Russia Analytical Report, Aug. 7-14, 2023

5 Ideas to Explore

  1. When considering Biden’s request for an additional $24 billion in aid to Ukraine, Congress should ensure “a better Ukraine aid oversight and a more robust strategic dialogue about how U.S. involvement in the war impacts American interests,” according to Reid Smith of Stand Together and Tyler Koteskey of Concerned Veterans for America. To achieve this, Congress should demand a dedicated Ukraine aid inspector,  require collective matching from allies and mandate certifications that drawdowns are not undermining U.S. readiness in key theaters, according to the authors’ commentary in War on the Rocks, “Arm but Verify: A Blueprint for Rigorous Oversight of Future Ukraine Aid.”
  2. With Kyiv’s current offensive stalling, Western military strategists and policy makers are already starting to think about how the Ukrainian military can go on the attack next spring, according to WSJ Brussels bureau chief Daniel Michaels. Ukraine’s initial attempts to use U.S. and European armored vehicles in the current offensive didn’t fare well, but by next spring Kyiv will have both more Western equipment—including possibly F-16 fighters—and more skilled operators of the gear, according to Michaels. It is anyone’s guess whether the Biden administration would manage to maintain or expand the military aid to Ukraine at current levels between now and next spring, especially if  the share of Americans who oppose more U.S. aid for Ukraine in the war and who already constitute a majority, according to one recent poll, continues to grow.*
  3. There is no acceptable alternative to a peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian conflict, and disagreements on its terms are not worth the risk of a nuclear apocalypse,” according to Alexei Arbatov, one of Russia’s top experts on the country’s nuclear posture. Doctrines of nuclear deterrence are undergoing “frightening transformations, turning into ... plans and practical options of unleashing a nuclear war,” Arbatov writes in “Polis. Political Studies.” These metamorphoses have already manifested themselves “in the Russian strategic discourse on ways to quickly and successfully complete the military special operation” in Ukraine, according to Arbatov, who warns that “such initiatives are prone with the danger of Russian national suicide.”
  4. FT’s Lex has concluded that the $60 a barrel price cap on Russia’s Urals blend “clearly has not worked.” The price of Urals has climbed to more than $73 in recent weeks as Indian buyers, for example, are willing to pay up for Russia’s crude from producers such as Lukoil and Rosneft, according to the latest Lex column, which focuses on explaining how a weak ruble offers Russia an incentive to boost oil exports.
  5. U.S. officials believe Karabakh Armenians will face starvation in two months if Azerbaijan continues to prevent aid from reaching them as Baku tries to impose political control over their homeland. This follows from David Ignatius’ latest WP column, in which he cites former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno Ocampo as asserting that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that a genocide is being committedof Karabakh Armenians.

 

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:

“War is hell. To this, Russia has added torture,” Editorial Board, WP, 08.07.23.

  • Russia’s pitiless assault on Ukraine is a land grab, an imperial fever dream and an unjustified war of aggression, but it is something more than that. It is also a relentless campaign of criminality aimed at eradicating Ukraine's national identity, spirit and resolve - often by means of murder, rape and torture.
  • Of 320 detainees' cases at more than 35 detention centers identified by the findings in Kherson, at least 43 percent cited torture, and many said they had been sexually assaulted by Russian guards.... They should be tried in a court of law, no matter how long it might take to apprehend them.
  • The man ultimately responsible for this campaign of abuse is Vladimir Putin.
  • All of this horror is part of a systematic effort to erode and erase Ukraine's determination to maintain its national identity. Last month, officials at UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural arm, confirmed that they have verified damage to 274 Ukrainian heritage sites, including dozens of churches, museums and other sites of historical or artistic note.
  • Kyiv's allies are wise to remember not only the war's daunting strategic stakes but also the very real, very bloody consequences that would result from the retreat of Ukrainian forces, let alone their defeat. The war is not only about lines on a map, or Mr. Putin's wish to reassemble the component parts of the Soviet Union, or the quantity of artillery shells and funds expended in the effort to ensure that he fails. It is also about one country's bloody-minded attempt to subjugate and subsume another.

“The Ukrainians Forced to Flee to Russia,” Masha Gessen, New Yorker, 08.14.23.

  • Most of the world was aware of Ukrainians fleeing the war for Western Europe, but millions travelled east. … Many stories of Ukrainians who have gone to Russia involve coercion, confusion, or doublethink. What happened to some of them may be a war crime, though most don’t seem to see it that way. And these Ukrainians have also encountered, almost without exception, unlikely, sometimes uncomfortable acts of solidarity from ordinary Russians.
  • The people in Russia helping Ukrainians escape the war operate in a political gray zone. The Russian government uses the “refugees” for propaganda purposes, parading ostensible victims of Ukrainian aggression—and grateful recipients of Russian aid—on television. Russian volunteers can be both symbolically and practically useful: for the most part, they, not the Russian state, take care of the Ukrainians.
  • The Russian government does not prevent Ukrainians from leaving Russia—in fact, some volunteers suspect that their efforts assisting those hoping to flee are tolerated because they help get rid of potentially troublesome new citizens. But, with Russia increasingly isolated from the European Union, leaving is complicated. Rules apparently vary from one border crossing to another and among the few commercial bus companies that maintain service between Russia and the E.U.
  • Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, has streamlined the process by which Ukrainians can obtain Russian citizenship and has promised each “refugee” a monthly stipend of ten thousand rubles (about a hundred dollars). In March, Tatyana Moskalkova, Putin’s human-rights ombudswoman, boasted that more than five million Ukrainians had come to Russia “seeking safety from Ukrainian shelling and bombing.” … The actual number of people is impossible to determine
  • [In efforts to prosecute war crimes,] The International Criminal Court’s decision to focus on cases of deported Ukrainian children makes sense. The Russian state’s apparently concerted effort to “Russify” Ukrainian children by placing them in a Russian-speaking environment, giving them Russian citizenship, and putting them up for adoption by Russian families bolsters the case for framing Russia’s war as genocidal. And no one would argue that children can voluntarily decide to move to Russia.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Arm but Verify: A Blueprint for Rigorous Oversight of Future Ukraine Aid,” Reid Smith and Tyler Koteskey, War on the Rocks, 08.14.23.

