Victoria Nuland at the Belfer Center

Victoria Nuland on Russia

February 03, 2021
Daniel Shapiro

This compilation of observations and policy ideas related to Russia by Victoria Nuland 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.

On Jan. 16, then-U.S. President-elect Joe Biden selected Victoria Nuland to serve as undersecretary of state for political affairs. Prior to her appointment to this position—effectively the third-ranking U.S. diplomatic position—Nuland served in a number of diplomatic roles, including as deputy national security adviser to then-Vice President Dick Cheney from 2003 to 2005 and as chief of staff to the deputy secretary of state from 1993 to 1996. Nuland also has held a number of positions related to the post-Soviet space, including as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs and as the lead person on the U.S. side for the 2013-2014 Ukraine crisis.

This compilation is meant as a sampling of Nuland’s views. 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.


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

Nuclear security:

  • Even as we push back against Russian aggression and support neighbors under pressure, the United States will continue to look for areas where our interests and Moscow’s align, and we can work together to tackle global challenges, including nonproliferation, nuclear and other WMD security, preventing atrocities and humanitarian crises, and combating violent extremism and terrorism. (Testimony at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 06.07.16)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • I don’t have a problem with the fact that the president [Donald Trump] started these negotiations by meeting with Kim Jong Un. I think the problem is that he continues to praise Kim Jong Un when really nothing has happened since, and the economic pressure is also beginning to weaken, particularly as we get into other spats with China, which make them less interested in cooperating with us on North Korea. (MSNBC, 11.13.18)
  • The DPRK announcement talks about a satellite launch. However, as we know, it requires the use of missile technology to launch a satellite. And it's the use of the missile technology that is an explicit violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874. So it's a matter of semantics whether you call it—I mean, they say they're launching a satellite. We say you're launching it with ballistic missile technology, which the U.N. Security Council resolutions have explicitly precluded. (State Department Briefing, 03.16.12)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • I don’t think that anybody—including the architects of the deal—would claim that the nuclear deal with Iran was perfect. First of all, it only attacked the nuclear sins of Iran; it didn’t attack their support for terrorism, their acquisition of territory in Syria and other places, their terrorism support, etc. And even within the nuclear realm it wasn’t infinite; it didn’t speak about what happened at the end of the period of the agreement, and they got a lot of cash up front, which they used for nefarious purposes. But I still don’t understand why you would want to throw out an imperfect nuclear agreement and end up with no nuclear agreement. (RBC Capital Markets, 10.28.20)

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • Washington and its allies have forgotten the statecraft that won the Cold War and continued to yield results for many years after. That strategy required consistent U.S. leadership at the presidential level, unity with democratic allies and partners, and a shared resolve to deter and roll back dangerous behavior by the Kremlin. It also included incentives for Moscow to cooperate and, at times, direct appeals to the Russian people about the benefits of a better relationship. Yet that approach has fallen into disuse, even as Russia’s threat to the liberal world has grown. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • The challenge for the United States in 2021 will be to lead the democracies of the world in crafting a more effective approach to Russia—one that builds on their strengths and puts stress on Putin where he is vulnerable, including among his own citizens. To call this “great-power competition” or “a new Cold War” would be to give Putin too much credit: today’s Russia pales in comparison to the Soviet adversary. Depicting Putin’s Russia as a peer or an invincible enemy denigrates the United States’ ability to deter and resist dangerous Kremlin policy. But the United States should not take this on alone. As in the past, it must mobilize its global alliances, shore up their internal defenses and work jointly with others to rebuff Russian encroachments in hot spots around the world. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • In reference to Russia’s plans to deploy 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2015: Those kinds of announcements when made publicly like that obviously have a rattling effect. When we look at what is actually happening inside Russia it is far less dramatic. (Reuters, 06.18.20)

NATO-Russia relations:

  • A chasm soon opened between liberal democracies and the still very Soviet man leading Russia, especially on the subject of NATO enlargement. No matter how hard Washington and its allies tried to persuade Moscow that NATO was a purely defensive alliance that posed no threat to Russia, it continued to serve Putin’s agenda to see Europe in zero-sum terms. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • As the United States improves in areas in which Russia seeks or has gained an edge—hypersonic missiles, undersea weapons, cybersecurity and anti-access/area-denial capabilities—it needs to do more to bring its allies along. For example, it should develop more of its high-tech weapons systems jointly with its allies, establish permanent bases along NATO’s eastern border and increase the pace and visibility of joint training exercises. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • NATO could offer Moscow a fresh start, including resuming joint military exercises in areas such as accident prevention and emergency response. The United States and Europe could reopen the question of a pan-European security dialogue of the kind then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev suggested in 2008, so long as doing so would not weaken existing institutions, such as NATO, the EU or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • I don’t think that any of these threats posed by Russia right now are insurmountable or even the most dangerous security threats that we [NATO] face. My concern is that we’re doing so little to coordinate our effort against them that we’re providing an open greenfield for Russia to run roughshod. And in particular, vis-à-vis Russia, it’s always been the case—ever since the founding—that the United States generally leads alliance policy toward Russia. So when you have an America with a president that has one view of Russia and the cabinet and Congress that have a different view, it’s very hard to provide coherent leadership, particularly on new challenges. (Foreign Policy/Brookings, 10.14.19)
  • We create the NATO-Russia Council, which I worked on—I worked on both of them, in fact—where we agreed to treat the Russians like a member of the alliance in that context, and they actually sat in alphabetical order like a NATO member. But again, it didn't work because not only Putin, but everybody in the bureaucracy in Russia, couldn’t get past this zero-sum sense that if something was good for the West, good for NATO, then it had to be bad for Russia. (Interview with PBS, 06.14.17)

Missile defense:

  • The Bush team later sought to rectify the mistake by offering transparency and collaboration in missile defense development to meet the growing threats from Tehran and Pyongyang, but Putin rejected the offer. He had already knit the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty into a narrative of grievance against Washington. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)

Arms control:

  • He [Putin] is eager to extend the 2010 New START treaty, which limits U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear weapons systems and is set to expire in 2021. Washington should use Putin’s sense of urgency to tie discussions over New START to wider negotiations on all aspects of military power—nuclear and conventional, space and cyberspace. To allow time for those talks, the treaty could be provisionally extended for a year or two, but Washington should not grant Moscow what it wants most: a free rollover of New START without any negotiations to address Russia’s recent investments in short- and medium-range nuclear weapons systems and new conventional weapons. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • With regard to the Russia threat, as I say, they are playing a weak and cheap hand very successfully because we are not as well-coordinated as we should be—with the exception of the work that we’re doing right along the eastern border, particularly with regard to arms control; the fact that with the end of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces in Europe Treaty, Russia is now building nuclear-tip missiles that can hit Berlin and France. We need a far stronger set of countermeasures and we need to be standing together in terms of the next stage of negotiation on arms control issues with the Russians. (Foreign Policy/Brookings, 10.14.19)
  • We have worked with Russia to remove Syria’s declared chemical weapons, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, to contain the nuclear threat emanating from the DPRK, and to negotiate and implement the New START Treaty. (Testimony at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 06.07.16)


  • I agree with those who say that the first disappointment was that he thought after 9/11 that the U.S. and Russia together would be holy warriors against this evil of al-Qaida. But we were also disappointed because we didn't feel that the Russian intelligence services, after we were quite forthcoming about what we were seeing, shared much. (Interview with PBS, 06.14.17)

Conflict in Syria:

  • In Syria, Putin saw an opportunity to support a fellow autocrat under pressure from his people while protecting and extending Russia’s regional influence. The United States, seeking to limit its own commitment, mistakenly expected that deeper Russian involvement in Syria would create an incentive for Moscow to help settle the conflict and support free elections. The theory was that with skin in the game, Russia would want the game to be played fairly. Instead, Russia’s military intervention ensured the survival of Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad; further opened the door to Iranian influence; and sent hundreds of thousands of additional Syrian refugees into Jordan, Turkey and Europe. The United States, meanwhile, made both Putin’s and Assad’s lives easier by neutralizing a shared threat, the Islamic State. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • If … U.S. troops left, nothing would prevent Moscow and Tehran from financing their operations with Syrian oil or smuggled drugs and weapons. The U.S. footprint in Syria need not be large, but it cannot be zero, unless Washington wants to ensure that Putin emerges as the Middle East’s definitive power broker. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • Turkish ambitions are greater than the Kurds are going to tolerate. They want to recontrol those northern towns, and those are the homelands of these folks who helped us beat ISIS. I don’t think anybody has the capacity to keep ISIS bottled up if we are not present. And now you see the Russians volunteering to be an interpositional force, which just enhances their influence. You already see them talking to the Turks about selling them even more weapons systems. But it also takes the Russian ground reach deeper into the east of Syria, which is why the president has recalibrated now to keep some troops around the oil fields. If Russia and Assad and Iran get control of those oil fields, they’ll be able to finance all of this, and the benefit of that will not go to the Syrian people. It’ll go right into the pockets of the Kremlin and the ayatollahs and the Assad family. (The Harvard Gazette, 10.30.19)
  • With his decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria, President Trump hands a huge New Year’s gift to President Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State, the Kremlin and Tehran. Everything about this mercurial decision imperils U.S. national interests as defined by Trump himself. First, the Islamic State is far from gone in Syria. … Iran will also flood the zone the United States is abandoning. … Moscow is celebrating, too. (The Washington Post, 12.19.18)
  • These efforts require hard-headed diplomacy with Russia. While working in the ISSG for a political settlement, we continue to call on the Kremlin to bring its influence to bear on the Assad regime to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties and suffering, and to end barrel bombing and the regime’s obstruction of aid deliveries to besieged communities. (Testimony at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 06.07.16)

Cyber security:

  • We have a lot of experience, right? We have the Estonian incursion in 2010. We have aggressive use of cyber in many forms throughout the Ukraine conflict. We have the attack on the State Department in the fall of 2015, which was up close and personal for me. I won't go any further than that. So it [elections interference] was not surprising to me. I learned, in the winter of—before Christmas of 2015, that the Russians were into the DNC, or at least that the DNC had been hacked, and it bore a lot of the fingerprints of Russia. (Interview with PBS, 06.14.17)
  • We must make investments that align with future threats. Russia’s own investments in hybrid tactics, electronic and cyber capabilities, disinformation and violations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty illustrate where we need to respond. (Testimony at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 06.07.16)

Elections interference:

  • The U.S. president must lead a campaign to harden democratic societies against Russia’s efforts to interfere in free elections, spread disinformation, inflame societal tensions, and conduct political influence campaigns. Democracies around the world need to pool their resources and work more effectively with technology companies and researchers to expose and deter Russia’s malign activities as they happen, not months or years later. In the meantime, governments and technology companies share a responsibility to educate citizens to recognize when they are being manipulated from abroad. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • The decision was made to wait and deal with the Russia problem after the election had happened. I think that nobody at that time anticipated that whomever was elected might choose not to pursue what the intelligence community had found out. So I think it was pretty obvious the tack that President Trump took to these things to make it about himself rather than U.S. national security. (The Harvard Gazette, 10.30.19)
  • Based on what we had seen in other places, based on what we’d seen over time, I didn't have any doubt that Russian intelligence had played a role in the hacking. I think the question that all of us had throughout the spring and into the summer was what were they going to use it for? (Interview with PBS, 06.14.17)
  • If he’s [Putin] done it in 2016, he’ll do it in 2018 and 2020. And as [former FBI Director James] Comey said, we had the same thought at the time: This is a nonpartisan issue. Putin is an equal opportunity influencer. So I think what was disappointing was that when the incoming team was briefed, they didn't seem to grab this as a serious strategic threat to the United States and a challenge that needed to be dealt with. (Interview with PBS, 06.14.17)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia has been a big gas station with very little else in terms of output or export for a long, long time, and as the world increasingly moves away from carbon-based energy, that’s getting more and more old-fashioned. And it’s getting less and less economical. So it is another failure of leadership that in 20 years in power, he hasn’t diversified that economy and he hasn’t tapped into the prodigious brains of the Russian people to do what he promised. (RBC Capital Markets, 10.28.20)
  • My biggest concern about using the sanctions tool on Nord Stream 2 is not that we’ve applied it, but that we’ve applied it unilaterally and it hits German companies and Northern European companies equally to hitting the Russians. And I would have rather … continued the approach that we were on, which was to try to have the U.S. work extensively with Germany and the EU to propose alternative sources of energy for Europe, rather than becoming more dependent on Russia. (RBC Capital Markets, 10.28.20)
  • Energy diversification also continues to be a key component of our strategy, and we have seen progress on this front across Europe. Ukraine has now broken its dependence on Russian gas, ended costly household energy subsidies and is making real strides in introducing full market standards across the sector. In the Baltics and Central Europe, critical projects and actions have reduced energy vulnerability, including the opening of Lithuania’s and Poland’s new LNG terminals, and the construction of electricity grid connections between the Baltic countries and their EU partners. (Testimony at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 06.07.16)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • To be updated.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • Whoever wins the U.S. presidential election this coming fall will—and should—try again with Putin. The first order of business, however, must be to mount a more unified and robust defense of U.S. and allied security interests wherever Moscow challenges them. From that position of strength, Washington and its allies can offer Moscow cooperation when it is possible. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • Russia has violated arms control treaties; fielded new, destabilizing weapons; threatened Georgia’s sovereignty; seized Crimea and much of the Donbass; and propped up despots in Libya, Syria and Venezuela. It has used cyberweapons against foreign banks, electrical grids and government systems; interfered in foreign democratic elections; and assassinated its enemies on European soil. The United States, meanwhile, has drawn redlines it later erased, pulled out of treaties and territory it needed to pressure Russia, openly questioned its own commitment to NATO, strained its alliances with tariffs and recriminations and even lent presidential credibility to Putin’s disinformation campaigns. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • The United States and its allies should do more to reach out directly to the Russian people, especially younger citizens and those outside the major cities. A package of economic incentives with concrete benefits for ordinary Russians would help: it would undercut the Kremlin’s argument that the United States seeks the continual impoverishment and encirclement of Russia and that win-wins are impossible. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • U.S. and allied sanctions, although initially painful, have grown leaky or impotent with overuse and no longer impress the Kremlin. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • Unity at NATO, followed by a firm encounter with Mr. Putin, would demonstrate American resolve to stand with allies and stand up to strategic competitors. Or Mr. Trump could squander all the power and leverage of the United States by abusing and dividing our allies, then lavishing praise and freebies on an autocrat he admires who is set on undermining our democracy and global position. (New York Times, 07.06.18)
  • Our approach to Russia today seeks first to deter further aggression through the projection of strength and unity with our allies; second, to build resilience and reduce vulnerability among friends and allies facing Russian pressure and coercion; third, to cooperate on core national security priorities when our interests and Russia’s do align; and fourth, to sustain ties to the Russian people and business community to preserve the potential for a more constructive relationship in the future. (Testimony at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 06.07.16)
  • Even as we push back against Russian aggression and support neighbors under pressure, the United States will continue to look for areas where our interests and Moscow’s align, and we can work together to tackle global five challenges, including nonproliferation, nuclear and other WMD security, preventing atrocities and humanitarian crises and combating violent extremism and terrorism. (Testimony at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 06.07.16)
  • We must continue to foster direct engagement with those Russian businesses, organizations and individuals who want to work with us, who share our interests and values and are working for a better future for their country. Despite Moscow’s crackdown on civil society, a free press exchanges with the West and political pluralism, our people-to-people exchanges; health, environment and cultural programs; and educational opportunities for Russians remain hugely popular, and continue to promote constructive ties between our countries. (Testimony at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 06.07.16)
  • To press Moscow to bring an end to the violence in Ukraine and fully implement its commitments under the Minsk agreements, we have worked with the EU, the G7 and other like-minded nations to impose successive rounds of tough, economic sanctions on Russia over the past two years. These sanctions, combined with low oil prices and Russia’s continued structural weaknesses, have imposed significant costs. While Moscow has not yet changed its approach to Ukraine, our readiness to toughen sanctions even further has likely played a role in deterring further Russian efforts to grab Ukrainian territory. (Testimony at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 06.07.16)
  • I am convinced that U.S.-allied unity has been essential to deterring worse behavior, protecting our own security and bringing the Kremlin to the table on critical issues from Ukraine to Iran and Syria. (Testimony at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 06.07.16)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Today’s Russia is neither monolithic nor immutable. Inside the country, low oil prices, the coronavirus pandemic and Russians’ growing sense of malaise all bring new costs and risks for the Kremlin. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • [Washington and its allies] should also resist Putin’s attempts to cut off his population from the outside world and speak directly to the Russian people about the benefits of working together and the price they have paid for Putin’s hard turn away from liberalism. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • When Putin assumed the presidency in 2000, he set two goals to justify his policies and consolidate his power. Internally, he pledged to restore order, after years of chaos and impoverishment during the 1990s. Externally, he promised to restore greatness, following the humiliating loss of territory, global influence, and military dominance that had come with the collapse of the Soviet Union almost a decade earlier. Both ambitions resonated with the Russian people. Over the next two decades, Russians would steadily relinquish more and more of their rights—freedom of expression and assembly, political pluralism, judicial fairness, and an open economy (all of which were then new, tenuous, and unevenly shared)—in exchange for the stability of a strong state, a return to oil-fueled growth, and the prospect of middle-class prosperity. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • The air of resignation and cynicism inside Russia today is reminiscent of past eras when Kremlin leaders focused too much on adventures abroad and too little on their own people’s welfare, including the stagnant 1980s. The difference is that Putin still has money to throw around. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • Putin has spent 20 years blaming the United States and NATO for his leadership failures at home and aggression abroad. By labeling as “foreign agents” any Russian nongovernmental organizations with collaborative programs with liberal democracies, he has cut off U.S. contact with Russian civil society activists, political opponents, doctors, journalists, and many others. He also closed down most academic exchanges. The clampdown has worked exactly as he intended: fewer Russians know Americans, work with them or see a future in closer ties. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • Vladimir Putin, who … is still very good at the skills that he learned as the young KGB plebe of analyzing the other guy, of finding his/her weaknesses and playing to them. … Putin is the master of offering you a rusty old Lada car in exchange for your Cadillac and calling that a good deal, and if you don’t actually know the mechanics, you might fall for it. (Aspen Security Forum, 06.23.18)
  • Putin is really beginning to re-autocracize, if you will, the Russian state, and part of his reason for doing that, part of his explanation to the Russian people, is that there are enemies abroad. (Interview with PBS, 06.14.17)
  • I think that he [Putin] has a need now because of the way he’s governing in Russia, which is increasingly autocratic and destructive of basic democratic institutions. He has a need to discredit the democratic model, and he has a need to create a certain moral equivalency: “Our system is dirty and messy, but theirs is really corrupt. Look at what was happening inside the Democratic Party with them favoring one primary candidate or another. Look at how dirty this politics is.” He has a need to do that first for his own people, to discredit our system so that the Russian people don’t want it or want it less than they naturally would, but also to create this moral equivalency globally: “Why should the democracies run the world? They don’t do it any better than we do. Let’s go back to a balance-of-power world.” (Interview with PBS, 06.14.17)
  • We will continue to speak out against laws and policies that impede the work of Russian civil society and contravene the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association in Russia and elsewhere in the region. (Testimony at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 06.07.16)

