Russia Analytical Report, May 11-18, 2020

This Week’s Highlights

  • Cold War 2.0,” like the first Cold War, may last for many years and even decades, writes Sergei Rogov, director of Russia’s Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies. Rogov asks readers to consider the possible case scenarios: Scenario 1: The Cold War boils over into a “hot” nuclear war; Scenario 2: Depletion of Russia’s strength occurs as was the case with the Soviet Union; and Scenario 3: Détente is attained by reaching a compromise over arms control in order to create conditions for normalizing relations between Russia and the West.
  • Much attention has been drawn recently to the rather unusual sight of pro-Russian media criticizing the handling of the Syrian war by Russia’s own ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, writes Kamal Alam, a former fellow at RUSI. However, the talk of a Russian rift or frustration with Damascus fundamentally overlooks Russia’s historic role in Syria: it far predates Russian President Vladimir Putin and is a continuation of over 60 years of unbroken participation in Syrian defense affairs. As the region goes through a significant change, Alam writes, one equation will not change: the Russian presence in Syria; and the steady consolidation of Assad’s victory.
  • In a recent op-ed, three former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine argue that the COVID-19 crisis could lead to a resolution of the conflict in Ukraine on terms acceptable to both Kyiv and Washington. This is wishful thinking, argues Joseph Haberman of the Council on Foreign Relations. Their argument both overestimates the economic pressures facing Russia and understates the political, noneconomic rationale driving Russian policy toward Ukraine, Haberman writes, adding that it also ignores the likelihood that Kyiv, not Moscow, may soon feel compelled to capitulate.
  • The issue of Russia generates divisions within Europe, writes Jeremy Shapiro, research director of ECFR. If Europeans want to avoid following the American president down one or another blind alley of U.S. domestic politics, they will have to seek greater internal unity and their own policy of tough engagement along the lines that French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed. In that case, Shapiro writes, they could hope to bring America along and forge a transatlantic approach to Russia.
  • The combined coronavirus-oil shock is of course a huge challenge for Russia, writes Kadri Liik of ECFR. But if we break the crisis and its handling down into its constituent elements—a civilian crisis, a mediocre government response, low oil prices, vagueness on the economy and Putin taking a back seat on all of them—then we have seen it all before, and Putin has survived it all before

NB: Next week’s Russia Analytical Report will appear on Tuesday, May 26, instead of Monday, May 25, because of a U.S. federal holiday.


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:

“The New Cold War: Consequences for Russian Society,” Sergei Rogov, Herald of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vol. 90, Issue 2, 2020: The author, director of Russia’s Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, writes:

  • “Four features should be noted that signify the looming [U.S.-Russian] ‘Cold War 2.0.’ … The first is the rampant frenzied propaganda. … The second feature is the resumption of economic war. … The third feature is associated with the almost complete cessation of normal diplomatic contacts between the United States and American allies with the Russian Federation. … The fourth feature is a new arms race and the collapse of the arms control system.”
  • “‘Cold War 2.0,’ … like the first Cold War, may last for many years and even decades. Consider the possible variants of case scenarios: Scenario 1: The Cold War boils over into a ‘hot’ nuclear war … The fly-in time of a ballistic missile … from Estonia to St. Petersburg would be one minute; … The fly-in time of the currently created hypersonic missiles is even smaller. This is fraught with an unprecedented threat to our security. … Especially dangerous is the rapid development of cyber weapons.”
  • “Scenario 2: Depletion of the RF’s strength occurs as was the case with the Soviet Union. … We [Russia] are about 12 times behind the United States in military spending and five times behind China. … After the start of Cold War 2.0, Russian military expenditures increased substantially. … Thus, it can be stated that Russia has not avoided participating in the new arms race.”
  • “Scenario 3: Détente is attained by reaching a compromise over arms control in order to create conditions for normalizing relations between Russia and the West. … The end of Cold War 2.0 is in the interests of Russian society. … According to the Levada Center, 74 percent of Russians favor arms control. … A March 2019 poll by the Chicago Board of Global Affairs found that 87 percent of Americans favor maintaining arms control with Russia.” 
  • “If the Russian proposal not to deploy medium range missiles is implemented, then conditions may exist for the extension of START-3 [New START], which expires in February 2021.”

