Russia Analytical Report, Nov. 4-12, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • Russia can only be an international spoiler; behind the adventurism, it is a country in decline, claims Harvard Prof. Joseph Nye, while Peter Roberts, director of military sciences at RUSI, argues that Russia is arguably in its ascendency.
  • When Russia travels abroad, it goes for security buffers as in Ukraine, status as in Syria and mostly money elsewhere, writes Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Russia is back and here to stay, Trenin argues, and in the world increasingly dominated by the U.S.-China rivalry, major independent actors such as Russia could play an important role in averting a costly bipolar confrontation.
  • There are ten narratives frequently used by officials discussing Russian foreign policy, writes CNA’s Dmitry Gorenburg. The most frequently used narratives included outside intervention in sovereign affairs, whataboutism, the promotion of international structures in which Russia plays a leading role and Russophobia.
  • We cannot afford to lose the parity in nuclear weapons with Russia that the New START Treaty affords, argues Rose Gottemoeller, the chief U.S. negotiator for New START. The outcome would be too dangerous to U.S. national security, she writes, but if New START lapses, that could happen, and fast. So, it serves American interests to extend the treaty.
  • Russia and China wouldn’t jointly threaten Washington with military action, writes James Jay Carafano, vice president at the Heritage Foundation. A central element of both their strategies is that they want to win against the United States “without fighting.”
  • A closer look at Ukraine suggests that what Zelenskiy needs is not symbolic lethal aid (let alone presidential offers he can’t refuse), but thoughtful support for his dogged efforts to reach a peace agreement, writes Sophie Pinkham, author of a book on post-Soviet Ukraine.

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

“Iran Is Doing Just Fine. Tehran Has Survived U.S. Sanctions. Its Nuclear Program and Regional Activities Will, Too,” Henry Rome, Foreign Affairs, 11.05.19The author, an analyst at Eurasia Group, writes:

  • “Even after the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, Iran expected that other parties to the agreement would help shore up its economy. … Owing to U.S. pressure, however, this support never materialized.”
  • “Iran has suffered a severe shock from its international economic isolation … The economy entered a recession, inflation soared and the currency lost 60 percent of its value against the dollar. The Trump administration touts these statistics as evidence of the sanctions’ success. But other signs show that Iran’s economy is stabilizing.”
  • “The International Monetary Fund and World Bank predict that Iran’s economy will rebound from a recession to near zero percent growth in 2020. … Iran’s economy will be a shell of its former self—its GDP in 2020 will be about the same as in 2015—but it will be stable, and the country’s leadership will likely conclude that Iran can withstand U.S. pressure for the next year.”
  • “The Iranian economy stays afloat in part because it is diversified—a trait that Washington often overlooks. In 2017, crude oil accounted for only 43 percent of Iranian exports … Iran’s service, agricultural and non-oil industrial sectors were able to cushion the blow from the collapse of oil revenues under sanctions.”
  • “Among the objectives of the maximum pressure campaign was to raise the cost of Iran’s regional adventures. But Iran now seems likely to spend its second year under U.S. sanctions buttressing an already strong regional position. … Khamenei likely views Iran’s domestic and regional situation as stable, and so he will feel no need to allow high-level meetings between Iranian officials and a U.S. administration perceived as hostile—especially during an election year in the United States.”

Cold War/saber rattling:

“All presidents should follow George H.W. Bush's model of presidential diplomacy,” James A. Baker III, The Washington Post, 11.07.19The author, a former U.S. secretary of state, writes:

  • “As we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at a time when our nation's leaders are confronting their own unique set of international challenges, it is instructive to recall four factors that Bush kept in mind as seismic changes were underway in Europe and throughout the world.”
  • “First, he understood that timing is crucial to successful foreign policy. When the wall fell, the president went into full gear to take the next and much more monumental step of reuniting East and West Germany. … Second, domestic support is critical. Unless Americans back the policies of their presidents, those policies are doomed to wither. “
  • “Third, international support is decisive. After the Berlin Wall fell, the other major powers that had a say over Germany's future—the Soviet Union, Britain and France—were wary of reunification. … Bush overcame those international concerns because he understood the importance of the fourth factor in successful foreign policy: deft, sustained diplomacy.”
  • “In the end, no one individual was responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Bush, in many ways, followed in the path of every American president since Truman in his commitment to a free and undivided Europe. The actions of Gorbachev and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl were historic. And, above all, the enduring spirit of the citizens of the captive states finally tipped the scales toward freedom.”

