Russia Analytical Report, Sept. 8-14, 2020
This Week’s Highlights
- While Russia has a negligible effect on the availability of energy in the U.S., it exerts significant influence on U.S. gasoline prices—which, in turn, affect the U.S. economy as a whole—and it constrains the diversity of export markets for U.S. oil and natural gas, writes Prof. Li-Chen Sim, while at the other end of the spectrum, Russian nuclear power, coal and renewable energy policies have minimal impact on U.S. energy security. In terms of U.S. energy systems’ resilience, she argues, Russia has not caused any known disruptions but has been accused of cyber intrusions with the potential to adversely affect U.S. energy supplies. More of the same can be expected over the next five years: The lack of meaningful structural reforms to Russia’s sanctions-hobbled economy means a continued dependence on hydrocarbon exports, while a post-pandemic recovery of energy demand will result in even fiercer competition for market share.
- Stopping Nord Stream 2 would be seismic, according to Kirsten Westphal, Maria Pastukhova and Jacopo Maria Pepe of SWP, and while the days of the special strategic energy partnership with Russia are over, a functioning modus vivendi for trade and exchange with this big and resource-abundant neighbor remains essential. From that perspective a moratorium would gain time for all involved. But, they write, the conditions for resumption would have to be clearly communicated, agreed with EU partners and implementable for Russia.
- Russia demonstrated in Syria that the bar for entry in expeditionary operations is far lower than many previously perceived, writes CNA’s Michael Korman. Moreover, deliberate use of force was not only within Russia’s capability, but Russian forces were able to turn the tide for the Syrian regime with a limited application of military power. However, Kofman writes, while Moscow was unable to parlay the intervention into broader goals related to core interests in Europe, Russian elites do perceive that the war has substantially upgraded the country’s position in international politics and its own perception of its position, gaining a higher degree of confidence.
- The significance of Japan’s Shinzo Abe’s diplomatic waltz with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the last seven years lies in his deliberate attempts to achieve a paradigm shift in Japan’s geopolitical thinking, write Joshua Walker, the president and CEO at the Japan Society, and Hidetoshi Azuma, an adjunct fellow at the American Security Project. Japan’s fledgling Eurasian strategy would be a welcome counterweight against China, and while splitting a Sino-Russian alliance may be beyond Japan’s abilities, they write, Abe’s intrepid proposition provided the country with a geostrategic rationale for positioning itself as a force to be reckoned with across the Eurasian continent.
- Top American leaders should sit down with Russian policymakers and look for compromises that both sides can live with, writes Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute. Washington’s objective should not be to make Russia an American ally, but to prevent it from becoming a Chinese one, he argues.
- Russia’s state-aligned media is declaring wins for pro-Kremlin sitting or acting regional heads in all 18 direct gubernatorial races, along with “stable majorities” for United Russia in all 11 regional legislative assemblies for which elections took place Sept. 13, writes Ben Noble of University College London. Navalny’s team is also celebrating reports of wins—both of its own team members as well as those of candidates chosen by its “Smart Voting” campaign—in various races, including for the Tomsk and Novosibirsk City Councils, as well as in one of four State Duma by-elections. For Team Navalny, Noble argues, the goal of “Smart Voting” is to chip away at the Kremlin’s image of invincibility—to show that political competition, and opposition coordination, is possible.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- No significant developments.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- No significant developments.
Iran and its nuclear program:
- No significant developments.
New Cold War/saber rattling:
“Not in My Backyard: Land-based missiles, democratic states and Asia’s conventional military balance,” Frank A. Rose, Brookings Institution, 09.10.20: The author, co-director of the Security and Strategy team in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, writes:
- “On Aug. 2, 2019, the United States formally withdrew from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. … However, Russia’s violation was not the only factor for Washington. As a non-signatory to the INF Treaty, China’s major build-up of its regional ballistic and cruise missile force has seriously eroded the U.S. conventional military advantage in East Asia.”
- “Overall, the [U.S.] military arguments in support of deploying ground-based missiles in Asia are compelling, but deploying ground-based missiles in democratic countries, especially road-mobile systems, has always been politically challenging. Whereas leaders of authoritarian states like Russia, China and North Korea can easily ignore public opinion, politicians in democratic states don’t have that luxury and must build public support for their decisions. This, in turn, can lead to significant delays in the deployment of military capabilities.”
- “Instead of attempting to bring China into the U.S.-Russia strategic arms control framework, the U.S. would be better served by refocusing its near-term diplomatic efforts on trying to constrain the development of China’s asymmetric capabilities.”
