Russia Analytical Report, Sept. 28-Oct. 5, 2020

This Week’s Highlights

  • We should not mourn the exit of arms control that, over a half-century, gave the world some sense of security, more psychological than real, writes Carnegie’s Dmitri Trenin. It is nuclear deterrence that has been and remains key to strategic stability, Trenin argues, and making it more effective is top priority. This, rather than arms control, is the only basis of strategic stability. In a polycentric and deregulated nuclear world, strategic stability can and should be complemented by reliable communication, contacts, a measure of transparency and restraint among the relevant parties, Trenin writes. Investing in these measures makes more sense than trying to salvage arms control or seeking to impose it on unwilling parties. 
  • At a key meeting eight months before the Brandenburg Gate celebration, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker promised Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would move “not one inch eastward," writes Stephen Kinzer of the Watson Institute. Other Western leaders made the same commitment. “We believe that NATO should not expand the sphere of its activity," Chancellor Kohl told Gorbachev. That was enough to satisfy the Soviet leader. It shouldn't have been, Kinzer argues. Gorbachev accepted a “pinky promise" rather than insisting on a written commitment. Kinzer writes that German unification teaches two important lessons that apply to life as well as diplomacy: Keep your expectations realistic, and never trust a pinky promise. 
  • “One of the reasons I went to meet with Gen. Patrushev is to let him know that there would be absolutely no tolerance for any interference with our Election Day, with our voting, with the vote tallies and demanded that—that Russia not engage in that sort of thing,” U.S national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien said, failing to mention the key way Russia had interfered, with a sophisticated disinformation campaign, writes David E. Sanger of the New York Times. “The Russians have committed to doing so,” O’Brien said. “And so, look, it’s Russia. So, as President Reagan said and as President Trump often says, it’s trust, but verify.” 
  • Turkey’s more prominent role in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the potential for the conflict to spill over into other contested regions have already raised the stakes considerably, warns Jeffrey Mankoff of CSIS, while Prof. Mohammed Ayoob writes that there are too many external fingers in the Caucasus pie, and unless the fire is doused quickly, it has the potential to turn into a major regional conflict. Meanwhile, the Financial Times’ editorial board writes that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suffering from a weak economy and in danger of overreaching, would be well-advised to temper his support for Baku and join Moscow instead in trying to restore calm.  
  • A post-Lukashenko Belarus, with close ties to Moscow but an improved relationship with the West, remains a possible medium-term outcome of the current crisis, write Yauheni Preiherman, director of the Minsk Dialogue Council on International Relations, and CFR’s Thomas Graham. It might not be the one many in the West had hoped for, but it is still a good alternative and perhaps the best option in the current climate. Well-crafted policy could make it a reality, they write. If the West tries to force an aggressive solution, however, the outcome could be disastrous, most of all for the brave people of Belarus. 
  • It is not just in international relations that the Kremlin evades responsibility for publicly significant events, argues Maxim Trudolyubov of the Wilson Center. The stories presented domestically are often crude and are told in the passive voice, the essential grammatical tool of evading responsibility. Russia needs a deep detoxification of all spheres of public life, he writes, from its political system to its political language. 

NB: Next week’s Russia Analytical Report will appear on Tuesday, Oct. 13, instead of Monday, Oct. 12, because of a U.S. federal holiday.


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.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • No significant developments.

NATO-Russia relations:

“Russia, NATO and Black Sea Security,” Stephen J. Flanagan, Anika Binnendijk, Irina A. Chindea, Katherine Costello, Geoffrey Kirkwood, Dara Massicot and Clint Reach, RAND Corporation, October 2020: The authors of the report write:

  • Despite this instability and conflict, U.S. and European officials and analysts have not given nearly as much attention to the Black Sea region’s security challenges as they have to those in Northern Europe. In this report, the authors first assess how Russia is employing a variety of nonmilitary and military instruments to advance its goals.”  
  • “Key Findings: Russia uses a variety of nonmilitary and military tools to achieve its geopolitical goals in the region. Russia seeks to maintain a sphere of privileged influence in the Black Sea region through use of informational, diplomatic, economic, energy, clandestine, and military instruments.”
  • “Russia uses hybrid tactics when overt military action is too costly or risky. But conventional military capabilities provide the essential underpinning for achieving Russia's regional goals. Russia's military buildup in Crimea, modernization of naval forces, and increased ground forces in the Southern Military District are designed to secure Russia's vital southwestern flank from an attack, dissuade and intimidate neighbors, and support wider power projection.”
  • “Most countries in the Black Sea region must carefully balance relations between Russia and the West. Bulgaria is committed to Western integration but is subject to various Russian influences, which often leads it to balance relations between Moscow and the West.”
  • “Turkey still values the NATO guarantee but is willing to impede Allied initiatives and is systematically balancing relations between Russia and the West. Georgia and Ukraine are committed to Western integration and deeper defense cooperation with the United States and other allies, but they are constrained by active armed conflicts. Armenia is dependent on Russian security patronage but is open to diplomatic and limited security cooperation with the West. … Azerbaijan pursues practical, measured relations with Russia and the West but can play a limited role in reducing Southern Europe's reliance on Russian energy.”

