Russia Analytical Report, Nov. 9-16, 2020

This Week’s Highlights

  • The problem for Moscow is not so much the deterioration of relations under Biden (they couldn’t really get any worse): it is the readiness of the new administration to minimize these relations, relegating them to topics of secondary or tertiary importance, writes Russian political analyst Vladimir Frolov. Perhaps the way out is, as former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov suggests, to take a fresh look at Russian approaches to the U.S. and align Russia’s policy goals with America’s, reducing the costs and risks of excessive competition and allowing Russia to channel its main resources toward solving internal problems, Frolov writes.
  • Imagine a broad U.S.-Russian agreement that accepts geopolitical differences over issues such as Syria, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Ukraine and Afghanistan, writes Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute. A number of leading foreign policy practitioners recently called for just such a meaningful dialogue with Moscow.  
  • Carnegie Moscow Center Director Dmitry Trenin offers his take on Russia's responses to this year’s crises in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Nagorno-Karabakh. Trenin infers from these responses that Russia’s foreign and security policies continue to be solely shaped by Vladimir Putin’s vision of Russia’s national interests, but that these interests no longer require anchoring post-Soviet neighbors to Moscow. Per “Moscow’s new rules” set by “just one decider” (that is by Putin) Russia “is embracing its loneliness as a chance to start looking after its own interests and needs” while “the countries that emerged from the ex-Soviet republics are on their own,” according to Trenin. 
  • The outcome of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict sets back U.S. interests considerably, writes Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. Armenia’s democratic revolution is under threat, and a new wave of refugees strains the region. Russian influence in Azerbaijan has increased further still, according to Rubin. Additionally, an anti-American regime in Turkey has succeeded in inserting itself and battle-hardened and, in some cases, terror-linked mercenaries into the region. The State Department and U.S. intelligence community were seemingly caught flat-footed. It should be a bipartisan imperative for Congress and other oversight elements to determine why, Rubin writes. 


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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • No significant developments.

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“Biden’s Treaty Quandary,” Michael Krepon, Arms Control Wonk, 11.15.20: The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes:

  • “Democrats who win the presidency face a torrent of Republican criticism that sharply curtails their ambition. Carter, Clinton and Obama aimed high but … only got one bite of the apple when it came to treaty ratification.”
  • “Biden will be hard-pressed to get even that. The price for doing so, as with Obama, would be to assure Republican Senators by paying top dollar for strategic modernization programs. Carter came into the presidency refusing to play this game. He insisted on viewing each nuclear program on its merits. On this score, the B-1 bomber couldn’t cut it because stealthy cruise missiles were clearly a better investment. And the “neutron bomb” slated for West Germany … needed to be shelved. All of this later came back to bedevil Carter when he sought SALT II ratification.”
  • “I dredge up this history because Biden and those around him will have to calculate whether to seek modest cuts from New START in treaty form, which means seeking Republican support that may not be forthcoming, even with plus-ups to strategic modernization accounts. The alternative is to make unilateral decisions to reshape the U.S. deterrent in ways that save money for usable instruments of national power.”
  • “Obama was unwilling to draw down unilaterally and Putin was unwilling to reduce further, leaving us with New START’s numbers. We’ll find out whether Biden thinks differently than Obama on this matter, and whether Putin’s calculations have changed. If so, new possibilities lie before us; if not, we face heavy weather. Either way, a five-year extension of New START is essential as a placeholder to lay the basis for next steps.”

