Russia Analytical Report, Nov. 15-22, 2021

This Week’s Highlights

  • “The [U.S. nuclear posture] review should consider bilateral and multilateral risk reduction measures, focusing on confidence-building and enhanced predictability, that could be taken with Russia, China and other states with nuclear weapons,” write Sam Nunn and Ernest J. Moniz, co-chairs of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. “The review should also include cooperative measures, including the establishment of cyber-nuclear ‘rules of the road’ and red-line understandings with other nuclear nations precluding cyberattacks on nuclear systems,” according to Nunn and Moniz.
  • “Just as Russia and Iran have managed to resolve tactical disagreements between local proxy forces in the military campaign through bureaucratic and military channels, Moscow and Tehran will likely delimit spheres of interests within Syria as both seek to reap the political and economic benefits of close linkage to Damascus,” writes Nicole Grajewski, an International Security Fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center. “Russia’s relationship with Iran demonstrates Moscow’s ability to compartmentalize its foreign policy by concentrating on areas of cooperation to mitigate tensions elsewhere in the relationship.”
  • With a draft agreement on the formation of a coalition of Germany’s Social Democrats, Greens and Free Liberals expected soon, “there is little scope to change Russia policy in terms of sanctions or new political outreach toward Russia,” according to historian and political scientist Liana Fix. “Moscow’s past behavior suggests it is likely to create a new headache before the temptation of rapprochement can bear fruit. Furthermore, Russia policy is just not high enough on the priority list of Germany’s new coalition to stimulate a cardinal rethink,” according to Fix.
  • “The United States and its allies accounted for a significantly outsize share of global democratic backsliding in the last decade, according to data recorded by V-Dem, a Sweden-based nonprofit that tracks countries’ level of democracy across a host of indicators,” The New York Times reports. “The data contradicts assumptions in Washington that this trend is driven by Russia and China … said Staffan I. Lindberg, a University of Gothenburg political scientist who helps oversee V-Dem.”
  • “Ominous signs indicate that Russia may conduct a military offensive in Ukraine as early as the coming winter,” write Prof. Michael Kimmage and Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses. “Moscow has quietly built up its forces along the Ukrainian border over the past several months, which could be a prelude to a military operation that aims to resolve the political deadlock in Ukraine in its favor. ... Although Russian President Vladimir Putin may once again be engaging in coercive diplomacy, this time around Moscow may not be bluffing.”
  • “If there is no opportunity for Armenia to get revenge in the foreseeable future, then Azerbaijan will achieve full and final control over the entire territory of Nagorno-Karabakh,” writes Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Russia has also been left in a difficult situation ... Russia’s strategic goal for the next five years should not be to achieve a lasting peace in Nagorno-Karabakh founded on a mutually acceptable peace treaty, since that is practically impossible, but to prevent a third war. The consequences of such a war would be far worse for Russia than the 2020 conflict.”


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:

“A Nuclear Iran Is Not Inevitable. Why the World Cannot Give Up on Diplomacy,” Eric Brewer, Foreign Affairs, 11.16.21. The author, senior fellow and deputy director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes:

  • “After months of uncertainty and growing concerns from the West, Iran announced in early November that negotiations over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal would resume, with a first meeting scheduled in Vienna on Nov. 29... [A] deal will be hard to reach. But the Biden administration needs to try, because a nuclear-armed Iran would make the world a far more dangerous place. That, at least, is what most observers believe. Ray Takeyh disagrees. … Going nuclear, he argues, would cost the Iranian regime a great deal and fail to yield any strategic benefit.”
  • “But these claims don’t hold up to scrutiny. … In reality, an Iranian bomb isn’t inevitable, and the global pressure campaign Takeyh expects to emerge in the aftermath of an Iranian nuclear test won’t materialize. … China and Russia … would likely defy any push to isolate Iran. Despite the best efforts of the United States, the result would be a leaky sanctions regime that would get leakier over time.”
  • “Although Takeyh acknowledges that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose significant challenges to the United States, he tends to assume that addressing these issues would be relatively easy and straightforward because, as he puts it, they would prompt a ‘much-needed reset’ of U.S. policy that refocuses its attention on Iran and the region. In reality, the United States would face tough choices about its commitments to allies and how to balance those requirements against other significant—and probably more important—security threats from China and Russia.”
  • “Rather than resigning itself to the inevitability of an Iranian bomb, the United States should instead focus on preventing Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. The best way of doing that remains reaching a deal with Iran that rolls back its nuclear program under close international monitoring in exchange for sanctions relief.”

Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:

“U.S. Allies Drive Much of World’s Democratic Decline, Data Shows,” Max Fisher, The New York Times, 11.16.21. The author, an international reporter and columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The United States and its allies accounted for a significantly outsize share of global democratic backsliding in the last decade, according to a new analysis. American allies remain, on average, more democratic than the rest of the world. But nearly all have suffered a degree of democratic erosion since 2010, meaning that core elements like election fairness or judicial independence have weakened, and at rates far outpacing average declines among other countries. With few exceptions, U.S.-aligned countries saw almost no democratic growth in that period, even as many beyond Washington’s orbit did.”
  • “The findings are reflected in data recorded by V-Dem, a Sweden-based nonprofit that tracks countries’ level of democracy across a host of indicators, and analyzed by The New York Times. The revelations … suggest that much of the world’s backsliding is not imposed on democracies by foreign powers, but rather is a rot rising within the world’s most powerful network of mostly democratic alliances.”
  • “The findings also undercut American assumptions, widely held in both parties, that U.S. power is an innately democratizing force in the world. … During the 1990s, the United States and its allies accounted for 9 percent of the overall increases in democracy scores worldwide, according to the figures ... Those numbers worsened a little in the 2000s. Then, in the 2010s, they became disastrous. … On average, allied countries saw the quality of their democracies decline by nearly double the rate of non-allies, according to V-Dem’s figures.”
  • “The data contradicts assumptions in Washington that this trend is driven by Russia and China, whose neighbors and partners have seen their scores change very little, or by Mr. Trump, who entered office when the shift was well underway. Rather, backsliding is endemic across emerging and even established democracies, said Staffan I. Lindberg, a University of Gothenburg political scientist who helps oversee V-Dem. And such countries tend to be American-aligned.”

