterrence across multiple platforms—and … a related framework that addresses the implications for strategic stability. … Washington should also try to start a new high-level dialogue with Moscow about strategic stability… [I]n the past, nuclear talks have helped reestablish predictability, created a check on arms racing and ultimately enabled each to be confident that it had adequate capabilities to hold the other at risk, which discouraged escalatory behavior and preemptive first strikes. … Track II dialogues could be used to generate initial options. … [T]he United States and China should begin a serious exchange about establishing guardrails and potential constraints on the most destabilizing capabilities.”

“‘What about China?’ and the Threat to US-Russian Nuclear Arms Control,” David M. Allison and Stephen Herzog, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 07.20.20. The authors, PhD candidates in political science at Yale University, write:

  • “Sinophobia triggered by China’s economic and military growth—as well as allegations surrounding Beijing’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic—threatens to upend decades of consensus on bilateral nuclear arms control.”
  • “Beijing has played an outsized role in the recent history of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control. President Trump has pushed for trilateral arms control since early 2019.”
  • “Beijing argues that its smaller arsenal, no-first-use policy and need for regional delivery systems all make the trilateral format inappropriate for the INF Treaty and New START.”
  • “Trying to find a one-size-fits-all trilateral deal ignores the reality of the situation—China and Russia present markedly different challenges for the United States. Washington can more effectively manage the rise of China if it continues to embrace arms control with Russia and recognizes that it loses little from compliance and gains much by signaling that it is a reliable partner.”
  • “If the focus on the trilateral U.S.-Russia-China format continues, the future of New START and bilateral arms control treaties between Washington and Moscow appears bleak… But even if ‘What about China?’ remains a prevalent theme in Washington, this won’t necessarily spell the demise of arms control. It will, however, pose a significant setback that requires fresh thinking for a new era of managing nuclear risks and the U.S.-Russia relationship.”

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments

Elections interference:

“With Friends Like These: Assessing Russian Influence in Germany,” Jeffrey Mankoff, CSIS, 07.24.20. The author, a non-resident associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “Germany’s economic and political weight, as well as its centrality to the project of European integration, makes it one of the most important targets for Russian information operations in Europe. … Russian information operations in Germany focus on exploiting political and cultural fissures, promoting fringe political actors and amplifying Russia-friendly voices. Yet Germany’s very familiarity with Russia, coupled with a political system that has proven less fragile than those of countries such as the United Kingdom (much less Italy or Hungary), has made it more resilient to efforts at disruption.”
  • “Germany owes its comparative resilience in the face of Russian information operations to relatively high levels of social and political cohesion (including an unusually consolidated media environment) and a political leadership at once willing to take concrete steps to blunt the impact of Russian-backed information operations and wary of overreacting in ways that amplify the effects of disruption. At the same time, disruption plays a less prominent role in the Russian influence tool kit precisely because Moscow has other levers for influencing German politics and foreign policy, including members of the political elite who support closer relations and a web of business ties that build in interdependence.”
  • “The German model will be difficult for many other countries facing Russian influence activities to replicate. Germany’s political and societal resilience result not from a single policy or even a coherent political strategy so much as from enduring institutional and cultural factors … [that] cannot be simply conjured into existence.”
  • “Developments in the United States will matter, too, as tensions with the Trump administration and growing questions about the durability of Washington’s commitment to the transatlantic relationship reinforce arguments for improving relations with Moscow.”
  • “Russia is likely to try taking advantage of [a future Germany with a less consolidated political center] … even as it continues working through long-established channels of influence. On the other hand, Russian influence is far from the greatest danger that a more polarized, politically volatile Germany would face.”

“The UK Must Take Russian Meddling More Seriously,” Camilla Cavendish, Financial Times, 07.24.20. The author, an FT contributing editor who writes about UK politics and policy, writes:

  • “The casual, tawdry approach of the British establishment to Russian money and interference has been lurking at the corner of the eye for years. A rip-roaring art market; inflated property prices; the ‘London laundromat’ is operating on spin cycle, cleaning oligarchs’ cash and reputations. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been spinning his web of disinformation. Treating him as a Bond villain, bound eventually to trip and stumble into the shark pool, has been naive.”
  • “[T]he Kremlin’s precise impact is elusive. It is hard to believe the Russians influenced [the] outcome of the Brexit vote, since so many Leave voters were older and had never heard of Twitter. But the UK parliament’s Russia report this week forcefully points out that the Russian state is a highly capable cyber actor with links to organized crime and an agenda to subvert democracies to which Britain has turned a blind eye.”
  • “The parliamentary report suggests that a wealthy Russian elite has built its own influence and that of the Kremlin in Britain, creating a supine ecology of lawyers, accountants and PR folk. This elite, it claims, has extended its reach into the establishment. Many MPs have ties to Russia, and some Tory donors are Russians with alleged links to the Kremlin.”
  • “A stronger armory is needed to root out wrongdoers while protecting the innocent. Since 2018 the National Crime Agency has been able to use unexplained wealth orders to freeze assets. But it needs more heft… The path to UK citizenship for wealthy foreign citizens, which enables them to make large political donations, also needs scrutiny. … We need, too, a U.S.-style Foreign Agents Registration Act.”
  • “Moscow meddling is … merely a foretaste of what is to come from other state actors, which also seek to bully and subvert our political and financial systems.”

