Russia Analytical Report, April 8-15, 2024

5 Ideas to Explore

  1. The increased threat of military escalation in the Middle East in the wake of Iranian strikes on Israel will likely draw Western attention and aid away from UkraineISW quoted Russian pro-war commentators as predicting. “There will be no world war” because of the strikes, but the Middle East will slide into a long proxy war and Putin’s Russia will be among the beneficiaries of this confrontation, according to one such commentator Andrei Medvedev’s article on pro-Kremlin conservative analytical site Vzglyad. In the military domain, Israel’s success in defending against the Iranian strikes “underscores the vulnerabilities that Ukrainian geography and the continued degradation of Ukraine’s air defense umbrella pose for Ukrainian efforts to defend against regular Russian missile and drone strikes,” in the view of ISW’s Nicole Wolkov, Riley Bailey, Grace Mappes, Angelica Evans, and Frederick W. Kagan.
  2. Whether it’s artillery shells or Patriot missiles, the U.S. simply doesn’t have the resources to produce and provide even half of what Ukraine says it needs to become on par with Russia in the war. This follows from Republican Sen. J. D. Vance’s commentary entitled “The Math on Ukraine Doesn’t Add Up,” published in NYT. “Ukraine’s manpower situation is even worse” than the situation with its munitions, according to Vance. Vance then argues that these disparities must inform any future U.S. policy toward the conflict, “from further congressional aid to the diplomatic course set by the president.” “The Biden administration has no viable plan for the Ukrainians to win this war. The sooner Americans confront this truth, the sooner we can fix this mess and broker for peace,” Vance concludes. Vance’s estimates of what Ukraine says it needs and what the U.S. can supply ignores the European variable in the equation. Europe’s capacity for military assistance to Ukraine cannot fully compensate for declines and delays1 of such aid from the U.S., but they are significant nevertheless.*
  3. Ukrainian authorities have made progress this month on expanding the conscription pool by passing a bill on additional mobilization and lowering the age of eligibility for being called up to 25. However, it is “unclear how quickly Ukraine will draft and train the additional troops it needs, or whether they will be ready before the broader Russian offensive that is expected in the spring or summer,” according to NYT. ''The decision is taken—it's a good one, but it's too late,'' Serhiy Hrabsky, a colonel and a commentator on the war for the Ukrainian news media, told NYT. Hrabsky has a point. Given the mobilization bill’s provisions, including that it would come into force one month after it is signed by Zelenskyy, it would take weeks to call up those eligible for mobilization. It would then take 10 weeks or more to have these new recruits undergo basic training. Thus, the bulk of the newly recruited may be not yet be ready for fighting if Russia, which has rebuilt its conventional forces to the pre-invasion level, launches the new massive offensive in late May-early June, as expected in Kyiv. When estimating whether and when Ukraine will have a sufficient number of soldiers to successfully defend2 itself, one should also keep in mind draft dodging.
  4. Moscow and Beijing may never sign a formal alliance, but the evolution of their relationship in the years ahead will increasingly affect the world and challenge the West,” CEIP’s Alexander Gabuev writes in FA. “To come to terms with this development, Western policymakers should abandon the idea that they can drive a wedge between Beijing and Moscow,” Gabuev writes, “[w]hereas ... Henry Kissinger courted communist China during the Cold War by offering Beijing a normalization of ties with the United States, U.S. officials cannot extend a deal of that sort to either Moscow or Beijing at this point.” Like Gabuev, Ivan Timofeev of pro-Kremlin RIAC doesn’t believe Moscow and Beijing are creating “a military-political alliance similar to NATO... yet,” but he does see the two countries eventually building a Eurasian security framework that may “be tailored to the task of deterrence.” Timofeev may be alluding to the “dual counteraction to double containment” formula proposed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi while recently hosting Russia’s top diplomat Sergei Lavrov, which the latter welcomed.
  5. While “Western sanctions clearly limit Russia’s economic development,” they also, “paradoxically enough, protect the economy from ... external shocks” by pushing the Russian authorities to pursue “shielding” measures, such as de-dollarization, according to CEIP’s Alexandra Prokopenko. In spite of the sanctions, ordinary Russians are unlikely to see empty store shelves of the kind they saw in the latter days of the USSR because Russia’s economy has significant financial reserves, is more diversified, and is more open to the world than the Soviet one was, she writes in a commentary for CEIP.  “Given the existing safety margins and the nature of Western sanctions, it could take Russia many years to reach the end of its ability to muddle through such challenges,” she predicts.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

“Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 14, 2024,” ISW, 04.14.24.

  • Israel’s success in defending against large-scale Iranian missile and drone strikes from Iranian territory on April 13 underscores the vulnerabilities that Ukrainian geography and the continued degradation of Ukraine’s air defense umbrella pose for Ukrainian efforts to defend against regular Russian missile and drone strikes. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force launched roughly 170 Shahed-136/131 drones, 30 cruise missiles, and 120 ballistic missiles at targets in Israel in a strike package similar to recent Russian strike packages against Ukraine.
    • The exhaustion of US-provided air defenses resulting from delays in the resumption of US military assistance to Ukraine combined with improvements in Russian strike tactics have led to increasing effectiveness of the Russian strike campaign in Ukraine. Without substantial and regular security assistance to Ukraine, Russian strikes threaten to constrain Ukraine’s long-term warfighting capabilities and set operational conditions for Russia to achieve significant gains on the battlefield....Russia’s strike campaign against Ukraine demonstrates that even a limited number of successful ballistic or cruise missile strikes can cause significant and likely long-term damage to energy and other infrastructure, highlighting the need for an effective and well-provisioned air defense umbrella capable of a sustained high rate of interception.
  • The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is falsely equating the April 13 large-scale Iranian strikes targeting Israel with the April 1 Israeli strike targeting Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officials in Damascus, amplifying Iran’s “justification” for the April 13 strikes. ... Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a phone call with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian later on April 14, and the Russian MFA again amplified Iran’s claim that the April 13 strikes were a response to the April 1 Israeli strike in the readout of the call.
    • Russian MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova notably refused an Israeli request for Russia to condemn the April 13 Iranian strikes, claiming that Israel has never condemned a Ukrainian strike against Russia and criticizing Israel for its statements supporting Ukraine The Russian government is willfully furthering an information operation to justify Iran’s April 13 strikes against Israel to the international community.
    • Russian milbloggers largely responded to the April 13 Iranian strikes against Israel by suggesting that the increased threat of military escalation in the Middle East will likely draw Western, specifically US, attention and aid away from Ukraine. 

"Iran and Israel did some quick fighting,” Andrei Medvedev, Vzglyad, 04.14.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • So, Iran and Israel did some quick fighting, with each side declaring unconditional victory. Given that, Israel even opened airports. Iran launched 150 drones and some missiles. And it stated that they had hit a secret base in the Negev desert. Israel said it shot down everything.
  • In general, the situation is similar to Iran’s strikes on US bases after the assassination of General Soleimani. Iran struck, America declared that there were no casualties.
  • There will be no world war, and the Middle East will not be set on fire right now. But it will definitely happen in the future.  Meanwhile the region will finally slide into a long proxy war. Neither Iran nor Israel have the capabilities and means for a full-fledged war. Iran needs to complete the nuclear project and to prevent loss of Iraq and Lebanon. And Israel should at least deal sort out an end in Gaza.
  •  The winners in this confrontation will be... the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, Pakistan, China, and, well, Russia. 

“The Biden dilemma on Israel,” Gideon Rachman, FT, 04.15.24. 

  • Ever since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 last year, America has pursued two key objectives. The first is to provide “ironclad” support for Israel. The second is to prevent a wider regional war that might drag in the US. But there is a latent tension between those two goals. And that tension is now close to snapping point.
  • While the Biden administration does not share Israel’s apocalyptic view of Iran, it does see the country as highly dangerous. In Washington, Iran is portrayed as one of four members of an “axis of adversaries” that includes Russia, China and North Korea. That axis would gain strength and confidence if Iran could claim to have got the upper hand over Israel.
  • The fact that Jordan reportedly helped to block the Iranian missile barrage indicates that — even in the Middle East — there are countries that share America’s determination to thwart Iran’s attacks on Israel.
  • Perhaps there is a master game theorist in the White House who can balance all these competing imperatives. If not, the US will need luck, as well as judgment, to get to the other side of this crisis without being drawn into another war.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“The Math on Ukraine Doesn’t Add Up,” J. D. Vance, NYT, 04.12.24. 

  • President Biden wants the world to believe that the biggest obstacle facing Ukraine is Republicans and our lack of commitment to the global community. This is wrong. Ukraine’s challenge is not the G.O.P.; it’s math. Ukraine needs more soldiers than it can field, even with draconian conscription policies. And it needs more matériel than the United States can provide. This reality must inform any future Ukraine policy, from further congressional aid to the diplomatic course set by the president.
  • The most fundamental question: How much does Ukraine need and how much can we actually provide? Mr. Biden suggests that a $60 billion supplemental means the difference between victory and defeat in a major war between Russia and Ukraine. That is also wrong. This $60 billion is a fraction of what it would take to turn the tide in Ukraine’s favor. But this is not just a matter of dollars. Fundamentally, we lack the capacity to manufacture the amount of weapons Ukraine needs us to supply to win the war.
    • Consider our ability to produce 155-millimeter artillery shells.... We’ve roughly doubled our capacity and can now produce 360,000 per year — less than a tenth of what Ukraine says it needs. The administration’s goal is to get this to 1.2 million — 30 percent of what’s needed — by the end of 2025.
      • Just this week, the top American military commander in Europe argued that absent further security assistance, Russia could soon have a 10-to-1 artillery advantage over Ukraine. What didn’t gather as many headlines is that Russia’s current advantage is at least 5 to 1, even after all the money we have poured into the conflict. Neither of these ratios plausibly leads to Ukrainian victory.
  • Proponents of American aid to Ukraine have argued that our approach has been a boon to our own economy, creating jobs here in the factories that manufacture weapons. But our national security interests can be — and often are — separate from our economic interests. The notion that we should prolong a bloody and gruesome war because it’s been good for American business is grotesque.
  • The story is the same when we look at other munitions. Take the Patriot missile system — our premier air defense weapon.... The United States only manufactures 550 per year. If we pass the supplemental aid package currently being considered in Congress, we could potentially increase annual production to 650, but that’s still less than a third of what Ukraine requires.
  • If that sounds bad, Ukraine’s manpower situation is even worse. Here are the basics: Russia has nearly four times the population of Ukraine. Ukraine needs upward of half a million new recruits, but hundreds of thousands of fighting-age men have already fled the country. The average Ukrainian soldier is roughly 43 years old.
  • The bad news is that accepting brute reality would have been most useful last spring, before the Ukrainians launched that extremely costly and unsuccessful military campaign. The good news is that even now, a defensive strategy can work.... By committing to a defensive strategy, Ukraine can preserve its precious military manpower, stop the bleeding and provide time for negotiations to commence.
  • The White House has said time and again that it can’t negotiate with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. This is absurd. The Biden administration has no viable plan for the Ukrainians to win this war. The sooner Americans confront this truth, the sooner we can fix this mess and broker for peace.

