Russia Analytical Report, April 29-May 6, 2024

5 Ideas to Explore

  1. The recently approved $61 billion package of U.S. military aid may last Ukraine until January 2025, in the estimation of Mark Cancian and Chris Park. The two CSIS experts believe the aid will enable Ukrainian armed forces to stiffen their resistance to Russia’s anticipated offensive this summer while rebuilding its capabilities ahead of their own offensive in 2025. “That may be the best Ukraine can do, but it is quite unsatisfying for both Ukrainians and Ukraine’s supporters, who are anxious for victory and an end to the fighting,” they acknowledge in an analysis published by CSIS.
  2. Western military aid won’t enable Ukraine to end the war on favorable terms unless it is supplemented by the generation of new forces, according to Jack Watling of IISS. “Ukraine will need to mobilize more people, improve its training pipeline to maintain a qualitative advantage over Russian units and adequately equip those new troops,” Watling writes in FA. “Ultimately, any successful end to the war will depend on NATO’s ability to convincingly deter Russia,” Watling concludes.
  3. Vladimir Putin has ordered an exercise in southern Russia to have MoD units there practice using non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNWs), according to his defense ministry. The wargame is supposed to prepare these units for what the ministry described as “unconditionally ensuring the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state in response to provocative statements and threats of individual Western officials against the Russian Federation,” according to the Russian MoD. The agency’s curt May 6 announcement was followed by a longer statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry, which asserted that the planned wargame “should be considered in the context of recent bellicose statements by Western officials and sharply destabilizing actions taken by a number of NATO countries that are aimed at building forceful pressure on the Russian Federation and at creating additional threats to the security of our country in connection with the conflict in and around Ukraine.” In its statement, the MoD says that the planned exercise is aimed at practicing use of NSNWs for the purpose of ensuring “the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state.” Yet none of the publicly available versions of Russia’s strategic documents explicitly identify violations of the country’s either territorial integrity or sovereignty as conditions for use of nuclear weapons. While absent from these documents, these two conditions have been mentioned by Russian leaders at least 10 times and two times, respectively, since the beginning of the war. The frequency of references to the threat of territorial loss indicates that the Russian leadership may be considering introducing this as a condition for use of nuclear weapons in the next edition of Russia’s military doctrine (which dates back to 2014, BTW) or the Basic Principles of State Policy on Nuclear Deterrence (which dates back to 2020). In addition, the Russian military-political leadership’s decision to yet again depict conditions for use of nuclear weapons that are not explicitly described in the country’s public strategic documents constitutes another case of nuclear saber-rattling by the Kremlin to deter the West from providing more aid to Ukraine.* 
  4. Putin—who is to be sworn in for a fifth term on May 7— is re-engineering his country into a regressive, militarized society that treats the West as its mortal enemy, according to WP’s series entitled “Russia, Remastered.” The infographics-rich series examines how the Russian autocrat, “stoking conflict with the West and risking a new world war, is harnessing his invasion of Ukraine to transform Russia and fulfill his revanchist vision of a restored superpower.”
  5. China’s role in Russia’s defense industry keeps growing with Chinese companies exporting monthly totals of over $300 million worth of dual-use products identified by the West as “high priority” items necessary for the production of Russian weapons, according to Nathaniel Sher of Carnegie China. “Providing Russia with dual-use components rather than finished weapons has allowed China to provide support for Russia while claiming plausible deniability,” Sher explains in his analysis for CEIP. “Even if Beijing curtails dual-use exports in order to avoid further sanctions, its strategic interest in Russia remaining a stable partner will persist,” Sher warns as Xi Jinping visits Europe for the purpose of what FT’s Gideon Rachman describes as probing for cracks in the EU and NATO—an attempt Putin wholeheartedly supports.1

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Putin Thanks Pyongyang,” Editorial Board, WSJ, 05.03.24. 

  • Some Republicans may not see how the war in Ukraine affects interests far beyond that country's borders. But Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping certainly do. On Tuesday the United Nations panel to monitor North Korean sanctions expired. It did so because in March Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution to extend its mandate. Russia was the only nation on the 15-member Security Council to oppose the extension -- though China pointedly abstained.
  • Though the sanctions remain, the panel's demise makes violations harder to monitor and enforce America's most determined enemies -- Russia, China, North Korea and Iran -- are working together because they know that a defeat for Ukraine helps strengthen their hand against the West. Mr. Putin's payoff to Mr. Kim is the first of more to come.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“A fresh Russian push will test Ukraine severely, says a senior general. An interview with Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence,” The Economist, 05.02.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views

  • Vadym Skibitsky predicts that Russia will first press on with its plan to “liberate” all of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, a task unchanged since 2022.2 He says a Russian order has gone out to “take something” in time for the pomp of Victory Day in Moscow on May 9th, or, failing that, before Vladimir Putin’s visit to Beijing a week later. The speed and success of the advance will determine when and where the Russians strike next. “Our problem is very simple: we have no weapons. They always knew April and May would be a difficult time for us.”
  • Ukraine’s immediate concern is its high-ground stronghold in the town of Chasiv Yar, which holds the keys to an onward Russian advance to the last large cities in the Donetsk region. It is probably a matter of time before that city falls in a similar way to Avdiivka, bombed to oblivion by the Russians in February, says the general. “Not today or tomorrow, of course, but all depending on our reserves and supplies.”
    • Russia has already won a tactical success in the south-west in the village of Ocheretyne, where a recent Ukrainian troop rotation was bungled. Russian forces succeeded in breaking through a first line of defense and have created a salient 25 square kilometers in size. 
  • Looking at a wider horizon, the intelligence chief suggests Russia is gearing up for an assault around the Kharkiv and Sumy regions in the north-east. The timing of this depends on the sturdiness of Ukrainian defenses in the Donbas, he says. But he assumes Russia’s main push will begin at the “end of May or beginning of June”. Russia has a total of 514,000 land troops committed to the Ukrainian operation, he says, higher than the 470,000 estimate given last month by General Christopher Cavoli, NATO’s top commander. 
    • This is “not enough” for an operation to take a major city, he says—a judgment shared by Western military officials, but could be enough for a smaller task. “A quick operation to come in and come out: maybe. But an operation to take Kharkiv, or even Sumy city, is of a different order. The Russians know this. And we know this.” In any event, dark days lie ahead for Kharkiv.
  • May will be the key month, says the general, with Russia employing a “three-layered” plan to destabilize the country
    • The main factor is military. Even though America’s Congress belatedly gave the go-ahead for more military aid, it will take weeks before it filters through to the front line. It is unlikely to match Russia’s stock of shells or provide an effective defense against Russia’s low-tech, destructive guided aerial bombs.
    • The second factor is Russia’s disinformation campaign in Ukraine aimed at undermining Ukrainian mobilization and the political legitimacy of Volodymyr Zelensky, whose presidential term notionally runs out on May 20th. 
    • A third factor, says the general, is Russia’s relentless campaign to isolate Ukraine internationally. “They will be shaking things up whichever way they can.”
  • On top of this, an already delicate process of mobilizing the population to fight has been hamstrung by political infighting and indecision in Kyiv. ... Ukrainian officials worry that the next wave of mobilized recruits will make for unmotivated soldiers with poor morale. One saving grace, says the general, is that Russia faces similar problems. 
  • Skibitsky says he does not see a way for Ukraine to win the war on the battlefield alone. Even if it were able to push Russian forces back to the borders—an increasingly distant prospect—it wouldn’t end the war. Such wars can only end with treaties, he says. Right now, both sides are jockeying for the “the most favorable position” ahead of potential talks. But meaningful negotiations can begin only in the second half of 2025 at the earliest, he guesses
  • The general says the largest unknown factor of the war is Europe. If Ukraine’s neighbors do not find a way of further increasing defense production to help Ukraine, they too will eventually find themselves in Russia’s crosshairs, he argues. ... “We will keep fighting. We have no choice. We want to live. But the outcome of the war [...] isn’t just down to us.” 

“Ukraine suffers while too many countries ‘sit on their hands,’” Anthony Loyd interviews the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces Oleksandr Pavliuk, The Times of London, 05.02.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views

  • Pavliuk said the war had transformed since the first months. “You cannot even compare the war in 2022 with the war we have now,” he said in Kyiv this week. “It is like two vastly different wars.”
  • When asked, however, what lesson the past two years of war had taught him, he [spoke of] Ukraine’s growing sense of solitude. “Personally, the main lesson for me is that you shouldn’t really expect to count on anyone else,” he said evenly. “I learnt not to rely on anyone for help. Ultimately, everything may rest in our hands alone.”
  • “Just before the invasion, we perceived that if we inflicted huge losses on the Russians, then the war would stop,” he reflected grimly. “But instead we came to realize that the Russians do not count their dead. So far, the soldiers’ coffins are mostly going back to the provinces, and their deaths do not affect the common opinion of Russia.
    • “We think that if the Russian cities start receiving enough coffins, it could change their public opinion and attitude towards the war. Then the Russians will understand that the war concerns them, not only the provinces,” Pavliuk said. “But that hope could be problematic, because all Russian media is controlled by the state.”
  • “Russia’s main goal remains to destroy Ukraine as a nation,” he said. “But as we haven’t given them that opportunity since 2022, we believe the goals the Russians set for themselves this year are the complete occupation of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and, if they are successful there, the Zaporizhzhia region.”
  • “We are trying everything we can do to stop the Russian plan to capture Chasiv Yar before May 9,” he said. “But the Russians have a ten-to-one ratio of artillery superiority there, and total air superiority.
  • Worse may yet come. Russian troop numbers inside Ukraine have increased vastly since 2022. The general estimated that there are between 510,000 and 513,000 Russian personnel in Ukraine’s occupied territories. Pavliuk also predicted these numbers could increase during the year as Russia built up forces for summer offensives. “We believe the Russians want to mobilize 100,000 more troops and that they will use these to reinforce their forces already in Ukraine in June and July,” he said. “By the end of the year we think that the Russians intend to mobilize nearly 300,000 more soldiers. But also they are losing nearly 25,000 to 30,000 per month in dead and wounded.”
  • “With good air defenses and long-range artillery, we could retake this strategic superiority from the Russians on the battlefield,” the general said.
  • “Drones kill more soldiers on both sides than anything else at present,” Pavliuk said. “They have also created a scenario whereby almost everything can be seen by drones, not just on the front line but to a depth of between 10km and 30km on either side. “It is no longer possible for either side to build up a large strike force within this belt of territory without it being seen and hit by long-range strike drones and artillery. So this new reality has forced both sides to work with much smaller assault groups. We have moved away from moving as battalions, or even companies.”
  • “Attrition on the battlefield will not end the war alone,” he said. “The end of the war will come about through technological superiority and the real isolation of Russia. Right now, too many countries are sitting on their hands waiting to see how this war ends, just hoping that it won’t affect them.”

“A Message from Ukraine: Do not Provoke Putin – with Weakness,” Mariana Budjeryn, Wilson Center, 04.29.24.

  • Europe whole and free is impossible without Ukraine whole and free. In his keynote address to the conference, chair of the NATO Military Committee Admiral Rob Bauer asserted that “the Swedish flag will not be the only blue and yellow flag at the NATO headquarters.” While the audience greeted Bauer’s words with an ovation, hardly anyone was given to an illusion that Ukraine would get an invitation to join the alliance at the upcoming NATO summit in Washington, DC, this July.
  • Ukraine has already been losing territory to Russian advances due to the lack of artillery shells and battlefield air defenses and Ukrainian cities continue to suffer missile strikes as Western-supplied air defenses are wearing thin. Ukrainian colonel Andriy Biletsky, zooming in [to the 16th annual Kyiv Security Forum] … calmly related that Russian numerical advantage on the battlefield is about 7:1. But that’s not the main problem. “We could hold our positions,” he says, “if we just had sufficient ammunition.”
  • Western military support for Ukraine is never taken for granted or without gratitude. Yet there is also an appreciation that Ukraine has been fighting to win the war, while the United States and other Western allies have been managing escalation. Ukrainian military analyst Mykola Bielieskov noted that winning a war and managing escalation are different games with different rules and priorities, and these differences are now bearing bitter fruit.
  • The war in Ukraine is far from Danish borders, why does Copenhagen care? And more generally, what explains the leadership of smaller European nations like the Baltic states, Poland, and Czechia, who, alongside Denmark, devote large shares of their defense budgets to Ukraine’s aid and expend effort to rally reluctant allies on Ukraine’s behalf. For smaller nations, Minister Poulsen told me, the only paradigm of security is collective security and mutual defense. There’s no other choice: the only way to survive is to come to each other’s aid.
  • Between trips to Kharkiv and Dnipro, where large power plants have been entirely demolished by Russian strikes, the CEO of Ukrenergo, Ukraine’s grid operator, Volodymyr Kudrytskyi still generously found the time to meet with me to talk about the energy dimension of this war. … At the end of the meeting, Kudrytsky voiced a request: “Could you please tell leaders in the West to stop provoking Putin. With weakness.”

“American Aid Alone Won’t Save Ukraine. To Survive, Kyiv Must Build New Brigades—and Force Moscow to Negotiate,” Jack Watling, FA, 05.02.24. 

  • Ending the war on terms favorable to Ukraine will require far more than a new pipeline of equipment. ... Paramount is the need to generate new forces. To do so, Ukraine will need to mobilize more people, improve its training pipeline to maintain a qualitative advantage over Russian units, and adequately equip those new troops.
  • Even if Ukraine is able to blunt Russian gains by rapidly training, equipping, and deploying new forces, these steps will not in themselves produce a pathway to ending the conflict. . 
  • For Moscow to truly negotiate, it must be confronted with a situation in which extending the conflict further will present an unacceptable threat to itself. It is only then that Ukraine will be able to extract meaningful concessions.
  • Russia already faces several pressure points. 
    • First, Russia’s battlefield losses of critical systems—such as air defenses—matter, because they form the bulwark of Russia’s conventional deterrence of NATO. 
    • Second, Russia will be unable to fund the war indefinitely. 
    • Third, although the Russian public largely supports the war, there are deep frustrations with the Russian government that can be exploited. 
  • Given the extent to which it is currently outgunned, Ukraine doesn’t yet have the ability to set forth favorable negotiating terms to end the war. A cease-fire would likely see Russia reconstitute its military power, while Ukraine would not be able to maintain its own forces at their current size. Moreover, Kyiv would likely receive waning support for reconstruction if renewed Russian hostilities were anticipated in the near future. Rebuilding Ukraine will depend critically on investment from the private sector, and the threat of a new conflict will make any such financing risky. To ensure that Ukraine can negotiate in the confidence that it can secure a lasting peace, Kyiv’s international partners will have to offer security guarantees that it trusts. Because Ukraine cannot propose those guarantees, it will be up to its international partners to make the first move.
  • Ultimately, any successful end to the war will depend on NATO’s ability to convincingly deter Russia. That posture requires the alliance not only to field sufficient forces to counter a threat from Russia but also to establish sufficient production capacity among its members to sustain a steady flow of munitions in the event of another war. Establishing this supply will be necessary regardless of how the war ends. In the short term, expanded production of munitions will be essential to Ukraine’s ability to degrade the Russian military. If Ukraine manages to protract the conflict and the war is terminated in its favor, its partners will need munitions to bolster the credibility of their security guarantees. If, on the other hand, Russia achieves its objectives, then these munitions will be needed to underwrite the future security of NATO.
  • The U.S. military aid package was passed just in time to stave off a Ukrainian collapse. But to truly shift the direction of the war, it will need to be accompanied by a far more comprehensive strategy to successfully end it. And that must come from Washington, its NATO allies, and Kyiv itself.

