Russia Analytical Report, Sept. 7-13, 2021

This Week’s Highlights

“The … post 9/11 U.S.-Russian partnership shows that Moscow and Washington have worked together best when they have a clear, limited goal involving similar interests, be it the defeat of Nazi Germany or the defeat of the Taliban 20 years ago,” writes Prof. Angela Stent. “Once those goals were achieved with the defeat of the common enemy, and in the absence of broader common interests and values, further partnership has foundered on fundamentally different worldviews and mutual suspicions.”

“Washington’s and Moscow’s interests in the Korean Peninsula are similar … which suggests the possibility of a discussion, and perhaps even a deal, between Moscow and Washington on the Koreas,” claims Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “Washington should continue to vigorously pursue diplomacy with North Korea. However, the United States also would benefit from the assistance of additional allies working to halt or simply slow the North Korean program. Russia would be a valuable addition to the denuclearization caucus.”

“To explore new arms control options, Biden should break with the policies of Bush, Obama, and Trump. Like Nixon, he should be prepared to negotiate with rivals limits on U.S. missile defense ambitions in the interests of national security and international stability,” argues Ivanka Barzashka, a MacArthur-funded Research Associate at King’s College London.

“Russia’s approach to relations with Ukraine could be adjusted ... any ambition of integration should be filed away once and for all in the historical archives, and replaced with that of good neighborly relations,” writes Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “What matters most for Russia is that to enact its top national interests in areas such as state identity, national solidarity, security and economic development, Russia simply does not need Ukraine.”

“The attacks on the opposition suggest the Kremlin is jittery over its popularity. United Russia has an approval rating of just 29%, among its lowest since 2006,” reports Max Seddon for Financial Times. “Obviously, Putin’s rating is falling and his support inside the government is also falling. So it’s not just scared of itself but of a split on the inside,” said Alexander Kynev, a political scientist.


I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

Nuclear security:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Talk to Russia About North Korea,” Doug Bandow, The National Interest, 09.07.21. The author, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to U.S. President Ronald Reagan, writes:

  • “Although Moscow’s relations with North Korea still matter less than those that North Korea maintains with China, the former retains veto power over United Nations sanctions and is the source of some hard currency for financially strapped Pyongyang.”
  • “Russia appears to genuinely oppose a nuclear North ... Recent estimates from the RAND Corporation and Asan Institute are particularly sobering for Moscow. Within a few years, Pyongyang could possess a couple of hundred nukes, making it a mid-level nuclear power. For Moscow, both shaping North Korea’s behavior and coping with its collapse would become much more challenging.”
  • “Washington’s and Moscow’s interests in the Korean Peninsula are similar. In contrast to China, both worry less about North Korean stability, since the North’s northern border area matters less to them. Moscow also has much less trade with the DPRK and would suffer less geopolitically than the PRC from a reunified Korea allied with America. Which suggests the possibility of a discussion, and perhaps even a deal, between Moscow and Washington on the Koreas.”
  • “Washington should continue to vigorously pursue diplomacy with North Korea. However, the United States also would benefit from the assistance of additional allies working to halt or simply slow the North Korean program. Russia would be a valuable addition to the denuclearization caucus. The Biden administration should seriously engage Moscow on the issue.”

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.


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


“Biden the Realist. The President’s Foreign Policy Doctrine Has Been Hiding in Plain Sight,” Joshua Shifrinson and Stephen Wertheim, Foreign Affairs, 09.09.21. The authors, an associate professor of international relations at Boston University and a senior fellow in the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, write:

  • “Biden’s decision to terminate the U.S. war in Afghanistan has revealed another side of the United States’ 46th president. In ending the two-decades-long war, Biden rejected … the notion that building a democratic Afghanistan and transforming the region served U.S. interests or advanced universal values.”
  • “All this might surprise those who detect a ‘Biden doctrine’ aiming to assert American power and defend democracy across the globe. … Throughout his career, Biden has put the pragmatic pursuit of national security over foreign policy orthodoxy. For more than a decade, that calculus has made him a critic of regime-change wars and other efforts to promote American values by military force.”
  • “Biden has often framed U.S. relations with China and Russia in ideological terms. … Yet Biden’s actual policies toward the two powers betray his pragmatic bent. Rather than merge the countries into a single specter of an authoritarian menace, Biden has prioritized competition with a rising China well above that with a weaker Russia. He has aimed to establish a ‘stable and predictable relationship’ with the latter, an approach that seeks to limit bilateral tensions and potentially enable the United States to focus on counterbalancing China.”
  • “As he did during the Cold War, Biden has taken steps designed to open the door to negotiated resolutions to disputes with the United States’ geopolitical rivals. He chose to hold his first major bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has also signaled his interest in meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Diplomacy, he said after his summit with Putin, does not depend on trusting the other party. It requires merely that both sides have mutual interests and establish understandings based on those interests.”
  • “Biden is certainly no radical. But after decades of foreign policy radicalism that has created a string of disasters, his approach may at least begin to revitalize the United States’ role in the world.”

