Russia Analytical Report, Sept. 20-27, 2021

This Week’s Highlights

“In some crucial ways, Russia and the United States were not so different—and Putin, for one, knew it,” writes Brookings’ Fiona Hill. “[T]he United States has begun to move closer to Russia, as populism, cronyism and corruption have sapped the strength of American democracy. ... [T]heir populations have proved equally susceptible to political manipulation. ... Trump put the United States on a path to autocracy, all the while promising to ‘make America great again.’ Likewise, Putin took Russia back toward the authoritarianism of the Soviet Union under the guise of strengthening the state and restoring the country’s global position.” 

“A future of great-power competition with China and Russia conjures images of world wars, cyberwars and trade wars. Those threats are real, but history tells us that—strange as it may seem—sudden seizures of small territories will continue to be the most common spark for wars and near wars between powerful nations,” writes Prof. Dan Altman. “Despite the small size of the territories seized, these events are not of small importance. And the world has not seen the last of them.”

“It seems inevitable that China, or any other country experiencing newfound strength, would become more ‘assertive.’ It is therefore unlikely that Moscow would strive to achieve even closer relations with Beijing by attempting, for example, to establish a formal alliance with China,” writes Prof. Alexander Lukin. “China has no need for Russia as an ally anyway: the trend toward assertiveness runs contrary to the idea of becoming tied down with formal obligations that could limit the country’s sovereignty and freedom to maneuver. It is, therefore, very likely that the peak of Russian-Chinese rapprochement has already passed.”

“For BRICS to lose significance, the United States would have to offer those members most suspicious of China—India and Brazil—attractive multilateral arrangements that would give them weight and due importance in global governance. Outside of this, there is little motivation for BRICS members to downgrade their commitments,” argues Manjari Chatterjee Miller, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Parliamentary elections in Russia matter to the West inasmuch as they are a barometer of the degree of political competition and or repression inside Russia,” writes Prof. Angela Stent, while Carnegie’s Tatiana Stanovaya argues that the election “detects internal splits … within the ruling elite over the problem of how to deal with the ruling party,” thus helping “us to better understand the nature of decision making in the Russian leadership.” Carnegie’s Andrei Kolesnikov writes that “the fight against so-called foreign agents and undesirable organizations will continue,” which “along with the Kremlin's historical policy of describing Russia's entire history as a defense against the West, is at the heart of current ideology and propaganda.” Meanwhile, Director of the Levada Center Denis Volkov notes that the West does not “show much interest in parliamentary elections in Russia, not considering routine diplomatic inquiries, purely academic observations and rather ritualistic denunciations of the non-democratic character of Russian elections.”


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:

“The Future of Conquest. Fights Over Small Places Could Spark the Next Big War,” Dan Altman, Foreign Affairs, 09.24.21. The author, an assistant professor of political science at Georgia State University, writes:

  • “Today, conquest looks like what Russia did in Crimea and what China could do once again in the South China Sea. … Unless the United States embraces a level of restraint not attempted since Pearl Harbor, sitting out future territorial conflicts may not come as easily as in the past. Too many of the world’s most dangerous flash points pit China or Russia against U.S. allies threatened by conquest.”
  • “Looking forward, possible Chinese and Russian conquests loom as many of the most consequential and plausible scenarios for conflicts among the world’s great powers. … Seizing and annexing Crimea and its more than two million inhabitants shattered the false hope that conquest was a thing of the past in Europe. It underscores why the next Russian conquest is the most pressing foreign threat to European stability. The question is, where will it occur?”
  • “The worst-case scenario envisions Russia openly invading the Baltics … Although any scenario this grave deserves serious assessment, the modern history of conquest provides reason to believe it is unlikely … The presence of NATO troops serving as a tripwire deployment in the Baltics further reinforces deterrence against Russian invasion.”
  • “[F]urther Russian encroachments in Ukraine and Georgia remain all too plausible. … When possible, the best response to ‘green men’ tactics is to defeat the incursion as if the opposition were truly rebels while not engaging Russia otherwise. … And by allowing Moscow to deny that it had been defeated, this approach offers the hope that Russia will accept a limited failure rather than escalate the conflict.”
  • “China and Russia will naturally doubt whether U.S. alliances, designed with larger aggressions in mind, extend to small territories. … Conversely, U.S. deterrence in many of its potential flash points with China suffers because American tripwire forces are absent. … Against Russia, the same is true for Ukraine and Georgia.”

“Anticipating Adversary Military Interventions,” Jennifer Kavanagh, Bryan Frederick, Nathan Chandler, Samuel Charap, Timothy R. Heath, Ariane M. Tabatabai, Edward Geist and Christian Curriden, RAND Corporation, September 2021. The authors of the report write:

  • “Concern over adversary interventions should be tempered—for now. … Overall, adversary military interventions, in number and in scale, remain far below the levels that the United States had to contend with during the Cold War. … Several factors could contribute to a shift toward substantially more-aggressive and larger-scale interventions, including intensification of U.S. rivalries with key adversaries (e.g., Russia or China), adversary perceptions of the threats posed by U.S. actions, or dramatic domestic changes in China or Iran that alter how these adversaries think about and use their military forces.”
  • “Intervention signposts should be prioritized … Adversaries are most likely to intervene in response to threats to interests in their home regions, including through military interventions involving combat. … Analysts may benefit most from watching for evidence of a shift in the regional balance of power or change to the status quo that threatens the adversary's influence or national status.”
  • “Of the three adversaries [Russia, China, Iran] considered, China represents the greatest potential risk to U.S. interests if geopolitical dynamics or shifting national interests were to change its military intervention policy … China has greater resources and, in some areas, capabilities than Russia or any other U.S. adversary. It also has an expanding set of strategic interests and ambitions outside its home region.”
  • “There are many scenarios that could lead to an increased frequency of Chinese military interventions. Such a shift in Chinese decision-making could occur following a sharp deterioration in U.S.-Chinese relations, which would place the two states on opposite sides of an intense militarized rivalry.”

