Russia Analytical Report, Aug. 21-28, 2023
4 Ideas to Explore
- Yevgeny Prigozhin’s demise turns to dust hopes that Vladimir Putin’s omnipotence may have been punctured, according to Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. Prigozhin’s death is also “unlikely to have an impact on the course of the disastrous war [in Ukraine] that for Putin is an obsession,” Gabuev writes in FT. Once Putin described Prigozhin as a traitor in the course of Wagner’s mutiny in June, his fate was sealed, according to Alexander Baunov of the same Carnegie center. “Consequences were inevitable. Otherwise, a system built on informal principles and practices rather than formal institutions risked becoming unmanageable,” Baunov explains in WSJ. Prigozhin’s mutiny turned him into a liability in the eyes of Putin, according to Tatiana Stanovaya of R.Politik. “I didn’t really see what value Prigozhin had to Putin after the mutiny,” she told FA.
- The Kremlin is weighing options for bringing PMC Wagner under its control after the death of its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, Western officials told NYT. Options under consideration include absorbing Wagner into either the Defense Ministry or the intelligence branch of the General Staff, known by its former acronym G.R.U., according to NYT. It is unclear how many veteran Wagner mercenaries would accept such subordination, according to NYT, which warns of a possible “mass exodus.” Exodus or not, Anatol Lieven and George Beebe of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft predict that the Wagner group will continue to “act as Russia’s proxy in Africa, Syria and possibly in Belarus.” Eventually, “the Wagner brand may fade,” but other PMCs will fill the void, given the Kremlin’s need for such an instrument in this toolbox, according to an FT commentary by New America’s Candace Rondeaux.
- The past BRICS summit has signaled that this group’s founding members have chosen diversification over consolidation, but even further expansion will not transform it into an anti-Western alliance, according to Fyodor Lukyanov, who chairs the presidium of Russia’s Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. Such a transformation is impossible because, with the exception of Russia and Iran, none of the current and likely future participants of the group want to openly oppose the West, Lukyanov writes in the Russian government’s daily. Still, Moscow should be content with “a phased, but maximum expansion of the group, and its transformation into a most representative community, whose members interact with each other, bypassing Western pressure,” tis leading Russian foreign policy expert concludes. “An expanded BRICS will struggle to challenge, transform or come up with a rival to the West’s architecture of global economic governance,” according to FT’s editorial on the recent summit.
- “Amid Russia’s turmoil, are sanctions really helping?” Bloomberg editors ask in a recent editorial, acknowledging that “the Kremlin has so far done an effective job of blunting sanctions.” Western leaders need to maintain solidarity, toughen sanctions and close loopholes, but they should also continue to seek opportunities to offer Vladimir Putin an off-ramp, according to the Bloomberg editors. “Simply bringing Russia to its knees won’t end well for anyone,” they conclude.
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:
- No significant developments.
Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:
- Russia’s efforts to obstruct Ukraine’s food exports are working. First, Moscow quit a pact that had allowed safe passage of crops from Black Sea ports. Then it sent drones to bombard grain terminals along the Danube river—the next most important shipping route. Ukrainian farmers worried their grain wouldn’t find its way to foreign buyers now plan to plant less for the next season, and that’s stoking worries about global supplies.
- Ukraine’s monthly export capacity fell from about 7-8 million tons to a maximum of about 4 million tons. Ukraine asked other nations to help facilitate shipments from three deep-sea ports that weren’t covered by the export pact. But the U.S. government said military escorts weren’t an option and insurance broker Marsh suspended its program for grain exports from Ukraine. The next-best alternative route, via the Danube, was then thrown into doubt when Russia sent drones to attack ports along the river in August. Even if the Danube remains a viable route, the additional expense of shipping grain via river and rail makes it less appealing for farmers. Some major Ukrainian farm companies were planning to reduce the area they plant for winter crops as they didn’t expect prices to cover those costs.
- China, Spain and Turkey were the biggest buyers of Ukrainian foodstuffs shipped through the safe corridor, but poorer countries like Egypt and Bangladesh also imported over a million tons each under the program. The U.N. has said shipments under the deal helped to boost global supplies and bring down prices, regardless of where the grain was shipped. Global grain prices initially spiked after Russia’s exit from the deal. Corn and wheat futures have since moderated.
Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:
- The bottom line for the administration is that this war will probably grind into next year — and that the United States and its allies must remain steadfast in helping Ukraine keep pushing forward.
- Most senior U.S. officials appear more convinced than ever of the need to stand fast with Kyiv. The United States, in their view, cannot be seen to abandon its ally.
- This commitment to continued support doesn't mean that U.S. officials don't have criticisms of how Ukrainian commanders have conducted the counteroffensive.
- The starting point in this assessment is that Ukrainian forces aren't likely to reach the Sea of Azov and cut off Russia's land route to Crimea before winter sets in, as they had hoped. … Ukraine probably won't deal any decisive blow before year's end.
- U.S. officials believe strategic patience remains the best weapon against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who still thinks he can outlast Ukraine and the West.
- Pentagon officials have urged their Ukrainian counterparts to prioritize better and concentrate their forces on potential breakout points along the 600-mile front.
- American commanders have long believed that the Ukrainians waste artillery fire in crushing barrages that emulate Soviet tactics.
- Pentagon officials have also urged Ukraine to rely less on drones for battlefield awareness and more on ground reconnaissance forces, which can assess Russian positions better.
- And they have pressed Kyiv to give junior officers more latitude to exploit opportunities along the sprawling front.
- Ukraine has entered a season of discontent, with recriminations on all sides, because of the sluggish counteroffensive. But this war is far from over.
- U.S. military personnel are voicing their frustrations over the way Ukraine is conducting its counteroffensive. This is alarming. American officers appear to have unrealistic expectations of what a single counteroffensive operation can achieve. The U.S. should be focused on helping Ukraine fight the war the way it wants to fight, not chirping from the sidelines.
- U.S. military experts appear to want the Ukrainians to hold on all other fronts and focus on a single thrust toward Melitopol. Such advice is military malpractice. Well-designed mechanized campaigns almost always advance on multiple axes rather than one. That is what American-led coalitions did against Iraq in 1991 and 2003. It's how the Americans, Germans and Soviets fought in World War II.
- The seizure of Melitopol on its own can't win the war for Ukraine. The demands that Ukraine focus everything on that drive, combined with warnings that the West won't restock Ukraine for future operations, suggest that at least some of those criticizing the Ukrainian offensive aren't serious about helping Ukraine liberate all its territory.
- It is a vital national-security interest for the U.S. that Ukraine liberate its land and its people from Russian aggression. America should stop the criticism about what Ukraine is doing and focus instead on helping Ukraine achieve our common aims as rapidly as possible. That would be sound strategy.
- As one of us had occasion to observe during the tough early months of the 2007 surge in Iraq, hard is not hopeless. Ukrainian forces are advancing in two key areas—in central Zaporizhzhia Oblast near Robotyne on the road to Tokmak and Melitopol, and in eastern Zaporizhzhia Oblast south of Velyka Novosylka on a line toward Berdyansk.
- Russian front-line forces are likely tired, if not exhausted. … Most important, Russia lacks large operational reserves. This means that any Ukrainian breach of existing lines will be difficult to quickly plug. This is what Ukraine is banking on. A small breach could yield relatively sudden and rapid gains. If those materialize, panic among Russian forces could multiply Ukraine's opportunities for maintaining its momentum.
- For Western observers, it is important to keep this big picture in mind when following Ukraine's grueling fight. And policymakers should not wring their hands about the counteroffensive not yielding quick gains. This will be a long war, and we need Ukraine to prevail.
- The United States' provision of more than $44 billion in arms, ammunition and assistance has been hugely impressive. But we must do more, and we must do it with a greater sense of urgency.
- The Biden Administration is leaking to the press that Ukraine is pursuing its counteroffensive against Russia all wrong. This looks like an unseemly attempt to shift blame from the White House if the war continues into a U.S. election year. But the pessimism is premature, and the criticism obscures some of Kyiv's modest but notable recent gains on the battlefield.
- Ukraine this week managed to break through Russian defenses in the country's southeast in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. Ukraine said this week it retook the village of Robotyne. This is on the road to the Melitopol axis that is a major Ukrainian target for its strategic benefit of breaking Russian supply lines.
- U.S. officials unloaded to reporters this week that the Ukrainians are spreading forces too thin across the front lines, instead of concentrating units to punch through Russian defenses in one spot. Yet there are downsides to consolidating one line of attack, such as making itself vulnerable to a Russian counter elsewhere.
- Ukraine could well use more and better weapons to crack open Russian defenses. That includes the long-range Army tactical missile system, more tanks and drones—within weeks, not months. President Biden's political fortunes are tied to Ukraine's success, much as he likes to avoid the subject. Ukraine's critics have been quick to declare the counteroffensive a failure, but Mr. Biden can still increase the odds of success, which is a better strategic and political outcome for America and Ukraine than stalemate.
