Olga Oliker

Olga Oliker on Russia: Insights and Recommendations

July 16, 2020
RM Staff

This compilation of observations and policy ideas related to Russia by Olga Oliker is part of Russia Matters’ “Competing Views” rubric, where we share prominent American thinkers’ takes on issues pertaining to Russia, U.S.-Russian relations and broader U.S. policies affecting Russia.  

Oliker, who now directs the International Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia program, has been producing in-depth Russia-related analysis in English for over 20 years. Her articles, reports and monographs have covered subjects ranging from armed conflict in the North Caucasus and Central Asia to arms control and the Russian military. Prior to joining ICG, Dr. Oliker directed the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and spent many years as an analyst at the RAND Corporation. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Survival and multiple other publications.

This compilation is meant as a sampling of Dr. Oliker’s views on Russia. All sections may be updated with new or past statements. 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.

Bulleted text that is not italicized, bracketed or in parentheses is a direct quote from Dr. Oliker.


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

Nuclear security:

  • U.S.-Russian cooperation on issues that used to be above politics for both countries, such as countering nuclear terrorism, is … moribund. The U.S. attitude toward political-technical cooperation with Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis is one factor. But the U.S.-Russian nuclear security relationship was already in trouble [before Ukraine], with Russia expressing consistent concerns about equality and reciprocity. … Russia’s ultimate opposition to the U.S.-initiated Nuclear Security Summit process and Russian hostility toward U.S. positions in the International Atomic Energy Agency have also negatively shaped the political environment. (Dædalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, co-authored with Anya Loukianova Fink, Spring 2020)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • Historically, the United States and Russia have been interested in limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as the missiles that could carry them. … Russia has generally opposed North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and supported multilateral efforts to contain its program. Russian analysts and authorities view the DPRK’s nuclear doctrine as defensive, but some worry that the country’s overall weakness could also mean that its nuclear weapons, once developed, might actually be used. (Dædalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, co-authored with Anya Loukianova Fink, Spring 2020)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • Moscow has … played an important role in discussions of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and has maintained relationships with all relevant parties in that process. Presumably, it views the prospect of a collapse of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to which it is also a party, and efforts by other countries in the Middle East to acquire nuclear weapons with some concern. … As with North Korea, Moscow tends to accept that proliferators seek nuclear capability in order to attain understandable strategic and tactical goals. Thus, preventing proliferation means addressing their insecurities. (Dædalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, co-authored with Anya Loukianova Fink, Spring 2020) 
  • Russian leadership and elites have been frustrated but not surprised by the Trump administration’s position toward Iran as well as its efforts to destroy the JCPOA. Indeed, these U.S. policies have lent credence to the notions that Washington cannot be trusted and that its signature on international agreements is not ironclad. (Dædalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, co-authored with Anya Loukianova Fink, Spring 2020)
  • With the plan that Russia has developed, which Iran has thus far refused to accept, … Russia provides the enriched uranium and also takes the spent fuel. And I think [Russia is] hoping to make this work for a number of reasons. One is that this … seems like the nice solution, if one believes that what Iran is really trying to do is build a civilian nuclear program. And second, it gives Russia an advantage. It makes it a clear player and a clear problem-solver in this arena. And, too, it insures that … its business of helping Iran to develop a civilian nuclear program can go forward. (NPR, 03.23.06)

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • How better to prove one is a great power than to challenge the world’s sole remaining superpower (as Russian President Vladimir Putin has termed the United States)? If the superpower responds, whether antagonistically, through cooperation or (best case) through acquiescence, victory is attained. In this, Russia’s narrative reflects a nostalgia for the Cold War... But during the Cold War, while the average Russian’s standard of living left a good bit to be desired, the Soviet Union, with Russia at its helm, was one of the only two countries in the world that truly set the terms of global policy. Russia may not want to recreate the USSR, but both its rhetoric on regained influence and its focus on the United States suggest that it is not averse to something along the lines of a new Cold War. (The National Interest, 06.28.16)
  • Ultimately, the door to improved relations, following the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine, should be left open. No iron curtain should be allowed to settle over Europe. Instead, it behooves Western leaders to show Putin that the invasion of Crimea is not in his, or Russia’s, best interest. (CNN, 03.05.14)

NATO-Russia relations:

  • Now we have heard, including from the top, intimations that NATO may have outlived its usefulness, and has fostered a European security order in which America provides the security and Europe enjoys it. (Russian International Affairs Council, 10.03.19)
  • But the Russians took [NATO expansion] as a sign that we were still against them. It was really hard to walk back from. From there on out, we were doing things that we kept saying, “We’re not doing this to hurt you,” and that the Russians felt hurt them. We didn’t do it because we wanted to hurt them. We did it because we didn’t care if it hurt them. (New York Times, 05.08.18)

Impact of the pandemic:

  • It [Russia] should also not count on improving relations [with the U.S.] as a whole: Good will gestures like COVID-19 supply deliveries will be reciprocated, but won’t do much more. (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 06.14.20)

Missile defense:

  • One of the most critical things that Russia can attain only through a bolstering of the arms control framework is progress on renewed limits on missile defenses. Moscow has pointed to the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002 as proof that Washington does not take the arms control framework seriously. Western analysts may argue that Russia accepted the U.S. withdrawal, but from the time it became plausible that the United States would withdraw, Russian plans for START II were predicated on continued U.S. adherence to the ABM Treaty. Once the United States withdrew, Russia announced that, as it had promised, it would consider START II no longer binding. Although it took some time to implement plans for MIRVed ICBM systems, those followed. Indeed, Russia’s argument for the need for MIRV capability is tied explicitly and consistently to U.S. missile defenses. Russia also touts its new systems as having maneuverable warheads, again to counter missile defenses. (Arms Control Association, May 2017)
  • Attitudes toward missile defenses are one of the clearest examples of a disconnect between U.S. and Russian public postures and perceptions. … The United States and NATO have claimed that missile defense systems deployed in Europe are intended to defend against “missile proliferation emanating from outside the Euro-Atlantic area,” mainly Iran—capabilities that do not yet exist but are expected to evolve. Russians, however, have long held that the system over time will be sufficient to significantly mitigate if not eliminate a Russian strategic nuclear second strike, thus its deterrent capacity. Russia’s fear is of a future defense capability, even as NATO’s planning is directed against a future non-Russian threat. As analyst Pavel Podvig has quipped, “[M]issile defense only works against missiles that don’t exist,” but Russian fears of missile defenses remain a driver of their policy. (Arms Control Association, May 2017)
  • If Russia truly wants controls on U.S. missile defenses, it must realize that the only means at its disposal to achieve them is arms control. True, this has been a difficult point on which to get Washington to budge, with congressional pressure particularly trenchant. Yet historically, Russia has been able to make some progress, including the statement in New START regarding the relationship between offensive and defensive strategic weapons. Indeed, missile defense limits may be sold to Congress in the context of a broader agreement or package of agreements, which trades constraints on these programs for U.S. gains in other areas. This will only be possible if the White House, convinced of the need for arms control, can make the case that Russia is a reliable partner for such agreements. (Arms Control Association, May 2017)

Arms control:

  • On arms control after the INF Treaty: Future efforts to save arms control will likely take the form of arguments for mutual commitments not to deploy ground-based launchers for intermediate-range missiles in Europe. Those, too, are likely to fail, leaving us to wait until mutual terror drives everyone back to the negotiating table. (Valdai Discussion Club, 01.21.19)
  • New START, INF and military-to-military contacts are areas where bilateral progress not only is attainable but would represent a real breakthrough with the potential to slow, and perhaps even halt, the downward spiral in the relationship. Agreement in these areas would, importantly, not reward Russia for bad behavior, since there are no unilateral gains for Moscow here. A focus on arms control and military discussions can ensure that even as Washington and Moscow continue to disagree and compete in years to come, they are better equipped to calibrate their policies and avoid instability. (Foreign Affairs, co-authored with Kimberly Marten07.13.18)
  • Putin’s language on nuclear weapons is encouraging in that he speaks of improving, not increasing, the force. Putin’s question to Trump about a New START extension suggests an interest in keeping the agreement going at least until 2026—right around the time Russia’s all-modern force can be expected to come into being. (Arms Control Association, May 2017)
  • [A]lthough one possible lesson for Russia is that the [arms control] framework does not serve it well, another is that when Russia has the ability to strengthen it, it will have a far better shot at attaining the results it seeks. (Arms Control Association, May 2017)