“Can Ukraine Find New Soldiers Without Decimating a Whole Generation?,” Lauren Leatherby, Andrew E. Kramer and Josh Holder, NYT, 04.11.24. 

  • The roughly one million men who serve in Ukraine's army are battered and exhausted. Many soldiers have been on combat duty for two years. Tens of thousands have been lost to death or serious injury. New recruits are desperately needed. But Ukraine is running up against a critical demographic constraint long in the making: It has very few young men.
  • Healthy men under age 30, the backbone of most militaries, are part of the smallest generation in Ukraine's modern history. The country must balance the need to counter a relentless Russian offensive by adding more troops against the risk of hollowing out an entire generation. President Volodymyr Zelensky took the politically painful step this month of lowering the draft age to 25 from 27 -- still remarkably old by the standards of most military drafts. In the United States, for instance, men can be drafted beginning at age 18.
  • The steep decline in birthrates in Ukraine in the 1990s is not unique. Similar drops were seen in many post-Soviet states, including Russia. ... But Ukraine's wartime demographic challenge is much worse than Russia's. Russia has nearly four times as many people overall, giving it a larger pool of men to draw from. And the fall in birthrates -- the average number of children born to each woman -- was steeper in Ukraine, leaving a smaller pool of young men relative to the rest of the population.
  • Mr. Zelensky's decision to draft men starting at age 25 risks further diminishing this small generation of Ukrainians. And many of the limited pool of 25- and 26-year-old men -- about 467,000, according to a 2022 government estimate -- are already serving in the military, living in occupied areas or outside Ukraine. Others have jobs or disabilities that exempt them from conscription.
  • It is unclear how quickly Ukraine will draft and train the additional troops it needs, or whether they will be ready before the broader Russian offensive that is expected in the spring or summer. ''The decision is taken -- it's a good one, but it's too late,'' said Serhiy Hrabsky, a colonel and a commentator on the war for the Ukrainian news media.

“In Ukraine’s West, Draft Dodgers Run, and Swim, to Avoid the War,” Andrew Kramer, NYT, 04.13.24. 

  • The Romanian authorities say more than 6,000 men have turned up on their side of the Tysa River since Russia’s invasion. That thousands of Ukrainian men have chosen to risk swimming across the Tysa River where it forms the border with Romania rather than face the dangers as soldiers on the eastern front highlights the challenge for President Volodymyr Zelensky as he seeks to mobilize new troops after more than two years of bruising, bloody trench warfare with Russia. Not everyone makes it. The bodies of 22 men have washed up on both banks 
  • Last year, the Mukachevo Border Guard Detachment broke up 56 criminal gangs helping Ukrainian men illegally leave the country during wartime. Prices for help crossing the border, she said, have risen to as much as $10,000 today from $2,000 per person soon after the invasion. Smuggling a backpack of cigarettes, in contrast, pays as little as $200.

“Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 14, 2024,” ISW, 04.14.24.

  • Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi reported that the senior Russian military command aims to seize Chasiv Yar, Donetsk Oblast by Russia’s Victory Day holiday on May 9.... The Russian military command likely assesses that continued Ukrainian critical munitions shortages will enable Russian forces to seize Chasiv Yar in several weeks, despite ISW’s assessment that Russian forces have currently only reached the easternmost part of the Kanal Microraion in easternmost Chasiv Yar.
  •  The Russian command has routinely set unrealistic goals for Russian advances, however, and a Russian milblogger expressed hope that Russian forces may be able to just enter the Novyi Microraion in southeastern Chasiv Yar by May 9. The Russian military will likely intend to capitalize on significant Ukrainian artillery and air defense shortages that are crucial to Ukrainian defense and that were not constraining Ukraine’s defense of Bakhmut or Avdiivka to the same degree as their current constraints, however. The Russian military command will likely continue efforts against Chasiv Yar until the effort culminates, but Russian forces may be able to make speedier advances than in prior efforts given the degree of Ukraine’s current artillery and air defense shortages.

“As Russia’s attacks step up, Ukraine fears waning Western support,” The Economist, 04.15.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • Head of Ukraine’s foreign-intelligence service Oleksandr Lytvynenko ... has a warning for those Western politicians (Donald Trump being the most notorious example) thinking about pushing a premature peace deal on Ukraine which would require it to give up territory. “Putin has lied, is lying, and will continue to lie.” Ceding territory to Russia in return for peace would be a “cruel betrayal” of the Ukrainians left under violent occupation, he says. Many more innocent people would be killed, more would be thrown into cellars.
  • But there is a more pragmatic reason to reject it, too. An agreement made with a compulsive liar probably means only one thing: him regrouping, rearming and trying for more in two or three years. Russia’s leader is “addicted” to the idea of conquering Ukraine, Mr. Lytvynenko says. “The next time he won’t make mistakes, but will prepare his operation much more carefully, according to all the laws of military art.”
  • The situation has become “very tough”, Mr. Lytvynenko says. “Russians don’t care about their losses and it makes the situation even more difficult.”  When asked how Ukraine might begin to get to a winning position again, the official is non-committal. It is not clear if Mr. Putin could ever stop attacking Ukraine, he says, but Ukraine has to adopt a military strategy that tries to force him to. 
    • Drone strikes deep inside Russia are a key part of that strategy....“One strike on an aerodrome may damage seven, ten, 15 planes. Each of them costs upwards of $30m each. We can do the operation for less than $2m. It’s fantastically cost-effective.”
  • Mr. Lytvynenko insists he is not being unrealistic in imagining Russian elites might one day turn on their leader. “There are still quite a few rational people in the leadership. They will think and act when they realize the cost of staying with Putin is greater than moving away from him.” But Ukraine’s first priority is obtaining real security guarantees. Ideally, that means NATO membership or a comprehensive security arrangement with America of the sort it has with the Philippines, Japan or South Korea. 

Military aid to Ukraine:

“America’s moment of truth on Ukraine. Republicans have a stark choice: help Zelenskyy or pay fealty to Trump,” Edward Luce, FT, 04.10.24. 

  • The Republican right treats Ukraine as an enemy and Russia as a friend. Defining that stance as isolationist is lazy and wrong. It is actively pro-Russian. 
    • “The Ukrainian government is attacking Christians,” says Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene. “The Ukrainian government is executing priests. Russia is not doing that. They are not attacking Christianity. As a matter of fact they seem to be protecting it.” 
    • Michael Whatley, Trump’s handpicked co-chair of the Republican National Committee, openly calls Ukraine an enemy. “Joe Biden’s feckless leadership has shown China, has shown Ukraine, has shown Iran, that they can feel free to be much more aggressive on the world front to the point where even they will try and meddle with our elections here,” he told Fox. 
      • The Republican right’s pro-Russia interventionism is two-way. As Catherine Belton, author of “Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West,” reported this week, Russian troll factories are giving Greene’s Republicans their talking points. 
  • All of [this] leaves Johnson, the accidental speaker, in a no-win situation. The difference between backing Ukraine or Russia is as critical to US democracy’s future as it is for European security. 
  • In the coming days, Johnson will submit what will surely be Congress’s final chance this year to bolster a faltering Ukraine. In addition to tougher border security measures that some Democrats will see as a poison pill, his package will divert interest from Russia’s sequestered assets and define part of the Ukraine aid as a loan. Neither gimmick is likely to sway Greene. Her aim is to stop any help from reaching Ukraine, not to help it in a fiscally responsible way. Johnson’s hope is to supply Ukraine without being branded a Maga traitor. In reality, he faces a simple choice; help Zelenskyy or please Trump. It is impossible to do both. 

“Glide bombs rain on Ukraine while the House dawdles,” Editorial Board, WP, 04.08.24.

  • From distant warplanes, Russia is tormenting Ukraine with glide bombs that are exploding into apartment buildings and electrical plants. Meanwhile, Ukraine's front-line troops are thinning and vulnerable. After Ukraine's surprise success turning away Russian soldiers early in the war, and even an attempt to mount a counteroffensive last year, the country's military outlook has turned bleak. Many factors have conspired against Ukraine. One of the big ones is that House Speaker Mike Johnson (La.) and his Republican majority have delayed aid to Ukraine for six months, for no good reason. With the House back in session and a fight over the federal budget complete, Ukraine needs to finally get the attention it deserves.
  • Ukraine's military situation isn't entirely hopeless. It has significantly expanded the use of drones to destroy oil refineries hundreds of miles within Russian territory, and it has maintained a Black Sea corridor for its vital grain exports. But it faces the prospect of attrition on the battlefield while civilians are under a constant barrage of terror from Russian bombs, missiles and drones. 
  • Though Russia can't break the remarkable spirit of Ukraine's people, this could be the year Russia breaks through Ukraine's thinning lines. 
  • Mr. Johnson is reportedly preparing an aid package, despite his months-long quest to avoid alienating Mr. Trump and his supporters. Ukraine is out of time. Reality must finally prevail among House Republicans - or all they will be left with is shame.

“Russia's reported use of chemical weapons in Ukraine is another 'red line',” Jeff Jacoby, BG, 04.10.24.

  • The Telegraph reported on April 6 that Russia is carrying out illegal chemical attacks on Ukrainian troops. On a near daily basis, it found, Moscow is deploying drones with gas grenades against Ukrainian soldiers in embedded positions. ... These attacks are flatly banned in warfare under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
  • Biden ... faces a choice: Will he live up to his pledge not to tolerate any use of chemical weapons — or will he follow Obama's disastrous playbook and let Putin get away with gassing Ukrainians?
    • The most significant step the allies could take is to formally invite Ukraine to join NATO. 
    • With Congress back in session, Biden ought to pull out the stops to finally get the House to enact the Senate-passed Ukraine military aid package. 
    • Biden also has authority to sharpen sanctions against Russia. 

“What We Lose if We Let Putin Win,” Dan Coats, NYT, 04.11.24.

  • The potential consequences of failing to help Ukraine resist Russia’s raw territorial aggression are not limited to Europe. China is watching closely to see how firmly America supports, or doesn't support, its friends these days. Our allies are watching, too, including Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. All three are nervous about China’s regional ambitions — and dependent on America as a security partner.
  • This is the context in which the Ukraine aid package that is before the House must be assessed. This isn’t about the money. It is about American steadfastness, something that is now in question because of another partisan contest. Ukraine and the tens of millions of people living there have become pawns for political maneuvering in Washington.
  • And while these maneuvers are not new to me or to the American public these days, usually the stakes are not so high. Our failure to help Ukraine resist, our complicity in allowing naked territorial aggression to succeed, our undermining of NATO security, our tacit encouragement for China to follow Russia’s lead and, most of all, our abandonment of people of courage and hope and who love America would, together, be a colossal strategic blunder.
  • This is not the time for political games. It is time for America to do what we all know is right.