“What America lost when the Berlin Wall fell,” Janan Ganesh, Financial Times, 11.06.19The author, a columnist and associate editor for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The Soviet empire was America’s favorite enemy: the one that gave it the securest sense of itself. When the wall fell, so did a certain kind of U.S. nationhood. The partisanship that followed will endure until the next worthy ogre comes along.”
  • “It is as though hatred obeys the first law of thermodynamics. Like energy, it can be transferred but never destroyed. The less of it a nation directs outward, the more it must channel at home. America’s victory in the Cold War was a feat of strategy and patience that should be saluted this weekend. It just happens to be a victory from which it has never recovered.”

“A Russian View on the Fall of the Berlin Wall, 30 Years On,” Andrei Kolesnikov, The Moscow Times, 11.07.19The author, a senior fellow and the chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Europe is the sole successful project of the collective West — largely thanks to the new perceptions of reality that formed after 1989 and the attractiveness of anchor projects like the EU, NATO and the OECD. Viktor Orban may hug Vladimir Putin for photo-ops, but he cannot step off the European path without bringing catastrophic repercussions for his country. Meanwhile, Russia has been left on the sidelines of Europe, having built a virtual wall in place of a physical one.”
  • “Russians’ attitudes to the fall of the Berlin Wall are largely positive—at least among those who still understand what it was. This response was recorded both in a 2009 survey by the independent Levada Center pollster in 2009 and a 2014 poll by the state-run Foundation of Public Opinion (FOM).”
  • “But historical knowledge is dwindling and is being replaced with mythology, as one of the greatest events in the history of humankind is becoming distant for Russians. They are increasingly struggling to answer when asked about the significance of the event. Only 5 percent of Russians say they are proud of perestroika and the beginning of market reforms (according to 2018 data), though 24 percent of our compatriots also say they are ashamed of Russia’s chronic gap in development when compared to the West.”

“Beijing Will Give You Cold War Nostalgia,” Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal, 11.05.19The author, a professor at Bard College and a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “America's 21st-century competition with China is likely to be more dangerous and more complex than its old Cold War with the Soviet Union. This is partly because China's economic power makes it a much more formidable and resourceful opponent than the U.S.S.R., and partly because the technological environment has changed so dramatically in the past generation.”
  • “The development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles shaped the Cold War. … Arms-control talks became a centerpiece of superpower relations as both sides sought to stabilize the nuclear balance.”
  • “The information revolution has brought new dangers to the fore. Cyberweapons can devastate their targets, crashing power grids and transportation networks, paralyzing financial systems and destroying the functionality of anything from hospitals to government offices. The development of these weapons is much harder to control and their use much more difficult to deter.”
  • “After 9/11, American policy makers would sometimes speak nostalgically about the simpler problems of the Cold War. They'll come to miss those days all the more as the U.S.-China competition heats up. Dreadful as it felt to those who waged it, the Cold War took place in less dangerous times.”

“Rise of autocracies spells end to the west’s global supremacy. The post-1945 rules-based order is being eroded and will never return,” Tony Barber, Financial Times, 11.06.19The author, Europe editor for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The most important long-term trends in international relations over the past 30 years have been the rise of China and the accelerating shift of economic power from the west to the Asia-Pacific region. This in itself ensures that the Washington-designed post-1945 order, built mainly for the benefit of the U.S., Europe, Japan and their allies, will give way to a more dispersed form of global governance. For the West, the cold reality is not that autocracy will triumph and democracy will fail, but rather that the 500-year-long era of Western global supremacy is coming to an end.”