  • The White House has approached Congress for the next tranche of U.S. assistance to Ukraine, proposing $24 billion in military, economic, and humanitarian aid. This request will face stiffer political headwinds than previous appeals. ...as the fighting has ground on with no end in sight, supplemental aid to Ukraine has become increasingly politicized. Recent polling suggests Americans are skeptical of additional support while Speaker Kevin McCarthy secured the latest debt limit deal, in part, by rejecting the prospect of further supplemental spending.
  • This presents Congress with an opportunity to fulfill its constitutionally mandated oversight role by asking hard questions that demand clear answers. ... Congress should pursue a series of measures to ensure better Ukraine aid oversight and a more robust strategic dialogue about how U.S. involvement in the war impacts American interests.
    • Congress should demand a dedicated Ukraine aid inspector general.
    • Cognizant of tradeoffs, legislators should pursue policies that ensure any supplemental aid is offset under the terms of discretionary spending caps, requiring collective matching from allies with greater interests at stake, and mandating certifications that drawdowns are not undermining U.S. readiness in key theaters.
    • To limit the existential risk of direct NATO-Russia hostilities, Congress should require topline reporting on the number and missions of U.S. personnel in Ukraine and direct the president to make clear what escalatory uses of aid America will not support.
    • Finally, as a condition of future approvals, Congress should require the administration to provide a strategy articulating U.S. goals in Ukraine, detailing both the role of current aid and the steps being taken to facilitate an eventual end to the conflict.
  • Vigorous proponents of arming Ukraine would undoubtedly agree that the first duty of U.S. policymakers is to advance American interests. However, while American and Ukrainian interests often overlap, they are not identical. Both states favor punishing Russia’s unjustified invasion and securing Ukraine’s enduring sovereignty. It is not in America’s interests, however, to pursue overly expansive war aims that risk direct war with Russia or deplete munitions that might be required elsewhere. Even as Americans hope for Kyiv’s victory, Congress should ensure that their interests come first as it considers additional aid packages.

“Back in the Trenches: Why New Technology Hasn’t Revolutionized Warfare in Ukraine,” Stephen Biddle, FA, 08.10.23.

  • The war in Ukraine is being waged with a host of advanced technologies, from remotely operated drones to space-based surveillance, precision weapons, hypersonic missiles, handheld jammers, artificial intelligence, networked communications, and more. ... But in many ways, this war seems quite familiar. It features foot soldiers slogging through muddy trenches in scenes that look more like World War I than Star Wars. Its battlegrounds are littered with minefields that resemble those from World War II and feature moonscapes of shell holes that could be mistaken for Flanders in 1917. Conventional artillery has fired millions of unguided shells, so many as to strain the production capacity of the industrial bases in Russia and the West.
  • This raises the question of how different this war truly is. How can such cutting-edge technology coexist with such echoes of the distant past? The answer is that although the tools in Ukraine are sometimes new, the results they produce are mostly not.
  • The reason technological advances are not more determinative in war is that they are only a part of what shapes outcomes. How combatants use their technology and adapt to their enemy’s equipment is at least as important and often more so. … Although the Ukraine war has seen plenty of new equipment, its use has not yet brought transformational results… In Ukraine, as in the past, when this combination has been absent, the result has usually been stalemate. This is not the result of drones or access to broadband Internet, and it is not anything transformational. It is a marginal extension of long-standing trends and relationships between technology and human adaptation.
  • If the Ukraine war is more evolutionary than revolutionary, what does that mean for defense planning and policy? Should Western countries abandon the pursuit of modern weapons and equipment and freeze doctrine development? Of course not. Evolutionary change is still change, and the whole point of adaptation is that militaries must adopt new methods and equipment.
  • Calls for revolution and transformation have been commonplace in the defense debate in the generations after World War II. They have mostly not fared well in light of observed experience in that time. After a year and a half of war in Ukraine, there is no reason to think that this time they will be proved right.

“Ukraine’s Slog Prompts Focus on Next Year’s Fight,” Daniel Michaels, WSJ, 08.13.23.

  • Ukraine's current campaign to retake territory occupied by Russian forces could still have many months to run. But military strategists and policy makers across the West are already starting to think about next year's spring offensive. The shift reflects a deepening appreciation that, barring a major breakthrough, Ukraine's fight to eject Russia's invasion forces is likely to take a long time.
  • Kyiv's goal now is for its current offensive to culminate with sufficient gains to show Ukrainian citizens and backers in Washington, Berlin and elsewhere that their support hasn't been misplaced -- and should continue.
  • Senior military leaders, meanwhile, have for months warned that Ukraine's relatively quick gains of last year wouldn't easily be repeated. U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has repeatedly poured cold water on suggestions that Kyiv could quickly slice through a land corridor Russia holds along Ukraine's southeast or isolate the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. Similar caution is now more widespread in the White House.
  • Even if there is no breakthrough this summer, Ukraine can keep fighting well into winter. Rain and snow might slow operations of heavy equipment such as tanks, but Ukrainian forces have proven most effective so far when operating in small units, often with lighter equipment.
  • Strategists hope that over time -- even as Russia reinforces impediments to Ukrainian assaults -- Ukrainian troops can acquire skills and experience that allow them to outmaneuver and outsmart Russian forces.

“The Ukraine War Has Found the Machinery of Western Governments Wanting,” Jack Watling, RUSI, 08.08.23.