“Is Lithuania the West’s First Line of Defense?” Emma Ashford and Matthew Kroenig, Foreign Policy. 09.10.21 The authors, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security respectively, write: 

  • “[Matthew Kroenig:] Lithuania is also tangling with a dragon now in addition to the bear. Vilnius has taken a strong stand against Beijing to defend democratic values and to impress its ally in Washington. It even opened a Taiwan representative office in Vilnius.” 
  • “[Emma Ashford:] Perhaps the Lithuanians should focus a little closer to home? It seems utterly absurd to complain that they can’t defend themselves against Russia without U.S. support while simultaneously picking a fight with China. And on an issue—increased recognition of Taiwan —that the Biden administration isn’t pushing.” 
  • “[Matthew Kroenig:] [On Belarus] there is quite a bit of concern here that … Lukashenko may acquiesce to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s desire to form some kind of new Russian-Belarusian union.” 
  • “[Emma Ashford:] Union between Russia and Belarus has been “coming soon” for as long as I’ve been studying the region … But I’ll believe it when I see it … To stick on the migration [on the Lithuania – Belarus border] question, though, I think it’s emblematic of the problems that democracies sometimes face: Autocracies can easily exploit our open media environment or political norms. In this case, an autocracy is using the EU’s commitment … to international rules [about refugees] … But while it’s not great, the roughly 4,000 migrants who have entered the EU from Belarus this year are hardly an existential threat. And I fail to see a good solution other than a more equitable sharing of migrants across the bloc.” 
  • “[Matthew Kroenig:] “It’s not existential, but it is not easy for a country of 2.7 million people to absorb thousands of refugees almost overnight. The improved border security seems to be helping, but I also don’t see any other great solutions short of installing a more responsible government in Minsk.” 

“Revitalizing NATO: A Role for the U.S. Congress,” Usha Sahay, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, September 2021. The author, a Belfer IGA fellow, writes:

  • “Drawing primarily on interviews with 23 NATO experts, current and former congressional staffers and other former government officials, the paper outlines NATO’s main challenges and explores how Congress can help tackle them. I find that even though Congress has struggled to exercise its formal foreign policy powers in recent years, it retains significant power to shape foreign policy through informal avenues of influence.”
  • “These avenues are: Calling out wrongdoing … Influencing the executive agenda and changing the narrative … Informal authority, institutional memory, and longevity … Relationships with foreign governments.”
  • “Lawmakers can use these avenues of influence in a number of ways to help address NATO’s challenges and contribute to revitalizing the alliance.”
  • “This report’s recommendations for Congress include, but are not limited to: Request a briefing on the Biden administration’s priorities for NATO … Participate in ongoing efforts to redefine NATO’s mission … Use carefully framed NDAA language to focus attention on burden-sharing … Encourage allies to meet their commitments, but be constructive … Convene a hearing on metrics for measuring allied commitment.”

“Avoiding a Collision Course With India,” Sameer Lalwani and Tyler Sagerstrom, War on the Rocks, 09.12.21. The authors, a senior fellow and a research assistant at the Stimson Center, write:

  • “After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, some of the harshest criticism of America’s credibility has come—surprisingly—from India. … These Indian strategists see the end of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan as a sign of unreliability.”
  • “Where India remains uncertain is whether Washington will steadfastly support India’s long-term defense and deterrence needs. These lingering doubts have intensified with the looming threat of U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which India could be subject to when it takes delivery of the Russian S-400 air defense system at the end of 2021.”
  • “While, in recent decades, Washington has invested in India as a democratic partner that can serve as a bulwark against China’s growing regional influence, the threat of CAATSA sanctions suggests that U.S. support is conditional on India’s relations with other countries.”
  • “Washington may underestimate how much of a collision course it is on with India. … Far more than the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, sanctions will cause India to raise fundamental questions about America’s reliability for years to come. The Biden administration can avert this by taking Congress into consultation to grant India a sanctions waiver.”
  • “Rather than diminishing Indo-Russian relations, CAATSA sanctions ultimately threaten U.S. interests by undermining India’s capabilities to defend the rules-based order and willingness to deeply coordinate with the United States in the Indo-Pacific. India’s capacity to support that strategy means the United States should prioritize allowing India to strengthen its capabilities, regardless of origin, rather than seeking to force India into the framework of an American ally that operates U.S. military equipment. While India’s multi-alignment policy can be frustrating to deal with, and trades off with some depth of U.S.-Indian defense cooperation, it remains one of Washington’s best bets for burden-sharing, balancing, and unique political currency among numerous Indo-Pacific littoral states.”

