Russia Analytical Report, April 1-8, 2024

7 Ideas to Explore

  1. 2024 is set to be a very difficult year for Ukraine and a window of opportunity for Russia, which the Kremlin will try to make the most of,” according to Kirill Shamiev’s interview to Cherta, republished by Russia.Post. This ECFR fellow’s dim view of Ukrainian war prospects for 2024 is rooted in that Ukraine “is at war with a country that has triple the population, a larger economy and an authoritarian regime that can do what it wants with people.” Shamiev is not alone in seeing difficulties for Kyiv this year. In the view of Matthew Blackburn of NUPI, “it remains unclear how Ukraine can survive 2024 if Russia is outproducing the West by more than three-to-one in shells and has more troops at its disposal.” In addition, in the view of FT’s Chris Miller, which he has shared in a WoR podcast with Michael Kofman,We’re in a really interesting period now where Ukraine might be forced to make some really difficult decisions.” That said (by Miller), CEIP’s Kofman believes chances of Russia managing to achieve its initial invasion objectives are “nil.”
  2. “Russia has almost completely reconstituted militarily,” in the assessment of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, which he shared at a recent CNA event. “After the initial setbacks on the battlefield delivered to them by a brave and hardy group in Ukraine, with the support of China in particular, dual use capabilities of variety of other efforts, industrial and commercial, Russia has retooled and now poses a threat to Ukraine as we are struggling to get the supplemental,” Campbell said. Russia’s “newfound capabilities pose a longer-term challenge to stability in Europe and threatens NATO allies,” he warned.
  3. If the war in Ukraine is going to end with something less than a total Ukrainian victory, then the proper response is to make it less likely that other countries will suffer Ukraine’s fate in the future,” according to Harvard’s Stephen Walt. “Because none of us knows what Putin might do, NATO’s European members should increase their defense capabilities and correct any obvious vulnerabilities,” he writes in FP. “At the same time, however, the United States and its NATO allies should acknowledge Russia’s legitimate security concerns ... and consider what they can do to allay them,” according to Walt.
  4. Even if Ukraine’s drone strikes “succeed in completely shutting down every refinery within its reach, there will be enough capacity in the Urals and Siberia to meet Russia’s needs for diesel, marine fuel and fuel oil,” in the assessment of CEIP’s Sergey  Vakulenko. “In this scenario, there will be a 20–30% shortage of gasoline, which could be covered by imports from Russia’s ally and neighbor Belarus,” he predicts in a commentary.
  5. Writing for The Bell on recent seizures of private assets by Russian authorities since the launch of the invasion into Ukraine, Alexander Kolyandr and Alexandra Prokopenko posit that “Russia appears to be undergoing its greatest redistribution of wealth in three decades.” “Asset transfers appear designed to boost loyalty to the Kremlin,” according to these two CEIP analysts.
  6. Even as Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s presidential term expires on May 20 with no presidential elections in sight, the accusations of illegitimacy against him are “unlikely to bother ordinary Ukrainians,” in the view of CEIP’s Konstantin Skorkin. Unless, these accusations become accompanied by significant military and social problems, in Skorkin’s view.
  7. Donald Trump has privately said he could end Russia’s war in Ukraine by pressuring Ukraine to give up its aspirations to reestablish control over Crimea and Donbas, people familiar with his plan told WP 


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

Russia throws North Korea a lifeline,” Editorial Board, WP, 04.05.24. 

  • For the past 14 years, a panel of United Nations experts has regularly reported on North Korea's expanding nuclear and missile programs and its efforts to defy U.N. Security Council sanctions. 
  • In a U.N. Security Council vote on March 28, Russia vetoed an extension of the panel's work, which it had previously supported. China abstained, and 13 other members voted for it. As a result, the panel that monitored the sanctions against North Korea is to expire at the end of this month, and the rest of the world will know even less than it does now about North Korea's quest. This was a gift from Russian President Vladimir Putin to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, undermining sanctions that the United Nations has imposed in recent years. More than that, it suggests yet another setback - again, perpetrated by Russia - to the post-Cold War struggle to curtail the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
  • Mr. Putin is paying back North Korea for sending an estimated 10,000 containers of weapons and ammunition to Russia for use in the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, filling three major storage depots near the front lines of the war, amounting to more than 3 million rounds. 
  • After the failed Hanoi summit with President Donald Trump in 2019, Mr. Kim appears to have given up any hope of normalization with the United States, accelerating the pace of his armament effort while deepening ties with Moscow. Russia has thrown him a lifeline. But what if he wants more than just oil and a helpful veto at the United Nations? There is a worrisome possibility that he could seek assistance with nuclear weapons and missile technology from Russia. 
  • The loss of the monitoring panel can be repaired, perhaps by establishing a new one supported by the Group of Seven. But the larger challenge is to come up with a new and effective strategy to deal with North Korea. U.S. policy has wavered between drift, incentives, Mr. Trump's failed summitry and back to drift. As always in the atomic age, the danger is of disastrous miscalculation and misperception in a confrontation. Containing the danger is now even harder, as Mr. Putin - with a permanent Security Council seat - transforms Russia from a global actor that exercised at least a basic level of responsibility on some issues into a rogue state that makes common cause with the world's worst regimes.

“Russia Just Gutted the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea – What Now?” Aaron Arnold, RUSI, 04.03.24. 

  • Russia has long ignored its obligation to implement international sanctions against North Korea – and now it may finally have dealt them a fatal blow.  n what amounts to a significant turning point in the international sanctions regime against North Korea, Russia recently vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to extend the North Korea UN Panel of Experts’ mandate for another year – breaking 14 years of unanimous support. 
  • Unfortunately, Russia’s actions have far more dire consequences than merely bringing an end to a UN body responsible for monitoring compliance with one of the world’s largest and most complex sanctions regimes. Not only will countries lose access to authoritative sources of information, but it is likely that the sanctions against North Korea will now persist in a zombie-like state – neither updated nor monitored.
  • Russia’s veto on extending the Panel’s mandate is just another episode in a long history of chipping away at the Panel’s autonomy and its ability to follow through on its mandate. Working with China, for example, Russia was able to leverage its influence to hamstring the Panel’s ability to effectively conduct investigations, slashing budgets and imposing pointless administrative travel restrictions.
  • What’s left is ultimately a sanctions regime with no enforcement or monitoring mechanism, and enough political disagreement to ensure stagnation for the foreseeable future.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Russia changes tack on targeting Ukraine’s energy plants,” Isobel Koshiw, FT, 04.08.24. 

  • Russia has changed tactics in targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, using precision missiles to destroy power stations in areas less protected than Kyiv, some of which cannot be fully restored in time for next winter. 
    • Russia targeted seven thermal power stations between March 22 and 29 — all in other regions than Kyiv, which has some of the best air defenses in the country. The Russian missiles also hit two hydroelectric power stations.
  • Ukrainian officials said that while not as widespread, the damage that Moscow had inflicted was worse than in the winter of 2022-23, with the apparent aim now being permanent, irreparable damage ... “Our goal is to restore as much as we can by October,” said Maxim Timchenko, chief executive of DTEK, Ukraine’s largest energy producer. The group lost about 80 per cent of its power generation in Russian attacks carried out in the last week of March. Five of DTEK’s thermal plants were forced to halt operations.
    • In the previous winter campaign targeting the Ukrainian energy grid, Russia sought to plunge cities into the dark and cold by targeting switchyards and transformers in attacks across the country, said Timchenko. But now Russian missiles are homing in on power plants in specific regions to “destroy them completely because it is not possible to rebuild power stations in a short time”.
    • The second, important difference with the winter of 2022-2023 is that Russia is now also using expensive precision ballistic missiles, said Andriy Gerus, head of Ukraine’s parliamentary committee for energy and utilities. 

“The Kremlin wants to make Ukraine’s second city unlivable. The race to save Kharkiv from Russian bombs,” The Economist, 04.07.24. 

  • Russia stepped up its bombardment of Kharkiv in December, around the time that problems with American military assistance began to make headlines. Since then, the city has been on the receiving end of more ballistic missiles than at any time since the start of the war. Drone assaults have become more frequent: they fly faster and higher, and have a carbon wing-coating that makes shooting them down harder. But the March 27th attack on 23rd August Street was perhaps the pivotal moment, marking the first time a glide bomb, launched from a plane and capable of travelling tens of kilometers to devastating effect, had been used against Ukraine’s second city.
    • The attack came just five days after a missile barrage destroyed almost all of Kharkiv’s power-generation capacity. It has been followed by more than a week of operations using glide bombs, missiles and drones, killing at least 16 and injuring another 50 or more, according to reports compiled from local news sources. There was a sinister evolution in tactics too, with “double-tap” strikes (repeated shots on the same position) that appeared to target first responders. The escalation had military sources in Kyiv suggesting that Russia has resolved to make the city a “grey zone”, uninhabitable for civilians.
  • A military operation to seize Kharkiv would be a tall order for Russia. The last time it tried, in 2022 when the city was much more poorly defended, it failed spectacularly. Taking the city would require breaking through Ukrainian defenses and encircling it, which Russia is nowhere near being able to do; establishing air superiority, which is not a given; and winning a bloody urban campaign. “There’s a strong chance they would not succeed with any of that,” says Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a Ukrainian expert and former defense minister. For others, the fear remains that the Russians will turn nastier when they realize they can’t get what they want. “They won’t be able to take Kharkiv, but destroy it—perhaps,” says Denys Yaroslavsky, a local businessman turned special-forces reconnaissance commander. “We’d be talking about something of the order of Aleppo.”

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Kofman and Miller Reflect on the War From the Start to the Present,” The Russia Contingency with Michael Kofman and Chris Miller, War on the Rocks, 03.28.24. 

  • Chris Miller: The war is still, I think, dynamic, but it’s not as fast-paced or fast-moving as the first year and a half. We’re in a really interesting period now where Ukraine might be forced to make some really difficult decisions
  • Chris Miller:  Historically, with the Zelensky administration, the White House and Bankova have not had a great relationship. Ukraine is heavily reliant on the United States.  However, Zelensky and Biden are not necessarily extremely friendly with each other. 
  • Michael Kofman: US concern with the strike campaign against Russian energy infrastructure, particularly refining capacity, has to do...  with the concern that Russia is one of the largest energy exporters in the world. So, that could probably have an effect on global price stability. Second, with regard to US energy company concerns on pipelines and other things, Russia could retaliate against US energy infrastructure. 
  • That means whatever Russia retaliates against, if that’s how it’s going to unfold, then it should be up to Ukraine to decide whether striking energy infrastructure is a better bet versus striking something else. It’s their asset. And it’s the one thing that the United States does not constrain policy-wise, unlike its own capabilities and missiles.
  • Chris Miller:  I do think in terms of the Western concerns, the United States concern about it, that when they say that they are worried about escalation, what they’re worried about is a Russian retaliation that would be much greater, that would have a much greater impact than whatever the Ukrainians, whatever impact the Ukrainian, drone program is able to conduct on Russian soil right now. I think it goes to what you were saying about them being able to unleash some new type of hell on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
  • Michael Kofmanthe Biden administration has been constantly trying to balance between a triangle of, something like the characterization of strategic defeat for Russia, managing escalation, which is a big priority for them. And then, the third part of it is a victory for Ukraine, which, depending on who you ask, might be defined differently, or what Ukraine might accept might be a bit different than somebody else that’s backing them. And so they’ve often come much more down on the side of the triangle that was trying to ensure strategic defeat, which was a consistent policy talking point, although I think in practice, it’s only really true in the sense that the initial Russian invasion failed and failed to achieve its objectives. And there isn’t a strong prospect of Russia being able to do it again. In fact, I think the prospect of that is nil, at least right now in this war.
  • Michael Kofman: I see the energy strike campaign as one that is likely to continue and expand. I’m not sure how it will play out. I’m a bit skeptical of the impact on the military. I think it actually has much greater significance for the Russian government’s revenue from energy sales and exports. And that is something they very much care could really affect long-term Russian assumptions about whether or not the cost of this war if they’re not achieving their minimal war aims, don’t increasingly outweigh what they could hope to achieve on the battlefield. This means that if Ukraine holds this year and is able to hold Russia to its best incremental gains, and if, on the other side of the equation, this prolonged strike campaign is really affecting Russian energy infrastructure and prospect for revenue, then that can increasingly shape the Kremlin’s calculations. 

“Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 7, 2024,” ISW, 04.07.24. 

  • Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate Head Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov reported that Ukraine anticipates Russian offensive operations to intensify in late spring and early summer. Budanov stated in an interview with German broadcaster ARD published on April 7 that Ukraine expects that Russian offensive operations will especially intensify in the Donbas. Budanov also reported that Russian forces will likely attempt to advance to Chasiv Yar (west of Bakhmut) and in the direction of Pokrovsk (about 43km northwest of Avdiivka). 
  • ISW has recently observed that Russian forces intensified the tempo of their offensive operations across the theater, including by conducting a roughly reinforced company-sized mechanized assault toward Chasiv Yar on April 4, and continues to assess that the Russian military appears to be successfully mitigating likely increased manpower and materiel losses.
  • Zelensky and senior Ukrainian military officials have recently warned that delays in security assistance have forced Ukraine to cede the battlefield initiative to Russia and that the Ukrainian military cannot plan a successful counteroffensive or defensive effort without knowing when and what kind of aid Ukraine will receive. ISW continues to assess that delays in Western military assistance have forced the Ukrainian military to husband materiel and that Ukrainian forces likely must make difficult decisions prioritizing certain aspects of its defense at the expense of contesting the initiative to constrain Russian military capabilities or plan for future counteroffensive operations as prolonged US debates about military aid continue.

“No Chance of Peace Talks in the Short Term,” Kirill Shamiev, Russia.Post/Cheta, 04.05.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Now, the equilibrium is not in Ukraine’s favor: it is at war with a country that has triple the population, a larger economy and an authoritarian regime that can do what it wants with people, regardless of the political consequences. At the same time, support from the US is severely limited due to political disagreements in Washington, while Europe is too slow at ramping up its aid to Ukraine and its own military-industrial complex. Therefore, 2024 is set to be a very difficult year for Ukraine and a window of opportunity for Russia, which the Kremlin will try to make the most of. But by 2025, European assistance should begin to improve qualitatively. And we will see how the US elections turn out in November.
  • What matters is how weapons are used and the training of personnel, as well as just having artillery shells and missiles for air defense to defend against Russian attacks. There is another factor here – that of replenishing troops. 
  • [Mobilization in Russia] will happen if the Kremlin decides to carry out major offensive operations. We see that when Russia attacks, it does so in a way that leads to many losses. And mobilization will be needed to make up for all those losses. ... In my view, mobilization is highly likely. But it will be much more businesslike and calmer than the panic that occurred during the first round.
  • I do not see any talk about negotiations now on the Russian side. The Kremlin says that Ukraine does not exist, that we will destroy them. On the Ukrainian side, too, there is still motivation to continue the war, to defend themselves. ...It matters how this year goes, how the Russian offensive goes, what external shocks will affect the situation. There is no chance of peace talks in the short term. But at some point, all wars end in a truce or a peace treaty.
  • Currently, Russia is seeing fundamental changes in its politics and economy. A big experiment is underway to redistribute the assets of Western companies, to throw a huge amount of money into the military-industrial complex and structures affiliated with it. The Soviet lessons do not apply here, as it is a market economy after all.  In my view, Russia will have seriously changed by the end of this war. It will be a new country with a new class of rich people, with ideological changes.

For more analysis on the military aspects, see:

Military aid to Ukraine:

“Mike Johnson Prepares to Unwrap Mystery Ukraine Aid Package; Anger over Israel's actions in Gaza could complicate House speaker's decisions about foreign-aid bill,” Lindsay Wise, WSJ, 04.07.24. 

  • Embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson (R., La.) has pledged to bring up Ukraine aid for a vote in the House soon after Congress returns from Easter recess in coming days. But what the bill will look like—and who will support it—remains unsettled due to fractures among Republicans and Democrats over both aid for Kyiv and related assistance for Israel.
  • In a tacit acknowledgment of the tricky political terrain, Johnson has said he was weighing splitting up Ukraine aid and Israel aid so that lawmakers can vote on each element separately. Doing so could maximize Democratic votes for Ukraine, which accounts for about $60 billion of the package, while allowing some Republicans to vote for Israel aid, even if they don't support more money for Ukraine.
  • Johnson has also publicly floated a few policy proposals that could squeeze some more votes here and there: converting some Ukraine aid to a loan, confiscating seized Russian assets to fund Ukraine's reconstruction and lifting the Biden administration's moratorium on new liquefied natural gas export projects. 
  • The promise of a vote has set Johnson on a collision course with members of his own caucus who don't want the U.S. to spend any more money to help Ukraine. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.), an ardent opponent of Ukraine aid, filed a motion to oust Johnson from the speakership on March 22. But she stopped short of calling the motion up for a vote, saying it was meant as a warning to Johnson.
    • Greene argued vociferously this week against any Ukraine aid package, saying border security and spending cuts should be higher priorities. "Here we are $34 trillion in debt and every 100 days we gain another trillion, and we're going to send another $60 billion to Ukraine, for what?" Greene said.
  • Even if Johnson is able to win some policy changes, they are unlikely to quell dissent. More than half of House Republicans went on the record opposing Ukraine aid in September—including Johnson—in a vote taken before he became speaker. Polls show a growing number of Republican voters think the U.S. is doing too much for Ukraine. But many GOP defense hawks are eager for the aid to pass, and they are growing more anxious as the Ukrainians run low on ammunition and other military equipment while Russia advances further into Ukrainian territory.
  • While the use of seized Russian assets could help finance Ukraine, officials say it can't currently replace Western assistance as the primary source of military funding because of legal complexities in the jurisdiction where most of the money is held—the European Union. The EU's member states last month approved use of profits from 190 billion euros—equivalent to $206 billion—in frozen Russian securities for Kyiv, yielding an estimated €3.5 billion.

“There’s a reason you haven’t heard the White House bash Johnson’s Ukraine aid ideas,” Jennifer Haberkorn, Eli Stokols, and Jonathan Lemire, Politico, 04.03.24.

  • Aides to President Joe Biden have been privately working behind the scenes to ensure House Speaker Mike Johnson can put a $60 billion aid package for Ukraine up for a vote — and survive it politically.
    • Instead, they’ve sought to give Johnson breathing room as he leads a fractious GOP caucus with an ever-shrinking majority.
  • The White House provided little official pushback following Johnson’s interview Sunday night on Fox News Channel, when he floated the ideas of making some of the Ukraine aid a loan or repurposing some $300 billion in seized Russian assets.
  • Like President Biden said in his State of the Union, our own urgent national security interests are on the line because Putin will not stop at Ukraine, but Ukraine can stop Putin.
  • For weeks, administration officials have publicly maintained that the simplest path forward is Johnson bringing up the Senate bill for a vote and the House passing it. Even some Republicans acknowledge that it would pass if given a chance. It’s also Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)’s preferred path, a point he expressed to Johnson in a late February meeting between the four congressional leaders at the White House.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took his message directly to Johnson in a phone call last week, adding later in a social media post that Ukrainian leadership recognizes 'that there are differing views in the House of Representatives.
  • Budging Johnson has been difficult. In late February, Biden convened the four congressional leaders for an Oval Office meeting that participants described as unusually intense due to the pressure brought to bear on the newly minted speaker. McConnell joined Democratic leaders and CIA director William Burns, who presented a classified briefing about how arms shortages were hurting Ukraine on the battlefield, in attempting to pressure Johnson, warning him that history would judge him harshly should Russia win the war because America abandoned Ukraine.

“Help Ukraine Hold the Line,” Editorial Board, NYT, 04.06.24. 

  • Given Ukraine's perilous position, ... most Democrats and Republicans would likely accept what Mr. Johnson cobbles together, even measures they have reservations about, particularly since the package also includes aid for Israel and Taiwan. Those lawmakers are right to pursue a reasonable compromise. 
  • American weapons and artillery are essential to Ukraine's ability to hold the line and, eventually, to negotiate for an end to hostilities from a position of strength. No country has the stockpiles or the production capabilities to match the United States in producing and providing the 155-millimeter artillery shells, HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems) or air defense systems that Ukraine requires to hold the Russians at bay. Russia, by contrast, has successfully ramped up military production and is receiving supplies from North Korea and Iran, and Mr. Putin has used the recent terror attack on a concert hall in Moscow to ramp up recruitment.
  • Allowing Russia to impose its will on Ukraine would be a devastating blow to America's credibility and leadership -- fulfilling one of Mr. Putin's long-term goals. That, in turn, would risk encouraging him to test waters further afield, whether in the Baltic States, in western Europe or to the south, and would signal to Xi Jinping that China, too, can throw its weight around. Mr. Trump and his followers may argue that the security of Ukraine, or even of Europe, is not America's business. But the consequence of allowing a Russian victory in Ukraine is a world in which authoritarian strongmen feel free to crush dissent or seize territory with impunity. That is a threat to the security of America, and the world. Congress is prepared to stand up to this aggression; it is Mr. Johnson's duty to bring this effort to a vote.

“How Ukraine's tech army is taking the fight to Russia,” David Ignatius, WP, 04.05.24. 

  • Ukrainian drone operators can instantly map a safe route to the target using this system, which was developed for them by the U.S. software company Palantir. To demonstrate it for me, a Palantir engineer pressed a key: The simulated drone headed south, turned east in a wide semicircle to avoid one air-defense zone, carved a semicircle west around another, zigzagged a route through the jammers — and finally hit the target.
  • This software-driven attack system is part of an astonishing wave of innovation driven by the Ukraine conflict. Fifteen months ago, I described the automated intelligence and targeting systems of "the algorithm war," as technologists here described it. We're now at version 2.0 — or maybe it's 4.0. The race for advantage keeps accelerating. Russia, after a slow start, is proving nearly as adept at innovation as Ukraine. "The nature of warfare has changed," explains Giorgi Tskhakaia, a defense adviser to the Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transformation. ... On any given day, each side has nearly 3,000 drones in the air, Tskhakaia says. The front line has become a digital shooting gallery. ... Technology cycles evolve every few months, with each countermeasure producing an offsetting response. 
  • to North America and Australia. It's a weird fusion of Silicon Valley and trench warfare.
  • Ukrainian technology has evolved from simple quadcopters that can travel a few miles to big fixed-wing drones that can reach deep inside Russia. The next step is to equip these drones with virtual mapping and artificial intelligence.
    • Human Rights Watch is one of many activist groups warning about what it calls "digital dehumanization" in warfare, "New law is needed on autonomy in weapons systems to create boundaries between what is acceptable and unacceptable," argues a coalition seeking to curb autonomous weapons like those Ukraine and Russia — and dozens of other countries — are deploying.
  • Zelensky told me last week at his presidential compound that Ukraine needed to fight back against Russia's attempt to destroy its energy grid, even though the reaction of U.S. officials "was not positive." "Why can't we answer them?" Zelensky said. "Their society has to learn to live without petrol, without diesel, without electricity. … It's fair."  
  • "Our motto is, 'The drones are fighting, not the people,'" says Tskhakaia. He thinks autonomous weapons will save precious lives, Ukraine's scarcest resource. The country's roughly 20,000 drone operators can work away from the front lines, often in protected underground bunkers, he notes. The long congressional delay in approving military assistance for Kyiv has had an unlikely upside. Countries starving for weapons, like Ukraine, learn to innovate and make their own.

For more analysis on military aid to Ukraine, see: 

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

“All of the shock sanctions against Russia have already been introduced,” interview with Ivan Timofeev, RIAC, 04.04.24. Clues from Russian Views^ (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • Everything is relative. Iran, for example, has been living under American sanctions for 45 years. During this time, they changed: they were either increased by Washington, or decreased, but the essence remained. Based on this, I will assume that anti-Russian sanctions will exist for a long time; they can be predicted for decades to come.
  • All shock sanctions against Russia have already been introduced. Purely theoretically, we could probably still try to block our trade with third countries, but in practice this is extremely difficult. ... Secondary sanctions, as well as criminal prosecutions by the US authorities, are largely in the nature of a psychological attack.
  • Sanctions bite and it hurts, it even draws blood. First of all, they cause harm to those companies that directly fall under all these restrictions, which had close international cooperation with Western partners, who were engaged in the sale, first of all, of oil, gold, diamonds, steel, and are now forced to reduce the production of their products. But, strictly speaking, this damage is no longer as severe as it was in 2022.
  • Most importantly, the anti-Russian sanctions of the West did not lead to a catastrophe, to the collapse of the country’s economy. They did not lead to the catastrophe when Moscow would have been forced to make political concessions.

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Inside Donald Trump’s secret plan to end the Ukraine-Russia war,” Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey and Michael Birnbaum, WP, 04.05.24. 