“US Nukes in Poland Are a Truly Bad Idea,” Steven Pifer, Brookings Institution, 05.18.20The author, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, writes:

  • “On May 14, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell wrote an op-ed expressing concern about not ‘eroding the solidarity that undergirds NATO’s nuclear deterrent’ and calling for the SPD to affirm Germany’s commitment to nuclear sharing. The next day, U.S. Ambassador in Warsaw, Georgette Mosbacher, entered the fray, with a tweet suggesting that U.S. nuclear weapons could be relocated to and housed in Poland.”
  • “This is a truly bad idea. First, moving U.S. nuclear weapons to Poland would be expensive. … Second, deploying the B61 bombs in Poland would make them more vulnerable to Russian preemptive attack in a crisis or conflict. … Third, placing nuclear weapons in Poland would be hugely provocative to Russia. … Fourth, a U.S. proposal to relocate its nuclear weapons to Poland would prove very divisive within NATO. The members of the alliance stated in 1997 that ‘they have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new [NATO] members.’”
  • “Relocating U.S. nuclear weapons to Poland would be expensive, militarily unwise because it would make the weapons more vulnerable to preemptive attack, unduly provocative and divisive within NATO. This was a tweet best not sent. The one thing it does do, however, is give Mr. Mützenich a new talking point for removing the bombs from Germany; citing Ambassador Mosbacher, he can claim: ‘We can send them to Poland.’”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant developments.

Impact of the pandemic:

“Coronavirus: Not Putin’s Kind of Crisis,” Kadri Liik, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), 05.13.20The author, a senior policy fellow at ECFR, writes:

  • “Deep down, Putin is a fairly pure and style-true exemplar of Soviet hagiography. And he makes no effort to conceal this: ‘With no exaggeration, I could be regarded as a successful product of patriotic upbringing of a Soviet citizen,’ he said in one of his early interviews. … The coronavirus, though, is different. It does not lend itself to Soviet-Putinist concepts of glory and heroism.”
  • “Firstly, there is no proper enemy. … Secondly, there is no mobilization to speak of—the opposite, in fact. Unlike your regular battles and wars, fighting the coronavirus is about extreme demobilization—life coming to a standstill; a form of paralysis. … Thirdly, in a battle with the coronavirus, there is no obvious hero. Or, where there could be heroes, they do not fit properly into the usual portrait of a Soviet myth. “
  • “The combined coronavirus-oil shock is of course a huge challenge for Russia. But if we break the crisis and its handling down into its constituent elements—a civilian crisis, a mediocre government response, low oil prices, vagueness on the economy and Putin taking a back seat on all of them—then we have seen it all before, and Putin has survived it all before.”

“COVID-19 and the Limits of Putin’s Power,” Polina Beliakova, War on the Rocks, 05.13.20: The author, a Ph.D. candidate at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, writes:

  • “COVID-19 has become a pretext for autocratic rulers around the world to grab more power. … Surprisingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be doing quite the opposite—he has withdrawn from policymaking and expanded the authorities of Russia’s regional officials. This unusual development signals that the Kremlin has reached the limits of its power at home.”
  • “Indeed, attempts to grab more power would likely undermine Moscow’s authority. In other words, Putin already controls what the current system allows him to control, and to deal with anything else (e.g., the pandemic), he has no choice but to delegate. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that instead of taking the opportunity to strengthen its authoritarian grip … the Kremlin instead has relaxed its control. While supposedly employed as a face-saving measure, this behavior suggests that Putin has reached the limits of his power at home—and he knows it.”

“Putin Withdraws From the Coronavirus Crisis in a Political Abdication,” Mark Galeotti, The Moscow Times, 05.12.20The author, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), writes:

  • “Putin is clearly eager to avoid being identified with the pandemic and the difficult measures being adopted to fight it. Despite having created a highly centralized political system, he is not going to be the commander-in-chief of this war.”
  • “Instead, he would rather force local leaders to take the tough decisions, demanding they both save lives and save the economy, while sniping at them from the sidelines. … He is retaining real power, but handing his boyars the burden of coronavirus.”

