This page features the weekly news and analysis digests compiled by Russia Matters. Explore them by clicking "Read More" below the current week's highlights and subscribe using the subscribe links throughout the site, like the one below, to receive our digests via email. Past digests are available in the News Archive, which is accessible via the link on this page.
This Week’s Highlights
- The Trump administration threatened Sept. 16 to impose fresh sanctions to deter China and Russia from selling weapons to Iran after an arms embargo on Iran expires next month, the Wall Street Journal reports. The administration’s stance has been viewed skeptically by some former government sanctions officials who say that China and Russia are likely to refrain from shipping arms to Iran as they wait to see whether U.S. President Donald Trump is re-elected, and that some of the new U.S. sanctions may be duplicative.
- Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, warned a House committee on Sept. 17 that Russia is actively pursuing a disinformation campaign against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the New York Times reports. Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia would pay an “economic price” for continuing to interfere in U.S. elections if he wins the White House, according to the Financial Times.
- The share of Russians with a good or very good attitude toward the U.S. remained steady at 42 percent from January to August 2020, as did the share of Russians who have a bad or very bad attitude toward the U.S. (46 percent), according to the Levada Center’s latest report on the results of its recent opinion polls asking Russians about their attitudes toward other countries. At the same time, the share of Russians who view the U.S. as the most hostile country to Russia declined from 67 percent in 2019 to 60 percent in 2020.
- The OPCW is expected to release in the coming days the results of its own analysis of biomedical samples collected from Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny by its team of experts. If those results confirm the German, French and Swedish findings, the German government would move quickly to impose financial sanctions on Russia through EU, the New York Times reports. French President Emmanuel Macron had told Putin in a phone call that France’s own analysis had concluded that Navalany had been poisoned by Novichok and reiterated his “full solidarity with Germany on the steps to be taken,” according to the Financial Times.
- “China has a vast population, its resources, its vast dynamism of its economy," U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at an event organized by RAND, "very different from Russia in terms of demographics." "We see Russia as a challenge right now, but in the future, less so," Esper said according to U.S. News.
- For the first time this year, less than 50 percent of the trade between China and Russia was denominated in the U.S. dollar, CTGN reports.
- Belarus will close its borders with Poland and Lithuania and step up security measures at the Ukrainian frontier, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said, calling on the people of Poland and Lithuania to “stop your crazy politicians,” whom he warned are spoiling for war, according to The Moscow Times. When hosting Lukashenko in Sochi on Sept. 14, Putin offered a $1.5 billion loan and promised to hold joint military exercises with Belarus “practically every month” for the next year,” the Financial Times reports. However, Putin also urged dialogue with Lukashenko’s opponents. Meanwhile, the European Union’s top diplomat has said that the bloc does not recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus, according to RFE/RL.
This Week’s Highlights
- While Russia has a negligible effect on the availability of energy in the U.S., it exerts significant influence on U.S. gasoline prices—which, in turn, affect the U.S. economy as a whole—and it constrains the diversity of export markets for U.S. oil and natural gas, writes Prof. Li-Chen Sim, while at the other end of the spectrum, Russian nuclear power, coal and renewable energy policies have minimal impact on U.S. energy security. In terms of U.S. energy systems’ resilience, she argues, Russia has not caused any known disruptions but has been accused of cyber intrusions with the potential to adversely affect U.S. energy supplies. More of the same can be expected over the next five years: The lack of meaningful structural reforms to Russia’s sanctions-hobbled economy means a continued dependence on hydrocarbon exports, while a post-pandemic recovery of energy demand will result in even fiercer competition for market share.
- Stopping Nord Stream 2 would be seismic, according to Kirsten Westphal, Maria Pastukhova and Jacopo Maria Pepe of SWP, and while the days of the special strategic energy partnership with Russia are over, a functioning modus vivendi for trade and exchange with this big and resource-abundant neighbor remains essential. From that perspective a moratorium would gain time for all involved. But, they write, the conditions for resumption would have to be clearly communicated, agreed with EU partners and implementable for Russia.
- Russia demonstrated [in Syria] that the bar for entry in expeditionary operations is far lower than many previously perceived, writes CNA’s Michael Korman. Moreover, deliberate use of force was not only within Russia’s capability, but Russian forces were able to turn the tide for the Syrian regime with a limited application of military power. However, Kofman writes, while Moscow was unable to parlay the intervention into broader goals related to core interests in Europe, Russian elites do perceive that the war has substantially upgraded the country’s position in international politics and its own perception of its position, gaining a higher degree of confidence.
- The significance of Japan’s Shinzo Abe’s diplomatic waltz with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the last seven years lies in his deliberate attempts to achieve a paradigm shift in Japan’s geopolitical thinking, write Joshua Walker, the president and CEO at the Japan Society, and Hidetoshi Azuma, an adjunct fellow at the American Security Project. Japan’s fledgling Eurasian strategy would be a welcome counterweight against China, and while splitting a Sino-Russian alliance may be beyond Japan’s abilities, they write, Abe’s intrepid proposition provided the country with a geostrategic rationale for positioning itself as a force to be reckoned with across the Eurasian continent.
- Top American leaders should sit down with Russian policymakers and look for compromises that both sides can live with, writes Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute. Washington’s objective should not be to make Russia an American ally, but to prevent it from becoming a Chinese one, he argues.
- Russia’s state-aligned media is declaring wins for pro-Kremlin sitting or acting regional heads in all 18 direct gubernatorial races, along with “stable majorities” for United Russia in all 11 regional legislative assemblies for which elections took place Sept. 13, writes Ben Noble of University College London. Navalny’s team is also celebrating reports of wins—both of its own team members as well as those of candidates chosen by its “Smart Voting” campaign—in various races, including for the Tomsk and Novosibirsk City Councils, as well as in one of four State Duma by-elections. For Team Navalny, Noble argues, the goal of “Smart Voting” is to chip away at the Kremlin’s image of invincibility—to show that political competition, and opposition coordination, is possible.