Russia Analytical Report, May 3-10, 2021
This Week’s Highlights
- Pulling the U.S.-Russian relationship back from the brink of confrontation to less antagonistic rivalry will only be possible in the event of major changes in the domestic politics of one or both countries, argue Andrei Kolesnikov and Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center. For the time being, they write, there is no indication of any such change.
- Although Moscow has not yet fundamentally challenged U.S.-Israeli cooperation in the Middle East, Russia remains a high-priority challenge with respect to Israel's national security, writes a team of contributors from the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute and Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya. Engagement with Russia has emboldened Israeli efforts to degrade Iran’s military capabilities and entrenchment in Syria while proving minimally disruptive to operations, and Israel needs to maintain its engagement with Russia to secure these objectives, according to the report.
- There are many reasons to see Russia and President Vladimir Putin as agents of geopolitical destabilization, but natural gas is not one of them, writes Stephen G. Gross, director of the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at New York University. Rather than imposing sanctions on Nord Stream 2, U.S. President Joe Biden should help Europe green its electricity system so it can reach a clean-energy future on schedule, Gross argues.
- The automatic rejection of space-related initiatives because they were suggested by Russia or China is childish, to say the least, write Lillian Posner, assistant managing editor at the National Interest, and Evan Sankey, a national security fellow at the Center for the National Interest.
- “It is very much déjà vu,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a Russia expert with the Center for a New American Security who advised the Biden transition team said in reference to Ukraine. “It all feels eerily similar to where we’ve already been.” Henrik Larsen, a senior researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, writes that today’s Ukraine has failed to make a radical break from the past and continues to struggle with many of the same corruption and mismanagement issues that helped fuel the Euromaidan Revolution. The U.S. must make clear, Larsen writes, that continued billion-dollar support for Ukraine will be conditioned on tangible domestic reform progress.
- With the arrest of lawyer Ivan Pavlov—who represents the Meduza news portal and journalist Ivan Safronov, among others—the Russian authorities have begun a new chapter in their repressive practices, writes Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center. The combination of repression and propaganda—where the repression itself is part of the intimidating propaganda—is very effective. However, it irreversibly splits the country into “pure” and “impure” and intensifies the struggle between civil society and the state, Kolesnikov argues.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- No significant developments.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- No significant developments.
Iran and its nuclear program:
- No significant developments.
Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:
“The wizards of Armageddon may be back,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 05.06.21. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:
- “Nuclear weapons are probably the last thing the Biden administration wants to worry about right now. But given aggressive Chinese and Russian efforts to build new systems, and America's aging strategic force, the wizards of Armageddon may be back.”
- “China is deploying a truck-based mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, called the Dongfeng-41, that could strike targets in the United States. China also has an intermediate-range mobile missile, the Dongfeng-26, that's ‘capable of rapidly swapping conventional and nuclear warheads,’ according to Austin Long, a Pentagon strategic planner, in a recent article in War on the Rocks.”
- “Russia is tweaking the nightmare scenarios, too. President Vladimir Putin boasted in his April 21 address to the federal assembly that Russia now has a new Avangard hypersonic ICBM, a Tsirkon hypersonic anti-ship missile and a Poseidon nuclear torpedo capable of devastating coastal cities. All these weapons have very short delivery times to defeat U.S. missile defenses. They, too, would destabilize the balance of terror.”
- “Meanwhile, the Pentagon is deliberating how to replace its 50-year-old Minuteman missiles technology, one leg of the ‘triad’ of U.S. strategic forces.”
- “Russia and America have some severe problems these days, but they know how to talk about arms control. Even as the Biden administration thinks about building a new generation of doomsday weapons, it needs to sit down and begin a conversation with China about strategic forces that's becoming more urgent every day.”
“Inconceivable, Inevitable, Impossible Union: Lessons for Today From WWII-Era Soviet-Western Relations,” Andrei Kolesnikov and Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 05.05.21. The authors, chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center and the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, write:
- “It had taken many years for Soviet and Western leaders to recognize that Nazi Germany was their common enemy, and that the very survival of their countries depended on them joining forces against German aggression. … Once they did band together, Moscow, Washington and London remained loyal allies, despite their conflicting interests and convictions.”