  • On Russian nationals fighting with violent jihadi groups in Syria and Iraq: We cannot know what all returning fighters and affiliates will do or where they will go. We cannot know in large part because the answers are still evolving. We do know that denying their existence would be a mistake, as it will preclude tracking both individuals and groups and identifying both good and bad policy approaches. Some of those who leave Syria and Iraq will surely seek another war. Others will look to bring war to wherever they settle, whether as fighters or as leaders and recruiters. And many may have no interest in fighting any longer and might even help discourage those who see romance and idealism in violence. Sorting them one from the other will be one key to ensuring that responses to this evolving situation can sustainably improve security in Russia and around the world. (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 12.21.17)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Russia’s impressive juggling act in the Middle East, and in Syria in particular, has left it in a powerful position. But by filling the vacuum left by the U.S., it has had to take on far more responsibility than it may have expected or sought. To date it has managed well, but with few easy choices ahead and Syria in its current state, this may not be an enviable prize. (The Guardian, 10.23.19)
  • Russia had several reasons to back Assad. He was a friend to Moscow, as his father had been before him. The Kremlin was concerned that if he fell, chaos would ensue—or ISIS would fill the void. From a geo-strategic perspective, Russia had long opposed U.S.-backed “regime change” interventions and was disinclined to let one more succeed. It was also keen to build influence in the Middle East and show itself to be a reliable partner. And while its involvement was in direct opposition to U.S. efforts, Moscow likely believed that once it had proven itself a force to be reckoned with, it could establish its relevance to the U.S. and cut some kind of arrangement with the Americans on the future of Syria and fight against ISIS, thereby further cementing its great-power status and helping rebuild the two countries’ relationship. (The Guardian, 10.23.19)
  • Russia’s military intervention in Syria had a decisive effect, reversing Assad’s slide. Cooperation with the Americans, however, proved elusive. But while Washington didn’t want to carve up influence and share it, a different dynamic nonetheless emerged. Erratic and shrinking U.S. involvement, together with Moscow’s diplomatic skill, has now left Russia in what might seem an enviable position in Syria and in the region as a whole. (The Guardian, 10.23.19)

Cyber security:

  • The dangers of crisis escalation are further exacerbated by the challenges presented by cyberthreats and in the space domain. Here, a large part of the problem lies in the absence of shared understandings of both countries’ thresholds and escalation ladders. In particular, the dependence of modern military forces on space-based assets means that disruptions in space have a huge potential impact in a crisis. The lack of legal limitations on deployment of weapons in space (apart from nuclear weapons) has Russia concerned about the potential use of space to launch a surprise attack. (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 05.01.18)
  • [I]t is important to note the use of cyber in the Ukraine conflict. Early in the conflict, these took the form of distributed denial of service (DDOS) and defacement attacks on Ukrainian government and NATO websites. This was more a form of harassment, however, than anything else. More debilitating was a December 2015 attack on Ukraine’s power grid, which shut down electricity to hundreds of thousands of people for several hours. Both Ukrainian and U.S. officials blamed Moscow. If this was, indeed, an orchestrated attack by Russia, it is an example of precisely the type of cyber operation that could be seen as warfare, in that it approximates effects similar to those that might be attained through the use of armed force. (Senate testimony, 03.29.17)

Elections interference:

  • Trump has also said that he wants better relations with Russia. The attainment of this goal has been stymied first and foremost, by a bipartisan consensus of distrust and anger at Moscow, driven both by core foreign policy disagreements and evidence of Russian intelligence agencies’ and government-linked firms’ efforts to sway the 2016 elections. (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 06.14.20)
  • On U.S. sanctions in response to Russian election meddling: It’s a signaling action… These aren’t earth-shattering sanctions… My guess is that [Russian intelligence agencies] don’t have a Bank of America account. (Wall Street Journal, 03.15.18)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia's increasing stranglehold on Ukraine's energy imports does not bode well for the smaller country's ability to maintain its hard-won sovereignty, and it increases the risk that Ukraine will call on the United States and its NATO allies to stand behind it against Russia. (RAND, 2000)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • To be updated.

U.S.-Russian relations in general: 

