Russia Analytical Report, Apr. 17-24, 2023

5 Ideas to Explore

The Biden administration is embracing the possibility that Ukraine’s spring counteroffensive could fall short of expectations, according to Politico. U.S. officials believe that Ukraine will “make some progress in the south and east,” but, will fail to sever Russia’s land bridge to Crimea. Given that, “there is belief that Kyiv is willing to consider adjusting its goals,” with talks underway on “framing it to the Ukrainians as a ‘ceasefire,” as opposed to “permanent peace talks,” per Biden’s top aides. Harvard’s Stephen Walt is likewise skeptical, writing that “bold promises of an eventual Ukrainian triumph will probably not be borne out” and calling for the Biden administration to develop a Plan B for Ukraine. “What Ukraine needs is peace,” which Beijing and Washington should jointly broker, he wrote in FP. The Economist also concedes that Ukraine and its allies “should prepare for the possibility that the counter-offensive will yield only marginal gains,” but insists the West must “support further military pushes by Ukraine.”

Russia’s plans for the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus are bait that NATO should not take, according to Nikolai Sokov of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation. “By moving B-61s to Poland, NATO would be effectively playing the Russian game and accelerate the escalation,” he warns. Instead, he suggests that NATO would be better off continuing its current policy and rallying international opinion against Russia’s possible nuclear use, Sokov writes in BAS.

The West’s Russia sanctions work by “creating shortages of certain higher-end components and forcing the Russian Ministry of Defense to substitute them with lower-quality alternatives,” argues a new CSIS report. The authors of the report found that sanctions have already forced Russia to rely on older and less accurate missiles and caused a shortage of bearings, which has had an impact on the production of all military vehicles. In their report, CSIS’ Max Bergmann, Maria Snegovaya, Tina Dolbaia, and Nick Fention anticipate the Russian military will soon feel the effects of engine production and microchip procurement issues.

The world is neither bipolar nor multipolar, according to Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, who reject using GDP and military expenditures as metrics for weighing U.S. and Chinese power. The two Dartmouth College professors suggest that scholars of international relations should instead rely on such yardsticks as a country’s share in worldwide profits in a given industry and patent royalties, arguing that these metrics would place the United States in the lead, with China and others too far behind to make the world either bipolar or multipolar,  Brooks and Wohlforth write in FA.

China’s MFA has walked back its ambassador to France Lu Shaye’s refusal to recognize post-Soviet republics as sovereign states, but his “improvisation fits a pattern of similar Chinese derailments,” according to Andreas Kluth of Bloomberg. “Until recently, the People’s Republic was also consistent in plumping for other nations’ integrity, including Ukraine’s, [but] that principled stance is now up for negotiations, it appears,” he writes in a column, entitled “The Return of Wolf Warriors in Mediator Clothing.”

 

I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

"Between Intentionality and Inevitability: Uncovering the Enablers of Russian War Crimes in Ukraine," Sarah Fainberg of Tel Aviv University and Céline Marangé of the Institute for Strategic Research, The Russia Program at GW, April 2023.

  • “We argue that Russia’s wartime violence towards Ukrainian civilians has been multidimensional, deriving from a top-down and intentional policy of terror and from a grassroots and inevitable downward spiral into violence on the ground.”
  • “Based on available sources, we mapped out four main types of Russian war violence in Ukraine.”
    • “The first category of war violence includes indiscriminate killings, physical and sexual violence, along with robbery and looting.”
    • “The second category of war violence encompasses the war-induced and colossal material damage that has directly affected civilians.”
    • “The third category of war crimes relates to de facto institutionalized violence targeting civilians and prisoners of war in Russian-occupied territories.”
    • “Finally, Ukraine’s migratory chaos makes up a fourth category of war violence. Russia leveraged Ukraine’s migration crisis — of a magnitude unmatched in Europe since World War II — to weaken the Ukrainian government and sow panic among European leaders.”  
  • “Russian war violence in Ukraine can only be explained, both in scale and in degree of brutality, by crossing two analytical axes: the political intentionality from above and the inevitability of violence from below.”
  • “Ultimately, this multifaceted violence — psychological, informational, military, and economic — stems from a common matrix of state violence inherited from the Bolshevik revolution, Stalinist repressions, and the political violence of the Brezhnev era. Dehumanizing the enemy, denigrating human life, neglecting the fate of ordinary people, and perversely glorifying violence in the name of superior ideals, are yet again the foundations of Russian leadership.”
  • “The absence of lustration and repentance for the crimes of communism, including for the orchestrated famine of the Holodomor, cultivates a ‘chain of impunity’ that endlessly repeats itself. Lenin’s mummified body is not about to leave his mausoleum on Red Square. Stalin’s figure is rehabilitated instead of haunting consciences.”

“U.S. Needs to Protect Ukrainian Refugees in the United States,” Ilya Somin of George Mason University, BG, 04.21.23.

  • “Ukrainians admitted under the Uniting for Ukraine program are granted residency and work rights for two years after arrival. For the earliest program participants, those rights will expire in April or May 2024. More will lose legal status thereafter. Ukrainians who reached the United States before April 11, 2022, have been given Temporary Protected Status, which offers similar residency and work permits. But TPS for Ukrainians is currently scheduled to expire on Oct. 19.”
  • “Biden could potentially extend both the TPS and Uniting for Ukraine deadlines by executive action. If he doesn't, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian migrants fleeing Putin's war will be left in legal limbo, potentially subject to deportation.”
  • “The best solution … is for Congress to pass a Ukrainian Adjustment Act, giving Ukrainian migrants who have entered the United States during the war the right of permanent residency and work status. That would give them a secure status no longer subject to the vagaries of politically driven executive discretion.”

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Biden’s team fears the aftermath of a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive,” White House bureau chief Jonathan Lemire and reporter Alexander Ward, Politico, 04.24.23.

  • “The Biden administration is quietly preparing for the possibility that if Ukraine’s spring counteroffensive falls short of expectations … if the impending fighting season yields limited gains, [officials fear] being faced with a two-headed monster attacking it from the hawkish and dovish ends of the spectrum.”
    • “One side will say that Ukraine’s advances would’ve worked had the administration given Kyiv everything it asked for, namely longer-range missiles, fighter jets and more air defenses.”
    • “The other side, administration officials worry, will claim Ukraine’s shortcoming proves it can’t force Russia out of its territory completely.”
  • “A top secret assessment from early February stated that Ukraine would fall ‘well short’ of its counteroffensive goals. More current American assessments are that Ukraine may make some progress in the south and east, but won’t be able to repeat last year’s success. Ukraine has hoped to sever Russia’s land bridge to Crimea and U.S. officials are now skeptical that will happen, according to two administration officials familiar with the assessment. But there are still hopes in the Pentagon that Ukraine will hamper Russia’s supply lines there.”
  • “Moreover, U.S. intelligence indicates that Ukraine simply does not have the ability to push Russian troops from where they were deeply entrenched — and a similar feeling has taken hold about the battlefield elsewhere in Ukraine, according to officials.”
  • “There is belief that Kyiv is willing to consider adjusting its goals, according to American officials, and a more modest aim might be easier to be sold as a win. There has been discussion, per aides, of framing it to the Ukrainians as a ‘ceasefire’ and not as permanent peace talks, leaving the door open for Ukraine to regain more of its territory at a future date. Incentives would have to be given to Kyiv.”
  • “‘European public support may wane over time as European energy and economic costs stay high,’ said Clementine Starling, a director and fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington, D.C. … Many European nations could also push Kyiv to bring the fighting to an end. ‘A poor counteroffensive will spark further questions about what an outcome to the war will look like, and the extent to which a solution can really be achieved by continuing to send military arms and aid alone,’ Starling said.”

