Russia Analytical Report, Aug. 30-Sept. 7, 2021

This Week’s Highlights

“Biden was right to pull out of Afghanistan, yet wrong on the larger picture. America's mortal enemies are not China, Iran, and Russia,” writes Columbia University Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs.  The real enemies, Sachs argues, “are the common scourges facing humanity today,” like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and widening income inequality, among others. “Global problems cannot be solved by individual nations alone,” Sachs writes.

“Afghanistan certainly does not mean the end of the United States as a global superpower; it simply continues to be in relative and slow decline. Nor does it spell the demise of American alliances and partnerships,” argues Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

“Russia is taking a pragmatic approach to the Taliban in that it has a relationship with the group that the United States does not,” writes Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. “In the future, if Russia perceives a sharp deterioration in the security situation and feels intervention necessary, or if it judges that U.S. military presence in Central Asia would prevent the expansion of terrorism and stall Russia’s need to act, it may be more accepting of a limited U.S. military presence.” 

“While over two-thirds of respondents between 56 and 66 years old had a warm feeling toward China, only about a quarter had similar feelings toward Latvia, and about one-third had warm feelings toward Ukraine and the United States” according to a public opinion survey conducted by Michal Onderco and Michal Smetana, an associate professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam and a researcher at Charles University, respectively. “However, about half of Russians older than 23 had ‘cold’ feelings toward Ukraine, the United States and Poland,” they write. “Despite the overall negative Russian public opinion toward Western countries, the significant demographic variation in attitudes suggests that there are opportunities for improvement.”

The summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “was an exercise in the same desiccated talking points and vain assurances that have governed U.S.-Ukraine relations since the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution,” writes The National Interest’s Mark Episkopos. “Not unlike past state-level interactions between Ukrainian and U.S. officials, the Zelenskiy-Biden summit lacked what the bilateral relationship needs now more than ever: policy substance and strategic clarity.


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

Nuclear security:

“End of an Era: The United States, Russia and Nuclear Nonproliferation,” edited by Sarah Bidgood and William Potter, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, August 2021. The editors, the director of the James Martin Center’s Eurasia Nonproliferation Program and the director of at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, write:

  • “It is clear that both the Biden and the Putin administration will face considerable domestic political and/or bureaucratic opposition should they choose to revive their joint work in the nuclear sector and attempt to insulate it from other major problems that have plagued their relationship. It remains to be seen if a collaborative approach to mitigating this nuclear predicament can be rekindled and sustained and, if so, what form this reengagement might take.”
    • “The existential threat posed by global climate change presents opportunities for collaboration in research and development relating to non-fossil fuels, especially nuclear energy... Another proliferation issue with a highly technical component … is the securing and disposal of large quantities of fissile material.”
    • “Policy makers in Washington and Moscow should consider cooperative approaches aimed at strengthening support for the CTBT among international and U.S. domestic audiences.”
    • “Coordination between Washington and Moscow will be essential to bringing Iran back into compliance with [the JCPOA’s] provisions.”
    • “The United States and Soviet Union concluded a host of bilateral risk reduction and confidence-building measures during the height of the Cold War... In an era of heightened nuclear risk, the United States and Russia should revisit these past agreements, update them where necessary … and recommit to their provisions.”
    • “While space bridges themselves have no intrinsic relationship with nonproliferation cooperation, they can serve as a means through which to develop one of its most essential criteria for success: empathy. Further, they offer opportunities for individuals from the United States and Russia to build personal relationships.”
    • “Despite the logic of cooperating in the areas of mutual interest described above, the lack of trust in the U.S.-Russia relationship today will no doubt prove a major barrier to constructive engagement... One effective strategy historically has been ‘Graduated Reciprocation in Tension reduction’ (GRIT), an approach developed by cognitive psychologist Charles E. Osgood in the late 1950s to build trust through unilateral, reciprocal acts of restraint.”

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Great Power competition/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:

“Interpreting the Biden Doctrine: The View From Moscow,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 09.07.21. The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “The newly unveiled Biden doctrine, which renounces the United States’ post-9/11 policies of remaking other societies and building nations abroad, is a foreign policy landmark. Coming on the heels of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it exudes credibility. Indeed, President Biden’s moves essentially formalize and finalize processes that have been under way for over a decade. It was Barack Obama who first pledged to end America’s twin wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan—started under George W. Bush. It was Donald Trump who reached an agreement with the Taliban on a full U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Both Obama and Trump also sought, albeit in strikingly different ways, to redirect Washington’s attention to shoring up the home base.”
  • “It is important for the rest of the world to treat the change in U.S. foreign policy correctly. Leaving Afghanistan was the correct strategic decision, if grossly overdue and bungled in the final phases of its implementation. Afghanistan certainly does not mean the end of the United States as a global superpower; it simply continues to be in relative and slow decline. Nor does it spell the demise of American alliances and partnerships.”
  • “Washington will use values as a glue to further consolidate its allies and as a weapon to attack its adversaries. It helps the White House that China and Russia are viewed as malign both across the U.S. political spectrum and among U.S. allies and partners, most of whom have fears or grudges against either Moscow or Beijing.”