“Russia's Military Interventions: Patterns, Drivers and Signposts,” Samuel Charap, Edward Geist, Bryan Frederick, John J. Drennan, Nathan Chandler and Jennifer Kavanagh, RAND Corporation, September 2021. The authors of the report write:

  • “Changes on the ground in post-Soviet Eurasia that create an external threat or the perception of a rapid change in the regional balance or in Russia’s status in ways that contradict Moscow's interests should be seen as potential triggers for military action. Moscow will not hesitate to act, including with force, in its immediate neighborhood.”
  • “Russia seems to act in ways that are consistent with a desire to avoid losses when it comes to regional power balances. Moscow has intervened when it perceived regional balances to be shifting away from a status quo that was favorable to Russian interests. U.S. planners should view potential future significant (perceived) losses for Russia as potential signposts for military action.”
  • “Although Russia intervenes in some cases in response to exogenous shocks, it often openly signals its interests and even its redlines. Prior to the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, Moscow made clear that it anticipated the need to act following the NATO Bucharest Summit. With Ukraine, Russia had made clear for years that it would react to perceived Western encroachment. Although Russian leaders have frequently uttered untruths about their country's actions and interests, there are genuine signals within the noise.”
  • “Russia's one combat intervention beyond post-Soviet Eurasia—Syria—does not appear to be setting the stage for a series of similar interventions. The success of the Syria intervention may have made the leadership more likely to consider undertaking an expeditionary intervention, but there are still significant logistical challenges for the Russian military beyond post-Soviet Eurasia.”

“What deters Russia. Enduring principles for responding to Moscow,” Keir Giles, Chatham House, 09.23.21. The author, Senior Consulting Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “Dealing with a bitter and belligerent Russia will be a long process demanding both resources and resolve. Accepting this fact is an essential precondition for crafting effective deterrence policy. … It is axiomatic, and has been demonstrated repeatedly over history, that Russia respects strength and despises compromise and accommodation. This strength must necessarily include military power, present and ready for use, to provide a visible counter to Russia’s own new capabilities.”
  • “Deterrence cannot stop Russia from wishing to damage the U.S. and the West more broadly, and finding ways to do so where it thinks actions will remain either undetected or unpunished. ... The best remaining option is to deter Moscow from intervention against members of NATO or the EU by causing it to believe that the costs will be too high because other members of the organizations will respond appropriately, as opposed to seeking a diplomatic solution or a back-door deal to evade their responsibilities and treaty obligations.”
  • “Critically, overall military superiority matters to Russia, as opposed solely to those assets and capabilities present in Europe. What Russia fears most is large-scale and protracted war with the U.S. or with NATO as a whole.”
  • “The following principles for effective deterrence of Russia [are recommended]: Recognize the limits of agreement … Engage, but do not appease … Avoid rewarding provocation. … Avoid self-deterrence … Assess the full spectrum of threat: NATO allies differ among themselves over where, and how, Russia presents a threat, in part because of differing attitudes within Europe to Russia as a whole. … Name and shame. … Avoid trade-offs … Communicate and deconflict. … Plan for contingencies.”

“Why BRICS Still Matters,” Manjari Chatterjee Miller, Foreign Policy, 09.27.21. The author, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes:

  • “The 13th BRICS Summit, featuring the five major emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, took place virtually earlier this month. … Modi’s speech was avidly covered by the Indian press, and the summit itself drew significant coverage by newspapers in India and China, the two most populous BRICS members. This attention stood in contrast to U.S. media coverage, where there was noticeable silence.”
  • “Global institutions like BRICS work … Such institutions work for three reasons. The first is institutions can act as forums for providing information to their members. … Second, countries usually agree to only participate in institutions that mesh with their key interests. … The third reason is institutions can enhance the reputations of members by providing them with visibility and a structure through which they can carry out complex activities.”
  • “This is not to say BRICS is infallible—particularly given border tension escalations between China and India and those two countries’ disagreements on the Belt and Road Initiative in South Asia. Despite this, BRICS is likely to continue and flourish precisely because of broader geopolitical dynamics. … China is focused on a long-term economics game through infrastructure, investment and building close networks with political elites in many developing countries … The BRICS agenda lines up with this strategy, and its members are unlikely to push back. … Russia has an excellent relationship with India and has grown closer to China. Brazil and South Africa have little to gain economically or politically by turning away from BRICS.”
  • “For BRICS to lose significance, the United States would have to offer those members most suspicious of China—India and Brazil—attractive multilateral arrangements that would give them weight and due importance in global governance. Outside of this, there is little motivation for BRICS members to downgrade their commitments.”

“Afghanistan: The West Fails – a Win for China and Russia?” Sabine Fischer and Angela Stanzel, SWP, September 2021. The authors, a senior fellow in the Eastern Europe and Eurasia Research Division at SWP and an associate in the Asia Research Division at SWP, write:

  • “Beijing and Moscow have so far been aligning their statements and positions on the situation in Afghanistan. On Aug. 30, by abstaining in the U.N. Security Council, they allowed for the adoption of a resolution calling on the Taliban to continue letting people leave the country and to not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for transnational terrorism. It is likely that they will continue this form of coordination at the international level. The continuing un-certainty prohibits further statements about how Russian and Chinese policy will develop. Provisional conclusions can be drawn, however, with what has been said so far.”
  • “For the time being, Russia will remain the most important security guarantor in Central Asia through its bilateral relations with the Central Asian states and through the Collective Security Treaty Organization … Beijing and Moscow will confine themselves primarily to security cooperation in Afghanistan and in the neighboring region of Central Asia.”
  • “Afghanistan will remain dependent on Western humanitarian and development aid in the future. … Fundamentally different approaches to development cooperation and the fights against terrorism and drugs make any practical cooperation [with the EU] difficult.”
  • “On a global level, Russia and China are benefiting from the weakening that the West has been experiencing since the withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, the new situation also confronts them with serious security challenges, for which they have no solutions so far. Western actors must take this into account and should not interpret Chinese and Russian policies only in a geo-political context.”
  • “The major conflict with the West overrides the common interest in regional security and will hinder cooperation that could serve the economic and political stabilization of Afghanistan and its neighborhood. The EU should nevertheless seek talks with both states, but above all with Beijing … Russia is a secondary player in this regard and will almost certainly follow China. Limited cooperation could lead to a slow improvement of the situation in Afghanistan—but it cannot be expected to substantially ease relations between the EU, Russia and China.”

