Russia Analytical Report, July 29-Aug. 5, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, claims Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s victory in Ukraine creates an opportunity for a grand bargain between the U.S. and Russia, while Joshua A. Geltzer, founding executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, says the U.S. should win Moscow’s trust while also continuing to deter it.
  • The China-Russian entente has now reached the quality of strategic cooperation partnership in the Western Pacific aimed at countering and deterring the U.S.; however, close as they are, China and Russia are not looking to merge into a monolithic bloc under a single leadership and a joint military command, writes Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Like Trenin, Vassily Kashin of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics views Russian-Chinese alignment as primarily an anti-U.S. configuration, writing that in taking its military cooperation with China to a new level, Moscow will strive to preserve its anti-American slant.
  • Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center, offers the following prediction for the post-INF Treaty world: Nothing in front of us can top the arms racing of the past, especially during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Money is tighter now in Russia, and many Americans have recognized that nuclear weapons aren’t all that useful.
  • Holman W. Jenkins Jr., a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, disputes a TV commentator’s description of Russia as a "sworn enemy of the United States,” noting that Congress has not declared war on Russia and pointing to America’s $27 billion in annual trade with Russia.
  • In his analysis of the implications of U.S. District Judge John Koeltl’s decision to dismiss the Democratic National Committee’s lawsuit against Russia, Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky writes that as the 2020 presidential election approaches, any foreign government can obtain, by whatever means, compromising information about any of the candidates, hand it to the media or to the candidate’s competitors, and the media or the competitors can publish it—all without anyone being legally liable.
  • Eugene Rumer, director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, argues that the Trump administration and its congressional allies should be encouraging Nord Stream 2’s construction, as it will increase Europe’s leverage against Russia and Russia’s dependence on U.S. allies.

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • No significant commentary.

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Is Nuclear Arms Control Dead or Can New Principles Guide It?” Alexey Arbatov, Michael Krepon, Ulrich Kühn, Gary Samore, Tom Sauer, William Tobey,Wu Riqiang and Pavel Zolotarev, Russia Matters, 07.30.19In this survey of nuclear arms control experts, Russia Matters asked: “Some say the very concept of ‘bilateral nuclear arms control’ is getting outdated. If so, what should be the new guiding principles of whatever regime follows, if any?”

  • Alexey Arbatov: “These claims are nothing more than a smoke screen to cover the absence of political will or knowledge required for continuing and expanding the highly successful 50-year quest of arms control.”
  • Michael Krepon: “The ‘Big Two’ can still be engaged with tacit agreements not to go over certain limits, partial or otherwise. There would be a need to conceive of a multilateral framework—Big Two, United Kingdom and France and the three regional nuclear powers in Asia—using a ratio or bandwidth-type approach.”
  • Gary Samore: “The Trump administration has proposed to replace bilateral arms control with a trilateral treaty limiting the nuclear forces of the U.S., Russia and China. This is not realistic…future U.S. administrations are likely to return to a bilateral approach in order to strengthen strategic stability because it is the only option available.”
  • William Tobey: “The principle imperatives are timeless: maintain stable deterrence such that no nation has an incentive to start a nuclear war during a crisis in the belief that going first would enable it to limit the damage of a retaliatory response to acceptable levels; and manage the deployment competition to avoid strategic surprise that could also affect crisis stability.”
  • Wu Riqiang: “No, the concept of bilateral arms control is not outdated. As long as the U.S. and Russia still hold 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, these two countries should take the lead in nuclear disarmament.”
  • Pavel Zolotarev: “The foundation of a new arms control regime should continue to be strategic stability, but on the basis of mutually assured security instead of mutually assured destruction.”

 “A Nuclear Treaty Is About to Vanish. Its Demise Should Teach a Lesson,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 07.31.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “National security adviser John Bolton said Tuesday [July 30] in a speech at the National Conservative Student Conference that the 2010 New START accord limiting strategic or long-range nuclear weapons was ‘flawed from the beginning’ and ‘unlikely’ to be renewed when it expires in 2021.”
  • “Mr. Bolton and Mr. Trump have held out the prospect of a negotiation that would include China's nuclear weapons. This sounds reasonable, but China's nuclear arsenal is only a fraction of what Russia and the United States maintain, and Beijing has ruled out negotiating. So is this administration serious or just creating a diversion?”
  • “Likewise, Mr. Bolton said New START was flawed because it did not include short-range or tactical nuclear weapons, which have never been covered by treaty. Again, a reasonable goal, but the New START accord was meant to limit the long-range globe-spanning ballistic missiles, not the tactical weapons. Is the administration really serious about tackling this difficult new area of negotiations or just manufacturing a smokescreen?”