  • The war in Ukraine has also highlighted significant deficiencies in the machinery of government across NATO capitals, and it is vital that these are corrected to ensure the readiness of the Alliance for future threats. The most glaring deficiency is the inability of Ukraine’s partners to appreciate the lead times between decisions and their desired effects.
  • This deficiency is being demonstrated at great cost in Ukraine’s current offensive. That Ukraine would need to be on the offensive by late 2022 was already acknowledged in assessments as early as April of that year. The capability requirements for such operations were becoming apparent from July, and reports to Western capitals were articulating clear training, equipment and support needs from September. Despite the requirements being known and understood, the decision to provide this support was not taken until January 2023, with the implementation of these decisions still in the process of being carried out.
  • Had the decision to equip and train Ukrainian forces been taken and implemented when the requirements were identified in the autumn, Ukraine would have had a much easier task in reclaiming its territory.
  • Russian incompetence in launching offensive operations in January 2023 saved Ukraine’s allies from the full consequences of their indecision. The Ukrainian offensive may yet succeed. But the price has risen steeply because of Western lethargy.
  • It would be easy to blame these problems on politicians. Politicians always like to preserve decision-making space. But it is also the case that civil servants have given the illusion of choice long beyond the point at which decisions have to be made. Culturally, Western governments have spent decades writing long-term strategies and managing small-scale, short-term crises like terrorist attacks. It appears the institutional memory of how to cohere the operational level of war has atrophied. This malady is correctable, but only if we can  acknowledge that there is a problem to be addressed.

“The Battle of Hostomel Airport: A Key Moment in Russia’s Defeat in Kyiv,” Liam Collins, Michael Kofman and John Spencer, War on the Rocks, 08.10.23.

  • The battle for Hostomel Airport was the first major battle of the Russo-Ukrainian War (2022-present) and a decisive event in the war. This battle started on the morning of February 24 and lasted less than 36 hours. In the opening hours of the Russo-Ukrainian war Russian forces sought to seize a key airfield just 12 miles from the capital’s center. Additional airborne battalions would follow on transport planes. ... Russia’s primary objective was to take control of Kyiv within 3-4 days. 
  • The battle of Hostomel was arguably the most critical battle of the Russo-Ukrainian war to date. Although the Ukrainian military was unable to maintain control of the airfield, the National Guard conscripts delayed the assault long enough to prevent Russia from immediately using Hostomel airport as an airbridge. Ukrainian forces north of the city also delayed the mechanized battalions advancing south from Belarus long enough to create a window for Ukrainian forces to counterattack and deliberately crater Hostomel’s runway enough to make it unusable.  The failure at Hostomel was compounded by the slowness of the Russian advance from Belarus, which forced the Russian troops to attempt to seize the capital without the element of surprise, days behind schedule.
  • This battle offers many lessons:
    •  It demonstrated the necessity of having sufficient supporting fires — from artillery and/or aircraft — for deep strike operations.
    • The battle also demonstrated the importance of attaining and retaining air superiority early on.
    • This pivotal battle also illustrates the primacy of political assumptions in shaping the concept of operations and military strategy — in this case, to detrimental results. Russian forces attempted a high-risk operation, which could and did, go wrong. Had they invaded Ukraine as a joint force operation, assuming a prolonged conventional campaign and extensive resistance, the outcome would be uncertain at best. Yet while many of the Russian assumptions behind the invasion plan were fundamentally incorrect, the initial assault was not doomed to failure. A stubborn defense and counterattack by Ukrainian forces at Hostomel was decisive in scuttling Russian attempts to conduct a decapitation attack. Had the Russian operation at Hostomel gone differently, and Russian forces entered the capital in those early hours, it may have had a cascade effect on the course of the overall invasion.

“Russia’s Artillery War in Ukraine: Challenges and Innovations,” Sam Cranny-Evans, RUSI, 08.09.23.

  • This brief analysis of Russian artillery practice in Ukraine indicates that while it has demonstrated variable levels of efficacy, on the whole it is a formidable component of the Russian military, with occasionally best-in-breed targeting cycles and a doctrine that allows for artillery to overcome the deficiencies of Russian combined arms forces. It has built a significant ability to find and strike targets over a wide area, and likely retains the ability to mass fires against targets of opportunity.
  • Indirect fire support operates on mathematical principles of certainty. Approaches to this differ: Western forces, for instance, seek an economy of effort and resources in the application of fires. They tend to pay close attention to all aspects of the gunnery problem to ensure that their fires achieve effect with optimal ammunition consumption. The evidence from Ukraine suggests that Russian forces have combined both approaches: the use of UAVs, radar and precision munitions indicates that accuracy is essential for certain tasks, but attaining the weight of fires remains critical.

“To Get Ukraine Air Support Quickly, Try the Boneyard,” Benjamin Jensen, WSJ, 08.10.23.

  • Even the threat of A-10 sorties and attack helicopters would create opportunities for more Ukrainian surface-to-air attacks against Russian jets. Each Russian jet that has to patrol closer to the front line to hunt for Ukrainian airframes risks taking a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile. Each additional surface-to-air missile platform Russia pushes forward to shoot down Ukraine's boneyard air forces becomes another target for long-range strike assets like Himars and ground-launched small-diameter bombs.
  • With F-16s already headed to Ukraine, it seems unlikely that sending these aircraft could escalate the conflict. Moreover, these combinations of boneyard aircraft would provide the Biden administration ways to limit the risk that the war blows up beyond Ukrainian borders. Washington could start by sending helicopters and unmanned systems and ensure control stations in Ukraine are loaded with geofencing to keep aircraft outside Russia and Belarus.

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

“Russia’s war on Ukraine holds still more pain for European business,” Peggy Hollinger, FT, 08.09.23.

  • The Financial Times reported last Sunday that Europe’s biggest businesses had so far taken a direct hit of more than €100bn to profits as a result of quitting or scaling back their Russian operations. In fact, this is merely a fraction of the true cost. Of the 609 annual reports and financial statements we examined, 176 companies took one-off charges. But even in the statements of the 433 that took no charges, almost all mentioned the punishing hit to profits of either soaring energy and raw material prices or supply chain disruptions that followed Russia’s aggression last year. 
  • Those with well-known brands are realizing that they remain exposed in other ways. “For most companies the value of the brand is bigger than the value of any Russia assets,” says Nabi Abdullaev, partner at strategic consultancy Control Risks. So what happens if their products are associated with senior Russian politicians or soldiers? Even if they have stopped supplying that market, well-known brands are still making their way to Russian shops through third-party importers. “If the media picks up on [President Vladimir] Putin using a western branded product, the damage to that company’s market value may be more than its Russian assets,” says Abdullaev.
  • European companies have already taken a big hit to profits as a result of Russia’s invasion — and this is not the end of the story. Yet if Putin is to be stopped, this price must be paid. Successful businesses know how to adapt. It may be that the longest-lasting consequence of the war for European business will be to make it more efficient and competitive.