“Putin Is Using the Pandemic to Consolidate Power,” Josh Nadeau, Foreign Policy, 05.18.20The author, a freelance writer based in St. Petersburg, writes:

  • “‘There are serious concerns that a system for controlling the movement of citizens will remain after the quarantine measures have ended,’ said Dmitri Makarov, the co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a leading human rights monitoring organization in Russia. These controls could limit the movement of citizens deemed a threat to public safety, and the subsequent collection of location data could allow government officials to know who has come into contact with whom. ‘There is also the risk,’ he added, ‘that the data collected will be used to combat dissent or sold to cybercriminals on the black market.’”

“Will a Global Depression Trigger Another World War?” Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, 05.13.20The author, the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University, writes:

  • “By many measures, 2020 is looking to be the worst year that humankind has faced in many decades. … What could possibly make things worse? Here’s one possibility: war. It is therefore worth asking whether the combination of a pandemic and a major economic depression is making war more or less likely. What does history and theory tell us about that question?”
  • “If one takes a longer-term perspective a sustained economic depression could make war more likely by strengthening fascist or xenophobic political movements, fueling protectionism and hypernationalism, and making it more difficult for countries to reach mutually acceptable bargains with each other.”
  • “On balance, however, I do not think that even the extraordinary economic conditions we are witnessing today are going to have much impact on the likelihood of war.”
  • “First of all, if depressions were a powerful cause of war, there would be a lot more of the latter. … Second, states do not start wars unless they believe they will win a quick and relatively cheap victory. … Third, and most important, the primary motivation for most wars is the desire for security, not economic gain.”
  • “To be sure, I can’t rule out another powerful cause of war—stupidity—especially when it is so much in evidence in some quarters these days. So there is no guarantee that we won’t see misguided leaders stumbling into another foolish bloodletting. But given that it’s hard to find any rays of sunshine at this particular moment in history, I’m going to hope I’m right about this one.”

“Is the Pandemic China’s Sputnik Moment? What a Virus Reveals About Two Systems,” Branko Milanovic, Foreign Affairs, 05.12.20The author, a senior scholar at the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality at the CUNY Graduate Center, writes:

  • “When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, in October 1957, Washington finally understood that the Soviet Union was not solely a formidable ideological antagonist but also a technological and military rival.”
  • “The COVID-19 pandemic may be China’s unlikely Sputnik moment. With its swift and effective response to the pandemic; the revelation of the world’s dependency on its production of medical material; and the clear global necessity of its economic recovery, China has come of age in the eyes of the U.S. bipartisan elite and the world public. The view of China in the United States and the world will never be the same after this crisis as it was before.”
  • “The Soviet Union’s Sputnik moment proved fleeting, and so might China’s, if the other side chooses to tap into its significant advantages, such as flexibility of decision-making, accountability of local governments and transparency.” 

“Pandemic Propaganda and the Global Democracy Crisis,” Haroro J. Ingram, War on the Rocks, 05.18.20The author, a senior research fellow with the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, writes”

  • “The evidence is clear that social distancing is crucial for flattening the epidemic curve and many governments have responded by imposing strict lockdowns and even surveillance measures on its citizens. For democracies, the implementation of such draconian measures, even if only temporarily, places pressures on democratic institutions which, in turn, risk undermining public trust that democratic freedoms are being protected.”
  • “In the face of these unprecedented challenges, a variety of malign actors have looked to exploit these crises with pandemic propaganda and disinformation. It is no coincidence that the world’s democracies have been the target of such malign influence efforts by the global champions of authoritarianism and violent extremists alike.”
  • “Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials have actively championed conspiracies that the U.S. Army is the source of the virus while engaging in a broader ‘soft power’ campaign to present itself as the world’s public health leader and threaten ‘economic coercion’ against nations that criticize it. … Meanwhile, the Russian government has broadly followed its customary playbook with multilingual campaigns, spreading false and provocative messages designed to sow discord and mistrust in Western democracies.”
  • “Violent non-state actors from far-right extremists to jihadis have variously framed the pandemic as either indicative of or a catalyst for the collapse of democratic and free market systems.”
  • “There is something that all the world’s democracies could do right now, and that is publicly join Australia in its demand for an independent inquiry into COVID-19’s origins and transparency around the CCP’s initial response.”

“Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Will Soon Be the World’s. Herd Immunity Is the Only Realistic Option—The Question Is How to Get There Safely,” Nils Karlson, Charlotta Stern and Daniel B. Klein, Foreign Affairs, 05.12.20The authors, the CEO, deputy CEO and an associate fellow of the Ration Institute, write:

  • “Rather than declare a lockdown or a state of emergency, Sweden asked its citizens to practice social distancing on a mostly voluntary basis. Swedish authorities imposed some restrictions designed to flatten the curve: no public gatherings of more than 50 people, no bar service, distance learning in high schools and universities and so on. But they eschewed harsh controls, fines and policing.”
  • “Swedish authorities have not officially declared a goal of reaching herd immunity, which most scientists believe is achieved when more than 60 percent of the population has had the virus. But augmenting immunity is no doubt part of the government’s broader strategy—or at least a likely consequence of keeping schools, restaurants and most businesses open.”
  • “Sweden has won praise in some quarters for preserving at least some semblance of economic normalcy and keeping its per capita death rate lower than those of Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. But it has come in for criticism in other quarters for exceeding the per capita death rates of other Nordic countries and in particular, for failing to protect its elderly and immigrant populations.”
  • “But Swedish authorities have argued that the country’s higher death rate will appear comparatively lower in hindsight. … Lockdowns are simply not sustainable for the amount of time that it will likely take to develop a vaccine.” 
  • “At the end of the day, increased—and ultimately, herd—immunity may be the only viable defense against the disease, so long as vulnerable groups are protected along the way. Whatever marks Sweden deserves for managing the pandemic, other nations are beginning to see that it is ahead of the curve.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Arms control:

“Saving the Open Skies Treaty,” European Leadership Network (ELN) Group Statement, 05.12.20The authors of the statement write:

  • “For nearly two decades, the Open Skies Treaty allowed its members to gather information on each other’s military forces and activities through aerial surveillance.”
  • “However, the treaty is now at risk. According to press reports, the Trump administration is considering withdrawing because of persistent concerns that Russia is not in full compliance.”
  • “Despite the concerns of the United States and the other disputes among state parties about compliance, we judge it to be in the interests of both the United States and of other states to remain within the treaty. We strongly urge all parties to uphold the treaty and to use all relevant channels for dialogue to resolve their disputes.”
  • “Specifically, we recommend that: The Trump administration should reconsider its intention to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty. … State Parties should return to full compliance with the treaty. … European State Parties should make every effort to remain in the treaty, even if the United States withdraws.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

“In the Chaos of Syrian Geopolitics, Russia Remains Dominant,” Kamal Alam, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), 05.15.20The author, a former fellow at RUSI, writes:

  • “Much attention has been drawn recently to the rather unusual sight of pro-Russian media criticizing the handling of the Syrian war by Russia’s own ally, President Bashar al-Assad. Alexander Aksenyonok, a former Russian Ambassador to Syria, was also more specific in articulating Moscow’s apparent misgivings, when he said that there are multiple reasons to be frustrated with how the Syrian government is stalling progress on questions such as national reconciliation, governance and financial corruption as the war winds down”.
  • “Still, and notwithstanding these frustrations, Russia remains in the driving seat with regard to rehabilitating the Syrian state. … The talk of a Russian rift or frustration with Damascus fundamentally overlooks Russia’s historic role in Syria. It far predates President Vladimir Putin, and is a continuation of over 60 years of unbroken participation in Syrian defense affairs.”
  • “Russia now has new allies in the shape of the UAE, Bahrain and increasing Chinese involvement in assisting Damascus. There are also increasing signs that relentless Israeli pressure is finally taking its toll on Iranian military presence in Syria. … Putin is looking to work with the UAE and Saudi Arabia in Syria by leveraging their animosity against Turkey and desire to balance Iranian influence.”
  • “The Russian frustrations with financial corruption amongst Assad’s inner circle have also been swiftly dealt with. Damascus cracked down on the billionaire Rami Makhlouf, Assad’s cousin, thereby showing that Syria does act on some of Moscow’s serious concerns. … Makhlouf was open to Iranian business interests, whilst the Russians want their companies at the head of the queue. …  As the region goes through a significant change, one equation will not change: the Russian presence in Syria; and the steady consolidation of Assad’s victory.”

