Russia Analytical Report, Apr. 24-May 1, 2023

5 Ideas to Explore

Despite official declarations of Russia and China’s “no limits” friendship, the evidence from Chinese-Russian trade data remains unconvincingwrites Agathe Demarais of the Economist Intelligence Unit. “Xi and Putin have only confirmed the adage that some things are easier said than done. Putin’s grand expectations have yet to be met. And contrary to official declarations, Russia’s enthusiastic pivot to China has not been reciprocated,” the author writes in Foreign Affairs. 

The Biden administration needs to take seriously the fact that Russia has the capacity to disrupt the global food supply, the WSJ editorial board writes. The authors note that, before the war, Ukraine accounted for 15% of global corn exports and 10% of wheat, and that Russia continues to occupy, mine and generally render unusable enormous swaths of Ukrainian farmland. “The World Food Program estimates that more than 345 million people face acute food insecurity and 43.3 million are at serious risk of famine,” they write. “All of this is an argument for doing more to help Ukraine succeed in its spring counteroffensive.” 

With time, Western sanctions have grown more effective in targeting Russia, but more can still be done, argues Tom Keitinge of RUSI. “Too many countries are at best ambivalent and at worst profiting from providing sanctions circumvention opportunities for the Kremlin and its proxies,” he writes for FT. “Far better than relying on uninterested states to react to a process or guidance they already disregard is to pressure their companies" and financial institutions, which cannot ignore " the signals they receive" because of the "interconnected nature of global trade."

Pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk played a key role in inspiring Putin to invade Ukraine, journalist Ilya Zhigulyov writes for Vyorstka. Medvedchuk regularly told the Russian president about the great support for him personally and the general pro-Russian sentiment in Ukraine. “He would tell tales, appropriating the money he was paid for organizing political resistance, and thought nobody would ever check,” Zhigulyov cited a source as saying. Though Medvedchuk has not been linked to the planning of the invasion, Zhigulyov reports that the "last straw" behind Putin's decision to invade may have been the shutdown of Medvedchuk's pro-Russian media outlets in Ukraine. 

As the war in Sudan rages on, fueled by forces far beyond its borders, analysts have been debating Russia's role. Folahanmi Aina points to "the threat posed by Russia['s] and China’s political and economic adventurism" in an analysis for FP, calling on France, the U.S., U.K. and EU — all of which have interests in the Sahel — to do more to ensure regional stability, as Russia’s Wagner Group rapidly expands its footprint in the region. Yale student Axel de Vernou argues in the National Interest that “Russian experts are seriously thinking about how they can use Africa as an eager energy market and a natural resource hub to gain ground on the battlefield” But Ronak Gopaldas of Signal Risk cautions that “it is important not to overstate Russia’s role in Africa and instead acknowledge that its presence on the continent is driven by opportunism as much as by invitation,” he writes in an analysis for Carnegie. “Once the risks outweigh the rewards, Russia may leave a vacuum that could be more destabilizing than its presence.” 


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:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

"Donated MiG Jets Will Not Give Ukraine Air Superiority Against Russia, Experts Say," journalists David L. Stern and Serhiy Morgunov, WP, 04.28.23.  

  • “Ukrainian soldiers and military experts say [donated MiG fighter jets] will not be a game changer. The MiG-29 — first put into use in the early 1980s and later upgraded to contemporary battlefield requirements — is outmatched by Russia’s aircraft, which are equipped with newer radar and missile systems, Ukrainian officials and experts say. These shortcomings point to overall limitations in Kyiv’s battle plans and complicate its ability to mount its long-awaited offensive, which Ukrainian officials hope will turn the tide in the conflict.”
  • “Since the start of Russia’s invasion in February 2022, Ukrainian pilots and antiaircraft forces have waged a David-and-Goliath battle against Russia’s larger and more advanced air assault, resulting in a deadlock in the Ukrainian airspace. That deadlock seems likely to continue, even as more MiGs arrive in Ukraine.”
  • “’The Ukrainians have already shown in Kharkiv and Kherson, and previously the battle of Kyiv, you can win battles and indeed wars without air superiority,’ said Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow and military aviation expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London. For Ukrainian forces to prevail, Bronk said they need to maintain this standoff. ‘Russia has a lot of firepower that it could employ from the air, if it is essentially given the window to do so,’ he said.”
  • “More MiGs are not the solution to Ukraine’s front-line problems, Ukrainian officials say. ‘The MiG radar doesn’t work far; their missiles don’t fire far,’ said Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian air force. ‘We need new, modern generations of aircraft.’”
  • “Nevertheless, the donated MiGs are appreciated, Ukrainian officials said. Ukraine’s air force has lost at least 17 MiG-29s since the beginning of the war, according to the Oryx Blog, a military analysis site. ‘In a conventional war, more is more,’ said Michael Kofman, a military analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security. ‘Wars often come down to attrition, so one of your persistent challenges is replacement of materiel.’”

"Unknowns Shroud Ukraine’s Counter-Offensive," editor Ben Hall, FT, 04.29.23.

  • “Remarkably little is known about Kyiv’s military plans and preparations, despite the leaked cache of secret Pentagon files. … Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba [said] last month the narrative of this spring’s counter-offensive being a make-or-break moment was dangerous for Ukraine, because if it faltered it would strengthen those in the west who want to push it into a compromise with Moscow.”
  • “What is Ukraine’s objective? Many analysts, Ukrainian and Western, assume it is a thrust southwards through Zaporizhzhia province all the way to the Sea of Azov, cutting Russia’s occupying forces in two and severing the land bridge between Russian territory and occupied Crimea. That would be a crushing blow for President Vladimir Putin and a huge undertaking for Kyiv. But Ukraine’s forces would have to overcome entrenched Russian forces in layered fortified defenses… and then avoid being outflanked and encircled as they push south.”
  • “The counter-offensive is unlikely to have such a single focus, especially in its early stages. Ukrainian commanders may decide there is more to be gained by an attack in Donetsk province, where much of the winter fighting has been centered.”
  • “We are so conditioned to use territorial gains as a metric for success that we neglect the effects of offensive action on an army’s capacity to fight on, says Michael Kofman in the War on the Rocks podcast. Russia’s last significant territorial gains were in July, when it seized the remaining sizeable towns in Luhansk province after heavy fighting. The huge losses it incurred enabled Ukraine’s lightning counter-attack two months later, when it smashed through thin Russian defensive lines to liberate thousands of square kilometres of Kharkiv province in just a few days.”
  • “Many in the west already see Ukraine’s spring/summer counter-offensive as setting the conditions for a possible negotiation between Kyiv and Moscow. Right now that seems premature. There is a lot of fighting to go. And whatever happens, Ukraine will need to show it is ready to fight on. But it has a huge amount to prove.”

"How a Tech Executive Uses the ‘Silicon Valley Playbook’ To Equip Ukraine," columnist Max Boot, WP, 05.01.23.

