Russia Analytical Report, Dec. 13, 2021-Jan. 3, 2022

This Week’s Highlights

  • “Biden’s goal [regarding Ukraine] will not be to propitiate Putin but to allay his vociferously expressed national security concerns. One possible road ahead might center on an ‘Austrian solution’ for Ukraine,” writes Jacob Heilbrunn, editor of the National Interest. “If Putin is willing to accede to Ukrainian neutrality rather than attempting to transform it into a puppet state or claim full suzerainty over it, then the Austrian model might serve as a possible solution to the vexed status of Ukraine.”
  • “It is [the] subject of a new security system for Eastern Europe that Biden and Putin should pursue, along with other NATO leaders, in the summit they are now considering. We have been in a strategic limbo on the question of further NATO expansion for too long already; it is time for a new, big, better idea,” argues Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution.
  • "Putin is not risk-averse ... but ... he won’t invade Ukraine simply because of its leaders’ Western orientations,” writes Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Putin’s actions suggest that his true goal is not to conquer Ukraine and absorb it into Russia but to change the post-Cold War setup in Europe’s east.” 
  • “The most important thing the Biden administration can do is embrace the notion that countries that can conduct destructive cyberattacks are not likely to be deterred by Washington’s own cyber-capabilities but can still be deterred by the United States’ conventional military power and economic might,” argue Sue Gordon, a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, and Eric Rosenbach, co-director of the Belfer Center.
  • “The right consequence from the Russian [anti-satellite] test is for the Biden administration to move establishing space norms to the top of its international agenda. A good place to start would be a global summit for space security in 2022,” write W. Robert Pearson, a fellow at Duke University, and Benjamin L. Schmitt, a fellow at Harvard University.
  • “The key variables that will determine the future of the increasingly asymmetrical [Sino-Russian] bilateral relationship are China’s growing assertiveness and nationalism, and whether Beijing will seek to manage relations with Moscow in the same careful way as it does now, or whether it will use its growing leverage to seek concessions from a weaker partner,” writes Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “On the Russian side, the level of anti-American obsession and the progress of domestic reforms will be the key variables in defining the future of ties with China.”
  • “The conclusion that Putin is attempting a kind of Soviet reunification is facile ... what Russians want is not to revive the USSR, but rather to preserve their country’s status and influence, which means maintaining its sphere of influence,” writes Nina L. Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at The New School. “The notion that the West could pursue an eastward expansion of NATO without pushback was always pure folly. ... By ignoring Russians’ concerns about NATO, the U.S. and Europe will bolster support for Putin.”
  • “Even if Memorial as a legal entity is now defunct, the guiding force behind the organization since 1989—the desire to understand why so many millions of people were unjustly killed, tortured and imprisoned in peacetime at the hands of their own rulers—will undoubtedly persist,” writes Mark Kramer, project director at Harvard University’s Davis Center.


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

Nuclear security:

“Good News from the Russian Front,” Graham Allison, The National Interest, 12.24.21. The author, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard University, writes:

  • “Thirty years ago on Dec. 25, 1991, the Soviet Union disappeared. The Cold War that threatened nuclear Armageddon ended a whimper rather than a bang.”
  • “What could have happened to that [Soviet] nuclear arsenal in December 1991? Just two weeks before the Soviet collapse, this was the central question put to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney on Meet the Press. … Cheney responded: ‘If the Soviets do an excellent job at retaining control over their stockpile of nuclear weapons and they are 99% successful, that would mean you could still have as many as 250 that they were not able to control.’ ... Try to imagine a world in which 250 nuclear weapons had ended up loose and found their way into the hands of terrorists like Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center in 2001. Or Iran? Or others?”
  • “As we celebrate Christmas 2021, we should pause to remember: How many nuclear weapons from the former Soviet arsenal have proliferated? Not the 250 Cheney predicted. Not twenty-five. Indeed, not a single nuclear weapon has been discovered outside the control of Russian authorities. And one thing we know for certain: zero of the former Soviet nuclear weapons have exploded.”
  • “Disappointing as the U.S. relationship with Russia has been and promises to be, when it came to stepping up to the challenge that mattered most, the two governments found a way to prevent a plausible, even likely, catastrophe. Could the strategic imagination, readiness to take a chance on an uncertain venture, and difficult but determined cooperation between Russians and Americans displayed in achieving this nearly miraculous outcome offer clues for other challenges we face today?”