“Five Common Mistakes on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” Alicia Sanders-Zakre, War on the Rocks, 11.16.20: The author, the policy and research coordinator of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, writes:

  • “The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first international ban on nuclear weapons, will take full legal effect on Jan. 22, 2021. … [P]olitical scientists and nuclear policy experts, largely from nuclear-armed states, repeatedly make mistakes in their analysis and interpretation of this treaty and international law.”
  • “Mistake One: The Treaty Is Purely Symbolic … It includes ground-breaking provisions on providing assistance to victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and remediating contaminated environments. … Mistake Two: NATO Countries Cannot Join the Treaty … Dozens of former leaders from NATO states … recently called on their countries to join the Treaty … and certainly did not suggest that such a move would involve leaving NATO or that it would fracture the alliance.”
  • “Mistake Three: There Is No Mechanism to Address Compliance Concerns in the Treaty … If there are any concerns about compliance with the terms of the treaty, the treaty explains clearly what states should do in Article 11. … Mistake Four: The Treaty Will Only Impact Countries That Have Joined It … States parties’ work on these provisions in the treaty will help to provide research and experience in these fields that can be applicable and useful even beyond countries that have joined the treaty. … Mistake Five: The Treaty Only Impacts Democracies.”
  • “It is a powerful tool: important enough for leaders to ratify even in the midst of a global pandemic and influential enough that the United States actually called on countries to withdraw their instrument of ratification or accession.”
  • “Analytical attempts to belittle or undermine the significance of this treaty may appease the minority of countries that cling to these weapons of mass destruction for now, but make no mistake—the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a game-changer.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

Elections interference:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“No Longer 'Ours': With a Biden White House, the Kremlin Is Facing a Tough New Reality,” Vladimir Frolov, The Moscow Times, 11.12.20: The author, a Russian political analyst and columnist, writes:

  • “Moscow’s underestimation of the negative political effect of its covert activity to influence the political process in the U.S. … has led to catastrophic consequences for Russian interests … Unfortunately, lessons have not been learned, and in the 2020 elections we have been caught yet again.”
  • “With Biden there will be no personal chemistry with Putin. In recent years Biden has said many unflattering things about Russia and its leader, including the words he famously uttered during a visit to Moscow as vice-president in March 2011: ‘I’m looking into your eyes and I don’t think you have a soul.’ At the time he also hinted that the return of Vladimir Putin to the presidential chair in 2012 was undesirable, which he later communicated to members of the Russian opposition during a meeting at the U.S. embassy.”
  • “In 2018 Biden published an article in Foreign Affairs … in which he called for a tightening of sanctions against Russia, a buildup of NATO military power, the active promotion of democracy, the defense of the right of sovereign states to ‘choose their defensive alliances’ and the refusal to recognize that any power has a ‘sphere of interests.’”
  • “The main problem for the Kremlin with Biden and the Democrats is the new foreign policy consensus of the leaders of the Democratic Party … the main geopolitical challenge for the U.S. is the global confrontation between authoritarianism and democracy, the ‘free and unfree world.’ … The problem for Moscow is not so much the deterioration of relations under Biden (they couldn’t really get any worse): it is the readiness of the new administration to minimize these relations.”
  • “Perhaps the way out is … to take a fresh look at Russian approaches to the U.S. and align Russia’s policy goals with America’s, reducing the costs and risks of excessive competition and allowing Russia to channel its main resources toward solving internal problems.”

“Joe Biden Should Break Ranks and Stop the New Cold War With Russia,” Doug Bandow, The American Conservative, 11.12.20: The author, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writes:

  • “Moscow’s behavior neither puts it outside the international norm nor threatens fundamental American interests. Desperately needed is serious negotiation by Washington and Brussels that acknowledges Moscow’s interests. The ongoing mini-Cold War benefits only China.”
  • “Imagine a broad agreement that accepts geopolitical differences over issues such as Syria, Iran and North Korea, under which Moscow cuts aid to Cuba and Venezuela and the U.S. drops Abkhazia and South Ossetia as issues. Both governments agree to avoid political interference … and Moscow could agree to cooperate in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan as American forces steadily exit. Talks between NATO and Russia should move forward over transparency, regular communication, border activity and confidence-building measures, to reduce opportunities for inadvertent conflict.”
  • “Finally, on Ukraine, the U.S. and Europe should drop NATO expansion plans and sanctions. Russia should end support for separatists. Kiev should approve greater regional autonomy, as promised in the Minsk Protocol. Crimea should be set aside, with the West refusing to recognize its annexation and banning economic activity with it, but ending sanctions on Russia over it.”
  • “Can Joe Biden break free of a Cold War mindset? Even that might not be enough. The bizarre bipartisan frenzy over Russia goes deeper. It has little to do with defending America and everything to do with engaging in social engineering around the globe. Russia is not a serious threat to the U.S. beyond its possession of nuclear weapons, which, ironically, are made more dangerous by the deteriorating bilateral relationship. Which provides another reason to improve bilateral relations.”
  • “It took anti-communist Richard Nixon to go to Beijing. Could Russophobe Joe Biden go to Moscow? His supporters advertise him as naturally pragmatic and centrist. He could be the president to recognize that Russia has legitimate interests and cannot be expected to subordinate its security to Washington’s demand for global hegemony.”