- “China’s deployment of ballistic and cruise missiles has played a critical role in titling the conventional military balance of power in East Asia in its favor. A deployment of similar land-based capabilities by the United States and its allies could help counter this threat. But as recent events in Japan have shown, deploying land-based missiles in democratic countries is politically complicated. A better option would be for the United States to pursue a strategy that improved U.S. and allied air- and sea-based cruise missile capabilities; advanced pragmatic arms control and risk reduction measures with China; and enhanced the resiliency of its critical infrastructure. This would meet U.S. military and deterrence objectives at an acceptable political cost.”
- No significant developments.
Impact of the pandemic:
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Nuclear arms control:
- No significant developments.
“This 9/11 Anniversary Arrives With the End of the War on Al-Qaida Well in Sight,” Christopher Miller, The Washington Post, 09.10.20: The author, director of the National Counterterrorism Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, writes:
- “My assessment now is that al-Qaida is in crisis. … Al-Qaida's forces are … in disarray and focused simply on survival. … The defeat of these terrorists is near, but experience has taught us that prematurely declaring ‘mission accomplished,’ as we did with the war in Iraq in 2003, is to invite this Hydra-like beast to regenerate.”
- “I don't want to underestimate the challenges ahead. I am chastened by our failure to prevent the Islamic State's rise from the ashes of al-Qaida in Iraq.”
- “The international community must also deal with thousands of Islamic State members who fought in Syria and Iraq and have dispersed to other countries.”
- “Al-Qaida misgauged the United States' enormous resolve and fortitude. We did not seek or desire the war the terrorists started. But we will end the war on our terms. Other individuals and groups who want to harm Americans should study our war against al-Qaida: We will pursue terrorists to the ends of the Earth, never stopping until the job is done.”
“Paths to Destruction: A Group Portrait of America's Jihadists—Comparing Jihadist Travelers with Domestic Plotters,” Brian Michael Jenkins, RAND Corporation, September 2020: The author, a senior adviser to the president of the RAND Corporation, writes:
- “Combating terrorism continues to be a focus of the U.S. government, and homegrown terrorists are a major concern. In this report, the author examines hundreds of U.S. residents who have traveled or attempted to travel to foreign lands to join or otherwise support terrorist organizations.”
- “Key [f]indings are as follows: U.S. residents who traveled or attempted to travel abroad to join jihadists fronts—travelers, as defined in this report—were overwhelmingly male. About half were born in the United States; about one-third were converts to the Muslim faith.”
- “More than half of the travelers left the United States after 2011, and almost all of those went to Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. These findings suggest that Syria's civil war offered a unique confluence of appeal and accessibility.”
- “Among foreign-born travelers, most arrived in the United States as children and spent roughly the same number of years there between their arrival and their attempt to join the jihad. Thus, America's jihadists do not reflect an immigration problem; that is, it does not appear that radicalized individuals are being admitted into the United States or that vetting is failing. America's jihadists are made in the United States.
- “Decisions both to travel and to plot involved individuals rather than larger groups, which indicates that jihadists have not been able to organize themselves in the United States' Muslim community. … The travelers' collective profile differs only marginally from that of the jihadists who plotted to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States.”
Conflict in Syria:
“Syria and the Russian Armed Forces: An Evaluation of Moscow’s Military Strategy and Operational Performance” by Michael Kofman in “Russia’s War in Syria: Assessing Russian Military Capabilities and Lessons Learned,” Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), September 2020: The author, director of the Russia studies program at CNA, writes:
- “Russia demonstrated that the bar for entry in expeditionary operations is far lower than many previously perceived. Moreover, deliberate use of force was not only within Russia’s capability, but Russian forces were able to turn the tide for the Syrian regime with a limited application of military power. Similarly, the absence of organic sustainment or logistics proved a limiting factor, but only in terms of scalability for the conduct of operations. Russia’s General Staff demonstrated that even though they could, they would not expand the size of the operation for reasons of political and military strategy.”
- “Russian airpower was grossly underrated in Syria. … Russia remains a ground force-dominated military, where air power is integrated with air and missile defense forces. … [T]he Russian military demonstrated a qualitative evolution over the course of its campaign in Syria. … It has been changed by the experience, acquired new capabilities and continues to evolve.”
