Russia Analytical Report, Aug. 14-21, 2023

4 Ideas to Explore

  1. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley “had a point” in November when he said Ukraine’s then-strong military position and the upcoming winter season combined to make it a good time to consider peace talks, a U.S. official told Politico. “We may have missed a window to push for earlier talks,” the unnamed official acknowledged. Another U.S. official told the media outlet that the Biden administration is increasingly asking itself: “If we acknowledge we’re not going to do this forever, then what are we going to do?” In the meantime, prospects for negotiations are dim in the views of Domitilla Sagramoso of King’s College London and Michael McFaul of Stanford University.
  2. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that Ukraine's current counteroffensive will fail to reach the key southeastern city of Melitopol, thus remaining unable to disrupt the land bridge from Russia to Crimea, WP’s John Hudson and Alex Horton report, citing “people familiar with the classified forecast.” These two journalists are echoed by Felicia Schwartz of FT, who not only reports that “U.S. officials are increasingly critical of Ukraine’s counteroffensive strategy and gloomy about its prospect of success,” but also cites U.S. officials as predicting that it is “unlikely that Washington will be able to offer the same level of lethal assistance to Ukraine next year.” Meanwhile, according to the Economist, “Ukraine’s sluggish counter-offensive is [also] souring the public mood” inside Ukraine, where conscription officers are now down to “recruiting mostly among the unwilling.”
  3. Having seen the U.S. refuse to be intimidated by their nuclear saber-rattling over Ukraine, Russian leaders may end up expanding conditions for first use in their country’s official nuclear doctrine, Maxim Starchak, a Russian expert on nuclear weapons, speculated in a recent commentary for CEIP. Hypothetically, clauses on the use of nuclear weapons to carry out preventive strikes, to regain control over a region captured by an adversary and even to prevent the prolongation of a war could be introduced,  Starchak claimed. In fact, “experts of the [Russian] Ministry of Defense in their theoretical works are already suggesting demonstrably employing Strategic Missile Forces for strikes against individual adversary targets or establishing a separate grouping of missiles for the first nuclear missile strike,” according to Starchak, who is serving as a fellow at the Queen’s University Canada.  One reason why Vladimir Putin has so far thankfully refrained from introducing such clauses in the Foundations of State Policy in the Area of Nuclear Deterrence is his willingness to take into account the views of Russian generals, such as chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who keep reminding their president that there can be no such thing as a limited nuclear war, according to Starchak. 
  4. Tensions are mounting ahead of the BRICS summit this week, as China encourages the group to become a full-scale rival to the G-7 and India argues it would be wrong to use an expansion of the group as an anti-Western move, according to FT. BRICS is, indeed, facing the dilemma of either broadening [expanding] or deepening, according to Andrey Kortunov of RIAC. The solution could be “opening doors for a gradual rise of membership and concentrating on building the institutional capacity of the group that would help to erase the red line between BRICS members and its partners,” this Russian expert writes for China’s Global Times.


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:

“Deterring Russia and Iran. Improving Effectiveness and Finding Efficiencies,” Jeffrey Martini, Andrew Radin, Alyssa Demus, Krystyna Marcinek, Dara Massicot, Katherine Pfrommer, Ashley L. Rhoades, Chandler Sachs, Karen M. Sudkamp, David E. Thaler, et al, August 2023.

  • Forward posture is seen as an important demonstration of U.S. commitment that has a deterrent effect
    • Existing literature suggests that forward posture is important for crisis deterrence, but there are conflicting findings about its importance for general deterrence.
    • Among the OAI categories, forward posture was seen by roundtable participants as the most critical signal of U.S. commitment.
    • Basing infrastructure that enables rapid reinforcement undergirds deterrence logic in both theaters (EUCOM and CENTCOM).
    • It is unclear whether declining U.S. forward presence invites adversary aggression. Declining U.S. forward presence in EUCOM may have contributed to deterrence failure in Crimea, but how much to weight this factor is uncertain.
  • Exercises and short-term deployments generated conflicting findings
    • Existing literature shows that certain short-term deployments — like larger, outside-in deployments and those undertaken in the midst of a crisis — increase the chances of successful deterrence.
    • Roundtable participants saw short-term deployments and exercises as important demonstrations of capability but as less effective than forward posture for demonstrating commitment.
    • Participants viewed exercise size and complexity as more important than exercise frequency.
    • The researchers' original quantitative analysis found that short-term naval presence missions and BTF sorties do not have statistically significant effects on deterrent outcomes — and might actually increase the chances of an adversary undertaking limit-testing behavior.
  • Security cooperation is important for reassurance, but its deterrent effect is unclear
    • Security cooperation may have contributed to Russia limiting its aims in eastern Ukraine after Minsk II, but to what extent is uncertain.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“U.S. intelligence says Ukraine will fail to meet offensive’s key goal,” John Hudson and Alex Horton, WP, 08.17.23.

  • The U.S. intelligence community assesses that Ukraine’s counteroffensive will fail to reach the key southeastern city of Melitopol … a finding that, should it prove correct, would mean Kyiv won’t fulfill its principal objective of severing Russia’s land bridge to Crimea in this year’s push. ... Ukraine’s forces, which are pushing toward Melitopol from the town of Robotyne more than 50 miles away, will remain several miles outside of the city, U.S. officials said.
    • Melitopol is critical to Ukraine’s counteroffensive because it is considered the gateway to Crimea. The city is at the intersection of two important highways and a railroad line that allow Russia to move military personnel and equipment from the peninsula to other occupied territories in southern Ukraine.
  • The grim assessment is based on Russia’s brutal proficiency in defending occupied territory through a phalanx of minefields and trenches, and is likely to prompt finger pointing inside Kyiv and Western capitals about why a counteroffensive that saw tens of billions of dollars of Western weapons and military equipment fell short of its goals. ... Analysts say the challenges Ukraine has faced are multifaceted, but nearly all agree that Russia surpassed expectations when it comes to its proficiency in defending occupied territory.
  • Ukraine launched the counteroffensive in early June hoping to replicate its stunning success in last fall’s push through the Kharkiv region. But in the first week of fighting, Ukraine incurred major casualties against Russia’s well-prepared defenses despite having a range of newly acquired Western equipment.
    • Joint war games conducted by the U.S., British and Ukrainian militaries anticipated such losses but envisioned Kyiv accepting the casualties as the cost of piercing through Russia’s main defensive line, said U.S. and Western officials. ... U.S. officials said the Pentagon recommended multiple times that Ukraine concentrate a large mass of forces on a single breakthrough point. ... But Ukraine chose to stem the losses on the battlefield and switch to a tactic of relying on smaller units to push forward across different areas of the front. That resulted in Ukraine making incremental gains in different pockets over the summer.

“US grows doubtful Ukraine counteroffensive can quickly succeed,” Felicia Schwartz, FT, 08.20.23.

  • U.S. officials are increasingly critical of Ukraine’s counteroffensive strategy and gloomy about its prospect of success, deepening tensions between Kyiv and Washington at the most critical point in the war since Russia’s full-scale invasion.
  • Ukrainians continued to make some small gains this week, including liberating the village of Urozhaine. But U.S. officials are privately girding for what increasingly looks like a war of attrition that will last well into next year, while publicly reiterating continued support for Kyiv.
  • U.S. President Joe Biden included planned funding of another $13 billion in lethal aid for Ukraine in a supplemental budget request to Congress earlier this month. The money would last until the end of the year. But the extra funding faces a tricky path to passage on Capitol Hill.
  • Even if Congress authorizes the latest package of Ukraine funding requested by the White House, some U.S. officials and analysts say it is unlikely that Washington will be able to offer the same level of lethal assistance to Ukraine next year, given the looming presidential election and munitions manufacturers’ longer-term schedule to increase production.
  • Republican congressman Andy Harris, a co-chair of the Ukraine Caucus, had been a steadfast supporter of Kyiv’s effort, but told a town-hall meeting in Maryland this week that the counteroffensive had “failed,” saying aid for Ukraine should now be unwound. “Is this more [of] a stalemate? Should we be realistic about it? I think we probably should,” Harris told constituents … “I’ll be blunt, it’s failed.” He was also pessimistic about the course of the war, saying, “I’m not sure it’s winnable anymore.”

“Ukraine’s sluggish counter-offensive is souring the public mood,” The Economist, 08.20.23.

  • The disappointing pace of Ukraine’s counter-offensive has been the focus of international headlines for weeks. ... The public mood is somber [...and] is spilling over into Ukraine’s politics, which have been on hold for much of the war.
  • In the absence of a military breakthrough, peace negotiations with Russia would be an even harder sell. True, there have been some signs of a shift in mood, in unexpected quarters. In early August a Ukrainian sniper fighting north-west of Bakhmut made waves by dismissing the prospect of Ukraine ever regaining its full territory. He suggested that many soldiers would now welcome a ceasefire—a notion that would once have been unthinkable. But for now, few would agree. Too much blood has been spilt. “Any peace now is delayed war,” says the general-staff source. “Why hand the problem to the next generation?”
  • Many of Ukraine’s young are, of course, already bearing the burden of a war that has no end in sight. For young men, in constant danger of being served conscription papers and sent to the front, the pressure is particularly intense. Those keen to fight volunteered long ago; Ukraine is now recruiting mostly among the unwilling. “It makes the air so thick that you can actually feel it,” says Ms Zamula. Everyone knows that the cost of regained territory is dead soldiers. “Even hoping for success in the counter-offensive has become an act of self-destruction.”