“Never Trust a Pinky Promise,” Stephen Kinzer, The Boston Globe, 10.04.20: The author, a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, writes:

  • “Thirty years ago, at a wildly festive midnight carnival on Oct. 3, 1990, East and West Germany were proclaimed reunited. … We thought we were witnessing the dawn of a new era. … Hopes that gripped us on that dizzying night at the Brandenburg Gate, and two years later at Maastricht, slowly dissipated.”
  • “The visionary Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to accept unification and to withdraw Soviet troops from Germany, where they had been stationed since the end of World War II. Yet Gorbachev made a historic mistake that puts him on the list of the worst negotiators in modern history. During the painstaking talks that led to unification, Gorbachev insisted that NATO … must never expand eastward toward his country's territory. … Western negotiators understood and accepted his concern.”
  • “That was enough to satisfy the Soviet leader. It shouldn't have been. He accepted a ‘pinky promise’ rather than insisting on a written commitment. Only a few years later, President Bill Clinton, eager to win votes from ethnic Eastern Europeans in his 1996 re-election campaign and urged on by weapons makers who saw an enormous new market in Eastern Europe, proclaimed his support for precisely the NATO expansion that Gorbachev had been promised would never happen. … NATO expansion has contributed decisively to Russia's perception of the West as both untrustworthy and aggressive.”
  • “German unification has proved to be one of the great successes of modern history. It did not, however, produce the united Europe that the crowd at Brandenburg Gate envisioned on that jubilant night 30 years ago. This teaches two important lessons that apply to life as well as diplomacy: Keep your expectations realistic, and never trust a pinky promise.”

“A Clash With Turkey Is Becoming Inevitable,” Michael Rubin, The National Interest, 10.05.20The author, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writes:

  • “Turkey has essentially become like Iraq in early 1990: Erdoğan, like Saddam, sees his economy collapsing and recognizes that he will not be able to deflect blame from his own mismanagement and choices. That means trouble is brewing.”
  • “Whereas compartmentalized analysts might see Turkish president Recep Erdoğan backing down in the face of diplomatic pushback and military mobilizations, a more holistic view is that Erdoğan is determined to lash out for reasons both ideological and populist and will continue to do so until he determines where a small military investment could bring the greatest gains. … The problem is not only in Cyprus or the Eastern Mediterranean, however. Turkey has troops in Syria and Iraq, and has also intervened in Libya and, most recently, Azerbaijan. Troublingly, Turkey’s new modus operandi is to use Syrian proxies, many of whom are veterans of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda affiliates.”
  • “Beyond its military posturing, Turkey has also grown more aggressive toward dissidents abroad.”
  • “Turkey’s recent escalations in the region show that Erdoğan’s ambitions are out-of-control. The question for Washington, Berlin and Brussels is whether the United States and Europe are willing to stand up and shut down those ambitions before Erdoğan pulls the trigger, or whether they will instead wait until a resolution is far more costly to Turks and everyone in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“Stability Amid Strategic Deregulation: Managing the End of Nuclear Arms Control,” Dmitri Trenin, Washington Quarterly, September 2020The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “At the end of the day, it is the certainty of nuclear annihilation that keeps the United States and Russia from engaging in hostilities over any number of issues that set them against each other. To be effective, deterrence needs to have a guaranteed second strike or retaliatory capability, crisis stability and sufficient time provided for decision-making by the national leadership. Deterrence is very much alive and well today and has periodically proven that it works.”
  • “Certainly, deterrence stewardship without nuclear arms control inevitably means an arms race. This race is different from the U.S.-Soviet one in the Cold War era … It makes much more sense to help strengthen deterrence by making it more effective. In the environment of rising U.S.-China tensions, Russia’s agreement in 2019 to help China build its own early warning system that would alert the Chinese leadership of any incoming enemy missiles is stabilizing.”
  • “While negotiations on new arms control agreements may be a thing of the past or—hopefully—of the future, in the meantime, discussions today on strategic stability issues … can generate much better understanding among adversaries of their opponents’ objectives, principles, and strategies. … Transparency is another tool that can be very useful.”
  • “If history is a guide, the pattern of recklessness and risk-taking between nuclear powers could be changed by a serious crisis like the U.S.-Soviet standoff over the missiles in Cuba … The Chinese and U.S. militaries are operating in ever-closer proximity in the South China Sea. The Taiwan Strait is another potential hotspot. … Beijing and Washington might decide to anticipate adverse developments by expanding their military contacts to a sort of a deconfliction mechanism.”
  • “Making it [nuclear deterrence] more effective is top priority. This, rather than arms control, is the only basis of strategic stability. In a polycentric and deregulated nuclear world, strategic stability can and should be complemented by reliable communication, contacts, a measure of transparency and restraint among the relevant parties.”

“At 11th Hour, New START Data Reaffirms Importance of Extending Treaty,” Hans M. Kristensen, Federation of American Scientists, 10.01.20: The author, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, writes:

  • “New START treaty is set to expire, the latest set of so-called aggregate data published by the State Department shows the treaty is working and that both countries … are keeping their vast strategic nuclear arsenals within the limits of the treaty.”
  • “This is the final set of periodic six-month aggregate data to be released, although a final set will probably be released if the treaty expires in February. … The latest set of this data shows the situation as of October 1, 2020.”
  • “As of that date, the two countries possessed a combined total of 1,564 accountable strategic missiles and heavy bombers, of which 1,185 launchers were deployed with 2,904 warheads. That is a slight increase in the number of deployed launchers and warheads compared with six months ago.”
  • “In terms of the total effect of the treaty, the data shows the two countries since February 2011 have cut 425 strategic launchers from their combined arsenals, reduced deployed strategic launchers by 218, and reduced the number of deployed strategic warheads by 433. However, it is important to remind that this warhead reduction is but a fraction (less than 6 percent) of the estimated 8,110 warheads that remain in the two countries combined nuclear weapons stockpiles.”
  • “Russia and the United States can and should extend the New START treaty as is by up to 5 more years. Once that is done, they should continue negotiations on a follow-on treaty with additional limitations and improved verification. … The fact that Marshall Billingslea has already threatened to increase U.S. nuclear forces if Russia doesn’t agree to the US conditions for extending the treaty only reaffirms how important New START is for keeping a lid on US and Russian strategic nuclear forces and for providing transparency and predictability on the status and plans for the arsenals.”