  • Former president Donald Trump has privately said he could end Russia’s war in Ukraine by pressuring Ukraine to give up some territory, according to people familiar with the plan. Some foreign policy experts said Trump’s idea would reward Russian President Vladimir Putin and condone the violation of internationally recognized borders by force.
  • Trump’s proposal consists of pushing Ukraine to cede Crimea and the Donbas border region to Russia, according to people who discussed it with Trump or his advisers and spoke on the condition of anonymity because those conversations were confidential. That approach, which has not been previously reported, would dramatically reverse President Biden’s policy, which has emphasized curtailing Russian aggression and providing military aid to Ukraine.
  • Privately, Trump has said that he thinks both Russia and Ukraine “want to save face, they want a way out,” and that people in parts of Ukraine would be okay with being part of Russia, according to a person who has discussed the matter directly with Trump.
  • Exchanging territory for a cease-fire would put Ukraine in a worse position without assurances that Russia would not rearm and resume hostilities, as it has in the past, said Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank. “That is a terrible deal,” she said of Trump’s proposal.
  • In many ways, Trump’s plan is in line with his approach as president. His preference for splashy summits over policy details, confidence in his own negotiating skills and impatience with conventional diplomatic protocols were all hallmarks of how he approached foreign affairs in his first term.
  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has antagonized European allies with his autocratic and pro-Russian tendencies, met with Trump last month and afterward claimed Trump told him he will force the war to end because “he will not give a penny” to help Ukraine. Orban’s statement was false, but the former president didn’t want to publicly contradict him after entertaining him all night at his Mar-a-Lago Club and admiring his toughness and anti-immigration positions, according to a person close to Trump, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation.  During the meeting, Orban spoke at length about Soviet history, Russia’s desire for Ukrainian territory and the military challenges facing Ukraine, the person said. Trump listened but was noncommittal, the person said. An Orban spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
  • Fiona Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was Trump’s top Russia adviser and has since emerged as a prominent critic, said it reminded her of 2017 — when unvetted foreigners and business executives approached Trump with various peace plans, and he thought he could sit down with Russia and Ukraine and mediate on the strength of his personal charisma. Trump’s team “is thinking about this very much in silos, that this is just a Ukraine-Russia thing,” Hill said. “They think of it as a territorial dispute, rather than one about the whole future of European security and the world order by extension.”
  • “No amount of leverage the United States has is likely to compel Ukrainian leadership to engage in policies that would constitute domestic political suicide,” said Michael Kofman, an analyst of the Russia-Ukraine war at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonpartisan research center. “And no amount of leverage the United States has can compel Ukraine to cede territory or engage in these types of concessions. This is a situation where if you’re willing to give a hand, the other side will very quickly want the rest of the arm.”

“Should the Biden Administration Pressure the Ukrainians to Go to the Negotiating Table and Resolve the Dispute with Russia Diplomatically?” A study group led by Karen Donfried Vladyslav Wallace, Belfer Center, 04.01.24.

Avoiding A Protracted Conflict: The Biden Administration should push the Ukrainians towards a negotiated settlement to avoid a prolonged conflict in Ukraine and mitigate further casualties and devastation. Acknowledging the grim reality that extended warfare carries, there is a need to maintain an open diplomatic channel with Russia to help bring this invasion to an end and to save Ukrainian lives.Ukrainian Sovereignty Could be Compromised: With current conditions on the battlefield, it could be a strategic failure to pressure Ukraine to negotiate as it could lead the country to make reckless concessions under duress.
Sustainability of Western Support: It is important to recognize the limitations of military and economic aid from Ukraine’s Western partners, particularly as we see aid for Ukraine still stalled in the U.S. Congress.Negotiations Could be Seen as Illegitimate: There is genuine doubt as to whether such U.S. pressure would be successful as it could be viewed as illegitimate by the Ukrainians.
Negotiations under Trump Would be a Catastrophe: The current political landscape in the U.S. could provide a better window of opportunity for Ukraine to negotiate more favorable conditions of a potential peace agreement with Russia.Historical Failures of Negotiations: Previous attempts, such as the Minsk Agreements, to push the Ukrainians towards a negotiated peace agreement with Russia have failed which raises considerable skepticism towards the potential success of renewed efforts to negotiate peace.
Realpolitik Considerations: Ukraine is currently facing harsh challenges in passing a mobilization law in the face of low public support and overall morale. Given how difficult Ukraine is finding it to meet the demand for greater troop reserves, a negotiated settlement might reflect a more pragmatic strategy for Ukraine.Russian Credibility Does Not Amount to Much: There is well-founded skepticism in the international community and in Ukraine regarding Russia’s willingness to engage in negotiations with genuine intent, particularly because of past experiences where similar efforts were manipulated or ignored.
Strategic Shift to China: It is in the strategic interests of the U.S. to pressure the Ukrainians to go to the negotiating table with Russia as it would allow the U.S. to shift its focus to an even greater world power: China.Similar Aggression Could be Encouraged: If the U.S. were to decide to pressure Ukraine to the negotiating table, it could signal to both Russia and other global powers that actions that undermine international law can lead to gains through diplomatic concessions.

“Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions following the embassy round table discussion to settle the situation around Ukraine,” Russian Foreign Ministry, 04.04.24. Clues from Russian Views

  • This was the third meeting with the ambassadors representing the Global Majority to discuss Ukraine and issues arising from the hybrid war waged against Russia. ... With regard to Ukraine, we covered in detail the specific plans hatched by the West to embroil as many countries from the Global South and the Global East (the Global Majority) as possible into the scheme that promotes the 10-point Zelensky peace formula. 
  • Not long ago, publicly and without mincing words, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba laid out their plan to lure in the participants of the “peace formula.” Here is what he had to say, quote: “The peace formula is a menu, and any country can pick the issue it wants to work on.” ... The menu method is used to get onboard as many countries as possible. 
  • Here is what I would like to tell our colleagues regarding their argument that the West and Ukraine should not hold any discussions without Russia: Discussions can be held but only on conditions of absolute equality, without ready-made formulas on the table that are misguided and have no chance of success.
  • If the West, especially the United States, continues to insist on the “peace formula,” it will be a waste of time and intellect, if they have any left. We have reaffirmed our support for the initiatives advanced by the Global South countries.
    • The most clear-cut plan was advanced by China last year; it comprises 12 principles and approaches. According to China, it would like to begin by getting the approval of these principles by all the main parties concerned. Unlike the menu of Zelensky’s formula, from which any element can be picked at will, the 12 points of the Chinese plan are interconnected and interdependent; you cannot take one and refuse to “order” other provisions. All these points should be discussed and complied with in their entirety. The most important thing for us is that the Chinese document is based on the analysis of the causes of the current developments and the importance of dealing with them. It is based on the top-down logic and formulates the root cause of the conflict as the absence of effective mechanisms for guaranteeing collective equal security, when the security of individual countries cannot be guaranteed at the expense of other countries’ security.
    • Understanding the root causes of what is going on right now must come first. This is exactly what we are trying to achieve as part of our ongoing contacts when we explain Russia’s positions. We explain the root causes going all the way back to at least 2014, or even to 2007 when President Vladimir Putin spoke at the Munich Conference. 

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

“The Looming Ukraine Debacle,” Matthew Blackburn1, NI, 04.04.24. 

  • What is the real balance of power between the warring nations, and what can be concluded from two years of Russia-NATO hard power competition? Unsurprisingly, Western leaders are reluctant to admit that the dire situation facing Ukraine is related to their own fundamental miscalculations about Russia. Russia’s multiple blunders in this war are well-known but what of those made by the Western alliance?
    • Russia’s Plan A was resisted by the Zelenskyy government, whose military forces held firm on the outskirts of Kyiv in March 2022. After the collapse of the Istanbul peace negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow in April, Russia shifted to Plan B: waging a grinding war of attrition to exhaust Kyiv’s will and capacity to resist while testing the Western alliance’s collective ability to sustain Ukraine.
    • As the slow success of Russia’s Plan B becomes more apparent, the failure of the West’s own Plan A to deal with Russia is now clarified. This plan consisted of sanctions to derail the Russian economy, diplomacy to isolate the Putin regime, and the use of NATO weapons and know-how to inflict serious damage on Russia on the battlefield. The optimal outcome would be Russia’s humiliation and withdrawal from Ukraine. But experts assured us that whatever happened, Russia would be seriously weakened and put in its place. This, however, is not what has materialized.
      • Western sanctions were ... a double failure: they did not wreck the Russian economy or destabilize the elite coalition around the regime.
      • The drip-feeding of advanced weaponry, calibrated to avoid crossing Russian redlines too flagrantly, did not allow the Ukrainians to achieve decisive success in 2023. 
      • Russia was better prepared for the long haul of military production and has also successfully innovated in response to the military setbacks it has experienced. ... Presenting Russian military successes as “human wave” or “meat assaults” is clearly inaccurate. Russia’s approach is gradual, attritional, and anything but mindless.
  • Given these dynamics, widespread talk of a Ukrainian victory has been replaced by the specter of defeat if the West cannot deliver the needed weapons and supplies. Yet, even if the shells arrive in time, Ukraine also has a manpower problem that is much harder to solve. 
  • Despite all the above indicators, many in the West want to continue Plan A: more sanctions on Russia, new weapons, and more training for Ukraine, all to somehow prepare Ukraine to launch another offensive in 2025. Yet it remains unclear how Ukraine can survive 2024 if Russia is outproducing the West by more than three-to-one in shells and has more troops at its disposal. Something has to give in the next phase of the war.
  • Statements made in recent weeks do not hold together. Russia cannot be “allowed” to win, but the West lacks the means to defeat Russia. The Western alliance lacks the desire or the means to take the initiative in Ukraine. For all the bluster about how the West must not self-deter and cross Russia’s redlines without fear, there is no real appetite to engage in brinksmanship over a Russia-NATO war.
  • The lack of realism in Western discourse is clear. There is indeed a serious risk that, rather than the West teaching Russia a lesson and putting Putin in his place, the opposite may occur. 
  • Words alone will not prevent a Russian victory. What is needed is a clear accounting of what can be realistically achieved with the means available, as well as the cost, risks, and benefits of different scenarios. Trying what has failed before and expecting new results is, after all, not a recipe for success.

“It's time we talked about the fall of Kyiv,” Iain Martin, The Times of London, 03.28.24. 

  • It is July and the Russian army is at the gates of Kyiv. ... When the Russians closed in on the capital, a new wave of refugees fled Ukraine seeking safety from incessant bombardment. This is the nightmare scenario now being contemplated by Western policymakers. Events are forcing military and civilian leaders in London, Washington, Paris and Brussels to map out the catastrophic collapse of Ukrainian forces denied the weapons and munitions they need.
  • Contrary to the predominant view that this is a perpetual "frozen conflict," with neither side able to win a decisive advantage, the front line is bitterly contested and there is a real risk of Ukrainian forces being pushed back. NATO leaders must hope their gathering in Washington in July for a summit celebrating the 75th anniversary of the alliance is not consumed by such a crisis.
  • I'm for maximum military support on the basis that Ukraine must win. The consequences of a partial or complete defeat would be calamitous in ways Western populations have barely begun to understand.  
  • Scenarios other than military defeat are available, of course. There could be a coup in Russia or a newly elected President Trump might seek to impose a ceasefire and de facto Ukrainian surrender. Perhaps Ukraine holds on and Europe gets its act together, using the clout of a GDP 10 times bigger than Russia with a population three and a half times larger.
  • As it is, we are in danger of losing sight of one of the main lessons of Ukraine's war. Retreating to the post- Cold War complacency about European security is not an option. We need to think entirely differently about how dangerous the threats are, arm ourselves accordingly, prepare for the worst and at best hope to be pleasantly surprised. Away from front line, we have a lazy habit of wishful thinking. The consequences of even a partial defeat would be calamitous

“AUKUS: Securing the Indo-Pacific, A Conversation with Kurt Campbell,” Kurt Campbell interviewed by Richard Fontaine, CNAS, 04.03.24. 

  • I think what we have seen is that the urgent security demands in Europe and the Indo-Pacific require much more rapid ability to deliver both ordinance and other capabilities. We've run into challenges associated with the delivery of even the most basic equipment necessary to support both the circumstances in Ukraine, but also just making sure that American defense stocks are kept whole. 
  • The truth is everything that we've ever done of consequence on the global stage we have done with European partners. I think what we've tried to do over the last few years is endeavor to be involved with Europe in the deepest possible consultations about the Indo-Pacific. The idea really is the linking strategically of these two critical geographic vectors of the Indo-Pacific and Europe, and talking with Europeans extensively about the Indo-Pacific, and then also working with the Indo-Pacific on challenges like Ukraine. 
  • I think we have assessed over the course of the last couple of months that Russia has almost completely reconstituted militarily. After the initial setbacks on the battlefield delivered to them by a brave and hardy group in Ukraine with the support of China in particular, dual use capabilities of variety of other efforts, industrial and commercial, Russia has retooled and now poses a threat to Ukraine as we are struggling to get the supplemental, but not just to Ukraine. Its newfound capabilities pose a longer-term challenge to stability in Europe and threatens NATO allies. 
    • Those stakes are clear in Europe, but they're also clear in the Indo-Pacific ... every country in the Indo-Pacific wants very much to make clear that what has been undertaken in Ukraine cannot be successful, so that no one contemplates that in the capitals in Pyongyang or in Beijing as they think about potential adventurism.