“The U.S. Military and the Coming Great-Power Challenge: Can an American-Led Coalition Prevent the Next War?” Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., Foreign Affairs, 11,17.21. The author, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, writes:

  • “[There is a] growing recognition among U.S. policymakers that ‘great-power competition’ had never ceased following the Cold War. This was formalized in the 2017 National Security Strategy, and the challenge was given a full airing in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which prioritized the growing challenge posed by a revanchist Russia and a rising China. Although it identified these threats to the international order, however, the NDS did not advance a robust new strategy to address them. This task has now been taken up by one of the NDS’s principal architects, Elbridge Colby, who served in the administration of President Donald Trump as a deputy assistant secretary of defense. In his book The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict, Colby provides a timely exposition of—and argument for—a new U.S. defense posture.”
  • “Colby argues, the United States must adopt a ‘one-war posture’ toward China and accept increased risk in dealing with other threats. While acknowledging the danger of Russian aggression against NATO states in Europe, he asserts that a fait accompli by China would be far more difficult to reverse than a similar act of Russian aggression against one of NATO’s frontline states. Simply put, the United States ‘should not size, shape, or posture its military to deal simultaneously with any other scenario alongside a war with China over Taiwan.’ If push comes to shove, Colby argues, the U.S. must be ‘all-in’ with China.”
  • “As with all strategies, Colby’s is not without risk. Until now, Washington’s NATO allies have shown little inclination to pick up the strategic slack against Russia as the United States concentrates more attention on China.”
  • “Colby’s well-crafted and insightful Strategy of Denial provides a superb and, one suspects, essential departure point for an urgent and much-needed debate over U.S. defense strategy.” 

“A great-power game is already underway in space,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 11.15.21. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “In the Pentagon corridor where Space Force commanders have their offices, a mural depicting military satellites warns that the heavens are ‘a new warfighting domain.’ That stark assessment was demonstrated on Monday [Nov. 15], as U.S. officials accused Russia of conducting a ‘reckless, dangerous and irresponsible’ test of a new antisatellite (ASAT) weapon.”
  • “Space is the new high ground of great-power combat, and the Russians were joining the Chinese in demonstrating they have the ability to launch a direct-ascent attack to destroy a satellite — in this case one of their own. China and India had conducted similar tests in 2007 and 2019, respectively. The United States fired a missile in 2008 to destroy a satellite officials said was leaking fuel.”
  • “One worry for Gen. John W. ‘Jay’ Raymond, the Space Force chief, is that the Pentagon maintains big, exquisitely designed surveillance platforms in space that present ‘a handful of fat, juicy targets,’ in the words of Gen. John E. Hyten, who retires this month as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. ‘We have to build a more resilient architecture,’ with more small satellites that can't be so easily targeted, Raymond told me on Monday.”
  • “The Russian test this past weekend underlines that need for better consultation about space — the equivalent of the ‘hotline’ that Russia and the United States adopted after the near disaster of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The idea of space as a contested domain, without common rules or communication, is chilling.”

“Impact of the U.S. and Allied Sanction Regimes on Russian Arms Sales,” John V. Parachini, Ryan Bauer and Peter A. Wilson, RAND, November 2021. The authors of the report write:

  • “In this report, the authors examine Russian arms exports and the impact of sanctions designed to discourage third country purchases and raise the cost of future Russian malign interference in other nation-states.”
  • “Key Findings[:] While the cost to Russia of U.S. diplomatic efforts buttressed by the prospect of third-party sanctions is difficult to determine with precision, there is no question that the ‘chilling effect’ has resulted in Russia losing arms sales. … Countries with significant portions of their military arsenal composed of Soviet Union and Russian weapons systems, such as Vietnam and India, face formidable challenges in quick diversification away from Russian systems; even countries eager to diversify away from Russian systems may find it difficult and costly to do in the short run.”
  • “Countries that do not have legacy arsenals composed of Soviet and Russian systems may be more amenable to eschewing Russian arms export offers if suitable, competitively priced, and politically desirable alternatives are available. … Diplomacy paired with the prospect of sanctions will likely be most effective when it acknowledges the legacy of Russian arms exports to certain countries; the desire to assert independence from the influence of Russia and/or the United States; and the availability of suitable, competitively priced alternatives to meet buyers' security needs.”
  • “Recommendations[:] The United States will need to approach diplomatic discussions strategically with governments that have large quantities of former Soviet or Russian weapons in their arsenal—especially states with which the United States has other important or even vital interests. … The United States should choose strategically when to leverage the prospect of sanctions, when to issue a waiver, and when to demur on the issue of sanctions altogether. … The United States, European Union, and like-minded nations need to provide credible diplomatic and military alternatives to Russian arms exports and work with countries to address their security needs; this effort might be aided by recasting the diplomatic narrative to focus on Russian malign behavior rather than U.S. sanctions.”

“Do Alliances and Partnerships Entangle the United States in Conflict?” Miranda Priebe, Bryan Rooney, Caitlin McCulloch and Zachary Burdette, RAND, November 2021. The authors of the report write:

  • “Entanglement dynamics contributed to, but were not the only cause of, U.S. involvement in wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Libya and in two conflicts short of war in the Taiwan Strait. … Entanglement dynamics in these cases involved a U.S. desire to maintain its reputation with allies and adversaries for upholding its commitments or a U.S. willingness to take on allies' interests as its own.”
  • “More research is needed on how prevalent and consequential entanglement dynamics are in U.S. decisionmaking. … Scholars have not identified any cases of U.S. entrapment in war, in which the United States fought to defend an ally or partner that risked conflict because a U.S. commitment emboldened it to behave aggressively.”
  • “The United States has allied with states that it believed posed entrapment risks, but it sought to minimize these risks through conditional alliance terms. … Globally, states in conditional alliances have generally been less likely to initiate conflict, but U.S. alliances could still lead individual states to adopt policies that risk conflict.”
  • “The United States has attempted to restrain allies and partners from initiating conflict in the past by leveraging military and economic aid, and it has had both successes and failures.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“What Does China’s Isolation Mean for Ties With Russia?” Yaroslav Shevchenko, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.19.21. The author, a postgraduate student at the department of international relations of the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, writes:

  • “China’s new isolation has created plenty of difficulties in Sino-Russian relations, but its influence on strategic relations should not be exaggerated: the problems that have arisen can hardly be described as a serious crisis. To put it bluntly, human contact and cooperation at the border wasn’t the greatest strength of the Russian-Chinese entente even before the pandemic.”
  • “Putin and Xi have not met in person since November 2019, but that hasn’t stopped them from speaking eight times on the record during the period of the pandemic. The nature of Russian-Chinese relations is pragmatic and transactional, and as long as political and strategic cooperation remains a priority for Moscow and Beijing, the lack of personal contact between their people and even businesses is unlikely to impact bilateral relations. As for their leaders, senior officials, and heads of big companies, there are protected communication channels, or bubbles like Tianjin.”