“Extending New START for Five Years,” Michael Krepon, Arms Control Wonk, 10.04.20: The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes:

  • “New START can be extended for a full five years by common consent without another debilitating Senate ratification debate, as permitted by Article XIV of the Treaty. Those who argue for a shorter extension to demonstrate toughness are blowing smoke. Both Washington and Moscow can upload warheads, but what then?”
  • “Dispensing with New START’s provisions would lengthen any negotiation. Starting from scratch means renegotiating to retrieve every prior Russian concession. Short-cuts aren’t possible unless you rely on the work of those who preceded you, as was the case with John Bolton. The reason he was able to negotiate the 2003 Moscow Treaty, which was a mere three pages in length, was because he could rely on the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and its appendages for particulars. The body of this work was the approximate size of Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace.’”
  • “Our fractious world is poised to have breakdowns in deterrence because none of the ongoing competitions between nuclear-armed states have guardrails in the form of arms control. India and Pakistan have a few confidence-building measures but no arms control arrangements. Ditto for the competition between China and India. Both are marked by border clashes of increased severity. The U.S.-China competition has no guardrails. And only one strategic arms control treaty remains between the United States and Russia.”


“The Death and Life of Terrorist Networks. How Alliances Help Militants Survive,” Christopher Blair, Erica Chenoweth, Michael C. Horowitz, Evan Perkoski and Philip B. K. Potter, Foreign Affairs, 10.05.20The authors of the report write:

  • “The Islamic State (or ISIS) is quietly ‘rising from the ashes’ in parts of Iraq and Syria, but this is not the first time that it has recovered from a near-death experience. Its predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, also reconstituted itself after nearly being defeated in 2007–8. ISIS has demonstrated extraordinary resilience; about half of all terrorist organizations fail in their first year, but it has survived for the better part of two decades despite fighting against an international coalition assembled to defeat it.”
  • “The lesson of ISIS is that states should not underestimate the power of a shared ideology. Yet there are nonreligious ideologies that have offered similar benefits in the past—and could continue to do so in the future. For example, today’s growing networks of far-right militancy, bolstered by the ‘globalization’ of far-right ideology, could prove challenging to defeat if they develop strong ideological ties.”
  • “The Counter-Terrorism Committee of the U.N. Security Council recently issued a report on the ‘growing and increasingly transnational threat posed by extreme right-wing terrorism.’ Authorities in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the United States have all issued guidance about the threat posed by far-right terrorism, and in April, the U.S. government listed a Russian white-supremacist group as a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist organization’—the first time that a white supremacist organization has been so designated.”
  • “The lesson of the durability of ISIS and other successful militant groups over the last 70 years is that states should not underestimate the power of a shared ideology, even under concerted military or law enforcement pressure. Containing militant networks means investing considerable resources into discrediting and diminishing the appeal of the underlying ideology—even before the networks become a serious threat. When shared militant ideologies are allowed to flourish and grow unchecked, the groups that espouse them become much harder to defeat once governments do decide to crack down.”

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

Elections interference:

“Russians ‘Have Committed’ to Not Interfering in Elections, the National Security Adviser Insists,” David E. Sanger, New York Times, 10.04.20: The author, a national security correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “President Trump’s national security adviser said on Sunday [Oct. 4] that he had warned his Russian counterpart last week that ‘there would be absolutely no tolerance for any interference’ in the November election, but did not mention that American intelligence officials and a range of private firms had said they already saw evidence of Russian influence operations.”
  • “Robert C. O’Brien, said on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ that he had delivered the warning during a meeting in Geneva on Friday [Oct. 2] with Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council. Mr. O’Brien did not disclose what else was discussed, but the meeting comes as the administration is racing a deadline to decide whether to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty and as it faces pressure to act against Moscow after the poisoning of Alexei Nalvany.”
  • “‘One of the reasons I went to meet with Gen. Patrushev is to let him know that there would be absolutely no tolerance for any interference with our Election Day, with our voting, with the vote tallies and demanded that—that Russia not engage in that sort of thing,’ he said, failing to mention the key way Russia had interfered, with a sophisticated disinformation campaign.”
  • “‘The Russians have committed to doing so,’ he said. ‘And so, look, it’s Russia. So, as President Reagan said and as President Trump often says, it’s trust, but verify.’”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Moscow Tells Its Story in the Passive Voice,” Maxim Trudolyubov, Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, 09.28.20: The author, editor in chief of The Russia File, writes:

  • “Russia’s officials, may tie themselves into knots and constantly change their story but they are consistent in one respect. Grammatically, the Kremlin’s story is always told in the passive voice: this allows for the conspicuous absence of an actor, a perpetrator. Officials rarely deny that things may be ‘done’ to people but they are always fuzzy about the doer.”
  • “Moscow called the 2018 poisoning of the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter a ‘provocation,’ even though British authorities had identified and named Russian spies that Scotland Yard said were responsible for the attack. … Four years before that incident, in 2014, the Russian authorities said that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a passenger jet on route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, had merely ‘crashed.’”
  • “With Alexei Navalny’s poisoning, Moscow is replaying its deniability game but its claims somehow get sillier each time. … A doctor from Omsk, the Siberian city where Navalny was treated immediately after the poisoning, said that the politician’s illness could have been caused by a strict diet. … Moscow’s media figures and politicians are never shy to air old and trusted denials.”
  • “For Russia’s official spokespersons, the reason why Navalny could have been poisoned in Germany is readily available. ‘It has everything to do with one thing only, it’s Nord Stream 2,’ the head of the Russian Agency for Ties With Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation Yevgeny Primakov wrote on Facebook.”
  • “It is not just in international relations that the Kremlin evades responsibility for publicly significant events. The stories presented domestically are often crude and are told in the passive voice, the essential grammatical tool of evading responsibility. … Russia needs a deep detoxification of all spheres of public life, from its political system to its political language.”

