Russia Analytical Report, April 8-15, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • The U.S. needs a bold policy shift that will support strategic re-engagement with Russia to step away from the increasing likelihood of military confrontation and the potential use of nuclear weapons, write George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn. They write that the U.S. must focus on its vital interests while also responding firmly to Russian aggression.
  • The demise of the INF Treaty does not necessitate a reevaluation of New START, writes Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. Bad times are a reminder of why it is important to preserve treaties, not an excuse for getting rid of them, he argues.
  • If Turkey goes ahead with purchasing Russia’s S-400 air defense system, Moscow could fracture NATO’s unity without firing a shot or using any cyber tools, writes Russian policy analyst Vladimir Frolov. U.S. Senators Jim Inhofe, Jack Reed, Jim Risch and Bob Menendez write that Turkey can have either the S-400 or U.S. F-35 fighter jets, but not both. Paying tribute to Russia, they argue, is not in Turkey’s interests.
  • The U.S. must learn what Russia and China already know: success in great power rivalry depends more on brain than brawn, writes Vance Serchuk of the Center for a New American Security. Russia’s and China’s gains in Syria and the South China Sea respectively should serve as a reminder to Washington that it’s still possible to win with a weaker hand.
  • Ukraine’s governors and ministers are preparing for Petro Poroshenko’s election loss by reaching out to Zelenskiy and his team, writes Konstantin Skorkin for the Carnegie Moscow Center.
  • A new Rosstat report shows that over a third of Russians can’t afford to buy two pairs of shoes a year, 12 percent use an outdoor or communal toilet at home and nearly half of Russians can’t afford to go on a weeklong holiday each year, writes Henry Foy, Moscow bureau chief for Financial Times. “Tepid growth, five years of falling real incomes, high inflation, rising taxes and cuts to social handouts squeeze its [Russia’s] population,” Foy writes.

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War:

“The Threat of Nuclear War Is Still With Us,” George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn, Wall Street Journal, 04.10.19The authors, a former U.S. secretary of state, a former U.S. defense secretary and a former U.S. senator, write:

  • “The U.S., its allies and Russia are caught in a dangerous policy paralysis that could lead—most likely by mistake or miscalculation—to a military confrontation and potentially the use of nuclear weapons.”
  • “A bold policy shift is needed to support a strategic re-engagement with Russia … Otherwise, our nations may soon be entrenched in a nuclear standoff more precarious, disorienting and economically costly than the Cold War. The most difficult task facing the US is also the most important—to refocus on its most vital interests even as it responds firmly to Russia’s aggressions. … Deterrence cannot protect the world from a nuclear blunder or nuclear terrorism.”
  • “This will require a united effort in Washington and with U.S. allies on a Russia policy that reduces the unnecessary nuclear danger we are courting, while maintaining our values and protecting our vital interests.”
  • “The U.S. must first address its own dysfunctional Russia policy, and congress must lead the way. … Second, presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin should announce a joint declaration reaffirming that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. Third, the U.S. and Russia must discuss a broad framework for strategic stability—including increasing decision time for leaders—in a period of global destabilization and emerging military technologies.”
  • “The U.S. and Russia should work towards a mutual vision for a more stable security architecture in the next five to 10 years, and identify the tools and policy initiatives necessary to get there. … Where treaties are not likely or feasible, understandings and red lines are imperative. … It is essential that we re-engage with Russia in areas of common fundamental interest to both nations, including reducing reliance on nuclear weapons, keeping them out of unstable hands, preventing their use and ultimately ending them as a threat to the world.”