“A Country Under the Influence: Russian Interference in British Politics,” Nick Witney, European Council on Foreign Relations, 07.23.20. The author, a senior policy fellow at the council, writes:

  • “As for the key question of Russian interference in the Brexit referendum, it turns out that we do not know—for the very good reason that we have not looked. The various agencies avoided the issue as a ‘hot potato’—and it seems that … the government under neither Johnson or Theresa May wanted this particular stone turned over.”
  • “Equally disturbing is the picture painted [by the long-awaited report on Russian meddling published by the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee] of the extent to which, over the last 25 years, dirty Russian money has been deployed at the heart of the British system: whether through donations to political parties, a wide spectrum of charitable and cultural largesse, or straightforward purchase of members of the House of Lords (astonishingly, it turns out that it is not a criminal offence, under current legislation, to be the covert agent of a foreign intelligence service).”
  • “The report also highlights the scale of the ‘growth industry of enablers—individuals and organizations who manage and lobby for the Russian elite in the UK.’ Ranks of lawyers and accountants and estate agents have grown rich helping oligarchs to launder their money, enjoy it, distribute it to buy further influence, and secure it in tax havens.”
  • “Depressingly, in a section entitled ‘Trying to Shut the Stable Door,’ the report muses on how tough it will be to do much about this, now that Russian influence is so entrenched, and given the mismatch between the praetorian guard of professionals retained to defend Russian interests and the under-resourced regulators and investigative agencies trying to do something about it.”
  • “Given that Britain’s coronavirus-induced economic woes will soon be amplified by Brexit, not to mention the escalating row with China—well, it might be prudent to dial down the self-righteous rhetoric, at least until we have worked out some alternative to arms sales and money-laundering as ways to make a national living.”

“The Russian Threat to the UK’s Democratic System. An Army of Enablers Allowed Themselves to Be Used as Agents of Moscow,” Financial Times, 07.21.20. The publication’s editorial board writes:

  • “The main target of the intelligence and security committee’s report on alleged Russian interference, suppressed by Boris Johnson’s UK government for nine months, was expected to be the Kremlin. Instead, Britain’s entire political class, its intelligence agencies and its financial and professional services industries found themselves in the crosshairs as much as Moscow did.”
  • “There was no ‘smoking gun’ on Russian meddling in the 2014 Scottish independence or 2016 Brexit referendums. The starkest accusation was that the government simply did not know whether Britain’s democratic processes had been compromised because … ‘they did not want to know.’”
  • “To combat Russian mischief-making effectively, the security services must improve their own co-ordination. They also need the resources—legislative, as well as human and financial. It is absurd that it is not illegal to be a covert ‘foreign agent’ in the UK unless damaging secrets are handed over. New counter-espionage laws are overdue.”
  • “Far broader changes are also needed. … Battalions of lobbyists, lawyers, bankers and PR consultants are ready to smooth their [Russians’ with ill-gotten gains] entry into UK high society, often with few questions asked. Senior Britons have joined boards of Russian companies, whose interests … are barely separable from those of the Russian state.”
  • “It is imperative that a desire to bolster the City of London post-Brexit does not lead to a ‘regulation-light’ model that loosens controls even further. Indeed, the end of the EU transition period, the pandemic and resulting recession, and renewed pressure for Scottish independence, will impose severe strains on the UK’s law-based democratic system that destructive powers such as Russia will be poised to exploit. Its survival will depend on erecting far sturdier defenses than those in place in recent years.”

Energy Exports from CIS:

“Putin’s Folly. Pompeo may be in an uproar over Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, but it is hardly the geopolitical masterstroke he imagines,” Chris Miller, Foreign Policy, 07.20.20. The author, an assistant professor at the Fletcher School and the Eurasia director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, writes:

  • “‘Get out now, or risk the consequences,’ U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared last week to companies facilitating the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. The project to build a second set of pipes under the Baltic Sea from Russia directly to Germany has been delayed by U.S. sanctions, but it is on track to be finished in the coming months. Now, the United States is threatening new sanctions in a last-ditch effort to impede the pipeline’s construction. ‘Companies aiding and abetting Russia’s malign-influence projects,’ Pompeo insisted, ‘will not be tolerated.’”
  • “It is worth asking … whether those in the Trump administration advocating sanctions on Nord Stream 2 are right that the project will substantially enhance Russia’s influence in Europe.”
    • “In the medium term, the impact of Nord Stream 2 on Ukraine could be substantial, allowing Russia to ship more gas directly to Germany and other European customers, and thus to send less gas via existing pipelines that run through Ukraine.”
    • “Much has changed since Russia’s gas cutoffs of 2009. European gas markets look radically different today. Ten years ago, most countries in Central and Eastern Europe relied heavily, and often exclusively, on Gazprom, which pressured them into signing expensive long-term contracts. Today, Russia remains the continent’s biggest supplier, but Gazprom’s monopolistic grip has been broken.”
    • “Even Ukraine finds itself in a far stronger negotiating position than many of Nord Stream’s critics admit. The country can now import all the gas it needs from Europe, so it is far less vulnerable to a Russian cutoff.”
    • “Even for Russia, ‘Putin’s pipeline’ is far from the geopolitical masterstroke some U.S. leaders imagine. Europe is awash with cheap and plentiful gas, much of it already purchased from Russia. But Gazprom’s pricing power in Europe has collapsed in the face of new competition. So is the Kremlin’s newest pipeline … a tool of malign influence? Malign, perhaps. But influential? Probably not. Whenever it finally comes online, Nord Stream 2 will change little.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“There Is No Scramble for the Arctic. Climate Change Demands Cooperation, Not Competition, in the Far North,” Thomas Graham and Amy Myers Jaffe, Foreign Affairs, 07.27.20. The authors, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the managing director of the Climate Policy Lab at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, write:

  • “Recently, the United States and Russia … have clashed in practically every geopolitical arena around the world—except, it seemed, in the Arctic. At the Arctic Council, the region’s main diplomatic forum, Washington and Moscow have worked side by side. … Now, that spirit of cooperation is fraying. As the Arctic’s icecap melts away, new trade routes are emerging and with them a set of new security challenges.”
    • “Over the past several years, Russia has rebuilt its military presence along the Northern Sea Route… Moscow is enhancing its military capabilities… Russia created a new military district with responsibility for the entire Arctic region… Russian strategic air patrols off the coast of Alaska, which resumed back in 2007, and their routine interception by U.S. military jets have also drawn more attention recently as suspicions of Russian intentions mount in Washington.”
    • “The United States is rebuilding its own military capabilities in the region, which have atrophied since the end of the Cold War. Besides tracking Russian submarines near the GIUK gap, Washington has stepped up its strategic air patrols off the coast of Siberia to probe Russian defense systems and gather other intelligence. The Trump administration also plans to build a fleet of icebreakers to carry out what it has referred to as ‘national and economic security missions’ in the Arctic.”
  • “Neither side’s actions are necessarily aggressive in nature, nor do they portend an impending geopolitical fight over who controls the region. In fact, Russia’s military buildup has taken place solely in areas where its legal authority is undisputed.”
  • “At a time of deepening distrust between the United States and Russia, however, the danger is that even actions taken for legitimate security reasons could spark unnecessary geopolitical tensions. … It is not difficult to imagine an incident that would further reinforce their views. Russia, for example, considers the Northern Sea Route to be within its territorial waters, whereas the United States maintains that the passage is in international waters.”
  • “The Arctic Council could offer a useful multilateral forum to hash out environmental and development cooperation, provided its mission is broadened accordingly. … The Arctic littoral states (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States) could form the core of these new discussions. But they would need to include others—China, notably, has aspirations to mine Arctic resources for its own use. The most urgent goal would be a code of conduct to regulate military activities in the region and reduce the risks of incidents escalating into armed conflict. The United States could work together with its Arctic regional allies to broach a dialogue with Russia, and possibly China, on how to get there.” 
  • “Russian leaders have said that no breakthrough to more constructive relations, such as the reset of the early Obama administration years, is possible under current circumstances but that they are ready to take small steps to put relations on a more productive footing. The United States should test that proposition, and there is no better place to do so than in the Arctic.”

“No need for a new Cold War. Fiona Hill on Italy, Russia and China,” Francesco Bechis and Otto Lanzavecchia Feluche, Formiche, July 2020. In the interview, Hill says:

  • “There are major differences with the U.S.-USSR Cold War, but, yes, China is a rising power and it’s showing systemic threats. It’s very regionally focused in Asia Pacific, but it has a global reach that stretches to the two poles. During the Cold War with the Soviet Union you had defined blocs, and we absolutely have to avoid dividing the world into pro-China and anti-China blocs—we must not fall into a repetition of the Cold War, and we must find a way of creating incentives for China. I guess we all thought we were by bringing China into the WTO and the G20 and all of the international financial institutions, and then we actually found that, sadly, China didn’t behave as we thought it would; so now we have to be firmer. However, there are so many issues that would require collaborating with China, especially climate change. We’ve already lost an awful lot of time, we’ve only got one planet, and I think it’s becoming increasingly obvious that we’re at risk of putting ourselves into extinction.”
  • “I think that we in the West need to have a very sensible discussion about Russia… One thing is clear, though: The West is no longer engaged in a frontal geopolitical struggle with Russia. Whoever stands by the opposite theory is still living in the 20th century. Our systemic rival, as of now, is China.”
  • When asked whether Russia is still a threat: "[I]t is. Take arms control, or the fact that we theoretically still have the ability to destroy each other with our military and nuclear capabilities. But much of the threat comes from Russian security agencies as they’re still looking for the U.S. to be their main adversary and they’re trying to whip up conflict among Western nations. I often wonder if the Russian intelligence services would have known what to do with themselves in the absence of having the U.S. or NATO.”
  • “[The Russians] want vengeance for all the humiliations, both perceived and real, that came from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Therefore, we got into a cycle of tit-for-tat retaliation, but without a real meaning to it.”
  • “[Russia’s] goal at the moment is to weaken us, humiliate us, sow chaos and division within our individual countries and between them—which is why we must remember what our Western alliances are for, not just what they are against. And that’s why we need to go back to the basics of having really serious discussions about managing Russia. There’s no silver bullet to this, but there’s also no great mystery. We have to become systematical and we have to work together. We’ve been most effective when we’ve had a unified approach.”
  • “We have to find ways of engaging with the Russians … in different formats; the NATO-Russia Council was one of them. We can’t keep having people being assassinated, we can’t keep having them interfering in our elections.”
  • “Russia wants to make people feel that they can’t have confidence in their own democratic systems. … On top of that you have Putin’s own belief that we all had something to do with the creation of the protests against him when he returned to the presidency in 2012. This had its own domestic roots, but the Russian government always believes in some hand of the West. Also, they want us to be constantly talking about them because it makes them relevant and keeps them in the mix. Another thing the Russians are very worried about is being ignored and not being given a seat at the international table. By being a nuisance, they think they get leverage because we can’t ignore them. So, when Barack Obama said that Russia was just a regional power, or people start saying that Russia is no longer a major player, the Russians want to show that no, they’re actually a global power, and they can do nasty things.”

