Russia Analytical Report, Aug. 28-Sept. 5, 2023

4 Ideas to Explore

  1. Ukraine’s 3-month-old counteroffensive “neither is over, nor has it failed,” but the war will continue “well into” 2024 and the West should plan its support for the Ukrainian military accordingly, Michael Kofman of CEIP and Rob Lee of FPRI write in their commentary for War on the Rocks. In his FA piece, retired Australian Army Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan also sees the war continuing into 2024 and beyond, urging the West to keep supporting Ukraine, which has just replaced its defense minister amid Kyiv’s battle against graft.
  2. Having encountered multi-layered fortified Russian defenses in the course of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, Ukrainian commanders and officials “now realize that giving Moscow time to build its defenses was a strategic mistake and so they must maintain pressure on Moscow's troops,” according to WSJ journalists Daniel Michaels and Isabel Coles’ analysis of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. "If Ukrainians don't get a breakthrough, there is nothing stopping the Russians from just digging some more trenches or counterattacking," Pasi Paroinen, a Finnish open-source intelligence analyst, warns in the article.
  3. Putin’s Russia has striven to become an independent locomotive of anti-Westernism in the evolving global order, but has failed to do so, Russian scholar Vladimir Garbuzov wrote in a commentary for Nezavisimaya Gazeta, only to be subsequently fired from his post as the director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for U.S. and Canadian studies. “Post-Soviet Russia has not been able to compete with the United States and China,” he acknowledged in his NG commentary, criticizing Russian state propagandists for disseminating myths that inflate Russia’s standing in the increasingly bipolar world.  “The fact that Russia today has pronounced post-imperial syndrome is more of a tragic pattern than of a historical anomaly,” he wrote.
  4. “Without immediate dramatic change,” Karabakh Armenians “will be destroyed in a few weeks,” estimates the first chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo. “It is critically important to label this as genocide,” this former prosecutor told NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof, whose column on the suffering of Karabakh Armenians cites local authorities as estimating that one-third of the deaths among the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh are attributed to malnutrition caused by Azerbaijan’s blockade of this self-proclaimed republic. One possible compromise would be for Azerbaijan to lift the blockade while Karabakh would simultaneously open one or more roads into Azerbaijan, as proposed by Benyamin Poghosyan of the Applied Policy Research Institute of Armenia, Kristof writes. This could be a defective deal, as it would “reward ... Azerbaijan for starving civilians, but in this case a defective deal is preferable to the mass starvation and ethnic cleansing of Armenians, again,” the NYT columnist argues.


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:

“Ukrainian Refugees Are Not Like the Others,” Nayla Rush, NI, 09.03.23.

  • Following last year’s Russian invasion, millions of Ukrainians fled to countries across Europe and beyond. What distinguishes this group from other refugee flows, however, is its unusual gender distribution: most refugee arrivals have been women. President Volodymyr Zelensky barred men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country so they would be available for military service. As a result, the share of women among adult Ukrainian refugees is close to 70 percent in most host countries.
  • It is important to follow up on key measures that are meant to help refugees help themselves. The feminization of Ukrainian refugees means additional initiatives will need to be put in place to ensure the social and economic integration of this particular group. For example, is the MOU initiated by the Biden administration bearing fruit? Is it specifically targeting Ukrainian women who are facing numerous challenges on their own? Is the international community making sure that newly acquired skills developed through vocational training could be reinvested by these women when they return to their country and participate in its reconstruction when the time comes? To attain success in their host countries or back home, these women need more than open borders and job markets.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Perseverance and Adaptation: Ukraine’s Counteroffensive at Three Months,” Michael Kofman and Rob Lee, War on the Rocks, 09.04.23.

  • Ukraine will need to both break through Russian lines and exploit that success to reach its objectives.
    • There is no single answer to the challenges Ukraine faces. The problem cannot be reduced to a lack of Western tactical aviation. The more important factors remain ammunition, training, providing the necessary enablers, and effective resource management in a war of attrition. 
  • The coming weeks are likely to prove decisive, as the battle hinges on available reserves and resolve. 
  • For Russia, the problem is straightforward: The entrenchments matter most if they’re manned. If their forces are degraded, and they lack reinforcements, these defenses will slow down but not impede Ukraine’s advance.
    • In Russia, the strategic concept of “active defense,” often mentioned by Valeriy Gerasimov, encourages maneuver defense and counterattack. This may be what we are seeing from Russian forces now. 
  • Looking at where the offensive stands today, Ukraine’s decision to attrit Russian forces via fires and advance incrementally with small units played to its strengths. This is a grueling fight. The combat power and reserves available to both sides will play a significant role in determining the outcome. Ukraine’s offensive neither is over, nor has it failed.
    • The recent anonymous criticism by officials spilling select narratives in the press, rather than fostering an open discussion about Ukraine’s challenges and successes,  reveals enduring problems in this war effort:
      • The first, is a lack of Western understanding of how Ukrainian forces fight.
      • The second … is an insufficient Western presence on the ground to enable closer coordination or even the invaluable understanding that could be offered by battlefield observers.
  • Western efforts should be geared to the assumption that the war will continue well into next year, balancing long-term transition programs, such as the transfer of F-16s and scaled up unit training, with managing Ukraine’s more immediate needs.
  • Taken together, Western industrial and military potential greatly exceeds Russia’s, but without the political will, potential alone will not translate into results.

“Ukraine Wants to Break Through Russian Defenses. That's Only the First Step. Flooding Ukrainian troops into a gap could prove even harder,” Daniel Michaels and Isabel Coles, WSJ, 09.04.23.

  • In recent weeks, Ukrainian units have made progress penetrating what Russia refers to as its forward security zone at the town of Robotyne and advancing toward the heavily fortified nearby settlement Verbove. ... But even Ukraine's boosters remain sober about the task ahead for its troops. ... Russia not only built formidable defenses—its forces continue to reinforce them. Moscow has also moved more troops into the region.
  • Ukrainian forces, operating in small units that seek to evade detection by Russian surveillance, are now working to slice through Russian lines and open paths for comrades with heavier equipment to follow. Kyiv's spearhead troops want to create what military strategists call a salient, a bulge protruding into Russia's rear defenses.
  • If Ukraine can accomplish the hugely difficult task of breaking through Russian lines, they would need to hold and expand any gap so that armored mechanized forces can flood through and attempt to overrun Russian lines.
  • If Ukrainian troops manage to take or bypass Verbove, they are likely to push south toward the country's Black Sea coast, more than 50 miles away. Their goal is to cut through a corridor that Moscow controls, a "land bridge" running from Ukraine's border with Russia in the east to the Crimean Peninsula … If Ukrainian troops can pierce Russia's next lines, their path south will likely depend on a mix of terrain and Russian defenses, analysts and combat veterans say. Russia has created impediments that seek to force Ukrainian troops into areas where Russians can more easily attack them, known as kill zones.
  • Ukrainians say that whatever happens over the coming days and weeks, they will continue fighting through winter and into next year … Ivan Fedorov, the exiled Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, and Ukrainian troops say they now realize that giving Russia time to build its defenses was a strategic mistake, and so they must maintain pressure on Moscow's troops.

“Military briefing: Kyiv ignores calls for reset of its ‘sneak and peek’ tactics,” John Paul Rathbone, FT, 09.03.23.

  • Arenosol is a sandy, well-aerated soil which dries quickly. Its presence in a swath of land either side of the strategic south-eastern city of Melitopol is one little-known reason why Kyiv’s counteroffensive may yet have a better chance of success than some of Ukraine’s allies fear. “Because much of the soil in southern Ukraine remains firm even with rain, Ukrainian troops will still be able to manoeuvre through the winter. Time is not necessarily the limiting factor some people believe,” [according to] Mykola Bielieskov, research fellow at the Kyiv-based National Institute for Strategic Studies.
  • The sandier soil of the southern Zaporizhzhia region contrasts with the rich black earth that turns much of the rest of Ukraine into a muddy quagmire during the rainy autumn months.
  • Worries that Ukraine’s counteroffensive risks getting literally bogged down has prompted a flush of anxiety this summer, especially in Washington.
  • Yet last week, Kyiv’s approach began to show signs of success, after forces penetrated a first layer of Russian defenses around Robotyne and tested the next line around the village of Verbove. The strategic town of Tokmak lies 20km farther on through thick Russian defenses, and Melitopol another 50km beyond that. On Friday, John Kirby, the U.S. National Security Council spokesperson, said Ukraine had made “notable progress.”
  • To try to break through Russian defenses, Ukrainian forces have taken a three-pronged approach.
    • The first involves slowly clearing a path through the minefields, often by hand and under cover of night.
    • The second prong uses long-range artillery and precision missiles supplied by the west to attack ammunition dumps, logistics and command centers, and prevent Russian forces from being able to resupply the front line.
    • The third prong involves using air and marine attacks with Ukrainian-made drones to hit targets in Crimea and deep inside Russia. 