“What Biden should be doing better to get Ukraine aid,” Carine Hajjar, BG, 04.13.24.

  • The reality is that of the 11 senators and 57 House members who voted against Ukraine aid in 2022, many of them are also beholden to skeptical constituencies. “Most of these GOP members are not actually anti-Ukraine. They're just afraid of their base. And their base is anti-Ukraine because Donald Trump is anti-Ukraine,” Auchincloss said.
  • A better approach for the president would be to explicitly spell out for the American people a clear return on their investment, beyond nebulous appeals to defend democracy. This will first take defining exactly what victory looks like. Auchincloss said many members of the GOP often ask what winning means exactly. “My answer to that is we need Ukraine to have unimpeded access to the Black Sea. We need Ukraine to have a stable eastern border. And we need Ukraine to imminently have accession to the European Union on the near horizon.”
  • Then the president can point out why defending Ukraine isn't just the right thing to do but vital to US interests. Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen makes this task easy, spelling out 10 points for an “America First” case on defending Ukraine. One point he makes is that support for Ukraine will bring back the Reagan Doctrine, replacing the Bush Doctrine, which “exhausted America's will to sacrifice the lives of U.S. troops” in the GOP's dreaded forever wars. Reagan saved the United States countless dollars and lives by finding “anti-communist partners willing to fight our common enemies.” But that took providing weapons, intelligence, and aid.
  • Then Biden needs to walk the walk. And as much as Biden implores Congress to “stand up to Putin,” his past actions haven't made it clear that he's willing to do what it takes to help end this war. There has been bipartisan frustration with the White House's tepid approach to munition transfers and the conditions it continues to place on Ukrainian offensives. As the administration continues to deny the Ukrainians long-range ATACMS missiles, the White House has, according to a Financial Times report, “urged Ukraine to halt attacks on Russia's energy infrastructure, warning that the drone strikes risk driving up global oil prices and provoking retaliation.” It's time to get serious about making sure Ukraine wins this war and making sure that Americans know why their fate is at stake, too.

“Democrats, Support Speaker Johnson,” Tom Suozzi, WSJ, 04.14.24.

  • I just returned from a weeklong congressional member delegation to Ukraine, Poland and Moldova. Ukraine faces a new Russian offensive with insufficient ammunition. 
  • On my return to Washington, I was greeted by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's newest threats to remove Speaker Mike Johnson if he brings to the floor a bill to aid Ukraine. Democrats and Republicans must join together to save Ukraine and stop the disinformation campaigns promulgated by Vladimir Putin and furthered by Mrs. Greene.
  • Republicans in the House must ... follow the lead of the Senate, which passed a $95.3 billion foreign-aid bill in a bipartisan 70-29 vote. Meanwhile, Democrats can't just wait for Republicans to work with us. That's why when Mrs. Greene introduced her proposal to remove Speaker Johnson, I announced that I will support him if he does his job.
  • Democrats must offer Speaker Johnson our votes to save democracy in Ukraine and here. We can't let our partisan instincts get in our way. We must work with Republicans to disarm Mr. Putin's puppet, get a vote to support Ukraine, and defeat Russian disinformation. Our democracy is at stake.

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

Everyone Wants to Seize Russia’s Money. It’s a Terrible Idea,” Christopher Caldwell, NYT, 04.09.24. 

  • The Republican House speaker, Mike Johnson, has brought a glimmer of hope to supporters of the Ukrainian war effort. He suggested to Fox News on March 31 that he would try to rally his divided party behind the so-called REPO Act. That piece of legislation would allow President Biden, working with European allies, to seize Russian currency reserves frozen in the West and use them to aid Ukraine.
  • It is a tempting idea. But it is a bad one. In any free country there is a constitutional wariness of allowing the government to do anything without levying taxes, for good reason. Taxes and accountability go together. Generally, if citizens aren’t paying for a government program through taxes, they are paying for it in some less straightforward way — by taking on debt, for instance, or permitting an outsize governmental role for some corporation or other private interest.
    • The REPO Act carries additional risks. The very act of seizing Russian assets would pose dangers to the U.S. economy, because other countries, not just Russia, would view it as an act of brigandage. This could weaken the dollar’s status as the main global reserve currency.
  • The larger worry is not moral but practical. If the REPO Act is enacted, then currency seizures, now seen as a tool of last resort, might turn into standard operating procedure, to America’s detriment. Any foreign government liable to having an American voting bloc riled up against it — China, for starters — would think twice before parking its assets in the United States or with one of its NATO allies.
  • For decades now, the United States has been deferring hard decisions at home and abroad and papering over partisan divisions with the tens of trillions of dollars that our advantageous international position has allowed us to borrow. Our options, though, are narrowing. If Mr. Johnson thinks the United States is “projecting weakness” now, wait till he sees it without its reserve currency.

“Russia’s Rosatom Fuels Putin’s War Machine,” Lloyd Doggett, FP, 04.09.24. 

  • One still unsanctioned but critical target should be the network of companies associated with Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear corporation, which continues to expand its reach despite the ongoing war. U.S. operators of nuclear power plants purchase approximately $1 billion in nuclear fuel from Rosatom annually—or about 20 percent of U.S. demand for enriched uranium. That number would likely be even higher, were it not for a cap on U.S. uranium imports from Russia imposed in 2020. 
  • Moscow clearly believes that Rosatom will continue to get a free pass and is now using the company as a Trojan horse to circumvent Western sanctions. According to Rosatom Director-General Alexey Likhachev, the company’s military contracting has grown significantly. In January 2023, the Washington Post published information obtained by Ukrainian intelligence detailing Rosatom’s involvement in supplying the military industry with components, equipment, and raw materials, including aluminum oxide for rocket fuel, chemical compounds for aviation and rocketry, lithium-ion batteries for tanks and air defense systems, and 3D-printing technologies. Evidence strongly suggests that Rosatom is a full-fledged and growing partner of the Russian military machine.
  • Rosatom is also expanding its reach into other sectors, which allows the Kremlin to tighten state control over companies that can help circumvent restrictions. 
  • The Ukrainian think tank DiXi Group has compiled open-source data on Rosatom’s new assets, including companies such as Security Code, one of Russia’s largest developers of hardware and software for certified information protection; Tomsk MPE Ilmenite, a major producer of titanium and zirconium; and Kirov-Energomash, a large Russian manufacturer of industrial equipment. As Rosatom and its subsidiaries continue to diversify into sectors beyond the nuclear industry, the company has become an unsanctioned funnel for high-tech products, not to mention for additional revenues, to strengthen Putin’s war machine.
  • While the Biden administration has imposed some sanctions on the Russian nuclear industry, the list of sanctioned entities includes only about 20 of the nearly 460 companies that make up the Rosatom conglomerate. Restraining Russia’s capabilities requires much more comprehensive action, such as automatic sanctions against all Rosatom assets acquired after Feb. 24, 2022; sanctions against Rosatom-linked research organizations in order to restrict Russia’s access to modern technologies; and working with the EU and G-7 to ensure that sanctions have the highest possible impact. Without further intervention, Rosatom’s dominance in the global market for nuclear power plants—where the company already supplies more than 70 percent of worldwide exports—will continue to provide Russia with an edge in funding its war and advancing its interests.
  • Sanctions are effective only if the United States, along with the G-7+ coalition, demonstrates unity, strength, and resilience. Closer trans-Atlantic cooperation can create opportunities to reduce dependence on Russia and increase pressure on Moscow. If Russia’s nuclear industry remains sanctions-free, it will not only undermine clear U.S. foreign-policy goals but also risk failure in U.S. efforts to support Ukraine’s essential fight for freedom.

“Western Sanctions on Russia Should Be More Pragmatic and Less Punitive,” Alexander

Kolyandr, Carnegie Politika, 04.09.24.

  • Most sanctions [on Russia] have not been changed since they were imposed at the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and are poorly suited to the task of Russia’s long-term containment.
  • One…way of assessing the effectiveness of Western sanctions is to use the economist Adam Smith’s three factors of production: land, labor and capital.
    • Land…provides Russia with revenue in the form of natural resource exports—above all, oil. The West has failed to deprive Russia of its oil export revenues, and the nature of Russia’s tax system means that fluctuating sales costs have little impact on what the government receives. 
  • When it comes to capital, the situation is more complicated. A de facto ban on borrowing in the West has effectively stopped Russia from being able to borrow on global markets. 
    • Russia can compensate for a fall in revenues from natural resource exports using its gold and currency reserves, as well as the effect of shrinking imports. But reserves are not infinite, and there is a limit to how far imports can contract.
    • Lifting Western sanctions on exports of consumer goods to Russia could accelerate Russia’s capital outflow without enhancing its ability to wage war. But these sanctions remain in place. The Kremlin’s struggle to reduce capital outflow has even been aided by Western restrictions on the withdrawal of personal funds from Russia.
  • The third factor is labor, which can be split into two parts: workforce productivity and human capital. 
    • Banning not only dual-use technologies, but technologies and goods that boost workforce productivity—would make stricter control easier, as well as increase Russia’s capital outflows and lower productivity. The West should open its doors to Russian programmers, scientists, engineers and other professionals.
  • In Russia, many entrepreneurs are under Western sanctions for their success in building businesses that today de facto support the Russian war effort in one way or another.
    • The West has not established a mechanism by which they can change sides in exchange for sanctions relief.

“Russia killed Ukrainian athletes. The Olympics should ban it entirely,” Lee Hockstader, NYT, 04.11.24.

  • Ukrainian athletes who have died during Russia's invasion have been killed like so many of their countrymen. At home. At work. On the front lines. Some weren't even fully formed athletes at all. Alina Peregudova, skinny, just 14 years old, was already an Olympic weightlifting prospect when she died in 2022 along with her mother in Russia's bombardment of Mariupol. 
  • Spare a moment during this summer's Paris Olympics to think of them, along with the hundreds of other dead Ukrainian athletes and tens of thousands more lost to Russian President Vladimir Putin's blood-soaked aggression. Then ask yourself why Russian athletes should be allowed to compete. Better yet, pose the question to the International Olympic Committee, which decided to leave the decision to governing bodies of each of the 32 sports at the Paris Games.
  • As collective punishment, a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes is no less moral than international economic sanctions. Nor would it be more effective at hastening the war's end. But as an assertion of the world's revulsion and Russia's disrepute, a ban sticks the landing.

For a recent study of the impact of the Ukraine war on the economies and stock markets of nations, see: "Are high-income and innovative nations resilient to the Russia-Ukraine war?", Vineeta Kumari, Majdi Hassan and Dharen Kumar Pandey, International Review of Economics & Finance, June 2024. 