- “The experience of the wartime military alliance is not applicable to modern-day relations between Russia and the West.”
- “New threats that various observers have tried to compare to the threat of Nazism are far smaller in scale and far more uneven in their impact on the two sides. Furthermore, Moscow does not play a role in dealing with these new threats commensurate with the way it stood up to Nazi Germany in World War II … Finally, Washington now views Russia as a declining power. Moscow, of course, does not agree with that assessment, but any attempt on its part to revive the image of the anti-Hitler coalition to combine Russian and Western efforts to fight international terrorism, the pandemic, climate change or anything else is futile and only baffles Russia’s would-be allies.”
- “Even if a real partnership, rooted in common interests, were possible between Russia and the West at some future point, it would be very difficult to achieve conditions that Russia would find acceptable, and the success—or, even more so, failure—of such a partnership would only return the situation to the status quo of contradictions in interests and significant differences in ideologies.”
- “The experience of the Soviet-American-British wartime coalition was unique and inimitable. Pulling the U.S.-Russian relationship back from the brink of confrontation to less antagonistic rivalry will only be possible in the event of major changes in the domestic politics of one or both countries. For the time being, there is no indication of any such change.”
“The U.S. and Russia are Parting Ways in Space and That's Risky,” Lillian Posner and Evan Sankey, The National Interest, 05.07.21. The authors, assistant managing editor at the National Interest and a national security fellow at the Center for the National Interest, write:
- “U.S. space policy … contains a strong tradition of international cooperation, especially across geopolitical boundaries. Whether or not it comes to fruition, the Sino-Russian plan [for a lunar station] is the latest sign this tradition is in trouble. A series of new programs, agreements and organizations indicate the United States is adopting a more unilateral space policy. In the long run, this risks fracturing the multilateral space regime.”
- “America’s ‘unipolar moment’ has lingered on in the international distribution of space capabilities, but it will not last forever. … How the next space age plays out depends critically on how the United States now chooses to wield its disproportionate influence.”
- “Some Americans may look back at the 2020s and wonder why their country did not use its moment of space power dominance to sustain and expand the multilateral space policy regime. … The United States should not be afraid to negotiate with Russia and China over the terms of a revision to the Outer Space Treaty.”
- “Russia recently celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned spaceflight on April 12. Moscow used it as an opportunity used to reemphasize its proposed draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT), which would ban conventional weapons in space. Several American commentators have decried this opportunity … as a nefarious trap intended to bind the United States … The proposed Sino-Russian Moonbase has likewise been identified as part of a larger plot to create an axis of unfriendly powers.”
- “The automatic rejection of policies because they were suggested by Russia or China is childish, to say the least. … In the short term, the United States has little to lose by not cooperating with Russia and China, but NASA and the Pentagon should be wary of path dependence. If America plays fast and loose in space, then it can expect other space-farers to do the same.”
“A relentless pragmatism,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 05.07.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:
- “A defining characteristic of President Biden's foreign policy, thus far, is its relentless pragmatism. That's especially evident in comparison with his recent predecessors.”
- “In foreign policy, he has rightly defined his central mission as leading a contest between the world's democracies and the resurgent threat of authoritarianism, as modeled by China and Russia. The administration's opening steps toward Beijing and Moscow have clearly drawn the lines of that contest, with new sanctions and steps to rally allies. Yet, even in this sphere, the administration has left room for deals.”
- “Upon taking office, Mr. Biden quickly extended the New START agreement with Russia limiting nuclear weapons, setting aside the Trump administration's far-fetched attempt to refashion it to include China, along with Mr. Obama's dream of ridding the world of nukes.”
- “Mr. Biden proposed a summit meeting next month to Russian ruler Vladimir Putin, and his climate envoy is actively seeking China's collaboration.”