“Don't Let China Overshadow the Russia Threat,” Lawrence J. Haas, The National Interest, November 2021. The author, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, writes:

  • “Currently ... some of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints emanate not from China but from Russia. They remind us that—while we must address China’s multifaceted efforts to supplant America as the world’s leading power—we also need to retain our focus on Russia’s machinations under the leadership of its strongman president, Vladimir Putin.”
  • “Putin has sent nearly one hundred thousand Russian troops to its border with Ukraine, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, setting off alarm bells in Washington and Europe that he’s planning to invade.”
  • “At the same time, Putin is supporting (if not privately directing) the brazen efforts of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko to orchestrate a humanitarian crisis along his country’s common border with Poland—in hopes of pressuring the EU to end its sanctions against him over his fraudulent re-election last year.”
  • “Xi’s China may well be America’s biggest global threat. Nevertheless, U.S. policymakers must remain prepared to confront a hostile leader in Moscow who, too, is committed to challenging America and the West whenever and however he can.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“Biden should do more to prevent the accidental launch of nuclear weapons. Here's how,” Sam Nunn and Ernest J. Moniz, The Washington Post, 11.17.21. The authors, co-chairs of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, write:

  • “The risk that a leader will make a terrible decision to use nuclear weapons, or that a terrorist could get one, is growing. Nuclear-armed countries are allowing communications channels to atrophy. Our nuclear weapons and warning systems are facing new cyber-threats. Advances in military technology are proving destabilizing. Nuclear materials and nuclear know-how are spreading. And nuclear states are allowing arms control to wither.”
  • “The ongoing U.S. strategic nuclear modernization program—and the nuclear modernization programs of potential nuclear adversaries, in particular Russia and China—offer both challenges and opportunities. In this century, the U.S. nuclear weapons system, including command and control, will increasingly rely on digital and automated technologies, so nuclear operations and policies must be updated to anticipate these changes.”
  • “The broader aim of the fail-safe review process should be to reduce and (where possible) eliminate the risk of nuclear use as the result of an accident, a miscalculation, a false warning, terrorism or a deliberate act. … The review should also consider bilateral and multilateral risk reduction measures, focusing on confidence-building and enhanced predictability, that could be taken with Russia, China and other states with nuclear weapons, including options to increase warning and decision times for leaders.”
  • “Such a review should assess options for improving technologies, processes and policies in ways that maintain required levels of nuclear weapons command and control. This could include a process for certifying the safety, security and reliability of nuclear systems and fail-safe procedures at least every two years. … Another option might be to implement, for the first time, a system that would allow for the post-launch destruction of nuclear weapons or their associated delivery systems, if launched by mistake.”
  • “The review should also include cooperative measures, including the establishment of cyber-nuclear "rules of the road" and red-line understandings with other nuclear nations precluding cyberattacks on nuclear systems, as well as establishing a Joint Center for the exchange of data from early-warning systems and notifications of missile launches.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

“The Evolution of Russian and Iranian Cooperation in Syria,” Nicole Grajewski, CSIS, 11.17.21. The author, an International Security Fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes:

  • “[T]hroughout the course of the Syrian Civil War, regularized military and political exchanges strengthened the Russia-Iran relationship while contributing to greater coherence between Moscow and Tehran on the limits and parameters of cooperation. With the changing military dynamics in Syria, Russia, Iran, and Turkey spearheaded the Astana Process as a parallel track to U.N. mediation. Moscow’s diplomatic and military gains, however, have also embroiled them in the broader regional conflict between the United States, Russia, Israel and Iran.”
  • “Although Russia and Iran have converged around the overarching objective of strengthening the Assad regime, Moscow and Tehran’s engagement in Syria illustrates a complex mosaic of overlapping interests, broader regional entanglements, and contending approaches to post-war reconstruction. Russia and Iran’s visions on the future of Syria include diverging views on military reform and economic investment. However, these disagreements are unlikely to lead to a breakdown of the relationship. Moscow and Tehran learned from their experience mitigating tactical disagreements in military campaigns and are more likely to delimit spheres of interests within Syria as both seek to reap the political and economic benefits of close linkages to Damascus.”
  • “Just as Russia and Iran have managed to resolve tactical disagreements between local proxy forces in the military campaign through bureaucratic and military channels, Moscow and Tehran will likely delimit spheres of interests within Syria as both seek to reap the political and economic benefits of close linkage to Damascus.”
  • “Russia’s relationship with Iran demonstrates Moscow’s ability to compartmentalize its foreign policy by concentrating on areas of cooperation to mitigate tensions elsewhere in the relationship. … Therefore, it is misguided to overstate disagreements between Russia and Iran in Syria as indications of a deteriorating partnership.”

Cyber security:

“Why Cyber War Is Subversive, and How that Limits its Strategic Value,” Lennart Maschmeyer, Foreign Policy, 11.17.21. The author, a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich, writes:

  • “For three decades, defense planners and analysts have worried about cyber war. It has not happened. Instead, now their fear is that cyber operations open a new space of strategic competition where adversaries can shift the balance of power without going to war. The sea change in the United States’ cyber strategy from deterrence toward persistent engagement aims to counter this threat.”
  • “These current expectations, however, overestimate both the extent of this threat and its novelty. Rather than new instruments, my research, recently published in ‘International Security,’ shows cyber operations are, in fact, instruments of subversion—an understudied mechanism used in covert operations.”
  • “As such, explaining and prevailing in cyber conflict does not require new strategic theory. Rather, building on existing knowledge on strategies of subversion and their limitations promises key insights. Cyber operations share not only the strategic promise, but also the operational challenges, of subversion. The trilemma between speed, intensity, and control limits the actual strategic value they can deliver in most circumstances. Much current thought and strategy development focuses on what is theoretically possible, yet the trilemma limits what is practically feasible. Recognizing these limitations is crucial in order to clearly understand the strategic role of cyber operations and develop effective strategies that maximize their value within the constraints of the trilemma.”