“Forget an ‘Asian NATO’ – Pacific Allies Could Join the Real One,” James Stavridis, Bloomberg, 04.08.24.

  • But with Russian President Vladimir Putin knocking at Europe’s door with his invasion of Ukraine; a Middle East literally in flames; increasing tension in on the Pacific Rim — between the US and China, and between Beijing and its neighbors over the South China Sea; cyberattacks against states and corporations proliferating; and the Islamic State seemingly on a comeback, NATO should think about recruiting a few new members from outside its traditional boundaries.
  • Obviously, there are serious hurdles to expanding NATO geographically to include a group of Asian democracies.
    • The first is the NATO Treaty itself, which is very specific about the geographic boundaries of the alliance falling within the North Atlantic region. A second would be the forging the political consensus among the 32 members to bring in Asian partners — look at the difficulties of admitting Sweden, a screamingly obvious candidate, blocked for over a year by Turkey and Hungary over trivialities.
  • We would face what in military terms is called the 'tyranny of distance,' encompassing all the challenges to train, exercise and operate together from halfway across the world.
  • When I was NATO’s supreme commander, getting the then-28 members to concur on even relatively modest deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq was maddening. Adding Asian partners to the mix could make the job of my successors as SACEUR even more frustrating.

“Nobody Actually Knows What Russia Does Next: The West’s warnings about Vladimir Putin’s future plans are getting louder—but not any more convincing,” Stephen Walt, FP, 04.02.24.

  • Apparently, key members of the Western foreign-policy elite are mind readers: They claim to know exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions are. Prominent officials and political commentators increasingly agree that his ambitions are limitless and that Ukraine is just his first target.
  • The fact that Putin is a ruthless dictator who imprisons or murders his domestic rivals and engages in other despicable acts tells us almost nothing about whether he wants to conquer a bunch of Russia’s neighbors or believes he would be able to do so. And one hardly needs to be a dictator to launch an unprovoked, illegal, and highly destructive war; I can think of some prominent liberal democracies that have done so on several occasions.
  • Second, Russia will be in no shape to launch new wars of aggression when the war in Ukraine is finally over. U.S. intelligence believes Russia has lost more than 300,000 troops killed or wounded in Ukraine, along with thousands of armored vehicles and dozens of ships and aircraft. 
  • Third, if the main reason that Putin decided to invade was to prevent Ukraine from moving into the West’s orbit and someday joining NATO, then he might be satisfied if that possibility is foreclosed in a subsequent peace agreement. 
    • If you believe Putin invaded primarily because he thinks Russians and Ukrainians are “one people,” then you might reasonably conclude his ambitions are limited to that one unique case.
  • Lastly, the claim that Putin is an unappeasable serial aggressor who will launch new wars if he is not totally defeated impedes efforts to end the war and spare Ukraine further damage. 
  • I’m not saying that I know what Putin will do—I don’t. Nor do I think we should simply assume that his intentions are benign or that he will reliably uphold the status quo in Europe once the war in Ukraine is over. What I’m objecting to are all those influential voices who claim to know exactly what he will do and who are basing the continued pursuit of unrealistic objectives on mere guesswork.
  • If the war in Ukraine is going to end with something less than a total Ukrainian victory, then the proper response is to make it less likely that other countries will suffer Ukraine’s fate in the future. Because none of us knows what Putin might do, NATO’s European members should increase their defense capabilities and correct any obvious vulnerabilities. At the same time, however, the United States and its NATO allies should acknowledge Russia’s legitimate security concerns (and, like all countries, Russia does in fact have them) and consider what they can do to allay them. 

“What’s the Quickest Path to World War III?” Scott Anderson, NYT, 04.02.24.

  • Jim Sciutto has interviewed several of Trump’s former advisers, including Kelly, who…managed to talk his old boss out of some of his worst ideas only by suggesting they would hurt his standing in public opinion.
    • John Bolton [former national security adviser] says, “It was frightening because we didn’t know what he was going to do up until the last minute.”
    • It…reflects the unbridled horror that insiders…feel at the prospect of a second Trump administration.
  • “The Return of Great Powers” [Sciutto’s book] argues… that the battle [between the U.S. and Russia and China] is being waged on every imaginable front, from undersea communication cables to satellites in outer space and the growing frontiers of artificial intelligence.
  • One great difference between this Cold War and the last…is that the guardrails erected to prevent superpower rivalries from sliding into catastrophe have been steadily dismantled.
    • The United States and Russia have abandoned one arms control treaty after another and lines of communication between all three powers have been purposely reduced.
  • Virtually all of Sciutto’s interlocutors are aligned: A defeated Ukraine will embolden Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to attack one of the other countries.
    • It might also encourage an impatient Xi Jinping of China to force a military solution to “the Taiwan question.”
    • Panelists also agree on the solutions: unwavering commitment to the defense of Ukraine; greater integration of NATO forces; much closer cooperation between the European and Asian blocs of democratic nations.
    • [Speaking about standing up to Russia, a senior Western diplomat said] “The idea that we can’t do this is completely false, but the problem is also economically and physically we have that capability. But then, do we have it politically? It’s going to be a different game. But am I concerned? Yes.”

“Biden and the Ukraine-Aid Standoff,” Holman W. Jenkins Jr., WSJ, 04.02.24.

  • Mr. Biden still wants things from Mr. Putin -- to avoid escalations, to refrain from transferring sensitive military technologies to China, to behave conveniently amid the fall campaign (when, say, "collusion" is dusted off and rolled out against Donald Trump again). Make what you want of the Russian leader's recent statement that he prefers a Biden victory. The signal Mr. Putin sends is sometimes the signal he means to send.
  • FDR's electorate was isolationist too and yet he put the U.S. on a crash course to rearmament. I won't spell out my complicated view but closing the door firmly to Russia in Europe and Iran in the Middle East is likely the best way to deter Beijing over Taiwan. It's also likely the quickest way to unravel their rogues alliance, which won't last a minute longer than Moscow and Tehran discovering it hasn't delivered the strategic gains they hoped.
  • The U.S. and Joe Biden are making an important bet without saying so. The theory that nuclear weapons kept the great power peace for the past 79 years and will continue to do so is about to get its ultimate test on the watch of the next U.S. president or two. A war over Taiwan won't be easily contained or ended. Researchers at the Cold War-born Atlantic Council have ruffled the serenity of the foreign-policy blob by noting, accurately and repeatedly, that the U.S could rather quickly find itself choosing between sacrificing a long-term strategic interest and using nuclear weapons.
  • Americans will become reconciled to their choice this fall. They will engage passionately and obstreperously in the Trump vs. Biden debate. But it's hard not to see the choice itself as a historic tragedy in the making. Even the millions who ardently support Mr. Biden because he's not Mr. Trump don't particularly heed his words or have visceral confidence in his leadership. This problem isn't going to get better in a second term.

“Macron Didn’t Want to Humiliate Putin. Now He Wants to Get Tough,” Stacy Meichtry and Bojan Pancevski, WSJ, 04.03.24.

  • President Emmanuel Macron of France held confidential calls with President Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in February to lay the groundwork for a Paris summit that he hoped would shake up the West’s strategy in the Ukraine war. Western allies—Macron told each leader, according to officials—should adopt a position of strategic ambiguity toward Russia that would leave all military options on the table.
    • The idea represented a radical break from the stance the Biden administration had maintained since the start of the war. Washington’s approach was calibrated to avoid actions that might provoke Moscow and escalate the conflict. Macron, in contrast, wanted to stop broadcasting the limits of Western engagement—what are called the West’s “red lines”—and instead keep the Kremlin guessing. Biden questioned the need for a change in strategy, the officials said, amid concerns it could lead to an escalation. Scholz also opposed the idea, saying it risked dividing allies and making NATO countries a party to the conflict. 
      • Yet at the close of the event, Macron stunned allies by telling a news conference that no military options should be ruled out, even the deployment of troops from NATO countries. 
  • Macron’s push for a strategic shift, however, risks dividing the very allies he is seeking to lead. Washington, Berlin and many other capitals across Western Europe promptly declared they were unwilling to send troops to Ukraine following Macron’s remarks in February. The red lines Macron sought to shroud in ambiguity were now fully exposed. “Strategic ambiguity is desirable, but we now ended up with strategic unambiguity,” said a senior European official. 
  • The Kremlin is seizing on the divisions. An internal Kremlin memo viewed by The Wall Street Journal describes plans for Moscow to launch a diplomatic outreach and influence campaign to amplify the rift over Macron’s stance and weaken public support for Ukraine. The memo says the campaign should be designed to portray Macron as an adventurist who could trigger a military confrontation between the West and Russia.

“Macron the Hawk. Why Europe Should Follow France’s Lead on Ukraine,” Célia Belin, FA, 04.05.24. 

  • Russia’s aggression has forced a historical disambiguation over where Europe starts and where it ends. The war in Ukraine exposed Europe’s vulnerabilities and catalyzed decisions on rearmament and economic security. It also made clear the need for continental integration. Keeping Moldova, Ukraine, and the western Balkans outside the bloc leaves them open to interference by foreign powers, which imperils the rest of Europe. Conversely, permitting their entry into the union reinforces the security of all.
  • France understands that a larger, more united Europe is geopolitically stronger and better equipped to face security challenges posed by bad actors such as Moscow. 
  • For France, making the case for the integration of Ukraine into the EU at a time of war—and refusing to rule out the dispatching of Western troops to defend Ukraine—sends a clear message to Putin: you don’t get to decide Europe’s future. Every act of territorial aggression will be met with more integration and more determination.
  • Despite some European leaders’ negative reactions to Macron’s implication that Western troops may yet be deployed to defend Ukraine, the French president has captured in his remarks an appropriate degree of urgency and forced a conversation on the matter at the European level.
  • When Macron advocated talks with Russia in 2021 and 2022, the rest of Europe rolled its eyes. Now, France is demonstrating resolve and moral clarity, but it has yet to convince skeptical partners of the need to scale up support for Ukraine. Some critics believe that Macron is being unduly provocative; others that his timing is poor. But it is precisely because Ukraine is struggling on the battlefield—and because U.S. support is wavering—that Europeans need to step up. If Donald Trump returns to the White House in 2025 and reneges on the United States’ commitment to Ukraine, France might find itself leading Europe in advancing a collective response. With its new status as a champion of Ukraine, France stands a better chance than ever of making the case for European unity and power.

“The world is safer for a renewed Entente,” David Cameron and Stephane Sejourne, The Telegraph, 04.07.24.

  • These are once again dark days. Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is into its third year, and it is having a profound impact on European and Euro-Atlantic security.
  • Together, France and Britain will reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine at the European Political Community Summit, to be held at Blenheim Palace in July. We will also ensure a productive NATO summit in Washington this summer.
    • We are both absolutely clear: Ukraine must win this war. If Ukraine loses, we all lose. The costs of failing to support Ukraine now will be far greater than the costs of repelling Putin.
  • Britain and France are proud of the support we have provided to Ukraine, from unprecedented sanctions to coordinated deliveries of the first long-range missile systems, Scalp and Storm Shadow. Just last month, the first Ukrainian pilots graduated from training with the Royal Air Force to start training with the Armée de l’air et de l’espace, as part of a program to build up Ukraine’s ability to fly modern F-16 fighter jets.
  • But as discussed during the Paris Conference in February, we must do even more to ensure we defeat Russia. The world is watching – and will judge us if we fail.
  • Even as we condemn Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine, we have expressed solidarity with the Russian people after the horrific violence inflicted by Islamic State at Crocus City Hall.

“Fragile alliance — is NATO still up for the fight?” John Paul Rathbone, FT, 04.03.24.