For more analysis on this topic, see:

For a visualization of “how Ukraine broke Russia’s grip in the Black Sea,” see:

Military aid to Ukraine:

“What Is in the Ukraine Aid Package, and What Does it Mean for the Future of the War?” Mark F. Cancian and Chris H. Park. CSIS, 05.01.24. 

  • Q1: What is included in the package?
    • A1: The $61 billion of the Ukraine Security Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2024 falls into six categories.
    • Military equipment for Ukraine ($25.7 billion) comprises the largest part of the funding and does three things. First, it replaces equipment that has been or will be sent to Ukraine through presidential drawdown authority (PDA) ($13.4 billion). Second, it provides Ukraine with funding through the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program ($1.6 billion). The third and final element is enhancing the defense industrial base to increase production capabilities and develop more advanced weapons and munitions ($7.0 billion).
    • Ukraine-related military activities ($17 billion) funds the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) ($13.8 billion) and U.S. intelligence operations ($3.3 billion). USAI provides funds for three things: training that Ukraine might need for new weapons, individuals, or units; the United States buying arms on the global market, which it has done extensively in the past to acquire Soviet-standard equipment that Ukrainian forces are accustomed to using; and Ukraine purchasing weapons and equipment directly from U.S. manufacturers.
    • Economic support to Ukraine ($7.9 billion) assists the Ukrainian government in sustaining essential government services, including law enforcement.
    • Humanitarian aid ($2.5 billion) includes $1.6 billion for a special “assistance for Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia” fund, $300 million for counter-drug activities, and $100 million for demining. About $481 million supports Ukrainian refugees in the United States. Other U.S. governmental agencies ($335 million) includes $150 million for the Department of Energy’s nonproliferation activities. This has been a long-running effort to safeguard civilian power plants and hedge against nuclear incidents.
  • Q3: How much money has the United States committed as a result of the conflict in Ukraine?
    • A3: With the latest supplemental, the United States has committed $175 billion in economic, humanitarian, and military aid as a result of the war. 
  • Q4: Where will this money be spent?
    • A4: The notion of “aid to Ukraine” is a misnomer. Despite images of “pallets of cash” being sent to Ukraine, about 72 percent of this money overall and 86 percent of the military aid will be spent in the United States.
  • Q7: How long will the $61 billion last?
    • A7: Until funding started to dry up, the United States had been spending about $5.4 billion per month as a result of the war. At that spending rate, $61 billion would last for nearly a full year. Indeed, the original intention was that the funding would last through fiscal year 2024 and run out in September or October. However, half the fiscal year has passed, and the money may last until about January 2025 as a result. Because most of the appropriations are multiyear, the administration can use the money into FY 2025.
  • Q8: What effect will this have on the war?
    • A8: Ukraine would have lost the war without this additional U.S. funding. The resumption of U.S. military aid means that Ukrainian resistance will stiffen. It will be able to slow or stop Russian attacks and even launch its own limited local counterattacks. What happens after that is a crucial question for Ukraine. … [W]ith the failure of the counteroffensive, the way forward is unclear. Some experts have suggested a rebuilding year whereby Ukraine launches long-range strikes against Russian rear echelons and infrastructure, reequips its forces, trains units and individuals, and launches a counteroffensive in 2025. That may be the best Ukraine can do, but it is quite unsatisfying for both Ukrainians and Ukraine’s supporters, who are anxious for victory and an end to the fighting.

"Putin Isn’t Scared of Ukraine’s $61 Billion Boost," Hal Brands, Bloomberg, 05.01.24.

  • The approval of $61 billion in aid for Ukraine ensures that 2024 will not be the year the US abandons Kyiv to defeat at the hands of Moscow, an outcome that would have sent geopolitical shockwaves around the world. Yet it hasn’t changed the fact that the coming months will be quite ugly — and it won’t be enough to win this war or to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin that he can’t simply outwait the West.
  • Looking beyond this year...the prospects for a decent outcome in Ukraine hinge on difficult questions. Can Kyiv build a military that is capable of busting through layered, well-defended Russian lines? Can Europe ramp up ammunition production to sustain the Ukrainian military if and when America pulls back? Will the US and its allies agree to seize frozen Russian assets and deliver them to Ukraine? Are they willing to do things — like driving Putin’s oil off the global market or having a sanctions showdown with Chinese banks involved in trade with Russia — that are necessary to really tighten the economic squeeze? Perhaps most vexing: If Putin can’t conquer Ukraine, but won’t stop fighting, how far will the US and NATO go to force Russia to bring the war to an end?
  • That $61 billion in US aid has bought time to address these issues. It hasn’t provided any easy answers. As the potential for near-term disaster in Ukraine recedes, the longer-term dilemmas come right back into view.

“The US aid package to Ukraine will help. But a better strategy is urgently needed,” Olga Tokariuk, Chatham House, 04.25.24.

  • The new $61 billion US aid package for Ukraine, approved by Congress on 23 April, will improve Ukraine’s battlefield position.
  • In the short term, however, the battlefield situation will remain difficult. 
    • Russia might attempt a new offensive in May. Meanwhile, Russian forces have already captured around 360 sq km of territory [in 2024].
    • Now, the Russian military is pushing to seize the town of Chasiv Yar. f captured, this would open the way for an advance to Ukraine’s Donbas strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
  • Without a better plan for consistent aid delivery, sooner or later, Ukraine will again find itself in a critical situation.
    • European countries must follow up the US’s significant new commitment by urgently seeking to ramp up domestic ammunition production.
    • Europeans should also transfer more weapons to Ukraine, particularly air defense systems.
  • The bitter experience with the US military aid package shows that the whole approach to supporting Ukraine must change.
    • A sustainable strategy that enables an uninterrupted flow of Western military aid, regardless of election cycles and political squabbles, must be developed by the US, Europe and Ukraine’s other allies.
    • This can be achieved by legislatively committing to funding Ukraine in the long term. Bilateral security agreements Ukraine has signed with six EU countries and the UK allow for that.
    • There’s also the idea of issuing EU bonds to finance efforts to ramp up Europe’s defense capabilities, supported by the presidents of France and Estonia.
    • Another option is to fund Ukraine’s defense effort with frozen Russian assets.

For more analysis on this topic, see:

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

“Confiscating sanctioned Russian state assets should be the last resort,” Creon Butler, Chatham House, 05.01.24.

  • Confiscating $300 billion of sanctioned Russian state assets to help pay for this support is a…complex question. It is not certain that the benefits to the G7 will outweigh the costs it will bear.
  • Permanently confiscating $300 billion of Russian foreign exchange reserve assets (2.5 percent of the global total) held in countries that are not at war with Russia would increase the risk perceived by several other countries.
    • They would fear that, at some point, they could be subject to similar measures.
    • This ‘chilling’ effect is likely to be higher the greater the legal precedents set – particularly if some G7 countries make changes in their laws that significantly alter the implementation of sovereign immunity.
  • It will likely result in higher yields on Western currency assets and an acceleration in efforts to develop alternative means to facilitate international transactions and store value.
  • There is also a risk that the financial costs could be much higher, with the damage spreading into the real economy. 
    • This could happen if action to confiscate Russian state assets combines with retaliation by the Russian authorities against Western-controlled private or multilateral assets still in Russia and broader developments threatening to constrain global capital flows.
  • It is unlikely that one side or the other will be completely defeated. Having frozen Russian state assets available to play into these negotiations will increase G7 and Ukrainian leverage and flexibility.
    • Permanently confiscating Russian state assets now removes these options: it is highly improbable they could be restored once the money is spent.
  • The more value realized for Ukraine now, the higher the legal uncertainty and risk of far-reaching financial market costs – and the lower the flexibility to deploy frozen assets in future negotiations. 

“Russian finance flows slump after US targets Vladimir Putin’s war machine,” Max Seddon and Chris Cook and Anastasia Stognei, FT, 05.05.24. 

  • Moscow’s trade volumes with key partners such as Turkey and China have slumped in the first quarter of this year after the US targeted international banks helping Russia acquire critical products to aid its war effort. A US executive order, implemented late last year, prompted lenders to drop Russian counterparties and avoid transactions in a range of currencies, said western officials and three senior Russian financiers....The.... order is designed to target banks in countries that recorded sharp rises in trade with Russia.
    • Turkey’s exports of “high-priority” goods — items mainly for civilian use but identified as critical for the war effort, such as microchips — to Russia and five former Soviet countries soared after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. According to Trade Data Monitor, the volume hit $586mn in 2023, a fivefold increase on prewar volumes. But in the first quarter of this year, Turkey’s exports to Russia fell by a third year on year to $2.1bn. And the value of its reported exports of high-priority goods to Russia and its neighboring countries fell 40 per cent to $93mn in the first quarter of 2024 from the previous quarter, showing the impact of the executive order.
  • The restrictions on payments have had a chilling effect far beyond the shadow trade in components for Russia’s war machine, as banks cut off entire categories of transactions with Moscow rather than fall foul of US sanctions.
  • Cross-border payments are increasingly being carried out in rubles, while the use of the Chinese, Turkish and UAE currencies are declining, according to Russia’s central bank. Before the 2022 war, less than 15 per cent of Russian exports were paid in rubles. But the currency’s share rose to 40 per cent in February this year, with the highest jump recorded after the US executive order. For imports, payments in rubles have increased to about 40 per cent from a prewar level of 30 per cent.
  • The ruble’s limited convertibility, however, makes it difficult for Russian banks and counterparties to make up the lost volume of trade in dollars and other western currencies, a senior Russian investor said.

“Domestic Uranium Enrichment Will Secure America's Energy Future,” Patrick White and Erik Cothron, NI, 05.05.24. 

  • The United States and its allies currently rely on a small number of companies involved in the nuclear fuel supply chain to meet their uranium fuel needs. Key companies supplying international commercial uranium enrichment and conversion services include Orano (majority controlled by the French government), Urenco (majority controlled by the UK and Dutch governments), Cameco (a publicly traded Canadian company), and TENEX (a Russian state-owned enterprise).
  • While international agreements and free markets have historically supported commercial agreements between nations and these companies, there has been growing concern since the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine that U.S. and allied reliance on TENEX for nuclear fuels is a diplomatic and energy security risk. The United States currently relies on TENEX to supply the enriched uranium for about 25 percent of U.S. reactors. Still, Russia’s recent use of other energy exports as weapons of war and international coercion creates a significant vulnerability for both the United States and its allies. Additionally, TENEX is the only commercial supplier of High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU), which is a more highly enriched type of uranium that is needed to fuel many advanced nuclear reactor designs. Without domestic or allied HALEU production, the future of nuclear innovation and many advanced reactors in the U.S. is subject to geopolitical uncertainty.
  • Thankfully, in April 2024, the Senate passed the Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act by unanimous consent, marking not only the passage of this bill through both chambers of Congress but also the culmination of efforts by numerous stakeholders to secure its passage.  With this critical legislation now in place, DOE has the full funding it needs to reduce our reliance on Russian uranium, create strong market signals for private investment in domestic uranium supply chain infrastructure, and pave the way for a robust domestic supply chain.

For more analysis on this topic, see:

“Russia’s War Economy Starves Crucial Oil Industry of Manpower,” Bloomberg, 05.06.24.

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on How Kyiv Will Use American Aid,” Ravi Agrawal, FP, 05.01.24. 

  • DK: Russian ballistic missiles are the real scourge of this war. They’ve been mainly used recently to destroy our energy system. 
  • DK: The artillery ratio on the ground is incomprehensible. Basically, Ukrainian soldiers are starving because of the lack of artillery ammunition. And in the end, they get bombed and their positions get destroyed.
  • RA: What types of weaponry are you prioritizing with the newly approved aid? DK: We need artillery ammunition for the front line to stop Russia’s advance. We need air defense systems and missile interceptors to stop Russian missiles falling—literally on the heads of Ukrainians and on our energy infrastructure. We need radio jamming because modern warfare is largely a war of drones and software. And therefore, you need an abundance of electronic warfare to combat these modern, state-of-the-art weapons.
  • DK: I have to admit that between late autumn and April of this year, Europe was energizing the United States. Probably for the first time since World War II, Europe took the lead while the United States was, let’s call it, deliberating some very important decisions.
  • RA: When we last spoke at the Munich Security Conference in February, the issue of a potential Trump presidency came up. How worried are you about that now?  DK: Listen, I am a Ukrainian who goes to bed in the evening not knowing whether a Russian missile will hit my house at night. ... So the last thing I worry about is the outcome of elections in other countries, even in our most important ally, the United States. 
  • RA: Republicans are trying to align on some aspects of foreign policy. The area they disagree on the most is Ukraine. J.D. Vance, a senator from Ohio, wrote in the New York Times recently that “Ukraine’s challenge is not the GOP; it’s math.” He says you need more soldiers than you can ever field, and more weapons than America can ever provide. DK: ... If the war was only about math, you and I wouldn’t be talking today because the position of the minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine would not exist anymore; we would have lost the war already. ... Whether you are Republican or Democrat, you have to remember one thing. Security and prosperity of America stems from the current world order. 
  • DK: ... We should all pursue a strategy under which the enemy has a crystal-clear understanding that Ukraine is part of the West, that allies will stand by Ukraine. Not as long as it takes, but as long as it takes Ukraine to win.
  • RA: Switzerland is holding a high-level peace conference next month. Your Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, described Switzerland as openly hostile. What is the point of a peace summit without the party that initiated the war? DK: ...We know that it doesn’t make sense to have Russia at the table if you cannot ensure that they act in good faith. There are only two ways to bring Russia to a situation where it will act in good faith. The first one is success on the battlefield, and the second one is having a coalition of countries who share the same principles and the same approaches. So this is why the summit does not intend to have Russia as a participant. Because the goal of this summit is to unite countries who share principles and approaches that they will build further actions on.
  • DK to RA. I think you are absolutely correct in assuming that China has leverage on Russia. China can do more to convince Russia to change its behavior. And we, along with other European leaders, are talking with them about that. This is why we invited China to take part in the peace formula summit... the truth is that Russia is already in the hands of China. 
  • DK: What I learned about the global south in the last two years is that it doesn’t exist, that we have to treat every country separately. There is a huge difference between China and India or between South Africa and Brazil. The mistake that we made with regards to them was not made in 2022. It was in the late 1990s, when we started paying attention to developing relations with these countries while Russia inherited a lot from the Soviet Union. I have to admit, they are better positioned there. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep trying.