  • The United States has usurped Russia’s role as the unpredictable big actor on the world stage. (Valdai Discussion Club, 10.31.18)
  • [T]he United States and Russia should agree to resume recently suspended programs, in place since the 1990s, to bring their military officers into regular contact with each other. Since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and subsequent military intervention in Ukraine, the U.S. Congress has forbidden most military-to-military cooperation programs with Moscow … even though most senior U.S. military officers favor their resumption. Russia had in fact not been an active participant in many of these programs—which involve joint training, education and conferences—for years. But drawing on the success of the deconfliction line used by the two militaries to avoid direct confrontation in Syria, a recommitment to these programs would allow officers on each side to gain a deeper understanding of the other side’s thinking. (Foreign Affairs, co-authored with Kimberly Marten07.13.18)
  • With so many intersections of Russian and U.S. interests, Russia presents a critical foreign policy challenge, one which will be poorly served by either demonization or conciliation. What is needed is considered, knowledgeable and nuanced policy. However capable our senators and representatives and their staffs, this is not what legislatures are set up to do. Sanctions have proven easy. The hard work for Congress will be finding ways to hold the executive branch accountable, such that capable, patriotic and responsible action on the Russian front results. (The Hill, 07.29.17)
  • [The 2015 Russian national security] strategy presents the world as dangerous for Russia, a world that the U.S. and its allies are actively making more dangerous, in part to limit Russia’s power. The broader dangers of terrorism, instability and proliferation make cooperation with these countries necessary. However, they are also part of the problem, and cooperation is only possible if they accept Russia’s leadership role. (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 01.07.16)
  • We [in the U.S.] think what’s good for Russia is stability in the neighborhood, economic growth. But Russia, or at least Vladimir Putin, thinks what’s most important is that Russia is taken seriously, and that a strong Russia is one that sticks to its guns and gets what it wants. … We’re going to have to demarche strongly and suck it up. Putin wouldn’t have done this [supported military action in Ukraine] if he wasn’t willing to pay. (McClatchy DC, 03.01.14)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • [I]f the methods and available tools have changed over the decades and centuries, the foreign-policy goals Putin’s Russia has pursued are not different from historical Russian, Soviet and imperial Russian foreign-policy goals. Nor were the last two decades unique in economic ups and downs and cycles of liberalization and constraint at home. I would say the real change Putin has wrought is to establish a system that appears extraordinarily dependent on him personally, both for its own sustainment and to make decisions and take action. And that, by definition, lasts only as long as Putin remains in power. (Foreign Policy, 05.07.20)
  • On 2020 Russian constitutional revisions: As to changes in how Russia is governed, and who governs it, we will have to wait and see. Putin’s goal may well be a more balanced system, which improves (by his metrics) governance and precludes his successor from taking on too much power. It’s also plausible that Putin wants to ensure that if he doesn’t find anyone he trusts fully (and if he hasn’t in 20 years, what are the odds that he will in four?), he can maintain a hand on the reins of power. But for all the excitement this past week, nothing that happens clarifies Putin’s vision, if, indeed, he has one. If he plans to stay on, Russian governance institutions will, indeed, change drastically, whether or not Russian policies do… If he steps aside, we can be confident that he will seek a way to do so that ensures both his legacy as Russia’s leader and his personal safety and security for a long time to come. (Inkstick, 01.21.20)
  • President Vladimir Putin has attempted to minimize the difficulties and deflect blame toward the West, but the problem is serious and no one is to blame but Mr. Putin himself. His efforts to destabilize Ukraine have brought painful sanctions upon Russia, reinforced its dependence on oil and isolated its economy. Mr. Putin is well aware that his popularity rests on economic, social and political stability. A severe downturn could erode his domestic support. To save himself, he may again resort to the dual levers of nationalism and foreign adventurism to shore up his popularity at home. (New York Times, co-authored with Hans Binnendijk and Christopher Chivvis12.30.14)

Defense and aerospace:

  • The confusion and contradictions in Russia’s document on Basic Principles of Nuclear Deterrence reflect policy debates in Moscow. (IVM Podcasts, 06.16.20)
  • According to the general principles [a.k.a., the Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence], deterrence is a whole of government effort. Nuclear deterrence is defensive, meant to guarantee Russia’s ability to secure its sovereignty and territorial integrity (and that of allies). Nuclear weapons are only for deterrence. Their purpose is to prevent aggression against Russia (and its allies). Use is a last resort. (Russia Matters, 06.04.20)
  • Clarifying Russia’s nuclear principles: First is the clear statement that Russia can launch under warning of ballistic missile attack. This is in line with Putin’s statements, but still notable to see in a formal document. Second, is the equally clear statement that an attack (military or otherwise) on Russia’s nuclear, command and related infrastructure, broadly defined, justifies a nuclear response. This has been a matter of speculation, and often assumed to be true. Now it’s confirmed. (Russia Matters, 06.04.20)
  • [Russia] will not use them [nuclear weapons] for simple battlefield advantage or to “escalate to de-escalate.” First use is allowed only in case of existential threat: to Russia or to its deterrent. But if those conditions are met, and Russia decides to use nuclear weapons, Russia will do so intending to prevent further escalation and end the conflict as favorably (or acceptably) as possible for itself. (Russia Matters, 06.04.20)
  • Most Russian strategists ... expect that a military clash with the United States would almost certainly lead to, if not begin with, a large-scale attack on Russia, including an early strike on its nuclear capabilities. (Foreign Affairs, 11.01.19)
  • Moscow is right to emphasize non-nuclear deterrence, but its rhetoric on nuclear weapons and eager pursuit of dual-use systems has limited, if not undermined, the credibility of its stated high threshold for nuclear use. Indeed, the ways in which Russia’s behavior has led others to question its strategy demonstrates that the higher and clearer one’s nuclear threshold, the better. Coercive advantages, themselves questionable, are surely not worth the risk of deterrence failure. (War on the Rocks, co-authored with Andrey Baklitskiy02.20.18)
  • Russia will continue to be activist in its foreign policy and will continue to refuse to “back down,” though it is also aware of its limitations, and may temper near-term goals accordingly. But this [2015 national security] strategy also indicates that while Russia knows that its ambitions are limited by both internal and external factors, it sees those factors (whether they are foreign opposition or resource constraints) as threats and its mission as overcoming those threats. Russia’s strategy is about increasing Russian power, at home and abroad. (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 01.07.16)
  • Russian leaders have often sought to remind (or convince) their constituents of their strength and authority by being visible and in control at military exercises. While Putin, recently returned to the office of president by popular vote, has no particular reason to fear for his continued power, he clearly thinks that it's never a bad idea to remind the public that he is also commander-in-chief. (RAND blog,10.31.12)
  • The biggest mistake one can make is the one the Russians made between 1996 and 1999: By believing that they could avoid urban battle by not preparing for it, the Russian military guaranteed that any fight, successful or otherwise, would have a very high cost. (RAND, 2001)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • The Russian opposition—along with much of Russian society—finds Pussy Riot’s language, tactics and overt championing of feminism and gay rights too extreme. The group’s foreign supporters, for their part, know little about Russia’s political and social context. The result was a focus in Russia and abroad on the women themselves and leniency toward them, not their message or that of the opposition as a whole. (CNN, 08.18.12)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • Russia is trying to carve out a role in Southern Asia that allows it to exert increasing influence while still hedging its bets and limiting its costs. However, deepening involvement runs the risk of feeding into regional conflicts and increasing the Kremlin’s exposure. (War on the Rocks, 12.07.17)
  • When it comes to India, Russia thinks globally, as well as, of course, about itself. Russia wants to maintain India as a major weapons buyer (its top customer for the past decade or so). Moscow also wants at least the appearance of a closer strategic relationship with New Delhi, not least as a demonstration of Russia’s influence and broad network of ties. In this context, India’s increasing closeness with the United States worries Russia. (War on the Rocks, 12.07.17)
  • Afghanistan, with its volatility and proximity to Russia’s neighborhood, presents the greatest challenge, as Russia will have little choice but to fill at least some of the gaps the United States might leave. It is not clear that these are eventualities Moscow has fully prepared for—or can afford. (War on the Rocks, 12.07.17)

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • In Asia, Russia has tended to follow China’s policy lead. Right now, Beijing is probably Moscow’s best global partner. The two governments agree on many international issues, and trade between them is likely to grow, especially as European nations continue to try to isolate Russia economically. But Moscow’s efforts to raise its profile in the Asia-Pacific region could put its relationship with Beijing in danger. (World Policy Journal, Winter 2016/2017)