  • Today, [NATO] has re-found its purpose, and is now more often invoked as the most powerful and successful military alliance in history, a bulwark against Russian aggression and autocracies everywhere. But how strong is it, really?
    • [In his book “Deterring Armageddon” Peter Apps argues that] the organization was not in fact created as a tool of U.S. imperialism, as sometimes imagined by the radical left. Its original impetus instead stemmed from a group of European socialists.
    • Given the war in Ukraine and the prospect of a more isolationist America, Apps argues that the alliance may now be facing its most difficult years, even as it remains a “conflicted, flawed protagonist of a multi-decade struggle to stop a global war beginning once again in Europe.”
  • [President Vladimir] Putin’s war on Ukraine has reconfigured many of [tensions inside the alliance]. Macron has recast himself as the alliance’s biggest Russia hawk. Military spending by NATO’s European members has also grown by more than a third since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea to $380bn.
  • Sten Rynning’s “[NATO] From Cold War to Ukraine, a History of the World’s Most Powerful Alliance,” which bills itself as a “new history of the world’s most important alliance,” examines the ideas that inform its purpose.
    • [Rynning concludes that] the biggest threat to NATO’s future is “poor political management” rather than external aggression.
  • NATO should develop a mechanism to start a carefully calibrated dialogue with Moscow. Rynning stresses this would not be part of a “grand vision of peace… the trust is simply not there” but rather talks on limited issues, such as nuclear arms control.
  • Apps suggests that if it does not exist by [2049], it will be because it has collapsed, been superseded by something else, or failed to stop the catastrophic war it was built to prevent.
    • Still, on the eve of a possible second Trump presidency, and with the U.S. looking increasingly towards the Pacific and China, the first possibility seems the more likely cause of any demise. 

“NATO at 75: The Alliance’s future lies in Ukraine’s victory against Russia,” Ian Brzezinski, Atlantic Council, 04.03.24. 

  • Ukraine’s loss of momentum in its defense against Russia’s full-scale invasion is deeply rooted in Moscow’s ability to deter the Alliance from providing more robust assistance to Ukraine. A key element of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy has been the exercise of nuclear coercion to deter the West from intervening directly in the defense of Ukraine. The strategy has so far worked out better than he must have hoped. Putin’s threats of nuclear war caused the Alliance to pledge “no boots on the ground” and have intimidated allies into restricting their flow of military equipment to Ukraine.
  • Underscoring the effectiveness with which Russia has exercised nuclear coercion is the sheer imbalance of power between NATO and Russia. The combined gross domestic product (GDP) of NATO member states is some fifty-one trillion dollars, more than twenty times Russia’s GDP. NATO members spent $1.3 trillion on defense in 2023, around ten times that spent by Russia, and Russian military equipment and personnel are no match for the technology and professionalism deployed by the Alliance’s forces.
  • This imbalance begs the question: How is it that the Alliance is unable or unwilling to decisively defeat Russia’s invasion? That question will be unavoidable at the July summit. Allied leaders have unambiguously bound NATO’s security to this war. NATO summits have repeatedly condemned the invasion and demanded that Russia “completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its forces and equipment from the territory of Ukraine.”
  • If the upcoming Washington summit is to inspire continued confidence in NATO’s credibility, and thus its future, then the Alliance must take action to place Ukraine onto a clear path to victory. That will require a strategy featuring five essential elements:
    • Allied leaders must unambiguously endorse Ukraine’s war objectives—that is, total territorial reconstitution back to the nation’s 1991 borders.
    • NATO can no longer hesitate in providing Ukraine the weapons it so urgently needs—at the rate it needs, 
    • .Truly comprehensive and effective sanctions must be imposed on Russia. 
    • NATO allies must energetically engage the Russian people about the brutal realities of this war. 
    • The Washington summit must grant Ukraine a clear path to NATO membership.

“‘Havana syndrome’ might have been a Russian attack. The U.S. can’t stop investigating,” Editorial Board, WP, 04.01.24.

  • New information suggests but does not prove that Russia’s military intelligence agency is responsible…[for] the so-called Havana syndrome, or “Anomalous Health Incidents,” as the [U.S.] government calls the unexplained bouts of painful disorientation that U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers have suffered in recent years.
  • [A new investigation] identifies the possible culprit as Unit 29155, a “notorious assassination and sabotage squad” of the GRU, Moscow’s military intelligence service.
    • Senior members of the unit received “awards and political promotions for work related to the development of ‘non-lethal acoustic weapons.’”
    • The Insider reported, geolocation data shows that operators attached to Unit 29155, traveling undercover, were present in places where Havana syndrome struck.
  • The investigation found that a commonality among the Americans targeted was their work history on Russia issues.
    • This included CIA officers who were helping Ukraine build up its intelligence capabilities.
  • The U.S. intelligence community needs to conduct a full, aggressive inquiry that takes into account all aspects of the incidents.
    • It must include everything: counterintelligence information, case investigatory data, clinical data and possible concepts of operation for the attacks based on plausible mechanisms and devices identified by earlier research.

“Russian trolls target U.S. support for Ukraine, Kremlin documents show,” Catherine Belton and Joseph Menn, WP, 04.08.24. 

  • When President Biden proposed an additional $24 billion in supplemental funding for Ukraine in August, Moscow spin doctors working for the Kremlin were ready to try to undermine public support for the bill, internal Kremlin documents show.
    • In an ongoing campaign that seeks to influence congressional and other political debates to stoke anti-Ukraine sentiment, Kremlin-linked political strategists and trolls have written thousands of fabricated news articles, social media posts and comments that promote American isolationism, stir fear over the United States' border security and attempt to amplify U.S. economic and racial tensions, according to a trove of internal Kremlin documents obtained by a European intelligence service and reviewed by The Washington Post.
  • The documents — numbering more than 100 and dating between May 2022 and August 2023 — were provided to The Post to expose Kremlin propaganda operations aimed at undermining support for Ukraine in the United States, as well as their scale and methods. The files are part of a series of leaks that have allowed a rare glimpse into Moscow's parallel efforts to weaken support for Ukraine in France and Germany, as well as destabilize Ukraine itself.
  • Russia has been ramping up its propaganda operations as part of a second front that current and former senior Western officials said has become almost as important for Moscow as the military campaign in Ukraine — especially as congressional approval for further aid has become critical for Kyiv's ability to continue defending itself.

“Banning YouTube in Russia: Just a Matter of Time,” Philipp Dietrich, DGAP, 04.04.24.

  • YouTube is the last bastion of free expression and information in Russia, with over 93 million users. A ban on the platform would hurt democratic principles and freedom of speech in the country – and it is not a question of if but when. To prevent the further isolation of Russian society, democratic policymakers must act swiftly by urging Google to cooperate and to bolster YouTube’s infrastructure, as well as by reviewing sanctions. 
    • Democratic policymakers should prepare for a YouTube ban in Russia, prioritize cooperation with Google, and urge it to devise swift solutions to hurdles to access set up by the country’s authorities. 
    • As alternatives like RuTube and VK Video emerge, Google – with support from democratic governments – must maintain YouTube’s availability in Russia against attempts to block it. Ambiguities in the Western sanctions that affect maintaining the infrastructure to keep YouTube available in Russia must be addressed. Dissident content creators must be supported to keep up their work.
    • YouTube in Russia likely operates at a loss for Google. Despite this, Google is not inclined to withdraw from the Russian market, as this would pose significant challenges for a future re-entry. Democratic policymakers should use this to urge the company to sustain YouTube in Russia. 
    • Google needs to quickly develop ways to keep YouTube accessible in Russia, including technical solutions like traffic obfuscation. These measures can make blocking the platform more difficult, potentially obstructing the authorities and preserving Russians’ freedom of expression and access to vital information.

“How to start winning the information war,” Joseph I. Lieberman and Gordon J. Humphrey, WP, 04.02.24. 

  • "Democracies are taking a battering," the editorial board of The Post wrote in December. "Russia and China are running rings around us," asserts former CIA director and defense secretary Robert M. Gates. The Post and Gates have underscored our failure to go on the offensive in the information war by using counternarrative that asserts our values and ideals and explains the priceless advantages of freedom, the rule of law, a free press and freedom to assemble and express opinion. This failure has weakened national security and emboldened adversaries.
  • Formerly, we thought about national security in terms of battles on land, at sea and in the air. The newest battlefield is the human mind. Our adversaries are fully deployed on that field of battle. We are all but absent. Thus, we are losing the information war by default to malefactor regimes in Russia, China and Iran. What explains this alarming state of affairs? Lack of leadership and lack of means. No one is in charge of telling America's still-inspiring story to the world. For three years, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, part of the State Department, has urged the White House and Congress to designate a lead official in the information war. The recommendations appear to have been ignored. This reflects inattention at the very top.

“Putin’s Dilemma: Russia and the Slavic Dimension of NATO Enlargement,” Andrej Benedejčič, Contemporary Military Challenges Vol. 26, Issue 1, March 2024.

  • The potential weaponization of Slavdom is a poorly researched topic in the literature on hybrid warfare, despite the Slavic dimension of NATO after several rounds of enlargement. Part of the reason is the traditionally reserved attitude of Russian authorities to the Slavic idea, which runs counter to the idealized supranational character of Russia and can incite domestic ethnic populism. Even though Moscow has not used this instrument so far, the historical record shows that it could do so at a later stage if its very existence is at stake. The instrumentalization of Slavic identity therefore requires attention, not only as an impending threat, but also as a potential catalyst for change on the Russian side.

For more analysis on NATO-Russia relations, see: 

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 7, 2024,” ISW, 04.07.24. 

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with Chinese officials in China on April 8 and 9 amid Western warnings that China is increasingly helping Russia’s defense industrial base (DIB) and even providing Russia with geospatial intelligence. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) stated that Lavrov will meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to discuss bilateral cooperation and “hot topics,” including the war in Ukraine
  •  NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the BBC on April 6 that China is “propping up the Russian war economy” and supporting the Russian DIB. Bloomberg reported on April 6 that unspecified sources stated that China’s support for Russia has “deepened” recently. Bloomberg reported that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken briefed unspecified European allies on China’s support and asked them to directly speak to China about the issue.
  • Bloomberg’s sources reportedly stated that China and Russia have increased space cooperation and that China has given Russia microelectronics, optics, machine tools for tanks, and propellants for missiles. Bloomberg reported that White House National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said that China has also provided Russia with nitrocellulose — an intermediary good used in producing gunpower and explosives — and turbojet engines. Bloomberg reported that China is also providing Russia with geospatial intelligence, including satellite imagery which the Russian military likely uses to support military operations in Ukraine. The Atlantic reported on March 18 that Ukrainian military sources believe that Russia may be using unspecified third parties to buy satellite imagery from US companies for targeting data to conduct long-range strikes.

“Russian Threat Perception and Nuclear Strategy in its Plans for War with China,” John Stanko and Spenser Warren, War on the Rocks, 04.02.24. 

  • Even as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping a were forming “a new epoch in relations” between their two countries, Russia was still planning for the possibility of nuclear war against China as late as 2014. Recently leaked Russian documents reveal contingencies for such a war against China in Siberia, including potential scenarios for the use of nuclear weapons against China.
  • Moscow’s desire to maintain a nuclear option against China is consistent with its strategy. Russia faced a significant conventional inferiority vis-à-vis China, especially in the Russian Far East. Deploying intermediate-range nuclear weapons to Russia’s Eastern Military District, where they could reach Chinese military targets but not military or political targets in the United States or Europe, gave the Russian military credible options for blunting a Chinese invasion. Launching a limited nuclear strike to quickly degrade Chinese capabilities in an effort to terminate a war on terms favorable to Russia is consistent with Russian strategic thought on escalation management, which scholars typically studyas an aspect of Russian strategy in Europe.
  • Russian plans for a war with China are consistent with Russia’s historical perception of a Chinese threat. While Beijing and Moscow currently enjoy a strong partnership, the Sino-Russian relationship is marked by a history of interstate rivalry and periodic wars along their shared periphery. Russia and China may enjoy this partnership well into the future, but this is not guaranteed. Areas of potential tension, including Central Asia, the Russian Far East, and the Arctic, could erode the current partnership and renew the rivalry between China and Russia.
  • Nuclear use is not guaranteed, but a Russian limited nuclear strike is possible if a renewed Sino-Russian rivalry devolved into war. Limited nuclear strikes against Chinese military forces or critical infrastructure would be consistent with Russian thought on escalation management.
  • Going nuclear would pose significant risks for Russia. Russian leaders could miscalculate a strike’s effectiveness or incorrectly assess the risk of a Chinese nuclear response. The decision to employ nuclear weapons would be a political one. Russian leaders would weigh the expected risks and rewards of a strike, as well as those of a non-nuclear response, and select what they perceive as the best option.

“China Is Still Rising. Don’t Underestimate the World’s Second-Biggest Economy,” Nicholas R. Lardy, FA, 02.04.24. 