“Death of a Treaty,” Michael Krepon, Arms Control Wonk, 08.05.19The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes:

  • “Without the ABM Treaty and the INF Treaty, more rather that less nuclear offenses are in our future. Does this that we’re headed toward a new nuclear arms race? This is the question foremost in mind, but it’s actually not the best framework for characterizing what lies ahead. Nothing in front of us can top the arms racing of the past, especially during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Money is tighter now in Russia, and many Americans have recognized that nuclear weapons aren’t all that useful.”
  • “A better framework for assessing what lies ahead is nuclear danger. As the competition heats up, nuclear dangers will certainly rise. … The competition will accelerate even more if the Trump administration, as Bolton has repeatedly advertised, pulls out of [New START].”
  • “Deterrence is about the threat of horrific destruction. Once deterrence turns into nuclear use, mushroom clouds can be constrained only by the questionable assumption of escalation control.”

“We Still Can’t ‘Win’ a Nuclear War. Pretending We Could Is a Dangerous Fantasy,” Bruce Blair and Jon Wolfsthal, The Washington Post, 08.01.19The authors, a research scholar in Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security and a senior adviser to Global Zero, write:

  • “Nuclear believers like those in the Trump administration looked for ways to eclipse MAD with capabilities for fighting and winning a nuclear war. Key to these nuclear warfighting mind-sets is the idea of ‘escalation dominance,’ where one side thinks it can use nuclear weapons but somehow prevent the other side from doing the same.”
  • “These concepts of escalation dominance and nuclear warfighting are dangerous fantasies. It is illogical and baseless to believe that a U.S. nuclear weapon could be used first against another nuclear-armed country without provoking a catastrophic nuclear counterattack.”
  • “Adopting a nuclear No-First-Use policy would be a straightforward way to nip this resurgent warfighting idea in the bud, enhancing U.S. and allied security and global stability.”
  • “Forswearing first use would not only enhance stability but also could enable smarter investments in nuclear weapons, stabilize nuclear crises, raise the threshold of nuclear use, reduce the risk of initiating a nuclear strike on the basis of faulty intelligence and open up a new avenue for controlling the dangerous and accelerating nuclear competition between Washington and Moscow.”
  • “If the next president adopts this policy, they could then push the leaders of every other nuclear-armed state to do so (India and China already have). Anything less threatens to undermine the fragile logic of deterrence and could result in a nuclear catastrophe the world had hoped was left behind in the history books.”

“The INF Treaty Officially Died Today,” Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, Federation of American Scientists, 08.02.19The authors, the director of and a research associate for the Nuclear Information Project at FAS, write:

  • “Now, we find ourselves on the brink of an era without nuclear arms control whatsoever. With the demise of the INF, the only remaining treaty—the New START treaty—is in jeopardy, a vital treaty that caps the number of strategic nuclear weapons the United States and Russia can deploy and provides important verification and data exchanges.”
  • “Allowing New START to expire would do away with the last vestiges of U.S.-Russia nuclear restraint, and open the world up to a new open-ended nuclear arms race. Congress must do whatever it can to convince President Trump to extend the New START treaty.”


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

“The Crisis is Coming: Syria and the End of the US-Turkish Alliance,” Aaron Stein, War on the Rocks, 08.05.19The author, director of the Middle East Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, writes:

  • “Washington’s core mission in Syria has now shifted from combat operations to simply trying to keep two hostile parties from shooting at each other. This is not a good place to be in, nor an open-ended mission that the U.S. military is suited for … This reality should prompt Washington to hasten its efforts to end this conflict on terms it can accept, beginning with a recognition that any serious effort to wind down the American presence will entail open-ended talks with Russia.”
  • “Turkey, as a bordering state with troops in Syria, must also be engaged, alongside the SDF … This effort must recognize that the regime will remain, as a basis for the start of dialogue, but be firm on the need for Assad to face consequences for the murder of his own people on such a mass scale.”
  • “Absent a broader, U.S.-Russia compromise on what a future Syrian state could look like, talks with Turkey and the Kurds will revolve around the crisis of the day, and be beholden to the ‘will Ankara invade, or won’t it invade this week’ cycle that has framed recent U.S.-Turkish relations. This cedes the advantage to Ankara and, ironically, the SDF, who can pressure the United States.”
  • “To end this cycle, Washington needs to identify what it is prepared to live with in Syria, realize that talks with Moscow are inevitable to help reach a broader agreement, and use this as a basis to drive a policy that allows a U.S. exit, while minimizing the potential for a Turkish-Kurdish clash.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“What Ails the US Press?” Holman W. Jenkins Jr., Wall Street Journal, 08.03.19The author, a member of the news outlet’s editorial board, writes:

  • “A timeworn TV commentator and professor of politics, in the moments before Robert Mueller's testimony began last week … told the audience that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election was an ‘act of war’ by a ‘sworn enemy of the United States.’ Notice how each word is the sheerest nonsense.”
  • “There is no forum in which countries ‘swear’ their enemyhood. Congress has not declared war on Russia. … Our $27 billion in annual trade with Russia does not implicate thousands of Americans in trading with the enemy. … If Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic emails, this is a crime, not an act of war, and has been treated as such by the special counsel. … And heaven help us if Facebook ads are an act of war.”
  • “The U.S. conducts, and has for decades, espionage, disinformation, propaganda and other kinds of influence campaigns in numerous countries around the world. … The Russian actions during the election, and especially their flagrancy, were an insult to U.S. power, and likely offered as such.”
  • “The U.S. is not in a position to get in a moral snit about such meddling, but we are certainly in a position to exact a price for it, and should. … 99.99% of the consequential effect of Russia's low-budget actions arose from the panting eagerness of U.S. partisans to weaponize those actions against their domestic opponents.”
  • It needs to be understood whether the Mueller report, and the Mueller investigation itself, was essentially a product of disinformation (and whose disinformation). … We need to know whether the secret Russian intelligence that James Comey used as justification for his improper, protocol-violating actions in the Hillary Clinton case was, in any sense, real intelligence. … The hysterical rhetoric on Russia will disappear instantly when it's no longer useful against Donald Trump.”

“Russiagate Is Deader Than Ever: A judge has ruled it was actually fine to publish material stolen by the Russian intelligence—even if the Trump campaign had done it,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 08.01.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “The ruling by U.S. District Judge John Koeltl to dismiss the Democratic National Committee’s lawsuit against Russia, the Trump campaign and others on Tuesday [July 30] may look like something of an afterthought now that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has failed to find evidence of a criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump’s team. … It contains some hard truths for those still hanging on to the Trump-Russia story.”
  • “In his ruling, Koeltl … explained that Russia cannot be sued in a U.S. court for government actions planned in Moscow. … [T]hough it’s not OK to steal documents such as personal and work-related emails, it’s perfectly OK to disseminate and publish them under the First Amendment—as long as the disseminator isn’t also the thief. Moreover, according to the ruling, it’s fine to ask a thief for information he’s known to have stolen.”
  • “As the 2020 presidential election approaches, any foreign government can obtain, by whatever means, compromising information about any of the candidates, hand it to the media or to the candidate’s competitors and the media or the competitors can publish it—all without anyone being legally liable.”
  • “Countries will spy on each other, and they’ll get their hands on information of public interest in the process. If this information is genuine, the public should get access to it.”
  • “As for Trump-Russia, the Democratic candidates appear to have made the right decision about it. During Tuesday’s debate, the word ‘Russia’ was heard exactly twice, from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who criticized Trump for pulling out of an arms control agreement. Perhaps the story will float up again as the campaign goes on—but it should stay buried.”

“Don’t Call It a Comeback: Foreign Interference in US Elections Has Been Here for Years,” Evan Wilson, War on the Rocks, 07.30.19The author, an assistant professor at the U.S. Naval War College, writes:

  • “Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, German military leaders worried about the possibility that the United States would enter the war. … The answer was obvious: If the decision to bring the United States into the war depended on the president, then Germany should try to get its preferred candidate elected. The Nazis were not alone in this effort. America’s ostensible allies, the British, interfered as well, and to greater effect. … As another presidential campaign gets underway, Americans should assume that foreign agents will seek to influence it.”
  • “Of course, much has changed in the media and political landscapes since the 1940 election. … Another factor that leaves the American electorate vulnerable in a way that it was not in 1940 is social media.”
  • “The example of 1940 shows that responsibility for defending a democracy from foreign interference requires multiple stakeholders to act. Congress can take concrete steps to alleviate the problem of misinformation spread over social media, and encouragingly, there are signs of movement on this front. … There is also a role for the executive branch. The recent ‘digital incursions’ into Russia’s power grid are presumably meant to signal to the Russians that interference will not be tolerated.”
  • “The greatest challenge, though, is societal. There is no simple policy solution to the problem of foreign interference in a democracy, because democracies by their very nature are open to influence. All that can be done, tangibly, is to raise the collective awareness of Americans that foreign powers interfere in American elections for their own purposes, not America’s. As the chair of the Federal Election Commission recently noted, it is surprising that this point needs to be made.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“The US Might Sanction a Russian Pipeline to Germany. That’s a Terrible Idea,” Eugene Rumer, Politico, 08.01.19The author, director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “If anything, the Trump administration and its congressional allies should be encouraging Nord Stream 2’s construction, for it will increase Europe’s leverage against Russia and Russia’s dependence on U.S. allies.”
  • “Should these [U.S.] sanctions [over Nord Stream 2] become the law of the land, they won’t have their intended effect—the pipeline, which is supported by the German government and business community, will be completed regardless. While failing to achieve their intended goal, the sanctions could still backfire against U.S. interests.”
  • “For one, they will deliver a major insult to Germany, a key ally in Europe and lately a favorite target of bashing by the Trump administration and the president personally. In addition to undermining our ties with our allies, the sanctions will push our adversaries closer together.”
  • “China is the other major market for Russian gas, and a new round of U.S. sanctions targeting Russia’s access to the critically important European market will only encourage it to seek closer ties to China. … We should be keeping our friends close, not pushing our adversaries closer together.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

