Fiona Hill speaking at Harvard Kennedy School, February 2017

Fiona Hill on Russia: Insights and Recommendations

February 05, 2024
RM Staff

This evolving compilation of observations and policy ideas about Russia by eminent Russia expert Fiona Hill is part of Russia Matters’ “Competing Views” rubric, where we share prominent thinkers’ takes on U.S.-Russian relations, Russia itself and America’s policies toward this country.

Through her prolific writing, Dr. Hill has contributed significantly to shaping the understanding of Russia-centered geopolitical dynamics in academia and government service. After earning her Ph.D. from Harvard University, she served as an intelligence analyst and advisor under three U.S. presidential administrations, including most recently as top Russia advisor to Donald Trump. As of the latest update to this compilation, Dr. Hill is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, as well as chancellor at Durham University and a member of Harvard University's Board of Overseers. She is the author of the 2021 memoir “There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century,” and co-author with her Brookings colleague Clifford Gaddy of two acclaimed books about Russia—one on President Vladimir Putin, “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin” (20132015), the other on the dire consequences of Soviet economic planning, “The Siberian Curse” (2003).  

This is a compilation of views expressed by Dr. Hill since 2003. It is not comprehensive in reflecting the depth and breadth of Dr. Hill’s thinking. It is but a sampling and an invitation to explore further. The quotes below are divided into categories similar to those in Russia Matters’ news and analysis digests, reflecting the most pertinent topic areas for U.S.-Russian relations broadly and for drivers of the two countries’ policies toward one another. Entries in each category are arranged in chronological order.

Bulleted text that is not italicized, bracketed or in parentheses is a direct quote from Dr. Hill unless otherwise noted. All sections may be updated with new or past statements. The original version of this product was published on Aug. 14, 2017. Subsequent updates have been made on Dec. 19, 2019, and Feb. 5, 2024.

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Russia’s…warfare extends to the weaponization of nuclear power. Russia took over the Chornobyl plant in Ukraine at the beginning of the war…Russia subsequently shelled and took over Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, and turned it into a military base. By attacking the power plant and transforming it into a military garrison, Russia has created a safety crisis for the thousands of workers there. (Foreign Affairs, 08.25.22)
  • We’ve been dependent on Russia [for nuclear fuel] …This is a time for us to step up into this realm as well. (Roll Call, 02.23.23)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • [President Donald Trump] recognized that he was going to have to do something non-conventional in terms of dealing with a real threat that he inherited from the Obama administration. The one thing that [President] Obama told him that really seemed to have sunk in was that we’re on the verge of having North Korea launch a missile at us. And basically, Trump dealt with that head-on. (Unherd, 02.22.23)

Iran’s nuclear program and related issues:

  • Putin firmly opposes U.S. policy toward Syria and the threat of force against Iran. But his opposition stems neither from anti-Americanism nor a desire to back the Iranian mullahs or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in their struggles with the West. It is rooted in his obsession with stability. Helping Tehran secure a nuclear weapon and keeping Assad in Damascus are not Putin’s goals. But an Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear sites, and NATO or the United Nations intervening in Syria to forcibly remove Assad, would increase global volatility. (New York Times, 02.04.13)
  • When there was a lot of pressure of the sanctions on Iran over its nuclear weapons program…Iran wanted to do things to lift the sanctions. But it didn’t necessarily want to change its goals about the nuclear program (New York Times, 04.08.22)
  • We already see Russia shifting its position on the Iranian nuclear front, and we also see Russia making a major shift in its relationship with Israel. Putin has gone from being a major supporter of Israel, to now an opponent, and has switched from what was always very careful public rhetoric about Israel to pretty antisemitic statements. ... This is a dramatic shift and clearly because of Iran. Now, whether Iran asked Putin to do this, I honestly can’t say, but we can all see this deepening relationship between Russia and Iran. That is a real problem for the administration and for others who are now looking at the Middle East and trying to figure out how to stop a broader war with Lebanon, with the Houthis in Yemen, and all of the Iranian proxies, because Iran and Russia have become fused together now in two conflicts. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • The Russia/Iran relationship greatly complicates the situation in the Middle East, Israel, and Gaza, and the battlefield in Ukraine. Russia’s relationship with Iran—not just Zelenskyy’s Jewish heritage, or all the Russian speakers of Jewish Ukrainian heritage in Israel—as well as the U.S. role in support of both Ukraine and Israel start to draw the two sets of conflicts into the same geopolitical frame. (Brookings, 01.31.24)

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • You can make a case that the Ukrainians will win their independence and sovereignty…but at great cost. (New York Times, 04.08.22) 
  • The displacement inside of Ukraine, as well as the refugees across into Poland and Romania and elsewhere in Europe, is just phenomenal scale. (New York Times, 04.08.22) 
  • [The war in Ukraine and its consequences change] the structure and the dynamic of not just European affairs, but global affairs because of sanctions and the disruptions in trade patterns – grain, fertilizer, fuel. (ZEIT, 05.12.23)
  • We need everyone else in the mix because if it's just the United States and Europe, it looks like World War II again. And that's what Putin wants. (ZEIT, 05.12.23)
  • The United States will have to play a role in this, but in this instance, the [United States] should not necessarily take the lead. (ZEIT, 05.12.23)
  • A world in which Putin defeats Ukraine is one where the U.S.’s standing in the world is diminished, where Iran and North Korea are emboldened, where China dominates the Indo-Pacific, where the Middle East becomes more unstable. (Politico, 12.12.23)

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

  • Both Ukraine and Russia have had a hard time going on the offensive while being very effective in defense. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • [On Ukraine’s counteroffensive,] in the media, the perceptions generated…proven to be counterproductive. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • If Ukraine [failed]…it would be perceived as a playoff. Because [Ukraine did not recapture major cities, the perception is] that they have not achieved what we wanted them to. There are already discussions…about how long the U.S. should be supporting this. This boosts Putin and [makes him] more confident. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • [However,] Ukraine [had success] in the Black Sea. They have broken the Russian dominance and the blockade [of grain shipments]. We have seen the removal of some Russian shipping and naval fleet from the Black Sea. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • Unfortunately, this is going to be a long grind. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • It is a numbers game…of manpower…and economy. Russia [has] a wartime economy… with a wartime production of ammunition and equivalent. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • Over the longer term, Ukraine can be in good shape [if allies step up ammunition production]. [However,] it has a hard time generating revenue [in the economy]. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • The Russian casualties are high. Over the longer term, this will be detrimental for Russia. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • Ukraine has a lot less manpower… [and this is very difficult]. The difficulty will be dislodging Russia from occupied territories. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • When we’re thinking about our own defense, our own national security, we need to be looking very carefully at this conflict. The way that Putin has played with the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons, the use of drones on the battlefield, the use of mines, the use of ships and blockades in the Black Sea, the difficulty of pushing forward in a counteroffensive against these deep entrenchments, how various military systems including defensive equipment actually perform in real time and conditions. We can see how effective our ATACMS were, for example, our Patriot batteries. This is, in a way, a proving ground for our own equipment. (Politico, 12.12.23)

Punitive measures related to Russia’s war against Ukraine and their impact globally:

  • If Putin invades Ukraine with no punitive action from the West and the rest of the international community beyond financial sanctions, then he will have set a precedent for future action by other countries. (New York Times, 01.24.22)
  • What we need is a temporary suspension of business activity with Russia until Moscow ceases its hostilities and withdraws its troops. (The Times, 03.02.22)
  • Putin has put the state back in [the 1990s] economy again, and we are seeing now with the sanctions and the cutting-off of Russia from the economy. A huge blow to [what] Putin has built up since 2000 in his period and the presidency. Russia is going to go into a very steep recession. Many of the gains that the Russian economy and the Russian population, as a result, made over the last 22 years since the dislocations and the wrenching rapid deindustrialization of the 1990s are going to be lost. (PBS, 03.28.22)
  • This is not the war of choice of the Russian people. They are also being forced into it because of the propaganda and the repression. We have to make it possible to actually have that discussion we keep postponing about how Russia fits into Europe and how we move forward in dealing with Russia. So, we must be careful not to be utterly punitive to the Russian people. (Internationale Politik, 03.31.22)
  • The sanctions against the aviation fleet [make it] very difficult for the Russians then to maintain their aircraft. Some sanctions will have a big impact on the ability of the military to continue to develop over time. (New York Times, 04.08.22) 
  • Western energy, financial and export control sanctions have been extensive…affecting the Russian economy. But sanctions cannot alter Putin’s view of history or his determination to subjugate Ukraine, so they have not changed his calculus or his war aims. (Foreign Affairs, 08.25.22)
  • The only way that we are going to be able to engage with Russia down the line is if there’s a reckoning for what has happened in Ukraine. (Foreign Affairs, 09.22.22)
  • Ukraine has become a battlefield now for America and America’s own future — whether we see it or not — for our own defensive posture and preparedness, for our reputation and our leadership. For Putin, Ukraine is a proxy war against the United States, to remove the United States from the world stage. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • When asked if Putin is winning in Ukraine: He’s about to, and it’s on us. We’re at the point where it’s on us. (Politico, 12.12.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • Negotiations with Russia—if not handled carefully and with continued strong Western support for Ukraine’s defense and security—would merely facilitate an operational pause for Moscow. (Foreign Affairs, 08.25.22)
  • What Putin wants us to do is to think that the stakes are too high for everybody and that we should capitulate and we should negotiate away Ukraine. (Brookings, 09.19.22)
  • Not negotiating is perhaps…too starkly put because we do need to have ways of engaging with Russia. Negotiation implies that we actually have something there that we can talk about and compromise on, and Russia doesn’t want to compromise. (Brookings, 09.19.22)
  • What we have to be very mindful about is not being tempted to [enter] into negotiations when there is [a] pause in the action. That would then just create the space for Russia to regroup and press ahead again because we’ve seen this over and over again. Since 2014, there’ve been all these agreements…in the Donbas region, Minsk I, Minsk II. And none of those have particularly held. (Brookings, 09.19.22)
  • There is talk of peace negotiations. But the problem is that the Russians are not interested in them. We need to have a full-on international diplomatic effort where everybody tries to push, not Ukraine but Russia, towards the negotiating table. (Unherd, 02.22.23) 
  • At one point, the Ukrainians were willing to contemplate Crimea being subjected to an internationally supervised referendum 15 or 20 years down the line. That was before all of the incredible violence and atrocities that we have seen there. So, it’s going to take some time to get back to that kind of position. There has to be a push to get Russia to negotiate and compromise. (Unherd, 02.22.23) 
  • Putin will only negotiate when he thinks that achieving his current goals is not possible. (Unherd, 02.22.23) 
  • [Talking about Western leaders’ belief that halting the war in Ukraine is the best option] This seems to be where we are trending… Freeze the conflict and stop the slaughter because everybody would like this to stop. (WSJ, 05.07.23)
  • Is it sufficient for Ukraine to have effectively given up territory and countless lives and to say, ‘OK, this is what we died for?’ (WSJ, 05.07.23)
  • We are trying to deny…Putin the ability to completely control in perpetuity the territories that he sees as his own... And that does include Crimea at this point…previous discussions about the management of Crimea can't be on the table anymore. …People say we would then be in perpetual conflict forever. Not necessarily. We need a big diplomatic surge. (ZEIT, 05.12.23)
  • There is a feeling that there has been a diversion of resources…into armaments that could have been put towards sustainable development, debt relief, climate change commitments and investment in the global south. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • There are already discussions about how long the United States and other countries support should [Ukraine]. We are seeing a diminution of support in polling for long-term offensive and more people asking, ‘How do we define victory?’ and ‘What about negotiations?’ That, of course, starts to constrain Ukraine’s room for maneuver and boosts Putin’s idea that things are moving in his favor. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • The challenge for Ukraine is to present itself as an asset – not a liability. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • [Russia has] no intention to give autonomy to occupied regions. Any Ukrainian on that territory is forced to become a Russian. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • For Ukraine, that makes it very difficult…to find a negotiated solution. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • [Ukraine] needs a bigger diplomatic effort on their behalf. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • The problem is that many members of Congress don’t want to see President Biden win on any front. People are incapable now of separating off “giving Biden a win” from actually allowing Ukraine to win. They are thinking less about U.S. national security, European security, international security and foreign policy, and much more about how they can humiliate Biden. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • Let’s just put it frankly — this is all about the upcoming presidential election. It’s less about Ukraine and it’s more about the fact that we have an election coming up next year. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • In that regard, whether they like it or not, members of Congress are doing exactly the same thing as Vladimir Putin. They hate that. They want to refute that. But Vladimir Putin wants Biden to lose, and they want Biden to be seen to lose as well. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • If the United States doesn’t pass the supplemental [bill to approve aid to Ukraine], and we get this chorus of members of Congress calling for the United States to pull away from Ukraine, Putin will be able to switch this around and say, “There you go. The United States is an unreliable ally. The United States is not a world leader.” And there will be a chilling effect for all our other allies. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • The focus in the United States, as in many other European countries, is really about domestic politics, about their own elections, their own constituencies. And we have to find a way of breaking through that logjam, because right now Vladimir Putin thinks he’s got the winning ticket here, the winning edge. (CNN, 12.21.23)
  • In talking about a possible Trump re-election: The larger point Europeans need to think about these days … is that European countries need to be already thinking about plan B and plan C, and how they are going to manage what could be an extraordinary rupture between the United States and the rest of the transatlantic alliance. (CNN, 12.21.23)
  • It benefits them [the Russians] for everyone to think that there’s a back channel and it’s so secret no one can figure it out because it scares the hell out of the Ukrainians.  … The Russians want us to create this idea that the channel is there and that everything depends on the U.S. so no one or nothing else plays a role. It’s a classic Russian play. (Bloomberg, 01.25.24)
  • I think there will be more pressure this year, 2024, to try to find some quick resolution to Ukraine so that the issues in the Middle East can be focused on. And that will be disastrous because Ukraine is the largest country in Europe after Russia.  (Brookings, 01.31.24)

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

  • The United States is on a dangerous trajectory in its relations with Russia, a nuclear superpower that believes itself to be under direct threat. (Washington Post, 02.05.15)
  • Neither NATO nor Russia would want a miscalculation—say, a NATO fighter misreading a Russian plane’s actions and shooting it down—that could lead inadvertently to a larger armed clash. An agreement could set down rules on how to approach an aircraft or ship, and whom to call in the case of an uncertain situation. Such measures could and should become part of standard operating procedures. (New York Times, 06.15.15)
  • In spite of the saber-rattling, Mr. Putin and the Kremlin do not want war with NATO. Mr. Putin is not hell-bent on the destruction of Russia or his presidency in a nuclear exchange. But Russian security elites know they lack the economic and military resources for a major conventional conflict, so Moscow has to accomplish its goals without triggering total mobilization—through hybrid tactics and bullying, including threats of a nuclear strike. And here lies the problem. Limiting the risks of miscalculation between NATO and Russian military units would seem to be a no-brainer. No one wants an accidental war. But, given Mr. Putin’s desire to intimidate the West, would the Kremlin permit such a dialogue to go forward? (New York Times, 06.15.15)
  • The preferred scenario for Russia in Europe, as Putin has repeatedly made clear, would be one without NATO and without any other strategic alliances that are embedded in the European Union’s security concepts. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • Putin was personally angered by events in Libya and the death of President Muammar Qaddafi at the hands of rebels as Qaddafi tried to flee Tripoli after NATO’s intervention in the civil war there. In Putin’s view (again expressed openly in his public addresses and in interviews), the United States was now responsible for a long sequence of revolutions close to Russia’s borders and in countries with close ties to Moscow. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • Ultimately, in pursuing Russia’s goals, Putin is a pragmatist. He has to keep a watchful eye on the home front, and Russia does not have the military or economic resources for the mass-army, total-mobilization approach that it adopted during the Cold War to defend itself against the United States and NATO. Putin has to combine conventional, nuclear and non-conventional, non-military—so-called “hybrid”—means of defense. (Brookings, 03.03.16)
  • In Georgia in 2008, for example, Putin called the West’s bluff about standing by its friends—which is what U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili that the West would do during a visit to Tbilisi shortly before the August war. From Putin’s perspective, given all the emphasis the Bush Administration put on Georgia in its foreign policy, he thought this meant that the United States was prepared to fight militarily, not just rhetorically, for Georgia. Moscow was steeled for a possible fight with NATO. … When the United States and NATO did not come to Georgia’s aid militarily, and the European Union, with then French President Nicholas Sarkozy out in front, rushed to broker a ceasefire, there was a sigh of relief in Moscow. NATO was still a formidable conventional fighting force, of course, but it did not have the political will to fight for partners outside the alliance, and the frame of Article 5—even if (as in the case of Georgia) those partners were fighting alongside NATO forces in coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Putin understood that the United States’ security priorities were focused elsewhere. The West wanted to contain Russia on the cheap in Europe and Eurasia. The United States, NATO and the EU would do everything they could to head off another major military confrontation, a “World War III,” in Europe. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Putin seeks a “New Yalta” with the West in political and security terms. As he defines Moscow’s sphere of influence in this new arrangement, that sphere extends to all the space in Europe and Eurasia that once fell within the boundaries of the Russian Empire and the USSR. Within these vast contours, Putin and Russia have interests that need to be taken into account, interests that override those of all others. For Putin, Russia is the only sovereign state in this neighborhood. None of the other states, in his view, have truly independent standing—they all have contingent sovereignty. The only question for Putin is which of the real sovereign powers (Russia or the United States) prevails in deciding where the borders of the New Yalta finally end up after 2014. … In the meantime, until a “new Yalta” is thrashed out, Russia and the West will remain at war. … This game of chicken will be a long one. Putin’s goal is security for Russia and his system. The means to achieve that goal is deterrence. … [T]here is no definitive endgame. He will keep on playing as long as he perceives the threat to last. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Paraphrased, approved remarks from Feb. 1, 2017, Belfer Center event: Putin’s speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 was a declaration of war, but we did not have the imagination to realize this. (Russia Matters, 02.08.17)
  • Paraphrased, approved remarks from Feb. 1, 2017, Belfer Center event: For the Russians there is no such thing as a “hybrid war.” In terms of Russian strategic thinking, from a military perspective, it’s all part of one very large tool kit—going from nuclear all the way through to political efforts. Many analysts and commentators in Russia talk about Syria as a nodal point in that war now because of changes to the regional order; they talk about Ukraine as a proxy war with the U.S. And the full-frontal attack on our elections is part of this strategic thinking. (Russia Matters, 02.08.17)
  • I don't think that we're in a second Cold War. The one thing that people need to bear in mind is that the Russian military still has the capacity to wipe out the United States through a nuclear strike. But there is no ideological struggle. The Cold War were two systems against each other. In a sense, we're in the same system. We're competitors. (CBS, 03.08.20)
  • We're not in the business of trying to carve up you between ourselves, as we might have been at the end of World War II. The transatlantic alliance itself has been grappling with all these different transnational threats. We are just having a really hard time having that conversation about Russia because of these pre-existing [lack of trust] frames. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • The whole quest since 2000 is to get Russia’s space at the table. We have plenty of people writing about the whole framing for the Putin presidency about restoring Russia first domestically and restoring the power of the state after a period of disorganization and disarray in the 1990s, and then getting Russia back in the mix as a great power with everybody acknowledging that. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • If we get any mistaken perceptions after the annexation of Crimea and Donbas, [that Russia] was a regional power focused just on Europe, then the intervention in Syria shows Russia’s historic interest in the Middle East, reinvigorating all ties with Venezuela and the Western Hemisphere, countries in  South America, Libya, all of these are things that Russia is showing, “Hey, we still have the ability to project force even if it might be with a lighter thumbprint.” (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • We need our [intelligence] services to be talking to each other's professionals. We need our militaries to talk to each other at all levels and not just insult each other. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • It can't be done while Russia is still part of our domestic politics and everybody's screaming about it…National security issues should not be partisan. They should not be politicized because they affect all of us and the risks of something getting out of control are far too high. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • It's really the operations that fall short of full-scale military incursions that we have to be most worried about. The use of cutouts and proxies, the PMCs, the paramilitary groups that they've been using [for example] Wagner and others that we've seen in Syria and around in Africa. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • We have to basically push back against all of that kind of activity, and we can't just do it by moving troops around. We have to do it in full concert with all of the allies, recognizing that the Russians are going to keep probing…how willing we are to maintain the existing defenses. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • [Talking about U.S.-Russia negotiations before the invasion of Ukraine] This time, Putin’s aim is bigger than closing NATO’s “open door” to Ukraine and taking more territory — he wants to evict the United States from Europe. As he might put it: “Goodbye, America. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” (New York Times, 01.24.22)
  • [Talking about Russia’s stance toward the West and NATO] Russia wants to have coercive power. This is what this is about…For Putin, it’s not just 30 years of historical wrong but centuries of injury inflicted on Russia, the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire. (Wall Street Journal, 02.22.22)
  • [Talking about President Biden’s “loose” talk of a regime change displacing Putin,] We're going to have to be extremely careful. This is like handling Chernobyl and trying to create a sarcophagus around it because it really does have all kinds of dangerous spillover potential. (The Boston Globe, 03.19.22)
  • [Talking about NATO’s 2008 Bucharest summit decision to announce Ukraine’s and Georgia’s future NATO membership without specifying when that might happen] It was the worst of all possible worlds. (New York Times, 04.11.22)
  • [Putin] sees NATO as the military wing of an imperial United States. (Brookings, 09.19.22) 
  • [The war in Ukraine] is a great power conflict, the third great power conflict in the European space in a little over a century. It’s the end of the existing world order. Our world is not going to be the same as it was before. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • [Putin] wants the [United States] and Europe to contemplate, as he says, the risks that we faced during the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Euromissile crisis. He wants us to face the prospect of a great superpower war. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • There’s no strategic standoff here. This is pure nuclear blackmail. There can’t be a compromise based on him not setting off a nuclear weapon if we hand over Ukraine. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • Many of the people trying to push Ukraine to surrender are basically those who believe that the United States or NATO is somehow using Ukraine in a proxy war with Russia. We’re not in a proxy war with Russia. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • [Putin] knows how to exploit NATO’s debates and splits over military spending and procurement. (Foreign Affairs, 02.15.23)
  • Russia still does not seem to want a full-on fight with NATO. It has avoided expanding its military action outside Ukraine (at least so far), including by not shelling military supply convoys entering the country from Poland or Romania. (Foreign Affairs, 02.15.23; co-authored with Angela Stent of Georgetown University and Brookings)
  • [If Putin stays in power] Russia will continue to set itself apart from Europe and switch its geopolitical outlook to the Middle East and other places. (ZEIT, 05.12.23)
  • [Talking about the 2024 U.S. elections,] it is about the credibility of leadership. The perception now is that U.S. commitment is only about one administration. We committed to Ukraine…in 1994. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • [While suitable for Congressional affairs] Biden’s linking Ukraine and Israel…is not good in terms of global politics and ties Ukraine to what is going to happen in the Middle East…especially in [the Global South] where there was a great deal of skepticism about Ukraine. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • We made a mistake in the very beginning when [the war in Ukraine] was portrayed as the battle of democracy vs autocracy. [Many in the Global South] did not buy it either. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • Russia is seen in many countries [in the Global South] as the defender and supporter of national independence movements. ...Ukraine finds it hard to understand the resentment of the Global South because they have been the underdog as well. ... Ukraine tries to portray it as a post-colonial conflict. In other parts of the world, there is no perception that European countries can be colonized (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • Ukraine has succeeded so far because of massive military support from European allies and other partners. So in that regard, we’ve now reached a tipping point between whether Ukraine continues to win in terms of having sufficient fighting power to stave Russia off, or whether it actually starts to lose because it doesn’t have the equipment, the heavy weaponry, the ammunition. That external support is going to be determinative. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • When asked what would happen to the West if Putin wins in Ukraine: We’ll be at each others’ throats. There’ll be no way in which this is going to turn out well. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • For Vladimir Putin now Ukraine has become a proxy war. … [F]or Putin, Ukraine is a proxy war against the United States, to remove the United States from the world stage. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • See also “New and original Cold Wars” above.