“Is China worried about an Arctic choke point?” Jeremy Greenwood, Brookings Institution, 09.22.21. The author, a Federal Executive Fellow at Brookings, writes:

  • “With only 51 miles separating the eastern tip of mainland Russia and the western tip of mainland Alaska, with a scattering of U.S. and Russian islands in-between, the Bering Strait is an overlooked choke point in the world’s oceans. One must pass through it to access the so-called ‘Northern Sea Route’ passage across Russia’s northern coast, to access the Canadian Northwest Passage, or merely to chase lucrative fish stocks as they migrate further north in search of cooler waters in a warming climate. All of these economic issues are key to China’s Arctic ambitions and yet make them vulnerable to Russian and U.S. actions.”
  • “While Russia maintains close ties to China, it appears reluctant to accommodate the Arctic ambitions of a non-Arctic power. The idea that the Arctic should be governed by Arctic states is a small sliver of U.S.-Russian like-mindedness. Both the U.S. and Russia have touted the Arctic Council as the premiere forum for intergovernmental cooperation among Arctic states and were instrumental in delaying Chinese observer status from 2007 to 2013. These realities may not sit well with Chinese military planners.”
  • “We need not sacrifice the opportunity to remind Beijing of the importance of navigational rights and freedoms beyond the South China Sea. We can, and certainly should, continue to monitor and shadow these deployments near the U.S. homeland, but we gain far more advantage from upholding the international order in the face of Chinese provocation. As China continues its moves towards great naval power, the law of the sea will become more critical to their freedom of movement and access than their short-sighted actions in the South China Sea reflect.”

“On a Third Cold War,” Sergei A. Karaganov, Russia in Global Affairs, July–September 2021. The author, dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, writes:

  • “Over the last six months, most commentators have finally stopped saying that the relationship between Russia and the United States is ‘at its worst since the end of the Cold War’ and begun recognizing the obvious: a new Cold War is unfolding.”
  • “1st Cold War: The beginning of what we now call the Cold War essentially dates back to the October Revolution of 1917. ... That Cold War ended with World War II, although it was not its main cause. … 2nd Cold War: The second Cold War, more familiar to us, was without a doubt also fought for control over resources as well, but to a lesser extent on the part of the USSR. ... The late 1940s and the 1950s are generally considered the Cold War’s climax. The intensity of hostile, de facto war-like propaganda and the witch hunt in those days are similar to what we see today ... Since the mid-1990s, captured in euphoria from the seemingly final victory, the West began to make mistakes.”
  • 3rd Cold War: In the mid-2000s, the West began to realize that its historical gains were turning into geostrategic and, subsequently, geoeconomic losses, and it unleashed rearguard battles. In the second half of the 2000s, it started cranking up pressure on Russia first and then on China.”
  • “What are the chances in the current round unleashed against China and Russia? ... We have a good chance of winning this Cold War. ... We lost the previous round of the Cold War by taking on an overwhelming burden, among other things. Now Russia has an opportunity to become a balancer in the U.S.-China rivalry (more friendly toward China) and in the future system of Greater Eurasia.”
  • “In conclusion, the risk of a new world war is extremely high. The world is balancing on the edge, an active peace policy is an imperative. If the line is crossed, history will end and there will be no fourth Cold War or anything else.”

“European defense: the quest for ‘strategic autonomy,’” Henry Foy and Sam Fleming, Financial Times, 09.27.21. The authors, the European diplomatic correspondent and the Brussels bureau chief for the news outlet, write:

  • “For many EU states, particularly those in the east that look to NATO to provide an unwavering bulwark against Russia, even a distracted U.S. and a Britain outside the bloc are better than a Brussels-led security arrangement.”
  • “The setback in Afghanistan reignited a debate about whether the EU should establish its own army, for instance, but the concept is viewed with disdain by some member states and earned only a cursory mention in European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s state of the union address this month. ‘NATO, the U.S., the U.K.: this is our security policy. Without them we do not have national defense,’ says a senior diplomat from a former Warsaw Pact state. ‘We cannot imagine any arrangement that does not rely on the Americans, and the same goes for many countries in the east of the EU.’ The response in Moscow to the idea of NATO stepping back to be replaced by the EU would be laughter, the diplomat warns.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“Have We Passed the Peak of Sino-Russian Rapprochement?” Alexander Lukin, The Washington Quarterly, 09.22.21. The author, professor and head of the International Laboratory on World Worder Studies and the New Regionalism at HSE University in Moscow, writes:

  • “[T]he pressure that the United States and the West as a whole are exerting on Russia is much stronger and poses a much greater threat to its interests than does China’s growing assertiveness. This threat makes it necessary for Russia to strengthen its relationship with China. … This does not mean, however, that the Moscow leadership will long close its eyes to reality … Russia’s geopolitical and security imperatives are driving the bilateral relations with China, and the no-nonsense geopoliticians in the Kremlin understand this perfectly well.”
  • “If China becomes more powerful overall than the United States, it could lead to a serious change in the global balance of power and this, of course, would influence Russian foreign policy.”
  • “It seems inevitable that China, or any other country experiencing newfound strength, would become more ‘assertive.’ It is therefore unlikely that Moscow would strive to achieve even closer relations with Beijing by attempting, for example, to establish a formal alliance with China. China has no need for Russia as an ally anyway … It is, therefore, very likely that the peak of Russian-Chinese rapprochement has already passed. In the future, both parties will exercise greater pragmatism, although this might not find expression in slogans or official statements.”
  • “The Kremlin will continue to view China as a more reliable and amenable partner, one whose leaders do not demand that Russia alter its foreign or domestic policies in any way. … This does not mean Russia trusts China, nor that it does not have concerns about Beijing’s more assertive behavior or will come anywhere close to a more formal alliance. But it does mean Russia is more likely to pragmatically work together with China as a strong and important neighbor and a partner in balancing against the U.S. hegemony. Any possible changes in US policy will probably prove less of a deterrent to further Russian-Chinese rapprochement than will Russian concerns over China’s growing assertiveness.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

“Can Putin and Erdogan Reconcile Their ‘Diametrically Opposed’ Interests at Their Upcoming Summit?,” Mark Episkopos, The National Interest, 09.25.21. The author, a national security reporter for the magazine, writes:

  • “Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi on Sept. 29. The two leaders are expected to discuss the recent uptick in military tensions across northwestern Syria. Russian forces have reportedly intensified their airstrikes against the rebel outpost of Idlib in September, stoking fears in Ankara of further destabilization on Turkey’s southern borders. ‘The regime in Syria poses a threat in the south of Turkey. So, as a friend to Russia, I expect from [Vladimir Putin] Putin and Russia a different approach as a requirement of solidarity,’ said Erdogan on Friday [Sept. 24].”
  • “The two sides are not expected to reach any sort of lasting, long-term settlement on the fate of Idlib. Russian and Turkish interests in the region are ‘diametrically opposed,’ noted Russian political scientist Fyodor Lukyanov. ‘All the agreements that have been reached—about the withdrawal of militants [from northwestern Syria], that Turkey will relocate them somewhere else, because it has a large contingent there—they do not work,’ he added. Despite the ongoing Russian-Turkish impasse over larger questions of Syrian statehood, the summit could still be a boon for ongoing deconfliction efforts aimed at mitigating the risk of military escalation between Turkish-backed militants and Russian-sponsored Syrian government forces.”
  • “Kremlin officials are quick to deploy a well-rehearsed repertoire of outrage in response to perceived slights, but there is no real appetite in Moscow to potentially torpedo the fragile working relationship between the two countries over Turkey’s longstanding position on Crimea.”