Cyber security:

“Reassessing Edward Snowden,” Thomas Rid, The Washington Post, 05.13.20The author, an instructor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, writes:

  • “It's time to reassess Snowden by moving beyond the hackneyed question of whether he is a hero or a traitor. Yes, he caused significant harm to U.S. intelligence collection—and, yes, he spurred significant improvements to Internet security. His activities weakened national security, but strengthened American democracy.”
  • “Barton Gellman's illuminating book, in effect, turns a faux contradiction into a real question: Was it necessary to harm U.S. national security in the short term to secure the Internet in the long run? It's hard to admit that the answer may be yes, especially for the many intelligence officers and diplomats and civil servants who were so offended by the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history. President Trump inadvertently is helping to put Snowden into a more nuanced perspective.”

Elections interference:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

“Oil Prices Are Coming Back as Demand Rises,” Clifford Krauss, New York Times, 05.17.20: The author, a national energy business correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Driving in the United States and Europe is picking up a little. Refineries in China are buying more oil as that country’s economy reopens. Saudi Arabia and Russia ended their price war and slashed production, and American oil companies are decommissioning rigs and shutting wells. All those developments have helped push up oil prices modestly in recent weeks. On Monday, U.S. oil futures climbed 10 percent to about $32 a barrel, a price that would allow some of the best oil wells in the United States to break even.”
  • “Even after the recent rally, oil prices are roughly half of what they were at the beginning of the year.”
  • “The Energy Department estimates that OPEC production will fall below 24.1 million barrels a day by June, a 6.3 million-barrel decline from April. Russia, which has coordinated with Saudi Arabia in recent years, is expected to cut its production by 800,000 barrels a day from last year. Canada, Norway and several other major producers are cutting as well.”
  • “But the most drastic cuts are coming in the United States, where the frenzy of drilling in Texas and North Dakota shale fields led to a doubling of American production in recent years. U.S. oil production has already plummeted by 900,000 barrels a day since February, a 7 percent decline. Analysts said they expected the industry to cut at least an additional two million barrels a day by the end of the year as companies shut more wells and production from other wells declines naturally.”
  • “‘It’s going to be very difficult to get things going again,’ William T. Drennen, chief executive of WTD Resources, an oil and gas driller in Texas and Louisiana, said. ‘I think by the summer months you will see more companies in real peril.’”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“A Contest of Extremes: Biden’s and Trump’s Opposing Positions on Russia,” Jeremy Shapiro, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), 05.14.20The author, research director of ECFR, writes:

  • “President Donald Trump and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, basically agree that the Chinese regime is awful. They only really fight about who will be tougher on China. The American people will not be making a fundamental choice on China policy in November.”
  • “On Russia, by contrast, the choice could hardly be starker. Trump sees a strongman with whom he can make deals; Biden sees a reckless, cruel regime led by a dictatorial leader that is, by its very nature, opposed to American values and interests. The November election could well determine whether Russia becomes a U.S. partner or a U.S. enemy, with striking implications for Europe.”
  • “The 2020 election will … likely determine whether America seeks a deal with Russia to carve up Europe into spheres of influence or launches a new, ideological Cold War against the country. It is a stark choice.”
  • “It is unlikely that either choice will improve security or stability in Europe. Neither Trump’s volatile self-absorption nor Biden’s Manichean fervor represents a sound basis for a policy on Russia. Worse, in the U.S., Russia policy has become primarily a domestic political issue. So, whatever choice the American people make in November runs the risk of a sudden reversal by the next president.”
  • “Of course, the issue of Russia also generates divisions within Europe. If Europeans want to avoid following the American president down one or another blind alley of U.S. domestic politics, they will have to seek greater internal unity and their own policy of tough engagement along the lines that French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed. In that case, they could hope to bring America along and forge a transatlantic approach to Russia.”

“Dismissal of Charges Against Michael Flynn Points to Corrosion of Rule of Law,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 05.12.20The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “To say that Mr. Trump corrodes America’s organs of state has almost become an abstract cliché. What is happening to the Justice Department brings the charge into focus. As almost 2,000 of its former officials wrote on [May 11], anyone who was ‘not a friend of the president’ would be prosecuted for what Mr. Flynn has done. If he gets off (the judge can, but probably will not, refuse the filing), it will say something dispiriting about the rule of law in America. It will also open the way for more such behavior.”
  • “In a country with no ethnic or religious basis, equal subjection to the law is the stuff of nationhood. The debasement of this principle is easier to achieve than it is to reverse. Whether Mr. Trump is voted out in six months or four and half years, the wounds he has left on his country’s institutions are likely to outlast him.”