“The Kremlin Takes On a Resurrected Navalny,” Alexander Baunov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.05.20: The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center and editor in chief of, writes:

  • “His poisoning has elevated Navalny to a special place, making him at least temporarily above criticism from the Russian intellectual circles with which he previously often bickered. And it goes without saying that an attempt to silence any opponent at the cost of their life boosts the influence of that opponent. A ‘minor fraudster’ who has been visited in the hospital by the German chancellor no longer seems so minor after all.”
  • “The old methods are proving less effective in forcing Navalny outside the already narrow Russian political space. Putin, who believes that enemies deserve respect, while traitors do not, doesn’t want to do Navalny the honor of giving him the status of an enemy. Instead, he wants to lump him in with the traitors, who are worse than enemies. Navalny is too dangerous to be granted the status of enemy.”
  • “Navalny has never been liberal enough for Russia’s liberal intelligentsia, and is far from a dogmatic: in other words, he is someone with an intentionally indeterminate broad support base that could be drastically increased by any favorable turn of events. Following his poisoning, for example, both his approval and disapproval ratings have notably risen, and with them public awareness of him. And unlike many older opposition activists, Navalny fights not for the right to criticize Putin or for freedom of speech or assembly, but for power itself.”

“Putin Is Running a Disinformation Campaign on Navalny’s Poisoning,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 10.02.20: The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “The truth of who ordered and who carried out the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny should not be a parlor game. President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, a former director of the Federal Security Service and the Kremlin leader who commands a loyal security establishment, presumably can snap his fingers and get the answer, if he doesn't already know. But it is evident by Russia's obfuscations and misdirections that Mr. Putin is instead running a disinformation machine to deflect responsibility for the assassination attempt.”
  • “The Novichok class of nerve agents was invented in the Soviet Union as a chemical weapon—and inherited by Russia. This compound is in possession of the state that Mr. Putin leads. All the evidence suggests that Russia's intelligence services used the same nerve agent in a 2018 murder attempt against former military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England. And, speaking of precedent, we recall the fate of others who criticized Mr. Putin: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Nemtsov. All were murdered. Mr. Putin is fooling no one with the parlor games.”

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:

“Macron’s rapprochement with Putin is not worth it,” Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, The Financial Times, 10.03.20: The author, the world news editor of the Financial Times, writes:

  • “Someone should inform French President Emmanuel Macron that his ‘trust-building dialogue’ with Russia’s Vladimir Putin has failed to generate any trust. The suspected poisoning of Alexei Navalny with a banned military nerve agent was most likely the final nail in the coffin of this well-intentioned but ill-fated initiative. Yet Mr. Macron seems to believe it is worth salvaging.”
  • “The question is not whether France should cut its diplomatic ties with Russia—it should not and will not. Rather, Mr. Macron should think hard about continuing to invest personally and publicly in a relationship that has borne no significant fruit and created deep unease in Europe.”
  • “Mr. Macron should be more discreet: ditch the public displays of affection, co-ordinate better with Berlin and let diplomats do their work behind the scenes. One of them told me: ‘We are going to maintain channels, but a trip to Moscow is out of the question. Yes to dialogue, but not if it causes frictions with Poland and Germany.’ It also would be politically wise for the liberal Mr. Macron to distance himself from a leader who passed constitutional changes allowing him to rule until 2036.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“US Should Keep an Eye on Rising Chinese Investment in the South Caucasus,” Daniel Shapiro, Russia Matters, 10.01.20: The author, an associate with Russia Matters, writes:

  • “As the emerging great power rivalry keeps the U.S. preoccupied with competing with China in Southeast Asia, the Middle Kingdom has been making inroads into the South Caucasus, which can impact U.S. energy security and other important interests.”
  • “While China’s relationships with South Caucasus countries are probably not among China’s top foreign policy priorities, its economic presence in the South Caucasus has nonetheless grown exponentially in recent years and it could be only a matter of time before this growth translates into political influence. Located between European and East Asian markets, South Caucasus countries present transit routes for Chinese and European goods that could greatly aid China’s economy. Investing in the region provides China with a foothold in the area. All three South Caucasus countries signed documents with China in 2015 related to their involvement in the BRI, and China’s foreign minister has made trips to all three countries.”
  • “But China’s interests in the region are not only economic. … China worries about jihadism in Xinjiang, and the South Caucasus’s proximity to jihadist hotspots in the Middle East is ‘important in the context of combatting this threat.’ Additionally, China has employed a ‘cluster approach’ to the South Caucasus, as it has developed relations with all countries in the region instead of taking a side in regional conflicts. This allows China to continue growing its presence in all countries of the region, a process that … notably still coincides with Russia’s and Iran’s interest in pushing the region away from the West.”
  • “The United States and the West as a whole should thus pay attention to this increasing Chinese activity in the region. … China’s activities in the South Caucasus threaten several U.S. vital interests.”