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

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

“Russia-Ukraine conflict: America needs a better idea than NATO expansion to keep the peace,” Michael E. O’Hanlon, USA Today/Brookings Institution, 12.14.21. The author, a senior fellow and director of research in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution,

  • “President Joe Biden ... appears to have avoided ill-advised threats to start World War III over a distant part of Europe not integral to core American security, yet sent an unmistakable message of firmness.”
  • “We should rethink the NATO expansion idea. It is virtually guaranteed to provoke Putin—and most other Russians. Moreover, as Putin’s big military exercise is demonstrating, he can get to Ukraine a lot faster than we can, with big forces.”
  • “It is [the] subject of a new security system for Eastern Europe that Biden and Putin should pursue, along with other NATO leaders, in the summit they are now considering. We have been in a strategic limbo on the question of further NATO expansion for too long already; it is time for a new, big, better idea.”

“Russia’s draft agreements with NATO and the United States: Intended for rejection?,” Steven Pifer, Brookings Institution, 12.21.21. The author, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, writes:

  • “The unacceptable provisions in [Russia’s U.S.-Russia and NATO-Russia] draft agreements, their quick publication by the Russian government and the peremptory terms used by Russian officials to describe Moscow’s demands raise concern that the Kremlin may want rejection. With large forces near Ukraine, Moscow could then cite that as another pretext for military action against its neighbor.”
  • “If, on the other hand, these draft agreements represent an opening bid, and the Russians seek a serious exchange that also addresses the security concerns of the other parties, some draft provisions could offer a basis for discussion and negotiation.”
  • “A deescalation of the situation near Ukraine would help greatly. U.S. and NATO officials will not want to engage as long as Russia hangs a military threat over Kyiv. Another question is the format. Washington and Moscow can have bilateral discussions, but negotiations have to include all affected parties, including Ukraine.”
  • “The sides should come to the table prepared to address the other’s legitimate security concerns. Agreeing on the meaning of ‘legitimate’ will consume long hours. For example, it is unlikely that the United States (or NATO) will compromise on the principle—to which Moscow has agreed as a signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act—that states have a right to choose their own foreign policy course. The question of military activities in the NATO-Russia region is a different issue, and NATO has already shown its readiness to undertake commitments in that regard.”
  • “These discussions and any negotiation will be long, complex, and arduous. That is the kind of work that diplomats do. Getting started down that path, however, will require very different signals than those the West and Ukraine have seen from Moscow the past several weeks.”

“The Berlin Crisis, Ukraine and the 5 Percent Problem,” Sergey Radchenko, War on the Rocks, 12.22.21. The author, the Wilson E. Schmidt Distinguished Professor at the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, writes:

  • “This will make you reach for the bookshelf to see if we encountered anything similar in the past, and how we managed to survive. It’s under ‘B.’ The Berlin crisis (1958 to 1961) offers important lessons for the present dilemmas in Ukraine. The conflict over Berlin pitched Moscow against Washington, bringing the two to the brink of a nuclear war, but Soviet and American leaders eventually found enough wisdom to come back from the precipice.”
  • “There may be a 95 percent chance that Putin would get away with an invasion, perhaps even an annexation of Donbass. He managed it before in Crimea and faced tolerable consequences. But the other 5 percent weighs heavier and heavier as the stakes grow larger and larger. A smart Western policy would be to maintain this uncertainty in Putin’s mind.”
  • “The key lesson of the Berlin crisis is that inelegant outcomes are sometimes the only viable outcomes. ... A frozen conflict is far better than an open war.”
  • “It is important to unpack the Russian proposals and perhaps salvage something from them that will give Putin a dignified way out of the unpleasant situation he presently finds himself in. Such negotiations are unlikely to deliver breakthroughs. At best, we can perhaps reach a stalemate that will persist for 10, 20 even 30 years. But if the Cold War has taught us anything, it is that it often pays to be patient.”

“Strategic Ambiguity and the Risk of War with Russia over Ukraine,” Ralph Clem and Ray Finch, War on the Rocks, 12.29.21. The authors, a senior fellow at the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs and a Eurasian military analyst for the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, write:

  • “Although much of the national security commentary in the United States suggests a further expansion of the allied presence and an even higher operational tempo in the Black Sea region, we see this as a singularly bad idea. How such actions will convince Russia to ratchet down its own military operational messaging is unclear, with recent experience, as documented by our data, suggesting that it will almost certainly do the opposite. We recognize that, in some quarters, any attempt to reach a mutually satisfying agreement with Moscow at the operational level will be labeled as Munich-style ‘appeasement.’ But doing nothing—or, worse, engaging yet more force posture—might lead to large-scale hostilities with truly horrific consequences.”