Cyber issues:

“America Is Being Held for Ransom. It Must Fight Back,” Dmitri Alperovitch, The New York Times, 09.23.21. The author, chairman of the Silverado Policy Accelerator and a co-founder and former chief technology officer of CrowdStrike, writes:

  • “In 2015, U.S. intelligence and military professionals formed Task Force ARES and began a cyberwarfare campaign against the Islamic State while forces on the ground continued to drive out insurgents from Syria and Iraq. The digital operation targeted ISIS personnel with disinformation, disrupted their networks and locked them out of their servers and web accounts. The task force significantly disrupted ISIS' online activity and reduced its media operation to a shadow of its former self within six months.”
  • “The United States should build off the model used by Task Force ARES, targeting ransomware criminals' technical and financial infrastructure. Such a campaign could reveal personal details about the perpetrators, take down the ransom payment servers they are using to conduct operations, seize their cryptocurrency wallets and perhaps even introduce subtle bugs into their code that enable victims to unlock their data without paying a ransom.”
  • “Coupled with more aggressive law enforcement action as well as threats of severe sanctions, this type of offensive strategy is America's best bet to disrupt the onslaught of attacks originating from states more or less immune to diplomatic appeals.”
  • “The United States should also aim to undermine the ransomware financial model, which usually depends on payments made through anonymous cryptocurrency wallets. Again, this is something America already knows how to do. After the ransomware attack in May on Colonial Pipeline, which shut down 5,500 miles of pipeline along the East Coast, federal officials were able to recover most of the ransom payments paid with cryptocurrency.”
  • “In the short term, the Biden administration is right to bolster the federal government's defensive capabilities and to encourage private companies to do the same. But the United States must recognize that it will not be able to defend its way out of the ransomware problem.”

“Vladimir Putin is finally getting the Internet he wants,” Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, The Washington Post, 09.22.21. The co-authors of "The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia's Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries” write:

  • “Much of the … coverage depicted Moscow's crackdown on the two Silicon Valley platforms [Google and Apple] as just another part of the government's broader assault on freedom of expression. But focusing on that aspect, as accurate as it is, risks missing a bigger story. The Kremlin has made a strategic decision to decouple the Russian Internet—popularly known as the Runet—from the rest of cyberspace.”
  • “To be clear: The Kremlin doesn't want a Russian version of China's ‘Great Firewall,’ or to seal off the Runet entirely from the outside world. Instead, Vladimir Putin wants his subjects to rely on Russian-made services and applications, to communicate via Russian social media platforms, to watch videos on Russian-made platforms and to search for information using Russian-provided services. That way, he hopes, they will be dependent on the version of reality the Russian authorities are keen to promote.”
  • “In the 1990s, Russia adopted many Western technologies. That in turn enabled the astonishing rise of the Russian tech companies such as Yandex, Kaspersky Lab and many others. Now, in turn, it is the very success of these companies that makes Putin's entourage confident it can afford to bank on isolation once again.”
  • “The Soviet experience of technological autarky was a disaster. Could the Kremlin figure out a way to make it work this time? Putin seems to think so. The Russian authorities have made huge progress in introducing domestically produced cutting-edge surveillance technologies, including facial recognition systems, which they have successfully used to identity protesters.”
  • “These days, Putin doesn't need to smash the Internet equivalent of Xerox machines; he has a certain number of Russian alternatives he can exploit, at least for a time. But if the Kremlin succeeds in cutting Russia off from global cyberspace, it will ultimately pay in terms of lost development. For that is one consistent lesson from Russian history: The country has always modernized by interacting with the outside world, not by isolating itself.”

“Apple, Google, and the Kremlin’s Make-Believe Election,” Steven Feldstein and Andrew S. Weiss, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 09.23.21. The authors, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program and the James Family Chair and vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, write:

  • “Western tech firms were sucked into the vortex of the Kremlin’s crackdown on opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s organization in the run-up to last week’s predictably dull Duma elections. Even though Navalny has been in prison since January 2021, and while many of his key associates have since been arrested or encouraged to leave the country, the Kremlin’s hard-edged approach left nothing to chance.”
  • “Still, the Navalny team responded with characteristic pluck and defiance, releasing a series of humorous social media takedowns of Russia’s political stars. The team also promoted their ‘smart voting’ project, which centered on a mobile app for communicating with and mobilizing anti-regime voters.”
  • “But a surprise move by Apple and Google to remove the smart voting app from their online stores on the eve of the election upended these best-laid plans. As election day approached, the Russian authorities attacked Western tech companies for allegedly supporting Navalny’s efforts. … What was different this time was the Kremlin’s determination to limit how Western tech firms operate on its territory. The regime made a series of escalating claims against several tech firms, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube (which is owned by Google), and Telegram. … All this built up to the pressure campaign against Apple and Google that led them, on Sept. 17, to remove the Navalny team’s smart voting app from their respective app stores—ostensibly because the app represented a form of illegal interference in the Russian election process.”
  • “In the end, both Apple and Google complied with the Kremlin’s requests and made other concessions ... Both firms benefit disproportionately from the leading roles they enjoy in the Russian market.”
  • “Russia’s internet crackdown is disheartening, but it is not exceptional. Russia’s actions represent an escalating global trend of digital censorship and suppression. … Yet platforms can do more to push back against illegitimate requests and to provide greater public transparency when they face such pressures.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Dependency or Interdependency? Arguments Against Russia’s Nord Stream 2 Pipeline,” Kyle Fowler, NYU’s Jordan Center, September 2021. The author, a PhD candidate at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, writes:

  • “While critics of the Nord Stream 2 project are correct to note that the project will harm Ukraine’s interests, they also expect that deepening energy linkages between Russia and Germany will make Germany, and possibly even Europe more generally, subject to the same attempts at political coercion as Ukraine was before. These fears are rooted in a history of withdrawals in Ukraine and other former Soviet countries, but there are two reasons to doubt the likelihood of Moscow engaging in such a strategy.”
  • “First, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline has been operating since 2011. During the ensuing decade, Russia has not withdrawn supplies once, even during periods of heightened political tension such as in the wake of Sergei Skripal’s poisoning. While Moscow appears to see energy withdrawal as a viable geopolitical tool with Ukraine and others in the post-Soviet sphere, it appears reluctant to deploy this strategy in Western Europe.”
  • “Second, Germany and other Western European customers pay market rates for their Russian supply, whereas Russian oil and gas relationships in the post-Soviet sphere have been premised on below-market rates and growing debt to Moscow. Even if the withdrawals have been driven by geopolitical concerns, the presence of debt or a gap between current and market rates allows Moscow to use an economic, rather than geopolitical, justification for withdrawing supply.”
  • “As a result of Nord Stream 2’s completion, Russia will trade its interdependency with Ukraine for interdependency with Germany. However, it is unclear that Moscow would wield its relationship with Berlin in the same way that it conducts itself with Kyiv, and the benefits Ukraine currently enjoys as a result of its role in gas transmission should also accrue to Germany. Therefore, while concerns about the Nord Stream 2 project lessening Ukraine’s leverage with Russia are justified, anxieties about growing German and European reliance on Russia may be overblown.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“How Putin Exploits American Dysfunction and Fuels American Decline,” Fiona Hill, Foreign Affairs, 09.27.21. The author, the Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes:

  • “[I]n recent years … the United States has begun to move closer to Russia, as populism, cronyism and corruption have sapped the strength of American democracy. … Putin realized that … beneath the surface, the United States was beginning to resemble his own country: a place where self-dealing elites had hollowed out vital institutions and where alienated, frustrated people were increasingly open to populist and authoritarian appeals.”
  • “All of Putin’s machinations greatly impressed Trump. He wanted to ‘get along’ with Russia and with Putin personally. Practically the only thing Trump ever said to me during my time in his administration was to ask, in reference to Putin, ‘Am I going to like him?’”
  • “The event that most clearly revealed the convergence of politics in the United States and Russia during Trump’s term was his disorganized but deadly serious attempt to stage a self-coup and halt the peaceful transfer of executive power after he lost the 2020 election to Biden. … Trump put the United States on a path to autocracy, all the while promising to ‘make America great again.’ Likewise, Putin took Russia back toward the authoritarianism of the Soviet Union under the guise of strengthening the state and restoring the country’s global position.”
  • “In truth, most American policymakers simply wish that Russia would just go away so they can refocus their attention on what really matters. For their Russian counterparts, however, the United States still represents the main opponent.”
  • “The primary problem for the Biden administration in dealing with Russia is rooted in the domestic politics of the United States and Russia rather than their foreign policies. … Making the United States and its society more resilient and less vulnerable to manipulation by tackling inequality, corruption and polarization will require innovative policies across a huge range of issues. … Most important, Biden must do everything in his power to restore trust in government and to promote fairness, equity and justice.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russia’s election apathy bodes ill for the country’s future,” Andrei Kolesnikov, Financial Times, 09.20.21. The author, a senior fellow and chair of the Russian Domestic Politics Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • In a system in which the state is the main player, arbiter, and employer, elections are a ritual of anticipatory obedience. But by carefully cultivating a submissive population, the Kremlin has created a citizenry that prefers to work for someone else, preferably the state, than to run their own businesses, and one which is suspicious of any politician, including opposition activists.
  • Social manipulation of this order will eventually provoke a crisis of human capital, among other problems. An apathetic populace will not, for example, bring about much-needed growth in labour productivity. The main economic motivation frequently expressed, even by young respondents, in focus groups to the Carnegie Moscow Center and the Levada Center — of ‘getting a mortgage, paying it off, getting another loan, and paying it off’ — will not assist the development of Russia.
  • Ordinary Russians simply do not believe that they can make a difference or effect change. Instead they look for the future in nostalgic visions of the past perpetuated by state propaganda.
  • The authorities are perfectly content with the system that has emerged, one which combines fearsome repression of the politically active with maintaining disengagement. But in addition to the deteriorating quality of Russia’s human capital there are other problems, including stagnating real disposable incomes and changes in global energy usage. The Kremlin will not always have oil and gas revenue to buy loyalty.
  • What Putin and his inner circle are relying on is that there will be enough political and economic heft for the rest of their time in power. What happens after that, beyond the 2030s, is of little concern to them. Like Madame de Pompadour, their attitude is “Après nous, le déluge.”

“Why the Kremlin Isn’t Celebrating the Duma Election Results,” Andrei Pertsev, Carnegie Moscow Center, 09.23.21. The author, a journalist with the Meduza website, writes:

  • Russia retained its majority at the recent State Duma elections—or, as President Vladimir Putin put it, ‘reaffirmed its leadership.’ … [T]he ruling party won 49.8 percent of the votes under the party-list system, and 198 seats in the single-mandate constituencies, giving it at least 320 seats.
  • Despite United Russia’s approval rating falling to 30 percent on the eve of the elections, the party has very nearly repeated its success in the last election five years ago, when it won 54.2 percent of the vote and over 340 seatsThat might seem like cause for celebration, but the Russian leadership apparently thinks otherwise. The party list leaders, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov didn’t even congratulate party members by video link. Nor did Putin, even though he had actively campaigned for United Russia.
  • The elections were a triumph for Kiriyenko’s electoral machineIf United Russia’s campaign had been conducted without Putin’s involvement, the president and his inner circle would have been able to turn a blind eye to the exposure of these mechanisms for achieving the required results. What has happened, however, is that Putin made a considerable effort during the campaign, yet it was Kiriyenko’s engineered system that won—though even it could not produce the figures that the president’s campaign should have warranted.
  • Putin, it seems, is not prepared to limit himself to the role of a client for whom the necessary figures are modeled. He wants to be a leader, like before. That’s understandable: managers work for any client in theory, but the role of leader is incontrovertible. This is why the president and his administration have such different evaluations of the Duma election results.