“How Ukraine Can Win a Long War. The West Needs a Strategy for After the Counteroffensive,” Mick Ryan, FA, 08.30.23.

  • Both the Ukrainians and the Russians possess the resources and the will for an extended war. … The West must therefore accept that this will be a long war. ...Kyiv will need many months to defeat and eject them [the Russian forces] from the approximately 18 percent of Ukraine they illegally occupy.
  • In accepting that this will be a long war, the West should make explicit that its goal is a Ukrainian victory achieved through a Russian defeat.
  • Another element of Western strategy is identifying the key operational and institutional problems requiring support. The United States may need to accept that its doctrine for highly complex air-land warfare is not fully suited to Ukraine. ...the states of the West have to find a way to conduct ground combat in an environment where they will be subject to frequent air attacks—something they have not had to do in generations, but that Ukraine must do now.
  • A new-age Manhattan Project designed to discover new ways to rapidly detect and clear mines would help Ukrainian offensives down the line. … A new Western strategy could also promote the standardization of equipment and training support for Ukraine. … At the same time, the training of personnel needs to shift beyond training recruits and offering technical instruction on how to use equipment.
  • This kind of Ukraine strategy would let Western governments more rapidly offer Kyiv support, ending the sluggishness that has been one of the war’s biggest issues.
  • The next way to help the Ukrainians continue their evolution in quality and endurance is making sure they know the West is prepared to support them in their fight to defeat Russia and to offer this support in 2024 and beyond.

“Ukraine cannot win against Russia now, but victory by 2025 is possible,” Richard Barrons, FT, 09.03.23.

  • Ukraine’s current counteroffensive will not throw Russia out — not that anyone expected it to. Nor is it likely to cut the occupation in half before the winter, which might have been one of the more optimistic aims. It has, however, shown how the Russian army can be beaten. Not in 2023, but in 2024 or 2025. Thus the refrain among Western allies of supporting Kyiv “for as long as it takes.”
  • Defeating the Russian invasion relies on five crucial steps.
    • First, Kyiv must not press for substantial battlefield success before the means exist to deliver it.
    • Second, relentless pressure must be maintained on the Russian occupation throughout the winter.
    • Third, Ukraine must systemically weaken Russia’s military grip on its territories into 2024 and beyond.
    • Fourth, the Russian Black Sea Fleet must be neutralized as an engine for Moscow’s devastating cruise missile strikes and a key constraint on the export of grain.
    • The fifth and most important aspect is to accept that this war turns on the defense industrial capacity of the West and Ukraine as the determining factor in military success.
  • The current counteroffensive shows Putin’s occupation can be beaten. It will take longer and cost more than we hoped, but hope isn’t enough. The West must now commit to the harder campaign ahead or condemn Ukraine to fighting without the prospect of winning.

“A retired U.S. general blames America for Ukraine's slow counteroffensive,” Max Boot, WP, 09.04.23.

  • It not just a question of more weapons. The Ukrainian military also needs more training. "The Western training of Ukrainian military during the past 15 months is 85 percent basic training, 5 percent small unit leader training and 10 percent battalion training," says Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Arnold. "Those efforts have trained less than 5 percent of Ukraine's ground forces, and almost no officers at battalion level and above." The results of that inexperience were evident in the faltering pace of the initial counteroffensive.
  • Arnold has been lobbying the Ukrainian General Staff and the Defense Ministry to recruit retired Western officers to train brigades inside Ukraine rather than making them go to other countries, because this will enable more units to be trained more quickly.
  • "I find it frustrating, and the Ukrainians find it excruciating, that the West has the ability to do so much more to help end the war, but we're not doing it," Arnold told me. That needs to change. Rather than fall prey to the U.S. military's "short war obsession" — imagining that every war will end quickly — the Biden administration would be well-advised to set up the Ukrainians for greater success in the future even if they aren't able to achieve all of their objectives during this counteroffensive.

“How Ukraine’s deep battle is preparing the ground for success,” Ben Barry, IISS, August 2023.

  • Ukraine is clearly aiming for the deep battle – combined with repeated attacks along the lengthy front line – to bring Russian forces to a tipping point where combat power and morale may begin to break. To achieve this, the deep battle is stretching Russia’s supply lines, making it more challenging for Moscow to reinforce front-line troops with ammunition and other needed items, and hindering its ability to easily bring new formations into the fight to open new fronts.

“Foreign Fighters in Ukraine: Multiple Ideological Agendas, One Tactical Goal,” Jean-François Ratelle, Mira Seales and Agnes Wenger, PONARS, 08.28.23.

  • Just like the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and the civil war in Syria in the 2010s, the war in Ukraine has produced an environment conducive to the involvement of foreign fighters. Most are welcomed as long as their militant activities remain geared toward undermining Russia’s efforts on the battlefield. A whole range of actors have therefore decamped to Ukraine to fight Russian forces, including far-right Russian activists, Islamists and diverse ethnic entrepreneurs from the post-Soviet space, as well as Europeans from the extreme far right and some far-left fighters from outside the region (Kurdish People’s Defense Units and National Bolsheviks from Western Europe).
  • In the past, these violent actors often fought against each other. However, such ideological competitions and political tensions have temporarily been set aside as these groups work toward common objectives. They have adopted a more pragmatic and action-oriented approach, focusing on fighting the Russian armed forces with a view to ultimately overthrowing the current Russian regime.
  • This strategy dramatically downplays the importance of ideological priorities, producing temporary, unholy alliances with unpredictable potential consequences. It has, however, demonstrated the existence of a fractured yet sizable social base united by the struggle for political representation in the Russian context—with potential repercussions on the Russian political scene, in the North Caucasus, and across Eurasia.
  • While it is too early to judge the medium- and long-term impact of these foreign legions in Ukraine, the rift between pro-empire and anti-empire figures within the Russian nationalist movement may well have repercussions at home once the Russian political landscape reopens, as we saw during the Bolotnaya protests of 2011-12, when liberals and nationalists protested together (or at least in parallel) against the Kremlin. The presence of Muslim fighters on both sides of the frontlines means that tensions in the North Caucasus will likely retain their transnational character. And perhaps most importantly, these oppositional groups will benefit from combat experience and equipment skills, accelerating the large-scale militarization of the whole of Eurasia as hundreds of thousands of men come out of the war in Ukraine with deep experience of war and resulting trauma.

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

“Here comes Russia’s corporate hit list,” Bryce Elder, FT, 09.05.23.

  • Companies have had 558 days since the Ukraine invasion to figure out a way to exit Russia. For those that haven’t, time may be running out. Russia is likely to publish a list of businesses from “unfriendly countries” early in September, Jocelyn Spottiswoode, of business intelligence consultancy Alaco, told an investor meeting organized by Barclays. Those named on the list will be at risk of expropriation, the bank told clients.
    • According to Spottiswoode, Russia’s corporate hit list is likely to include any entity that has 4,000 or more employees, or whose revenues exceed $825 million, or whose assets that exceed $1.65 billion. Whether these thresholds will relate solely to Russia-based operations is not clear.
  • “Putin’s objective is to do everything possible to prevent the economy from collapsing in Russia and to placate Russian oligarchs who are frustrated with the economic situation,” said Barclays’ consumer staples team in a note published Monday. “Ensuring everyone is happy and the Russian economy does not collapse are the priorities.”

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“Pushing Ukraine to negotiate now would be disastrous,” James Nixey, Chatham House, 08.30.23.

  • Now, as U.S. presidential elections loom and U.S. voters’ interest in the war wains, talk of negotiations in U.S. policymaking circles is no longer confined to Trump and his supporters. Even some of Ukraine’s friends, though far from the kind of reckless, isolationist position taken by Trump, are discussing preparing the ground for talks.  ...   As a recent research visit to the U.S. revealed, resolve within some (though not all) areas of the U.S. government is wavering. This ranges from at best, reluctance to give Ukraine what it is asking for to – at worst – contentment with the idea of territorial concessions to Russia.
  • By contrast, Eastern European support for backing Ukraine to the full remains strong in both words and actions. But these front-line states’ advice is largely ignored by major aid and weaponry provider countries, despite their strong track record of correctly analyzing Russian intentions.
  • Signaling interest in a negotiated settlement will help neither Ukraine nor Biden’s electoral prospects. ... Weakening support now will only make Ukraine more vulnerable (with consequences for wider European and global security), threaten the gains made so far, and give Putin leverage he does not currently possess. ... Putin’s opening position would likely be that Ukraine ought to concede more territory, based on the ‘legality’ of Russia’s annexation of new regions.
  • If anything, the greater danger comes from Ukraine’s friends in the Western powers pushing for a false peace, and a ‘solution’ to the conflict that sows the seeds of even greater disaster.