“America's confrontational foreign policy failed. It should pursue a cooperative global policy,” Jeffrey D. Sachs, The Boston Globe, 09.03.21. The author, a professor at Columbia University, writes:

  • “Biden was right to pull out of Afghanistan, yet wrong on the larger picture. America's mortal enemies are not China, Iran and Russia. Our real enemies are the common scourges facing humanity today. Global problems cannot be solved by individual nations alone.”
  • “It is uncertain whether America will change its relentless aggressive foreign policy for our own good, and the world's. Our nation has been at war for centuries. Our repeated failures have led the political right to double down, calling with increasing fervor for more weapons, and further escalation with China, Iran, Russia and other alleged foes. Yes, we have pulled out of Afghanistan—42 years too late—and that is good. But will the United States adopt a new foreign policy based on peace and problem-solving? That's the real question.”

“The Biden doctrine: the US hunts for a new place in the world,” James Politi, Financial Times, 09.03.21. The author, Washington bureau chief for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Just over 24 hours after the last U.S. troops had flown out of Kabul, completing America’s grueling and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan, Joe Biden declared the start of a new chapter for American foreign policy.”
  • “To supporters of Biden’s approach, the move reflects what they see as an overdue recalibration of America’s national security policy, after the fruitless and costly conflicts that unfolded over the past two decades. They believe the shift will give U.S. officials and the military more space to focus on confronting big strategic rivals like China and Russia, and taking on global challenges such as the climate crisis, without being bogged down in open-ended conflicts, particularly in the Middle East.”
  • “Others are worried that Biden is ushering in a more risky era of American retrenchment, which might embolden its adversaries, unnerve its most vulnerable allies, undermine its push for human rights and dash some of the hopes of a return to strong U.S. global leadership in the wake of Donald Trump’s four years in office.”
  • “‘For Western allies it will prompt a serious discussion in NATO and elsewhere about what it means to do big operations in the future,’ [a] European diplomat says. ‘Otherwise we do run the risk that the Russian ‘end of the west’ narrative gains credence outside the transatlantic alliance.’ Far bigger worries may emerge in Taiwan, Ukraine or other countries that are highly dependent on a U.S. security guarantee.”
  • “Nathalie Tocci, director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, a foreign policy think-tank in Rome, and a visiting professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, says that Biden’s strategy ‘makes sense for a superpower that is in relative decline.’”

“The age of American privilege is over,” Andrew Bacevich, The Washington Post, 09.02.21. The author, president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, writes:

  • “Writing in 1948, George Kennan, director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, made an essential point. ‘We have about 50 percent of the world's wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population,’ he wrote. ‘Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity.’”
  • “On balance, throughout the decades-long Cold War, Americans enjoyed a way of life that made the United States the envy of the world … So at least most Americans themselves firmly believed. The end of the Cold War served to affirm such convictions. Hence, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the demise of communism prompted few second thoughts regarding the now well-entrenched power projection paradigm. Nor did 9/11.”
  • “The postwar formula for sustaining a position of global privilege is no longer working. Indeed, it has become irrelevant at best or counterproductive at worst. Ever the realist, George Kennan would have unhesitatingly acknowledged that fact.”
  • “The most pressing task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships that will refurbish and renew the prevailing conception of American freedom. That task begins with providing for the safety and well-being of Americans where they live.”

“The Biden doctrine will allow America to focus on bigger goals,” Stephen Walt, Financial Times, 08.30.21. The author, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School, writes:

  • “A chorus of overwrought pundits, unrepentant hawks and opportunistic adversaries now proclaim that defeat in Afghanistan has left U.S. credibility in tatters. They are wrong. Ending an unwinnable war says nothing about a great power’s willingness to fight for more vital objectives. Ending Vietnam did not cause U.S. Cold War alliances to collapse, and extricating NATO from the Afghan quagmire will free up attention and resources for more important tasks, such as balancing China.”
  • “Allied complaints that they cannot trust the U.S. any more should be seen as self-interested pleading from partners accustomed to letting Uncle Sam bear a disproportionate share of the burden of collective defense.”
  • “The real issue is not American resolve; it is whether the U.S. can assemble a bipartisan cadre of foreign policy experts who can identify core interests … These core interests should include maintaining a favorable balance of power in Europe and the Asia-Pacific and preserving a strong economy at home. Retaining America’s technological edge, working with China and others to address climate change and making U.S. democracy a model that others might once again admire should be top priorities as well.”
  • “These goals form the essence of the Biden doctrine, and leaving Afghanistan will make them easier to achieve. Unfortunately, the president’s domestic opponents are cynically using the sting of a painful defeat … to block the domestic reforms and the foreign policy adjustments that the U.S. so badly needs.”
  • “No great power is infallible, but the U.S. has a long history of setting priorities and achieving ambitious but sensible goals. Unfortunately, its foreign policy over the past three decades has raised serious doubts about American judgment and competence. The key question now is whether America’s hidebound and self-protective foreign policy elite will learn from the Afghanistan debacle, or whether it will deny responsibility, deflect the blame and repeat the same mistakes.”