  • “The fate of Ukraine’s coming counteroffensive will hinge on the capabilities of its armed forces, but another factor will also be of great importance: the Ukrainians working diligently behind the scenes to supply the front-line fighters with the weapons and equipment they need to overcome the more numerous Russian invaders.”
  • “Andrey Liscovich looks and sounds like the Silicon Valley entrepreneur he was until the Russian invasion began in February 2022. How he went from running high-tech start-ups to defending a start-up nation is a microcosm of how Ukraine has been able to harness the talents and energy of its people far more effectively than Russia has done.”
  • “Alarmed and appalled by the attack on his homeland, Liscovich … left his home in San Francisco to return to Zaporizhzhia. After evacuating his parents from harm’s way, he went to an army recruiting office to volunteer. When they heard about his background, he recalled, the Ukrainian officers decided he would be more valuable scrounging up equipment for fighters than joining the fighting.”
  • “[He soon established the] Ukraine Defense Fund, to supply nonlethal equipment to Ukrainian defense forces. … Much of the media focus in the past year has been on Ukraine’s need for weapons and ammunition, and those things are undoubtedly important. But Ukraine’s military also depends on drones, generators and other hardware. ... That’s where the Ukraine Defense Fund, and other nongovernmental organizations, come in. Liscovich told me he helped broker a deal with Germany’s Defense Ministry to provide 138 fixed-wing drones that have longer ranges than the cheap, short-range quadcopters that both sides use — often made by the same Chinese company, DJI.”
  • Liscovich’s work strikes me as a good example of how Ukrainian civil society has mobilized to defend the nation. Russia relies on convicts, draftees and mercenaries to fight its war. Hundreds of thousands of Russians — including many of Liscovich’s friends, he said — have fled the country rather than be conscripted. Ukraine, by contrast, is relying on men and women such as Liscovich, who feel a passionate devotion to their homeland and who are willing to abandon their old lives to help defend it. That is a critical advantage that no amount of Russian firepower can overcome.

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

"Russian Oil Exports Under International Sanctions," analysts Benjamin Hilgenstock, Elina Ribakova, Nataliia Shapoval, Tania Babina, Oleg Itskhoki, and Maxim Mironov, Yermak-McFaul International Working Group on Russian Sanctions & KSE Institute, 04.26.23

  • “The sanctions coalition’s strategy to keep Russian crude oil on the global market while restricting the country’s export receipts and fiscal revenues is showing results. … Even so, export prices for Russian crude oil in 2023Q1 point to sanctions violations and underscore the urgent need for more rigorous enforcement.”
  • “We find that prices at the critical Pacific Ocean port Kozmino stood at around$73/barrel in the first three months of the year — consistent with ESPO numbers estimated by market intelligence providers. Moreover, the distribution of prices is rather homogeneous … As the tracking of individual voyages shows continued and substantial involvement of G7/EU shipping service providers, sanctions violations likely occurred and require further investigation.”
  • “Russian crude oil largely remained on the global market after the taking-effect of the EU embargo on December 5, 2022 — and global oil prices did not increase. A surge in prices in the event of Russian oil’s exiting from the market had been a key concern of sanctions coalition countries. To address this issue, the G7/EU established the oil price cap regime, while also rolling back some elements of the EU’s sixth sanction package. Namely, shipping service providers from EU countries were permitted to remain involved in the Russian oil trade if transactions take place below a certain threshold.”
  • “The market for Russian crude oil exports has undergone a fundamental transformation since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine … European countries, previously the largest buyers, now play a negligible role and have been replaced almost entirely by China and India. … As the country’s oil infrastructure is geared towards exports to the West, this redirection has led to significantly longer shipping routes.”
  • “Most importantly, the EU embargo has triggered a fragmentation of the market — with different segments characterized by diverging demand conditions and, thus, price dynamics. Where European demand had played a key role in the past and has now essentially disappeared … prices for Russian crude oil fell by $20-25/barrel in the post-embargo period (vs. November), a $10-15/barrel wider discount vs. Brent. But where demand conditions did not change materially … prices dropped by only ~$10/barrel, reflecting a largely unchanged discount.”

"The Sanctions Net Around Russia Is Tightening — But There Is Scope To Do More," Tom Keitinge of the Royal United Services Institute, FT, 04.40.23.

  • “Too many countries are at best ambivalent and at worst profiting from providing sanctions circumvention opportunities for the Kremlin and its proxies.”
  • “Far better than relying on uninterested states to react to a process or guidance they already disregard, is to pressure their companies. … The interconnected nature of global trade means their companies and financial institutions cannot: they need connections to international partners and are thus sensitive to the signals they receive.”
  • “For example, a bank in a non-compliant country that continues to offer financial services to designated companies or individuals will almost certainly require access to the international financial system. This access is most often provided by large, globally-operating banks located in the US, Europe or the UK that are required to implement sanctions to the letter. These correspondent banks must at the very least increase their scrutiny of these client banks, and if necessary sever their relationships altogether to avoid facilitating circumvention. Harnessing influence to coerce sanctions compliance in this way may seem distasteful, but so too is facilitating the funding and resourcing of Moscow’s war machine.”
  • “[Global banks] should interrogate companies which have increased business with the countries — such as Armenia, Kazakhstan and Turkey — that are acting as trade ‘cut-outs,’ in effect helping Russia to evade sanctions. Finally, those companies in countries that facilitate sanctions circumvention — such as the Iranian provision of drones to Russia — must themselves be added to the designation lists, to restrict their access to Western markets. This has the added benefit of signaling to companies in compliant countries that dealing with these less scrupulous actors poses significant risks.
  • “There is no doubt that Ukraine’s allies have learned lessons from their lackluster sanctions response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and have come a long way from their tentative start last year. But as the Kremlin adapts and disguises its supply chains and financial connections, the West will need to assess and adjust its activities accordingly.”

"Russia’s Global Food Shortage Ukraine’s grain exports keep falling, adding to food insecurity," Editorial Board, WSJ, 04.30.23.

  • “The EU lifted the tariffs last year as Russia captured Ukrainian port cities and began a blockade of the Black Sea. The relief was intended to facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain by land, but farmers in several Eastern European countries are upset that the influx drove down prices of their own crops.”
  • “Mr. Putin is no doubt thrilled that Ukrainian food exports have become a domestic political issue in Eastern Europe and a source of diplomatic tension in the EU. Russia has allowed some maritime shipments of Ukrainian crops under the United Nations’ Black Sea Grain Initiative, but it’s now threatening to back out of that deal unless the West provides sanctions relief.”
  • “Mr. Putin knows that the disruption to the global food supply will worsen the longer the war continues.”
    • “In the three years before the war, Ukraine accounted for 15% of the world’s corn exports and 10% of its wheat exports. The World Food Programme’s executive director David Beasley has estimated that Ukraine fed 400 million people around the world.”
    • “Russia continues to occupy large swathes of farmland Ukraine, which has become ‘the largest mined territory in the world.”
    • “Some 50,000 square kilometers of farmland are now unusable…”
    • “Russia has inflicted some $8.7 billion in harm to Ukraine’s agricultural and land resources, including more than $4.65 billion in damaged and destroyed machinery.”
    • “The recruitment of working-age men for the military has led to a shortage of farm labor.”
  • “The World Food Programme estimates that more than 345 million people face acute food insecurity and 43.3 million are at serious risk of famine.”
  • “All of this is an argument for doing more to help Ukraine succeed in its spring counter-offensive against Russia. But as the war drags on, the world and the Biden Administration may have to do more to stop Russia from disrupting the global food supply. Naval escorts in the Black Sea should not be ruled out.”

"How Surreptitious Shipping Is Helping Russia," the American Enterprise Institute's Elizabeth Braw, FT, 04.29.23.