“‘Last Man Standing’: An American Investor in Russia Takes a Fall,” Alan Cullison and Thomas Grove, Wall Street Journal, 08.01.19The authors, reporters for the news outlet, write:

  • “One year after the West began sanctioning Russia for its 2014 invasion of Ukraine, prompting a retreat of foreign capital, U.S. fund manager Michael Calvey appeared at an annual investor conference in St. Petersburg to deliver a contrarian message. ‘There's everything here, growth, creativity, anything you want,’ he told a packed audience of Russian and foreign businessmen.”
  • “This year, Mr. Calvey was unable to attend the conference. In February, police appeared at his Moscow apartment and those of his investment fund colleagues and arrested them on fraud charges.”
  • “The arrests, court proceedings have since shown, came amid a dispute with an up-and-coming Russian businessman, Artyom Avetisyan, who cultivated ties with Russia's security services and had tangled with Mr. Calvey over their joint investment in a Russian bank.”
  • “The criminal case against Mr. Calvey, who has pleaded not guilty and remains under house arrest in Moscow, appears to have snuffed out the remaining prospects for Western private equity in Russia by jailing its last prominent cheerleader. Russia watchers say it also signals that Mr. Putin, after nearly 20 years in power, cares little about the foreign investment he once courted.”

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Time for Ukraine—and America—to Make a Deal With Russia,” Doug Bandow, American Conservative, 08.01.19The author, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writes:

  • “Russia’s Vladimir Putin is neither Western liberal nor American friend. He pursues his own agenda, disregarding what Washington wants. … Most controversially, he has followed the U.S. example of intervening in other nations’ elections for political advantage, tossing a wrench or two into America’s presidential contest.”
  • “However, Putin is not solely at fault for the collapse of U.S.-Russia relations. … Declassified documents make clear that Washington lied to Moscow about its intention to expand NATO. … The Clinton administration used money and influence to keep Boris Yeltsin in power even as Russia’s economy was being looted in the name, though not the reality, of a market transition. … The Bush administration continued to promote NATO expansion, even to Georgia … and Ukraine.”
  • “None of this justified Moscow essentially waging war on Ukraine and forcibly annexing Crimea. However, Western behavior undermines the claim that Putin is the latest Hitler, out to dominate the world. Russia couldn’t conquer Europe even if it wanted to … Despite having rebuilt its military, Moscow is a declining power, focused on ensuring that its security and interests are respected by the West.”
  • “Today, Washington and Moscow appear to be adversaries trending towards enemies. Outrage is particularly abundant in Congress … Yet sanctions against Moscow have completely failed. … Zelenskiy’s election offers an opportunity for Ukraine, Europe and America to repair relations with Moscow.”
  • “Agreement will require compromise, including from American legislators … But that should still be possible—so long as everyone accepts the underlying, if unpleasant, realities. A cool peace would be far better than today’s lukewarm war.”

“The 2 Steps to Fix Relations With Russia,” Joshua A. Geltzer, Foreign Policy, 07.29.19The author, founding executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, writes:

  • “Figuring out how to rebuild deterrence—how to get Putin to start fearing the United States again—will be an important short-term challenge for Trump’s successor, whoever that turns out to be. But the next U.S. president will also face a longer-term challenge in getting Russia to start trusting the United States—or, at least, to trust that Washington is not bent on regime change in Moscow.”
  • “Putin’s belief that the United States has sought to oust him from power appears deeply entrenched. And … it is widely shared among Russian elites. So long as Moscow mistakenly views Washington as an existential threat, addressing particular challenges posed by Russia—such as cybercrime, election interference and overseas adventurism—will be nearly impossible.”