“Prigozhin’s Death Leaves Putin Weaker,” Holman W. Jenkins Jr., WSJ, 08.30.23.

  • A strong Kremlin would have arrested, tried and sentenced him [Prigozhin]. A weak regime parleyed with Yevgeny Prigozhin, then shot him in the back.
  • The real problem [is as follows:] Even Ukraine expelling Russia from its territory still wouldn't end the war unless it also brings to power a reformist, peacenik regime in Moscow, a consummation Ukraine's admirable soldiers can hardly provide.
  • So Mr. Putin's war is likely to continue inconclusively; a shakeup of his hierarchy and strategy seems beyond him. The U.S., under any administration, will increasingly turn its attention elsewhere, unless the Russians start winning. Unlikely by current thinking, NATO direct involvement could yet be a possibility. But then it would be Washington's war, not Kyiv's, and Kyiv may not like the result.
  • Altogether the occasion may soon be ripe for Ukraine to become realistic about its allies -- and to think about when and how to de-emphasize fighting in favor of making Ukraine the West Berlin of this new Cold War.
  • The West Berlining of Ukraine means turning itself into the West's more important front-line state, with no expense spared to bring into being a NATO-class force capable of long-term deterrence. Sanctions on Russia will remain while any Putin-like regime is in power. Thinking in terms of a decade or more, investment in transit options through Romania and other NATO neighbors is a realistic way to secure Ukraine's seaborne trade despite Russia's presence in Crimea and on part of Ukraine's Black Sea coast.
  • Not required is any concession of territory or any settlement terms as the Putin status quo continues to rot. President Volodymyr Zelensky, a natural-born bridge builder in his fragmented society, is a good fit to sell his countrymen on an Adenauer-like vision for securing peace and victory in the long term. If he can't, somebody will.

“Is It Time to Negotiate With Putin?” Ross Douthat, Lydia Polgreen and Carlos Lozada, NYT, 08.31.23. 

Following a discussion of the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin: 

  • Ross Douthat: Whatever is happening in Russia has a big impact on the war in Ukraine. And some people have been hoping from the start of this war for some kind of internal shakeup inside Russia to be the thing that ends the stalemate, delivers victory, delivers peace. And we have to be honest. Right now, post Prigozhin, that seems less likely to happen, with obviously the caveat that something different could come along tomorrow, which seems to make it a good time to talk about the question of, what kind of ending does this war actually have? … We seem to have moved from a period where there was a kind of war of maneuver with sweeping offensives and counteroffensives to a real war of attrition that looks like a kind of World War I scenario … And as with World War I, then the question becomes, once you’re in a war of attrition, how do you actually get out of it?  
  • Lydia Polgreen: We’ve sort of moved well out of the kind of, I don’t know, fairy tale stage of this conflict … There was an early phase where the Russians seemed kind of awesome and all powerful. They were the evil villain that was unstoppable. Very quickly, that illusion was punctured by the amazing, extraordinary success, early success of the Ukrainian military. And now, I think we’ve kind of lost all of our illusions on both sides, right? I mean, the Russian military is weak and ineffective, but the Ukrainians have not, despite their incredible performance, have not been able to push the Russians fully back. … We’re entering a real, real grind, and that this is going to go on for a very, very long time, absent some sort of fundamental change in dynamic. … And both Prigozhin’s death and the kind of broader things on the global stage, in terms of arming Ukraine and the politics in various parts of the world around this conflict, I think are bearing down and creating more sort of muck for it to get stuck in.  
  • Carlos Lozada: When it started … it seemed like it might be quick, like the Ukrainians could not withstand the overwhelming Russian assault. But a year and a half later, here we are. … Basically neither side is in a position to deliver a decisive military victory. But neither side seems to be anywhere near accepting the possibility of a negotiated solution. 

“The Case for Negotiating With Russia,” Keith Gessen, New Yorker, 08.29.23.

  • If you want to hear a different perspective on the war in Ukraine, talk to Samuel Charap. … In recent months, as the fighting has gone on and on, he has become the most active voice in the U.S. foreign-policy community calling for some form of negotiation to end or freeze the conflict.
  • “Diplomacy is not the opposite of coercion,” he said. “It’s a tool for achieving the same objectives as you would using coercive means. Many negotiations to end wars have taken place at the same time as the war’s most fierce fighting.” He pointed to the Korean armistice of 1953.
  • Charap believes that neither side has the resources to knock the other out of the fight entirely. Other analysts have also voiced this opinion, most notably Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. … He believes that it is possible to make a ceasefire “sticky”—by including inducements and punishments, mostly through sanctions, and by monitoring the situation closely.
  • To Charap, “The strategic defeat of Russia has already taken place.” It took place in the first months of the war, when Russian aggression and Ukrainian resistance helped galvanize a united European response. … The failure to take Kyiv was the decisive blow. “Their regional clout, the flight of talent—the strategic consequences have been huge, by any measure.” And, from a U.S. perspective, Charap argues, any gains during the past sixteen months have been marginal. “A weakened Russia is good,” he said. “But a totally isolated, rogue Russia, a North Korea Russia—not so much.”

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

“How Russia Globalized the War in Ukraine. The Kremlin’s Pressure-Point Strategy to Undermine the West,” Michael Kimmage and Hanna Notte, FA, 09.01.23.

  • By subjugating the Ukrainian polity, Putin hoped to initiate a new era of global politics, one detached from American leadership. … Central to Russia’s global strategy are force and fear. Consciously stoking anxiety about nuclear catastrophe, the Kremlin seeks control over global pressure points.
  • The United States, along with other countries supporting Ukraine, must avoid wishful thinking about Russia’s chronic decline. They should not underestimate the scale of Moscow’s ambitions. Neither a great power nor a regional power in the classic sense, Russia exists in a confusing category of its own: it is a regional power with considerable global reach.
  • Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has tarnished Russia’s reputation in Europe and the United States, raising doubts about his regime’s competence. But the war has not isolated Russia from the world. Instead, the war has signaled a new chapter in Russia’s global orientation. Styling itself as a David to the Western Goliath, Russia has cultivated a wartime soft power that resonates. … The durability of Russia’s economy illuminates the war’s global context.
  • Putin’s goal is not to create vulnerability in a specific area. Rather, he aims to foster global dependence on Russia’s policy decisions.
  • Effective support for Ukraine demands a policymaking imagination that extends beyond Europe. Ukraine’s well-being runs through global networks, which Russia—confronted with constraints on the battlefield—seeks to disrupt and damage. The Kremlin’s ultimate goal is clear: strangling the Ukrainian economy, society, and state by whatever means necessary. … [I]t is essential to preserve Ukraine’s integration into the global economy, which Russia is deliberately attempting to degrade.
  • Washington should now understand that Moscow is geared up for a long war over the future of both Ukraine and the international order and that it will use global levers of power and influence to hurt Ukraine and the West. The effects of Russia’s actions will not be trivial. Nor will the Kremlin’s ruthlessness necessarily turn non-Western countries against Russia. The sooner U.S. policymakers appreciate the global dimensions of the war in Ukraine, the sooner they may be able to engineer the failure of Russia’s designs for Ukraine.

“The View From the Kremlin Isn't All Bad,” Walter Russell Mead, WSJ, 08.28.23.