“Communists Face New Realities as United Russia Steals Their Votes,” Mark Galeotti, bne IntelliNews , 09.22.21. The author, director of Mayak Intelligence, writes:

  • It is tempting to suggest that between the two of them, Vladimir Putin and Alexei Navalny, have beaten the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF). Admittedly, the elections saw the KPRF’s representation in the State Duma rise, but the suspicion is that this was a dramatic understatement of their real vote share. The question must be what—if anything—the KPRF does now?
  • The official result for the party is that with 18.93 percent of the vote, it has 57 seats in the Duma, or 12.7 percent of the total.
  • Why are the Communists so angry, with an impromptu protest meeting on Pushkin Square on the day of the results, and a call for wider demonstrations? The answer is that the evidence suggests massive vote-rigging in support of United Russia, largely at the expense of the Communists.
  • Veteran leader Gennady Zyuganov is huffing and puffing, but his inglorious career has demonstrated his capacity to generate outrage on demand, as a substitute rather than a spur to action. In 1996, he probably had the presidential election stolen from under him by Boris Yeltsin. In 2021, he may have had a parliamentary election stolen, too. Is this enough to get him either to act in a more serious way, or to force him finally to relinquish his death-grip on the party.
  • There has already been some evidence that there is pressure from within the party to abandon its position as a fake counterbalance to the Kremlin. A rising generation of younger politicians—even Rashkin, at 66, counts as such, compared with the septuagenarians currently in charge—may yet force his hand, and begin to turn the KPRF from the house trained ‘systemic opposition’ into a real opposition party.

“Where Does Russian Discontent Go from Here? Russia’s 2021 Election Considered,” Heather A. Conley and Andrew Lohsen, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 09.23.21. The authors, the director of the Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program at CSIS and a fellow with CSIS respectively, write:

  • This recent exercise in sham democracy shows that the Kremlin no longer believes it needs to derive its governing mandate through an external validation process. Instead, ruling officials believe that their authority allows them to generate legitimacy for themselves. When power becomes self-perpetuating, maintaining the status quo—in this case, through the preservation of a parliamentary supermajority—is essential. Any alternative political path or candidate is immediately tarnished, sidelined, or criminalized.
  • How tenable is this strategy? With non-systemic opposition parties out of the way, the only challenge to the Kremlin’s power that remains is the systemic opposition. ... What binds these parties is that the Russian government has failed in recent years to deliver on the social contract that emerged in the mid-2000s, according to which citizens ceded certain freedoms and civil liberties in exchange for stability and economic growth, putting the government on a collision course with the Russian people.
  • In the meantime, the state is increasingly relying on the tools of repression to maintain order and prevent citizens from identifying a political alternative.
  • The Kremlin believes it can maintain its grip on power through manipulations and repression. In the short term, this strategy has worked. But where will Russian public discontent go in the future, and who or what will lead it?

“Expert Survey: Will the Outcome of Russia’s Elections Impact Its Foreign Policy?,” Andrei Kolesnikov, Tatiana Stanovaya, Angela Stent and Denis Volkov, Russia Matters, 09.24.21.

  • Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow and chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes: “Russia has no foreign policy as a clearly articulated strategy … It is reactive (acting in an action-reaction system) and aims at further irrational self-isolation. The Duma elections do not affect this vector … Cultivating images of enemies represented by the West and an internal fifth column, the fight against so-called foreign agents and undesirable organizations will continue. The fight against foreign influence, along with the Kremlin's historical policy of describing Russia's entire history as a defense against the West, is at the heart of current ideology and propaganda.”
  • Tatiana Stanovaya, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center and founder and CEO of R.Politik, writes: “Several points: (a) The elections create more grounds to raise the issues of ‘foreign interference’ into Russian internal affairs. New criminal cases; more pressure on the media and, importantly, on foreign IT platforms.That may lead to growing tension with Western countries. (b) The campaign has weakened the stance of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He has become politically more vulnerable with growing chances to leave his post (maybe not today though.”
  • Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies and a professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University, writes: “Parliamentary elections in Russia matter to the West inasmuch as they are a barometer of the degree of political competition and or repression inside Russia. Beginning with Alexei Navalny’s arrest in January and continuing with the outlawing of his and other opposition groups, the designation of ‘foreign agent’ to a range of non-official groups and outright interference in individual races … the Kremlin has also sent a clear message to the West: our elections are none of your business.”
  • Denis Volkov, director of the Levada Center, writes: “There has been no real independence of the Russian legislature from the executive branch of government since the end of the 1990s. By retaining the constitutional majority of the United Russia party in the State Duma, the Kremlin secured its grip over parliament for another five years. … The status quo will remain, and the Kremlin will be able to pursue its goals on the international arena unchecked by any parliamentary oversight.”

“From Ideology to Culture in Putin’s Russia,” Sean Eriksen, Jordan Center, 09.24.21. The author, a graduate student at Harvard University, writes:

  • Largely absent from th[e] conversation, however, is Putin’s explicit approach to the question of ideology in Russia, which is more interesting than the term ‘pragmatism’ might imply.
  • Although Putin laments the excesses of communism, he identifies two problems that ideology or otherwise a ‘national idea,’ as a pragmatic tool, could theoretically solve: 1) a lack of moral clarity and purpose and 2) ‘the nationalities question.’ Since resuming the presidency in 2012, Putin has engaged in a project to solve these problems by a state-directed cultural policy that is absolutely not, under any circumstances, to be called ‘ideological.’”
  • The two pragmatic uses of ideology underscore [Michael] McFaul’s point that ideology and pragmatism are sometimes inseparable. Wherever pragmatism ends and ideology begins, Putin’s political trajectory is moving in the direction of a greater emphasis on values, ideas, identity, and emotion, with a proportional increase in repression, as the persecution of opposition leader Alexei Navalny shows. With up to 15 years left in power, Putin has the time and motivation to get creative—and produce even worse outcomes than those the world has seen so far.