“How Russia Could Force a Nuclear War in the Baltics,” Hal Brands, Bloomberg, 11.07.19The author, a columnist for the news outlet and a professor at Johns Hopkins University, writes:

  • “A NATO-Russia war could go nuclear if Russia ‘escalates’ to preserve the gains it has won [in the Baltics] early in the conflict. It could also go nuclear in a second, if somewhat less likely, way: If the U.S. and NATO initiate their own limited nuclear strikes against Russian forces to prevent Moscow from overrunning the Baltic allies in the first place.”
  • “One option would be for the West to pull back — to conclude that any game that involves risking nuclear war over the Baltic states is not worth the candle.”
  • “A second option, emphasized by the Pentagon’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, would be to devise new limited nuclear options as a way of strengthening deterrence and dissuading Russia from pursuing a strategy of escalate to de-escalate.”
  • “A third, and best, option is to strengthen the weak conventional posture that threatens to bring nuclear options into play.”
  • “Developing this stronger conventional deterrent in the Baltics would not be cheap: Estimates run from $8 billion to $14 billion in initial costs, plus $3 billion to $5 billion in annual operating expenses. Yet neither would it be prohibitive for the richest alliance in the world. The best way of reducing the danger of a nuclear war in the Baltics is to ensure that NATO won’t immediately lose a conventional one.”

NATO-Russia relations:

“Emmanuel Macron in his own words,” The Economist, 11.07.19In this interview with The Economist, the French president says:

  • “To my mind, what we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO … I think the first thing to do is to regain military sovereignty. … Europe which, if it can’t think of itself as a global power, will disappear, because it will take a hard knock … European defense—Europe must become autonomous in terms of military strategy and capability.”
  • “We [the EU and Russia]’re aligned on the terrorist issue, but we don’t work enough on it together. ... We show that it’s in our best interests to collaborate on cyber, which is where we’re waging total war against one another. How it’s in our interests to deconflict on many issues. How it’s in our interests to resolve frozen conflicts, with perhaps a broader agenda than just the Ukrainian issue.”
  • “If we want to build peace in Europe, to rebuild European strategic autonomy, we need to reconsider our position with Russia. … What I’ve proposed is an exercise that consists of stating how we see the world, the risks we share, the common interests we could have, and how we rebuild what I’ve called an architecture of trust and security.”
  • “I look at Russia and I ask myself what strategic choices it has. … I don't believe much in this stand-alone option. … A second path that Russia could have taken is the Eurasian model … I don't believe for one second that his strategy is to be China's vassal. … I don’t see how, in the long term, his [Putin’s] project can be anything other than a partnership project with Europe.”

“NATO Isn't Dead, but It's Ailing,” Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal, 11.12.19The author, a professor at Bard College and a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “NATO is brain-dead. So said French President Emmanuel Macron in an interview … He's not wholly wrong. A generation after the collapse of communism, the Western alliance that won the Cold War is adrift and confused.”
  • “Mr. Macron's description of Europe's current predicament is brutally frank. With the U.S. losing interest in NATO (a shift Mr. Macron believes predates the Trump administration), Europe can no longer count on American protection as much as it did in the past. Intensifying U.S.-China competition leaves Europe high and dry; neither China nor the U.S. seems particularly interested in what Europe wants or thinks.”
  • “Europe's real problem isn't that the French or Germans are brain-dead, but that they don't agree—on the basic shape of the EU, on its defense policy, on its foreign-policy priorities.”
  • “On the American side, the debate is also confused. The bipartisan foreign-policy establishment remains committed to NATO and to European defense, but it isn't clear how strongly the presidential candidate of either party in 2020 will uphold this consensus. As concern about China grows across the American political spectrum, what roles will NATO and Europe play in U.S. strategy?”
  • “While President Macron is to some degree concern-trolling an alliance that has always been a problem for France, he is right that the status quo is in deep trouble. Those who believe in the importance of the West cannot take its cohesion for granted. To survive, the trans-Atlantic alliance must adapt to the rapidly changing world.”

“Emmanuel Macron has issued a wake-up call to Europe,” Editorial Board, The Financial Times, 11.10.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Emmanuel Macron has issued a dire warning: an ‘exceptionally fragile’ Europe will disappear ‘if it can’t think of itself as a global power.’ The French president’s alarm call demands careful consideration—even if his plea for an EU defense alliance to replace a ‘brain-dead’ NATO has angered allies on both sides of the Atlantic.”
  • “[S]queezed between American and Chinese superpowers and with authoritarian regimes threatening its backyard, Europe is being marginalized. … The French leader wants a Europe with strategic autonomy that can act as a balancing power. Europe should not be compelled to treat the enemy (China or Russia) of its friend (America) as its enemy.”
  • “Mr. Macron is looking forward not backward. U.S. disengagement is a reality. It should spur EU leaders to take more responsibility for their own security. Europe also needs a more unified and strategic approach to China.”
  • “It was a mistake, though, to question NATO’s commitment to mutual defense, just because President Trump has done so. … Mr. Macron is making an art out of disruptive diplomacy. It is not to everyone’s tastes. Nobody likes to be roused from their complacency.”

