Russia Analytical Report, Sept. 27-Oct. 4, 2021
This Week’s Highlights
“Decisions made by NATO may be unpalatable for Moscow, but they are generally consistent and predictable. The same cannot be said of less heavyweight structures such as AUKUS, from which any number of improvised reactions could ensue, inevitably adding to the political risks,” argues Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council.
“The common view between the two administrations [Trump’s and Biden’s] seems to be that U.S. policy toward Russia should mostly consist of damage limitation—preventing tensions, whether in Europe or in cyberspace, from deteriorating into a crisis,” writes Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Even Biden’s willingness to extend U.S.-Russian arms control pacts and start ‘strategic stability’ talks is mostly about preventing additional erosion, not making further progress. The days of seeking a ‘reset’ with Moscow are long gone.”
“In relations with the United States, leaders in Moscow and Washington need to manage the rapport carefully,” cautions Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “That means making sure that conflicts in which Russia and America are directly or indirectly involved (such as Ukraine) do not spiral out of control; that a series of incidents between their armed forces (say, in Syria) do not inadvertently lead to actual shooting; and that a major cyberattack does not provoke a military response.”
“An amendment to the 2022 [U.S.] defense bill would provide Ukraine with sophisticated air defense missiles, likely culminating in an ‘iron dome’ system that U.S. Army personnel would operate. There is a very good chance that the final version of the legislation will include that provision, thus placing American troops on the front lines of the volatile, ongoing confrontation between Ukraine and Russia,” warns Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute.
“Previously, political parties in Russia could be divided into ‘in-system’ (those represented in the Duma) and ‘non-system’ (anti-Putin opposition forces). The recent elections saw the appearance of a new phenomenon: administrative parties directly controlled by the presidential administration, and designed to occupy space on the political scene as United Russia sees its popularity decline,” writes Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “In routing the non-system opposition and clamping down on the in-system opposition, the Kremlin is staking everything on the administrative parties.”
NB: Next week’s Russia Analytical Report will appear on Tuesday, Oct. 12, instead of Monday, Oct. 11, because of a U.S. federal holiday.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- 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 Age of America First,” Richard Haass, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2021. The author, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes:
- “Donald Trump was supposed to be an aberration—a U.S. president whose foreign policy marked a sharp but temporary break from an internationalism that had defined seven decades of U.S. interactions with the world. … At first glance, the foreign policy of U.S. President Joe Biden could hardly be more different. … But the differences … obscure a deeper truth: there is far more continuity … than is typically recognized. … Beneath the apparent volatility, the outlines of a post–post–Cold War U.S. foreign policy are emerging.”
- “The new paradigm dismisses the core tenet of that approach: that the United States has a vital stake in a broader global system, one that at times demands undertaking difficult military interventions or putting aside immediate national preferences in favor of principles and arrangements that bring long-term benefits. The new consensus reflects not an across-the-board isolationism … but rather the rejection of that internationalism.”
- “The first and most prominent element of continuity between Trump and Biden is the centrality of great-power rivalry—above all, with China. Indeed, U.S. policy toward China has hardly changed since Biden became president.”
- “Much the same can be said of the administrations’ policies toward the United States’ other great-power competitor. Since Biden took over, U.S. policy toward Russia has changed little in substance. … [W]hatever Trump’s personal regard for Putin, the Trump administration’s posture toward Russia was in fact fairly tough. It introduced new sanctions, closed Russian consulates in the United States and enhanced and expanded U.S. military support to Ukraine—all of which has continued under Biden.”
- “The common view between the two administrations seems to be that U.S. policy toward Russia should mostly consist of damage limitation—preventing tensions, whether in Europe or in cyberspace, from deteriorating into a crisis. Even Biden’s willingness to extend U.S.-Russian arms control pacts and start ‘strategic stability’ talks is mostly about preventing additional erosion, not making further progress. The days of seeking a ‘reset’ with Moscow are long gone.”