“Are Indo-Russian Ties the Next Casualty of Great-Power Shifts?” C. Raja Mohan, Foreign Policy, 09.07.21. The author, the director of the National University of Singapore’s Institute of South Asian Studies and a former member of India’s National Security Advisory Board, writes:

  • “While New Delhi’s ongoing conflict with Beijing and its growing closeness to Washington have attracted much attention, its third great power relationship with Moscow is undergoing a more complex yet less noted shift. That shift has accelerated in recent weeks amid an increasing political divergence over Afghanistan.”
  • “That kind of divergence between New Delhi and Moscow used to be virtually unthinkable. India has long had a warm relationship with Russia, and the Soviet Union before it, rooted in a sense of enduring convergence of interests at both the global and regional levels... Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia remained India’s main international political partner.”
  • “India’s growing problems with a rapidly rising and increasingly assertive China compelled a major shift in New Delhi’s benign-to-neutral attitude toward Beijing... As Russia’s problems with the United States became sharper and its alliance with China deeper, the old ties between New Delhi and Moscow have become the geopolitical equivalent of a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.”
  • “Unlike Russia, which could not hide its schadenfreude about the humiliating U.S. retreat from Afghanistan, India has been deeply worried about the security challenges arising from the withdrawal. But despite these serious differences, the swift fall of Kabul last month and the rapid evolution of the security situation on the ground has encouraged Putin and Modi to establish a permanent channel of communications between them on issues relating to Afghanistan.”
  • “In the past, New Delhi tended to be deferential to Russian sensitivities... Today, Modi and his foreign policy advisers are no longer uncomfortable with airing differences with Russia on critical issues like the Indo-Pacific, the Quad, and Afghanistan. New Delhi has arrived at a stoic strategy that tries to normalize the relationship with Moscow by expanding cooperation wherever possible, while no longer hiding differences.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

“Biden should guide missile defense his own way,” Ivanka Barzashka, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 09.09.21. The author, a MacArthur-funded research associate at King’s College London, writes:

  • “To explore new arms control options, Biden should break with the policies of Bush, Obama and Trump. Like Nixon, he should be prepared to negotiate with rivals limits on U.S. missile defense ambitions in the interests of national security and international stability.”
  • “Biden cannot reverse the new era in missile defense, which is marked by Trump’s words but ultimately defined by the new strategic problem of major power competition. However, Biden’s team can develop a clear and balanced approach to missile defense that aligns U.S. and allied capabilities with the president’s promises to meet future challenges, and that grounds policy in ‘fact and science’ and strategic thinking.”

Nuclear arms control:

“Time to Shift from the Post-Kabul Blues to the China Arms Control Challenge,” Michael Krepon, Arms Control Wonk, 09.08.21. The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes:

  • “Our old arms control playbooks weren’t written for the tasks that lie ahead. ... To begin with, we’ve never tried to do triangular nuclear arms control before. … By pushing for trilateral controls, we’ll only encourage Beijing to modernize more quickly, so as not to be disadvantaged in negotiations, just as the Kremlin did during the run-up to the strategic arms limitation talks in the Johnson and Nixon administrations. And we would be adding our voices to those opposed to arms control who call for China’s inclusion as a way to block a successful result.”
  • “Even so, I believe we are obliged to call on Beijing to place limits on its nuclear forces. Not to do so as China ramps up places us in an untenable position. Washington and Moscow are modernizing but not increasing force structure. Beijing is modernizing and adding force structure at a significant rate.”
  • “As Beijing expands its force structure, Washington and Moscow will feel increasingly uncomfortable with their decision to extend New START limitations for five years. If trilateral controls are not being actively pursued or in place by 2026 when New START’s extension ends, this could mean the end of bilateral strategic arms control.”
  • “So, what besides strategic nuclear delivery vehicles … do we want to include in trilateral negotiations? My door stop/magnum opus, ‘Winning and Losing the Nuclear Peace: The Rise, Demise, and Revival of Arms Control,’ lays out the pros and cons of inclusion and exclusion. … It’s worth noting here that the original U.S. proposal for strategic arms control included intermediate-range missiles. I believe this approach is worth reconsidering, given Vladimir Putin’s material breach of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, U.S. rejoinders, and China’s heavy investments in less-than-intercontinental-range missiles. … A broader scope for nuclear arms control could open up possibilities for trilateral agreements. It could also encourage the clarification of priorities and sensible trade-offs.”