“China and Russia are exporting digital repression. Democracies should fight back,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 11.16.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “There is still some hope for a freer future in the [Central Asian] region. Uzbekistan, for instance, attempted to ban Telegram, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and others this month for not complying with data localization strictures. But the government retreated after public outcry, and acknowledged that its regulators’ actions were ‘ill thought out.’ A rule in Kazakhstan requiring tech companies to hire employees in-country is meeting similar pushback. Multiple Central Asian countries are experimenting with data protection legislation that mirrors European efforts to safeguard individuals’ sensitive information.”
  • “Democracies should be working as hard as autocracies to steer countries with nascent Internets to their ways of doing business. Central Asia might, by virtue of geography and history, be especially hostile territory for this endeavor. But the United States and its allies should nonetheless embrace and prioritize a policy of vigorous digital diplomacy, instead of sitting back as China and Russia attempt to export repression.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Russia’s energy deals with China may backfire on the Kremlin,” Alexander Gabuev, Financial Times, 11.18.21. The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes

  • “The simultaneous energy crunch in Europe and China—the two biggest markets for Russian hydrocarbons—has provided Moscow with an opportunity to lock in a lucrative new gas deal with Beijing [Power of Siberia 2].”
  • “Unlike the existing Power of Siberia gas pipeline, which was agreed by Putin and President Xi Jinping in 2014 and launched in 2019, the new Sino-Russian project could pose a real threat to the EU. Power of Siberia 2 ... will use the same gasfields in the Yamal Peninsula that are Gazprom’s resource base for its European contracts. With a maximum annual volume of 50 bcm—comparable with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project … a new pipeline to China will provide Russia with an option for really diversifying its gas flows, giving Gazprom an even stronger hand when bargaining with Europe.”
  • “Yet this approach will, in the longer run, inevitably have unintended downsides for Russia itself. If Moscow doubles down on building more pipelines to China as a counterweight to its reliance on energy exports to Europe, it might find within a decade that it is highly dependent on a sole consumer at the other end of the pipeline.”
  • “Those Russian policymakers who voice caution are likely to lose the internal battles in the Kremlin’s corridors of power. The winners will be the people whose overriding goal is to build a pipeline through half of Eurasia at an inflated price.”

“Putin’s Priority Is Selling Gas, Not Waging War,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 11.18.21. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The official Russian policy is one of strategic patience—as ex-President Dmitry Medvedev recently wrote, ‘Russia knows how to wait. We are patient people.’”
  • “In Ukraine, this means waiting for successive anti-Russian governments to fail and for Ukrainians to become so disappointed with the lukewarm welcome they get from the European Union and the constant jerking around by flailing U.S. administrations that they’ll want back into Russia’s fold. The waiting involves periodic tactical shows of force—as it bides its time, Russia aims to prevent the military integration of Ukraine into [NATO].”
  • “In Belarus, strategic patience means waiting out Alexander Lukashenko’s desperate, idiosyncratic dictatorship while taking care the country doesn’t fall into the hands of the pro-Western opposition; the hope is that, post-Lukashenko, the careful application of economic and military pressure will complete Belarus’s transformation into a de-facto part of Russia under the two nations’ union state deal.”
  • “Putin, however, doesn’t appear to see a worthy successor among his closest allies … That means the strategic patience may well be limited by his perception of his own physical shape; he may feel the urge to move before it’s too late for him personally. That kind of emotional pressure could conceivably distort Putin’s calculations of the cost of action. And yet I’d argue that he doesn't take the plunge now.”
  • “Putin is focused on another foreign policy priority, namely his natural gas project, in itself no less important for his legacy than the putative reunification of the Soviet Union’s core Slav peoples. The new network of pipelines built under Putin—to Turkey, China and Germany—is meant to seal his regional alliances and keep open a German window on Europe. It’s also a key element of the Slavic unification play: The current Ukrainian and Belarussian governments have too much leverage on Russia as guarantors of its westward gas exports, leverage that would always tempt local politicians to seek more independence from Moscow.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“How Putin Is Pushing Back Against the West,” Nikolas K. Gvosdev, The National Interest, 11.15.21. The author, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, writes:

  • “At the end of 2020, I was conferring with colleagues about the likely trajectory of relations between Russia and the West. One was quite optimistic that things were about to ‘break our way.’”
  • “Russia was coping with the collapse of energy prices and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. … Expectations were high that opposition leader Svetlana Tikhonovskaya and mass protests would send Alexander Lukashenko on the same pathway into obscurity. … Ukraine was set to benefit from new U.S. weapons and training … hopes were high that promised reforms might solidify Ukraine’s entrance into Euro-Atlantic institutions, starting with NATO. … Eleventh hour U.S. sanctions would also deal the death blow to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.”
  • “The Russian calculation was to assume that, in the end, they could regulate their relations with the West on the basis of pragmatic transactionalism. And events for much of 2021 seemed to confirm this prediction.” 
  • “My sense is that the various crises now springing up in Eastern Europe … are meant as warnings that assuming that Russia will simply accept whatever state of affairs the Western alliance decrees is a highly risky endeavor.”
  • “But what are the next steps? … Putin’s calls with … Merkel suggest that, having made its point, the Kremlin will want to talk and return to the bargaining table to avoid further escalation—and ideally return to the series of de facto compromises that existed over the summer … Yet as the situation deteriorates, Western governments may be less willing to entertain these compromises. The choice would then be whether Russia would choose to escalate further or decide that further steps would be counterproductive. It is within this zone of uncertainty that all sides now exist.”