“US-Russia Chill Stirs Worry About Stumbling Into Conflict,” Robert Burns, AP, 04.14.19The author, a national security reporter for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The deep chill in U.S.-Russian relations is stirring concern in some quarters that Washington and Moscow are in danger of stumbling into an armed confrontation that, by mistake or miscalculation, could lead to nuclear war.”
  • “‘During the Cold War, we understood each other’s signals. We talked,’ says the top NATO commander in Europe, U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who is about to retire. ‘I’m concerned that we don’t know them as well today.’ ‘I personally think communication is a very important part of deterrence,’ Scaparrotti said, referring to the idea that adversaries who know each other’s capabilities and intentions are less likely to fall into conflict.”
  • “Tensions spiked with Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and its military intervention in eastern Ukraine. In response, Congress in 2016 severely limited military cooperation with Russia. … Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said … that Russian behavior is to blame for the strained relationship. … ‘There are major issues that affect our bilateral relationship that have to be addressed, to include where Russia has violated international laws, norms and standards.’ Dunford said he speaks regularly with Gerasimov, his Russian counterpart, and the two sides talk on other levels.”
  • “James Stavridis … says the West must confront Russia where necessary, including on its interventions in Ukraine and Syria. But he believes there room for cooperation on multiple fronts, including the Arctic and arms control. ‘Without steady, political-level engagement between the defense establishments, the risk of a true new Cold War rises steadily,’ [he said.]”
  • “‘Russia remains open for interaction aimed at de-escalating tension, restoring mutual trust, preventing any misinterpretations of one another’s intentions and reducing the risk of dangerous incidents,’ the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement last week.”

“Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States Through Resilience and Resistance,” Stephen J. Flanagan, Jan Osburg, Anika Binnendijk, Marta Kepe and Andrew Radin, RAND Corporation, 04.15.19The authors, analysts, political scientists and engineers at RAND, write:

  • “The authors of this report assess how unconventional defense plans and capabilities … being pursued by the governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania … can deter and counteract Russian hybrid aggression and military attacks in the Baltic region.”
  • “They advance a framework for evaluating the utility of unconventional and total defense efforts at various phases of conflict for strengthening deterrence and defense. They identify military and civilian technologies that could enhance the effectiveness of these efforts, the cost of procuring those technologies, and possible tradeoffs with the development of conventional defense capabilities. The authors estimate that a robust technology initiative to enhance these capabilities for all three states would cost about $125 million, could be implemented over several years and is scalable.”
  • “The authors also discuss the benefits and risks of expanding unconventional and total defense efforts and potential Russian responses and countermeasures. Finally, they outline steps that the Baltic governments, the United States, other NATO allies and partners and the European Union could take to enhance these efforts.”

NATO-Russia relations:

“A US Fighter Jet or a Russian Missile System. Not Both,” Jim Inhofe, Jack Reed, Jim Risch and Bob Menendez, New York Times, 04.09.19The authors, U.S. senators, write:

  • “By the end of the year, Turkey will have either F-35 advanced fighter aircraft on its soil or a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system. It will not have both. The choice made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey will have profound consequences for his country’s place in the world, its relationship with the United States and its standing in NATO.”
  • “Turkey has legitimate air defense needs. The United States, since 2012, has offered the Patriot air defense system as an alternative to the S-400, but Turkey has rejected that offer.
  • “If President Erdogan … accepts delivery of the S-400, Turkey will be sanctioned as required by United States law under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. Sanctions will hit Turkey’s economy hard … Further, no F-35s will ever reach Turkish soil. And Turkish participation in the F-35 program … will be terminated, taking Turkish companies out of the manufacturing and supply chain for the program.”
  • “We understand that Turkey has a relationship of necessity with Russia—on Syria, energy, agriculture, tourism and more. If President Erdogan walks away from the S-400, Mr. Putin may retaliate in one or more of these areas. In that unfortunate event, we commit to do all we can to assist Turkey as it weathers the storm.”
  • “Paying tribute to the Kremlin with the purchase of the S-400 is not in Turkey’s interests. Mr. Putin is not an ally of Turkey any more than the Soviets or the czars. His aggression in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria has made Turkey less safe. Now Mr. Putin is trying to divide Turkey from the West with the S-400s.”