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

“Appeasement Is Underrated. Rejecting diplomacy by citing Neville Chamberlain’s deal with the Nazis is a willfully ignorant use of history,” Stephen M. Walt, FP, 04.29.24. 

  • I’m opposed to censorship, but foreign-policy debates here in the United States would improve dramatically if politicians and pundits stopped defending their recommendations by constantly invoking Neville Chamberlain and the so-called “lessons of Munich.” 
  • For these folks, the so-called lesson is that dictators are unalterably aggressive and that one should never, ever, try to appease them
  • To be clear: If I were a member of Congress—admittedly a scary thought—I would have supported providing more aid for the beleaguered Ukrainians. But not because I think Russian President Vladimir Putin is another Hitler who is hellbent on waging war across Europe the way that Nazi Germany did. What happened at Munich in 1938 is largely irrelevant to the issues facing us today, and invoking it is more likely to mislead than to inform. It’s a bumper sticker masquerading as Serious Analysis.
    • For starters, those who invoke Munich rarely understand what really took place back in 1938. Contrary to the subsequent mythology, Chamberlain was neither naive about Hitler nor unaware of the dangers posed by Nazi Germany. 
    • Second, the enduring obsession with Munich places far too much weight on one individual event, and it treats the compromises and agreements that have occurred between major powers as essentially irrelevant. 
    • Third, the claim that Munich tells us how to deal with dictators contains a noteworthy contradiction. The costs of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust have rightly led us to view Hitler as one of history’s most evil figures. The good news is that leaders as depraved and reckless as Hitler are rare. 
      • Viewing Putin as the reincarnation of Hitler and insisting that we must act like British Prime Minister Winston Churchill—Chamberlain’s successor—makes it harder to reach a diplomatic solution that would spare Ukraine further destruction and allow the United States to focus on other priorities. 
  • Is appeasement always a good idea? Of course not. Leaders should be especially wary of making concessions that significantly shift the balance of power in an opponent’s favor, because doing so would leave the opponent in a stronger position to demand future concessions. 
  • Given the United States’ considerable strengths and favorable location, U.S. foreign-policy officials should generally seek the “magnanimous and noble” path, seeking to resolve differences with adversaries via a carefully considered process of negotiation and mutual adjustment, even when dealing with dictators whose values and interests are at odds with their own. This approach would be a lot easier if the foreign-policy community abandoned its peculiar obsession with Munich; I’d say the sooner the better.

“Emmanuel Macron in his own words (English). The French president’s interview with The Economist,” The Economist, 05.02.24. (interview conducted on 04.29.24)

  • Mr. Macron identifies a triple shock of interconnected threats which create a particularly dangerous moment in the continent’s history.
    • The first is geopolitical: Europe’s struggle to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, even as America’s future commitment to Europe has gone wobbly. ... “If Russia wins in Ukraine there will be no security in Europe,” he says. “Who can pretend that Russia will stop there?” What security would there be, he asks, for neighboring countries: Moldova, Romania, Poland, Lithuania and others? 
      • Mr. Macron ... stands by his refusal to rule out putting boots on the ground in Ukraine. ... “If the Russians were to break through the front lines, if there were a Ukrainian request, which is not the case today,” he says, “we would legitimately have to ask ourselves this question.” 
      • To shore up Europe in the longer run, Mr. Macron is hatching ideas for a new binding European security “framework.” ... In his telling, America simply will not always have Europe’s back. The continent has no choice: “We have to get ready to protect ourselves.” 
  • The second risk to Europe comes from the twin economic shock of accelerating technology and China. Mr. Macron, a former investment banker, worries that Europe is about to fall behind in crucial high-tech sectors, from clean tech to quantum computing, if it does not grasp the scale and urgency of what needs to be done now. ... Underpinning this analysis is the observation that nobody else plays by the rules any more. The old order has been broken. Nothing has yet replaced it. 
  • The final threat to Europe is democratic: a resurgent nationalism, turbo-charged by disinformation and echo-chamber news. The best way to understand the risk today, Mr. Macron suggests, is to re-read Marc Bloch, a French historian executed by the Gestapo. In “Strange Defeat,” Bloch argued that the elites facilitated the fall of France to the Nazis in 1940 through short-sightedness and complacency. “What kills me, in France as in Europe, is the spirit of defeat,” declares the president. “The spirit of defeat means two things: you get used to it and you stop fighting.” This is the danger: elites are starting to assume that opinion polls make an outcome inevitable, and then to resign themselves to it. “Politics isn’t about reading polls,” he says; “it’s a fight, it’s about ideas, it’s about convictions.”

“Emmanuel Macron’s urgent message for Europe,” The Economist, 05.02.24. 

  • In 1940, after France had been defeated by the Nazi blitzkrieg, the historian Marc Bloch condemned his country’s inter-war elites for having failed to face up to the threat that lay ahead. Today Emmanuel Macron cites Bloch as a warning that Europe’s elites are gripped by the same fatal complacency.
  • In our interview, he warned that Europe faces imminent danger, declaring that “things can fall apart very quickly”. He also spoke of the mountain of work ahead to make Europe safe. But he is bedeviled by unpopularity at home and poor relations with Germany. Like other gloomy visionaries, he faces the risk that his message is ignored.
  • The driving force behind Mr. Macron’s warning is the invasion of Ukraine. War has changed Russia. Flouting international law, issuing nuclear threats, investing heavily in arms and hybrid tactics, it has embraced “aggression in all known domains of conflict”. Now Russia knows no limits, he argues. Moldova, Lithuania, Poland, Romania or any neighboring country could all be its targets. If it wins in Ukraine, European security will lie in ruins.
  • Europe must wake up to this new danger. Mr. Macron refuses to back down from his declaration in February that Europe should not rule out putting troops in Ukraine. This elicited horror and fury from some of his allies, but he insists their wariness will only encourage Russia to press on: “We have undoubtedly been too hesitant by defining the limits of our action to someone who no longer has any and who is the aggressor.”
  • Mr. Macron is adamant that, whoever is in the White House in 2025, Europe must shake off its decades-long military dependence on America and with it the head-in-the-sand reluctance to take hard power seriously.
  • Mr. Macron is clearer about the perils Europe is facing than the leader of any other large country. When leadership is in short supply, he has the courage to look history in the eye. The tragedy for Europe is that the words of France’s Cassandra may well fall on deaf ears. 

“Fiona Hill on Putin, Ukraine, Global Challenges,” interview with RM, 05.01.24. (interview conducted on 04.05.24)

  • All of these … elections in other places [around the world]—or the absence of elections in the case of Ukraine because of circumstances—are for Putin opportunity for manipulation, exploitation and propaganda points. And also, you know, potentially the change of circumstances in his favor.
  • I think no matter what, Putin can probably assume that America is going to be in some degrees of turmoil, because our electoral system is under siege. Under question, and our politics are in flux. I think there's plenty of opportunity for Putin to take advantage of the situation. 
  • [T]here's already a Trump factor that's changing things, right? Because there's an assumption in lots of parts of the world that Trump has won already. … There's all these efforts to Trump-proof systems for NATO. … The whole debate now about assistance to Ukraine … all of that is being driven by Trump and a lot of Congressional debates about Ukraine are being driven by Trump.
  • Ukraine, obviously, is being pushed to do the similar kind of defensive position [like Russia did earlier in the war]. But of course, for Ukraine, that’s very hard, because then that looks like they're building a solid border, right? Whether we think about that or not, if you kind of think about the physicality of minefields, and walls, and trenches, and all the rest of it, … you're creating a border that maybe, you know, not a de jour [border], but [it] becomes facts on the ground. … And that's really why Ukraine hasn't done that. 
  • [O]ur terminology is difficult, because we're thinking that Russia is winning, because Putin, he's willing to expend just incredible amounts of manpower and money and equipment at this particular point. … Ukraine's … trying to preserve its capacity, its people, but Putin seems to be willing to certainly fight to the last Ukrainian, but even potentially, to the last Russian, seeing this as kind of a final showdown.
  • We knew he [Putin] was going to take him [Prigozhin] out, right? But it wasn't predictable about the timing, when in fact he got everybody, including Prigozhin, lulled into a false sense of security. … And it took, you know, exactly two months. And Putin did it in a way that was of his own choosing … in a predictably unpredictable way, if that makes sense.
  • [Putin] thinks about them [people] in different ways from how they’re actually going to act. He doesn't believe in genuine national sentiment. He doesn't believe in altruism. He doesn't believe in self-sacrifice, things like this. … And he didn't, you know, kind of predict [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy. … [Putin] understood a certain type of Ukrainians, or a certain type of people. But he didn't understand how Ukraine itself over 30 years had become much more complex.

“Sleepwalking Into Conflict with the Kremlin,” Lucian Kim, Wilson Center, 04.30.24.

  • Putin played up the dramatic events in Ukraine as a struggle for influence between Russia and the West. He waged a trade war to force Yanukovych to renounce the EU association agreement and justified Russia’s seizure of Crimea as a necessary step to prevent the port of Sevastopol, the historic home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, from falling into NATO hands.
    • The real reasons for the war in Ukraine are Russia’s imperial nostalgia and Putin’s dictatorial rule. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 traumatized a generation.
  • The West sleepwalked into a conflict with the Kremlin. Unchecked hubris after the Cold War led the United States and its allies to overpromise to Ukraine and misread Putin.
    • Ukraine figured nowhere in Washington’s strategic outlook as Obama tried to pivot US foreign policy to China.
    • Once Russian troops began taking over Crimea, the United States was again powerless to impel a peer nuclear power to change course.
  • Putin’s fear of 'losing' Ukraine rose in inverse proportion to the West’s flagging interest. As his 70th birthday loomed in October 2022, Putin felt a growing urgency to leave his mark on Russian history.
  • American and European leaders acted on the assumption that Russia was a status quo power, when in fact it was increasingly acting like a status quo ante power.
  • Although Russia hawks in his (President Trump’s) administration began delivering US defensive weapons to Kyiv, the president himself did not hide his admiration for Putin. Trump’s interest in Ukraine rested entirely on how to extract political benefit from the country’s novice president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in exchange for vital American military assistance.
  • In his isolation, Putin stewed in a small circle of hardliners who believed that the United States was taking control over Ukraine to strike at its ultimate target: Russia.
    • The fallacious notion that Russia is waging a defensive war provoked by NATO has also been embraced in certain quarters in the United States and Europe.
  • Tragically, before Putin seized Crimea a decade ago, Ukraine had the potential to be a bridge between Russia and the West. Instead, it unwillingly became the first line of defense against Putin’s naked aggression.

“Europe should brace itself for Trump,” Edward Luce, FT, 05.04.24. 

  • No one can say that Donald Trump did not warn them. In an unusually detailed interview with Time magazine this week, the Republican nominee sent fresh chills down liberal spines by laying out what he would do if he recaptured the presidency.
  • None of these tactics — sticking your head in the sand, making friends with Trump, or even welcoming him — are foolproof. The larger reality is that a second Trump term would be likely to spell the end of the west as an organizing idea on the world stage.
  • This would be great news for Putin and terrible for Ukraine. It could also open a nuclear Pandora’s box. If NATO could no longer count on America’s umbrella, countries such as Germany and even Poland might consider going nuclear. It is no small irony that Trump would probably have no issue with that. 

“Russia plotting sabotage across Europe, intelligence agencies warn,” Sam Jones, John Paul Rathbone and Richard Milne, FT, 05.04.24. 

  • European intelligence agencies have warned their governments that Russia is plotting violent acts of sabotage across the continent as it commits to a course of permanent conflict with the west.  Russia has already begun to more actively prepare covert bombings, arson attacks and damage to infrastructure on European soil, directly and via proxies, with little apparent concern about causing civilian fatalities, intelligence officials believe. 
    • “We assess the risk of state-controlled acts of sabotage to be significantly increased,” said Thomas Haldenwang, head of German domestic intelligence, last month, Haldenwang spoke just days after two German-Russian nationals were arrested in Bayreuth, Bavaria, for allegedly plotting to attack military and logistics sites in Germany on behalf of Russia.
    • Two men were charged in the UK in late April with having started a fire at a warehouse containing aid shipments for Ukraine.
    • In Sweden, security services are meanwhile investigating a series of recent railway derailments, which they suspect may be acts of state-backed sabotage.
    • Russia has attempted to destroy the signaling systems on Czech railways, the country’s transport minister told the FT last month. 
    • In Estonia, an attack on the interior minister’s car in February and those of journalists were perpetrated by Russian intelligence operatives, the country’s Internal Security Service has said. 
    • France’s ministry of defense also warned this year of possible sabotage attacks by Russia on military sites. 
      • One senior European government official said information was being shared through NATO security services of “clear and convincing Russian mischief”, which was coordinated and at scale. 
  • The growing fears over Russia’s appetite for physical damage against its adversaries follow a spate of accusations against Russia over disinformation and hacking campaigns.
  • With Russia’s stepping up operations, security services have been on high alert over threats and are looking to identify targets they may have missed.
    • Questions have been raised, for instance, over a so-far unexplained explosion at a BAE Systems munitions factory in Wales that supplies shells used by Ukraine. 
    • In October 2014 a Czech arms depot where weapons for Kyiv were being stored was destroyed; Russian military intelligence agents were later revealed to have planted explosives at the site. 
    • A huge fire broke out on Friday at a factory in Berlin owned by the arms company Diehl, which also supplies Ukraine. 