“Ukraine’s Coming Counter-Offensive May Shape Its Future — And Europe’s. It Will Set the Scene for Any Future Peace Talks,” The Economist, 04.20.23.

  • “Tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are readying for action… Ukraine may never have a better chance than this.”
    • “The occupiers are weakened … it has so far failed to replace the tens of thousands of men it has lost [during the past two months].”
    • “Ukraine has received a bonanza of NATO-standard weapons: tanks, precision missile systems, powerful artillery; and millions of rounds of ammunition. Fighter planes are on the way.”
  • “Ukraine … should try to break, or at least disrupt, the land bridge that connects Crimea to Russia, via Donbas. Creating this bridge is the only achievement Putin can boast of for all the Russian blood and treasure he has poured into his war; but it is a considerable one. Without it, Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula which he seized and annexed in 2014, is vulnerable, reachable only by sea or via the Kerch road-and-rail bridge, which someone (presumably Ukraine) partly blew up last October.”
  • “Far better for Ukraine to go into any future talks holding more of an advantage, and with Russia facing a genuine challenge to its occupation of Crimea. That might convince Putin that if he does not settle, he could lose what he has gained.”
  • “The risks are high, though. … Ukraine, and its Western backers, should prepare for the possibility that the counter-offensive will yield only marginal gains, or worse. And even if it does break the land bridge, there is no guarantee that Putin will come to the negotiating table. He no doubt hopes that if he drags the war on long enough, Western support for Ukraine will start to wobble.”
  • “Once the dust settles, Ukraine will still need to secure whatever gains it has made, and stiffen its defences to make future Russian land grabs more difficult. … America and Europe must make clear that they will support further military pushes by Ukraine. And to deter Putin, they should also make plain that they will back Ukraine for many years to come. The sooner the West starts spelling out the details of the security guarantees it will offer to Ukraine, the better. America and Britain (as well as Russia) underwrote Ukraine’s territorial integrity in 1994, and then did nothing as Putin brazenly violated it in 2014. The next guarantees must be genuine.”

“Win or Lose, Ukraine’s Big Offensive May Put Biden in a Bind,” Hal Brands of Harvard University, Bloomberg, 04.19.23.

  • “Top U.S. officials have articulated the administration’s theory of victory: The idea that a successful, but not too-successful, Ukrainian offensive will lead to a ramping down of the war or even a negotiated settlement.”
  • “This strategy involves a mix of pessimism and optimism. Pessimism, in that U.S. officials increasingly doubt Ukraine can liberate all territory Russia has occupied since 2014. Optimism, in that Washington hopes Kyiv can reclaim enough territory to make the country economically viable and militarily defensible, while also putting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military under sufficient strain to make him sue for peace.”
  • “This strategy represents a reasonable effort to reconcile conflicting imperatives — the need to avert a Ukrainian defeat while also avoiding a wider, more dangerous war. It also faces real, and potentially insuperable, challenges.”
  • “The longer the conflict goes, the more vexing Biden’s dilemmas will become. Funding the Ukraine war effort will get harder; those arguing that a stalemated ‘territorial dispute’ simply distracts America from the real threat posed by China will be empowered. Bureaucratic disputes will get sharper as the Pentagon is asked to do too much with too little. The United States may face a choice between slashing support for Ukraine and taking steps that Biden has resisted, such as providing Kyiv with cluster munitions and advanced fighter aircraft or invoking the Defense Production Act to stimulate production in the industrial base.”
  • “If Biden wants to win a long fight in Ukraine while reducing the possibility the United States might lose in the Pacific, he will have to begin rearming the American military with something like wartime urgency. If he opts not to do that, he may have to decide which geopolitical priority — defeating Russia or deterring China — to sacrifice. Perhaps the Ukraine conflict will end on Washington’s timetable. But Biden needs to start planning now for what will happen if it doesn’t.”

“Ukraine War Compels Bundeswehr to Refocus and Rebuild, but at Too Slow a Pace,” former German General Erich Vad, RM, 04.20.23.

  • “Russia's attack on Ukraine has fundamentally changed threat perceptions in Germany. For the first time since the end of the Cold War more than 30 years ago, the focus of German security policy is once again on the defense of NATO and Germany itself.”
  • “While the focus of German security policy is changing, the Bundeswehr lacks the capabilities to back that change. In fact, the Bundeswehr lacks almost everything… In recent decades, the Bundeswehr has been cut to the bone… the Bundeswehr has fewer battle-ready tanks than Switzerland and fewer ships than the Netherlands.”
  • “The Russian aggression against Ukraine and Germany’s response to it, including the provision of military aid, much of which has come from Bundeswehr’s immediate inventory to Kyiv, has highlighted the neglected state and outdated focus of the German armed forces. The war has spurred a much-needed change of this focus from peacekeeping missions to the defense of NATO and of Germany itself. As important, the German government has begun to invest in restoring the operational readiness of the Bundeswehr.”
  • “But what has been pledged so far is not enough, for it will take years to restore that readiness at the current pace. More important, Germany cannot go it alone. Other European members of NATO should also up the ante to ensure their collective defense capabilities are adequate in the face of the new threats, especially as the U.S. focuses on the Indo-Pacific. In spite of this focus, however, the U.S. will remain indispensable when it comes to the defense of Europe.”
  • “It is clear that without the United States, Europe cannot strategically balance powers like China or Russia, or even NATO partners like Turkey. Europe, in my view, will continue to rely on America’s nuclear umbrella, its digital, technological and maritime leadership, and its capability spectrum in cyberspace and outer space for the foreseeable future. Ultimately, enhancements of military capabilities alone won’t make Europe secure either now or in the longer term. Thus, while continuing to aid Ukraine, Germany, France and other members of the EU should join forces in undertaking a political initiative aimed at ending the war and finding a sustainable solution to the conflict.”

"Europe at a Strategic Disadvantage: A Fragmented Defense Industry," Paula Alvarez-Couceiro of Navantia, War on the Rocks, 04.18.23.

  • “With a few straightforward moves, the European Union could begin to address these longstanding issues of fragmentation and isolation in defense.”
    • “First, building on the broad objectives identified in the Strategic Compass, the European Union should determine, in collaboration with member states and the defense industry, more specific areas of focus that will help streamline supply and build a path toward achieving some of the identified goals. The document highlights the need for quicker crisis responses, enhanced ability to confront threats, further investment in defense capabilities, and improved collaboration, but does not lay out a road map for how to do this.”
    • “Second, member states should recognize that European strategic initiatives are more important than their individual political priorities because the strength of the European Union comes from its cohesion.”
    • “Third, the United States should recognize that developing a robust European defense industry would strengthen NATO and allow the United States to devote more resources to the Indo-Pacific.”
    • “Finally, the European Union should leverage its strength as a group and undertake more joint policy efforts to offset individual weaknesses. The European Commission has proposed a European Critical Raw Materials Act, which aims to strengthen the E.U. value chain and reduce dependency on imports of strategic raw materials. Part of the proposal is a system of joint purchasing of processed and unprocessed materials, which would aggregate demand through the European Union and seek offers from suppliers to meet the combined demand. If successful, and not mired by bureaucratic delays, such an initiative could significantly benefit European industries.”
  • “The European Union has long recognized the need to increase its internal collaboration on defense and has launched some efforts to do so. The war in Ukraine has highlighted weaknesses but also provides an opportunity to strengthen the system. To ensure its security, the European Union needs to fully consolidate a cohesive defense industrial base with a common strategic vision that will allow it to compete with its peers and adversaries in a multilateral world.”