“Our Man in NATO: Why Putin Lucked Out With Recep Erdogan. Russia is on the verge of a resounding victory over NATO and the United States,” Vladimir Frolov, The Moscow Times/, 04.15.19The author, a Russian political analyst and columnist, writes:

  • “Without firing a single shot, deploying a single tank or using a single internet troll, Moscow can soon destroy the unity of NATO by removing a key country from its military network. What’s more, Russia will receive $2.5 billion for its efforts and not a single new sanction. I am talking, of course, about Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s decision to purchase the Russian S-400 air defense system.”
  • “Turkey is meant to receive more than 100 F-35s by 2023 as replacements for its outdated F-16 aircraft. What’s more, an F-35 engine maintenance center is being set up in Turkey to serve the European region. Participation in the entire program … would have brought the Turkish military-industrial complex $12 billion … The country has already invested $1.25 billion in the F-35 program.”
  • “The U.S. now is threatening to block Turkey’s participation in the F-35 project and the delivery of its newest fighter jets … if Ankara refuses to reverse its decision regarding the S-400. … Why is Erdogan so bent on buying the S-400? … Erdogan feels personally insulted by the U.S. … Washington neglected the security interests of its ally in Syria.”
  • “If everything goes as planned, Turkey will de facto drop out of the military structures of NATO and will increasingly rely on military cooperation with Russia to ensure its security and interests in the region. However, Turkey will not completely leave NATO. … Moscow sees greater advantage in having Turkey play the ‘troublemaker’ in NATO, serving as the one member willing to put in a good word for Russia and to ensure its security in the Black Sea.”

“It’s Not Too Late to Stop Turkey From Realigning With Russia,” Sinan Ulgen, Foreign Policy, 04.11.19The author, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, writes:

  • “The two NATO allies [the U.S. and Turkey] are now trapped in a standoff with little room to maneuver. Turkey seems unwilling to change tack, despite vocal criticism in Washington, while the United States is already contemplating imposing sanctions [over Turkey’s intention to acquire Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.]”
  • “Even under a best-case scenario for Turkey, in which Trump stands up to Congress to protect Ankara from sanctions on national security grounds, the Turkish government cannot escape the inevitable binary choice between a Russian air defense system and an American fifth-generation fighter jet.”
  • “The more likely—and more damaging—scenario of U.S. sanctions on Turkey would have long-term strategic consequences for NATO, possibly even leading Ankara to question its membership. To avert this shock to the trans-Atlantic alliance, the U.S. government should use the next few months to persuade Ankara to forgo this purchase from Russia.”

“US-Russia Elbe Group Issues Joint Statement,” as published by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 04.09.19: In the statement from its March 2019 meeting, the Elbe Group writes:

  • “Our group of retired senior military and intelligence officials discussed a range of issues including strategic stability, cyber security, counter terrorism, the Middle East, questions related to nuclear security, the status of the Iran nuclear agreement, the future of nuclear nonproliferation and Arctic issues.”
  • “The members of the Elbe Group agreed that as the two most powerful of nuclear states, our two countries bear a special responsibility to negotiate and abide by agreements that ensure strategic stability. We are especially concerned that nuclear weapons treaties are being ignored, eliminated or are at risk of expiring. Changes in the existing system of strategic stability have accelerated, further undermining our mutual sense of security. In addition, regional confrontation has increased.”
  • “We agreed on specific recommendations to help improve U.S.-Russian bilateral relations by increasing dialogue and channels of communication across the entire spectrum of national security establishments … The Elbe Group believes that our mutual interests are better served through cooperation than confrontation. … The Elbe Group is resolved to increase joint deconfliction and coordination efforts to operate in unified campaign to defeat radical Islamic terrorism and their ideologies.”
  • “The Elbe Group agrees that the United States and the Russian Federation should mutually agree not to interfere in the internal affairs of the other by cyber means or through information and influence operations. The Elbe Group encourages … [Washington and Moscow to] reschedule bilateral discussions on strategic stability and cyber that have been cancelled in the past.”
  • “The Elbe Group believes that official arms control mechanisms should be preserved and strengthened to serve as a basis to … discuss concerns about new non-nuclear technologies … We encourage a broadened dialogue on the future of U.S.-Russian relations that considers new paradigms for updating mutual constraints on strategic systems, taking into account the emergence of new weapons and emerging technologies.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Statement by Participants of the Russian-American Conference on Arms Control in Moscow on April 9-10, 2019,” as published by Arms Control Now, 04.12.19In the statement, the authors write:

  • “As American and Russian experts in national security affairs, we are deeply concerned by the deterioration of the international security environment, the prospect of heightened competition among major powers in the strategic realm and the increased risk of military confrontation that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.”
  • “We encourage our two governments to counteract these disturbing developments and promote strategic stability, including by: Reaffirming the Reagan-Gorbachev understanding that a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought; Extending the New START Treaty until 2026 … Ensuring that the likely end of the INF Treaty does not result in a new arms race; Holding regular, high-level talks to consider the implications for strategic stability and arms control of a range of technological and strategic developments.”
  • “We believe our two countries should also work together and with other parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to ensure the success of the 2020 NPT Review Conference.”

“Despite Obfuscations, New START Data Shows Continue Value of Treaty,” Hans M. Kristensen, Federation of American Scientists, 04.10.19The author, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, writes:

  • “The latest set of New START treaty aggregate data … shows Russia and the United States continue to abide by the limitations of the New START treaty. The data shows that Russia and the United States combined have cut a total of 429 strategic launchers since February 2011, reduced the number of deployed launchers by 223 and reduced the number of warheads attributed to those launchers by 511.”
  • “The good news comes despite efforts by officials in Moscow and Washington to create doubts about the value of New START by complaining about lack of irreversibility, weapon systems not covered by the treaty or other unrelated treaty compliance and behavioral matters. … Although bureaucrats and Cold Warriors in both Washington and Moscow currently are busy raising complaints and uncertainties … there is no way around the basic fact: the treaty is strongly in the national security interest of both countries—as well as that of their allies.”
  • “But the treaty expires in February 2021 and the two sides could …extend it with the stroke of a pen. … The idea that the INF debacle somehow requires a reevaluation of the value of New START is ridiculous. … Bad times are not an excuse for sacrificing treaties but reminders of the importance of preserving them. Arms limitation treaties are not made with friends … but with potential adversaries in order to limit their offensive nuclear forces and increase transparency and verification.”

“US Presidential Hopefuls and Their Nuclear Weapons Policies,” Jamie Kwong, RUSI, 04.09.19The author, a research assistant in the proliferation and nuclear policy program at RUSI, writes:

  • “Leading Democratic candidates have criticized President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, amidst her calls for a ‘Foreign Policy for All,’ expressed her disdain for the decision.”
  • “Kirsten Gillibrand … also co-sponsored the act [the Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2018], calling the legislation ‘more important than ever’ after expressing her views in a joint letter to the president that scrapping the [INF] treaty ‘risks the United States sliding into another arms race with Russia and erod[ing] U.S. nonproliferation efforts around the world.’”
  • “Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not officially announced his candidacy … served in the Senate when the INF Treaty was originally ratified in 1987 and played an important role in securing the 2010 New START agreement. While claiming that the ‘Russian government is brazenly assaulting the foundations of Western democracy’, Biden has also stressed that ‘[i]t is precisely because we do not trust our adversaries that treaties to constrain the human capacity for destruction are indispensable to the security of the United States of America.’”
  • “A Warren NPR [nuclear posture review] would likely emphasize multilateral arms control and non-proliferation efforts. A Sanders NPR might focus on consensus-building around the most challenging nuclear issue areas. And a Biden NPR may look strikingly similar to Obama’s, perhaps even going so far as to adopt a no first use policy. Whatever the outcome, these early discussions demonstrate some candidates’ recognition that nuclear weapons issues will continue to be a central aspect of the presidential portfolio—and will hopefully encourage further debate on nuclear policies on the electoral campaign trail.”