- “This president has a better grasp than his predecessors of the limits of what the United States can accomplish abroad. So far, that's been a good. The danger is that he will lean toward inaction or withdrawal in places where, like Afghanistan, even a partially effective U.S. engagement is better than none at all.”
“The west is in a contest, not a cold war, with China,” Philip Stephens, Financial Times, 05.06.21. The author, associate editor of the news outlet, writes:
- “The G7 could simply cast itself as a platform for rich democracies ganging up on China. But we are not living in the Cold War. The Soviet Union presented at once a systemic and an existential threat to the West. China undoubtedly wants to establish itself as the world’s pre-eminent power, but it is not trying to convert democracies to communism and, as yet at least, is not threatening the West with nuclear evisceration.”
- “Economic interchange with the Soviet Union was negligible. For all the recent decoupling, China remains deeply embedded in the global economy. Colleagues can agree with Blinken’s characterization of a relationship with Beijing that is naturally competitive, sometimes adversarial and on issues such as climate change necessarily collaborative. What’s missing is a consensus on where the balance should be struck.”
- “Blinken came up with what is probably the closest the G7 will get to a useful mission statement. If the West was not in the business of holding China down, he said, the leading democracies do share a clear interest in shoring up the rules-based international order.”
- “Making multilateralism work is not the snappiest of slogans. Likewise, upholding global norms and values lacks the ring of a heroic endeavor. But both mark out the essential faultline with Beijing and, for that matter, with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Beijing and Moscow want a return to a 19th-century global order where great powers rule over their own distinct spheres of influence.”
- “Today’s contest is between these two systems. It is a fight the West can win by persuading the world’s non-aligned nations that it has a better offer. It is quite simple, really. Instead of complaining about the economic coercion inherent in, say, Beijing’s Belt and Road plan, the G7 should present its own development projects.”
“With Russian–Western relations at a low, what pay-off for Putin?” Nigel Gould-Davies, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), 05.05.21. The author, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at IISS, writes:
- “It has been a febrile and turbulent month for Russian–Western relations. While immediate tensions have eased, recent developments offer lessons that reflect, and will influence, a deteriorating relationship … Relations are now at their most tense and mistrustful for four decades. Russia and the U.S. have recalled their respective ambassadors—the U.S. after strong Russian pressure to do so. Yet despite these difficulties, President Joe Biden invited his Russian counterpart to a bilateral summit. Putin also took part in Biden’s climate summit on 22 April, at the height of concerns about Russia’s military build-up.”
- “Three lessons can be drawn from this intense period. First, Putin lost more than he gained from the military build-up. Although Russia has gained practice in mobilization, and could yet enhance its position by keeping equipment in place, it has suffered a diplomatic setback … The second lesson is the unfolding contest between local Russian military, and global U.S. financial, superiority … Third, while satellite imagery and other technologies make it easier than ever to track force movements (though Russia made no efforts to conceal its build-up), assessing intent remains difficult.”
- “Only Putin knows his intentions. But the evidence and Russia’s contradictory explanations for the build-up suggest that Russia may have laid the ground for potential escalation but scaled back its ambitions.”
“A New Sanctions Strategy to Contain Putin’s Russia,” Daniel Fried and Adrian Karatnycky, Foreign Policy, 05.04.21. The authors, a distinguished fellow and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, write:
- “Even if the West should cooperate with Moscow wherever possible … it must assume that Russia will remain aggressive for as long as Putin and his circle remain in power. The Western allies must therefore plan for what could turn out to be many years.”
- “Here are some additional measures that could bolster efforts to diminish Russian economic growth: Significant expansion of individual sanctions targeted at Putin’s cronies, favored oligarchs, and Western figures in his employ, who often act as vectors of Kremlin influence in the West; [i]ncreased financial sanctions that target Russian financial institutions such as the VEB development bank, which the Kremlin uses to finance pet projects; [f]urther limiting the Russian government’s access to Western financial markets, for example by restrictions on the secondary trading of its sovereign debt; [b]roader energy sector sanctions targeting investment, not current production … ; [i]ntensified and internationally coordinated technology export controls, building on the early Ukraine-related sanctions.”
