Russia Analytical Report, Sept. 30-Oct. 7, 2019
NB: Next week’s Russia Analytical Report will appear on Tuesday, Oct. 15, instead of Monday, Oct. 14, because of a U.S. federal holiday.
This Week’s Highlights:
- Three misguided assumptions underlie how the U.S. got to this point with Russia, writes George Beebe, vice president and director of studies at the Center for the National Interest: 1. American policymakers think that because neither side wants nuclear war, such a war is very unlikely to occur; 2. American policymakers see the Russian threat as primarily a deterrence problem; 3. the U.S. assumes Russia’s anti-American hostility flows from the internal nature of its regime, and therefore is likely to diminish when a more enlightened leader with more liberal approaches succeeds Putin.
- “One of Trump’s favorite things to say to Putin is, ‘I’ll have my guys look into it,’” said a former Trump national security official who attended their bilateral meetings. “But, much to the Russians’ frustration, he rarely if ever actually does. They think they’re getting concessions, but they’re really just getting hot air,” writes Natasha Bertrand in a POLITICO profile of Fiona Hill, former special assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian Affairs in the Trump administration. Hill formerly served as associate director of the Strengthening Democratic Institutions Project at the Belfer Center from 1994 to 1999 and as a research associate for the project from 1991 to 1993.
- The new, truly global politics is a system where only countries with a population of 200 million plus can qualify for a fully independent definition of tools to defend their interests, writes Timofei Bordachev, program director of the Valdai Discussion Club. Russia will sooner or later lose its global standing as countries in Asia, Africa and even Latin America continue to develop, Bordachev writes, arguing that it is time to think about Russia's prospective foreign policy from the perspective of a middle-sized country.
- Thanks to newly released U.S. official correspondence, the world knows just how clumsily the Trump administration tried to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to serve its political ends, writes Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky. All this sordid history should tell American diplomats something: It’s none of their business who gets appointed to what job in Kyiv and it’s not for them to decide what a Ukrainian president should say, Bershidsky argues.
- Washington’s renewed engagement of Belarus, analysts say, reflects a realization that with Moscow seeking to redraw European borders and shore up its power in the neighborhood, U.S. interests required a shift from a strategy of isolation designed to foster democratic change in Belarus to one of support for its continued independence from Moscow, writes Todd Prince of RFE/RL.
- Rather than building a cyber arms control framework, Ewan Lawson, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank, says countries should opt for vulnerability disclosures to each other.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- No significant commentary.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- No significant commentary.
Iran and its nuclear program:
- No significant commentary.
New Cold War/saber rattling:
- No significant commentary.
“Why We Need a More Modern and Ready Military, Not a Larger One,” Michael E. O’Hanlon and James N. Miller, Brookings Institution, 10.04.19: The authors, director of research in foreign policy at Brookings and a senior fellow at the Belfer Center, write:
- “The rise of China and the return of Russia supercharge the competition and raise the strategic stakes. The marriage of rapid technological progress with hegemonic change could prove especially potent. The return of great-power competition during an era of rapid progress in science and technology could reward innovators and expose vulnerabilities, much more than has been the case in the 21st century to date.”
- “Today’s already-excellent American military is big enough to meet the reasonable requirements of ongoing commitments and great power competition—provided, that is, that it improves further. It needs to repair readiness. Most of all, it must be modernized for greater lethality, and made more resilient and survivable against the kinds of precision-strike, cyber, anti-satellite and other asymmetric attacks … We need to keep our eye focused clearly on the ball, and our resource allocations focused clearly on the strategy.”
“The Breakaways: A Retrospective on the Baltic Road to NATO,” Andris Banka, War on the Rocks, 10.04.19: The author, a postdoctoral researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Baltic Sea Region Research, writes:
- “Today, Russia assertively claims that NATO’s second wave enlargement violated its red lines. It is important to recall, however, that at the time Moscow reacted in a measured way, tempering its criticism vis-à-vis NATO enlargement. In 2001, during a radio interview with National Public Radio, when asked if he opposed the admission of the three Baltic Republics into NATO Russian President Vladimir Putin responded that the issue could not be summed up in ‘a yes or a no.’ He later added that ‘we cannot forbid people to make certain choices if they want to increase the security of their nations in a particular way.’ In another appearance, Putin declared that Baltic membership was ‘no tragedy’ for Russia.”
