Russia Analytical Report, Oct. 28-Nov. 4, 2019

NB: Next week’s Russia Analytical Report will appear on Tuesday, Nov. 12, instead of Monday, Nov. 11, because of a U.S. federal holiday.

This Week’s Highlights:

  • Growing numbers of contract soldiers, improved training, more exercises and combat operations in Ukraine and Syria have resulted in broad improvements in the quality of Russian military units, write Keith Crane, Olga Oliker and Brian Nichiporuk in a new RAND report. Although most Russian forces are postured defensively, the capabilities Russia has pursued gives them substantial offensive capability against states along Russia's borders, and Russia's forces also now have some ability to project power farther abroad, as in Syria, according to the authors.
  • Washington’s NATO allies are good allies in terms of political stability and economic strength, and, with some exceptions, they have been remarkably deferential to U.S. whims, writes Prof. Stephen Walt. But NATO’s members score poorly on military capability, according to Walt, and some of them (e.g., the Baltic states) are hard to defend. On balance, he argues, adding them to the alliance made it weaker, not stronger.
  • Three political factors emerge as primary drivers of Russia’s 2015 decision to intervene in Syria: the perception that the collapse of the Assad regime was imminent and that it could be prevented by intervening; the belief that this outcome would have had grave security implications; and the view that alternative means, like diplomacy, had proven futile, write Samuel Charap, Elina Treyger and Edward Geist in a new RAND report. They note that Russia is unlikely to intervene on a scale comparable to the 2015 action in Syria in Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan, as the drivers for such action are absent.
  • Long before a telephone call with Ukraine's president that prompted an impeachment inquiry, Trump was exchanging political favors with a different Ukrainian leader—Petro Poroshenko, who desperately sought American help for Ukraine’s struggle against Russian aggression, according to New York Times. Poroshenko's aides also scrambled to find ways to flatter the new American president, advising Poroshenko to gush during his first call with Trump about Tom Brady, the star New England Patriots quarterback Trump has long admired.
  • U.S. leaders have discussed domestic politics with foreign leaders in the past: For instance, Bill Clinton explained to Russian President Boris Yeltsin in May 1995 that adding countries like Poland to NATO would solidify the support he received from American voters of Central and Eastern European descent in his reelection bid, write James Goldgeier and Elizabeth N. Saunders of Brookings.
  • Amid the uncertainty over what will happen when Putin steps down in 2024, everyone is striving to claim exclusive functions that could later be required by Putin during the implementation of his plan for the transition of power, writes Carnegie Moscow Center’s Tatiana Stanovaya.

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:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • No significant commentary.

NATO-Russia relations:

“Trends in Russia's Armed Forces. An Overview of Budgets and Capabilities,” Keith Crane, Olga Oliker and Brian Nichiporuk, RAND Corporation, October 2019The authors of the report have found that the Russian military has developed in three key ways since 2000:

  • “A surge in funding starting in 2000 has enabled the development of Russian military forces that are more capable under more-varied circumstances than was the case in the first two decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
  • “The modernization of Russia's weapons and equipment and changes in force structure have emphasized improvements in strategic and operational air defenses focused on key defensive bastions, faster generation of ground units at high readiness and the deployment of technologically advanced long-range battlefield fires systems. Moscow has also improved its operational-tactical missile forces, especially short-ranged ballistic missiles and land attack cruise missiles.”
  • “Growing numbers of contract soldiers, improved training, more exercises and, increasingly, combat operations in Ukraine and Syria have resulted in broad improvements in the quality of Russian units. Although most Russian forces are postured defensively, the capabilities Russia has pursued gives them substantial offensive capability against states along Russia's borders. Russia's forces also now have some limited ability to project power farther abroad, as in Syria.”
  • “Despite Russia's economic and military limitations, NATO policymakers and defense planners will need to continue to track and seriously monitor improvements in its military.”
  • “NATO policymakers and defense planners should also take into account Russian capabilities to invade or threaten its immediate neighbors, especially those countries not part of NATO.”