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • Fears of an energy-fueled Russian-Chinese alliance against U.S. interests that darkened some American analyses of the relationship in the 2000s may fade to more nuanced shades of gray in 2010-2020, as Russia and Chinese interests begin to diverge. (Brookings report, 08.31.10)
  • Regarding Putin’s speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum: The shift in economic focus might sound very much like the U.S. pivot to Asia, and Russia has indeed begun to reassert its military presence in the Asia-Pacific like the United States and other regional powers. What is different, however, is that Moscow has taken great pains to emphasize that its primary goal is to cooperate, not compete, with Beijing. (Foreign Affairs, 07.31.13)
  • Like the United States and many others, Russia subscribes to the fashionable notion that a global shift in power to the East is under way. Russia also shares the current understanding that the rise of China comes at the expense of the United States and the West. But unlike those of other European countries, Russia’s pivot is driven as much by its anxiety about the vulnerability of its sparsely populated eastern flank as by its desire to project influence. (Foreign Affairs, 07.31.13)
  • Moscow is … wary of China’s regional ambitions, in spite of its partnership with Beijing. China’s expanding naval activities in and beyond the Pacific Ocean have increasingly intruded on Russia’s maritime domain. (Belfer Center Report, 10.06.16)
  • The Russians certainly don't want to find themselves pulled over into some sort of “opposing China” block and on that front, the idea of having a sort of a G7 focused on China and inviting Russia along with South Korea, Australia, India and others, I don't think it's a starter from the Russian point of view. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • The Russians just do not want, from their point of view, to see a repetition of a massive opposing set of blocks with China and then be pulled over certainly to one side. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • Would they like to play it between the scenes? Seems rather offering. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • Sowing chaos has been really the goal of all of [Russian information operations] to really give most Americans [doubts] about the strength of their democracy and weaken our confidence in our own systems and that's been a hallmark of Russian and Soviet active measures for decades. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • The China-Russia relationship looks more robust than perhaps many of us would have anticipated. Looking at it a few years ago, it is because we have been pushing the two of them together with our own policy. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • Countries like China that have sat this [global condemnation of the war in Ukraine] out are obviously instrumental in their support for Russia or in their framing of what the war is for the rest of the international community. (New York Times, 04.08.22)
  • It’s…very useful for [China] to have Russia as a partner. I don’t think the partnership is limitless, as they announced it was in February before the invasion, but it’s certainly extremely useful for China. And Xi, having thrown in his lot with Putin, can’t really afford for Putin to fail. (Foreign Affairs, 09.22.22)
  • Xi and China didn’t expect that…Putin’s special military operation would turn into the largest military action in Europe since World War II. Now, Xi Jinping is leery about showing any kind of diminution of his support for…Putin and Russia, since that would suggest he made a major miscalculation in lending Putin support. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • We haven’t seen Xi repudiating Putin and Russia directly. But we’ve certainly seen some signs of concern. At a meeting in Central Asia around the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Putin himself acknowledged that China had concerns. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • We’re pretty sure at this point that the Chinese also don’t like…Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling…because that destabilizes the larger strategic balance globally, not just in Europe. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • Russia is becoming increasingly dependent on China politically as well as economically. (ZEIT, 05.12.23)
  • President Xi feels set up by Putin on the [war in Ukraine]. If resolving the war on Ukraine’s terms…boosts the U.S., then it is as much a proxy war with China as a proxy war with Russia. [China] does not want [Putin] to win, but [to] does not want him to lose. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • China relied on the Middle East for oil and wanted to have more prosperity in the Middle East. China did play an important role in the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. If we want to…manage [the conflict in the Middle East], we…have to [lower] the temperature in the relationship with China. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • Although we have not seen China supporting Russia in the war in Ukraine in the way that North Korea and Iran have, China continues to give Putin a lot of economic, political and moral support. China sees this as an opportunity to put pressure on the United States. (Politico, 12.12.23)

Missile defense:

  • These dangerous Russian games of chicken [involving military craft] are now regular occurrences and come hard upon a Russian threat … to aim nuclear missiles at Danish warships if Denmark joins NATO’s missile defense system. (New York Times, 06.15.15)
  • Paraphrased in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: Putin wants the U.S. to cancel plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, including bases in Romania and Poland. (Los Angeles Times, 12.14.16)

Nuclear arms control:

  • We are now back in a similar frame to the nuclear war scare of the 1980s, which only ended with the Reagan and Gorbachev summitry that led to the conclusion of the 1987 INF Treaty. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • We have arms control treaties that are running out of time in their current format. New START, for example. We've had a lot of questions after the withdrawal from the INF [Treaty], which has been in place since 1987, the result of these persistent violations by Russia over time that were not being addressed. Where do we go next in a much more complex, multifaceted nuclear world? (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • We have all the existing nuclear powers, and from the P5, the UN Security Council, we are stuck on issues like the Nonproliferation Treaty. There's a complex set of issues here that we absolutely have to attend to, and I think we've got off to a belated start but at least a reasonable start in getting back to the negotiating table…We are running against the clock. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • Unlike the Cold War, global arms control was no longer an issue for the U.S. and Russia simply to work out between themselves. (“There Is Nothing for You Here,” 2021)
  • I obviously had some sympathy for…Trump’s views on nuclear war and his desire to conclude an arms control deal, given my own preoccupations with the threat in my teenage years. (“There Is Nothing for You Here,” 2021)
  • [The Russians] want to have strategic stability talks, meaning talks about the future of nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. (NPR, 06.15.21)
  • Russia does have some legitimate security concerns…There is plenty for Washington and Moscow to discuss on the conventional and nuclear forces. (New York Times, 01.24.22)
  • [The use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine] would literally open the proverbial Pandora’s box. What we’re going to have to do is get ahead of it and keep pushing on diplomacy to make sure that it is made crystal clear to the Kremlin that this is unacceptable on a global international level, not just in the relationship and the standoff between Russia and the West that he’s trying to thread. (PBS, 03.28.22)
  • We have to be extraordinarily clear on a government-to-government, military-to-military and in an international framework, rather than making speculative commentary. (PBS, 03.28.22)
  • If we didn't break the logjam of the INF treaty, we'd never be able to actually get on to renegotiating New START or the longer-term prospects for a new phase of nuclear arms control with all the nuclear weapons that the Russians were developing. (Breaking Boundaries, 06.06.22)
  • We tried many times to have a serious meeting, but something kept always happening and it was usually something happening around Ukraine or Putin or others assassinating somebody. (Breaking Boundaries, 06.06.22) 
  • There’s a possibility of a demonstration of the explosion of a tactical nuclear weapon. There is also the possibility of making some sort of demonstration effect with nuclear submarines coming close to the territory of a NATO member, like the Kola Peninsula in Norway. The test of a nuclear weapon in Novaya Zemlya, the testing site up in the Arctic— not too far away from Norway, which would be of great concern. Not just to us but to other of our European and NATO allies as well. (Foreign Affairs, 09.22.22)
  • Putin is…hoping that now, with all of the nuclear saber-rattling threats of nuclear Armageddon…he can take the territory that he’s got and get recognition of that. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • Putin is also making it very clear that to get what you want in the world, you have to have a nuclear weapon and to protect yourself, you also have to have a nuclear weapon. So, this is an absolute mess. Global nuclear stability is on a knife edge. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • Putin threatens a pre-emptive, one-sided use of a nuclear weapon because he is losing the war that he himself started in Ukraine in February 2022. His aim is to end American and European military support to Kyiv to force the capitulation of Ukraine’s government. (Brookings, 12.21.22)
  • Putin is not seeking to maintain great power, nuclear parity, or strategic stability with the United States. There has been no change in the nuclear balance. The United States has not threatened Russia, nor has any other nuclear power. (Brookings, 12.21.22)
  • With so many agendas and aspirations centered on just one of the alternative global orders, managing the war in Ukraine—as well as other high-stakes issues like…nuclear nonproliferation—becomes extremely difficult. (ERR, 05.15.23)
  • I don't think we should be lulled into any false complacency… I don't rule out that [Putin] will decide to use a nuclear weapon. (New York Times, 10.07.23)
  • The Russians are… playing with nuclear testing. Putin has shown himself to be a…nuclear menace. [Pulling ourselves out of the strategic considerations] does not enhance U.S. security. We are not an indispensable power…but other countries still look to us. (Foreign Policy, 10.27.23)
  • In talking about the war in Ukraine and its impact on the West: One key challenge is going to be the nuclear front. There’s several different ways in which we can look at the nuclear front. There’s the moral imperative. We pushed Ukraine to give up the nuclear weapons that it had inherited from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. … This opens up a whole can of worms related first to the moral jeopardy of this, that we obviously don’t stick to our word. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • But also in terms of nuclear weapons, we could face proliferation issues with Japan, South Korea, other countries — even NATO countries who currently see themselves covered under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. (Politico, 12.12.23)


  • A desire to contain extremism is a major reason why Putin offered help to the United States in battling the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11. It is also why Russia maintains close relations with Shia Iran, which acts as a counterweight to Sunni powers. (Foreign Affairs, 03.25.13)
  • There is a broad culture of mistrust that is going to be very hard to change… That’s a huge obstacle to moving forward on counterterrorism. It’s the same sets of people who have to cooperate. (The Washington Post, 05.08.13)
  • Putin does not discriminate between one terrorist group and another. An extremist is an extremist in his view—especially if they seek to topple governments, overthrow the acknowledged head of the state, and seize territory. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • When something like this resonated with him [Trump] and fit his personal interests and worldview, he would perk up. Countering terrorism, striking back against al-Assad when he used chemical weapons against the civilian population in Syria, ... fell into that category. (“There Is Nothing for You Here,” 2021)

Conflict in Syria:

  • [Putin’s] aversion to forcible regime change is intense and unwavering. … Why has Putin offered such steadfast support to Assad? On the surface, Moscow seems to profit from exporting arms to Syria, and it depends on the regime’s good will to maintain Russian access to a naval facility at the Mediterranean port of Tartus. But these are marginal and symbolic interests. Putin is really motivated to support the Assad regime by his fear of state collapse—a fear he confronted most directly during the secession of Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Chechnya, which he brutally suppressed in a bloody civil war and counterinsurgency operation fought between 1999 and 2009. (Foreign Affairs, 03.25.13)
  • From Moscow’s perspective, the collapse of Assad in Syria with no alternative strongman on the scene would create a political and military vacuum and more chaos. Assad would have to stay in place until someone could be identified to keep some semblance of the Syrian state together. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • From now on, Moscow wants to be an agenda setter and order creator in the Middle East. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • One of the understudied aspects of Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict is the ramifications it could have for the Russian government’s relations with Muslims back at home. Moscow is now home to the largest Muslim community of any city in Europe (with between 1.5 and 2 million Muslims out of a population of around 13 million, although illegal immigration has distorted many of the figures). (Brookings, 05.23.16)
  • Putin sees Russia in for the long haul in Syria. (Brookings, 05.23.16)
  • [For Russia], the express point of [the intervention in Syria] was to make sure that Bashar al-Assad stayed in power. And now, seven years on … Assad is …still in power. In fact, has started to go out and about in the neighborhood, meeting with other leaders. And so the point from all of this is that Putin is determined… to make sure that he is still in power. We can say that [Assad] should go, but [Putin] will do everything that he possibly can to make sure that he can in place. (PBS, 03.28.22)
  • [The Russians] much prefer to do things by covert action. We…had a shooting exchange with the Russians in Deir al-Zour Province in Syria in 2018, when covert operatives from their paramilitary organization…group shot at American special forces. And we had very clear lines of engagement and we said to them, if you shoot, we will shoot back. Now, the uniformed regular military didn’t do that. (Brookings, 09.19.22)
  • See also “U.S. policies toward Russia and bilateral relations in general” section below.

Election interference:

  • 3 reasons Russia’s Vladimir Putin might want to interfere in the U.S. presidential elections:
    • Putin thinks the U.S. already did it to him first.
    • Putin thinks and acts like a KGB operative.
    • Putin wants a weakened U.S. presidency. (Brookings, 08.03.16)
  • Putin and the Kremlin recognized Americans’ anger with the political establishment, because they are always on the alert for it at home. (Brookings, 11.11.16)
  • Putin and the Kremlin seemed to recognize that this election was really a referendum on America’s future. The November 8 ballot, as Trump also understood, was more like the June 23 Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. (Brookings, 11.11.16)
  • Remarks from Nov. 20, 2016, interview with The Atlantic: The Russians didn’t create the dissent behind the election’s outcome, Hill argued. Rather, like all good propagandists, they “were riding the tide of dissent.”“Clinton was eminently vulnerable and eminently exploitable,” Hill continued. “Nobody invented Anthony Weiner, did they? And Putin didn’t make the decision for Hillary Clinton to have a private [email] server.” (The Atlantic, 11.20.16)
  • On cyber warfare: The Russians think we’ve been doing it to them all the time… They’re telling us to knock it off. (Los Angeles Times, 12.14.16)
  • Paraphrased, approved remarks from Feb. 1, 2017, Belfer Center event: What is unusual is the backdrop of an American election process with unprecedented efforts by Russia to have influence in it, although Moscow denies this. It is, however, not unusual for one power to want to have a say in what another power does, whether an adversary or a friend. It is just that the technological tools for having an impact have improved and, with a few taps of computer keys, rather than physical action, you can start to shape events. (Russia Matters, 02.08.17)
  • The Russians didn't invent partisan divides. The Russians haven't invented racism in the United States. But the Russians understand a lot of those divisions, and they understand how to exploit them. (CBS, 03.08.20)
  • What the Russians are looking for is two candidates who are opposites. They're looking to basically have the smallest possible number of people supporting those two candidates, with everybody else lost in the middle. So, it exacerbates and exaggerates, as well, the polarization in the country. (CBS, 03.08.20)
  • What Russia did in 2016 in terms of scale wasn't that considerable. It had a much larger amplified impact than I think the Russians anticipated. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • As a result of that, Russia has become a factor in our domestic politics. It's a subject of endless conspiracy theories. It's the subject of endless congressional hearings. Everything is still going on now. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • [Russians] never admitted to anything. They professed surprise at the uproar in American politics. They had done nothing. The United States, they said, had “gone mad.” (New York Times, 10.07.20)
  • Russia’s 2016 campaign was a creative mix of old-style propaganda techniques and new cyber tools. Russia's state-backed media outlets magnified the most divisive U.S. political conflicts. Twitter bots and WikiLeaks spread disinformation and revealed hacked emails. Russia’s Internet Research Agency analyzed U.S. public opinion and hired individuals to pose as Americans on Facebook. (New York Times, 10.07.20)
  • The truth is that the idea that Russia determined the election is overstated. (New York Times, 10.07.20)
  • The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. (NPR, 10.06.21)

Cyber security/AI:

  • The [COVID-19] pandemic was a preview of further shifts and dislocations to come, with the spread of automation into the transportation sector (self-driving vehicles) and the rise of artificial intelligence. (“There Is Nothing for You Here,” 2021)
  • The Russians…want…to have a cyber agreement in some fashion. They're basically cyberhacking their way to the negotiating table to make sure that we understand that they're a cyber force to be reckoned with. They could do something with our command-and-control systems. And they certainly can hire plenty of proxies, ransomware, hackers and criminals. (NPR, 06.15.21)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • For Russia, the world price of oil is the single-most important factor for the future of its economy. In the short term, the price of oil dictates overall growth rates. (Foreign Policy, 02.15.11)
  • Everyone who has been doing business in Russia or buying Russian gas and oil has contributed to Putin’s war chest. (Politico, 02.28.22)
  • Putin has weaponized energy by severely reducing gas supplies to Europe. (Foreign Affairs, September/October 2022, co-authored with Angela Stent)

Climate change:

  • We’ve got a climate crisis, which should be evident to everybody by now. There are so many things that we need to contend with, and we’ve only got the skeleton of an international system. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • Climate change is an existential threat to the planet, and if we're truly saying that we need to tackle that, then it’s not going to be tackled by focusing on the Donbas and Crimea and the question of who speaks Russian and what their identity is. We must rethink how nation-states – and non-state actors and civil society – are going to pull together to resolve crises because we are not going to survive on this planet without a different approach. (ZEIT, 05.12.23)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • Most of all Putin is concerned about the economy. He literally wants to do business—trade and investment—with the West. (Brookings, 01.13.17)

U.S. policies toward Russia and bilateral issues in general:

  • Russian leaders and elites vastly inflate the U.S. capacity to shape events, even under the best of circumstances. (Foreign Policy, 02.15.11)
  • The United States and European Union must send strong signals to Moscow that punishing Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine for pursuing their European ambitions has consequences for our relations. This will require deft diplomacy and close coordination on joint programs and responses, as the actual sticks that we can muster against Russian misbehavior are limited. (Brookings, 01.23.14)
  • Regarding the U.S. response to the Ukraine crisis: We face a huge challenge in devising a strategy to deal with Russia that does not fuel this escalatory cycle and puts Ukraine on another path. We also need to draw bright lines around transatlantic unity and work to preserve it. It is hard to find effective alternatives to the current sanctions policy, but if we plunge headlong into sending weapons, we may lose our allies, and we may never have the opportunity to get things right. (The Washington Post, 02.05.15)
  • And if Putin deems that a decision puts Russia at risk, he wants the same right Russia has in the United Nations Security Council—the right of a veto. The West clearly doesn’t accept this, but right now does not know how to respond. (Brookings, 02.11.15)
  • The color revolutions in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004 further darkened Putin’s view of U.S. activities. For Moscow, Georgia was a tiny failed state, but Ukraine was a smaller version of Russia. (The Atlantic, 02.16.15)
  • “The problem you Americans have in dealing with us is that you think you understand us, but you don’t. You look at the Chinese and you think: ‘They’re not like us.’ You look at us Russians, and you think, ‘They’re like us.’ But you’re wrong. We are not like you.” Over the past few years, top-ranking Russians have repeatedly delivered versions of the admonition above to American interlocutors. We’ve been told that it comes originally from Vladimir Putin. (The Atlantic, 02.16.15)
  • Russia today poses a greater foreign policy and security challenge to the United States and its Western allies than at any time since the height of the Cold War. Its annexation of Crimea, war in Ukraine’s Donbas region and military intervention in Syria have upended Western calculations from Eastern Europe to the Middle East. Russia’s intervention in Syria, in particular, is a stark reminder that Russia is a multi-regional power—as much by intent as by geography. (Brookings, 03.03.16)
  • The U.S. security response to the Russian challenge will have to encompass the arc of a long game. Strategic patience must accompany the judicious balance of elements of deterrence, defense and constraint, along with clear incentives and direct engagement with Putin and his inner circle. (Brookings, 03.03.16)
  • In Putin’s reading of the last decade or more, the threats come almost exclusively from the United States. (Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences, 04.13.16)
  • The paradox of all this—including the nuclear brinksmanship—is that although Putin wants the West to back off and leave Russia alone, he does not want Russia to become a pariah state, stuck on the outside of the big international institutions and decisions. This would be detrimental to Russian interests. Putin wants to intimidate Western leaders and their publics, but his big mission is to get Russia a seat at the table with the West, on Russia’s terms, which he declares is on “equal” terms with the United States. Putin wants to thrash out a deal with the United States on any critical issue that could affect Russia’s interests. (Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences, 04.13.16)
  • The best way to ensure that Putin will act as a spoiler on these and other issues which issues? is to try to isolate Russia. (Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences, 04.13.16)
  • [The Russians want] the old sit-down like they had with FDR at Potsdam and Yalta, working out what’s their piece of real estate and what’s ours… They want to have the U.S. acknowledge that they’re a great power and have the right to have a veto over things that they don’t like. (The Atlantic, 11.20.16)
  • Remarks from Nov. 20, 2016, interview with The Atlantic: Russia, she explained, has “always been an expansionist power—on the go all the time, not one to give up anything and concede anything—pretty much like the United States. It wants to have a veto, just like the United States has in its view, on international treaties and various issues. We’re going to have an awful lot of friction. And Trump isn’t exactly the most diplomatic of people. So I imagine he’ll fall out with his new friend Vladimir pretty quickly.” (The Atlantic, 11.20.16) 
  • The Russians mirror-image and think, “Ah, yes. The United States is about to collapse. Look, this is the Soviet Union of the late ’80s teetering on the brink: economic collapse, overextension of foreign wars … social dislocation, dissatisfaction with the system.” (The Atlantic, 11.20.16)
  • Unlike the old Yalta of the post-World War II Soviet period, Putin’s New Yalta does not extend to economics. Putin wants preferential, even protectionist, provisions for the Russian economy, but he does not espouse the creation of rigid opposing economic blocs or autarky. That simply will not work in today’s global economy. Putin does not want to put Russia on a path to international isolation. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • In spite of his decision to go to war in Georgia in 2008 and again in Ukraine in 2014, Putin still wants to do business with the West. In political terms, this means collaboration when security interests actually do overlap. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • [The Russians want] the old sit-down like they had with FDR at Potsdam and Yalta, working out what’s their piece of real estate and what’s ours. They want to have the [United States] acknowledge that they’re a great power and have the right to have a veto over things that they don’t like. (The Atlantic, 07.18.18)
  • [Putin] came out of the KGB. He had learned certain skills there. You're basically figuring out how to size someone up and then to figure out what makes them tick, what their vulnerabilities in particulars might be, so how can you hone in on those to get people to do what it is you want them to do? (CBS, 03.08.20)
  • Trump understands that…Putin does not like to be insulted. Putin takes it very personally. He harbors a grudge. He doesn't forget. And he will find some way of getting some degree of revenge as a result of that. (CBS, 03.08.20)
  • Putin takes translators with him for every occasion. The Russians are incredibly organized. They take advantage of every opportunity, every vulnerability, every open door they can walk through. (The Guardian, 06.12.20)
  • With countries like Russia, we have [cooperated behind the scenes]. We helped eradicate smallpox with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. We helped with polio and the campaign to push that back. …Sadly, we have not eradicated it yet. We know we can do this, but if all we're doing is taking tactical hits at each other and continuing to convince ourselves that we’re in some confrontation, we will not get anywhere. The goal of policy over the last several years behind the scenes has been to stabilize and professionalize this relationship. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • I think [the Russians] have put themselves into this vicious cycle of trying to hit [the United States] all the time. It's a feeling of restoring the balance [and] getting revenge for the sense of grievance that has permeated Russian politics since the end of the Cold War. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • But there are limits to that and if they really do want to achieve things, something that can be a measure of the legacy for Putin… arms control would be part of this, but also stabilizing that relationship [with the United States] and figuring out how to put the Russian state on a different trajectory after the pandemic. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • How can we change and alter the trajectory of where we've got stuck into this perpetual vicious cycle [of] a tactical confrontation with Russia? Are they capable of moving forward too, or are they just stuck still in the idea of the lone wolf geopolitical competition, Russia as a great power and not seeing any room for cooperation or any other way of doing things other than what they've been doing for decades now? (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • Strategic empathy: figuring out what it is that makes the Russians tick and trying to understand that doesn't mean you're appeasing them in any way. It means that you're trying to understand why they're doing this and then you have to deal with that head-on. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • If they perceive a security threat here, why do they? How can we think about this? How is it that they act in response to a security threat? In my experience, what the Russians do is try to preempt it. They look at what capability and capacity we have for action, and they try to head it off even if our intent was never there to do something and so we have to understand all of that. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • We've got to think about this very carefully… how do we emphasize diplomacy and interactions? Obviously, closing consulates if they're being used for espionage or intelligence operations makes an awful lot of sense, but the point is always to go back to get to the value of diplomacy. Diplomacy is a tool; it's an instrument. It's not a reward for good behavior; it's what we should be doing. (I Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • Putin will lock the United States into an endless tactical game, take more chunks out of Ukraine and exploit all the frictions and fractures in NATO and the European Union. (NYT, 01.24.22)
  • [After the war in Ukraine] We’re going to have to figure out how we reintegrate Russia, how war is not with the Russian people…the problem is how to get…Putin and the people around him in the Kremlin decided to embark on this war to change their course. (PBS, 03.28.22)
  • Talking about Obama referring to Putin as “looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom”: He either didn’t understand the man or willfully ignored the advice… We [experts on Russia] said openly, "Don’t dis the guy - he’s thin-skinned and quick to take insults." (The Guardian, 04.12.22)

II. Russia’s domestic developments, history and personalities

Russia’s domestic developments:

  • Until Russia’s leaders come to terms with Siberia’s misdevelopment—and overdevelopment—during the 20th century, their efforts to build a competitive market economy and a normal democratic society are likely to fail. (Brookings, 09.01.03)
  • Russia’s greatest dilemma today is that it must connect an economy that is both physically vast in size and terribly misdeveloped. This is a costly endeavor, and is also likely to be inefficient once accomplished if connections are pursued within the framework of Russia’s current economic geography. (Brookings, 11.04.03)
  • Two key challenges are facing Russia as it seeks to attract skilled labor and entrepreneurs to help modernize and overhaul the economy. First it is, ironically, easier for a Russian émigré from California to move to and set up a new business south of Moscow than it is for a Russian from Vladivostok (often thought of as the “San Francisco” of the Russian Far East) to move to Moscow. … Second, the state, rather than personal choice and the private sector, tends to be the primary determinant of who goes and does what, where. (Brookings, 10.08.10)
  • The current cohort of reproductive-age females is the largest ever in Russia, but by 2012, this group will begin to shrink as the much smaller cohort born during the 1990s, when births were at an all-time low, begins to take its place. Similarly, as the current, comparatively large, cohort of working-age Russians begins to retire it will be replaced by a less numerous group. (Brookings, 10.08.10)
  • Anti-Americanism is always one of the stock tools of the political trade in Russia. The volume of the rhetoric is turned up and down (although never completely off) depending on the circumstances. (Brookings, 03.02.12)
  • There is a general consensus in Russia, deeply rooted in the political elite since the collapse of the USSR, that the current world order, and especially the European political and security order, disadvantage[s] Russia. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • For Putin, the inner circle, and many Russians, the idea that Russia should become “just another European state” or be viewed as a regional power is antithetical to their core beliefs about Russia’s status and position in the world. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • Putin’s Russia is a one-man show. … [T]here is no oligarchy or separate set of economic, business, or political interests that compete with Putin. In the end, he makes the decisions. (Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences, 04.13.16)
  • In Putin’s mindset, the main threats to Russia right now lie inside Russia, where Trojan horses and Fifth Columnists have been deployed by the West to exacerbate and exploit Russia’s internal contradictions and divisions. In the Russian worldview, the sprawling multiethnic and multiconfessional states of the Russian empire and the Soviet Union were always strong in territory, but weak politically. The Soviet Union was vulnerable because of all the infighting among national elites, just as the Russian empire fell apart because of separatist and popular revolts when it was embroiled in war. In each case, in Putin’s view, the West—the Germans in World War I, the United States in the Cold War—exploited internal fissures to help bring the colossus to its knees. (Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences, 04.13.16)
  • The religious wars in the Middle East are not a side show for Russia. Thousands of foreign fighters have flocked to Syria from Russia, as well as from Central Asia and the South Caucasus, all attracted by the extreme messages of ISIS and other groups. (Brookings, 05.23.16)
  • Putin still draws his support from the regions outside Moscow, and the Kremlin remains obsessed with shoring up that support. Putin and his team are in permanent campaign mode. (Brookings, 11.11.16)
  • Putin first took the 2011-2012 protests as a signal that the West had opened another front of attack and he would need to take immediate preparatory action. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Paraphrased, approved remarks from Feb. 1, 2017, Belfer Center event: Elections do matter in Russia, insofar as they put popular faith back into the presidency. And Putin wants to make sure there will be no outside efforts to influence that election, as he believed happened in 2011-2012. So we can imagine more pre-emptive aggression coming from Russia as a deterrent. (Russia Matters, 02.08.17)
  • “Putin’s Russia” is more than just Putin the person. The Russian political system is large and complex. Power in the sense of the ability to exert traction inside the system, or to transmit ideas and lobby for benefits or changes in course, is rooted in networks of connections, not in institutions and job titles. (Daedalus, Spring 2017)
  • In 2016, Putin moved to consolidate Russia’s military and paramilitary structures and to weaken the power bases and independent authority of individual agencies by putting in place a smaller cadre at the top of the security elite who directly report to him. (Daedalus, Spring 2017)
  • There was anxiety fit as you get closer to 2024 and the end of the current set of terms that Putin was increasingly seen as a lame duck, at who is expecting him to leave; there is all the talk about the anniversary of Lenin and his demise. “Was he going to get carried out in a box or die in office? Is he going to be able to do what Yeltsin did and create a successor operation successor? Can I be the successor?” I think he wanted to put that off and just give the system a bit more time because there were questions about how the international environment was going to take shape over this period. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • It’s tragic because sanctions will really hurt regular Russians. Not every Russian businessperson is a oligarch, nor is every Russian citizen some kind of security operative. And we want to maintain ties to the Russian people, but it’s going to be very difficult now. Russia has declared itself to be the ultimate revisionist country, totally at odds with the security architecture of Europe. It’s thrown down multiple gauntlets. So it’s going to be very difficult to put ourselves back on any kind of cooperative track because there’s no trust, no confidence. We’re in similar situation now to the one we were in in the 1980s. (Octavian Report, 02.18.22)
  • Putin is going to clamp down like crazy inside of Russia as well. The prospect of protests, the prospect of any backlash, this is going to be a very difficult period for ordinary Russians who have got absolutely nothing to do with this. I mean, the big point in all this, too, is this is not the Russians and the Russian people making this choice. They may have bought into the propaganda that there was no alternative, you know, given the depictions that they’re getting in that bubble of information inside of Russia itself. This was a decision made by Putin and, clearly, some small circle of military and security officials. (Ezra Klein/NYT, 03.08.22)
  • There are people around Putin who believe he's not justified in having this next set of two terms. The more weakened he is [and] the less legitimate he appears, the less it appears that he's popular and the more incentive it is for others to try to maneuver around him to push on succession. Putin wants to get this conflict over with. He wants to seem legitimate. He wants us to be the ones who feel that we don't have time - when he also has a clock ticking. ( Foreign Policy, 07.14.22)
  • [Ahead of the 2024 elections in Russia, Putin] wants to get [the war in Ukraine] over with. He wants to seem legitimate. He wants us to be the ones who feel that we don’t have time – when he also has a clock ticking. (The Guardian, 07.18.22)
  • Hard-line bloggers and commentators coming out and calling for a foreign war seem to criticize him. I think that that’s actually all orchestrated, or certainly permitted, because he’s [Putin] testing the waters to see whether, in fact, there is support for mobilization. (Foreign Affairs, 09.22.22)
  • [Navalny] was out in the Urals region and Siberia, pulling together opposition groups at a time when there were many protests going on in Russia. He was poisoned because he was getting some traction. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • How can you define the carnage that we're seeing, the absolute devastation of Ukraine, as anything that looks like a win in the end? Russia has lost enormously, not just manpower, but in terms of its standing, and the repressive apparatus of the Kremlin now clamping down on the Russian people. (ZEIT, 05.12.23)
  • Prigozhin is now telling the truth about the military failure and the official pretext for the invasion… He openly says what a lot of other people are thinking. (WSJ, 06.24.23)
  • Talking about Russia’s war economy, “Patterns of trade have changed as a result of the sanctions, but Russia was adapted, and it seems resilient [and] they can keep this going for quite a long time.” ( Sadat Chair UMD, 10.11.23)
  • The Russian economy has become different. Over the long term…Russia is on a different trajectory from what we have anticipated. There’s a lot of cracks in that façade. (Sadat Chair UMD, 10.11.23)
  • Over time, we have seen that Russia is nastily creative in expanding conscription time frames (ages 18 to 35). They keep on pushing people towards the front. (FP, 10.27.23)
  • [It was shocking] how low the support of the system is. Prigozhin engaged Russian forces and the images of him as a “Robin Hood” and a hero…showed that people were not massively in support of the establishment. (FP, 10.27.23)
  • [Prigozhin] was reflecting the sentiment of the population that “the war was a mistake, but now that they are in it, they want to win it.” (FP, 10.27.23)
  • Putin has to be more attentive to domestic dissent and is more on the offensive. We have seen actions like…extended prison sentences to people like Navalny. Putin is focused on external public game…and media operations. The government is taking control of that as well. (FP, 10.27.23)
  • [Russia has put its] economy into a wartime economy, so [it] ramped up the industrial production, which is significant because the largest workforce outside the public sector in Russia is in the military-industrial complex. It is inflating the success of the Russian economy…because there is so much growth based on armaments and equipment production. [This gives] a sense that Russia is doing better than one would have expected. (FP, 10.27.23)
  • In talking about the role of the war in Ukraine on Putin’s re-election: It’s pretty critical. But it’s critical in that he has to have a win. A win, as I’ve just said, would be a distinct end to the war with a ceasefire and the partition of Ukraine. (Politico, 12.12.23)

Russian history:

  • Modernization, in one form or another, is a perennial Russian theme—be it in the form of Peter the Great “Europeanizing” Russia in the 1690s and 1700s by forcing Russian men to cut off their beards and adopt European clothing styles or raising St. Petersburg (the “Venice of the North”) from the swamps of the Baltic coast, or Stalin building “Socialism in One Country” from the 1920s to the 1950s, or Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Perestroika” (reconstruction) in the 1980s. (Brookings, 10.08.10)
  • The Russia of the 1990s that the West so admired was, in practice, not a sovereign country. (Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences, 04.13.16)
  • Russia is a Muslim state. Islam is arguably older than Christianity in traditional Russian territory––with Muslim communities first appearing in southeastern Russia in the 8th century. (Brookings, 05.23.16)
  • The Soviet Union was an early victim of globalization in the late 1980s and 1990s. It was hopelessly uncompetitive outside the energy and arms sectors in global markets. … During Putin’s first two terms, a fortunate, sustained rise in oil and gas prices improved circumstances considerably. The state had revenues to redistribute. Moribund industries were revitalized. Wages rose. Pensions were paid. Putin’s economics team conducted a careful, even exemplary, fiscal policy. (Brookings, 11.11.16)
  • In the 1990s when Yeltsin did not take strong action on issues inimical to Russia’s interests, U.S. and European leaders routinely assumed that this was because Yeltsin had made a strategic decision not to do so. … Yeltsin, Western leaders concluded, had put his priority on good relations with the West no matter what. But Yeltsin and Russia were heavily indebted to the West. … In many respects, Yeltsin could not act in the 1990s because Russia was constrained. If Yeltsin made a threat it was empty. He did not have the resources, the capacity to back it up. Vladimir Putin has no such constraints. Sanctions hurt, but they do not deter him as they deterred Yeltsin. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Paraphrased, approved remarks from Feb. 1, 2017, Belfer Center event: The Bolsheviks specialized in agitprop and propaganda. And when you look at what they’ve been doing this last 100 years, they’ve been riding a tide that was already there, exploiting vulnerabilities in some cases, but really giving a nudge in the direction of larger trends. Lenin embraced all kinds of causes that were not intrinsic to the revolution, including the nationalist aspirations of Ukrainians and other nationalities in the former Russian empire. (Russia Matters, 02.08.17)