“A world without U.S. influence,” The Washington Post, 07.24.20. The newspaper’s editorial board writes:

  • “What does a world without U.S. leadership look like?”
    • “In Libya, a multinational proxy war is raging over control of the country and its rich oil reserves, nine years after the United States led a campaign to topple former dictator Moammar Gaddafi.”
    • “Meanwhile, tensions are rising among Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over a massive dam the latter is constructing on the Blue Nile river.”
  • “U.S. fecklessness has been a boon to two autocrats, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia's Vladimir Putin, who have jumped into Libya most aggressively. Turkish-led forces routed Russia's mercenaries last month, driving them away from Tripoli. But Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan might end up negotiating an end to the war with each other before walking away with lucrative oil and gas concessions.”
  • “The big loser in Libya and on the dam looks to be Egyptian ruler Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, whom Mr. Trump has called ‘my favorite dictator.’ Mr. Sissi sought to enlist Mr. Trump in pressuring Ethiopia and backing Libya's Mr. Hifter, but the White House's clumsy responses were counterproductive. On Monday, Mr. Sissi tried again, calling Mr. Trump to ask for help on the two crises. An Egyptian account said Mr. Trump ‘expressed his understanding of Egypt's concerns.’ But the U.S. superpower that once would have been busy brokering solutions—and screening out malevolent actors such as Mr. Putin—is nowhere to be found.”

II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russia’s In-System Opposition Gets Second Chance in Khabarovsk,” Tatiana Stanovaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.27.20. The author, a nonresident scholar at the center, writes:

  • “The appointment of Mikhail Degtyarev, a Duma deputy for the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), as governor of the Khabarovsk region came as a surprise to many. It seemed like a strange response by the Kremlin to the thousands-strong street protests that have swept the region since its former governor—fellow LDPR representative Sergei Furgal—was arrested on suspicion of ordering contract killings [some 15 years ago].”
  • “Furgal’s arrest and firing was meant as a strong warning to the LDPR that the in-system parties must not set themselves up as real opposition. The question of who would replace him, therefore, took on great importance. According to some sources, [Sergei] Kiriyenko [head of domestic politics within the presidential administration] was opposed to making a deal with the LDPR, and the decision to appoint its member Degtyarev was made personally by Putin.”
  • “In betting on an LDPR figure and not on a candidate put forward by the presidential administration or someone with connections to the region’s influential presidential plenipotentiary Yuri Trutnev, the president demonstrated that a stable relationship with the in-system opposition is more important to him than local intrigues. Putin wants to preserve the existing party system, which seems to him to be well oiled and dependable, and in which the in-system opposition plays a crucial role.”
  • “As for the protests, for the Kremlin, they are an unwelcome and delayed side effect of other people’s mistakes. Accordingly, the Kremlin will tackle the protests not with political dialogue and compromise, but with the help of administrative action taken by the new governor.”

“Winning the Referendum and Losing Legitimacy in Putin's Russia,” Oksana Antonenko, Kennan Institute, July 2020. The author, a global fellow at the Kennan Institute, writes:

  • “Going forward, the biggest mistake that the Kremlin can make would be to infer from its ‘successful’ referendum manipulation that the same unaccountable process can be safely applied to future votes. While the opposition in Russia decided not to mobilize its supporters against the referendum, and COVID-19 restrictions made any mass protests impossible, Russia’s still vibrant social media buzzed with people’s disgust over the obvious vote manipulation.”
  • “Another major mistake is to interpret the Kremlin’s ability to ensure that Russian society acquiesces with referendum irregularities as evidence that society will acquiesce with a new crackdown against potential opponents and competitors.”
  • “What is telling is that very few independent analysts expect that the referendum will propel Russia toward a better future. Recent trusted surveys of younger Russians have identified a trend of their increasing political apathy and disdain of politics. This referendum has done very little to change the attitude of tomorrow’s voters.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant developments

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Donald Trump’s allies race for gains in a combustible Middle East,” David Gardner, Financial Times, 07.21.20. The author, the international affairs editor at the Financial Times, writes:

  • “The realization is dawning that Donald Trump may lose his febrile bid for re-election as US president in November. In the Middle East, that prospect is accelerating all manner of deadly activities, with his allies racing to get reckless things done that a future administration under the Democrats’ Joe Biden might prefer undone. Exhibit A is the green light for Israel to annex more than 100 Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank.”
  • “In Saudi Arabia, even before King Salman was recently hospitalized, speculation was growing that Mohammed bin Salman, the ruthless crown prince who has the ability to unite both sides of the US Congress against him, would succeed his father this year.”
  • “In Libya, civil war has intensified as Turkey props up the UN-recognized Government of National Accord and rolls back the Libyan National Army of the renegade general Khalifa Haftar. … Now it is starting to look as if Egypt may invade eastern Libya.”
  • “Russia seems to be seeking a spoiling position in the south Mediterranean to add to its gains in the east of the sea, until recently referred to as a NATO pond. Moscow last month flew Russian jet fighters from an air base it controls in north-west Syria to eastern Libya. A Russian and/or Egyptian confrontation with Turkey is a real risk. … A potentially even more combustible story is playing out in Iran.”
  • “The last thing needed in the Middle East, north Africa and the Gulf … is yet more brinkmanship. If Mr. Biden does win in November, there is reasonable anticipation he will embrace in some form Mr. Obama’s diplomatic breakthrough with Tehran. This would be the safest way to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions short of war.”

“The Next Global Flash Point,” Sylvie Kauffmann, New York Times, 07.24.20. The author, the editorial director and a former editor in chief of Le Monde, writes:

  • “While many American foreign policymakers are focused on China and the South China Sea, some should take a closer look at Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean, which could be the next geopolitical flash point for Europe and NATO to confront.”
  • “Traumatized by their failure, as well as the killing of the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, NATO countries have largely stayed away from the region. Russia, Iran and later Turkey have filled that vacuum in Syria, helping Mr. al-Assad crush the opposition at a tragic human cost. And now, Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey are repeating a similar scenario in Libya, where, like a modern czar and sultan on parallel neo-imperial tracks, they have established a de facto condominium.”
  • “’We don't want Libya to be colonized by Turkey or Russia,’ Robert O'Brien, President Trump's national security adviser said in Paris on Bastille Day. But to Washington, Russia's presence is much more of a concern than Turkey's. Mr. Trump does not want to mess with Mr. Erdogan. He is happy to let Mr. Macron play the bad cop. As for France's European friends, they will most likely quietly wait for Nov. 3.”

“Beyond Kosovo: How Protests Transformed Serbia’s Relations with Russia,” Maxim Samorukov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.21.20. The author, a fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center and deputy editor of Carnegie.ru, writes:

  • “In the past week, Serbia made global headlines as one of the first countries to find itself in political turmoil due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 7, thousands of Serbs took to the streets, protesting against the re-imposition of lockdown restrictions. … The Serbian authorities have named pro-Russian radicals among the main troublemakers—an unprecedented accusation in the traditionally friendly Russia-Serbia relationship.”
  • “A long-standing taboo has been broken. For decades, Russia’s popularity in Serbia was largely based on flattering coverage in the local media and unconditional praise from Serbian bureaucrats. Now it turns out that they are prepared to present Russia as a hostile power, at least in some instances.”
  • “The number of these instances is bound to increase as Vucic inevitably comes under pressure during the Kosovo talks. Citing the threat of nationalist riots and a Russian takeover in Serbia may be the easiest way for him to bolster his position vis-à-vis Pristina, and persuade the West to take a more lenient stance towards Belgrade.”
  • “The reasons for Moscow’s displeasure with Vucic are multiplying almost daily, and the Kosovo talks, with their geopolitical implications, are only part of the story.”
  • “In the few weeks that have passed since the elections, Vucic has challenged the decade-old status quo in all major spheres of Russia-Serbia cooperation. Given both sides’ penchant for unconventional measures, it is too early to call the winner. But relations between the two countries will never be the same.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“The Sino–Russian Entente and EU Foreign Policy After the Pandemic,” Zachary Paikin, RUSI, 07.21.20. The author, a senior visiting fellow at the Global Policy Institute and an expert with the Cooperative Security Initiative, writes:

  • “The current health crisis has exacerbated the rivalry between great powers. But it has also given Europe a few more opportunities to engage with Russia. In a world increasingly framed by great power rivalry, deepening ties between Moscow and Beijing have been one of the most salient features of global politics in recent years. Yet as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds, two competing views have emerged about the state of Sino-Russian relations. … The first contends that the pandemic stands to strengthen China’s grip on Eurasia. … By contrast, others observe that Moscow … has begun to distance itself somewhat from Beijing.”
  • “Both perspectives contain elements of truth. Claims that Russia’s increasing economic dependence on China will lead to the former’s ‘vassalization’ are likely exaggerated. That said, given China’s rising power and continued tensions in Russia-West relations, Moscow has little option but to anchor its foreign policy in its entente with Beijing. … Russia’s entente with China now serves as a power multiplier.”
  • “Still, Brussels should not conclude that it must adopt a largely defensive posture aimed at defending European norms, values and institutions from a rising Eurasian behemoth. Both the EU and Russia share an interest in avoiding a world framed by a Sino-American bipolar rivalry. … The EU should therefore offer Russia cooperation on the basis of their shared commitment to a multipolar world order.”
  • “This approach to restoring engagement would strengthen the international conditions that sustain European sovereignty. It would also buttress EU foreign policy by fostering a pan-Eurasian strategic posture in place of separate sets of guiding principles for engaging with Moscow and Beijing. … Such a move, which aims to boost consensus among member states on foreign policy issues, would help Europe gradually move beyond a ‘geopolitical Commission’ toward a veritably geopolitical EU.” 