- In the seamless integration of public and private digital capabilities across these four dimensions — data collection, integration, analysis, and operational targeting — we’re witnessing the impact of a new kind of societal mobilization that is at the heart of Ukraine’s resilience. That mobilization is now threatened by a counteroffensive against a dug-in enemy with superior conventional forces.
- Ukrainian society presents a 21st-century model of what it means to prepare for the next war. The Ukrainians have been training for this conflict since 2014. Ukrainian companies were subcontractors to all the major tech companies before the current war, and many citizens’ cyber, software, engineering, and computer science skills were already well developed. Ukraine’s survival today is not just a matter of tanks vs. drones or cyber attacks vs. satellites, but also of public competency in key skills that are vital to the war effort. By integrating both military and civilian capabilities, and relying on the whole of their society, the Ukrainians have produced a cheaper, data-driven, more adaptive battlefield network that has enjoyed popular support — and that is the core of their advantage.
- The role of popular support will remain crucial. High-end military technological innovation in conventional forces will be necessary but not sufficient in any future war. The United States and its democratic allies should take a broader societal approach that prepares the public to be technologically savvy long before war begins. Citizens should be ready, as Ukraine’s population was, to resist psychological manipulation and employ accessible digital technologies in a sophisticated way.
- Ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Ukrainian government has scrambled for the weaponry its military desperately needs. Despite bold announcements from Western nations about arms deliveries, these shipments have often been delayed. Thus, from mysteriously sourced North Korean rockets to decommissioned Italian howitzers, the Ukrainian armed forces have no choice but to fight with whatever they can get their hands on.
- The Biden administration’s stop-gap measure to send 155 mm howitzer shells loaded with cluster munitions to Ukraine stems directly from a Western inability to provide sufficient numbers of less controversial versions of this ammunition. Ukraine currently consumes roughly 90,000 rounds a month according to one U.S. official, but Ukraine’s defense minister places the monthly demand at 250,000, quadruple American and European pre-war production capacity. To increase supply, Ukraine’s supporters are necessarily spending massive sums of money.
- Ukraine sorely needs these munitions quickly, but the European Union’s new acquisition and regulatory policy is unlikely to accomplish this efficiently. Just as importantly, Europe’s effort will do little for the long-term health of its defense industrial base. This is because the munitions used by Ukraine, while vital to its defense, are essentially commodities: basic manufactured goods that are largely substitutable, produced in bulk, and made by multiple suppliers worldwide.
Punitive measures related to Russia’s war against Ukraine and their impact globally:
- The Kremlin has so far done an effective job of blunting sanctions, to the point that some Western analysts have questioned whether they work at all. It has propped up the currency by forcing exporters to exchange more dollars for rubles. It has found ways to get its oil and gas to market, sharply increasing deliveries to China and India. It has put money in Russians’ pockets by boosting defense and social spending, such that economists polled by Bloomberg expect growth of about 1% this year in inflation-adjusted terms.
- Granted, Putin has the resources to hold out a lot longer. Russians have become largely inured to currency fluctuations, and he can still tap the country’s $146 billion sovereign wealth fund. Eventually, though, he’ll have to face an unpleasant choice: Cut back on spending, or stoke excessive inflation by printing money. Either will increase the chances of unrest, and of the next Prigozhin gaining enough popular support to topple him.
- Thus, Putin himself will play a key role in determining the outcome of sanctions. Will he keep doubling down on mobilization until the economic consequences lead to some kind of revolt, and potentially put someone even more dangerous in charge of Russia’s nuclear arsenal? Or will he choose a less disruptive path, seeking a peace deal that might allow Russia to pivot back to a more normal economy?
- Western leaders of course prefer the latter option. To that end, even as they maintain solidarity, toughen sanctions and close loopholes, they should continue to seek opportunities to offer Putin a way out of the disastrous course he has set. Simply bringing Russia to its knees won’t end well for anyone.
- As conspiracy theories swirl, Western investors and policymakers would do well to take note of [a] development — this time in connection to Yandex, the Nasdaq-listed technology group that is Russia’s equivalent of Google.
- This month, Arkady Volozh, the co-founder of Yandex, who has lived in Israel since 2014, issued a formal statement condemning Putin’s war as “barbaric.” This is striking, given that virtually no other prominent Russian businessman has offered such strong public criticism to date.
- Volozh is now appealing for a reversal of the decision this September when the EU conducts its regular half-yearly review of that list. And it is worth watching how the case plays out for two reasons.
- First, Yandex is one of the few big Russian companies that holds intellectual property and engineering talent that might matter to the west (never mind Putin).
- Second, Volozh’s bid to remove himself from the list has thrown down a gauntlet to the West’s sanctions regime.
- The key question now is how the EU will respond. If it keeps Volozh on the sanctions list, that will underscore the lack of a coordinated off-ramp for individuals, particularly since Volozh is not being sanctioned by the U.S. or the U.K.
- But if the EU removes sanctions from Volozh, it will signal to other oligarchs that a pathway back is possible. And, perhaps not coincidentally, I am told that Volozh would probably build his new AI-focused tech business in Europe if removed from the blacklist.
- The west needs to develop more effective — and more effectively coordinated — sanctions policies. It needs to both tighten trade controls, and find ways to encourage the Russian elite to turn. The September review would be a good moment to start.
- During the war, Russia has evaded U.S. sanctions by importing goods through third countries, a recurring headache for Ukraine’s supporters, including the United States. A think tank, the Silverado Policy Accelerator, has identified Hong Kong, China, Kazakhstan and Armenia as major integrated circuit exporters to Russia in the first year of the war. These channels sustain Russia’s brutal destruction of Ukraine. To save lives and to help Ukraine resist, a redoubled effort should be made to stanch the flow of integrated circuits and other dual-use electronics to Russia. These parts might be traceable by serial and part numbers recovered from downed drones, Mr. Albright points out, and there are relatively few manufacturers of the more sophisticated components.
- A redoubled effort could focus on blocking the flow of the highest priority items — electronic integrated circuits — by companies, their foreign subsidiaries, distributors, logistic and transportation providers, and by allied governments. To aid customs officials as well as manufacturers and distributors, Washington could identify and send out “gray lists” of suspicious companies in third countries that might be complicit in delivering these parts to Russia. David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector, also suggests a concerted government and private sector effort to enlist the manufacturers by showing them the lists leaked from Russia. Top managers from leading companies and distributors should be called together and pressed to apply stringent internal controls over the sale of key electronics, while also flagging customers who might have been selling them to Russia.
- Rosatom Corp. … is still the world’s biggest uranium enricher. It still supplies almost a quarter of America’s 92 nuclear reactors and dozens of other plants across Europe and Asia. Western governments have avoided sanctioning Rosatom because doing so risks damaging their own nuclear industries and economies more than Vladimir Putin’s.
- Urenco, which is based outside London, reveals few details about how its centrifuges work, their dimensions or even how much nuclear fuel each one produces. The planned expansion of its New Mexico facilities to boost capacity will be completed in 2027 and, when combined with the parent company’s ramp-up in Europe, would be enough to cover Rosatom’s share of the American market, said Karen Fili, chief executive officer of Urenco’s U.S. subsidiary.
- Although Europe gets about 30% of its enriched uranium from Russia, it has a larger installed production capacity than the U.S., and should be better able to adjust quickly. Urenco, a consortium of the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, is weighing expansion at sites in those countries, while France’s Orano SA plans to enlarge its domestic facility.
- Rosatom has integrated all parts of the nuclear-fuel cycle from tip to tail inside Russia. So far, about $20 billion of investments … and new commitments have been made by Western governments and companies toward replicating Rosatom’s reach, but it still looks like a complex jigsaw involving mining and conversion in Canada, with the sole U.S. enrichment facility owned by a European consortium. Even with a full-court press, it still may take the West five years to wean itself off Rosatom, said Dan Poneman, a former deputy U.S. secretary of energy … “There’s not enough non-Russian enrichment to fuel the world’s reactors,” he said, even with Urenco’s 15% boost in [the plant in] Eunice [New Mexico]. “It’s not even close.”
- Russia isn’t just fueling yesterday’s projects, it’s also securing tomorrow’s customers by building nuclear power plants in China, India, Egypt, Turkey and Bangladesh that are locked into Rosatom fuel-supply contracts for decades.
- Those calling for an immediate negotiated settlement are … making an extremely risky bet. History, comparison, and much of theory isn’t on their side. Effectively, they are advising Ukraine to put its survival on the line—in exchange for the flimsy hope that Russia will behave exactly as one tiny set of academics expect it to, according to their theory. That doesn’t guarantee that they are wrong, but the overwhelming evidence from historical precedent, regime behavior, national ideology, and international relations theory suggests that no durable negotiated peace is on offer.