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“Letter: Learning the lessons of Versailles is the key to Europe’s security,” Robert Hunter, FT, 08.11.12.

  • In 2008, the George W Bush administration committed a historic error, convincing NATO partners to declare that “Ukraine and Georgia will become NATO members”.
  • Ironically, it’s doubtful that Ukraine and Georgia could join NATO , which requires consensus of all alliance members, now 31. Several will never commit to go to war against Russia on behalf of Ukraine or Georgia, under the NATO Treaty’s Article 5. Unilaterally, however, the US and other allies should continue providing robust support for Ukraine’s security.
  • Whatever happens in the war, at some point Russia will again become a great power. Thus any hope of lasting stability in Europe, rather than decades-long, heavily armed confrontation, requires that Russia is not denied a role in Europe’s security architecture. Of course, Moscow would need to start by abiding by the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which pledged US-UK-Russia non-aggression against Ukraine.
  • This is basic geopolitics: ignored in 1919 and 2008 — and violated by Russia in 2014 and 2022. It must be respected if a new cold war is to be forestalled — or, worse, open US/ NATO -Russia conflict.

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

“Blame Biden's Hesitancy for Stalling Ukraine's Offensive,” John Bolton, WSJ, 08.14.23.

  • Ukraine's spring offensive, now well into the summer, isn't making the headway some proponents had forecast. It should be a wake-up call for Washington that its strategy needs reformulating. The solution isn't a cease-fire and negotiation, as some in the West advocate.
  • Far from being inevitable, the Ukrainians' inability to achieve major advances is the natural result of a U.S. strategy aimed only at staving off Russian conquest. Instead, President Biden needs to start vigorously working toward Ukrainian victory.
    • Ukraine's offensive failures and Russia's defensive successes share a common cause: the slow, faltering, nonstrategic supply of military assistance by the West.
    • The West -- particularly Washington -- also needs to rethink sanctions policy radically. Theories about price caps on Russian oil have failed, and Western sanctions generally remain piecemeal and seriously underenforced.
    • The White House and NATO also both need to take more seriously China's role in Ukraine. The West should be imposing sanctions directly on Beijing given China's enormous support to Moscow.

“France’s Policy Shift on Ukraine’s NATO Membership,” David Cadier and Martin Quencez, War on the Rocks, 08.10.23.

  • The full-scale invasion launched by Russia against in Ukraine in February 2022 has changed many things, including France’s policy toward the region. Macron has abandoned the diplomatic outreach to Russia he launched in 2019. France is also delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine and offered crucial support to its European Union membership bid in June 2022. But accession to NATO was, until recently, a bridge too far. In December 2022, Macron was still depicting it as more of a problem than a solution.  What changed? Four overlapping factors seem most significant.
    • Russia’s conduct of the war may well have brought French defense and foreign policy makers to the conclusion that NATO membership is the best way to ensure Ukraine’s security in the long term and prevent future aggression from destabilizing Europe.
    • [Ukraine] could become an asset and a net security provider for NATO according to the French foreign minister.
    • The third factor in French thinking is that NATO membership might ultimately be less costly — economically, politically, and strategically — for France and Europe than the other options.
    • Fourth, Macron seems to be keen to reap the diplomatic benefits from establishing France as a leader on Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration. 
  •   France has now joined the chorus of states voicing lofty slogans in support of Ukraine, which risk becoming increasingly divorced from the reality of Western policies. Stating that Ukraine is now defending the whole of Europe might be useful or necessary in justifying the financial and military costs to domestic audiences. But, it is not necessarily true, and gives Ukraine a false impression of how far the West is willing to go on its behalf. Managing Kyiv’s expectations and frustrations will likely become one of the most challenging political issues for Western countries — France now very much included.

“NATO’s Northern Flank Has Too Many Weak Spots,” Alexander B. Gray, FP, 08.07.23.

  • Troubling deficiencies remain along NATO’s northern flank, particularly in the Arctic and near-Arctic, that reveal substantial failings by several key alliance members to uphold their obligations in the face of Moscow’s unflagging interest in the High North.
    • There are multiple Arctic and near-Arctic islands with power-sharing relationships that leave control of national defense to a larger entity—as in the case of Svalbard (Norway), the Faroe Islands (Denmark), and Greenland (Denmark)—while permitting local governments a high degree of autonomy. In each case, Moscow has expanded its influence with far too little resistance by Oslo or Copenhagen.
    • The alliance’s northern flank also suffers from the strategic neglect by Canada under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, which is currently spending roughly 1.3 percent of GDP on defense—significantly below NATO’s 2 percent requirement
  • There remains much work to be done in securing the alliance’s northern flank and providing the security umbrella envisioned by the North Atlantic Treaty. With NATO’s 75th anniversary approaching next year, now is an opportune moment to reorganize to meet today’s threats.

“Lessons for Today's Cold War 2.0 with Russia, China,” Calder Walton’s Interview with Harvard Gazette, 08.08.23.