“The impact of September 11 on US-Russian relations,” Angela Stent, Brookings Institution, 09.08.21. The author, a senior adviser to the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies and professor emerita of government and foreign service at Georgetown University, writes:

  • “On Sept. 9, 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin called his American counterpart George W. Bush with an urgent message: Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the anti-Taliban and Moscow-supported Northern Alliance, had been assassinated in Afghanistan by two suicide bombers … Putin warned Bush of ‘a foreboding that something was about to happen, something long in preparation.’ Two days later al-Qaida struck the United States.”
  • “The period immediately after 9/11 was in retrospect the high point in U.S.-Russian relations in the three decades since the Soviet collapse. U.S.-Russian cooperation in the initial stages of the Afghan war appeared to be transformative … Today, as Afghanistan is once again ruled by the Taliban and U.S.-Russian relations stand at their lowest ebb in decades, it is instructive to ask why the anti-terror partnership collapsed and what the Taliban’s victory might mean for future relations.”
  • “The problem with the post-9/11 honeymoon was that U.S. and Russian expectations from the new partnership were seriously mismatched. An alliance based on one limited goal—to defeat the Taliban—began to fray shortly after they were routed.”
  • “The Kremlin has adopted a dualistic approach toward the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. … On the one hand the Schadenfreude at the U.S. defeat is palpable. … On the other hand, the Russians would have preferred that the U.S. stay in Afghanistan with a small military force to fend off terrorists and maintain stability. … [The Kremlin] would like to use the U.S. defeat in Afghanistan to increase its influence in Central Asian countries … Yet Russia itself fears the impact of terrorist groups increasing their presence in Afghanistan.”
  • “The demise of the post 9/11 U.S.-Russian partnership shows that Moscow and Washington have worked together best when they have a clear, limited goal involving similar interests … Once those goals were achieved with the defeat of the common enemy, and in the absence of broader common interests and values, further partnership has foundered on fundamentally different worldviews and mutual suspicions.”

“How 9/11 Will Be Remembered a Century Later,” Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, 09.06.21. The author, a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of international relations at Harvard University, writes:

  • “Imagine, for a moment, that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s fondest hopes are fully realized and that the next 80 years become known as the “Chinese Century.” In this scenario, China’s economic ascendance continues apace, and it eventually casts as large a shadow as the United States did during most of the Cold War and especially the unipolar moment... Were this scenario to occur, then 9/11 will be seen as a critical event that accelerated America’s decline. Not because of the damage suffered in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon or even the short-term economic consequences (from which the United States recovered rapidly) but because of the calamitous ways that U.S. leaders chose to respond to it.”
  • “Suppose instead that President Joe Biden’s fondest hopes are realized and the United States gets its act together again... In this scenario, by 2101, 9/11 will be a distant memory for living Americans. Not entirely, of course, but it will be seen as an isolated tragedy that led to some unfortunate responses but did not do lasting damage to America’s overall position in the world.”
  • “If the worst-case forecasts on climate change turn out to be correct—and it is getting harder to discount them these days—then the next 80 years will see a series of transformations in human life that will make both 9/11 and the global war on terrorism that it unleashed seem like a minor distraction... At most, 9/11 will be seen as one of the many factors that kept the United States and many other countries from taking action when they should have.”
  • “In sum, what 9/11 means to future generations depends less on what actually occurred on that day or on how the United States and others responded and more on what the United States and others do from this day forward.”