- In the final analysis, countries are dependent on their own historical experiences, not theoretical ruminations. Russia’s neighbors generally fear and mistrust Russia, with good cause. Ukraine, in particular, has every reason in the world to be skeptical about Russian intentions and promises of peacefulness. Policymakers and analysts in the West may want to ask themselves whether they’d be as willing to give Moscow the benefit of a doubt if Russia were their own neighbor, occupier, and historical overlord—and if their bets on the future concerned their very own existence.
- A recent article by Michael Crowley in the New York Times highlights divisions within the community of peace activists over U.S. support for the Ukrainian war effort. Some groups and individuals who have been prominent members of that community, along with political leaders generally sympathetic to their objectives, have backed the Biden administration’s support for the Ukrainian military as a just response to a war of aggression by Russia. But some others have gone into the hearing-disrupting, banner-waving, slogan-shouting mode that became a trademark of antiwar activism in earlier times.
- An aversion to realist analysis about matters of war and peace has been one of the most unhelpful features of much past vocalizing by antiwar activists. That aversion appears to be based on a mistaken view of realism as a sucking of moral considerations out of matters that, like war, involve life and death. In fact, realism does not add or subtract moral or other values to a nation. It instead entails a careful examination of how all the features of the real world—including the ugly and disagreeable ones—bear upon whatever values, interests, and objectives the nation pursues.
- Does the war in Ukraine, given the positions described in the Times article, mark a turning point in how the community of peace activists responds to wars? Crowley mentions, as factors that distinguish the current situation from previous episodes such as the war in Iraq, the obvious fact that U.S. forces are not fighting in Ukraine, along with the desire among some left-leaning activists not to make political life difficult for the Biden administration. But there is more to the current responses than that. A group such as Win Without War is to be commended for a position that not only reflects the difference between the United States committing aggression and defense against someone else’s aggression but also shows a nuanced appreciation for the line that the administration is trying to walk by aiding the Ukrainians while limiting U.S. costs and commitments.
Great Power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:
- No end to the carnage is in sight, and calls for a negotiated solution are wishful thinking at this point. As Mr. Putin invests in Russia's war economy, he shows no signs of giving up his fantasy of Russian neo-imperial glory. That hard truth leaves the United States and its European allies with few appealing options, especially as Ukraine's grinding military offensive, launched in early June, remains far short of its goal: to evict Russia's forces.
- U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Kyiv is unlikely to achieve its main objective this year: breaking south through enemy lines and reaching the Sea of Azov. The idea was to sever the occupied corridor through Ukraine that connects Russia to the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized illegally in 2014.
- Faced with a long-term war of attrition, President Biden and European leaders need a two-track strategy that encompasses short- and long-term planning to ensure Ukraine's sovereignty and survival.
- The short-term piece means maintaining support, as all of Ukraine's major allies have pledged to do. With the current flow of U.S. assistance set to run out this fall, Mr. Biden has proposed a further $24 billion military and economic aid package, more than half of which would be for weapons, materiel and intelligence to sustain Kyiv's forces.
- In the long term, Washington and its allies in the Group of Seven … have agreed to formulate bilateral military support programs meant to arm Ukraine to the point that the Kremlin would be effectively discouraged from conducting future aggressive acts. That "porcupine strategy" is designed to deter Moscow's imperial aspirations over time. Concrete plans are needed to fulfill that promise.
- NATO membership for Ukraine, which would offer the ultimate security guarantee, is not in the cards as long as the war rages. Still, Ukraine's allies should be weighing other postwar security arrangements. If and when the war ends, one template for Washington to consider is its commitment to South Korea, a nation that has prospered … through decades of hefty American security assistance. A similar approach might eventually promote stability in Eastern Europe.
- Cheating in the global security competition has been successful for Russia. The sudden high stakes of its opening moves leave opponents with only one choice: put up or shut up. When NATO fails to respond forcefully, Russia maintains its advantage by dangling the threat of using nuclear weapons after each escalation. Common sense improperly understood has convinced NATO allies to comply for fear that the alternative was the end of the world.
- These rules have been engineered by Russia, and NATO shouldn't accept them anymore. Luckily, a recent iteration of great-power deterrence theory offers an out. Instead of big, bold moves that have lately left the U.S. struggling to catch up, a new deterrence-theory principle that relies on unbending and localized responses might be more effective in combating current Russian aggression.
- Since its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Russia has bombed targets close to Romania's border on the Danube, fired missiles over neutral countries, mined the Black Sea lanes, and downed NATO members' drones. NATO has done little more than provide inadequate aid to Ukraine and stomp its feet in protest. Rather than fall for another Russian trick, NATO needs to employ an "unbending collective answer" to any Russian aggression.
- How would this work? On hearing news of missile attacks against a port that shares a border with a NATO member, NATO should have declared an air-defense buffer zone within 100 miles of all NATO borders. After a NATO drone was intercepted and damaged over the Black Sea, NATO should have instituted a regular armed patrol of the zone where the drone was drowned. When Russia instituted a blockade of Ukrainian ports, NATO should have responded with a counterblockade on all points of entry and exit on the Black Sea. These are local, specific and immediate responses to Russian aggression.
- Many would argue that such aggression would provoke Russia and cause another world war. But playing tit for tat -- when done specifically -- against a bully is rooted in cold math and has worked in the past. Bringing in old games might remind Russia of how things unfolded last time it threatened NATO.
- The European Union needs a Russia strategy. … [One] that deals with issues beyond the war on Ukraine. … The first step towards such a strategy is for the EU and all its member states to accept that Russia will remain integral to their security, whether they like it or not. The real challenge is to develop a strategy that can account for the Russia factor in European security without compromising Western interests and values.
- The strategy should comprise three parts:
- helping the countries that border Russia to strengthen their resilience and consolidate their sovereignty;
- reducing Russia’s global influence; and
- preparing for various scenarios of change within Russia.
- Of course, continued support to Ukraine is a prerequisite, not least because a Ukrainian victory is fundamental to the future of Russia and European security. But the duration and outcome of the war, as well as Russia’s future, remain uncertain. This uncertainty cannot be an excuse for Europeans failing to define the relationship they want with Russia when the war is over. Europeans should start formulating their Russia strategy now and resist the temptation to wait and see what kind of Russia emerges.
- With the prospect of a long war, and an ever-broader confrontation with Russia, maintaining unity and progress will become ever more difficult. A more resilient EU that is aware of its own interests and able and willing to support them will be well-placed to manage this confrontation and to ultimately prevail. By contrast, the costs of disunity could be existential.
- With those pieces in place, a modernized containment strategy can protect European interests, provide a perspective of a better future for Russia’s neighbors, and ensure preparedness to capitalize on any domestic change within Russia.
- President Putin is not the spymaster he claims. … [S]ince becoming [the] Russian leader more than two decades ago, Putin has presided over a succession of intelligence failures against the West. His spy networks have been rounded up in Europe, North America and now apparently Britain.
- The Russian leader’s greatest intelligence fiasco, however, was his decision to invade Ukraine in February last year. There are two levels to this failure — one operational, the second, deeper, resulting from the nature of his rule.
- The FSB, which has Russian intelligence responsibility for Ukraine, failed to do what any decent service would before an invasion: recruit well-placed agents to assist the invading army, and engage in sabotage operations.
- We don’t know what briefings Putin was given, but we do know enough about Putin’s regime to understand why he would not be given reliable intelligence. Much like Stalin, his dictatorial predecessor in the Kremlin, Putin imposes crippling sycophancy on his intelligence services.
- Yet for all his failures, we can hardly rest easy, because a humiliated dictator, particularly one who controls a nuclear arsenal, remains highly dangerous. And in the secret war of intelligence and counterintelligence we can never be sure of when an opponent has an un-played ace up his sleeve.
China-Russia: Allied or aligned?
- The BRICS nations now account for one-third of the global economy. But they have never been a cohesive economic unit: gross domestic product per person, trading patterns and policy styles vary enormously.
- Their politics differ too. Brazil, India and South Africa are democracies, while Russia and China are autocratic. The former grouping favors non-alignment, the latter is outright anti-West. Meanwhile, China and India’s strategic rivalry weakens it as a forum for trade and regulatory policy. Instead, the group is unified in its opposition to the global economic hold of the G-7. The dollar’s dominant role in the international economy has driven calls for de-dollarization. Meanwhile, the BRICS’ launch of the New Development Bank in 2015 was its attempt to construct an alternative lender to the World Bank, where its voting power is outweighed by the Western bloc.
- But the notion that expansion will turn these ambitions into reality is wishful thinking. The planned addition of oil major Saudi Arabia next year is seen as an opportunity to dilute the dollar’s dominance in the oil trade. But Riyadh will be reluctant with its currency pegged to the U.S. dollar. Even at the summit, a commitment to use local currencies more fell well short of anti-dollar rhetoric. The current members are also unlikely to cede their guaranteed 55 percent voting power as founders of the NDB.