  • The view from the Kremlin is nowhere as gloomy as Mr. Putin's opponents wish.
    • With American officials warning that they are unlikely to provide Ukraine with equal or greater supplies for a second offensive next year, Mr. Putin may think he has passed "peak Ukraine" in terms of the country's ability to resist.
    • The coup in Niger underlines the massive success that the Wagner Group has had in disrupting the Western position across Africa. This is partially about Russia gaining control over such resources as gold and uranium, and partially about creating chaotic threats to Western interests.
    • Mr. Putin has also put points on the board in the Middle East. Thanks to Russian support, Bashar al-Assad scoffs at American threats in Syria. Longtime American allies continue to intensify their cooperation with Russia. The United Arab Emirates defied American pressure to deepen commercial ties with Moscow. Iran is becoming thoroughly integrated into Russia's armaments pipeline.
    • And China's relationship with Russia, despite Western hopes that Xi Jinping would wash his hands of an ally turned rogue, remains strong.
    • Mr. Putin can also take heart from political developments in America. Donald Trump's path to the Republican nomination appears open, and the chances of his returning to the White House are if anything growing.
    • Mr. Putin's strongest asset, as ever, remains the incoherence of the contemporary West. His Western opponents are Churchills on the podium and Chamberlains in real life.
    • Mr. Putin's attack on Ukraine was a historic mistake, plunging Russia into a difficult and still unpredictable war. ... Moscow's struggles in Ukraine are reducing its influence in much of the former Soviet space. ...None of these developments, however, will help the West, promote democracy or disguise the reality that the Biden administration, having failed to deter Mr. Putin from launching the war, hasn't found a path to making him lose it, or to drive him toward negotiation on reasonable terms.

“American Power Just Took a Big Hit,” Sarang Shidore, NYT, 09.01.23.

  • For more than a decade, the United States mostly ignored BRICS... Such complacency looks less tenable now. At a summit in Johannesburg last week, the group invited six global south states — Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to join its ranks. In the aftermath of the announcement, indifference gave way to surprise, even anxiety. Yet there’s no need for alarm. BRICS will never run the world or replace the U.S.-led international system.
  • More than anything, the growing attraction of BRICS is a signal that American global dominance is waning. But that doesn’t mean most of the group’s new and original members are anti-American: Egypt is a steadfast security partner, Brazil and South Africa have longstanding relationships, and India is perhaps Washington’s closest friend in the collection. They would simply prefer to live in a world in which the United States was a leading, rather than the dominant, power.
  • And would that be so bad? America, facing its own intractable domestic problems, should view BRICS expansion less as a threat and more as an opportunity. It offers a chance for the United States not only to relearn the practice of cooperation but also to let go some of the distant burdens and notions of exceptionalism that do not serve its national interest. In the process, a better America — and possibly a better world — may yet emerge.

“The Return of the Global South. Realism, Not Moralism, Drives a New Critique of Western Power,” Sarang Shidore, FA, 08.31.23.

  • As the unipolar era that followed the end of the Cold War recedes, the global South is coming alive once again. But its guiding principle this time is not idealism but realism, with an unhesitating embrace of national interests and increased recourse to power politics.
  • The diverse countries in this new iteration of the global South share several features. Memories of European colonial domination, especially in Africa, remain a factor shaping geopolitical thinking. … [T]heir drive to “catch up” with wealthy states is a common and, if anything, more urgent imperative. Their desire for both strategic autonomy and a much greater share of political power in the international system is strong and only getting stronger, particularly among the global South’s middle powers, such as Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa.
  • Cooperation between the United States and global South states will [not] necessarily wane. Some of these states may even form limited ententes with the United States, or indeed other great powers, to further their interests. 
  • The wide heterogeneity within the global South and the rise of its middle powers raises some questions about the durability of the framing. The global South could become less relevant as a geopolitical fact if its members were to pursue serious rivalries with one another. ... Such ruptures, however, are currently not in sight.
  • The global South will persist as a geopolitical fact so long as it remains excluded from the inner core of international structures of power. As long as these states are denied a greater material say in governing the international system … the global South is likely to be a force for change, exerting pressure on the great powers, challenging the legitimacy of some of their policies, and limiting their scope of action in key arenas. Maintaining the status quo of the current global order and resisting the democratization of its governance, as the systemic leader the United States and its closest allies seem to be trying to do … will only heighten the impatience for serious reform. Insofar as it is defined by its distance from the core of the international order, the new global South will lose its geopolitical coherence only when its goals have been substantially achieved.

“NATO's laggards should take notice of a world grown more treacherous,” Editorial Board, WP, 09.01.23.

  • The United States and its Western allies have embarked on a campaign to beef up military preparedness, galvanized by the grave threat posed by Russia's bloody invasion of Ukraine 18 months ago. Yet even as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's overall defense spending is surging, some of the alliance's 31 member states are dragging their heels to meet what all acknowledge is a collective responsibility.
  • The laggards include several of NATO's, and the world's, wealthiest nations — Canada, Italy and Spain, to name three. 
  • Left to their own devices, most countries would opt to spend more on butter and less on guns. Russia's aggression, as well as the growing challenge posed by China, has deprived the West of that luxury. Mr. Putin's decision to start the biggest war in Europe in nearly 80 years, and the peril the Kremlin will represent for the foreseeable future, means Western nations have little choice but to rise to a daunting new challenge. The sooner all of them get that message, the better.

“Putin Races Against the Clock, The Dangers of a Desperate Russia,” Daniel Baer, FA, 09.05.23.

  • This coming winter’s principal battlefield will not be in the trenches across the Donbas. Putin will try to break the Ukrainian soul.
  • In response, the United States and Ukraine’s international partners should be prepared to bolster the Ukrainian spirit and wind the clock that is tick-tocking in Putin’s head. They of course must continue to deliver military assistance, but they also need, consistent with international law, to weaken Russia and remind Putin and the Ukrainian people that the opponents of the Kremlin’s violent aggression retain agency; they can still do things. The West can widen its approach in the coming months in several ways.
    • Western countries should provide expertise and intelligence to Ukrainians that they can use to take out Russian installations inside Russia that are critical to the resupply of the frontlines and to Russian air attacks.
    • The U.S. and key partners should also send a clear message to Putin that if he attacks critical infrastructure such as gas, water, and electricity systems this winter, as he has in the past, they will not only deliver ATACMS short-range ballistic missiles but also remove some of the limitations placed on the weapons systems already provided to Ukraine—restrictions that currently prevent Ukraine from using such arms to attack targets in Russia.
    • Away from the battlefield, the United States and other partners should begin formally taking Russia’s international reserves, which many countries seized after Putin launched the invasion, and transfer them to a fund to support Ukraine.
      • All three of these measures would bolster Ukrainians’ sense of capability and their sense that their plight is understood. ... such commitment to the defense of Ukraine will speed the clock that Putin now finds himself racing against.

“How to Help Ukraine Win the War of Attrition,” Walter Russell Mead, WSJ, 09.04.23.

  • If Americans conclude that Mr. Biden's Ukraine strategy will produce what political scientist Max Abrahms calls a forever war with a side order of nation building, support for Mr. Biden's war policy is likely to collapse well before Russia throws in the towel. The answer is not to walk away from Ukraine, but to fight Mr. Putin in smarter and politically more sustainable ways.
    • One option is to roll up the Wagner Group and its successors in Africa
    • We could work with Turkey and neighboring states to make Mr. Putin's presence in Syria ruinously expensive while bringing him diminishing returns.
    • The U.S. can apply pressure in other places, such as Russia's illegal enclave in Moldova. Belarus is a de facto co-belligerent participating in Russia's war. Our goal should be to force Mr. Putin to devote scarce resources to keeping his satellite afloat.
    • The U.S. can also target Mr. Putin's Latin American allies.
    • As analyst Edward Luttwak points out, we can accelerate the degradation of Russia's economy by focusing on critical components that Russia badly needs but can't easily make or source.
    • We can help Ukraine develop a powerful arms industry and defense establishment.
    • We can go pedal-to-the-metal on energy production of all kinds to cut global prices.
    • Wqe can advance a multinational effort to ensure that the world's uranium market won't depend on Russia.
    • We can develop military technologies and weapons systems that Russia cannot hope to match, just as Ronald Reagan did with his missile defense program in the 1980s.

