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
- A U.S. envoy said on Jan. 23 that American forces “intercepted” an unidentified Russian major general in northern Syria during deconfliction operations, according to multiple media reports. His remarks follow news of U.S. troops and their allies blocking Russian soldiers’ attempts to reach the Rumeylan oil field in Syria’s Hasakah on Jan. 16 and Jan. 18.
- The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved its Doomsday Clock the closest it’s ever been to “apocalypse,” citing lack of “U.S.-Russia cooperation on arms control and disarmament” among the factors in doing so. Meanwhile, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang has said “China has no intention to participate in the so-called China-U.S.-Russia trilateral arms control negotiations,” according to the AFP.
- Every year Florida alone welcomes hundreds of pregnant Russian women who travel to the U.S. from Russia to give birth, the Novaya Gazeta newspaper reports. This “birth tourism” will soon be curtailed, however, as the Trump administration plans to make it harder for pregnant women to travel to the U.S. to secure American citizenship for their babies, according to the Financial Times and others.
- Russian lawmakers on Jan. 23 unanimously approved a preliminary constitutional reform bill put forward by President Vladimir Putin, which would weaken the presidency somewhat, while giving more power to parliament and to the State Council. Meanwhile, Russia’s new prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, has all but completed forming his Cabinet.
- According to MSCI indices, Russia had the best performing equity market in the world last year, up by more than 50 percent, the Financial Times reports. Russia’s RTS Index rose more than 40 percent last year, making it the second best-performing among more than 90 major markets tracked by Bloomberg. Meanwhile, the Central Bank registered a record influx of non-residents into Russia’s public debt market in 2019, according to RBC.
- Ukraine’s population fell lower than Poland’s for the first time, BNE Intellinews reports, dropping by some 5 million people to 37.3 million since the last census in 2000. Poland’s population was 38 million in 2018, according to Eurostat.
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to visit Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan between Jan. 30 and Feb. 3. He would be the highest-level U.S. official to visit Belarus since diplomatic relations became frayed more than a decade ago, RFE/RL reports.
This Week’s Highlights
- Artificial intelligence and autonomous systems may reduce strategic stability, according to nine authors writing for the RAND Corporation. Since 2014, the strategic relationships between the U.S. and Russia and between the U.S. and China have each grown far more strained. Countries are attempting to leverage “thinking machines” against this strategic context of strained relations. By lowering the costs or risks of using lethal force, autonomous systems could make the use of force easier and more likely and armed conflict more frequent.
- Unless Putin decides to declare himself “President-for-Life” à la Xi Jinping, he will have no choice but to redesign Russia’s nuclear launch authority if he intends to keep his finger on the nuclear button, writes Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists.
- Beijing views what it considers a myopic American focus on Iran as a strategic asset, argues former national-security official Brett McGurk, because it deflects attention from the Pacific, divides Washington from its allies and allows China, together with Russia, to expand its influence across the Middle East. Beijing and Moscow, he writes in Foreign Affairs, now enjoy close relations with all countries in the region, from Israel to Saudi Arabia to Iran, and those capitals now see Putin—not Trump—as an indispensable power broker.
- Pursuing superpower diplomacy, along with asymmetric pressure on Iran, will not come without some price for the U.S., former CIA and FBI official Don Hepburn writes in The Hill. Washington may need to compromise with Moscow and Beijing on other matters of considerable geopolitical significance. However, Iran is one area where all three superpowers might find a workable agreement that brings the country back into the fold.
- The Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) gives Washington the ability to impose punitive measures on countries that purchase weaponry from Moscow and, in theory, tilt the playing field in its favor, according to the Stratfor Worldview consultancy. However, the CAATSA threat might not land the United States all the arms business it is expecting; indeed, in chafing at America's heavy-handed approach, plenty of middle powers could spurn Washington in favor of other suppliers—or even Russia itself.
- Regarding Moscow’s invitation for Western leaders to attend a grand WWII victory parade, the Financial Times editorial board writes that the idea of a 75th-anniversary summit of countries that did the most to form the postwar world order has some merit. While any full-scale reset with Russia is surely impossible without resolving the Ukraine issue, restoring limited engagement on issues such as security and nuclear arms is desirable.
- Philip Remler of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace describes the Russian concept that true sovereignty is possessed by only a few great powers, while the sovereignty of states Moscow views as dependent on great powers is limited. The territory of true sovereigns and those states under Russian protection, according to this view, is sacrosanct and can be defended by force; for the others, it is impermissible to regain territory that is “in dispute” by force.
- By creating a new Cabinet, Vladimir Putin bets on more subjugation, more state planning, more milking of the economy to achieve growth through government-led redistribution, writes Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky. The careerists on the new team are good at that kind of thing, he adds, but the kind of results they know how to get don't translate into the kind of economic exuberance that only unleashed private initiative can achieve.