- “From the Russian perspective, its military prevented the United States from achieving a foreign policy objective in the Middle East, drawing a red line on regime change when it came to Syria. In terms of Russian political aims, the military campaign proved a qualified success in achieving the desired political ends. Moscow did indeed destroy the Syrian opposition as a viable military force, and thereby coerce external actors to change their foreign policy in Syria, including the United States.”
- “Yet, Moscow was unable to parlay the intervention into broader goals related to core interests in Europe. However, Russian elites do perceive that the war has substantially upgraded the country’s position in international politics and its own perception of its position, gaining a higher degree of confidence. The war was a demonstration that Russia could successfully use force outside of its own region in defense of its interests and leverage that success to attain new interlocutors or potential partners.”
“Implications for the West” by Robert Hamilton in “Russia’s War in Syria: Assessing Russian Military Capabilities and Lessons Learned,” FPRI, September 2020: The author, an associate professor of Eurasian studies at the U.S. Army War College and a Black Sea Fellow at FPRI, writes:
- “Russia has not won conclusively in Syria, but may not need to in order to achieve its objectives. … Russia hopes to make Syria the centerpiece of its regional presence, but seeks to avoid engaging in reconstruction or nation-building there.”
- “Russian strategy has been minimalist in the means deployed and flexible in the ways it used those means; it pursued multiple vectors and reinforced those that had success. … Russia is risk-tolerant, unconcerned about reputational damage and sees all agreements in instrumental terms, violating them as soon as it is convenient.”
- “Syria was transformational for the Russian armed forces, but the transformation was uneven, with the aerospace forces the most transformed, and the army and navy less so.”
- “The institutionalization of the lessons of Syria may change the way in which Russia approaches warfare, from seeing each war as an isolated case to forming a doctrinal template for certain types of warfare.”
“The Russian Way of War in Syria: Threat Perception and Approaches to Counterterrorism” by Anna Borshchevskaya in “Russia’s War in Syria: Assessing Russian Military Capabilities and Lessons Learned,” FPRI, September 2020: The author, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, writes:
- “Putin’s Syria intervention shows that Russia’s way of war is evolving to adapt to new realities, while the fundamental values that underpin the reasons for the war in the first place remain largely unchanged. Whether Russia itself became more secure as a result of the Syria intervention is debatable.”
- “Moscow’s campaign in Syria shows that while its tools are evolving, the fundamental strategic interests and threat perception remain largely the same. Moscow looks to be a conflict manager, not a country that fosters genuine conflict resolution.”
- “Another chief lesson of Moscow’s Syria campaign is that Putin’s Russia and the West do not, and have never, shared the same goals and threat perceptions. In Syria, as elsewhere, Moscow’s priority is regime survival, which, in the Kremlin’s view, requires it to alter the balance of power in its favor. The West can count on Moscow to stay on this course. It is committed to this game for the long haul, and Western policymakers should craft long-term strategies to counter Moscow’s influence.”
“Why Are US and Russian Forces Clashing in Syria?” Giuseppe Maria Del Rosa, The National Interest, 09.12.20: The author, a security and regional security analyst for Le Beck, writes:
- “Run-ins between the U.S. and Russian forces have increased following President Donald Trump’s short-lived decision to withdraw 1,000 U.S. personnel—after which he changed his mind, agreeing to keep a smaller force in a more confined area to protect ‘the oil.’ The subsequent U.S. forces’ reposition led Russian forces to expand their footprint across northeastern Syria, placing the two factions in close and recurring contact.”
- “The recent ‘incidents’ are no coincidence and stem from a broader confrontation between the United States and Russia, underscoring the possibility that further ‘encounters’ will be reported. The more so, given the Trump administration change in mind, underlining anything but a clear strategy over [n]ortheastern Syria, compounded with a Russian will to show the door to the U.S. troops in the region. Both these reasons, also fueled by potential Russian desires to revenge—having not been able to strike an oil deal—will likely bolster the chances for further military face-offs.”
“More Aggressive and Less Ambitious: Cyber Command’s Evolving Approach,” Joshua Rovner, War on the Rocks, 09.14.20: The author, an associate professor in the School of International Service at American University, writes:
- “The Cyber Command and National Security Agency collaborated in a task force called the Russia Small Group to discover evidence of election meddling. It shared that information with the Department of Homeland Security in order to harden election infrastructure, and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation ‘to counter foreign trolls on social media platforms.’”