“A twin-track strategy to deter Vladimir Putin: Security negotiations with Russia must have strict conditions,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 12.29.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “The twin-track strategy Biden initiated at his recent summit with Putin makes sense. But it requires careful handling, and a unity of purpose and messaging with European allies.”
  • “One track is to raise the costs of aggression as far as possible by making clear the west will apply genuinely painful economic sanctions to Russia, and provide additional defensive materiel to Ukraine, if it happens.”
  • “The second track is talks over what Biden has called Putin’s security ‘concerns.’ These must have strict ground rules. Western capitals need to make clear they will respect 21st-century norms, that European nations are free to choose their own systems and alliances.”
  • “There can be no return to the great power bargaining over the heads of smaller nations to which Moscow seems to aspire. If the west is to make any concessions, Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and occupation of Donbass must be part of talks. And to gain a seat at the table, Putin should first put down his gun—and take steps to de-escalate the situation around Ukraine.”

“What Putin Really Wants in Ukraine. Russia Seeks to Stop NATO’s Expansion, Not to Annex More Territory,” Dmitri Trenin, Foreign Affairs, 12.28.21. The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Moscow’s demands are probably an opening bid, not an ultimatum … Specifically, the Kremlin could be satisfied if the U.S. government agreed to a formal long-term moratorium on expanding NATO and a commitment not to station intermediate-range missiles in Europe.”
  • “It might also be assuaged by a separate accord between Russia and NATO that would restrict military forces and activity where their territories meet, from the Baltic to the Black Sea.”
  • “Putin is not risk-averse—operations in Chechnya, Crimea and Syria are proof of that—but in his mind, the benefit must outweigh the cost. He won’t invade Ukraine simply because of its leaders’ Western orientations. That said, there are some scenarios that could prod the Kremlin to dispatch troops to Ukraine. … In 2018, Putin publicly declared that a Ukrainian attempt to regain territory in the Donbass region by force would unleash a military response.”
  • “If NATO were to build up its forces in the eastern member states, that could further militarize the new dividing line in Europe running along the western borders of Russia and Belarus. Russia could be provoked into placing more short-range missiles in Kaliningrad.”
  • “Putin’s actions suggest that his true goal is not to conquer Ukraine and absorb it into Russia but to change the post-Cold War setup in Europe’s east. That setup left Russia as a rule-taker without much say in European security, which was centered on NATO. If he manages to keep NATO out of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, and U.S. intermediate-range missiles out of Europe, he thinks he could repair part of the damage Russia’s security sustained after the Cold War ended. Not coincidentally, that could serve as a useful record to run on in 2024, when Putin would be up for re-election.”

“Can Russia and NATO Come to an Agreement?” Vladimir Frolov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 12.22.21. The author, an expert on international relations, writes:

  • “Even if the Minsk agreements are implemented in the way that Moscow would like, that still won’t enable Russia to achieve its strategic goals of keeping Ukraine in its own orbit of influence.”
  • “Is there a realistic format for a political undertaking not to expand NATO to Russia’s borders? There are two possible options.”
  • “The first is to include a corresponding point in the 2022 NATO summit declaration in Madrid stating that the alliance will not expand any further to the east, and that this political declaration annuls all previous statements. … The second option is an analogous point in NATO’s new strategic concept, which is planned to be adopted at the Madrid summit, or a combination of both of these formats.”
  • “An agreement to stop expanding NATO up to Russia’s border, regardless of its format, would be pivotal. It would open up the prospect of a different kind of relationship for Russia with the West and with Ukraine (as well as Georgia), while costing the NATO countries nothing but a change in rhetoric.”
  • “Stopping NATO’s expansion would make it possible for Moscow and Kyiv to hold direct talks on a conclusive resolution to the conflict based on the real state of affairs.”