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

“In Russia's Dagestan Region, a Path Back From the Ruins of the Islamic State,” Amie Ferris-Rotman, The Washington Post, 04.07.19The author, the news outlet’s Moscow reporter, writes:

  • “Sevil Novruzova has brought back sons from what was once the Islamic State's self-declared caliphate. She has retrieved grandchildren from Iraqi prisons, jailed for being with the militants. Novruzova has flown last-minute to Turkey, hoping to discourage daughters from traveling farther to reach the Islamic State lines.”
  • “For the 42-year-old lawyer from Russia's mostly Muslim Dagestan region, it usually begins with a message asking for help to bring back a relative. For years, she has lived and breathed the crumbling Islamic State … On her watch, she has helped return at least 120 people from the caliphate.”
  • “Her work … represents just a tiny fraction of the fighters, families and others who made their way to Islamic State territory in recent years. But Novruzova's efforts stand in sharp contrast to the political indecision in the West over whether to repatriate citizens who sided with the Islamic State.”
  • “Her outreach is even more remarkable for the shift it reflects in President Vladimir Putin's Russia. … Normally, Islamist insurgents inside Russia would receive long prison sentences. Their families were also arrested and tortured, according to human rights groups. Now, the Kremlin is attempting to reintegrate Islamic State members into society, by way of shorter stints in jail and close monitoring.”
  • “It is believed that around 400 fighters have been brought back to Russia, most serving time in prison. More than 100 of their wives, and an equal number of children, have also returned. Rights workers and analysts say the system is far from transparent but have nevertheless lauded the Kremlin's efforts.”

“Why Is Russia Insisting on Bringing Home ISIS Fighters' Children?” Samuel Ramani, The Washington Post, 04.09.19The author, a doctoral candidate in international relations at the University of Oxford, writes:

  • “On March 31, Chechnya's leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, pledged to bring home all the children of Chechens who fought for ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Kadyrov is known to be a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. … Bringing home the children of former ISIS fighters from detention centers in Syria, Russia insists, is the right thing to do.”
  • “Why? Repatriating ISIS fighters' children, who have been educated in ISIS ideology and have lost family members because of Russia's military intervention in Syria, could pose a long-term threat to Russia's security at home.”
  • “My doctoral research examines how Russian policymakers are framing the country's involvement in Syria, and offers some insights. They want Russia to be seen as a nation that actively cares about human rights, a nation that contributes to and should help shape the world's policies about humanitarian assistance. The goal: enable Russia to regain its position as one of the world's great powers.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“Using Transparency to Deter Russia’s Asymmetric Attacks on the West,” James Lamond, Center for American Progress, 04.10.19The author, a senior policy adviser at the Center for American Progress, writes:

  • “Russia knows it cannot compete with the West on an even playing field. Thus, it has developed a shadowy, asymmetric strategy to subvert opponents and alter the global status quo. A key part of this approach is the country’s strategic use of ambiguity. As the United States responds to these attacks, and seeks to prevent future ones, it must take into account that public transparency, as well as its relationships with allies, are integral to any effective response.”
  • “It is with this in mind that policymakers should view the ongoing dispute between Congress and the U.S. attorney general regarding the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings.”
  • “Congress needs to see the full report and underlying evidence for many reasons—not least of which are the scores of unanswered questions about the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia … But another, equally important reason is that exposing Russia’s tactics is a powerful weapon in preventing future asymmetric attacks.”
  • “The ultimate strength of democracies is their openness and transparency, as well as the relationships they foster with like-minded allies. We’ve seen how adversaries can use these values to undermine democracies, but the United States and its allies should also use them to their strategic advantage. Although it cannot comprise the entirety of the United States’ response, public transparency should be an integral part of it when possible.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Missing in Action: Washington's Arctic Security Plan,” Geoff Upton, The National Interest, 04.10.19The author, a master’s candidate at Oxford University, writes:

  • “Earlier this month, the Russian government irked Washington by claiming sovereign rights over the Northern Sea Route (NSR). The waterway, which stretches from Russia’s border with Norway to the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska, is one of the world’s emerging trade arteries.”
  • “A new law will require all foreign warships using the route to seek Russia’s permission at least forty-five days in advance, with requests to be approved or denied at Moscow’s discretion. In the event of an unsanctioned passage, Russia may arrest intruder ships or even destroy them.”
  • “Much of the NSR passes through Russia’s “exclusive economic zone”—a two-hundred-mile stretch of water where Moscow can set the rules. But other parts, notably the Bering Strait, lie in international waters, where safe passage for foreign warships is usually guaranteed.”
  • “In recent years, Russia has dramatically expanded its presence in the far north, where it boasts a slew of new military and air bases. By contrast, the U.S. military is so badly-equipped for polar missions that it has earned the scorn of Russian military experts. It lacks a single major base north of the Arctic Circle, or any aircrafts or warships that can operate in such low temperatures.”
  • “For the foreseeable future, the arctic will continue to lack the geopolitical significance of waterways such as the South China Sea or the Suez Canal. But the once-impassable region is now an arena where global powers are jockeying for dominance. Expect Arctic security to start featuring on Washington’s radar.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • No significant commentary.


“Russia and China Are Outwitting America,” Vance Serchuk, The Washington Post, 04.10.19The author, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, writes:

  • “Democrats and Republicans alike have embraced the idea of ‘great-power competition,’ with China and Russia as a common framework for thinking and talking about the world. There is much to commend about this shift. For starters, it has the virtue of reflecting reality—a belated recognition that Beijing and Moscow … have entrenched interests and values that are profoundly at odds with those of the United States and its allies.”
  • “What’s less commendable is the way U.S. national security circles have so far framed great-power rivalry with China and Russia: describing the problem almost exclusively as a competition for technological and military superiority.”
  • “For evidence, look no further than Syria … Putin’s achievement came about not because he dispatched better weapons to the Middle East but because he employed shrewder statecraft there … A similar story has played out in the South China Sea, arguably the most prominent arena for geopolitical competition between Washington and Beijing in the past decade.”
  • “Weapons are ultimately only as smart as the strategy that employs them. Washington’s excessive faith in the decisive impact of technology also sharpens what is already the greatest danger from worsening tensions with Russia and China: an inadvertent escalation into war. … History is instructive here, too. … Only after August 1914 did Europe’s rulers realize that they had collectively built a doomsday machine that, once unleashed, would wreck their civilization. The present moment contains unsettling parallels.”
  • “Less apocalyptically, the United States’ setbacks in places such as Syria and the South China Sea should remind U.S. policymakers that it is possible to compete with an objectively weaker hand and still come out on top. … Americans must learn what their foes already understand: In great-power rivalry, success depends less often on brawn than on brains.”


“The Ukrainian Elite Is Preparing for Poroshenko’s Election Defeat,” Konstantin Skorkin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 04.15.19The author, an independent journalist specializing in the Donbass affairs, writes:

  • “The incumbent simply could not figure out what to do with the country’s traditionally Russian-speaking southeast. … [His opponent] offered a different political formula: peaceful coexistence between different cultural visions of Ukraine.”
  • “With polls showing incumbent Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko heading for a major defeat in the runoff election, governors and ministers are looking for contacts with the likely winner and his team. The president has fired a series of governors to send a warning to the rest. But the message is too late and not convincing. … If elected, Zelenskiy will likely not want representatives of the old guard or its sponsors to personify his rule in the regions. As a result, he will inevitably clean house.”
  • “Serious conflicts also extend into the government. Interior Minister Avakov … was appointed at the behest of Poroshenko’s coalition partners, who wanted to prevent the president from monopolizing the security agencies. … During the presidential election, Avakov has placed himself above the fray, saying his goal is to prevent falsification. But it is clear the minister is trying to distance himself from an increasingly weak president.”
  • “Even Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman’s position is unclear. After the election, he will continue to lead the government until autumn 2019. As an experienced apparatchik, he will not split with his patron Poroshenko. But he also has not joined the president’s election campaign.”
  • “In the television series ‘Servant of the People,’ where he [Zelenskiy] plays idealized Ukrainian President Vasyl Holoborodko, there is a noteworthy character: Prime Minister Yury Chuiko, a holdover from the government of Holoborodko’s predecessor. … Ultimately, however, Chuiko winds up in jail. If Zelenskiy’s thinking reflects the plot of his show—and this is increasingly clear—then the days following the election will be quite difficult for many Kiev officials.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant commentary.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Putin Talks Up Mercedes Cars While Ordinary Russians Feel the Pinch,” Henry Foy, Financial Times, 04.15.19The author, the news outlet’s Moscow bureau chief, writes:

  • “At a glitzy ceremony attended by the carmaker’s top brass this month, Vladimir Putin opened a Mercedes-Benz factory an hour’s drive north of Moscow and predicted that his fellow citizens would snap up the cars that he and his ministers have long enjoyed.”
  • “Popular, surely. But affordable? Not likely, Russia’s statistics agency suggested in a report published a few days before Mr. Putin admired production lines for the luxury E-class sedans. More than a third of Russians cannot afford to buy two pairs of shoes each year, and 12 percent have to use an outdoor or communal toilet at home, Rosstat said in the report. Almost half the population cannot afford a week’s holiday each year.”
  • “The findings underscored a sense of deepening economic gloom in Russia as tepid growth, five years of falling real incomes, high inflation, rising taxes and cuts to social handouts squeeze its population.”
  • “Despite high oil prices and buoyant commodity markets, the government is keeping its spending tight, in a sign that five years of Western sanctions and the threat of more to come are taking their toll on Russia’s $1.5 trillion economy. The Kremlin’s cost-cutting has deepened concerns over inequality in Russia. … Average Russians already have 13 percent less to spend than they did in 2013, yet the government banked a $41 billion budget surplus last year.”

“Russia’s Consumers Still Glum but Businesses Becoming Optimistic for 2019,” Ben Aris, The Moscow Times/bne IntelliNews, 04.09.19The author, co-founder and editor of bne, writes:

  • “The Russian state’s quarterly survey of consumer confidence rose from -17 percent in the last quarter of last year to -16 percent at the end of the first quarter of this year. That is a far better showing than the low of -32 percent recorded in the second quarter of 2015 in the midst of Russia’s ‘silent crisis.’ However, following the growing optimism that spread in 2017, the population’s confidence level suffered a setback in 2018, falling to -17 percent at the end of the year.”
  • “One reason for the decline in sentiment was the total lack of any trickledown effect. Rosstat reported a surprise and controversial upgrade to growth of 2.3 percent in 2018 … But real incomes in Russia fell again slightly in 2018, meaning they were down for the fifth year in a row.”
  • “The share of people who think that recent economic changes have been positive fell to 11 percent in January-March from 12 percent in October-December 2018, Rosstat reported … Last year’s 2.3 percent growth is seen as an aberration and the official Economy Ministry forecast for 2019 is a mere 1.3 percent. Growth is only expected to take off in 2021 when the massive 25.7 trillion rubles ($390 billion) in investments planned for the 12 national projects starts to have an effect.”
  • “However, the first signs of change appeared in March when both Russia’s manufacturing PMI index and industrial production delivered encouragingly good results. … Still, none of this helps the poor consumer. … Russian President Vladimir Putin is clearly well aware of this and attempted to address some of the falling quality of life issues in his state of the nation speech in February. It came across as a Santa’s sack of social spending and public sector wage hike promises.”