- No significant commentary.
Nuclear arms control:
“New START Treaty Data Shows Treaty Keeping Lid on Strategic Nukes,” Hans M. Kristensen, Federation of American Scientists, 10.07.19: The author, director of the Nuclear Information Project at FAS, writes:
- “The latest data on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces limited by the New START treaty shows the treaty is serving its intended purpose of keeping a lid on the two countries’ arsenals. … Despite deteriorating relations and revival of ‘Great Power Competition’ strategies, the data shows neither side has increased deployed strategic force levels in the past year.”
- “Although bureaucrats and Cold Warriors in both Washington and Moscow currently are busy raising complaints and uncertainties about the New START treaty, there is no way around the basic fact: New START is strongly in the national security interest of both countries—as well as that of their allies.”
- “It is essential that Russia and the United States decide now to extend the New START treaty. Without it, the two sides will switch into a worst-case-scenario mindset for long-term planning of strategic forces that could well trigger a new nuclear arms race.”
- No significant commentary.
Conflict in Syria:
- No significant commentary.
“Experts Struggle to Set Red Lines for Cyber Warfare,” Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan, Financial Times, 09.30.19: The author, a trainee leader writer for the news outlet, writes:
- “Since the 19th century, countries have tried to shape warfare through regulations and sanctions. The advent of the internet changed that. ‘Cyber warfare is much more convenient for states than kinetic warfare,’ says Mariarosaria Taddeo, research fellow and deputy director of the Digital Ethics Lab at the Oxford Internet Institute.”
- “Cyber warfare poses a clear threat to national security and citizens’ lives. Yet to date, no binding global framework has emerged to control it. … Differences from conventional conflict also play a role. Applying conventions such as proportionality can be difficult when cyber targets are often non-physical, and they are usually disrupted, rather than destroyed.”
- “‘We don’t have red lines, we have not understood yet in the international community what is the ‘must not do’ as a state: is it legitimate to target a nuclear plant? Is it legitimate to support a military operation?’ Ms. Taddeo says.”
- “Rather than building an arms control framework, Ewan Lawson, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank, calls for vulnerability disclosures.”
“Russia as a Bogeyman in Poland’s 2019 Domestic Political Wars,” Alexandra Yatsyk, PONARS Eurasia, October 2019: The author, a research fellow at the Polish Institute of Advanced Studies, writes:
- “Poland will hold general elections on Oct. 13, 2019. Recent exit polls suggest that the ruling right-wing, conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party will maintain its dominant position. A key aspect to unravel is the indirect impact of Russia on the Polish political milieu in this year’s European (May) and national (October) elections.”
- “This is particularly significant because the PiS party has extensively instrumentalized Russia-linked factors in its narrative battles. The party’s primary political opponents are the Civic Coalition (KE) electoral alliance and Donald Tusk himself, the founder of the Civic Platform (PO) party and the current president of the European Council.”
- “[W]hile the Kremlin has insufficient direct power over Polish politics, its soft power machinations in Poland are deep and draw at particular, fertile, historical and contemporary social attitudes—to the benefit and detriment of both the progressive and conservative sides.”
Energy exports from CIS:
- No significant commentary.
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant commentary.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
“We’re More at Risk of Nuclear War With Russia Than We Think: US lawmakers on both sides of the aisle need to start addressing the danger,” George Beebe, Foreign Policy, 10.07.19: The author, vice president and director of studies at the Center for the National Interest, writes:
- “The actual threat of nuclear catastrophe is much greater than we realize. Diplomacy and a desire for global peace have given way to complacency and a false sense of security that nuclear escalation is outside the realm of possibility. That leaves us unprepared for—and highly vulnerable to—a nuclear attack from Russia.”
- “In my more than 25 years of government experience working on Russia matters, I’ve seen that three misguided assumptions underlie how the United States got to this point. The first is that American policymakers think that because neither side wants nuclear war, then such a war is very unlikely to occur. … A related, second assumption American policymakers make is seeing the Russian threat as primarily a deterrence problem. … But, when dealing with states that believe they are under some form of assault, focusing on deterrence can be counterproductive.”