“NATO vs Russia at 70,” Peter Roberts, Royal United Services Institute, 11.06.19The author, director of military sciences at RUSI, writes:

  • “Today, Russia is arguably in the ascendency. The Arctic, the North Atlantic, North Africa, Syria and Turkey all appear to have been fallen under Russian influence … NATO’s European continental members … feel encircled, the very claim that Russia has so often made about the Alliance. Moreover, Russia’s activities in the Black Sea, Eastern Mediterranean, Baltic Sea, Balkans and Sea of Azov are dividing NATO from within.”
  • “Whilst the Russian strategy might well be deliberate, the reality is the ratio of defense spending between Russia and Europe, and the disparity in bomber, missile and warhead numbers does not place Russia in such an advantageous position.”
  • “Russia might be overwhelmingly outpowered by NATO on paper, but is outmanoeuvring NATO by other means.”
  • “Come December, NATO’s leaders might be tempted to congratulate each other on their work in Afghanistan and Iraq, plan to admit Northern Macedonia to the Alliance, talk up technological transformation or discuss European Strategic Autonomy (an ardent desire in Paris). But the real effort needs to be devoted to a rediscovery of the principles and decision-making processes that made NATO capable of competing with the USSR during the Cold War.”

“NATO North? Building a Role for NATO in the Arctic,” Rebecca Pincus, War on the Rocks, 11.06.19The author, an assistant professor at the U.S. Naval War College, writes:

  • “Russia’s growing military assertiveness … has sparked fears over its intentions in the Arctic. The pace of Russian bomber patrols, submarine expeditions and firing exercises in the Arctic are all at levels not seen since the depths of the Cold War. A growing chorus is calling for NATO to take on a greater role in the Arctic to counter Russian aggression.”
  • “The Arctic region is [also] undergoing a terrifying physical transformation. Arctic warming is racing ahead of our best models, burning through the system at a pace that is hard to comprehend.”
  • “The NATO-Russia Council could be a good choice for discussing security topics in the Arctic because it is a proven, established structure that is part of a 70-year-old institution, and is therefore more familiar and predictable than a new, untested forum that would be subject to intense shaping efforts by both sides of the U.S.-Russia dyad.”
  • “A greater role for NATO in the Arctic should be deliberately calibrated to build stability and positive norms—reaching back to core NATO values, and the role of NATO as a value and norm-building institution.”
  • “If NATO can establish its values, like the rule of law, as Arctic norms, that could help stabilize the region. In a time of complex change, the familiar, predictable NATO institution might be a good choice to begin building towards a more stable future. NATO’s role in the Arctic must be shaping, not escalating.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Don’t Let the New START Treaty Lapse,” Rose Gottemoeller, New York Times, 11.11.19The author, chief United States negotiator for the New START Treaty, writes: 

  • “The New START Treaty, the last and most important nuclear arms limitation agreement still in force between Russia and the United States, expires early in 2021. Perhaps it can be extended. But it has long been criticized by the Trump administration, on two points: The treaty does not limit new nuclear weapons systems that the Russians are threatening to use against us; and it does not include the Chinese, who are busily modernizing their nuclear arsenal.”
  • “Those concerns are valid and cannot be ignored in any effort to renew the 10-year pact. … We cannot afford to lose this parity [with Russia]. The outcome would be too dangerous to our national security. But if New START lapses, that could happen, and fast. So it serves American interests to extend the treaty. … The agreement can be extended for five years, or until it is superseded by a new treaty.
  • “How do we treat new Russian weapons? Here, too, the pact can help. … Some of the Russian systems, such as the new heavy missile, meet the definition of an ICBM under the treaty; they would therefore fall under it without any additional negotiation.”
  • “The new boost-glide missile system might also be brought under the treaty, since it is launched on a version of an existing Russian ICBM. The Russians have all but said this system will be accountable under the treaty.”
  • “New systems like the Burevestnik, a nuclear-propelled cruise missile, would take more work, since they do not fit the category of missiles defined in the treaty. Here it might be worth a straightforward discussion with the Russians: Do they really need the system?”