- “Did these efforts stop Russia? Did they stop anyone else? Nakasone and Sulmeyer state that Cyber Command ‘disrupted a concerted effort to undermine the midterm elections,’ but we don’t really know what foreign actors were planning, or how hard they tried for a repeat of 2016. Without knowing what foreign adversaries had in mind, is hard to judge the results of Cybercom’s activities. For the command, however, the effort was a clear success story. Beyond preventing election interference, it proved that the command could coordinate with several agencies, integrate intelligence with law enforcement and work in tandem with the private sector.”
- “In other ways, however, the new approach represents a step back. When Cyber Command published its Command Vision in 2018, it claimed that persistent engagement would be important for coercion and norm-setting. … In contrast, the Foreign Affairs article is conspicuously modest about the command’s ability to influence anyone.”
- “The United States has not fought a conventional war against an enemy with sophisticated cyberspace capabilities. How such a war would play out is hard to predict, given the lack of precedent, but we can assume it will be complex and messy. Preparing for such a war, however unlikely, demands a great deal of attention. Moreover, while an aggressive approach might make sense in peacetime, where escalation is unlikely, the same tactics may be dangerous in a deep crisis or conflict. If great-power hostilities continue to rise, Cyber Command may have to pump the brakes on persistent engagement and devote more attention to the missions for which it was originally designed.”
“Russian Fake News Is Back: Do these 4 things to help save the election from foreign interference,” Sinan Aral, The Boston Globe, 09.09.20: The author, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, writes:
- “With less than two months to Election Day and even less time to the start of mail-in voting, it's become obvious during this contentious election cycle that we can't rely on either the platforms or lawmakers who don't seem motivated to pass targeted legislation like the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act, the SECURE Our Democracy Act, the Honest Ads Act and the Voting System Cybersecurity Act. So what can we, as ordinary citizens, do to protect our democracy? A few simple steps could go a long way.”
- “First, think before sharing. … Second, Google it. … Third, be aware of the original source. … Finally, check your emotional pulse. Our research shows fake news is salacious and attempts to elicit strong emotions like surprise, anger and disgust.”
- “No matter who you support in the upcoming election, when it comes to protecting our democracy, we're all in this together. And right now, during one of our fragile democracy's most vulnerable moments, it's all hands on deck.”
“Treasury Stands Up to a 'Russian Agent',” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 09.12.20: The news outlet’s editorial board writes:
- “There appear to be two minds in the Trump administration: one that acknowledges Russia is a hostile geopolitical foe; and that of President Trump and his most craven flunkies, who seek to help the Kremlin escape blame and punishment for its persistent wrongdoing. The first occasionally wins out, as was the case on Thursday [Sept. 10], when the Treasury Department placed sanctions on Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian member of the Ukrainian parliament. The department concluded that Mr. Derkach ‘has been an active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian Intelligence Services.’”
- “What Treasury did not mention is that Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani worked with Mr. Derkach to smear Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden based on the fact that Mr. Biden's son was once on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company.”
- “Sadly, there may be many senior members of the Trump administration who approach protecting the country with a similar level of partisan blindness. A bombshell whistleblower complaint emerged Wednesday [Sept. 9] from the Department of Homeland Security, claiming that leaders of the powerful federal agency pressed persistently to cook intelligence reports so they aligned with Mr. Trump's political views rather than reality. In his complaint, Brian Murphy, the former chief of intelligence and analysis at DHS, alleges that top officials demanded misleading information on immigration, on Russian interference in U.S. elections and on antifa.”
- “DHS spokesman Alexei Woltornist denied Mr. Murphy's claims and invited investigations into the matter. Good; the entire department, from Mr. Wolf down, should cooperate fully with the internal and external reviews that should follow … This would be an investigation that could result in uncovering actual wrongdoing, not just muddy the waters in advance of a presidential election.”
Energy exports from CIS:
“Nord Stream 2: Leverage Against Russia?,” Kirsten Westphal, Maria Pastukhova and Jacopo Maria Pepe, SWP (German Institute for International and Security Affairs), 09.14.20: The authors, affiliates of SWP, write:
- “Stopping Nord Stream 2 would be seismic. But what happens when the dust has settled? The government will have to make difficult choices. The following four aspects need to be considered.”
- “Firstly, the immediate effect on the energy supply would be marginal. The project is neither … a danger to European energy security, nor is it essential. Existing pipelines through Ukraine retain an annual capacity estimated at 100–120 billion cubic meters, with the Yamal-Europe pipeline through Poland and Belarus adding 33 billion cubic meters and Nord Stream 1 another 55 billion. There are also pipelines to Turkey and Finland. Together these would easily cope with the peak volume of more than 190 billion cubic meters, which Gazprom supplied to Europe in 2017/2018.”