- “Lastly, the United States assumes that Russia’s anti-American hostility flows from the internal nature of its regime, and therefore is likely to diminish when a more enlightened leader with more liberal approaches succeeds Putin. … But the notion that Moscow hates us for what we are—a democracy—rather than the ways we influence important Russian interests is inconsistent with Russia’s business-like, if not cordial, relations with democracies that it does not see as threatening, including Israel, India and Japan.”
- “Washington’s approach must dispassionately balance firmness with accommodation, military readiness with diplomatic outreach—all without skewing too far toward either concession or confrontation.”
- “None of this will be possible, however, absent a recognition that real danger is looming—not a modern variation of World War II-style planned aggression, but a nascent World War I-type escalatory spiral that few recognize is developing. That danger could end catastrophically if nothing changes.”
“The Russia Hawk in the White House,” Natasha Bertrand, POLITICO, 09.30.19: The magazine’s national security correspondent profiles Fiona Hill, former special assistant to the president and senior director for European and Russian Affairs in the Trump administration. Hill formerly served as associate director of the Strengthening Democratic Institutions Project at the Belfer Center from 1994 to 1999 and as a research associate for the project from 1991 to 1993.
- “Hill’s sense that she might be fired at any moment never quite subsided—in part because she was such a surprising pick in the first place. A sober critic of Vladimir Putin … she was recruited by K.T. McFarland and Michael Flynn, who were out … before Hill even formally started. She had even worked with Christopher Steele. … Hill … officially departed the administration on good terms [in September], having helped craft responses to Russia’s malign behavior that, to many experts, are arguably even tougher than those imposed by the Obama administration.”
- “‘She understands as well as anyone what drives and constrains Russian policy under Vladimir Putin,’ said [H.R.] McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser. … Hill ‘set conditions for better relations should Putin and those around him realize that their sustained campaign to undermine the United States and the West is backfiring and harming the Russian people.’”
- “[D]espite her skepticism of Putin and belief that a ‘reset’ with Russia is unattainable, Hill came to view Trump’s desire to forge a working relationship with the Kremlin and anchor the relationship in a long-term arms control treaty as a fundamentally good instinct. … [O]fficials acknowledge privately that even with the expertise and experience Hill brought … the administration has no coherent foreign policy, let alone a unified strategy for dealing with Putin.”
- “‘One of Trump’s favorite things to say to Putin is, ‘I’ll have my guys look into it,’ said a former Trump national security official who attended their bilateral meetings. ‘But, much to the Russians’ frustration, he rarely if ever actually does. They think they’re getting concessions, but they’re really just getting hot air.’”
- “The joint news conference [between Trump and Putin in Helsinki], which Hill had been dreading and urged Trump’s advisers to cancel, cemented fears among some that Trump was in Putin’s pocket and prompted bipartisan backlash. And Hill was flooded with calls and emails urging her to resign in protest. … [C]urrent and former intelligence officials, national security experts and foreign policy veterans fear Hill’s departure has left a gaping hole in expertise at the White House.”
“Obama’s Idealists,” Peter Beinart, Foreign Affairs, 10.07.19: The author, a professor at the City University of New York (CUNY), writes:
- “After witnessing the limits of the United States’ ability to defend democracy and human rights abroad, [Susan] Rice, [Samantha] Power and [Ben] Rhodes realize to their horror the limits of its ability to defend those principles at home.”
- “When Obama asks Mitch McConnell … to issue a joint statement condemning Russian interference in the election, McConnell refuses, a move that Rhodes calls ‘staggeringly partisan and unpatriotic.’ Near the end of her book, Power acknowledges, ‘While I once viewed the conflict in Bosnia as a last gasp of ethnic chauvinism and demagoguery from a bygone era, it now seems more of a harbinger of the way today’s autocrats and opportunists exploit grievances . . . in order to expand their own power.’ Rice, in the final pages of her book, veers from foreign policy to a call for unity, civility and decency at home.”
- “Although none of the authors puts it this way, it’s possible to read their books not only as tales of tempered idealism but also as chronicles of America’s declining exceptionalism. In retrospect, the belief in democracy promotion and humanitarian intervention that Rice, Power and Rhodes embraced early in their careers rested on a faith that democracy was stable at home.”