Defense and aerospace:

  • To be updated.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Our programs and advisors [in post-Soviet Eurasia] focus on improving governance, squeezing out graft and fraud, strengthening justice systems, improving election standards, hardening border security and homeland defense and building energy independence. (Testimony at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 06.07.16)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • On Russian interference in France’s elections: The French actually had really good success in the context of [President Emmanuel] Macron’s election in deterring Putin by doing exactly what we had the option to do and didn’t do at the time, which was to go public with what they were up to, expose it, educate our news entities, educate our public. Because sunshine is the best disinfectant. It had the effect in France of virtually neutralizing any impact that the Russians were going to have. (The Harvard Gazette, 10.30.19)
  • When Putin comes in and gives his view of the world, and it is not only completely zero-sum, your model is expansionist and aggressive vis-à-vis Russia and vis-à-vis states like ours, but also indicting of this notion of a big community of democratic states, and goes back to a definition of multipolarity that was really very 19th-century checks and balances. (Interview with PBS, 06.14.17)

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • The adversarial relationship that he’s [Putin] taken to Europe in particular has really closed off market opportunities for Russia. So now they’re left at the mercy of China, which is … pretty rapacious in its trade deals. So the Russians aren’t necessarily getting the best deal. So in the longer term, I think it’s going to bring Russia to grief. (RBC Capital Markets, 10.28.20)
  • On New START extension: Nor should it [a new arms treaty] insist on including China in the talks right away, as the current administration advocates. If the United States and Russia reach an agreement, they can jointly pressure China to negotiate, but the United States should not sacrifice its immediate security needs in the hope that China will someday agree to trilateral talks. Doing so would just give Putin more time to build new weapons. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • Other countries and malign actors are now adapting and improving on Russia’s methodology, notably including China which now runs disinformation campaigns and influence operations in Taiwan, Australia and other neighboring countries and is working to acquire information technology assets and data sets across Asia, Europe and the United States. (Testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, 06.22.18)