  • “Since Russia invaded Ukraine, a new kind of fleet has been congregating in the Kerch Strait. Observers in this narrow channel … are recording record volumes of vessels with gaps in their automatic identification transmissions, suggesting they want to hide their movements. This fleet of clandestine ships has become a key factor in the surprising resilience of Russia’s wartime economy. And its intensifying operations suggest Moscow’s defiance of western sanctions will only continue.”
  • “Under international maritime regulations, all commercial ships except the very smallest are obliged to broadcast an Automatic Identification System (AIS) to make other vessels aware of their position. During the third quarter of 2020 … 42 vessels traveling through the Kerch Strait turned off their AIS a total of 86 times… There may be legitimate reasons for this; sometimes AIS malfunctions. In any case, these 42 vessels were only a tiny percentage of around 10,000 ships that passed the Strait during an average year before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
  • “Since then, however, the number of ships going dark in the Strait has skyrocketed. Immediately after the invasion, in the second quarter of 2022, 468 ships went dark 1,126 times. And during the first quarter of this year, the darkness reached unprecedented heights: 586 ships, the vast majority of them Russian-flagged, enacted 1,753 AIS gaps. Some may have been simply trying to avoid detection by military vessels at a time of conflict, but there are likely other factors at play too.”
  • “’This spike is so extraordinarily high that it makes you conclude there are things the Russians want to hide,’ said Bridget Diakun of Lloyd’s List Intelligence. ‘For various reasons, some legitimate and some not, the Russians likely don’t want people watching them.’”
  • “The explosive growth of AIS gaps in the Kerch Strait suggests this surreptitious shipping will facilitate Russian trade for some time to come. The geopolitics of sanctions has also changed radically in the past three decades. During the cold war, the West’s embargoes were effective because its economic strength allowed misbehaving countries few substitute trading partners. Today China, India, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and others can easily help sanctions targets evade these curbs and win a bargain in the process. As such, AIS darkness is a parable of war, peace and globalization today.”

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • No significant developments.

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

“How Putin Has Come to Hate Ukraine, “ journalist Ilya Zhigulev, Vyorstka, 04.25.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky unexpectedly won the presidential election in Ukraine… During the first telephone conversation with Zelensky, Putin behaved respectfully… However, Zelensky turned out to be an even more difficult negotiator [with respect to the implementation of the Minsk-2 agreement] than his predecessor [Poroshenko].”
  • [After the failed negotiations] “Moscow decided to resort to soft power, and Viktor Medvedchuk became a key confidant of the Kremlin… [but] in February 2021, [Ukrainian authorities] conducted a special operation to neutralize Medvedchuk. … Three sources close to the Russian president confirmed that it was the destruction of Medvedchuk's [media empire by the Ukrainian authorities], and harassment of him, that became the last straw in Putin's decision to prepare for a military operation. Putin's decision was also influenced by Medvedchuk himself, who regularly told the Russian president about the great support for him personally and the general pro-Russian sentiment in Ukraine. ‘He would tell tales, appropriating the money he was paid for organizing political resistance, and thought nobody would ever check,’ recalls a source close to the Russian presidential administration.”
  • “The decision to prepare for the [special military operation] was made in late February [to] early March 2021… When deciding whether to go to war, Putin did not consult with Medvedchuk. … The only person who had permanent access to Putin [at the time] was his [billionaire] friend Yuri Kovalchuk. Two sources confirm that Kovalchuk played a decisive role in shaping the president's decision to launch the special operation. … Putin really came to believe that it was possible to change the regime in Kyiv quickly and painlessly. Kovalchuk convinced him that the West was weak; while Medvedchuk [convinced Putin] that Ukraine was weak and loyal.”
    • “According to a source close to the Russian presidential administration, one of the Russian security officials present at the meeting of the Valdai discussion club in October 2021 confirmed in private conversations [on the sidelines of the meeting] that Western fears that Russia was preparing for war were not far from reality.”
  • “Simple calculations show that they [the Russian leadership] were not preparing for a long war. ‘A country of 44 million cannot be taken over by a force of 160,000,’ said a source close to the political branch of the Russian presidential administration. ‘If you start such an operation with [this number of] forces, then it means you are counting on a massive collaboration of loyal Ukrainians with Russia. And the operation was built, conceived and developed precisely on the basis of that premise.’”
  • “Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu did not argue, and even rejoiced at Putin's decision [to invade Ukraine in 2022]. ‘He did not have an understanding of the state of the [Russian] army, and he was interested. He came to believe that Putin knew something that he did not know, and he really thought that it would not be much more serious than the annexation of Crimea’ [in 2014], according to one of Putin’s old friends.”


"The Little-Known Group That’s Saving Ukraine," defense reporters Lara Seligman and Paul McLeary, Politico, 05.01.23.

  • “The Ukraine Defense Contact Group [which brings together the defense chiefs of more than 40 nations in southwest Germany each month] is an under-the-radar yet central force in equipping the Ukrainian military with everything from precision rockets to main battle tanks. It’s also helped the nation create an ad hoc yet astonishingly modern military that would be capable of outgunning some long-standing NATO members.”
  • “A number of fissures have emerged recently in the group, particularly over whether and when to send Western fighter jets to Ukraine, and delays in certain weapons shipments — most pressingly, German and Spanish tanks. Meanwhile, the mass transfer of weaponry to Kyiv has left donor nations worried about their own stockpiles, and recent meetings have started to turn to the issue of NATO allies reequipping themselves as well as sustaining the weapons donated to Ukraine for the long haul.”
  • “Kyiv is constantly asking for more — and better — equipment. The ink was barely dry on the decision to send Abrams main battle tanks in January, for example, when Ukrainian officials renewed a push to receive F-16 fighter jets. The fighter jet question is still a live issue, and the split between the various participants over whether to send Western warplanes was on display at the most recent Ramstein meeting.”
  • “The last several meetings of the Ukraine group have seen allies starting to think hard about how to find the money — and the industrial capacity — to replace the gear sent to battle the Russians. … Plus, they need to wade through a thicket of parochial interests and find a way to do something even more difficult: jointly manufacture ammunition and other materiel as the war in Ukraine grinds on and individual production lines reach their breaking point. Another divisive issue is how defense spending is split among allies. NATO’s annual report released in March showed that despite an entire year of pledging increased defense spending, only seven countries out of 30 have met the nine-year-old goal of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense — two fewer countries than hit the mark in 2021.”
  • “Despite these emerging fissures, sticking with Kyiv for the long haul has been a talking point for all NATO allies since the start of the war, and even with some delays in promised equipment, donations continue to flow over the border to Kyiv.”

"Ukraine Is Running Out of Ammo. So Is the US," columnist and former NATO commander James Stavridis, Bloomberg, 04.28.23.

  • “While the West has a vastly larger overall capability to deliver the necessities of combat, snarls in the global commercial supply chain are beginning to manifest. … [In Ukraine,] the real “spring offensive” may not be tanks and armor, but upscaled weapons production in the factories of Ukraine’s democratic supporters.”
  • “As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s military commander over a decade ago … what made me nervous a decade ago was the possibility of great power conflict in Europe — notably a potential flare-up with the Russian federation. While the democratic allies enjoy an overwhelming capability and inventory advantage (Russia’s total defense budget is under $70 billion, one-tenth of NATO’s at best), the Russians have a competent industrial base, lots of raw materials, and can draw on conscript labor to man the machines in their foundries and factories.”
  • “The defense industrial base is stepping up production, taking a page out of the US industrial complex at the start of World War II. As the Yale Historian Paul Kennedy outlines in his brilliant book, ‘Engineers of Victory,’ about the technology, organization, and war production that turned the tide in the war, the allies eventually outproduced the axis.”
  • “When President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his memorable “arsenal of democracy speech” in 1940, the US economy was about to move to a full war footing. Clearly, we are not going to do that today. So, the challenge will be to continue to produce both guns and butter in the face of Russian aggression. Congress and the Pentagon have the tools to do so, primarily money.”
  • “While there will be some pinching in specific global commercial supply chains (e.g., electronics, construction materials, some minerals), the overall capacity to outproduce the tottering Russian economy is clear. Assuming China continues to wisely decline to throw Putin a war material lifeline, Russia will fall further and further behind Western production abilities. This classic ‘American way of war,’ which succeeded in both World War II and ultimately in the Cold War, keeps the odds in favor of the Ukrainians.”

