Russia Analytical Report, Oct. 4-12, 2021

This Week’s Highlights

The authors of a new RAND report “expect that the Sino-Russian relationship will continue...[and ]there is little that the United States can or should do to change the overall trajectory of Sino-Russian relations.”

The Biden administration should “promote verifiable arms-control negotiations... retain the emphasis on verifiability but frame it as a powerful tool for trust building,” writes Francesca Giovannini, executive director of the Belfer Center’s Project on Managing the Atom. “An example could be to launch a presidential initiative to enhance verification at nuclear test sites in Nevada, Novaya Zemlya (Russia) and Lop Nur Nuclear Test (China).”

“While precise [cyber] treaty language is unlikely, the two sides [the U.S. and Russia] could make unilateral statements about areas of self-restraint and establish a consultative process to contain conflict,” writes Harvard Prof. Joseph S. Nye. “Ideological differences would make a detailed agreement difficult, but even greater ideological differences did not prevent agreements to avoid escalation during the Cold War. Prudence can sometimes be more important than ideology.”

According to Sergei Kapitonov, a gas analyst at the Energy Center of the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo, “[t]he current turbulence on the gas market is largely down to Europe itself. Over the last fifteen years, it was the EU countries that built the model of pricing that ensures low prices when demand is low (like last year, due to the pandemic), but means that when demand is high, prices soar.” The FT’s Opinion Lex faults the EU for the current energy crunch, asserting that “the bloc has increased its gas dependency on Russia over the past decade despite U.S. warnings against doing so.”

“Ukraine has already waited a long time [for a NATO MAP]. It will have to wait longer,” writes Brookings’ Steven Pifer. “What should Kyiv do? Here are three recommendations. First, stop asking for a MAP. … Second, load up Ukraine’s annual national program with the substance of a MAP. ... Third, having agreed a program with NATO, implement, implement and implement more.”

“The Russia-related portion of the Pandora Papers ... appears to be disappointing. The findings are dated, relatively insignificant or both,” writes Bloomberg columnist and long-time Russia watcher Leonid Bershidsky. “Rather than panic in the face of Western pressure which has shut off some of the previous opportunities, these powerful people [the Russian president’s circle] cut their losses and turned their attention inward focused on coup-proofing. Some of the golden eggs they’d scattered around have been lost, but they still have the hen that lays them—Russia—firmly by the throat.”


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.

Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:

“To Counter Russia and China, Make ‘Spheres of Influence’ Great Again,” David T. Pyne, The National Interest, 10.11.21. The author, a former U.S. Army combat arms and H.Q. staff officer, writes:

  • “To ... ensure America’s survival, U.S. leaders must replace their pursuit of hegemony … with one of strategic retrenchment and offshore balancing. ... [Which] could be accompanied by the pursuit of a U.S. diplomatic ‘peace offensive’ and the negotiation of a global sphere of influence agreement that safeguards vital U.S. interests to avert the increasing likelihood of an unintended and cataclysmic war with Russia or China.”
  • “A global sphere of influence between the United States, Russia and China might have similar success for the entire world. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly expressed that one of his chief foreign policy objectives is the conclusion of a ‘new Yalta’ agreement. In such a schema, the world would be divided into regions, each with its own dominant regional hegemon, with the overriding objective of promoting great power stability and peace.”
  • “Today, the United States might even agree to withdraw from NATO, which would continue to function as a European-led rather than U.S.-led alliance, in exchange for a Russian withdrawal from its alliance with China and an end to all Sino-Russian military cooperation and mutual assistance.”
  • “As Graham Allison explained in an op-ed published by Foreign Affairs, ... Russia and China already have their own spheres of influence … whether U.S. leaders recognize them or not. Repeated U.S. military incursions into these spheres of influence since the end of the Cold War … has provoked both to ally more closely together militarily. … Most urgently, U.S. leaders should immediately inform Moscow and Beijing that America will not intervene militarily in any potential wars over Taiwan or the former Soviet republics (all of which are indefensible anyway), essentially renouncing future U.S military interventions in their spheres of influence.”
  • “As history shows, nothing has united Russia and China more than America’s short-sighted attempts to project its power into Eastern Europe and East Asia along with its efforts to become the dominant superpower. Without America instigating their ire, their historically adversarial relationship might have resumed long ago.”