“Navigating Relations with Russia in the Arctic: A Roadmap for Stability,” Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Jim Townsend, Lawson W. Brigham and Nicholas Lokker,” CNAS, 11.18.21. The authors of the report write:

  • “The Arctic, provides opportunities for small doses of cooperation and other confidence-building measures with Russia that, over time, can be expanded upon in other areas and in other domains.” 
  • “Increase guardrails: Restart military-to-military discussions between the Arctic nations. … Develop a military (air, land and sea) rules-of-the-road agreement for the Arctic. … Restart the Arctic Chiefs of Defense forum without Russia and condition Moscow’s reentry on progress on the rules-of-the-road agreement for the Arctic.
  • “Build on shared interests: Enhance cooperation with Russia on Arctic maritime safety and security. … Implement and enforce the International Maritime Organization’s Polar Code. … Cooperate in support of the Central Arctic Ocean Fisheries Agreement. Invest in support of existing treaties. … Support an international Arctic observing system.”
  • “Russia’s current chairmanship of the Arctic Council provides a window of opportunity for the United States and its transatlantic allies to both address the challenges that Russia poses in the Arctic and to engage with Moscow on maritime safety and research. Because the ground for cooperation with Russia is so limited, efforts to explore the potential for engagement with Moscow in the Arctic take on greater importance. By strengthening guardrails and engaging where interests overlap with Russia’s, the transatlantic partners can advance their shared objective of ensuring that the Arctic remains a region of cooperation rather than conflict.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Revealing schemes: The politics of conspiracy in Russia and the post-Soviet region,” Scott Radnitz, LSE Europe Institute, 11.19.21. The author, the Herbert J. Ellison Associate Professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, writes:

  • “[My] new book covering Russia and the post-Soviet region, explores the causes, consequences and contradictions of conspiracism in politics. ... The book takes in 12 post-Soviet states over 20 years. It treats conspiracy claims as one of several tools in the rhetorical arsenal of political actors and aims to explain when and how conspiracy theories emerge and endure. ... Having spent several years compiling a database of over 1,500 conspiracy claims from the post-Soviet media with the help of a dozen assiduous research assistants, I make several counterintuitive arguments based on this data.”
  • “First, conspiracy theories are more likely to appear in somewhat competitive rather than fully authoritarian regimes. … A second insight comes in an examination of the ascendancy of conspiracism in Russia … Two existing narratives predominate: that Russia is cursed to have conspiratorial leaders and citizens owing to its traumatic history of invasion, violence and tyranny; or that conspiracism is the sole handiwork of President Vladimir Putin, the master spy and scourge of democracy. One posits inevitability, the other, agency. I show that neither story is quite correct.”
  • “A third argument … is that the excessive use of conspiracy theories can backfire on their claimants. Overuse of the tactic threatens to call a regime’s credibility into question … Excessive conspiracism can be read as a signal of regime weakness, as people may wonder what the government did to acquire so many determined enemies. And it can lead to fatigue.”
  • “The dam has been broken, conspiracy theories are unlikely to disappear as a viable form of rhetoric, especially if parties must only mobilize a disaffected minority of voters to gain a legislative foothold. … Scholars of politics, even in Western democracies, must move beyond viewing conspiracy theories as an aberrant or exotic type of belief and instead treat them as an ordinary form of political rhetoric that will not disappear anytime soon.”

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:

“What Went Wrong with Russia’s Sputnik V Vaccine Rollout?” Paul Stronski, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 11.15.21. The author, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “The developers of Sputnik V at Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute have been slow to share scientific data with international regulators and researchers for reasons that remain unclear. This has fed doubts about the 91–97 percent efficacy they have claimed at various times.”
  • “The decision to rush Sputnik V to the market before the completion of broad-based Stage III trials also damaged the vaccine’s image inside Russia and overseas.”
  • “Sputnik V’s other problem is the inability of the state-controlled Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) to deliver the vaccine on a mass scale... The decision to use two different adenoviruses (rAd26 in the first dose and rAd5 in the second) further complicates production.”
  • “Sputnik V has also run into regulatory hurdles. The World Health Organization in September 2021 stopped its emergency review over insufficient data and quality control issues at a Russian factory … Instead of tackling such challenges head on, Sputnik V’s backers and the Russian state-controlled propaganda apparatus have repeatedly tried to tarnish the reputation of Western vaccines.”
  • “The vaccine is not approved for use in Canada, China, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, or the United States. That compounds Sputnik V’s authorization review in multiple countries that see these jurisdictions as credible regulators and look to them for guidance in evaluating new drugs.”

“After COP26: Russia’s Path to the Global Green Future,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.16.21. The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “The intensity of the Russian engagement reflects the sea change that has occurred in the Kremlin’s attitude to climate change over the past year or so … Putin now repeatedly points out that temperatures are rising two and a half times faster in his country than the global average.”
  • “What caught Putin’s attention must have been the nexus between climate change and global energy policies … There are well-founded estimates suggesting that by the early 2030s, Russia may begin running chronic budget deficits as demand for its oil, pipeline gas, and coal exports slumps.”
  • “At the COP26 conference, Russian delegates laid out the key elements of the emerging Russian climate and energy policy … First, Russia will insist that nuclear and hydroelectric power, which account for some 40 percent of the country’s energy mix, should be internationally accepted as green … Second, two-thirds of the territory of Russia—the world’s largest country by far—is covered by forests … Third, Russia is determined to weigh in on the rules of international carbon trading.”
  • “For some in Moscow, engaging on climate change is an opportunity to improve relations with the West while sidelining other conflicts and differences. In principle, this is another delusion … The Kremlin has to appreciate two things … Firstly, the reasons for the confrontation with the United States and alienation from Europe will not disappear in the environment of cooperation on climate … Secondly, for the West, Moscow’s promises will not be enough.” 
  • “Russia is certainly now taking climate-related issues seriously, but even though a latecomer in embracing the climate change agenda, it will not simply accept the West’s or the EU’s lead. Rather, it will act in accordance with its national interests.”

“Can COP26 Clear the Air Between Russia and the West?,” Alexander Baunov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.17.21. The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “The Russian agenda differs from the global one as defined by the organizers of COP26 in two ways … First, for Russia, ecological problems overshadow climate issues … Second, Russia’s planning horizons are much shorter than those of the summit’s organizers. Russia’s ecological and climate goals are somewhat closer to those of developing countries—some might say insufficiently ambitious—such as raising the energy efficiency of municipal infrastructure, switching urban and rural boiler rooms and entire thermal power stations from coal and wood to gas, and organizing garbage recycling.”
  • “As to the sustainable future, domestic instability makes it impossible for developing countries to plan for even a couple of decades ahead, let alone for a hundred years. Everyone remembers how the plans that the Russian elite formulated in the 1980s lost all relevance in the 1990s, with the same pattern repeating itself in the following decades.”
  • “Articles by and interviews with senior Russian figures reveal a focus more on ecology in its classical sense than on some futuristic understanding of climate change. They talk more about the energy transition and related risks and opportunities for Russia than about global warming and reductions in methane emissions.”
  • “Still, everything is related, and Russia does not oppose the global agenda. As in every other area, while trying to maintain its dignity and sovereignty, it seeks to formulate its own position in conjunction with the global one. This creates a dilemma for the summit’s Western organizers: they may say that Russia is again confronting the rules-based world order, or they can include Russia’s green agenda in their own. Ultimately, it won’t be possible to cool down today’s overheated world without countries like Russia and China.”