“Why NATO Must Admit Ukraine. Kyiv Needs the Alliance and the Alliance Needs Kyiv,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, FA, 04.25.23. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • “Ukraine has much to gain from NATO, but it also has much to offer in return. Ukraine is defending NATO’s entire eastern flank and sharing what it learns with alliance members. For instance, the Ukrainian military has shown that although the NATO principle of decentralization — which delegates decision-making authority to subordinates — works well with small units of professional soldiers and contractors, it is ill suited to a full-scale war in which drafted soldiers make up as much as 70 percent of units. Ukraine’s experience has also shown that, contrary to NATO practices, the commanders who train units should be the same commanders who lead those units into battle. Other lessons that Ukraine has taught NATO include the value of innovation, ingenuity, local initiative, civilian support for the military, and civil defense.”
  • “During the course of the war, Ukraine has helped strengthen NATO’s rules, standards, and procedures, improving the alliance’s ability to fight modern, high-intensity wars. Ukraine also possesses unparalleled experience in countering hybrid threats, conducting information warfare, and ensuring the resilience of state institutions and critical infrastructure. Today, millions of Ukrainians are honing their skills in Europe’s bloodiest war of the twenty-first century. Tomorrow, they will use those skills to bolster NATO’s collective security.”
  • “The best way to ensure Euro-Atlantic security is to welcome Ukraine into NATO. Politicians, diplomats, and analysts can always be counted on to come up with new arguments for keeping Ukraine outside the alliance, as they have been doing for years now. The good news is that each new argument is weaker than the last. The bad news is that constantly having to disprove them wastes precious time at the expense of people’s security. Ukraine needs NATO, and NATO needs Ukraine.”

"Sudan’s War Might Not Stay in Sudan," Folahanmi Aina of the Royal United Services Institute in London, FP, 05.01.23.

  • “With a fragile cease-fire that has now been shattered, the situation in Sudan is expected to deteriorate over the coming days. Left uncontained, the conflict could easily become a full-scale regional war. External state actors such as China, France, and Russia also maintain an active presence and interests in the Chad Basin and Sahel; these countries could be quickly drawn into the war, as well.”
  • “An issue of particular concern is the opportunity for an expanded footprint for Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group. In February alone, Wagner Group was involved in efforts to recruit Chadian rebels and establish a training site for 300 fighters in Chad’s troubled neighbor the Central African Republic.”
  • “The developing war in Sudan is not just for Sudan alone, but rather inherited by multiple state actors. Following France’s 2022 decision to leave Mali for Niger, given the strategic value the latter offers for France’s prosecution of its national security interests in the Sahel, France cannot afford to see Sudan implode. The situation is especially worrisome for France due to Chad’s glaring vulnerability and incapacity to ward off external threats. The same can be said of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, all of which have interests in the region.”
  • “These actors, for example, need to ensure regional stability to guarantee international trade — especially in light of the threat posed by Russia and China’s political and economic adventurism in these regions. It is an open secret that Russia is interested in building a military base in Port Sudan, a port city in eastern Sudan. Considering that Russia’s Wagner Group has been accused of smuggling gold out of Sudan, instability in the country could significantly disrupt this flow and cause Moscow to dig deeper into the region to address its acute economic needs.”

"Africa Is Russia’s New Resource Outlet," Axel de Vernou an undergraduate student at Yale University, NI, 04.27.23

  • “If American policymakers want to hinder the scope of Russia’s military operations, they cannot turn a blind eye to the African countries that have begun accepting enormous shipments of Russian oil and may fall prey to the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns.”
  • “The U.S. Agency for International Development, Voice of America, and U.S. oil and gas companies must synchronize their efforts to achieve this goal. The first can scale up humanitarian aid, the second can provide further support to independent media organizations, and the third can provide competitive alternatives to Russian oil sailing to the African coast.”
  • “Russian experts are seriously thinking about how they can use Africa as an eager energy market and a natural resource hub to gain ground on the battlefield. American experts must do the same, focusing on the African countries that receive substantive aid from the West and are prepared to counter the Kremlin’s gas diplomacy and the way Russian media has portrayed the war in Ukraine.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“How China Could Save Putin’s War in Ukraine: The Logic and Consequences of Chinese Military Support for Russia,” Liana Fix of the  Council on Foreign Relations and Michael Kimmage of the Catholic University of America, FA, 04.26.23.

  • “China has three broad interests regarding the war in Ukraine.”
    • “The first is preventing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s downfall.”
    • “China also understands that the war in Ukraine has ramifications for international order. Were the war to conclude on Western terms with a clear Ukrainian victory, the United States would define the war as a triumph for its international order, its rules, its power, and its diplomatic acumen.”
    • “China’s third interest, which may not be completely compatible with its second interest, is to have a meaningful stake in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine.”
      • “The magnitude of these interests in the war ensures that China will not passively allow events in Ukraine to unfold however they will. Put negatively, China will go to considerable lengths to prevent the United States from succeeding in Ukraine. If the war continues to go badly for Russia, China will prop up Putin. Put positively, China will try to fit the war into its vision for regional and international order. It will, on the one hand, seek to expand commercial ties with Ukraine and Ukraine’s neighbors and, on the other hand, broaden the scope of action available to powers such as Russia that have flung off the rules written in Washington.”
  • “Whatever covert support China delivered to Russia — including drones, artillery shells, and ammunition — would not bring Russia victory for the simple reason that Russia has no coherent path to victory in Ukraine.”
  • “[Overt support for Russia] could also be disastrous for China. Russia might still lose the war… China could also stand to lose the very thing it has gained from the war, a privileged global position.”
  • “Western rhetoric will not deflect China from its three core interests in the war, and Xi is well aware that he will face sanctions should he cross Western redlines by giving Russia lethal aid. U.S. and European officials still need to drive this message in tandem.”

"Why China Hasn't Come to Russia's Rescue," Agathe Demarais of the Economist Intelligence Unit, FA, 04.28.23.

  • “On paper, the Chinese-Russian trade relationship appears to be gaining steam. … The dollar value of China’s exports to Russia paints a more modest picture of the trading relationship. … This raises the question of why Russia is not an attractive market for Chinese firms. … The main reason Chinese firms are so reluctant to do business across the Amur may have more to do with Washington than with Moscow. Chinese businesses worry that the United States could impose secondary sanctions that would target firms from any country that do business with Russian companies.”
  • “So far, Washington has only imposed such measures on deals with Russia’s military sector. If the United States were to expand these measures to other economic sectors, all companies around the world would be forced to choose between the U.S. and Russian markets. For most firms, sticking with the United States would be a no-brainer. As a result, Chinese companies have little incentive to invest time and money in developing relationships with Russian businesses that they might soon need to abandon.”
  • “A look at Chinese customs data makes it clear that China retains the upper hand in its economic relationship with Russia and that Beijing appears in no rush to provide an economic lifeline to the Kremlin. In the future, Chinese businesses could still come to Russia’s rescue by beefing up their investments there.”
  • “It is unlikely that Chinese firms will fill the entire void left by departing Western businesses, however. Companies from countries that Russia now considers “unfriendly”—which used to bring innovation to Moscow — made up 90 percent of foreign direct investment to Russia over the past decade. Today, that share is probably close to zero (although Russia’s classification of foreign investment data makes it hard to give a precise figure).
  • “At the Beijing Olympic Games in 2022, only a few weeks before Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine, the Russian and Chinese leaders claimed that their friendship knew ‘no limits.’ More than a year later, Xi and Putin have only confirmed the adage that some things are easier said than done. Putin’s grand expectations have yet to be met. And contrary to official declarations, Russia’s enthusiastic pivot to China has not been reciprocated.”

