Russia Analytical Report, Nov. 18-25, 2019

This Week's Highlights:

  • In 2014 Russia effectively raised its nuclear threshold, according to Nikolai Sokov, a senior fellow at Middlebury’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies writing for the PONARS-Eurasia network, and “it is a pity that Washington debates greater reliance on nuclear weapons at a time when Russia decreases it.”
  • No one should be surprised when Russia “vigorously pursues its interests abroad and in ways that challenge the West,” Rajan Menon, a CUNY professor and senior research scholar at Columbia University, writes in Foreign Policy magazine. “That said,” he argues, “Moscow’s strategic acumen and tangible gains” on the global stage “aren’t nearly as dazzling as the consensus suggests.”  
  • If Syria wants access to significant funding for reconstruction and economic revival, Bashar al-Assad will eventually have to go, according to the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon, who lays out a plan for salvaging Syria and protecting U.S. troops.  
  • In seeking to defend itself, Europe should “seek a modus vivendi” with Russia, writes the Financial Times’ associate editor, Philip Stephens. While this can include “playing up to” President Vladimir Putin’s “personal vanity,” it will also entail defending Europe’s values. 
  • Russian and Chinese armed forces are interacting more, but integration is not yet happening,” according to Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. While Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping stay in power, he writes, “the relationship is unlikely to experience a train wreck. But in the long run, Russia needs to balance its relationship with its giant and fast-growing neighbor, so as to protect its own sovereignty and avoid becoming a mere sidekick.”
  • In two separate articles, three analysts who formerly worked for the State Department call for U.S. participation in resolving the conflict in Ukraine. In The Hill, Paula Dobriansky and Paul Saunders say it is essential for Washington to keep helping Ukraine “end Russian military intervention, enhance economic performance, bolster national unity and resolutely fight corruption,” all while providing “incentives for Moscow to acquiesce in a satisfactory resolution.” Former ambassador Steven Pifer, meanwhile, proposes a U.S. peace plan that would retain the essential features of the 2015 Minsk II agreement.” With each step in this peace process, he writes, “Western countries would gradually lift the related visa and economic sanctions on Russia.”

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

Nuclear security:

“Would terrorists set off a nuclear weapon if they had one? We shouldn’t assume so,” Christopher McIntosh and Ian Storey, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11.20.19. The authors, an assistant professor of political studies and an associate fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, both at Bard College, write that:

  • “The idea that terrorist organizations see value in trying to obtain nuclear weapons is fairly well-documented, and we don’t intend to question that here. But the assumption that terrorists only want those weapons in order to immediately attack Western capitals and local rivals deserves more scrutiny. In our work, we ask: How would a nonstate actor behave if it acquired a nuclear weapon?”
  • “If a group is able to cross this threshold and obtain a weapon, it will weigh all of its options seriously. And these options are not limited to a binary choice of attack or hold. In reality there are a slate of options for how to ‘use’ a nuclear weapon, and we can divide these into five categories, only one of which is detonation.”
    • “The first option—one we see in movies and television—is to reveal the new capability and publicly state under what conditions it would be used.”
    • “Alternatively, the organization could make its new capability public, but not lay out terms for its use. This is the second option, which we term ‘opacity.’”
    • “While it may seem counterintuitive, it is equally possible for an organization to keep its new capability a secret while continuing its campaign of violence. So, as a third option, an organization could pursue a strategy of ‘latency’ by keeping their bomb a secret, yet simultaneously making statements and threats about what it would do if it had one.”
    • “Finally, given the high uncertainty that the first nuclear-armed nonstate actor in the world would face, the organization might just initially opt for ‘dormancy,’ keeping the bomb ‘in the basement’ until it decided that strategic conditions were ripe for global revelation.”