“The Folly of Killing New START,” Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, 11.05.19The author, a senior editor at the news outlet, writes:

  • “When New START dies, it will be solely because of the Trump administration's opposition to it. There are no Russian violations to hide behind, and no legitimate reason not to extend the treaty. Refusing to renew the treaty is the same as killing it, and the U.S. will be to blame for the collapse of the last limits on the biggest nuclear arsenals on earth.”


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

“Has Russia Established a New International Role?” Paul J. Saunders, Valdai Discussion Club, 11.08.19The author, chairman and president of the Energy Innovation Reform Project and a senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy at the Center for the National Interest, writes:

  • “Consider some of the key elements of the conflict in Syria that have thus far functioned to Russia's advantage. First, while Syria is outside the former Soviet region, it is not too far from Russia and, because it is a littoral Mediterranean country, it is easily accessible for the Russian military.”
  • “Second, Russia has not faced a sophisticated or modern military force opponents in combat with Syria's rebel forces or Islamic State militants. … Third, Moscow had an essential ally in Iran, which supplied its regular military forces as well as facilitating the operations of thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.”
  • “Fourth, Russia benefited from an environment in which its main competitor-the United States-voluntarily limited its own involvement in Syria. … Finally, as Russian officials like to point out, the Syrian government requested Russia's help and invited the Russian military into their country. On top of this, Russia already had a small naval facility in Syria and, with Syrian help, was able rapidly to establish an important air base.”
  • “With all of this in mind, Russia's leaders might ask themselves how likely it is that Moscow will be able to repeat its Syrian operation in another location away from their country's borders. But they probably don't need to ask that, because it seems fairly obvious that Russia can't count on similarly favorable military conditions elsewhere. That makes the idea of Russia as a global ‘security provider’ unsustainable.”

“How Big Is Russia’s Win in Syria,” Michael Sharnoff, Russia Matters, 11.06.19The author, an associate professor at the National Defense University, writes:

  • “The Trump administration’s Oct. 13 announcement of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria … [has been called] a ‘win,’ ‘victory’ and ‘gift’ for Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin. In my view, however, while Putin’s Russia has indeed collected a number of short-term dividends from the announced withdrawal, this ‘victory’ is far from winning Moscow the war in Syria.”
  • “It could also be argued that, in addition to agreeing on the need to keep IS down and Syria stable enough to prevent it from becoming a terrorist haven, the U.S. and Russia are also both interested in countering the Iranian influence in Syria. … However, the U.S. and Russia disagree profoundly over how to counter Iranian influence in Syria. In fact, potential for any strategic U.S.-Russian cooperation on Syria between the two appears slim for a number of reasons.”
  • “While Russia has clearly surpassed the United States in exerting influence in Syria, it must now at times cooperate with—and compete against—Iran and Turkey, the two other primary external actors in Syria. Russia will also have to contend with fundamental economic and security challenges. … Russia has clearly benefited from the reduction of the U.S. presence in Syria, but it remains far from winning the Syrian war on its own terms.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

  • No significant commentary.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“How to Deal with a Declining Russia,” Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Project Syndicate, 11.05.19The author, a professor at Harvard University, writes:

  • “Russia can only be an international spoiler. Behind the adventurism, it is a country in decline. … In 1989, the Soviet economy was twice the size of China’s; today, Russia’s GDP is one-seventh that of China. … Russia is heavily dependent on energy exports, with high-tech products accounting for only 11% of its manufactured exports … United Nations demographers project that Russia’s population may decline from 145 million today to 121 million by mid-century.”
  • “There are serious obstacles to a close Sino-Russian alliance that goes much beyond tactical coordination. Residual mistrust persists. … The current demographic situation in the Far East—where Russians number six million, and the population on the Chinese side of the border is up to 120 million—is a source of anxiety in Moscow.”
  • “As the Economist recently reported, Russia worries about becoming the alliance’s junior partner—more dependent on China than China is on Russia. According to Feng Yujun of Fudan University, ‘the most important relationship for us is the one with America. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of Stalin and Mao.’”
  • “Because of its residual nuclear strength, its oil and gas, its skills in cyber technology, its proximity to Europe and the potential of its alliance with China, Russia will have the ability to cause problems for the U.S., and Putin’s reliance on populist nationalism provides an incentive. Declining powers merit as much diplomatic attention as rising ones do. At some point after President Donald Trump leaves office, the U.S. will need to develop the serious Russian strategy that it now lacks.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Russia’s Comeback Isn’t Stopping With Syria,” Dmitri Trenin, New York Times, 11.12.19The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “After the downfall of the Soviet Union, the country was written off as a regional power, a filling station masquerading as a state. Five years later, however, Russia is still resilient, despite the Western sanctions imposed over its actions in Ukraine. It has effectively won, militarily, in Syria”
  • “Russia’s achievements in the Middle East go way beyond the success in Syria proper. Moscow benefits from flexible semi-alliances with Turkey and Iran, oil price arrangements with Saudi Arabia and newly revived military ties with Egypt. It is again a player of some consequence in Libya, a power to which many Lebanese look to help them hold their country together, and a would-be security broker between Iran and the Gulf States—all this while maintaining an intimate relationship with Israel.”
  • “If the Middle East record is any guide, Russia’s newly energized foreign policy is not so much about the world order as about Russia’s place in that order. The Soviet Union used to march around the world spending huge resources on a lost ideological cause and an outsize geopolitical ambition. The Russian Federation has learned from this. When it travels abroad, it goes for security buffers as in Ukraine, status as in Syria and mostly money elsewhere.”
  • Russia is obviously punching above its weight. … And of course, Russia’s recent foreign policy has had its share of failures …  The choice to weaponize internet technologies to influence other countries’ domestic politics … failed to advance Russia’s political goals.”
  • “Russia is back and here to stay. Others had better accept it and learn to deal with it—without undue expectations, but also without inordinate fear. In the world increasingly dominated by the United States-China rivalry, major independent actors such as Russia could play an important role in averting a costly bipolar confrontation.”

“Russia’s Southern Strategy,” Nikolas Gvosedev, Foreign Policy Research Institute, November 2019The author, a senior fellow at FPRI and a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, writes:

  • “The Russian Federation is pursuing an active and wide-ranging strategy to reassert and strengthen its dominant position in the greater Black Sea region, which the Kremlin believes is critical for the restoration of Russia’s great power status.”
  • “First, the Russia-Republic of Azerbaijan relationship is the new template for how Russia plans to conduct its relations with the countries of the Black Sea, in place of the confrontational approach that has characterized the Russia-Georgia and Russia-Ukraine relationships.”
  • “Second, the Caspian Convention—successfully concluded after years of deadlock when Russia accepted compromises with its neighbors in return for keeping outside powers out of the process—provides a model for Russian approaches in other parts of the region. … Third, Russia seeks to export these approaches to other parts of the greater Black Sea region, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.”
  • “What is Moscow hoping to achieve with its greater Black Sea strategy? To some extent, the southern strategy is a mirror of its northern/Arctic strategy. Both seek to promote Russia’s domestic economic development, incentivize foreign partners to invest and ignore broad-based U.S. and EU sanctions, create a geopolitical demand for Russia to continue to act as a regional hegemon and as one of the great powers, and to insist that in both these zones, there is no need for U.S. or NATO involvement to promote peace and security.”
  • “Putin has shifted his focus from an East-West horizontal axis to viewing Russia’s future as resting on the North-South axis of the Arctic and the greater Black Sea region. For Russia’s friends and foes alike, these are the areas of the world where the future of Russian power will be decided.”

“Russian Foreign Policy Narratives,” Dmitry Gorenburg, Marshall Center, November 2019The author, a senior research scientist at CNA, writes:

  • “[There are a] set of ten narratives frequently used by officials discussing Russian foreign policy. … The narratives include Russia as the center of a distinct Eurasian civilization, Russia as a bastion of traditional values, Russophobia, whataboutism, fraternalism with Russia’s near abroad, ties with Soviet-era allies, outside intervention in sovereign affairs, Russia as a proponent of stability in the world, Russia as a proponent of multipolarity in the world, and the promotion of international structures in which Russia plays a leading role.”
  • “The most frequently used narratives included outside intervention in sovereign affairs, whataboutism, the promotion of international structures in which Russia plays a leading role and Russophobia.”
  • “Although the foreign policy narratives of Russian officials are designed to twist reality in ways that promote and justify foreign policy decisions to both domestic and foreign audiences, one common thread tying these narratives together is that all of them have an element of truth at their core.”