“US-led arms race could push mankind into the abyss,” Andrey Kortunov, Global Times, 04.27.24. Clues from Russian Views

  • According to recent findings of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the total global defense expenditures in 2023 reached a staggering $2.44 trillion. 
  • Cold hard data leaves little room for ambiguities - the US remains an indisputable global leader with the Pentagon's budget of $916 billion. NATO spends $1.34 trillion or 55 percent of the global expenditure. If you add to these statistics the rapidly growing defense budgets of such counties as Japan, South Korea and Australia, the undeniable responsibility of the West in the global arms race will look even more explicit. 
  • The same clear trend can be traced in the global arms trade. According to SIPRI, over last five years the US export of arms has increased by 17 percent and the US share of the global market has jumped from 34 to 42 percent. The statistic on NATO is also indicative - the Alliance share in providing arms to foreign countries in 2019-23 has grown from 62 to 72 percent. 
  • Given all these trends, it comes as no surprise to hear that the US leadership has often been skeptical about arms control. 
  • The problem is not only about resources that are taken away from what the real and urgent needs of the humankind are. A continuous arms race should be regarded not only as a function of mutual mistrust, tensions and military conflicts, but also as a prime source of all of the above. In a world stuffed with ready to use lethal systems, the risks on an accidental and inadvertent war are getting higher. The creeping militarization of world politics turns international relations into a zero-sum game, in which the goal is not to resolve a difficult problem, but rather to defeat the opponent. 
  • As the Cold War experience demonstrates, only strong public pressure could force reluctant leaders of the global arms race to reconsider their militant positions. It was noted a long time ago that recovery from addiction is not for people who need it, but for people who want it. The same can be said about a recovery from the global arms race. 

“The War and the World: How the Ukraine War Has Changed the World and Keeps Changing It,” Dmitri Trenin, RIAC, 05.03.24(this organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities) Clues from Russian Views

  • Russian-Western relations are in a flux. One thing is clear, though. There is no turning back to where things were in 2013, or even in 2021. The war in Ukraine will continue and is likely to intensify and escalate – certainly vertically (more powerful weapons used) and maybe even horizontally (expanding the theater of war). Both Russia and the US/West have a huge stake in the outcome, even though Russia’s is more consequential by far. A negotiated peace settlement between them is next to impossible. For Russia, denazification of the Kiev regime, demilitarization of what will eventually remain of Ukraine, and full integration of the newly incorporated territories appear to be the main objectives.
  • The hybrid war, however, will continue even after the cessation of hostilities in Ukraine. A new world order is not at hand. When the military conflict essentially stops, each side might claim victory in Ukraine, but living with the real outcome will not be comfortable for either one. Instead of a new security architecture, the best scenario one can hope for in Europe may be a military stand-off along an unbroken front line stretching from the Arctic to the Black Sea. Russia’s political relations with the now officially called unfriendly countries of the West will not much improve. The trust between Russia and America, Russians and Europeans will not be rebuilt in the foreseeable future.
  • Rocky Russia-West relations is only one aspect, though an important one in a raft of big changes that the world is experiencing. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has just been resolved by force. The US-China confrontation is aggravating, with Taiwan and the South China Sea being the most likely flashpoints. The escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached an unprecedented intensity and threatens to spill over to the wider region. Tensions are growing on the Korean Peninsula.
  • One might argue that this points to the direction of change: back to the future. Ironically but tellingly, even many of those in Russia who for over thirty years used to criticize the unfortunate notion of the end of history, secretly believed it to be true, and only wished that end to be different from the one suggested in the concept. Above all, they considered war to be history. Now history has caught up with them.
  • What this turbulence and violence also highlights, however, is the decline of the US global hegemony. Even more important: breaking with the historical pattern, there will most probably be no hegemonic succession. In the more or less distant future, there most likely will be no hegemony, whether single-handed, bipolar or oligarchical: the world is already turning polycentric. Not that it will be fragmented, but it will be united in a different fashion – not unified. Without a hegemon there will be far less uniformity – diversity will be ubiquitous. Universal values will continue to exist, but as a result of negotiations between the players, each relying on their own cultural and civilizational heritage. The road to that more equitable future, however, is bumped by a series of conflicts – the peaceful way the Cold War ended was a historical aberration.

For more analysis on this topic, see:

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Behind the Scenes: China’s Increasing Role in Russia’s Defense Industry,” Nathaniel Sher, CEIP, 05.06.24.

  • Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Chinese exports to Russia have risen by more than 60 percent. Many analysts suggest that trade with China is providing a nothing short of a lifeline to Russia’s economy. In the process, China has emerged as the largest supplier of not only commercial goods, but increasingly of dual-use components covered by the Western export controls. 
  • Publicly available customs data indicate that every month, China is exporting over $300 million worth of dual-use products identified by the United States, the European Union, Japan, and the United Kingdom as “high priority” items necessary for Russia’s weapons production. While monthly transactions have declined from a peak of over $600 million in December 2023, China remains Russia’s largest supplier of these controlled products.
  • High priority items refer to fifty dual-use products that are essential for manufacturing weaponry like missiles, drones, and tanks. Many are products that Russia lacks the capacity to produce domestically such as microelectronics, machine tools, telecommunications gear, radars, optical devices, sensors, and other products. The majority of the goods on the high priority list overlap with the items that U.S. officials in early April revealed China was selling to Russia.
  • In 2023, China was responsible for approximately 90 percent of Russia’s imports of goods covered under the G7’s high priority export control list.
  • Russia’s reliance on China for high priority products surged from 32 percent in 2021 to 89 percent in 2023.
  • Chinese exporters are openly engaging in trade with Russia, even in areas subject to export controls, while few other countries have been willing to report trade data in circumvention of the Western restrictions. That said, third party financial intermediaries have begun to play a significant role in facilitating China-Russia payments, indicating Beijing’s potential sensitivity to the risk of secondary sanctions on financial institutions as compared with goods exporters.
  • Beyond the threat of punitive measures, the United States has limited ability to influence Beijing’s calculus on the Russia-Ukraine war. 
  • While China may not want to upend ties with Europe and the United States, it seeks to ensure that Russia remains a stable strategic partner. Providing Russia with dual-use components rather than finished weapons has allowed China to provide support for Russia while claiming plausible deniability. Even if Beijing curtails dual-use exports in order to avoid further sanctions, its strategic interest in Russia remaining a stable partner will persist.

“Xi is probing for cracks in the EU and NATO. China’s charm offensive in Europe has threatening undertones and is likely to fail as a result,” Gideon Rachman, FT, 05.06.24. 

  • Who is Xi Jinping’s travel agent? If you are making your first trip to Europe in nearly five years, an itinerary that reads France, Serbia, Hungary seems a little eccentric. But the three stops chosen by China’s leader make perfect sense viewed from Beijing. For strategic and economic reasons, China badly wants to disrupt the unity of both NATO and the EU. Each of the three countries that Xi is visiting is seen as a potential lever to prize open the cracks in the west.
    • On a recent visit to Beijing, I found Chinese foreign policy experts fascinated by French talk of the need for Europe to achieve “strategic autonomy” from the US. In a speech in Paris last month, Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, said that Europe must never be a “vassal of the United States” — which is language also favored by China. The Xi government was also delighted when Macron, on a flight back from Beijing last year, intimated that Europe had no interest in defending Taiwan from a potential Chinese invasion. 
      • But the Chinese are at risk of over-interpreting the radicalism of Macron’s ideas when it comes to NATO. The French president may once have described the alliance as experiencing “brain death”. But, in recent times, he has taken a much more hawkish line on Russia — which places real limits on France’s willingness and ability to distance itself from NATO or the US.
      • Xi’s trip to Europe also has a strong economic component. And on these issues, France is a much more difficult partner. Macron might not challenge China over Taiwan — but the future of the French car industry is a different matter.
    • The Serbian leg of Xi’s European visit will give the Chinese leader a chance to ram home a geopolitical message. Xi’s visit will coincide with the 25th anniversary of the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, during the Kosovo war. 
      • Xi’s anti-NATO message may go over well back home, where the bombing of the Belgrade embassy is still understandably bitterly resented. Russia and much of the global south will also like the anti-western messaging. But telling Europeans that they are vassals of America and that NATO is a dangerous organization is a message that most Europeans will find insulting at best — and threatening at worst. 
      • Xi’s third stop is Hungary — which is a NATO member. Nonetheless, the country’s leader, Viktor Orbán, has positioned himself as the most pro-Russian voice inside the western alliance — and is performing a similar service for China. Hungary has blocked several EU resolutions critical of China.
  • Xi’s own understanding of how mainstream Europe sees Russia is unlikely to be furthered by spending time with outliers — like Orbán and Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić. The Chinese leader’s travel agent should have come up with a more challenging itinerary.

"China Has Crossed Biden’s Red Line on Ukraine," Matt Pottinger, WSJ, 04.30.24.

  • President Biden warned China two years ago not to provide “material support” for Russia’s war in Ukraine. On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken conceded that Xi Jinping ignored that warning. China, Mr. Blinken said, was “overwhelmingly the No. 1 supplier” of Russia’s military industrial base, with the “material effect” of having fundamentally changed the course of the war. Whatever Mr. Biden chooses to do next will be momentous for global security and stability.
  • Mr. Biden can either enforce his red line through sanctions or other means, or he can signal a collapse of American resolve by applying merely symbolic penalties.
  • Beijing’s official statements after the Blinken visit made no mention of the American complaint, and a Chinese Foreign Ministry official said flatly: “The Ukraine issue is not an issue between China and the United States. The U.S. side should not turn it into one.”
  • Worse, there are signs Beijing and its axis of chaos, which includes Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela, is planning the next phase of violent disruption. Beijing welcomed a delegation from Hamas on the same day Mr. Blinken left China—a fact Chinese officials kept from the American delegation. More ominously, Mr. Xi dispatched one of his most trusted aides, former spy agency chief and current Politburo member Chen Wenqing, to Moscow for a nine-day visit. The purpose of the trip was to tighten intelligence and security cooperation and pave the way for Mr. Putin’s visit to Beijing next month.

“The Very Real Limits of the Russia-China ‘No Limits’ Partnership,” Keith Johnson, FP, 04.30.24. 

  • A Sino-Russian condominium won’t solve either Russia’s immediate problems or China’s long-term challenges.
  • For Russia, the biggest casualty of the war in Ukraine—besides nearly half a million Russian dead and wounded—is access to the European market for its energy exports, formerly the source of about 40 percent of Russia’s budget....the Chinese market is not at all a replacement for Russia’s lost markets elsewhere: It is smaller, brings fewer returns, and promises almost none of the advanced energy-sector technology Moscow needs to keep its fields pumping efficiently and its compressors working. 
  • While the two countries talk up the broader importance of their growing trade ties, touting a near “de-dollarization” of bilateral trade, the reality is a lot messier. Despite years of half-hearted Chinese efforts to internationalize its currency and turn it into something resembling a reserve currency, the renminbi is still between the Canadian dollar and the British pound as far as cross-border trade goes—a distant rival to the U.S. dollar and the euro.
  • Recent U.S. moves to deploy even more sanctions, nominally against Iran but targeting Chinese involvement, are a reminder of the reach of the dollar-denominated global financial system. Even the bottlenecks in Russian bilateral trade with China are reflective of Chinese banks’ unwillingness to risk opprobrium for what is, after all, a tertiary market. 

For more analysis on this topic, see:

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

"Voters, please think about the menace of nuclear annihilation," George F. Will, WP, 05.01.24.

  • Reading “Nuclear War: A Scenario” by reporter and historian Annie Jacobsen will take you much longer than the 30 or so minutes — 1,800 seconds — that would elapse between the launch of a single nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile in North Korea and its detonation on the Pentagon. Thereafter, in Jacobsen’s scenario, cascading and irreversible events extinguish civilization in two hours.
  • Everything — everything — depends on deterrence holding, forever. It succeeded in keeping the U.S.-Soviet conflict from becoming hot during the Cold War. But conventional forces failed to deter Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And he — possessing the world’s largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and perhaps the world’s smallest reluctance to use them — has used nuclear deterrence to dissuade Ukraine’s allies from delivering sufficient timely assistance. Otherwise, U.S. and European Union resources could by now have saved Ukraine. But, then, a nonnuclear Russia might not have risked an invasion.
  • Jacobsen cannot be faulted for not proposing “solutions” to the dilemma of living with what physics hath wrought. Her point is that for a while now, and from now on, humanity’s survival depends on statesmanship and luck — as much the latter as the former. Remember that on Nov. 5.

“Breaking the Impasse on Nuclear Disarmament, Part Two,” Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Association, May 2024.

  • The success of the global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament system has always relied on effective cooperation and dialogue between the two largest nuclear-weapon states.
    • Russia and the United States have dithered and delayed on new disarmament talks and even failed to resolve disputes on successful arms control agreements.
    • The war [in Ukraine] has become the Kremlin’s cynical excuse to short-circuit meaningful channels of diplomacy that could reduce nuclear risk.
  • That is why U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan proposed in June 2023 that the two sides start talks “without precondition” to establish a new nuclear arms control framework. 
    • Russia rejected the U.S. proposal, saying it sees “no basis for such work” due to tensions over the war in Ukraine.
    • Meanwhile, China is expanding and diversifying its relatively smaller arsenal.
  • The White House has requested $69 billion for sustaining and upgrading the massive U.S. nuclear arsenal in fiscal year 2025, a 22 percent increase.
  • Halting the cycle of spiraling nuclear tensions is in every nation’s interest.
    • Ahead of New START’s expiration, all NPT states-parties, nuclear-armed or not, allied or nonaligned, must increase the diplomatic pressure on Russia and the United States, as well as China, to freeze the size of their nuclear arsenals and engage in..arms reduction talks.
  • In these more troubled times, the pragmatic interim approach should be for Moscow and Washington to pursue a simple executive agreement or just unilaterally declare that they will continue to respect New START’s…framework.

“Trump II and US Nuclear Assurances to NATO,” Liviu Horovitz and Elisabeth Suh, SWP, April 2024.