“Dmitry Medvedev on the 9/11 tragedy and U.S. operations in Afghanistan,” Dmitry Medvedev,, 09.13.21. The author, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman, writes:

  • “The withdrawal of the U.S. from Afghanistan is only fueling the activity of the terrorist organization which still remains a tremendous threat to Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. … [In the past 20 years, the U.S.] failed to achieve the main goal announced by President George Bush after the September 11 attacks, defeating terrorism in Afghanistan; due to numerous mistakes of the U.S., including in its policy on the Middle East, terrorists are still active in the country."
  • “President Joe Biden noted that the withdrawal of troops means not only the end of the Afghan campaign, it means the end of the 'era of major military operations to remake other countries.' His words, essentially, signal to the open admission by Washington, D.C., of the failure of its strategy to enforce its military and political presence everywhere. No matter where the U.S. side tried to build a new statehood, they always left problems rather than solutions after themselves."
  • "Russia is certainly interested in the settlement of the internal Afghan disagreements. However, it should be done by the country's political forces, which reflect the whole range of its society, themselves. Our main task is ensuring not only our own safety, but the safety of our allies in the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization]. Otherwise, the consequences of the Afghan conflict may emerge in the territories of the states neighboring it. … Deepening of cooperation between Russia and the U.S. in countering terrorism is crucial. … However, to that end, our partners need to give up on the illusion of their exceptionality. No nation, on separate alliance is capable of resolving this issue on its own. We can destroy this evil only together, by showing the necessary solidarity."

Conflict in Syria:

“Russia's Presence in Syria Brings Risks for Israel,” Michael Peck, The National Interest, 09.13.21. The author, a contributing writer for the National Interest, writes:

  • “Were the Israelis and Russians to come to blows, or if Moscow were to seriously threaten military force against Israel, could the United States risk a grave loss of prestige by not intervening to back its longtime ally? Could Russia—whose Syrian intervention is a proud symbol of its reborn military muscle and great power status—not retaliate for another downed Russian plane or a dead Russian soldier? Which leads to the ultimate question: could tensions between Israel and Russia lead to a clash between American and Russian troops?”

Cyber security:

“Global Cybersecurity at Stake Amid US and Russia's Disagreements,” Pavel Sharikov, Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), September 2021. The author, a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, writes:

  • “The need for an international agreement on cybersecurity has become more urgent.”
  • “However, different perceptions of the nature of cyberthreats keep clashing. Russia insists on information security, stressing that the problem is mostly related to the content of information rather than the technical vulnerability. The U.S., in turn, continues to emphasize the cyber nature of the problem, meaning that once the technical safety of communication is ensured, security will also be guaranteed.”
  • “The military aspect of the global cybersecurity debate is very important. However, approaching cyberconflict prevention with cyber doomsday devices seems a little misguided. In fact, the single use of a cyber weapon is less likely to inflict damage like a nuclear weapon might. It is instead likely to be used as a tactical tool in conflict along with many other forms of influence and aggression.”
  • “Critically, obscure definitions and different national perceptions of the very phenomenon of aggression in cyberspace are a serious obstacle to international negotiations. Thus, the international community needs to work out a mutually acceptable definition of the notions of cyberaggression, national sovereignty in cyberspace, and cyberweapons.”
  • “Finally, cooperative efforts should be aimed at preventing conflict escalation in general, not only in cyberspace. The only possible way to do that is through dialogue.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Viewing 9/11 From Moscow,” Timothy Frye, The Moscow Times, 09.10.21. The author, the Marshall D. Shulman Professor at Columbia University, writes:

  • “With U.S.-Russia relations at historic lows and the Kremlin stoking anti-American sentiment, it is hardly surprising that Russians have increasingly negative views of the United States. But Russian attitudes toward the United States have long belied easy categorization.  Nothing made this as clear as witnessing the Sept. 11 attack from Moscow.” 
  • “On Sept. 11, 2001, I was in Moscow to attend an academic conference. That night, on a television at a Russian bar called Uncle Sam’s, I saw the Twin Towers in ruins, smoke rise from the Pentagon, and mayhem engulf New York and Washington ... That Russians expressed a deep empathy mixed with a heavy dose of schadenfreude toward the U.S. following the Sept. 11 attack captures a duality that belies one-dimensional depictions of Russian views of the West.”
  • “And this duality continues today. At a time when Russian state officials blame Western machinations for everything from the low scores of Russian rhythmic dancers at the Tokyo Olympics to the ongoing economic stagnation, Russian popular attitudes toward the United States defy the easy depictions so often invoked by commentators.”  
  • “The Levada Center frequently asks Russians to list which countries are unfriendly toward Russia and roughly 66% say the United States. At the same time, when asked what types of relations they would like to have with the United States, about two in three Russians report that they would like to be partners and only 15% say they prefer risking a confrontation.”
  • “Even with the current tense state of affairs between Moscow and Washington, many Russians hold positive views of the United States and would like to see better relations, even as they remain skeptical about U.S. power and intentions. In the wake of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, commentators, and more importantly, policy makers should bear this in mind.”