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

“The Elusive Russian Nuclear Threshold,” Nikolai Sokov, PONARS, November 2019. The author, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, writes that:

  • “The new U.S. Nuclear Posture Review … contained recommendations based, in part, on the assumption that Russia had reduced its nuclear threshold under an ‘escalate to de-escalate’ strategy. Many contested the U.S. claim and pointed out that the Russian doctrine did not contain those terms or that strategy, and that its nuclear weapons would only be assigned to situations when the ‘very existence’ of the country was at stake. This certainly does not conform to the image of a lowered threshold.”
  • “Looking at the scope and details of the matter with some hindsight, Russia did temporarily raise its nuclear weapon profile over the course of the 2000s, but Moscow became more confident in its conventional forces post-2014 and the threshold debate simmered down in Russian officialdom, even if the analytical clatter persisted.”
  • “Uncertainty about the height of the nuclear threshold began in 1993 with Russia’s first military doctrine. … In revocation of the NFU [nuclear first-use] pledge in 1993, a degree of uncertainty about the nuclear threshold was introduced. But did it really mean that the threshold was perceptibly lowered? Not necessarily. A range of official documents—such as the 1996 and 1997 National Security Concepts, as well as a package of documents on defense policy and nuclear posture adopted in 1998 that were classified but whose essence could be derived from open sources—clearly indicated that the only contingency for nuclear use was global war.”
  • “The truly serious change came in 2000 when Russia’s new Military Doctrine introduced a second nuclear contingency, ‘regional wars.’ It assigned nuclear weapons to two situations: in response to a nuclear attack or in response to a conventional attack when a situation becomes ‘critical for the national security of the Russian Federation.’ The specific scenario the document clearly had in mind was potential U.S. and NATO interference in the war in Chechnya similar to their interference in Kosovo in 1999. This represented a significant lowering of the nuclear threshold. That said, the new policy conceptually was just a variation of the well-known NATO policy dating back to the 1960s that foresaw reliance on nuclear weapons to balance Soviet conventional superiority. Whether this policy should be called ‘de-escalation’ is actually quite irrelevant. The term had been borrowed from a 1999 article in Voyennaya Mysl’ (and introduced into English-language discourse by myself in 2000). Those authors had used it for convenience to capture the introduction of a new mission but never claimed the term was part of official documents.”
  • “The 2010 Military Doctrine kept the contingencies (global war and regional war) but changed the attack criterion from ‘critical’ situations to one that ‘threatens the very existence of the state.’ This change created a mild inconsistency. A regional war is defined as ‘war with participation of two or more states of the same region that is waged by national or coalition armed forces.’ A regional war could, indeed, create a ‘critical’ situation, but it is difficult to imagine one threatening the survival of Russia (except, perhaps, a war involving China)—but the list of threats and challenges to Russian security clearly indicates that the authors had the United States and NATO in their minds. Thus, it is hard to say whether the new language can be classified as pointing to a higher nuclear threshold. The criterion changed, but the (regional and global) missions remained the same.”
  • “This apparent inconsistency was removed/fixed in the 2014 Military Doctrine. While language pertaining to nuclear use remained the same as in 2010, the new document introduced the notion of ‘non-nuclear deterrence.’ By that time, Russia had finally acquired long-range, precision-guided, conventional weapons (used for the first time in combat in the fall of 2015 in Syria) and although the capability was still nascent, the new doctrine sought to define its place in the defense posture. Thus, in 2014, the nuclear threshold increased. Moscow clearly communicated its intent to fight regional wars with conventional weapons.”
  • “The U.S. 2018 NPR seems to respond to a Russian policy that was in force until 2010 or, at the latest, 2014. It is a pity that Washington debates greater reliance on nuclear weapons at a time when Russia decreases it. It would not be surprising if others—Moscow first of all—concluded that the United States advocated for the reduced role of nuclear weapons only as long as it had overwhelming preponderance in conventional warfighting capability. Such an assumption is not correct but can be expected.”
  • “Measuring a nuclear threshold in terms of it being ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ can be misleading because it overlooks the (more) important issue of the missions to which nuclear weapons may or may not be assigned. Bearing this caveat in mind, it is possible to say that today’s nuclear threshold is approximately the same as it was in the 1990s.”