  • While a second Trump Presidency would be challenging for transatlantic ties, US nuclear assurances to its NATO allies in Europe would likely be the last casualty.
    • While it may be difficult to establish its credibility, extended deterrence is not a house of cards that collapses immediately if strategic communication fails.
    • While reckless statements made by Trump from the White House would undermine the credibility of US promises, the damage would be limited as long as capabilities and interests SWP Comment 17 April 2024 3 remain fundamentally unchanged.
  • His administration [strengthened] both conventional and nuclear assurances. 
  • Three US nuclear assurance scenarios emerge:
    • Problematic continuity. Given the huge costs of nuclear abandonment, the most likely scenario would be nuclear continuity. A second Trump Presidency would return to the policies of the first one, albeit in a significantly more challenging international environment.
    • Inadvertent collapse. In this case, the international order – and…extended deterrence – would collapse not by design but by accident. Though possible, this second scenario of an inadvertent collapse of nuclear assurance is far less likely than the first scenario of problematic continuity.
    • Foolish relinquishment. This is the most extreme case – and the least likely of the three. That said, if re-elected, Trump could indeed foolishly abandon all security commitments quickly and abruptly.
  • European governments should work with both Democrats and Republicans to defuse Trump’s rhetorical criticism of NATO. 
  • NATO must strengthen its ability to swiftly counter any Russian military encroachment on allied territory. If European forces can thwart any Russian conventional attack, the likelihood of nuclear escalation will be significantly reduced.
  • NATO members should enhance and interlink their efforts toward the development of missile defenses and long-range conventional capabilities. 
  • Both Americans and Europeans should bolster their nuclear options. European officials should seek to persuade their US counterparts to temporarily retain the option of further developing sea-based tactical nuclear weapons, as these would complicate Russian calculations.

“A World Without Arms Control,” Alexander Golts, Russia.Post, 04.30.24. Clues from Russian Views 

  • Moscow’s approach to potential negotiations with Washington on nuclear weapons (also known as strategic stability) boils down to a resounding “no.” The last “no” was voiced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on April 24, when he made a speech at the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference: “there is no basis whatsoever for an arms control and strategic stability dialogue with the US in the face of a total hybrid war being waged against our country. This agenda cannot be artificially separated from the general international segment and be considered in isolation from other aspects of interstate relations, as Washington is seeking to present. It will be possible to discuss these topics only after the US authorities renounce their openly hostile anti-Russian policy.”
  • To put it bluntly, Moscow is resolutely refusing a dialogue with the US on nuclear arms control, conditioning that on a refusal by Washington to support Ukraine, Russia’s war with which has been going on for more than two years. Russian diplomats are toeing the line put down by Vladimir Putin in his February address to the Federal Assembly: “the current US administration’s professed interest in discussing strategic stability with us is simply demagoguery… Our position is clear: if you want to discuss security and stability issues that are critical for the entire planet, this must be done as a package including, of course, all aspects that have to do with our national interests and have a direct bearing on the security of our country, the security of Russia.”
  • Yet Russia needs negotiations no less than the US, and actually even more. Let’s imagine that after New START no new agreement is signed. Even before the actual arms race begins – i.e., the production of new strategic missiles, submarines and bombers – Washington is able to significantly ramp up its nuclear potential by simply taking warheads out of storage, where they now sit under the terms of New START, and putting them on missiles
  • In addition, given the war with Ukraine, it is a big question mark whether Russia, which the RAND Corporation estimates will have spent $132 billion on combat operations by the end of this year, will be able to finance an extremely expensive nuclear arms race.
  • Finally, by refusing negotiations, Moscow is closing off the possibility of having a permanent back channel, which during the Cold War ensured constant direct contact between the two countries and proved critically important in crisis situations. 
  • Relationships that allow for meaningful negotiations and sensitive topics to be discussed do not happen overnight. It takes months before the participants develop mutual respect and then mutual trust. The Russian side, which has staked everything on victory over Ukraine, is simply not ready for such long and painstaking work. That is why it is demonstratively burning all the bridges.

“Vladimir Putin orders nuclear drills in response to Emmanuel Macron’s ‘threats’,” Max Seddon and Andy Bounds, FT, 05.06.24.

  • Vladimir Putin has ordered Russia’s military to rehearse the use of so-called tactical nuclear weapons in combat, casting the drills as a response to “threats” from French President Emmanuel Macron. The exercises are the Russian president’s latest salvo in a stand-off with the west over his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, during which Putin has repeatedly made veiled threats to use nuclear weapons. Russia said the drills, which cover non-strategic nuclear weapons that can be used in battlefield situations, were a response to “provocative statements” from western officials, including Macron.
  • The Kremlin also signaled its ire with the US Senate, which passed a long-delayed $61bn aid package for Kyiv last month, as well as the UK, whose top diplomat, Lord David Cameron, said last week that Ukraine could use British-supplied weapons against targets inside Russia. 
    • “They were talking about being prepared and even intending to send armed deployments to Ukraine, which is essentially putting NATO soldiers against the Russian military,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters on Monday. “This is a totally new level of escalating tensions. It is unprecedented, it demands special attention and special measures,” Peskov said.
    • Dmitry Medvedev, a former stand-in president for Putin, said Russia “would have to respond” if western countries sent troops to Ukraine, prompting a “global catastrophe”.
  • Major General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said the US had seen no change in Russia’s strategic force posture after Moscow announced the drills. He described the announcement as “an example of the kind of irresponsible rhetoric that we’ve seen from Russia in the past”.
  • [The announcement of the wargame] came as Macron hosted China’s Xi Jinping in Paris, who European leaders have urged to use his influence over Putin to encourage restraint on nuclear issues. After meeting Xi, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was “confident” the Chinese leader would continue to play “an important role in de-escalating Russia’s irresponsible nuclear threats”.
  • Russia’s threshold for using tactical nuclear weapons is lower than the Kremlin has ever publicly admitted, according to leaked training documents seen by the FT. They include an enemy landing on Russian territory, the defeat of units responsible for securing border areas, or an imminent enemy attack using conventional weapons.

“A Statement by the Russian Ministry of Defense,” Russian Defense Ministry’s Telegram channel, 05.06.24. Clues from Russian Views

  • On the order of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and in order to increase the readiness of non-strategic nuclear forces to carry out combat missions, the General Staff has begun preparations for holding exercises of missile formations of the Southern Military District with the involvement of aviation, as well as the forces of the Navy, in the nearest future. During the exercise, a set of activities will be carried out to practice preparation and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons. The exercise is aimed at maintaining the readiness of personnel and equipment of units for the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons to respond and in order to unconditionally ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state in response to provocative statements and threats of individual Western officials against the Russian Federation. The statement claims that the planned “exercise is aimed at maintaining the readiness of personnel and equipment of units for the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons to respond and in order to unconditionally ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state.” Yet none of the publicly available versions of Russia’s strategic documents explicitly identify violations of the country’s either territorial integrity or sovereignty as conditions for use of any nuclear weapons. While these conditions cannot be found in these documents, our research shows that violations of Russia’s territorial integrity or sovereignty have been identified in statements by Russian leaders at least 10 times (including two references to the threat of losing territories Russia has captured from Ukraine) and two times, respectively, since the beginning of the war. The frequency of references to the threat of territorial loss indicates that the Russian leadership may be considering introducing this as a condition for use of nuclear weapons in the next edition of Russia’s military doctrine (which dates back to 2014) or the Basic Principles of State Policy on Nuclear Deterrence (which dates back to 2020) or amending the existing documents.

Statement by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in connection with the holding of exercises by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to develop skills in the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons,” Russian Foreign Ministry, 05.06.24. Clues from Russian Views^

  • With regard to the upcoming Russian military exercise, which is meant to hone skills needed to use non-strategic nuclear weapons, we note that this event should be considered in the context of recent bellicose statements by Western officials and sharply destabilizing actions taken by a number of NATO countries that are aimed at building forceful pressure on the Russian Federation and at creating additional threats to the security of our country in connection with the conflict in and around Ukraine. ….We are talking primarily about openly declared support and direct assistance to terrorist actions, which are carried out against Russia, by the Kyiv regime with use of increasingly advanced weapons that are being transferred from the West. 
    • In addition to the British and French long-range missile systems, which have been spotted in Ukraine long time ago, ….. we especially highlight those versions of the ATACMS missile family which have recently been supplied to Kyiv and which are also capable of hitting targets deep in Russian territory
  • At the same time…..the United States has openly and clearly embarked on the path towards deploying ground-based systems with intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles (INF), which were previously prohibited under the INF Treaty.... We state frankly, that whenever and wherever US-made ground-based INF missiles appear, we will reserve the right to mirror this appearance, …. ending the unilateral Russian moratorium on the deployment of such weapons systems. In response to US actions, Russia is intensifying its development and starting production of similar missile systems.
  • American-made F-16 multirole aircraft are expected to appear on the Ukrainian theater of operations in the near future. As the Russian side has repeatedly pointed out, we cannot ignore the fact that these aircraft represent dual-equipped platforms - non-nuclear and nuclear. 
  • We pay special attention to the statements of the Polish leadership that the issue of the need for placement of American nuclear weapons on Polish territory was directly raised by Warsaw [in its communications with] Washington, and it was done on a practical level.
  • The statements of French President Macron on possibility of sending French and other NATO contingents to Ukraine cannot but amaze, given their irresponsibility and thoughtlessness.... Moreover, information has appeared in the Western media that a number of mercenaries from the French “Foreign Legion” are already in in Ukraine. It is difficult to perceive this as anything else other than as a manifestation of readiness and intention to enter into a direct armed confrontation with Russia, which would mean a head-on military clash of nuclear powers.
    • These and some other actions of the member states of the North Atlantic bloc actually indicate that they are deliberately moving towards a further escalation of the Ukrainian crisis into an open military clash between NATO countries.
  • We note that the aggressive desire of NATO countries to undermine the security of the Russian Federation is gaining momentum. In this regard, we would like to reiterate that the guaranteed protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country is the highest priority of Russian policy in the field of military security, including its nuclear deterrence aspect.
  •  The regime in Kyiv and its Western inspirers should finally realize that their reckless steps are bringing the situation ever closer to the accumulation of an explosive “critical mass”. The military dangers created in this way and the resulting threats to our country are clearly stated in the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation and the Fundamentals of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence.
  • The assessments outlined above formed the basis for the decision to conduct the Russian military exercises involving part of the forces and means of nuclear deterrence 
  •  We hope that this event will cool down the “hot heads” in Western capitals.

“Nuclear weapons fit into the Belarusian doctrine,” Kommersant, 04.27.24.

  • Two important documents have been approved in Belarus: The Military Doctrine and the National Security Concept. For the first time, the Doctrine spells out the goal of deploying Russian tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of the country.
    • The deployment of nuclear weapons on the territory of neighboring countries, which pursue an “unfriendly policy” against Minsk, will be perceived by the Belarusian authorities as a “military threat.”
  • Several passages of the new Belarusian Military Doctrine are devoted to NATO. According to the Belarusian authorities, the North Atlantic Alliance “actually acts as an instrument of expansion and contributes to the establishment of American control over the European continent.” 
    • The United States and Great Britain…through NATO, limit “the European Union’s ability to pursue an independent policy” and encourage “regional ambitions of individual European states.”
    • The 2016 document did not directly mention NATO at all.
  • Alexander Lukashenko stressed that the main goal of [deploying Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus] is deterrence.

“American Globalism Is a Disease. Meet the Doctor,” Sergei Karaganov interviewed by Argumenty Nedeli, 05.03.24.3Clues from Russian Views

  • We are not at war with Ukraine but with the collective West. And the West is beginning to realize that it can lose. ... Having realized that it can encounter Russia’s nuclear response, the United States is slowly backing down. 
  • There is no need for the Americans to leave completely. We blame them for everything, of course, but we must not forget that Europe has generated the biggest threats for humanity and appalling ideologies. 
  • If they [U.S.] do not fall apart, then they may as well become one of the great powers and pillars of the world order, a normal great power. ... I think there will be four or five great powers that take care of the world and their own interests. ... Russia, China, the U.S., and India. Europe should not participate in this, because it cannot be great―it has degraded and is unlikely to be reborn. 
  • We should allow the Americans to leave the pedestal without plunging the planet into a nuclear disaster ... we need to push back the West, prevent a long war it wants to impose on us, and create conditions for the peaceful development of humankind. Unfortunately, I see no other way to do this but by rebuilding the credibility of nuclear deterrence.
  • So far we have been working hard and well and winning in the short term. This can go on for another year or two. But we should not continue it after that. That is why I insist on strengthening the emphasis on nuclear deterrence. Moreover, the inevitable wave of conflicts in the world will lead to the Third World War unless the reliability and credibility of nuclear deterrence and the salutary fear of nuclear weapons are revived.
  • I think it’s a mistake that we have delayed announcing strategic, not tactical goals. A discussion is underway in our country and there are several options. Among such options some of my colleagues name the entire left bank of the Dnieper and the south of Ukraine, which certainly includes Odessa and Nikolaev. We must not stop fighting until these goals are achieved. 
  • They [Europe] have lost the fear not only of God but also of war, forgotten their own history. The only way to remind them of that is to show our readiness to use nuclear weapons. The nuclear deterrence escalation ladder has at least a dozen levels. In no case do I want to launch a nuclear strike, although it may become absolutely necessary. From a military point of view, the use of nuclear weapons is advantageous as it will break the Europeans’ will to resist. But this will mean colossal moral damage to us. We are the people who grew up on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky’s works. Tens or hundreds of thousands of European civilians killed in nuclear inferno will be a terrible shock to us. But there may be a situation where we will have to do it. First of all, in order to sober up Europeans and Americans. And secondly, in order to stop the world from sliding towards a world war. It hasn’t occurred so far because there was a built-in safety mechanism―fear of nuclear weapons. But this fear began to dissipate in the 1980s and was almost completely gone by the 2000s. 
  • They [Americans] are bluffing when they say that in response to a nuclear strike on targets in European countries that support NATO’s aggression in Ukraine, they will launch a massive conventional strike on Russia’s armed forces and territory. This is a total bluff because they are well aware that Russia will respond with a second wave of nuclear strikes, followed by a third and a fourth ones, on American bases around the world, including Europe, killing tens of thousands of American military personnel. 
  • [When asked “so, there is the option of our nuclear strike on Ukraine?”] Such an option theoretically exists. But I am completely against it. People there have been deceived, but in many ways these are our people. However if we do not change our nuclear doctrine, then NATO can use nuclear weapons against Belarus, which is absolutely unacceptable to us. This is why we should quickly change our outdated, idealistic, and largely carefree doctrine regulating the use of nuclear weapons, which is based on the principles and postulates of the past. And we should also redeploy our armed forces. Some steps are already being made in this regard. Our doctrine states that we can only use nuclear weapons in the event of a mortal threat to our state and statehood. But we have already deployed our nuclear weapons in Belarus. It should be used there long before such a mortal threat arises. The enemy must know that we are ready to use nuclear weapons in response to any attack on our territory, including bombing. It is up to the President to make the final decision. But we need to untie our hands. We must understand that we and all of Europe are doomed to a long war unless we clearly change our policy in this area. And we will also be doomed to exhaustion and maybe even defeat. But most importantly, the world will be doomed to the Third World War. We must eliminate this threat. This is our national mission. And secondly, this is the mission of the Russian people as the savior of humankind, which we always have been.
  • [When asked: “I understand that there will be no nuclear war with America. They love themselves too much. But anything is possible with Europe, which has completely gone off its rocker. In what order should we hit them? Poland, Germany, Great Britain, and the Czech Republic are obviously the first countries that come to mind. Well, France, too, of course.] I really would not like things to go that way. Yes, we will send them to hell. But by doing so we will pave the way for huge moral losses for ourselves. Nuclear weapons are God’s weapons. It’s a scary choice. But God punished Sodom and Gomorrah, which had got mired in madness and profligacy, with a rain of fire. I pray to God that we do not have to take such a step. But it’s about saving the country and the world. You correctly named Poland and Germany. The Baltic countries and Romania could be next. But, I repeat, God forbid!