“For self-cognition Russia needs knowledge, not myths,” Valery Garbuzov,, Clues from Russian Views^

  • Today ... in an atmosphere of pseudo-patriotic frenzy … new myths are being created. ... These myths are being propagated day and night by a new generation of well-paid professional political manipulators and numerous television talk show hosts. In conditions of the creeping restoration of Stalinism, these propagandists are introducing new dogmas - about the crisis of globalization and of the entire "Anglo-Saxon" world, about a new anti-colonial revolution, about the end of the American dominance, about the great and global anti-American revolution, about the decline of the West in general ... such claims need to be well grounded, but are they? Let us explore this question:
    • The U.S. is a nuclear superpower that maintains global leadership in areas such as the global economy, finance, military, innovation, direct investment, and culture. ... Any attempts to cobble together a new anti-American coalition on a global scale … are unlikely to lead to success.
    • Having challenged the United States ... China is following a similar path to the U.S., conquering more and more new markets and spheres of influence around the planet.
      • Thus, today there are only two informal empires on the planet - the USA and China. Russia is a former empire, the heir of the Soviet superpower, which is experiencing an extremely painful syndrome of suddenly losing its imperial greatness. The fact that Russia today has pronounced post-imperial syndrome is more of a tragic pattern than of a historical anomaly.
  • One thing is clear: the U.S. and China are the two informal empires of the modern world. ... It is no coincidence that the main confrontational axis of the modern world lies precisely between them. Russia has its own special orbit. As the main heir to the Soviet superpower created on the ruins of the Russian Empire, post-Soviet Russia has become a hostage of its own imperial complex. ... [I]t has not been able to compete with the United States and China and it has failed to become an independent geopolitical anti-Western locomotive.
  • The current domestic minions of authoritarianism are apparently completely devoid of historical consciousness ... they sincerely identify the head of state with the state itself, the temporary ruler of the country with a great national and historical constant. What a shame and what a humiliation, gentlemen!
  • It is not myths, but knowledge of other people and state that allows one to not only understand that other state, but to also understand oneself, forming a comprehensive and at the same time critical view of one’s own country, its history with all the difficult pages, its difficult and tragic past.

“Not ‘Against,’ but ‘For,’” Dmitri Trenin, Russia in Global Affairs, 09.01.23. Clues from Russian Views.^

  • Russia is in a state of acute conflict [with] a coalition of several states led by the U.S. [That conflict] has all the signs of being cultural and civilizational, and therefore, existential. ... In fact, Ukraine plays the role of the tip of the spear with which the West seeks to hit, weaken and if possible, destroy Russia in its current form.
    • Unlike past times – including the Napoleonic and two World Wars – the West now stands politically and ideologically as one. Russia and the modern West are antagonists. The current conflict is fraught with a direct armed clash [that could lead] to a nuclear escalation.
    • The fundamental nature of the confrontation means that the conflict will continue for a very long time. The question is as follows: either Russia will defend its right to free and secure development in a world freed from American hegemony, or the United States and its allies will succeed in what Nazi Germany failed to do - destroying Russia as an independent and integral power.
  • Russia's relations with the ... rest of the world that consists of more than 100 countries, on the contrary, are on the rise. Mutual trade is growing, contacts at various levels are multiplying, communication between people is expanding. ... [I]n general, relations with the countries of Asia, the Near and Middle East, Africa and Latin America are the territory of peace for us [Russians].
    • The leading countries of the non-Western part of the world - China and India – have begun to claim the role of world powers while a number of regional players - from Turkey and Saudi Arabia to Brazil and Mexico, and from Iran to South Africa - are looking for ways to establish their foreign policy independence.
    • In fact, the main collision of the modern world is the contradiction between the U.S./Western global hegemony and the desire of non-Western countries for true sovereignty.
  • The new world order that we intend to build is not another edition of a “concert of powers” but a polycentric model.
  • The most important task of Russia's foreign policy for the foreseeable future is to turn cooperation with non-Western countries into a reliable and growing resource for protecting the Russian civilization and the Russian world as well as for the struggle for a new world order. 

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“A Bigger BRICS Marks a Failure of US Leadership,” Editorial Board, Bloomberg, 08.29.23.

  • At their recent summit, governments of the five BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — invited six more to join their group. Adding Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates won’t mark the end of their effort to enlarge the pact, they say. It’s only the first stage of a wider expansion intended to give developing nations more say in global governance.
  • The growing appetite for an alternative to the prevailing international order is important in itself — and marks a failure of U.S. leadership. … China is the main architect and long-time advocate of the expansion, seeing it as a way to exercise its own economic and geopolitical leadership. Russia, eager to find new economic partners and defray the costs of its war on Ukraine, was also enthusiastic.
  • It’s no coincidence that the BRICS-11 arrives following the US turn away from economic leadership — accelerated by Donald Trump’s administration and affirmed by Joe Biden’s. The IMF and World Bank are increasingly rudderless. The WTO is all but defunct, as good as shut down by US obstruction. The organizing principle of US policy is no longer global prosperity but “Made in America.” Emerging economies can be forgiven for seeking alternatives to a global order that seems to put them last.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“P5: state of affairs and prospects for the Russian presidency,” Dmitry Stefanovich, Valdai Club, 08.30.23. Clues from Russian Views.^

  • In August 2023, Russia is assuming the P5 chairmanship ... Based on the public statements of Russian officials, two main assumptions can be made about that chairmanship.
    • First, of course, the format is to be retained, albeit with reservations regarding modest efficiency and a limited agenda.
    • Second, any initiatives in terms of arms control in general and within the framework of the P5 in particular would be possible only in the context of a conditional “comprehensive settlement.” The latter will require not only political, but also “acceptance by all parties of new multipolar realities. It would also require concrete practical steps toward a general de-escalation and, in particular, a post-conflict settlement along the ‘Russia-West’ line.”
  • In general, the P5 has proved its viability, including in the conditions of the most severe confrontation between its individual members, moreover, the confrontation under the "nuclear shadow." The Russian chairmanship can be used to maintain this format for communication and delivering important messages to each other while confirming the readiness of all those involved to look for ways to reduce strategic risks [and] de-escalate without trying to gain momentary political points.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

“Russia Is Commandeering the U.N. Cybercrime Treaty,” Rishi Iyengar, Robbie Gramer and Anusha Rathi, FP, 08.31.23.

  • Negotiations over a U.N. cybercrime treaty have evolved into a diplomatic proxy war between democracies and their authoritarian rivals over competing future visions of the internet, technology, and human rights in the digital age, pitting the United States and its allies yet again against Russia and China at the United Nations.
  • The aim of the treaty, at least on paper, is to make it easier for countries to share information on the astronomical rise of digital criminal activities like ransomware, denial-of-service attacks, and the exploitation of children online. A bulk of countries involved in the negotiations are hard at work in marathon closed-door negotiating sessions to do just that, according to diplomats and experts tracking the negotiations.
  • But … [t]he treaty, Western officials, experts, and human rights advocates say, could be used as a pretext to extend state repression into the digital realm—if autocratic governments in Russia, China, Iran, and elsewhere have their way on the final text. One risk is that the treaty could expand the scope of cybercrimes and allow states to crack down on political dissent, free media, or online content in general.
  • The United States, European countries, and others want to ensure cybercrime is narrowly defined to “cyber-enabled crimes” while Russia, China, and its bloc of allies want to expand the definition to any crime in which technology is used.
  • “Russia is a critical player, and I’d hesitate to say they’re not influential, because I think the problem is people underestimate them, and they’re very good at U.N. procedure and parliamentary practices and throwing a curveball in,” [Raman Jit Singh] Chima said. “If the treaty process breaks down, immediately Russia, China, and many others will rush … to say, ‘Look, this has broken down, we’re going to create something else,’ either in the U.N. or elsewhere. It’ll cause more chaos.”

“Elon Musk's control over satellite internet demands a reckoning,” Editorial Board, WP, 08.30.23.

  • When Elon Musk reportedly spoke of a "great conversation" with Russian President Vladimir Putin, minutes after declaring he could see "the entire war unfolding" through a map of activity on the small satellite constellation he owns, a senior defense official had the following reaction: "Oh dear, this is not good."
  • The statement, featured in a recent New Yorker article, aptly captures the situation in which the United States government finds itself. A single man exerts considerable control over the satellite internet industry that operates in "low Earth orbit" — generally about 300 miles above Earth — even as that industry is crucial to the war effort in Ukraine. Worse still, that man is the erratic Mr. Musk. There are just shy of 8,000 satellites in the skies today; more than 4,500 of those are Starlink satellites, launched by SpaceX. The company hopes to multiply this number almost tenfold in the coming years.
  • What's to be done? While a president theoretically has the legal option of nationalizing Starlink in a worst-case scenario, as Woodrow Wilson did with the country's railroads during World War I, that would be neither politically popular nor prudent. A better solution might be for the United States to try to build satellites of its own. The $1.5 billion contract the Pentagon awarded last week to Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to create a low-orbit satellite constellation is the start of such a strategy.

Energy exports from CIS:

“Investigating the Nord Stream Attack All the Evidence Points To Kyiv,” Der Spiegel, 08.26.23. 