“History Shows that Deterrence will Defeat China and Russia,” Peter Huessy, The National Interest, 10.10.21. The author, director of strategic deterrent studies at the Mitchell Institute, writes:

  • “Much of the present discussion in Washington centers on two large budget bills on Capitol Hill. One is focused on infrastructure and the other on entitlement expansions of daycare and healthcare, as well as climate change programs. ... However, a third vital budget bill that funds the entire federal government’s operations, including the Department of Defense, also looms. Lessons from history can help put these bills in perspective.”
  • “Defending the United States requires greater spending, yet other, optional budget proposals surpass new spending for the defense budget. Past experience shows this is a mistake. Greater priority should be given to the defense budget rather than trillions to new social spending.”
  • “The rise of authoritarian regimes in China and Russia presents a worrisome trend to remaining democratic bulwarks around the world. Appeals of restraint are not going to work. Japan recently urged China to exercise such restraint regarding Taiwan. A Chinese television channel responded that if Japan came to the defense of Taiwan, China would bomb Japan with nuclear weapons until Japan ‘for the second time’ unconditionally surrendered.” 
  • “History shows that increased entitlement spending will not deter China or Russia. Increased spending on defense and deterrence will.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“China-Russia Cooperation: Determining Factors, Future Trajectories, Implications for the United States,” Andrew Radin, Andrew Scobell, Elina Treyger, J.D. Williams, Logan Ma, Howard J. Shatz, Sean M. Zeigler, Eugeniu Han and Clint Reach, RAND Corporation, October 2021.The authors of the report write:

  • “The authors find that the main motivations for closer 21st century cooperation between China and Russia are the declining relative power of the United States and the persistent perceived threat from the United States to both China and Russia. If current trends continue, the authors expect the collaborative relationship between China and Russia to be sustained.”
  • “Absent major (and likely undesirable) changes in U.S. policy, there is little the U.S. government or Army can do to influence the trajectory of the China-Russia relationship. The U.S. military can prepare for the results of greater Sino-Russian cooperation.”
  • “Key Findings: The authors expect that the Sino-Russian relationship will continue to strengthen because of trends in the balance of power and the continuation of U.S. policies that indicate aggressive U.S. intentions to China and Russia. ... A desire for independence and divergent political interests will lead China and Russia to avoid the risks that might emerge from closer cooperation … Aggregate power and the perceived threat from the United States have consistently been at the heart of the China-Russia relationship. … The authors project that China's relative share of power will increase relative to the United States and Russia at least through 2022 and that aggregate Chinese and Russian power will continue to approach, but not exceed, U.S. power through 2022.”
  • “Recommendations: There is little that the United States can or should do to change the overall trajectory of Sino-Russian relations, given current overall U.S. policy priorities, especially policy toward Russia. … Given the likelihood of continued Chinese-Russian military technical cooperation, the U.S. military must prepare to encounter increasingly sophisticated weapon systems in greater numbers … The potential for Chinese-Russian joint military planning complicates U.S. military calculus and should drive a reevaluation of contingency plans. … The potential for enhanced global presence by Chinese and Russian forces … increases the likelihood of contact and perhaps confrontation with those forces on a global scale.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“One Man Shouldn’t Control the Nuclear Button. Congress should require consultation, so generals wouldn’t have to break the rules to save the world,” William J. Perry, Wall Street Journal, 10.04.21. The author, a former U.S. Secretary of Defense, writes:

  • “Gen. Mark Milley is being criticized for taking actions to forestall the possibility of an inappropriate nuclear launch order by President Trump. … Gen. Milley was ostensibly concerned that Mr. Trump was unstable and might order a nuclear launch for political reasons. The general told Congress last month that because he believed China had unwarranted worries of a U.S. attack, he acted to ‘de-escalate’ the situation and contacted his Chinese counterparts to indicate that no attack was planned.”
  • “Gen. Milley should be praised, not condemned, for seeking to avoid a nuclear holocaust. America is fortunate to have military leaders with the judgment and courage to take such actions, even when it means disregarding policy. Punishing Gen. Milley could make it harder for his successors to act with the same courage.”
  • “The problem is not that Gen. Milley deviated from policy; the problem is the policy. No president should have the sole authority to start a nuclear war. The Constitution gives war-making responsibility to Congress, and launching a nuclear strike is certainly starting a war. … But we have more than enough submarine missiles to respond with devastating force to any attack, even one that wiped out our silos. We can ride out any presumed attack until we are certain it is happening.”
  • “False alarms have happened and will continue to happen, particularly in the age of cyberwars. We should never launch our nuclear missiles in haste, and our force structure is powerful and diverse enough that we don’t have to.”
  • “A decision to launch nuclear forces requires serious deliberation and appropriate consultation. We should … establish [a policy] that allows for deliberation, including consultation with leaders in Congress. Such a policy would pre-empt the perceived need of military leaders to break the rules to save the world.”