“Russia’s New Nuclear Weapon Delivery Systems: An Open-Source Technical Review,” Jill Hruby, Nuclear Threat Initiative, November 2019. The author, NTI’s inaugural Sam Nunn distinguished fellow and a former director of Sandia National Laboratories, writes that:

  • “After years of secret development of new nuclear weapon delivery systems designed to evade missile defense, Russia began openly reporting its nuclear activities in March 2018 with President Vladimir Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly. The number of innovative Russian nuclear weapon delivery systems under development is impressive—six in all.”
  • “The large number and new types of nuclear-weapon delivery systems represent significant efforts by Russia’s military designers and its industrial complex. One of the new hypersonic systems, the Kinzhal, is in trial deployment, at least as a conventionally tipped aeroballistic missile. Although advances are being made in replacing an older multiple-warhead ICBM with a more modern and capable version, the system is not yet fully tested, and deployment is behind schedule.”
  • “The development of a nuclear-capable strategic-range hypersonic boost-glide vehicle and a potentially nuclear-tipped hypersonic cruise missile remains active but not mature, with the deployment dates likely after the early and mid-2020s, respectively. Russia’s efforts to create nuclear-powered torpedoes and cruise missiles, entirely new kinds of strategic nuclear-weapon delivery concepts, are further behind, and their ultimate success remains uncertain.”
  • “The risks and rationale for pursuing such systems, as well as the implications of new technologies as hypersonics, should be a priority agenda item for the United States and Russia in their discussions of strategic stability and nuclear-risk reduction.”

“In Future Wars, the U.S. Military Will Have Nowhere to Hide. New technologies enable Russia and China to destroy U.S. bases and logistics networks—including those on the homeland,” Michael Beckley, Foreign Policy, 11.20.19. The author—an associate professor of political science at Tufts University, a Jeane Kirkpatrick visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of “Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the World’s Sole Superpower”—writes that:

  • “For most of its history, the United States has had the luxury of fighting its wars from safe havens.”
  • “In future wars, however, new technologies may enable rival great powers, such as China and Russia, to carry out precise and devastating attacks on U.S. military bases and logistics networks, even including those located within the United States itself. Advances in the fields of aerospace, robotics, machine learning, 3D printing, and nanomaterials are creating new classes of missiles and lethal drones that can be launched discreetly, travel great distances, and hamstring massed forces—all for a fraction of the cost of traditional manned weapons.”
  • “It is past time for the U.S. military to prepare to fight without sanctuaries. Instead of waiting for wars to break out and then surging vulnerable aircraft carriers and armored brigades overseas, the United States should preposition missile launchers and armed drones on allied territory and merchant ships in potential conflict zones. For wars against Russia and China, that means near the Baltics and in the East and South China seas.” 
  • “This approach capitalizes on a fundamental asymmetry in the war aims of the United States and its adversaries; whereas China and Russia need to seize control of territory (for example, Taiwan or part of the Baltics) to achieve their main objectives, the United States just needs to deny them that control, a mission that modern missiles and drones are well suited to perform.”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant commentary.


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

“How to salvage Syria and protect US troops,” Michael E. O’Hanlon, Brookings Institution, 11.25.19. The author, a senior fellow and director of research in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, writes that:

  • “The first part of the necessary corrective to U.S. policy [vis-à-vis Syria] is not complicated. … The threat of major U.S. sanctions against Turkey can limit the scale of any Turkish ethnic cleansing operations there, and a sustained American presence in other parts of the northeast can discourage Turkey from coming too far south.”
  • “Meanwhile, all three of the main missions that the United States has articulated in recent months for remaining in the country’s northeast are still valid: suppressing ISIS, limiting Iran’s opportunities and, yes, protecting the oil.”
  • “We are, sadly, at a point in the war where Assad and his allies have clearly prevailed in achieving most of their goals, and the United States under two presidents has found neither the will nor the local partners capable of altering that basic fact.”
  • “Yet the United States and allies still have some leverage. They control Syria’s access to the funds—in potential American, European, Japanese, Gulf-state and World Bank aid, as well as private capital—that will be needed, by the many tens of billions of dollars, to rebuild the country and its economy. …. Thus, a deal can be imagined.”
    • “We should demand a degree of autonomy for the Kurds and others in the country’s northeast, where we can help fund substantial reconstruction right away, as well as basic protections for Assad’s political opponents throughout the country, and no more barrel bombing or other indiscriminate attacks against civilians.”
    • “Assad could then be allowed to access most of his own country’s oil revenues to spend on the basic human needs of his people (as with the Iraqi ‘oil for food’ program of the 1990s). He could also receive basic humanitarian aid, but not yet reconstruction assistance, from the outside world.”
    • “Then … if Syria wants access to larger sums for actual reconstruction and economic revival, Assad will eventually have to go. He has simply too much blood on his hands to be a credible, unifying leader for all of his country’s people in the future, or to be a viable recipient of large sums of international aid. But rather than expect him to step down in favor of a democratically elected (and thus almost surely a Sunni-dominated) successor government, which is a fairy tale, we should allow him—within reason—to choose his own successor, provided that person be less implicated in war crimes and more technocratic in background.” 

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“Russia and the UK general election. Moscow will surely be satisfied with almost any conceivable poll result,” Tony Barber, Financial Times, 11.21.19. The author, who is the newspaper’s Europe editor, writes that:

  • “Present levels of Russian interference should … not be exaggerated. One reason is that Moscow will surely be satisfied with almost any conceivable UK election result.”
  • “A Conservative party triumph would lead to a swift Brexit, weakening the west’s political and economic unity.”
  • “Victory for the opposition Labour party would bring to power Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. Surrounded by advisers with communist or radical leftist backgrounds, he would be the premier most hostile to NATO and most uncritical of Russia in modern British history.”
  • “Finally, a hung parliament would suit Russia perfectly well, because the UK’s political divisions over Brexit and their negative economic impact would persist.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant commentary.

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Putin’s Good Year Keeps Getting Better. Russian leader racks up wins, from discord in the West to shifting power in the Mideast,” Gerald F. Seib, Wall Street Journal, 11.25.19. The author, the newspaper's executive Washington editor, writes that:

  • “Even Mr. Putin must be amazed at how well he is achieving his goal of sowing discord within the U.S. political system. First, his agents interfered in the 2016 election. Now they can sit back and watch as their efforts to deflect blame away from Moscow and toward Ukraine are bearing fruit, in the form of a bitter American debate.”
  • “Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, heads early next month into his first meeting with Mr. Putin—whose forces have invaded his country and lopped off part of it—knowing that American support for Ukraine can be, and was, caught up in domestic U.S. political fights. Ukraine’s leader thereby enters talks with Mr. Putin less certain of support from Washington in his country’s confrontation with Russia.”
  • “Regardless of whether Russia actually influenced the Brexit vote, the reality, three years later, is that Britain appears to be on the road toward exiting the EU in the messiest, most damaging way possible. What’s bad for European economic and political unity is good for Russia, so Mr. Putin can put the continuing Brexit mess as a big entry on the positive side of his 2019 ledger.”
  • “NATO members France, Germany, Turkey and the U.S. are, well, not quite in sync. From Mr. Putin’s point of view, discord within the main Western military alliance is good news of the first order.”
  • “At the same time, that American retreat in Syria has helped further a trend in which Mr. Putin is becoming the man to see about Middle Eastern affairs. … Having assumed a new position of prominence in Syria, Mr. Putin has Middle Eastern leaders of all varieties—Saudi Arabian, Iranian, Turkish and Israeli—beating a path to his door for consultations.”
  • “Mr. Putin is a former KGB operative, and it shows. He learned during the Cold War how to use disinformation and propaganda to exploit weak spots in Western democracies, and the dark space of the internet has opened a whole new playing field for him. He is a master of his craft.”