  • DER SPIEGEL, together with German public broadcaster ZDF, assembled a team of more than two dozen journalists to track them [leads] down over a period of six months. … [T]he leads now point in just one single direction. Towards Ukraine.
  • The plan called for six commando soldiers from the Ukraine, concealed with fake identities, to charter a boat, dive down to the bottom of the Baltic Sea with specialized equipment and blow up the pipes. According to the information, the men were under the command of Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had apparently not been informed of the plan. The attack was apparently planned to take place during the NATO exercise Baltops on the Baltic Sea. The content of the secret dispatch was originally reported on by the Washington Post in early June.
  • Officially, politicians and the Office of the Federal Prosecutor [in Germany] are still holding back with any conclusions. … Behind the scenes, though, you get clearer statements. Investigators from the BKA, the Federal Police and the Office of the Federal Prosecutor have few remaining doubts that a Ukrainian commando was responsible for blowing up the pipelines. A striking number of clues point to Ukraine, they say. They start with Valeri K., IP addresses of mails and phone calls, location data and numerous other, even clearer clues that have been kept secret so far. One top official says that far more is known than has been stated publicly. According to DER SPIEGEL's sources, investigators are certain that the saboteurs were in Ukraine before and after the attack. Indeed, the overall picture formed by the puzzles pieces of technical information has grown quite clear.
  • And the possible motives also seem clear to international security circles: The aim, they say, was to deprive Moscow of an important source of revenue for financing the war against Ukraine. And at the same time to deprive Putin once and for all of his most important instrument of blackmail against the German government.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Proposals to Address Political Interference. Outcomes of a Trilateral Dialogue,” edited by Samuel Charap and Reinhard Krumm, RAND, August 2023.2

  • The EU, the United States and Russia have divergent interests, values and worldviews, as well as significant mutual grievances. Our contention is that, despite these divergences and grievances (and maybe because of the grievances), all parties would benefit from the establishment of mutually agreed upon measures to mitigate the destabilizing impacts of political interference.
  • Our proposals are as follows: 
  1. Increase transparency regarding interpretations of prohibited interference.
  2. Enhance dialogue on interference.
  3. Establish self-restraint commitments (regarding election-related infrastructure and hack-and-leak operations).
  4. Develop technical measures to demonstrate compliance with self-restraint commitments.
  5. Create guidelines to limit cross-border manipulation of social media.
  6. Relax restrictions on foreign broadcasters.
  7. Formulate declarations of intent not to interfere.


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russia still has options to sustain its creaking war economy. The Kremlin’s apparent aim is to tough it out and see if the political tide turns in the U.S. elections,” Tony Barber, FT, 08.30.23.

  • According to Russia’s official statistics agency, production of vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers was more than 50 percent higher in June than in the same month of 2022. Meanwhile, the central bank reports that, in the first quarter of this year, shortages of workers at industrial enterprises were at their most acute since records began in 1998. The central bank also estimates annualized inflation over the past three months at 7.6 percent, well above its 4 percent a year target.
    • Naturally, we have to treat official economic data in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia with considerable caution. But the picture painted by these three indicators is probably not far from the truth. Eighteen months after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia displays many classic symptoms of a wartime economy, such as inflation, labor shortages, rising government expenditure and deficit financing.
  • Western sanctions are undoubtedly compounding these pressures … However, Kremlin policymakers still have measures available to sustain the militarized economy.
  • Time is the all-important factor for the Kremlin. Its apparent calculation is that the Russian economy needs to hold out until the tides of political opinion turn in Western countries, above all the U.S.
  • Whatever difficulties Russia’s economy is experiencing, they do not compare in scale to those of Ukraine. Nor are they as serious as in some previous Russian wars. Hyper-inflation in the first world war was one factor behind the domestic unrest that triggered the collapse of tsarism in the February 1917 revolution. In the second world war, the Nazi invasion inflicted staggering economic as well as human losses on the Soviet Union, making the war an existential struggle for survival.
  • For Ukrainians, the present war is likewise a struggle for survival, as an independent state and as a nation with its separate, non-Russian identity. For Russians, the war is not remotely about national survival. One day it may be about the survival of Putin’s regime — but, judged from a purely economic point of view, that day is still some way off.


“Few Russians wanted the war in Ukraine – but they won’t accept a Russian defeat either,” Anatol Lieven, The Guardian, 08.30.23.

  • Most Western commentary on the assassination has focused on the fear of Putin that Prigozhin’s death will cause among the Russian elites, or on the underlying fragility it reveals in the Russian regime. This is not wholly wrong, but it misses several longstanding fears that are widespread within the Russian establishment – and indeed in the wider Russian population – that will influence how events play out: fear of defeat, chaos and of each other.
  • The general elite aversion to pursuing total victory in Ukraine is ... not the same thing as a willingness to accept Russian defeat – which is all that the Ukrainian and U.S. governments are presently offering. Nobody with whom I have spoken within the Moscow elite, and very few indeed in the wider population, has said that Russia should surrender Crimea and the eastern Donbas. Unless Russian sovereignty over these territories is formally recognized by Ukraine – something that Kyiv has categorically excluded – the Russians who take this view believe that Russia must hold the additional territory it has taken since last year’s invasion, to head off any future Ukrainian attack on Crimea and the Donbas.
  • Despite all these factors favoring Putin’s continuation in power, another severe defeat in Ukraine would very likely doom his regime. Then again, possible rivals to Putin from within the establishment do not need to know the melancholy history of Weimar Germany to realize that a regime that takes power under the shadow of a disastrous defeat is unlikely to be a stable or successful one.

“Prigozhin’s Death Shows Ultra-Patriots Are No Threat to the Kremlin,” Andrey Pertsev, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 08.31.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Prigozhin’s popularity stemmed not from his pro-war pronouncements, but from his criticism of the elite and Russia’s leaders. His strength was that he was the country’s only populist with financial resources, media assets, and his own private army. The ultra-patriots were simply piggybacking. As there is no second Prigozhin on the horizon, Russia’s ultra-patriots are now much weaker.
  • Seeing this weakness, officials will likely ramp up pressure on those who criticize the authorities from a radical pro-war position. This is an old Kremlin tactic: test the resilience of an opponent and, if it’s found wanting, press home your advantage. At the same time, the discombobulated ultra-patriots are a convenient prop for the authorities. Their radicalism makes the Kremlin look relatively moderate, while repression against those of them calling for full mobilization reassures ordinary people.

“Vladimir Kara-Murza from jail: What happened when I saw Alexei Navalny,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, WP, 08.30.23.

  • By unwritten instruction, political prisoners are not supposed to be held in the same (or adjacent) cells in Russian prisons and penal colonies — a departure from late Soviet times, when special labor camps in the Perm Region and a whole wing of Vladimir City Prison were designated specifically for opponents of the regime.
  • The most unusual — and most unexpected — encounter with an opposition colleague happened one morning in July, when the prison guard opened the feeding slot in my cell door and told me to get ready for a court appearance by video link. I did not have any scheduled hearings that day and had no idea what was going to happen. The answer came once I was locked in the metal cage (yes, even when you speak by video from a secure room inside a prison, they still lock you in a cage) and the screen was turned on. What I saw made me think of a scene in Franz Kafka's "The Trial" ... at the head of the court, under a double-headed eagle clumsily fastened to the wall, sat Moscow City Court Judge Andrei Suvorov, with his chair behind a small (also school-type) desk. ... At another table by the wall on the left side of the screen sat the defendant surrounded by his lawyers — and it was only when he stood up to approach the camera and speak that I realized it was Alexei Navalny. ... I was now connected by video link, called by Alexei as his defense witness.
  • Because he had to respond to his official indictment, Alexei's questions to me were no less Kafkaesque than the surroundings.
  • "Only in a Russian court can an extremist call a traitor as his defense witness," Alexei quipped during our courtroom exchange, referring to the respective charges against us. "There've been stranger things," I replied. "Alexander Solzhenitsyn was declared a traitor, and Nelson Mandela was convicted as a terrorist. But, somehow, time has set everything right." And so it will again in Russia. Of this, I have no doubt.

“The Special Ideological Operation Going According to Plan,” Andrei Kolesnikov, Russia.Post, 08.31.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • The historical politics that presents our dark past as our bright future is not only biased interpretations of facts, but also their conscious forgetting. The “special ideological operation” is going well, according to plan: with the mass glorification of the “special military operation” as the heir to the Victory in World War II, the transformation of violence into a social norm, the routinization of ideas about existential confrontation with the West and the need to fight on the domestic front with its paid accomplices.

Roman Catholic Pope Francis Addresses Young Catholics of Russia, Vatican Press Service, 08.25.23.  