“Dmitri Trenin on Russia’s interests in the new global order,” Dmitri Trenin, The Economist, 10.01.21. The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:
- “With the unipolar moment now history, Russia’s objective is to remain a world-class, self-standing player. This is the current definition of the historical term ‘great power’ widely used in Russia today. … [S]ecuring and holding on to that status, however, will be challenging. Geopolitical issues include above all maintaining an equilibrium … in the face of America-China confrontation.”
- “A companion challenge for Russia is to stand on its own vis-à-vis its partners in China and thus keep the relationship on an even keel. In relations with the United States, leaders in Moscow and Washington need to manage the rapport carefully. That means making sure that conflicts in which Russia and America are directly or indirectly involved (such as Ukraine) do not spiral out of control; that a series of incidents between their armed forces (say, in Syria) do not inadvertently lead to actual shooting; and that a major cyberattack does not provoke a military response.”
- “Russia’s principal challenges will be domestic. In the political realm, the looming hurdle will be managing the transition to a new regime that follows the current leader, Vladimir Putin, while avoiding the Scylla of instability and the Charybdis of deepening stagnation. In the realm of economics, unchaining the country’s potential … is critical.”
- “Mastering technological innovation and energy transition is an urgent task. Climate change affects Russia’s vast territory even more than it does the world generally. Russia’s demographics … remain uncheerful … And immigration … has an underside, with many newcomers from rural regions in central Asia less willing to assimilate and in some cases falling for jihadist propaganda.”
- “[T]he principal lesson of the Soviet Union’s demise 30 years ago this December is that while big nations cannot be defeated from the outside, they may—and sometimes do—fall under the weight of their own domestic problems, whether neglected or mismanaged. This lesson, of course, is valid not only for Russia but for all significant powers, whether on the rise or on the decline.”
“Is Biden’s Foreign Policy Failing?” Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy, 09.30.21. The author, a Foreign Policy columnist and professor of international relations at Harvard University, writes:
- “The unipolar moment is over, and we now live in a lopsided multipolar world. As international relations theorists have long understood, relations among the major powers in multipolarity are inherently more complicated, contingent, and hard to manage than relations in bipolarity or unipolarity.”
- “Germany’s somewhat ambiguous position today is a case in point. On the one hand, Berlin is firmly committed to NATO, and German leaders still place a high value on having solid relations with the United States... But on the other hand, Berlin refuses to line up fully behind the U.S. position toward Russia and China because building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline with Russia and preserving its export markets in China are in Germany’s particular national interest.”
- “One sees a similar dynamic with countries like Turkey or India. Although each shares a number of strategic concerns with the United States, both are also happy to buy arms from Russia and to hedge their bets in other ways.”
- “Countries that don’t want to rely on assistance from the United States or the World Bank can always explore what Beijing or Moscow might be willing to provide them instead.”
- “Given America’s many commitments and still considerable ambitions, it is simply impossible to devise a foreign-policy strategy that is free from internal contradictions... Rallying the world’s democracies could strengthen the U.S. position at home and abroad, but it will also make it harder to cooperate with Russia and China on issues of mutual concern such as climate change. The more goals we try to achieve, the greater the danger that success in one area leads to failure somewhere else.”
“Should Russia Be Worried by the New AUKUS Alliance?” Andrey Kortunov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 09.29.21. The author, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, writes:
- “The establishment of a new trilateral military and political alliance consisting of the United States, Australia and the U.K. (AUKUS) … elicited mixed reactions in Russia.”
- “Above all, the launch of AUKUS has confirmed that the standoff with China is indisputably the number one foreign policy priority for U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration. … For Russia, this means that any of its actions from now on will be viewed by Washington within the context of the U.S.-Chinese confrontation.”