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Ukraine War Ceasefire May Require Accepting a Partition,” John Mueller, Quincy Institute, 04.09.24.

  • A number of analysts have suggested that the apparent military stalemate be accepted in a ceasefire agreement in which Ukraine would be partitioned along the current battle lines.
    • One possibility would be to include in such an agreement a formal legal acceptance of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and of the areas it now controls in southeast Ukraine.
    • Another…would be to leave the issue of formal acceptance open to further negotiation after armed hostilities have ended.
    • A third alternative would be to formally accept Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea while leaving the territorial acquisitions in its 2022 invasion up for later negotiation.
  • Ukraine would gain two advantages from these ceasefire possibilities.
    • Ukraine is, economically speaking, better off without the areas captured by the Russians. Much of…the captured territory…is something of a rubble heap which the Russians would have to pay to reconstruct.
    • Second, a lasting ceasefire would give the bulk of Ukraine a chance…to work on its problems of corruption and economic stagnation that currently hamper its efforts to join the West.
  • Ukraine could drop the (mindless) laws that have sought to demote the Russian language. The underproductive sanctions on Russia could also be reduced or dropped.
  • Any agreement on partition would constitute a substantial gamble that [President Vladimir] Putin does not entertain such ambitions.
    • Given the military problems that followed his invasion of Ukraine, it seems unlikely that he will mount similar ventures elsewhere where defenders would be better prepared.

“Turkey reportedly proposes new draft peace treaty to Zelenskyy and Putin,” Novaya Gazeta Europe, 04.11.24. 

  • Novaya Gazeta Europe has learned of a proposed peace deal aimed at ending the war in Ukraine that has the backing of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and whose main points are an agreement to freeze the conflict and to refrain from using nuclear weapons.
  • According to a source familiar with the proposal, Russia and Ukraine are both currently considering the draft text, which is based on initial negotiations carried out shortly after the war began in 2022. The peace plan would likely gain the support of a number of European politicians and will also be proposed to countries in the Global South, the source said.  The draft treaty reportedly proposes the following:
  • a commitment by both the US and Russia not to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances, and to resume the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (Start III), including a clause that would prohibit unilateral withdrawal from the treaty.
  • non-interference in the internal affairs of another country in any way that could destabilize its government.
  • freezing the war along the current front line.
  • a commitment to hold referendums in 2040: a national Ukrainian referendum on the country’s foreign policy, and referendums to be held under international supervision in all Ukrainian territories annexed by Russia at the time the conflict was frozen.
  • a guarantee that Ukraine remains non-aligned until 2040.
  • an exchange of all prisoners of war.
  • Russia not objecting to Ukraine joining the European Union.
  • This is at least the ninth draft of its kind, and it’s unlikely that this latest proposal will be adopted.
  • The Ukrainian peace plan of 2022 had 10 points, few of which overlap with the Turkish plan, and that included an obligation for Russian troops to withdraw from Ukraine and steps to formalize the end of the war.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy set two main conditions for peace in 2023: the return of Ukraine’s territory to its 1991 borders and the withdrawal of Russian troops, including the Black Sea Fleet, from Ukrainian territory. 

“In Search of a Bad Peace,” Yulia Latynina, Novaya Gazeta Europe, 04.12.24. Clues from Russian Views.^

  • As of today, the most likely scenario for freezing the Russian-Ukrainian war is that along the line of military contact, just like during the Korean War. This is exactly the option proposed by the draft [peace] agreement, which the editors of Novaya Gazeta Europe have become aware of ... The draft agreement also repeats Putin’s basic demand that Ukraine not join NATO.
  • In April 2022, the government of President Zelenskyy abandoned the first Istanbul negotiations, the terms of which included Putin’s retreat to the actual borders prior to Feb. 24, 2022, non-aligned status for Ukraine and the reduction of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to 80–120,000 people. With regard to territorial control, these are much more benign conditions than those contained in the current draft. The reason Putin was then probably willing to accept these very humiliating terms was that he missed the mark, got defeated in the first round of the war ... wanted to cut his losses.
  • The reason why President Zelenskyy abandoned the agreements at the time was exceedingly high hopes for help from partners, underestimation of the capabilities of the Russian army, as well as political consequences that President Zelenskyy would face personally. Any Ukrainian president who would have signed the Istanbul Agreements would have been torn to pieces by the patriotic crowd.
  • Two years have passed since then, and the death toll on both sides has reached hundreds of thousands. The situation, however, has changed not in favor of Ukraine. Promises of assistance to Ukraine, which were made by the United States and Europe two years ago, turned into a clearly insufficient supply of weapons. At the same time, it is not clear whether, in principle, there could be a “sufficient amount of weapons” that would push the Russian army back to the borders of 1991, and whether there are conditions under which the West would be interested in supplying weapons in such volumes.
  • The Russian economy and army have been transformed for the sake of war. Russia repelled Ukraine's summer offensive, and the strategic initiative passed to Putin's army. This does not mean that the situation is predetermined. The only thing that can contribute to Putin’s rapid offensive is the demoralization of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the collapse of the front.

“The Istanbul Agreements: Is Kremlin softening its position?”, Weekly Digest, April 8-14, 2024, R.Politik, 04.14.24. 

  • The Kremlin views the Istanbul Agreement as an ideal starting point for negotiations with Ukraine. ... The agreement outlined Ukraine's neutral status, prohibiting NATO membership and the establishment of military bases. It also called for significant demilitarization, including a drastic reduction of the Ukrainian army, and implies that Ukraine would receive security guarantees. These guarantees, however, would not extend to Donbas region or Crimea. The draft omitted several critical for Putin’s political demands, such as  denazification , the rights of Russians, and the status of the Russian language, with Moscow planning to revisit these issues later. The future of the eastern Ukrainian territories that Russia unofficially invaded and occupied in 2014 was also not addressed in the draft, leaving their resolution to face-to-face talks between Putin and Zelensky. A notable concession from Moscow was its readiness to include Crimea in the negotiations, albeit with the stipulation that these discussions be deferred for 15 years. Compared to the current situation, returning to the Istanbul agreement would represent a significant softening of Russia's stance. 
  • .As such, Russia is attempting to communicate to the Western public that it is ready to engage in peace talks - but strictly on its own terms, using the Istanbul Agreement as evidence of its willingness.
    • The Istanbul Agreement has always been viewed in Moscow as a starting point, an instrument with which to initiate the painful, prolonged process of Kyiv's full capitulation in a practical sense. ...For Moscow, the crucial issue is not the principle of the formal territorial status but that Ukraine acknowledges Russian control as legitimate.
    • Other demands, such as Ukraine's neutral status, demilitarization and denazification, will still be enforced and non-negotiable. As we previously wrote,  denazification for Russia means the installation of a regime friendly to Moscow, while  demilitarization- the removal of heavy weaponry and other military restrictions - would effectively make the remaining rump state a Russian dependency. As such, these negotiations, in the past and potentially in the future, target nothing less than the full capitulation of the Ukrainian state. 
  • Moscow currently has no genuine interest in initiating serious negotiations with Ukraine’s current leadership. Instead, Russian efforts are directed towards undermining alternative peace efforts and investing in strategies that may eventually provoke a political crisis in Ukraine. The ultimate goal is to compel Kyiv to engage in serious, conclusive negotiations with Russia to formalize the dismantlement of the Ukrainian state in its current form, with very little room for bargaining.   

For more analysis on possible negotiations, see:

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

“Trump Has a Plan for Ukraine: It's Biden's,” Holman W. Jenkins Jr., WSJ, 04.13.24.

  • Like a slim majority of Americans and strong majority of pundits, I disagree with the House GOP rump seeking to stop aid to Ukraine. But America has a two-party, adversarial political system. It isn't a polity of enforced unanimity. Nothing is ever unopposed (48 House Democrats voted against the creation of Medicare).
  • The great navigational shoal in this war isn't Russia's interest, it's Ukraine's. The Zelenskyy government has been unwilling to explain to its public that even if Russian forces could somehow be expelled it would be a temporary outcome.
    • Ukraine is a weak polity -- it won't level with its people about the real price of victory, a long cold war until Russia changes, yet neither will it draft its young into the fight.
    • Mr. Putin's is a weak polity -- squandering its troops rather than husbanding them for a decisive offensive, refusing to impinge on its urban elite with conscription. The Kremlin's budgeting indicates its effort must peak this year.
    • The collective West is proving weak too. Gifted with an undeserved strategic opportunity, armed with 20 times Russia's GDP, NATO could stop the war tomorrow by writing a sizable but affordable check to deny Mr. Putin hope of further advances.
    • In this situation, Mr. Trump, it's a slight oversimplification to say, is high-risk and high-reward and Mr. Biden is low-risk and low-reward. In fact, it's hard to see much good happening either way. With Mr. Trump, there's a slight chance of some out-of-left-field deal, but your main expectation should be very similar whoever's elected: half-baked drift unless and until the Russians mount a competent threat to capture Kyiv, then a panicked, unpredictable response.

“Europe should talk less and prepare more against Russian threat, says Finnish president: Alexander Stubb urges allies to refrain from ‘belligerent’ rhetoric about Russia attacking soon,” Richard Milne and Henry Foy, FT, 04.10.24. 

  • “I’m a little bit worried about this rather belligerent talk about Russia going to test Article 5 [NATO’s collective defense clause], and that Europe is next in line. I think we should prepare for that, but I think it’s highly unlikely,” Stubb, who took office last month, said in his first international newspaper interview. “What I call on all European states to do is to become more Finnish. In other words, more prepared. You have to prepare for the worst in order to avoid it,” he added.
  • Stubb said Europe had “a window of opportunity for a few years” to change its thinking from the “la-la land” of the post-cold war era when too many countries considered war unlikely. “For the alliance and the [European] Union, it’s not only about the frontline states being prepared, it’s about everyone being prepared,” he added. “The good news is that we are prepared, come hell or high water.”
  • Among the measures other European countries should consider, Stubb mentioned conscription, which is mandatory in Finland. The president conceded that his call was a “bit un-Finnish” as the country is known for its modesty and soft-spoken approach. But he added that Finland had fought more than 30 wars and skirmishes with Russia since the 1300s.
  •  He added that Finland’s base-case scenario was that by 2030 Russia will still have an authoritarian leader and that it “will have replenished its army to roughly the same level as before the war began”.
  • Stubb urged NATO countries to “support Ukraine for as long as it takes and at this stage with almost whatever it takes” to repel Russia’s springtime offensive. He added: “The Russians understand that their window of opportunity will start ending towards the end of August, start of September. That is why it’s urgent for us to help Ukraine right now.”

“What happens if Ukraine loses? Russian victory would be debilitating for the West, and especially for Europe,” The Economist, 04.11.24.