“Putin Expects a Long Confrontation With America Under Biden,” Alexander Gabuev, Foreign Policy, 11.11.20: The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Not too many people in Russia’s corridors of power will miss the outgoing president. Despite Trump’s friendly rhetoric toward Moscow—and especially toward Putin—the United States and its European allies agreed on multiple rounds of economic sanctions against Russia during the Trump administration, and his signing of the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act has set that regime in stone.”
  • “Pragmatists in Putin’s government hope that Biden’s approach to future sanctions against Russia will be guided by strategy, not just a hostile attitude. They expect that sanctions will be deployed to punish Moscow for serious missteps, and will be calibrated to minimize side effects such as hurting the economic interests of major European allies or increasing Moscow’s dependence on China, which Biden has described as a major challenge for U.S. foreign policy. Finally, there is now a chance to extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which Biden has promised to do unconditionally.”
  • “This, however, is where the silver linings of a Biden presidency end—and the long list of Russian worries begins. … Putin has a very negative personal view of the president-elect … At a meeting with a group of Russian opposition leaders, Biden reportedly said that Putin ought not to run for president again in 2012, and that he should instead allow then President Dmitry Medvedev, who had a good rapport with former President Barack Obama, to serve a second term.”
  • “Then there are the tough views of Biden and his senior Russia advisors on Putin’s regime, which are well known and were expressed during the campaign on multiple occasions.”
  • “Finally, the Russian foreign-policy establishment is aware of the amount of anger that Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election has generated among American foreign-policy professionals, including some core members of Biden’s team, and is also aware of the resulting desire to punish the Kremlin and put a bigger price tag on bad behavior.”

“The New World Order That President Biden Will Inherit,” Editorial Board, New York Times, 11.16.20: The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “The world is not what it was in 2016, nor can it go back to the status quo ante. China is considerably more assertive, and countering Beijing's aggressions while recognizing its legitimate demands and seeking its help in containing North Korea or reducing carbon emissions will require creative new approaches. So will dealing with a right-wing president in Brazil or a tenacious dictator in Venezuela, or negotiating further nuclear arms reductions with Russia while maintaining sanctions, or trying to placate Israel and several Gulf Arab states while reviving a deal with their archenemy Iran.”
  • “Simply abandoning Mr. Trump's approach is immeasurably important for America and the world. The strength of the United States has always derived as much from the soft power of its democracy, freedoms and values as from its battleships and drones. That strength is multiplied by America's alliances among democracies in the East and West.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russia’s Recent History Shows How Coups Fail—and Succeed: Without control of the media, military support and international backing, seizures of power can flop, Jeff Hawn, Foreign Policy, 11.12.20: The author, a Ph.D. candidate at the London School of Economics, writes:

  • “Within two years [1991-1993], Russia had thus experienced both a failed and a successful coup involving many of the same players and likely many of the same soldiers. That makes it an excellent comparative study for what causes a coup to work—or otherwise.”
  • “Firstly, a coup’s success depends on the loyalty of the military at both the command level and among common soldiers. … A sufficient legal pretext is also needed to give the coup an air of legitimacy.”
  • “On both sides of a coup, control of the narrative seems to be a key factor. This includes the ability to broadcast their message and rally popular support. In 1991, public opposition to the coup was widespread and independent media carried stark images of tanks on the streets of Moscow.”
  • “The ability of the opposition to unify is also key. … Finally, there is the ability to gain international recognition and support especially with nations that are crucial to the state’s economic interest.”