- “There has been some speculation that AUKUS will, with time, become an Asian equivalent of NATO, with more countries joining, from Canada and New Zealand to Japan and South Korea, and eventually even India and Vietnam. These predictions have unsurprisingly elicited concern in Russia. Yet they are unlikely to come true.”
- “NATO has detailed and clearly articulated decisionmaking procedures and mechanisms for reaching compromises among its many members. Decisions made by NATO may be unpalatable for Moscow, but they are generally consistent and predictable. The same cannot be said of less heavyweight structures such as AUKUS, from which any number of improvised reactions could ensue, inevitably adding to the political risks.”
- “It is the world’s oceans rather than continental Eurasia that will be the main battleground between the United States and China. For Russia, as a predominantly land power, that is overall a good thing—as long as Moscow doesn’t strive to position itself at the epicenter of the Chinese-American standoff. … Today, AUKUS looks like a rickety and unstable structure cobbled together in a hurry. But in twenty or thirty years, the logic that prompted its members to establish a new military and political alliance could lead them into a situation that neither they nor their opponents can get out of without the most severe consequences for themselves and the rest of the world. That is the main long-term danger from AUKUS.”
“Russia and China are Already Winning the Nuclear Arms Race,” David T. Pyne, The National Interest, 10.01.21. The author, deputy director of national operations for the EMP Caucus on National and Homeland Security, writes:
- “Russia and China now lead a military alliance that includes over 68 percent of the landmass of Eurasia, nearly 42 percent of the world’s population, nearly 30 percent of the world’s GDP and approximately 75 percent of the world’s operational nuclear weapons, with over two-thirds of them deployed by Russia.”
- “Russia developed super-electromagnetic pulse weapons more than two decades ago. These nuclear weapons are designed to greatly enhance their EMP effects. … Given their destructive potential, U.S. national security professionals should seriously consider reclassifying cyber and EMP weapons as weapons of mass destruction. Despite these warnings, U.S. leaders have done little to protect the American people from EMP and cyberattacks.”
- “U.S. leaders began a policy of nuclear disarmament at a pace far exceeding Russia’s following the end of the Cold War, naively believing the existential threat had passed. … Today, only 720 of America’s warheads are ready to launch at any given time, of which 50 percent would likely survive a full-scale nuclear first strike.”
- “Over the past decade, the United States has allowed itself to be overtaken by the Sino-Russian alliance in virtually every recognized measure of strategic military power. This includes offensive nuclear weapon systems, national missile defenses, hypersonic weapons, super-EMP weapons and cyberwarfare capabilities.”
- “The Department of Defense estimated in 2017 that the Russian Federation was in the process of building its own nuclear arsenal to total 8,000 deployed warheads, which is over four and a half times more operational nuclear warheads than the United States possesses. … Meanwhile, U.S. satellite imagery has revealed that China is in the process of rapidly expanding its strategic nuclear arsenal by up to 4,000 warheads. … As a result of the growing disparity between Sino-Russian unconventional warfare capabilities and those of the United States, the chances of an unconventional nuclear/EMP/cyberattack on the U.S. homeland have, arguably, never been greater.”
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Nuclear arms control:
“Ready, aim, fired: Can Biden rescue the Nuclear Posture Review?” Stephen I. Schwartz, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 09.30.21. The author, a nonresident senior fellow at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, writes:
- “The Biden administration’s much-anticipated NPR finally and formally got underway in mid-July. But suddenly, last Thursday [Sept. 23], Politico reported that Tomero had been effectively fired when the Defense Department abruptly reorganized her position out of existence and transferred her responsibilities to two other offices—one of which is so new it does not even have a confirmed nominee to lead it.”
- “Tomero had run afoul of the permanent nuclear bureaucracy … Evidently, some senators on the Armed Services Committee were concerned an NPR overseen by Tomero would ... not fully endorse a suite of new, more advanced U.S. nuclear weapons as a direct response to the nuclear weapons Russia and China appear to be developing.”