  • To ask “what if Ukraine loses?” was once a tactic favored by those looking to berate its Western allies into sending more money and weapons. Increasingly the question feels less like a thought experiment and more like the first stage of contingency planning. 
  • A defeat of Ukraine would be a humbling episode for the West, a modern Suez moment. 
  • George Robertson, a former boss of NATO, has warned that “If Ukraine loses, our enemies will decide the world order.” Unfortunately for the Taiwanese, among others, he is probably right.
  • Nowhere would feel the brunt of this humiliation more than the EU, the pinnacle of liberal international norm-setting. 
  • The geopolitical fallout of a Ukrainian defeat would depend on the shape of any peace settlement. This in turn would hinge on military dynamics or the mindset of Mr. Trump, should he be elected again. 
    • If Ukraine’s ammunition-constrained army crumbles and somehow Russia controls not just its eastern territories but the whole country, perhaps under a Belarus-style puppet regime, its aggressor will in effect share over a thousand more kilometers of borders with the EU. 
    • Should defeat be more limited—including annexation of territory, but a still-functioning “rump” Ukraine—nerves would still be set jangling. How long would it be before Mr. Putin finished the job? ... Beyond the feeling of culpability and shame, a sense of fear would pervade Europe. Might there be a further attack
  • Even if Ukraine wins, Europe will have to change. The “peace project” at its core will have to adjust to a world in which war is, if not likely, then at least possible. ... But if Russia emerges even semi-victorious, change will be imposed upon Europe in far more unpleasant and unpredictable ways. Seeking an arrangement with Mr Putin that would reward his belligerence with control over bits of Ukraine if he promised not to wage more war will provide illusory security, if that. Europe’s answer to the question “what if Ukraine loses?” remains simple: “It must not.” 

“How America Is Picking Up the Pieces of a Broken Global Order,” review of David Sanger’s and Mary Brooks’ book “New Cold Wars,[3]” Justin Vogt, NYT, 04.13.24. 

  • In recent years, the human toll of disease and war has been heartbreaking. But geopolitical upheaval and the return of great-power competition have also brought a fascinating revival of first-order questions: How does deterrence work? Does economic interdependence make countries less likely to fight? Does rising prosperity force authoritarian regimes to reform? David E. Sanger’s “New Cold Wars,” written with his longtime researcher Mary K. Brooks, tells the story of how those abstract debates have to real-world consequences
  • Take the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. “Trench warfare!” Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said to Sanger about six months into the war. “For a while we thought this would be a cyber war. Then we thought it was looking like an old-fashioned, World War II tank war. And then, there are days when I thought they are fighting [expletive] World War I.” As Sanger writes: “Milley had put his finger on one of the most unsettling features of the new geopolitical era: It is part 1914, part 1941 and part 2022. All at once.”
  • Despite the book’s title, then, what Sanger depicts is less reminiscent of the Cold War than of earlier phases of geopolitical competition, in which interests mattered far more than ideology and the players were interdependent rather than split into blocs.
  • Sanger begins his tale with the crumbling of the so-called Washington Consensus that took hold in the 1990s: the belief that economic globalization and the spread of free markets would foster stability and secure American dominance of a “rules-based” international order. Back then, Bill Clinton argued that China’s entry into the World Trade Organization and the rise of the World Wide Web would spur the country’s democratization. George W. Bush thought that sharing an enemy in the war on terrorism might lure Vladimir Putin closer to the West, even as NATO expanded to Russia’s borders. But “just about every assumption across different administrations was wrong,” an unnamed adviser to President Biden admits. “I was as guilty as anyone else.”
  • One theme that emerges in “New Cold Wars” is the surprising continuity between the Trump and Biden administrations when it comes to China. 
  • Sanger also deftly illustrates the challenges of deterrence. In the fall of 2022, at the peak of American alarm about Putin’s nuclear brinkmanship in Ukraine, Lloyd Austin, the U.S. secretary of defense, warned his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, that if the Russians used a tactical nuclear weapon, the United States would directly intervene and destroy, as one official recalls to Sanger, “what is left of your military in Ukraine.” Shoigu bristled, but the warning seemed to work. There has, of course, been no nuclear strike and, as a Biden aide points out to Sanger, no Russian attacks on any of the bases in Poland that the United States uses to deliver weapons to Ukraine. On the other hand, “it was impossible to know whether Putin believed the threat,” Sanger writes. And perhaps with good reason: Some Biden aides admit to Sanger that they were unsure if the U.S. president would truly make good on it.
  • “New Cold Wars” vividly captures the view from Washington. But, as Sanger makes clear, with America no longer an unchallenged hegemon, the fate of the U.S.-led order rests more than ever on the ideas, beliefs and emotions of people far outside the Beltway. One finishes this book wishing for equally comprehensive portraits of the view from elsewhere, especially Moscow and Beijing.

“Japan Knows the Ukraine Stakes,” Editorial Board, WSJ, 04.08.24. 

  • Critics of Ukraine aid sometimes say the war in Europe is a distraction from more serious threats in Asia. Perhaps Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida can disabuse them of this notion when he visits Washington.
  • Shingo Yamagami, former intelligence chief of Japan's foreign ministry, says "there is a complete analogy" between "what Russia did vis-a-vis Ukraine and what China might do vis-a-vis Taiwan." Japan also worries about deepening ties between Russia and China. North Korea has provided missiles and ammunition to Russia, and Tokyo fears Pyongyang may get missile and nuclear technology in return.
  • Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine's strategic industries minister, recently visited Japan, and he says the Japanese understand how Russian aggression threatens global economic stability. 
  • In December Japan announced it would provide Patriot missiles to the U.S. The transfer can free up American Patriot stocks to send to Ukraine, and Japan has signaled willingness to consider doing the same with other weapons. This is a welcome shift in Japanese foreign policy that reflects the seriousness of the current geopolitical moment. Japan recognizes that the threat to the well-being of free nations is global, which is more than we can say for some Republicans in Congress.

“A Nasty Little War — when the west tried to overturn the Russian revolution,” Tony Barber, FT, 04.11.24.

  • Despite supporting Ukraine with arms, military expertise and money, western governments are not at war with Russia.
    • Just over 100 years ago, however, British, French, Japanese, US and other forces were spread across Russia from the far north and the Black Sea to the Pacific coast.
  • It was a misguided, badly executed effort to overturn the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. 
  • Western countries had every reason to dislike the Bolsheviks. They shut down Russia’s elected Constituent Assembly, murdered Tsar Nicholas II and his family, set up the Cheka secret police and created the Comintern, a body dedicated to world revolution. 
    • But the White anti-revolution forces that the Allies supported in the Russian civil war were led by nationalist arch-reactionaries with no more enthusiasm than the Bolsheviks for democracy and human rights.
  • [Anna] Reid’s book [A Nasty Little War] is filled with distressing accounts of barbarities, such as those committed in north-western Russia by Finnic-speaking Karelian fighters who dealt with Reds by “skinning scouts’ corpses, then stuffing the skins with leaves and hanging them from trees as warnings.”

For more analysis on this issue, see: 

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Putin and Xi’s Unholy Alliance. Why the West Won’t Be Able to Drive a Wedge Between Russia and China,” Alexander Gabuev, FA, 04.09.24.

  • Despite Beijing’s initially cautious approach, most available data points to a much more robust relationship between China and Russia developing in the two years since the invasion. In 2022, bilateral trade grew by 36 percent to $190 billion. In 2023, it grew to $240 billion, surpassing the $200 billion mark in November, a goal that Xi and Putin initially intended to reach in 2025 ... sales of Chinese industrial equipment jumped by 54 percent in 2023 compared with the previous year. ... Hidden in these figures are Chinese-made items that directly boost the Russian military machine, including growing exports of chips, optics, drones, and sophisticated manufacturing tools.
  • China and Russia have grown notably closer in the critical area of security and military cooperation. 
  • That closeness is reflected in diplomacy as well. 
  • Connections to China are becoming increasingly important for Russian elites in crafting futures for themselves and their offspring. 
  • The overall warming of attitudes to China is reflected in opinion polls. At the end of 2023, 85 percent of Russians viewed China positively, whereas only six percent had a negative opinion of the country. 
  • Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, war has become the organizing principle of Russian domestic, economic, and foreign policy. The Kremlin now assesses every relationship with a foreign power through a lens of three essential considerations: whether this relationship can help Russia directly on the battlefield in Ukraine, whether it can help sustain the Russian economy and circumvent sanctions, and whether it can help Moscow push back against the West and punish the United States and its allies for supporting Kyiv. Russia’s relationship with China emphatically checks all three boxes. 
  • Russia is now locking itself into vassalage to China. A couple of years down the road, Beijing will be more able to dictate the terms of economic, technological, and regional cooperation with Moscow. The Kremlin is not blind to that prospect, but it does not have much choice as long as Putin needs Chinese support to fight his war in Ukraine, which has become an obsession.
  • For its part, China has also come to see Russia as part of a fundamental geopolitical realignment. ... Following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Beijing made sure to ascertain the United States’ redlines and largely tried to adhere to them. But as Xi discovered in October 2022 after Biden authorized far-reaching U.S. export controls targeting China, such a cautious approach will not stop Washington from trying to constrain Beijing. ... No other power can bring as much to China’s table as Russia, particularly right now. 
  • Moscow and Beijing may never sign a formal alliance, but the evolution of their relationship in the years ahead will increasingly affect the world and challenge the West. To come to terms with this development, Western policymakers should abandon the idea that they can drive a wedge between Beijing and Moscow. Under Trump, the National Security Council entertained the idea of a “reverse Kissinger” approach of engaging Russia, the weaker partner, but to no avail. Whereas former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger courted communist China during the Cold War by offering Beijing a normalization of ties with the United States, U.S. officials cannot extend a deal of that sort to either Moscow or Beijing at this point. 
  • If the China-Russia tandem is here to stay, Western leaders must build a long-term strategy that will help maintain peace by accounting for all the ramifications of having to compete with China and Russia simultaneously. ... When considering how to protect European and Asian security, rein in climate change, govern new disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, and address the challenges facing global financial architecture, Western policymakers must now reckon with the reality of an increasingly resolute Sino-Russian axis.