“Biden's Afghan Best-Case Scenario,” Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal, 08.30.21. The author, the Ravenel B. Curry III Distinguished Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship at Hudson Institute, the Global View Columnist at The Wall Street Journal and the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College, writes:

  • “Vladimir Putin can also read the signs of the times. The American defeat in Afghanistan is not the only piece of news making this a good summer for the Kremlin. Nord Stream 2 is a done deal. Oil and gas prices are high. The Western response to the crackdown in Belarus was farcically incompetent, with economic sanctions only driving President Alexander Lukashenko more firmly than ever into the Kremlin's embrace. The relentless squeeze on Mr. Putin's domestic opponents has been largely ignored by a distracted and divided West. Even before the debacle, Mr. Putin flatly rejected Mr. Biden's request for U.S. bases in Central Asia last June. Post-Afghanistan, Washington should brace for an even more emboldened Russia.”

“Don't compound the Afghanistan mistake by fighting the last war,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 08.31.21. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Assessing the different players in Afghanistan and their intentions, capabilities and motivations will be a hard intelligence problem, but not an impossible one compared with other terror threats. Close-in neighbors, such as Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran, may have a greater interest in checking threats from postwar Afghanistan than we do.”
  • “What we learned after Vietnam is that defeated nations become strong again only when they regain their balance and see the world through new eyes.”

“After Withdrawal: How China, Turkey, and Russia Will Respond to the Taliban,” Michael Kofman, Aaron Stein and Yun Sun, War on the Rocks, 08.31.21. The authors, the director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses, the director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the director of the China Program at the Stimson Center, write:

  • “Leaders in Beijing, Ankara and Moscow likely shed no tears while watching Ghani’s American- and NATO-backed regime crumble, taking with it any lingering hope that the two-decade mission in Afghanistan could create in the troubled country a durable regime sympathetic to America and the West. But the rise of the Taliban creates its own set of challenges for leaders in China, Turkey and Russia, each of which see themselves as important regional powerbrokers.”
  • “What is Russia looking for specifically?  No spread of instability from Afghanistan to bordering Central Asian states, no terrorist attacks against Russia from groups based in Afghanistan and no support for radicalism in Russia.”
  • “All three countries are adopting certain hedging strategies. Among the three, China appears most eager to venture into Afghanistan, followed closely by Turkish eagerness to retain a presence at the airport. Turkey, it appears, is the only one of the three eager to have a military presence in the country. However, Chinese enthusiasm is still subject to strong calls for caution. There is a similar dynamic in Turkey, where the population is concerned about an open-ended military deployment to support the airport but is also determined to stem illegal migration.”
  • “If the Taliban’s victory proves unsustainable, China and Russia will most likely join hands to develop a common security strategy to seal off any spillover effect from Afghanistan. Recent proposals of building a buffer zone in Tajikistan reflect preparations in this direction. The Turkish strategy is not necessarily in tension with those of China and Russia, but it is more focused on cultivating economic links and retaining control over the airport.”
  • “Between China and Turkey, policy consultations are likely, but cooperative actions do not appear imminent. Moscow won’t be returning anytime soon, with the 1989 Soviet withdrawal still fresh in the collective memory of its political leadership. Engagement and containment characterize Russia’s approach, with Moscow well-positioned to coordinate a regional security response.”

“Russia and China Eye a Retreating U.S.,” John Bolton, Wall Street Journal, 08.30.21. The author, the U.S. national security adviser under Donald Trump, writes:

  • “In the near term, responding to both menaces and opportunities emanating from Afghanistan, China will seek to increase its already considerable influence in Pakistan; Russia will do the same in Central Asia's former Soviet republics; and both will expand their Middle East initiatives, often along with Iran. There is little evidence that the White House is ready to respond to any of these threats.”
  • “Over the longer term, Beijing and Moscow enjoy a natural division of labor in threatening America and its allies, in three distinct theaters: China on its periphery's long arc from Japan across Southeast Asia out to India and Pakistan; Russia in Eastern and Central Europe; and the Russian-Iranian-Chinese entente cordiale in the Middle East. … U.S. planning must contemplate many threats arising simultaneously across these and other theaters.”
  • “Sadly for those believing withdrawal from Afghanistan was a one-off decision with limited consequences, the world is far more complicated. The results are already deeply negative, and China and Russia are invested in making them worse. Over to us.”