“...But Growing Risks in Ukraine. Biden’s slow delivery of U.S. arms has hurt Kyiv’s counteroffensive and plays into Donald Trump’s hands,” Editorial Board, WSJ, 08.20.23.

  • Ukraine's counteroffensive has become a deadly, grinding slog. Kyiv's forces could still stage a breakthrough, but an extended stalemate highlights President Biden's reluctance to provide Ukraine with the advanced weapons it needs to take back its territory from the Russian invaders.
  • At home, Mr. Biden risks playing into the hands of such critics as Donald Trump, who would cut off support for Ukraine. Most Republicans in Congress have supported aid to Ukraine, and credit in particular goes to Sens. Mitch McConnell and Tom Cotton -- despite Mr. Biden's rhetoric that all Republicans are "MAGA."
  • But a failed counteroffensive, and an extended military stalemate that stretches into 2024, risks eroding U.S. public support as GOP voters become more restive amid Mr. Trump's campaign assault. Mr. Biden has never given a serious speech making the case for the U.S. security interest in Ukraine and how he hopes the war will end.
  • Perhaps the President figures ambiguity will give him more flexibility to negotiate a settlement. But if Mr. Biden wants Congress to pass his aid package, he has to make a better case than he has and spend the political capital like the Commander in Chief.

“House Republicans are standing between Biden and his war to save Ukraine,” Jonathan Lemire, Jennifer Haberkorn and Alexander Ward, Politico, 08.19.23.

  • The White House’s $24 billion request to arm Ukraine will test the administration’s ability to support Kyiv just as it meets its fiercest resistance from Russia and — for the first time — a Republican-led House holding the purse strings. … The funding battle is poised to lead to another standoff between the president and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, one that could shape Biden’s legacy and Ukraine’s success in the war.
    • “It’s not just far-right members,” said a House Republican aide granted anonymity to speak freely. “[Mainstream Republicans are] sympathetic to the cause but we’re throwing money at a conflict that can last for years.”
  • The funding path should be easier in the Senate than the House since Ukraine has been championed by several Republicans, most notably Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  … Financial support for Ukraine, for the most part, still enjoys bipartisan backing. But there is long-running skepticism among House Republicans about continuing to fund the war in Ukraine.
  • The chorus of Washington voices who think enough is enough has grown louder. “The United States' current level of support for Ukraine is unsustainable militarily, financially and increasingly politically,” said Dan Caldwell, vice president for the Center for Renewing America, who with his colleagues is lobbying House Republicans to oppose the Ukraine spending request.
  • Proponents argue the need for new funds is urgent. The money Congress initially approved is now down to the single digits at an estimated $6 billion.
  • “It's important that we put the national interest here first and that [McCarthy] not continue to be led around by the nose by his farthest right and most extreme members,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “I am confident that at the end of the day we’ll get something through. I think there’s going to be a lot of — I think there’ll be some bumps along the way.”

“Ukraine is fighting to survive. So why are allies nervous about these weapons?” Eliot A. Cohen, WP, 08.16.23.

  • The reservations about cluster munitions being given to Ukraine are particularly misplaced. The Russian military has used cluster munitions extensively in this war, with much higher dud rates than those the United States has provided. Cluster munitions are particularly useful for a combatant that lacks air superiority over the battlefield. Most importantly, it is in Ukraine territory upon which the rounds are falling. If a democratically elected government is willing to assume the undeniable risks to its civilians posed by duds, surely it has a right to make that choice.
  • There is a solution for those whose queasiness about cluster munitions exceeds their compassion for mutilated or dead Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. That is to arm Ukraine speedily and with both the quality and quantity of weapons that can bring this war to a quicker end. Long-range ATACMS (the Army Tactical Missile System) missiles, F-16s and all other tools of war that could be produced by a defense industry that has yet to be properly mobilized can deliver victory to Ukraine. So far, that sense of urgency, that scale of effort and that speed have been lacking. As a result, the suffering of a battered but valiant people continues.

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

  • No significant developments.

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“Milley had a point,” Alexander Ward, Lara Seligman, Matt Berg and Eric Bazail-Eimil, Politico, 08.18.23.

  • The conversation about Ukraine’s counteroffensive has shifted from one of excitement to disappointment, as Kyiv’s slow gains lead some U.S. officials and insiders alike to whisper: Should we have listened to Gen. Mark Milley?
  • In November, the Joint Chiefs chair said Ukraine’s strong military position and upcoming winter season combined to make a good time to consider peace talks. Plus, operations to expel Russian forces out of the whole of Ukraine –— which Volodymyr Zelensky demands — had a slim chance of success. Administration officials immediately scrambled to assure their counterparts in Kyiv that Milley was riffing and not reflecting a secret sentiment in the White House. But listen to Milley lately, and you can hear the implicit “I told you so.” “If the end state is Ukraine is a free, independent, sovereign country with its territory intact, that will take a considerable level of effort yet to come,” he told The Washington Post this week. “That’s gonna take a long, long time, but you can also achieve those objectives — maybe, possibly — through some sort of diplomatic means.”
  • One U.S. official, who didn’t want to run afoul of the administration by offering real views on the record, said the realities of the counteroffensive are sinking in around Washington. Ukraine’s tactics to preserve troops and equipment, Russia’s dug-in positions and the fight on multiple fronts have led to slow advances, shifting a possible breakthrough further into the future. While the U.S. still backs Ukraine’s fight, the official said, “We may have missed a window to push for earlier talks.” The official also stressed, however, that few believe Moscow has been at all serious about negotiations since the war’s start. And no senior leader felt then, or feels now, that the counteroffensive was a mistaken play, considering how Ukraine maintains full support from the West and has had remarkable success throughout the war. Still, the official declared: “Milley had a point.”
  • Another U.S. official said the administration is increasingly asking itself this question: “If we acknowledge we’re not going to do this forever, then what are we going to do?”

“Is there any real prospect of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine?” Domitilla Sagramoso, FT, 08.17.23.

  • The recent Jeddah conference on Volodymyr Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan was an attempt to build international support for a negotiated end to the devastating Ukraine conflict ... China’s presence in particular was arguably a sign that Vladimir Putin’s most important ally wanted him to start making the necessary concessions to end the war. It is more likely, though, that Beijing is shoring up its own role in any future negotiation.
  • The bigger question is whether Russia, which did not participate in the Jeddah talks, will make concessions.
  • The Kremlin is increasingly coming to terms with the fact that Ukraine will neither be “de-Nazified” (there will be no pro-Russian “puppet” government in Kyiv) nor “demilitarized,” nor will it remain neutral. It is now clear to Moscow that Ukraine will probably become part of the EU and anchored to Euro-Atlantic security structures. For Russia, accepting these new realities is a significant concession. Moscow’s priorities appear to be safeguarding itself against Ukrainian and NATO forces, retaining some of the land it currently occupies in Ukraine (especially Crimea and possibly in the Donbas) and ensuring Putin saves face after a compromise is found.
  • Yet, accepting Russia’s conditions — that it keeps part, if not all, of the seized territories, in exchange for an end to the war and its tacit acceptance of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic alignment — is highly risky. Not only would this undermine Kyiv, it would justify Russia’s aggression and might even encourage new assaults, for instance by China in the Indo-Pacific. There is no guarantee that Russia will not regroup its forces after a ceasefire agreement is reached, putting Ukraine under renewed threat.
  • A negotiated outcome, therefore, remains elusive. As the belligerents test their strength on the battlefield, their positions remain far apart. This could change, however, if neither side gains the military advantage and a cold winter stalemate sets in.

“Calling for ‘Give Peace a Chance’ without a Strategy to Convince Putin To End His Invasion of Ukraine Is not Realism. It is naivete,” Michael McFaul, McFaul’s World Substack, 08.18.23.

  • Even if Zelensky was compelled to contemplate this horrific scenario [of land for peace], with whom would he negotiate such a deal? In recommending a land-for-peace swap, Western pundits forget to elaborate on how specifically one would convince Putin to accept such a deal. To date, there is no evidence that Putin is prepared to negotiate now. 
  • Putin ... believes that time is on his side, particularly when it comes to U.S. support for the war. Obviously, Putin is waiting for the outcome of the U.S. 2024 presidential election. If Mr. Trump is reelected, Putin has reason to believe that he could strike a much better deal on Ukraine. So why would he enter negotiations now?
  • Putin – not Zelensky or Biden—is the central decision-maker regarding the end of this war. He could end it tomorrow. He could pull his forces out of Ukraine, declare victory and tell his people that he preemptively stopped the planned NATO invasion of Russia in Ukraine and saved ethnic Russians in Ukraine from genocide. Of course, he won’t do that, but he could. And a good percentage of Russians would believe him. Or Putin could also announce his desire for a ceasefire tomorrow. No one inside Russia would oppose him from doing so. So instead of sketching scenarios about what Zelensky and Biden need to do, pundits should focus their proposals on Putin and how to compel him to negotiate. Saying “give peace a chance” without articulating a strategy to force or convince Putin to agree to peace is not realism. It is naivete.