Sergei Karaganov interviewed by program “Ploschad Nakhimova” and journal “Natsionalny Kontrol,” Russia in Global Affairs, May 2024. (this organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities) Clues from Russian Views^

  • As for military operations, you know that we must, of course, fight decisively and effectively ... to achieve maximum victories on the Earth. But in parallel, naturally, we must use active nuclear deterrence. 
  • Now, because the whole world is on the move, and the old fuse, which was  the fear of nuclear weapons, no longer works. We must somehow insert this nuclear fuse back into the international system. Thus [there is a need to] intensify nuclear deterrence. ... I would not want us to commit a sin, even a sin in the name of the best goals, and launch nuclear strikes on several sides of Europe.
  • [When asked which two to three European countries could be subject to Russian nuclear strikes:] I am not a military planner. But if the West continues to send Ukrainians to slaughter and fight against Russia, then it is quite obvious that we must threaten to strike, and do so quite reliably, at least three countries - these are Poland, Germany and, probably, Romania, because huge flows [of military aid] come from there. ... I hope it doesn't come to that. I repeat, launching a nuclear strike, and nuclear weapons are the weapons of God, is a sin and a grave responsibility. Therefore, I hope and am almost sure that it will not come to that. But to prevent it from coming to that, we must assure our adversaries and the rest of the world that we are ready.

For more analysis on this topic, see:

Counterterrorism:

“Vladimir Putin’s Chechen Time Bomb,” Andrew C. Kuchins, NI, 05.02.24.

  • Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya since 2007, was diagnosed with pancreatic necrosis in 2019. It was reported last week that his health has taken a serious turn for the worse, and he is in “critical condition” with perhaps months left to live. 
  • Chechnya has been reasonably stable since Ramzan took over as president at age thirty, three years after his father Akhmat, also president, was blown up in a Victory Day celebration in May 2004. 
  • Unquestionably, the Kremlin will seek a peaceful succession. Ramzan Kadyrov’s consistent support for Putin has been very valuable for the Russian president, even if it has raised the hackles of some in the Russian intelligence and security agencies who view Kadyrov as a loose cannon with his own regional ambitions in the North Caucasus. But the historical grievances of Chechens against Russia run deep. The Chechens fought decades-long struggles for independence against the Tsars in the nineteenth century, suffered from Stalin’s mass deportations from their homeland, and struggled against Moscow rule in two wars in the 1990s and 2000s. Chechnya is a volatile place with a well-armed population.
  • The large number of Chechen casualties in Ukraine add to a seething dissatisfaction there. It is not hard to imagine that ISIS and other Jihadi groups could come to view Chechnya and the North Caucasus once again as an attractive target for mayhem. Putin’s concern for this possibility may well be a factor in his very public support for Palestinians in the war in Gaza. With Russian intelligence and security forces already stretched to the breaking point, the near future would be a particularly inopportune time for unrest in Chechnya.

“The FBI director’s concerns over terrorism are at ‘a whole other level,’” David Ignatius, WP, 04.30.24.

  • The terrorism warning light may not be flashing bright red, but it’s certainly blinking again.
    • [FBI Director Christopher A. Wray] said concerns were rising before Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, but since then “it’s gone to a whole other level.”
    • He added that “the potential for a coordinated attack” like the ISIS-K terror rampage at a Moscow auditorium in March was “increasingly concerning. The intelligence community fears that ISIS-K could use this Central Asian diaspora to mount similar attacks in Europe or the United States. The pool of potential ISIS-K recruits or lone-wolf actors in the United States is impossible to calculate.
    • Over [the course of 2023], as many as 50 Central Asian migrants a day have entered the United States, and the total flow [in 2023] is more than 10,000.
  • ISIS-K leaders “are playing the long game, and fairly successfully,” another U.S. official said.
    • The Gaza war adds a final combustible element. Wray’s concern about “unknown unknowns” is a good description of the perilous terrain ahead.

Conflict in Syria:

“Biden is letting Assad off the hook, with dangerous consequences,” Josh Rogin, WP, 04.30.24.

  • The world is teaching all dictators a lesson right now about how to commit crimes against humanity, escape accountability and eventually get accepted back into polite society.
    • The Biden administration is helping write that playbook — by tacitly allowing the normalization of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
    • Assad continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, including bombing, jailing and torturing thousands of civilians.
  • More and more countries, especially U.S. partners in the Persian Gulf, are welcoming Assad back into the diplomatic fold.
    • Behind the scenes, the [Biden] administration is quietly but deliberately loosening that pressure.
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson…wanted to include [the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act] in the supplemental aid package that passed Congress. But in the course of negotiations, the White House objected.
  • Unless legislation passes before the end of [2024], the current sanctions regime established in 2020 by the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act will expire.
  • Sanctions are not a panacea. Ideally, they would be combined with a comprehensive strategy to negotiate a diplomatic resolution in Syria. But those who advocate letting the sanctions on Assad lapse must contend with the predictable consequences of that decision.

Cyber security/AI: 

“Military is the missing word in AI safety discussions,” Marietje Schaake, FT, 04.30.24.

  • Western governments are racing each other to set up AI Safety Institutes. The UK, US, Japan and Canada have all announced such initiatives, while the US Department of Homeland Security added an AI Safety and Security Board to the mix only [in late April 2024].
    • The modern-day battlefield is already demonstrating the potential for clear AI safety risks.
  • The Israel Defense Forces have used an AI-enabled program called Lavender to flag targets for drone attacks. [The program resulted] in excessive collateral deaths and damage. 
    • Microsoft is reported to have pitched Dalle-E, a generative AI tool to the US military, while controversial facial recognition company Clearview AI prides itself on having helped Ukraine identify Russian soldiers with their technology.
  • The landmark EU AI Act does not apply to AI systems that are “exclusively for military, defense or national security purposes.” Meanwhile, the White House’s Executive Order on AI had important carve-outs for military AI.
  • We have to ask ourselves how meaningful political discussions of AI safety are, if they don’t cover military uses of the technology.
    • If nations will not act to protect civilians from military uses of AI, the rules-based international system must step up.

“Why the Military Can’t Trust AI,” Max Lamparth and Jacquelyn Schneider, FA, 04.29.24.

  • The U.S. Department of Defense is now seriously investigating what [Large Language Models] LLMs can do for the military.
    • Palantir, a company that develops information technology for the DOD, has created a product that uses LLMs to manage military operations.
    • Meanwhile, the DOD has formed a new task force to explore the use of generative AI, including LLMs, within the U.S. military.
  • LLMs can be useful, but their actions are also difficult to predict, and they can make dangerous, escalatory calls.
    • Hackathons…have identified biases and hallucinations in LLM applications.
    • The military must…place limits on these technologies when they are used to make high-stakes decisions, particularly in combat situations.
  • LLMs are AI systems trained on large collections of data that generate text, one word at a time, based on what has been written before. They are created in a two-step process. The first is pretraining when the LLM is taught from scratch to abstract and reproduce underlying patterns found in an enormous data set.
    • But pretraining is not enough to build a useful chatbot—or a defense command-and-control assistant. LLMs then need fine-tuning on smaller, more specific data sets… to balance the original LLM’s pretraining with more nuanced human considerations, including whether the responses are helpful or harmful.
  • LLMs could perform military tasks that require processing vast amounts of data in very short timelines. During war or a crisis, LLMs could use existing guidance to come up with orders.
    • But even for these tasks, the success of LLMs cannot be guaranteed. Their behavior, especially in rare and unpredictable examples, can be erratic… they are uniquely influenced by user inputs.
  • [Military use] requires significant user training and an ability to evaluate the underlying logics and data that make an LLM work.

Energy exports from CIS:

“Russia’s gas business will never recover from the war in Ukraine: Hopes of a Chinese rescue look increasingly vain,” The Economist, 05.03.24. 

  • When Russia’s leaders stopped most of the country’s gas deliveries to the EU in 2022, they thought themselves smart. Prices instantly shot up, enabling Russia to earn more despite lower export volumes. Meanwhile, Europe, which bought 40% of its gas from Russia in 2021, braced itself for inflation and blackouts. Yet two years later, owing to mild winters and enormous imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from America, Europe’s gas tanks are fuller than ever. And Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas giant, is unable to make any profits.
  • Russia was always going to struggle to redirect the 180bn cubic meters (bcm) of gas, worth 80% of its total exports of the fuel in 2021, that it once sold to Europe. The country has no equivalent to Nord Stream, a conduit to Germany, that allows it to pipe gas to customers elsewhere. It also lacks plants to chill fuel to -160°C and the specialized tankers required to ship LNG. Until recently, this was only a minor annoyance. Between 2018 and 2023 just 20% of the total contribution of hydrocarbon exports to the Russian budget came from gas, and despite sanctions Russia continues to sell lots of oil at a good price.
  • But as the conflict grinds on, the Kremlin needs cash to keep its war machine going. .... exports [of gas] to Europe, which still accounted for half the 140bcm the country exported last year, will shrink again this year. In theory, Russia now has two options: building pipelines to other places or turbocharging LNG exports.
    • Russia is already making more use of Power of Siberia, a pipeline that links eastern gasfields, which never served Europe, to China. By 2025 deliveries may reach 38bcm, up from 10bcm in 2020; an extension could carry another 10bcm a year by 2029. But the game-changer would be Power of Siberia 2, a proposed line from Russia’s west to China that would carry 50bcm a year by 2029. By then, China’s demand is projected to hit 600bcm, up from 390bcm last year. Russia hopes to supply a sixth of that. The problem is that China is not sure it really wants Power of Siberia 2. Obsessed about energy security, its leaders have long sought to limit reliance on any single fuel exporter. 
    • Supersizing LNG production—Russia’s second option—looks a somewhat safer bet. Once on a ship, fuel can be sent anywhere. And Russia’s LNG may outcompete that from elsewhere. The gas Russia feeds its main liquefaction terminals is cheaper than any exporter bar Qatar, and liquefaction works well in the cold. Russia aims to boost its LNG exports to 100m tons by 2030, equivalent to 138bcm of gas, and up from 31m last year. It projects its market share will reach 20% by 2030, up from 8% now. Yet that may be ambitious. New LNG plants and transport facilities require Western goods that sanctions have made elusive. 
  • Western sanctions and Russian blunders are not preventing war in Ukraine. But they are dealing a blow to Russia’s future as a leading energy supplier. 

“How Europe solved its Russian gas problem,” Alice Hancock and Shotaro Tani, FT, 04.29.24.

  • Since Russia started cutting pipeline supplies to Europe in 2021, at least 17 liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals have been planned or are under construction.
    • LNG received by these FSRUs has helped replace all but 10 percent of the gas supplies that previously came to the EU from Russia via pipelines. 
  • Nearly half of the supplies [in 2023] came from the US, now the world’s largest LNG exporter after its shale boom.
    • The newfound dependency on LNG poses potential issues for Europe down the road, introducing reliance on different partners for gas,
  • But that does not mean Europe is in safe waters. The short-term response to the crisis may have created bigger problems for the bloc in the future, including a heavy reliance on historically volatile LNG markets with implications both for industrial competitiveness and the green transition.
  • [Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU, in] reaching a state of relative stability so quickly, benefited from some [spectacular luck]. 
    • Firstly, there was the weather. The EU experienced winter temperatures 5 percent warmer than the 10-year historical average in 2022-23
    • Secondly, slower economic activity in China — in part due to pandemic-related lockdowns — meant that natural gas consumption declined in 2022 for the first time in over three decades. LNG imports to the country fell by 20 per cent from 2021.
  • To meet the expected shortfall in energy supplies, the EU has also accelerated its rollout of renewable power. Wind and solar produced 27 percent of EU electricity in 2023.
  • But the EU did not reach this place of relative comfort without taking significant hits. The record high prices of the energy crisis have led to permanent demand destruction in the industrial sector.
    • The chemicals sector was hit hardest, with total production falling by 25 percent between January and December 2022 and little recovery since the beginning of 2023.
  • Policymakers are hopeful that diversifying gas supplies and taking steps to boost hydrogen production and roll out renewables will help ease the deepening fears about industrial decline on a continent that is reliant on imports for fuel supplies.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Current and Future Arctic Cooperation: Where to Next?”, Viktoria Waldenfels, Belfer Center, 05.01.24.