- “Secondly, indirect effects on economy and energy supply are hard to estimate. Sunk costs in the Baltic would hurt Gazprom, but would also be costly for European companies. … Thirdly, abandoning an economic infrastructure project for political reasons would represent a paradigm shift for Berlin.”
- “Fourthly, the normative justification raises questions: Is the situation really qualitatively new? Would earlier events not actually have offered more solid grounds?”
- “The days of the special strategic energy partnership with Russia are over, but a functioning modus vivendi for trade and exchange with this big and resource-abundant neighbor remains essential. From that perspective a moratorium would gain time for all involved. But the conditions for resumption would have to be clearly communicated, agreed with EU partners and implementable for Russia.”
“EU Gas Groups Exposed as Pipeline Politics Threaten Nord Stream 2,” Henry Foy and Derek Brower, Financial Times, 09.14.20: The authors, the Moscow bureau chief and the U.S. energy editor for the news outlet, write:
- “Eighty kilometers of open water does not seem far in the 3,100km journey that Russian gas must make from fields in the Siberian Arctic to consumers in northern Germany. But closing the last gap in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea is becoming an increasingly painful and potentially expensive problem for six of Europe’s biggest gas companies, which have pledged billions of euros in funding.”
- “Aside from the sanctions threat, analysts have questioned the commercial rationale of the pipeline, which will add additional supply capacity to Europe’s gas market at a time of historically low prices and large oversupply caused by the pandemic’s hit to demand and the rise of liquefied natural gas production from countries such as the U.S.”
- “[However] [m]ost forecasts predict that within three years, growth in Asian gas demand will eliminate excess LNG supplies and falling domestic gas production in Europe will increase the need for imports. ‘Right now there are unlikely to be any consequences for European or German politicians who may decide to delay Nord Stream 2 for short-term political considerations,’ Ronald Smith, executive director of BCS Global Markets in Moscow, said. ‘But no European government will want to turn off the heating in schools because the project didn’t get built.’”
“Russia’s Impact on US National Interests: Ensuring Energy Security,” Li-Chen Sim, Russia Matters, 09.10.20: The author, an assistant professor at Khalifa University of Science and Technology, writes:
- “While Russia has a negligible effect on the availability of energy in the U.S., it exerts significant influence on U.S. gasoline prices—which, in turn, affect the U.S. economy as a whole—and it constrains the diversity of export markets for U.S. oil and natural gas.”
- “At the other end of the spectrum, Russian nuclear power, coal and renewable energy policies have minimal impact on U.S. energy security.”
- “In terms of U.S. energy systems’ resilience, Russia has not caused any known disruptions but has been accused of cyber intrusions with the potential to adversely affect U.S. energy supplies. More of the same can be expected over the next five years: The lack of meaningful structural reforms to Russia’s sanctions-hobbled economy means a continued dependence on hydrocarbon exports, while a post-pandemic recovery of energy demand will result in even fiercer competition for market share.”
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:
“The Meaning of Victory in Russia’s Sept. 13 Elections,” Ben Noble, The Moscow Times, 09.14.20: The author, a lecturer in Russian politics at University College London, writes:
- “State-aligned media is declaring wins for pro-Kremlin sitting or acting regional heads in all 18 direct gubernatorial races, along with ‘stable majorities’ for United Russia in all 11 regional legislative assemblies for which elections took place. Sergey Turchak—the secretary of United Russia’s General Council—has called the preliminary results a ‘convincing victory’ for the party.”
- “Regarding the opposition, Navalny’s team is celebrating reports of wins—both of its own team members as well as those of candidates chosen by its ‘Smart Voting’ campaign—in various races, including for the Tomsk and Novosibirsk City Councils, as well as in one of four State Duma by-elections.”
- “For the Kremlin, the main question for these elections was clear and simple: How to secure electoral success in the 2021 State Duma elections, when United Russia’s approval rating currently hovers just above 30 percent? The preliminary results of the Sept. 13 elections suggest that the elaborate electoral toolbox created by the Kremlin provides an answer to that question.”
- “These tools include: Allowing United Russia politicians to run as independents to escape the ‘party of power’s’ toxic brand; blocking the registration of systemic and non-systemic opposition candidates; backing new parties that might capture narrow slivers of the electorate, but that can be relied upon to support the authorities if elected; three-day voting; allowing voting outside polling stations; electronic voting; pressure on opposition individuals and organizations, including law enforcement searches of their offices; and so on.”