Defense and aerospace:

“Zapad 2021: What We Learned From Russia's Massive Military Drills,” Michael Kofman, The Moscow Times, 09.23.21. The author, director of the Russia studies program at CNA, writes:

  • On Sept. 16 Russia concluded its Joint Strategic Exercise, Zapad-2021, a large military training event focused on the Western Military District and Belarus. Zapad is traditionally a command-staff exercise which takes place every four years… Such exercises rotate between Russia’s military districts, Zapad, Vostok, Tsentr and Kavkaz. They are not just training events, but serve important signaling functions as a prominent display of military capabilities and the willingness to employ it.
  • There is also a growing military diplomacy component to the exercises, with foreign forces participating in joint training events as part of a coalition.
  • The Russian military continues to be concerned about NATO’s tremendous advantage in airpower, and long-range precision strike capability, seeing it as a formidable force multiplier. The General Staff assumes it will be fielding the inferior force on the battlefield and will have to find ways to turn the tables, trading territory to preserve its forces. An emphasis on preserving the force is something particular to the modern Russian military.
  • This does not mean such exercises are defensive in nature—Russian concepts inherently feature offensive and defensive operations. They require persistent engagement of opponents, such that the distinction between defensive and offensive is largely immaterial. The clearest shift in Russian thinking is away from strategic ground offensives and toward long-range strikes against critically important economic and military targets, seeking to degrade a state’s ability or will to sustain a conflict.
  • The Russian military, while an increasingly capable joint force, is principally an artillery army with supporting motor rifle and tank maneuver formations. … [T]he Russian way of war places a heavy burden on logistics. At Zapad the Russian military … display[ed] various remotely operated ground vehicles, which, while not especially impressive, were part of a much larger focus on … unmanned technologies. … Zapad was an affirmation that years of procurement and defense modernization have made the Russian military a combat-credible force, with increased readiness and mobility.

“Even a Major Military Exercise Like Zapad Can’t Fix Some of the Biggest Security Challenges Facing Russia,” Eugene Rumer, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 09.21.21. The author, director of the endowment’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “[The] joint Russian-Belarusian military exercise called Zapad (which translates as west) … reportedly involved as many as 200,000 troops from Russia, Belarus and several other countries… That number is probably inflated and includes all military personnel participating in the drills, parallel exercises and logistics.”
  • “It pays to step back from the Zapad-2021 frenzy and put the exercise in the wider context of the situation along the NATO-Russia divide. The results will be far less reassuring for the Kremlin than some headlines might suggest, although it is not likely to reassure those allies who are most directly vulnerable to the Russian threat.”
    • “Beginning with Belarus, which was the site of major Zapad-2021 activity, reports of closer ties between Moscow and Minsk fail to fully reflect the problem that Belarus has become for the Kremlin. The [Belarusian] regime … has survived the mass unrest in the aftermath of the deeply compromised 2020 presidential election—at the price of irredeemably becoming Europe’s outcast.”
    • “The two enclaves—Kaliningrad … and Crimea—while threatening their immediate neighbors, add little to Russia’s security. Their value is in their offensive potential—but that very potential poses risks to the Russian heartland that are beyond anything that can be corrected by Zapad-2021 or any other exercise.”
  • “Having disrupted the status quo in European security by annexing Crimea, abandoning the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty and violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Kremlin has refocused NATO on the threat from the east, which prior to 2014 was largely ignored or glossed over. Russia is now facing the prospect, even if still remote, of U.S. intermediate-range land-based missiles returning to Europe. … Zapad can do little to offset the real threats to Russia’s own security—most of which have been created by Russia itself.”

Russia’s Foreign Military Basing Strategy,” Dmitry Gorenburg, PONARS, September 2021. The author, senior research scientist at CNA and an associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, writes:

  • “Overall, recent patterns in military base construction highlight that Russia’s primary focus remains the protection of its own territory rather than overseas expansion. It has invested most heavily in building new bases near vulnerable areas on its own territory, both near Ukraine and in the Arctic. It has also used existing and newly established bases in neighboring states to maintain a de facto buffer zone around its own territory. These priorities are in part mandated by Russia’s geography. Being a large country with a widely dispersed population and limited road and rail links to outlying regions means that overland force transfer takes time, while transfer by air requires the investment of significant resources in appropriate aircraft. Russia has sought to ameliorate this situation to some extent by developing a robust rear base structure and increasing investment in equipment and training related to force mobility, but having military bases near key potential combat zones remains critical for Russia’s defense.”
  • “Both Russia and the United States use military bases abroad as forms of political influence. But whereas the United States seeks a global presence, as clearly indicated by the global nature of its military footprint, Russia has fewer resources and must therefore pick and choose where to invest. Russia’s basing posture thus clearly indicates that its defense priorities are primarily focused on its immediate environs, especially former Soviet states, plus the Eastern Mediterranean. U.S. planners should be less concerned about the possibility of further Russian adventures in far-off foreign locales such as Africa and Latin America and more focused on the regions where Russia is building up its military infrastructures, such as the Arctic and the Middle East.” 

“How the ‘Escalation Strategy’ Evolved in Russia’s Security Policy,” Polina Sinovets, PONARS, September 2021. The author, head of the Odessa Center for Nonproliferation at Odessa National University in Ukraine, writes:

  • “We can observe the evolution of the escalation phenomenon in Russian actions from its origins as an element of Moscow’s military and mostly nuclear strategy into a component of broader foreign policy. ‘The escalation-détente cycle’ has been shown to be not only a Russian instrument of political pressure during the most recent conventional force concentration along the Ukrainian borders, but a strategy systematically employed abusively by the Kremlin toward the Baltic states and NATO since 2015. Has Russia reached any of its goals from its strategic, escalatory moves? Biden’s call to Putin in April 2021, the meeting of the two leaders in Geneva in July, U.S. support for the Nord Stream 2 project and the non-provision of a Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Ukraine or Georgia at the NATO June summit are all significant events that have helped the Russian leadership to overcome some of its strategic fears.” 
  • “The Russian factor was not the only one involved in Western decisions on MAPs and Nord Stream 2, for example, but it was significant in tipping the scales toward outcomes favorable for Moscow. While no major actions have taken place in the Baltic region, the recent escalation at the Ukrainian border has become a central factor in pressuring the new U.S. administration and Western leaders to conclude that dialogue with Russia is necessary. To date, Moscow has withdrawn very few of its military forces from Ukraine’s borders. Therefore, even in the nearest future, one can expect an escalation strategy to be used as a coercive Russian foreign policy tool where customary diplomatic engagements are ineffective.” 