- “It wasn’t always this way. Presidents, and their military advisors, have boldly embraced changes to the nuclear status quo in the past. … Thanks to what became known as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives and the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, by the time [President George H.W.] Bush left office in January 1994, he had slashed the bloated U.S. nuclear stockpile by nearly 9,500 nuclear warheads (a massive 41 percent reduction).”
- “Today, we’re moving in the opposite direction, spending more than $1.2 trillion over the next several decades to maintain, upgrade and replace not just every delivery system we currently have but also every operational nuclear bomb and warhead.”
- “President Biden still has the potential to make meaningful, lasting changes to U.S. nuclear policies and weapons programs that can strengthen U.S. and global security and avoid wasteful spending. But to do that, he must do the one thing none of his predecessors were willing to do: play an active, ongoing role in his administration’s own NPR to ensure it presents him with fresh options for the future and not just the same outdated, counterproductive and hugely expensive justifications from the past.”
“How to get rid of nuclear weapons,” Peter Metz and Ira Helfand, The Boston Globe, 09.30.21. The authors, a member of the Massachusetts Peace Action Nuclear Disarmament Working Group and a member of the international steering group at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, write:
- “Sunday [Sept. 26] was the eighth annual International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, established by the U.N. General Assembly. You probably weren't aware of it. After all, the possibility of nuclear annihilation is not new and the threat of it may seem somewhat abstract in a nation roiled by COVID, climate change, racial injustice, bitter political divisions and other concerns. Nonetheless, the fact remains: We really can eliminate the most cruel, indiscriminate, destructive weapons humankind has ever built, if we want.”
- “The goal clearly can be accomplished: We've already disarmed over 40,000 nuclear weapons and there are no forces of nature to overcome, no technologies to invent. We've already negotiated the agreements and verification protocols to do this.”
- “For all nine nuclear nations to make this pledge would take unparalleled diplomatic and negotiating effort. If doing away with nuclear weapons were easy, it would have been done long ago. But if all nine agree, there's no issue of ‘Who goes first?’ All nine nuclear-armed nations would disarm concurrently.”
- “Biden could appoint a prominent special envoy for a world without nuclear weapons, a role akin to the one John Kerry plays as special envoy for climate change. Building on that momentum, Congress could conduct investigations and hearings to remind the public of the risks of nuclear annihilation. Citizen peace groups such as Back from the Brink could band together to organize public demonstrations all around the world—much like the ones in 1983 that prompted the Reagan-Gorbachev resolution.”
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Energy exports from CIS:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
“How U.S. Sanctions Take a Hidden Toll on Russian Oligarchs,” Greg Miller, The Washington Post, 10.04.21. The author, an investigative foreign correspondent for the news outlet, writes:
- “As U.S. sanctions bit into Russia’s billionaire class in 2018, an accounting firm in Singapore issued a secret appraisal of a $200 million debt owed by one of the targeted oligarchs. The verdict was bracing. The money was owed by a company controlled by Oleg Deripaska, according to a copy of the appraisal, at a time when his energy and mining empire was reeling from sanctions the United States had imposed on Russian oligarchs.”
- “U.S. officials involved in sanctions policy say visibility into the private ledgers of targeted oligarchs is rare, even in classified settings. Details of the Deripaska debt-gone-bad, however, are revealed in a massive trove of financial records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and shared with The Washington Post and other news organizations. The Pandora Papers, as the trove is called, provide insights into the reach of U.S. and European sanctions targeting a range of Russian elites.”
- “Over the past seven years, the United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on more than 800 Russian individuals and entities … The Pandora files show sanctions not only hitting their Russian targets but then triggering losses that spread across their interconnected financial networks. The documents contain material on at least 46 Russian oligarchs who appear on the Forbes list of billionaires. … There are also people exceptionally close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including Peter Kolbin, a childhood friend suspected by U.S. officials and others of holding hundreds of millions of dollars in assets for him.”