- “For Team Navalny, the goal of ‘Smart Voting’ is not sensational, overnight electoral victories at the national level. Rather, the aim is slower, more modest and localized: to chip away at the Kremlin’s image of invincibility—to show that political competition, and opposition coordination, is possible.”
“Russia’s Crumbling Power Vertical: Decreasing Disposable Income Drives Discontentment,” Maria Snegovaya, PONARS Eurasia, September 2020: The author, a postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, writes:
- “We have found a substantial and statistically significant correlation between the dynamic of real disposable incomes in the region and support for the pro-Kremlin candidate in the gubernatorial elections. The established correlation between support for the pro-Kremlin candidate in a given region and the dynamics of disposable incomes suggests that the social and economic situation in the Russian regions has a significant impact on public support for federal candidates. One can hence expect that further deterioration of the economic situation in the country will create more electoral risks for the Kremlin.”
- “Another interesting finding in our report is that ‘outsiders’ (candidates who are not born in a given region) tend to do better in gubernatorial elections than region-born candidates. This finding is echoed by the Kremlin’s current policy of appointing in the region people without a long history within and familiarity of the region.”
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:
“Shinzo Abe's Unfinished Deal with Russia,” Joshua Walker and Hidetoshi Azuma, War on the Rocks, 09.11.20: Walker, the president and CEO at the Japan Society, and Azuma, an adjunct fellow at the American Security Project, write:
- “The significance of Abe’s diplomatic waltz with Putin over the last seven years lies in his deliberate attempts to achieve a paradigm shift in Japan’s geopolitical thinking.”
- “While Abe achieved no tangible results in peace talks with the Kremlin, let alone the stated objective of splitting the Sino-Russian alliance, his foreign policy legacy is indisputable. Indeed, Japan’s fledgling Eurasian strategy would be a welcome counterweight against China at a time when Putin is looking to consolidate his own unique place on the continent and Trump is reported to have been contemplating a possible grand bargain with Russia to check Beijing’s ambitions.”
- “Splitting a Sino-Russian alliance may be beyond Japan’s abilities, but Abe’s intrepid proposition provided the country with a geostrategic rationale for positioning itself as a force to be reckoned with across the Eurasian continent. Abe was a rare geopolitical visionary in Japanese history. He had his own failings but bequeathed an unequivocal foreign policy legacy to the nation that now finds itself back on the world stage with global responsibilities and commitments. While Tokyo braces for the coming post-Abe era, Abe’s unfinished deal with Russia will likely remain underappreciated at home in the immediate future. Ultimately Abe’s enduring influence on the trajectory of Japan’s foreign policy will only be appreciated in time.”
“Germany Is Well Placed to Lead a Tougher EU Response to Russia,” Constanze Stelzenmüller, Financial Times, 09.10.20: The author, a senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, writes:
- “After doctors in Berlin identified the substance used as a military-grade nerve agent of the Novichok group, German chancellor Angela Merkel issued a sharp condemnation.”
- “Now it is Berlin that will have to answer difficult questions. Can Germany find an appropriate next move that does not look like an embarrassing climb-down? Can it, since it now holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency, broker a consensus on how to deal with Russia in a divided Europe? How to combine sanctions with a policy that does not punish civil society or close the door to pragmatic co-operation? Finding a national consensus will be hard enough. … Divisions are also evident at EU level.”
- “Germany should now take the lead and pronounce that enough is enough. Sanctions—if they are to be targeted at those responsible for the crime rather than a blanket punishment of civilians—demand a complex and lengthy identification of the perpetrators and their chain of command. Pending that, Germany should immediately offer asylum to Mr. Navalny and suspend Nord Stream 2 (reserving the option of cancelling the project altogether).”
- “Meanwhile, the EU should pursue illicit financial flows and corruption, and help renovate the Ukrainian transit pipeline.”
- “EU should also offer refuge to those persecuted by Russia and study visas to the young. That, rather than offers of dialogue, is the language the Kremlin understands.”
“Germany has More Pressing Concerns Than Brexit,” Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, 09.14.20: The author, chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times, writes:
- “Chatting to a diplomat in Berlin last week, I suggested that Brexit probably ranked about number four on the list of German foreign-policy concerns. He … replied: ‘I think lower than that.’ … The most urgent issues facing the German chancellor are Russia, COVID-19, the eastern Mediterranean, the US election and China. Then comes Brexit. As the current president of the EU, Germany sees its role as shaping a unified European response to all these issues.”