- “Rice, Power and Rhodes also end up chronicling the United States’ declining power. In Libya in 2011, Russia stood aside and let Washington and its NATO allies wage war unimpeded, a continuation of a unipolar pattern established in the 1990s by U.S.-led interventions in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans. By 2015, Russia was not only thwarting the U.S. effort at regime change in Syria in the U.N. Security Council; it was sending its troops to do so on the battlefield. By 2016, Russia had brought its counter-offensive to American soil. Apparently convinced that Washington was trying to foment political revolution in Russia, President Vladimir Putin helped foment a political revolution inside the United States.”
II. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
“The East's Rise and the New Russian Foreign Policy,” Timofei Bordachev, Valdai Discussion Club, 10.02.19: The author, program director of the Valdai Discussion Club, writes:
- “The new, truly global politics is a system where only countries with a population of 200 million plus can qualify for a fully independent definition of tools to defend their interests. … It is clear that Russia will sooner or later lose its global standing as a number of countries in Asia, Africa and even Latin America continue to develop. It is time to think about Russia's prospective foreign policy from the perspective of a middle-sized country.”
- “This reflection is already under way in both intellectual and practical dimensions as exemplified by the modalities of Moscow’s actions in Asia and Eurasia. In the former case, it relies on a step-by-step integration in existing multilateral cooperation mechanisms and makes no attempts to offer any convincing vision of the future. In the latter, it is engaged in a revolutionary effort to form a stable co-development system in central Eurasia sustained by a group of states that preserve their sovereignty.”
- “The uniqueness of Russian foreign policy in Asia and Eurasia may become a normalcy and a shining alternative to the inevitable marginalization predicted for Russia in the 1990s.”
“The EU Needs to Be a Power Project,” Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, 10.07.19: The author, chief foreign affairs commentator for the news outlet, writes:
- “The EU once dreamt that the whole world would move towards a law-based system, similar to the EU method. But a world order, shaped by Xi Jinping’s China and Trump’s America, will be based on power rather than rules. The outbreak of a global trade war underlines that small European countries can no longer rely on international rules to protect them. They need the bulk and heft that the EU provides.”
- “The EU is most comfortable and powerful when acting on economic issues such as trade or competition policy. But it is also a geopolitical force. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continued interference in Ukraine has been met with sanctions and travel bans that have slowed the Russian economy and hemmed in the Russian elite.”
- “The EU used to be called a peace project. In the modern world, it is more of a power project—and rightly so.”
“Russia’s Engagements in Central America,” Ivan Ulises Klyszcz, Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), 10.04.19: The author, a columnist at the BMB Russia Blog, writes:
- “Since the 2010s, most Central American states have courted Russia for investment and trade. This trend reinforced itself by the end of the decade as Moscow became interested in other Central American states beyond its traditional partner of the Republic of Nicaragua, which has been mired in domestic political crisis since 2018.”
- “Current tensions between Russia and the West have not led to a Cold War-like situation in Central America. Central American countries are not choosing between Moscow and Washington, instead seeking good relations with both.”
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
“Xi Jinping Has Embraced Vladimir Putin—for Now,” Melinda Liu, Foreign Policy, 10.03.19: The author, Newsweek’s Beijing bureau chief, writes:
- “How worried should Washington be that the two nations [Russia and China] deemed to be most threatening to the United States’ future are getting close? Perhaps less than some fearmongers think.”
- “[N]either Xi nor Putin is starry-eyed about their bromance—nor can they afford to be. Great powers do not mate for life, and that’s especially true of China. The biggest reason for Russia and China to bond now is that each has a tense, unpredictable and potentially antagonistic relationship with the Trump administration.”
- “[One] reason why Xi may not draw too near Putin is the vast gap in the size and growth rates of their respective economies; as a result, the Beijing-Moscow relationship will remain asymmetrical.”
“US Meddling in Ukraine Is a Disaster,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 10.04.19: The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:
- “Thanks to a newly released trove of U.S. official correspondence, the world now knows just how clumsily the Trump administration tried to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to serve its political ends. Perhaps the embarrassment will finally teach the Americans a lesson: This kind of meddling in foreign governments’ affairs will do you no good.”
- “It’s not the first time that meddling in Ukraine has backfired on U.S. officials. In early 2014, Victoria Nuland, a senior official in the Obama-era State Department, was caught on tape plotting personnel changes in the Ukrainian government, still under beleaguered President Viktor Yanukovych. The plan didn’t work out, but the recording—in which Nuland was heard making a deeply embarrassing profane comment about the European Union—ended up on YouTube, almost certainly with the help of Russian interests. Nuland was forced to apologize to the Europeans.”