“How the United States Could Lose a Great-Power War,” Elbridge Colby and David Ochmanek, Foreign Policy, 10.29.19The authors, a principal at the Marathon Initiative and a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, write:

  • “While it is not realistic to expect to achieve against China or Russia the sort of comprehensive dominance that U.S. forces have enjoyed over smaller regional adversaries, neither is it necessary. What the 2018 National Defense Strategy calls for is to develop, in concert with U.S. allies and partners, military forces and strategies that can credibly deny China or Russia the ability to take over nearby territory.”
  • “In particular, the United States needs forces that are able to contest Chinese aggression against Taiwan or U.S. allies in the Western Pacific or Russian assaults against NATO allies from the beginning of hostilities, reaching into contested zones to first blunt and then defeat any such Chinese or Russian invasion.”

“How to Tell if You’re in a Good Alliance. Not all allies are made equal. But who’s worth the commitment, and who’s not?” Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy, 10.28.19The author, the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University, writes:

  • “Wise countries choose their allies carefully and do not treat any of them as sacred or inviolable … As … Doug Bandow and Christopher Preble recently reminded us, an alliance is merely a means to an end (typically greater security) and not an end in itself.”
  • “What makes for a good ally? … Ideally, a good ally is economically strong and military capable … A good ally is politically stable … [and] has interests that are roughly compatible with one’s own … A very good ally is one that will back you even when its own short-term interests are not directly engaged, because it values the overall relationship … A good ally doesn’t interfere too much in one’s own domestic politics … A good ally is (mostly) truthful and doesn’t lie to you or deliberately feed faulty information to your intelligence agencies.”
  • “Based on these criteria, how might we rate some of Washington’s current partners? Its NATO allies score well in terms of political stability and economic strength, and … have been remarkably deferential to U.S. whims … But NATO’s members score poorly on military capability … and some of them (e.g., the Baltic states) are hard to defend. On balance, adding them to the alliance made it weaker, not stronger.”
  • “Most of America’s Asian partners are politically stable and economically prosperous, but they are weaker militarily than they should be. … Rather obviously, it is America’s Middle East partners that are most problematic.”
  • “Greater selectivity in U.S. alliance pledges would allow Washington to stop fighting in places that don’t matter in order to convince others that it will still fight in the places that do. If the United States wants to be seen as a good ally—and it should—it might start by pledging its honor and its citizens’ lives only when it will make a direct and significant contribution to U.S. security and prosperity.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“The Death of the INF Treaty Has Lessons for Arms Control,” Amy J. Nelson, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 11.04.19The author, a fellow at the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction at National Defense University, writes:

  • “It would benefit future leaders and arms control experts to keep three lessons in mind. Thanks in part to the INF’s collapse, and in part to the experience of watching treaties weather and age in the decades after their implementation, we now know that: we should expect weapons technology to continually change—be it by gradual evolution (as in the case of the INF Treaty) or transformative innovation; treaties are likely to be violated in the course of their lifetime and, as such, verification regimes must be designed and implemented in a manner that anticipates this and is useful in managing violations for the treaty’s entire lifespan; and agreements increasingly provide value—or security—as a function of the information they provide.”
  • “The long history of arms control is now rich with data that can inform our path forward. A nuclear-only replacement agreement for the INF Treaty stands to provide, at a minimum, the short-term benefit of temporary stability. Any longer-term benefits require the negotiation of a treaty that is sufficiently flexible and dynamic, that anticipates violations and that affords access to information valuable to security. For the United States, whoever is elected president in 2020 should proceed with this in mind.”