- “The urgency of the Russia problem is underlined by the fact that Alexei Navalny … is lying in hospital less than a mile from the chancellor’s office. Flying Mr. Navalny to Germany … has provoked a crisis in relations with Moscow. German diplomats believe that the Russians did not expect Mr. Navalny to survive the flight from Siberia to Berlin. The Kremlin is furious at Germany’s confirmation that Mr. Navalny was poisoned—and is spitting out conspiracy theories.”
- “Ms. Merkel has always tried to keep lines open to Vladimir Putin … But she is not shirking confrontation this time; she chose to personally announce the toxicology results that showed Mr. Navalny was poisoned. A reversal of German policy on … Nord Stream 2 … is looking more likely.”
- “Beyond the boundaries of Europe, Germany sees a world of rogue superpowers with an animus against the European project. … Floating above everything else is anxiety over the U.S. presidential election. … Germany’s relations with Turkey—always tricky—are also increasingly urgent.”
- “In Berlin, the harshest word I heard applied to the British government’s announcement that it intends to break international law was ‘troubling’. … The political atmosphere in London is hysterical and insular. It is the Germans who are thinking globally and whose maxim now seems to be: ‘keep calm and carry on.’”
“The Poisoning of Alexei Navalny Should Shock the EU Into Action,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 09.10.20: The news outlet’s editorial board writes:
- “Fortunately, Mr. Navalny, recovering at a Berlin hospital, has awakened from a coma and appears to be doing better, though his long-term health is uncertain. The question remains, how will Ms. Merkel and her fellow leaders of democratic countries hold Mr. Putin accountable for this latest human rights outrage? This would be an easier question if the United States were not led by President Trump, with his notoriously tepid attitude toward Mr. Putin's repression of domestic dissent and other abuses.”
- “Europe can make use of the existing international law framework on chemical weapons, leading, at least in theory, to United Nations sanctions against confirmed violators of the global ban on deadly agents such as Novichok, the Russian-origin one that felled Mr. Navalny. … Germany took the first step by reporting the findings of its investigation to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, though the threat is mostly symbolic given Russia's veto power at the U.N. Security Council.”
- “More promising would be the adoption in Europe of legislation similar to the Magnitsky Act in the United States, to allow economic sanctions targeted at individuals found to be involved in human rights abuses. First proposed by a Dutch foreign minister in 2018, the law has been going through ‘preparatory work’ in the European Union's 27 members since then. The attack on Mr. Navalny should shock them into faster action.”
“What Venezuela’s Opposition Can Learn From Belarus,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 09.14.20: The news outlet’s editorial board writes:
- “A grand diplomatic bargain with Mr. Maduro’s international backers, Russia, Cuba, China and Iran, looks unlikely as long as Mr. Trump is in the White House. An opposition boycott [of elections] in December would deprive the long-suffering Venezuelan people of an alternative. It also risks backfiring, as in 2018 when Mr. Maduro claimed victory in a presidential vote shunned by most of the opposition. Venezuelans are exhausted and too preoccupied with daily survival to mobilize spontaneously.”
- “Yet in Belarus, an attempt to rig elections and secure continued legitimacy for an authoritarian ruler has instead galvanized the opposition and provoked protests so large they threaten the regime. It shows the value of mobilizing democratic forces to take part even in a manipulated poll. In an otherwise bleak political landscape, it is an example Venezuelans could learn from.”
“Russia Takes its Syrian Model of Counterinsurgency to Africa,” Samuel Ramani, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), 09.09.20: The author, a DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations, writes:
- “Russia’s counterinsurgency strategy in Africa hinges on supporting fragile authoritarian regimes and selling its Syrian model to countries struggling with political violence. In spite of Russia’s ambiguous commitment to African security and poor track record of military success in Africa, Moscow will likely continue highlighting its counterinsurgency credentials to secure economic contracts, bolster its cooperation with France, and assert its great power status.”
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
“Why America Should Fear a Russia-China Alliance,” Doug Bandow, The National Interest, 09.09.20: The author, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writes:
- “Perhaps most ominous are the growing if still limited ties between China and Russia. … By cooperating militarily they enhance their ability to project power and restrict U.S. dominance. … Together they provide a substantial counterweight to American ambitions. … They cooperate to circumvent economic sanctions, pursue shared objectives in international organizations, and improve cyberwarfare capabilities. China poses a greater challenge though.”