“Here Are 3 Ways to End the War in Ukraine. One Might Actually Work,” Tom Malinowski, Politico, 08.18.23.

  • The first and most obvious way for Ukraine to win would be for its armed forces to take back all the territory Russia has unlawfully seized since its first invasion in 2014 — including Crimea.
  • A second way for Ukraine to win — at least theoretically — would be through a diplomatic agreement.
  • So if Russia manages to stymie plans A and B, where would that leave us by, say this time next year? ... Fortunately, there is a third possible way to satisfy the need for Ukrainian success and Russian failure, over which Putin would have no veto.
    • In this scenario, the United States would give the Ukrainian military whatever it needs to advance as far as possible in its counteroffensive. At an appropriate point next year, Ukraine would declare a pause in offensive military operations and shift its primary focus to defending and rebuilding liberated areas while integrating with Western institutions. Then, at its July 2024 summit in Washington, NATO would invite Ukraine to join the Western alliance, guaranteeing the security of all territory controlled by the Ukrainian government at that point under Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Offering Article 5 protection to Ukrainian territory in this fashion would be akin to admitting a divided Germany to NATO.

“Ukraine: A Necessary Path to Peace,” Robert Jenkins, MT, 08.21.23.

  • A threefold strategy for peace is proposed, envisaging a dual-track approach: The West needs to affirm with total clarity its sustained support for Ukraine. At the same time, it would put forward a solution for a new comprehensive European security architecture. Guaranteeing the territorial integrity of all, including that of Ukraine and its sovereignty as an independent state, would enable no NATO expansion, meeting Russia’s long-standing stated concerns about this. Such proposals would, in turn, create the conditions and context to make possible a settlement of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
    • Firstly, a European Security Treaty would be its foundation, with Russia a full participant in its creation, and NATO and Ukraine both fully integrated into this process.
    • Secondly, a proposed European Security Treaty should facilitate Russia and Ukraine agreeing on a resolution to their conflict—and would be conditional on this. Indeed, all parties, including Russia, have a humanitarian and moral responsibility to permanently end the fighting.
    • Thirdly, a resolution of the Ukraine conflict on this basis would provide the basis for international legal undertakings on no future NATO expansion.

“The Case for American-Led Peace in Ukraine,” Alex Burilkov and Wesley Satterwhite, NI, 08.21.23.

  • It is imperative that the idea of a peace settlement amenable to all parties in the conflict—including Russia—takes hold and is seriously pursued in Washington. Influential American figures are already engaged in Track 1.5 diplomacy with their counterparts in Russia. These efforts should be encouraged, expanded and form the basis for sustained engagement in peace negotiations. Only then will the United States be able to focus entirely on containing China, which is of paramount importance to American security and prosperity.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s remarks at the 11th Moscow Conference on International Security,, 08.15.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Kyiv and its Western sponsors are using all means at their disposal to bring other countries to support Zelensky's peace formula which, in fact, comes down to an ultimatum to bring Ukraine back to the borders as they were in 1991.
  • We appreciate China, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt, India and other Global South countries’ sincere interest in promoting the quest for fair and realistic settlement avenues. President Putin and our country’s leadership have repeatedly spoken about this. It is critically important that the proposals coming from our friends in the developing world are based on a clear understanding of the true causes and nature of ongoing developments as fallout from the West's efforts to undermine the principle of indivisibility and security.
  • In order to save their geopolitical project to “contain Russia” and to split the Russian world, the United States, NATO and the EU are flooding Ukraine with increasing amounts of modern weapons, thus stoking the conflict and provoking the unchecked spread of weapons around the world. 
  • The geopolitical situation makes it difficult for us to pool efforts to neutralize the threats that are common to humanity, including fighting international terrorism, especially jihadist organizations like ISIS, al-Qaeda and their offshoots ... We must put an end to using terrorists for geopolitical purposes, be it in Afghanistan, Syria or elsewhere. 
  • Russia will continue to consolidate the efforts of the international community to counter global and regional challenges and threats, to promote a positive agenda, to contribute to strengthening international security and stability, to the peaceful settlement of conflicts, to ensure that the U.N. Charter principles are applied in practice, and importantly, in full, rather than selectively.

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

“Why Russia's War in Ukraine Could Run for Years; From Moscow to Washington, a lack of clear and achievable strategic goals points to a long conflict,” Marcus Walker, WSJ, 08.20.23.

  • Russia's war on Ukraine is in danger of becoming a protracted struggle that lasts several more years. The reason isn't just that the front-line combat is a slow-moving slog, but also that none of the main actors have political goals that are both clear and attainable.
    • Ukraine's central war aim—restoring its territorial integrity—is the clearest, but appears a distant prospect given the limits of Western support.
    • The U.S. and key European allies such as Germany want to prevent Russia from winning, but fear the costs and risks of helping Ukraine to full victory. Some Western officials are sketching out grand bargains to end the war, but they fit neither Kyiv's nor Moscow's goals.
      • A drawback of the U.S.'s incremental approach to military aid: Without a battlefield breakthrough, Kyiv doesn't want to negotiate peace—and Moscow doesn't have to.
      • In private, many Western officials don't think the U.S. and its allies can leave it to Kyiv alone to define the goal. Ukraine's maximalist aims, they fear, guarantee an endless war. They would like to offer Ukraine carrots to accept the de facto loss of some territory, such as NATO or European Union membership or promises of long-term military and economic aid.
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin's declared aims are the most elastic, ranging from ambitious imperial schemes to more limited land grabs, and shifting with Russia's military fortunes. His long-term objective of bringing Ukraine back under Moscow's sway looks unrealistic now, but Ukrainians believe he would treat smaller gains as mere steppingstones, rendering treacherous any peace based on concessions.
      • Some observers believe the state of war against Ukraine and its Western backers is becoming an end in itself, the raison d'être of a regime that can no longer offer economic growth and stability.
  • "Russia still has this big imperial vision that Putin has grown to believe in over his tenure," said Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington. "Ukraine's goals have not changed. The question is: What's the Western strategic vision?"

“What GOP presidential candidates should talk about other than Trump,” Editorial Board, WP, 08.21.23.

  • The 2024 Republican presidential nominating contest has been mostly about former president Donald Trump. This has obscured ideological schisms within the conservative movement over the proper role of government, America's place in the world and much more. The first GOP debate on Wednesday, in Milwaukee and airing on Fox News, offers a chance to explore these contrasts. Here is a list of questions the moderators could ask:...
    • How much lethal aid should the United States provide to Ukraine? Are there any weapons systems the Biden administration hasn't provided that you would? Should the United States push Ukraine to negotiate a peace settlement with Russia, even if Crimea remains under Vladimir Putin's control? Do you support keeping current sanctions on Russia in place? What would you do to ensure Russia is the primary funder of Ukrainian reconstruction?
    • Should the United States support inviting Ukraine to eventually join NATO? Would you feel bound by Article 5 of the NATO charter to defend any member state that's attacked? How would you persuade other NATO countries to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense?
    • Would you take the United States to war to defend Taiwan if China invaded? Do you support Taiwanese independence?
    • Would you try to negotiate nuclear arms control with China and Russia? How would you prevent Iran from getting an atomic weapon? Are there any limits to U.S. support for Israel? Was Mr. Trump right to engage with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un or should he have continued to apply maximum pressure?

“The US is losing sway in Africa,” Stephen Kinzer, The Boston Globe, 08.20.23.

  • Ever since the U.S. Army established Africa Command in 2007, the vast West African country of Niger has been the apple of our eye. Working with a pro-Western government there, we have poured in large amounts of aid. Much has been military. More than 1,000 American soldiers are in Niger. Many are deployed at a drone base that we built for $110 million.
  • Suddenly it is all disappearing. After a military coup on July 26, Niger is now anti-West and apparently pro-Russia. Desperate to ensure the continuation of the U.S. presence, President Biden dispatched Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland to meet with Niger's new leaders. She got nowhere in talks that she called “quite difficult.” It is a stunning reversal — and another example of global power shifts in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • In recent decades ... Russia has focused more intensely on Africa. It seeks resources and geopolitical allies. In Niger it may find both. Russia can provide unstable African regimes with soldiers to defend their power. It also has popular appeal, because Russia never colonized Africa or subverted Black African governments as the United States and European powers did.
  • For more than a decade, the United States has lavished military aid on Niger and nearby countries. We have pushed their governments to fight radical militias. Yet according to a 2017 United Nations survey, most Africans who join those militias do so in response to state violence. The militarization of U.S. policy toward Africa is backfiring. Niger's flip toward Russia is the most recent result. It won't be the last.

“The à la carte world: our new geopolitical order,” Alec Russell, FT 08.21.23.

  • Welcome to the à la carte world. As the post-Cold War age of America as a sole superpower fades, the old era when countries had to choose from a prix fixe menu of alliances is shifting into a more fluid order. The stand-off between Washington and Beijing, and the West’s effective abandonment of its three-decade dream that the gospel of free markets would lead to a more liberal version of the Chinese Communist party, are presenting an opportunity for much of the world: not just to be wooed but also to play one off against the other — and many are doing this with alacrity and increasing skill.
  • The age of the Western set menu is over. And the new menu, while heavily influenced by two lead chefs, is still being written.