“Worried About an Islamic State Comeback? Here's Why That's Unlikely,” Daniel Byman, The Washington Post, 10.29.19The author, a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, writes:

  • “The Islamic State may make some modest gains with the U.S. gone—but as the Baghdadi raid reveals, the U.S.-led counterterrorism campaign will not end and a full comeback is unlikely.”
  • “[T]he Islamic State doesn't have some of the advantages it did in 2011. The Iraqi regime is treating Sunni Muslims far better, and its military and intelligence services are more competent and aggressive. Moreover, Iraqi Sunnis who lived under the former caliphate are not eager for ISIS to return.”
  • “Nor is the Islamic State likely to have as much freedom in Syria as it had before. Turkey … has been attacked by ISIS, and is fighting instead of tolerating jihadists. … European countries have gotten better at preventing terrorist attacks. … Russia and Syria, now working with the SDF, oppose the Islamic State.”
  • “Meanwhile, the U.S. raid on Baghdadi suggests that the U.S. and its allies will continue to try to kill Islamic State leaders in Iraq and Syria … Social media platforms have become far more aggressive in removing ISIS propaganda and recruiting accounts and blocking jihadist content. The U.S. government has become more tech-savvy as well, monitoring suspected terrorists who used these platforms.”

Conflict in Syria:

“Russia in the Middle East: Jack of All Trades, Master of None,” Eugene Rumer, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 10.31.19The author, director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “The geopolitical realignment and instability caused by the civil wars in Libya and Syria and the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia have opened opportunities for Russia to rebuild some of the old relationships and to build new ones.”
  • “The most dramatic turnaround in relations in recent years has occurred between Russia and Israel. … Russian-Iranian relations have undergone an unusual transformation as a result of the Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war. Their joint victory is likely to lead to a divergence of their interests.”
  • “Russian-Turkish relations have received an upgrade as a result of Russia’s intervention in Syria. … Much like Turkey, Saudi Arabia had no choice but to upgrade its relationship with Russia. … Russia’s return to North Africa too has to be considered against the backdrop of the United States’ disengagement from the region.”
  • “By reversing the course of the Syrian civil war and saving an old client, Moscow sent a message to other Middle Eastern regimes that it is a reliable partner. That said, one of Russia’s key accomplishments is also symbolic of the limits of its power and influence in the Middle East. In a region torn by fierce rivalries, the ability to talk to everyone without taking sides has limited utility. Absent major capabilities for power projection and economic resources, and with its diplomatic capital confined largely to a well-advertised willingness to talk to all parties, Russia’s clout is not sufficient to resolve any of the region’s myriad problems.”
  • “For the United States, Russia’s return to the Middle East is important, but hardly a seismic shift. Much of what Russia has accomplished is owed to the United States reconsidering its commitments in the region.”

“Understanding Russia's Intervention in Syria,” Samuel Charap, Elina Treyger and Edward Geist RAND Corporation, 10.31.19The authors of the report write:

  • “Moscow's decision to intervene in Syria in 2015 resulted from an extraordinary confluence of political drivers and military conditions.”
  • “Three political factors emerge as primary drivers of the decision: the perception that an adverse military outcome—the collapse of the Assad regime—was imminent and that it could be prevented by intervening; the belief that this outcome would have had grave security implications; and the view that alternative means (e.g., diplomacy) had proven futile.”
  • “Several enabling military factors specific to Syria constituted necessary preconditions for the intervention: air access to the theater, permission to use ports and airbases and the presence of allies on the ground.”
  • “Intervention short of the direct, overt use of the military seen in Syria in 2015, but greater than mere diplomacy, requires that the conflict in question present a high level of threat … promise significant geopolitical benefits … or demonstrate moderate levels of both.”
  • “Russia is unlikely to intervene on a scale comparable to the 2015 action in Syria in any of the other three countries examined in the report—Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan. The drivers for such an action are currently absent.”

“Putin and Erdogan’s Deal for Syria Can’t Last,” Chris Miller, Foreign Policy, 10.28.19The author, an assistant professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, writes:

  • “It is unclear, though, whether the [Russian-Turkish Syria] deal will hold. Turkey and Russia may be committed, but it is unlikely that the other combatants will abide by the deal.”
  • “Ankara is wrong to think that the Syrian Kurdish question is closed. True, the joint patrols envisaged by the Putin-Erdogan accord could keep YPG units away from the border. But … holding territory with an organized army is not the only way that Kurdish militias can wage war.”
  • “The Syrian regime is unlikely to give up its push to retake the Idlib region in northwestern Syria … All sides think they can improve their position with further fighting. Trump’s withdrawal may have changed the balance of power in Syria, but the Putin-Erdogan deal that resulted is unlikely to end the war.”