  • The young dream, the elderly dream. It is precisely the dream, the capacity to dream, the vision of tomorrow that has kept and keeps the generations united, as the prophet Joel reminds us: “Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (cf. 2:28). In this way, the elderly dream of many things: democracy, the unity of nations… and the young prophesy, they are called to be artisans of the environment and of peace. 
  • I invite you to be builders of bridges. Builders of bridges between the generations, recognizing the dreams of those who have preceded you along the way. The alliance between [younger and older] generations keeps the history and culture of a people alive.  
  • I wish for you, young Russians, the vocation of being artisans of peace in the midst of so many conflicts, in the midst of so many polarizations that are everywhere, that afflict our world. I invite you to be sowers, to sow seeds of reconciliation, tiny seeds that in this wintertime of war will not germinate for the moment on frozen ground, but in a future spring will flourish. 
  • Replace fears with dreams. Replace fears with dreams. Do not be administrators of fear, but entrepreneurs of dreams. Permit yourself the luxury of dreaming big! … You … can change the historical moment in which you live. 
  • Notably excluded from the official transcription of the address was a more controversial quote about Russia’s former imperial ambitions. The pope was broadly quoted as having said, "Do not forget your heritage. You are heirs of the great Russia—the great Russia of saints, of kings, the great Russia of Peter the Great, Catherine II, the great, educated Russian Empire of so much culture, of so much humanity. Never give up this heritage." The Vatican subsequently tried to walk back the pope’s remarks, arguing that they had not meant to praise expansionist thinking.

Defense and aerospace:

“A Framework of Deterrence in Space Operations,” Stephen J. Flanagan, Nicholas Martin, Alexis A. Blanc and Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, RAND, August 2023.

 There are several key elements of deterrence in space operations

  • Canonical strategies of deterrence by denial, deterrence by punishment, and some mix of the two are relevant to space deterrence.
  • Assurances, declaratory policy, dissuasion, and de-escalation also have utility in deterring or terminating counterspace actions.
  • Nuclear deterrence offers five central concepts relevant to deterrence in space: credibility, deterrence stability, the inversion of offense and defense, crisis stability, and escalation.
  • The challenges associated with deterring cyberattacks often parallel those for deterring space asset attacks: attribution, credibility, proportionality of response, and the ability to control escalation.
  • Various countries have quite different conceptions of space deterrence, including emphasis on defensive measures; reliance on preemptive, offensive attacks; and some mix of the two.

There are three archetypes for space deterrence

  • Denial dominant: This type of deterrence relies primarily on resilience, stealth capability, defensive measures, and redundancy to convince an adversary that it would be unable to achieve a decisive advantage by attacking the target country's space systems.
  • Mixed deterrence: This type of deterrence is achieved by a mix of resilience and defensive measures, combined with robust active defenses of space assets and more-substantial capabilities to degrade the space systems of other countries.
  • Offense dominant: This type of deterrence includes elements of denial and resilience but relies more on punishment. It places emphasis on a wide variety of counterspace weapons capable of severely degrading the space systems of other countries, possibly combined with the threat of debilitating responses in other domains.

 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:

“Why the Wagner Group Cannot Be Easily Absorbed by the Russian Military—and What That Means for the West,” Kimberly Marten, RM, 09.01.23.

  • Many have been speculating about what will happen to Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group going forward, now that its main recruiter and contractor, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been confirmed dead and buried … One possibility raised by U.S. officials is that the group will be put directly under the control either of Russia’s Defense Ministry, or its military intelligence agency … the GRU. But this would involve major costs for Russia, and would be difficult to manage.
  • Even if it allowed the Russian state to better dominate and monitor Wagner Group fighters, placing them under military command would involve major costs for Russia. … Putin may … choose to put one or more other oligarchs or trusted advisors in Prigozhin’s place instead. This might have significant implications for those in the West who attempt to create sanctions policies that limit Russian commercial enterprises.
  • Second, placing the Wagner Group under regular Russian military command would be a poor fit for the group’s strengths. Russia’s uniformed military forces are known for their top-down, centralized command, lacking the trust for lower-level units to make decisions in chaotic situations.
  • But as noted above, the GRU oversees a set of spetsnaz (special forces) brigades. … These spetsnaz forces are known for their flexibility and initiative, and indeed historically have carried out many of the same tasks as the Wagner Group. … It therefore seems much more likely that, if Russian decisions are rational, Wagner’s combat units would be placed under the GRU (and hence the General Staff) rather than the Defense Ministry.
  • Because of these costs, it is likely that some new semi-state version of the Wagner Group will continue to operate, even if under a different name. The Wagner Group, despite its horrible record of massacres and human rights violations, has expanded Moscow’s geopolitical influence in the Middle East and Africa at relatively low cost, while absorbing combat casualties that would otherwise have been inflicted on regular Russian military forces.

“Prigozhin’s Real Legacy: The Mercenary Blueprint,” Sean McFate, NYT, 09.03.23.

  • The business model Mr. Prigozhin created with his Wagner force has been so successful that it has become a blueprint for wannabe mercenary overlords to follow, potentially emboldening up-and-coming paramilitary forces to step into unstable places, impose their might in similarly ruthless and violent ways and grab resources.
  • With Mr. Putin’s blessing in place, Mr. Prigozhin would approach the potential client, typically a head of state or group of putschists, and propose a deal. He would coup-proof them using Wagner muscle and create an elite military unit to serve them. He would use another arm of his business empire, a troll factory called the Internet Research Agency, to smear domestic opposition, popularize the client and further exploit grievances against the West. In exchange, he very likely demanded two things. First, the regime had to abandon the West and support Russia’s interests. Second, it had to grant Russia access to natural resources such as oil, natural gas and gold.
  • The roaring success of Mr. Prigozhin’s model and the atrocities left in Wagner’s wake have troubling implications in an era when rare earth minerals and metals have become critical in manufacturing consumer electronics, renewable energy products and hardware for national defense technologies, like quantum computing.
  • Mr. Putin might replace his general contractor, but not the Wagner forces. The fact that the Russian leader seems to be continuing to tolerate and use and is possibly assuming more direct control over mercenaries — despite their humiliating and destabilizing march on Moscow — is testament to Mr. Prigozhin’s real legacy. More worrying are the copycats who may also latch onto it. A world awash in mercenaries breeds more war and more human suffering.

“Prigozhin’s Death: The Details Don’t Matter – It’s What You Do With It,” Emily Ferris, RUSI, 09.01.23.

  • There have been several events since Prigozhin’s rebellion that merit closer examination as they suggest subtle shifts in Russia’s political environment, all of which are likely linked to the September 2023 regional elections and the March 2024 presidential elections.
    • First, since Prigozhin’s mutiny, the Kremlin has taken restrictive steps to prevent a similar recurrence.
    • Second, it was revealing that in the wake of Prigozhin’s death, one of the Kremlin’s first actions was to call the Rosgvardia (National Guard) back from its holidays in Rostov where the rebellion first occurred, and to put all security services on high alert.
    • But perhaps the most significant yet under-reported changes in the past two months have taken place within Russia’s domestic political scene. There have been several well-documented dismissals of senior officials within the Ministry of Defense thought to have been allies of Prigozhin, including General Sergei Surovikin, who was relieved of his command of the aerospace forces the day before Prigozhin was killed.
  • Ordinarily, this might be of little consequence, but Russia has two very important political processes that are about to begin.
    • The first is the September regional elections … This is part of an election cycle that will culminate in the presidential elections in March 2024, where Putin is expected to stand for yet another term of office.
  • Prior to his death, there were numerous rumors that Prigozhin himself had intended to run on the presidential ballot. An additional survey by pro-Kremlin news outlet Tsargrad in June conducted a telephone survey, finding that Putin would win if pitted against Prigozhin with 61.9% of the vote, but that Prigozhin would come second with 8.9%.
  • [This] is a useful datapoint for the Kremlin as it shows that Prigozhin held a certain celebrity status, despite never holding an official political position or launching a targeted presidential campaign. There could be something for the Kremlin to learn about outreach to the public and the attractiveness of his messaging to a certain part of society that United Russia – and Putin – will now have to appeal to.


“Ukraine’s internal battle against graft,” Editorial Board, FT, 09.04.23.