“Germany’s New-Old Approach to Russia: Strong in Rhetoric But Weak in Substance?” Liana Fix, Russia Matters, 11.18.21. The author, a historian and political scientist, writes:

  • “As autumn inches closer to winter, Germany is in the midst of coalition negotiations after its Sept. 26 parliamentary elections, with a draft agreement expected next week. In all likelihood, a so-called traffic light coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and Free Liberals headed by current Finance Minister Olaf Scholz will form a new government. … Negotiations in the foreign policy working group are being closely watched not only in Washington and European capitals but also in Moscow.”
  • “[T]he parties’ exploratory paper and negotiations so far, as well as party positions laid out in advance, allow for some preliminary conclusions about the direction of Berlin’s new-old Russia policy. The most important take-away: To understand Germany’s future approach to Russia, look beyond it. Security and energy policy, more than foreign policy alone, will play an important role, and the repercussions of decisions in these areas will affect Russia’s leverage toward the EU and its eastern neighbors.”
  • “Scholz has positioned himself as the successor to her legacy—in foreign policy, as well as other matters. … Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine, this part of the SPD has become disillusioned with Moscow. … Although the Green Party, the second-biggest coalition partner, has called for a tougher stance on Russia, its approach to security policy is similar to left-wing Social Democrats’, which makes the prospects for hawkishness toward Moscow hazy.”
  • “Another major area of Russia-related policy where the future coalition members disagree is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, delayed this week by Germany’s regulator. For now, however, it seems most likely that the project will eventually proceed as planned.”
  • “A new Russia policy that is strong in rhetoric but weak in substance would be a disappointing outcome for Germany’s neighbors and partners—especially at a time when Moscow is testing the new, not-yet-in-place German government with troop movements at the Ukrainian border and tacit approval of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s policies at the Polish border.”


“Russia Won’t Let Ukraine Go Without a Fight. Moscow Threatens War to Reverse Kyiv’s Pro-Western Drift,” Michael Kimmage and Michael Kofman, Foreign Affairs, 11.22.21. The authors, a professor of history at Catholic University and director of the Russia studies program at the Center for Naval Analyses, respectively, write:

  • “Ominous signs indicate that Russia may conduct a military offensive in Ukraine as early as the coming winter … Although Russian President Vladimir Putin may once again be engaging in coercive diplomacy, this time around Moscow may not be bluffing.”
  • “The United States should draw two conclusions from Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine … The first is that this is not likely to be merely another coercive display, despite mixed messaging from Moscow … The key to Washington’s response will be to prepare for the possibility that a war could unfold in 2022, to conduct anticipatory coordination with European allies, and to make clear the consequences of such action to Moscow.”
  • “Secondly, whether or not a war breaks out in Ukraine in the coming months, the United States and its European allies need to be more honest about the current diplomatic cul-de-sac in which they find themselves. Russia is not in a geopolitical retreat, and Ukraine is unlikely to yield … However, that does not preclude the search for a diplomatic solution that reduces the risk of the rivalry spiraling out of control.”
  • “Ukraine is at the center of that solution, and these conversations must reflect Ukrainian agency. But paradoxically, it is not Ukraine but Washington that has been visibly absent from the diplomatic process. The ongoing conflict is the single most important source of instability between Russia and the United States—Washington needs to tackle it head on. The search for strategic stability will struggle to coexist with conflict. But as competition between the world’s two major nuclear powers intensifies, it is not a luxury or a mirage. It is a necessity.”

“Russia Isn’t About to Attack Ukraine,” Jeff Hawn, Foreign Policy, 11.17.21. The author, a doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science’s department of international history, writes:

  • “Is Russia actually about to attack Ukraine? The answer, based on the empirical evidence, seems to be a resounding no.”
  • “Russia has concentrated troops in its southern provinces since April, but the slow pace of deployment seems to indicate a general shift of Russian forces into its Western and Southern military districts, the two command regions of Russia’s five regional commands close to potential conflict zones.”
  • “A renewed invasion of Ukraine or even a drastic escalation in hostilities by Russian-backed forces is a foolish prospect for several reasons … The Ukrainian army, at this point, is experienced, modernized, and highly motivated. It would not be a pushover—and any war in addition to being extremely costly in terms of troops and material would have a high chance of bringing in others, and it would have a terrifying chance of going nuclear … Russia’s current occupations of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Crimea are expensive, but they are viable because there is an element of the local population there that welcomes Russia … Such a dynamic does not exist in western Ukraine … A renewed war against Ukraine then would only be to Russia’s detriment.”
  • “Russia may indeed see conditions someday where an invasion of Ukraine would be to its advantage … But today, if Russia were to attack Ukraine it would have a lot to lose for almost no gain.”
  • “Yet the reckless behavior of the Western press and some governments, from the panicky headlines in Bloomberg warning of a full-scale invasion to various statements vowing to defend Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, has only served to increase the tensions in an already tense region. War is never inevitable, but acting as if it is makes it far more likely—and no less devastating.”