  • Putin’s favorite quote these days is, “We do not need great upheavals. We need a great Russia,” a paraphrase of Stolypin’s famous rebuke to his fellow Duma deputies in 1907: “You, gentlemen, are in need of great upheavals; we are in need of a Great Russia.” (The National Interest, 01.01.12)
  • Putin is best understood as a composite of multiple identities that stem from those experiences, and which help explain his improbable rise from KGB operative and deputy mayor of St. Petersburg to the pinnacle of Russian power. Of these multiple identities, six are most prominent: Statist, History Man, Survivalist, Outsider, Free Marketeer, and Case Officer. (Foreign Policy, 02.15.13)
  • In Russia, individuals exist to serve the state and their rights are therefore secondary. From his earliest days in the Kremlin, Putin has pursued the goal of restoring and strengthening the state—by rediscovering and taking back Russia’s fundamental values, re-energizing its historical traditions and abandoning the practice of blindly copying abstract Western models. (Foreign Policy, 02.15.13)
  • His family’s harrowing tale from World War II fits neatly into the national historical narrative—one in which Russia constantly battles for survival against a hostile outside world. The critical lesson from centuries of domestic turbulence, invasion and war is that the Russian state always survives in one form or another. Every calamity weathered reaffirms Russia’s resilience and its special status in history. This has been a rhetorical touchstone for Putin, as well as for many others from his generation. … Throughout his presidency, Putin has raised survivalism from the personal to the national level. (Foreign Policy, 02.15.13)
  • Putin has made a virtue of this outsider status throughout his presidency, stressing his connections to “ordinary” Russians and distancing himself from Moscow’s resented elites. (Foreign Policy, 02.15.13)
  • Regarding Putin’s former role as deputy mayor of St. Petersburg: As such, Putin seems to have emerged from his St. Petersburg experience with the view that winners in the market system are those who are best able to exploit the vulnerabilities of others, not necessarily those who provide the best goods and services at the most favorable prices. This perspective set him up to exploit the vulnerabilities of others, including Russian businessmen, to manipulate them and ensure that they followed the directives of the Kremlin. (Foreign Policy, 02.15.13)
  • As a case officer in the KGB, Putin had learned how to identify, recruit and run agents, and acquired the patience to cultivate sources. He also learned how to collect, synthesize and use information. These tools proved invaluable in bringing Russia’s oligarchs to heel. (Foreign Policy, 02.15.13)
  • [M]any in the West underestimate Putin's willingness to fight for as long and as hard (and as dirty) as necessary to achieve his goals. (“Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” 2015)
  • Putin is a practitioner of realpolitik in its starkest form. In his interactions with regional leaders, Putin has laid out his view that all the states that emerged from the USSR are appendages of Russia. They should pay fealty to Moscow. (The National Interest, 02.24.15)
  • As Russian president, he has no larger institutional arrangements or political party beneath or behind him like Soviet-era leaders did with the politburo and the Communist Party. Putin has availed himself of the centrality of the Russian presidency in the Russian constitution to concentrate power around himself. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • Vladimir Putin is somewhat unique in his style of leadership and in the methods he uses, but he is by no means an anomaly in his views within Russia—nor is the current personalized nature of Russian governance something out of the ordinary. (Brookings, 02.10.16)
  • Putin personally—as he underscores—finds it hard to trust anyone. (Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences, 04.13.16)
  • Putin is, himself, a political performance artist. Putin’s appearances are carefully orchestrated to suit the mood of his audience. (Brookings, 11.11.16)
  • Vladimir Putin needs to be taken seriously. He will make good on every promise or threat—if Putin says he will do something, then he is prepared to do it; and he will find a way of doing it, using every method at his disposal. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Putin has no reliable interlocutors in the West from his perspective, only a handful of intermediaries. And he simply does not trust anyone. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Vladimir Putin is a fighter and he is a survivalist. He won’t give up, and he will fight dirty if that’s what it takes to win. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Judo moved the street kid from anything-goes scraps into formalized matches. It gave him insight and techniques to figure out ways of pushing bigger, stronger opponents to the mat while protecting himself. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • In the domestic and foreign policy arenas, Putin constantly sizes up his opponents and probes for physical and psychological weaknesses. Putin’s adaptation of Nixon’s “Madman Theory” approach helps flush these weaknesses out—it helps gauge reactions: They think I’m dangerous, and unpredictable, how do they respond to this?  Have I got them unbalanced and on the back foot as a result? Then Putin tests his opponents to see if they mean what they say—will they also be prepared to fight, and fight to the end? If they are not, then he will exploit their empty threats to show them up, intimidate, deter, and defeat them. If they are prepared to fight, and he is outweighed or outgunned by his adversaries, then he will look for unconventional moves that get around their defenses so that he can outmaneuver them. In judo you can win on points over the course of a series of matches even if you are far smaller than your opponent and lose some of the individual rounds. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • [C]ontrary to the prevailing external assessment, Putin is a strategic planner. The notion that Putin is an opportunist, at best an improviser, but not a strategist, is a dangerous misread. Putin thinks, plans, and acts strategically. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Putin has the same priorities today that he laid out at the beginning of his presidency in December 1999. His larger strategic goal is ensuring the defense of Russia’s interests—which are tightly fused with, and now largely inseparable from, his own and his system’s interests. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Another aspect of Putin’s strategic approach is to simplify and streamline his leadership at home and his interactions abroad. By creating a system in which he only has to deal with a small number of actors, Putin frees himself from having to deal with details and messy dynamics. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Putin has only a handful of contacts with U.S. and European insiders and thus a very incomplete grasp of what motivates or drives Western leaders. Finding himself too far outside their political perspectives and interactions, Putin falls back on his (and Russia’s) age-old threat perceptions. He looks for, and finds, plots and conspiracies. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • Paraphrased, approved remarks from Feb. 1, 2017, Belfer Center event: Putin is a former KGB operative and he continues to think like one, and he is proud of his skill set. He talks about being a specialist in human resources, and in the use of information, and extols the virtues of the techniques he mastered in the KGB, and their application to politics. In the very contentious U.S. political race I think he saw incredible opportunities to exploit vulnerabilities on all fronts. Putin and the people around him are strategists. We have always underestimated him, as if he is some rank opportunist. Well, you can’t take advantage of opportunities that come along unless you know what you want to do with them. For the whole of his time in office, Putin has prioritized “Russia’s interests first.” (Russia Matters, 02.08.17)
  • Putin has the capacity to designate a successor–the “next Mr. Putin”–to maintain the personalized nature of the current Russian presidency and secure his legacy, but even this could prove a heavy lift for the system. (Daedalus, Spring 2017)
  • Putin has a personal obsession with the idea of Russia as a “dictatorship of the law,” where law is an instrument of the state that directs and constrains political and individual behavior. (Daedalus, Spring 2017)
  • [After the pandemic] The Russian economy is going to flatline. It's going to be affected by everybody else's large recessions and there has to be a different agenda to move forward. Putin has to promise something to the population moving forward. Otherwise, his brand is going to get stale very quickly. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • I do think [Putin has] lost a little bit of the feel of what's going on domestically and that is inevitable. Any leader who is in a country for a very long period of time loses touch with what's happening across the country. He's probably become complacent in thinking that on the international front, everything that he's been doing has been working and so again, it becomes less of an incentive to do something differently (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • Putin is a master of coercive inducement. He manufactures a crisis in such a way that he can win no matter what anyone else does. (NYT, 01.24.22)
  • [Putin] is well aware of some of the domestic issues. He knows of the domestic constraints. (Foreign Affairs, 09.22.22) 
  • Putin’s responding not just to the setbacks on the battlefield but to setbacks in the information war in the domestic arena. He’s getting pushback from the party of war. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • [Putin has] got himself in a corner in the war and in a corner domestically at home. He has made himself the face of this war in Ukraine. (Politico, 10.17.22)
  • The anticipation that Trump’s going to come back is something for Putin of a boon … he can play with that. He can use it as kind of a warning … scare the Ukrainians, the Europeans, the rest of the world. Putin is pretty confident, given his experiences with Trump in the past, that Trump will be quick to try to resolve the … war in Ukraine in his favor. (One Decision, December 2023)
  • And, you know, obviously, Putin has had Trump’s number for some time, he knows how to manipulate him … he has been very good at the art of flattery with Trump. He sees Trump as an asset in many respects. (One Decision, December 2023)
  • Putin is pretty confident that he can stoke up the culture wars here, there and everywhere. And just with a little bit of deft use of political influence operations and propaganda, he can keep things that are moving in his direction already, moving in his direction. (One Decision, December 2023)
  • For Putin it would be a win to have a partition of Ukraine on his terms. We know from Russian public opinion, that there is a mounting desire for the war to end. That’s even reflected in some of the polling that is done close to the Kremlin. … So Putin knows that there is a desire to end the war, and if he gets a partition through a ceasefire with limited cost to Russia it will boost his popularity ahead of the Russian election, which is coming up. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • Putin sees Biden as a major opponent. He is an obstacle for Putin to be able to win on the battlefield of Ukraine. So Putin wants Biden to fail. (Politico, 12.12.23)
  • Putin would be thrilled if Trump would come back to power because he also anticipates that Trump will pull the United States out of NATO, that Trump will rupture the U.S. alliance system, and that Trump will hand over Ukraine. (Politico, 12.12.23)