“Great-Power Competition and Conflict in the 21st Century Outside the Indo-Pacific and Europe,” analysts Raphael S. Cohen, Elina Treyger, Irina A. Chindea, Christian Curriden, Kristen Gunness, Khrystyna Holynska, Marta Kepe, Kurt Klein, Ashley L. Rhoades, Ashley L. Rhoades, Nathan Vest, RAND, 04.12.23.

  • “During the Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden administrations, the United States made countering the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific and, to a lesser extent, checking Russian revanchism in Europe core priorities of its national security strategy. Historically, however, great-power competition and conflict have taken place outside the theaters of core concern to the competing powers. This report explores where and how the United States, China, and Russia may be competing for influence in these secondary theaters [to find that]:”
  • “Competition in secondary theaters is most likely to focus on the historical power centers.”
  • “China's influence and, to a lesser extent, Russia's influence are increasing in secondary theaters, although the United States remains the dominant military actor for the time being.”
  • “Competition may be a necessary but not sufficient condition for conflict.”
  • “Great-power involvement in conflicts in secondary theaters in the new era of competition may be less driven by zero-sum logic than during the Cold War.”
  • “Future secondary-theater conflicts may involve distinct challenges of deconfliction and behind-the-scenes political contests.”
  • “Conflicts in secondary theaters may not be a particularly useful force-sizing construct.”
  • “Latin America offers several plausible scenarios for conflicts in which the United States could become involved on a side opposing Russia or China.”

"Putin’s Pied Piper Plays the U.N.," journalist J. Alex Tarquinio, FP, 04.28.23.

  • “Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin have sworn to a ‘no limits’ partnership. Xi even went so far as to declare during a state visit to Moscow last month that, ‘Right now, there are changes, the likes of which we have not seen for 100 years. And we are the ones driving these changes together.’”
  • “In its place, Russia and China championed a multipolar world order that would apparently be led by the countries in the BRICS coalition, which also includes Brazil, India, and South Africa. Zhang reserved his harshest critique for economic sanctions, describing them as being ‘like a rampaging monster.’”
  • “Beijing is trying to plan ahead for when broader Western sanctions take aim at China, said Nadège Rolland, a distinguished fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research, who previously served for two decades as an Asia analyst at the French Defense Ministry. ‘The China-Russia partnership is extremely strong and is fundamentally based on a common understanding and a common aspiration for a future that is without the West,’ she said. ‘The whole program of Xi Jinping’s vision for China’s future as a world leader rests on this partnership with Russia.’”
  • “But even between China and Russia, there are apparently some limits. About the time Lavrov was grandstanding, Chinese officials took the unusual step of contradicting one of their own officials after the country’s ambassador to France appeared to question not only the sovereignty of Ukraine, which was a founding member of the United Nations, but of all the former Soviet republics. In a French television interview on April 21, Ambassador Lu Shaye had said that ‘these ex-Soviet countries don’t have an effective status in international law.’ But a few days later, Beijing was backpedaling, and on Wednesday, Xi made a phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.”
  • “Tara Varma, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe, said that the Chinese Foreign Ministry had clearly disavowed Lu’s comments, and the conversation with Kyiv may have unnerved Moscow. By then, Lavrov had left the building. Russia had brought its new world order rhetoric into the Security Council chamber, but with much of the world still arrayed against it, and economic sanctions and international opprobrium still pounding Moscow, it’s not clear Putin or Lavrov had ever really been in the driver’s seat.”

“A Chinese Journalist Is Charged With Espionage. But Journalism Is Not Spying,” Editorial Board, WP, 04.26.25.

  • “Journalism — whether gathering news, or expressing opinions — is not espionage. But the world's two largest dictatorships are charging journalists and activists with spying and treason, and without a shred of justification. Russia recently arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges and sentenced Post contributor Vladimir Kara-Murza to a quarter-century in prison on charges that included ‘treason’ for his criticism of the Ukraine war. Now China has indicted a prominent journalist on spying charges that his family says are false.”
  • “The China allegations are aimed at Dong Yuyu, a well-known liberal commentator and editor at Guangming Daily, one of the five major Communist Party-affiliated newspapers in the country. Historically, according to his family, the newspaper served intellectuals, artists, teachers and others with a higher education, and for many years it was more liberal than others.”
  • “On March 23, Mr. Dong's family was informed that his case is being sent to court for trial. It is not known when that will happen. The espionage charge normally carries a penalty of more than 10 years in prison. A day longer in detention would be a severe injustice. Mr. Dong was a journalist doing what journalists do - collecting information, gaining understanding and expressing views for the betterment of all. This is not spying, and he should be released immediately.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

"We Know Where Russian Nuclear-Capable Aircraft Will Be Hosted in Belarus. What’s Next?", Matt Korda and Eliana Reynolds of the Federation of American Scientists, BAS, 04.24.23.

  • “On March 25, in an interview for Russian television, President Vladimir Putin revealed new details about Russia’s intention to establish a NATO-style nuclear sharing relationship with Belarus. During the interview, he said that Russia had already transferred the dual-capable Iskander complex and had helped Belarus modify their aircraft to give them the ability to carry nuclear weapons, adding that ‘ten planes are ready for using this type of weapon.’”
  • “It is still highly unclear whether Russia intends to actually deploy nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory, or whether it is developing the infrastructure needed to potentially deploy them in the future. What is clear, however, is that constructing a warhead storage site in Belarus — even if warheads would not be immediately or permanently stored there — would come with significant logistical complications. Other storage sites in Russia have taken years to upgrade — let alone build from scratch. Such an effort would also require lengthy certification processes for both the crews and the specialized equipment.”
  • “The military benefits that Russia would derive from deploying nuclear weapons to Belarusian territory are unclear…any nuclear weapons deployed abroad would also be highly vulnerable. This will be especially true given that our assessment of a recent Belarusian military video indicates that Lida Air Base — located only 40 kilometers from Lithuania’s southern border and approximately 120 kilometers from Poland’s eastern border — is the most likely Belarusian air base that will be tasked with the nuclear sharing mission.”
  • “Putin’s announcement of nuclear sharing with Belarus has only reinvigorated calls for NATO’s nuclear weapon modernization and continued weapons deployments in Europe, without providing Russia with a distinct strategic advantage. Putin’s plan for nuclear sharing will also force Belarus to become increasingly invested in the outcome of Russia’s war in Ukraine.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

"Biden Is Quietly Encouraging Assad’s Rehabilitation. He Should Reverse Course," David Adesnik of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, WP, 04.26.23.

  • “Rather than isolating Bashar al-Assad and ensuring that his regime remains a pariah, the Biden administration has quietly encouraged Assad's diplomatic rehabilitation. This policy runs contrary to the spirit of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which Congress passed in late 2019 with strong bipartisan support as part of its annual defense authorization bill. This law sought to cement Assad's isolation by creating a statutory requirement that the president impose sanctions on all who do business with the Assad regime.”
  • “On moral grounds, the case for isolating Assad is unassailable. But it is also in the United States' narrow self-interest. Increasingly, the Syrian regime resembles a narco-trafficking cartel, flooding the region with an amphetamine-like drug known as captagon. Damascus also remains an integral part of the Iranian network that transfers advanced weapons and hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas and Hezbollah — the U.S.-designated terrorist organizations that brought the region to the brink of war earlier this month with rocket attacks on Israel. Assad's rehabilitation has only come this far because the administration gave his neighbors the green light. A reversal could stop the process in its tracks.”

Cyber security/AI:

  • No significant developments.

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:

"Biden's Ukraine Dilemma: Balancing Democratic Ideals, Russia Tensions and US-China Rivalry," Paul Saunders of the National Interest, RM, 04.26.23.