“Eurasian security structure: from idea to practice Ivan Timofeev,” Valdai Club/RIAC, 04.15.24. Clues from Russian Views.^ (These organizations are affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • The Euro-Atlantic region has not experienced a crisis like today's since the end of the Cold War. This means that the Euro-Atlantic security system based on equal and indivisible security no longer exists. At best, we can expect a reduction in the severity of the crisis due to a new balance of power and mutual deterrence while maintaining dividing lines. At worst, a direct military clash between Russia and NATO with the prospect of nuclear escalation. The experience of the collapse of the Euro-Atlantic project determines the need to create a new structure on different principles and foundations.
    • First of all, such a structure should be based on the interaction of several players and not be reduced to the dominance of one of them, like the role of the United States in NATO. ... The principle of sharing responsibility and refusing domination may become one of the key ones for the new structure.
    • As another principle, the idea of multidimensional security arises. The principle of indivisibility of security, not implemented in the Euro-Atlantic project, can and should become key for the Eurasian structure. Here is the real, not nominal, implementation of the provisions of the U.N. Charter, including the principle of sovereign equality.
  • On Feb. 29, 2024, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his address to the Federal Assembly, noted the need to form a new contour of equal and indivisible security in Eurasia ... Conceptualization of the idea of Eurasian security inevitably raises the question of other projects in this area. Sergei Lavrov, during his visit to Beijing, directly linked the need for a new structure with the problems of Euro-Atlantic security built around NATO and the OSCE. References to the Euro-Atlantic experience are important for two reasons.
    • Firstly, the Euro-Atlantic project is distinguished by a high level of institutional integration.
    • Secondly, the Euro-Atlantic project after the end of the Cold War was unable to solve the problem of common and indivisible security for all countries in the region.
  • The start of consultations between Moscow and Beijing on issues of a new security structure, of course, does not yet indicate the creation of a military-political alliance similar to NATO. Most likely, we will see a long process of maturation of the contours and parameters of the new structure. Initially, it may well exist in the form of a forum or consultation mechanism of interested countries
    • An important issue will be the functional orientation of the new structure. NATO at one time emerged as an instrument to contain the USSR, and today it has received a new life, solving the problems of containing Russia. It is possible that the new security structure in Eurasia may also be tailored to the task of deterrence.

“Russia and China Reaffirm Their Space Partnership,” Juliana Suess and Jack Crawford, RUSI, 04.12.24. 

  • On March 5, 2024 – just days after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine entered its third year – the head of Russia's State Space Cooperation Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov, announced plans for Russia and China to build an automated nuclear power plant on the moon between 2033 and 2035.
  • While this is not the first joint Sino-Russian venture into the final frontier – indeed, the plant’s stated purpose is to power the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) that Russia and China introduced in 2021 – its announcement further indicates that Moscow and Beijing intend to more brazenly cooperate in space.
  • Although China’s implicit consent to the announcement of a joint lunar nuclear plant with Russia is not a radical policy pivot – the Chinese government has yet to make a direct announcement about the initiative, and tensions between Russia and China on myriad other issues still remain – it indicates an increasingly likely future where interstellar cooperation is mired in polarized geopolitics. This is an especially pivotal moment, given the worries that emerged over Russian plans of a nuclear weapon in space. China, which has developed its space capabilities rapidly over the past few decades, could be set to lose a lot should such a weapon be deployed. In this case, China may be calculating to keep a disruptive Russia close.
  • At its core, this apparent renewal of earlier Sino-Soviet space cooperation reveals Russia’s intention to more closely align with China in space travel and exploration, and China’s willingness to embrace its role as an emerging center of space pioneering. 

“China and the US have to get off their collision course,” Stephen Kinzer, BG, 04.09.24.

  • The most important relationship in the world is becoming a dangerous competition. Gaza and Ukraine are burning. The crisis that most seriously threatens the world, though, is the escalating confrontation between the United States and China. Both sides say they want peaceful competition. Sometimes they even talk of cooperation. Their actions, however, contradict their words. Both countries are upgrading their nuclear arsenals. Chinese missiles, bombers, submarines, and hypersonic vehicles — which fly at several times the speed of sound — already pose a credible threat to US bases in Guam and Japan. China has upgraded its nuclear testing site and is deploying dummy missile silos to confuse an attacker in case of war.
  • It is in both countries' interest to shape a stable long-term relationship, with safeguards to assure that it never degenerates into war. American politics is a main obstacle. In Washington, defending Taiwan is often lumped with defending Ukraine, do-or-die battles in a global war between freedom and tyranny.
  • Maximalist rhetoric, hypernationalist chest-beating, and tit-for-tat escalation fuel this looming conflict. Both sides are in an aggressive mood. Today the world is distracted by the horrors in Gaza and Ukraine. Wars there will end. Without course corrections in Washington and Beijing, the danger of a US-China crackup will remain.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“We need to start worrying about the bomb,” Editorial Board, BG, 04.09.24.

  • Late last month, the venerable Gallup company released a survey listing the most pressing concerns in the United States. ... Nowhere listed was the threat of nuclear war. Similarly, a Pew survey of the nation's top policy priorities released in February[:] ... Again, nuclear proliferation and nuclear war did not make it into the top 20.
  • How is it that the most clear and present danger to humankind — a danger even more immediate than climate change and more devastating by magnitudes than mass migration, inflation, crime, or terrorism — is so completely out of sight and mind for the vast majority of Americans?
  • The problem is too big and too complex for simple solutions. But the next president could start by urging Russia to return to the negotiating table and extend the last of the world's nuclear treaties, the New START Treaty. ... The [New York] Times recommended considering several additional measures, including: renouncing the use of nuclear weapons based solely on reports of an adversary's nuclear attack on the United States; reconsidering the president's unilateral authority to use nuclear force; stringently limiting the use of artificial intelligence in nuclear launch processes; and improving communications with Russia and China, lest misinformation or disinformation send the world spiraling toward an apocalyptic crisis. These all seem worth robust debate.
  • The United States could also lower, or at least avoid raising, the temperature on global tensions by not doing “anything stupid,” argues Hans Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. 
  • The American public should arguably play the most important role, by demanding attention to the threat of nuclear war with the same vigor it demands, rightfully, action on climate change. 

"Interview with Director of the Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs V.I. Ermakov to the TASS news agency," Russian Foreign Ministry, 04.12.24. Clues from Russian Views.^

  • We have received no fundamentally new ideas regarding dialogue on strategic stability and arms control from the United States. ... The only additional point was the information transmitted to the media by the Americans themselves about Washington’s attempts to draw us into a conversation on a separate topic about the non-deployment of nuclear weapons in space.
    • Russia views the use of commercial satellites and associated ground infrastructure, purported as civilian systems, to support military operations and interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states as an increasing threat.
  • As for the fate of the [New START] Treaty and an agreement to replace it, it is as pointless to talk about this at this stage as it is pointless to talk about the prospects for resolving any other problems that have accumulated in the field of strategic stability by political and diplomatic methods. ... Washington should not have any illusions about [concluding] any new arms control agreements. We do not see this as a tragedy and are ready for any scenario.
  • [When asked whether “China's initiative to conclude a no-first-use of nuclear weapons treaty by nuclear-armed countries was discussed in contacts with the United States through diplomatic channels”:] We do not need to discuss with the United States the initiative you mentioned, or any other Chinese initiative. ... We respect any Chinese security initiatives and study them carefully. In this case, we are talking about an idea that must be considered in the general context of military-political realities and in connection with other significant factors affecting international security and strategic stability.
  • We view as a priority those measures that are aimed at reducing the confrontational potential between nuclear powers by eliminating fundamental contradictions in the field of security. In the absence of prerequisites for joint efforts of this kind, we will act unilaterally at this stage - in particular, by implementing the tasks set by Russian President V.V. Putin to de-Nazify and demilitarize Ukraine, as well as to prevent its absorption by a hostile NATO bloc.

“The U.S. Has Received a Rare Invitation From China. There Is Only One Right Answer,” W.J. Hennigan, NYT, 04.15.24. 

  • In February, in a rare offer for nuclear diplomacy, China openly invited the United States and other nuclear powers to negotiate a treaty in which all sides would pledge never to use nuclear weapons first against one another. “The policy is highly stable, consistent and predictable,” said Sun Xiaobo, director general of the Chinese foreign ministry’s Department of Arms Control, in Geneva on Feb. 26. “It is, in itself, an important contribution to the international disarmament process.”
  • It may seem like a no-brainer to take China up on the offer — wouldn’t it be better if everyone agreed not to be the first to use their nuclear weapons? — but it has been met with public silence from Washington. 
  • It may be that an unequivocal no-first-use pledge ends up being impossible. The talks may not result in a deal anyone can agree upon, and even if a deal were to be reached, it would be impossible to verify, meaning it would be more symbolic than substantive. But that doesn’t mean Washington shouldn’t take up Beijing’s invitation. In the increasingly endangered world of nuclear diplomacy, discussions on one treaty can still set the table for another. New START, the only remaining major arms control agreement between the United States and Russia, was built on the foundation of the original START I, which was signed two decades earlier.
  • Under Mr. Xi, China appears to have left its policy of minimum deterrence behind. If the Biden administration is serious about arms control, it’s time to look for common ground with Beijing to build new agreements for a safer future.


“The Islamic State Never Went Away. Terrorism is a tactic, and fighting it requires a concerted strategy,” Colin P. Clarke, FP, 04.10.24. 

  • With the recent Moscow concert venue attack that killed more than 140 people, the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) surprised many who may have believed that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, was a problem of the past. In fact, the Islamic State never went anywhere. According to the Global Terrorism Index, an annual publication from the Institute for Economics & Peace that attempts to measure the impact of terrorism worldwide, the Islamic State “remained the deadliest terrorist group globally for the ninth consecutive year, recording both the highest number of attacks and deaths from terrorism.” Islamic State attacks earlier this year, in Iran and Turkey, underscore this dynamic.
  • When global terrorism appears to fade, it is typically in response to counterterrorism pressure. But terrorism is a tactic. It never actually goes away, and it endures because it is versatile—an asymmetric tool of non-state actors, or the preferred response of states sponsoring proxy groups. When it flares again, it is often in response to changing geopolitical dynamics. 
  • We should ... be asking our leaders, policymakers, and elected officials what the strategy is to mitigate a relentless threat from a determined foe. Part of this strategy must be to prevent Western counterterrorism efforts from atrophying further. For two decades, counterterrorism formed the cornerstone of efforts to decimate groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS. The United States and its allies around the world formed intelligence-sharing partnerships and cooperated by disseminating important information about terrorist suspects, groups, tactics, and ideologies motivating violence.
  • Dealing with a rising China and a revanchist Russia is crucial, but doing so while leaving the counterterrorism cupboard bare makes little sense. After all, strategic competition and counterterrorism are not mutually exclusive; they’re complementary. The relationships that Washington developed through two decades of counterterrorism operations with its Western partners can help facilitate the type of intelligence that also proves useful for dealing with “great powers.”
  • Another important pillar of a robust global counterterrorism strategy is physically being close enough to some of the world’s terrorism hot spots to respond in a timely manner. 
  • Many of the partnerships, lessons learned, and best practices from the global war on terror should not be jettisoned simply because the focus of ISIS and its affiliates is currently elsewhere. Western security services and intelligence agencies need to remain vigilant, but even more important, there needs to be a consistent and steady stream of resources—money, manpower, and counterterrorism tools—dedicated to the fight. Only a comprehensive approach to counterterrorism—a combination of hard and soft power—can help reduce the pool of extremists that serve as ready foot soldiers for groups like the Islamic State and its network of global affiliates.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“How Ukraine is using AI to fight Russia,” The Economist, 04.08.24. 