  • Several misconceptions undergird the pessimism about China’s economic potential. Take the widely held misconception that the Chinese economy’s progress in converging with the size of the U.S. economy has stalled. It is true that from 2021 to 2023, China’s GDP fell from 76 percent of U.S. GDP to 67 percent. Yet it is also true that by 2023, China’s GDP was 20 percent bigger than it had been in 2019, the eve of the global pandemic, while the United States’ was only 8 percent bigger. This apparent paradox can be explained by two factors.
    • First, over the last few years, inflation has been lower in China than it has been in the United States. Last year, China’s nominal GDP grew by 4.6 percent, less than the 5.2 percent that its GDP grew in real terms. In contrast, because of high inflation, U.S. nominal GDP in 2023 grew by 6.3 percent, while real GDP grew by only 2.5 percent.
    • A second misconception is that household income, spending, and consumer confidence in China is weak. The data do not support this view. Last year, real per capita income rose by 6 percent, more than double the growth rate in 2022, when the country was in lockdown, and per capita consumption climbed by nine percent. If consumer confidence were weak, households would curtail consumption, building up their savings instead. But Chinese households did just the opposite last year: consumption grew more than income, which is possible only if households reduced the share of their income going to savings.
    • A third misconception is that price deflation has become entrenched in China, putting the country on course toward recession. Yes, consumer prices rose only 0.2 percent last year, which gave rise to the fear that households would reduce consumption in anticipation of still lower prices—thereby reducing demand and slowing growth. This has not happened because core consumer prices (meaning those for goods and services besides food and energy) actually increased by 0.7 percent.
  • Although China is beset by many problems, including those resulting from Xi’s efforts to exert greater control over the economy, exaggerating these problems serves no one. It could even lead to complacency in the face of the very real challenges that China presents to the West. That is particularly true for the United States. China will likely continue to contribute about a third of the world’s economic growth while increasing its economic footprint, particularly in Asia. If U.S. policymakers underappreciate this, they are likely to overestimate their own ability to sustain the deepening of economic and security ties with Asian partners.

Missile defense:

“The US Must Upgrade its Missile Defense to Deter Russia and China,” Rebeccah L Heinrichs and John Hyten, RUSI, 04.02.24. 

  • Russia and China seek to supplant this international order by thwarting US strategy. They are developing weapons to target the US homeland in an effort to strong-arm Washington into pulling back support for its allies and to erode its ability to project power. 
  • To strengthen the credibility of deterrence, Washington should update its missile defense policy and deploy additional missile defense capabilities. 
    • This was one of the recommendations of the bipartisan US Strategic Posture Commission, on which both of the authors served. The report recommends that “The United States develop and field homeland IAMD [Integrated Air and Missile Defense] that can deter and defeat coercive attacks by Russia and China…”
  • To bolster the credibility of its deterrence architecture, the US should, adapt its missile defenses in three ways.
    • First, Congress should officially amend US missile defense policy to defend the homeland from coercive strikes no matter the source.
    • Second, the US must identify the areas, facilities and capabilities an adversary is most likely to strike.
    • Third, the Commission agreed that the “DOD [Department of Defense] must look at new approaches to achieving US missile defense goals, including the use of space-based and directed energy capabilities, as simply scaling up current programs is not likely to be effective.” The Commission did not recommend specific technologies. But we believe that thanks to rapid technological advancements and the lower cost of satellite launches, space-based solutions are feasible and should be considered. Directed energy technology is finally maturing and may provide non-kinetic options for US defense.

Nuclear arms:

“As the world changes, so should America’s nuclear strategy. Arms-control efforts can’t ignore the threat from Russia and China,” Frank Miller, The Economist, 04.04.24. 

  • An effective deterrent requires the capability to target what potential enemy leaders value most. As autocrats, Mr. Putin’s and Mr. Xi’s priorities are essentially the same: to stay in power, to preserve their regime, to intimidate their neighbors and to support their war machines.
  • The most effective way to deter them from behaving aggressively is to threaten to destroy what they would need to dominate a post-war world, including the bureaucratic and other support structures that enable them to administer their states, key elements of their nuclear and conventional forces and their war-supporting industries. For deterrence to work, America does not need to match the combined firepower of Russia and China; it needs only to have forces demonstrably capable of covering the targets Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi value.
  • Because of the significant growth in Russian and Chinese nuclear capabilities over the past decade, the deterrent believed necessary when New START took effect in 2011 is no longer sufficient. It cannot credibly threaten all that Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi value. And it is not powerful enough to deter Russia and China simultaneously—a deficiency made all the more critical by the return of the Russia-China axis in recent years.
  • What’s needed is a treaty which captures all American and Russian nuclear weapons, including shorter-range ones; permits each side to adjust its balance between short- and long-range weapons as desired within an overall limit; allows America a force big enough to deter intimidation and aggression; and mandates intrusive verification to thwart attempts at cheating or evasion. At current force levels, with no reduction in the number of Russian shorter-range warheads, such a treaty would set a cap of around 3,500 deployed weapons (New START’s 1,550 plus some 2,000 shorter-range weapons). Reductions in shorter-range Russian forces would lower that ceiling.
  • As for arms control with China, there is little to be done until the government in Beijing changes its view that transparency and verification are to be avoided and that limits on its forces do not serve China’s national security, and abandons its hegemonic policies in Asia. Should China alter its stance, it could join a future US-Russian accord at equivalent force levels.
  • Arms control and deterrence need to be seen as intertwined. Arms control should not be a goal in itself; limits on the type and number of warheads must grow out of deterrence policy. As the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, a bipartisan committee set up to analyze America’s national-security strategy, put it baldly in a report released last October: “The United States cannot properly evaluate a future nuclear arms-control proposal…without knowing what the US nuclear force requirements will be.” The Biden administration needs to move quickly to determine those requirements.

“Can Europe Still Count on America's Nuclear Umbrella? With U.S. commitments in doubt as never before, leaders from Paris to Warsaw are facing the prospect of deterring Putin on their own,” Yaroslav Trofimov, WSJ, 04.05.24.

  • Would an American president, especially a re-elected Donald Trump, be willing to risk nuclear war for Helsinki, Tallinn or Warsaw? 
  • In countries on Russia's periphery, many now see the French and British nuclear deterrent as potentially vital. 
  • Though dwarfed by the several thousand nuclear weapons in Russian and American arsenals, the French and British nukes could provide credible deterrence in a crisis because of the asymmetrical nature of nuclear warfare, officials in those nations believe. 
  • Preliminary discussions in Europe about how to think about the nuclear component of deterring Russia are constrained by one overwhelming priority: No allied government wants to do anything that could undermine the current U.S.-led "nuclear sharing" arrangement that has worked so well to maintain peace within NATO's borders. 
  • As fears grow, conversations among European governments on the nuclear deterrence of Russia are starting to pick up. 
    • Though remaining outside NATO's Nuclear Planning Group, in recent months French representatives have started providing their allies with much more detailed presentations on the status and capabilities of the French nuclear deterrent and on policies governing it, according to people familiar with these briefings. France has no intention of sharing authority over possible nuclear use, and doesn't ask allies to help fund its nuclear program, officials say. 
    • In recent months, France has also begun bilateral conversations with countries interested in learning how to deepen cooperation on the issue, such as Poland and Sweden. 
    • Talks between French and German nuclear experts have also taken place, but Berlin remains cautious, despite growing calls within the German political and security establishment to explore nuclear alternatives.
  • A Europe that has been willing to entrust its safety to an American president shouldn't be reluctant to place its faith in France, argued Germany's Wolfgang Ischinger. "France is much closer. If there was ever a nuclear threat in Europe, there is a much higher probability that France would understand that the security of France would be at risk as soon as the security of Poland or the Baltics or Germany would be at risk—which is not true in the same way for the United States," he said. "No reason for anybody in Pittsburgh to believe that they are at risk if the Russians take Estonia."

“America and its allies are entering a period of nuclear uncertainty,” The Economist, 04.04.24.

  • Consider a scenario in which Russia uses a tactical nuclear weapon against a European ally. One problem, say some officials, is that Britain’s deterrent is vested entirely in the Trident D5 missiles aboard a lone submarine. Firing even one could give away the position of the sub, says a former British official. That would risk the survival of the remaining missiles, which serve as a deterrent against subsequent strikes on Britain itself. One option would be to maintain two boats on patrol, but that would require a total fleet of five rather than four. An alternative would be to build an air-launched cruise missile of the sort operated by France. Either option would be expensive and would not yield fruit until long after Mr. Trump was off the scene.
  • In February Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, suggested that if Ukraine cannot drive Russia back “allies will look for other ways to guarantee their safety. They’ll start hedging. Some of them will aim for the ultimate weapon, starting off a new nuclear race.” Mr. Sikorski quickly insisted that he was talking of Japan or South Korea, not his own country. But Poland, he remarked at the same event, would “eat grass rather than become a Russian colony again”—a phrase that to many unmistakably evoked Pakistan’s commitment in the 1970s to develop a bomb at any cost, even if that required it to “eat grass,” as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the country’s prime minister at the time, put it.
  • Ultimately, the anxiety over Mr. Trump reflects a reckoning with the inherent oddity of America’s nuclear alliances. Deterrence is intuitive: don’t nuke me, because if you do I will nuke you back. Extended deterrence is perverse: attack my ally and I might nuke you, exposing myself to nuclear retaliation that I would not otherwise have faced. To extend a nuclear umbrella over allies is thus not only to build a larger and more varied arsenal than would otherwise be needed, but also to accept, voluntarily, an extraordinary vulnerability.
  • That is strange enough. But it is “bizarre” for an American state that, thanks to its geography, would otherwise face no existential threats, says Professor Gavin. “It’s not really in America’s DNA.” America took on the burden in the 1950s nonetheless, exposing its cities to annihilation, because it did not want allies developing nuclear bombs of their own—a pursuit that in the case of West Germany might have provoked a third world war, he adds. Extended deterrence and non-proliferation were intimately connected. The question is whether that coupling might one day snap.
  • “In many ways”, mused Donald Trump, months before being elected president in 2016, “the world is changing. Right now, you have Pakistan and you have North Korea and you have China and you have Russia and you have India and you have the United States and many other countries have nukes.” Perhaps Japan would be “better off” with nuclear weapons, he suggested. As so often with Mr. Trump, the problem lies in knowing when to take him literally and when merely seriously. “The level of power of nuclear weapons is incredible,” he told an interviewer last December. “Whether it’s Israel or major countries, nuclear weapons are the biggest problems we have.” 

“Nuclear war or missiles [aimed at] Poland and Romania,” Andrei Kortunov interviewed by Украина.ру/RIAC, 04.05.24. Clues from Russian Views^ (RIAC is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • [When asked to comment on the possibility that France may send a military contingent to Ukraine:] Firstly, no one is sending anyone anywhere yet. ... Secondly, if we assume that a foreign contingent will be sent, it is unclear what functions it will serve will perform and where will it be located. There are many different options. For example, there is talk that the contingent may not be used in combat operations, but will perform other functions related to logistics or police control. Of course, if French units officially enter the territory of Ukraine, they will become a legitimate target for the Russian Armed Forces
  • [When asked: “Is it possible that if the French enter Ukraine, the Poles, Romanians and Germans will do the same? Surely this will be an open conflict with Russia?”:] Here, too, you need to understand in what capacity they will enter Ukraine. If this happens in the name of NATO, then a big war will begin in Europe between Russia and the alliance. Such a conflict has great risks of turning into a nuclear confrontation. If the EU countries enter one by one, outside the NATO framework, then, obviously, a problem will arise for these specific countries. ...For example, if planes take off from airfields in Poland or Romania and bomb our positions, then these airbases will become a legitimate target for our missiles. That is, of course, we must take into account that in these conditions one or another escalation will be inevitable. Political rhetoric aside, this is why everyone is so cautious about this possibility [of Western troops entering Ukraine]. Everyone understands perfectly well that this is a completely new stage of the conflict. It would be better to avoid military action reaching this stage, this level.
  •  [When asked “Do you think there will be a continuation of the negotiation process between Russia and the West?”] I think that sooner or later such contacts will be resumed in full. Any military conflict ends in negotiations ... there are many uncertainties that affect the West's position regarding Ukraine and contacts with Russia. But it seems to me that there can be no doubt - we need such contacts.
  • As for Trump, think back to the first four years of his last presidency. Then there was also a lot of talk that he would change something, that Russian-American relations would improve. In practice, everything turned out differently. Relations between the United States and Russia continued to deteriorate, and many sanctions and negative decisions were made against our country. So it’s important not to exaggerate [Trump’s role] here.