“Putin, Pushkin and the decline of the Russian empire,” Timothy Garton Ash, FT, 08.19.23.

  • Last month, I stood at the corner of what used to be Pushkin Street in Kyiv. Following Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, it has been renamed Yevhen Chykalenko Street, after a major figure of the early 20th-century Ukrainian independence movement. To lovers of literature and opera, cancelling Alexander Pushkin, poet and author of Eugene Onegin, might seem a bit over the top. Putin, yes, but why Pushkin?
  • For Ukrainians, however, engaged in an existential struggle for their independence against Russia’s war of recolonization, Pushkin is a symbol of the Russian imperialism that has long denied Ukraine’s right to a separate national existence. Pushkin was a great poet, but also a poet of Russian imperialism, just as Rudyard Kipling was a great poet, but a poet of British imperialism. 
  • Behind this Ukrainian rejection of Pushkin is a much larger story. With hindsight, we can see that the decline of the Russian empire has been one of the great drivers of European history over the past 40 years. And with foresight, we should expect it to remain one of Europe’s greatest challenges for at least the next 20 years, if not another 40.
  • This history won’t be over even if Ukraine regains every square metre of its sovereign territory, including Crimea. There will still be Belarus … There are the independent post-Soviet states of Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as those in Central Asia. Inside the Russian Federation, there are republics such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Tatarstan. … We in the West should not kid ourselves that we can “manage” the decline of this nuclear-armed empire, any more than European powers could “manage” the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Only when Ukraine is securely embraced by both the strong arms of the geopolitical west, the EU and NATO, will its people be able to sleep easily in their beds, as Estonians and Lithuanians do, untroubled by nightly attacks from “Pushkinists.” Then Ukrainians might even go back to reading Eugene Onegin with pleasure.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“China urges BRICS to become geopolitical rival to G7,” Joseph Cotterill, James Kynge, Arjun Neil Alim and Michael Pooler, FT, 08.20.23.

  • China will push the BRICS bloc of emerging markets to become a full-scale rival to the G7 this week, as leaders from across the developing world gather to debate the forum’s biggest expansion in more than a decade.
  • South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has invited more than 60 heads of state and government to a summit in Johannesburg from Wednesday when several countries could be invited to join the bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, said several officials familiar with talks.
  • But in the run-up to the summit New Delhi has clashed with Beijing over the expansion. Tensions are mounting over whether the BRICS should be a non-aligned club for the economic interests of developing countries, or a political force that openly challenges the west, said people briefed on India and China’s positions. South African officials said 23 countries are interested in joining.  “If we expand BRICS to account for a similar portion of world GDP as the G7, then our collective voice in the world will grow stronger,” said one Chinese official, who declined to be identified.

“Five Things to Watch as South Africa Hosts BRICS Summit,” Monique Vanek, Bloomberg, 08.18.23.

  • South Africa hosts a summit of the BRICS group of nations and others in the Global South next week who are seeking to balance Western dominance of the world order while dealing with their own internal divisions. At least 40 heads of state and government will join South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi and Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Johannesburg. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represents Vladimir Putin, who will attend virtually to avoid possible arrest for alleged war crimes if he entered the country.
  • Here are five things to watch as they gather Aug. 22-24 in Sandton, the business hub in the city’s wealthy northern suburbs:
  1. Expansion from the group’s current membership of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa is top of the agenda after being put on the back burner at previous summits. Formed in 2009 and with South Africa added a year later, there are now 23 other nations lining up to join including Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
  2. The bloc will revive the idea of reducing the dollar’s dominance in payments, mooted at previous summits.
  3. The New Development Bank, which would be a conduit for such transactions, has estimated that at least one third of lending will be in local currencies by 2026
  4. Russia’s 18-month long invasion of Ukraine will be on the agenda. BRICS nations have mostly stuck together since the war, with only Brazil voting in favor of a February United Nations resolution calling for an end to the conflict and demanding that Russia withdraw. China, India and South Africa abstained.
  5. 5. Food Security: Soaring food prices are hurting billions of the world’s poorest people and food security will be on the agenda against the backdrop of actions by India and Russia that have made the situation worse.

“The Global South’s BRICS Play Should Not Be Dismissed,” Sarang Shidore, The Nation, 08.17.23.

  • On Aug. 22, South Africa will host the next BRICS summit—bringing together leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—at a time of acute tensions between the United States and its great power rivals China and Russia. But another context for the meeting is the increased salience of the Global South, most sharply revealed by the nuanced reactions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to the Ukraine war.
  • Global South states find the BRICS and the SCO attractive as there is a hunger for alternative structures to achieve their most fundamental goals as states and societies—economic “catch-up” with wealthy states and safeguarding older norms of sovereignty, which the post–Cold War United States often treated with contempt. Western agendas of democracy-promotion and human rights—but especially their blatantly inconsistent and often self-serving application—are seen as threats by much of the Global South, which is peppered with non- or semi-democracies. Huddling with China and Russia, two authoritarian states that show little affinity for these precepts, provides a shield against the intrusion of these norms, their misuse and their perceived threats to regime stability in the South.
  • There is plenty of sentiment in Western capitals that dismisses the significance of organizations such as the BRICS and what they represent. Critics are correct that, thus far, their impact has been more symbolic than substantive. But it would be a mistake to see them as simply talk shops. While desiring a strong relationship with the United States, most Global South states are also seeking pathways that spread risk in a global order of diminishing unipolarity, enhance their own prosperity and climate security, and ensure regime stability against the pressures and temptations of the West. That effort and search will continue, whether Washington likes it or not.

“BRICS: between broadening and deepening,” Andrey Kortunov, Global Times, 08.21.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Historically, BRICS has been rather reluctant to grow its ranks: Since its inception in 2009, the initial group of the four founders added only one additional member, which is now hosting the 2023 summit. In this sense, BRICS is very different from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that has almost doubled its membership since the early days of the original "Shanghai Five" group. 
    • For any multilateral group, broadening presents both opportunities and challenges. By going broader, a group gets additional representativeness and legitimacy. ... However, broadening does not come without a price tag attached. More diversity within a group inevitably generates more disagreements among its members, it becomes increasingly difficult to come to a common denominator on some sensitive and divisive matters, which often happen to be the most important ones.
    • Deepening with no prospects for broadening creates problems as well.  An exclusive club always breeds envy and even resentment from those who are not admitted to the club. Sometimes, those who are not let in, try to start an alternative club of their own. It is no accident that soon after the launch of BRICS an informal alliance of middle powers - Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia (MIKTA) was created.
  • Of course, BRICS does not need to make a clear-cut choice between broadening and deepening - neither at the summit in Johannesburg nor later. A reasonable approach would be to balance the two priorities by opening doors for a gradual rise of membership and concentrating on building the institutional capacity of the group that would help to erase the red line between BRICS members and its partners. In any case, the future of international multilateralism is likely to be defined more by project-based, flexible coalitions of the willing rather than by rigid and heavily bureaucratized blocs and alliances from the 20th century. 

“The BRICS Are Neither the Anti-West Nor a Bloc,” Andreas Kluth, Bloomberg, 08.21.23.

  • The U.S. and its Western allies should take the pomp and posturing at this week’s BRICS summit in Johannesburg with a shaker’s worth of salt.  Sure, that “bloc” — comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — represents more than 40% of the world’s population, and other countries in the Global South may yet join. The BRICS also like to present themselves as a sort of non- or anti-West geopolitical alternative to U.S. hegemony. But they’re not, and never will be. For starters, it’s always a stretch when you launch something — a policy, institution, group or club — just because somebody came up with a great acronym.
  • Each of the five BRICS is in it for different reasons. Take China. It wants to displace the U.S. as a hegemon and keeps seeding blocs it thinks it can dominate for that purpose. ... Given the aims of the C in BRICS, neither the B, R, I or S nor other countries that have expressed an interest in joining, such as Indonesia, can really be enthusiastic about becoming Beijing’s vassals just to teach Washington a lesson. That’s one reason why the forum will struggle to project soft power, much less hard.

“No One Should Want to See a Dictator Get Old,” Michael Beckley, NYT, 08.15.23.

  • Rather than easing toward retirement, both men [Xi and Putin] have aggressively asserted vast territorial claims, ordered mass military mobilizations, strengthened ties with illiberal regimes like North Korea and Iran and built up their cults of personality. After invading Ukraine, Mr. Putin explicitly compared himself to Peter the Great, the modernizing conqueror who founded the Russian Empire. Chinese Communist propaganda describes Mr. Xi as the culmination of a glorious trinity: Under Mao, China stood up; under Deng Xiaoping, China grew rich; and under Xi, China will become mighty.
  • Both have made plain their ambitions to redraw the map of Eurasia. Mr. Putin says Ukraine doesn’t exist as an independent country and has implied that Moscow should reunite the “Russian world” — an area that roughly maps the old Soviet borders. China’s claims include Taiwan, most of the South China Sea and East China Sea and chunks of territory also claimed by India. “We cannot lose even one inch of the territory left behind by our ancestors,” Mr. Xi said in 2018.
  • Diplomacy did not dissuade Mr. Putin from invading Ukraine, and it is unlikely to alter Mr. Xi’s fixation on absorbing Taiwan, which he has framed as essential for realizing “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Revanchist dictators typically don’t respond to nice words. They must be blocked by alliances of powerful militaries and resilient economies.
  • Toward that end, the United States and its allies should accelerate arms transfers to frontline nations like Ukraine and Taiwan and forge an economic and security bloc to stockpile munitions and critical resources and protect international waters and allied territory. The West must band together to deprive Beijing and Moscow of any hope of easy wars of conquest.