“Russia's Three Main Mistakes in Ukraine, According to Ret. U.S. General,” reporter Kaitlin Lewis, Newsweek, 04.18.23.

  • “In an interview published by Radio Liberty retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus. was asked what he viewed as the ‘three main mistakes’ that Russia has made in its offensive. The retired U.S. general previously served as director of the CIA and the commander of coalition forces in Iraq.”
    • “‘They completely underestimated the Ukrainian forces and completely overestimated the Russian forces,’ Petraeus told the outlet. ‘And they could not impose their line of conducting a military campaign and prepare forces for conducting this campaign.’”
    • “‘In addition, they did not have modern telecommunication systems,’ he continued. ‘Therefore, the generals continued to die.’”
    • “‘Again, they didn't train their troops, we always knew they lacked the professional NCOs [non-commissioned officers] that are the backbone of our forces in the West. There were a lot of mistakes that they showed, some of them were expected, others were unexpected.’”
    • “Petraeus also pointed out that Russia's telecommunications systems are ‘single channel’ and ‘not encrypted,’ making it easy for Ukraine and its allies to track it.”

Punitive measures related to Russia’s war against Ukraine and their impact globally:

“Assessing the Impact of Sanctions on Russia’s Defense Industry,” analysts Max Bergmann, Maria Snegovaya, Tina Dolbaia, Nick Fention, Samuel Bendett, CSIS, April 2023.

  • “[The West’s Russia] Sanctions work by creating shortages of certain higher-end components and forcing the Russian Ministry of Defense to substitute them with lower-quality alternatives.”
    • “In particular, the sanctions have forced Russia to rely on older and less accurate missiles. However, the Russian military’s continued strikes against Ukraine are an important indicator that the Ministry of Defense can still adapt by repurposing different types of missiles.”
      • “Russia’s ability to continue such attacks may be augmented by efforts of partner nations such as Iran or China, whose deliveries of parts and technology may not be impacted by the U.S.-led sanctions efforts.”
    • “Second, the impact on engine production can have long-term effects on the Russian military, especially on recovery, repair, and rebuilding efforts and attempts to develop and deliver newer military systems to the front, including aircraft.”
    • “Third … Given their importance to Russian military systems, weapons, and technologies, the Kremlin’s efforts to acquire microchips may become even more pronounced in 2023.”
    • “Fourth, Russia is likely experiencing shortages of advanced optical systems, forcing it to retrofit its tanks with less-sophisticated systems, a mismatch that could prove costly for Russian efforts to shift the line of battle westward.
    • “Fifth, Russia likely faces a shortage of bearings, which impacts the production of all vehicles. However, Russia might be able to substitute existing shortages with Asian components of a lower quality. The full impact of such shortages is unknown given Russia’s ability to wage war well into 2023.”
  • “Russia still possesses a remarkable degree of adaptability to Western sanctions. … Russia is by no means the first country to turn to civilian technology to augment its military capabilities, but the size and scope of this war is forcing Moscow to work on an unprecedented scale.”
  • “Sanctions have made Moscow opt for a slower-paced attritional campaign.”
  • “Russia has lost a significant number of military vehicles, which could limit its capacity for large-scale ground offensives. This could be one reason why the Russian government, and President Putin in particular, are presenting this war as a long-term endeavor necessary to ensure Russia’s security.”

"Russia’s Economy Can Withstand a Long War, but Not a More Intense One," The Economist, 04.23.23.

  • “Overall, the Russian economy has proved resilient. Real GDP fell by only 2-3% last year — far less than the 10-15% decline that many economists had predicted. A ‘current activity indicator’ compiled by Goldman Sachs, a bank, which correlated closely with official GDP numbers before the war, shows that Russia emerged from recession about a year ago. Most forecasters believe the economy will grow this year.”
  • “All this suggests that Putin should be able to maintain the war effort for some time to come. Expanding it, however, is another matter. Some on the right are calling for Putin to spend more than a few%age points of GDP on the invasion. After all, Russia has embraced total war before — including in 1942 and 1943, when it spent an astonishing 60% of its GDP on the military, according to ‘Accounting for War’, a book by Mark Harrison published in 1996. But it is hard to see how Putin could do that while maintaining economic stability and preserving living standards.”
  • “The first problem would be raising money fast … It’s unclear that spending vastly more money would achieve the desired results anyway. Russia’s economy has become more centralised, but it is not the planned, command-and-control apparatus of the Soviet times. Converting a budgetary bazooka into weapons of a more conventional sort would thus, at best, take time. The effort would exacerbate the bottlenecks that are already constricting Russia’s military output, in machinery subject to sanctions, for example, and in skilled workers. Much would depend on the continued assistance of China, the Gulf states and other countries through which Russian capital and imports flow–and they might be nervous about abetting a big Russian escalation.”
  • “Throwing the kitchen sink at Ukraine therefore looks out of the question. ‘Considering Russia’s existing capabilities and limitations, it will likely opt for a slower-paced attritional campaign in Ukraine,’ asserts the CSIS report. Putin has succeeded in insulating the Russian economy from the worst effects of war and sanctions–but in a way that makes the war hard to win.”

"Sanctions Against Russia Could Be Better, These Harvard Economists Say," reporter Paul Hannon, WSJ, 04.22.23.

  • “In response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Western nations have targeted Moscow with the biggest coordinated package of economic restrictions ever levied against a major economy, including sanctions, export controls, asset freezes and energy price caps. Many of those measures, though, have proven less costly so far to Russia than some economists had expected and many officials in Washington and Brussels had hoped.”
  • “Now, a group of Harvard economists, led by sanctions authority Ricardo Hausmann, are proposing ways to impose better sanctions. Their key conclusion is too many exports to Russia are restricted by either the European Union or the U.S. — but not by both.”
    • “The economists found that restrictions have been applied to the export of more than 5,000 products typically bound for Russia, or 44% of the country's total imports. But of the sanctioned products, only 43% have been restricted by both the U.S. and the EU. Two-fifths have been sanctioned by the EU only, and 17% by the U.S. only.”
  • “In all, the economists estimate that the cost of sanctions in terms of higher prices and lower output could be raised by as much as 60% if their recommendations were adopted.”
  • “The Harvard group said another way to tighten the sanctions noose is to focus less on manufacturing equipment — known as capital goods — and more on components that go into making a finished product. ‘The export restrictions imposed by the EU and the U.S. are heavily biased towards capital goods,’ the economists wrote in the paper they presented… ‘This may limit the short-run impact of the sanctions, as Russia can live off pre-existing stocks.’”
  • “The economists also argued that the impact of sanctions could be increased by focusing more tightly on products where the EU, the U.S. and cooperating countries have a dominant position, and products where there are few locally produced alternatives.”

"Sanctions Against Russia Will Worsen Its Already Poor Economic Prospects," analyst Elina Ribakova, PIIE, 04.18.23.

  • “Russia’s economy has done better than the spring 2022 projections. Its GDP contracted by about 2% relative to the expectations of an 8.5% contraction mainly because of the strong post-COVID-19 recovery, outsized export earnings as Europe’s dependence on Russian energy declined only slowly and oil and commodity prices soared, and Russia’s ability to partially rebuild value chains, which helped the economy weather the sanctions initially.”
  • “However, over the medium term Russia will continue to suffer from weak potential growth. Sanctions alone will not defeat Russia, but they can cut access to high-tech inputs, including for the military, and erode Russia's potential growth. Sanctions will deepen the preexisting fault lines in Russia’s outlook of chronic underinvestment, poor productivity growth, and labor shortages. Countries against Russia’s war on Ukraine should keep up the pressure.”