“Putin and the Protesters,” Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal, 08.04.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Dissent against the Putin regime always has been stronger inside the country's urban centers. But over the past year even some traditionally supportive regions have begun to sour on Mr. Putin over the state of the Russian economy.”
  • “The risk now is that he picks a foreign fight—a new front in the Baltics or perhaps an escalation in the Sea of Azov—to distract from domestic troubles. Mr. Putin had nearly 90% approval after military adventures in Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014).”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Russia and Cooperative Security in Europe: Times Change, Tactics Remain,” Philip Remler, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 08.01.19The author, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes:

  • “With the continued paralysis of the NATO-Russia Council and the suspension of a high-level political dialogue between Russia and the EU, it is fair to say that the OSCE is currently the only active platform for East-West dialogue. But dialogue between Russia and the West at the OSCE has stagnated.”
  • “A sustainable, effective dialogue can only be restarted if both sides tone down the rhetoric, agree not to lecture one another, and compartmentalize major demands (on the understanding that they are not dropping those demands). The process should start with an agreement to talk about specific, circumscribed topics that cannot be highly politicized, setting modest goals.”
  • “Compartmentalization is difficult, but the OSCE and neutral states can help. If non-NATO states, such as Austria, Finland or Switzerland, are looking for roles to play—whether within the Structured Dialogue or on the margins—a productive starting point might be to try to broker a gentlemen’s agreement on compartmentalization.”


“Yesterday’s Cold War Shows How to Beat China Today: The Trump administration has been ignoring the playbook that produced the downfall of the Soviet Union,” Stephen M. Walt, The Washington Post, 07.29.19The author, the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University, writes:

  • “Here are five important lessons from the Cold War, lessons that should be guiding contemporary U.S. foreign policy. … Lesson #1: Make sure you have the right allies. … [I]t helped that America’s principal allies were also a lot wealthier and more powerful than most Soviet client states were. … Thus far, Trump’s presidency has been a textbook case in how not to manage America’s various international partnerships.”
  • “Lesson #2: Investing in science, technology and education pays off. Having the world’s most sophisticated and technologically advanced economy was an enormous asset for the United States. … [T]he Trump administration seems to have little respect for scientific expertise … and has twice attempted to gut federal support for scientific research.”
  • “Lesson #3: Greater openness, transparency and accountability gave the United States an important advantage. … [D]emocracies with a tradition of free speech and a vigorous, vigilant media are more likely to recognize errors and (eventually) correct them. … [T]he Trump administration isn’t the first to play fast and loose with facts or to attempt to shield itself from outside scrutiny.”
  • “Lesson #4: … letting the Soviet Union squander resources in strategically marginal areas … was a smart strategy. … The final straw was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, which sped up its collapse. … Trump believes throwing more money at the bloated and inefficient Pentagon … will ‘Make America Great Again,’ but it is more likely to sap its economic strength.”
  • “Lesson #5: Nice countries finish first. … The United States is not as virtuous as Americans like to pretend, but during the Cold War, it benefited from standing for freedom, human rights and other popular political values. … U.S. leaders consistently treated their foreign counterparts with respect … Trump flunks here as well. … He’s acted boorishly at international conferences and alarmed experienced foreign diplomats with his insecurity, ignorance and incompetence.”

“US Obsession With Containment Driving China and Russia Closer,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center/Global Times, 07.31.19The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “July 2019 marks an important milestone in the Russia-China strategic relationship. For the first time, Russian and Chinese bombers have carried out joint air patrols over the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. … The news stories have resulted in speculation that in the emerging new global bipolar order between the U.S. and China, Moscow was casting its lot with Beijing. The reality is much more nuanced, but it is clear that the China-Russian entente has now reached the quality of strategic cooperation partnership in the Western Pacific aimed at countering and deterring the U.S.”
  • “In the near future, this interaction is set to become closer. The just released white paper on China's national defense in the new era has made many more references to Russia than its 2015 predecessor, all of them positive.”
  • “Missile defense and air-space defense could become new areas for joint computer exercises. … Russia's next strategic exercise, The Tsentr-2019 exercise, which will be held between the Arctic archipelagos of Novaya Zemlya and New Siberian Islands, might again include Chinese forces. … Military talks would become more frequent, with the parties consulting closely not only about increasing interoperability of their armed forces, but also about possible contingencies in places like the Korean Peninsula.”
  • “Close as they are, China and Russia are not looking to merge into a monolithic bloc under a single leadership and a joint military command. Even a formal military alliance is not on the cards. … East Asia and the Western Pacific are becoming the world's top area of strategic competition, way ahead of Europe and the Middle East.”
  • “The China-Russian military cooperation with its underlying strategic calculus is clearly aimed at countering U.S. moves and capabilities in the region.”