“People's Liberation Army Operational Concepts,” Edmund J. Burke, Kristen Gunness, Cortez A. Cooper III and Mark Cozad, RAND Corporation, September 2020: The authors of the report write:

  • “Three interlinked operational concepts likely underpin doctrine and link guiding principles by which the PLA will seek to accomplish its given missions through 2035: (1) War control (and therefore campaign success) depends on information dominance; (2) combat space is shrinking, but war space has expanded; and (3) target-centric warfare defeats the adversary's operational system.”
  • “Xi Jinping and his strategists are looking beyond his 2035 ‘fully modernized’ milestone to develop military theory and concepts for a ‘world-class military’ by 2050. Beijing has shown interest in using big data—and, ultimately, artificial intelligence (AI)—to improve PLA capabilities.”
  • “Although most PLA scholars currently do not assess that AI will replace human operational commanders completely, they do believe that it can act as a ‘digital staff officer’ capable of gathering and presenting intelligence, identifying enemy intent, and monitoring operations.”
  • “The most notable effort is the PLA's establishment of the Strategic Support Force, which is responsible for integrating cyber data with electromagnetic and space warfare information.”
  • “The common theme throughout Chinese primary sources is that mastery of big data analytics will better position China to win future military conflict between great powers. … Network warfare appears to be another major area of focus in the PLA's push on big data.”

War in Karabakh:

“Europe’s Longest-Running Conflict Can’t Be Ignored,” Thomas de Waal, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 09.29.20: The author, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe specializing in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, writes:

  • “Heavy fighting has broken out. … because of long pent-up frustrations, but also because of a specific historical moment. … Given that public expectations in both societies run extremely high, it will be harder for the leaders to stop soon and claim success.”
  • “Two new factors make the situation more dangerous. … The first is that while, as usual, most countries are calling for de-escalation and a ceasefire, for the first time, a major power and neighbor—Turkey—is openly backing … Azerbaijan. … The second factor is that the United States is unusually disengaged.”
  • “Russia—and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in particular—remains the most active mediator and the only player with a genuine capacity to persuade the two sides to declare a new ceasefire. But as always, Moscow is constrained by the dense bilateral agendas it has with Baku and Yerevan, and the historical suspicions both Armenians and Azerbaijanis have of Russian intentions in the region. Russia will never be able to deliver a peace agreement on its own.”
  • “In May 2016, after the last round of heavy fighting, the two presidents went to Vienna and, under pressure from Lavrov and then U.S. secretary of state John Kerry, both sides agreed to demands the others had long been making. … This agreement could have extracted some benefit from the tragedy of 2016, but very quickly both sides walked back on their promises.”
  • “The Europeans and Americans … will ultimately have no option but to engage with it more seriously—and in partnership with Russia, whatever their differences on other issues. Turkey’s involvement, Iran’s proximity, and the presence of major oil and gas pipelines all make this a region where a local flare-up can quickly turn into an international headache. … There is also, of course, a humanitarian imperative.”

“Why Armenia and Azerbaijan Are on the Brink of War: Local Tensions Meet Global Rivalries in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Jeffrey Mankoff, Foreign Affairs, 10.01.20: The author, a distinguished research fellow at the U.S. National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies, writes:

  • “Turkey’s growing involvement … risks both giving the protagonists—especially Azerbaijan—an incentive to keep fighting and opening up a new front in the Turkish-Russian rivalry.”
  • “In Armenia, the government of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan … is worried about what it sees as Moscow’s increasingly ambivalent support for maintaining the status quo. … Pashinyan has taken a harder line, including calling for Nagorno-Karabakh to be formally integrated into Armenia. … In Azerbaijan, an economic downturn and frustration at the authoritarian rule of President Ilham Aliyev have fed popular discontent.”
  • “Nagorno-Karabakh is perhaps the most dangerous flash point across post-Soviet Eurasia. … While Moscow does not call the shots on the ground, both sides understand that any resolution to the conflict can come only with Russian support. During previous rounds of fighting (including in July), Russian officials were instrumental in brokering a truce. Today, Russia has little interest in a wider conflict.”
  • “Although Russia remains the most important power broker, … Ankara has adopted a more assertive posture in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, [and] it has become more forthright in its support for Azerbaijan. … Strong Turkish support could encourage Baku to take an uncompromising line. … Turkish involvement could also transform the conflict into an existential one in the eyes of the Armenian public.”
  • “The scale of the ongoing clashes, Turkey’s more prominent role, and the potential for the conflict to spill over into other contested regions have already raised the stakes considerably. … Russia is the only outside power in a position to force the sides to return to the negotiating table. Turkey’s intervention threatens Russia’s traditional mediator role, but Moscow still has considerable financial and political leverage to push for a stop to the fighting.”

“Judy Asks: Is Peace Possible Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?” by Judy Dempsey, Carnegie Europe Center, 10.01.20: Participants in the discussion state:

  • Leila Alieva: “The answer is yes, because there have been significantly longer periods of peaceful coexistence between the two nations (or their historic predecessors) than of conflict.”
  • Laurence Broers: “Peace is possible between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, but Armenia and Azerbaijan have never been at peace as sovereign states—only as provinces of larger empires. … Thomas de Waal: Peace is still possible—and indeed it is essential. But the latest fighting, which began on September 27, 2020, makes it even more distant. An immediate ceasefire is essential.”
  • Alexander Iskandaryan: “Whether or not the OSCE Minsk Group format survives this, the situation in the conflict will be further from a peace settlement than ever before. This does not mean that a peaceful settlement will be ruled out; no conflict lasts forever. However, we will need to create a new peace agenda burdened with two wars instead of one.” … Gerard Libaridian: “At this stage, sustainable peace is not possible. The two sides have radically incompatible notions of what a peace would entail.”
  • Emin Milli: “Thirty years of negotiations and attempts to convince Armenia to compromise and return occupied territories peacefully, in order to avoid another war and negotiate the future status of Karabakh, have failed. Today, Armenia as a state is weaker, and its relationship with Russia has been severely damaged by Pashinyan and the new government.”
  • Dmitri Trenin: “The question that has preoccupied me … is different. … Is war possible between Russia and Turkey? This unavoidably leads to a follow-up question: Should Turkey attack Armenia, and should Russia choose to defend Armenia, its Collective Security Treaty Organization ally, will this activate the North Atlantic Treaty? … With regard to the peace question, the answer is: not in the foreseeable future.”