“Will the Nuclear Posture Review Reveal the Biden Doctrine?” Francesca Giovannini, The National Interest, 10.12.21. The author, the executive director of the Project on Managing the Atom at the Belfer Center, writes:

  • “U.S. nuclear posture in the twenty-first century should be ultimately inspired by restraint, caution and intentionality for two reasons. Firstly, the experience of the Trump administration clearly suggests that a more aggressive reliance on nuclear weapons does not necessarily translate into greater geostrategic gains. … Secondly, the pursuit of a more extensive role for nuclear weapons will require greater investments beyond simple nuclear modernization.”
  • “Revoke the introduction of a new category of low-yield nuclear weapons. … A move toward expanding the current U.S. nuclear arsenal will be cast as out-of-touch with the needs of the country and a gross betrayal of the Biden agenda focused on proving that ‘democracy can work’ by maintaining the U.S. technological and innovation edge and investing in infrastructure and welfare programs.”
  • “Promote verifiable arms-control negotiations. … The Biden administration should retain the emphasis on verifiability but frame it as a powerful tool for trust building. An example could be to launch a presidential initiative to enhance verification at nuclear test sites in Nevada, Novaya Zemlya (Russia) and Lop Nur Nuclear Test (China).”
  • “Align U.S. nuclear posture with Biden’s economic and social priorities. … The current estimated costs for the U.S. nuclear modernization near $1.2 trillion and there are currently no plans to cover such costs. To be credible from this point forward, any Biden administration NPR will have to include some ideas for how to cover these costs … The administration could consider whether a public-private partnership would help the United States achieve its modernization goals.”
  • “Restraint is not weakness … By choosing restraint, the United States will set the conditions for a possible return to a more orderly international system where competition exists within the boundaries of international law and human values.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

“Bashar al-Assad Steps In From the Cold, but Syria Is Still Shattered,” Ben Hubbard, New York Times, 10.11.21. The author, Beirut bureau chief for the news outlet, writes:

  • “For a man who has spent the last decade battling armed rebels, being shunned in international forums and watching a brutal civil war dismantle his economy, the past few weeks have been good to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.”
  • “Senior officials from Lebanon appealed for his help with chronic electricity cuts. … His economy minister rubbed shoulders with his counterpart from the United Arab Emirates at a trade expo in Dubai. … The United States, which has heavily sanctioned him and his associates, backed a plan to revive a gas pipeline through his territory. … And he spoke by phone with King Abdullah II of Jordan, his neighbor to the south, for the first time in 10 years.”
  • “The Biden administration has taken a less aggressive approach toward Mr. al-Assad than former President Donald J. Trump, but the Biden administration has still discouraged its Arab partners from normalizing relations. In an interview, a senior Biden administration official said it was clear that Mr. al-Assad had survived and that sanctions had yielded few concessions, so the administration preferred to focus on other issues, including fighting the coronavirus pandemic, assuaging economic distress in the region and limiting Iranian influence.”

“Biden is tacitly endorsing Assad's normalization,” Josh Rogin, The Washington Post, 10.07.21. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Ever since he met President Biden at the White House in July, Jordan's King Abdullah II has been leading a rapid regional normalization of the Bashar al-Assad regime. This runs counter to U.S.-Syria policy and counter to U.S. law.”
  • “Proponents of normalization argue that 10 years of isolation and pressure on Assad have not produced any progress on a political settlement, while sanctions have exacerbated Syrians’ suffering. They also argue that Arab engagement can dilute Iranian power in Syria. ... The glaring problem with this approach is that the Assad regime and Russia have violated every deal they've struck with local groups, subjecting them to new cruelty and suffering. The long-term result will be more extremism, refugees and destabilization.”
  • “There are no good choices in Syria, but tacitly allowing a mass murderer to be welcomed back into the diplomatic fold is not an acceptable choice. Normalizing Assad won't end the war, and looking the other way is a morally and strategically bankrupt strategy.”

Cyber security:

US-Russian Cyber Stability Needs ‘Drunken Party’ Approach: Limits, Deterrence and Communication,” Joseph S. Nye, Russia Matters, 10.06.21. The author, a professor at Harvard University, writes:

  • “Even though a cyber treaty would be unverifiable, it may still be possible to set limits on certain types of behavior and to negotiate rough rules of the road by combining deterrence and norms and appealing to the self-interest of the states involved.”
  • “While precise treaty language is unlikely, the two sides could make unilateral statements about areas of self-restraint and establish a consultative process to contain conflict. Ideological differences would make a detailed agreement difficult, but even greater ideological differences did not prevent agreements to avoid escalation during the Cold War. Prudence can sometimes be more important than ideology.”
  • “Red lines must be enforced to be effective. But the focus of the warnings should be on the amount of damage done, not on precise lines or methods. An analogy is telling the hosts of a drunken party that if the noise gets too loud, you will call the police. The objective is not the impossible one of stopping the music, but the more practical one of lowering the volume to a more tolerable level.”
  • “Non-state actors often act as state proxies to varying degrees, but U.S.-Russian rules of the road could require their identification and limitation. Ransomware is a case in point. Here the U.S. and Russia might cooperate by treating criminals as a third party and forgo their use as proxies.”
  • “And because the rules of the road will never be perfect, they must be accompanied by a consultative process that establishes a framework for warning and negotiation. Such a process, together with implementation of stronger deterrent threats, is unlikely to fully stop interference, but if it reduces the level, it could enhance stability in cyberspace.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“European Gas Crisis: Russia to the Rescue?” Sergei Kapitonov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.12.21. The author, a gas analyst at the Energy Center of the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo, writes:

  • “The current turbulence on the gas market is largely down to Europe itself. Over the last fifteen years, it was the EU countries that built the model of pricing that ensures low prices when demand is low … but means that when demand is high, prices soar.”
  • “Gazprom has been actively pushing the narrative that it has a vast surplus of production capacity compared with demand: about 150 billion cubic meters, according to Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller. .... Being capable, however, is not the same as being obliged to do so. Gazprom is not legally required to put any of its spot volumes (any supplies in excess of the long-term contracts) on the market for any reason. The same is true of transport capacity.”
  • “That logic may be entirely fair from a commercial point of view, but it doesn’t take into account the ‘Gazprom magic’ to which the company’s long-term and loyal partners have become accustomed. That’s the magic that enabled Gazprom to supply record-breaking daily volumes of gas to Europe for two whole weeks in the winter of 2018, during the ‘Beast from the East’ cold snap. ... But that aura of magic could disappear in a puff of smoke if it isn’t Gazprom that comes to Europe’s aid in the current crisis, but Norway, for example, or LNG suppliers.”
  • “Paradoxically, the EU has become a hostage of its own energy policy: in calmer times, it limited and reformed its cooperation with Gazprom, but when crisis hits, it appeals to the company to increase supplies. Yet Gazprom is still more than just another gas trader in Europe: the company is expected to wield power over and influence the market. It still dominates EU gas imports—accounting for more than 40 percent of them—and with that comes enormous responsibility. How Gazprom handles its unique position right now will determine the future of all Russian pipeline gas supplies to Europe.”

“Gas crisis/Russia: punished for past failings, EU and UK need transition plan,” Financial Times Opinion Lex, 10.11.21. The authors of the column write:

  • “Russia is often represented as a bear. The surge in natural gas prices suggests a bull might be a better emblem. Gas is a key Russian export and the EU has been running short of it. Soaring prices reflect low European inventory and high Asian demand. This gives Russia political leverage it is keen to exploit.”
  • “The EU has only itself to blame. The bloc has increased its gas dependency on Russia over the past decade despite U.S. warnings against doing so. At the same time, limited U.S. export capacity for liquefied natural gas means it cannot plug the supply gap.”
  • “The gas price spike is dealing apt punishment to EU and U.K. politicians for their short-sightedness. They can atone by writing energy transition plans featuring natural gas as a transitional and reserve fuel, supplied by the U.S. eagle as well as the Russian bear. That should make the latter pull in those bullish horns it has grown.”

“Russia is taking advantage of the energy squeeze,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 10.08.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “This has been a bad week for Europe’s energy consumers, but a satisfying one for Vladimir Putin. European benchmark gas prices on Friday [Oct. 8] were six times higher than a year ago … Politicians once consoled themselves that Russia could never afford to cut off gas to Europe since that would crash its economy. Recent weeks have shown Moscow has no need to turn off the taps: in a supply crunch, it can exert outsize influence even while continuing to fulfil all its long-term contracts, simply by withholding any extra gas.”
  • “Confronting a push by customers to decarbonize, Russia, like OPEC in crude oil, is no doubt tempted to maximize revenues from the gas it can still sell—and send an unsubtle message about the risks of a hasty green transition. Moscow is also using the situation to press Berlin regulators to approve its newly-built Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.”
  • “EU’s response should be to step up moves to diversify energy sources and suppliers. It should accelerate, not slow, the switch to renewables, and expand its LNG infrastructure, contracting for more gas from Norway, Algeria, Qatar and the U.S.”
  • “Putin has also taunted ‘smart alecs’ in Brussels who he says have exacerbated today’s problems by pushing for ‘market-based’ pricing in an effort to boost competition in gas. Yet while being ready to shield the most vulnerable from sharp winter price swings, EU countries should not retreat from market mechanisms but seek to strengthen and complete them. They should insist on transparent pricing, unbundling and third-party access to pipeline networks—including for Russia.”