“There Is No Arctic Axis. Russia and China’s partnership in the north is primarily driven by business, not politics,” Elizabeth Buchanan, Foreign Policy, 07.21.20. The author, a lecturer of strategic studies at Deakin University in Australia, writes:

  • “As observers speak of a new Cold War between the United States and China, policymakers seem to misunderstand Sino-Russian relations in the Arctic as an alliance. … Russia and China’s Arctic partnership is not an alliance—it is driven by business. … Any regional cooperation is due to their shared interest in maintaining domestic stability. Long-term economic development ventures and the viability of non-Western multilateral bodies … are critical for their shared vision of world order.”
  • “Both Russia and China have a strategic interest in the resource bounty of the Arctic, but most known oil and natural gas deposits fall within the delineated exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the Arctic-rim states.”
  • “Frictions over their respective positions in a multipolar system are reflected in Russia and China’s Arctic engagement. The region’s sole governance institution, the Arctic Council, put China’s Arctic observer application on the back burner for years, as both Russia and Canada were wary of the internationalization of the Arctic. In 2013 China became a formal observer under new detailed criteria: Observer states must ‘recognize Arctic States’ sovereignty’ and the ‘extensive legal framework’ that applies to the Arctic Ocean, ‘including, notably, the Law of the Sea.’ Beijing signed up to an international agreement that in effect requires acceptance of Arctic-state sovereignty, including delineated maritime zones. As climate change decreases year-round ice coverage, Beijing is likely to push back against Moscow’s use of Article 234 and seek free transit of the parts of the Northern Sea Route within international waters.”
  • “On balance, China engaging in the Arctic in a mutually beneficial partnership with Russia is probably in Western interests, as long as Beijing is somewhat constrained by its own agreements with Moscow. It is doubtful that Western stakeholders could muster the resources to address two assertive states in the Arctic.”

“Moscow Isn't New Delhi's Pal; India has long relied on Russia for arms, but the Kremlin is getting too cozy with Beijing,” Sadanand Dhume, Wall Street Journal, 07.23.20. The author, a columnist for the publication, writes:

  • “Why has India maintained close military links with Russia despite drawing steadily closer to the U.S. over the past two decades? In part, it's a historical holdover. During the Cold War, India's politicians and bureaucrats developed a deep comfort with their Soviet counterparts. For instance, during the 1971 India-Pakistan war that led to the birth of Bangladesh, New Delhi relied on a peace treaty with the Soviets to ward off pressure from the U.S. and China. At the United Nations, Indian diplomats could count on the Soviet veto to quash potentially awkward resolutions on Kashmir.”
  • “The Cold War ended nearly three decades ago, but India and Russia continue to share the overarching goal of a multipolar world in which they count as important poles. India belongs to several groupings that include Russia, including BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”
  • “At its heart, though, India's bet conceals a wish: that Russia's past as a great power will prevent it from subordinating itself to China. This is unrealistic. Since its annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia has increasingly turned to China for trade, investment, technology and international prestige. India may long for it, but the odds of America engineering a Sino-Russian split, akin to the Sino-Soviet split in the 1970s, appear dim.”

“China's Grand Strategy. Trends, Trajectories and Long-Term Competition,” Andrew Scobell, Edmund J. Burke, Cortez A. Cooper III, Sale Lilly, Chad J. R. Ohlandt, Eric Warner, J.D. Williams, RAND, July 2020. The authors, all of the RAND Corporation, write:

  • “Any one of the four scenarios analyzed—triumphant China, ascendant China, stagnant China, or imploding China—is possible three decades hence. A triumphant China is least likely because such an outcome presumes little margin for error and the absence of any major crisis or serious setback between now and 2050. An imploding China is not likely because, to date, Chinese leaders have proved skilled at organizing and planning, adept at surmounting crises, and deft at adapting and adjusting to changing conditions.”
  • “By 2050, China most likely will have experienced some mixture of successes and failures, and the most plausible scenarios would be an ascendant China or a stagnant China. In the former scenario, China will be largely successful in achieving its long-term goals, while, in the latter scenario, China will confront major challenges and will be mostly unsuccessful in implementing its grand strategy.”
  • “These four scenarios could produce any one of three potential trajectories in U.S.-China relations: parallel partners, colliding competitors or diverging directions. The parallel partners trajectory is a continuation of the state of U.S.-China relations in 2018. This trajectory is most likely to occur with a stagnant China and probably an ascending China. The colliding competitors’ trajectory is most likely to manifest in a triumphant China scenario in which Beijing becomes more confident and assertive. The diverging directions trajectory is most likely to occur in an imploding China scenario because Beijing will be preoccupied with mounting domestic problems.”