“Managed Chaos: Russia’s Deal With Turkey on Northern Syria,” Gustav Gressel, European Council on Foreign Relations, 11.03.19The author, the acting director and a senior policy fellow with the Wider Europe Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, writes:

  • “Russia will not only have to deal with the Kurds as they try to preserve as much independence from it as they can afford, but will also have to manage Iranian-Israeli clashes. Iran, Israel and Turkey are all in a position to undermine Moscow’s efforts but unable to control events in Syria using only their own resources. Thus, there is little reason to think that Syria will become any more stable in the coming months.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

  • No significant commentary.

Energy exports from CIS:

“The US Dithered Too Long on Russia's Nord Stream 2 Project. Denmark has lifted its block on the Russian pipeline, and now it’s too late for sanctions to work,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg/The Moscow Times, 11.01.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “Nord Stream 2 is part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan to send natural gas to Europe without needing to go through Ukraine. The new pipeline will be able to carry 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas, more than half of what Russia now pumps through the Ukrainian system, and would mean for Ukraine a loss of $3 billion a year in gas transit revenues.”
  • “The U.S. would like to prevent this, and also keep relatively cheap Russian gas from becoming an obstacle to increasing exports of U.S. liquefied natural gas to Europe.”
  • “Meanwhile, Russia has rushed to lay the pipe. On Oct. 1, Gazprom … said construction was 83 percent finished, with 2,042 kilometers (1,270 miles) laid across the bottom of the Baltic Sea. There had been a snag, though: For two years, Denmark put off granting permission for the section that was to pass through its territorial waters. On Wednesday [Oct. 30], Denmark finally granted it, allowing the pipeline to take the shortest possible route, and Gazprom says that section can be built in five weeks.”
  • “Denmark could not have held the fort forever while the U.S. dithered. The recent spat over Trump’s interest in buying Greenland did little to encourage the Danish government to keep dragging its feet.”
  • “It’s too late for the U.S. to act. Sanctions against financing the pipeline could have been effective at the stage before European companies … provided what was needed. Sanctions against pipe-laying vehicles could have made a difference before the construction work began. In any case, they could have given Ukraine more time to renegotiate its gas-transit contract with Gazprom, which runs out at the end of this year.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant commentary.

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Putin Hosts African Leaders to Rile West, but With Little to Offer Them,” Paul Stronski, Axios, 10.24.19The author, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia program, writes:

  • “The pomp and circumstance of [the] Sochi summit, where President Vladimir Putin hosted 43 senior African leaders, furthers a narrative Russia is crafting about its return to the continent.”
  • “Putin's main goal was to rattle the U.S. and Europe, which have taken Russia’s decades-long absence from Africa for granted. Despite his hype, however, cash-strapped Russia’s reach on the continent is still a far cry from what China, the West and many lesser powers can muster when it comes to financing, trade, investment and even influence.”

“No Sentiment, All Pragmatism as Russia Unveils New Approach to Africa,” Andrey Maslov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.31.19The author, former head of the RosAfroExpertisa think tank, writes:

  • “In hosting the first Russia-Africa summit on Oct. 24 … Russia became one of the last major countries to hold an event in this format: similar forums devoted to Africa are already held by the United States, the EU, China, Japan, India and Turkey, while Brazil will host one in November.”
  • “[T]he summit was a success: 43 heads of state attended, along with delegations from all 54 African nations. In comparison, the U.S. event in 2014 attracted 34 heads of state, and the only country to have hosted more than Russia was China (with 48), whose involvement in the African economy is currently incomparably greater than Russia’s.”
  • “Unlike China or the EU, Russia managed to hold a summit with African countries without announcing long-term aid programs. The excitement over the writing off of $20 billion of African debt was unmerited. … Most of the writing off was done in 2006–2007 in connection with liabilities Russia had taken on as part of initiatives by the G8.”
  • “With heads of state in attendance and a declaration signed, it was undoubtedly a success for Russia’s Foreign Ministry. As for an institutional economic framework for what is being billed as ‘Russia’s return to Africa,’ it’s still early days.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“If China's Demography Will Determine Its Future, We Have Nothing to Worry About,” George F. Will, The Washington Post, 11.01.19The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Demography does not dictate any nation's destiny, but it shapes every nation's trajectory, so attention must be paid to Nicholas Eberstadt. He knows things that should occasion some American worries, but also knows more important things that should assuage some worries regarding Russia and China.”
  • “America can seek new friends and allies: By 2040, the populations of Indonesia and the Philippines could be 300 million and 140 million (by then larger than Russia's), respectively. Russia's and China's problems are more intractable.”
  • “Regarding population and human capital, Russia seems to be, Eberstadt says, in ‘all but irremediable decline.’ In 2016, males 15 years old had a life expectancy shorter than their Haitian counterparts, and 15-year-old females' life expectancy was only slightly better than those in the least developed countries. With a population of 145 million, Russia has less privately held wealth than do the 10 million Swedes.”
  • “Much more important is what Eberstadt calls China's ‘collapse in fertility.’ Although China's working-age population … almost doubled between 1975 and 2010, fertility has been below the replacement level for at least 25 years. … India probably will replace China as the most populous nation by 2030, and by 2040 India's working-age population might be 200 million larger than China's.”
  • “It is the projection that China's four decades of economic ascent will continue unabated, making that nation an irresistible force.”


“From the Start, Ukraine Tried to Woo Trump,” Andrew E. Kramer, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lipton, New York Times, 11.04.19The authors, correspondents and reporters for the news outlet, write:

  • “Long before a telephone call with Ukraine's president that prompted an impeachment inquiry, President Trump was exchanging political favors with a different Ukrainian leader, who desperately sought American help for his country's struggle against Russian aggression.”
  • “Petro O. Poroshenko, Ukraine's president until May, waged an elaborate campaign to win over Mr. Trump at a time when advisers had convinced Mr. Trump that Ukraine was a nest of Hillary Clinton supporters.
  • “Mr. Poroshenko's campaign included trade deals that were politically expedient for Mr. Trump, meetings with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the freezing of potentially damaging criminal cases and attempts to use the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as a back channel. … Mr. Poroshenko's aides also scrambled to find ways to flatter the new American president.”
  • “An examination of the first year of Mr. Trump's dealings with Ukraine shows how the White House also saw the relationship as a transactional one that could help Mr. Trump politically. Mr. Poroshenko, so eager to gain favor as Russian-backed separatists were escalating a fight against the Ukrainian military, did his part to encourage this belief. He helped plant the seeds for Mr. Trump's July quid pro quo request to his successor, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.”
  • “Mr. Poroshenko's strategy yielded results. The Trump administration reversed an Obama-era moratorium on sales of lethal weapons that Ukraine sought for its fight against the separatists in the country's east. Near the end of 2017, just as the government in Kiev was trying to get final approval from the Trump administration on the sale of the Javelin anti-tank weapons, Mr. Poroshenko's prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, had begun freezing cases in Ukraine relevant to the Mueller investigation, including an inquiry tracing millions of dollars that Ukrainian political figures paid to Mr. Manafort.”