  • “With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine well into its second year, the United States is facing key policy dilemmas in defining the nature and extent of its objectives with respect to the conflict. Increasingly, Washington finds itself torn among competing interests in Ukraine and its future, a potentially dangerous conflict with Russia, and wider concerns about the international order and the U.S. competition with China. U.S. President Joe Biden’s choices in addressing these dilemmas will be highly consequential for U.S. interests and, of course, for Ukraine.”
  • “Washington’s apparent lack of a clear objective is partially attributable to three difficult policy dilemmas the Biden Administration will ultimately have to reckon with: It will have to weigh its commitment to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity against its interest in fostering a negotiated settlement, which could require concessions that do not align with those principles; it will have to measure the risks associated with a prolonged confrontation with Russia against the risks associated with reducing support for Ukraine or encouraging a settlement; and it will have to balance its own goals in Ukraine with its broader foreign and domestic policy goals. 
  • The administration has three broad options for managing these dilemmas. None provide attractive solutions to all. 
    • The first option is to increase U.S. support for Ukraine rapidly and dramatically to try to help Kyiv win a swift military victory and then dictate political terms to the Kremlin.
    • The second option is to continue — or modestly increase — military or other backing for Ukraine while privately applying considerable new pressure on Kyiv to accept a negotiated settlement.
    • The third option is to continue existing military and rhetorical backing for Ukraine, also possibly with gradual increases over time, with the expectation that Russia’s military, economy, or political system will eventually break and that once this occurs, the event would allow either a quick victory or a quick settlement.
  • “The Biden administration’s unpleasant options in no way diminish the very substantial dilemmas confronting Russia’s president after his grand strategic blunder in invading Ukraine. Excepting the risk of a nuclear conflict, which remains low but cannot be ignored, the stakes for Russia and for Putin personally are far greater than those for the United States, or for that matter, for Biden. Yet nor do Russia’s many problems — economic, technological, demographic and otherwise — make the United States’ options any less painful. Whatever course the Biden administration pursues, the United States is extremely unlikely to get everything U.S. officials, politicians and pundits want; the president and his aides will have to make more than one hard decision. One hopes they have a plan to prepare Americans for that in advance.”

"America’s Spies Are Losing Their Edge," opinion columnist Max Hastings, Bloomberg, 04.30.23.

  • “We in the Western democracies enjoy the huge privilege of living in open societies, as Chinese, Russian, North Korean and Iranian people do not. But part of the price of our freedom is that we are more vulnerable to attack, especially by foreign intelligence services.”
  • “Only around a quarter of all material in intelligence reports derives from secret sources. … Where once spies were obliged to enter a foreign country to steal its secrets, today not only states but nonstate actors can wreak untold harm through hacking and cyberattacks without venturing beyond their own front doors. … [Amy Zegart of Stanford’s Hoover Institution is an expert on US intelligence] “believes that American dominance of the information and technology universe is under severe threat, which can only grow greater: ‘The intelligence playing field is leveling, and not in a good way.’”
  • “Among her sensible prescriptions, perhaps the most important is for greater integration between the IC and American business, especially technology companies. Yet the tech giants often recoil from cooperation with government, and especially with its intelligence agencies.  In times gone by, in the world wars and the Cold War, government officials routinely sought the aid of big corporations, and got it. Today, patriotism has atrophied.”
  • “Public service is unfashionable, on both sides of the Atlantic. Some spooks are indeed smart, but others are not. It should be a source of concern that the vast Chinese and Russian intelligence and especially cyberwarfare communities may have access to some cleverer people than their Western counterparts.”
  • “Jack Texeira’s alleged superleak reminds us that intelligence and covert activities … are huge business both for the good guys and the bad ones. The other side is getting better at them all the time. We need to do the same, even if some of the nasty bits make us feel queasy.”

"Americans Show Signs of Impatience With Ukraine War," non-resident senior fellow Shibley Telhami, Brookings, 04.28.23.  

  • “Asking what the primary U.S. objective in Ukraine should be, a plurality, 26%, chose helping Ukraine return to the status quo that prevailed prior to the invasion, while 18% chose helping Ukraine liberate all the territories occupied by Russia. Only 8% said the aim should be to weaken or defeat Russia, while 18% chose preventing Russian expansionism. It is notable that the differences between Democrats and Republicans on this issue are far smaller than on any other issue regarding Ukraine.”
  • “A plurality of Americans, 46%, said the United States should stay the course in supporting Ukraine for only one to two years, compared with 38% who said the United States should stay the course for as long as it takes. The partisan divide was notable on this issue, with 62% of Republicans wanting to stay the course for one to two years, compared to 51% of Democrats who wanted to stay the course for as long as it takes.”
  • “The public was also divided about providing fighter jets and long-range missiles to Ukraine, but with more people favoring both than opposing them, and with more Democrats than Republicans favoring such supplies.”
  • “There has been a marked drop in the public preparedness to pay the cost for supporting Ukraine. In the newest poll, there is a marked drop in the assessment that Ukraine is winning, and Russia is losing — a drop that echoes the decline in the public’s preparedness to pay a price for supporting Ukraine: Overall, the assessment that Russia is losing fell from 48% in October to 37% in April, and the assessment that Ukraine is succeeding went from 43% in October to 26% in April.”

“What a KGB Arrest of a Journalist in 1986 Tells Us Today,” journalist and author Philip Taubman WP, 04.25.23.

  • “It's probably a pipe dream, but I hope [jailed WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich] is spared the kind of elaborate facade of manufactured charges that Nicholas Daniloff faced when he was arrested by the KGB 36 years ago. The accusations against the U.S. News and World Report Moscow bureau chief were a case study in Russian subterfuge — and, sadly, CIA incompetence that played into the hands of the KGB and infuriated Secretary of State George P. Shultz.”
  • “The backstory of the Daniloff affair shows how Soviet security services lured him into a devious entrapment web over many years. The KGB operation that began in 1982 moved into a new phase in December 1984, when Daniloff warily met with a man who said he was a Russian Orthodox priest named Roman Potemkin. A month later, Potemkin left a package at the U.S. News bureau containing envelopes addressed to [high-ranking U.S. officials.]”
  • “A CIA officer at the embassy tried to reach Potemkin by phone and mail, recklessly naming Daniloff in a letter that was later shown to the journalist while he was incarcerated at Lefortovo Prison and cited as evidence that he was working with the CIA. Secretary of State George P. Shultz. learned this background several days after Daniloff's arrest. He was incensed by the CIA's clumsy tradecraft.”
  • “The unexpected crisis stirred debate within the Reagan administration over whether Washington should take punitive action against the Soviet Union. Reagan and Shultz opted not to aggravate the situation and instead sought a negotiated resolution … critically, both Gorbachev and Reagan independently decided that the Daniloff deadlock should not blow up U.S.-Soviet relations. Shultz and Shevardnadze ultimately worked out a deal freeing Daniloff in return for [a Soviet diplomat]. Nearly simultaneously with news of the deal, the White House and Kremlin announced that Reagan and Gorbachev would meet at a snap summit in Iceland.”
  • “By contrast, Gershkovich's fate is entangled in a U.S.-Russian relationship inflamed by Russian President Vladimir Putin's brutal invasion of Ukraine and his obsession with perceived threats from the United States and NATO. President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken may wish to follow the crisis resolution model that Reagan and Shultz bequeathed them in the Daniloff affair. But absent the goodwill that existed in 1986, the road to resolution promises to be grueling and littered with phony evidence of espionage.”

"From the Soviet Union to Putin’s Russia, American Journalists Have Navigated Clampdowns," reporter Brett Forrest, WSJ, 05.01.23.