“Five Faces of Russia’s Soft Power: Far Left, Far Right, Orthodox Christian, Russophone and Ethnoreligious Networks,” Şener Aktürk, PONARS Eurasia, November 2019The author, an associate professor in the department of international relations at Koç University in Turkey, writes:

  • “There are at least five different categories of foreign audiences that espouse a pro-Russian geopolitical identity, all united by an opposition to liberalism. In addition to pro-Russian far right parties and networks, which have attracted most of the attention of scholars and journalists, there are also far left, Orthodox Christian, Russophone and various ethnoreligious and separatist groups that favor a pro-Russian geopolitical identity.”
  • “During international crises that involve Russia, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea or its intervention to support the Assad regime in Syria, these pro-Russian groups with seemingly irreconcilable views on domestic politics, may mobilize to pressure their governments to adopt a more pro-Russian foreign policy position than would be expected otherwise.” 
  • “Increasing resentment against U.S. foreign policy, neoliberal market economics, globalization and/or liberal democracy, as well as opposition to more specific policies identified with Western liberalism such as same-sex marriage legislation, provide opportunities and justifications for otherwise seemingly irreconcilable groups to adopt pro-Russian geopolitical preferences.”    

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“China-Russia Relationship Is More About Survival Than Friendship,” James Jay Carafano, The National Interest, 11.11.19The author, vice president at the Heritage Foundation, writes:

  • “China and Russia are going to work together to some degree. They have important things in common. For example, both are unaccountable authoritarian regimes that share the Eurasian continent. Other indicators of compatibility: they like doing business with each other, and both like to make up their own rules. … Both happily engage with the world’s most odious regimes, from Syria to Venezuela. And, of course, neither has any compunction about playing dirty when it serves their interests. They already play off of each other to frustrate foreign-policy initiatives from Washington.”
  • “On the other hand, what leverage would a Russia-China alliance have on the United States? They wouldn’t jointly threaten Washington with military action. A central element of both their strategies is that they want to win against the United States ‘without fighting.’”
  • “Russian and Chinese power is largely asymmetrical. They have very different strengths and weaknesses. In coordinating their malicious activities against the United States, they don’t line out very well. China, for example, can’t really do anything substantive to help Russia in Syria. Putin doesn’t have much to offer in the South China Seas or in brokering a U.S.-China trade agreement. …There are also limits to the Sino-Russia era of good feelings. Other than trying to take America down a notch, their global goals are not well aligned. Indeed, the more they try to cooperate, the more their disparate interests will grate on the relationship.”
  • “The United States will do better simply by continuing its strategy of pushing back on Russia and China, while letting them know there’s an off-ramp waiting for them if—and only if—they respect U.S. interests.”


“Ukraine Needs More Than Lethal Aid From the United States. It Needs a Partner in Peace,” Sophie Pinkham, Foreign Affairs, 11.08.19The author, a Ph.D. in Slavic studies, writes:

  • “On Oct. 1, Zelenskiy announced that he had signed on to the Steinmeier formula, explaining that Ukraine would hold elections in the east only after Russian forces had withdrawn and Ukraine had established control over its borders. There is precedent for special regional status within Ukraine. From 1992 until its illegal annexation by Russia in 2014, Crimea was an ‘autonomous republic,’ a distinction established in recognition of Crimea’s ambiguous relation to Ukraine.”
  • “Though the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians want an end to the war, Zelenskiy’s decision soon ignited protests from veterans, the ultranationalist far right and supporters of ex-President Poroshenko.”
  • “A closer look at Ukraine suggests that what Zelenskiy needs is not symbolic lethal aid (let alone presidential offers he can’t refuse), but thoughtful support for his dogged efforts to reach a peace agreement. The hubbub of the U.S. impeachment process, the fervent anti-Russian rhetoric now prevalent in U.S. politics and the continued U.S. emphasis on military aid to Ukraine will likely make Zelenskiy’s task even more difficult.”