“How Much Have Trump’s Dealings With Ukraine Deviated From the Presidential Norm?” James Goldgeier and Elizabeth N. Saunders, The Washington Post/ Brookings Institution, 10.29.19The authors, senior fellows at Brookings, write:

  • “It certainly isn’t news to international relations scholars that democratic leaders consider domestic politics when making foreign policy.”
  • “Leaders have also talked about U.S. domestic politics with foreign leaders. For instance, Bill Clinton explained to Russian President Boris Yeltsin in May 1995 that adding countries like Poland to NATO would solidify the support he received from American voters of Central and Eastern European descent in his reelection bid … But Clinton [emphasized he] wasn’t asking Yeltsin for any favors.”
  • “Presidents also use special messengers for added credibility. During the Cuban missile crisis, John F. Kennedy relied heavily on his brother Robert, who was his attorney general, not his secretary of state, using him to make sure the Soviets knew when messages came directly from the president.”
  • “Nor is Trump the first president to contact foreign leaders through aides who don’t have official roles at all. … But while these messengers may have been loyalists or insiders, the message was still official U.S. national security policy.”
  • “Trump asking a foreign leader for help investigating a political rival crossed the line into using secret government communications and relations for personal gain.”

“President Trump’s Missed Opportunity With Ukraine,” Matthew Bunn, Los Angeles Times, 10.29.19The author, a professor of the practice at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, writes:

  • “Because of both the war and the mismanagement of previous governments, Ukraine is a country with a faltering economy. In 2018, it overtook Moldova to become the poorest country in Europe. But Trump did not ask what steps the United States and Ukraine could take together to strengthen trade, help Ukraine’s economy or alleviate the suffering of the Ukrainian people.”
  • “Ukraine is coping with deep and far-reaching corruption. But while Trump pushed for an investigation of his malignant fantasies of wrongdoing by Democrats, something with the potential to help him in his 2020 campaign, he did not talk about steps the United States could take to help Zelenskiy, who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, deal with the real corruption scourge.”
  • “The president of the United States could not care less about Ukraine and its problems. He is interested only in what Ukraine can do for him.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“A Belated Recognition of Genocide,” Samantha Power, New York Times, 10.30.19The author, a professor of the practice at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, writes:

  • “For too long, Turkey bullied America into silence. Not anymore. On Tuesday [Oct. 29], by a vote of 405 to 11, the House of Representatives defied the Turkish government's intimidation and, for the first time in 35 years, passed a resolution that recognized the Armenian genocide. In acknowledging the Ottoman Empire's killing of more than one million Armenians as 'genocide,' the House follows more than two dozen countries and 49 of 50 states.”
  • “The road to the House resolution offers two lessons that go beyond the United States and Turkey. First, as a baseline rule, for the sake of overall American credibility and for that of our diplomats, Washington officials must be empowered to tell the truth. … Second, when bullies feel their tactics are working, they generally bully more—a lesson worth bearing in mind in responding to threats from China and Saudi Arabia.”
  • “If Mr. Erdogan turns further away from a relationship that has been immensely beneficial for Turkey in favor of deepening ties with Russia or China, it will not be because the House voted to recognize the Armenian genocide. It will be because his own repressive tactics are coming to resemble those of the Russian and Chinese leaders. The House vote was overdue. Now the Senate, and President Trump, should follow suit. The facts of what occurred a century ago demand it.”

“What's Behind Protests Against China in Kazakhstan?” Temur Umarov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.30.19The author, an expert on China and Central Asia and a consultant at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “This fall will be remembered in Kazakhstan for a wave of anti-China protests there. Kazakhstan’s increasing debt to China, the growing presence of Chinese enterprises and goods, the inevitable scheme of trading oil for technology, and the persecution of Muslim Uighurs in neighboring Xinjiang are serving to strengthen Kazakh society’s fear of Chinese expansion.”
  • “The single biggest factor affecting perceptions of modern China in Kazakhstan is Beijing’s policy in China’s Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region, where Muslim Uighurs are being sent en masse to indoctrination camps. Many Kazakhs have come to the conclusion that the Chinese see all Muslims and Turkic people as nothing more than a source of terrorism and extremism.”
  • “About 1.5 million ethnic Kazakhs live in Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia, and among those rounded up and sent to the Chinese camps are nationals of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, whose relatives regularly picket the Chinese embassy.”
  • “Unhappiness with the country’s increasing dependence on Beijing has been mounting in Kazakhstan for some time now, not least because the Kazakh authorities (like others in the region) don’t know how to talk to people about the balance between problems and opportunities created by relations with China.”