Succession after Putin: 

  • The increased preponderance of power in the Kremlin has created greater risk for the Russian political system now than at any other juncture in recent history. (Daedalus, Spring 2017)
  • Absent a formal power arrangement, choosing a successor is a risky business in a political culture like Russia’s. Name a successor too early in the process and he, or his supporters, may be emboldened to accelerate your departure. Pick a weak successor and all bets are off. (Daedalus, Spring 2017)
  • As a result of Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine in 2014 and Syria in 2015, security elites gained considerable traction at the top of the Russian political system. The security sector is traditionally the area of greatest risk in any political setting: Security elites literally call the shots and are the power base for potential coups, like the attempted putsch against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991. (Daedalus, Spring 2017)
  • Millions of people, not just Putin’s closest associates, are either directly vested in the current political system or see their livelihoods as dependent on it. Although Russian polling indicates considerable dissatisfaction with the performance of the Russian government and concern about the future trajectory of the country, there is no evident demand for a different system, or, as yet, a different president. (Daedalus, Spring 2017)
  • Putin may still have decades of natural life ahead of him; he will need his own “brilliant move” to ensure continued influence in Russian politics and a safe retirement. Given the number of examples of party-based power and succession mechanisms, including past Soviet and Russian precedents, shifting to a party rather than a personalized presidency for system management could be one move. (Daedalus, Spring 2017)

Defense and aerospace:

  • Wagner…gave Russia implausible deniability. (FP, 10.27.23)
  • Russian strategies benefited enormously from the tactical advantages Wagner brought, including prisoner forces and operations outside Russia. (FP, 10.27.23)

III. Foreign affairs, trade and investment

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

  • Turkey and Russia form another such couple, as states with histories of conflict, deep structural differences and divergent views, which seem to have come together more out of frustration with the United States than a new strategic vision of world affairs. (Brookings, 03.01.06)
  • Regarding the U.S. boom in natural gas drilling: This is where everything is being turned on its head. … [Russia’s] days of dominating the European gas markets are gone. (AP, 09.30.12)
  • The question should not be “how many islands will Russia return to Japan?”, but rather “should Russia seek to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with Japan that resolves this dispute in a way that enhances Russia’s security, political standing and economic well-being?” (Belfer Center Report, 10.06.16)
  • Regarding factors that influenced Putin’s new approach to the West: Putin’s second signal [that the West had opened another front of attack and he would need to take immediate preparatory action] was the European association agreements in 2013, combined with the EU’s decision to initiate its Third Energy Package and the financial crisis in Cyprus in March 2013. All this revealed how negative attitudes toward Russia had become in Brussels and Berlin. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • [Putin is] putting down a challenge to the entire system after World War II in which business has prospered. (Barron’s, 01.24.22)
  • Russia has strong ties with Iran but also with Iran’s enemies, particularly Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. In Africa, Russian paramilitary groups provide support to a number of leaders. And in Latin America, Russian influence has increased as more left-wing governments have come to power. There and elsewhere, Russia is still seen as a champion of the oppressed against the stereotype of U.S. imperialism. (Foreign Affairs, 08.25.22)
  • [To weaken Western resolve and undermine Western unity, Putin] wants…to stoke culture wars as much as possible. (WSJ, 12.17.22)
  • Putin thinks … [the Israel-Hamas war] presents him with an opportunity to turn the tide of the [Ukraine] war … because [the West is] …distracted [and supporting Israel] will deplete U.S. ammunition stocks. ... Putin thinks this will [undercut] the support for Ukraine. He thinks [the war] ends when the West gives up Ukraine. (Interview with FP, 10.27.23)
  • Putin was always very careful to stress how Russia was a major supporter of Israel…and played a role behind the scenes in supporting Israel in the Abraham Accords and even supporting the Israeli-Saudi rapprochement. Not because the United States was brokering it…. but because it’s a vested interest [for Russia]. (FP, 10.27.23)
  • Russia is now trying to present itself as it did during the Cold War as a bastion of the non-aligned movement as it is flicking back to the rhetoric of the anti-Western, anti-U.S., anti-Zionist movement. Russia wants to capitalize on anti-Americanism. (The News Agents, 11.09.23)
  • Putin will want to make sure that whatever happens next in Gaza, Russia is part of it. ... Putin is riding a wave that’s been created by the external framing of the war in Gaza as a post-colonial conflict, and he’s whipping it up. All of the ways that the United States is seen to blame, and that Israel is seen to blame—Putin is just fanning those flames. (Brookings, 01.31.24)
  • The irony, of course, is that Russia itself is an empire. … But most of the rest of the world doesn’t see Russia as an empire... I’ve heard representatives from African countries say: “Well, what do you guys know about Africa? Can you tell us about the history of this country or that country? Why should we know about Ukraine? This is a European problem, and this is a dispute between Russia and European countries that’s got nothing to do with us here.” (Brookings, 01.31.24)
  • See also “Great Power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations" above.


  • The logic of sending weapons to Ukraine seems straightforward and is the same as the logic for economic sanctions: to change Vladi­mir Putin’s “calculus.” … We strongly disagree [with calls on the West to provide military support to Ukraine]. The evidence points in a different direction. If we follow the recommendations of this report, the Ukrainians won’t be the only ones caught in an escalating military conflict with Russia. (Washington Post, 02.05.15)
  • Our problem is that we do not fully understand Putin’s calculus, just as he does not understand ours. In Putin’s view, the United States, the European Union and NATO have launched an economic and proxy war in Ukraine to weaken Russia and push it into a corner. As Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, has underscored, this is a hybrid, 21st-century conflict, in which financial sanctions, support for oppositional political movements and propaganda have all been transformed from diplomatic tools to instruments of war. Putin likely believes that any concession or compromise he makes will encourage the West to push further. (Washington Post, 02.05.15)
  • In the jargon of geopolitics, Putin enjoys “escalation dominance” in Ukraine: Whatever move we make, he can match it and go further. (Washington Post, 02.05.15)
  • He firmly believes, as he has laid out in many statements, that the battle for the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine is a proxy war with the West. (Reuters, 02.26.15)
  • It is entirely possible that Russian policy regarding Ukraine and Donbas could evolve. U.S. policy should be prepared to evolve with it. Donbas is a sprawling territory with an impoverished population, destroyed infrastructure and, by now, a deeply damaged economic base that will take years, if not decades, to restore. The Kremlin has shown zero interest in annexing the occupied region, which would entail costs far in excess of annexing Crimea. This suggests that, at some juncture, Moscow will be open to an accommodation with Kyiv. (Brookings, 10.06.16)
  • The situation with Crimea is different. Russia has absorbed Crimea into its existing federal structures. (Brookings, 10.06.16)
  • The U.S. should:
    • Insist that Kyiv accelerate reform efforts and, if it does, work with Europe to offer greater assistance;
    • Continue current military aid to Ukraine and consider provision of defensive arms, depending on circumstances on the ground;
    • Maintain pressure on Moscow to comply with Minsk II, while signaling that Russian implementation of Minsk II would lead to better relations with the West;
    • Be ready to enter the negotiating process if and when a real prospect emerges for a solution to the Donbas conflict;
    • Avoid displacing Germany and France in the negotiations and make sure that Ukraine is present and represented in any supplemental diplomatic frameworks; and
    • Continue the policy of nonrecognition of Crimea’s illegal annexation by Russia. (Brookings, 10.06.16)
  • Annexing Crimea and setting the rest of Ukraine on fire were contingency operations. They were prepared in advance, ready to be used if needed—but only if needed. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • As far as what Vladimir Putin might do next, it seems rather clear: He will keep Ukraine boiling, and he will prepare for contingency operations elsewhere in the neighborhood. (Brookings, 01.13.17)
  • For views on the Russia-Ukraine war, see relevant sections above. 

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • An analysis of the conflicts in the republics of the former Soviet Union since 1992, reveals a disturbing pattern. In each of the conflicts, there is evidence to suggest that Russia has intervened in such a way as to promote their escalation and/or continuation instead of their cessation. (“Back in the USSR: Russia’s Intervention in the Internal Affairs of the Former Soviet Republics and the Implications for United States Policy Toward Russia,” January 1994)
  • Since 2000, Russia’s greatest contribution to the security and stability of its vulnerable southern tier has not been through its military presence on bases, its troop deployments, or security pacts and arms sales. Rather, it has been through absorbing the surplus labor of regional states, providing markets for their goods, and transferring funds in the form of remittances (rather than foreign aid). Migration to Russia has become the region’s safety valve. (Current History, 10.01.08)
  • Putin has been very careful to create a big tent sense of Russian nationalism. It's sort of an imperial nationalism. He's very careful about that at home and that is also a memory from the 1990s, of course, from the collapse of the Soviet Union, all of the international conflict that emerged not just in Russia itself with Chechnya or the risks of it in places like Tatarstan. [Furthermore] the rise of Islamist movements but also what happened on the periphery. All kinds of civil wars in places like Tajikistan or the kind of outbreaks of conflict like in Nagano-Karabakh. (Wilson Center, 07.29.20)
  • Russia intervened in Kazakhstan, albeit at the request of the Kazakh president, President Tokayev, after protests. Armenia has been recently again in a war with Azerbaijan, in which Russia seems to have stoked the flames. And then [Russia] intervened and now has peacekeepers on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh, which both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been trying to avoid for the best part of 30… years. (Brookings, 09.19.22)
  • Around 2014, when Armenia was also trying to secure an association agreement with Europe [EU], the Russians told the Armenians, 'We own you. Don’t even think about it." (Brookings, 09.19.22) 
  • See also “Great Power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations" and “U.S. policies toward Russia and bilateral relations in general” above.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the individual quoted.