“Ukraine’s New Economic Policy Juggles Populism With Libertarianism,” Konstantin Skorkin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.12.19The author, an independent journalist, writes:

  • “Zelenskiy has already reached a difficult choice: he can only implement his promises to ‘reboot’ Ukraine through unpopular reforms that could cost him his sky-high approval ratings. Alternatively, he could continue to rely on improvisation and luck over meaningful policy.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Belt and Road and Beyond: China Makes Inroads Into South Caucasus,” Sergei Markedonov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.05.19: The author, an associate professor at the Russian State University for the Humanities, writes:

  • “The South Caucasus is of interest to Beijing as an important part of China’s global Belt and Road infrastructure and investment strategy.”
  • “The South Caucasus is not just important to China for economic reasons. For some years now, Beijing has been dealing with problems of radical jihadism in its Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region. With its proximity to the Middle East, the Caucasus region is important in the context of combating this threat. Key figures in the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization came from Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, and according to the Soufan Group security intelligence service, as of the end of 2017, 900 people from Azerbaijan and 200 Georgian nationals were involved with IS in the Middle East.”
  • “For all three countries, China plays the role of an alternative to Russia and the West. Tbilisi, Yerevan and Baku are all tired of Moscow, Washington and Brussels eternally squabbling on their own territory. In this respect, Beijing is seen as a possible counterbalance.”
  • “At a time when demand for diversified foreign policy in the Caucasus is clear, Beijing is building political frameworks that are attractive to countries in the region.”

“A Russian Ally's Solo Course Alters Western Calculations; U.S. and others court Belarus at arm's length after Kremlin made an example of Ukraine,” Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, 11.05.19: The author, chief foreign-affairs correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Western governments are moving to shore up the authoritarian, independent-minded President Aleksander Lukashenko of Belarus, worried that his country's possible absorption by Russia would alter Europe's balance of power. That support, however, is limited by fears that getting too close to Minsk could provoke a Russian intervention. Some commanders in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization say Belarus's military and security services have already fallen under Moscow's sway, anyway.”
  • “There is only so much the West can aspire to achieve in Belarus, said former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow, who served as NATO's deputy secretary-general in 2012-16. ‘Nobody has any illusions they will strike a course like Ukraine or Georgia. But if they complicate Russian calculations and if they do provide material and political support to Ukraine's sovereignty and independence, that's not insignificant,’ Mr. Vershbow said. ‘But we also have to be careful not to appear to be embracing them so closely that it's counterproductive and triggers a nasty Russian response.’”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Why Bolivian Politics Suddenly Matters to Putin,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg/The Moscow Times, 11.11.19: The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “Russian opposition leaders rejoiced at the forced resignation of Bolivian President Evo Morales, while the Russian foreign ministry branded it an ‘orchestrated coup.’ … In 2024, President Vladimir Putin faces the same choice that Morales faced this year—to obey the constitutional term limit or to sweep it aside and try to keep power.”
  • “Putin has more than four years to explore his options for 2024, when his own presidency comes up against a constitutional term limit, but there is no obvious quasi-legitimate scenario that would allow him to stay in the Kremlin.”
  • “There appears to be no appetite for a risky move to a parliamentary republic, which would make the prime minister’s office the most powerful and allow Putin to get re-elected as many times as he can. … And ruling by proxy, as Putin did during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency … clearly disappointed Putin himself since he moved to undo Medvedev’s feeble attempt at liberalizing the country.”
  • “The most obvious option is simply to alter the constitution to remove the term limit. But the Morales example shows the pitfalls of this strategy. While he’s respected and his contribution to reducing poverty is widely acknowledged, even his supporters are tired of him after 13 years in power … When that happens, critical decisions must eventually be taken by the military and the police.”
  • “All this Latin American experience … will serve to convince Putin that an authoritarian’s natural term limit isn’t the one specified in the constitution. In reality, he can rule until his enforcers decide they can’t afford to follow his orders.”

“Putin’s Y2024 Problem,” Peter Rutland, NYU Jordan Center, 11.12.19: The author, a professor at Wesleyan University, writes:

  • “The Achilles Heel of all authoritarian regimes is the question of succession: what happens when the incumbent ruler leaves office. … Whoever is chosen, the Kremlin will need to come up with a powerful narrative to convince people that it is time for Putin to leave—and that his chosen successor is up to the job.”
  • “One option would be to start a new war … The problem is that Crimea and Syria have already exhausted the Russian public’s enthusiasm for short victorious wars. … On the home front, the crackdown on street protests and exemplary arrests of corrupt officials means that the ‘market for repression’ is also experiencing a slump.”
  • “Putin’s team will have to come up with a new narrative to frame the transition. To end on an unrealistically optimistic note: maybe peace with Ukraine would be the most suitable achievement to mark Putin’s retirement from the political stage.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.