- “But the files also underscore the limits of sanctions, making clear that vast quantities of Russian money continue to slosh through secret global accounts while Moscow’s actions beyond its borders seem undeterred. … Current and former U.S. officials said the losses and reactions depicted in the documents demonstrate the reach of the West’s financial arsenal. The officials said these punitive measures influence the Kremlin’s calculations if not always change its course.”
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
“Playing at Politics: Manufacturing Russia’s Parliamentary Parties,” Tatiana Stanovaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 09.30.21. The author, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center and founder of R.Politik, writes:
- “Previously, political parties in Russia could be divided into ‘in-system’ (those represented in the Duma) and ‘non-system’ (anti-Putin opposition forces). The recent elections saw the appearance of a new phenomenon: administrative parties directly controlled by the presidential administration, and designed to occupy space on the political scene as United Russia sees its popularity decline.”
- “In routing the non-system opposition and clamping down on the in-system opposition, the Kremlin is staking everything on the administrative parties. These include the New People, the Party of Pensioners, Green Alternative, Civic Platform and the Communists of Russia (not to be confused with the older Communist Party of the Russian Federation …). Only the New People made it over the threshold of 5% of votes required to win seats in the Duma.”
- “The appearance of the New People in the State Duma is a serious bid for the formation of a pro-regime administrative party with a moderately liberal image. It threatens both the special position of United Russia, which is used to having a monopoly in the pro-regime niche, and the in-system opposition, since previous political overseers preferred to come to an agreement with the in-system parties rather than attempting to replace them with manufactured creations.”
- “The Kremlin’s clampdown on the in-system parties following the decimation of the non-system opposition has left those parties with only two options. Either they must drift toward submitting entirely to the presidential administration, or be prepared to suffer the same fate as the non-system opposition.”
“The Kremlin forced U.S. tech firms to shut down an app some Russian voters hoped to use. Now what?” Tetyana Lokot and Mariëlle Wijermars, The Washington Post, 09.30.21. The authors, an associate professor at Dublin City University and an assistant professor in at Maastricht University, write:
- “This month, as voting began in Russia's parliamentary election, technology giants Google (owned by Alphabet) and Apple bowed to Kremlin pressure. They removed Smart Voting, a tactical voting app created by the associates of opposition leader Alexei Navalny from their app stores for users in Russia.”
- “The decision by Google and Apple exposes the dilemma facing powerful Internet and tech companies with global reach. They try to abide by national laws in the countries where they operate to grow their market share and user bases. But this may mean that they fall short on protection of user rights and freedoms, especially in illiberal regimes. The concentration of power in just a few platform companies means a decision to comply with or resist government pressure can have global implications.”
- “The Smart Voting case also illustrates how governments can use cybersecurity and national security concerns to mask self-interested interventions as they seek to control platform power. They can enable and justify far-reaching central control and limitations on user rights. For instance, governments can cite the provision of encryption and censorship circumvention tools to citizens as ‘interference’ in domestic affairs—or even attempted regime change.”
- “More broadly, these cases reinforce a global trend toward establishing government sovereignty over the digital sphere, thus undermining the global principles of the open Internet that are key to protecting human rights. This raises further questions about the power that tech platforms wield, and whether and how to hold them accountable if they don't adhere to universal human rights norms.”
- “What happened in Russia also points to the dilemma that these companies face. If powerful Internet companies leave the Russian market, this would undoubtedly disadvantage Russian users in terms of access to information and freedom of expression. But if they stay and consent to government censorship rules, they further undermine user safety, public trust and, ultimately, their global reputation.”
- “When Russia first recorded a surge in coronavirus cases in March last year, Mr. Putin donned a yellow hazmat suit to visit Moscow’s main COVID-19 hospital. State tv cameras captured him taking selfies with staff and shaking hands with the hospital’s chief physician … All par for the course for a strongman who has built his reputation on action-man stunts.”