- “Of course, the United States and its allies should establish clear conditionality. Targeted sanctions should be removed if, for example, a settlement in the Donbass is reached. But there is little sign of Russian interest in such a deal.”
- “The time has arrived for a serious, strategic, trans-Atlantic conversation about a policy of sustained economic pressure on Putin’s regime. An effective, systematic, long-term approach to sanctions to last as long as Putin’s aggressive course remains the governing mode in Moscow will increase the odds of a better relationship with Russia in the post-Putin future. Today’s task is not simply to push back on the Kremlin for its past actions. The point of Western policy should be to deny Putin’s Russia the resources and potential to do future harm.”
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Nuclear arms control:
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
“Russia in the Middle East: National Security Challenges for the United States and Israel in the Biden Era,” Kennan Institute and Institute for Policy and Strategy of IDC Herzliya, May 2021. The authors of the report write:
- “The United States is no longer the undisputed hegemon in the Middle East. A diminution of the American role has invited regional power projection by Russia, Iran and Turkey and long-term economic statecraft moves by China. … China, Russia, and the United States bring dissimilar capabilities and goals to their respective policies in the Middle East.”
- “Russia is now a prominent factor in Syria and Libya, a partner of Iran, a partner with ambitions in Egypt and an interlocutor with the Gulf states …, Israel, the Afghan government, the Taliban and the Palestinians, among many other political entities. … Russia plays multiple sides against each other within countries experiencing internal conflict, using these conflicts as a wedge to deepen its regional influence. … Yet Moscow is far from being able to establish a regional order of its own design.”
- “Up to now, Russia has been neither powerful enough nor revisionist enough in the Middle East to disrupt the U.S.-Israel alliance. Russia has made its presence felt mostly in the region’s failed states … Moscow seeks a seat at the table when major regional problems are considered, and might be willing to reciprocate with more responsible policy.”
- “Russia is a high-priority challenge in Israel's national security. Russia imposes a set of operational and strategic concerns on Israel stemming from the potential impediment to Israel’s freedom of operations in Syria and Moscow's strategic relations and cooperation with Iran. … Israel needs to maintain its engagement with Russia to secure these objectives.”
- “So far, Russia has not fundamentally challenged U.S. and Israeli cooperation in the region … The presence of Russia, with China playing a background role, does much to complicate the situation in the Middle East. … Russia’s role in the Middle East could turn into a strategic challenge and urgent concern to both Israel and the United States in sensitive arenas such as Syria and Iran and in the cyber and technological domains.”
- No significant developments.
Energy exports from CIS:
“Want a Green Future? Let Nord Stream Go. Sanctions would undermine climate diplomacy,” Stephen G. Gross, Foreign Policy, 05.06.21. The author, director of the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at New York University, writes:
- “There are many reasons to see Russia and President Vladimir Putin as agents of geopolitical destabilization. But natural gas is not one of them. In fact, sanctioning Germany over Nord Stream 2 would damage transatlantic relations and undermine the very sort of cooperative diplomacy Europe and the United States need to fight climate change.”
- “As Germany moves closer toward a carbon-friendly grid, Russian natural gas is—at best—a temporary bridge on the path to full reliance on renewables. That’s especially true considering the European Union is now hoping to abandon natural gas by 2050 in an effort to go carbon neutral.”
- “In calling for the end of Nord Stream 2, Blinken is creating headwind for Germany’s climate policy—and asking German consumers to pay even higher prices for their power. Added to Germany’s bill would likely be expensive lawsuits if the remaining 93 miles of the pipeline were never completed, as companies like Gazprom and Royal Dutch Shell try to recoup sunk investments worth billions of dollars. The whole ordeal, moreover, is out of sync with Biden’s pledge to work with all countries—including adversaries—to combat climate change.”