“The Return of Great-Power Proxy Wars,” Frank Hoffman and Andrew Orner, War on the Rocks, 09.02.21. The authors, a contributing editor of War on the Rocks and a student at the University of Pennsylvania, write:

  • “If the United States fights with China or Russia, what type of war will it be? Will it look like the high-tech conflict envisaged in The Kill Chain or will it be closer to the plot of Ghost Fleet? Much of the U.S. strategic debate has been dominated by the perceived need to deter and prepare for large-scale, conventional conflicts … But great-power competition does not always manifest itself by direct, protracted, and high-intensity wars. Throughout history, great powers have often competed by supporting proxy forces.”
  • “Both China and Russia have a history of adopting indirect approaches and good reason to avoid competing with the United States in overt and direct military clashes.”
  • “All the state actors that the United States recognizes as competitors have strategic cultures and past histories in which indirect approaches, including proxy wars, have played a prominent role. This bears detailed study and updated U.S. doctrine that reflects lessons gleaned from historical cases, including Syria. Proxy conflicts are, after all, the ultimate indirect approach.”
  • “As suggested by Michael Mazarr, U.S. defense planners should expand their thinking about what constitutes appropriate defense strategy. They should incorporate proxy contingencies into U.S. planning as part of the next National Defense Strategy’s revised force-sizing construct.”
  • “Just as it learned and honed its extensive experience in alliance management and building partnership capacity in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. government can also absorb lessons from recent conflicts. If history can help to illuminate a dark future, the likelihood of facing proxy forces is much greater than the Pentagon is currently planning for.”

“What the India--Russia Defense Partnership Means for US Policy,” Sameer Lalwani and Tyler Sagerstrom, Survival, August 2021. The authors, the director of the South Asia Program and a research assistant in the South Asia Program at the Stimson Center, write:

  • “The U.S. should prioritize defense cooperation with India in the domains of greatest operational value and where Russian hardware poses the fewest obstacles. For instance, the Indian Air Force and Navy’s ISR and maritime-patrol platforms are increasingly of American and U.S.-allied origin, while most of their combat airframes are Russian.”
  • “Beyond the tactical intricacies of U.S.–India defense cooperation, the U.S. should rethink how India fits into its defense strategy in the Indo-Pacific, at least in the medium term. ... Rather than emphasizing the United States’ traditional role of providing security assurances to its regional allies and partners and demanding their contributions to a U.S.-led fight in the region, the U.S. might instead seek to become a convening power that organizes and manages a networked Indo-Pacific security architecture of like-minded states.”

“The Danger of an Inadequate Nuclear Threat Assessment,” Peter Huessy, The National Interest, 09.06.21. The author, the director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, writes:

  • “There are at least three serious implications of the size of the Chinese build, which would require a robust analysis by Congress—such as within the U.S.-China Commission—or by the U.S. intelligence community.”
  • “First, the Russian strategic, long-range warheads (under New START Treaty limits) potentially available for deployment exceed that of the United States. … Second, Russia’s shorter range, theater nuclear forces (under no arms deal limits) are at least now 400 percent of the U.S. total.”
  • “These things are happening under the shadow of a new, third element: China’s deployed nuclear warheads. These warheads have not been part of an arms control framework (no arms deal restricts China’s nuclear forces) or an explicit new threat for sizing the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent force.”
  • “What is needed is a full analysis of whether the planned nuclear force, (much less a smaller one), can deal with the newly expanding Chinese and Russian nuclear forces, including deeply buried hardened targets, many defended by advanced defenses.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant developments.


“9/11 Triggered a Homeland-Security Industrial Complex That Endures; After the attacks, federal policies swelled a defense sector that has reshaped U.S. surveillance as well as northern Virginia's suburbs,” Byron Tau, Wall Street Journal, 09.06.21. The author, a reporter for the news outlet, writes:

  • “In the decade following the terrorist attacks, military spending more than doubled in absolute terms to $700 billion, or about 20% of total government spending. In 2011, the nation's military spending peaked at 19.6% of total federal outlays and represented about 4.6% of GDP. By 2020, it had fallen to 11% of total federal spending and represented 3.5% of GDP.”
  • “Much of the money flowed to the private sector as commercial firms bid on huge new contracts to develop the next generation of security capabilities. In 2001, the Defense Department had $181 billion in contract obligations to about 46,000 contractors, according to a Center for Strategic and International Studies estimate. By 2011, when war and security spending growth reached its apex, the department had $375 billion in obligations to more than 110,000 companies.”
  • “Domestically, the government took on a much greater role in regulating the security of industries like air travel and gained new counterterrorism authorities under laws like the USA Patriot Act, passed in October 2001.”
  • “‘There was a massive expansion in intelligence data and analysis programs after 9/11,’ says Alan Butler, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which advocates for stronger civil liberties and privacy protections. One big trend was a shift away from targeted surveillance of specific individuals toward bulk surveillance aimed at gleaning information from population-wide data, he says. Many of the most invasive intelligence programs involving Americans have been wound down in the last decade after years of public outcry. But the government's overall collection of data for national-security purposes has continued to grow.”