“Don’t Believe the Hype. Russia Is Losing in the Middle East—and Around the World. Putin’s apparent victories in spreading Russian influence are mirages, some of which have come at a great cost,” Rajan Menon, Foreign Policy, 11.18.19. The author, who is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer chair in political science at the City College of New York/City University of New York and a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, writes that:

  • “In the West, liberals and conservatives alike seem to agree that Russia has reemerged as a great power with a global reach. And in Russia itself, well-known foreign-policy experts assert that the West had best get used to their country’s resurgence.”
  • “But such appraisals, some of which tend toward alarmism, don’t hold up under the bright light of evidence.”
    • “For one, Russia’s GDP is just a little larger than Spain’s—a country with a population less than a third of Russia’s.”
    • “And Russia’s military budget is less than a 10th of the United States’, about a fifth of China’s, and smaller than Japan’s.”
    • “Furthermore, Russia’s foreign-policy successes have been overblown.”
      • “Iran’s and Hezbollah’s decision to fight in Syria didn’t result from a Russian-designed division of labor; they backed Assad for reasons of their own. Their vision of Syria’s future doesn’t by any means mirror Russia’s. Nor, having shed so much blood, will they let Russia shape Syria’s politics singlehandedly. In other words, Russia hasn’t really won Syria. And in any event, it wouldn’t be much of a prize. … Russia’s gains in the rest of the Middle East have also been overblown.”
      • “In Africa, the story isn’t much better for Russia.”
      • “Even in its own backyard, Russia has come up short. For example, Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and backing of insurgents in Ukraine’s east have turned the country—for Moscow by far historically the most strategically and culturally important of the post-Soviet states—into a sworn enemy.”
      • “In Central Asia …, which was once part of imperial Russia and later the Soviet Union, China has eroded, if not displaced, Russia’s historic preponderance.”
  • “Of course, Russia matters. A country with 144 million people, thousands of nuclear warheads, a million active troops, vast oil and gas reserves and a U.N. Security Council seat will always matter, and observers shouldn’t be surprised when it vigorously pursues its interests abroad and in ways that challenge the West. That said, Moscow’s strategic acumen and tangible gains aren’t nearly as dazzling as the consensus suggests. Understanding that requires a clear-eyed look at both sides of the ledger.”

“The EU should do more to defend itself, without expecting the US to underwrite the peace,” Philip Stephens, Financial Times, 11.21.19. The author, associate editor of the newspaper and director of its editorial board, writes that:

  • “If it is indisputable that Europe should do more to defend itself—in Mr. Macron’s phrase to reclaim ‘sovereignty’ over its security—it is harder to go along with the idea of it acting as a ‘balancing’ power between China and the U.S. U.S. foreign policy as formulated by Mr. Trump has nothing to recommend it. And, yes, Europe should be subservient neither to Washington nor Beijing in the fields of machine-learning and artificial intelligence. But the U.S. remains a democracy, sharing with Europe a set of organizing values that it will never find in Xi Jinping’s China.”
  • “Democratic Europe should also seek a modus vivendi with its angry eastern neighbor. There is nothing to be lost in playing up to Mr. Putin’s personal vanity. We need assurance, though, that Mr. Macron is not confusing engagement with appeasement of Russian revisionism.”
  • “For a fleeting moment at the end of the Cold War it seemed Europe could be a normative power, exporting liberal democracy by example. That window has closed. If Europe prizes its values it will have to defend them.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“How Cozy Is Russia and China’s Military Relationship?” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.19.19. The author, the think tank’s director, writes that:

  • “The details of the arrangement [for acquisition of an early warning missile system by China from Russia] are not publicly known, but it appears that there is no outright ‘purchase’ of a complete system. … Instead of waiting for enemy missiles to explode on its territory before ordering the launch of its surviving missiles, China could adopt a launch-on-warning posture (in which a retaliatory strike is launched as soon as a country learns of an incoming nuclear attack, while enemy missiles are still in the air).”
  • “Washington probably sees this development as a sign of ever-tighter military cooperation between Beijing and Moscow. However, the fact that China will join the United States and Russia as the only countries with comprehensive early warning systems is not a threat to the United States.”
  • “An upgraded early warning system only gives China a small advantage in its strategic relationship with Russia, should the friendship ever turn sour.”
  • “Russian and Chinese armed forces are interacting more, but integration is not yet happening. Moscow and Beijing officially deny that they are planning to form a military alliance.” 
  • “For the foreseeable future, while Putin stays in power in Moscow, and Chinese President Xi Jinping rules in Beijing, the relationship is unlikely to experience a train wreck. But in the long run, Russia needs to balance its relationship with its giant and fast-growing neighbor, so as to protect its own sovereignty and avoid becoming a mere sidekick.” 