“Putin's Biggest Fear Is to Be Held Accountable for His Regime's Crimes,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, The Washington Post, 11.12.20: The author, a Russian democracy activist and a contributing columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “This week, the Russian parliament's legislative committee rubber-stamped a bill granting former presidents lifelong immunity from prosecution. … The move follows another legislative initiative that would make any former president a senator-for-life.”
  • “The reason for the legislative moves, though, is clear even without bogus health rumors. One of the immunity bill's co-authors, Andrei Klishas, said that it aimed to prevent ‘unfounded prosecution of a former head of state.’ … Klishas, a member of the Russian parliament's upper house, confirms what analysts have long known to be Putin's biggest fear: that he could be held to account once he loses the protection of his Kremlin office.”
  • “The fear is understandable. Over his two decades in power, Putin has done many things for which he could be held liable both under domestic and international law—from rigging elections, jailing opponents, silencing media outlets and other abuses of power to atrocities committed during conflicts in Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine and Syria.”
  • “The problem for Putin is that deposed dictators are rarely treated under the rules they had written. Just ask General Pinochet.”

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 Europe Needs on Russia from a Biden Administration,” Neil Melvin, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), 11.12.20: The author, the director of international security studies at RUSI, writes:

  • “The U.S. should aim to lead a serious discussion with European partners about what is actually required to provide effective deterrence for Europe. European allies will need to step up their commitment and spending on defense.”
  • “Second, the U.S. should look to match steady pressure on Russia as a result of strengthened deterrence with efforts to engage Russia in a conversation on how to manage the confrontational relationship.”
  • “In addition to the challenges of European security, there are a variety of issues where it makes sense to explore cooperation with Russia, including on climate change, international efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program and managing instability in the Middle East (specifically Syria and Libya). These discussions may provide opportunities to widen the conversation to other areas.”
  • “Beyond the twin tracks of deterrence and dialogue with Russia there is a third area where U.S. leadership will be important to Europe. The transatlantic community desperately needs to rebuild a strategic approach to Russia… Today there is a danger that the approach to Russia is increasingly driven by hostility to Moscow rather than a strategy to advance transatlantic interests.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • No significant developments.

War in Karabakh:

“How Did Armenia So Badly Miscalculate Its War with Azerbaijan?” Svante E. Cornell, The National Interest, 11.14.20: The author, the director of the American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, writes:

  • “[The Karabakh war] has exposed four grave miscalculations on the part of Armenian leaders. First, a weakening international order appeared to give Armenia a free hand to maintain its control over these lands indefinitely. What the Armenian leadership neglected to see is that this same international order also deterred Azerbaijan from abandoning diplomacy. … Second … Armenia failed to internalize the fact that it could not take Russian support for granted. … Third, Armenian leaders failed to correctly analyze the growing linkages between the South Caucasus and the Middle East, and particularly Turkey’s role in the region. … Finally, Armenian leaders failed to grasp the recent internal transformation of Azerbaijan.”
  • “Why, then, did Armenian leaders commit these grave miscalculations? Several reasons come to mind.”
  • “The world has changed rapidly in recent years, requiring considerable flexibility and analytical skill to process the implications of the interaction between global and regional processes. Armenian leaders appear to have instead become complacent and internalized their own propaganda.”
  • “It is now clear that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan—who lacked political experience before being thrust into a position of power as leader of street protests in 2018—failed to comprehend the geopolitics of his country and region. But he was also constantly undermined by Armenia’s previous leadership, which in turn was aligned with the leadership in Karabakh, and maintained privileged relations with Moscow.”
  • “Weakened as Pashinyan already was, it is difficult to see how he emerges unscathed from this episode, and calls for his resignation are mounting. More deeply, whether Pashinyan stays or goes, it remains to be seen whether Armenia will learn from this misadventure and embark upon a serious attempt to sue for peace.”