- The new invitees will not go unnoticed in the West, however. They would raise the group’s share of global GDP to 37 percent and double its portion of global crude oil output. This would support China’s ambition to create an anti-west bloc to rival the G-7. But with existing differences between the five, finding a single voice across 11 will be even more strenuous.
- An expanded BRICS will struggle to challenge, transform, or come up with a rival to the West’s architecture of global economic governance. It may, however, be a useful talking shop for its members. It is also an opportunity to keep one foot in China’s tent. For New Delhi, it provides valuable scope to keep tabs on its rival.
- South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa was the official host of the BRICS summit this week that agreed to more than double the membership of the emerging-markets bloc, but the true VIP was his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
- Xi’s importance can also be seen in the anxiety created when he failed to appear for his first big address of the summit to businesspeople from across the BRICS bloc. No explanation was given and he showed up later in the evening for a leaders’ dinner, but it was a low-point of a carefully choreographed event.
- The real evidence of Xi’s importance was the expansion that looks set to add Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to the five-member bloc. This fits into Xi’s plan that China should lead the developing world in confronting U.S. “hegemony,” even as he also grapples with an economic slowdown and deflation at home. The BRICS going from five to 11 countries “meets the expectations of the international community, and serves the common interests of emerging markets and developing countries,” Xi said.
- South Africa should be congratulated on hosting a hugely successful summit that will go down in the annals as a milestone in the BRICS history in terms of attention attracted, as well as in terms of the number of heads of state who attended, and, of course, thanks to the decision on the first mass expansion of the group. That said, many questions arise about that expansion, primarily because the criteria for the process … have not been clarified.
- It can be concluded that the heads of [BRICS] states … have chosen the principle of diversification over the principle of consolidation.
- The phenomenon of the "global majority," which is how we now describe the world outside the West, does not provide for consolidation. … The Rest insist on retaining their right to decide everything on their own. … This means that an attempt to build an alliance based on the BRICS will not succeed.
- We can hardly talk about an anti-Western orientation [in the expanded BRICS]—with the exception of Russia and now, perhaps, Iran, none of the current and likely future participants of the group wants to openly oppose the West. However, this also reflects the coming era, when the policy of most states is the continuous choosing of partners for solving their problems, with different counterparts selected for resolving different problems.
- Now we know for sure that BRICS will be different. Having started the expansion, the group abandons the principle of exclusivity, which was considered important in terms of prestige. As soon as this happens, the organization becomes interested in maximum inclusivity.
• Russia stands apart due to the fact that it is the only one of the current BRICS members to find itself in a state of severe and irreconcilable conflict with the West. And since the transformation of the BRICS into an anti-Western alliance is impossible, Moscow will also accept a phased, but maximum expansion of the group, and its transformation into a most representative community, whose members interact with each other, bypassing Western pressure or contrary to it. That would be sufficient for the upcoming period.
“Video Address to the Participants in the BRICS Business Forum. Vladimir Putin made a video address to guests and participants in the BRICS Business Forum, which is traditionally held ahead of the BRICS summit,” Kremlin.ru, 08.22.23. Clues from Russian Views.
- The main thing is that our cooperation is based on the principles of equality, partner support, and respect for each other's interests. And that is what lies at the core of our Association's forward-looking strategic course – the course that reflects the aspirations of most of the world’s community, the so-called global majority. The figures speak for themselves. Over the last decade, mutual investments among the BRICS countries have increased six-fold. Their overall investments in global economy have doubled, and their total exports have reached 20 percent of the world exports.
- The objective and irreversible process of the de-dollarization of our economic ties is gaining pace. We are working to fine-tune effective mechanisms for mutual settlements and monetary and financial control. As a result, the share of U.S. dollar in export and import operations within BRICS is declining: last year it stood at only 28.7 percent.
- Russia stands for greater cooperation within BRICS as regards reliable and uninterrupted supplies of energy and food resources to the world markets.
- I have repeatedly said that our country has the capacity to replace Ukrainian grain, both commercially and as free aid to needy countries, especially since our harvest is again expected to be perfect this year.
- To sum it up, I would like to reiterate that the multifaceted partnership and cooperation within the BRICS not only makes a significant contribution to ensuring the sustainable growth of our states but also generally promotes global economic recovery and successful achievement of global development goals and targets set by the United Nations – to fight poverty, expand people's access to quality healthcare, eradicate hunger and improve food security.
- BRICS Plus is already underway. We have invited over 60 countries that are interested in developing relations with our association in the BRICS Plus/Outreach format and partner countries. This is a new format that was endorsed at the summit. Translating this agreement into a list of nominees for partner country status will be completed by the next summit to be held in Kazan in the autumn of 2024. The foreign ministers have been charged with continuing this work.
- The difference between BRICS and the G-7 or other West-centric associations is that in those associations, everybody looks up to the United States. There may be small differences and some parties may try to push other decisions in addition to the strategic course determined by Washington – but the United States dictates the general course. … We operate in a different, more honest way: every participant is equal to the others.
- BRICS has a huge economic potential. But calling BRICS an economic club is trying to belittle its real significance. Its political declaration clearly states our demand for the democratization of international relations, the enhancement of the role of the Global South in the global governance mechanisms. It asserts that we will abide by international law and the U.N. Charter in its entirety and the interrelated norms and principles contained therein.
- We called for reforming the U.N. Security Council exclusively in favor of the developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Along with our determination to intensify the reform of the U.N. Security Council, the BRICS countries will also continue their coordinated activities to ensure a fairer order in the Bretton Woods institutions: the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization.
- Advocates of reengagement call for the United States and China to respect each other’s redlines. But achieving a sustained thaw in relations would require at least one side to abandon many of its redlines altogether.
- China wants the United States to end arms sales to Taiwan, slash the overall U.S. military presence in East Asia, share U.S. technology with Chinese companies, reopen the U.S. market to a flood of Chinese exports, stop promoting democracy in China’s neighborhood and let Russia win its war in Ukraine.
- The United States, for its part, wants China to dial back its defense spending, refrain from aggression in the Taiwan Strait, cease its militarization of the South China Sea, rein in industrial subsidies and espionage and withdraw its support for Russia and other autocracies.
- Yet neither side could grant such concessions without empowering the other to push for more. … If China allowed Russia to lose in Ukraine, the CCP would face a reeling nuclear power on its doorstep and a triumphant United States freed to focus on Asia; but if the United States let Russia win, a Chinese-Russian axis could be emboldened to take even more territory, such as Taiwan or the Baltic states, from a demoralized West. There are reasons to hope that U.S. containment of China can be a temporary way station to a brighter future.
- The drivers of China’s rise are already stalling. Slowing growth, soaring debt, autocratic incompetence, capital flight, youth unemployment, and a shrinking population are taking a toll on Chinese comprehensive national power.
- The United States does not need to contain China forever, just long enough to allow current trends to play out.
- The “one world” dream of a single, harmonious international system may be impossible for now, but that does not rule out peaceful, if tense, relations between two rival orders. Containing China in that competition will entail severe risks and costs, but it is the best way to avoid an even more destructive conflict.
- No significant developments.
- For this analyst, the key question is why hasn’t Russia escalated to nuclear or other WMD use? … Has Putin been bluffing? Or has he not yet seen a case for dramatic escalation? Or does the Russian nuclear nonuse suggest the effectiveness of threats made by U.S. officials to their Russian counterparts in the fall of 2022? Has the United States been able to deter Russian nuclear use or other false flag operations in Ukraine with preemptive disclosures of Russian plans or numerous high-level interventions? Or was deterrence the result of naming and shaming and Chinese and Indian interventions?
- It is also possible that, despite nuclear signaling, Russian officials have generally been escalation-cautious and focused on ensuring that the Ukraine war does not spill over into a conflict involving direct engagements between Russian and U.S./NATO forces.
- Any Russian nuclear use … would be a political and not a doctrinal decision. Any first use, be it the use of a nuclear weapon against Ukrainian forces or the infliction of damage on targets at sea, or a test, would fundamentally change the nature of conflict. Given the history of U.S. revelations of Russian intentions, it is unlikely that Russia will achieve a surprise nuclear attack and thus be able to generate a shock among European and other global publics.
- Once a nuclear weapon has been used, Russian leaders would have to confront the consequences of breaking the nuclear taboo and an inability to control their message, thus making their use even more ripe for interpretation by others.
- If one believes that Russia has successfully used nuclear weapons to enable its aggression in Ukraine and limit the scope of Western intervention, then this may carry implications for future great power conflict as well as disarmament, nonproliferation and strategic stability. But others may argue that Russia’s signaling simply points to the limits in the coercive power of nuclear weapons. In other words, they may be great for defending one’s territory but not necessarily be effectively used for offensive and aggressive purposes. Still, others would argue that Russian nonuse to date may be explained by a careful Western policy that has sought to manage escalation.