“The West Is Unlikely to Accept Russia’s NATO Demands—and the Kremlin Knows It,” Fyodor Lukyanov, The Moscow Times, 12.20.21. The author, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs and chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, writes:

  • “Russia submitted two documents last week to the administration in Washington—drafts of security agreements with the U.S. and NATO—that, in tone and style, more resemble ultimatums than treaties. ... The real question is why Russian leaders decided to put forward such a document knowing full well that their Western counterparts would reject it and refuse to even discuss its provisions.”
  • “For the U.S. and NATO, agreeing would mean taking the politically unacceptable step of capitulating to Moscow. Also, why would the West suddenly feel the need for such a revolutionary revision to the post-Cold War system of European security? Simply put, there is not enough of a threat to consider such drastic measures. Moscow, presumably, understands this, indicating that it might have a different goal in mind: to obtain a refusal of its empty gesture so that it can say, ‘We offered and so we’re not to blame for what we do next.’”
  • “In other words, the Kremlin is creating a pretext by which it can freely revise the existing system of relations—a step for which it apparently feels the time has come. If this is the case, we can expect Moscow to take steps demonstrating Russia’s determination to unilaterally change the status quo.”

“An Existential Threat to Europe’s Security Architecture? Anatoly Antonov, Foreign Policy, 12.30.21. The author, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., writes:

  • “To understand Russia, you have to understand our history. Over the centuries, our country has suffered attacks from all directions. We had to become a warrior nation defending our homeland.”
  • “The situation is extremely dangerous. No one should doubt our determination to defend our security. Everything has its limits. If our partners keep constructing military-strategic realities imperiling the existence of our country, we will be forced to create similar vulnerabilities for them. We have come to the point when we have no room to retreat. Military exploration of Ukraine by NATO member states is an existential threat for Russia.”
  • “Urgent action is needed. The principle of equal and indivisible security must be restored. We want to be confident in the future, and for this we need commitments from the United States and other NATO countries not to further expand the alliance and not to deploy weapons systems that pose a threat to Russia on the territories of neighboring countries, both members and nonmembers of NATO.”
  • “It is important that Washington joins the Russian unilateral moratorium on the deployment of ground-based intermediate-range missiles. Our proposals to withdraw exercise areas from the Russia-NATO contact line as well as those aimed at increasing the predictability of actions and reducing dangerous military activities require serious consideration.”
  • “European security is now at a crossroads. The way in which events will develop further depends on the readiness of our Western colleagues for substantive dialogue, not delaying tactics and obfuscation. As Russian President Vladimir Putin said, we are not demanding any special exclusive terms for ourselves. The Russian initiative to conclude legally binding agreements on security guarantees is aimed at ensuring equal and reliable security for all.”

“The Real Crisis of Global Order,” Alexander Cooley and Daniel H. Nexon, Foreign Affairs, January-February 2022. The authors, the director of Columbia University’s Harriman Institute and a professor in the department of government at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, write:

  • “The United States cannot really contemplate defeating its current authoritarian challengers in a total war, as that would likely produce a catastrophic nuclear exchange. Its most important authoritarian challenger, China, is a totally different kind of polity than the Soviet Union was. China is wealthy and relatively dynamic, and although it has its share of structural problems, it is not abundantly clear that its shortcomings are any worse than those of the United States.”
  • “Neither of the historical routes to the ideological victory of liberalism seems likely. This means that liberal democracies really do need to assume that they will not retake the catbird seat of the international order anytime soon. And so the question becomes not whether the liberal order will change but on whose terms.”

“What Putin Learned From the Soviet Collapse: To Preserve Its Global Ambitions, Russia Is Managing Its Economic Limits,” Richard Connolly and Michael Kofman, Foreign Affairs, 12.29.21. The authors, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and the research program director of the Russia studies program at the Center for Naval Analyses, write:

  • “Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government are unlikely to suffer the same fate as their Soviet forebears. ... They have learned the lessons of failed Soviet attempts to reverse decline in the 1970s and 1980s, and many key attributes of the Russian economy and Russian economic policy reflect a desire to avoid repeating the Soviet experience under Gorbachev. As the Russian economist Sergei Guriev recently remarked, ‘Russia’s macroeconomic policy is much more conservative, inflation is under control, there are large reserves, a balanced budget and no external debt,’ and as a market economy Russia is ‘much more efficient and resilient’ than the Soviet Union.”
  • “The long-term economic challenges confronting Russian leaders today are serious, but they are not deterministic of Russia’s future. Throughout Russia’s history as a great power, its per capita incomes have been substantially lower than those of its principal rivals, and it has rarely possessed the broad-based technological capabilities of its peers. Yet Russia’s security-oriented leaders have consistently managed to muster sufficient military power from a relatively backward economy to more than hold their own on the international stage.”
  • “Today, Russia’s economic malaise is also far less relevant to Moscow’s ability to pursue its interests overseas or to shape global affairs than it was in the context of the Cold War.”
  • “In setting assumptions and expectations about the strategic environment, Washington should ask itself a basic question: After years of economic stagnation, is Russia an easier problem to manage today than ten years ago? If the answer is decidedly negative, then why would said stagnation dramatically ease this geopolitical burden in the coming decade?”