“Three Intelligence Failures from Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Need Investigating: The outcome of the Nagorno-Karabakh region sets back U.S. interests considerably,” Michael Rubin, The National Interest, 11.14.20: The author, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writes:

  • “With elections over, the Senate and House intelligence committees should focus on investigating the three intelligence failures which the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict exposed. … First, is the obvious: Was the United States caught unaware by the outbreak of war?”
  • “The second involves Russia: Did Russian president Vladimir Putin simply see an opportunity to insert Russian troops into the region and seize it? Or was he using Russia’s participation in the Minsk Group as an asymmetrical warfare strategy to distract or tie down the United States with insincere diplomacy? The answer to this question has reverberations far beyond the Caucasus as the United States considers multilateral arms agreements with Russia.”
  • “The third involves Turkey. … There is increasing speculation in Armenia that the two leaders may have horse-traded their Syria interests: Turkey guaranteed Russia paramount interests in Idlib in exchange for Russia’ support for Turkey having a role in a joint peacekeeping center in territory seized from Armenian control, as well as the establishment for a pan-Armenia corridor to allow Turkey to penetrate more directly into the Caucasus and Central Asia.”
  • “The outcome of the Nagorno-Karabakh region sets back U.S. interests considerably. Armenia’s democratic revolution is under threat, a new wave of refugees strains the region, Russian influence in Azerbaijan, which has already grown against the backdrop of neglect from both the Obama administration and Trump administration, has increased further still. Additionally, an anti-American regime in Turkey has succeeded in inserting itself and battle-hardened and, in some cases, terror-linked mercenaries into the region. The State Department and U.S. intelligence community were seemingly caught flat-footed. It should be a bipartisan imperative for Congress and other oversight elements to determine why.”

“The Problem with the Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire Agreement,” Michael Rubin, The National Interest, 11.10.20: The author, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writes:

  • “No one in Washington should confuse quiet with peace. By showing its participation in the Minsk process to be bad faith and by effectively engaging in just one more round of ethnic cleansing, Azerbaijan is setting the stage for a new chapter in the conflict. It may not come within a month or within a decade, but both Turkey and Azerbaijan will likely suffer political vacuums when Erdoğan or Aliyev dies. At the same time, their efforts to humiliate Armenia will simply fuel more populist governments there which will await an opportunity for revenge. This is not the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; it is just the beginning of a new chapter.”

“A Stunted Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. Six Takeaways From Peace and Conflict,” Paul Stronski, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 11.12.20: The author, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “First, peace—if it really is peace—comes not as a result of a negotiation, but after six weeks of bloody war that cost thousands of lives on both sides, including both combatants and civilians, and left many more displaced.”
  • “Second, Armenia’s democratically elected government has been dealt a devastating blow. … Third, Armenia’s defeat comes at the hands of the authoritarian hereditary Azerbaijani regime, which is backed diplomatically and militarily by the increasingly authoritarian Turkish leader in the form of a treaty dictated to Armenia from Moscow.”
  • “Fourth, the so-called treaty or agreement forged in Moscow is more notable for what is not in it than for what is. The status of the disputed territory is uncertain, while the fate of refugees and internally displaced persons is left vague. … Fifth, memories of three occasionally hopeful post-Soviet decades of independence are rapidly fading. The Caucasus is once again being trampled by its neighboring heavyweights clinging to their imperial aspirations.”
  • “Finally, the world doesn’t seem to care. Europe and the United States are distracted by their own problems, and the fate of Armenians matters little to them. … Jubilation in Azerbaijan over the victory can do little to fix its economy, which has been battered by low oil prices, widespread corruption, and the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Armenia, badly wounded on the battlefield, has to reckon with trauma, the betrayal by Russia, an uncertain domestic political future, and a similarly fast-growing coronavirus crisis, particularly among the displaced.”
  • “Neither of the two countries aspiring to regional hegemony in the Caucasus—Russia and Turkey—will do much to address the region’s long-standing underlying problems.”