“Speech by ... Deputy Director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs K.V. Vorontsov during the general political discussion of the session of the UN Disarmament Commission,” Russian Foreign Ministry, 04.04.24. Clues from Russian Views^

  • To prevent further degradation of the situation and maintain long-term stability, systemic and comprehensive efforts are required to build a renewed and stress-resistant architecture of international security, based on the universal principles of multilateralism, genuine equality and taking into account the fundamental interests of all parties.
  •  We do not consider it possible to consider the topic of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation outside the context of current realities in the field of strategic stability.... It is obvious that nuclear disarmament also cannot be considered in isolation, in isolation from the current international situation. We see no prospects for approaches that suggest a “short path” to a nuclear-free world through declaring nuclear weapons “outlaw.” We cannot agree with calls for nuclear powers to immediately and unconditionally abandon their respective arsenals without taking into account their legitimate security interests.
  • We consider the Convention on “Inhumane” Weapons to be the optimal format for discussion on lethal autonomous weapons systems. Transferring this topic to any other international platforms, including the UN Disarmament Commission and the UN as a whole, seems counterproductive.

For more analysis on nuclear arms issues, see:


“The Moscow Attack Showed Terrorism Is Asia’s Problem Now,” Kabir Taneja, FP, 04.02.24. 

  • A significant level of global cooperation against terrorism, which was achieved in the aftermath of 9/11 and during the so-called global war on terrorism, is fast eroding. For example, up until 2015, Moscow had allowed NATO military supply flights meant for Afghanistan to use its airspace. Multilateral forums such as the United Nations are now repeatedly questioned over their purpose and worth.
  • For groups such as the Islamic State, this is a boon. Even though most of these competing powers see the group as a security threat that requires military solutions, a lack of uniformity creates a tremendous vacuum in which such entities can thrive. And while most of Afghanistan’s neighbors today are forced to view the Taliban as the “good Taliban,” considering its fundamental aversion to the Islamic State and its ideology (due to tension between Deobandis and Salafi jihadis), these new realities will make cohesive and effective global cooperation against terrorism far less likely.
  • As the Moscow attack revealed, an era of increased rivalry between major powers that tolerate terrorist groups that target their adversaries could ultimately spawn a resurgence of Islamist terrorism. This new geopolitical landscape, by default, will give terrorist groups more chances of political compromise through negotiations than ever before.
  • The popular yet often frowned-on adage of “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” seems to be a winning formula for those who were widely seen as critical threats yesterday but now are aspiring to be the stakeholders of tomorrow.

“Vladimir Putin took part in the annual expanded meeting of the Interior Ministry Board,”, 04.02.24. Clues from Russian Views

  • I believe that we must give special attention to several priorities such as ensuring public order, countering extremism, preventing illegal migration, the performance of district police offices, as well as the Interior Ministry’s efforts to combat organized crime. It is worth noting the cross-border operation of such groups, some of which are real crime syndicates and work hand in glove with foreign security services and the envoys of international radical and extremist organizations. These criminal communities are involved in human, firearms and drug trafficking, as well as financial crime and cybercrime. In particular, the use of especially dangerous hard synthetic drugs has recently increased in Russia. 
  • You are working together with your colleagues from other agencies now to investigate the heinous terrorist attack of March 22. ... Those who use this weapon – and it is obviously a weapon against Russia – must understand that it cuts both ways. 
  • I would like to add that we are comprehensively assessing the activities of all our law enforcement and oversight services, as well as commercial organizations that were responsible for the large facility where the terrorist attack was carried out. We have paid an extremely high price. And we must analyze the situation with utmost objectivity and professionalism. 
  • As you know, in many cases, illegal migration and ideological indoctrination by all sorts of false preachers and websites provide fertile ground for such extremist activities and outright crime.  At the same time, I would like to point out that it is unacceptable to use the recent tragedy to incite ethnic discord, xenophobia, Islamophobia and the like. Actually, the main goal of the terrorists and their masterminds was to sow discord and panic, conflict, and hatred in our country, to split Russia from within. It is their main objective. We must not allow them to achieve it under any circumstances. 

“Crocus City Hall Attack: The Russian Investigation,” in Bulletin No. 7 (137) 2024, R.Politik, 04.08.24.

  • Two weeks after the attack, President Putin has ultimately embraced the notion of a “Ukrainian trace”, making it the sole official narrative for who is to blame for the tragedy. The FSB and the Investigative Committee have aligned their investigations with this directive.
  • No conclusive evidence has been presented to substantiate the claim of Ukraine's involvement. On the contrary, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's assertion that the terrorists were en route to Belarus, not Ukraine, and the circulation of photos from the terrorists' phones — easily accessible online — has only intensified skepticism.
  • In contrast, Western media outlets have reported additional evidence suggesting Russia had prior warnings of the attack, not just from the US but also from Iran. Sources close to R.Politik confirm that the FSB was aware of the impending attack but simply idled.
  • One potential reason for the FSB's inaction could be attributed to the vagueness of the intelligence received from Iran, coupled with a distrust of the more concrete information provided by the US.
  • The FSB's inability to prevent the attack was a serious failure of the Russian security services, offering one reason why officials are so keen to focus on the Ukrainian trace: it allows them to justify their failure to respond.

“The struggle for the interpretation of the tragedy in Crocus City,” Andrey Sushentsov, Valdai Club, 04.08.24. Clues from Russian Views^ (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • It takes the United States decades to establish the cause of crimes in its own country ... but within 15 minutes they provide “accurate” information about who organized the terrorist attack in Moscow. I am convinced that the Russian government has no intention of shielding ISIS if this organization really is behind it.
  • I believe that the calibrated, rational, fact-based line that the Russian government is now taking will inevitably lead us to the point where we will know exactly who ordered this crime.
  • The goals set by the organizers of the terrorist attack will not be achieved: one of them is a blow to the sore points of our society. However, one can notice how Russian society itself responded to this crime, involved in saving people and eliminating the consequences. It is uplifting, empowering and demonstrates that our spirit cannot be broken.

For more analysis on this topic, see: 

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“The potential terrorist use of large language models for chemical and biological terrorism,” Nicolò Miotto, ELN, 04.05.24. 

  • The complexity of producing and deploying CBRN weapons varies significantly based on the type of weapon and its intended effects. For instance, manufacturing a nuclear weapon poses a far greater challenge than creating certain chemical or biological weapons, as nuclear weapon development demands substantial resources and sophisticated technical knowledge. Therefore, the chances of terrorist groups obtaining the required capabilities for creating nuclear weapons are low.
  • State sponsorship can significantly boost these capabilities. A state could offer materials, expertise, or other resources to aid a terrorist group in developing CBRN weapons. Yet, with advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies, seeking state sponsorship might not be the sole option for terrorist groups. The full extent to which AI and large language models (LLMs) may assist terrorist groups in developing CBRN capabilities is a matter of contention, as experts disagree on how worried those working in security should be about LLMs enabling terrorists to acquire CBRN weapons. In addition, as LLMs are developing at a fast pace and existing models are being further trained, conducting an up-to-date threat assessment remains challenging.
  • However, given the intricacies of nuclear technology and the challenges in acquiring radiological materials, it is more likely that LLMs could enhance terrorists’ capacity to weaponize chemical and biological agents. In these areas, research has shown that LLMs could indeed support the acquisition of technical expertise for the production of chemical and biological weapons.

Energy exports from CIS:

“How Serious Are Ukrainian Drone Attacks for Russia?”, Sergey Vakulenko, CEIP, 04.05.24. 

  • Since the beginning of the year, Ukrainian drones have attacked over fifteen Russian refineries and several oil depots in the first massive, sustained, and successful attack by Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on Russian infrastructure, which has also involved attacks on major steel plants. ... Rather than causing much real damage, their main achievement was to destroy the semblance of Russia’s invincibility, lift Ukrainian spirits, and bring the war to Muscovites, while remaining isolated events.
  • Even the current wave of drone attacks will have a limited effect on the Russian industry and economy. Drone attacks do not destroy entire refineries and usually do not even destroy individual units, but only damage them, unlike World War II air raids by hundreds of bombers. … Still, repairs are expensive: tens if not hundreds of times greater than the cost of drones, even considering their low success rate and the need for a swarm attack to create the conditions needed for a single hit. In a war of attrition, the odds are with the drones. 
  • The recent attacks managed to take out about 15 percent of gasoline production, but it is still within the range of that in recent years. ... Even if Ukraine succeeds in completely shutting down every refinery within its reach, there will be enough capacity in the Urals and Siberia to meet Russia’s needs for diesel, marine fuel, and fuel oil. In this scenario, there will be a 20–30 percent shortage of gasoline, which could be covered by imports from Russia’s ally and neighbor Belarus. 
  • Russia, for its part, has been targeting Ukraine’s oil refineries and other energy infrastructure—including power plants—since the first winter of the war, leaving millions of Ukrainians without heating in freezing temperatures. ... The current attacks appear to be more precise than previous efforts: Russia sends swarms of drones to overwhelm air defense systems and then delivers main hits with heavy missiles, targeting expensive, bulky, and hard-to-replace generators and control systems.
  • Both sides are engaging more and more in total war, not only targeting current or future military capacity, but also attempting to destroy as much of the enemy’s economy as possible—spending substantial parts of their military potential in the process.

“Can Energy Ties Prevent an Azerbaijan–EU Rift?”, Shujaat Ahmadzada, CEIP, 04.08.24.

  • So far, Baku’s disengagement from the West has mostly been performative, with little indication that substantive changes are in the offing. This is largely because of a strong mutual dependence: should either side make a dramatic move, it will result in serious consequences for both sides.
  • Energy cooperation is at the heart of this interdependence [which] makes a major rift highly unlikely. Both sides are actively working to strengthen their bonds when it comes to energy and trade. Still, disruptions are possible. Baku appears inclined to exploit its growing influence by pursuing a “business only” arrangement with Brussels, prioritizing economic interests over everything else. The degree to which Brussels is on board with such an approach, however, remains to be seen.

For more analysis on this topic, see:

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Evan Gershkovich Is Stronger Than Putin,” Gerard Baker, WSJ, 04.01.24.

  • Vladimir Putin is the archetype, the Strong Man par excellence. A man schooled in the darker arts of the espionage business. Putin demonstrates his strength through a pitilessness that both defines and sustains it.
  • But there are different types of strong men. Consider another man in Moscow.
    • [Evan] Gershkovich…is nothing more or less than a fine reporter for the Journal. Gershkovich’s dispatches are a model of honest, dispassionate reporting.
    • Whether examining the consequences for business of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the progress of war on the home front or Moscow’s diplomatic forays and failings… Gershkovich’s work is conscientious, thorough and fair.
  • Perhaps it was too strong for the man who wields all that power in Moscow. There’s a Strong Man who sits behind the high walls of the Kremlin…commanding a million-man army [and] finger poised over a nuclear button.
    • Yet he apparently isn’t strong enough to tolerate an honest reporter armed only with a notebook and a laptop in pursuit of the truth.
  • We know what this is really about—another cynical ploy by the Russian leader to pull off an asymmetric swap by grabbing an innocent man…in exchange for the release of a guilty man held over here [in the West].


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russia’s wartime wealth redistribution,” Alexander Kolyandr and Alexandra Prokopenko, The Bell, 04.05.24.

  • Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there have been a wave of high-profile nationalizations in Russia, mainly affecting big business people and powerful officials. Now, however, there are more and more cases of the state seizing relatively minor assets from low-level tycoons, and even those without any significant personal wealth
    • Significant incidents involving the state seizure of assets from wealthy Russians amid the war in Ukraine include auto trader Rolf (owned by former opposition parliamentary deputy Sergei Petrov) and chemical company Metafrax. In January, Russian prosecutors even ordered 13 plots of land along Moscow region’s prestigious Rublyovskoye Shosse be seized by the state (Rublyovka has long been regarded as Russia’s Millionaire’s Row). 
    • In a significant legal dispute over the nationalization of a magnesium factory in the central Russian city of Solikamsk, prosecutors Wednesday stated that they do not believe the apparently legal acquisition by minority shareholders of a stake in the plant on the Moscow Exchange was made in good conscience. This is a major case, which appears to be setting a precedent for further seizures.   
    • The most recent target for nationalization is Russia’s biggest pasta company: Makfa. At the end of last month, it emerged that prosecutors had filed a lawsuit for the state to seize Makfa, and dozens of related companies.  Nationalizations have even begun to affect ordinary homeowners. Russian-installed officials in the occupied Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia this week announced their intention to pass a law to nationalize “abandoned” Ukrainian houses. 
  • Russia appears to be undergoing its greatest redistribution of wealth in three decades. The idea of 1990s privatization was to create a new capitalist class that would help prevent a return to Communism. Now, asset transfers appear designed to boost loyalty to the Kremlin.