“Two Strategically Sensitive Countries Are on the Verge of War—and Trump Is Missing in Action,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 09.29.20: The author, a columnist covering foreign affairs at The Washington Post, writes:

  • “The State Department has been increasingly concerned about the showdown between a big U.S. ally (NATO member Turkey) and a close Russian one (Armenia).”
  • “Pashinyan said a Turkish-supported Azerbaijani assault on Armenia itself ‘has now become a reality,’ with shelling Tuesday of the Vardenis region, east of the Armenian capital, Yerevan.”
  • “’What is happening today is a war declared against the Armenian people,’ Pashinyan argued. He said that, because of Turkey's historic conflict with Armenia, his country faces an ‘existential threat.’ … In explaining the Turkish threat, Pashinyan cited the murder of more than 1 million Armenians in 1915. … ‘Turkey's president [Erdogan] has turned denial into an official policy of his state,’ Pashinyan charged.”
  • “The State Department said Sunday that the United States was ‘alarmed by reports of large-scale military action’ in Karabakh and warned against ‘participation in the escalating violence by external parties,’ a seeming reference to Turkey. The statement said Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun had called the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia ‘to urge both sides to cease hostilities immediately.’ Pashinyan said further talks with U.S. officials are planned. The highest-level U.S. statement about the conflict came Tuesday from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. … Pompeo said: ‘Both sides must stop the violence and work with the Minsk Group co-chairs … to return to substantive negotiations as quickly as possible.’”
  • “The Armenia-Azerbaijan standoff is one of those forgotten ‘frozen conflicts’ that have a way of melting down suddenly, when regional and global tensions are on the rise - and when the political stakes in the United States are high. So far, Trump is nowhere to be seen.”

“Armenia-Azerbaijan War: Military Dimensions of the Conflict,” Michael Kofman, Russia Matters, 10.02.20: The author, a senior research scientist and director of the Russia Studies program at CNA, writes:

  • “Although Azerbaijan’s leader, Ilham Aliyev, has vowed to take all territory currently under Armenian control outside the boundaries of the Republic of Armenia, the Azerbaijani military simply does not have sufficient military superiority to attain such maximalist aims.”
  • “Yerevan has not asked for Russian assistance, but … Armenia may not want Russian assistance at this point, since simply freezing the war after some limited Azerbaijani gains would mean that Baku could repeat the process in a few years.”
  • “Turkey’s role has changed considerably in this conflict, from politically backing Azerbaijan to actively supporting Baku’s military effort. This poses a challenge to Russia’s long-standing policy of maintaining a balance between the two local actors and keeping the status quo. Although Russia is Armenia’s ally … Moscow is unlikely to enter the war unless Turkey’s reported involvement in combat becomes official and grows in scale. A fair bit hinges on Armenian military performance, as Russia would be loath to see a dramatic upset of the status quo between these militaries, even if Turkey does not become directly involved.”
  • “Ankara has challenged Russia’s role as the dominant military power able to determine security outcomes in the Caucasus. This is the third in a series of contests that have taken place between the two countries in recent years, including Syria and Libya. Conversely, the two countries also share strong economic ties, which undoubtedly generate mixed impulses in Moscow. Hence, Russia is unlikely to intervene unless the status quo is altered so dramatically that Armenia’s situation begins to politically impinge on Russia’s credibility as a security provider in a region it considers its own ‘near abroad.’”
  • “As the conflict escalates, and it inevitably will, the pressure will mount on both parties to agree to a ceasefire.”

“The Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh Is About Local Territories and Wider Rivalries,” Gerard Toal, John O'Loughlin and Kristin M. Bakke, The Washington Post, 10.02.20: The authors of the article write:

  • “Azerbaijan's Aliyev regime may be gambling on military success in Karabakh, amid Azerbaijan's own mounting domestic problems—economic stagnation, endemic corruption, the COVID-19 health crisis and weariness with authoritarianism. The bloody military conflict on the battlefields of Nagorno-Karabakh this week could shake the whole South Caucasus and beyond in ways we have not seen before.”
  • “In February 2020, we conducted face-to-face public opinion surveys in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh on geopolitics in the region. We attempted to conduct a parallel survey in Azerbaijan but, despite considerable efforts, were unable to do so because of government interference. … Here are three important findings from our surveys that shape the current conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. … Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh have an expansive conception of their territory. … People in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are not fully in agreement about unification. … In the aftermath of Pashinyan's call for unification in 2019, our recent survey shows that support for unification in Karabakh dropped to 33 percent vs. 55 percent support for independent status. Within Armenia, by contrast, 78 percent in February 2020 favored unification over recognition by Armenia of NKR as an independent state. … People in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are strongly supportive of Russia.”

“Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Could Quickly Turn Into Regional War,” Mohammed Ayoob, The National Interest/Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 10.01.20: The author, distinguished professor emeritus of international relations at Michigan State University, writes:

  • “The conflict has raised concerns about the stability of the South Caucasus region since major pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets traverse this area. The South Caucasus Pipeline … carries natural gas from the Shah Deniz gas field in the Azerbaijan sector of the Caspian Sea to Turkey. It runs parallel to the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan oil pipeline that carries oil … across Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey to the Ceyhan marine terminal on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. Crude oil from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan is also transported via this pipeline.”
  • “Equally, if not more, alarming is the danger that if the confrontation escalates it may draw in external powers, Turkey and Russia in particular. … Turkey has traditionally been a staunch supporter of Azerbaijan and condemned Armenia in no uncertain terms for beginning the conflict when fighting broke out in September. Russia considers Armenia a strategic ally, supported it militarily in earlier bouts of fighting with Azerbaijan and is treaty-bound to come to Armenia’s defense if the war spreads beyond Nagorno-Karabakh across the international frontier. But, it also considers Azerbaijan a strategic partner and has supplied arms to Baku. Russia will therefore have a major problem on its hands if the conflict escalates. Moreover, if Russia and Turkey line up on opposite sides of this conflict it will greatly harm Russia’s attempt to woo Turkey away from NATO, especially since the two countries are already supporting opposing camps in Libya and Syria.”
  • “Israel and Iran also have stakes in the conflict. Israel is a major supplier of arms to Azerbaijan, and Iran … has long supported Armenia. Both Iran and Azerbaijan are Shia but Azerbaijan’s irredentist claim after independence on the northern Iranian provinces of East and West Azerbaijan has more than neutralized their religious affinity.”

“Fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh Could Put Turkey and Russia on Opposite Sides,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 09.30.20: The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “What has changed the dynamics is the role being played by Mr. Erdogan and his growing appetite for military adventurism. Turkey has close linguistic, ethnic, cultural and economic links with neighboring Azerbaijan. The extent of any material support is unclear. Ankara has denied Armenian claims that Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries have been fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. But Turkish media have reported that Azerbaijan used drones from a defense company run by a relative of Mr. Erdogan.”
  • “Russia and Turkey’s strongmen have fallen out dangerously before, when Turkey shot down a Russian jet near the Turkey-Syria border in 2015, but they eventually made up. Mr. Erdogan went ahead with buying Russian air defense missiles, angering his NATO allies. But Nagorno-Karabakh adds a third flashpoint, with Ankara and Moscow already supporting opposite sides in Syria’s and Libya’s civil wars. Mr. Erdogan, suffering from a weak economy and in danger of overreaching, would be well-advised to temper his support for Baku and join Moscow instead in trying to restore calm.”
  • “Western countries have an important role, too. Washington and Paris, the Minsk Group co-chairs, were slow to respond to violence in July that foreshadowed the latest clashes. NATO should impress upon Mr. Erdogan the need for restraint, and make clear it will not come to his aid in any clash he is seen to have provoked. Unless tensions cool, this particular frozen conflict could get very hot indeed.”

“Nagorno-Karabakh: Why Turkey Is Sending Syrian Mercenaries to War in Azerbaijan,” Adam Lammon, The National Interest, 09.29.20: The author, the assistant managing editor at The National Interest, writes:

  • “The allegation that Turkey has sent Syrians to fight in the Caucasus region is troubling, but not unbelievable. Turkey has long relied on proxy groups to stabilize its southern border with Syria as well as to push back on both President Bashar al-Assad’s regime offensives and the Syrian Kurdish YPG’s aspirations for autonomy and independence.”
  • “The Guardian has revealed that a number of Syrian men have been recruited out of the northwest city of Afrin by a ‘private Turkish security company’ to work as Azeri border guards, a claim that some observers have questioned since Baku already has a capable and well-armed military. Reuters also reports that it spoke with two Syrian fighters who were set to deploy to Azerbaijan from Afrin after speaking with an official from the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army. The men, who said they were promised a salary of $1,500 a month, lamented that they felt forced to go since ‘life is very hard and poor’ in Syria. This recruitment process is clearly ongoing.”
  • “Turkey, which maintains an ethnic and linguistic affinity with its ‘brothers’ in Azerbaijan, has pledged its unwavering support for Baku, including by providing drones, arms sales and technical expertise, following joint military exercises in August. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to condemn Armenia’s ‘occupation’ of Nagorno-Karabakh as ‘the biggest threat to peace in the region’ makes the presence of Syrian mercenaries appear feasible. Although Turkey wants Azerbaijan to be victorious in this conflict, Ankara is likely to proceed with restraint, as overstepping could incite a harsh escalation by the Russian military. Much like Russia once sent ‘little green men’ into eastern Ukraine, Turkey may be hoping that sending Syrians to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh will provide Ankara with a measure of plausible deniability while still demonstrating its support for Baku.”

“Erdogan’s Reckless Intervention Is Fueling Fighting in Azerbaijan and Armenia,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 10.03.20: The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “[W]hat seems clear is that Azerbaijan’s autocratic ruler, Ilham Aliyev, has launched an offensive to regain the territories his country lost in the 1990s—and that he is doing so with the direct support of Turkey. It’s a reckless gambit that reflects both the shrinking influence of the United States under President Trump and the mounting ambitions of his sometime-friend Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s autocratic ruler.”
  • “Turkey was once a reliable NATO ally that hewed to the West’s strategic priorities. But in the past several years Mr. Erdogan has increasingly sought to make his nation into a geopolitical power in its own right, even as he has dismantled its democracy. …Now Mr. Erdogan is offering full-throated supported to the Azeri offensive, while demanding that Armenia withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh.”
  • “According to France and Russia, as well as independent reports by news organizations, Turkey has transported hundreds of Syrian mercenaries to the battlefield, and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told The Post’s David Ignatius that a Turkish F-16 shot down an Armenian warplane on Tuesday. Turkey’s denials are unconvincing.”
  • “Mr. Erdogan’s initiative has placed him at odds with Russia, which has a military base in Armenia and is pledged to defend it from aggression. He and Mr. Aliyev have so far ignored calls for a cease-fire from Russia, France and the United States … It’s not clear how far Russia will go to stop the Turkish-Azeri offensive … But it is in the U.S. interest to stop the fighting and restart negotiations. That will require reining in Mr. Aliyev and Mr. Erdogan and their exaggerated ambitions. Mr. Trump, who has been an open admirer of the Turkish strongman, ought to tell him to stand down.”