“A Precarious Peace for Karabakh,” Thomas de Waal, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.11.20: The author, a senior fellow in Carnegie Europe specializing in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region, writes:

  • “The Armenian side is the big loser in this outcome, and the repercussions will be felt for years to come. The Armenian public was completely unprepared for this swift collapse and there is already strong resistance to the deal from opposition politicians. But it is hard to see how, even if Pashinyan loses his post, the next Armenian leader could make a different decision.”
  • “It is also now obvious that this scenario had been well planned in advance.  For three years now Russia has been proposing to the conflict parties what became known as the ‘Lavrov Plan’—although its existence was always publicly denied. The essence of it was that there would be a phased withdrawal by Armenia from the occupied territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, and a Russian peacekeeping force would enter the region to guarantee the security of the Karabakh Armenians.”
  • “This went against the wishes of France, the United States, and other European countries for a multilateral solution to the conflict and an international peace agreement. It seems that Paris and Washington were taken by surprise by the announcement of the Russian plan.”
  • “The core of the Lavrov Plan is now being implemented—but on much more favorable terms for Baku than before. A new line of contact is being established that runs through Karabakh itself. The Armenians are set to lose territory that includes a large part of the southern Hadrut region. Moreover, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh itself is not mentioned in the document.”
  • “Turkey is also a big beneficiary. The main prize for Ankara in the nine-point deal is the promise of a corridor across Armenia’s Meghri region that would theoretically connect Turkey to Central Asia via Nakhichevan, the rest of Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea.”

“Russia’s Stake in the Nagorno-Karabakh War: Accident or Design?” Dumitru Minzarari, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, 11.12.20: The author, an associate political analyst with the Chisinau-based Institute for European Policy and Reforms, writes:

  • “Russia’s ultimate goal in the post-Soviet space is to politically reintegrate its former satellites into an interstate union.”
  • “The war and the Azeri territorial gains in and around Nagorno-Karabakh create a context favorable to Russia. … First, it allows blame for defeats to be projecting onto Armenia’s present prime minister. … They also promoted claims concerning mounting domestic opposition. These signals suggest that Russia’s first goal is to bring to power a more loyal Armenian prime minister. A second goal is to create insecurity among the population, propagating the idea that Armenia cannot survive as a state without Russia. … Russia will exploit this sense of vulnerability to persuade Armenia’s population and leadership to agree to closer integration with Russia.”
  • “On the other hand, Russia did immense favors to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in choosing not to employ its electronic warfare capabilities against Azeri drones. This … clearly communicates to the Azeri audience that preserving their war gains is conditional on good relations with Moscow.”
  • “It is legitimate to ask whether Russia acted opportunistically in response to war, or actively contributed to the emergence of the conflict. It is highly unlikely that Russia was unaware of Azerbaijan’s intentions. … Moreover, the Azeri offensive started on 27 September, one day after Russia’s Kavkaz-2020 strategic exercise ended. The Armenian military participated in various phases of the exercise both in Russia and in Armenia. This suggests great confidence on the Azeri side, in starting the offensive when considerable Russian forces were still deployed in the region. It is highly unlikely that Baku failed to consult Moscow beforehand.”
  • “Moscow’s ability to stop the Azeri offensive immediately after the fall of Shushi revealed its control. Russia would only have allowed the change of status quo if its expected gains exceeded the related risks and costs.”

“Caucasus Ceasefire Cements Turkey as a Power in Russia’s Backyard,” Henry Foy and Laura Pitel, Financial Times, 11.12.20: Foy, the Moscow bureau chief at the Financial Times, and Pitel, Turkey correspondent at the Financial Times, argue:

  • “’Turkey’s actions [in Nagorno-Karabakh] are partly an answer for Russian activities in the Middle East. Turkey is trying to be a global player and to have a finger in every pie,’ said Stanislav Pritchin, senior research fellow at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. ‘From this perspective, the south Caucasus looks to Ankara like a comfortable zone without potential risks. But Turkey can count only on Azerbaijan and doesn’t have a good understanding of the regional complexities that have limited space for manoeuvre,’ he added.
  • “’Azerbaijan gained a great deal of what it wanted — but part of the cost appears to be more, not less, Russian influence [inside its borders],’ said Olga Oliker, director for Europe & Central Asia at the International Crisis Group. ‘At the same time, Russia now has far more responsibility for this conflict than it ever did before, and that is going to be a burden for some time to come.’”