- The Ukraine war is the first great-power nuclear crisis of the 21st century — and it won’t be the last. Since February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin has rattled his nuclear saber in hopes of isolating Ukraine and intimidating it into submission. The US has responded by threatening Putin with terrible reprisals if he uses nuclear weapons, and by cooperating with Western allies to sustain Ukraine despite Moscow’s threats. The nuclear risk-taking is both a throwback to Cold War-era superpower crises and a preview of what lies ahead. … One lesson from Ukraine … that nuclear weapons — even when they aren’t used in battle — powerfully shape what happens in an ostensibly conventional fight. Another lesson is that the effects of these weapons are psychological at their core.
- What would have happened had the West simply ignored Putin’s nuclear threats from the outset? In March 2022, Russian forces were stuck outside of Kyiv. The application of Western airpower would have devastated Putin’s overextended army. Putin’s only real recourse would have been limited nuclear strikes against targets in Ukraine or NATO countries in Eastern Europe.
- An earlier generation of American policymakers would have understood this imperative well. During the early Cold War, the US repeatedly found itself in high-stakes nuclear crises with the Soviet Union. And it repeatedly threatened to wage nuclear war rather than see Moscow or its allies conquer Taiwan’s offshore islands, dislodge the Western powers from Berlin, or otherwise destabilize the global order. “If you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost,” a respected secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, once explained.
- Perhaps America will be spared similar dilemmas in this round of global rivalry. But don’t count on it. In fact, if Ukraine is a precedent for how America handles crises with nuclear-armed great powers, the US is in big trouble in the Western Pacific.
- It is clear that America’s strategy in Ukraine — provision of supplies and other support short of war — won’t work as well in sustaining an island that lacks friendly countries next door. So if the US won’t intervene directly if China attacks, say goodbye to a free Taiwan.
- Biden understands this: It’s presumably why he has said, several times, that the US won’t stand aside if China attacks. But would it really be so crazy for Xi to conclude, with Ukraine in mind, that America’s actions speak louder than its words? Nuclear statecraft is replete with ironies. One of them is that deterring a future war in the Western Pacific may require convincing China not to draw too many conclusions from the current war in Ukraine.
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- No significant developments.
- In a new piece co-authored with Ian Bremmer in Foreign Affairs, Mustafa Suleyman offers an ambitious blueprint for an international “technoprudential” regime to regulate AI. [One element of the proposed model is described as follows:] Washington and Beijing should aim to create areas of commonality and even guardrails proposed and policed by a third party. Here, the monitoring and verification approaches often found in arms control regimes might be applied. … there may be room for Beijing and Washington to cooperate on global antiproliferation efforts.
- He and Bremmer … — like almost everyone who tries to think systematically about how to cope with the threats posed by AI — inevitably come back to the Cold War arms race. Of course, it’s an imperfect analogy … Still, it is not entirely a coincidence that innovation in AI has accelerated more or less simultaneously with the transition of the US-China relationship from economic symbiosis — "Chimerica” — to Cold War II.
- The US military has enjoyed military-technical superiority over all potential adversaries since the end of the Cold War. Now, its technical prowess is being challenged, especially by China and Russia. … if current trend lines are not altered, the US military will lose its military-technical superiority in the coming years. … In the coming decades, the United States will win against technically sophisticated adversaries only if it accelerates adoption of AI-enabled sensors and systems for command and control, weapons, and logistics. Marc Andreessen’s clinching argument for pursuing AI “with maximum force and speed” is that “the single greatest risk of AI is that China wins global AI dominance and we — the United States and the West — do not.”
- That implies, as Andreessen acknowledges, an arms race as unbridled as the one that followed the Soviets’ acquisition (through espionage more than their own excellence in physics) of the atomic bomb and then the hydrogen bomb. True, the United States today is ahead in one key respect: We have access to the most sophisticated microchips and, thanks to various US sanctions, the Chinese do not. But doesn’t this just put Xi Jinping in the position of Stalin when the US first had the Bomb? Is there an alternative to an all-out AI arms race?
- Revealingly, the best examples Suleyman himself gives of successful regimes of technological containment (a word made famous by George Kennan, of course) are both taken from Cold War I: the nuclear non-proliferation regime and the ban on chemical and biological weapons. Arms control was not an unmitigated success, of course. But it didn’t achieve nothing … And that is why Suleyman is right to argue for it.
Energy exports from CIS:
- Before he began dropping bombs on Kyiv in February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin prepared for his invasion of Ukraine in a quieter way. He restricted energy exports to Europe in late 2021, driving up prices across the continent. After the invasion, Putin restricted exports even more, putting European countries in a bind: should they fund the Russian war effort by buying fossil fuels at elevated prices or risk losing critical energy flows at a time when stocks were already depleted?
- The European energy crisis is a wake-up call to the dangers of fossil fuel dependence. But too many countries are hitting the snooze button. Putin’s attempt at energy blackmail highlights more profoundly than ever before how continued reliance on fossil fuels not only harms the climate but also threatens security and prosperity. Although Europe avoided the immediate threat of winter shortages, thanks in part to mild temperatures, too few leaders are doing enough to reduce their susceptibility to such blackmail in the future. Instead of taking comfort in escaping Putin’s energy trap, governments must do more to speed away from fossil fuels and ensure that such vulnerabilities become a thing of the past.
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- “We are not a gang. We are not the mafia. We don’t seek revenge like they did in Mario Puzo’s book ‘The Godfather.’ We are a nation. A nation of laws.” Those were the fulminations of Vladimir Solovyov, a Russian television host, denying that the Kremlin had anything to do with the airplane explosion that killed Yevgeny Prigozhin. Solovyov’s comments are a fine example of that excellent French saying: “Qui s’excuse, s’accuse.” (“He who excuses himself, accuses himself.”) The pro-Kremlin propagandist understands completely that the killing of Prigozhin had all the hallmarks of a mafia hit.
- Vladimir Putin follows a mobster honor code. Betrayal and disloyalty are the sins that can never be forgiven. That is why the Kremlin has sent hit-men across Europe, to kill defectors from the Russian intelligence services. As boss of the Wagner militia, Prigozhin — known as Putin’s chef — provided cannon fodder for Russia’s war in Ukraine. But when he turned on Putin in June, he signed his own death warrant.
- Yet before America and the west dismiss Russia as a criminal outlier, it is worth noting that, the day after Prigozhin’s death, a former president of the United States was indicted in Georgia under the state’s version of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Rico) — a law that was specifically designed to go after the mafia.
- The legal merits of the charges against Donald Trump will be decided in court. But, whatever In today’s Russia, there is zero chance that Putin will be investigated for involvement in the murder of Yevgeny Prigozhin — or any of the other crimes he may have committed. There will be no independent prosecutors carefully amassing any evidence that could send the president to jail.
- “Multiple recent polls indicate that the share of those who believe the U.S. has already done enough to help Ukraine has been increasing among GOP voters, with one recent CNN poll revealing that that 71% of the Republicans say Congress should not authorize new funding for Ukraine. Given these trends, it is important to ask: When it comes to the Ukraine war, where do GOP presidential candidates stand? And how much do their positions on this issue reflect the views of Republican voters?”
- “Recent polls have shown that GOP voters increasingly feel that the U.S. is spending too much in support of Kyiv, and that they want to see a quick end to the conflict, even if this results in Ukraine’s territorial losses.”
- “Interestingly, these shifts in the GOP voters’ views … do not appear to have swayed the positions of those GOP candidates who see the conflict as vitally important to the U.S. Outspoken proponents of this view include former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Former Vice President Mike Pence and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. Squarely in the other camp are former U.S. President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. The former president wants the fighting to stop while DeSantis has described the Ukraine conflict as a ‘secondary or tertiary interest’ to the U.S. Perhaps predictably, the GOP hopefuls have found a common ground in one arena: blaming Biden for myriad American problems relating to the war.”
- [During the GOP debates] Ms. Haley, Mr. Pence and Mr. Christie deserve credit for explaining with moral clarity why countering Russian President Vladimir Putin is in the United States’ national interest, rebuking the isolationism that defined Mr. Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP. Whether these voices of reason prevail in the Republican primaries will determine whether one of the country’s two major parties will turn its back on decades of U.S. international engagement, promising gains that would not materialize and failing to account for the risks this turn would bring.
- Generations of Americans have defended freedom. In our time, Ukraine is the front line. America’s 2024 election is shaping up to be one of the most important battles in Ukraine’s war for national survival. As the campaign proceeds, it is critical for those on the right side of this issue to continue to speak forcefully — and for Republican voters to listen.
- Americans' perception of Biden's dishonesty and incompetence has colored their opinion of all his policies, and his approval cratered in the wake of the Afghanistan pullout.
- According to the RealClearPolitics average as of last week, his disapproval outweigh his approval by about 20 points on the economy, 29 points on inflation, 15 points on foreign policy, 27 points on immigration and 20 points on crime. He is underwater by 4 points on his handling of Ukraine, which, despite his slow-rolling of weapons, is still arguably a foreign-policy success. While there are other contributing factors (inflation is unacceptably high, the border is out of control), the Afghanistan withdrawal was a turning point.