  • Since Russia’s full-scale invasion 18 months ago, Ukraine has been waging wars on two fronts. One is the existential fight against an external aggressor. The other is the continuing internal struggle against the corruption that sapped Ukraine’s independent statehood even before Kremlin tanks rolled over its borders.
  • Firing a defense minister respected by his peers, in the middle of a war, may baffle those unfamiliar with Kyiv’s serpentine politics. Indeed, Oleksiy Reznikov fulfilled his most compelling task — helping to cajole Ukraine’s often foot-dragging Western allies to provide billions of dollars of military assistance — with success. ... But activists and media have levelled allegations against Kyiv’s defense ministry, including that it paid inflated prices for eggs and for military jackets for the army. … Reznikov — however busy with his international role — was criticized for failing to bring more accountability to his department. His initial response was to present the claims as a treacherous breach of military secrecy.
  • Zelensky’s nomination of Rustem Umerov to bring “new approaches” as defense minister follows other recent steps to clamp down on military graft. The president last week decried systematic corruption in medical exemption certificates to avoid military service. Last month, he dismissed all the heads of Ukraine’s regional army recruitment centers.
  • Also last weekend, a court issued a detention order for Igor Kolomoisky after the tycoon was named a suspect in an unspecified fraud and money laundering case.
  • This is overdue. Though Ukrainian forces claim to have broken through the first line of Russian defenses in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, the painful progress of the counteroffensive suggests the conflict will be drawn out. Western partners must be ready to provide support for the long haul. Any perception that Kyiv is flagging in its domestic reforms will make it harder to maintain U.S. and European resolve. Ukraine also has formal conditions to meet if it is to begin EU accession talks.

“Ukraine’s Long and Sordid History of Treason,” Adrian Karatnycky, FP, 09.04.23.

  • Since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s history as an independent nation has seen plenty of betrayal and treason. From the start, Russian leaders who resented Ukraine’s break with Moscow found willing helpers in their efforts to subvert the Ukrainian state and infiltrate its national security institutions.
    • Some believed in the unity of the Russian and Ukrainian people, the Kremlin’s centuries-old imperial narrative … Other Ukrainians admired Russian President Vladimir Putin … Ukraine’s first two decades of post-Soviet existence were often so dysfunctional that some Ukrainians yearned for a heavy hand and believed in the benefit of a political and economic alliance with Moscow.
      • From these unpatriotic but not illegal beliefs, some Ukrainians crossed the line to actively support Russian attempts to destroy Ukraine. Some went onto the Kremlin’s payroll as spies, spymasters, informants or agents of influence. Many of today’s collaborators in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine are former politicians from Ukraine’s pro-Russian Party of Regions … Other Ukrainians supporting Russia’s destruction of their country have been linked to Putin’s closest Ukrainian ally, the U.S.-sanctioned oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk.
    • Some of Russia’s supporters are Ukrainian journalists who found well-paying jobs at pro-Russian media … That road took some of them to prominent positions as propagandists in Russia, where they now spew genocidal hate against their own people.
    • Still others are local and regional administrators in the occupied areas who have redirected their skills to the new regime.
    • Finally, a more complicated issue of treason revolves around those Ukrainians in the occupied areas who have been conscripted—often coercively—into Russian and Russian-controlled military units to fight against their fellow citizens.
  • Today, traitors and pro-Russian propagandists evoke scorn and revulsion for becoming one of the enemy’s instruments of war. This revulsion also drives the Ukrainian government’s and civil society’s ongoing efforts to document acts of treason, even by Ukrainians who have escaped abroad, in the expectation that justice will eventually be served.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Another Ethnic Cleansing Could Be Underway — and We’re Not Paying Attention,” Nicholas Kristof, NYT, 09.02.23.

  • The former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo … now describes what is happening in Nagorno-Karabakh … “There is an ongoing genocide against 120,000 Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh,” he wrote in a recent report.
    • [T]he legal definition in the 1948 Genocide Convention … doesn’t require mass killing, so long as there are certain “acts committed with intent to destroy” a particular ethnic, racial or religious group. That is what Azerbaijan is doing, Moreno Ocampo argued, by blockading Nagorno-Karabakh so that people die or flee, thus destroying an ancient community. “Starvation is the invisible genocide weapon,” he wrote. “Without immediate dramatic change, this group of Armenians will be destroyed in a few weeks.” “It is critically important to label this as genocide,” Moreno Ocampo told me, and also crucial that the United States and other world powers — including Britain, which has been too quiet — step up pressure on Azerbaijan.
  • The International Court of Justice ordered Azerbaijan to remove the blockade. Instead, the Azerbaijani government established a checkpoint on the road and began blocking even humanitarian aid carried by the International Committee of the Red Cross. “People are fainting in the bread queues,” the BBC quoted a local journalist as saying from Nagorno-Karabakh.
    • A third of deaths in Nagorno-Karabakh are attributed by the local authorities to malnutrition, the BBC said. I have no way of verifying these reports, but every indication is that the situation is dire — and getting worse by the day.
  • One possible compromise to end the looming catastrophe is outlined by Benyamin Poghosyan of the Applied Policy Research Institute of Armenia: Azerbaijan would open the Lachin road and Nagorno-Karabakh would simultaneously open one or more roads into Azerbaijan (which Azerbaijan seeks). The U.S. State Department hinted at this approach in a statement denouncing the blockade. As part of that compromise, Azerbaijan would guarantee the freedom of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • This would be unsatisfying, for it rewards Azerbaijan for starving civilians, and no one could much trust promises from Azerbaijan. But the sad job of diplomats is to devise flawed, much-hated agreements that are better than any alternative outcome, and in this case a defective deal is preferable to the mass starvation and ethnic cleansing of Armenians, again.

“Security Council of RF: U.S. is striving to make CIS countries curtail cooperation with Russia,” Interview with deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council Alexei Shevtsov, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, 08.28.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Today, through threats of "secondary sanctions," political pressure and blackmail, the U.S. and the EU are trying to force the CIS countries to curtail cooperation with Russia in all areas
  • When asked what other threats to Russia emanate from Central Asia: First of all, these are threats are coming from Afghanistan. Over the 20 years that the Western coalition has been in this country, it has become a breeding ground for terrorism, extremism, including religious extremism, illegal migration, drug trafficking and organized crime.
  • The aggressive behavior of our Western neighbors near the borders of the Union State forced us to take measures in response, including the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, and increasing the combat potential of the aviation component of the joint regional group of forces. Now, on behalf of the presidents of the two countries, we are working on updating the security concept of the Union State, in which, based on a comprehensive analysis of the international situation, key areas and mechanisms for implementing our common tasks of ensuring security and stability will be determined.
  • Without formally abandoning the neutral status enshrined in the constitution, Moldova is actively moving closer to NATO. Under the far-fetched pretext of the "Russian threat," cooperation with the alliance is building up at an accelerated pace in various fields. The situation in Transnistria remains difficult. ... Obviously, the current situation in Moldova is fraught with risks not only for internal but also for regional security.
  • We record persistent attempts by the U.S., the EU, certain Western countries and their agents of influence to interfere in the process of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, discredit the Russian presence in the region and strengthen their positions. $250,000 or imprisonment for up to five years.
  • Our peoples [of the CIS] have a lot in common: common history, Russian language, culture, civilizational affiliation. This is what the interaction [within CIS] is based on.

“Dis/Connectivity in the South Caucasus,” Franziska Smolnik, SWP, August 2023. 

  • Connectivity, especially in the transport sector, has become a ubiquitous issue in the South Caucasus in recent years.
  • Transport connectivity also plays a central role in the European Union’s policy towards the region. As part of its Global Gateway Initiative, the EU has made a commitment that is both value-based and geostrategic.
  • To do justice to this commitment, the EU should consider the different dimensions of transport connectivity and their implications on several levels and in an integrated manner. In particular, the EU should take into account the link between connectivity and questions of political power.
  • The EU could provide support in establishing genuinely inclusive and transparent multi-stakeholder processes and independent project moni­toring. This could point the way towards a more holistic approach to connectivity. The EU should also critically examine its commitment to connectivity for possible conflicts of objectives.
  • The policy debate in Berlin and Brussels would benefit from a more in­tensive exchange with critical logistics, infrastructure and connectivity studies. Their findings could contribute to a more nuanced view of trans­port connectivity and its complexities and ambivalences.



  1. Garbuzov has been fired from his post as the director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies upon publication of this commentary, according to Garbuzov himself, cited in Kommersant.
  2. This document, finalized in January 2022 and not subsequently revised, explores the possibility of reaching agreements among the United States, Russia and the European Union (EU) that relate to the issue of political interference. The paper sums up a series of discussions among U.S., Russian and EU nongovernmental experts who were convened in 2020–2021.

NB: Due to a technical issue, the Aug. 28, 2023, Russia Analytical Digest was sent without the highlights section. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. You can find the full digest here. Thank you.


The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 12:00 pm Eastern time on Sept. 5, 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.

^Translated with the help of machine translation.

Slider photo shared by the Ukrainian presidential press service via a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.