“Joint Russian-Chinese Air Patrol Signifies New Level of Cooperation,” Vassily Kashin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.30.19The author, a senior research fellow at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, writes:

  • “Even in the absence of a formal alliance between the two countries, Russian involvement in Pacific operations alongside Chinese counterparts casts the prospects of a possible conflict in the region in a different light. This development significantly increases the PLA’s striking capabilities, which will in turn require the United States to take certain costly steps in response, while Russia and China incur no additional costs.”
  • “Russia’s apparent willingness to enhance its military role in the region changes a lot. After all, the Russian factor was simply ignored until recently in analysis of East Asia conflict scenarios.”
  • “Given the weakness of the Russian navy in the Pacific, long-range aircraft is the main instrument enabling Moscow to seriously influence the situation in the region.”
  • “In taking its military cooperation with China to a new level, Moscow will strive to preserve its anti-American slant. Russia clearly wants to stay out of Beijing’s numerous disputes with Asian countries over islands and historical grievances. In addition, the current nature of Russian-U.S. and Chinese-U.S. relations means Russia and China’s military cooperation will inevitably have an anti-United States focus.”

“Why Russia and China Are Joining Forces,” Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal, 07.30.19The author, a columnist and professor of foreign affairs, writes:

  • “The departing director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, says the two Eurasian supergiants are as close as they were in the 1950s. From Venezuela to Syria to Serbia, they are working to frustrate the West. They are also increasingly cooperating in sub-Saharan Africa and have found ways to reduce their competition in Central Asia.”
  • “Moscow seems to have concluded that the door to the West is closed. The European Union is too weak, too indecisive and too liberal to serve as a strategic partner for Mr. Putin's Russia. President Trump is too mercurial and Congress too hostile … That leaves a stark choice between an alliance with China and isolation.”
  • “There is another factor driving Moscow and Beijing together … the past few years have witnessed a marked increase in American power. Washington's reach is expanding, its ability to enforce its will on others has grown, and it has become more willing and able to use its power disruptively.”
  • “There are two rising great powers in the world today—not just one—and the U.S. as well as China is developing a more expansive view of its interests as its power grows.”
  • “China has responded to the newly competitive international situation by deepening its relationship with a strategic partner. Combine the jostling ambitions of two rising world powers with the disruptive economic, military and cultural consequences of the information revolution, and the causes of our distemper are easier to understand if not, unfortunately, to resolve.”

“The Asian Strategic Order Is Dying,” Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, 08.05.19The author, chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times, writes:

  • “In late July, the Chinese and Russian air forces staged their first ever joint aerial patrol in the region, causing South Korean warplanes to fire hundreds of warning shots at Russian intruders. The South Koreans are also facing the most serious deterioration in their relations with Japan in decades. North Korea has also just restarted missile tests, endangering U.S.-led peace efforts. All of the other east Asian flashpoints—Taiwan, the South China Sea, Hong Kong and the U.S.-China trade war—are also looking more combustible.”
  • “On the surface, many of these incidents seem unconnected. But collectively they point to a regional security order that is coming apart. America’s military pre-eminence and diplomatic predictability can no longer be taken for granted. And China is no longer willing to accept a secondary role in east Asia’s security system. In these new circumstances, other countries—including Russia, Japan and North Korea—are testing the rules.”
  • “The Kissinger order in east Asia did not resolve most of the historic disputes and rivalries in the region. But it helped to freeze regional conflicts in place, buying time for peaceful development. Now the geopolitical climate has changed so frozen conflicts are moving again. As the ice melts, things can move fast in dangerous and unpredictable ways.”


“Russian Disinformation Distorted Reality in Ukraine. Americans Should Take Note,” Sam Sokol, Foreign Policy, 08.02.19The author, a research fellow at the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, writes:

  • “Putin’s propaganda portrayed Ukraine as a fascist state filled with anti-Semites. Despite Ukrainians’ election of a Jewish president, the image has stuck.”
  • “If there is any lesson to be learned from the story of the Jews of Ukraine, it is that outside actors can exploit racial tensions for hostile purposes.”
  • “The Russians have already shown they are willing to try to widen U.S. social cleavages based around race and identity, and recent spikes in anti-Semitism could provide Putin’s propagandists with another societal rift that they can exploit through the use of disinformation. After all, they did it in Ukraine.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“The United States and Uzbekistan: Military-to-Military Relations in a New Era of Strategic Partnership,” Mariya Omelicheva, PONARS Eurasia, July 2019The author, a professor of national security strategy, writes:

  • “The 2016 change of power in Uzbekistan to President Shavkat Mirziyoyev prompted the deepening of cooperation between Washington and Tashkent. While rapprochement touched many areas of bilateral relations, including investments and trade, it is the military-to-military relations that reached an unprecedented depth and frequency of collaboration.”
  • “In the long run, military education and training programs can accomplish numerous shared goals with lesser costs.”
  • “First, Uzbekistan’s teaching faculty would be able to sustain its own academic programs, ensuring continuous professionalization of the military. Second, the armed forces will become more capable of conducting their own independent actions domestically and providing security leadership in the broader Central Asian region.”
  • “Third, the comparability of Professional Military Education standards and joint training will strengthen the interoperability of the Uzbek troops with the United States and NATO. This will open a possibility for the Uzbek armed forces joining the allied troops for peacekeeping or other operations. Lastly, the politics and society of Uzbekistan can also benefit from changes in the quality of military education.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Has a Color Revolution Come to Russia? Probably Not,” Nikolas K. Gvosdev, The National Interest, 07.31.19The author, a senior fellow at FPRI and a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, writes:

  • “The protests that have broken out in Moscow and in other parts of Russia have excited those anxiously awaiting the next popular manifestation that will trigger a colored revolution in Russia itself. This sort of short-term gaming provides for interesting speculation, but is missing the larger, long-term picture.”
  • “Whether a particular protest is successful in changing anything or not … is less crucial than seeing how two trendlines—the 2024 succession question and the entry into adulthood of Russia’s first truly post-Soviet generation—are intersecting.”
  • “For some ‘Generation P’ members, whose experience was that of a recovering Russia rediscovering its place in the world, Putin’s arguments that the West is attempting to keep Russia from its rightful place in the sun is an argument that resonates. For others, however, Putin's long tenure calls into question why he continually needs power to finish the job he started in 2000.”
  • “The protests also mark the setbacks in the plans to create a sustainable long-term framework for the Kremlin. During the 2000s, Putin’s key domestic policy advisor Vladislav Surkov cited as his inspiration for Russia’s future the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan or the Congress Party in India: ruling parties that nevertheless won elections and were capable of governing—and mediating leadership transitions. United Russia is by no means a similar structure.”
  • “The Kremlin has its work cut out for it: to retain control of the political process that still depends, in the end, on electoral legitimacy. The protests are a warning sign of the problems lying ahead.”

“Violent Crackdowns on Russian Opposition Reveal Dangerous Policy Shift,” Sam Greene, The Moscow Times/IISS, 08.01.19The author, director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London, writes:

  • “There has been a significant and sustained shift in the Kremlin’s relationship with the Russian opposition, and with the Russian public more broadly. Authorities across the country have issued ever fewer permits for protests and rallies, while increasing the scale and severity of the law-enforcement response to unsanctioned gatherings.”
  • “In the end, though, Putin faces a conundrum. On the one hand, the immediate demands of political survival—from keeping fence-sitters out of the ranks of the opposition, to staving off challenges from a nervous elite—require him to demonstrate that he’s unafraid to use force against his own citizens. On the other, because violence serves to galvanize the opposition, those very demonstrations increase the risk of a revolutionary spiral of escalation.”
  • “This is not to say that Russia faces a revolution, now or any time in the foreseeable future. But Putin now faces the same insoluble dilemma that is eventually faced by every autocrat who spends enough time in office. Violence becomes both key to their survival and contains the germ of their downfall.”

“Moscow Protests Are Good News for Opposition–and Siloviki,” Tatyana Stanovaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.30.19The author, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Putin’s inert regime is not prepared to engage in dialogue with the non-systemic opposition or to recognize it as a legitimate force, and is incapable of doing so. Faced with such inflexibility, protests will continue to strain the country’s political system, and as long as those in the presidential administration tasked with managing domestic politics fail to find instruments with which to de-escalate the situation, the response will be led by men in uniform. The risk is that opposition activists will not be the only ones persecuted; those in power deemed soft on the internal enemy will be too.”

“Is Putin Burning Out?” Stephen Sestanovich, New York Times, 08.05.19The author, the State Department’s senior official overseeing policy toward Russia during the Clinton administration, writes:

  • “Today, [the] strategy—supporting and strengthening the state bureaucracy no matter the consequences—may give Mr. Putin’s underlings a measure of confidence that he will come to regret. While keeping his own future plans (if he has any) a secret, he has empowered others to make their own decisions. That’s why one recent Russian study of Putinism carries the ominous title, ‘Every Man for Himself.’ This is a formula for instability that leaves Mr. Putin just one act of brutal abuse away from mass anger and upheaval—abuse, moreover, that he will be expected to defend. If it’s really becoming every man for himself in the Kremlin, the president will doubtless figure out what that means for him. He’s on his own now, too.”