“Climate of Strategic Vulnerability; Putin is exploiting Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas,” Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal, 10.10.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Amid a border surge, pandemic and inflation, here's one problem that isn't (yet) weighing on the U.S. political system: an energy crisis. In Europe energy prices have risen by a factor of five in the last year, and Vladimir Putin is exploiting the situation for Russia's gain.”
  • “Europe's energy system … has left the Continent vulnerable to the global surge in oil and gas prices. The Financial Times reports that ‘the strength of the wind blowing across northern Europe has fallen by as much as 15 percent’ in 2021. That's reduced the productivity of European wind farms and increased reliance on natural gas, of which Russia is the main supplier.”
  • “That creates strategic leverage for Russia's Gazprom, which has been in no hurry to speed production despite requests from European politicians. ‘I think there are two factors, which could somewhat cool off the current situation,’ said Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak … ‘First of all, of course, this is, definitely, completion of certification and the fastest clearance for gas supplies via the completed Nord Stream 2.’ Got it? Speed up those clearances, and maybe we can see about that unfortunate gas shortage.”
  • “The predicament of America's European friends is especially striking against the backdrop of the Biden Administration's energy policy at home. … Energy supply is a key asset in the global balance of power. Russia and China know this, and the Biden Administration's obsession with unrealistic climate goals at the expense of energy security will do real harm to the U.S. economy and global interests.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

Russia’s relations with the U.S. and the West in general:

“Why the West has itself to blame for Russian corruption,” Toomas Hendrik Ilves, The Washington Post, 10.11.21. The author, the former president of Estonia, writes:

  • “On our side, taking money from totalitarians counted as bribery or as espionage—bringing severe criminal penalties and social disgrace [during the Cold War]. Today, the liberal democratic West has abandoned that one-time clarity. We have become partners in crime … We are the unindicted co-conspirators of our own demise and the destruction of Russia, collapsing under the weight of its corruption and thievery.”
  • “So it is not enough to celebrate the heroism of Navalny and his immense contributions to exposing the miasma of corruption in Russia. … To truly honor Navalny, we instead must confront the stench of our own liberal democratic West.”
  • “The revelations of the Pandora Papers … once again demonstrate that we ourselves are systematically complicit in the thievery and corruption that plague so many societies. It is this corruption, our corruption, that aids, abets and sustains, indeed nourishes the murderous looting of the Kremlin's boyars and their minions, as well as other odious regimes around the globe.”
  • “Worse, we cannot even speak about this publicly, for fear of bankruptcy. The great Catherine Belton, author of the searingly insightful book ‘Putin's People,’ is facing a ruinous personal lawsuit brought by the regime's insiders. The aim is not just to crush her, but to deter anyone else who dares to investigate the nexus of intelligence, business, organized crime and state power that gave birth to and sustains Russia's ruling elite.”
  • “We must impose transparency on anonymous shell companies. … We must impose visa bans on corrupt officials who aim to benefit from our institutions … The United Kingdom's unexplained wealth orders, which unfortunately are not widely or strictly applied, should be copied and rigorously enforced across our rule-of-law-based West. … We should honor Navalny not only because he exposes the grotesque thievery and destruction of human rights in Russia. He also holds a mirror up to our own complicity in his persecution and in the backwardness and poverty of Russia.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Why Putin’s Money Eludes Offshore Investigators. The Pandora Papers’ findings suggest that Russian kleptocrats are relying less on the West as a financial haven,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 10.05.21. The author, a Bloomberg columnist and long-time Russia watcher, writes:

  • “You would expect the biggest leak of offshore data in history to contain lots of damaging information about Russian President Vladimir Putin, or at least his close circle of friends. But the Russia-related portion of the Pandora Papers … appears to be disappointing. The findings are dated, relatively insignificant or both.”
  • “The international network coordinated by the U.S.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found 336 ‘politically exposed persons’ among 29,000 offshore beneficiaries, meaning about 1.2% of the shell company owners are officials or their close relatives and associates. The 19 politically exposed Russians make up only 0.4% of 4,400 Russian beneficiaries (the biggest ‘national delegation’ in the data). Only three Russians made the ICIJ’s list of 50 ‘power players.’” They are:
    • Konstantin Ernst, chief executive officer of state-controlled Channel One;
    • Svetlana Krivonogikh, who the now-banned Russian investigative outlet Proekt alleged was Putin’s ex-girlfriend; and
    • oil billionaire Gennady Timchenko, known to be close to Putin.
  • “The reporters themselves will probably disagree with me about the importance of what they unearthed, but I just can’t get excited about Timchenko’s alleged offshore dealings from 2007 and 2008, long before he was sanctioned by the U.S. government in the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine in 2014; or about Krivonogikh’s alleged apartment in Monaco, apparently acquired in 2003; or about a free voyage on an oligarch’s yacht, allegedly undertaken by Anton Vaino, then not yet Putin’s chief of staff, in 2012.” 
  • “The Putin elite has no hopes of escaping … to some Caribbean island to nurse exotic cocktails and their billions. The Russian president’s circle has dug in close to the sources of its wealth, fully intending never to be uprooted. Rather than panic in the face of Western pressure … these powerful people cut their losses and turned their attention inward, focused on coup-proofing. Some of the golden eggs they’d scattered around have been lost, but they still have the hen that lays them—Russia—firmly by the throat.”

