Russia Analytical Report, Oct. 17-24, 2016

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

Nuclear security:

“Mr. Putin Plays Troublemaker on Nuclear Security,” The Washington Post, 10.23.16: In its latest diatribe aimed at Vladimir Putin, the editorial board of The Washington Post accuses the Russian leader of acting as a spoiler vis-à-vis the United States in the spheres of nuclear security and arms control in order to force Washington into concessions. According to the editorial, “Mr. Putin made a crude attempt to turn nuclear security into a bargaining chip. He complained about ‘unfriendly actions’ by the United States, and demanded an end to all sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine; compensation for the damage they caused; repeal of the Magnitsky Act, …and pullback of U.S. forces from the new members of NATO,” actions which the editorial describes as “a misguided gambit.”

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

“We are Returning to a World of Great Power Relations. The US Unipolar Era Lasted Less Than 25 Years, Undone by War and Financial Crisis,” John Sawers, Financial Times, 10.19.16:  Ex-chief of Britain’s MI6 service John Sawers calls on the West to acknowledge the end of U.S. supremacy and to begin to work with Russia, China and other non-Western great powers to build a new global order. In Sawers’s view, the end of U.S. unipolarity was hastened by overambitious wars and the financial crisis of 2007-08, while the West’s economic dominance has also declined sharply. Where the Group of Seven used to contribute 70 percent of global gross domestic product, it is now down to 47 percent and falling, according to the author. Sawers also argues that Russia’s military capabilities allow it not only to ensure its own security, but also to rebuild a sphere of influence beyond its borders: “Russia would like to return to a world of spheres of influence, with three great powers forming a global security directorate, while China wants a two-power world.” Sawers warns readers that “War between the great powers is once again a possibility.” To prevent a war and destabilization, he advocates for “an approach…that puts global stability first…That does not mean a return to cold war-style hostility. The 19th-century Concert of Europe, in which six powers preserved an equilibrium that lasted nearly 100 years, might be a better parallel.”

“The Decline of the West, and How to Stop It,” Javier Solana and Strobe Talbott, New York Times, 10.19.16:  Ex-EU and former NATO secretary general Javier Solana and former U.S. deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott have joined forces to alert readers of the New York Times to the West’s decline and point to social progress as a solution. They argue that the year ahead may determine whether the West can overcome its current troubles, noting that “Mr. Putin has all too successfully stoked the sense of peril and fear of failure in the West.” According to Solana and Talbott, “the NATO alliance needs beefing up” to both counter this subversion and prevent Europe’s political disintegration. Equally important is the restoration of social progress, which requires “buy-in from all segments of society,” according to the authors.

“The West Must Recognize That the Post Cold War Order is Under Attack,” Financial Times, 10.19.16: Editorial writers of the Financial Times believe efforts by Bashar al-Assad’s forces to establish control over Aleppo with support of the Russian military are not only turning the city into a “vast mass grave,” but also undermining “the international rules-based system forged in the aftermath of the Second World War.” They argue that “Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Mr. Putin has set out to challenge the post cold war order.” According to the editorial, “so long as Mr. Putin remains on this path, Russia will remain a strategic adversary” requiring “a patient strategy of containment.” “The west must redraw the red lines, and show Moscow that there is a real cost to crossing them,” according to The Financial Times.

“Only Hillary Clinton is Prepared for the Nuclear Threat,” Sam Nunn, Wall Street Journal, 10.24.16: Former U.S. senator Sam Nunn believes only Hillary Clinton has the judgement and skills to be trusted with the responsibility of the nuclear trigger, and he hopes that the U.S. and Russia can still cooperate to reduce nuclear risks.  These tasks  “will require increased and continuous communication between the two countries' leaders, just as avoiding a nuclear exchange during the Cold War required dialogue between John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev, and Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev,” according to Nunn.

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“The Ominous End of the Russia-U.S. Plutonium Agreement,” Alexey Arbatov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.17.16: Senior scholar of the Carnegie Moscow Center Alexey Arbatov believes that Russia’s decision to suspend implementation of the U.S.-Russian plutonium agreement can unravel an entire series of nuclear disarmament agreements stretching back to the Cold War era. “Nuclear disarmament has hit a dead end and risks total collapse,” he warns. Arbatov believes Moscow has suspended the deal in an effort to “rattle Washington by projecting confidence in its political and military strength,” and he cautions readers that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty (signed in 1987), New START (2010) and the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty (1996) could become the “next casualties” of the deterioration of the U.S.-Russian relationship. If that happens, then “the use of nuclear weapons in a war or terrorist attack in the foreseeable future could be a real and growing danger.”


  • No significant commentary.

Syrian conflict:

  • No significant commentary.