  • Indigenous peoples are well-positioned to facilitate international collaboration through their enduring cross-border ties.
    • Within the Bering Strait are two small islands which are located less than three miles apart - Big Diomede, situated within Russian territory, and Little Diomede, part of the U.S. On a clear day, you can see the Russian side from the Alaskan island.
  • Cooperation between both sides - Alaska and the Chukotka region - was started in 1980. What makes this special is the early collaboration between research and Indigenous communities to document bowhead whale migrations, behaviors and population numbers.
  • Since the start of the War in Ukraine, however, conducting joint research in the Bering Strait region has become increasingly challenging…though Indigenous communities are keeping in touch across the borders. 
  • The Cold War era offers valuable lessons for fostering future collaboration with Russia.
    • Science advisors managed to facilitate some communication and even cooperation on certain topics, such as nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. Physicists in the 1970s from East and West were allowed to work together on fusion energy.
  • It’s important to recognize that the Russian population should not be held accountable for the actions of the Putin regime. Instead of allowing our scientists to become isolated from each other, we must identify areas of mutual interest where cooperation benefits both nations.
  • The study group proposed several potential solutions, including: 
    • Resuming Arctic coordination with Russia on scientific, environmental and response efforts in the Bering Strait.
    • Treating the Bering Strait as a U.S. strategic national resource.
    • [Designating] the Arctic as a zone of limited arms control or demilitarization.
    • Harnessing technology to find ways around constraints for cooperation - for example, by tagging birds to collect data for research across the border with Russia.

“Back to the Future of the Arctic,” Michael Paul, SWP, May 2024.

  • Arctic exceptionalism ended long before Russia’s war of aggression [in Ukraine] began. A return to old approaches to arms control could pave the way to renewed cooperation in the Arctic in the future.
  • The increase of military activity [in the Arctic due to intensified competition] requires arms control in the original and comprehensive sense.
    • The Arctic states will need to involve new players, such as China if a “peaceful, stable, prosperous and cooperative Arctic” is to be possible in line with the US Arctic strategy.
  • Such a constructive approach currently has little chance of success within Russia.
    • It is necessary to reach a common understanding of how future relations with Russia should be shaped after the end of the war against Ukraine.
    • The security dilemma in the Arctic should be defused, the build-up of military capabilities contained and crisis and conflict prevention measures should be introduced. Ideally, these goals can serve as building blocks for future security architecture.
  • [A realistic] approach would be to resort to already established formats. Dialogue with Russia at an informal, expert level (Track 2) seems reasonable.
    • Confidence-building measures (CBMs) should define acceptable and legitimate behavior.
    • A resumption of cooperation in the nuclear realm would surely address specters of the Cold War
  • [For instance] seeing that discarded radioactive material is a cross-border, transnational problem, there should be just as much interest in its clean-up in Moscow as there is in Oslo and other northern European capitals.
  • The restoration of trust is nowhere on the horizon, but in the meantime, a certain degree of cooperation on critical issues must continue where necessary during Russia’s war against Ukraine and, where possible, after the war.

“The United States Relationship with Russia,” John Sullivan and Joseph Dresen, Wilson Center, 04.30.24.

  • [John Sullivan] The right question is, what is the appropriate relationship with Russia that is in the interests of the United States? If confronting (or, as George Kennan proposed in the mid to late '40s, containing) the Soviet Union or Russia is in the interests of the United States, then that's what the President of the United States should focus on.
  • [JS] The convergence is fairly obvious: defeating the aggressive war that the Putin government is waging against Ukraine, which bears parallels to the aggressive war that Germany started on September 1, 1939. The parallels between the Germans' justifications for invading Poland, Germany's situation, in the interwar years compared with Putin’s actions today are striking.
    • Hitler’s rationale for war was rooted in grievances that grew out of a war—The Great War—that (in his view) the German Empire didn't lose. Solitary guilt for WWI was imposed, as well as massive reparations, losing 10% of their European territory in addition to their colonies, restrictions on the size of their military, and so on… It's the same analysis for Russia: A Cold War Putin thinks that Russia didn't really lose, that the dissolution of the Soviet Union happened because of weaklings like Gorbachev in Moscow who lost the homeland. It's a very similar 'stab in the back' theory.
  • [JS] The United States must confront the aggressive war that Putin has started in Ukraine. Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, launched an aggressive war to absorb territory.
  • [JS] I think there's significant concern about the relationship between Putin and Xi, which is different from the relationship between the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China. The current dynamic between the two started long before the war launched on February 24, 2022.
    • [JS] What we're confronting in this axis between Moscow and Beijing is the threat to what we in the United States have called the rules-based international order. We see this domestically in our own politics and people questioning our constitutional system, our constitutional republic, democracy itself.
  • [JS] We can engage in whataboutisms regarding US military actions—'what about Libya? What about Vietnam? What about Iraq?' But the United States hasn't aggressively absorbed another nation or a territory in a long time, and certainly not since the establishment of the United Nations at the end of the Second World War.
  • [JS] I have been asked if it’s worthwhile to study Russian anymore, since we can't travel there and our relations are terrible. Students wonder if they should instead study Mandarin or Arabic. I tell them this is exactly the time that we need people to study Russian.

"Putin’s New Burisma Meme," Holman W. Jenkins Jr., WSJ, 04.30.24.

  • Here are two things that actually happened in our world. In 2020, veterans of the U.S. intelligence establishment, including three former CIA chiefs and 48 others, deliberately lied about Russia being behind the Hunter Biden laptop. At the time, Vladimir Putin, in his one statement on the matter, didn’t mention or recriminate over the U.S. false attribution to Russia. He did, however, echo a Biden campaign talking point that Hunter had done nothing wrong. Flash forward. The closest thing to a Putin doppelganger, Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s national security council, on April 3 equally falsely claimed the U.S. was behind the terrorist attack 12 days earlier on a Moscow concert hall.
  • Of course, both the U.S. laptop lie and the Russian lie about U.S. involvement in the Moscow attack are ridiculous.
  • The lesson as the sheer volume of such throwaway disinformation likely reaches diluvian proportions this year? It’s the same lesson I drew for you in 2020 when the U.S. intelligence veterans issued their false statement on the Hunter laptop. That lesson in full: “I am sorry to say to some of my readers: If you’re so dumb as to lose all critical judgment every time you hear the word ‘Russians,’ somebody will take advantage of it.” From all signs, you’re going to need this advice as the 2024 election heats up.

“Tracing the rise of Russian state media on TikTok,” Valerie Wirtschafter, Brookings, 05.02.24. 

  • Much like other social media platforms, TikTok’s viral content is not limited to Chinese state-backed accounts. Amid a fracturing of the online information space, marked by the growth of platforms that cater to more targeted audiences, Russia’s state propaganda apparatus has begun to leverage TikTok’s growing appeal as a new avenue for disseminating overt Kremlin messaging through a network of state-affiliated accounts. 
  • The increased presence of Russian state-backed accounts on TikTok coincides with the start of the 2024 U.S. presidential election cycle. As such, TikTok’s appeal to young voters in the United States offers an optimal avenue to spread Russian messaging about the U.S. political climate to a critical voting bloc whose turnout has the potential to decide the election. 
  • Avoiding the platform entirely or exclusively focusing on the potential for Beijing-approved messaging to reach audiences distracts from the reality that TikTok is a contested information space, much like any other social media platform. Overlooking the reach of Russian content—or Kremlin-approved messaging—instead allows these narratives to circulate widely and without pushback. This is particularly risky when considering that recent U.S. government efforts to be more proactive in the information domain, including publicizing Russia’s plan to create a false flag attack to justify the invasion of Ukraine, have found some success. As such, engagement with and timely debunking of these narratives, where possible and appropriate, remain critical.

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Under Putin, a militarized new Russia rises to challenge U.S. and the West,” Robyn Dixon, WP, 05.06.24.

  • As Vladimir Putin persists in his bloody campaign to conquer Ukraine, the Russian leader is directing an equally momentous transformation at home — re-engineering his country into a regressive, militarized society that views the West as its mortal enemy. Putin's inauguration on Tuesday for a fifth term will not only mark his 25-year-long grip on power but also showcase Russia's shift into what pro-Kremlin commentators call a "revolutionary power," set on upending the global order, making its own rules, and demanding that totalitarian autocracy be respected as a legitimate alternative to democracy in a world redivided by big powers into spheres of influence.
    • "Russians live in a wholly new reality," Dmitri Trenin, a pro-Kremlin analyst, wrote in reply to questions about an essay in which he argued that Russia's anti-Western shift was "more radical and far-reaching" than anything anticipated when Putin invaded Ukraine but also "a relatively minor element of the wider transformation which is going on in Russia's economy, polity, society, culture, values, and spiritual and intellectual life."
  • In "Russia, Remastered," The Washington Post documents the historic scale of the changes Putin is carrying out [and which]  raises the prospect of an enduring civilizational conflict to subvert Western democracy and — Putin has warned — even threatens a new world war.
  • To carry out this transformation, the Kremlin is:
    • Forging an ultraconservative, puritanical society mobilized against liberal freedoms and especially hostile to gay and transgender people, in which family policy and social welfare spending boost traditional Orthodox values.
    • Reshaping education at all levels to indoctrinate a new generation of turbo-patriot youth.
    • Sterilizing cultural life with blacklists of liberal or antiwar performers, directors, writers and artists, and with new nationalistic mandates for museums and filmmakers.
    • Mobilizing zealous pro-war activism.
    • Rolling back women's rights.
    • Rewriting history to celebrate Joseph Stalin.
    • Accusing scientists of treason.
    • "They're trying to develop this scientific Putinism as a basis of propaganda, as a basis of ideology, as a basis of historical education," said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. "They need an obedient new generation — indoctrinated robots in an ideological sense — supporting Putin, supporting his ideas, supporting this militarization of consciousness."

“Wartime Boom: Which Regions and Industries Are Profiting From Russia’s War?”, Ekaterina Kurbangaleeva, CEIP, 04.30.24.Clues from Russian Views

  • The three regions showing the biggest growth [in 2023] are quite unexpected: the Amur region (+176 percent), Tula region (+103 percent), and St. Petersburg (+87 percent). The regions rich in mineral resources are not even in the top twenty, except for the Sakhalin region. In other words, sanctions are making themselves felt: the incomes of traditionally wealthy net contributor regions such as Khanty-Mansi, Yamalo-Nenets, Moscow, and Tatarstan have also grown, but very modestly compared to others.
  • Instead, the top twenty regions—all of which increased their contributions by at least 50 percent compared with 2021, include ones that were previously below average even in the fattest years, such as Chuvashia (+72 percent), Smolensk (+72 percent), Kurgan (+69 percent), Transbaikal (+66 percent), Mari El (+64 percent), Bryansk (+58 percent), Pskov (+53 percent), and even Tuva (+57 percent) and the Jewish Autonomous Region (+49 percent). 
  • Almost all of the above regions, with the exception of Transbaikal, reveal the same pattern of changes: their tax returns (and therefore regional revenues) remained at about the same level in 2022, and then began to soar in 2023. Examining the growth of regional contributions to the federal budget from corporate income tax sheds further light on the situation. The leading regions in this category are almost all of the same ones already mentioned: Chuvashia, Bryansk, Kurgan, Smolensk, and so on. 
  • Meanwhile, the regions demonstrating a drop in tax contributions (and therefore income) in the two years of war include three regions with traditionally strong metallurgy industries: Lipetsk, Kursk, and Belgorod, which saw their incomes plummet in 2022 (though even they still managed to bounce back somewhat in 2023). The clear losers at the end of 2023 can be counted on the fingers of one hand: Chukotka, Altai, and Kaliningrad.
  • Analysis of data—namely the change in per capita income—from Rosstat, the state statistics service, during the two years of war also shows that the main beneficiaries are regions that were once subsidized, primarily located in central Russia, the Volga region, and the Urals, as well as some regions of the Far East that were once the country’s poorest. It’s also true, however, that the situation in the poorest regions of the North Caucasus (Ingushetia and Dagestan) has barely changed.
  • Even a cursory glance at the list of regions that have benefitted from the war reveals that these are territories with significant machine-building assets that have seen an avalanche of budget funds come pouring in from state defense orders. Related industries such as food production, clothing, and footwear have also benefited greatly.
  • Industries that have taken a hit, meanwhile, include metallurgy: specifically the production of cast iron, steel, and rolled steel, as reflected by the fall in taxes paid by regions with strong metallurgy industries. This fall is linked to the reduction of export opportunities: domestic consumption alone simply does not need so much metal, even taking into account defense orders.
  • For some Russian regions, the country’s invasion of Ukraine means they face shelling and dwindling export revenues due to growing sanctions. For others, it means an unprecedented influx of cash as they profit from the flywheel of war and growing domestic consumption. By the end of 2023, there was no doubt that the incomes of regions, enterprises, and people who had been struggling for decades to make ends meet had drastically increased.
  • These people are capable of providing Putin’s regime with significant and sustainable support: not just because of their “imperial mentality” or under the hypnotic influence of propaganda, but for the most pragmatic of reasons. Quite simply, it is in their interest to do so.

"Russia’s new economy may end up prolonging its war," Elina Ribakova, FT, 05.02.24.

  • Russia’s economy grew by 3.6 per cent in 2023 and is projected to expand by over 3 per cent in 2024. Despite ongoing extensive sanctions and export controls, which are expected to hinder investment and potential growth in the long term, Russian authorities have praised themselves for their short-term success in avoiding a deep recession in 2022 and achieving subsequent strong growth.
  • Much of this success relies on the expansion of the military-industrial complex. Fiscal spending has focused on supporting war-related production. Direct military spending more than tripled to over $100bn (6 per cent of GDP) relative to the pre-2022 invasion of Ukraine. With over a quarter of Russia’s government expenditure hidden from the public, the actual war-related spending is likely to be substantially higher. Russia now boasts 6,000 military-industrial enterprises, a notable increase from the prewar figure of less than 2,000. These establishments collectively employ over 3.5mn individuals who operate round-the-clock, with three shifts and six-day workweeks becoming the norm.
  • Reversing the structural investments made in the war will present a monumental challenge. 
  • Should the authorities attempt to halt militarization, a hard landing could add pressure to the government, which already resorts to oppression to maintain power. Internal conflicts over limited resources may also intensify. Considering these challenges, it may be the more pragmatic choice for the government to continue militarizing.  Rather than serving as a constraint, Russia’s economy might become an additional incentive to prolong its war in Ukraine.

“Assessing Mishustin’s first four years,” Alexandra Prokopenko and Alexander Kolyandr, The Bell, 05.04.24. 