“Repackaging Pandora: How Russia’s information apparatus is handling a massive leak of data on offshore finance,” Jessica Brandt, Brookings, 10.08.21. The author, a foreign policy fellow at Brookings and the policy director of its Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technology Initiative, writes:

  • “Almost immediately after the authors of the Pandora Papers report released it on Oct. 3, revelations of wrongdoing by powerful public figures, including in Russia, began reverberating within and beyond capitals. The catalogue of nearly 12 million leaked confidential records from firms in the offshore financial services industry documented how the wealthy and well-connected buy influence and shield their assets.”
  • “Also since Sunday [Oct. 3], Russian state media have been amplifying some of the project’s most troubling findings—including the United States’ emergence as a leading destination for sheltering dark money—while simultaneously trafficking in conspiracies about the origin of the leaks. State-controlled media have repeatedly boosted skepticism over the absence of U.S. officials in the documents, suggesting that Western leaders might have been ‘screened out’ from the data and that ‘recurring peculiarities’ point to ‘Washington’s hand behind’ the disclosures. In some cases, state-controlled media outlets have gone as far as to promote the idea that the revelations are a ‘political ploy’ and the work of Western intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency.”
  • “The Kremlin’s response highlights important facets of its evolving information strategy, which includes using Western alt-media outlets and influencers as a vector for peddling conspiracy theories that cast doubt on official versions of political events—in part to deflect blame and in part to depress trust in institutions within target societies. It also demonstrates an emphasis on amplifying factual information to promote narratives that denigrate democratic governments, using a massive state-controlled online media apparatus.”
  • “This has important implications for policymakers looking for avenues to push back on recent autocratic advances. It suggests that a global campaign to root out corruption and kleptocracy should be a pillar of that effort. That’s because corruption is an Achilles heel for autocratic—and democratic—governments.” 

“Why Not Navalny? Nobel Committee Honors Journalists Over Politicians,” Andrei Kolesnikov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.08.21. The author, a senior fellow at the center and chair of its Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program, writes:

  • “The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to someone who personifies freedom of speech: something that is crucial to prevent [Russian opposition politician Alexei] Navalny from remaining in an information vacuum, and therefore without public protection.”
  • “In the offices of Russia’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper, whose chief editor Dmitry Muratov is the latest Nobel Peace Prize laureate, there is a wall of photographs of staff members who were killed for carrying out their professional duty. Someone who works with that reminder hanging over their head every day knows … what that kind of journalism is worth.”
  • “There are two people in the drastically restricted uncensored sector of the media that the authorities truly respect and therefore have so far left alone. One is Muratov, the other is Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of the opposition-leaning Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) radio station. There are very senior figures who are prepared to maintain a dialogue with both men, and to take their opinions into account.”
  • The Norwegian Nobel Committee “clearly sees” the repression that has demoralized the Russian opposition movement. “It also sees that freedom of speech, for which people are losing their liberty and their lives, is in need of support right now in Russia.
  • “The most famous face on Novaya Gazeta’s wall of murdered colleagues is that of Anna Politkovskaya, who has become a symbol of the state’s contempt for its duties to protect its people and uphold the right to freedom of speech. The day before the Nobel Prize was announced, Novaya Gazeta commemorated the 15th anniversary of Politkovskaya’s murder… The person who ordered her killing has never been identified, and the anniversary was a particularly despondent one this year, as it marked the expiration of the statute of limitations on investigating the crime. In some ways, the Nobel Peace Prize is not just for Muratov, but for Anna Politkovskaya too.”