  • Putin is far from the spymaster he wishes to portray himself as. He’s actually presided over a succession of intelligence failures. In 2010, a network of Russian deep-cover illegals were arrested in the United States. This was a staggering CIA-FBI success achieved by recruiting a Russian intelligence officer in charge of the deep-cover illegals program — something straight out of the Cold War. A striking U.S. success and a humiliation for Putin.
  • The biggest blunder history will record Putin being responsible for is his decision to invade Ukraine, a huge strategic failure stemming from an intelligence failure. There’s a direct parallel and echo here with Stalin’s total mismanagement of intelligence before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Like Stalin’s, Putin’s regime doesn’t allow truth-telling. His intelligence services are very literally scared for their lives about presenting him with intelligence that challenges his views. This is straight out of the Soviet Union’s experience. Autocracies or dictatorships have a tendency to be crippled by sycophantic intelligence reporting.
  • How does Russia compare to the Soviets? What I found is that some of the huge successes of Soviet intelligence history, the five Cambridge spies, for example, even the atomic spies that we just mentioned, they were successful due to the dedication of the agents themselves, their belief in Communism. Those spies achieved their successes frequently in spite of, not because of, Soviet intelligence. The narrative of Putin’s Kremlin is to portray Soviet intelligence as masters of tradecraft, better than anyone else in the world. That’s just not the case if you look at the history.
  • For the Kremlin, the Cold War never finished. … The West thought the Cold War, in 1990-1991, was over. But for the Kremlin, particularly its intelligence services, that was just not the case. They were driven by a kind of revenge and humiliation on the world stage. And it’s exactly from that bitter, revanchist humiliation of Russia that Putin emerges in the 1990s and takes power. In my view, we are seeing that play out with Ukraine today.
  • Where we’re going? The race is on for technologies that will change all of our lives this century — biological engineering, biopharma, artificial intelligence, quantum computing. … It seems to me those technologies will be as important to this century as nuclear weapons were last century.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Nuclear metamorphoses,” Alexei Arbatov, Polis. Political Studies, 5, 7-28, 2023. Clues from Russian Views

  • The international community that brings together civilized politicians and strategic experts generally accepts the sacramental maxim that “nuclear war cannot be won and it should never be fought” and that “nuclear weapons—as long as they exist—should serve to deter aggression and prevent war”.
  •  However, these well-intentioned principles are easier to proclaim than translate into practical policy. While the development of all nuclear weapons in all countries is justified by the imperative of deterrence, all of these weapons are, in fact, designed for the actual conduct of nuclear war, thus serving as a material basis of the doctrines of nuclear deterrence.
  • Depending on the scenarios of using nuclear weapons, under the influence of technological development and amid intense international conflicts, these deterrence doctrines undergo frightening transformations (metamorphoses), turning into their opposite, i.e. plans and practical options of unleashing a nuclear war. Recently, this has been manifested in the Russian strategic discourse on ways to quickly and successfully complete the military special operation in Ukraine. Such initiatives are prone with the danger of Russian national suicide.
  • There is no acceptable alternative to a peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian conflict, and disagreements on its terms are not worth the risk of a nuclear apocalypse. It is only through nuclear arms reduction and limitation treaties that nuclear deterrence and nuclear warfare can truly be separated. Nuclear forces and weapon systems covered by such agreements primarily serve the purpose of deterrence, while those remaining outside arms control predominantly embody means and plans of nuclear warfighting.
  • Arms reduction and limitation measures are an effective way to prevent aggression, and that is exactly the basic function of nuclear deterrence. Not by scholastic disputes over doctrines and information exchanges, but by verifiable agreement on specific weapon systems, deployment regimes, and development programs, is it possible to mutually affect plans for their military use. The goal of such influence is to eliminate first-strike opportunities and incentives and to enhance stability in its clear strategic sense (as opposed to idealistic “peace for the world” interpretation).
  • It is necessary, before it is too late, to reverse the current trends in international security. First and foremost, there should be a ceasefire and the beginning of negotiations on a peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian conflict, as well as a shift away from a comprehensive confrontation between Russia and NATO in Europe, in parallel to the easing of tensions between China and the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific.
  • On this basis, the obstacles to the restoration of the New START should be re-moved and the negotiations on the next agreements for the period after 2026 should be launched. Restoring the arms control foundation will make it possible to expand the dialogue to other types of weapons and military technologies, gradually involve third nuclear powers in the process, and strengthen nonproliferation regimes for weapons of mass destruction. Regardless of the changing world order, this is the only way to prevent the impending collapse of international security.

Press release on the decisions adopted by Russia, the UK and the United States regarding the de-targeting of strategic nuclear missiles, Russian Foreign Ministry, 08.11.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • Ensuring the combat readiness of the nuclear deterrent at all times is one of the basic principles of nuclear deterrence. Our opponents know all these provisions well. Guaranteeing that a potential adversary can be deterred from aggression against the Russian Federation and/or its allies is one of the top state priorities. At the same time, the national leadership is firmly committed to the principle that nuclear war is unacceptable. We believe that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. This is what President of Russia Vladimir Putin said in his August 1, 2022 address to the participants and guests of the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
  • The leaders of the five nuclear states reaffirmed this message in their January 3, 2022 joint statement. This statement also reiterated the validity of the previous statements on de-targeting. The Russian Federation set forth its principled approaches to these matters in a statement dated November 2, 2022, saying that a nuclear war would be unacceptable. Russia takes all the necessary measures to guarantee its national security, territorial integrity and sovereignty, and will continue to do so moving forward.

"Q&A: Poland's President Duda on Ukraine aid, Russian nuclear threat," Marc A. Thiessen, WP, 08.10.23 and “Why should conservatives support Ukraine? I asked a populist leader in Europe,” Marc Thiessen, WP, 08.10.23.

  • I think that Russia will not resort to using nuclear weapons in Ukraine. That's not only because Vladimir Putin won't use them. I believe that the nuclear arsenal in Russia is under collective control of many people — and that it is not just up to the sole discretion of just Vladimir Putin. So it takes more than one person to decide. If someone were to ask me about the nuclear threat, I am much more concerned about potential problems with the nuclear power plants in Ukraine. 
  • The question is: Does Ukraine have enough weapons to change the balance of the war and get the upper hand? And the answer is probably no. They probably do not have enough weapons. And we know this by the fact that they’re not currently able to carry out a very decisive counteroffensive against the Russian military. To make a long story short, they need more assistance.
  • “It is very simple. Right now, Russian imperialism can be stopped cheaply, because American soldiers are not dying.” But if we don’t put a halt to Russian aggression now, “there will be a very high price to be paid.”