“The Flynn Unmaskers Unmasked,” Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal, 05.13.20: The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “When news stories appeared in early 2017 about Michael Flynn's conversation with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., these columns wondered how Mr. Flynn's call was so widely known. The names of private U.S. citizens caught on tape by U.S. intelligence are supposed to be ‘masked’ so their privacy is protected.”
  • “Well, now we know. A stunning 39 separate officials snooped on Mr. Flynn's conversations with foreign actors, lodging nearly 50 unmasking demands between Nov. 30, 2016 and Jan. 12, 2017.”
  • “The Flynn unmasking is important because it occurred amid a media frenzy over supposed Trump campaign collusion with Russia. Leaks to the Washington Post about the conversations between the Russian ambassador and both Mr. Flynn and soon-to-be Attorney General Jeff Sessions were played up as central to the collusion scandal. They caused Mr. Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia probe and Mr. Flynn to be fired. While unmasking isn't illegal, leaking intelligence is.”
  • “All of this is fodder for U.S. Attorney John Durham as he tries to unmask the origins of the Russia collusion political ambush. The Flynn unmaskings, and the timely media leaks, take the story into the Obama White House. The peaceful transition of power is a hallmark of American democracy, or at least it used to be. It isn't supposed to be an opportunity for the administration that lost the election to cripple its successors as they take power.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • No significant developments.

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:

“Russia in the Post-Coronavirus World:  New Ideas for Foreign Policy,” Sergei Karaganov and Dmitry Suslov, Russia in Global Affairs, 05.17.20The authors, the dean of the faculty of world economy and international affairs and the deputy director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, write:

  • “The pandemic is dangerous, but by historical standards probably not catastrophic. … [It] has also become a powerful catalyst for the growing trend towards renationalization of the world economy and politics. It has shown that anti-epidemic measures are largely being taken at the national level. … This generates much stronger demand for sovereignty, rejection of external dominance and freedom in choosing one’s political and cultural path, development models and foreign policy orientation. Finally, the pandemic has highlighted the need for a new philosophy of development that would center on the preservation and development of man and protection of nature, not on unbridled consumption.”
  • “All these trends require that Russia fundamentally upgrade the ideological framework of its foreign policy and offer its own society and the world attractive and future-oriented ideas.”
  • “In our opinion, Russia’s foreign policy should be based on the following ideological triad: Preserving international peace; … Promoting the freedom of countries to choose development models; defending sovereignty and diversity; countering any ideological, political or value hegemony; and positioning Russia as a guarantor of a ‘New Non-Alignment’; … Naturally, Russia should maintain friendship and strategic partnership with China and seek to improve relations with the United States. … Jointly protecting the environment and combating new global challenges, including pandemics; promoting a new development philosophy based on the preservation of the global human habitat and, above all, of man himself.”
  • “Priority target audiences must be Russian society, elites and people in the non-West―SCO, BRICS, ASEAN and Arab―countries, and such states as Japan, South Korea and Turkey. A powerful potential ally is China.”
  • “The West should be considered a target audience, let alone partner, only on a secondary or even tertiary basis. In fact, Western elites, gripped by a massive anti-Russian information campaign, barely hear Russia’s reasoning. … Once a tentative ‘Coalition for Peace and Earth’ is established, it could be possible to engage Western countries and their political forces in the implementation of the new policy.”