“Russia’s Moon Failure a Dent to Its Space Partnership With China,” Bruce Einhorn, Bloomberg, 08.21.23. 

  • The crash of Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft into the moon over the weekend isn’t just a setback for President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to overcome war-related sanctions. It’s also an embarrassment for Chinese President Xi Jinping — Putin’s partner in building a proposed base on the moon meant to challenge the U.S. and its space allies.
  • China isn’t about to give up on all forms of cooperation in space with Russia, however, since Moscow could be of help in developing space-based missile early warning systems, said Mark Hilborne, a lecturer in the Defense Studies Department at King’s College London. But in the more public areas of space exploration, “China may at least outwardly emphasize its collaboration with Russia to a lesser extent, partially due to international opprobrium over Ukraine and its recent lunar failure,” he said.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Escalation Clock. How many steps separate Russia from a nuclear strike,” Maxim Starchak, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Clues from Russian Views.

  • Russian nuclear saber-rattling during the war with Ukraine creates a paradox of strategic deterrence. On the one hand, Russia does not want to allow a direct confrontation with a nuclear power. On the other hand, it escalates the conflict in order to draw the United States into a strategic dialogue and demand concessions. The problem with this policy is that the United States not only does not directly intervene in the conflict, but also does not respond to Russia's nuclear threats.
  • Observing Russian policy in this [nuclear weapons] area, one can assume that the most realistic thing that Russia can do is to change its nuclear deterrence strategy:
    • The introduction of a clause on a preventive nuclear strike would constitute the signal that Russia considers nuclear weapons to be not only a means of deterrence, but also of conducting war.
    • Another clause could be introduced to state that a nuclear strike can be carried out to prevent expansion and / or prolongation of a war.
    • Or another clause could be introduced that the threat of capture of any region of Russia [by another state] is a reason to consider conducting a nuclear strike if conventional armed forces are not able to regain control over that region in the foreseeable future.
  • Experts of the [Russian] Ministry of Defense in their theoretical works are already suggesting demonstrably employing Strategic Missile Forces for strikes against individual adversary targets or establishing a separate grouping of missiles for the first nuclear missile strike.
  • The war has been underway for longer than couple of months or even a year ... Putin has had enough time to introduce changes in his nuclear policy, but so far he has refrained from doing so ... Putin is probably influenced by Cold War generals (first and foremost by the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov), whose main conviction is that there can be no such thing as a limited nuclear war.

“Karaganov’s case for Russian nuclear preemption: responsible strategizing or dangerous delusion?” Stephen J. Cimbala and Lawrence J. Korb, BAS, 08.21.23.

  • In a controversial essay, noted Russian academician, commentator, and former Kremlin advisor Sergei Karaganov recently called for Russia to launch limited nuclear strikes on Western Europe as a way to restore nuclear deterrence and bring the war in Ukraine to a favorable conclusion.
  • Two aspects of this Russian back and forth on nuclear preemption are especially important.
    • First, Karaganov at least implicitly draws upon Western notions of nuclear escalation and control that were controversial on both sides of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War and remain so now.
    • Second, it is possible that Karaganov is engaged in disinformation prompted by Russian government sources that would prefer this messaging to come from a purportedly objective academic source instead of the Kremlin. On the other hand, official Russian state policy does not necessarily support Karaganov’s position on the advisability of nuclear preemption.
  • If ambitious political objectives in Moscow are combined with a military-strategic net assessment that a prolonged war of attrition in Ukraine favors Russia against its opponents, the likelihood going forward is a tit-for-tat expansion of conventional war fighting with a background of nuclear coercion du jour. Crossing the threshold of nuclear first use under these circumstances is not impossible, but neither is it inevitable.
  • The assumption that Russian nuclear first use can take place in Ukraine or elsewhere in Europe without provoking further nuclear attacks assumes a large amount of political and military restraint on the part of the United States and NATO. At a minimum, a meaningful and highly destructive NATO military response with conventional weapons against Russian forces in Ukraine and possibly in Russia would be expected. Russia would then be in a position of stalemate unless it responded with further nuclear strikes against NATO military targets with increased collateral damage to civilians, compared to its nuclear first use. In response to this attack, NATO would almost certainly resort to nuclear retaliation of some kind, including against targets in Russia.
  • The need for planning and thinking about de-escalation in Ukraine is now more urgent than ever in Moscow, Washington and Brussels, and far more reasonable than Sergei Karaganov’s delusory musings about walking on the wild side of nuclear first use.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

“The AI Power Paradox. Can States Learn to Govern Artificial Intelligence—Before It’s Too Late?” Ian Bremmer and Mustafa Suleyman, FA, 08.16.23.

  • AI is different—different from other technologies and different in its effect on power. It does not just pose policy challenges; its hyper-evolutionary nature also makes solving those challenges progressively harder. That is the AI power paradox. … Once released, AI models can and will be everywhere. And it will take just one malign or “breakout” model to wreak havoc. For that reason, regulating AI cannot be done in a patchwork manner. 
  • Whether for its repressive capabilities, economic potential or military advantage, AI supremacy will be a strategic objective of every government with the resources to compete. … [F]or the next few years, AI’s trajectory will be largely determined by the decisions of a handful of private businesses, regardless of what policymakers in Brussels or Washington do.
  • These [following] principles would help policymakers draw up more granular regulatory frameworks to govern AI as it evolves and becomes a more pervasive force.
    • The first and perhaps most vital principle for AI governance is precaution. As the term implies, technoprudentialism is at its core guided by the precautionary credo: first, do no harm.
    • AI governance must also be agile so that it can adapt and correct course as AI evolves and improves itself.
    • AI governance must be inclusive, inviting the participation of all actors needed to regulate AI in practice.
    • AI governance must also be as impermeable as possible. … AI safety is determined by the lowest common denominator: a single breakout algorithm could cause untold damage.
    • In addition to covering the entire globe, AI governance must cover the entire supply chain.
    • Finally, AI governance will need to be targeted, rather than one-size-fits-all.
  • One area where Washington and Beijing may find it advantageous to work together is in slowing the proliferation of powerful systems that could imperil the authority of nation-states.
  • A technocratic body for AI risk—call it the Geotechnology Stability Board—could work to maintain geopolitical stability amid rapid AI-driven change.
  • A strong AI governance regime would both mitigate the societal risks posed by AI and ease tensions between China and the United States by reducing the extent to which AI is an arena—and a tool—of geopolitical competition. And such a regime … would establish a model for how to address other disruptive, emerging technologies.

“Do Oppenheimer’s Warnings About Nuclear Weapons Apply to AI?” Hal Brands, Bloomberg, 08.15.23.

  • Rapid-fire innovation in AI is ushering in another technological revolution. Once again, leading scientists, engineers and innovators argue it is simply too dangerous to unleash this technology on a rivalrous world.
  • The sentiment is understandable. Leaving aside the prospect of killer robots, AI — like most technologies — will change the world for good (better health care) and for ill (more disinformation, helping terrorists build chemical weapons). 
  • It is entirely possible the world will ultimately need some multilateral regime to control AI’s underlying technology or most dangerous applications. U.S. officials are even quietly hopeful that Moscow and Beijing will be willing to regulate technologies that could disrupt their societies as profoundly as it tests the democracies.
  • Between now and then, though, the U.S. surely does not want to find itself in a position of weakness because the People’s Liberation Army has mastered the next revolution in military affairs, or because China and Russia are making the most of AI — to better control their populations and more effectively diffuse their influence globally, perhaps — and the democracies aren’t.

“Convergence: Artificial intelligence and the new and old weapons of mass destruction,” Emilia Javorsky and Hamza Chaudhry, BAS, 08.18.23.

  • The field that explores how the dual-use nature of AI systems can amplify the dual-use nature of other technologies—including biological, chemical, nuclear and cyber—has come to be known as convergence.
  • There is much that can be done in the policy realm to reduce convergence risks.
    • First, it is critical for the government to dedicate funding to institutes, such as the National Science Foundation, to improve our understanding of the risks from convergence. This should include exploration of technology convergence in specific domains and security environment convergence, as well as more holistic investigation of the dynamics of threat convergence independent of the technological domain.
    • Second, Congress may consider a growing roster of policy recommendations already in the public sphere on mitigating risks from specific AI pathways.
    • Finally, more coordination and cooperation across different companies and countries to establish common safeguards for AI development are likely to reduce geopolitical tensions and dissuade relevant actors from driving the military use of their AI technologies.

Energy exports from CIS:

“Lessons from the ‘tanker war’ for Ukraine,” Sergey Vakulenko, FT, 08.20.23.

  • Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, Moscow has succeeded in significantly limiting Kyiv’s maritime trade.
  • Ukraine is trying, meanwhile, to end the blockade by inviting to its ports vessels sailing under the flags of countries that it believes Russia won’t dare attack. One part-German-owned vessel made it out of Odesa this week on its way to Istanbul. Ukraine probably hopes that an attack on a NATO member-flagged vessel would be seen as an act of aggression, triggering NATO’s Article 5.
  • In the current conflict, attacking tankers in the Black Sea runs the risk of oil spills and significant ecological damage for all the littoral states, including Ukraine. This may give Kyiv pause.
  • There is, however, another way of stopping exports from Russian Black Sea ports: attacking oil terminals, primarily the two in the sea port of Novorossiysk. The first, Sheskharis, is located inside Novorossiysk harbor, which would make an attack from the sea relatively difficult. The second terminal, Yuzhnaya Ozereyevka, operates from moorings several miles out to sea, where tankers dock. Those are vulnerable to attack and harder to repair. But they are used to export oil produced in Kazakhstan.
  • If Ukraine succeeds in forcing Russia to reroute its exports via the Baltic Sea, it will mean losses not only for Moscow but also for its customers—including major developing countries and some of Ukraine’s own allies.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

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:

"Russia’s Central Bank Can’t Stop Ruble Trouble," Jon Sindreu, WSJ, 08.16.23.

  • Driving the moves [of the Russian ruble’s depreciation] is a narrowing in Russia’s large trade surplus. In June, exports measured in U.S. dollars fell 38% from a year earlier, owing in part to the global fall in commodity prices. Meanwhile, imports rose 18% as a rebound in the Russian economy and loose fiscal policy led to higher domestic spending. Inflation jumped to 4.3% in July. But the ruble hasn’t plumbed the depths it did after the invasion of Ukraine last year … Are sanctions against Russia actually working? The answer seems to be yes, but not exactly as intended.
  • Severing Russia from the international monetary system and embargoing its central bank’s reserves were risky moves meant to disrupt the functioning of banks and bring about economic collapse. That didn’t happen. Meanwhile, Western countries’ addiction to Russian gas stopped them from implementing a full export ban, allowing Moscow to keep collecting revenues and boost military spending.
  • The upshot was that the ruble lost access to most foreign financial flows, but not to the trade flows that have always been its chief support. Capital controls also helped the currency by stopping people from withdrawing their savings from Russian banks. However, this situation also means few investors will be buying Russian financial assets even as they offer higher returns. Sharply raising interest rates at the first sign of trouble might be a signature strategy of central-bank chair Elvira Nabiullina … but it can only have a muted impact this time around.
  • Looking ahead, the ruble will likely reflect the progressive deterioration of Russia’s productive potential. Restrictions on imports of foreign technology were the sanctions that really mattered. They and many Western firms’ decisions to leave the country might impoverish the country’s economy beyond what GDP figures can capture. … Some of the gaps are being filled by smuggling and rerouting of products through third countries. Domestic alternatives to Western technology will eventually increase, especially with China’s help. Also, the ruble could recover if oil prices keep edging higher, or if monetary and fiscal policy become tight enough to depress imports meaningfully.
  • But this puts Russia in an old bind affecting developing economies: Whenever economic growth recovers, imports rise more than exports and the currency suffers. Today’s situation suggests that this problem will plague President Vladimir Putin more than ever. The value of the ruble has long been used by Russians as a quick gauge of the country’s health. … A slower depreciation [of the ruble] might not be the bang Putin’s opponents were hoping for after his invasion of Ukraine. But a whimpering economic decline can be pretty bad too.

“A Sickly Ruble Reveals What Putin Will Not,” Alexandra Prokopenko, Bloomberg, 08.17.23.

  • The Kremlin likes to boast that sanctions don’t work, and similar reservations are increasingly being expressed by Western observers. Yet the rapidly depreciating ruble, which in August became the worst-performing currency among developing countries, suggests otherwise. The Bank of Russia was even forced to hike the key rate to 12% from 8.5% in one day during an emergency meeting on Aug. 15. This move is likely aimed at taming inflation that will be fueled by the ruble’s weakening.
  • The fundamental reasons for the fluctuating ruble rate are linked to changes in the structure of market demand, above all reduced revenues from exporting oil and gas due to the EU embargo on importing Russian oil and oil products, the price cap imposed by the G7, and the subsequent rerouting of those commodities to different destinations.
  • The ruble’s main adversary is the Russian state itself, which is actively spending budget funds. Its high volatility and the fact that it halved in value in less than a year are consequences of the new economic policy forged by the war and sanctions. What the Kremlin calls the “structural transformation of the economy” is more commonly known as military Keynesianism: boosting economic growth through increased military spending.
  • The volatile and weakening ruble exchange rate is testament to just how imbalanced the Kremlin has allowed the economy to become, and that it is already barely coping. When the war ends, the sudden switch in demand from the inflated defense sector back to the civilian sector will be a powerful shock that will be impossible to absorb painlessly. As we know from history, it also proved impossible for Russia’s predecessor, the Soviet Union.

“Is Russia the World’s 5th Largest Economy in GDP, PPP?” RM Staff and Associates, RM, 08.16.23.

  • "Russia becomes Europe’s biggest economy.” That’s the headline that Kremlin-funded RT’s editors put on a story they ran Aug. 4. The story went on to trumpet that “Russia was among the world’s five largest economies and the largest in Europe in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) as of the end of 2022, despite Western sanctions, the latest World Economics report has revealed.”
  • We consulted the World Bank’s and the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) databases, which both offer the following methodologically different approaches toward measuring countries’ GDP in terms of purchasing power parity … Only the first of these three approaches (GDP, PPP, in current dollars) supports the dual claim that Russia has become Europe’s largest and the world’s fifth largest economy in 2022 (see Table 1). The other two methods (GDP, PPP, in constant dollars and share of world’s GDP, PPP, in constant dollars) ran counter to these two claims, showing that Russia was Europe’s second largest economy after Germany, as well as the world’s sixth largest economy in 2022 (see Tables 2 and 3).1
  • But what if we were to look ahead? How would Russia fare in the ranking of Europe’s and the world’s largest economies in the future? Again, we consulted the IMF, whose estimates go to 2028. These estimates show that in 2028 Russia’s share in the world’s GDP, PPP, in constant dollars will shrink, making it seventh among the countries with the largest shares in the world’s GDP. The IMF predicts that Russia’s share in the world’s GDP will decline from 2.92% in 2022 to 2.58% in 2028 (see Table 4), a decrease of 11.64%.

“The Return of Russian Ethnonationalism. Chauvinism Under — and After — Putin,” Jade McGlynn and Kirill Shamiev, FA, 08.17.23.

  • It is hard to imagine a more nationalist leader of Russia than President Vladimir Putin. … Someday, whether the result of overthrow, resignation, or death, Putin will no longer hold office. Given the disastrous results of his gambit in Ukraine, as well as his sui generis nature, many confidently predict that whoever follows him will inevitably exhibit less rabid nationalism. The new Russia, they hope, will at last be a normal state — meaning relatively liberal and democratic.
  • Trends in Russia point to a different post-Putin outcome: a turn toward a more pronounced form of nationalism. … What Russians are likely to crave after Putin, however, is a leader who shares their anti-elitism and promises to salve their wounded pride. Already there is a strong ethnonationalist current in Russian politics. Blaming Russia’s problems on Muslims, Central Asian migrants, and corrupt elites, Russian ethnonationalists promise to make Russia great again. They argue that the state should start serving the needs of ethnic Russians. It is easy to imagine their appeal growing in the embers of Russian imperialism.
  • For those who know their Russian history, this is not a comforting prospect. In the 1990s, after the Soviet collapse, ethnic tensions flared in and around Russia. Wars motivated largely by ethnic grievances broke out in Chechnya, Yugoslavia, Georgia, Moldova, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. A descent into ethnonationalism would resurface existing grievances, threatening not just demonized minority groups but the very stability and unity of Russia.
  • But even though Russia after Putin may well be destined to embrace nationalism, it does not have to embrace ethnonationalism. For those inside and outside Russia who care about protecting minorities and furthering liberalism, the task is to shape a more democratic and inclusive Russian nationalism, one that nurtures the ethnic Russian identity without affording it rights over other groups.
  • Russia is now home to a dizzying array of nationalist movements, and it is hard to say what form Russian nationalism will take after Putin. But if it takes a welcome form, one that focuses on building solidarity and sharing power with Russia’s other nationalities, it would offer a fleeting opportunity to address the core driver of Russia’s recent aggression: the conflation of greatness with imperial ambitions. Russians could finally see their country not as an empire but as a nation.

“Many Russians refuse to become silent accomplices to Putin's war — at great cost,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, WP, 08.15.23.

  • At the start of this process, I expected my experience to be similar to that of the dissidents of the 1960s and 1970s whose struggles against Soviet totalitarianism I have studied and documented. But Russia's regress under Putin has taken a much more dramatic pace. From the total secrecy of the proceedings to the three-judge panel that seemed to intentionally echo the "troikas" of the 1930s to the language of the prosecutor, who called me "an enemy that must be punished," my trial had much more in common with the handling of "enemies of the people" under Joseph Stalin than of dissidents under Leonid Brezhnev. The sentence completed the parallel: Before me, the last time political prisoners in this country had received 25-year terms was at the end of
  • Some people in the West are asking why more Russians aren't protesting against Putin and his brutal war. Perhaps, a more apt observation would be that — given the circumstances and the cost — so many Russians are. According to human rights groups, since Putin's invasion of Ukraine, nearly 20,000 people have faced police detention across Russia for antiwar protests. Not a week goes by without another arrest, indictment or sentencing of antiwar protesters. Artists and journalists, politicians and priests, lawyers and police officers, students and railroad workers: Russians of different backgrounds and vocations have refused to become silent accomplices to Putin's war, even at the cost of personal freedom.
  • It is my hope that when people in the free world today think and speak about Russia, they will remember not only the war criminals who are sitting in the Kremlin but also those who are standing up to them. Because we are Russians too.