“Is There Really a Dictator’s Dilemma? Information and Repression in Autocracy,” Scott Gehlbach, Zhaotian Luo, Anton Shirikov and Dmitriy Vorobyev, SocArXiv, 03.21.24.

  • In his seminal work on the political economy of dictatorship, Ronald Wintrobe (1998) posited the existence of a “dictator’s dilemma,” in which repression leaves an autocrat less secure by reducing information about discontent.
    • The presence of a repressive state affects the ruler’s survival in two ways. First, direct effect, a ruler can use security forces and secret police to head off unrest before it spirals out of control.
    • Second, Wintrobe effect, the ubiquity of those same security forces and secret police encourages conforming displays of popular support, creating uncertainty about when the repressive apparatus of the state should actually be deployed.
  • We demonstrate that the ruler can ease the dilemma with semi-competitive elections and related tools of information manipulation.
    • When such elections are properly managed (from the autocrat’s perspective), and when the ruler wins, the opposition does not challenge, even though some of the time that victory is due to electoral fraud.
  • The ruler of a repressive autocracy faces a dilemma that follows from uncertainty about public opinion. Suspecting that professions of support for the regime are insincere, the dictator can choose to mobilize the repressive apparatus of the state—but this is costly and may be unnecessary. 
    • Alternatively, he can hope that he truly is popular, risking a failure to mobilize when, with the advantage of hindsight, he should have. 
    • Which of these unattractive options the dictator chooses depends on the repressiveness of the regime. 
  • The easing of the dictator’s dilemma under semi-competitive elections suggests the following question: Why have not more autocratic rulers chosen to employ such technologies?
    • One answer is that earlier rulers were constrained for ideological or geopolitical reasons not to allow true competition.
    • A second response begs rather than answers the question. Is electoral autocracy—the strategic manipulation of beliefs more generally—really such an unusual and recent phenomenon? 
    • Elections under the 1852 French constitution allowed for limited electoral competition, such that the Bonapartist victory in the 1863 parliamentary elections looks much like that for Vladimir Putin in today’s Russia: a strong but not unanimous vote for the ruling regime.

“Mishustin’s Report in the State Duma, Weekly Digest 1 April - 7 April 2024, No. 14 (28) 2024,” R. Politik, 04.07.24.

  • The newspaper Vedomosti published an extensive article analyzing who received positive and negative evaluations from Mishustin and Volodin. The Telegram channel Nezygar, which is managed by Mishustin's PR team, also highlighted the names of ministers favored by Volodin, those people whom the speaker reportedly wishes to see in the updated cabinet. According to Nezygar, at least, Manturov, Khusnullin, Grigorenko, Novak and Patrushev are expected to retain their positions. There is probably no disagreement on these candidates. However, the futures of Anton Siluanov and Nikolai Shulginov appear to be less certain, with the former being considered too “liberal” and the latter too old. Nezygar also predicts the dismissal of Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, his supervisor Tatiana Golikova and Transport Minister Vitaly Saveliyev.
  • This speculation is quite telling. Firstly, it strongly suggests that Prime Minister Mishustin and his team are confident he will retain his position. Secondly, Mishustin seems to be “testing the waters,” evaluating which members of his current cabinet might be reappointed and who could be let go.

“I am proud to have spoken out against Putin’s crimes in Ukraine,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, WP, 04.03.24.

  • I was convicted solely for publicly expressing my opposition to the [Vladimir] Putin regime and the war in Ukraine — that is, for exercising my constitutional right to freedom of speech.
  • For the third year now, my country — or, more precisely, an aging, irremovable, illegitimate dictator…has been waging a brutal, unjust, invasive war against a neighboring independent state.
    • Today, there are dozens of people in Russian prisons and penal colonies who have openly spoken out against the war in Ukraine.
  • Today, it is common in the world to berate and condemn all Russian citizens, without distinction, to say that we are all responsible for this war. 
    • But I am proud that in this dark, despicable, terrible time in Russia, there have been so many people who were not afraid and did not remain silent — even at the cost of their own freedom.

For more analysis on this topic, see: 

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:

  • No significant developments.


“Is Zelensky’s Legitimacy Really At Risk?”, Konstantin Skorkin, CEIP, 04.03.24.

  • Volodymyr Zelensky’s five-year presidential term expires on May 20, 2024. ... The doubts about Zelensky remaining in his post after May 20 arise from the vagueness of Ukrainian law. While the constitution does not explicitly ban holding presidential elections under martial law, it also states that the president should continue to serve until a successor is elected (Article 108), and that presidential terms last five years (Article 103).
  • Ukrainian lawyers point out that the absence of a mechanism for extending a president’s term is a deliberate omission—so as to reduce the risk of abuse of power. At the same time, Ukrainian electoral law forbids the holding of elections during martial law. Officials maintain that after May 20, Zelensky will become acting president until the next election. However, his opponents interpret the law in such a way as to argue it’s the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament who should become acting president: that’s who the constitution deems to be the next in line if the president is no longer able to fulfill his duties.
    • There is a precedent in recent Ukrainian history for a parliamentary speaker becoming acting president. That’s what happened in 2014.
  • Given the deepening divisions in Servant of the People, Zelensky’s opponents may try to restructure the parliamentary majority after May 20 in an attempt to force the president to hand power to a new speaker. Ukraine’s Constitutional Court could resolve this dispute, but Zelensky’s office is unwilling to involve it. 
  • Of course, on their own, the accusations of illegitimacy against Zelensky are unlikely to bother ordinary Ukrainians, but if they are accompanied by significant military and social problems, then they could become more serious.
  • The main problem is that Zelensky is becoming nervous and starting to overreact to allegations of illegitimacy.
  • It’s inevitable that the Kremlin will seek to promote any suggestion that the Ukrainian government is illegitimate—that’s been a staple of Russian propaganda for a decade. Putin has long referred to the 2014 revolution in Ukraine as a “coup.” For this reason, Zelensky’s statements about pro-Kremlin conspiracies will likely be seen by most Ukrainians as an attempt to intimidate his opponents. In other words, they could backfire.
  • The situation is full of grim irony. Regular power transitions were one of the achievements of Ukrainian democracy, setting it apart from most other post-Soviet countries, particularly Russia and Belarus. It’s unsurprising that even the slightest threat to this achievement is enough to send shockwaves through both Ukrainian society and its political elite. 

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“In Moscow Attack, a Handful of Suspects but a Million Tajiks Under Suspicion,” Valeriya Safronova, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Valerie Hopkins, NYT, 04.06.24. 

  • The main suspects in a deadly assault near Moscow were from Tajikistan. Now many other Tajiks, who fill jobs in Russia's wartime economy, are being deported and harassed.
  • The arrest of a group of Tajik citizens accused of carrying out the attack that killed 145 people at a Moscow concert hall last month has upended those plans, filling [ethnic Tajik working in Russia] Muhammad with fear of being swept up in the ensuing crackdown on the Central Asian migrants who prop up Russia's economy. The attack, he said, has erased all the efforts his family made to fit into society. In a phone interview from the city of Novosibirsk, he added that he would move back to Tajikistan if the police or nationalist radicals were to target him.
  • The Russian police have responded to the terrorist attack, the most lethal in the country in decades, by raiding thousands of construction sites, dormitories, cafes and warehouses that employ and cater to migrants. Russian courts have deported thousands of foreigners after quick hearings on alleged immigration violations. And Russian officials have proposed new measures to restrict immigration.
  • The official crackdown has been accompanied by a spike in xenophobic attacks across Russia, according to local news media and rights groups, which have documented beatings, verbal abuse and racist graffiti directed against migrants.
  • The crackdown has exposed one of the main contradictions of wartime Russia, where nationalist fervor promoted by the government has brought xenophobia to new highs even as foreign workers have become an irreplaceable part of the country's war effort. As blue-collar Russian workers went off to fight in Ukraine, took jobs at armaments factories or left the country to avoid being drafted, citizens of Tajikistan and two other Central Asian countries have partly filled the void.
  • Igor Efremov, a Russian demographer, estimated that there were between three and four million migrants working in Russia at any given time. He said Russia's total population stood at about 146 million. A majority of these migrants -- most of whom come to do manual work for months at a time -- are from three poor former Soviet Republics in Central Asia: Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. These mostly Muslim countries have become increasingly dominant sources of migration to Russia as Western sanctions have made the country less attractive to many foreigners. The concert hall massacre exposed the fragility of their positions. 
  • Russian migration experts say the concert hall attack is likely to further shift the country's migration debate toward national security priorities, at the expense of the economy. Various policymakers and conservative commentators have called for new laws to restrict migration as supporters of foreign labor in the economic ministries and big business have largely stayed silent..''
  • The need for soldiers and military factory workers pushed Russian unemployment to a record low of 2.8 percent in February, creating acute labor shortages that are fueling inflation and destabilizing the economy, according to the Central Bank of Russia. The country's rapidly declining population makes these shortages impossible to solve without foreign workers, migration experts say.

“Chinese Policy in Central Asia in the Estimation of Chinese Experts,” Yana V. Leksyutina, Russia in Global Affairs, 04.01.24. Clues from Russian Views (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.) 

  • China has further strengthened its foothold in the [Central Asian] region since mid-2022, taking advantage of the ongoing regional changes. These intensified efforts starkly contrast with the lull in China’s foreign economic and diplomatic activity in early 2020, when it was struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.
  •  China’s newly proactive stance in Central Asia has been interpreted in the West—either because of poor understanding, or out of a desire to disrupt the emerging Russian-Chinese geopolitical tandem—as evidence of China’s intention to undermine Russia’s regional position. Many Western experts have long believed in the possibility, or even certainty, of a Russo-Chinese collision in the region. The launch of Russia’s Special Military Operation generated Western expectations that China—with its three-decades-long experience of doing business with the region, and Russia’s distraction with the situation in Ukraine—would be tempted to oust Russia from Central Asia. 
  • Against this backdrop, Beijing now is trying to make the Belt and Road Initiative more attractive and improve its “demonstrative” effect. The focus is on top-notch projects that answer the demands of national agendas: to develop the economy, create local jobs, and meet environmental standards. Specifically, China has begun to build Luban workshops—specialized centers for vocational training of local people so that projects implemented under the auspices of the Belt and Road Initiative can employ skilled local labor. Tajikistan, and then Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, have received Luban workshops. Work on them is underway in Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, too.
  • To counteract the U.S. policy of containing China, and to further develop its diplomacy in Central Asia, China prioritizes the development of relations with Russia. Chinese policy in the region is aimed not at harming Russia’s positions, but at achieving a harmonious co-presence with Russia, while preventing unfriendly powers (currently the United States) from gaining a firmer foothold. 
  •  Through strategic cooperation with Russia, China can better protect its interests in Central Asia and gradually expand its influence, The prevailing view among Chinese experts is that China and Russia do not have serious disagreements or conflicts of interest regarding Central Asia, and that they can effectively coordinate their actions through bilateral and multilateral channels, thus forming a model of mutual respect and advantageous regional cooperation. This has been China’s approach throughout three decades of its engagement with Central Asia and, as demonstrated by an analysis of Chinese experts and Beijing’s actual policies, it remains so in the new geopolitical environment, though whether China continues this approach in the long term remains to be seen.

“For Lithuania, Unease Over a Growing Russian-Speaking Diaspora,” Anatoly Kurmanaev, Alina Lobzina and Tomas Dapkus, NYT, 04.03.24. 

  • The arrival of the Russian dissidents in Vilnius has added to a larger wave of Russian-speaking refugees and migrants from Belarus and Ukraine over the past four years. Fleeing war or repression, together these migrants have reshaped the economy and cultural makeup of this slow-paced medieval city of 600,000, bolstering Lithuania’s image as an unlikely bastion of democracy.
  • But the tribute to Mr. Navalny has also pointed to an uneasy relationship between Vilnius’s expanding Russian-speaking diaspora and their Lithuanian hosts. Some in Lithuania are worried that the economic and diplomatic benefits of this migration have come at the cost of creeping Russification in a small nation that had struggled to preserve its language and culture during the Soviet occupation.
  • “The Russian language is everywhere again,” said Darius Kuolys, a linguist at the University of Vilnius and a former Lithuanian culture minister. “To some Lithuanians, this has come as a cultural shock.”

For more on post-Soviet republics, see:



  1. Matthew Blackburn is a Senior Researcher in NUPI’s Research Group on Russia, Asia, and International Trade

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 11:00 am Eastern time on the day this digest was distributed. Unless otherwise indicated, all summaries above are direct quotations. 

*Here and elsewhere, the italicized text indicates comments by RM staff and associates. These comments do not constitute a RM editorial policy.

^Machine translated.

Slider photo by shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.