Ukraine-related negotiations:

"Ukraine and Russia Need a Great-Power Peace Plan," columnist Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University, FP, 04.18.23.

  • “What Ukraine needs is peace, not a protracted war of attrition against a more populous adversary whose leader does not much care about how many lives are sacrificed in the maelstrom.”
  • “Letting the war drag on endlessly presents problems for Beijing, too. China is eager to mend fences with Europe; get trade, investment, and advanced technology flowing unimpeded; and gradually drive a wedge between Europe and the United States. Although China’s leaders have tried to portray themselves as a disinterested party to the conflict, being one of Russia’s best friends while it assaults Ukraine undermines every one of these goals. There is some reason to believe, therefore, that China’s leaders might like the war to end sooner rather than later, and that in the right circumstances, they would be willing to use their influence toward that end.”
  • “Given that both Beijing and Washington have an interest in ending the war, the Biden administration should invite China to join it in a joint effort to bring the two sides to the bargaining table. In effect, the United States would offer to use its influence to deliver Kyiv, and Beijing would agree to use its leverage to deliver Moscow. If they succeeded, the two states would share the credit and neither could claim a propaganda victory over the other.”
  • “An agreement jointly mediated by the United States and China would … be more likely to endure, as Moscow and Kyiv would be less likely to renege on a deal arranged and blessed by their principal patrons. Thus, if China and the United States genuinely wanted to orchestrate a peace settlement in Ukraine, there is some reason to think that such an effort could succeed.”
  • “At a minimum, asking China to work jointly on a peace settlement would force Beijing’s hand: Instead of limiting itself to meaningless ‘peace proposals’ that nobody takes seriously, a U.S. offer to work with China on a joint peace initiative would force Beijing to put up or shut up. Were China to reject a sincere U.S. proposal along these lines, its purported commitment to peace would be exposed as hollow. For that reason alone, Beijing might take it seriously and agree to help. And were this initiative to succeed, it would provide a much-needed reminder of the benefits of great-power collaboration.”

“The West Must Engage with Russia after the War in Ukraine,” Gerald F. Hyman of CSIS, NI, 04.22.23.

  • “Justifiable anger toward Russia cannot blind policymakers to what it really is: an expansive county with extensive human and natural resources; a federation of republics, the largest country in the world spanning eleven time zones; really, a kind of empire in its own right.”
  • “Even if Russia could be ostracized from the West, it cannot be sequestered from the rest of the world, and although it would pay an enormous price were it to be isolated by the West, so too would the countries attempting the isolation. Finally, it cannot be in the U.S. interest to see Russia pushed into the arms of China and thus find itself confronting two colossi rolled into one challenger. Russia is not some barely inhabited Pacific atoll, and it would be both foolhardy and arrogant, even self-defeating, to try treating it as one.”
  • “By far the better strategy is, if possible, to induce Putin (or his successor) with his enervated forces and economy to negotiate a tolerable resolution, and to provide clear benefits for doing so. Among those benefits would be a return to global commerce, an end to sanctions, and — unlike the end of the Cold War — treatment as the global power that it is rather than the humiliation it felt in the 1990s. Instead of ‘no relationship at all,’ Russia — with or without Putin — should be integrated as far as practicable into the European family not as a supplicant seeking the forbearance of its superiors. None of that requires restraint in supporting Ukraine now or restraint in responding to Russia’s barbaric aggression. It requires only that carrots, not just sticks, be available in the process and that the NATO allies keep in mind that the objective is a better status quo not a worse one.”

Great power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:

“Hillary Clinton: Republicans Are Playing Into the Hands of Putin and Xi,” former Secretary of State Clinton, NYT, 04.24.23.

  • "Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy is making a ransom demand. His hostage is the economy and America’s credibility. Mr. McCarthy has threatened that House Republicans will refuse to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling, potentially triggering a global financial crisis, unless President Biden agrees to deep cuts to education, health care … and other services."
  • "The speaker is right that this debate has significant national security implications—just not the way he says. … [T]he world is looking to the United States for strong, steady leadership. Congressional brinkmanship on the debt ceiling sends the opposite message to our allies and our adversaries: that America is divided, distracted and can’t be counted on."
  • "The debt ceiling debate is not about authorizing new spending. It’s about Congress paying debts it has already incurred. Refusing to pay would be like skipping out on your mortgage, except with global consequences. Because of the central role of the United States—and the dollar—in the international economy, defaulting on our debts could spark a worldwide financial meltdown."
  • "Today the competition between democracies and autocracies has grown more intense. And by undermining America’s credibility and the pre-eminence of the dollar, the fight over the debt ceiling plays right into the hands of Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia. America’s leadership around the world depends on our economic strength at home. Defaulting on our debts could … throw our economy into a deep recession. Instead of the 'arsenal of democracy' capable of outcompeting our rivals, … America would be hobbled."
  • "Even setting aside this economic carnage, brinkmanship over the debt ceiling reinforces autocrats’ narrative that American democracy is in terminal decline and can’t be trusted. Trust matters in international affairs. We frequently ask other nations to put their faith in the United States. Our military will be there to protect allies, our financial system is secure, and when we warn about compromised Chinese telecom equipment or an impending Russian invasion, we’re telling the truth. Threatening to break America’s promise to pay our debts calls all that into question."
  • "It’s no surprise that Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin are eager to disrupt the dollar’s dominance and defang American sanctions. At their recent summit in Moscow, Mr. Putin suggested Russia may start selling oil around the world using Chinese yuan rather than dollars, which it is already doing for shipments to China. The two countries are also trying to build cross-border financial systems to allow them to bypass U.S. banks and are holding fewer reserves in dollars. If Congress keeps flirting with default, calls for dethroning the dollar as the world’s reserve currency will grow much louder—and not just in Beijing and Moscow. Countries all over the world will start hedging their bets."

“The World Beyond Ukraine. The Survival of the West and the Demands of the Rest,” Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband, FA, May/June 2023.  

  • “The [Ukraine] war has certainly united the West, but it has left the world divided. … Liberal democratic countries that support a rules-based global system need to think and act with long-term strategic purpose as they engage with the rest of the world. China has been doing so since 1990.”
  • “Hard power in terms of military partnerships and trade cooperation will be critical in determining the West’s relations with the rest of the world. But Western governments also need to attend to a number of soft-power issues, notably in three areas: to offer commitments to solidarity and equity in managing global risks, to embrace reforms that widen the range of voices at the table in international affairs, and to develop a winning narrative in an era when democracy is in retreat.”
  • “The preferred Western framing of the war in Ukraine — as a contest between democracy and autocracy — has not resonated well outside Europe and North America. … Western governments should frame the conflict as one between the rule of law and impunity or between law and anarchy rather than one that pits democracy against autocracy. … To defend the rule of law, however, Western countries must abide by it and subscribe to it. The U.S. condemnation of Chinese breaches of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea — with respect to China’s military installations on islands in the South China Sea, for example — would be far more persuasive if the United States ratified the convention.”
  • “Putin, for one, said in a speech in June 2022 that he believes it does, arguing that in the wake of the war, ‘new powerful centers have formed on the planet,’ a reference to the rise of powers such as Brazil, China, and South Africa. These changes, Putin claims, are ‘fundamental and pivotal.’ … Yet U.S. President Joe Biden spent less than three minutes discussing the wider world beyond Ukraine in his State of the Union address in February, which was more than an hour long.”

“The demands from a variety of countries for a new deal at the international level are in many cases reasonable. Addressing them with urgency and in good faith is essential to building a global order that is satisfactory to liberal democratic states and their citizens.”