"Putin conquers Russia’s history textbooks," Editorial Board, WP, 08.18.23.

  • Schoolbooks have long been a battleground over ideology and historical memory. Mr. Putin, the former KGB officer who came to power in 2000, has repeatedly revised them to glorify Russia's history as a single, unbroken, thousand-year feat and to dress up the story of his own rule. He's now overseeing a rewrite of the narrative of the war in Ukraine, too. The question is whether it will stick.
  • Should Mr. Putin remain in power for years ahead, so will his besieged, fortress mentality. This is why it remains so important to penetrate the cordon and provide Russians with honest, straightforward news. Some news outlets, such as Meduza, TV Rain and others, are doing this, and they deserve support. Desperate for independent information during the June mutiny of mercenary boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin, Russians sought out Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Russian service, which saw YouTube views leap by a factor of 31times, and Current Time TV, which saw views multiply five times.

Defense and aerospace:

“Russian Military Personnel Policy and Proficiency. Reforms and Trends, 1991-2021,” Anika Binnendijk, Dara Massicot, Anthony Atler, John J. Drennan, Khrystyna Holynska, Katya Migacheva, Marek N. Posard and Yuliya Shokh, RAND, August 2023.

  • Prior to 2022, Russia's defense leadership prioritized the professionalization of the Russian military through policy and budgetary initiatives as a counterpart to modernization investments in weapons and equipment.
  • The Russian military invested in tangible benefits associated with both conscription and contract service to enhance incentives for recruitment and retention. The policies yielded some improvements in both areas, although survey data suggest that some dissatisfaction persisted.
  • Other policy priorities focused on intangible factors, such as prestige and reduced stigma associated with military service. Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, these appeared to play a less significant role in recruitment and retention — particularly of contract personnel — than material factors.
  • Within the military's professional training and education systems, reforms aimed to enhance professional military proficiency to reflect new security and technological realities. … Recent initiatives increased the proportion of contract service members in Russia's military. These initiatives sought to address several of the perennial problems that had previously hampered the Russian military's effectiveness.
  • Russia might not fully trust its military personnel, even as more of them increasingly serve under contract. More-recent initiatives have sought to improve the loyalty of service members by promoting lessons of military history and patriotic values at all echelons. … Investments and initiatives between 2008 and 2022 sought to improve the base level of professionalism and readiness within Russia's armed forces. Although military leaders expressed satisfaction with performance during the Syria campaign, Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine exposed persistent weaknesses within the system.

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • No significant developments.


“Why the West Should Localize Anti-Corruption Efforts in Ukraine,” Olena Lennon, PONARS, 08.21.23.

  • Given the scale and speed of assistance and the wartime operating environment, some in the West have expressed concerns about proper use of the funds and equipment, calling for more robust oversight and accountability. These concerns are rooted in the West’s historical sensitivity to Ukrainian corruption: fighting corruption was second only to the Russian threat in the United States’ pre-war policy toward Ukraine.
  • Ukraine’s corruption problems threaten the flow of much-needed funds from both private and public sources. Quite apart from the insecurities occasioned by the war, investors are likely to be deterred by perceptions that they will have to contend with rent-seeking officials or a flawed judiciary incapable of protecting their assets.
  • In addressing Ukraine’s corruption problems, international partners have traditionally focused on establishing new bodies able to track, oversee, and audit spending. However, the urgency of Ukraine’s needs in prosecuting the war and during reconstruction means that a different approach is required. In addition to national-level agencies and processes, the West should support the localization of anti-corruption efforts that prioritize integrity, transparency, and accountability.
  • Local-level efforts — empowered by fiscal and operational autonomy as a result of the 2015 decentralization reform — have already been a resounding success at fostering Ukrainian resilience in the face of the war. Empowering local actors is the only way to create a cultural shift, enabling individual integrity and accountability to foster an environment unfavorable to corrupt practices.

“A disastrous strategic failure has Ukrainians discussing politics again,” Anna Nemtsova, WP, 08.16.23.

  • On July 21, former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko … drew attention to legislation he had proposed in 2021 that called for funding to prepare, in case of war, for the destruction of the Chonhar bridge — a crucial communications link between mainland Ukraine and the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula. The bill never made it through parliament.
  • Poroshenko's statement was a swipe at his longtime rival Volodymyr Zelensky, who still enjoys sky-high approval ratings as president thanks to his strong wartime leadership. Ukrainians have generally accepted that the war necessitated restrictions to the country's democratic institutions. Martial law, which was declared immediately after the Russian invasion, has constrained free speech and civil liberties. Yet now Poroshenko is testing those limits.
  • At the heart of the issue is the government's potential responsibility for a disastrous strategic failure. In the opening days of the invasion, the Russian army quickly occupied a large chunk of the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson. They did it by rolling across the Chonhar bridge — which the Ukrainian army was supposed to have destroyed but did not. Why it failed to do so continues to bedevil Ukraine's politicians, military and journalists — not to mention a team of government investigators that has been working the case ever since.
  • Was the failure to blow up the Chonhar bridge the fault of the SBU, which was run at the time by a man who was a childhood friend of Zelensky? (He has since been fired.) Or was it a case of pure negligence, the fault of the military, headed then and now by Gen. Valery Zaluzhny?
  • The mystery around the failure to blow up the bridge just won't go away. … A 48-year-old marine whose job was to blow up the Chonhar bridge as the invasion began [is] convinced the operation was sabotaged. He claimed that the bridge was mined at least a week and a half before the invasion — but nothing happened when he pressed the detonator. [Former Zelensky adviser Oleksiy] Arestovych pins the blame for the failure on betrayal by an SBU officer, allegedly turned by the Russians, who was arrested in March. … The real question is whether a system allows for scrutiny and accountability. Ukraine's culture of democratic resilience is precisely what makes it radically different from Russia — and that should include scrutinizing the failures of officialdom.

“Resisting Russia. Insights into Ukraine's Civilian-Based Actions During the First Four Months of the War in 2022,” Marta Kepe and Alyssa Demus, RAND, August 2023.

  • Civilian-based activities in Ukraine in February–June 2022 were varied and included numerous actors, from civilian government actors and political leadership to independent enterprises and self-organized volunteer groups. … Many civilian-based activities were spontaneous and need-based and relied on existing informal networks, while higher-level coordination was more present in civil protection, humanitarian aid, hacker activism, and communication activities.
  • The Russia-Ukraine war (2022–) provides a glimpse into what future civilian contributions to wars could look like. Interstate conflict could involve large-scale cyber operations waged by a loose confederation of amateurs and professionals from the occupied country and abroad.
  • Civilians might offer meaningful contributions by imposing direct military costs on occupying powers and supporting the defending armed forces or civil society. It is necessary to prepare guidelines for such eventualities to avoid instances in which a sudden surge of civilian volunteers creates chaos, causes friendly fire, or interferes with the strategic objectives of the country.
  • The ability to deny an occupier's economic consolidation of the occupied country will increasingly mean protecting not only key economic centers of gravity during the war but also peacetime resilience preparations, including the diversification of energy resources, other product supply chains, and (potentially) export lines.
  • Ukraine's history of social and political movements helped build a stronger and more active society, demonstrating the value of understanding civil society movements in different countries. … In future wars, large companies could increasingly shape the operational aspects of a conflict, as well as its geopolitical and strategic outcomes.

“Businesses scent a tech opportunity in Ukraine war,” Marietje Schaake, FT, 08.16.23.

  • Among some business leaders there is a perverse sense of enthusiasm for testing out new products [in Ukraine].
    • Alex Karp claims his company, Palantir, is making a decisive difference in favor of Ukraine, for example through their AI that supports identifying targets.
    • Former Google chief Eric Schmidt took a trip to Ukraine, where he met staff in President Zelenskyy’s office and the country’s defense minister. He scoped out future investment opportunities and is now supporting a local start-up incubator for military technologies.
    • The controversial AI company Clearview is facing fines for violating privacy rules in Europe, but proved keen to offer its technologies to hundreds of Ukrainian officials..
  • William LaPlante, U.S. under-secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, poured some cold water on all this, tempering the hype from tech CEOs talking up the role their products might play in deciding the outcome of the war. He warned that fighting is not done by Silicon Valley “even though they’re gonna to try to take credit for it.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Azerbaijan should reopen the Lachin corridor — and avert another war,” Editorial Board, WP, 08.16.23.