“Can a Pragmatic Relationship With the Taliban Help Russia Counter Terrorism?” Dara Massicot, The National Interest, 09.03.21. The author, a senior policy researcher at RAND Corporation, writes:

  • “Neither the United States nor Russia wants to see Afghanistan become a haven for international terrorist groups. For now, Russia is taking a pragmatic approach to the Taliban in that it has a relationship with the group that the United States does not.”
  • “Moscow could apply pressure on the Taliban in line with shared U.S.-Russian objectives: the Kremlin has already said it would like a more inclusive government and for the Taliban to disavow terrorism. But not all Russian goals align with U.S. goals. Russian officials have made it clear that they will oppose any unilateral U.S. attempts to secure basing rights in Central Asia.”
  • “In the future, if Russia perceives a sharp deterioration in the security situation and feels intervention necessary, or if it judges that U.S. military presence in Central Asia would prevent the expansion of terrorism and stall Russia’s need to act, it may be more accepting of a limited U.S. military presence. In addition, if the United States seeks northern land evacuation routes for refugees through Central Asia, those negotiations will almost certainly need Moscow’s involvement.”

Conflict in Syria:

“Reassessing Russian Capabilities in the Levant and North Africa,” Frederic Wehrey and Andrew S. Weiss, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 08.31.21. The authors, a senior fellow in the Middle East Program and the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, write:

  • “Russia may be back in the Middle East, but is it a truly strategic player? The picture is decidedly mixed.”
  • “A closer look at Russian activism reveals that its ability to shape events in the Middle East is far more modest than is commonly assumed. Russia has neither the tools nor the willingness to tackle the region’s deep-seated socioeconomic and governance problems.”
  • “Washington should avoid viewing the region through a zero-sum, Cold War lens that sees every development as a net gain or loss for Moscow or minimizes the agency of local actors. In the context of multiple policy challenges across the globe and at home, U.S. decisionmakers need to prioritize the areas of Russian influence that necessitate a response. In so doing, they should avoid playing the arms sales game on Moscow’s terms or letting themselves be instrumentalized by autocratic Middle Eastern rulers who point to Russian overtures to seek leniency and support from Washington.”
  • “Washington should focus its energies on its biggest comparative advantage vis-à-vis Moscow in the region: namely, its abundant sources of influence and leverage in the economic and security spheres, its still-potent soft power, and its leadership of multilateral diplomacy and the rules-based global order.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Repression Without Borders,” Editorial Board, The New York Times, 08.28.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Authoritarian leaders have taken their repressive tactics global.”
  • “Some of the more flagrant examples are well known: the murder and dismemberment of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul and Russia’s use of lethal toxins to murder one former spy, Alexander Litvinenko, and attempt to murder another, Sergei Skripal.”
  • “Existing laws, including the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, allow for sanctions against perpetrators of serious human rights abuses, including assassinations and renditions. These laws should be used, prioritized, strengthened and enforced. Other useful measures should include steps by the United States and its allies to restrict trade in censorship and surveillance technologies to countries with a penchant for abusing them.”
  • “Perhaps most important, the United States and its allies need to make a concerted effort to reach out to diaspora communities on their territory and encourage them to report untoward efforts by leaders or intelligence services from their former lands to threaten, infiltrate, spy on, assail or otherwise harass them.”

“The Woolly Mammoth’s Return Could Thaw Relations With Russia,” Ingrid Burke Friedman, Foreign Policy, 09.04.21. The author, a fellow at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, writes:

  • “[A]mid many otherwise dim diplomatic prospects, one hope for warmer ties [between the U.S. and Russia] and improved strategic stability may come from a most unexpected source: the woolly mammoth.”
  • “[S]erious efforts are under way in Harvard Medical School’s labs by revered geneticist George Church to resurrect the mammoth from extinction. Working in collaboration with Russian scientists in northeastern Siberia and a team of conservationists in California, Church hopes to release a herd of creatures that are effectively indistinguishable from Ice Age woolly mammoths within the next two decades.”
  • “The woolly mammoth revival project creates unique opportunities for bilateral cooperation in the arenas of climate change and Arctic policy. These issues transcend borders and have serious, growing impacts on the internal affairs of both Russia and the United States. And dealing with them will require interstate cooperation—regardless of which other political squabbles may color relations between Moscow and Washington. If successful, the woolly mammoth revival project could change the tenor of the Arctic itself—turning it into a venue for cooperation rather than all-out competition.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russia starts to sow seeds of ‘wheat diplomacy,’” Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, Financial Times, 09.02.21. The author, a correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “‘Vladimir Putin had just become president,’ says a market consultant in Moscow, who asks to remain anonymous. ‘And he was told in a meeting that Russia imported more than 50 percent of its food. His face went pale.’ ‘Putin has since made it his goal to ensure better food security in the country,’ adds the person who attended the meeting in 2000. ‘He dreads dependency. And now Russia is number one in wheat, and is having others depend on it.’”
  • “Now Russia is nearly self-sufficient in everything from grain to cheese. And, according to Rusagrotrans data compiled based on U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, accounts for a third of Middle Eastern and African wheat imports, 10 percent of those in Asia and supplies about a fifth of the planet’s total wheat demand.”
  • “Agricultural output in the country has grown by almost 50 percent since 1991. Exports have more than trebled in that time to over $30 billion last year, having jumped by a fifth in money terms over 2019. Of all the agricultural exports it is grain that is the main source of foreign exchange, with Egypt and Turkey being the biggest single buyers.”
  • “Food has been a diplomatic tool in Russian relations with its neighbors before. It banned some Turkish agricultural imports as part of a package of measures following the downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish forces in 2015. The imports resumed two years later and Turkey became the top importer of Russian wheat in 2019 after it agreed to transit Russian gas to Europe after Bulgaria had refused. In return for wheat sales to Iran, Russia agreed to take and sell Iranian oil as part of its oil-for-goods swap prior to the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Tehran in late 2018.”
  • “In Russia, climate change is opening up new frontiers for more agricultural usage of land in the north with the melting of permafrost. To an extent, this offsets droughts in the south.”

“This is what life is like when the Kremlin lists you as a 'foreign agent',” Roman Badanin, The Washington Post, 09.01.21. The author, the former chief editor of the investigative news outlet Proekt and a John S. Knight Senior International Fellow at Stanford University, writes:

  • “‘This message was created by foreign mass media performing the function of a foreign agent.’ Under Russian law, this is what I have to write every time I publicly post anything online—whether it's a cat photo on Instagram, a birthday wish for a friend or this article. I have no other choice—because I'm a journalist. If I fail to include such a disclaimer—or if I commit one of the many other possible violations of the Russian foreign agent law meant to silence freedom of the press and freedom of speech—I risk going to prison. It is just one of the many ways the Russian government is keeping journalists behind bars.”
  • “We can draw two conclusions from all of this.The first is that the media remains the most important check on Putin's authoritarian regime. … The second point is that the attack on the Russian media goes hand in hand with the steadily intensifying crackdown on public life, politics and education.”
  • “Now more than ever, we Russian journalists need the support of our colleagues around the world, international organizations and national governments.”

“30 Years After End of Soviet Union, Its Main Lesson for Russia Remains ‘Reform or Else,’” Sergei Guriev, Russia Matters, 08.31.21. The author, a professor of economics at Sciences Po in Paris, writes:

  • “Thirty years after the failed August 1991 coup in the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the country four months later, it is hard to avoid asking: What led to the demise of that superpower and are the same factors relevant for its successor, today’s Russia?”
  • “Despite certain important differences in the overall circumstances, the key dynamic for today’s Russia is similar to that faced by the late-Soviet-era leadership: Rapid economic growth requires reforms; reforms frighten entrenched elites; lack of economic growth will eventually force the regime to change—though whether this means more democratization or more repressiveness remains to be seen.”
  • “[T]he Russian government understands that reforms would undermine the political control of the ruling elite: In order to accelerate economic growth, Russia needs rule of law, better protection of property rights, re-integration into the global economy and effective ways to fight both corruption and the state’s domination of the economy. Such reforms would result in the emergence of a large independent middle class of entrepreneurs and professionals who would demand political representation.”

Defense and aerospace:

“Russia’s novel weapons systems: military innovation in the post-Soviet period,” Hannah Notte, Sarah Bidgood, Nikolai Sokov, Michael Duitsman and Willam Potter, Nonproliferation Review, August 2021. The authors, a Senior Non-Resident Scholar, Eurasia Nonproliferation Program Director, Senior Fellow, Research Associate and Founding Director at CNS, write:

  • “While there were expectations that the intensity of the competition to develop and deploy new weapons might subside with the end of the Cold War, that prospect now appears dim. Indeed, government officials in both countries now trumpet the need for technological innovation in the military sector, including with respect to both advanced nuclear and conventional arms. The result is a burgeoning arms race—made more complex by the entanglement of nuclear and conventional capabilities—that threatens to disrupt strategic stability in new and more dangerous ways.”
  • “The primary external driver behind Russia’s pursuit of each of the five weapons systems under review [Avangard, Burevestnik, Poseidon, Kinzhal and Tsirkon] has been either the perceived need to maintain strategic deterrence in the face of US missile defense efforts or the perceived need to develop conventional warfighting capabilities to counter US long-range precision-guided capabilities. We furthin the 1980s, the Soviet Union began to pursue weapons systems that were designed to counter, rather than mimic, emerging US capabilities in an asymmetric fashion—a practice that the Russian Federation has continued.”
  • “A diverse set of internal drivers have influenced the innovation process. These factors include high-level institutional or political advocacy in support of specific systems, perceived ancillary benefits these systems afford to other areas of Russia’s scientific and defense enterprise, the existence of Soviet-legacy R&D programs that can be leveraged toward the development of new systems, and the anticipated status these weapons will confer on Russia as it seeks to reassert itself as a world power. Finally, we find that a weapon system’s progression through the innovation process is partly a function of cooperation between design bureaus and various industry players.”

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:

“Most Russians like China more than they like Europe or the U.S. But not Gen Z.,” Michal Onderco and Michal Smetana, The Washington Post, 09.02.21. The authors, an associate professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam and a researcher at Charles University in Prague, respectively, write:

  • “[W]hat do Russians think about Europe? Our recent study suggests the picture is complicated: How Russians view Europe depends on age, gender and politics. This suggests some room for building cooperative relations between Russian and Europe.”
  • “In May 2021, we conducted a survey of public opinion in Russia in cooperation with Ipsos, a leading global pollster.... We found major variations in how Russians perceive the world. Respondents in our survey expressed the warmest feelings toward China. On a scale in which zero was the ‘coldest’ and 10 the ‘warmest,’ the average feeling toward China was 6.14. The Netherlands was the second most popular country in our survey (5.74), followed by the Czech Republic (5.21). Feelings were most negative toward Ukraine (4.48) and the United States (4.37).”
  • “While we found no real difference between men and women in views of China, when asked about other countries women had more positive attitudes than men. For example, a majority of men held ‘cold’ feelings toward the United States, Poland, Latvia and Ukraine, meaning they offered a rating lower than 5; only about 30 percent of men had ‘warm’ feelings about these countries.” However, only 39-47 percent of women had negative feelings about them.
  • “Attitudes divided even more strongly by age: The older the respondent, the warmer the feelings toward China, while the reverse was true toward other countries. For example, while over two-thirds of respondents between 56 and 66 years old had a warm feeling toward China, only about a quarter had similar feelings toward Latvia, and about one-third had warm feelings toward Ukraine and the United States. Those attitudes flip among the younger age categories. A plurality of Russians between 18 and 22 years old had warm feelings toward all countries in our survey. However, about half of Russians older than 23 had ‘cold’ feelings toward Ukraine, the United States and Poland.”
  • “Despite the overall negative Russian public opinion toward Western countries, the significant demographic variation in attitudes suggests that there are opportunities for improvement.”

“Married Kremlin Spies, a Shadowy Mission to Moscow and Unrest in Catalonia: Intelligence files suggest an aide to a top Catalan separatist sought help from Russia in the struggle to break with Spain. A fierce new protest group emerged shortly afterward,” Michael Schwirtz and José Bautista, The New York Times, 09.03.21. The reporters write:

  • “In the spring of 2019, an emissary of Catalonia’s top separatist leader traveled to Moscow in search of a political lifeline. The independence movement in Catalonia, the semiautonomous region in Spain’s northeast, had been largely crushed after a referendum on breaking away two years earlier. The European Union and the United States … had rebuffed the separatists’ pleas for support. But in Russia, a door was opening.”
  • “In Moscow, the emissary, Josep Lluis Alay, a senior adviser to the self-exiled former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, met with current Russian officials, former intelligence officers and the well-connected grandson of a K.G.B. spymaster. The aim was to secure Russia’s help in severing Catalonia from the rest of Spain, according to a European intelligence report, which was reviewed by The New York Times.”