“What Putin, Xi and Khamenei Want,” Aaron MacLean, The Wall Street Journal, 12.27.21. The author, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes:

  • “With contempt for the resolve and seriousness of their Western counterparts, the latest generation of Eurasian autocrats have been testing new methods to achieve traditional goals of statecraft like territorial expansion, even in the face of nuclear-armed coalitions. The annexation of Crimea is the biggest achievement of these innovations.”
  • “These rulers take risks their Western counterparts could never stomach because they think differently. They are educated in the much harder school of autocratic politics, and they are aware of a range of human ambitions that modern liberal states, from their earliest foundations, have sought to suppress in the name of peace and comfort.”
  • “Russia, China and Iran each present their own complex, albeit related, problems, and the objectives and ideologies of their leaders are different. But they all are encouraged in their recklessness by fantasies that have long plagued modern democracies. The Biden administration and democratic leaders world-wide need to accept that these men don't want what we want, and that the arc of history doesn't always bend toward justice. The bad guys can win.”

“The Great Military Rivalry: China vs the U.S.,” Graham Allison and Jonah Glick-Unterman, The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 12.16.21. The authors, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard University and a research assistant at the Harvard Kennedy School, write:

  • “About the military rivalry between China and the United States in this century, our three major findings are these:”
    • “First, the era of U.S. military primacy is over: dead, buried and gone—except in the minds of some political leaders and policy analysts who have not examined the hard facts.”
    • “Second, while America’s position as a global military superpower remains unique—with power projection capabilities no one can match, more than 50 allies bound by collective defense arrangements and a network of bases on almost every continent—both China and Russia are now serious military rivals and even peers in particular domains.”
    • “Third, if in the near future there is a ‘limited war’ over Taiwan or along China’s periphery, the U.S. would likely lose—or have to choose between losing and stepping up the escalation ladder to a wider war.”

“2022 Is the Year for a Space Summit,” W. Robert Pearson and Benjamin L. Schmitt, Foreign Policy, 01.01.22. The authors, a fellow in the Rethinking Diplomacy Program at Duke University’s Center for International and Global Studies and a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University, write:

  • “Leveraging the United States’ extensive convening power—as demonstrated by the Biden administration’s recent Summit for Democracy—Washington should call for a global summit for space security in 2022.”
  • “Fortunately, recent progress on another transnational threat—climate change—offers valuable insight on how to proceed. Action was possible when citizens, scientists, activist groups, and governments around the world came together to combine compelling evidence with powerful public diplomacy. The combination of proof of harm, public awareness, and global diplomacy led to progress. The same formula and format—a global summit—can be used to address the urgent need to establish global norms for space’s use.”
  • “Just as one country’s unilateral actions can destroy the safe and peaceful use of the Earth’s orbit, cooperation on common rules and norms on the beneficial use of space is the only rational path. As space becomes more intensely used, geopolitical tensions can escalate on many fronts: This week, Beijing lodged a United Nations complaint against SpaceX, claiming its space station needed to avoid Starlink spacecraft twice this year.”
  • “The United States has the convening power, strategic vision, and sense of responsibility to rally nations and multilateral institutions to deal with global issues before they reach crisis levels. It would be disastrous if the world’s major space powers—Russia, China and the United States—got caught in such a spiral of misjudgment and distrust that they saw preemptive military escalation as their only option. The right consequence from the Russian test is for the Biden administration to move establishing space norms to the top of its international agenda. A good place to start would be a global summit for space security in 2022.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“Neighbors, Partners, Competitors: Drivers and Limitations of China-Russia Relations,” Alexander Gabuev, Carnegie Moscow Center, 12.31.21. The author, a senior fellow and the chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “There are four major drivers behind the improved China-Russia ties. First, both countries want to maintain peace along their 4,200-kilometer border, and do not want to go back to the years of costly and risky confrontation. … Second, the two economies naturally complement each other. … Third, both China and Russia are ultimately authoritarian regimes. … It’s the parallel confrontation with the United States that is driving Beijing and Moscow even closer together and amplifying the effect of those three factors.”
  • “Despite the bilateral relationship reaching new depths, there are several significant factors limiting Chinese-Russian cooperation. … Both countries are extremely sensitive about their strategic autonomy. … The two countries also have different global security interests. … China and Russia are also engaged in espionage against each other. … There are also obstacles to expanding economic ties between China and Russia. … U.S. economic sanctions against both China and Russia complicate their cooperation even further.”
  • “There are several issues that could push the relationship toward a more confrontational direction in the medium- to long-term. ... The key factor here is the rapidly growing strategic asymmetry between the two parties.”
  • “Any pragmatic leadership in the Kremlin—even a democratic one that seeks to improve ties with the West—will try to maintain stable and friendly relations with China, just as any pragmatic Chinese leadership will do with Russia. The key variables that will determine the future of the increasingly asymmetrical bilateral relationship are China’s growing assertiveness and nationalism, and whether Beijing will seek to manage relations with Moscow in the same careful way as it does now, or whether it will use its growing leverage to seek concessions from a weaker partner. On the Russian side, the level of anti-American obsession and the progress of domestic reforms will be the key variables in defining the future of ties with China.”