“Diplomacy, Not War, Should Have Fixed Nagorno-Karabakh,” Carey Cavanaugh, Moscow Times, 11.14.20: The author, a retired U.S. ambassador and U.S. Minsk Group co-chair from 1999-2001, writes:

  • “The latest agreement put into place what was required to halt the fighting. It includes both a ceasefire — this time with the rapid deployment of Russian peacekeepers to ensure a different outcome than the earlier efforts — and several elements of a political settlement.  It is not, however, a sustainable comprehensive peace agreement.”
  • “A sustainable comprehensive agreement can only be achieved at the negotiating table, not on the battlefield. And at this point the OSCE Minsk Group remains the accepted mediation forum.  But Paris and Washington were not part of these last-minute negotiations.”
  • “The essential element absent from the new agreement is the question that has proven most difficult to resolve: the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
  • “The current situation is made unspeakably more painful because better arrangements than those being put in place today were attainable through diplomacy years ago. The two sides, however, long fixated on maximalist positions, had been unprepared to embrace genuine compromise solutions. The resultant sacrifices — thousands of lives, billions of dollars spent on arms, decades of lost growth and prosperity — have already exacted too high a price from the people of both Armenia and Azerbaijan.”


“What Can Ukraine Expect From a Biden presidency?” Peter Dickinson, Atlantic Council, 11.14.20: The author, the editor of the Atlantic Council’s UkraineAlert Service, writes:

  • “Most Ukrainians were understandably relieved to see the end of the 2020 U.S. presidential election campaign. Thanks to a combination of President Trump’s impeachment and ongoing Ukraine-related corruption allegations leveled at Joe Biden, Ukraine had found itself thrust into the presidential race at a time when Kyiv counts more than ever on continued bipartisan U.S. support as it seeks to fend off ongoing Russian aggression. … There were also considerable differences of opinion over what a Biden presidency might mean for Ukraine.”
  • Alyona Getmanchuk, director, New Europe Center: “I expect the Biden presidency to revitalize the U.S.-Ukraine strategic partnership. Ukraine had many friends and allies within the Trump administration, but in crucial situations it is always important to have the President of the United States personally on your side.”
  • Oleksiy Goncharenko, Ukrainian MP, European Solidarity party: “The election of Joe Biden will have a major influence on global affairs and especially on Ukraine. Biden knows more about Ukraine than any previous U.S. president.”
  • Brian Bonner, chief editor, Kyiv Post: “Biden’s election is great news for Ukraine.”
  • Solomiia Bobrovska, Ukrainian MP, Holos party: “We consider the U.S. to be our strategic partner and can now expect to see further American support in the struggle to fight corruption by building strong institutions.”


“Coronavirus Is Really Bad News for Belarus President Lukashenka, for Unexpected Reasons,” Samuel Greene and Anna Lyubimtseva, The Washington Post, 11.12.20: Greene, director of the Russia Institute at King's College London, and Lyubimtseva, a partner at Sociolytics Ltd. (U.K.), write:

  • “In a survey of media consumers in Belarus … fewer than one-third of respondents said they watch the country's four state-owned TV stations with any regularity, and 45 percent said they never get any news from TV. In contrast, 75 percent said they get news from online social media at least several times a week, including 46 percent who turn to Telegram. … … is now the country's most trusted news source.”
  • “The survey also suggests Lukashenka can't claim the attention of any discernible social group. While younger people are more likely to consume oppositional media than their elders, a majority of every age cohort in the survey has tuned out state-run media altogether. … The same pattern holds across all regions of the country and the capital city, Minsk, among all employment sectors, and among all levels of education.”
  • “Why did this happen? Our research builds on ideas about ‘informational autocracy’ developed by two social scientists, Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman. Guriev and Treisman say modern autocrats don't rule through an iron fist alone. Rather, they use a combination of policy and propaganda to convince their subjects they are competent. This means that when policy fails, propaganda can pick up the slack. However, when both fail, revolution ensues.”
  • “Draconian restrictions on survey research in Belarus meant we could not ask direct questions about politics, including support for Lukashenka or the protesters. Nonetheless, respondents ranked freedom of speech and constitutional reform fourth and fifth, respectively, among the most pressing issues faced by the country, following economic growth, the covid-19 pandemic and poverty. Not surprisingly, democratic priorities ranked somewhat higher — fourth for constitutional reform and first for freedom of speech — among those respondents who tend to consume more oppositional media, and much lower among the minority who watch state television.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Moscow’s New Rules,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.12.20: The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Simultaneous crises in Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Kyrgyzstan have demonstrated Russia’s maturing approach to its neighborhood. Some of Moscow’s new rules include:”
  • “Russia first: Russia’s principal interest in the world is Russia itself. … Faced with the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia preferred to maintain stability at home, given the existence of large Armenian and Azeri diasporas in Russia (2 million strong each); to keep an important relationship with Azerbaijan intact; and to avoid a collision with regional power Turkey. By involving itself in the war on the side of its nominal ally Armenia, it would have lost all of the above.”
  • “The former Soviet Union doesn’t exist: As far as Moscow is concerned, all the countries that emerged from the ex-Soviet republics are on their own.”
  • “Commitments are not open-ended and are always reciprocal. Moscow has demonstrated in the crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia will do what it is formally obligated to do, but no more. Russia sent similar messages during the acute phase of the Belarus crisis. It will also insist on its allies being more loyal in order to deserve Moscow’s support. If an ally engages in a ‘multi-vector’ foreign policy, they should expect a similar attitude from Russia.”
  • “Russia is embracing its loneliness as a chance to start looking after its own interests and needs, something it neglected in the past in the name of an ideological mission, geopolitical concerns, or one-sided commitments built on kinship or religious links. This is a new model of behavior.”

“Russia’s ‘Neo-Imperialism’ Is a Product of Complex Factors,” Simon Saradzhyan, Russia Matters, 11.10.20: In this review of Domitilla Sagramoso’s “Russian Imperialism Revisited,” the founding director of Russia Matters writes:

  • “[T]here are some books on Russia’s external policies that I could not have missed, and ‘Russian Imperialism Revisited’ by … Domitilla Sagramoso is one of them. Yes, some career Russianists may have had a hunch about her book’s main argument, that Moscow did not set out to restore its influence over former Soviet republics right after the demise of the USSR in 1991, but that it eventually began to do so and that this process accelerated soon after Vladimir Putin’s ascent to the presidency on Dec. 31, 1999. … Sagramoso’s [book] … is still a must read and a must keep for at least four reasons, in my view.”
  • “First, Sagramoso explains Russia’s policies toward its neighbors not just in terms of agency, as some of the harshest critics of Putin in the West have done time and again … Rather, she explores structure for clues behind some of the most forceful moves ordered by the long-time leader of Russia.”
  • “Second, the author adopts a holistic approach toward explaining these polices by looking not only at the security and military drivers of what she sees as Russia’s neo-imperialism, but also detailing the energy, trade and investment factors behind this policy.”
  • “Third, the author has proved to be meticulous in cataloguing and analyzing all the major events in Russia’s dealings with other ex-Soviet states since the demise of the USSR, so her book can serve as a quality reference book.”
  • “Fourth, but not least, for anyone who has studied the ways Russian leaders formulate and advance national interests, it could be refreshing, if not a relief, to see a volume that makes a persuasive, fact-based argument that Russia’s moves ‘reflect a combination of legitimate state interests, enduring Soviet legacies and genuine concerns over events unfolding along Russia’s borders.’”