Cyber security:

“Whodunnit? Russia and Coercion Through Cyberspace,” Robert Morgus, War on the Rocks, 10.19.16: Robert Morgus of the New America’s Cybersecurity Initiative offers a review of Russia’s alleged tour de force in the cyber domain in this piece for the War on the Rocks blog. “What we are experiencing is a broader attempt by the Russian government to seed uncertainty in the institutions that underpin American democracy and power — both hard and soft,” he claims. Morgus argues that other goals of Russia’s cyber operations include ascertaining “where America’s redline might be in this context” and gaining “a bit of attention and recognition for Russian cyber capabilities and prestige on the world stage.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Russia’s Gas Pipeline Plans Threaten European Unity: Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 is a Test of EU Credibility, Which Poland is Determined to Defend,” Konrad Szymanski , Financial Times, 10.21.16:  In an effort to thwart Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Poland’s minister for European affairs Konrad Szymanski has penned an op-ed for the Financial Times. Szymanski argues that the political motivations behind the pipeline from Russia to Germany are clear given the project’s likelihood to damage the Ukrainian economy and Europe’s already “considerable dependence on Russian gas.” “The EU cannot continue to offer financial support to Ukraine, maintain sanctions against Russia and call for a resilient energy union while at the same time collaborating on Nord Stream 2 with Gazprom,” the minister argues.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“From Russia (but Nowhere Else) With Love,” Ivan Krastev, New York Times, 10.18.16: Ivan Krastev of the Center for Liberal Strategies believes many Russian citizens support Donald Trump’s candidacy in the U.S. elections because a failure to do so “would appear as a betrayal of their own president,” Vladimir Putin. Krastev also notes that “the world devours America’s movies and follows its politics closely,” while political revelations in other countries draw far less interest. “Leaking Chinese diplomatic cables or Russian officials’ emails could never become a worldwide human-interest story, simply because only a relative handful of non-Chinese or non-Russians could read them, let alone make sense of them,” he writes.

 “Russia's October Surprise: Its Failed Attempt to Hack the Election,” Mitchell A. Orenstein, Foreign Affairs, 10.20.16:  Mitchell Orenstein of the University of Pennsylvania believes Russia has attempted to derail Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, but that attempt has failed. Orenstein argues that in an attempt to recreate the stir caused by the Democratic National Committee emails leaked over the summer, Russia released a new batch of Hillary Clinton’s emails to WikiLeaks on Oct. 7. However, in light of the White House’s statement accusing Russia of hacking the DNC emails and the focus on Donald Trump’s “locker room” tape, this latest leak “fizzled.” Orenstein cautions U.S. policymakers to “remain calm, so as not to fall into the trap of overreacting to Russian escalation during the election campaign.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

General developments and “far abroad” countries:

  • No significant commentary.


  • No significant commentary.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Georgia's Long-Shot Democracy: Not Quite Liberal,” Michael Cecire, Foreign Affairs, 10.20.16: Michael Cecire of the Foreign Policy Research Institute has reviewed the Republic of Georgia’s Oct. 8 parliamentary elections for Foreign Affairs’s website, concluding that the elections might have been the “freest, fairest, and most competitive in its independent history.”  Cecire notes that the elections have showed a decline in Georgian voters’ support for anti-Western groups, and argues that the best outcome for Georgia’s democracy would be “continuity rather than change.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • No significant commentary.

Defense and Aerospace:

“Russia’s Use of Military Force as a Foreign Policy Tool: Is There a Logic?” Samuel Charap, PONARS, 10.19.16: Samuel Charap of the International Institute for Strategic Studies takes stock of post-Soviet Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, Syria and other countries. Charap concludes that Moscow has predominately employed its war machine to compel these countries to change their behavior. “We should  ...understand the military component of Russian policy as one element of a broader coercive bargaining process related to political outcomes,” he writes. Charap notes that the use of force has come after other non-kinetic means have been unsuccessful, meaning that Moscow’s failures to get what it wants by non-military methods should be interpreted as “warning signs for potential use of force.” “The logic of Russia’s actions suggests the potential for unintended Russia-NATO conflict is high and likely to grow,” according to Charap.

 “The Russian Navy's Great Mediterranean Show of Force,” Michael Kofman, National Interest, 10.21.16: In this piece, Michael Kofman of the Kennan Institute offers his take on Russia’s decision to dispatch its only aircraft carrier to the Syrian coast. “Russia seeks to intimate that it is one of the few countries able to project military power to distant shores and present the image of having some parity with the United States,” Kofman writes of the Admiral Kuznetsov’s ongoing voyage. However, given the Admiral Kuznetsov’s history of breakdowns, this carrier may not be the best way to demonstrate the Russian Navy’s recent strides, Kofman warns.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.