“What Was the Point of Zelenskiy’s Visit Anyway?” Melinda Haring, The National Interest, 09.03.21. The author, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, writes:

  • “Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine’s young telegenic president, just sprinted through Washington and many observers are struggling to make sense of the short visit. What was the point, after all? Partly prestige, partly purse.”
    • “Zelenskiy had been pressing for an Oval Office visit for years, and he finally got it. Zelenskiy has never hid his ambitions: The inexperienced comedian wants to be a global leader, so getting a photo op in the White House has been a top priority.” 
    • “Zelenskiy came away with more money. Washington pledged an additional $60 million in Ukraine’s fight to repel the Russians, $45 million for humanitarian needs and another $12.8 million in COVID-19 related assistance. The paltry defense amount is of course welcome, but a drop in the bucket given the massive needs. Zelenskiy estimated that the country needs $22 billion to modernize the navy, and most analysts see the Black Sea as one of Ukraine’s greatest vulnerabilities.”
  • “The visit itself was unusual, and mistakes were made by both Kyiv and Washington, but the bottom line is that both sides benefitted from the meeting and U.S.-Ukrainian relations are once again on firm footing. Zelenskiy needed to clear the air and reset U.S.-Ukrainian relations after the taint and tarnish of the Trump era and, to his credit, he represented his country with charisma, panache and spring in his step. Zelenskiy’s visit was also an answer to prayer for the pious Joe Biden, who faces the biggest foreign policy crisis to date with the messy withdrawal in Afghanistan. The visit briefly changed headlines.”

“Zelenskiy Walked Away From His Washington Meeting Nearly Empty-Handed,” Mark Episkopos, The National Interest, 09.07.21. The author, a national security reporter for the magazine, writes:

  • “The summit was an exercise in the same desiccated talking points and vain assurances that have governed U.S.-Ukraine relations since the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution. The two leaders hailed the global cause of democracy, an increasingly hollow exaltation in light of Zelenskiy’s own authoritarian turn at home. They called for an end to the Donbas War, but the Minsk agreements are no closer to being implemented on the eve of their seventh anniversary than on the day they were signed. Despite Zelenskiy’s cryptic messaging, vigorous opposition from Russia all but nullifies prospects for a viable alternative format to Minsk. The Biden administration is understandably unwilling to accept Ukraine into NATO given the immense geopolitical risks involved but lacks the political will to say so outright and thus continues to drag out the issue under the pretense of opaque domestic reform requirements.”
  • “Not unlike past state-level interactions between Ukrainian and U.S. officials, the Zelenskiy-Biden summit lacked what the bilateral relationship needs now more than ever: policy substance and strategic clarity. The administration’s continued insistence on eliding the existential questions confronting U.S.-Ukraine relations risks sending the wrong policy signals both to Kyiv and Moscow, muddying an already difficult peace process in Donbas and raising the likelihood of military miscalculations with potentially catastrophic consequences.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Do the Taliban Pose a Threat to Stability in Central Asia?” Temur Umarov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 09.03.21. The author, a research consultant at the center with expertise in China and Central Asia, writes:

  • “With the exception of Kyrgyzstan, which underwent another revolution just last year, the current regimes in Central Asia still look very stable: Their ruling elites are consolidated, the use of violence is the preserve of the state and there is little potential for protest. The two biggest countries in the region—Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan—have both undergone a transition of power in the not-so-distant past, and are still seeing the positive effect from the first concessions and reforms made by their new rulers.”
  • “It goes without saying that the crisis in Afghanistan will create new risks for the region, but Central Asia has long lived with chaos on its borders, and already has 20 years of experience in dealing with the Taliban. During that time, the countries have had time to strengthen their position, and are now far better prepared for the unexpected. Recent events in Afghanistan are, therefore, unlikely to plunge Central Asia into chaos. A more likely consequence is that the ruling regimes will tighten their control of society, and that Russia will increase its role in regional security.”

“Forever Together? Relations Between Moscow and Minsk After the Belarusian Revolution of 2020,” Arkady Moshes and Ryhor Nizhnikau, PONARS Eurasia, 09.02.21. The authors, a Russia program director and senior research fellow, respectively, at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, write:

  • “The Belarusian Revolution has not shaken Belarus-Russia relations. Rather, it has consolidated the old model, which predominantly rests on the proximity of the two regimes and the belief systems of [presidents Vladimir] Putin and [Alexander] Lukashenko personally. This means that as long as both regimes survive, the status quo in Belarus-Russia relations will remain intact.”
  • “In this regard, Western policymakers should remain sober and avoid oscillation between ungrounded enthusiasm and alarmism. Both the hope that Lukashenko would change his behavior (as in 2008 and 2015) and fears of the possible incorporation of Belarus by Russia would only hinder decision-making. This analysis implies that the West will not employ a wait-and-see approach. Instead, it should conduct a proactive policy that would promote change in the internal and external situation of Belarus along the lines of the Belarusian people’s aspirations. There are, however, three scenarios that would put this model in jeopardy in the medium run.”
    • “First, any change of leadership would naturally trigger a substantial revision of Belarus-Russia relations.”
    • “Second, more importantly, the Belarusian Revolution is not over.”
    • “Third, a changing international environment may start having a much larger effect than now. If the crisis between Belarus and the West seriously escalates as a result of Minsk’s actions, which would involve Russia in an open confrontation with the West, the Kremlin may suddenly withdraw support for Lukashenko, which would inevitably have implications for the whole model.”