- “Instead of sanctions on Nord Stream 2, U.S. President Joe Biden should help Europe green its electricity system so it can reach a clean energy future on schedule. For those concerned about geopolitics, such an approach has the added benefit of making Russian natural gas redundant.”
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
“What to expect from a possible June summit between Putin and Biden,” Isabelle Khurshudyan, The Washington Post, 05.05.21. The author, a foreign correspondent for the news outlet, writes:
- “Where they can find some accord: Although the U.S.-Russia relationship has become increasingly adversarial, there are some areas for potential cooperation: nuclear arms control, the Iran nuclear deal, North Korea, and stability in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces.”
- “Reviving the Open Skies Treaty, an international pact allowing observation flights over military facilities, could come up. Both countries have pulled out of it, but appear willing to seek a restart.”
- “Some issues are non-starters for Putin. They include eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed separatists and Western-supported Ukraine forces have battled for more than seven years. Russia recently bolstered its military presence near Ukraine in an apparent message to Washington that Moscow stands by the breakaway Ukraine region. But, at the same time, Russia also claims that it is not directly involved in the conflict. Putin often calls it an ‘internal Ukraine crisis.’
- “Putin is also unlikely to budge on the subject of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. … Putin has made it clear that he is sticking with Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus's authoritarian leader, after widespread protests last year following elections that opposition groups called rigged to ensure that Lukashenko stayed in power.”
- “The United States and Russia are also on opposite sides of the decade-long civil war in Syria.”
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
“Grassroots Repression—Russian-style. First, the authorities persecuted activists. Then they went after journalists. And now, they’ve trained their sights on lawyers,” Andrei Kolesnikov, The Moscow Times, 05.10.21. The author, a senior associate and the chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:
- “With the arrest of lawyer Ivan Pavlov—who represents the Meduza news portal and journalist Ivan Safronov, among others—the Russian authorities have begun a new chapter in their repressive practices. In fact, they have been dusting off long-forgotten articles of the Criminal Code and using them against citizens in new and increasingly creative ways.”
- “Where does this leave us? First, the authorities have expanded the legal framework for suppressing dissent and civil activism. Second, they are selectively reviving ‘dormant’ articles of the Criminal Code in order to prosecute the most active and vocal citizens. Third, they are widening the net of professions they persecute, now including journalists and lawyers.”
- “Fourth, the authorities are suppressing the spread of free thought by labelling independent media outlets as foreign agents and banning their educational activities. Fifth: As in Soviet times, the repression is carried out with the help of willing flunkies … Sixth: The repression is clearly intended to intimidate others into silence, especially those who are unhappy with the government but cannot muster the moral courage to protest openly or who fear losing their jobs as a result. Seventh: The government’s massive propaganda campaign has produced the desired result. According to Levada Center surveys… [some 40-50] percent of Russians firmly believe that repressive legislation protects citizens from harmful foreign influence and that Navalny and the protesters supporting him are on the payroll of the West.”
- “This combination of repression and propaganda… is very effective. However, it irreversibly splits the country into ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ and intensifies the struggle between civil society and the state. In modern society… it is impossible to crush all resistance simply by destroying the ‘nest’ of the opposition. Civil society is not centralized and has no hierarchy. The resistance will therefore continue, even if the authorities force it at least partially underground.”
“Putin’s Regime and Its Soviet Predecessor Are Dark Comedies,” Sergey Radchenko, The Moscow Times, 05.06.21. The author, who serves as director of research at the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University, writes:
- “A man is walking along the street sighing to himself ‘what a miserable life.’ Two KGB officers run up to him shouting ‘you are under arrest!’ ‘Wait, that’s not what I meant,’ he tries to explain. ‘I mean life in America is miserable!’ ‘Shut up! We know where life is miserable!’ I was reminded of this Soviet joke by the latest turn of the screw in Russia.”