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Ruble Weakness/Oil: Combat Stress Will Force Russia to Pump More,” Lex, FT, 08.14.23.

  • The ruble is a petrocurrency. Crude oil is a quarter of Russian exports, the largest component. Brent, still the international benchmark for oil, has risen by a fifth in the past two months. Despite that, Russia’s currency has sunk nearly as much against the dollar. On Monday alone it lost some 2%. One might expect the two to move more in tandem.
  • Do not blame the coalition of Western states for its $60 a barrel price cap on Russia’s Urals blend. That clearly has not worked. The price of Urals has climbed to more than $73 in recent weeks, narrowing the discount with Brent. Indian buyers, for example, are willing to pay up for Russia’s crude from producers such as Lukoil and Rosneft, according to analysis by the Financial Times.
  • In ruble terms the international Urals price has soared 60% since mid-June. The promise to OPEC+ leaves Russia pressing its nose against the glass of a metaphorical sweet shop window. It could use more export revenues. Its current account surplus has dwindled in parallel with falling energy export revenues and higher arms imports. Inflation may start rising. Producer price indices could increase by 20% year on year in the second half, believes Capital Economics, a consultancy. Russia’s central bank president Elvira Nabiullina may soon raise interest rates.
  • The weak ruble offers Russia an incentive to boost oil exports just when Saudi Arabia reduces supply, partly to support this fellow member of OPEC+. That is not sustainable.

“Putin’s Age of Chaos. The Dangers of Russian Disorder,” Tatiana Stanovaya, FA, 08.08.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • It is becoming increasingly difficult for the Kremlin to sweep unwelcome developments under the carpet. The war has begun to change Russia, and profound internal shifts are likely underway—in Putin’s regime, in the elites’ perception of Putin, and in the public’s attitude toward the war. Indeed, the militarization of Russian life is empowering ultranationalist hard-liners in the elite, eclipsing an old guard of ideologues that the Russian public has begun to view as increasingly out of touch with the realities of the war. The perception of Putin’s weakening has further revealed the regime’s deep flaws: the habitual inclination of the authorities to underestimate domestic political risks, ignore long-term developments in favor of addressing immediate challenges, and refuse responsibility for the growing number of incidents on Russian territory linked to the war.
  • The clash of hawks, old and new, will shape Russia’s response to its struggles in Ukraine and at home.
  • For the foreseeable future, the Kremlin will be wrestling simultaneously with diverging internal forces: a deepening crisis of Putin’s leadership, a growing lack of political accountability, increasingly ineffective responses by the authorities to new challenges, an intensifying fragmentation among elites, and a society that is growing more antiestablishment.
  • If previously, domestic affairs were secondary to the dominant military agenda, the reverse may come true. The war could become a backdrop to more urgent domestic challenges. At home, Russia’s future appears bleak, marked by ever-greater fractiousness among elites, Putin’s shrinking influence and a more ideological and stricter regime in which security services play a more prominent role. These changes will make Russia’s geopolitical actions less predictable, and even contradictory, as the Kremlin reacts to shifting circumstances instead of following its own strategic direction and priorities. Putin saw the invasion of Ukraine as an act of destiny, the fulfillment of a historical script. Instead, the war has left Russia grasping for certainties in an exceedingly uncertain world.

“My fear and loathing,” Alexei Navalny, Navalny.com, 08.11.23.  Clues from Russian Views

  • [In 1991 Natan Sharansky wrote] that it is in prisons that the virus of free-thinking persists, and he hopes that the KGB will not find “an antidote to this virus.” … The antidote was found. The antidote that now, in 2023, seems to have more political prisoners in Russia than in the Brezhnev-Andropov times.  
  • What has the KGB got to do with it? There was no creeping or overt coup in our country led by people from the special services. They did not come to power by pushing the democrat reformers out of power. They did it themselves. They called them themselves. They invited them themselves. They taught them how to fake elections. How to steal property from entire industries. How to lie to the media. How to change laws to suit themselves. How to suppress opposition by force. Even how to organize idiotic, stupid, talentless wars. 
  • That is why I can't help it and I fiercely hate those who sold, drank, and wasted the historical chance that our country had in the early 90s. I hate Yeltsin and “Tanya and Valya,” Chubais, and the rest of the corrupt family who put Putin in power. I hate the swindlers, whom we used to call reformers for some reason. Now it is very clear that they did nothing but intrigue and take care of their own wealth. … I especially hate everyone for the fact that there was not even a serious attempt to remove the basis of lawlessness — to carry out judicial reform, without which all other reforms are doomed to failure. 
  • When Putin's KGB/FSB officers got free access to political posts, they didn't have to do anything. They just looked around and exclaimed in amazement: Wait, was that allowed? If the rules of the game are like this, so that it is possible to steal, lie, falsify, censor, and all courts are under our control, then we will have a pretty good turnaround here. We let the goat in the cabbage warehouse, and then we wonder why it ate all the cabbage. It is a goat, its mission and goal is to eat cabbage, it can't think of anything else. 
  • Only when the vast majority of the Russian opposition consists of those who under no circumstances accept fake elections, improper judicial proceedings, and corruption, then we will be able to make the right use of the chance that will surely come again.  

“Torment of Alexei Navalny is the tip of an iceberg,” Editorial Board, FT, 08.07.23.

  • The Russian authorities’ determination to silence Alexei Navalny seems to know no bounds. First, they poisoned the opposition leader with the nerve agent Novichok (and the evidence points overwhelmingly to Russian security agents). Then, after he returned to Russia from treatment in Germany, they jailed him for nine years on bogus fraud charges. Now he has been handed a further 19-year term on charges of “extremism.”
  • Navalny’s treatment is outrageous. Yet it is only the tip of an iceberg of convictions against critics of Vladimir Putin, plus detentions and harassment of thousands of people who have protested against Russia’s war in Ukraine.
  • Up to 20,000 Russian citizens, according to a report last month by Amnesty International, have meanwhile been subjected to heavy reprisals in a campaign to silence criticism of the war in Ukraine.
  • Western leverage in Russia is at its lowest since the Soviet collapse. But foreign companies still doing business there should waste no further time in pulling out. Politicians and diplomats should use all opportunities to express solidarity with the Russian democratic opposition. Governments must swallow their distaste if opportunities arise to exchange jailed Russian spies or criminals abroad for people wrongfully detained in Russia. In the end, however, this lurch backwards in the rule of law will be another corrosive effect of Putin’s war for his own society that will take years to reverse.