  • Algorithms created by Open Minds Institute (OMI) sifted through oceans of Russian social-media content and socioeconomic data on things ranging from alcohol consumption and population movements to online searches and consumer behavior. The AI correlated any changes with the evolving sentiments of Russian “loyalists” and liberals over the potential plight of their country’s soldiers. This highly sensitive work continues to shape important Ukrainian decisions about the course of the war, says Sviatoslav Hnizdovsky, the founder of the OMI. This includes potential future strikes on Russia’s Kerch Bridge, which is the only direct land link between Russia and Crimea.
  • Ukraine, outgunned by Russia, is increasingly seeking an edge with AI by employing the technology in diverse ways. A Ukrainian colonel involved in arms development says drone designers commonly query ChatGPT as a “start point” for engineering ideas, like novel techniques for reducing vulnerability to Russian jamming. Another military use for AI, says the colonel, who requested anonymity, is to identify targets. 
    • Targeting is being assisted by AI in other ways. SemanticForce, a firm with offices in Kyiv and Ternopil, a city in the west of Ukraine, develops models that in response to text prompts scrutinizes online or uploaded text and images. Molfar uses the model to map areas where Russian forces are likely to be low on morale and supplies, which could make them a softer target. 
    • The AI .. also cobbles together clues about Russian military weaknesses using a sneaky proxy. For this, Molfar employs SemanticForce’s AI to generate reports on the activities of Russian volunteer groups that fundraise and prepare care packages for the sections of the front most in need. 
    • The use of AI helps Ukraine’s spycatchers identify people who Oleksiy Danilov, until recently secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC), describes as “prone to betrayal.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Ukraine's attacks on Russian oil refineries deepen tensions with U.S.,” John Hudson, WP, 04.15.24.

  • When Vice President Harris met privately with Volodymyr Zelensky at the Munich Security Conference in February, she told the Ukrainian leader something he didn't want to hear: Refrain from attacking Russian oil refineries, a tactic U.S. officials believed would raise global energy prices and invite more aggressive Russian retaliation inside Ukraine.
  • The request, according to officials familiar with the matter, irritated Zelensky and his top aides, who view Kyiv's string of drone strikes on Russian energy facilities as a rare bright spot in a grinding war with a bigger and better equipped foe.
  • Zelensky brushed off the recommendation, uncertain whether it reflected the consensus position of the Biden administration, these people said. But in subsequent weeks, Washington reinforced the warning in multiple conversations with Kyiv, including by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who traveled to Ukraine's capital in March, and other senior U.S. defense and intelligence officials.
  • Instead of acquiescing to the U.S. requests, however, Ukraine doubled down on the strategy, striking a range of Russian facilities, including an April 2 attack on Russia's third-largest refinery 800 miles from the font.
  • The incidents have exacerbated tensions in a strained relationship as Kyiv waits to learn whether Congress will pass a long-stalled $60 billion aid package while Russia's forces pierce Ukrainian positions across the front lines. The long-range Ukrainian strikes, which have hit more than a dozen refineries since January and disrupted at least 10 percent of Russian oil refinery capacity, come as President Biden ramps up his reelection campaign and global oil prices reach a six-month high.
  • The U.S. positions all stand in contrast to Washington's allies in Europe, who have barely disguised their pleasure with the Ukrainian campaign. 

“How India’s imports of Russian oil have lubricated global markets,” The Economist, 04.11.24.

  • In February America slapped new sanctions on Sovcomflot, a Russian state-owned shipping firm responsible for carrying around 15% of Russian oil exports to India. Almost immediately, Indian importers stopped taking shipments from Sovcomflot tankers. But that did little to stem the flow of Russian crude to India, the world’s third-biggest consumer of oil. Deliveries increased by 6% in March, compared with February. Exporters arranged alternative transport to India—probably through the shadow fleet that helps them bypass sanctions. India has also bought Russian crude at prices below the $60-per-barrel price cap imposed by the West. Taken together, these purchases have helped make India the second-biggest importer of Russian oil, behind China.
  • The immediate impact has been to help India to meet demand at a lower cost. In 2023 nearly 90% of India’s oil consumption was sourced from abroad. Roughly 34% of those imports came from Russia. The discount on Russian crude has narrowed over time, from 20% at the start of last year to around 5% in December, but it still yields significant savings on India’s oil imports, which were worth $181bn last year, around 27% of the country’s total import bill.
  • Cheaper imports have helped India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. 
  • Globally, Indian buying of Russian oil has been important. It has helped prevent a supply crunch. India’s petroleum ministry claims that global oil prices could have shot up by about $30-40 per barrel were it not for India’s trade with Russia. On April 4th an American official visiting Delhi encouraged India’s imports of discounted Russian oil, as it was important to “keep oil supply on the market” while ensuring the Kremlin’s profits were being hit.
  • India’s influence on global oil markets will only increase. 

Climate change:

"Russia in a changing climate," Debra Javeline, Robert Orttung, Graeme Robertson, Richard Arnold, Andrew Barnes, Laura Henry, Edward Holland et al. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change Vol 15, Issue 2, March/April 2024.

  • Climate change will shape the future of Russia, and vice versa, regardless of who rules in the Kremlin. The world's largest country is warming faster than Earth as a whole, occupies more than half the Arctic Ocean coastline, and is waging a carbon-intensive war while increasingly isolated from the international community and its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Officially, the Russian government argues that, as a major exporter of hydrocarbons, Russia benefits from maintaining global reliance on fossil fuels and from climate change itself, because warming may increase the extent and quality of its arable land, open a new year-round Arctic sea route, and make its harsh climate more livable. 
  • Drawing on the collective expertise of a large group of Russia-focused social scientists and a comprehensive literature review, we challenge this narrative. We find that Russia suffers from a variety of impacts due to climate change and is poorly prepared to adapt to these impacts. The literature review reveals that the fates of Russia's hydrocarbon-dependent economy, centralized political system, and climate-impacted population are intertwined and that research is needed on this evolving interrelationship, as global temperatures rise and the international economy decarbonizes in response.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Is the Kremlin Overconfident About Russia’s Economic Stability?”, Alexandra Prokopenko, CEIP, 04.10.24. 

  • Broadly speaking, there are two camps in both Russia and the West: one sees the Russian economy as being on the verge of collapse; the other maintains that sanctions have actually made Russia stronger. .... More recently, this debate is being fueled by the fact that Russia’s economic indicators in 2023 exceeded most expectations, with GDP growing by 3.6 percent (following a 1.2 percent contraction in 2022). As a result, the IMF now forecasts that Russia’s economy will grow up to 2.6 percent in 2024—a 1.6 percentage point increase from the IMF’s original projection in October 2023.
  • On the one hand, sanctions clearly limit Russia’s economic development. On the other, they have, paradoxically enough, protected the economy from certain external shocks. 
  • Most of the major risks facing the Russian economy today stem from the fact that the Kremlin’s political aims take precedence over economic growth. Thus, Russian economic decision-making is increasingly dictated by and structured around the demands of the overall war effort...But ordinary Russians are unlikely to see empty store shelves once again, and high-tech factories are not going to find themselves resorting to manufacturing pots and pans.   That is because Russia’s economy differs fundamentally from that of the Soviet Union: it has significant financial reserves, is more diversified, and is more open to the world. 
  • A paradoxical situation has emerged: Russia’s economy is now stable both in spite of and as a result of Western sanctions. So far, the Kremlin has found ways to maintain access to imports of advanced chips and semiconductors, which are key for the military, through third countries. It has also successfully pivoted to selling oil to Asia to replace the loss of traditional markets in Europe and elsewhere.
  • But this hard-won stability is not eternal. In a best-case scenario, the current arrangement will likely begin to come apart within eighteen months owing to growing imbalances and possible social problems. Putin will face increased pressures from a policy trilemma resulting from the challenge of continuing to fund the war, sustaining standards of living (or at least slowing their gradual decline), and guaranteeing macroeconomic stability.
  • The Kremlin has shown that it intends to prioritize defense and security spending over social needs... The most likely outcome is that Russia’s bloated wartime public sector will block any downsizing, but high interest rates will bring down inflation. In an economy subordinate to political imperatives, there are few incentives for sustainable development. Sooner or later, this will hurt the well-being of ordinary Russians. In other words, temporary fixes and a decline in living standards will add to the political and economic headwinds facing the Kremlin. But given the existing safety margins and the nature of Western sanctions, it could take Russia many years to reach the end of its ability to muddle through such challenges.
  • Russia has been able to rebuild the central bank’s reserves over the past two years. It is therefore doubtful that the much-discussed seizure of these assets by Western countries or their transfer to Ukraine would somehow force Moscow to the negotiating table or to withdraw its forces from Ukraine.
  • Somewhat paradoxically, de-dollarization has helped to insulate the Russian economy from external financial shocks. In spring 2023, for example, inflation in the United States and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision to increase interest rates prompted a reassessment of U.S. banks’ bond portfolios. That put pressure on U.S. equity markets and contributed to the bankruptcies of several lenders. Russia’s markets, which by then had been largely cut off from the U.S.-centric international financial system by sanctions, were unaffected by this turbulence.

“Before He Died in Prison, Aleksei Navalny Wrote a Memoir. It’s Coming This Fall,” Alexandra Alter, NYT, 04.11.24.

  • During the years leading up to his death in a Russian prison, Alexei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, was writing a memoir about his life and work as a pro-democracy activist.
    • The book, telling his story in his own words, comes as a final show of defiance, his widow, Yulia Navalnaya, said in a statement, and could have a galvanizing effect on his followers.
  • The project is a more sensitive endeavor than most memoirs by high profile political figures. Navalny’s supporters and his team, which has carried on his work, continue to draw the scrutiny of Russian authorities as they direct criticism at the Kremlin against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.
    • The book covers his youth, his rise as a political activist, his marriage and family, his political career as an opposition leader and the attempts on his life and attacks on those close to him, according to the publisher.

“The Other Russian Dissident Putting His Life on the Line,” Matthew Luxmoore, WSJ, 04.11.24.