  • Keeping de facto statelets afloat in east Ukraine is expensive, and peace means representation in Kyiv for Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainians. Progress on peace would ease the path to the gas deal with Ukraine that Moscow needs to maintain its exports to the rest of Europe. As for claims that it cannot speak for its proxies, their existential dependence on Russian military and financial support gives Moscow substantial leverage, which it has exercised in the past. If Moscow decides it wants peace, it can deliver it. (The Guardian, 12.12.19)
  • Ukraine, which did not start this conflict, faces a choice between continuing to fight a war that kills soldiers and civilians, and the challenging task of reclaiming a region and a population after five years of fighting, mistrust and what increasingly feels like a border cutting the country in two… While reclaiming the territory and its people is ostensibly what this war has been about, some Ukrainians believe a formal acceptance of the status quo, with the conflict frozen and the territory effectively lost, at least for now, is an acceptable solution. (The Guardian, 12.12.19)
  • Zelenskiy is in a decent position to deliver on his promises. He can strengthen his hand by reaching out to the people of eastern Ukraine and reassuring those who live there and those displaced by the conflict that he sees them unequivocally as Ukrainians… But he can’t do it alone. He needs Putin to do his part. (The Guardian, 12.12.19)
  • Ukraine is really dependent on American aid and support, and that makes it an easy country to influence, because of that, at least on paper … if you’ve got somebody over a barrel, they’re likely to do what you ask. (Vice, 09.24.19)
  • What can the United States do to help make Ukraine secure and stable? It must, first and foremost, hold the Ukrainian government accountable. The only real way to guarantee Ukraine’s security is to fulfill the promise of the Maidan. Disturbingly, Ukraine's progress on reform has been highly correlated with Western conditionality—Ukraine does what it must to keep the aid flowing. In the security sector, as in many others, the Poroshenko administration has developed reform plans but is not implementing them. Meanwhile, in areas like fighting corruption and free speech, we have seen disturbing turnarounds. This suggests that unconditional support for Ukraine will lead to both Ukrainian failure and Western entanglement: the worst of both worlds. (Russia Matters, 08.07.17)
  • Left unchecked, at least some of these private militias have both the resources and the will to engage not merely in organized crime, but in warlord politics. As we have seen around the world, from sub-Saharan Africa to the Balkans, such groups can steal or control elections and the distribution of state resources, engage in internecine street warfare and dictate Ukraine’s foreign policy choices. Obviously, this would leave Ukraine unstable and plagued with organized private violence. But with Ukraine increasingly linked to the rest of Europe (it now enjoys visa-free travel to the European Union), instability there would also threaten the financial health and border and crime control efforts of the continent as a whole. Even European military security could be at risk, for instance if Kyiv’s weakness sparked further Russian intervention. (War on the Rocks, co-authored with Kimberly Marten09.14.17)
  • One component of smart, conditional assistance is keeping pressure on Ukraine to plan for the future of the Donbass. The continuing war not only provides excuses to avoid reform, it hardens positions. Today, it’s not entirely clear if Ukraine’s leaders really want the Donbass back, even as their soldiers fight for it. This creates disincentives to seek political solutions and hands Russia the victory of an unstable Ukraine. If Washington wants Ukraine to be successful, it must help it lay the groundwork for unity and reconciliation. (Russia Matters, 08.07.17)
  • In my opinion, lethal aid would be counterproductive, and thus out of line with U.S interests, for three reasons: First, Javelin will not deter Russia. Russia has escalation dominance—it can put more into the fight if it wishes… American anti-tank weapons won’t change that. Instead, their delivery will lead to Russian counter-escalation, and will worsen, not resolve, the conflict…  Second, lethal weapons would not arrive right away, and Ukrainian troops would need training to use them. In the interim, Russia would have an incentive to counter-escalate quickly to get more bang for its ruble. Third, Ukrainian chain-of-custody presents its own problems… This said, I am very much for (conditional) security assistance to Ukraine. But rather than seeking to score political points with lethal aid, Washington should do a better job helping Ukrainian soldiers. The dirty secret of assistance … [is] that aid is too small and too slow, however useful some components (like counter-battery radars) may be… An informed, conditional and focused assistance program for Ukraine could make a real difference in the security sector and beyond, if it is aligned with Ukraine’s needs and designed to ensure the country stays on a path to reform. (Russia Matters, 08.07.17)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • [Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi] Gakharia and his team will need to prevent the dispute [over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia] from escalating, while at the same time standing up to Moscow and repairing economic ties with Russia. Balancing those priorities will be a tall order. (World Politics Review, co-authored with Olesya Vartanyan, 09.23.19)
  • As was the case before August 2008, there are political actors in Georgia who see their relationship with America as an alternative to normalization with Moscow, and those in Russia who see U.S. relations with Georgia as cause (or excuse) to avoid collaboration with Washington, however advantageous to all. This set of relationships will therefore remain a diplomatic challenge for the foreseeable future. (RAND, 08.09.12)
  • [I]t is quite simply not in Kazakhstan’s strategic interests to take steps detrimental to its relationships with Russia and China. No outside actor can credibly promise to protect Kazakhstan’s interests in the event of Russian or Chinese hostility—nor would the U.S. want to, even if it could. (China & Eurasia Forum Quarterly, 2007)

Photo is a screenshot from a U.S. government work.