“Can the Trump administration lock in its foreign policy?” Daniel W. Drezner, The Washington Post, 07.27.20. The author, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, writes:

  • “When Donald Trump won the election in 2016, there was a lot of loose talk about it being a moment for warmer ties with Russia. … Despite Trump's most fervent wishes, that did not happen. In that area, at least, American foreign policy remained constant over time.”
  • “This brings us to Sino-American relations, where the Trump administration seems bound and determined to reshape the nature of the bilateral relationship. … There was a diplomatic tit-for-tat, … this comes on top of new criminal sanctions against high-ranking Chinese officials and travel bans on other members of the Chinese elite. On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a stemwinder of a harangue on China.”
  • “Can the Trump administration lock in foreign policy shifts? Presidents can lock in foreign policy shifts, but traditionally that has happened through ratified, negotiated deals. This is a problem for Trump: Beyond his renegotiation of NAFTA, most of his foreign policy actions have been destructive rather than creative.”
  • “A Biden administration should be able to reverse course on a lot of this. … Two advisers for Joe Biden, wrote … arguing for a new approach to China that seems … ‘saner’ than the current administration's approach. This suggests that change is possible under a Biden administration. … The real constraint for an incoming Biden administration would not be the Trump administration's actions, but the new Washington consensus on China.”
  • “The more that Beijing views Biden as the leader of a large coalition and less like a unilateralist, the more likely it will be prepared to parley. If Trump is really trying to sabotage his successor's standing in the world, he’ll do it not only by promoting a new Cold War with China, but also by further corroding U.S. alliances.”

Ukraine:

“Chicken Kiev: Why Is Zelensky Afraid of Reform in Ukraine? Ukraine’s biggest problem isn’t Russia. It’s internal corruption,” Melinda Haring and Doug Klain, The National Interest, 07.24.20. The authors, deputy director and program assistant, respectively, at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, write:

  • “Ukrainians’ once bright dreams of reform are going up in smoke—literally. Early on the morning of July 23, one of the top anti-corruption activists in Ukraine, Vitaliy Shabunin, had his house burned down in what his watchdog organization, the Anti-Corruption Action Center, is calling an ‘assassination attempt.’”
  • “The attacks on Shabunin follow a series of dubious decisions that call into question President Volodymyr Zelensky’s reform credentials. After Zelensky sacked his reform-minded government in March, many of the fresh leaders brought in to root out corruption, deliver economic growth and continue westward integration have found themselves not only without a post, but under investigation and the subject of harassment and even attacks.”
  • “Former Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka, who was fired, among other things, for refusing to open a political investigation into former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, is now under investigation himself. … As head of Ukraine’s tax agency, Serhiy Verlanov tried to target some of the worst graft in the country. On April 24, he was abruptly fired—two weeks later, state security officials searched his apartment and began investigating him for fraud and money laundering. … The independent head of Ukraine’s central bank, Yakiv Smolii, was forced out last month after what he called a coordinated pressure campaign to keep him from threatening Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky.”
  • “With reformers of all stripes in Ukraine under attack, the global investor confidence that Kyiv needs is being undermined. … Ukraine recorded a net outflow of $1.5 billion in foreign investment in the first five months of this year, according to the State Statistics Service. … Reform in Ukraine has appeared all but dead for months now.”
  • “The war continues, but Ukrainians must also fight the enemy within—which may be even more potent than Moscow’s adventurism.”

“A hard road ahead for Zelensky in Ukraine. Sympathy for the president in western capitals and the IMF is now tempered by concern,” Tony Barber, Financial Times, 07.26.20. The author, the Europe editor of The Financial Times, writes:

  • “There remains much sympathy for Mr. Zelensky in western capitals. But it is mixed with apprehension about whether he has the political skills and determination to be the truly reforming leader that Ukraine has needed since independence in 1991.”
  • “The concerns are on several fronts. … First, the abrupt resignation this month of Yakiv Smolii as central bank governor disturbed the IMF and private sector investors. … Second, Iryna Venedyktova, Ukraine’s top prosecutor, has launched multiple probes into alleged wrongdoing by Petro Poroshenko, the former president defeated in last year’s election. This raises fears that political abuse of justice will persist in the Zelensky era. … Third, Mr. Zelensky has failed to maintain discipline in his party, named Servant of the People after his show, and displays a puzzling eagerness to get rid of high-level policymakers, some with strong reformist credentials.”
  • “The road ahead for Mr. Zelensky promises to be difficult. Like the EU countries with which Ukraine’s economy is increasingly aligned, the pandemic has struck the country hard. According to OECD projections, Ukraine may suffer a 7.7 percent contraction in economic output this year. Most seriously, the Donbas conflict is no closer to a solution than when Mr. Zelensky took office. Any compromise with Russia risks a backlash from millions of Ukrainians who regard concessions to Moscow as a sellout of Ukraine’s interests and identity. Western support for the country is a precondition of a workable peace settlement. But to keep that support, Mr. Zelensky must stay on the reform path.”