“Russian Foreign Policy: Shifting Gears,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.19.21. The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • ‘“Our recent warnings have had a certain effect: tensions have arisen there anyway,’ Putin told the assembled officials [on November 18 at a gathering of Russian Foreign Ministry senior officials]. ‘It is important for them to remain in this state for as long as possible, so that it does not occur to them to stage some kind of conflict… we do not need a new conflict,’ the Russian president added.”
  • “Putin did not mean diplomatic warnings.... Instead, the warnings the Russian president was likely referring to are the activities of the Russian military.”
  • “In 2014, Putin, having received a mandate from the Russian parliament to use military force ‘in Ukraine,’ limited its factual use to Crimea, plus, in a covert form, Donbas. Next time, as Putin’s own words suggest, the geographic scope of Russian military action, should the Russian commander-in-chief order it, is likely to be much broader.”
  • “Will President Putin make the fateful decision? Is Ukraine that “unfinished business” that he will seek to complete before the end of his reign? Or is Putin just bluffing? A few things are clear.”
  • “NATO membership or not, seeing Ukraine turn into a U.S.-controlled unsinkable aircraft carrier parked on Russia’s border just a few hundred miles from Moscow—an apt comparison by my Carnegie colleagues in Washington—is no more acceptable to the Kremlin than that other unsinkable aircraft carrier, Cuba, was to the White House almost sixty years ago. … Another contingency would be massive military action by Ukrainian forces in Donbass, however unlikely that may seem in the West.”

“Troop Build-up Shows Putin views Ukraine as ‘Unfinished Business’” Max Seddon and Katrina Manson, Financial Times. 11.16.21. The authors, FT correspondents, write:

  • “The resurgent risk of military invasion in the heart of Europe underlines the failure of diplomatic Franco-German efforts under the so-called Normandy format to find a peaceful solution to the conflict that has been raging in eastern Ukraine over the past seven years.  ‘It’s become clear in the last half-year that there won’t be any more negotiations according to the old models,’ said Fyodor Lukyanov, a Russian foreign policy analyst and adviser to the Kremlin. ‘If those formats disappear, then a legal vacuum appears amid a serious, unresolved conflict which carries high risks that direct clashes might resume.’”
  • “‘If renewed Russian military intervention in Ukraine were to happen, God forbid, most of the Biden team’s efforts to stabilize U.S.-Russian relations would go out the window,’ said Andrew Weiss, a vice-president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Russia director at the U.S. National Security Council.”
  • “‘Putin’s obsession with Ukraine reflects the fact this is important unfinished business for him,’ Weiss said. ‘And he surely has registered on the fact that Ukraine looks more and more like a NATO aircraft carrier park just outside the Russian heartland. He also understands that the west is continuing to pour money and resources into the upgrading of Ukraine’s military, intelligence, cyber, and political subversion capabilities and has no intention of putting those efforts on hold simply to mollify Russian concerns.’”
  • “As long as Ukraine remains a higher priority for the Kremlin than for the White House, Russia appears prepared to escalate more than the U.S. can do in response.”

“Ukraine in the Crosshairs: Why Is Russia Surging Troops to the Border Again?” Melinda Haring, Foreign Affairs, 11.19.21. The author, deputy director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, writes:

  • “A number of factors suggest that Putin will strike Ukraine again, and soon. … First, the aging autocrat wants to shore up his legacy as one of the great Russian leaders. Greatness in Russian history is measured by territorial conquests, not GDP or international standing.”
  • “The Russian leader also knows that he would likely get away with invading Ukraine. As the Russia experts Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss have suggested, Putin had a very good year. .... Putin may not feel invincible, but when he looks at a leaderless Europe and the domestic chaos in the United States, he’s confident that he has a free hand in eastern Europe.”
  • “Finally, Putin doesn’t think that he can manipulate Ukraine’s leadership anymore, and he has lost patience with Zelenskiy.”
  • “The Biden administration has sought stability and predictability with Moscow, but the White House has begun to change course in light of Putin’s increasingly aggressive moves.”
  • “Putin wants to dismember Ukraine and prove once again that the country resides in his sphere of interest. No one can know how far he wants to go, but he wants to block Ukraine’s European aspirations, full stop. The Biden administration must do all that it can to de-escalate the situation in Belarus, bolster Ukraine’s defenses, and raise the costs facing Putin if he opts to embark on a major territorial expansion. And if Putin does decide to invade Ukraine, Washington and its allies should make clear that he has bitten off more than he can chew.”

“Moscow’s Continuing Ukrainian Buildup,” Seth G. Jones, Michelle Macander and Joseph S. Bermudez Jr, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 11.17.21. The authors, the director of the CSIS’s international security program and two fellows at CSIS, write:

  • “Russia is continuing a slow but steady military buildup near its border with Ukraine. As new CSIS satellite imagery analysis shows, there has recently been a 17 percent increase in the number of military structures used for storage and billeting troops outside the Russian town of Yelnya, home of the 144th Guards Motorized Rifle Division. CSIS analysis also shows a continuing surge of military equipment and personnel from the 41st Combined Arms Army, which is normally garrisoned over 2,000 miles away in Novosibirsk.”
  • “Moscow’s current actions near the border are likely motivated by at least two factors … First, Russian officials are angry at the deepening U.S. and Western strategic partnership with Ukraine … Second, Russian leaders likely assess that there is little political will in Europe or the United States to aid Ukraine in a war, especially in the context of other foreign and domestic crises.”
  • “Deterrence by punishment is feasible if led by the United States. The United States and its European allies and partners should publicly and privately communicate to Moscow that a conventional attack on Ukraine would initiate crippling sanctions from Western countries, deepen Russia’s political isolation from the West, and potentially trigger a Western-backed insurgency against Russian forces in Ukraine.”

“The U.S. is Warning Russia on Ukraine. So far, the Message Isn’t Getting Through,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 11.18.21. The author, a Washington Post columnist, writes:

  • “The tense Ukraine standoff is a case study in diplomatic signaling that, thus far, hasn’t worked. For weeks, senior U.S. and European officials have warned Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back what looks ominously like an invasion force — or face harsh consequences from a U.S.-led coalition.”
  • “Putin seems to be relishing the West’s anxiety. He claimed Thursday [Nov. 18] that the United States and its allies were ignoring Russia’s ‘red lines’ and ‘escalating the situation’ with shows of force. He said he hoped the recent ‘tension’ in Western statements about Ukraine would ‘remain as long as possible,’ so that Russia’s views would be taken seriously. Putin’s goal seems to be restoration of Moscow’s Soviet-era hegemony over Kyiv.”
  • “The Biden administration has been making contingency plans with allies, in case Russia moves across the border. U.S. officials won’t discuss how they would respond, though they caution that, because Ukraine isn’t a NATO member, there’s no U.S. guarantee to protect Kyiv. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed the uncertainty shared by U.S. allies when he admitted Wednesday: ‘We’re not sure exactly what Mr. Putin is up to.’”
  • “The Biden administration is right to seek a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia. But the Ukraine confrontation is a reminder of just how absent both conditions are now. The administration should follow its instinct to revive the Minsk Protocol to end the war in eastern Ukraine—even though tens of thousands of Russian and Ukrainian troops are blocking the exit ramp. Overcoming such obstacles is what American diplomacy, at its best, can accomplish.”