- “The purpose of the Soviet experiment was, broadly speaking, to free the Soviet (wo)man from oppression and exploitation. The Bolshevik revolution was supposed to have accomplished that, but for the next 70 plus years the Soviet regime was ostensibly defending its citizens from externally imposed oppression, which prevented the realization of the true freedom promised by the revolution. That narrative of legitimation sustained the Soviet political elite, helping to explain away the ‘miserable life’ of our protagonist above. But after a while the narrative could no longer be sustained…”
- “Putin’s regime vows to defend Russia against Western encroachment. Suppression of civic freedoms is justified with reference to the preservation of greater freedom, national freedom. Framing independent media as foreign agents and labeling Navalny and his followers political ‘extremists’… are more than acts of brutal repression, they are mechanisms of regime legitimation.”
- “The mechanisms are therefore exactly the same as those used in the USSR. … The fact that Russia is under pressure externally clearly adds credibility to the regime’s narrative about what the Soviets used to know as ‘capitalist encirclement.’ That encirclement doesn’t look any less threatening today, even though Russia itself is every bit as capitalist as its Western neighbors. Putin’s regime has thus found a way to legitimize itself.”
- “Who will believe such rubbish, you ask? Why, the same people who believed in freedom through communism. We believed in it. We laughed at our naiveté. But here we go again…”
“With Putin’s Latest Crackdown, Russia Is Going Dark,” Alexey Kovalev, Foreign Policy, 05.06.21. The author, an investigative editor at Meduza, writes:
- “On April 23… Meduza, the news website where I have worked as an investigative editor since 2019—one of only a small handful of independent Russian media outlets—was officially classified as a ‘foreign agent’ by the Russian state, effectively shutting us down.”
- “Also this April, Moscow police raided the newsroom of DOXA, a student magazine, and the homes of its editors, charging four of them with ‘involving minors in unauthorized protests’ and forcing them under house arrest. A few days earlier, officers from Russia’s Investigative Committee supported by an assault team from the Federal Security Service searched the newsroom of IStories, an investigative start-up, and the home of its editor, Roman Anin. The offense in question was [a 2016] investigative report Anin published… about a lavish yacht gifted to now ex-wife of Igor Sechin, the CEO of the state-owned oil company Rosneft.”
- “The risks are becoming unacceptable for more and more Russian independent journalists… It’s become clear by now that things will get significantly worse. The Kremlin has clearly signaled that it will no longer tolerate even token opposition or the hint of any threat to its rule. We’ve seen that no matter how peaceful the protests are, there will be police violence and mass arrests. Gone are the days when a top official whose corrupt dealings were exposed by independent journalists would be quietly demoted—after first being promoted or given an award so as not to create an impression the Kremlin could be pressured. Today, instead, a riot squad will be breaking down an editor’s door to confiscate all the journalist’s equipment and notes.”
- “[T]his is a turning point in Russian history. As a journalist, I’m compelled to stick around and record it—until the moment they come knocking on my door as well.”
“Mr. Putin throttles the news,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 05.06.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:
- “Mr. Putin views free and independent reporting as a threat. He is taking a page from the dictator's handbook, in this case Fidel Castro, who in 1960 began to silence newspapers beyond his control by demanding they publish a disclaimer at the end of articles critical of him. The disclaimers said the article ‘does not conform to the truth nor to the most elementary journalistic ethics.’”
- “Mr. Putin also likes to learn repressive techniques from President Xi Jinping of China, whose government five years ago approved a ‘foreign agent’ law to curtail and penalize nongovernmental organizations. Mr. Xi also brandished another iron-fisted method in 2015 with a crackdown on lawyers who represented human rights activists. More than 300 lawyers and activists were arrested. Now, Mr. Putin emulates China with the April 30 arrest of Ivan Pavlov, one of Russia's best-known human rights lawyers, who has been representing opposition leader Alexei Navalny and others targeted by the Russian security services.”
- “Mr. Putin has dramatically escalated his pressure on civil society in recent months, attempting to assassinate Mr. Navalny and to destroy his organization. It's a campaign that should not continue without consequences from Western governments.”