  • Serving out a 25-year sentence for criticizing the Kremlin and its war in Ukraine, [Vladimir Kara-Murza] is feeling the effects of two poisonings in 2015 and 2017 that have shredded his nervous system. He has twice been in a coma and his doctors say he could die within two years without proper treatment.
  • The conditions in which he is being held are harsh even by Russian standards. 
    • Kara-Murza says he has been placed repeatedly in solitary confinement for minor infractions such as failing to fully button up his shirt or wake up at 5 a.m. without an alarm.
  • By then, his polyneuropathy, the condition affecting his nervous system, was causing him to lose sensation in his limbs. In December [2023], his feet temporarily swelled up so much that he couldn’t put on his shoes.
  • While [Alexei] Navalny made global headlines with his grassroots campaign against the Russian leader, Kara-Murza posed a different kind of threat. A journalist-turned-political operative, he specialized in connecting opposition groups and forging international ties while living in the U.K. and U.S., lobbying for sanctions on the Kremlin to loosen its stranglehold over Russia’s political system.
  • [In May 2015], Kara-Murza was in a meeting in Moscow when he suddenly lost consciousness. Placed on life support in hospital, he experienced multiple organ failure and was put in a coma for weeks. His Russian doctors told him he had been poisoned, and tests in several Western labs later confirmed this.
    • In 2017, on another trip to Russia, he was poisoned again.
  • In his letter to the Journal, Kara-Murza said three things keep him going: his Christian faith, a sense that he is on the right side of history and a strong conviction that [President Vladimir] Putin’s government will collapse.

“Polls Show Record Low Number of Russians Willing to Permanently Move Abroad,” Simon Saradzhyan, RM, 04.12.24.

  • The share of Russians who would like to leave Russia for permanent residence in another country has reached a record low, according to the results of a national poll conducted by Russia’s Levada Center on March 21-27, 2024. 
  • This center has been measuring Russians’ attitudes toward emigration since 1990, registering peaks in the share of Russians who would like to leave for greener pastures in May 2011, May 2013 and May 2021. … Levada’s more recent measurements show that right after Vladimir Putin sent troops to re-invade Ukraine in February 2022, this share was 10% (March 2022), which then increased to 11% in February 2023, before declining again in March 2024 to an all-time record low of 9%. 
  • These measurements by Levada … align with the findings of the state-owned Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), which claims that its March 2024 poll revealed that the share of Russians who want to leave Russia for permanent residency abroad and the share of Russians who don’t reached a record low (5%) and a record high (93%), respectively, since 1991.
  • To some extent, the recent decreases … may be explained by the departure of up to 920,000 people from Russia in 2022-2024, with these emigres no longer participating in Levada’s polls. That said, one should not overestimate the impact of the departure of less than 1% of Russia’s population on Russia’s domestic public opinions. The latter is probably influenced much more heavily by the increasing persecution of individual freedoms of speech coupled with a surge in Russians’ reporting of political dissent to the authorities. 
  • [C]oncern about being called up to participate in Russia’s war in Ukraine was far from the top reason behind Russians’ desires to relocate in March 2024. When asked what makes them think about leaving Russia (multiple answers allowed), mobilization fears ranked 10th with 16%.
  • When asked who they think is leaving Russia today (asked in March 2024, multiple answers allowed), 43% said “traitors.” Only 13% described those leaving Russia to settle in other countries as “smart, educated, talented people,” with another 13% saying these emigres wanted to ensure their children’s future (see Table 4).

For more analysis on this issue, see:

Defense and aerospace:

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Russia is filling the vacuum left by the west in the Sahel,” Sylvie Kauffmann, FT, 04.10.24.

  • His country may be among the poorest in the world, but General Salifou Mody, Niger’s minister of defense, is a much-courted man. Never mind that his government, born of a military coup in July 2023, still detains the deposed democratically elected president Mohamed Bazoum and his wife. On December 4 last year, General Mody welcomed to Niamey Russia’s deputy defense minister, General Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. Two weeks later, it was Boris Pistorius, the German minister of defense, who showed up to meet him.
    • This paradoxical list of visitors epitomizes the growing security challenge confronting western countries in this part of Africa. On the battleground for great powers’ influence that Niger and its neighbors of the Sahel region have become, Russia is scoring impressive points.
  • Stunned by Moscow’s powerful anti-western disinformation campaigns, observers note how Russia’s presence in Africa is being extended and reorganized in the “post-Prigozhin era,” as the Wagner mercenaries that the former Putin’s ally-turned-rebel used to lead are integrated by the ministry of defense. Africa is General Yevgurov’s domain: the deputy minister of defense makes frequent trips to the continent, often accompanied by General Andrei Averyanov of the military intelligence service GRU, a veteran of Afghanistan, Chechnya and Crimea.     
  • Should they stay or should they go? This is the dilemma now facing, unexpectedly, some 120 German soldiers still in Niger, where they went to team up with the French and Americans. Now the French are gone, the Americans are in limbo, the Russians flex their muscles and the Germans are left to wonder whether they can protect Europe’s southern flank from the threat of chaos in the Sahel by themselves. Tough new world.       


“Ukraine’s Economy Moves Westward: Implications for Rebound and Reconstruction,” Ralph Clem, Erik Herron, Timothy Hoheneder and Khrystyna Pelchar, PONARS, 04.09.24.

  • In the wake of Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine beginning in February 2022, the Ukrainian economy unsurprisingly suffered a major shock. The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell by a staggering 29 percent in 2022. Since then, however, the Ukrainian state and its people have overcome enormous odds to achieve an extraordinary economic rebound, even as massive attacks by Russia continue. The World Bank estimates that Ukraine’s GDP rose by 4.8 percent in 2023, with an additional 3.2 percent growth forecast for 2024. Yet as encouraging as this might be, it remains a daunting task to restore Ukraine’s economy to anywhere near pre-war levels: some US $486 billion is already required for that effort, a figure that will only increase as additional damage is incurred in the course of the ongoing fighting.
  • Given this outlook, our research makes two encouraging findings. 
    • First, available economic and investment data reveal that an ongoing major spatial realignment of production is playing a significant role in Ukraine’s economic rebound. Ukrainian enterprises and individual entrepreneurs have adjusted by shifting some production and client support away from the most vulnerable regions in southern and eastern Ukraine and toward strategically safer areas in the central and western parts of the country. New capital investment, both domestic and foreign, is likewise primarily being directed westward.
    • Second, Ukrainian businesses have also proven quite adaptable to wartime conditions and have, in some cases, achieved at least partial success in restoring production in heavily affected areas, such that these areas may continue to play an important—if reduced—role in Ukraine’s post-war economy.
  •  All this being said, there are compelling reasons for undertaking at least some major reconstruction projects and encouraging business development in the heavily damaged areas in the eastern and southern oblasts... The physical and human capital that persists in such regions implies a strong case for rebuilding local economies, at least to some extent, as one aspect of a long-term national recovery plan that would enhance Ukraine’s socioeconomic capacity while taking into account the needs of all citizens.

“Why President Zelensky Is Purging His Inner Circle,” Konstantin Skorkin, CEIP, 04.15.24.

  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is continuing his large-scale purge of the Ukrainian leadership in an attempt to achieve greater cohesion and efficiency. The Ukrainian president is preparing for a double crisis in which increasing pressure from Russian troops at the front could add to internal destabilization after Zelenskyy’s presidential term formally expires on May 20.
  • The downside to this purge is that by removing his old friends from Kvartal 95—the TV production company that the comedian-turned-president once founded—from the corridors of power, Zelensky is surrounding himself with the creatures of his chief of staff, Andriy Yermak. That leaves the president without any sources of alternative opinions, which has never been good for public administration. It also raises questions about how stable the tandem—increasingly skewed in favor of Yermak—will be, and whether the ambitions of the all-powerful administrator will go into overdrive.
  • Zelensky and Yermak find themselves tied to one another and somewhat interdependent: the former on the staffing policy of his chief of staff, the latter on the political survival of his patron, Yermak’s loyalty to whom is the source of his own influence. The relationship within this tandem will become the main substance of the new political era that will dawn in Ukraine after the formal expiration of Zelensky’s powers on May 20.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Terror attack creates a central Asian dilemma for Putin,” Tony Barber, FT, 04.10.24.

  • Tensions [are rising] since last month’s Islamist terrorist attack in Moscow that killed at least 144 people. These tensions take two forms. 
    • One involves the millions of Central Asian Muslim immigrants working in Russia, some of whom have faced pressure from the authorities since the attack on the Crocus City Hall concert venue. 
    • The other relates to frictions between Russia and the states of central Asia, which have enjoyed a precarious but much-prized independence from Moscow since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. 
  • The radicalization of some central Asian Muslims, above all in Tajikistan, is a problem that Russia has neglected in recent years because of its preoccupation with Ukraine. The police raids and deportations of immigrants since the terror attack are an unconvincing response, not least because of the reliance on Central Asian workers.
  • As it happens, Central Asia’s conservative authoritarian regimes are just as anxious as Russia to stamp out Islamist extremism. But threats to their independence and pressure on their migrant workers may not bring the results Putin wants.

“Leading Armenia Down the Primrose Path,” James W. Carden, The American Conservative, 04.09.24.

  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced what has been described as a “landmark plan to help pull Armenia out of Russia’s orbit.”
    • The plan calls for the EU to allocate €270 million to support the Armenian economy.
  • According to Pietro Shakarian, a postdoctoral Fellow at the National Research University–Higher School of Economics, “The popular view on the Armenian street is that those 270 million euros look a lot like Judas Iscariot’s thirty pieces of silver. On the part of the U.S. and the EU, it’s a very obvious attempt to push Russia out of the Caucasus once and for all.”
  • Pashinyan should be forewarned that this is a path that is well-trodden and extremely dangerous for those who have set out upon it.
    • Armenia might usefully learn from the experiences of Ukraine and, closer home to Yerevan, Georgia.
  • As is by now clear, the U.S. national security bureaucracy only knows how to play a zero-sum game, and they and their political patrons seem both unable and unwilling to envision a world in which Iran and Russia are not the apex-villains. 
  • “Pashinyan’s giveaway of Artsakh and the subsequent ethnic cleansing there,” says Shakarian, “not only shocked Russian society, but also confirmed the view of Russian intelligence that Pashinyan is indeed acting on behalf of external interests, and not the interests of the Armenian state or people.”



  1. U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson on April 14 said he would try to pass aid to Israel in the upcoming week, after Iran's mass drone and missile attack, but didn’t say whether the legislation would also include assistance for Ukraine and other U.S. allies. Johnson met with former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago on April 12. During the meeting, Trump moderated his stance on the Ukraine aid, saying he believed they might find common ground in offering aid ''in the form of a loan.” (Reuters, 04.14.24, NYT, 04.14.24)
  2. On April 13, Ukrainian commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrskyi stated during a visit to the eastern Donetsk region that “the situation on the eastern front has significantly worsened in recent days.” The same day, Ukraine’s war monitor DeepState said the Russian troops have captured Bohdanivka, which is within miles of their next key target in the Donetsk region: Chasiv Yar. (FT, 04.13.24, Bloomberg, 04.13.24)
  3. “New Cold Wars: China’s Rise, Russia’s Invasion and America’s Struggle to Defend the West,” by David E. Sanger with Mary K. Brooks.

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.

Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Christian Carrillo available in the public domain.