“Authoritarian Rallying as Reputational Cascade? Evidence from Putin’s Popularity Surge after Crimea,” Henry Hale, American Political Science Review, 09.27.21. The author, a professor at George Washington University, writes:

  • “We know popular support frequently rises for leaders who bring their countries into war or whose lands are attacked… Such ‘rally effects’ are important to understand not only because they can potentially sustain a leader in power but also because research finds they can create incentives to initiate international conflict.”
  • “Virtually all existing theory on rallying around the flag assumes that rallies are sincere, that individuals are changing their actual preferences regarding their leadership... It is well established, however, that people often harbor what Kuran … has called ‘dual preferences,’ one set of ‘sincere’ or ‘private’ dispositions and a diverging set of ‘public’ dispositions expressed in social settings.”
  • “A large share of the rallying around the flag observed in Russia following Putin’s annexation of Crimea involves at least one form of dissembling, a phenomenon that has not been recognized in prior quantitative studies of rallying. Specifically, … 75% of all ralliers [sic] are revealed to have falsely claimed a more supportive overall relationship to Putin after the Crimea annexation than in fact was the case, misleadingly reporting that they had voted for him in the most recent presidential election.”
  • “Reputational cascade theory can account for the appearance of surges in patriotism that most theories put at the heart of rallying but can do so without presuming everyone expressing such patriotism is (a) sincerely feeling it and (b) genuinely viewing the leader as the embodiment of the nation. That is, at least some of what public opinion research registers as patriotism may in fact be only a public expression of patriotism that diverges from privately held attitudes. Recent research indeed finds that much of Russians’ supposed patriotic fervor is feigned accommodation to authorities’ demands.”

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:

“Researcher or Spy? Maxim Shugaley Saga Points to How Russia Now Builds Influence Abroad; Jailed in Libya, the field researcher has since turned up across Africa and now Afghanistan as the Kremlin's friends pursue Russia's strategic goals,” Jared Malsin and Thomas Grove, Wall Street Journal, 10.05.21. The authors, Middle East correspondent and Moscow reporter for the news outlet, write:

  • “Among the first Russians to arrive in Kabul after the Taliban takeover in August was Maxim Shugaley, a shadowy figure working for Kremlin ally Yevgeniy Prigozhin, whom the U.S. holds responsible for interfering in the 2016 election. Mr. Shugaley, a political operator and sociologist, came to the Afghan capital with the goal of finding areas where the Taliban could work with the political and security network led by Mr. Prigozhin … Mr. Shugaley met top officials in the Islamist group and conducted opinion polls and interviews to determine where Moscow's opportunities might lie.”
  • “From Libya to Madagascar and now Afghanistan, the unusual career path of Mr. Shugaley provides an insight into how Moscow seeks to make friends and influence governments in places where America's sway is fading. The 55-year-old typically casts himself as a researcher who gets caught up in events beyond his control. He was imprisoned in Tripoli for over a year on espionage charges during a sojourn there and became the subject of an action movie.”
  • “The Mueller investigation into the 2016 U.S. presidential election found that Mr. Prigozhin … funded the St. Petersburg troll farm that tried to skew the outcome. U.S. intelligence agencies say he maintains close ties to their Russian counterparts, his primary lever being the Wagner paramilitary force … The Treasury Department last year added to its sanctions on Mr. Prigozhin, saying he is believed to be the financier behind Wagner, which it described as a proxy for the Russian Defense Ministry.”
  • “Mr. Shugaley, now president of Mr. Prigozhin's Foundation for the Protection of National Values, has helped spread Russian soft power in places where U.S. influence is receding, intelligence officials and analysts say, in a way that can't be traced back directly to the Kremlin.”

“The Sorry State of Czech-Russian Relations,” Ondrej Ditrych, War on the Rocks, 10.05.21. The author, director of the Institute of International Relations Prague, writes:

  • “Moscow will likely avoid making waves at least until the upcoming Czech parliamentary election. After the elections, bilateral relations could develop in three broad directions.”
  • “First, Czech-Russian ties might remain frozen for the foreseeable future, limited to only occasional grandstanding and rhetorical spats. Ironically, for relations to remain the same, there would need to be a change in government. In other words, a democratic opposition profoundly skeptical of the Kremlin would need to win a majority of seats in the parliament and convince president Zeman not to obstruct the formation of a cabinet maintaining a status quo policy towards Russia.”
  • “A second possibility is that the Czech Republic could hit reverse and seek to appease Russia. This might happen if Prime Minister Babiš’ populist movement (ANO) manages to stay in power but wins fewer seats in the parliament.”
  • “Finally, bilateral relations could be set on a path of slow, gradual improvement. This could happen if Babiš—or someone close to him … remains, performing sufficiently well in the election together with a part of the democratic opposition whom he lures to govern with him to avoid alliance with the communists and national socialists.”
  • “Czech-Russian relations are now in ruins. The Vrbětice revelations [that GRU agents allegedly blew up a munition depot in that Czech village] were the last nail in the coffin. This was never a given, however, and to explain the current state, we have to look both at what Moscow has actually done … and how Russia has been constructed in Czech foreign policy scripts devised to find the newly independent country’s place in space and time … The irony is that efforts to seek this security have sometimes unnecessarily produced new anxieties in relation to Russia. Now that the base for Moscow’s spy operations has been dismantled following the Vrbětice revelations, it is important that the risks it poses are neither underestimated nor overhyped.”


