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3 Things to Know

  1. Russia’s new foreign policy concept declares “an era of revolutionary change” in the world order, but leaves the door open to normalizing relations with the West. To facilitate the formation of a “more just, multipolar world,” Russia will prioritize the “elimination of vestiges of dominance by the U.S.,” according to the new document, which replaces Russia’s 2016 foreign policy concept. The new doctrine accuses the U.S. and its allies of using Russia’s effort “to protect its vital interests” in Ukraine as “a pretext for unleashing ... a new type of hybrid war” against Russia. While full of anti-Western rhetoric, the 2023 concept does leave the door open to normalizing relations with the U.S. and its allies, proclaiming that Russia “does not consider itself an enemy of the West” and that it “is ready for dialogue and cooperation” with the West on the basis of “sovereign equality and respect for each other’s interests.” Overall, the doctrine still keeps Russia focused on pivoting to China, with references to strategic cooperation with Beijing doubled in the 2023 concept compared to its predecessor. However, Russia is “not creating any military alliance with China,” Putin said this week prior to signing off on the new concept on March 31.
  2. Putin’s announcement of deploying nukes in Belarus might be an information warfare ploy, but it does raise questions with regard to how much he keeps Xi appraised of his strategic military plans. In his March 25 interview, Putin announced that Russia plans to deploy NSNWs in Belarus, with storage for the warheads, which are designed to be carried by either surface- or air- launched missiles, to be completed by July 2023. The Institute for the Study of War dismissed Putin’s announcement as an “information operation” with little risk of escalation, while Pavel Podvig of the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research said he doubted Russia would actually move nuclear warheads into Belarus. As I have noted earlier this week, Putin’s revelations were aired only four days after Putin and visiting Xi Jinping signed off on a statement, which declared that “all nuclear powers should not deploy nuclear weapons outside national territories.” If Putin did keep visiting Xi in the dark about his decision to deploy NSNWs in Belarus, it would not be the first time the Russian leader failed to keep his Chinese counterpart appraised of a strategic military decision. Putin reportedly failed to explicitly warn Xi about his plans to invade Ukraine when the two met in China to pledge “no limits” in the bilateral relationship less than three weeks before the launch of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.  Following the launch, Chinese officials have reportedly dropped the “no limits” phrase from official communications with Russia, while Xi has repeatedly called for an end to nuclear threats over the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
  3. The arrest of WSJ’s Gershkovich is the latest signal that the unwritten rules between the U.S. and Russia are being dismantled. Russia’s FSB detained Evan Gershkovich of the WSJ’s Russia bureau in the Urals city of Ekaterinburg on espionage charges on March 29 and then flew him to the Russian capital on the same day so that a Moscow court could rubber stamp his detention on these charges until May 29. Biden and Blinken were among the American officials who joined Western media outlets, journalists’ rights organizations and human rights watchdogs in denouncing the arrest—which Russian officials claim resulted from Gershkovich’s alleged interest in a defense industry enterprise—and demanding his immediate release. It is unlikely that this demand will be heeded. Given recent history, it is unlikely that Russia will agree to exchange Gershkovich for any of the Russian nationals jailed in the U.S. on charges of abetting Russian authorities until he is “tried” and convicted. That Gershkovich has become the first U.S. journalist to be arrested on espionage charges since 1986 indicates that Putin is continuing to dismantle the system of unwritten rules post-Soviet Russia and the U.S. have observed, one of which has been to avoid jailing and prosecuting each other’s accredited journalists on espionage or similar charges.