“Why the Russian Government Can’t Attain Economic Growth,” Alexandra Prokopenko, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.31.19The author, an independent journalist, writes:

  • “[The Russian government] could easily resist lobbying by state capitalists: both the law and regulation would allow that. Instead of embarking on a path of empowerment, however, the government has turned into a place of ceremonial meetings for people with influential positions who are manipulated by officials from the presidential administration and by state capitalists. Instead of targeting growth, the cabinet’s day-to-day activities boil down to packaging up the national projects as a panacea.”
  • “But selling this idée fixe to a population that is getting poorer and that has paid for state projects with its taxes—and amid a lack of economic growth—is virtually impossible. If current economic policy is preserved, it’s certain that there will be no growth.”
  • “Sixty percent of Russians believe that people bear no responsibility for the actions of their government, according to a poll by the Levada Center. When the public doesn’t want to listen to the authorities, PR weapons are of limited effectiveness. TV programs, media publications and even information about the national projects in the metro won’t work. It seems that the president will have to take responsibility.”

“Investors Rediscover Appeal of Russian Bonds,” Giancarlo Perasso, Financial Times, 08.02.19The author, a lead economist at PGIM Fixed Income, writes:

  • “The combination of orthodox monetary policy, prudent fiscal policy and a bit of luck in the form of higher oil prices has allowed Russia to record a strong current account surplus. From a macroeconomic point of view, Russian authorities succeeded in stabilizing the economy, while rebuilding foreign exchange reserves and lowering debt-to-GDP.”
  • “[S]tructural reform remains basically absent. The only true structural reform, paradoxically, has been the imposition of Russian sanctions on EU agricultural goods, which contributed to an improvement in the domestic agricultural sector to the point where the country is now a leading exporter of many agricultural commodities. The weaker ruble has also helped.”
  • “From a financial point of view, the clearest indication that sanctions are no longer considered a major factor is the trend in the share of OFZ—federal ruble-denominated bonds—held by foreigners. There was a major drop in this share from the sanctions imposed in the spring of 2018, but foreign investors have returned to the local market more recently and the proportion of OFZ held by foreigners has crept back up to about one-third.”

Defense and aerospace:

“Russian AI-Enabled Combat: Coming to a City Near You?” Margarita Konaev and Samuel Bendett, War on the Rocks, 07.31.19The authors, a research fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology and an advisor with the Russia Studies Program at CNA, write:

  • “More extensive AI and autonomous capabilities infused into Russian armed drones and unmanned ground vehicles, as well as the incorporation of AI as an enabler of rapid command, could potentially undermine the U.S. military’s ability to maintain overmatch in multi-domain battle. Overall, Russian advances in military applications of AI threaten to erode American technological and operational advantages on future battlefields, including in urban warfare.”
  • “Russia is also likely to capitalize on breakthroughs in AI, big-data analytics and machine learning to conduct more targeted, scalable and impactful information operations, which should alarm both civilian and military U.S. decision-makers.”
  • “Russia will probably not lead the world in AI in the near future. But underestimating its ability to leverage advances in AI and other emerging technologies to further its broader strategic goals would be unwise.”

“Putin’s Fancy Weapons? Everything Old Is New Again,” Yulia Latynina, New York Times, 07.30.19The author, a Russian journalist, writes:

  • “Start with the S-400 Triumf antiaircraft system, which Turkey recently acquired with great hype … its capability hasn’t had a chance to prove itself in action. … Let’s take a look at another Russian wunderwaffe: the hypersonic cruise missile Avangard … yes, Avangard is capable of maneuvering, since it’s fitted with winglets. But that’s actually a very old idea—to fit a ballistic rocket with wings so it will be capable of atmospheric maneuvering.”
  • “Almost all military hardware Mr. Putin is boasting about harks back to Soviet times. When the projects proved to be dead ends, the products were rejected even by the Soviet military — not because they were too advanced to create, but because they were not functional.”
  • “The Soviet war chest was full of monstrous projects that were always top secret, whether they were feasible or not. That’s what Mr. Putin is capitalizing on—and what his generals are feeding him. Sometimes they just exaggerate, as with the S-400. But as often as not they take top secret Soviet failures and try to rehash them as public relations successes.”

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.