- “But in the months since then, perhaps no world leader has been as shielded from the virus. Days after Mr. Putin’s hospital visit, Mr. Protsenko announced that he himself was sick with COVID-19, and Mr. Putin holed up in his residence outside Moscow, haranguing officials by video-link as his approval ratings sank. Special tunnels were installed at the residence to douse visitors in disinfectant. Alexei Navalny … coined a new nickname for his political foe: ‘grandpa in a bunker.’”
- “In March, the BBC reported that the Kremlin had spent $85 million on quarantine accommodation for staff and visitors coming into contact with Mr Putin and other measures to ensure his well-being. That figure is all the more startling when you consider that Russia has had a working vaccine since last August, when the president approved the Sputnik V jab.”
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:
“Merkel’s Legacy, as Seen From Russia,” Dmitri Trenin, Cicero/Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.01.21. The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:
- “Angela Merkel’s sixteen years as German chancellor have shaped Berlin’s place and role in Europe and in the twenty-first-century world at large. Her legacy will live on long after she steps down from the leadership. While firmly embedded within the European Union, Germany has essentially become its sole, though by no means, absolute leader.”
- “Viewed from Moscow, Merkel’s legacy can be summarized as follows: reconfirmation of Germany’s Atlanticist orientation; achievement of a primus inter pares position within the European Union; and distancing from Russia, while keeping in touch with it.”
- “The last seven-plus years of Merkel’s involvement with the Kremlin were marked and marred by the Ukraine crisis, Crimea and the armed conflict in Donbass. As a result, the post–Cold War German-Russian partnership degenerated into a transactional relationship with increasing mutual criticism and decreasing trust.”
- “In Putin’s eyes, Berlin’s connivance with Paris and Warsaw over what the Kremlin regarded as the Maidan coup in Kyiv that toppled the elected president amounted to a massive breach of trust. … Unlike other Western leaders, however, Merkel did not respond to the crisis by severing all contact with Moscow in an attempt to ‘isolate’ and thus ‘punish’ Russia. The German chancellor, while being very critical of Russian policies, kept the line of communication to the Kremlin open.”
- “Seen from Moscow, Angela Merkel’s long tenure was a period of relative, if not always palatable, predictability in German-Russian relations. Vladimir Putin often disagreed with the German chancellor, but he undoubtedly respected her. For Russian policymakers, Germany remains the European Union’s key member state. Historically, Moscow’s relations with the major powers have heavily depended on its interaction with the leaders of those powers. The future of the relationship will depend in no small measure on who succeeds her and how skilled that successor is at the art of statecraft. Merkel is leaving behind very big shoes to fill.”
“Making Ukraine A NATO Member In All But Name,” Ted Galen Carpenter, The American Conservative, 09.30.21. The author, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, writes:
- “As did his two immediate predecessors, Biden has tried to dodge the issue of Ukraine’s formal membership in the Alliance [NATO]. One of his reasons is the same one that Merkel cited 13 years ago: Ukraine is still a corrupt mess. Indeed, not only is corruption in Ukraine at least as bad as it was at that time, but the current regime in Kiev exhibits numerous signs of rising authoritarianism.”
- “In recent years, however, U.S. actions have increasingly made the issue of formal membership a distinction without a difference. Washington simply has ignored French and German reluctance about extending a NATO security commitment to Ukraine. Instead, U.S. leaders treat Kiev as a de facto NATO member and a crucial U.S. military ally.”
- “Ukraine’s enthusiastic backers in Congress want to escalate that support significantly. An amendment to the 2022 defense bill would provide Ukraine with sophisticated air defense missiles, likely culminating in an ‘iron dome’ system that U.S. Army personnel would operate. There is a very good chance that the final version of the legislation will include that provision, thus placing American troops on the front lines of the volatile, ongoing confrontation between Ukraine and Russia.”