“If America Must Go It Alone on China, Congress Must Demand a Reassessment on Ukraine,” James Jay Carafano and Victoria Coates of the Heritage Foundation, NI, 04.22.23.

  • “All our European allies should be on notice that the days of the United States bearing a disproportionate burden for Ukraine while also being expected to go alone against China over Taiwan are running out, and that more will be required of them than ‘moral support.’”
  • “Recent intelligence leaks disclosed, among other state secrets, that the Defense Department assesses that Ukraine is running short of a range of supplies. This suggests that Biden’s oft-repeated strategy for Ukraine — ’as much as it takes for as long as it takes’ — is failing. In addition, these documents have revealed a contingent of Special Forces Operators stationed at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, despite frequent administration assurances that there will be no U.S. boots on the ground in Ukraine.”
  • “As well as an accounting of the contributions our European partners are making, Congress must demand clarification of what Biden’s strategy on Ukraine actually is, that the administration provide a realistic assessment of what it will take to make it successful, and how that investment might impact our ability to counter China.”
  • “The bottom line on Ukraine is that, given the multi-valiant threats the United States faces around the globe, America cannot care more about European security than the Europeans do, especially if continental leaders such as Emmanuel Macron openly declare their intent to abandon America when the United States might need them the most. America needs allies who understand the unique pressures the United States faces and can see the larger picture beyond what is happening in their own backyards. And if that is too much to ask, those same allies can start taking the lead in a war that is, after all, a far more direct threat to them than it is to America.”

"The Myth of Multipolarity. American Power’s Staying Power," Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth of Dartmouth College, FA, May/June 2023.

  • “The world is neither bipolar nor multipolar, and it is not about to become either. Yes, the United States has become less dominant over the past 20 years, but it remains at the top of the global power hierarchy — safely above China and far, far above every other country. No longer can one pick any metric to see this reality, but it becomes clear when the right ones are used. … The United States and China are undoubtedly the two most powerful countries, but at least one more country must be roughly in their league for multipolarity to exist. This is where claims of multipolarity fall apart. Every country that could plausibly rank third … is in no way a rough peer of the United States or China. That is true no matter which metric one uses.”
  • “No metric is invoked more frequently by the heralds of a polarity shift than GDP, but analysts in and outside China have long questioned the country’s official economic data. … Militarily, meanwhile, most analysts still see China as far from being a global peer of the United States, despite the rapid modernization of Chinese forces.” Would be interesting to know whether the authors doubt Ukraine’s GDP numbers as they doubt China’s as well as how they measured Ukraine’s and Kanzas’ product (e.g. was Ukraine’s measured at market exchange rates or in PPP?) [1]
  • “The flourishing partnership between China and Russia… definitely matters; it creates problems for Washington and its allies. But it holds no promise of a systemic power shift. … There is a reason the two parties do not call it a formal alliance. Apart from purchasing oil, China did little to help Russia in Ukraine during the first year of the conflict… Even if China and Russia upgraded their relations, each is still merely a regional military power.” (what about their nuclear arsenals though?).  
  • “The United States should not step back from its alliances and security commitments in Europe or Asia.”
    • “In economic policy, Washington should resist the temptation to always drive the hardest bargain with its allies.”
    • “The United States must also resist the temptation to use its military to change the status quo.”
  • “Ultimately, the world in the age of partial unipolarity retains many of the characteristics it exhibited in the age of total unipolarity, just in modified form. International norms and institutions still constrain revisionists, but these states are more willing to challenge them.”

"Postimperial Empire: How the War in Ukraine Is Transforming Europe," Oxford University’s Timothy Garton Ash, FA, May/June 2023.

  • “History loves unintended consequences. The latest example is particularly ironic: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to restore the Russian empire by recolonizing Ukraine has opened the door to a postimperial Europe. A Europe, that is, that no longer has any empires dominated by a single people or nation, either on land or across the seas — a situation the continent has never seen before.”
  • “Paradoxically, however, to secure this postimperial future and stand up to Russian aggression, the EU must itself take on some of the characteristics of an empire. It must have a sufficient degree of unity, central authority, and effective decision-making to defend the shared interests and values of Europeans. If every single member state has a veto over vital decisions, the union will falter, internally and externally.”
  • “This long-term vision of an enlarged EU, in strategic partnership with NATO, immediately raises two large questions. What about Russia? And how can there be a sustainable European Union of 36, going on 40, member states? It is difficult to address the first question without knowing what a post-Putin Russia will look like, but a significant part of the answer will in any case depend on the external geopolitical environment created to the west and south of Russia. This environment is directly susceptible to shaping by Western policymakers in a way that the internal evolution of a declining but still nuclear-armed Russia is not.”

“In Defense of the Fence Sitters: What the West Gets Wrong About Hedging,” Matias Spektor of Fundação Getulio Vargas in São Paulo, FA, May/June 2023.

  • “As countries in the global South refuse to take a side in the war in Ukraine, many in the West are struggling to understand why. Some speculate that these countries have opted for neutrality out of economic interest. Others see ideological alignments with Moscow and Beijing behind their unwillingness to take a stand — or even a lack of morals. But the behavior of large developing countries can be explained by something much simpler: the desire to avoid being trampled in a brawl among China, Russia, and the United States.”  
  • “The developing world also sees hypocrisy in Washington’s framing of its competition with Beijing and Moscow as a battle between democracy and autocracy. After all, the United States continues to selectively back authoritarian governments when it serves U.S. interests. Of the 50 countries that Freedom House counts as ‘dictatorships,’ 35 received military aid from the U.S. government in 2021.”
  • “The countries of the global South are poised to hedge their way into the mid-twenty-first century. They hedge not only to gain material concessions but also to raise their status, and they embrace multipolarity as an opportunity to move up in the international order. If it wants to remain first among the great powers in a multipolar world, the United States must meet the global South on its own terms.”

“When Diplomacy Goes to War.” Derek Reveron of the Naval War College, and Walter M. Braunohler of the U.S. State Department, Foreign Policy Research Institute, 04.19.23.

  • “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has weakened its ground forces, strengthened NATO, and humbled aggressors who resort to military force to advance foreign policy.”
  • “U.S. diplomatic efforts were initially restrained, but are now critical to helping Ukraine with moral and material support to preserve its sovereignty.”
  • “Going forward, the challenge for the United States is how it can help Ukraine win its war while avoiding escalation with Russia and long-term entanglement that characterized the past twenty years of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia.”
  • “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has weakened its ground forces, strengthened NATO, and humbled aggressors who resort to military force to advance foreign policy.”
  • “U.S. diplomatic efforts were initially restrained, but are now critical to helping Ukraine with moral and material support to preserve its sovereignty. … Going forward, the challenge for the United States is how it can help Ukraine win its war while avoiding escalation with Russia and long-term entanglement that characterized the past twenty years of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia.”

“The Free World Must Stay the Course on Ukraine. A Frozen Conflict or Partial Victory Will Solve Nothing,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, FA, 04.24.23.