“Vladimir Putin's Russia Doesn't Deserve a Seat on the UN Human Rights Council,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, The Washington Post, 05.13.20: The author, an opinions contributor for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The reason for establishing the U.N. Human Rights Council to replace the defunct (and widely discredited) Human Rights Commission was to avoid the offense of the top human rights watchdog being led by human rights abusers. Sudan's uncontested election to the commission shortly after the beginning of the genocide in Darfur was among the deciding arguments. In setting up the new body, the United Nations mandated that ‘members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.’”
  • “Even a quick glance at the Putin government's record shows that it falls well short of the acceptable minimum. It holds hundreds of political prisoners. It blacklists civic groups as ‘undesirable organizations.’ It holds elections ‘without real competition’ and conducts crackdowns on peaceful protesters. And that's not even mentioning the indiscriminate bombing of civilians during its military operations in Syria, or its wholesale annexation of Crimea from neighboring Ukraine. Indeed, if there ever were an embodiment of the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse, it would be Putin's regime regaining a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council.”
  • “Democratic nations must at least make an effort to defend the council's core mission. Keeping Putin's regime out would be a good place to start.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“The United States Should Not Align With Russia Against China,” Matthew Kroenig, Foreign Policy, 05.13.20The author, deputy director in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council, writes:

  • “The growing Russian and Chinese strategic relationship is worrying. The two autocratic powers have cooperated on major energy deals … Xi even declared Putin ‘his best friend and colleague.’ Perhaps most troubling, Beijing and Moscow have participated in joint military exercises in both Europe and Asia. If they were to coordinate and conduct simultaneous military attacks on the U.S. alliance system in Eastern Europe and the Indo-Pacific, for example, the United States and its allies could be overwhelmed.”
  • “These facts have led many observers to conclude that the solution is to play them off against each other. … [T]hese and similar options are being considered in the working levels of the U.S. government.”
  • “But Russia and China will not form an effective alliance against the United States anytime soon … [T]here are many conflicts of interest between Russia and China that will push them apart without any help from the United States. Depopulation in Russia’s Far East has led to fears that an expanding China will attempt a land grab. Russian colleagues report that Russia’s new nuclear-armed intermediate-range missiles are not aimed at NATO but meant to deter a rising China. More broadly, … Putin will not be keen to now play second fiddle to Beijing.”
  • “Russia is unlikely to be open to helping Washington confront Beijing. While Russia does not want to subordinate itself to China, it does not want to be openly antagonistic toward it either. … Putin will not want to bolster the United States, the country he sees as his foremost enemy. … Finally, Russia does not bring much to the table. It is a declining power with a GDP smaller than Italy’s.”
  • “Fortunately, the United States has other potential partners from which to choose. … These [partner] nations account for 59 percent of global GDP. This compares favorably with only a combined 19 percent of global GDP for Russia and China.”

“Demystifying the Belt and Road Initiative,” Rafiq Dossani, Jennifer Bouey and Keren Zhu, RAND Corporation, May 2020The authors of the report write:

  • “The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become a cornerstone of China’s foreign policy, evidenced particularly by the government’s large financial commitment to the initiative. In addition, the pursuit of the BRI was written into the Chinese constitution in 2017.”
  • “More than 70 countries have signed on, indicating a welcoming approach to the BRI across the world at large. As a result, other donor countries (such as the United States) need to consider that an increasing number of developing (and some developed) countries will be BRI partner countries, so those donors should adjust their policies for existing and potential recipients of foreign development assistance. The donor countries will encounter and must work with infrastructure that is designed and implemented by China, which might raise security concerns for some donor countries.”
  • “The BRI’s continuing emphasis on infrastructure seems designed to provide stability to China’s political relations with partner countries.”
  • “The foreign policy goals that China most likely seeks to achieve with the BRI are an increase in Chinese soft power in partner countries, internationalization of the renminbi, new markets for Chinese labor and capital (mostly the latter), access to scarce natural resources and the creation of regional infrastructure networks that have China at their hub.”
  • “The BRI, if successful, could achieve China’s goal of transforming its relations with the world by transforming the economic prospects of its partner countries. However, countries that receive BRI assistance need to ensure, through appropriate policies, that their goals are met as well. This requires asking the right questions and identifying the real issues and opportunities.”


“Is Ukraine a Hub for International White Supremacist Fighters?” Huseyn Aliyev, Russia Matters, 05.13.20: The author, a lecturer in Central and East European Studies at the University of Glasgow, writes:

  • “The start of armed conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014 led to the emergence of over 40 pro-government volunteer battalions fighting on Kyiv’s side. … While some of them lacked a distinct political ideology, others were offshoots of far-right and ultranationalist groups … My research indicates that almost from the start of armed conflict in the Donbass in spring 2014, some of Ukraine’s volunteer battalions served as magnets for neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other adherents of far-right ideologies who traveled from all over the world to join the fighting.”
  • “However, this soon became considerably more difficult … Ukraine’s process of disbanding paramilitary groups and integrating them into official forces resulted in an outflow of foreign fighters even as claims that the volunteer battalions remained a magnet for white supremacists persisted into 2019 … That said, there is evidence that a small number of Western white supremacists are still trying to go to Ukraine to fight … and that ties between Ukrainian and Western far-right groups persist in the form of direct communication and visits to each other’s countries.”