- All this could have been avoided had Biden simply listened to his military commanders and left behind a residual force [in Afghanistan]. … If Biden loses the presidency, his political demise started in Kabul.
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Consequences of Prigozhin’s demise
- The Kremlin is considering options on bringing the private military group Wagner under its direct control after the … death of its leader, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, according to U.S. and Western officials. Among those possibilities, officials say, are absorbing Wagner into the Defense Ministry or its military intelligence arm. The Kremlin could also install a Russian general or other government ally as its new chief, according to people briefed on the preliminary intelligence.
- U.S. officials said the Kremlin believes the organization’s military prowess, experienced operators and ties to African governments are too valuable to give up or allow to wither away.
- Pentagon officials say that under Mr. Prigozhin, the Wagner forces were Russia’s most effective combat forces on the battlefield in Ukraine, notably in the fight to seize the city of Bakhmut in the east.
- The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Kremlin appeared not to have made any final decisions on what to do with Wagner … American officials believe Mr. Putin wants to assert direct control and does not intend to allow the company to choose its own replacement for Mr. Prigozhin. … No matter what option the Kremlin chooses, U.S. and Western officials said, there are myriad challenges for the Russian government.
- If the Kremlin tries to absorb Wagner into the G.R.U. or the broader Ministry of Defense, a major question would be whether veteran Wagner mercenaries would trust, or even accept, any sort of government takeover. A mass exodus could follow.
- Absorbing Wagner would expand the G.R.U.’s hard military power, but the two organizations also operate in similar ways, hiding their true intentions and operating in the shadows. While the intelligence service’s operations often fall short of their tactical goals, G.R.U. has exemplified the kind of aggressive hybrid intelligence service Mr. Putin wanted, blending propaganda, influence campaigns, hacking attacks and assassinations to carry out Russian intelligence and foreign policy goals.
- Yevgeny Prigozhin’s ferocious shadow army changed the course of Russian history. Few narratives have been as enigmatic as the story of how a convicted criminal turned catering magnate built the Wagner group into a brand to be reckoned with across the globe. But the plane crash that killed Prigozhin and nine others this week is proof positive that the more undeniable the Wagner group’s unhinged brutality became, the more president Vladimir Putin viewed Prigozhin as a liability.
- The Wagner brand may fade, others will supplant it. For as long as Putin is in power and his forces in disarray, irregular paramilitaries will remain a crutch for a regime crippled by sanctions and corroded by corruption. We can count on Russia’s GRU military intelligence wing remaining committed to deploying more of their ilk. The regime needs the ill-gotten gains of resource extraction in Africa to survive. Prigozhin may be dead, but his legacy lives on there. The warlord’s fiery fall from grace is also living proof that Putin’s assault on the truth will continue unabated until his time in office ends.
- In the months leading up to the Wagner mutiny, Putin’s failure to suppress the increasingly bitter public feud between Prigozhin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was beginning to weaken his image within Russia’s elite as a decisive leader. Today, few in Russia will be doubting Putin’s capacity for decisive ruthlessness, whatever they might say about his morals.
- The Wagner affair marked a serious breakdown of Putin’s longstanding strategy of elite management. Far from being the Stalinist autocrat often portrayed in the West, Putin has generally operated more like the strong chairman of a squabbling board of directors, maintaining his own position by balancing one elite faction against another. … If in a given case Putin decided in favor of one side, the losers were not destroyed, but kept in reserve while being compensated with lesser positions.
- This combination of authority and flexibility on the part of Putin has been generally welcome to the Russian elites. A key feature of Russian politics over the past generation has been the elites’ profound distrust of their own ability to manage and limit their differences without Putin or a figure like him to keep them in order. They fear that if he is replaced or severely weakened, their rivalries will break out into the open and destroy the entire state order on which their own positions and fortunes depend. Doubtless, many in the elite will regret that things were ever allowed to come to a point where Prigozhin would have to be killed, and shocked by the blatant nature of the act, if confirmed. Few however are likely to regret the consequent strengthening of government power.
- As to the future of Wagner (or whatever new name it is given by the Kremlin), Putin’s intention is clearly that it will continue to act as Russia’s proxy in Africa, Syria, and possibly (though this is less certain) in Belarus… Similarly, the violent end of Wagner’s top leaders is unlikely to have much impact on the war in Ukraine. Most of the mercenary group’s rank-and-file fighters have now signed contracts with the regular Russian military.
- Prigozhin’s demise dashes hopes that Putin’s rule — and by extension, Russia’s war effort in Ukraine — might soon be undermined by internal turmoil. For the time being, any assumption that Putin had Prigozhin killed will discourage would-be political challengers to the Kremlin. Coupled with the recent removal of General Surovikin (regarded as a Prigozhin sympathizer) as head of Russia’s Aerospace Forces, and the arrest of hardline nationalist critic Igor Strelkov, the Kremlin has sent strong signals to Russia’s restive political rightwing that opposition to the state will not be tolerated.
- The final chapter in this story remains to be written, however. Although Putin has overcome the abortive Wagner challenge, his political fate over the longer term remains far from assured. And one factor looms larger than all others in determining that future: the still very much uncertain course of the war in Ukraine.
- That months of Wagner’s unchecked insubordination and insults had culminated in a mutiny, and that the chief perpetrators of that humiliation had apparently got away scot-free, inflated hopes that Putin’s carefully crafted image of omnipotence had finally been pierced. Every day that Prigozhin and his men walked free, the thinking went, was a ticking timebomb under the president’s rule. In fact, the two months since the uprising were well spent by the regime in taking control of Prigozhin’s operations, dismantling his media empire and destroying his image. Most Wagner fighters have now signed contracts with the defense ministry and been folded into regular units. And the Kremlin has made sure to reaffirm its ties to leaders in countries across Africa and the Middle East, where Wagner was active.
- The impact of Prigozhin’s departure on Putin’s grip on power at home is even more straightforward. If there was any hope that some of the hardliners harbored a different opinion on the war to the ultimate boss, it has been shattered.
- The Prigozhin saga has taught the Russian elites a few new lessons about Putin — his procrastination when it comes to correcting mistakes and his emotional volatility when confronted with the consequences of his own poor judgment. And it has reminded them of his ruthlessness when it comes to dealing with enemies and traitors. For this reason, Prigozhin’s departure is unlikely to have an impact on the course of the disastrous war that for Putin is an obsession. After all, the Russian leader has been able to fight that war for 18 months and to stall the Ukrainian effort to liberate more of its territory — not because of Wagner’s much-vaunted performance on the battlefield, but because of the sheer volume of resources the government can mobilize, the skill of people helping to keep the embattled Russian economy afloat, and Putin’s unchallenged position at home.
“Yevgeny Prigozhin's Assassination Was Inevitable,” Alexander Baunov, WSJ, 08.26.23. Clues from Russian Views.
- An important punishment tactic in dictatorships and criminal gangs is to create the illusion that peace has been reached and the enemy about to be liquidated has been forgiven. In mafia films, warring gangs and their bosses sit down together, only for one side to shoot at the other out of a cake, or, as in "The Godfather," strike an agreement only to kill the former opponent anyway… Russia has its own tradition in this regard. Many high-ranking victims of Stalinist terror were initially accused of various crimes and forced out of important posts, appointed to less-senior positions, and then eliminated.
- [Putin’s] describing Prigozhin as a traitor meant consequences were inevitable. Otherwise, a system built on informal principles and practices rather than formal institutions risked becoming unmanageable
- There are dictatorships that have abandoned any democratic window dressing and retain relatively inviolable legal systems. The Russian regime has been actively dismantling any notion of democracy for some time, and it has turned its attention to the country's legal framework. Prigozhin himself was a symbol of that process of shedding legal niceties, ostentatiously enacting the most horrifying arbitrary reprisals, including an infamous video of a former Wagner fighter who had defected to Ukraine being savagely murdered with a sledgehammer by his erstwhile comrades. Now the Wagner boss has received a fatal dose of his own medicine.
- Prigozhin’s mistake in June was to strike a non-fatal blow against the boss. Chaos might mark Putin’s mafia state, and the mismanaged war in Ukraine certainly shook up the “power vertical” in Russia, rearranging the prewar hierarchies. Without the war, an adventurer like Prigozhin would not have commanded a private army capable of moving against the Kremlin. Yet Prigozhin’s rebellion was exceptionally foolish. He was not in charge of the security services in Russia, he did not have real allies in the Russian elite, and his many social-media screeds did not amount to a coherent program for revolution. Having succumbed to his own self-aggrandizing mythology, Prigozhin thought he could challenge the godfather at the center of this criminal enterprise. Instead, he was quickly crushed.