“Russia’s dangerous build-up around Ukraine,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 11.15.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Today, a new category of ‘in-between’ countries exists: ex-Soviet republics over which Moscow and the west jostle for influence. Red lines are hazy and shifting. A perilous ambiguity lurks over how the west would respond if Russia were to invade Ukraine, which is not a NATO member. But over the past two decades, the U.S. and the EU have encouraged ex-Soviet states to democratize and partner more closely with north Atlantic institutions. They have a moral duty to support them, in word and deed, if Russia attempts to pull them back by intimidation or force.”
  • “While China’s rise is, no doubt, the key challenge of the 21st century, it is misguided to treat Russia as a second-order threat or make dubious concessions intended to placate Moscow so attention can be focused on Beijing.”
  • “A second priority is a consistent U.S. and European stance. The SPD, set to lead Germany’s incoming coalition, has long been dovish towards Moscow. But Berlin must show the same firmness as Paris has on this occasion. A package of deterrent steps — including the threat of financial sanctions and pledges of defensive weaponry to Kyiv — is needed to demonstrate to the Kremlin that further incursions into Ukraine would have an unacceptable cost.”
  • “Experience from 2014-15, when Russia and its proxies considered going further into Ukraine but stopped as sanctions mounted and the going proved unexpectedly tough, suggests Putin will push on until he is challenged. It is time to make clear that if he presses forward again, he will quickly meet resistance — in multiple forms.”

“How to Energize NATO’s Response to Russia’s Threats Against Ukraine,” Max Boot, Council on Foreign Relations, 11.19.21. The author, a senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes:

  • “Biden needs to do more to increase the economic cost to Russia of its aggression. One of the biggest points of leverage is the nearly completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will carry natural gas from Russia to Germany underneath the Baltic Sea. It will bypass existing pipelines that run through Ukraine, depriving it of around one billion euros per year in transit payments. Nord Stream 2 will increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and leave Ukraine vulnerable to politically motivated Russian gas shutoffs.”
  • “The Biden administration should reimpose sanctions related to the pipeline, as urged by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, while offering to provide Europe with more U.S. natural gas and help in its transition to renewable energy.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“One Year On: Russia and the South Caucasus After the Karabakh War,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.18.21. The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “The Second Karabakh War, which broke out in the fall of 2020, was a turning point, and not only for its participants, Armenia and Azerbaijan. It changed the political and military balance in the South Caucasus, facilitated the further rise of Turkey as a regional power, and marked out both the limits of Russia’s influence in the South Caucasus, and the limits of the United States and European Union’s real interest in this part of the post-Soviet space.”
  • “Russia’s strategic goal for the next five years should not be to achieve a lasting peace in Nagorno-Karabakh founded on a mutually acceptable peace treaty, since that is practically impossible, but to prevent a third war... This goal could be achieved through a combination of the approach to restore economic cooperation between the warring sides and develop logistical ties along the north-south axis, with active policies on Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as Turkey and Iran. The aim here is not only to engage the parties in work on restoring the connectedness of the South Caucasus, but to prevent them from putting pressure on Russia.”

“The Epoch of Regional Powers: Why Russia Lost and Turkey Won in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Alexander Iskandaryan, PONARS Eurasia, 11.15.21. The author, founding director of the Caucasus Institute, writes:

  • “For the first time ever, an external actor and a NATO member—Turkey—became engaged in military hostilities in the former Soviet space. The Second Karabakh War in the fall of 2020 changed the configuration of external influences over the South Caucasus, culminating in the crushing defeat of Armenians. It brought Turkey to the forefront regionally while reducing Moscow’s military and political leverage. This dynamic appears to be manifest elsewhere in the post-Soviet space, reflecting limits on Russian capacity and a broader trend of world powers paying less attention to local conflicts due to the dismantling of the bipolar system. Altogether, the war’s outcome ended Russia’s military hegemony in the former Soviet region and undermined its influence.”
  • “The South Caucasus has become a zone of Russian-Turkish competition. Moscow must accept Ankara’s presence in its so-called political and military sphere. The new configuration is in many ways similar to what has been happening in Syria, where Russia has to balance its interests against those of Turkey every step of the way.”
  • “Trust in the CSTO is as good as lost, as is faith in Moscow’s (military) power. Members and non-members of the CSTO are now aware that Russia’s support of its formal allies in the organization depends on the political state of play.”
  • “Russia’s approach to the former USSR as its ‘near abroad,’ elaborated during the 1990s, no longer works. What used to be Russia’s ‘near abroad’ has moved further away. For example, the development trajectories of Turkmenistan and Georgia, albeit starkly different, have led both of these countries out of Russia’s influence zone. Russia’s relations with its former satellites have become context-dependent; the universal matrix does not function the way it once did. Moscow is now facing increased competition in its former backyard from regional players. The outcome of the Second Karabakh War sends a sign that Russia may not have the incentive or capacity to prevent changes to the status quo in ‘its’ space. Has the disintegration of the former USSR entered a new stage?”

“War everywhere? Why the crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border is not a hybrid attack,” Marco Overhaus, SWP, 11.19.21. The author, a senior associate at SWP, writes:

  • “The fact that the boundaries between war and peace are becoming increasingly blurred is not only due to abstract security policy developments and structural international changes, but it is also very much the result of the language and actions of political actors, including in the West. Politicians therefore have a responsibility to continue to define the boundaries between war and peace.”
  • “The migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border is not yet a war. It cannot safely be ruled out that it will escalate militarily. However, politicians in Germany and the EU should not rhetorically pave the way for such a development and should not respond to corresponding provocations from Minsk and Moscow. They should meet the challenge posed by migration and refugees with political means – also and especially when a state uses them as a means of pressure. In addition to further economic sanctions by the EU against Belarus, the establishment of a functioning asylum policy in the European Union would be an essential step in this direction.”