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7 Ideas to Explore

  1. Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia will deploy nukes in Belarus is meant to unsettle the West with the prospect that the war in Ukraine could escalate into a nuclear conflict, according to experts interviewed by NYT. Even if Putin implements his plan to transfer non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNWs) to Belarus, that would not change the nuclear threat level substantially, according to Pavel Podvig of the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research. Putin said that Russia has already supplied Iskanders, which would carry nuclear warheads, to Belarus. He also said Russia will start training Belarussian crews on April 3 to operate NSWNs and that the storage facility for these weapons will be completed by July. Putin’s March 25 announcement came only four days after he joined a visiting Xi Jinping in issuing a statement on March 21 that said “All nuclear powers should not deploy nuclear weapons outside national territories and must withdraw all nuclear weapons stationed abroad.” It remains unclear if during their talks on March 20-21 Putin warned Xi about his plans to deploy NSNWS in Belarus.1 Putin’s March 25 announcement has not come as a complete surprise. He and Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko discussed refitting some of Belarus’s Sukhoi warplanes to carry nuclear-armed munitions in June, with Putin announcing in August that the refitting had been completed. More recently, Putin warned in a statement issued after talks with Xi on March 21 that “Russia will be forced to respond accordingly” if the U.K. implements its pledge to supply depleted uranium shells to Ukraine. In his March 25 announcement, Putin claimed that it was this pledge that prompted him and Lukashenko to enter discussions on the deployment of NSNWs. However, depleted uranium cannot produce a nuclear yield and, therefore, it is unclear how deploying nuclear weapons can be viewed as a proportional response to deliveries of shells with such uranium.
  2. Xi’s visit to Moscow has reaffirmed that he and Putin have built the most consequential undeclared alliance in the world, according to Graham Allison of Harvard University. “Along every dimension—personal, economic, military and diplomatic—the undeclared alliance that Xi has built with Russian President Vladimir Putin has become much more consequential than most of the United States’ official alliances today,” he writes in FP, noting that U.S. policies of confronting Russia and China at the same time have contributed to the emergence of this alliance. The recent Sino-Russian summit in Moscow has reminded us that theirs is an alliance of unequals, with China edging toward domination of Eurasia, according to David Ignatius of WP. That’s bad news for America, even though Putin and Xi have jointly announced that theirs is not a military-political alliance and is not directed against third countries.
  3. Why Russia is not a declaring formal alliance with China and what Moscow needs to give up to avoid an unhealthy dependence on Beijing. Russia and China are “really inclined” to declare a formal alliance because the latter would require assuming obligations and limiting pursuit of interests in favor of another state, according to Fyodor Lukyanov of Russia’s Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. Reflecting on the recent Xi-Putin summit in his Rossiiskaya Gazeta column, Lukyanov asks himself whether the relationship between Russia and China is that of equals, only to avoid giving a direct answer. Equal or not, Russia’s dependence on China has already become “great” in the economic sphere, acknowledges Alexei Maslov of Moscow State University. “We need to give up Russian globalism and utopian ideas of influencing the whole world and build relations with China in such a way that we don't fall into an unhealthy dependence on Beijing,” Maslov told an RIAC interviewer.
  4. The West should recognize that punitive measures “are not going to affect Putin’s strategic calculus, which will be shaped much more heavily by events on the battlefield,” according to Peter Harrell of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Western countries need to be prepared to credibly threaten—and use—force while also being more effective at countering Russia’s messaging in the developing world, he writes in FA.
  5. Putin’s Russia can take a lot more losses than it has already, if one were to infer Russians’ tolerance for casualties by studying how many losses were endured by the forces operated by authorities in the Russian-controlled parts of Donbas, according to Russian commentator Sergei Shelin. These forces lost about 7,000 servicemen, and yet that did not lead to a revolt in Donbas. It follows then, that Russia, whose total population is 40 times greater that that of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Luhansk People’s Republic,” would endure losses up to 250,000-300,000, Shelin claimed in a commentary for The Moscow Times translated by Russia.Post. “Putin has no reason to worry about the rear. ... The country will put up with many more tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dead. Thus, the war will not be decided in the Russian rear, but on the Ukrainian front line,” according to Shelin.
  6. Pushing for the breakup of Russia is “unrealistic” as ethnic Russians account for 80% of the Russian Federation and “unhelpful” because it would trigger a wave of local civil wars and ethnic cleansing, according to Peter Rutland of Wesleyan University. “Putin should be condemned ... but that does not mean that we should put any political capital into promoting a fantasy future where Russia does not exist,” he writes in a commentary for Responsible Statecraft.
  7. The best hope for justice for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine lies in creating a new tribunal, Kevin Jon Heller of the University of Copenhagen argues in his commentary on the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova. Whether Putin ends up being prosecuted or not, the ICC indictment is already creating “a more bifurcated world,” according to Mark Lawrence Schrad of Villanova University.
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