“Alexei Navalny Gets Another 19 Years,” Editorial Board, WSJ, 08.07.23.

  • The world hardly needs another reminder of the true nature of Vladimir Putin's Russian state, but last week brought one anyway: On Friday the opposition figure Alexei Navalny was sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges of extremism, after a trial that took place in the penal colony where he is already imprisoned.
  • In comments posted to social media after the 19-year sentence came down, Mr. Navalny made clear that he has no illusions about what he's up against. "The number doesn't matter," he said. "I understand very well that, like many political prisoners, I am serving a life sentence -- where life is measured by the duration of my life or the life of this regime." He added that Mr. Putin's goal in persecuting him is to frighten and intimidate everyone else who might be tempted to resist: "You are being forced to surrender your Russia without a fight to a gang of traitors, thieves and scoundrels who have seized power."

“Elections 2024 – a Priority or a Burden for the Russian Administrative System?” Mikhail Vinogradov, Russia.Post, 08.10.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • The onset of the 2024 political year in Russia is hardly seeing any great interest ... The public space has dried up, and a considerable number of citizens (regardless of their views) are convinced that they continue lacking the tools to influence politics.”
  • What are the election scenarios at the moment?
    • The inertia scenario for the elections is obvious: Vladimir Putin is nominated and receives record support.
    • Alternative scenarios are not difficult to imagine, though they look utopian today.
      • The first is to switch the candidate. One can discuss the pros and cons of such a scenario for the regime, but after Putin was allowed to run for a fifth term, this topic basically has been banned.
      • The second way is to cancel the presidential elections under the pretext of martial law being in effect throughout the country or in some regions. ... However, the holding of elections on time remains psychologically significant for the Russian authorities – even the regional elections were not canceled either in 2022 or 2023.
  • The general mood to put on elections “as usual” does not give an idea of the aesthetics and style of the election campaign. There can be two approaches.
    • The first is to conduct a routine and not-too-noticeable, “technical” campaign, explaining that now is not the time for exciting political theater, as the key thing is not to allow external enemies to undermine the country’s unity
    • The second way is to try to position the presidential elections as a show, a “holiday” with street festivals, exhibitions, etc.
      • At this point, it seems reasonable to expect an intermediate scenario, when optimism is gradually built up, though without much urgency. It can also be assumed that the situation in Ukraine will be frozen over – though it cannot be excluded that the presidential campaign will take place against the backdrop of escalation.
    • A third scenario – the holding of wartime elections – cannot be completely ruled out. 

“Russia provides an updated lesson in distorting history,” Tony Barber, FT, 08.11.23.

  • From September, Russian high school students in the 11th grade — aged roughly 17 — will use a new textbook for studying modern history. Because the book covers events up to the present day, they will learn that “Ukraine is an ultranationalist state. Today, any dissent in Ukraine is severely persecuted, opposition is banned, everything Russian is declared hostile.” In full conformity with the Kremlin’s worldview, the book also teaches that “the United States has become the main beneficiary of the Ukrainian conflict . . . The United States is determined to fight ‘to the last Ukrainian.’”
  • Don’t dismiss the textbook as just one more poisonous drop in the deluge of anti-Ukrainian, anti-Western propaganda that has submerged Russian society during Vladimir Putin’s 23-year rule. The abuse of history serves a wider purpose. Yes, one goal is to rally the population behind Putin’s aggressive, expansionist foreign policy. But for more than a decade, the Kremlin has poured resources into constructing an official version of history. The aim is nothing less than to forge a new Russian identity.
  • The cornerstone of the Kremlin’s campaign is commemoration of the Soviet victory in the second world war — known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War — as a feat covering the Russian nation in eternal glory. This focus is understandable. … However, the official version of the war and its aftermath — celebrated as an era when the Soviet Union was a superpower — finds no room for uncomfortable facts. 
  • We must take Putin’s rewriting of history ... It is an essential element of his attempted war of conquest in Ukraine, because he justifies the blood-soaked campaign on the entirely false grounds that Ukrainians are not a nation in their own right and do not deserve statehood. One day Russian students may have access to textbooks that shred Putin’s lies. It cannot come a moment too soon.

“Putin, de Gaulle and national greatness,” Gideon Rachman, FT , 08.14.23.

  • “France cannot be France without greatness,” wrote Charles de Gaulle in the opening of his memoirs. His nation, he insisted, must always be in “the first rank.” Vladimir Putin feels the same way about Russia. 
  • The difference lies in the way that de Gaulle and Putin defined “national greatness.” Unlike Putin, de Gaulle was a genuine war hero who was wounded several times fighting for his country. While Putin cowered at the end of a long desk to avoid Covid-19, de Gaulle walked through Paris under fire during the city’s liberation in 1944.
  • Freed of its colonial burden in Algeria, France was able to forge a new future. Modern France is not a superpower, but it remains a leader in Europe. ... Putin, by contrast, was unable to imagine Russia as a post-imperial power. While de Gaulle was often accused of being an instinctive authoritarian, he ran for power in genuine elections ... By contrast, Putin has been unable to separate his vision of national grandeur from his personal power and wealth. He clings on in the Kremlin. Those who disagree with his policies are beaten up in the streets, imprisoned, driven into exile or die in suspicious circumstances. Russia needed its own de Gaulle. Instead, it has ended up with a pale imitation of Ivan the Terrible.

Defense and aerospace:

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.

 

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

"What Global Mutiny Trends Can Teach Us About Russia After Prigozhin’s Uprising," Maggie Dwyer, RM, 08.11.23.  