“Ukraine and NATO — don’t ask, do,” Steven Pifer, Kyiv Post/Brookings Institution, 10.01.21. The author, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, writes:

  • “Ukraine has already waited a long time [for a NATO MAP]. It will have to wait longer. That is the reality for Ukraine.”
  • “If the alliance could not reach a consensus on giving Kyiv a MAP in 2008, it will not do so now, when Ukraine remains mired in the low-intensity military conflict that Russia has inflicted on it since 2014. Indeed, one reason why the Kremlin keeps that conflict simmering undoubtedly is to obstruct Ukraine’s efforts to forge stronger links with the West.”
  • “There should be candor between NATO and Ukrainian officials about the state of play with MAP, as there should be on Washington’s part. True, corruption remains a problem that Ukrainians must deal more effectively with, but it does not block a MAP.”
  • “What should Kyiv do? … First, stop asking for a MAP, especially in public. In the current circumstances, the answer will either be silence or no. Neither helps NATO-Ukraine relations. … Second, load up Ukraine’s annual national program with the substance of a MAP—U.S., British, Polish, Lithuanian and Canadian diplomats at NATO can advise on this—but, critically, do not call it a MAP. By all appearances, the negative reactions—both from Moscow and from within the alliance—are to the title, not the contents. … Third, having agreed a program with NATO, implement, implement and implement more. Implementation has not always been Kyiv’s strong suit. The more Ukraine does to strengthen interoperability with NATO military forces, meet alliance standards, and complete democratic, economic, military and security sector reforms, the better it will prepare itself for membership.”
  • “That should be Kyiv’s goal now. It should seek, without a formal MAP, to do everything it can so that Ukraine is ready, when the political circumstances change, to take advantage and advance its membership bid.”

“Debate on Holocaust site roils Ukraine,” David L. Stern, The Washington Post, 10.06.21. The author writes:

  • “The plan carries the weight of history: building what could be the world's biggest Holocaust memorial complex on the site of a 1941 massacre that claimed tens of thousands of lives over two days. … Yet it also is burdened with the complications of modern political rivalries, feuding visions and disputes over who has the final word in interpreting Ukraine's complicated past … It also marks the latest turn in Ukraine's decades-long attempts to find ways to remember the wartime deaths of up to 1.5 million Jews on its territory.”
  • “It all centers on Babyn Yar—also known by its Russian transliteration Babi Yar—a ravine on Kyiv's northwestern edge where Nazi forces and local collaborators rounded up and executed more than 33,000 Jewish men, women and children over two days beginning Sept. 29, 1941.”
  • “The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center proposes to build a $100 million complex of museums, research centers, works of art, an open-air audio and visual exhibits on more than 320 acres of land.”
  • “The critics point to Russian billionaires Mikhail Fridman and German Khan—the center's two main funders—and the Russian artistic director Ilya Khrzhanovsky. Moscow, the opponents assert, seeks to embed a ‘Russian’ view of the Holocaust in the proposed memorial complex.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Is Georgia’s Democracy Dying By 1,000 Cuts?” Lillian Posner, The National Interest, 10.09.21. The author, the assistant managing editor at the National Interest, writes:

  • “Another crucial Georgian run-off election is in the works … Although the Oct. 2 elections took place on the local level, they have had an outsized impact on the power struggle raging in Georgia between the ruling Georgian Dream Party and its political opponents. The leader of these opponents, former President Mikheil Saakashvili made a dramatic return from exile on the eve of the election. The country now awaits not only his trial but another round of heated run-off elections in four cities. How did an election of mayors and city council officials, who are among the least powerful in Europe, escalate into a referendum on the national government that experts warned could destabilize the entire country?”
  • “The true meaning of the Oct. 2 elections is still unfolding. The country will now head into runoff elections to decide the mayors of the four biggest cities. Meanwhile, Saakashvili awaits his trial, the outcome of which will be a major test for Georgian institutions, particularly as the prospects for judicial reform are slim. Regardless, neither Saakashvili’s UNM nor Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream have a clearly articulated vision for Georgia’s future. Rather than focus on the issues, the two parties have devoted their energies to undermining each other. If they continue, they will take Georgia’s once-lauded democratic institutions down with them.”