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:
“Stoner’s Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment of Russia’s New Strength,” Paul Saunders, Russia Matters, 05.05.21. The author, president of the Energy Innovation Reform Project and a senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy at the Center for the National Interest, writes:
- “As the U.S.-Russian relationship has become increasingly adversarial, Russia’s power and behavior have drawn increasing attention from policymakers, journalists and scholars. This has in turn fueled discussion and debate surrounding Russia’s capabilities and its government’s aims. Stanford University scholar Kathryn E. Stoner seeks to contribute to this important national conversation in her new book ‘Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order.’ Notwithstanding useful contributions to understanding Russia’s new strength, the book falls short in explaining when and why Russia employs its power.”
- “Stoner’s effort to measure Russia’s power comprises the bulk of “Russia Resurrected” and provides a generally helpful overview of the country’s capabilities despite its limitations. … Though Russia’s seizure of Crimea, its intervention in Syria and its interference in America’s and other countries’ political systems forced observers to reassess Moscow’s geopolitical heft several years ago, Stoner’s analytical framework for evaluating Russian power is logical and coherent.”
- “Understanding Russia’s power and the Russian leadership’s goals is a necessary task in formulating effective policy. Moreover, as Russia has become considerably more powerful over the last two decades, the stakes in accurately discerning the Kremlin’s motives have become commensurately higher. If ‘Russia Resurrected’ approached these challenges with more care, discipline and nuance, it could have been an important work.”
“For Biden, Ukraine Is a ‘Déjà Vu’ Problem That’s Hard to Fix,” Michael Crowley, The New York Times, 05.07.21. The author, a diplomatic correspondent for the news outlet, writes:
- “In December 2015, Joseph R. Biden Jr., then the vice president, appeared before Ukraine’s Parliament with a two-pronged message. The United States would defend the country from Russia, Mr. Biden said, but lawmakers in Kyiv also needed to fortify their own democracy with real progress on anticorruption reforms. … More than six years later, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited Kyiv this week—the first such trip by a senior Biden administration official—with virtually the same message.”
- “While Mr. Blinken’s trip was a demonstration of renewed American commitment to an independent, democratic and Western-leaning Ukraine, for many longtime watchers of U.S.-Ukraine policy, it was a depressing reminder of how little has changed in a country that has become ground zero for a renewed power struggle between Washington and Moscow. ‘It is very much déjà vu,’ said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a Russia expert with the Center for a New American Security who advised the Biden transition team. ‘It all feels eerily similar to where we’ve already been.’”
- “Experts agree that Mr. Biden’s goal of a stable relationship with Russia, allowing for cooperation on shared concerns including Iran and climate, requires cooling tensions over Ukraine. … Recent history does not suggest optimism.”
- “For years, U.S. officials have implored Ukraine’s leaders to deliver on promises to drive out political corruption, a main cause of the 2014 popular revolution that pushed out the country’s Russian-backed president—and a source of continued Russian influence. … Then there is the Russian military threat. For just as long, U.S. officials have vowed to ensure Ukraine can defend itself against Russia.”
- “U.S. officials are still devising an approach on the Minsk process and say they first wanted to hear directly from Ukrainian officials on the matter. In the near term, the Biden administration is considering more military aid for Ukraine, but Mr. Biden is not looking for a sharp escalation.”
“US support for Ukraine should be tied to reform progress,” Henrik Larsen, Atlantic Council, 05.04.21. The author, a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, writes:
- “Despite some isolated examples of progress, today’s Ukraine has failed to make a radical break from the past and continues to struggle with many of the same corruption and mismanagement issues that helped fuel the 2013-14 Euromaidan Revolution. The U.S. must make clear that continued billion-dollar support for Ukraine will be conditioned on tangible domestic reform progress.”
- “At present, Ukraine remains in need of external finance to cover debt repayments and to get through a severe COVID-19 recession. The U.S. and Ukraine’s other international partners must look to leverage this need for ongoing support in order to revitalize Ukraine’s reform efforts…The IMF should further insist that Ukraine restart efforts to reform of the country’s corrupt judiciary… and move forward with the privatization or corporate reform of Ukraine’s many inefficient state-owned companies.”