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin will be formally inaugurated for a fifth term next week following his “reelection” earlier this year. Immediately after, the Russian constitution dictates that Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and his government must resign. While it’s widely expected that Putin will immediately reinstate Mishustin, there are likely to be ministerial changes. 
  • Mishustin has served as prime minister for four years, and, according to two sources of The Bell’s sources, believes Putin wants him to stay in position. 
  • Mishustin is a good apparatchik and a sensitive subordinate, according to one official. He understands the mood in the Kremlin and tries “not just to match them, but to get ahead of them,” he added. Others, though, laugh about Mishustin’s eagerness to please. “He rushes to carry out every assignment, he’s a real teacher’s pet,” said one high-ranking official.
  • It’s not entirely fair to compare Mishustin to his predecessors: over the past four years, Mishustin has had to deal with two huge economic shocks. But his time in government will likely be remembered for two things. Firstly, Mishustin heads a wartime government, and in wartime there is no scope for economic, social or political development. Secondly, this is very clearly Russia’s first post-Soviet technocratic government, and, at least in public, Mishustin and his ministers are concerned only with effective management.

“After the Collapse: How to Prevent a Return to Another Variant of ‘Putinism,’” Irina Busygina and Mikhail Filippov, PONARS, 05.01.24. 

  • Currently, nothing suggests that the Putin regime is at imminent risk of collapse. Nonetheless, it is crucial to analyze the potential political paths for Russia after Putin, as understanding these scenarios prepares us for the eventualities that may arise. We outline two primary strategic alternatives following Putin’s potential departure: a rapid shift toward democracy or a gradual evolution toward a more predictable and potentially more liberal autocracy. 
  • A decisive move toward democratization would represent a return to the political landscape of the 1990s, whereas significant political liberalization would “reset” the situation to circa 2010. The inherent challenge lies in the fundamental distinctions between these approaches, each of which has its own unique—and often conflicting—objectives, steps, and requirements for success.
  • This memo argues that an abrupt shift to democracy in Russia following Putin’s departure could backfire, resulting in uncertainty that might foster public demand for another variant of “Putinism.” While the ideal of democracy might be broadly appealing, many Russians might lack the patience, economic resources, and risk tolerance necessary to endure a prolonged and challenging transition period. That raises the following key question: Under what political and economic conditions would a transition to democracy in Russia be sustainable and not revert to personalistic rule?
  • Given the complexity of this question, we propose that a more realistic approach for the opposition might entail backing an institutionally limited form of authoritarian rule and then exploiting the weaknesses of that government to foster eventual democratization. This oblique approach would require patience and involve uncertainty. However, it could provide a roadmap for gradually loosening the new regime’s authoritarian control and shifting the political balance in favor of democratic change.
  • The international community will play a crucial role in shaping Russia’s path after Putin. While the temptation to push for rapid democratization may be strong, Western policymakers should recognize the potential risks and challenges associated with this approach. Instead, they should consider supporting the proposed strategy of gradual liberalization and democratization by engaging with the new Russian government, providing targeted assistance, and creating incentives for reforms. By adopting a nuanced, long-term approach that accounts for Russia’s unique political and economic context, the West can help foster an environment conducive to sustainable democratic change.

“Ultranationalist Violence in Russia Trending Up,” Natalia Yudina, Russia.Post, 05.02.24. Clues from Russian Views

  • Radical Russian nationalism has been fueled by white racism since the early 2000s. Radical nationalists channeled their hatred toward “ethnic outsiders,” identified primarily by their appearance. In Russia, these outsiders were mostly labor migrants, usually from Central Asia. Thus, the theme of fighting migration inevitably became commonplace for Russian nationalists. The racist component of that effort was always obvious, and rhetorically they included not only foreigners (migrants from Central Asia), but also Russian citizens from the North Caucasus. However, as early as the latter half of the 2000s the focus of racist violence shifted from “Caucasians” to “Asians,” and in recent years the Caucasus has faded in the rhetoric of the far right.
  • The terrorist attack at Crocus City Hall worsened existing problems. More moderate nationalists, focused on vigilantism and inciting hostility toward migrants, redoubled their efforts. The activity of their more radical brethren, who are bent on violence and vandalism, also picked up considerably. This trend has not translated into serious acts of violence – at least not yet. But radical nationalists have begun to agitate more actively on their Telegram channels. The federal authorities have yet to make significant policy decisions regarding migrants, but the official rhetoric and law enforcement practices more than resonate with the activity of the far right.

“What Do Russians Really Think About Putin’s War? Polling has gotten harder as autocracy has tightened,” Christian Caryl, FP, 04.30.24. 

  • Ordinary Russians are well aware of the dangers of saying the wrong thing. ... Reliable polling requires a minimal measure of trust, and trust is generally in short supply in all closed societies, not only Russia.
  • The problem is compounded by those who are doing the polling. Two of the most prominent polling organizations in the country, the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) and the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), are state-controlled. A third, the Levada Center (formed by a group of experts who broke off from VCIOM in 2003), is often described as “independent,” but it has come under repeated attack from the Kremlin, which has denounced it as a “foreign agent” and pressured it in all sorts of other ways.
  • One thing is for sure, though: When someone tells you that Russians are united and uniform in their views, don’t take them at their word. Figuring out what’s really going on inside those heads won’t be easy. But we’ve got to keep trying.

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:

"The rapid deterioration of the Sahel: Development is the only long-term answer to terrorism and growing Russian influence," Editorial Board, FT, 05.01.24. 

  • Things are moving quickly in the Sahel, the semi-arid strip beneath the Sahara that has become a volatile coup belt. It does not seem long ago that President Emmanuel Macron was giving speeches about how France should tweak its relations with the region. Now it barely has any relations at all. In quick succession, French troops have been ejected from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, all three of which fell to military juntas in recent years. Men in khaki now rule and misrule countries in an unbroken 5,000-kilometre chain from Guinea on Africa’s west coast to war-ravaged Sudan on the east.
  • France’s loss of influence has been Russia’s gain. Having ejected French troops, juntas in Mali and Niger have turned to mercenaries from Africa Corps, the paramilitary group formerly known as Wagner. 
  • The anti-French backlash is also affecting US security operations. American troops will temporarily leave Chad after a disagreement with N’Djamena.
  • Western policies have not been working. Sanctions and withdrawal of aid, understandable as an initial reaction to military coups, have only hastened the region’s rush to Russia’s embrace. Security has worsened since Russia’s arrival, with several massacres reported.
  • Simply isolating the Sahel’s military regimes is not a tenable long-term option. That certainly does not mean backing juntas, which, in the long term, have little to offer their people. But it does mean engaging with populations through imaginative development projects.

“Russian disruption in Europe points to patterns of future aggression,” Keir Giles, Chatham House, 05.01.24.

  • A British man has been charged over an arson plot targeting a Ukrainian business after allegedly being recruited to act for the mercenary Wagner Group.
    • There are few parts of Europe that are not targets. Earlier in April, Germany arrested two individuals on suspicion of planning attacks on behalf of Russia, with a range of targets including US military bases. In Lithuania, Moscow has used organized criminal networks to arrange physical attacks on Russian opposition figures.
    • Poland has been a particular target. Key logistics points there for delivering supplies to Ukraine are of obvious interest for Russia.
  • Similar patterns are apparent in Russian electronic warfare disrupting flights around the Baltic Sea region. It is a problem that dates back years.
    • In March [2024], Russia was reported to have jammed satellite signals affecting an aircraft carrying the UK Defense Secretary Grant Shapps.
    • In northern Norway, too, Russian jamming of GPS is not only disrupting air traffic on a daily basis, but is hampering the work of police and emergency services.
  • At sea too, Russia is hard at its disruptive work. Moscow’s ‘ghost fleet’ of vessels with mystery owners.
    • Vessels in the region reported in late April [2024] a wave of GPS outages, indicating that disruptive electronic warfare from Russia has stepped up a gear and is now affecting surface sea traffic.
  • All these examples demonstrate how hostile action from Russia is becoming gradually normalized because nobody is willing or able to deal with it.
    • Now, the pattern of attacks, including the recent arson attack in the UK, shows that Russia is recruiting freelancers to act on their behalf.
    • While it is encouraging to see the new Act already in use, the West should be prepared for plenty more shocking cases to be heard as Russia’s campaign continues.

For more analysis on this topic, see:

Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

"What If Russia Wins in Ukraine? Ask Georgia," Marc Champion, Bloomberg, 05.01.24.

  • There’s been a lot of debate about what the future holds for Europe and its neighborhood if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine succeeds. We already know at least part of the answer, because it’s happening in Georgia.
  • On Monday evening, Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Georgian businessman who made his billions in Russia, gave a speech in which he accused a “global party of war” of trying to block his nation from asserting its freedom and sovereignty. This is the same global party of war that used civil society non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, to foment Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution, according to Ivanishvili, who now runs his native country from an unelected position as chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party. 
  • Twice now, Ivanishvili has persuaded the government to propose a law on foreign agents that’s very similar to the one Russia uses to suppress any nonprofit that receives grants from outside the country and doesn’t toe the Kremlin line. 
  • Georgian Dream dominates the parliament, but backed down from the attempt in March last year, after the bill triggered mass street protests. Russia, not coincidentally, was on the back foot in Ukraine at the time, recovering from two major battlefield defeats and looking stretched as even a regional superpower. Now the government in Tbilisi is trying again, triggering mass protests, as well as formal criticism from Georgia’s Western allies. 
  • Ivanishvili has .. stepped out of the shadows to claim the foreign agents law as his own and the West as his enemy. In doing so, Georgia’s strongman is flying in the face of what most of the population want, while obscuring the fact with appeals to conservative Georgians over gay rights. He’ll also doubtless enjoy backing from Moscow, which keeps troops in Abkhazia as well as South Ossetia, about a two-hour tank drive from the capital. I have no idea how this will play out, but the impact of Putin’s military success in Ukraine is already clear; it’s turning the dreams of Russia’s neighboring populations into nightmares.

“Georgia’s puppet master turns towards Moscow,” Anastasia Stognei and Ben Hall, FT, 05.06.24. 

  • There are few places in Tbilisi from where you cannot see the steel and glass palace perched on Mount Mtatsminda belonging to Bidzina Ivanishvili. But unlike his imposing property, the richest and most powerful man in Georgia has stayed out of the public eye. ... Last week, however, he descended from his mountain to deliver a conspiratorial, anti-Western speech in which he depicted Georgia as a victim of a “global party of war” and its alleged agents among civil rights groups.
  • His rare address, at a pro-government rally, was a show of support for a highly contentious foreign agents law being pushed through parliament by his Georgian Dream party. The law would require NGOs and media outlets with foreign funding to register with the justice ministry or face fines. Critics say it has been inspired by Russia’s crackdown on civil society and will be used to help Georgian Dream win parliament elections due in October.
  • The bill has sparked the country’s biggest demonstrations in decades, with many Georgians fearing its passage will jeopardize — and indeed may be designed to stymie — their hopes of joining the EU.
  • The Georgian government’s rapprochement with Moscow has been under way for three years, despite Russia’s war against Ukraine. But analysts and government critics say that the foreign agents law and Ivanishvili’s speech, in which he echoed Kremlin lines, mark a turning point and that the former Soviet republic is now heading back into Russia’s orbit.
  • Georgian Dream has paid lip service to EU integration to buy domestic and international legitimacy while “incrementally eroding democracy in the country”, said Anastasia Mgaloblishvili of the German Marshall Fund think-tank. Now, she said, “the pro-EU veil has finally come off.”

“Charges Against a Congressman Lay Bare Foreign Government Influence Attempts,” Kenneth P. Vogel, NYT, 05.04.24.

  • As tensions flared over disputed territory in the Caucasus region in the summer of 2020, Azerbaijan’s squadron of high-priced Washington lobbyists scrambled to pin the blame on neighboring Armenia and highlight its connections to Russia.
  • [Representative Henry Cuellar’s] family…accepted at least $360,000 from Azerbaijani government-controlled companies since December 2014.
  • The indictment is the second [in 2023-2024] to charge a sitting member of Congress with violating a prohibition on lawmakers serving as foreign agents. Senator Robert Menendez…received a series of charges…accusing them of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.
  • Azerbaijan [has] spent nearly $9.2 million on lobbying [since 2015].
    • Azerbaijan’s goals included winning support for the reintegration of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory in the Lesser Caucasus.
    • Azerbaijan also wanted Congress to repeal a ban on U.S. aid imposed in 1992 during the first Nagorno-Karabakh war.
  • Cuellar and his wife…were treated to trips to Azerbaijan in 2013. He received briefings from high-level government officials and attended a dinner with executives from the state-owned oil company.
    • Azerbaijani officials…began funneling payments to a pair of consulting firms his wife created called IRC Business Solutions and Global Gold Group.
  • Among the services…Cuellar performed at the behest of the Azerbaijanis, was pressing the Obama administration to take a harder line against Armenia, trying to insert language favorable to Azerbaijan into legislation and committee reports and having members of his staff urge the State Department to renew a passport for the daughter of Mr. Suleymanov.
    • Cuellar’s efforts on behalf of Azerbaijan mostly seem to have had minimal impact. He withdrew the amendment to strip funding from Armenia after objections from an Armenian diaspora group.

Southern circuit of Russia: new dynamics,” Timofey Bordachev, Valdai Club, 05.03.24. Clues from Russian Views^

  • Transcaucasia and Central Asia were acquisitions that were initially obtained in the course of Russia's competition with the European colonial empires ... rather than for the sake of solving the most important problems of internal development and security. In this regard, we will always face certain difficulties in understanding how much Russia really needs Transcaucasia and Central Asia on a scale comparable to Belarus or Ukraine. 
  • At the same time, Russia’s opponents proceed from the fact that it will pursue a defensive strategy in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia, aimed at keeping both regions in its sphere of influence. Even if, in fact, this influence becomes more and more illusory, which may be inevitable in the conditions of the evolution that the states of both regions are going through. 
  • A striking example in recent years has been the situation around Armenia, where the objective evolution of statehood has led to the loss of foreign policy positions and the loss of the ability to be a reliable ally of Russia in the region. As a result, rather than serving Russian interests at a time when Russia itself is fighting in the West, Armenia has become a new source of foreign policy concerns and opened the door for the United States and Western Europe to negatively impact Russian interests.
  •  Taking into account how the internal situation is developing in a number of Central Asian countries, we cannot exclude the possibility that in the future these “allies” of Russia will also follow the Armenian path. 

For more analysis on this topic, see:

 

Footnotes

  1. When hosted by Emmanuel Macron on May 6, Xi backed the French leader’s call for a global Olympic truce, but said for him to support an international peace conference on Ukraine it has to be supported not only by Kyiv, but also by Moscow. 
  2. Russian forces reportedly made more gains in eastern Ukraine this week.
  3. Translation done by the author’s staff.

 

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 U.S. Army Europe in the public domain.