“Ukraine’s Zelenskiy ran on a reform platform—Is he delivering?” Steven Pifer, Brookings, 07.22.20. The author, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes:

  • “Zelenskiy has fired a reformist prime minister and cabinet, replaced a prosecutor general who had begun weeding out bad eggs among prosecutors and triggered the resignation of a National Bank of Ukraine head who had won plaudits for steering an independent course. Speculation runs rampant in Kyiv that oligarchs are reasserting control.”
  • “Ukrainians can be forgiven for thinking they have seen this movie before. They have. Ukraine’s past 30 years are filled with episodes of rising hopes turning to disappointment.  Zelenskiy should ask himself whether Ukraine and he personally can afford another one.”
  • “This latest episode of hope-to-disappointment with Zelenskiy comes at a difficult time for Ukraine. Mired in a war with Russia, the Ukrainian president cannot bring peace to Donbas without Vladimir Putin’s help, but the Kremlin appears intent on continuing the conflict. Reform and the struggle against corruption, however, are fights that Zelenskiy can control.”
  • “If Zelenskiy does not worry about his country’s future, perhaps he should worry about his political prospects. Just thirteen months after assuming office, his approval rating plummeted to 38 percent in June, a far cry from the 71 percent he enjoyed last September. His apparent reversal on corruption and long-needed economic reforms undoubtedly contributed to that.”
  • “Zelenskiy can still turn things around and become the pro-reform, anti-corruption champion that he promised Ukrainian voters. Kyiv is full of reformers who can help him. However, if he does not change course, he most likely will follow in the footsteps of Yushchenko and Poroshenko—one-term presidents turned out by an electorate badly disillusioned with their failed promises.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Can Russia Mediate New Clashes Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?” Sergei Markedonov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.23.20. The author, associate professor at Russian State University for the Humanities and an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, writes:

  • “The armed clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia this month are the biggest since their Four-Day War back in April 2016. This time, the confrontation is not along the contact line in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, but along the two countries’ shared border. In other words, it’s not a separatist or irredentist issue this time around, but a border conflict with a new international dimension.”
  • “Moscow’s cautious position seems to many in Armenia to fail to meet Russia’s obligations as its CSTO ally. In other conflicts in the former Soviet arena, from South Ossetia to Crimea, Moscow took far tougher action. So why is it exercising such restraint where Armenia and Azerbaijan are concerned? Kremlin’s reaction reflects several fundamental aspects of Russian policy in the region. … Moscow does not have a universal approach to regulating all the conflicts in the Caucasus, let alone across the former Soviet Union. … Secondly, for Russia, even in multilateral structures, bilateral relations are particularly valued. One key difference between Azerbaijan and Georgia, where Russia responded harshly to the escalation of August 2008, is that Baku does not accompany its actions to restore its territorial integrity with anti-Russian rhetoric.”
  • “Unlike in Abkhazia or the Donbas, Russia’s role in this conflict is viewed positively by both the United States and the EU, not to mention the two sides in the conflict. … Russia picking a side in the conflict would be dangerous for Armenia and Azerbaijan, as it would mean a breakdown in relations with Moscow for the other side. As a result, Nagorno-Karabakh would go from being a unique place where Russia and the West cooperate, despite their global confrontation, to yet another theater for their rivalry, with all the ensuing risks and dangers.”

“Behind the Flare-Up Along Armenia-Azerbaijan Border,” Paul Stronski, Carnegie Endowement, 07.22.20. The author, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “So far, Russia has been the most active mediator with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brokering a telephone discussion between both sides. The Russian Security Council held a closed session on the conflict, and Russian President Vladimir Putin also urged de-escalation. Russia, however, has also been part of the problem. It has supplied arms to both sides—a move that irks Armenia, Russia’s official ally. On July 17, Russia unnerved Azerbaijan with a combat readiness check in its southern and Western military districts, which includes the Russian-Azerbaijani border region.”
  • “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is publicly backing Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan. Baku sent a deputy defense minister to Ankara, where Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar promised to help and claimed Yerevan would ‘pay’ for the recent escalation—words viewed as an escalatory threat in Armenia. Israel in recent years has apparently provided high-tech arms to Azerbaijan. On July 21, Armenia showcased alleged Israeli-made drones that it claims to have shot down during the fighting. Meanwhile, neighboring Iran pledged to help mediate between the two sides.”
  • “In the United States, however, senior government officials are paying little attention. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not appear to raise the issue in his July 13 phone call with Lavrov and waited two more day before commenting on the issue in a press conference. Despite being in its fourth year of office, the administration of President Donald Trump has yet to issue a policy on the South Caucasus region, creating a vacuum that other powers—including Iran and Russia—appear eager to fill. The lack of senior level response to the latest violence shows once again that Washington does not see the Caucasus as a priority.”

“An election in Belarus: How the West could support a marginalised opposition,” Andrew Wilson, European Council on Foreign Relations, 07.21.20. The author, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, writes:

  • “In the run-up to a difficult election for President Alexander Lukashenka, the three main opposition candidates have been excluded from the vote and there have been mass arrests. Western countries should try to deter further repression in Belarus without isolating the country.”
  • “So long as it takes place before the election, clear signaling from Western countries could prevent the Belarusian government from engaging in even harsher repression. It will be hard for them to maintain a principled position on human rights while supporting Belarusian sovereignty. But these are just the kind of difficult issues the European Union needs to contend with if it is to prepare for rapid political change in Belarus.”