- “As long as Ukraine refuses to deliver on these long-standing commitments, the government will be forced to go to the financial markets for loans with much higher interest rates. This does not mean that Ukraine will face immediate bankruptcy. But the need to balance the state budget could induce Ukrainian policymakers to withstand vested interests more than has been the case up to now.”
- “Apart from monetary incentives, the next U.S. ambassador to Ukraine should look to toughen U.S. public diplomacy.”
- “Russia’s recent saber-rattling around Ukraine is a serious matter, but it must not give the Ukrainian political elite another excuse to avoid delivering on their long-standing reform commitments. Leverage requires consistent signals that international support can no longer be open-ended. Instead, it must be conditioned on socially and politically meaningful reforms that would strengthen Ukraine against continued Russian pressure.”
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
“Escalation in the Kyrgyz-Tajik Borderlands,” Andrea Schmitz and Dumitru Minzarari, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), 05.07.21. The authors, respectively serving as senior associate and associate with SWP's Eastern Europe and Eurasia research division, write:
- “A conflict over water escalated at the end of April into the most serious border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan since independence in 1991. By May 1, 36 deaths had been reported on the Kyrgyz and 16 on the Tajik side, with more than 200 injured and dozens of homes destroyed.”
- “This was not the first outbreak of armed violence in the contested territories of the Ferghana valley, whose densely populated oases depend on scarce water sources for irrigation. The administrative boundaries in this multi-ethnic area were drawn during Soviet times and have been disputed ever since.”
- “This time, the bone of contention was the installation by Tajik workers of a surveillance camera at a joint water supply station situated on Kyrgyz territory, to monitor the distribution of water between the two sides. The distribution is governed by bilateral agreements, but the Tajiks apparently believed that the Kyrgyz were exceeding their allocation.”
- “The two sides have now announced that they will negotiate the demarcation of a 112-kilometer section of the border, although the details remain unclear. Given the conflicting interests and strong emotions attached to the border issue, new clashes can flare up at any time. External actors have little influence and, as things stand, a lasting solution is a remote prospect. Efforts should therefore concentrate on confidence-building along two axes: humanitarian engagement involving NGOs and Kyrgyz and Tajik communities in the border areas, and strengthening existing early warning mechanisms to help the two governments prevent future escalations.”
- “Peace is on the brink in Central Asia. The border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan has reached a new bottom … the main ‘novelty’ of the conflict is apparent: an unprovoked military attack against civilians and occupation of villages of a neighboring state. The Tajik military set a precedent that revealed the new depths of insecurity in the region.”
- “Among the many questions surrounding this recent round of violence is why the escalation? Why did the violence reach this heightened level? The typical reasons cited for cross-border violence are insufficient to explain this heightened conflict …What may explain the uptick in violence is the possibility that the Tajik state feels newly emboldened … First, the Kyrgyz state is weak, perhaps weaker than it has ever been. … Second, [President of Tajikistan Emomali] Rahmon may feel emboldened by the recent large-scale military exercises Tajikistan held with Russia earlier in April.”
- “[B]oth regimes lack wide public support domestically and may see political benefits from making assertions of sovereignty.”
- “In Tajikistan, the Rahmon regime continues to deepen its economic ties to China and military ties to Russia, all the while consolidating an authoritarian system based on impunity toward political opponents … For its part, Kyrgyzstan has recently witnessed the rapid rise of an initially marginal political figure (Sadyr Japarov) from prison to the country’s presidency … Here too, the currency of politics is impunity. Japarov has recently rammed through major constitutional change, running roughshod over his country’s international obligations and domestic legal requirements. In addition, his regime has capitalized on widespread, rising ethnonationalist sentiment and ignored calls for the protection of ethnic and sexual minorities. This is the water in which Kyrgyzstan now swims.”