  • While Yevgeny Prigozhin’s June mutiny marked a dramatic occurrence in the context of modern Russia, it was less shocking from a global perspective, bearing many traits common to mutinies elsewhere.  
  • The events in June in Russia have three main similarities with how mutinies typically proceed. 
    • First, the tactics were very familiar. Mutinies often involve bold, public actions. Whereas coup leaders generally aim for stealth and secrecy, mutineers want their demands known and regularly use media as a key tool. … These types of tactics … are threatening and they impose pressure on leadership to respond quickly for fear of the action escalating. 
    • Second, the Wagner mutiny was similar to broader mutiny patterns with respect to the rhetoric used. Mutineers regularly try to distinguish themselves from coup-makers, highlighting that they are not out to overthrow the state. Rather, they present themselves as patriots who want to serve but will only do so when their demands are met. Prigozhin sounded similar to other mutiny leaders in laying out his grievances while also claiming to have no interest in ousting President Vladimir Putin.  
    • Finally, the combat context marks a similarity … Deploying soldiers to combat opens up many new avenues for grievances, such as complaints around equipment, hardship compensation, poor leadership or the ways injuries/fatalities have been handled. During times of peace or when not deployed, these issues are generally moot, or simply not a high enough priority to justify the risks of mutiny. Combat also shifts soldiers’ sense of worth to the state.  
  • The most significant difference relates to leadership. The vast majority of mutinies originate from the junior ranks, with limited involvement from senior officers. … Prigozhin was undoubtedly not only Wagner’s political leader, but also an individual with significant power at the national level. 
  • While mutinies are often public, negotiations with mutineers are typically conducted behind closed doors, making it difficult to track exact concessions. This also applied to the Wagner revolt as questions remain about what precisely was agreed between Prigozhin and Putin. … Given what we know about the trajectory of mutinies, we should not assume that the June rebellion will necessarily be a one-off incident. 

“Why the Wagner Group Won’t Leave Africa,” John A. Lechner and Marat Gabidullin, FP, 08.08.23.

  • In Ukraine, the MoD may try to create a new PMC under the leadership of a former high-ranking member of Wagner like Andrei Troshev. The combat effectiveness of such a formation will be significantly lower and serve more to maintain morale. Troshev would still be within the Wagner network. In a critical situation on the front, Putin can deploy Prigozhin’s men from Belarus without explanation.
  • In Syria, Wagner’s main task is to provide security for the base camp at Hayyan, essentially a fortified Russian military outpost. Given the experience of Wagner commanders, any attempts by the MoD to transform or replace Wagner units with a different formation will decrease combat effectiveness. Iranian forces, for the most part, also lack the technical expertise to pick up the slack. Like in 2016, an Islamic State resurgence would result in Wagner’s redeployment.
  • Wagner will likewise work to retain its assets in eastern Libya as a key logistics hub. Wagner units and units of the Libyan National Army, particularly in the south, have integrated over time. There is little appetite or capacity from the MoD to intervene.
  • The MoD’s presence in Africa is limited to individual representatives—part of the standard staffing of any embassy—who neither control nor determine what Prigozhin does. In Africa, the Russian state needs Wagner more than Wagner needs the state, which renders Lavrov’s statement—that Wagner’s operations in Mali and CAR will continue—expected. Prigozhin’s appearance at the Russia-Africa summit was similarly unsurprising.
  • Wagner does not have a permanent structure; it morphs, adapting rapidly depending on the situation and circumstances. For African operations, Belarus can provide equipment and state backing. In return, Minsk will get a cut of some projects in Africa and shore up its military with training. And Wagner will continue to pursue its projects, framing its efforts as furthering Russia’s, and now Belarus’s, national interests.

If Your Country Is Falling Apart, the Wagner Group Will Be There, Colin P. Clarke, NYT, 08.11.23.

  • The ouster of Mr. Bazoum by Niger’s military has presented an important opportunity to Mr. Prigozhin and Mr. Putin. It has allowed them to move on from the mutual embarrassment of the failed mutiny in June and to show that the Wagner force is growing stronger in Africa at the same time that the West’s military presence is fading. As terrorist groups gather strength in the neighborhood, that reversal could devolve into a major security threat.
  • While Wagner is employed by several states to fight and weaken jihadist groups in the Sahel, its growing presence — and reputation for brutality — are having the opposite effect. Terrorist organizations have used rising resentment of Wagner’s scorched-earth tactics to recruit new members, offering them both protection and an opportunity for revenge.
  • If the Sahel devolves into a patchwork of jihadist statelets, the West will have few, if any, options to contain the growing menace. For Wagner and Russia, it would mean more money in the bank — and more influence in the region.

Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in the Caucasus,” David Ignatius, WP, 08.11.23.

  • Accept Azerbaijan’s political control or leave Nagorno-Karabakh. That’s essentially what Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is telling the Armenian population of this remote enclave that lies within Azerbaijan’s borders. But leaders of the Armenian majority there argue that Aliyev’s tactics amount to genocide — and many residents appear ready to starve rather than submit.
  • In an apparent effort to enforce sovereignty, Azerbaijan has been blockading the road from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh, known as the “Lachin Corridor” since June 15. Without this route, the Armenian population has lost access to food, fuel, medicine and other essential supplies.
  • Arayik Harutyunyan, the president of “Artsakh,” as Armenians call this region, appealed for international support against what he called a “genocidal policy” in a statement this week: “The blockade of the Lachin Corridor is not an isolated incident. It should be regarded as part of a planned, large-scale and coordinated policy by Azerbaijan aimed at the destruction of the people of Artsakh as a whole.”
  • Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, issued a report this week alleging that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that a genocide is being committed.”
  • U.S. officials believe that Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh are managing to survive only because of backyard gardens and other home-produced food. They fear that within two months, as winter approaches, the population could face starvation. 
  • Nagorno-Karabakh may be part of Azerbaijan legally, but it’s going to be populated by ethnic Armenians who need protection of their human rights. It’s time for all parties to accept both sides of that equation.

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 2:00 pm Eastern time on Aug. 14, 2023. Unless otherwise indicated, all summaries above are direct quotations.

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

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