- Putin’s mafia state is not at risk of unraveling. It has spent more than two decades building walls around itself; its tools for political and social control are formidable. Liberal opposition, potent when Putin rotated back into the Russian presidency in 2011-12, has faded away since the war began.
- Putin has a talent for running Russia as a mafia state, and the war has reflected and bolstered this talent.
- Putin has lost the West for a long time to come. But Putin’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine was not intended to win over the West. To the contrary, it was a premeditated assault not just on the territory of Ukraine but on Western power as such.
- For Putin, American decline equals Russian ascendance. … Yevgeny Prigozhin… did not wait around the halls of power for opportunity to come his way. Of his own volition, he took his ragtag army to within a few hundred miles of Moscow. When he failed to go further, Putin did not have him jailed or sent into exile. Prigozhin remained conspicuously in public view until he died in public view. The ugliness of the fight for power is no longer hidden. Nor, to borrow from another Churchill quote about Russia, is there much of an enigma or a riddle or a mystery to Putinism. It is only and self-evidently a dogfight. This may be a workable recipe for Putin’s survival within Russia. It is not the foundation for any kind of enduring global leadership.
“Why Putin Wanted Prigozhin Dead. A Conversation With Tatiana Stanovaya,” FA, 08.23.23. Clues from Russian Views. 
- We have good reason to believe that Putin is interested in such a crash. But even if it really was an accident, Russian elites and senior officials will see it as an act of retaliation. The Kremlin and Putin personally will be interested in fueling such suspicions. Putin had called Prigozhin a “traitor,” so a lot of conservatives in Russia’s political class were shocked at how soft Putin was toward him after the mutiny.
- On several occasions in previous years, Putin said that traitors must die. He said their death must be cruel and they must suffer. But Prigozhin is not a classic traitor. Yes, Putin said after the mutiny that this was someone who dared challenge the state at a time when it was facing external aggression. But Putin also said that people lose their minds during war. His approach toward Prigozhin was a bit softer than what it would be for someone who deliberately betrayed the motherland.
- I didn’t really see what value Prigozhin had to Putin after the mutiny.
- For those who consider Prigozhin a threat to the state, his death represents justice. For the military staff, the general staff, the siloviki, the security services, conservatives, hawks—for all of those who believed that Prigozhin went too far—this is what should have happened. So I don’t think Putin and the Kremlin will make much of an effort to convince the public otherwise.
- I don’t really expect a serious upheaval against the Kremlin or something pro-Prigozhin, pro-Wagner. There might be some minor episodes, but nothing big.
- Wagner is now settled in Belarus, and its forces can continue some activities in Africa and Syria. But the doors to Ukraine are closed [for Wagner].
- Russians mourning the death of Wagner chief Yevgeniy Prigozhin have set up makeshift memorials in nearly two dozen cities across Russia and occupied Ukraine in recent days, a sign of the commander's lingering popularity and a potential challenge for President Vladimir Putin amid divisions within the elite and in the military over the conduct of the war.
- Russian analyst and independent journalist Dmitry Kolezev, who left Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, said the Kremlin's challenge was managing the anger of Prigozhin and Wagner supporters, including junior and mid-level military officers…."Putin needs to prevent these people from becoming his opponents and keep them from possible radical actions, by paying tribute to Prigozhin and offering an alternative version of his death." That's why Putin praised Prigozhin on Thursday as a "talented person" who "achieved the necessary results" but "made mistakes," in a reference to the mutiny, he said.
- Prominent Russians chimed in with public eulogies, taking their cue from Putin's praise.
- Nationalist writer Zakhar Prilepin called him the "best of men."
- Sergei Mironov, head of political party A Just Russia For Truth, said Prigozhin upset many people, but warned that "the enemies of Russia will pay hard for the death of the heroes."
- According to analysts, many in Russia's elite are convinced that Prigozhin's death was an assassination ordered by Putin. Paris-based Russia analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said the public comments of prominent figures followed Putin's lead — but also indicated their unease about the incident.
- Tula governor Alexei Dyumin, a former head of Putin's security who knew Prigozhin well, called him a "true patriot, a determined and fearless man," who was not a traitor.
- Kolezev, the analyst, said Dyumin's comments indicated divisions within the elites over Prigozhin's "punishment." He said Dyumin, apparently positioning himself to be a future defense minister, needed to secure the loyalty of junior and mid-level officers, "and they are likely to perceive Prigozhin's murder negatively."
- As is so often the case with atrocities in Mr. Putin’s Russia, the plane crash was probably exactly what it appeared to be: the assassination of a nettlesome rival by the ruthless ruler.
- In the brutal logic of dictatorial rule, Mr. Putin would have had no choice. Though Mr. Prigozhin was careful to display total fealty to the president even when he ordered his forces on a “march for justice” in June, it was an open rebellion against Mr. Putin’s rule, and the president’s first public reaction was to warn — without naming Mr. Prigozhin — that those who prepared the mutiny “have betrayed Russia.” In Mr. Putin’s lexicon, that’s a death sentence. He is Russia.
- Whatever the cause of this crash, Mr. Putin’s army of sycophants and cronies are certain to understand the message: No amount of bootlicking, at which Mr. Prigozhin had been a master, and no long history of loyal service, whether providing food for the Kremlin or running a private army, would be enough to protect anyone who turned on the don.
- The need to enforce personal loyalty has become even more critical with the invasion of Ukraine, an operation linked directly to Mr. Putin that is amassing a terrible cost in lives, treasure and international standing.
- Wagner’s revolt in June had challenged Putin’s position and his narrative about the invasion of Ukraine. The deal that ended the mutiny and supposedly ensured Prigozhin’s safety surprised many analysts, showing Putin to be a leader who could not rely on his security forces to crush the mutiny or even demonstrate their loyalty.
- Much of the damage done by Prigozhin’s mutiny will have been undone with his death. Theatrical murder sends a powerful message to anyone who might also have been considering standing against Putin. But the Russian leader’s international position will not be strengthened by this act.
- However, Russia’s international allies will not be convinced that the threat to Putin’s regime is now extinguished. Ukraine’s leadership, meanwhile, will be encouraged. The conflict within Russia’s security and defense agencies will probably continue and deepen – and while his most visible domestic opponent may be dead, Putin’s position internationally is not much stronger than it was last week.
- "Whatever has happened to him, it will be seen by Russian elite as a retaliatory act," said Tatiana Stanovaya, a well-connected Russia analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The Kremlin will encourage this sense that Putin has taken revenge, whatever the facts, she says. "Putin is the ultimate apostle of payback," CIA Director William J. Burns said last month in an interview with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly at the Aspen Security Forum. Russians will assume Putin had a role in the crash of the private plane.
- If the facts are confirmed, Putin will have consolidated his position in the short run. The man he had accused of "armed mutiny" will be gone. Russian defenses are holding in Ukraine against Kyiv. Putin's hold on power seems firmer than two months ago, when Prigozhin ordered his Wagner militia to march toward Moscow.
- But Putin's aura of political mastery has been tarnished, perhaps irreparably. … In Aspen, Burns summarized the Russian public's reaction to Putin's indecision after Prigozhin launched his June revolt: "The question was, 'Does the emperor have no clothes?' Or at least, 'Why is it taking so long for him to get dressed?'"
- What the entire Prigozhin drama—from mutiny, to accommodation, to fiery demise—means for the Putin regime has been wholly speculative, because our well-worn metrics of regime strength tell us little about a personalist autocracy where political power has become divorced from popular sovereignty. Without a better framework for understanding Kremlin politics, predictions about the future of Putin’s Russia increasingly rely on conjecture, hand-waving, and wishful thinking, with little thought to the mechanisms of political change.
- With political power and regime strength completely divorced from popular sovereignty, the entire notion of a political leader being strong or weak loses all meaning, as it has become unmoored from the bedrock of political authority. Putin’s potential future political decisions may reflect any number of variables—brokering deals between rival Kremlin clans; satiating interpersonal rivalries; weighing military, economic, or geostrategic trade-offs—but attributing any particular decision to Putin’s relative political strength or weakness is an exercise in futility without grounding in popular sovereignty.
- An alternative way to conceive of political strength or weakness would be in terms of the potential range of institutional levers, personnel choices, and political options available to the leader. A strong leader—unencumbered by checks on executive power—would have a wide range of options, whereas a weak leader would be more constrained. If we understand Putin to have been weakened by Prigozhin, what exactly is it that Putin cannot do now that he could have done before the mutiny? How has he been constrained? And by whom? If anything, the very public demise of Prigozhin should underscore the unconstrained breadth of Putin’s political options.
- Understanding Russia better may mean coming up with better frameworks for explaining Putin-era policymaking—or living with the uncomfortable humility that we simply may not be able to anticipate future political trajectories using such outmoded tools.