  • The mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, home to about 120,000 residents, most of whom are ethnic Armenians, has long relied upon a single lifeline to Armenia: a road known as the Lachin corridor.
  • Azerbaijan set up a checkpoint on the Lachin corridor, which had been transporting goods to and from Armenia under the purview of the Russian peacekeeping mission. [President of Azerbaijan Ilham] Aliyev’s government claimed the road was being used to smuggle weapons to the remaining fighting force in Karabakh, but reports suggest the blockade is creating a humanitarian crisis. A group of United Nations human rights experts said Aug. 7 that the blockade has “left the population facing acute shortages of food staples, medication, and hygiene products, impacted the functioning of medical and educational institutions, and placed the lives of the residents — especially children, people with disabilities, older people, pregnant women, and the sick — at significant risk.” The International Court of Justice on Feb. 22 called on Azerbaijan to “take all measures at its disposal to ensure unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions.” Mr. Aliyev has ignored the demand.
  • Mr. Aliyev should grasp that starving the Armenians of Karabakh will get him nothing; lifting the Lachin corridor blockade can help negotiations progress and avert yet another war.

“Armenians see a new genocide taking place. Azerbaijan sees propaganda,” Ishaan Tharoor, WP, 08.18.23.

  • The firsthand accounts are harrowing. There's no food on shelves in stores. Children stand for hours in bread lines to help feed their families. Mothers walk for miles in search of cooking oil and other provisions. Electricity, gas and water are in short supply. Ambulances can't whir into motion for lack of fuel. Clinics report a surge in miscarriages in pregnant women who are malnourished, anemic and consumed by stress. … Such is the apparent state of … Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • The plight of the afflicted communities led Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, to publish an opinion earlier this month determining that the conditions of starvation inflicted on the enclave's ethnic Armenians was an act of genocide. He cited an article in the Genocide Convention that referred to "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction." "The idea of genocide is not just about killing, but about removing people from the land," Moreno Ocampo told me during a phone call this week.
  • In his report, he wrote: "There are no crematories, and there are no machete attacks. Starvation is the invisible genocide weapon. Without immediate dramatic change, this group of Armenians will be destroyed in a few weeks."
  • The current crisis has highlighted the existential fears and deep-seated enmities felt on both sides. As Armenians around the world raised the alarm over the plight of blockaded Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani media focused on the discovery of a mass grave of Azerbaijani people in the city of Shusha, dating back to the battles of the 1990s and the area's occupation by ethnic Armenian forces. The city was "liberated" by Azerbaijan in the brief 2020 war, which saw Baku's forces seize significant swaths of territory captured by Armenian troops in the earlier phase of the conflict.
  • Moreno Ocampo summoned that deep, bitter history, noting that hundreds of thousands of Armenians who perished more than a century ago were driven from their homes by Ottoman forces and left to die of hunger. "Starvation was the weapon of the genocide in 1915 and now Azerbaijan is using starvation against Armenians," he told me. "It's tragic but history is repeating, and that's why humanity has to react."

“‘People feel let down by Russia’: disputed Caucasus enclave choked by blockade,” Polina Ivanova, FT, 08.15.23.

  • Nina, a 23-year-old village school teacher, goes from store to store every morning searching for food in the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where she and her parents have been trapped for the past eight months. They are among the tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians, living in the remote corner of the Caucasus Mountains, who have been cut off from their traditional supply routes by Azerbaijan.
  • In Nagorno-Karabakh, Nina worries about her hometown’s bare shop shelves, power cuts, scarce medical supplies and empty fuel tanks — she said the situation was the “worst it has ever been” and “nearing a humanitarian catastrophe”. Residents spoke of fearing hunger; local authorities warned of malnutrition among babies and pregnant women. The UN Secretary-General has expressed concern over reports of a “deteriorating humanitarian situation”, and called for “unimpeded movement” along the Lachin road.
  • In Nagorno-Karabakh — which was won by Armenia soon after the fall of the Soviet Union and held for decades, before being largely recaptured by Azerbaijan in 2020 — Russia had named itself a guarantor of security in a 2020 ceasefire agreement and promised to keep open the region’s connecting route through the town of Lachin.
  • Nagorno-Karabakh is home to a small but fiercely independent ethnic Armenian community. “I’d rather die than become a resident of Azerbaijan,” said Nina, who lost friends in the conflict. “Many people from my circle fought, and many died, and I do not understand how, after all of that, I could be a carrier of an Azeri passport.”
  • It is a crisis that Russian peacekeepers have failed to prevent. Though almost 2,000 were deployed, as per the 2020 ceasefire, to protect “the connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia”, this link has been severed. … Russia, traditionally Armenia’s backer, failed last year to deliver weapons ordered and paid for by Yerevan. The departure of Ruben Vardanyan, a Russian-Armenian billionaire with longstanding ties to Moscow, from his post as first minister in Nagorno-Karabakh was also seen by some as a sign of Russia’s declining influence. … “It’s totally evident that Russia has no authority in this territory anymore,” Nina said, speaking by phone from the region’s capital, known to Armenians as Stepanakert. “People feel let down by Russia as a great power.”

“US can help ease the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Ardem Patapoutian and Vicken Cheterian, The Boston Globe, 08.16.23.

  • [In Nagorno-Karabakh,] Azerbaijan has blocked access to essential commodities …  Azerbaijani military personnel regularly open fire on agricultural workers, effectively prohibiting them from cultivating their own food; the intent seems clear: to slowly starve them into submission. We, the diaspora Armenians, are anxiously watching the unfolding of this humanitarian crisis that seeks to force Armenians from their ancestral lands. Armenians experienced genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century, a horror that feels all too familiar to us now.
  • The Armenian presence in the Caucasus is challenged by Azerbaijan, a state with a population several times larger than Armenia. Caspian oil has permitted Azerbaijani rulers to invest heavily in military equipment. Moreover, Azerbaijan has the unconditional support of Turkey, which provides political and military aid to Azerbaijan. … Armenia is left alone against this powerful alliance. Russia, which on paper has a security alliance with Armenia, has been preoccupied with its war in Ukraine or unwilling to intervene.
  • Armenia, a democratic nation with a thriving technology sector, finds itself in a region largely dominated by autocratic regimes. We have been heartened to see the international support for Ukraine, another democratic nation that has also endured a neighbor's aggression. However, we also feel a sense of abandonment as our Western friends have given scant attention to the plight of our compatriots.
  • Nevertheless, our states, particularly the United States, have the power to alleviate this suffering. … A clear message is necessary to stop Azerbaijan and put Aliyev on notice that the country's oil exports and bank accounts could be sanctioned if he persists in his crimes against humanity. We urge the U.S. and European governments to respond effectively and efficiently. The United States should lead the democratic world by threatening severe sanctions against Azerbaijan's hydrocarbon exports, and by freezing its bank accounts if it continues its blockade. An emergency airlift like in the times of the Berlin Wall is another step to be considered. The UN Security Council is one arena where multilateralism and international law can be put into a new test.
  • At this stage of global geopolitical upheaval and reshuffling of alliances, the survival of a small democracy in the Caucasus very much depends on whether Western states decide to act instead of expressing their “concern” while watching this humanitarian crisis unfold in slow motion from afar.

“What’s Behind China’s Strategic Partnership With Georgia?” Emil Avdaliani, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 08.17.23.

  • China-Georgia strategic cooperation does not guarantee greater or even unhampered Chinese influence in Georgia. The latter is still a major partner for the United States and the EU. Both Washington and Brussels, to varying degrees, regard Beijing as a systemic rival, and this would obviously take a toll on Tbilisi. This geopolitical dichotomy also risks undermining the effective operation of the Middle Corridor, which, for the moment, is supported by the EU and China. Their overlapping interests would ideally serve as a major driver behind the expansion of the route, but this is far from guaranteed. Brussels and Beijing will likely have different agendas for who is to play a major role in infrastructure development in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and elsewhere along the route.
  • Nor is Russia likely to welcome China’s moves. Although Moscow regards the South Caucasus as part of its uncontested sphere of influence, the Kremlin has witnessed a gradual erosion of its power and prestige in the region. Taking advantage of Moscow’s preoccupation with its war against Ukraine, powers like Turkey, Iran, and now China have made significant inroads into the South Caucasus to fill the emerging vacuum. As a result, a multi-aligned South Caucasus has emerged, and the recent China-Georgia agreement further exacerbates this trend.

“Religious Policy in Uzbekistan,” Andrea Schmitz, SWP, 08.21.23.

  • The religious policy innovations that Uzbekistan’s President Mirziyoyev has initiated in the name of liberalization and reform continue the poli­cies of his predecessor in key aspects.
  • Under the motto “enlightenment against ignorance”, state influence over the religious knowledge taught in educational and research institutions has been strengthened. The country’s Islamic heritage is proactively used for representative purposes and held up as an integral part of national culture.
  • The religious policy measures that amount to a “secularization” of Islam through scientification and musealisation do not reach large sections of society. For the ordinary believer, Islam is not a science but a matter of belief, a system of rules and convictions that guides the way they live.
  • The liberalization of the media landscape means that religious advice is available in abundance. It often includes propaganda transporting illiberal ideas, but the state intervenes only selectively.
  • The liberalization of religious policy has resulted in a growing Islamization of the population. The authoritarian state headed by President Mirziyoyev is thus being consolidated. Repression remains the means of choice should Islamic milieus seriously challenge the secular state.


  1. Translated with the help of machine translation tools.

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 2:00 pm Eastern time on Aug. 21, 2023. Unless otherwise indicated, all summaries above are direct quotations.

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

Slider photo shared by the Russian presidential press service ( under a CC BY 4.0 license.