“A Clenched Fist in Tajikistan,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 10.30.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “There are plenty of stories to be found in [Tajik President Emomali] Rahmon's nepotism; he has nine children, and many of them, as well as other relatives, have found cozy and lucrative spots in such places as the national bank. The president appears to be grooming his son, now mayor of the capital city, Dushanbe, as his successor. The president also has crushed free speech, blocked popular social media and news sites, jailed those who dare criticize him and chased dissidents abroad.”
  • “He should read closely the letters sent to him recently from members of Congress, which funds RFE/RL, cautioning that withholding press credentials for Radio Ozodi could endanger Tajikistan's U.S. security aid, which was $33 million in fiscal [year] 2019. Mr. Rahmon would be wise to grant all the press credentials now. His people would be better off for it, too.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Are Russians Rejecting Authoritarianism?” Harley Balzer, NYU Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia, 10.28.19The author, professor emeritus of government and international affairs at Georgetown University, writes:

  • “Mikhail Dmitriev, Anastasia Nikol’skaia and Sergei Belanovskii have tracked significant changes Russian’s views of Vladimir Putin’s domestic and foreign policies since the 2018 pension reform.”
  • “The latest report, for Liberal Mission in July 2019, noted both strong shifts in Russian’s view of themselves and their leaders and contradictions in the responses. The consensus that emerged following the annexation of Crimea has been replaced by a new, post-materialist and anti-elite consensus. The ruling elite is increasingly losing its legitimacy and its ability to communicate with the people.”
  • “Russians do not believe any politicians, including the opposition. Nor do they trust official media. Demand is growing for greater civic and political freedom, human rights and equality before the law. Despite a strong desire for change, Russians’ expectations of what is possible in the near term are realistic. Many say they would accept five years of lower living standards and up to two decades of adjustment if this would produce more responsive and responsible government.”
  • “Increasing civic activity reflects a growing desire to play a role in determining the nation’s development. A sober view of the Soviet past and demand for political freedom coexist with unprecedented approval of Stalin, Lenin, Brezhnev and Andropov.”
  • “Real demand for change is balanced by lack of any concrete alternative, but also a growing separatism in some regions … Russians express increasing willingness to protest, along with growing negative and aggressive feelings toward the authorities. However, lack of a positive unifying idea stymies moving beyond local protests to all-Russian political activity.”

“Post-Putin Uncertainty Means a Jittery Russian Elite and Brittle Regime,” Tatiana Stanovaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.01.19The author, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Amid the uncertainty, everyone is seeking to invest in the future distribution of power prerogatives now, by broadening as far as possible their contribution to the functioning of the system. The bigger a player’s share portfolio, the more rights they will receive in the process of deciding the corporation’s fate.”
  • “This is what is behind the overheated political services market: everyone is striving to claim exclusive functions for themselves that could later be required by Putin during the implementation of his plan for 2024, when he is obliged by the constitution to step down. The Moscow protests have created new opportunities for those who seek to be at the top of the wave during the period in which the regime’s fate will be decided.”
  • “The uncertainty is making the elites nervous. And unlike in 2012 … the jitters are only going to grow, which will exacerbate fears of any unpredictable events. … [T]he main reason for the authorities’ harsh reaction to the protests was that they couldn’t understand what they were really dealing with. And how could they, when no one knows what tomorrow will bring?”
  • “The stakes are far higher, and the circle of shareholders remains narrow, which means any external attempts to influence events will be firmly rebuffed—above all, liberal protest. All this is leading to the state’s growing isolation from society, and, consequently, to the authorities’ unwillingness to rule using methods other than force. The current construction of the regime looks as solid and sturdy as ever, but this solidity translates into a lack of flexibility and resistance to change, which is itself becoming a structural risk to the future of the system.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.