- “Washington should adopt reasonable accommodations rather than reflexively resist Chinese objectives while maximizing international support for America’s position and minimizing backing for the PRC. In pursuing the latter Washington should begin with Russia. … Despite hysterical fearmongering by those who see Moscow as an enemy, Russia poses minimal threat to America and almost as little danger to Europe. … America’s mistakes and misdeeds do not justify Moscow’s far worse behavior, but Russia is no outlier in the international system and its illicit behavior is negotiable.”
- “What kind of compromise would be acceptable? … America could announce the end of NATO expansion … and military assistance to Kiev. In return, Russia could halt support for ethnic Russian separatists in the Donbass and guarantee free Ukrainian maritime access. Ukraine could follow through on the Minsk Protocol. … On Crimea, the United States and Europe could accept annexation de facto but not jure. If Russia wants official recognition, then it could hold an internationally monitored referendum. … Washington and Moscow should agree to mutual disarmament when it comes to electoral interference.”
- “The West could drop complaints over South Ossetia and Abkhazia … and the United States could stop augmenting its financial contributions and troop deployments to Europe if Moscow dropped threatening and hostile actions. … Russia could end support of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and intervention in Libya if Washington stopped trying to push Russia out of Syria.”
- No significant developments.
“The Dictator's Desperation,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 09.09.20: The news outlet’s editorial board writes:
- “The United States should be taking a strong and visible stand for democracy in Belarus but, instead, President Trump and his administration have provided muted objections and little action. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued another lame protest Tuesday, saying the United States is ‘deeply concerned’ and is ‘considering’ sanctions.”
- “More to the point, Svetlana Alexievich, a Nobel laureate and also a member of the coordinating committee, said, ‘They have stolen our country, and now they are trying to abduct the best of us. But hundreds of others will come to replace those who have been taken from our ranks. It wasn't the Coordination Council that has rebelled. It is the entire country that has risen up.’”
“Seven Ways the West Can Help Belarus,” Ryhor Astapenia, Chatham House, 09.10.20: The author, Robert Bosch Stiftung Academy Fellow at Chatham House, writes:
- “Acknowledge the new reality: A huge number of Belarusians across all levels of society simply no longer recognize Lukashenka as their legitimate president. … Do not recognize Lukashenka as president.”
- “Be present on the ground In order to curb repression and establish ties with actors within Belarus, a monitoring group should be organized under the auspices of the UN, the OSCE or other international organizations to establish a presence on the ground.”
- “Announce a package of economic support for a democratic Belarus. … Introduce targeted political and economic sanctions.”
- “Support NGOs to investigate allegations of torture. … Support known victims of the regime.”
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
“Putin’s Problematic Perspective on Contemporary Post-Totalitarian Russia,” Algimantas Kasparavičius, The National Interest, 09.12.20: The author, is a historian, author, publicist and a senior researcher at the Institute of History of Lithuania, writes:
- “The role of the USSR in World War II is extremely significant but far from unambiguous. On the one hand, it is obvious that at some point the USSR fought a total war of survival in its territory. … On the other hand, … its march to Eastern and Central Europe in 1944–1945 brought to the nations of the region not only liberation from Nazism but also direct Soviet occupation and ideological coercion.”
- “The problem is that Putin presented … interpretations on some issues that were highly biased. … Firstly, the nonaggression pacts concluded by other states with Nazi Germany were purely pacifist in nature and did not conceal any secret protocols that aggressively denied or limited the sovereignty of third countries. … Secondly, recall that in the summer of 1939, the European political map was constructed in such a way that in principle there couldn’t have been a two-front war of the USSR with Germany and Japan at the same because the USSR did not have a direct border with Germany. … Thirdly … sharing of the ‘limitrophic’ Baltic States ‘at the right moment’ with Germany came to Moscow in the summer of 1926, when the Soviet-Lithuanian Non-Aggression Pact was drafted.”
- “The historical documents contradict … Putin’s conclusions that the ‘process of the incorporation’ of Lithuania to the Soviet Union … were ‘implemented on a contractual basis, with the consent of the elected authorities’ and ‘in line with international and state law of that time.’”
- “Lithuania and Russia have lived as neighbors for more than a thousand years. History and historical memory are fundamental elements of the identity of each nation and state. … It is therefore important that common history and historical memory are based on facts, arguments, respectful dialogue, and consensus-building. “