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
- U.S. President Joe Biden's pick to the lead the CIA, William Burns, told lawmakers that the "biggest geopolitical test" the U.S. faces comes from China, but said Russia remains a familiar threat, according to the Wall Street Journal. ''Putin's Russia continues to demonstrate that declining powers can be just as disruptive as rising ones and can make use of asymmetrical tools, especially cybertools, to do that,'' Burns said. "As long as Vladimir Putin is the leader of Russia, we're going to be operating within a pretty narrow band of possibilities, from the very sharply competitive to the very nastily adversarial," he asserted, RFE/RL reports.
- Speaking to the Federal Security Services in his annual address to the domestic intelligence agency, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the FSB to make the Western threat a priority in its work this year along with its primary task of countering terrorism, according to AFP. "We are faced with the so-called policy of containing Russia. … This is not about competition... but about a consistent and very aggressive line aimed at disrupting our development, slowing it down, creating problems along our borders," Putin added.
- Russia was given about four to five minutes warning of the Biden administration's first military action when it struck Iranian-backed militias in eastern Syria early Feb. 26, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He said the warning came too late to reduce the risk of a potential clash between the two country's forces, according to The Washington Post. According to the Pentagon’s John Kirby, however, the U.S. military “did what we believe was the proper amount of notification for this.”
- With Biden's aides struggling to find innovative ways to retaliate against Russia for the most sophisticated hacking of government and corporations in history, key senators and corporate executives testified Feb. 23 that the ''scope and scale'' of the operation were unclear, and that the attack might still be continuing, the New York Times reports. The subtext of much of the testimony was that Russia's intelligence services might have laced American networks with ''backdoor'' access.
- Despite declining real incomes and rising poverty, the share of Russians who view their country as headed in the right direction and who had a positive view of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s performance continued to exceed the share of those who held the opposite view on these issues so far this year, according to the Levada Center’s latest batch of polling results. At the same time, the Russian president, whom 41 percent of respondents do not want to see stay on in his current role beyond 2024, had to contend with a decline in the approval of his cabinet’s work and the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, which is dominated by his loyalists, ahead of parliamentary elections this fall.
- Thousands of opposition supporters marched through Yerevan demanding the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan Feb. 26 after the General Staff accused Pashinyan and his government of bringing the country “to the brink of collapse,” RFE/RL reports.
This Week’s Highlights
- Russia will not be interested in helping Washington by pressing Tehran on missiles and regional proxies, issues it has always considered extraneous to the nuclear deal, write Hanna Notte of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and Hamidreza Azizi of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Moscow will also be reluctant to push Iran to agree to more onerous nuclear requirements, they write, such as longer sunset provisions or stronger verifications. That said, if Iran ceases implementation of the Additional Protocol—compliance with which Russia considers Iran’s obligation—or takes further escalatory steps, it will likely test Russia’s patience
- Although the United States and Russia have nowhere near the number of nuclear weapons they possessed at the height of the Cold War, both countries are again in the midst of an arms race, argues Prof. Jeffrey Lewis. If Biden wants to slow this arms race, he will need to accept limits on the U.S. missile defense systems that drive it. An arms control agreement limiting missile defenses would most likely need to be a formal treaty, subject to review by the Senate, Lewis writes. The Biden administration would therefore need to expend considerable political capital negotiating such an agreement and getting it through the Senate.
- U.S.-Russian relations are worthy of another attempt at a deeper relationship—one that breaks the cycle of offense and revenge that has characterized U.S.-Russian relations over the past three decades, writes Bruce Allyn, director of the Russia Negotiation Initiative at the Harvard Negotiation Project. Surely, Biden and Putin today recognize that U.S.-Russian animosity is good for neither Russians nor Americans. Both must rise above their own church tower to find the place where we all can meet, Allyn writes.
- American policymakers will need to abandon unrealistic expectations about their ability to change Russia’s political culture and accept that real change will come gradually, from within, and at its own pace, writes the Wilson Center’s Anna Arutunyan. Accepting that it no longer has—nor can lay claim to—an exceptional moral position in the eyes of Russia will allow Washington to recalibrate its dealings with Moscow, change the tone of the dialogue and improve the effectiveness of its policy, she argues.
- Europe and Russia will continue to live in a common information space, so reciprocal criticisms will be freely shared, writes director of the Carnegie Moscow Center Dmitri Trenin. However, influencing each other across borders, whether with a view to converting the target public to one’s worldview or subverting a regime or government or a person that one doesn’t like, will not be permitted, according to Trenin.
- Ultimately, what opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s team is trying to do is persuade Russians and foreigners alike that he is the only legitimate opponent of Putin and that his success is the best guarantee of the future democratization of Russia, writes Carnegie Moscow Center’s Alexander Baunov. Under this logic, the transfer of power to any other person except Navalny would not be enough. It’s too early to say, however, whether all of Russian civil society is prepared to throw its support behind that suggestion, Baunov writes.