“Kennan Cable No. 71: The Role of Deflection in Putin’s Diplomacy toward the U.S.,” Mark N. Katz, Kennan Institute, September 2021. The author, a professor of government and politics at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, writes:

  • “Russia’s Vladimir Putin … has seldom shown much interest in cooperating with the U.S. against any other country. … Yet even when Putin does recognize the very real risks that these nations [China, Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan] pose, his preferred policy is not to cooperate with the U.S., but rather to pursue a policy of deflection (or buck-passing) that leaves Russia largely aloof from tensions between the U.S. and those states which may pose concerns for Russia as well.”
  • “In all these cases, Moscow has declined to join with Washington in what many Western analysts see as common threats to both Russia and the U.S. emanating from China, Iran, North Korea, and (more recently) the Taliban. But while the Kremlin may understand the various risks to Russia coming from these nations, Putin prefers to let the U.S. and some of its allies bear the burden of containing them. In effect, Russia prefers ‘free rides’ to collaboration with the United States.”
  • “In other words: even though a state or movement poses a threat both to Russia and the U.S., Putin sees Russia as better off if the U.S. and its allies bear the burden of responding to these common threats while allowing Russia to avoid doing so. Russia not only stays out of the fray while the U.S. acts to contain the common threat, it also benefits from Washington’s diminished capacity to focus on its differences with Moscow.”
  • “To a suspicious mind like Putin’s, any U.S. attempt to enlist Moscow in a joint effort to contain a common adversary is more likely to be an American ploy to deflect that adversary’s animosity away from the U.S. and toward Russia. Thus, while allying against a common adversary may seem a logical course of action to analysts and policymakers in Washington, deflecting a common adversary’s attention toward the U.S., Russia’s ‘main adversary,’ likely seems the more sensible path to Putin.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Doppelgängers and ‘dirty tricks’ muddy run-up to Russian election,” Max Seddon, Financial Times, 09.13.21. The author, Moscow bureau chief for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Boris Vishnevsky’s toughest opponents in Sunday’s [Sept. 19] municipal elections in St Petersburg might be two other men with exactly the same name as his. Vishnevsky, a senior member of the liberal Yabloko party, which opposes President Vladimir Putin, has found himself on the wrong end of what he says is a classic spoiling tactic: two other men have registered as Boris Vishnevsky and are standing against him, apparently to confuse voters and hamper his chances.”
  • “His situation illustrates the pressure on Russia’s opposition ahead of the Sept. 19 vote, when voters across the country will choose a new national parliament in what critics describe as the country’s least free poll for decades. Several regional legislatures and governorships are also up for grabs. The elections have acquired added significance because it is the last vote before Putin’s term expires in 2024. With rocketing food prices and slumping real incomes, the Kremlin is eager to demonstrate strong support for the president.”
  • “The outcome of the election is in little doubt. Analysts say it is unlikely that any parties bar the four Kremlin-controlled groups already in the Duma, or lower house, will take up the 450 available seats. … Many opposition candidates have struggled even to get on the ballot paper. Dozens have been barred from running for office, many over ties to jailed activist Alexei Navalny … Those opposition parties allowed on the ballot say they are victims of a dirty tricks campaign redolent of Russia’s chaotic 1990s.”
  • “The attacks on the opposition suggest the Kremlin is jittery over its popularity. United Russia has an approval rating of just 29%, among its lowest since 2006. … Alexander Kynev, a political scientist … said the smart voting, which Navalny credits with depriving United Russia of 20 out of 45 seats in Moscow city council elections two years ago, could prove decisive—if not nationally, then at least in enough seats to embarrass United Russia and the president.”

Defense and aerospace:

“Zapad-2021: What to Expect From Russia’s Strategic Military Exercise,” Michael Kofman, War on the Rocks, 09.08.21. The author, director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses, writes:

  • “Zapad-2021 is not just approaching. It’s already here. … Annual strategic exercises such as Zapad allow the Russian General Staff to further develop operational concepts, test Russian military and civilian integration, experiment with force structure, reserve mobilization or logistical elements.”
  • “Since Zapad reflects how Russia perceives the U.S. ‘way of war’ and how it plans to deal with it, the exercise offers useful insights on Russian planning, operational concepts and tactical developments in the armed forces. Aspects of the exercise are a publicity showpiece, but many of the training events reflect both advancements and limitations in Russian military capability and planning. Zapad should be viewed in the context of other exercises, not in isolation. Some of the more interesting insights to be gleaned will likely be about logistics, mobilization of reserves, command and control, coordination between different branches of combat arms and the effectiveness of combat service support.”
  • “The Russian military continues to see itself as militarily inferior to NATO, in the context of a regional or large-scale war. The Zapad series of exercises is a cogent manifestation of these concerns. … Zapad is one way by which Moscow seeks to maintain coercive credibility, demonstrating it can take on a U.S.-led coalition and has options to manage escalation via conventional or nuclear weapons. It is a Russian attempt to deter what Moscow perceives as the worst-case scenario, in terms of U.S. political aims and to inspire domestic confidence in its own armed forces. Washington should pay close attention to this exercise.”
  • “Despite the strong reorientation toward China in the U.S. policy establishment, Zapad serves as a reminder that Russia continues to be a capable conventional and nuclear military power. It retains the ability to upend much that is taken for granted about stability and security in Europe.”

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:

  •  See “Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations” section above.


“How Russia Could Recalibrate Its Relationship With Ukraine,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 09.10.21. The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Russia’s approach to relations with Ukraine could be adjusted to look as follows. Ukraine is a neighboring country that will never again become a brotherly nation. Any ambition of integration should be filed away once and for all in the historical archives, and replaced with that of good neighborly relations.”
  • “Russia must not indulge any fantasies that it will one day grow again to encompass Ukraine—or even its southeastern regions. … Instead of acquiring land, Moscow should focus on acquiring people. … Lately, Russia has correctly sensed that issues related to Ukraine have become less of a priority for Western governments. In the United States and Europe, post-Soviet Ukraine has never been seen as a particularly valuable political, military or economic asset.”
  • “What matters most for Russia is that to enact its top national interests in areas such as state identity, national solidarity, security, and economic development, Russia simply does not need Ukraine.In reining in Kyiv’s impulses to use force to resolve the problem of the Donbass, Russia must avoid a large-scale war with Ukraine: that would be a catastrophe and a tragedy for millions of people that nothing could possibly justify.”
  • “While continuing to abide by the Minsk peace agreements and maintain a dialogue … Russia must acknowledge that for Kyiv, the agreements are a symbol of defeat in war and diplomatic capitulation, and that Ukraine cannot and will not implement the terms of the agreements. The most that can be hoped for is the observance of a stable ceasefire.”
  • “Finally, modern Ukraine must be given close and serious study in Russia, to replace mythologized impressions of the former Soviet republic with real knowledge and proper understanding of how this large neighboring country is structured and operates. Russia and Ukraine will never be one country again, and that’s no cause for regret. They do, however, have to learn to live alongside each other.”

“Tough Talk Abroad Proves a Hit at Home for Ukraine’s Zelenskiy,” Konstantin Skorkin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 09.13.21. The author, an independent journalist based in Moscow, writes:

  • “Since Ukraine has few opportunities to seriously influence the formulation of global politics, all Zelenskiy can do is turn up the volume.”
  • “Zelenskiy is the first Ukrainian president to adopt such a sharp tone in his dealings with the country’s Western partners. He is constantly making demands, expressing indignation and shamelessly raising expectations of international meetings. Sometimes this works against him by creating the impression of failure where in fact there was none. But from time to time, it works in his favor—especially at home, where he is already paving the way to run for a second term.”
  • “It’s unlikely that he seriously believed that his public demands of Merkel and Biden would usher Ukraine directly into NATO or force them to end any dialogue with Russia. But his behavior strikes a chord with the public at home. Most Ukrainians are firmly convinced that the West owes them: as victims of Russian aggression, as the first line of defense of the free world, as a young, developing democracy. And even if doors are slammed in the face of the inexperienced president in Western corridors of power, Ukrainian public opinion remains on his side, because he is not afraid to publicly say what many Ukrainians are thinking. For this reason, even Zelenskiy’s most modest foreign policy successes won’t leave him without support back home.”