“Ukraine, Not Russia, Will Sue for Peace as Pandemic Pressure Rises: Hopes that a pandemic-weakened Russia will want to end the war in Ukraine will be disappointed,” Joseph Haberman, Foreign Policy, 05.14.20The author, a research associate in Russia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes:

  • “In a recent op-ed, three former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine argue that the current [COVID-19] crisis could lead to a resolution of the conflict on terms acceptable to both Kyiv and Washington.”
  • “This is wishful thinking. Their argument both overestimates the economic pressures facing Russia and understates the political, noneconomic rationale driving Russian policy toward Ukraine. It also ignores the likelihood that Kyiv, not Moscow, may soon feel compelled to capitulate.”
  • “Russia is in a position to withstand the brunt of the crisis, at least for now. … Given the country’s macroeconomic fortitude and the relatively low impact of sanctions, it becomes very difficult to believe that the Kremlin would abandon key strategic priorities for such minor relief. Ukraine is certainly among those key strategic priorities.”
  • “Abandoning the conflict would be seen as a capitulation to the West and an abdication of Russian power abroad. … In fact, the political pressures produced by the pandemic may harden the Kremlin’s resolve on Ukraine. … While Ukraine has reported significantly fewer cases of COVID-19 than Russia, it is much less prepared to deal with the fallout. … Ukraine currently spends 5.5 percent of its GDP on security and defense, and the costs of maintaining military operations on the front lines may soon prove unsustainable.”
  • “If this happens [Ukraine unilaterally disengages from the conflict and freezes the line of contact], Moscow will have won a major victory. The perpetuation of a frozen conflict within Ukraine—a method Russia has successfully used to control or influence countries seeking to leave the Russian sphere—will likely continue to hinder any further integration into Western institutions, accomplishing Russia’s primary objective. And while the Kremlin may be left supporting the separatist republics, those costs amount to only 0.1 percent of Russian GDP, a seemingly acceptable price to pay for avoiding defeat.”

“Ukraine's Zelenskiy Finds Battling Corruption Is Harder in Real Life Than It Was on TV: The comedian rose to power pledging to end conflict with Russia and root out graft,” Georgi Kantchev and Ann M. Simmons, Wall Street Journal, 05.18.20: The authors, a reporter and the Moscow bureau chief for the news outlet, write:

  • “A year ago, Volodymyr Zelenskiy switched from playing a corruption-fighting president in a television comedy to being the real thing after he was elected as Ukraine's new leader in a landslide win. … Since then, Mr. Zelenskiy … has recorded some successes. Lawmakers no longer enjoy immunity from prosecution. Parliament introduced new impeachment procedures that give it the power to remove a president. On May 13, legislators also adopted a new law that would prohibit the return of nationalized banks to their former owners, among them an oligarch who supported Mr. Zelenskiy's campaign for president last year.”
  • “But other anticorruption laws have withered and the dismissal of prominent reformers, including the independent-minded prosecutor-general and the heads of the tax and customs agencies, has drawn criticism from European officials and grass roots campaigners.”
  • “Many Ukrainians are skeptical that Mr. Zelenskiy can deliver on his promise to unburden them from the scourge of the past. A February survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found that 83 percent of Ukrainians believe Mr. Zelenskiy's corruption fight has failed, up from 69 percent in November. Ukraine also lost six places in this year's ranking by Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International, which paces the country 126th out of 180 countries because of the prevalence of bribery.”
  • “In March, the legislature Mr. Zelenskiy's party controls voted to remove the country's top prosecutor, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, a prominent Western-backed reformer.  Mr. Zelenskiy's government then removed the well-regarded heads of the customs and tax bureaus, in what Ms. Kaleniuk, the anticorruption activist, called ‘the exodus of the last reformers.’” 

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant developments.