- “Biden, too, did his share of incompetent meddling when he was vice president under Obama and in charge of the Ukraine portfolio. The Shokin firing is just one example. Biden’s stated goal was to remove a prosecutor equally hated by Ukrainian anti-corruption activists and Ukraine’s European allies, but Poroshenko replaced Shokin with his close ally Yury Lutsenko, who made political meddling in investigations even easier for the president and his allies.”
- “All this sordid history should tell American diplomats something: It’s none of their business who gets appointed to what job in Kyiv and it’s not for them to decide what a Ukrainian president should say.”
“The Usurpation of US Foreign Policy: How the Trump-Zelenskiy Call Corrodes American Power,” Mira Rapp-Hooper, Foreign Affairs, 10.03.19: The author, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Senior Fellow for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes:
- “The president’s decision to put the full thrust of U.S. foreign policy behind the naked extortion of vulnerable states has consequences that cannot be adjudicated in the House or Senate. They are bigger than one corrupt chief executive or one tainted election. They are nothing less than the durability of American preeminence when it is already under historic duress. The subtle power to coerce is an outgrowth of the United States’ strength, but it is consensual and contingent.”
- “If this infraction goes unanswered or, worse, becomes de rigueur, less potent states will divest themselves of American power. Abject abuse will beget nullification. With a competitor in the wings, eager to write its own set of rules, it is a privilege that will not soon be restored.”
“The Dueling US Foreign Policy Approaches to Ukraine Pose A Risk for Kyiv,” Steven Pifer, Brookings Institution, 09.30.19: The author, a non-resident senior fellow at Brookings, writes:
- “Acting on Trump’s—and, presumably, Giuliani’s—requests for investigations into Crowdstrike and the Bidens poses a huge risk for the Ukrainian president and his country. In the 28 years since it regained independence, Ukraine has enjoyed broad bilateral support in Congress. If Zelenskiy allows Ukraine now to become a political football in the 2020 U.S. election campaign, he will endanger that bilateral support.”
- “The best way forward is to politely ignore the investigation requests.”
“Ukraine’s President Can’t Avoid Showdown With His Oligarch Backer,” Konstantin Skorkin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.02.19: The author, an independent journalist, writes:
- “Oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky has been making use of his ambiguous position as the future president’s business partner since the very start of Zelenskiy’s election campaign, but this didn’t prevent Volodymyr Zelenskiy from sweeping to victory in the elections. Now, however, the trickster oligarch is becoming increasingly toxic for Zelenskiy’s team, not only within the country but also abroad.”
- “Sooner or later, the interests of the Ukrainian president and the oligarch who endorsed him will become incompatible. Kolomoisky has already criticized the new government’s plan to put land plots up for sale, prophesying that the move will lead to a bloody revolution in Ukraine. Similar points of contention will quickly mount up, until the time comes when Zelenskiy will have no choice but to distance himself from all the oligarchs alike, without exception.”
“Ukraine: 30 Years of Lessons on How to Help Yourself,” Christopher Hartwell and Oleh Havrylyshyn, Financial Times, 10.02.19: The authors, a professor at Bournemouth University and the former deputy finance minister of Ukraine, write:
- “With the hindsight of three decades, several key lessons have been learned on what makes a ‘successful’ transition, lessons that Ukraine should heed. Unfortunately, many of the polemics of the first decade of transformation have crystallized into a series of myths about transition, arguing for a much slower approach.”
- “The first myth, prevalent even among Western politicians from the left, is that neoliberal big-bang reforms in communist countries caused tremendous pain for little gain. … For countries that moved most gradually and lingered in a mixed socialist/market hybrid, as in the former Soviet Union or the Balkans, the pain was far greater and persisted for longer.”
- “Equally important for Ukraine is the myth that it was market reforms which created an extortive oligarch class, a common complaint also against swift reforms made with reference to Russia. The reality here is also different: the greatest concentration of oligarch power is not in the rapid reformers of central Europe, but in those like Ukraine which delayed reforms for years and moved slowly thereafter.”