  • “Since the late-Soviet period, the Kremlin has maintained a mercurial relationship with the foreign press. Foreign correspondents were required to notify the Soviet Foreign Ministry before traveling outside Moscow. Their phone lines were tapped, and they were routinely tailed by the Committee for State Security, or KGB, the main security agency in the latter half of the Soviet Union, according to several people who worked as journalists in the Soviet Union.”
  • “In 1986, Soviet authorities arrested another American journalist, Nicholas Daniloff, on espionage charges, and traded him for a Soviet employee of the United Nations Secretariat. … Mr. Daniloff’s deportation ironically coincided with an opening for journalists working in Russia. Beginning in 1985, Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost policy freed domestic and foreign reporters from restrictions that had bound them for decades and encouraged citizens to speak their minds.”
  • “Russian President Boris Yeltsin supported a flourishing of the press after the Soviet Union fell in 1991. New, independent television networks, led by NTV, and radio stations, chiefly Echo of Moscow, sprang up to investigate once-taboo topics, such as government corruption and military overreach.”
  • “After Mr. Putin’s ascension to power in 2000, he sought to harness the press and sideline critical voices. In a signal event, a division of Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas-export monopoly, seized control of the NTV network in 2001 and eliminated independent broadcasts in favor of approved government programming. … Mr. Putin brought all national TV networks under government authority, giving the Kremlin editorial control over a vast domestic audience. Politicians aligned with Mr. Putin appeared on state TV to amplify the Kremlin’s increasingly anti-Western line [which, in turn, ‘drove suspicion in Russia of foreign journalists.’”
  • “Last year, after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Duma criminalized the dissemination of “unreliable information” and the “discrediting” of the Russian military, vague definitions that gave authorities more tools to silence reporters. Five Russian journalists were charged under the statute, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

"Russia’s Administrators: The Weakest Link in a Crisis," Stanford University's Guzel Garifullina, PONARS, 04.25.23.

  • “The evolution of the Russian political system in the past 20 years was guided by several priorities that had a lasting impact on who we see as public officials at different levels of the state apparatus. These priorities included control, predictability, and minimizing the space left for independent politics.”
  • [By virtue of these priorities,] “We are now more likely to see politically inexperienced and risk-averse individuals [serving as mayors and governors across the country]. These qualities make them less able to adapt in a crisis, illustrated by administrative inertia and failures during the ‘abnormal’ politics of the past year.”
  • “In a sector beset by systemic inertia and uninspired personalities, change will be slow. However, enhanced fiscal autonomy and career prospects for local officials would encourage desired behavior from officeholders and attract higher-quality individuals to administrative careers in the future. … One change that would both transform the incentives for current officials and, in the medium run, attract different types of personalities to local public offices is the introduction of better positive incentives or rewards.”
  • “Two forms of positive incentives are possible.
    • On the one hand, Russia needs greater fiscal decentralization — and one particular form of such policies could involve discretionary funds distributed to regions and municipalities based on clearly outlined performance priorities. Those can include improved economic performance and citizen satisfaction with local public goods.
    • On the other hand, introducing career incentives — positions in regional administrations, regional offices of the federal agencies, and in federal agencies — would be particularly interesting for younger and ambitious local officials.
  • Making the local elected office a major benefit for candidates for higher level elected positions would inspire those who have a political career in mind to also try and demonstrate their aptitude. Such incentives won’t immediately change the people who are already in office — but they will encourage some of the risk-averse to try new strategies and policies if there is a promise of a great reward and attract different personalities to those careers.

Defense and aerospace:

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

"The Kremlin is trying to kill Alexei Navalny. It should free him," Editorial Board, WP, 04.30.23.

  • “A new letter by prominent figures on his behalf reveals the stark truths: Mr. Navalny is constantly in solitary confinement, ‘squeezed into a concrete cell the size of a dog kennel, with no ventilation. Visits from relatives and phone calls are forbidden, his attorney-client privileges have been canceled. Despite running a fever, he is required to stand all day.’”
  • “On top of the unjust 11½-year sentence he is currently serving, Mr. Navalny, 46, faces an upcoming trial for ‘extremism’ that could result in an additional 30 years, according to his staff, and was recently told he will face yet another trial by military court on charges of ‘terrorism,’ which could add 35 more years. ‘They have brought absurd charges against me,’ he said in a video court appearance last week.”
  • “Mr. Navalny, the target in 2020 of a failed assassination attempt by Russia’s security services using a Soviet-era military nerve agent, is struggling with severe health problems.”
  • “Mr. Navalny is a prisoner of conscience, of courage and of significance to the future of Russia. His freedom is urgent — and essential.”

"They Refused To Fight for Russia. The Law Did Not Treat Them Kindly," correspondent Neil MacFarquhar, NYT, 05.01.23.

  • “[Hundreds of Russian men] … faced criminal charges for becoming war refuseniks since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. Some dodge the draft, while those already serving desert or refuse orders to redeploy on the bloody, chaotic battlefields of Ukraine.”
  • “Last year, 1,121 people were convicted of evading mandatory military conscription, according to statistics from Russia’s Supreme Court, compared with an average of around 600 in other recent years. Before the war, a vast majority were fined, not imprisoned. Russia recently passed a measure making it much harder to avoid a draft summons.”
  • “In addition, criminal cases have been initiated against more than 1,000 soldiers, mostly for abandoning their units, according to a broad court survey by Mediazona, an independent Russian news outlet. Anticipating the problem in September, when several hundred thousand civilians were mobilized, Russia toughened the penalties for being AWOL.”
  • “The maximum sentence was doubled to 10 years for what is euphemistically called “Leaving for Sochi.” (SOCH is the Russian acronym for AWOL, but the expression is a play on the name of Sochi, a Black Sea getaway for the country’s elite and site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.) Refusing an order to participate in combat carries a sentence of three to 10 years.”
  • “That has not stopped Russian men from going to unusual lengths to avoid fighting. One officer said he took a bullet in the leg as part of a pact among several soldiers to shoot one another and then claim that they were wounded in a firefight. Hailed as a hero for various battlefield events, he needed six months to recover, at which point he decided to flee.”


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

"Will the Invasion of Ukraine Change Russia-Africa Relations?", Ronak Gopaldas of Signal Risk, CEIP, 04.26.23.

  • “With ties forged under Soviet rule, Russia has historically enjoyed warm relations with many African countries, as their economic and ideological ambitions often align and their ties are bolstered by a mutual mistrust of the West.”
  • “The spread of Africa’s votes on United Nations (UN) resolutions to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, however, indicates three key themes.”
    • “Firstly, many African countries are pulled in competing directions by broader global geopolitics — for many, abstaining was the rational choice.”
    • “Secondly, Russia’s support on the continent may be overstated and is not unconditional.”
    • “Finally, Russian influence is often limited by the extent to which it can influence the political elite of a country and in some cases co-opt that elite into patronage networks.”
  • “The fluidity of geopolitics has left many African states between a rock and a hard place. What does this mean for Africa, not only in terms of its relationship to Russia but also more broadly on the geopolitical stage? Further, how would Africa be positioned on the global stage should Russia prevail, should the war drag on, or, more interestingly, should Ukraine emerge victorious?”
  • “The likeliest outcome for Africa from any eventuality of the war in Ukraine is that Russia’s capabilities, influence, and presence on the continent will be blunted by Russia’s financial, military, and personnel-related overstretch in Ukraine. It is important not to overstate Russia’s role in Africa and instead acknowledge that its presence on the continent is driven by opportunism as much as by invitation. Russia is not heavily invested in Africa, and the continent is less a strategic and geopolitical priority than Russian leaders want African officials to believe. Once the risks outweigh the rewards, Russia may leave a vacuum that could be more destabilizing than its presence.”

“Why Are So Many Soldiers Drawn to the Far Right?”, columnist Simon Kuper, FT, 04.27.23.