“Alternative History: Would Russia in NATO and EU Be Game Changer in West’s Rivalry With China?” Simon Saradzhyan, Russia Matters, 11.20.19. The author, founding director of Harvard’s Russia Matters project, writes that:

  • “It might be difficult for some to fathom today, but Russian and Western leaders were pondering whether Russia might accede to NATO, if not the EU, in the 1990s and even the early 2000s.”
  • “This article is meant to explore what Russia’s accession to two of the Western world’s institutional pillars, NATO and the European Union, would have meant for the balance of power between the West and China.”
  • “To measure the balance of power between the West and China I will rely on four methods for estimating national capabilities employed by scholars in the field, using data available from such organizations as the World Bank and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.”
  • “My calculations indicate that while Russia’s membership in the Western club would have further tilted the balance of power in favor of the collective West, it would not have been a game changer as long as the competition between the West and China remained peaceful [see figure below].”
  • “Of course, Russia could choose to align with neither China nor the West, striving to be an independent pole of power in the new world order, as such Kremlin insiders as Vladislav Surkov have suggested. However, Russia’s claim to what Surkov has described as strategic solitude in the changing world would be problematic, in my view. Russia accounts for 3 percent of the world’s economic output and 2 percent of its population. Even if it were to integrate all post-Soviet republics (with the exception of the Baltics) into a Eurasian Union, it would still not be on par with either the U.S. and its allies or China in such key components of power as economic output, population and technological prowess.”

measurements of nations' power in alternative history scenario


“Why Ukrainian democracy matters,” Paula Dobriansky and Paul Saunders, The Hill, 11.15.19. The authors, senior fellows, respectively, with Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Center for the National Interest, write that:

  • “The investigations into the telephone conversation that President Trump had with President Zelensky and the possibility of impeachment have dominated the American media. This singular focus could have harmful consequences for both Ukraine and [the] United States.”
  • “The strategic location of Ukraine has put it at the center of transatlantic security.”
  • “It is essential for the United States to continue helping Ukraine to end Russian military intervention, enhance economic performance, bolster national unity and resolutely fight corruption.”
  • “A successful policy must also include incentives for Moscow to acquiesce in a satisfactory resolution and steady pressure on Kyiv to fight corruption and improve other governance practices. Ukraine is now at a critical juncture, and the United States cannot accept paralysis as policy. If Zelensky fails, the costs to Ukraine and to broader American interests in Europe could be high.”

“How to End the War in Ukraine. What an American-Led Peace Plan Should Look Like,” Steven Pifer, Foreign Affairs, 11.21.19. The author, a William Perry research fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, writes that:

  • “The United States should propose a path to peace that would retain the essential features of the 2015 Minsk II agreement.”
    • “In accordance with Minsk II, the first step would be a sustained cease-fire, accompanied by the verified withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of contact.”
    • “After that, Russian and Russian proxy forces would withdraw from Donbas while a U.N. peacekeeping force deployed to the region in stages, ultimately taking control of the Ukrainian-Russian border [and]… remain[ing] for 12 to 24 months, although it could withdraw earlier if conditions allowed. At that point, Ukraine would assume full sovereignty over Donbas.”
    • “Starting at the same time as the peacekeeping operation, the interim international administration—perhaps organized and staffed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe—would restore basic governance and manage the transition back to Ukrainian rule. The interim administration would oversee detainee releases and swaps and organize local elections. To make the transition complete, the legislature in Kyiv would have to devolve some powers to local governments in all oblasts and award special status to the two Donbas oblasts, Donetsk and Luhansk. National-level policies—foreign, defense, macroeconomic and financial, among others—would remain Kyiv’s responsibility.”
    • “[T]he U.S. plan would include a fund, under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, with contributions also from the World Bank, the United States and other countries, such as Canada, to assist the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Donbas.”
    • “Even if Ukraine could be promised a full political and economic recovery in Donbas, its leaders will surely still seek a more lasting guarantee of the country’s security. The United States, Ukraine, Russia, Germany, France and perhaps others should open a joint diplomatic dialogue on European security issues as the peace process unfolds. These discussions would take up the matter of Ukraine’s relationship with—and possible future membership in—NATO, starting from a position of ‘Not now, but not never.’”
  • “With each step forward in this peace process, Western countries would gradually lift the related visa and economic sanctions on Russia, with a major relaxation of sanctions coming once Russian and Russian proxy forces vacate Donbas. The West would also move to restore other ties with Russia that have been severed or strained since 2014, including the G-8.” 