“Revenge Voting: Ukraine Prepares to Go to the Polls,” Konstantin Skorkin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 09.29.20: The author, an independent journalist based in Moscow, writes:

  • “The autumn has brought with it new problems for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The ceasefire established with difficulty in the Donbas is hanging by a thread, the crisis in Belarus has destroyed relations with Minsk, and former associates of Zelensky are among those waging war on the presidential team’s reputation. But the biggest difficulties of all look set to stem from the local elections that will take place at the end of October. The president’s party, Servant of the People, is losing popularity and does not enjoy strong representation in the regions, while the parliamentary and regional opposition see the local elections as an opportunity to take revenge against Zelensky for his landslide victories last year.”
  • “For Zelensky’s team, which is used to winning landslide victories, the outcome of the elections will be dispiriting, and will fan the flames of internal strife. After all, success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. This discord will continue to make headlines, creating an unsavory image of backstabbing and treachery around Zelensky, which will only damage the authority of the ‘people’s president’ even further in the eyes of Ukrainians.”
  • “Victory in the elections will give the opposition a new foothold from which to put pressure on Zelensky, as well as opportunities for regional sabotage, enhanced by the increased authority given to local governments. That will be the beginning of new divisions and chaos within the country. Zelensky, who has previously said that mayors cannot be in opposition to the president, could find himself living in a new reality.”
  • “A poor result for Servant of the People will create a situation in which local elites distance themselves from the central authorities in Kyiv, and smoldering discontent with time crystallizes into new protest leaders who are ready to march on Kyiv.”


“Don’t Put Belarus in the Middle. The West Needs to Balance the Interests of Moscow and Minsk,” Yauheni Preiherman and Thomas Graham, Foreign Affairs, 10.02.20: Preiherman, founder and director of the Minsk Dialogue Council on International Relations, and Graham, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, write:

  • “Given the vulnerability of Belarus’s opposition and Russia’s need to keep the country in its orbit, countries like France, Germany and the United States … need to pressure the Belarusian government to stop the violence … but at the same time they must avoid an open conflict with Moscow.”
  • “They can start by acknowledging the nature of the protests. The Belarusian opposition is invested in domestic issues, not geopolitics, and … the protesters understand that Moscow is economically and politically central to their country. Belarus depends on Russia as both a market for goods and a supplier of vital resources, such as energy. Neither the protests nor Western intervention will change that relationship. Potential Western backers need to respect this dynamic.”
  • “If the West tries to force an aggressive solution the outcome could be disastrous. Calling for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, however, will not be enough. The United States and the European Union should actively seek to facilitate such an outcome through patient, quiet, diplomatic engagement with Moscow, because the Kremlin still holds the key to Lukashenko’s fate.”
  • “But while Western countries should avoid stoking conflict, they must also engage Belarus directly. … Washington should confirm an ambassador to Belarus as soon as possible, and the new appointee should balance official government engagement with active outreach to the opposition.”
  • “A post-Lukashenko Belarus, with close ties to Moscow but an improved relationship with the West, remains a possible medium-term outcome of the current crisis. It might not be the one many in the West had hoped for, but it is still a good alternative and perhaps the best option in the current climate. Well-crafted policy could make it a reality. If the West tries to force an aggressive solution, however, the outcome could be disastrous.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Reformed or Just Retouched? Uzbekistan’s New Regime,” Yuriy Sarukhanyan, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.01.20: The author, a columnist for the Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting (CABAR) on international relations, writes:

  • “In four years, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has managed to establish a reputation both at home and abroad as a reformer.”
  • “Four years is enough time for the initial enthusiasm for the reforms to have died down, especially where the economy is concerned. On the one hand, the authorities have reformed important sectors such as taxes and privatization. But on the other hand, the dominant philosophy in economic policy remains strict protectionism; subsidies and incentives for local monopolies continue to stifle any competition; and the privatization process is not transparent. Just as before, the Uzbek economy works for a small circle of lobbyists, no matter how hard a few prominent officials have tried to change that.”
  • “Meanwhile, Uzbekistan’s vast state apparatus continues to grow, as the government tries to solve problems by creating new ministries and bodies to deal with them, resulting in the emergence of unintelligible structures with vague functions.”
  • “Uzbekistan is due to hold a presidential election next year, and no one doubts that Mirziyoyev will be reelected for a second term. … Mirziyoyev has already solved the most toxic issues for which Karimov was condemned. Now he must tackle the problems that have arisen on his own watch. With every year, it will be harder and harder to pass off symbolic concessions as genuine reforms.”
  • “The country’s leadership is facing a difficult choice: to transition from stylistic transformations to structural reforms, or keep trying to preserve the status quo. Achieving the latter won’t be as easy as it once was: even Mirziyoyev’s half-hearted liberalization has already made Uzbek society far more demanding.”