“Why the US Should Rethink Its Russia-centric Ukraine Policy,” Nicolai N. Petro, Russia Matters, 09.09.21. The author, a professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island, writes:

  • “The absence of progress on Ukraine’s key goals in its ties with Washington—a concrete deadline for a NATO Membership Action Plan, major U.S. military assistance, stopping Nord Stream 2 and getting the U.S. to join the peace process for eastern Ukraine—suggests that the core problem with America’s approach to Ukraine will persist indefinitely: namely, that the focus of U.S. policy toward Ukraine is not Ukraine per se but Russia.”
  • “Yes, Biden and Zelensky signed off on a joint statement announcing plans to ‘reinvigorate’ a U.S.-Ukrainian Strategic Partnership Commission; however,  key U.S. strategic documents either do not mention Ukraine at all or mention it only in the context of threats posed by Russia. And clarity on U.S. Ukraine policy is directly linked to clarity on U.S. Russia strategy, which some analysts have argued is not entirely coherent.”
  • “I suggest that we leave Ukrainians alone to be themselves. The advocates of Western intervention in Ukrainian affairs will probably object that this leaves the playing field entirely to Russia. I suggest that it is high time to trust in the good sense of Ukrainians, including those who see their Russian cultural heritage as fully compatible with a Ukrainian civic identity. Treating the latter as potential traitors, a ‘fifth column,’ as many Ukrainian officials are, sadly, still wont to do, can only undermine their sense of attachment to Ukraine, to the point that no amount of Western support will suffice to restore it.”
  • “It is therefore in our best interest, if not in our nature, to let other nations sort out their domestic affairs as they see fit, rather than try to fit them with the bit and bridle of America’s geopolitical ambitions. That course, as history has invariably shown, ends in disappointment.”

“The Biden Administration Wants to Ignore Its Most Obvious Problem: Russia,” Nikolas K. Gvosdev, The National Interest, 09.12.21. The author, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, writes:

  • “As with the Georgians in 2008, my concern here is that the ‘interpretation gap’ could manifest itself again. The Ukrainians could overestimate the level of U.S. backing, take steps or even be lured into a situation with Russia. We’ll then see a repeat of 2008, where U.S. statements about Georgia as a close and stalwart ally of the United States who could rely on U.S. support were replaced with criticisms of Georgia’s ‘recklessness’ and willful misinterpretation of U.S. promises. This occurred after Moscow tested the depth of that U.S. commitment and, along with Tbilisi, and found it wanting. Russia is already quietly feeding concerns about U.S. credibility among its European partners in the aftermath of the Afghanistan evacuation; could there be an incident with Ukraine also designed to challenge the credibility of U.S. and Western guarantees?”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Taliban takeover turns Uzbekistan into powerbroker,” Henry Foy, Financial Times, 09.10.21. The author, European Diplomatic Correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “While doubts remain over the promise of new domestic freedoms [in Uzbekistan], shifts in the country’s foreign policy are unmistakable: the region’s largest country by population is not only cultivating a leadership role among its post-Soviet neighbors, it is also seeking to lead through collaboration, rather than coercion.”
  • “‘Uzbekistan now sees the relations with the four other Central Asian states as its priority—during Karimov’s time this was completely the opposite,’ says Temur Umarov, a regional expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center. ‘Afghanistan is seen by Tashkent not so much as a source of threat but as a source of international attention. Since [current president] Mirziyoyev came to power, he has actively exploited the Afghan theme to draw attention to the importance of Uzbekistan in the region.’”
  • “‘If during Karimov’s time Uzbekistan’s foreign policy was based on the thinking: ‘we are the leaders because everyone is afraid of us’, with Mirziyoyev in power it has changed to: ‘we are the leaders because we can make Central Asian states co-operate’,’ says Umarov.”
  • “However, Mirziyoyev still has to find a mutually acceptable arrangement with Kazakhstan—by far the region’s largest player by gross domestic product and territory, and for decades Uzbekistan’s rival for leadership of the region.”
  • “Mirziyoyev now hopes the insecurities over the return to Taliban rule next door—and the end of a U.S. military presence in the region—convinces his previously skeptical neighbors that there is strength in numbers.”

“The (Russian) Empire Strikes Back: Are Russia and Belarus about to Merge?” Mark Episkopos, The National Interest, 09.11.21. The author, a national security reporter for the National Interest, writes:

  • “Lukashenko, having exhausted all other options, met with Putin to greenlight a Union State agreement that he has spent years successfully resisting—an agreement that not only washes away his principal foreign policy legacy, but casts a sunset on his personal political fortunes. Lukashenko, for all of his many undisputed faults, articulated and forcefully pursued a vision of Belarusian sovereignty that has now been dashed against the Kremlin’s domes. Policymakers from Vilnius from Washington can finally gaze upon the fruits of their labors. The Western maximum-pressure campaign against Mink has achieved a grotesque version of its intended purpose: the Lukashenko government, as we know it, is no more. What is fast emerging in its place is a Russian outpost, willingly absorbed by its larger and more powerful neighbor following an ill-conceived regime change program sponsored by the West itself.”