“The Shoals of Ukraine. Where American Illusions and Great-Power Politics Collide,” Serhii Plokhy and M. E. Sarotte, Foreign Affairs, 11.22.19. The authors, a professor who directs Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute and a distinguished professor of historical studies at Johns Hopkins University, write that:

  • “At first, it might seem surprising that Ukraine, a country on the fringes of Europe, is suddenly at the turbulent center of American politics and foreign policy.”
  • “In fact, that Ukraine is at the center of this storm should not be surprising at all. Over the past quarter century, nearly all major efforts at establishing a durable post-Cold War order on the Eurasian continent have foundered on the shoals of Ukraine. For it is in Ukraine that the disconnect between triumphalist end-of-history delusions and the ongoing realities of great-power competition can be seen in its starkest form.”
  • “Shortly afterward [after the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest], Putin decided to invade Georgia, a signal whose full significance the West failed to recognize at the time. The invasion was not a one-off, caused by Georgian recklessness; rather, it showed the extent of Russian trauma resulting from both the ongoing imperial collapse and resentment of the United States and its policies in the region.”
  • “In 2014, 20 years after the signing of the Budapest Memorandum, violence resulted again when Kyiv, its NATO ambitions dashed, tried to strengthen its relations with the EU instead by negotiating a trade agreement. This renewed effort by Ukraine to assert its independence once again angered Putin. Russia also sought to preserve a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space by stopping NATO and EU expansion at the western border of Ukraine.”
  • “The question of Ukrainian security remains open. The past decades have made clear that as long as Ukraine’s status is unsettled and insecure, the consequences will continue to reverberate beyond its borders. Washington believed that it could ensure Ukraine’s control over its own destiny without major effort and at low cost. The reality is that it could not.”
  • “What is worse, the best means for promoting Ukrainian security are in the rearview mirror. Expanding NATO to include Ukraine now would most likely result in more, not less, conflict with Russia. Washington’s best option at this point is to strengthen its bilateral political and security ties with Ukraine while working closely with its European allies to ensure Ukraine’s ability to protect its sovereignty.”
  • “And although he is unlikely to do so, Trump should stop playing games with the aid he has promised to Ukraine; he should prioritize security assistance and diplomatic engagement over ad hoc dealings. Above all else, Washington must protect the impeachment process from Russian interference and get past the illusion that it can promote a stable political order either at home or abroad without successfully navigating the shoals of Ukraine.”

 “Corruption City: How Donald Trump Got Tied Up in Ukrainian Politics,” Lena Surzhko-Harned, The National Interest, 11.25.19. The author, an assistant teaching professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University, writes:

  • “Is Ukraine a cesspool of corruption—or a helpless victim of Russian aggression? Both of these simplistic narratives have been expressed during the ongoing impeachment hearings. As a political scientist who studies Ukrainian politics, I know both are damaging to Ukraine.”
  • “The narrative of corruption and powerful influence of the U.S. in Ukraine parrot Kremlin propagandists.”
  • “Putin has said ‘Ukraine should stop looking for happiness’ with the U.S. The impeachment hearings just may convince some Ukrainians he is right. In his Nov. 15 testimony, … [diplomat] David Holmes recalled [Ambassador Gordon] Sondland saying that Trump ‘does not give a sh– about Ukraine.’ Such a statement may well make Ukrainians wonder about the reliability of their partnership with the U.S.—and perhaps even question their country’s relationship with the West more generally.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“In the Crossfire: The Impact of West-Russia Tensions on Post-Soviet States,” Maria Shagina, Foreign Policy Research Institute, November 2019. The author, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Eastern European Studies at the University of Zurich, writes that:

  • “Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its war in eastern Ukraine forced post-Soviet states to re-evaluate their foreign policy orientations and economic relationship with Russia.”
    • “Due to their geopolitical vulnerability, members of the Eastern Partnership and the Eurasian Economic Union took a careful stance on the Ukraine crisis, siding fully neither with Western sanctions nor with Russia’s counter-sanctions.”
    • “Placed between Russia and the West, these states rewired their political allegiances and reinforced their long-standing multi-vector policy.”
    • “To mitigate the destabilizing economic effects, post-Soviet states opted for a strategy of diversification, pivoting to third countries and altering previously Russia-centric trade structures, labor migration and remittance flows.”
  • “The new geopolitical reality has shown the limitations of the European Union’s and Russia’s leverage over the region, while a gradual rise of third powers has given post-Soviet states more ability to balance West and East.”

“Life After the Coalition: What Now for Moldova?” Stanislav Secrieru, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.22.19. The author, a core group member of the EU-Russia Expert Network on Foreign Policy (EUREN), writes that:

  • “When Moldova held parliamentary elections back in February, it was widely expected that the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM), controlled by local tycoon Vladimir Plahotniuc, would strike a deal with the Russia-oriented Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM), led by President Igor Dodon.”
  • “Yet after protracted negotiations with DPM, PSRM suddenly changed its position and established a counterintuitive coalition with the pro-European bloc ACUM (Now). Plahotniuc soon fled the country, the co-leader of ACUM Maia Sandu became prime minister, and PSRM claimed the chair of parliament speaker. This governing majority survived for five months. Last week, PSRM decided to pull the plug. In the space of just two days, the parliament first dismissed Sandu’s cabinet and later installed a new government, with the support of 62 out of 101 deputies. Both of these moves had become possible due to a renewed informal partnership between PSRM and DPM. It may look like, politically, Moldova is back to square one, but this impression is misleading.”
  • “The pro-Russia Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova has managed to accumulate an impressive amount of institutional power. But this concentration of power brings not only advantages, but also greater vulnerabilities, especially when there are plenty of destabilizing factors at work, from uncertain gas supplies to mass voting by residents of the breakaway region Transnistria.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • No significant commentary.

Defense and aerospace:

“Moscow Showcases Breakthrough in Automated Command and Control,” Roger McDermott, Jamestown Foundation, 11.20.19. The author, a senior fellow in Eurasian military studies at the foundation, writes that:

  • “Russia’s defense ministry has announced a breakthrough in its ongoing efforts to introduce advanced automated command and control (C2) within its Armed Forces. The importance of this development cannot be underestimated, as it places the Russian military decision-making process and automated C2 beyond the existing capabilities of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) militaries. Of course, the system being introduced extends far beyond C2, to include the wider integration of C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capability.”
  • “NATO militaries and planning staffs must now adjust to a new reality, that Moscow has developed the capability to plan and develop its military decision-making process to a stage well beyond the existing standards and capacities of Alliance standards; meaning that Russian military C2 is faster than that of its potential adversary. The breakthrough relates to uniting artificial intelligence and Big Data technologies to analyze the battlefield situation and through the automated system to rapidly provide commanders in the field with several possible solutions. The defense ministry designates the new system, which was tried and test[ed] during the strategic exercise Tsentr 2019 in September, as a ‘combat control information system’ (Informatsionnaya Sistema Boyevogo Upravleniya—ISBU).”
  • “While the existing Russian military decision-making process—with fewer steps than its United States or NATO counterparts—was already faster, it appears that the gap in the speed of C2 will only increase due to the ISBU and other ASU developments, leaving Western militaries slower in their military decision-making vis-à-vis their potential adversary.”

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.