  • If the United States and its allies make clear to Russia that the road to better relations with all NATO and EU countries goes through Ukraine, Putin might get more serious. If Russia continues to stall, sanctions and other forms of political, economic, and military pressure should be increased. At the same time, the United States should offer Russia a road map for gradual sanctions relief if and as Putin meets his obligation to get out of Ukraine. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • Since 1991, when Ukraine declared its independence in the context of the Soviet Union breaking up, the Ukrainian people have tried three times to build a more democratic, more European state. And every time, that project has disintegrated either through lack of political will or through corrupt influence, including corrupting influence and money from Russia. (The Harvard Gazette, 10.30.19)
  • They [Russia] were extremely well-rehearsed when they went into Crimea, so you get the feeling that they had been practicing. … Deniable, stealthy, well-rehearsed, with these bizarre overlays of democratic veneer. You remember that after the Russian forces supported the Crimean independence, they felt the need to have a national referendum among a population that had had about 10 minutes to think about it, and many of whom had left and the rest of whom owed their pensions and their livelihoods to the aggressors. (Foreign Policy/Brookings, 10.14.19)
  • Yanukovych wanted to associate with the European Union, and he wanted to have that free trade and visa-free, but he also wanted to maintain a strong relationship with Russia, and he said that. We said that we thought both ought to be possible, and the European Union said they thought both ought to be possible. But here again, Putin’s zero-sum mindset, which always causes him to take the position that you're either on my team or the other team; you can't be on both teams; we can't be on the same team. (Interview with PBS, 06.14.17)
  • I would say that Putin played a weak hand enormously skillfully in the sense that he didn't march into Ukraine after Crimea. Crimea he just took, the whole stealth and deniable strategy of the “little green men,” which we hadn’t really seen before and we weren't prepared for, at the same time that he’s denying any activity at all. (Interview with PBS, 06.14.17)
  • I knew that they [Ukrainians] were fighting on their own soil for their own choices and that the war in eastern Ukraine was completely artificial and Russia-created; that if, in fact, there were grievances, political and economic grievances of the people of the east of Ukraine, that those grievances could/should have been addressed politically in the context of the new government that emerged. (Interview with PBS, 06.14.17)
  • I don't think Klitsch [Vitaly Klitschko] should go into the government. I don't think it's necessary, I don't think it's a good idea. … Yats [Arseniy Yatseniuk] is the guy who's got the economic experience, the governing experience. He's the... what he needs is Klitsch and [Oleh] Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week, you know. I just think Klitsch going in ... he's going to be at that level working for Yatseniuk, it's just not going to work. (Leaked phone conversation with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, 2014)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Putin has always understood that a belt of increasingly democratic, prosperous states around Russia would pose a direct challenge to his leadership model and risk reinfecting his own people with democratic aspirations. This is why Putin was never going to take a “live and let live” approach to former Soviet lands and satellite states. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)
  • I think that Russia made its first serious military probes into new space with the Georgian War in 2008. … I think that in the Georgian context, they [Russia] stopped short of putting full military power, but I do think it was a learning experience for Putin and his military in terms of how they’d do it next time, including with more deniability. (Foreign Policy/Brookings, 10.14.19)
  • I think Putin wakes up around the same time we wake up, which is in the fall of 2013. We realize what a great opportunity this is going to be in terms of need for countries like Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine to have more markets that they were going to get in Europe, for their people to become more comfortable with democratic processes and with the West through more travel, that sort of knitting together this EU association offers. For Putin, it’s a direct challenge by them to his leadership model, because these countries were looking for increasingly competitive relationships, competitive elections. They were looking for markets other than Russia. (Interview with PBS, 06.14.17)


IV. Quoteworthy

  • Abroad, Putin has played a weak hand well because the United States and its allies have let him, allowing Russia to violate arms control treaties, international law, the sovereignty of its neighbors and the integrity of elections in the United States and Europe. (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2020)

Photo by Benn Craig/the Belfer Center.


Daniel Shapiro

Daniel Shapiro is a recent graduate of Harvard University and a current associate with Russia Matters.