  • “We must continue supporting Ukraine until Russian forces withdraw from its territory entirely, putting a definitive end to the Kremlin’s revanchism and imperialism. Ending the war with Russia still in possession of Crimea and territories in eastern Ukraine would be like issuing an open invitation to all authoritarian lunatics who think that it is OK to invade their neighbors on the basis of fabricated, hateful narratives, killing hundreds or thousands of innocent civilians in the process.”
  • “Nor is it too early to plan for Ukraine’s postwar security guarantees. There will be no investment and sustainable reconstruction in Ukraine unless it is able to defend itself against future aggression.”
  • “Now is the time for the alliance to lay out a clear and credible path for Ukraine’s membership, if and when Kyiv wishes and when conditions allow.”
  • “As for Russia, it is fair to say that our longstanding dual-track approach — one that includes both deterrence and dialogue — needs an upgrade. Yet deterrence and strength must be at the core of our posture; dialogue can serve as a tool to communicate determination and to resolve tensions but should not be considered an end in itself.”
  • “We also share Washington’s concern for freedom and security in the Indo-Pacific. Security is a global challenge, as is our common fight for democracy and freedom. If Europe is to remain whole and free, American involvement and leadership will remain crucial. Yet resolve in support of Ukraine will also help deter aggression in other parts of the world.”

“A NATO Bank Is the Best Way To Fund Defense in a More Dangerous World,” Robert Murray of Johns Hopkins University, FT, 04.20.23.

  • “While alliance members agree on the 2% policy goal, voters in Europe are steadfast in prioritizing domestic spending. Defense spending is primarily a political problem, not an economic one. NATO’s current strategy of pleading and arm-twisting allies to spend more is painfully inadequate. However, there is a better way: by creating an Allied Multilateral Lending Institution — in other words, a NATO Bank. Properly capitalized, this could be a game-changer.”
  • “The bank would save nations millions on essential equipment purchases and offer tantalizingly low-interest rates on loans to alliance members, breaking the investment deadlock. It could also introduce a new line of financing with longer repayment timeframes than those enabled by standard government borrowing. This would actively encourage strategic investments rather than those limited by short-term domestic tax and spend policies.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“The Return of Wolf Warriors in Mediator Clothing,” opinion columnist Andreas Kluth. Bloomberg, 04.24.23.

  • “Just last week, China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, was giving a lengthy TV interview in impressive French, when he began indulging in creative reinterpretations of the status of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed in 2014. ‘It depends how you perceive the problem,’ Lu suggested. Oh, it does, does it? But Lu was just warming up. As to the countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union, he elaborated, they don’t ‘have effective status under international law,’ because there is, in his opinion, no treaty to affirm their sovereignty.”
  • “In one fell swoop, the Chinese envoy thereby cast doubt on the right to exist by not only Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova, but also by NATO members such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and even countries bordering on China such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.”
  • “China’s foreign ministry subsequently walked Lu’s comments back, saying that Beijing does respect the independence of post-Soviet countries. But Lu’s improvisation fits a pattern of similar Chinese derailments.”
  • “Until recently, the People’s Republic was also consistent in plumping for other nations’ integrity, including Ukraine’s. That principled stance is now up for negotiations, it appears the bigger stage for Xi and Putin is the Global South. Beijing is aware that much of the world, like China, once chafed under Western colonialism and is fed up with American or European hypocrisy on human rights, democracy and ‘values’ in general. Do business with us instead, Beijing’s pitch goes, and 'we won’t lecture you. Better yet, we’ll stare down Washington together. “
  • “The United States, Europe and the wider West would do well to take these older grievances in the Global South to heart. But people in those countries would be foolish to follow the pied pipers of Beijing out of sheer spite. World order is fragile these days, and wars — including nuclear ones — are becoming more likely. The main cause is neo-imperialist aggression such as Putin’s, abetted by cynicism such as Xi’s. Thank you to Ambassador Lu and Minister Li for making that clear.”

“Sino-US Strategic Rivalry: The End of the Age of Westernism?”, Alexander Lukin of the Higher School of Economics, International Politics, 2023. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “The current Westernized world is unified civilizationally, but its various parts differ in their level of Westernization.”
  • “The different levels of Westernization and conflicting geopolitical interests of its separate constituent parts are leading to political division, as has often been the case throughout history. Dreams of unifying the whole world politically are an illusion and are based on ideology rather than on knowledge of history and modern reality.”
  • “The rise of China is a common example of the strengthening of a peripheral state during the initial period of division in a civilizationally unified area. The combination of local tradition and civilizational forms, disseminated from the civilizational and cultural center, produces the effect of explosive growth in the peripheral state.”
  • “The current strategic rivalry between the United States and China is, in such circumstances, a typical conflict between an old hegemon and a new peripheral power attempting to edge the former out of the international system.”
  • “It is hard to predict today whether such growth shall lead to a change of hegemon; however, the history and ideology of modern China enable us to conclude that the country is unlikely to seek a Western-style strong hegemony within the world, although it is likely to increase its political, economic and cultural influence within the crisis-stricken Westernist system, thereby altering it.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Russia Is Deploying Nuclear Weapons in Belarus. NATO Shouldn’t Take the Bait,” Nikolai N. Sokov of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, BAS, 04.24.23.

  • “The Russia-Belarus nuclear sharing — which involves preparation for deployment of nuclear weapons and may eventually entail the actual transfer of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus — is by far the boldest move by Russia because it comes supported with new capability. Moreover, if the delivery systems and warheads under these arrangements are deployed near the western border of Belarus where they are highly vulnerable, the only conceivable mode for them is to strike first.”
  • “The message is undoubtedly addressed to the West; nuclear use against Ukraine has never even indirectly featured in any Russian statements. Moscow regards the United States and Europe as parties to the war… the nuclear signal appears clearly aimed at Poland, a full member of NATO.”
  • “The seriousness of the new signal does not mean that nuclear use in Europe is an immediate threat.”
    • “First, it is reserved for extreme circumstances, such as a major defeat of Russia, which would put the regime at risk.”
    • “Second, it would only result from a relatively lengthy process of escalation.”
  • “Do not respond in kind. Recent nuclear signaling and actions by Russia are clearly a step on the escalation ladder. An immediately apparent NATO response to the establishment of Russian nuclear infrastructure in Belarus would be to move some B-61 bombs to Poland. …The wisdom of a symmetrical, tit-for-tat response to Russia’s escalatory steps is questionable, however. Russia can ill-afford a protracted war: Its resources are nowhere near what the West could provide to Ukraine if the war continues into next year. Consequently, escalation — to the brink of nuclear use, if necessary — appears a rational behavior for Moscow. In a hypothetical extreme case, NATO might be forced to conclude that the prospect of nuclear use against its territory is an excessively high price for the victory of Ukraine and step down.”
  • “Instead, NATO would be better off to continue the current policy and rally international opinion against Russia’s possible nuclear use. As Allies’ defense production continues to ramp up, assistance to Ukraine will become more efficient and consequential. Escalation may be tempting, but it is both unnecessary and potentially dangerous.”

"Three Nuclear Superpowers, Rather Than Two, Usher In a New Strategic Era," reporters David E. Sanger, William J. Broad and Chris Buckley, NYT, 04.19.23.