  • “From Brazil to Germany, the far right appears over-represented in spy services and militaries. That threatens both Ukraine’s war effort and Western democracy.”
  • “Today, some French soldiers sympathize with Russia against Ukraine. Vice-admiral Patrick Chevallereau explains: ‘A Russophile sentiment has long existed within part of traditionalist France, from which certain officers have come: that a ‘holy Russia’ . . . constitutes a kind of civilizational ally against an ‘Islamist’ and conquering south.’”
  • “The scenario of armed far-rightists enabling domestic takeovers feels more plausible than Western moles defeating Ukraine. In 2021, I published a biography of British KGB double agent George Blake. He and others sent the KGB more secret Western documents than it could handle. But after Blake fled to Moscow in 1966, he discovered a Russian weakness: ‘If the intelligence service gave information that didn’t match the boss’s view, then either that information wasn’t passed on, or it was changed so that it did match the boss’s view. So he was never correctly informed.’ Let’s hope Vladimir Putin ignores today’s Western helpers.”

"Surviving the War: Russia-Western Balkan Ties After the Invasion of Ukraine," Carnegie fellow Maxim Samorukov, CEIP, 04.25.23.

  • “Leading pro-Russian politicians in the Balkans know full well that the benefits of economic cooperation with Russia are shrinking and that their ties to the Kremlin can no longer be leveraged in the settlement of regional conflicts. They are seeking new international allies and are ready to make piecemeal concessions to placate the West. Nevertheless, they are unlikely to abandon pro-Russian rhetoric easily.”
  • “Most of them have spent decades cultivating Russia’s popularity in the region and capitalizing on it by posing as close friends of Moscow. Pro-Russian sentiment has become an integral part of the worldview of their core voting base, closely intertwined with resentment, a sense of socioeconomic injustice, and a grudge against the West. Removing the pro-Russian element may jeopardize the whole edifice of their public support, while sticking to Moscow-friendly pronouncements costs little, as the Kremlin no longer requires words to be backed up with actions.”
  • “Without the assistance of local actors, Russian influence in the Western Balkans would disappear overnight. But the opposite is also true. As long as local politicians can capitalize on invoking Moscow’s long shadow, Russia will remain a salient part of the Balkan landscape.”


“What 6 Data Points Tell Us About the Status of the War in Ukraine,” the Brookings Institution's Michael O’Hanlon and Constanze Stelzenmüller, WP, 04.26.23.

  1. Stalemate on the ground. Michael O’Hanlon: “Since last fall, territory holdings have mostly come to a stalemate. Russia controls about 17 percent of the land area — up from 7 percent before Feb. 24, 2022, but down from at least 22 percent a year ago. Any movement in recent months has been localized and limited.”
  2. Support for Ukraine remains strong. O’Hanlon: “For Ukraine’s Western friends, the strategy is to supply the country with more high-technology weaponry — tanks, air- and missile-defense systems, and (one hopes) ample artillery rounds — to prepare for a spring offensive while also helping Ukraine protect its main cities against aerial attack and withstand Russia’s efforts to take more territory.”
  3. Ukraine’s budget deficit has widened.
  4. Over one-third of Ukrainians have been displaced. Constanze Stelzenmüller: “The war has transformed Ukrainians’ lives. Russia’s tactics of terror and destruction have displaced more than one-third of the population, with almost 5.3 million registered as refugees across Europe (excluding Belarus and Russia) and an additional nearly 5.4 million internally displaced.”
  5. Divergence among Group of 20 states. Stelzenmüller: “On six emergency resolutions in support of Ukraine to date, several countries have taken a ‘neutral’ position or even aligned with Russia — including members of the Group of 20 who have abstained from votes defending Ukrainian independence and denouncing the Russian aggressor, most notably India, Brazil and South Africa.”
  6. Zelensky is winning the digital battle. Stelzenmüller: “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has conducted an unprecedented digital campaign of global outreach. Beyond his daily video messages to Ukrainians, Zelensky has since Feb. 24, 2022, addressed audiences around the world more than 200 times.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

"Armenia Is Ready to Relinquish Nagorno-Karabakh: What Next?", journalist Kirill Krivosheev, CEIP, 04.28.23. Clues from Russian Views.  

  • “A turning point has been reached in the long-running conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Last week, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced that Armenia could only achieve peace on one condition: that it limit its territorial ambitions to the borders of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. In other words, it must relinquish its claim to Nagorno-Karabakh, having fought multiple wars with Azerbaijan for control of the mountainous region. … It seems that Yerevan is ready to decisively surrender Karabakh.”
  • “So what lies ahead for Karabakh? There are no grounds to expect the ethnic cleansing that has been spoken of in Yerevan or the partisan war that Baku could fear. Judging by the comments of the Azerbaijani authorities, they intend to treat the Karabakh Armenians as they do other national minorities, such as the Lezgins, the Talysh, and the Tats. There will be no special autonomous areas or adaptation programs. Still, it won’t be easy for the remaining Armenians in Karabakh to get an Azerbaijani passport. Confronted with the new, brutal reality, they may decide after all to move to Armenia.”
  • “The Armenians have already been through the denial and anger stages of grief, and now they are in the process of bargaining. Before they can reach the final stage of acceptance, they will have to go through depression, which will be softened by talk in Yerevan of peaceful development through, for example, the opening of a land border with Turkey and revitalizing economic ties with it. Statements on the widening of cooperation with the United States and EU further the same ends.”
  • “Relations with Russia, meanwhile, will have to be overhauled, since the main subject of discussion — Karabakh — will disappear. For the majority of Armenians, the Kremlin will be seen as an unreliable ally that abandoned them in their hour of need. Only a few opposition figures from the old elites will maintain that this is all Pashinyan’s fault, and that if he had only recognized Crimea as Russian territory, everything would have been different. In all other respects, Moscow’s influence will be on par with that of Ankara, Brussels, and Washington.”

"How Russia Might Benefit From Central Asia's Authoritarian Regeneration," the University of Glasgow's Luca Anceschi, MT, 04.28.23.  

  • “Central Asia is becoming more authoritarian before our very eyes: after the power grab completed during the pandemic, the region’s elites are now introducing a series of measures designed to entrench their power for decades to come. Russia’s support may prove decisive in further strengthening this power. … It is through a well-tested combination of propaganda, media repression, and the imprisonment of critics that the elites in [Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan] will capitalize on the authoritarian regeneration achieved over the past year.”
  • “An increasingly isolated Russian Federation, in fact, is bound to represent an invaluable source of support for Central Asia’s non-democratic leaders.”
  • “Crucially, the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, created opportunities for these solidarity networks to be developed further: it’s reasonable to expect the Kremlin will reward Central Asia for not denouncing its invasion of Ukraine with a series of policies designed to preserve non-democratic rule in Astana, Ashgabat, and Tashkent. While Mongolia is reportedly pursuing a policy of equidistance in the Ukrainian conflict with a view to shield its democracy from external pressures, the Central Asian states’ ambiguous stance on the invasion may in turn strengthen the region's authoritarian regimes.”
  • “Two recent events indicate that Russia could yet regain much of the relevance it appears to have lost in Central Asia in recent years by extending its authoritarian solidarity to the region’s leaders. In his recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin pledged to prevent the outbreak of so-called ‘color revolutions’ in Central Asia. Meanwhile, there is evidence of talks to expand trilateral energy cooperation between Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, with Russian reserves being used to compensate for the gas shortages caused by Astana and Tashkent’s disastrous energy policies.”
  • There are therefore new opportunities for Russia to capitalize on the authoritarian consolidation completed in the region over the past year, which could allow Moscow to stage a remarkable comeback in Central Asia. Traditionally, the preservation of domestic power has constituted a key foreign policy objective for the Central Asian states, and Russia’s ability to act as a guarantor of the region’s renewed authoritarian stability may once again make the Kremlin fundamental to each regime’s survival mechanism.