“Putin’s Melody Is No Longer Music to Russians’ Ears,” Sam Greene and Graeme Robertson, The Moscow Times/Vedomosti, 04.13.19The authors, director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London and a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina, write:

  • “According to Levada Center surveys, approval of Putin’s performance as president fell to 64 percent in January 2019 and has remained at that level … This is 25 percentage points lower than Putin’s all-time high (recorded in June 2015) and only three percentage points above his all-time low (recorded in November 2013).”
  • “People’s assessment of the general state of affairs in the country looks even more alarming: the balance of answers to the question of whether the country is headed in the right direction turned negative in early 2019, the first time since before the annexation of Crimea.”
  • “Most analysis of Russian politics and society tends to emphasize the political, at the expense of the social. In actual fact … social factors play a critical role in defining both the content and the dynamics of Russian political life. … Putin has become dear to millions of Russians not because he has established some kind of personal connection with them, but because the music he played allowed them to feel part of something big, immanent, exciting, maybe even a little dangerous.”
  • “If the cause of Putin’s rise in popularity was a feeling of unity, then the cause of his relative decline can be found in the atrophying of this feeling. … If we are right, then Putin's salvation is out of his hands. Having lost interest in dancing, Russians are returning to their private, individual cares.”

“Kremlin Scapegoat: Russia’s In-System Opposition Is Under Attack,” Andrei Pertsev, Carnegie Moscow Center, 04.10.19The author, a journalist with Kommersant, writes:

  • “The ruling party’s declining ratings and protest votes for spoiler candidates have put the in-system opposition in crisis. Instead of acknowledging its own failures, the Kremlin only sees the successes of the in-system opposition candidates, and goes on the offensive.”
  • “The Central Election Commission has refused to transfer a parliamentary seat left vacant following the death of the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Zhores Alferov to fellow Communist Party member and former presidential candidate Pavel Grudinin, claiming that he failed to disclose foreign bank accounts when running for parliament.”
  • “Grudinin is far from the only victim of attacks on the in-system opposition. Propaganda wars are also being waged against spoiler candidates who won gubernatorial elections last September … For many years, the Communist Party, LDPR and A Just Russia party were an important part of the Russian political system. They were completely loyal to the existing power vertical, but created an illusion of choice, and also picked up the protest vote.”
  • “The in-system opposition still abides by those rules, only now it no longer guarantees the desired result for the candidate from the ruling party. Protest votes can result in victory for spoiler candidates, even obvious ones. With the system’s boundaries no longer clear, the Kremlin faced the question of what to require of pro-regime parties.”
  • “There now appears to be just one simple criterion for excluding a candidate or party list: if they have caused any problems, they are deemed disloyal and outside of the system. This categorization is a matter of pure chance: after all, candidates and parties can win by essentially doing nothing.”

“Putin's Russia Feels Increasingly Like a Fortress Under Siege,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, The Washington Post, 04.09.19The author, vice chairman of the Open Russia movement and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, writes:

  • “Of all the ways that Putin's rule has transformed the country, perhaps the most troubling is its state-driven paranoia. It was also the most pervasive characteristic of the organization where Putin had spent his formative years, the KGB. In Putin's Russia, opposing the government is equated with betraying the country.”
  • “In his own words, Putin views political opponents as ‘national traitors’ who ‘scavenge at foreign embassies.’ Their goal … is not to improve life in the country, but to advance the interests of their foreign puppeteers. Last month, the chief of Russia's armed forces, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, took the accusation a step further, asserting that the U.S. Department of Defense had launched a new strategy code-named ‘Trojan Horse,’ which relies on ‘using the protest potential of the 'fifth column' in order to destabilize’ the country from within.”
  • “The general was only echoing his commander in chief. Speaking at the FSB's annual board meeting, Putin declared that foreign intelligence agencies are ramping up activities ‘on the Russian front’ and claimed that, in 2018 alone, his former colleagues exposed nearly 600 foreign intelligence officers and their agents inside the country. The Kremlin leader urged his security services to be even more active.”
  • “Earlier this year, Russia's rubber-stamp legislature took up a bill that would disconnect the Russian Internet from the Web. The measure … would make Russia's online space autonomous from global networks, as has been done in China. Meanwhile, a new Russian law that took effect at the end of March imposes substantial fines and administrative jail terms on anyone expressing ‘patent disrespect’ for the government.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.