  • “Beijing is preparing to start a new reactor the Pentagon sees as delivering fuel for a vast expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal, potentially making it an atomic peer of the United States and Russia. The reactor, known as a fast breeder, excels at making plutonium, a top fuel of atom bombs. … The nuclear material for the reactor is being supplied by Russia … That deal means that Russia and China are now cooperating on a project that will aid their own nuclear modernizations and, by the Pentagon’s estimates, produce arsenals whose combined size could dwarf that of the United States.”
  • “The United States is now facing questions about how to manage a three-way nuclear rivalry, which upends much of the deterrence strategy that has successfully avoided nuclear war.”
    • “[The State Department recently said] ‘the United States is entering one of the most complex and challenging periods for the global nuclear order, potentially more so than during the Cold War.’”
    • “On Capitol Hill, there is discussion of whether the coming expansion of China’s arsenal requires an entirely new approach.”
  • “In Washington, the fear is that Xi has learned a lesson from Putin’s nuclear threats — and might brandish his new weapons in a conflict over Taiwan.”
  • “Five years ago Putin used video animations of Russian weapons targeting Florida to showcase five new classes of nuclear arms he claimed could defeat the West in war, including one he called ‘invincible.’ .. Only two of those weapons systems have moved forward while three others — including the ‘invincible’ nuclear cruise missile — are mired in delays, testing failures and feasibility questions. Overall, some analysts maintain, the new arms are a distraction. What really matters is Russia’s upgrading of its Cold War arsenal into a far more survivable force than the aging systems inherited from the Soviet Union.”
  • “Modernizing [America’s] aging nuclear force [in response to Russian and Chinase activities, as Jennifer M. Granholm, the energy secretary, suggests, is one of the few areas of bipartisan accord. But it does not address the larger strategic challenge. ‘We don’t know what to do,’ said Henry D. Sokolski, a former Pentagon official who now leads the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. ‘What’s the response to this — do we just build more, and are we going to be able to build many more than they are?’”

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

"Russia Hasn’t Stopped Maneuvering for Greater Control of the Web," columnist David Ignatius, WP, 04.20.23.

  • “Russia knows that information is power. … Moscow's latest attempt to rewrite internet governance came at a meeting this month of a U.N. working group known as the Global Digital Compact. Moscow argued for international regulation of cyberspace in place of the current loose but effective public-private system known as the ‘multistakeholder model,’ which the Russians claim is dominated by ‘large technological conglomerates’ in the West. Boris Meshchanov, Russia's representative at the U.N. meeting, turned normal logic upside down by claiming that only state control of the internet could protect liberty.”
  • “The Biden administration scoffs at Moscow's internet arguments. ‘Russia is trotting out tired, unrealistic proposals that most countries have considered and rejected,’ a State Department spokesperson wrote [to me]… ‘This language is nothing new, and we don't see appetite globally for a Russia or China-led internet.’”
  • “A new battle over communications rules will open in November when the World Radiocommunication Conference convenes in Dubai. … The satellite networks that will be discussed at the WRC meeting in Dubai are potential game-changers in global communications: They could provide internet access for otherwise closed or tightly regulated countries, such as Russia, China and Iran. Starlink has also provided broadband connectivity for the Ukrainian military, allowing its forces to download intelligence and targeting information."
  • “Russia has tried unsuccessfully to block these satellite internet systems. … Russian diplomat Konstantin Vorontsov warned at the United Nations in October that private satellite networks were ‘an extremely dangerous trend’ and that ‘quasi-civilian infrastructure may become a legitimate target for retaliation.’”
  • “To sum up: Russia and China are deadly serious about controlling information - on the ground in their suppression of journalists and in global forums that are shaping the rules for cyberspace. The United States might have invented the modern digital world, but Russia and China want to put their hands on the kill switch.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

"With a Heavy Weight on His Shoulders, Evan Gershkovich Is Standing Tall," Jason Rezian, an opinion writer who was imprisoned in Iran, WP, 04.19.23.

  • Gershkovich has likely gone through a series of stages in the first weeks of his captivity. At first, you believe it’s all a big mistake. Someone will surely come to your defense and straighten things out. But authoritarian states don’t make such mistakes. The enormity of the situation starts to dawn on you. Then there are the threats. Gershkovich was surely sweated down by security service gorillas during his interrogations. It’s harrowing to hear that you might be tortured in gruesome ways, or even killed.”
  • “But it has to have also dawned on Gershkovich that he is of no use to the Russians dead. He knows he is a hostage, so he knows he will likely get out. Eventually. As the days dragged on, what began to consume me was the fear of growing old in captivity. Gershkovich is clearly not there yet. And that’s a very good thing.”
  • “The defiance on Gershkovich’s face [in his courtroom appearance on April 18] has to come from the realization that his trial is part of a much bigger story. He is now a member of a select community of unfortunate souls who are unjustly subjected to abuse by those wielding unchecked power. He knows that his show trial is part of a bigger effort to scare off foreign journalists, and even more importantly, to silence critics at home.”
  • “‘In a government bottomed on the will of all,’ [Thomas Jefferson said in 1805], ‘the life and liberty of every individual citizen become interesting to all.’ This is precisely why the Biden administration must do everything in its power to free Gershkovich. And also Paul Whelan, who has been held hostage in Russia for nearly five years. … And the dozens of other Americans currently being held by foreign governments around the world. But Jefferson’s words are not merely a goad to the Biden administration to do the right thing. They are a goad to us all. We must not lose sight of those wrongfully detained around the world. To do so would be to forfeit our most precious inheritance: freedom.”

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Reading Russia’s War Budget,” SWP’s Janis Kluge, Riddle.io, 04,18.23.

  • “The nature of Russia’s wartime budget is unpredictable (or in the words of the finance ministry: flexible). Nevertheless, a few conclusions can be drawn:”
    • “Some of the negative effects that led to high deficits in January and February 2023 will be reversed later in the year. … The government could also intensify its efforts to generate a larger budget by leaning on wealthy businessmen. The windfall tax planned for this year will generate just 300 billion rubles, which is equivalent to an oil price increase of 2 dollars; yet businessmen could also be enlisted directly, i.e. to cover expenses of reconstruction in occupied territories.”
    • “However, all of these efforts will not bring ongoing budget spending back in line with the framework set in the 2023 budget, making upwards revisions necessary. The 29.9 trillion RUB total spending foreseen according to the latest Electronic Budget would still mean that Russia spends significantly less than in 2022 in nominal terms, despite a jump in inflation and a presidential election coming up in early 2024. This is simply not plausible. After a budget shortfall of 2.3% of GDP in 2022, most analysts expect the deficit somewhere between 3% and 5% this year, instead of the official forecast of 2%.”
  • “For the Russian state, which does not have access to Western capital markets anymore (and is unable to get access to the Chinese capital market so far), an annual deficit of 3−4% of GDP is quite significant and hardly sustainable in the longer run, despite the low overall level of debt. The problem is not (yet) skyrocketing interest payments, but the question of how to finance the added deficit.”
    • “Economically, it does not make a big difference if the ministry exhausts the fund or borrows more. Because the finance ministry cannot sell most of its “liquid” assets in the Welfare Fund on the open market (due to sanctions).”
  • “The outlook of Russia’s fiscal and monetary foundations is still relatively stable as of today. However, once the trust in the central bank is eroded, and Russians adjust their individual expectations about the ruble’s stability, the situation could change quicker than Russia’s economic resilience in 2022 may suggest.”

“Weaponizing Population Growth Is a Dangerous and Regressive Road,” writer Camilla Cavendish, FT, 04.21.23.

  • “The news this week that India’s population is forecast to overtake that of China’s is a powerful psychological moment. Not for three centuries, since the Mughal Empire outnumbered the Qing Dynasty, has India been bigger than its rival.”
  • “It is important to remember that human beings are not factors of production. The modern story of falling birth rates is largely one of female liberation. Many democracies are now paying ‘baby bonuses’ to help with childcare costs. But nastier regimes can revert quickly to more repressive methods. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has denounced family planning and said mothers have a responsibility to provide descendants. In Iran, child marriage is on the rise. Russia has revived the ‘mother heroine’ award for women who have ten or more children.”
  • “Governments fear losing influence in the world if their populations don’t keep pace with those of their rivals, and they fear stalling economic growth. For starters, they must accelerate alternatives to boosting births. Keeping citizens healthier into old age enables them to work longer. Investing in technology and skills can maximize the potential of existing populations. Adopting pro-migration policies can re-energize a society, as long as it’s combined with concerted efforts at integration.”