“Ukraine Prepares to Grasp the Nettle of Its History Politics—Again,” Georgiy Kasianov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.07.19: The author, a historian and director of the Institute for Education Development, writes:
- “Two things have become clear following the dismissal of Volodymyr Viatrovych, the head of Ukraine’s Institute of National Memory. First, Ukraine’s history politics must become more inclusive, and move away from the extremes of revolutionary fervor and the principles of party affiliation. Second, if the institute cannot be closed down, then it must be radically reformed. Above all, it must not be allowed to be monopolized by representatives of a single political persuasion.”
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
“How Russia's Interference in Ukraine Has Altered US Policy Toward Belarus,” Todd Prince, RFE/RL, 10.03.19: The author, a senior correspondent for the news outlet, writes:
- “While U.S. relations with Russia remain out in the cold five years after Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, ties with Belarus appear to be quickly thawing. Following a flurry of official meetings, Washington and Minsk announced in September that they will again exchange ambassadors after more than a decade-long disruption in diplomatic relations.”
- “But while Belarus has freed political prisoners in recent years, its record on human rights and democracy—the root cause of the breakdown in relations with the United States—still ranks at the bottom among European nations.”
- “Washington’s renewed engagement, analysts say, reflects a realization that with Moscow seeking to redraw European borders and shore up its power in the neighborhood, U.S. interests required a shift from a strategy of isolation designed to foster democratic change in Belarus to one of support for its continued independence from Moscow.”
III. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
“Putin Welcomes Stalin Back to the Pantheon. A New Russian Patriotism Embraces the Soviet Past,” Andrei Kolesnikov, Foreign Affairs, 10.01.19: The author, chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:
- “The reason for declaring the Russian Federation a successor to this mythical Soviet Union is simple: the Putin regime … has no history or achievements of its own, other than turning a democratic state into an authoritarian one and burning through colossal reserves of petrodollars.”
- “Official history is being Sovietized—or rather, Stalinized. The Stalin regime’s achievements have become a source of pride. And all of a sudden, officials rush to defend the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the Winter War, when, in fact, these were utterly catastrophic decisions that sent many to their graves.”
- “Whoever controls the historical narrative controls the nation. What is more, the leaders of nations tend to look to the past for an image of the future. In Russia’s case, the image they see is that of a harshly authoritarian state, both militarized and ideologized, controlling the economy, politics and even people’s souls. The Russian elite can justly be described as the grandchildren of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.”
“In Russia, Everyone Is Guilty by Default: If actor Pavel Ustinov is guilty, then so are we,” Maria Zheleznova and Pavel Aptekar, The Moscow Times/Vedomosti, 10.02.19: The authors, Russian journalists at Vedomosti, write:
- “Ignoring clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, a Moscow court on Monday [Sept. 30] delivered a guilty verdict against Russian actor Pavel Ustinov. Yes, the court reduced Ustinov's three and a half years jail verdict to a one-year suspended sentence, but the judge kept the guilty verdict.”
- “Ustinov was one of several people detained at or near the protests that flared in the capital … in July when a number of opposition politicians were excluded from a local election. Ustinov's case became the focus of public outrage, with Russian celebrities publicly demanding the aspiring actor be freed.”
- “Even after studying all of the evidence and the expertise in this case, downgrading the alleged crime from a felony to a misdemeanor and substituting a suspended sentence for prison time, the court did nothing to correct the primary injustice. It convicted the victim and refused to charge those who victimized him.”
- “This case sends an unmistakable signal to society: The state presumes everyone is guilty and the most one can hope for is a reduced sentence. Establishing your innocence is out of the question.”
Defense and aerospace:
“The Rise and Fall of a Russian Mercenary Army,” Neil Hauer, Foreign Policy, 10.06.19: The author, a security analyst, writes:
- “The Russian firm Wagner Group, a shadowy mercenary outfit waging secret wars on the Kremlin’s behalf from Ukraine to Syria to the Central African Republic, seems like something from a Tom Clancy novel. … But Wagner may be less influential than it seems.”
- “Wagner may have been weakened, but its most important legacy is that it ever existed. In a Russia bereft of any legal constraints that could regulate and limit the scope of private military firms, where elite infighting is only growing, there now exists a precedent for a thousands-strong private army ultimately answerable only to whichever man leads it, even if that individual holds the innocent-sounding moniker of ‘chef.’”
- “Firms such as Vega, Shield and Patriot are currently a pale echo of what Wagner was at the height of its power in early 2018, but they have a shining example of what they could one day become.”
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- No significant commentary.