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:

“Russian Wagner Group’s Entrance into Mali Creates New Challenges,” Alexandra Lamarche, The National Interest, 09.20.21. The author, Refugees International’s Senior Advocate for West and Central Africa, writes:

  • “Reports have surfaced last week that the government of Mali is about to reach an agreement with Russia’s Wagner group … to provide military assistance and training to Mali’s security forces. Even the prospect of such a deal has raised concerns in Western capitals over Russian intervention in the Sahel, and Africa more broadly, which some fear would come at the expense of Western interests. This concern ignores a more pressing danger: Mali’s civilian population is likely to pay the price if Wagner enters the fray, and Western governments are likely to react in unhelpful ways.”
  • “If such an agreement does proceed, then Mali’s military regime would be the next in a line of African countries—including Libya, Mozambique, and the Central African Republic (CAR)—that have seen Russian PMCs enter a protracted conflict. Should the deal be anything like the ongoing partnership between the government of the Central African Republic and Wagner, we can expect not only international outcry over the perceived expansion of Russia’s influence in Africa but also worsening humanitarian and protection trendlines for Mali’s civilian population.”
  • “In the CAR, the Wagner Group is increasingly carrying out vicious attacks on the country’s Fulani, or Peul, Muslim minority. Given that this community is one of Mali’s largest minority groups, and already the target of repeated violent persecution, there is considerable reason to worry that Wagner may continue its abhorrent practices.”
  • “If Wagner employs similarly brutal tactics in Mali as those they have used in the CAR, it is reasonable to expect that Malian civilians will pay the price with their safety and lives … We can assume more citizens will join the ranks of Mali’s 5.9 million people who are already in need of humanitarian assistance and the 976,000 who are currently displaced by the crisis. Alarmingly, the Wagner group may follow suit and interrupt and complicate humanitarian aid delivery in Mali and threaten the lives of displaced citizens.”


“The Russian and Ukrainian Spring 2021 War Scare,” Mykola Bielieskov, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 09.21.21. The author, a research fellow with the National Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of Ukraine, writes:

  • “The massing of troops and hardware by Russia along its border with Ukraine in April 2021 brought back memories of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine in 2014–15 and raised fears of another round of Russian aggression against its neighbor. Although the worst-case scenario did not materialize, these events require close attention and in-depth research because they could happen again should Russia’s leadership assess that their national security interests are at stake once more.”
  • “Several observations arise from a detailed analysis of this spring’s war scare between Russia and Ukraine. … First, statements on the number of Russian troops involved were misleading in certain respects—the majority of troops in question were already at Ukraine’s borders from past incursions.”
  • “Second, Russian armed forces involved in these exercises practiced complex scenarios, including encirclement of the Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation in Donbas and blocking of Ukrainian access to the Black Sea.”
  • “Third, Russian public justifications of the movement of troops and hardware near Ukraine’s border were unpersuasive upon closer look. It seems that a major driver of Russian actions was the desire to send signals to the new U.S. administration—namely that the Biden administration should not attempt to challenge the status quo vis-à-vis Ukraine by bringing it closer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or aid in the liberation of parts of occupied Donbass.”
  • “Finally, though Russia might have succeeded in sending specific signals to the Biden administration, the intended effect backfired in the case of Ukraine... It seems that Russia was relatively successful in driving the message home to one of its target audiences. President Biden and his team adopted the idea of ‘stable and predictable’ relations with Russia, which in practice means U.S. refusal to take steps that could radically alter the current status quo and cross Russia’s red lines ...On the other hand, Russia is the only one to blame for Ukraine wanting to join NATO.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Nagorno-Karabakh: A Year of U.S. Failure in the South Caucasus,” Michael Rubin, The National Interest, 09.27.21.The author, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes:

  • “One year ago today, the Azerbaijani army, backed by Turkish Special Forces and Syrian jihadis acting as Turkish mercenaries, launched a surprise attack on Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory which Armenia controlled since the end of the 1988-94 Nagorno-Karabakh War. While Azerbaijan justified its actions in the fact that the international community recognized the territory as Azerbaijani, the situation was more complex.”
  • “That Azerbaijan surprised not only Armenians but also Americans remains an intelligence failure that both Congress and the broader U.S. intelligence community have so far failed to investigate. Nor can any honest analyst ignore the fact that the invasion coincided with the one-hundredth anniversary of the Ottoman invasion of independent Armenia against the backdrop of the Armenian genocide. This was not a coincidence but deliberate. Simply put, Azerbaijan and Turkey’s move constituted an opening salvo in what both countries’ leaders hoped would amount to an Armenian Genocide version 2.0.”
  • “A short survey of the past six months shows that far from returning to diplomacy, American passivity is enabling increased Azerbaijani aggression. … Biden and Blinken may not care about American prestige, but this is not the only thing at issue in the South Caucasus.”
  • “Azerbaijan and Turkey launched their assault on Nagorno-Karabakh to continue the Ottoman project of more than a century ago. … The precedent of ethnic cleansing that they undertake—and the lack of any serious response to it—could destabilize areas far beyond the South Caucasus. So too is American silence regarding the Turkish and Azerbaijani use of Syrian jihadis.”
  • “It behooves Biden and Blinken to show that this is a red line. Nor does it make sense to reward Azerbaijan financially when it is no longer the stable, tolerant ally Washington once believed it to be, but rather does increasing business with both Russia and Iran. It is time to sanction Azerbaijan until Aliyev returns the last Armenian POW, pays compensation for his aggression, and holds accountable every Azerbaijani soldier on video torturing Armenians or destroying cultural heritage.”

“Russia’s ‘Hybrid Aggression’ against Georgia: The Use of Local and External Tools,” Natia Seskuria, CSIS, 09.21.21. The author, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, writes:

  • “By deepening polarization, encouraging violence, and creating societal divisions [in Georgia], Russia is playing a long game. Despite Georgia’s overwhelming support for pro-Western foreign policy, Russia—by supporting the groups that orchestrated violent incidents such as the ones that took place on July 5 and 6—aims to portray Tbilisi as a backward state that will never truly be able to become an integral part of a modern and democratic West. At the same time, by aggressively following its ‘borderization’ policy, the Kremlin undermines Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
  • “Building greater societal resilience to deter Russia’s hybrid aggression will take time and require a whole-of-society approach. Western support will be crucial in countering the Kremlin’s use of a myriad of tools aimed at reversing the democratization process in Georgia. Even 13 years after the war, the Georgian experience shows that the Kremlin pursues its aggressive policies without ever paying significant costs for its behavior. Imposing red lines by holding Russia accountable and accelerating Georgia’s NATO membership would not only bring greater stability to Tbilisi, but to the whole Black Sea region. Thus, Georgia should not be seen as an isolated case. The success of democratization and Westernization in Georgia is a success of Western values over those of an authoritarian and kleptocratic regime.”