“Kara-Murza's 25 Year Sentence: A New Precedent?”, analyst Tatyana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Endowment, R.Politik, 04.24.23. Clues From Russian Views.

  • “On 17 April, a Moscow court sentenced opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, a dual British and Russian citizen, to 25 years in prison, granting the prosecutors’ request. Kara-Murza was convicted of spreading ‘disinformation’ about the Russian army, collaborating with an ‘undesirable’ organization, and high treason. He pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.”
  • “His 25-year sentence is the maximum allowed by criminal law and is the longest prison term that an opposition figure has received in modern Russian history. It also took only minutes for the judge to reach a guilty verdict — a process that can sometimes take a while in Russian trials. Kara-Murza will serve his time in a strict regime correctional colony.”
  • “There were three main strands of logic to the decision:”
    • “The first, was generally to show any remaining opposition-minded players that there is not even the slightest possibility of remaining free while promoting an ‘anti-Russian’ policy on Russian soil.”
    • “The second priority is to signal to Russia's elite to either stay silent or leave. By now, they no longer need much reminding.”
    • “The third and final reason was to warn Western governments: any and all pro-western activity in Russia will be ruthlessly, demonstratively, crushed. Kara-Murza’s case has specific peculiarities. He is a British citizen and a prominent activist in the West who has lobbied for stronger anti-Russia policies. The Kremlin regards him as a tool of Western elites being used to weaken Russia from the inside, hence their harsh reaction. However, the case has still set a precedent and may well whet the siloviki's appetite to prosecute others on the grounds of treason. This very specific case may also accelerate the trend of wider, punitive prosecutions against those who in any way help Western governments — not even necessarily through interacting with them directly, but by revealing Russia’s national security vulnerabilities.”
  • “While the decision to prosecute the Kara-Murza case this way was a conscious decision regarding the fate of one individual, over time, treason prosecutions prompted by the expanded, loose legal definition may well become a reflexive, even automatic, decision, with little to no direct Kremlin participation — something that has already been occurring.”

“Putin’s Regime Is Descending Into Stalinism,” Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute, Politico, 04.18.23.

  • “Kara-Murza is right. Putin’s regime is descending into Stalinism. Sustained by indiscriminate ruthlessness, such regimes do not ‘evolve’— witness North Korea or Cuba. They can only be destroyed either by an invasion, like Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or exploded from within by a miraculous leader like Mikhail Gorbachev.”
  • “Neither outcome is likely in Russia so long as Putin lives. And so the struggle is very personal now between the two Vladimirs, Putin and Kara-Murza, even biological: Only Putin’s death can free my friend Vladimir. Putin is 70, Kara-Murza is 41. But the effective age gap will narrow steadily as Kara-Murza’s jailers will undoubtedly begin grinding him down from day one.”
  • “Yet Kara-Murza was defiant and hopeful even as his sentence came down. ‘I know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will be gone,’ Kara-Murza said before the court as his final sentence came down. And that is how Russia’s road back to the community of civilized states will commence, Kara-Murza told the court. Even as he sat in the steel cage in the courtroom, he said he believed that Russia would travel this road.”

"Why Russia Won’t Disintegrate Along Its Regional Borders," Alexey Gusev of Hertie School of Governance, CEIP, 04.20.23.

  • “Since its invasion of Ukraine, maps depicting the collapse of Russia by 2025 have proliferated online. These fantastical graphics carve the country up into dozens of independent republics. The maps betray a delusion on the part of their authors that is common to many political forecasters. These observers — all map fetishists — mistake the administrative boundaries of Russia’s provinces for real borders of socioeconomic life, unaware that the true divisions in Russian society almost never coincide with the arbitrary lines drawn by Communist Party functionaries in the first half of the last century. Russia is extremely unlikely to disintegrate along its regional borders for geographical, sociological, economic, and political-administrative reasons.”
  • “The events of last year tested this system, not long after the pandemic had, forcing regional administrations to deal with the economic challenges facing key industries and meet the Defense Ministry’s mobilization targets while also reassuring the Kremlin of their loyalty and increasing coordination with the security services. At the same time, the regional authorities came under pressure from the population, becoming a front office for the federal government. Spurred by mobilization, new changes to Russia’s social contract mean more responsibilities for the regional and municipal authorities in particular. After all, they are closest to the people, and the distance between them is ever-shrinking as socioeconomic problems mount and members of the public increasingly turn to their mayors and governors rather than the Kremlin for assistance and reassurance.”
  • “Set as it may be to define the regional and municipal agenda in 2023, this process is nonetheless unlikely to fuel separatism in the regions. Even amid the tensions unleashed by mobilization, the radicalization of politics and the regime, and the unequal allocation of state resources, there is simply no national question on the table, and no talk of regional federalism — and no indication that this will change.”

Defense and aerospace:

  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.

 

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

"Isolationism, a Broad Eurasian Partnership, and a Left Tinge," Mikail Suslov of the University of Copenhagen, Russia.Post, 04.2o.23.

  • The Russian Foreign Policy Concept … shows the evolution of the two decades of ideological debate under Putin with improved coherence and unprecedented frankness. At the same time, it is a work-in-progress, showing some inconsistencies and ideological blocks. For example, the isolationist thrust in the vision of autonomous civilizations does not fit well with the idea of a Large Eurasian partnership. What we can tease out from the Concept is a particular frame for understanding of the war in Ukraine as a collision of ‘tectonic plates.’ For one, it makes the Russian leadership less panicky about the outcome of the invasion, as a military defeat will be seen as just a lost battle in the ongoing wider war for a new world order. In addition, the political mainstream has cast in stone a vision of the West as an eternal, existential threat to Russia.

Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“The American ‘Carrot’ in the Case of Armenia and Azerbaijan Is Not Working,” interview with Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Presidium of Russia’s Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, RIAC/Sputnik, 04.24.23. [2] Clues From Russian Views.

  • “The fact that the United States and the EU are showing increased activity [on the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations track…] is completely natural. Russia is now in a state of an acute conflict with them, confrontation, some call it a hybrid war. … Thus, it would be strange if Washington and Brussels did not try to use [this].”
  • “Another question arises, much more important – who can do anything at all? It is possible to get involved in a conflict situation as a third party or mediator, and the European Union has achieved this, in fact, but so what? [EU has[ no levers of influence. … In reality, we have a situation that boils down to the fact that it is Russia, even in the current difficult situation for itself … that has a set of tools to influence the situation. … others don't have these levers. After all, what does the United States have at its disposal? They have carrots and they have sticks. One carrot is to promise money to all parties, they say, let's make peace here, and we will make you financially happy. I think that this carrot won’t work, given the sharpness and depth of contradictions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. … As for the whip, the United States does not have a direct military presence there.”
  • “Russia and Armenia have problems of different calibers in this crisis. For Moscow, this is a problem of influence, a problem of positioning at an important geopolitical point, and these are relations with quite significant partners in the region and nearby. … If we take Armenia, then the stakes are incomparably higher… it is a matter of national-state survival… For Armenia, it is a question of… whether it will survive in its modern form at all. For example, I read with great surprise and curiosity a couple of days ago that [Armenian] Prime Minister Pashinyan had made a statement, recognizing each other's [Azerbaijjan’s and Armenia’s] territorial integrity within the borders of the Soviet republics. It turns out that Armenia recognizes Azerbaijan within the borders of the USSR, and the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is removed; do I understand that correctly?”

 

 

[1] Here and elsewhere italicized text represents contextual commentary by RM staff.

[2] Translated with the assistance of machine-translation technology.