- “The last thing the Biden administration should do is risk creating additional tensions with Berlin and Paris over making Ukraine a NATO security obligation. There are no indications that French and German leaders believe that the problem of corruption in Ukraine has diminished or that giving Kiev NATO membership would be any less of a provocation to Russia than it would have been in 2008. … Quiet but firm resistance from France, Germany (and apparently other members) again deterred the 2021 NATO summit from approving a MAP.”
- “French and German leaders were correct in 2008, and their resistance is correct now. Washington should listen to them and back away from the dangerous folly of treating Ukraine as a de facto NATO ally.”
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
“From Realpolitik to Square One: How the U.S. Approach to Belarus Backfired,” Mark Episkopos, The National Interest, 10.01.21. The author, a national security reporter for the news outlet, writes:
- “[N]umerous rounds of well-organized mass protests and the combined efforts of a collective West have failed to drive regime change in Minsk. Moreover, they have isolated Belarus even further from European institutions and delivered a reluctant Lukashenko straight into Moscow’s geopolitical embrace. What lessons can the incoming administration in Washington learn from the failed ‘color revolution’ in Belarus?”
- “In the summer of 2019, the Trump administration … conceived an altogether different path forward: instead of airing unresolvable moral differences, Washington should engage Minsk in the context of a broader Eurasian grand strategy. … The stage was set for a diplomatic breakthrough in U.S.-Belarusian relations and, with it, a reinvigorated U.S. geopolitical presence in Eurasia. Then came the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. … The Western world agreed that Lukashenko had to be punished for transgressing against democracy and human rights, and so began the color revolution in Belarus. … Over the coming months, Washington and Brussels coordinated to implement a massive sanctions package against Lukashenko.”
- “The U.S. State Department not only retreated from its fledgling attempts at normalization, but took U.S.-Belarusian relations back to square one … Lukashenko, predictably, was forced to abandon his long-standing ‘multi-vector policy’ of fostering relations with the West as a counterweight to what would otherwise be his one-sided dependence on Moscow.”
- “Not only is Lukashenko now more isolated from the West than ever, but he has spent the past few months consolidating his internal popularity and further reinforcing his levers of domestic control. Any future efforts at a reset with Minsk will now face an uphill struggle of the West’s own making.”
- “Policymakers and analysts sometimes ask why a particular color revolution failed, and what Western institutions can do to help the next one succeed. But the record is abundantly clear: color revolution is itself a failed policy, driven by a misguided focus on enforcing liberal-democratic values rather than pursuing concrete strategic ends.”
“Why the Arrest of an Ex-President May be One Crisis Too Many for Georgia,” Carl Bildt, The Washington Post, 10.03.21. The author, former prime minister of Sweden and columnist for the Washington Post, writes:
“Ever since Georgia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country has aspired to full membership in European and transatlantic institutions. Saturday’s local elections come at a critical moment … On Friday, the authorities announced that they had arrested ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili excites intense emotions among his compatriots.”
“Meanwhile, Georgia’s political divides have steadily deepened. This polarization has endangered not only its progress toward democracy but also its continuing economic reforms.”
“Saturday’s election has been accompanied by the usual allegations of irregularities, but the international community should allow the vote count to be fully completed before the next stage of the process can begin. At best, there could be a new start in the efforts to restart the democratic path of the country. At worst, a new phase of destructive polarization could start.”
“Now it is up to the Georgian government to show it can uphold the rule of law. Instead of summarily detaining him, the government should give Saakashvili the possibility of defending himself in a fair trial under close international observation.”
“Georgia has much work ahead if it wishes to realize the full potential of its far-reaching E.U. agreement and membership in the E.U. Eastern Partnership, as well as its further integration with NATO. Brussels and Washington must make clear that these goals can be achieved only by respecting democratic principles and the rule of law, and by moving away from the politics of revenge and polarization of justice. The choice is up to Tbilisi. The future of the country hangs in the balance.”