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
- Antony Blinken, a defender of global alliances and U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s closest foreign policy adviser, is expected to be nominated for secretary of state. Blinken has stressed the importance of “undermining Russia politically in the international community and isolating it politically.” Biden is also expected to name another close aide, Jake Sullivan, as national security adviser, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as his ambassador to the U.N. Sullivan acknowledged to the House Intelligence Committee that he had told reporters in 2016 that then-candidate Donald Trump's campaign could have ties to Russia.
- The U.S. Navy on Nov. 24 sent a warship to challenge Russia’s “excessive” maritime claims in the Western Pacific, U.S. officials said. The USS John S. McCain “asserted navigational rights and freedoms” through a freedom of navigation operation near the Peter the Great Gulf, a 7th Fleet statement said, according to Fox News. Russia's Defense Ministry said the destroyer ventured 2 kilometers into Russian territorial waters in that gulf, near the city of Vladivostok, before turning back after receiving a warning from the Admiral Vinogradov vessel, RFE/RL reports. The Soviet Union declared the area as part of its territorial waters in 1984, but the United States does not recognize it as Russian.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Nov. 22 he wouldn't congratulate the winner of the U.S. election until it was clear who the victor was, the Wall Street Journal reports. Putin explained withholding congratulations by saying it doesn't change U.S.-Russian relations one way or another. "You can’t spoil a spoiled relationship. It is already spoiled,” he said. U.S. President Donald Trump eased some lingering post-election uncertainty by tweeting late Nov. 23 that the agency that works with incoming administrations would begin work to assist Biden's team, The Moscow Times reports. “No, that’s not enough,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Nov. 23 when asked whether Trump’s tweet was reason for Putin to congratulate Biden.
- Former U.S. President Barack Obama has targeted Putin for criticism in a new book, suggesting that the Russian president has put the thirst for power over scruples and calling him the leader of a government that resembled a "criminal syndicate," according to RFE/RL. He offered a more favorable view of Dmitry Medvedev, saying the younger Russian leader did not appear to buy all the tales the Kremlin spun and showed enthusiasm for the reset in relations.
- The number of hacker attacks on Russian information resources in 2020 increased 1.6-fold, Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolay Patrushev said Nov. 24, according to TASS. From May to October 2020, U.S. hackers were the main source of cyber threats to Russia, carrying out 36 percent of the total number of attacks, while Russian hackers accounted for 29 percent, according to a report by Check Point Software Technologies cited by Kommersant.
- Russia has detained a police colonel from the southern region of Dagestan and charged him with offences including terrorism after accusing him of aiding a suicide bomber in a 2010 attack on the Moscow metro, Reuters reports. Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had detained Gazi Isayev, on suspicion he had driven a female suicide bomber, clad in an explosive belt, to a bus station near the town of Kizlyar, from where she would travel some 1,470 kilometers north to carry out the attack.
- Seven European countries that are not members of the EU have aligned themselves with the sanctions imposed by the EU in response to a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Belarus: North Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Ukraine, RFE/RL reports.
This Week’s Highlights
- It cannot be beyond possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin is now considering whether his regime's best interests lie in another four years in open conflict with the West writes Financial Times associate editor Philip Stephens. If there was ever going to be a time to consider some sort of accommodation, this must surely be it, according to Stephens. Matthew Rojanksy of the Kennan Institute and Prof. Michael Kimmage, meanwhile, argue that diplomacy between Russia and the United States is necessary. This should not imply a rush to presidential summit meetings or misplaced hopes for a grand bargain [during Joe Biden’s presidency], they write. Rather, a good start would be to build steady, sustained mid-level connections between the State Department and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and between the Pentagon and the Russian Ministry of Defense. The Biden administration should [also] prioritize people-to-people ties, according to Rojansky and Kimmage.
- With Biden, greater transatlantic unity will be possible with regard to autocrats and countries that seek to enhance their power by undermining international or regional order, write French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. But a principled approach does not exclude dialogue and cooperation. They write that they hope the United States and Russia will succeed in extending New START beyond February 2021, and they are ready to engage with Moscow on issues relevant to European security, and they expect a constructive response. The European Union must prepare for this, Drian and Maas write.
- China and Russia are the like-minded collaborators that Iran needs as it aspires to be a powerful player within a new world order, write Jamsheed K. Choksy and Carol E. B. Choksy of Indiana University. They write that with those powerful regimes on his side, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei can gamble that U.S. global dominance “will not last long,” as he has said, and Zarif can shuttle between Tehran, Beijing and Moscow to strengthen the new triple axis and ensure that Iran will remain comfortably at its center.
- Russia’s decision not to employ leverage to stop the conflict in its early stages made a lasting impression on its CSTO allies, writes Simon Saradzhyan, founding director of Russia Matters. In fact, [they] may already be wondering why participating in all the Kremlin-led multilateral integration initiatives in post-Soviet Eurasia, like Armenia does, does not prevent Russia from being “equidistant” to you and your adversary, even if the latter has initiated hostilities against you and, unlike you, is not Russia’s military ally. Countries prefer to participate in alliances that are built on mutual respect for each other’s military and security interests of existential importance and mutual aid when these interests are threatened, Saradzhyan writes. Such military and security alliances typically prove to be more lasting than those based on the premise that there is simply no alternative great power to either ally or bandwagon with, per the Russian saying “there is no running away from a submarine.”
- The experience of Belarus is the latest in a long line of bipartisan U.S. policy failures everywhere from Syria to Kyrgyzstan, writes Mark Episkopos of The National Interest. Policymakers and analysts sometimes ask why a particular color revolution failed, and what Western institutions can do to help the next one succeed. But the record is abundantly clear: color revolution is itself a failed policy, Episkopos writes, driven by a misguided focus on enforcing liberal-democratic values rather than pursuing concrete strategic ends.