- So what does this [Prigozhin’s death] mean for America and its foreign policy? Well, I suspect that Putin may have appreciated any briefing notes he received on the Republican debate this week. Edward Luce — who was dragged out of book leave for a quick commentary — wrote customarily waspishly and well about the banality of the occasion. But the foreign policy exchanges would have strengthened Putin’s assumed conviction that he should keep fighting in Ukraine, at the very least until next November.
- Nikki Haley did fly the flag for the Biden administration’s stance, talking of Ukraine as being “a pro-American country that was invaded by a thug”. But Vivek Ramaswamy’s stance — he called the conflict “a no-win war” — reflects what can be expected if, if, if, Donald Trump wins the party’s nomination and then the general election. “Ukraine is not a priority for America,” Ramaswamy said after he was accused of having no foreign policy experience.
- Now, with Prigozhin and other senior Wagner commanders such as Dmitry Utkin dead, the brand itself could be well-placed to experience something of a renaissance. The Wagner name still has some cache, and Putin is in position to reassert control over its operations.
- In a post-Prigozhin era, Wagner’s branding will need to more closely align with the new objectives yet to be publicly shared by Putin. As Moscow asserts tighter control over Wagner through closer integration with the Kremlin, the group will have to eschew defining itself in opposition to military elites.
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
“The End of the Russian Idea. What It Will Take to Break Putinism’s Grip,” Andrei Kolesnikov, FA, September/October 2023.
- For much of the past century, Russia’s political ideas have been shaped by the struggle between liberal and totalitarian tendencies, or what could be called de-Stalinization and re-Stalinization. … What is particularly striking about Putin’s Russia, however, is the extent to which it has combined re-Stalinization with antimodern imperialism. In reviving some of the most extreme versions of what in the nineteenth century was called “the Russian Idea”—a concept originally meant to convey the country’s separateness and exalted moral stature but that in practice came to stand for raw militarized expansionism—Putin has drawn on a pernicious ideological tradition to shape both the campaign in Ukraine and his long-term vision of power.
- In Putin’s version, the Russian Idea amounts to little more than territorial expansion and the repression of domestic dissent in defense of a sacralized state. The regime’s embrace of this concept in its most primitive form has coincided with a shift from soft authoritarianism into what is now closer to a hybrid totalitarianism modeled on Stalinist precepts. Stalin’s dictatorship, based on nationalism, imperialism, naked force, and what became a growing anti-Westernism, led to millions of deaths in the gulag and set back the country’s development by decades while causing multitudes to live in constant fear of arrest. Putin’s autocracy, by adding a messianic, anti-Western worldview to these currents, has now plunged into a senseless quagmire in Ukraine, resulting in vast destruction, the reversal of Russia’s economic development, and the imposition of an antimodern consciousness on the elite and the general population.
- [The Putin] regime’s main ideological precept is simple, revolving around a single imaginary threat: the West is out to destroy the Russian state. … The simplicity of this premise has made it a key rationale for continuing the “special military operation” in Ukraine, which officials, including Putin, are finally calling a war, even as they punish ordinary Russians for doing so.
- Putin’s attempt to resurrect an empire by naked force is failing. The imperial model is on its last legs and can no longer be revived. The question is: For how much longer will ordinary Russians be receptive to Putinism, Russian messianism, and the state’s increasingly flimsy justifications for using military power? … After Stalin, people had the opportunity to think and breathe, although the regime remained communist. Similarly, the end of Putin would inevitably start a cycle of de-Putinization, though the underlying structure of the state would likely survive for some time.
- Of course, change could come from within the system itself… Still, a pragmatic or conciliatory path, resulting from compromise between elite and counter-elite, could also be followed. If such an outcome is hard to imagine now, it cannot be ruled out. But before a more constructive, less messianic vocation for the Russian state can be born, the Russian Idea must die.
“The delusions that put Putin on the path to war. In two piercing accounts, Sergei Medvedev and Jade McGlynn expose the manipulation of history used to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Tony Barber, FT, 08.23.23.
- Medvedev’s A War Made In Russia and McGlynn’s Memory Makers are two of the most penetrating studies of the Russian state and society to have appeared since the invasion of Ukraine. The outstanding clarity of Medvedev’s thought and style places him in the front rank of Russian-born critics of Putin. As for McGlynn, she explores the state-driven reconstruction and distortion of Russia’s past under Putin with authority and skill, making the convincing case that “Russia will never be at peace with its neighbors until it can be at peace with itself and its history”.
- Like other scholars, Medvedev sees Putin’s rule, now in its 24th year, as the third act of a slow imperial collapse that began in 1917, resumed in 1991 and remains capable of doing much damage to Russia in what may be its final stages. “The state in Russia has effectively destroyed society and the fundamentals of citizenship,” he writes.
- A researcher at the Department of War Studies of King’s College London, McGlynn gives what now ranks as the most reliable, up-to-date account of the use and misuse of history and memory in post-Soviet Russia. “The government [has] rendered its view of history and political events the only possible and legitimate opinion, effectively turning a person’s view of history into a security issue,” she writes.
- The books of McGlynn and Medvedev are reminders that his regime has taken Russia down a very dark path, from which any return seems a remote prospect as long as Putin is in charge.
Defense and aerospace:
- The crash of Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft on the surface of the Moon on Aug. 19 marked the Roscosmos space agency’s latest unsuccessful attempt to explore interplanetary space. While the causes of the accident are still being investigated, it is already clear that it was brought on by a series of problems afflicting the Russian space program: a lack of funding and engineering personnel, dependence on the political interests of the state, and vulnerability to Western sanctions in procuring crucial electronic components.
- The consequences of the accident may manifest primarily in funding cuts for future scientific projects in space when Roscosmos drafts the new Federal Space Program for 2025-2034. More precisely, this accident, and the damage it has dealt to the state’s prestige in this arena, can become a convenient reason to reduce research budgets at a time when all the state’s priorities are directed to the needs of the Defense Ministry.
- Scientific research and lunar exploration are so alien to the interests of the current Russian government that scientists and officials at Roscosmos will have to work hard to convince officials to give them the necessary funding to continue.
- Russia’s next mission to the Moon, Luna-26, is planned to be launched no earlier than 2027, and Luna-27 no earlier than 2028. But these dates may change depending on events on the frontline, the economic situation at home, and the stability of the Kremlin's power.
- 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:
- See section “China-Russia: Allied or aligned?” above.
- No significant developments.
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
- While Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine dominates headlines and diplomatic conversations around the world, a quieter Kremlin effort to consolidate effective hegemony over neighboring Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova continues apace.
- Russia’s neo-imperial ambitions have proceeded furthest in Belarus, which leaked Kremlin documents indicate Russia plans to fully absorb by 2030. Putin regards Belarus, like Ukraine, as part of a tripartite “All Russian” nation and rejects the very idea of a distinct Belarusian national identity.
- While the Georgian public remains strongly pro-Western, the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party has taken steps to align Tbilisi with Moscow’s foreign-policy goals, including on the war in Ukraine.
- Moldova presents a more hopeful case but remains extremely vulnerable to Russian disruption. Pro-Western Prime Minister Maia Sandu has made impressive progress tackling corruption and bringing Moldova closer to EU governance standards, while cracking down on Russian media outlets and other channels of influence. … Russian efforts at disruption have nevertheless accelerated since the start of the war in Ukraine.
- The West’s ability to aid these countries, especially in wartime, is limited. The United States and its allies should focus on building these states’ resilience and deepening their economic, cultural, and humanitarian links to Europe.
- Given its location, vulnerability, and democratic advances, Moldova should be the immediate priority.
- In Georgia, the United States and European Union should prioritize infrastructure investment linking the country to Europe while aiding Georgia’s beleaguered civil society and taking a harder line on sanctions evasion.
- Belarus is a longer-term challenge, but Washington and Brussels should focus on ensuring Belarusian sovereignty, while backing democratic actors outside the country (including de jure president Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya).
- Above all, the EU (and NATO) should give all three states a real prospect of integration when they meet the necessary conditions.
 For an 08.28.23 account of battlefield developments, including combat in the Robotny area, see, “Robotyne’s recapture could boost Ukraine after weeks of grinding fighting,” Constant Méheut, NYT, 08.28.23 and “Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia in maps — latest updates,” FT, 08.28.23.
 Translated with the help of machine translation.
 Also see “Why Yevgeny Prigozhin Had to Die," Tatiana Stanovaya, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 08.25.23 and “Putin Had Every Reason to Want Prigozhin Gone,” Tatiana Stanovaya, NYT, 08.26.23
NB: Next week’s Russia Analytical Report will appear on Tuesday, Sept. 5, instead of Monday, Sept. 4, because of the U.S. Labor Day holiday.The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 12:00 pm Eastern time on August 28, 2023. Unless otherwise indicated, all summaries above are direct quotations.
Here and elsewhere, the italicized text indicates comments by RM staff and associates. These comments do not constitute RM editorial policy.
Slider photo shared by RG72 under a CC BY 4.0 license.