“The Xi-Putin Entente Rises,” Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal, 12.16.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “The nations don't need to present a single strategic front to imperil American interests. They can do so by pushing on different fronts simultaneously in hopes of sapping American power.”
  • “The military crisis Mr. Putin has generated over Ukraine works to Mr. Xi's advantage, drawing U.S. focus from the defense of Taiwan. And if China starts a shooting war in Asia, Moscow could calculate that it's more likely to get away with its own territorial expansion. A war in either region could trigger conflict in the other.”
  • “The rising entente between Beijing and Moscow underscores the growing threats to the U.S.-led international order. The new reality means the U.S. needs to shore up its own alliances while also moving more quickly than it has to build military and cyber defenses that can meet this more dangerous world.”

“The Ice Age: Russia and China’s Energy Cooperation in the Arctic,” Vita Spivak and Alexander Gabuev, Carnegie Moscow Center, 12.31.21. The authors, an analyst at Control Risks and a senior fellow and the chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, write:

  • “Some preliminary conclusions can be drawn regarding Sino-Russian cooperation on the development of the Russian Arctic.”
  • “First, Russia’s interest in partnering with China to develop Arctic resource projects predates the conflict between Moscow and the West and is purely pragmatic.”
  • “Second, China is undergoing a commercial shipbuilding boom, amid which Beijing is looking to boost domestic production with the help of global engineering companies. These factors make Chinese contractors attractive technological partners in the development of the Russian Arctic.”
  • “Third, the U.S. sanctions that cut off Russian companies’ access to Western finance certainly increased China’s economic involvement in Russian Arctic projects. … Fourth, despite unfavorable global conditions, Russia has tried to hedge the risk of excessive dependence on China and therefore sought to diversify its partnerships as much as possible.”
  • “The development of the Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2 projects indicates that China has been and will remain Russia’s main foreign partner in Far North megaprojects for the foreseeable future. At the same time, Moscow is making a conscious effort to be less dependent on its partnership with Beijing and has so far succeeded in this endeavor. The further success of this balancing act will hinge on three factors: the commercial viability of the Russian Arctic project, the dynamics of Western sanctions, and Russia’s progress in import substitution.”

“Post-Pandemic, Russia and China Must Improve Migration Governance,” Yanliang Pan, Carnegie Moscow Center, 12.24.21. The author, an MA candidate at Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, writes:

  • “For the Russia-China partnership to be truly comprehensive, people-to-people exchange needs to become a more significant component. Improving the governance of that process should become the post-pandemic priority for Beijing and Moscow. First basic steps should include safeguards against the abuse of foreign nationals and migrants. It also means maintaining close contact with foreign embassies regarding the state of their nationals, and actively addressing their concerns. The problem is, however, that these changes would require a fundamental revision of migrant treatment by the Russian authorities: singling out Chinese nationals for fair treatment will be hard if the whole system remains intact.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“US-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue: Purpose, Progress, Challenges and Opportunities,” Leonor Tomero, Russia Matters, 12.15.21. The author, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy, writes:

  • “[T]he United States and Russia bear a particular responsibility to maintain and enhance strategic stability. Strategic stability means arms race stability—whereby neither side has an incentive to seek or establish primacy (or break-out capability) regardless of technological advances. It also consists of crisis stability, whereby neither side has an incentive to escalate a crisis and risks of miscalculation are reduced. The latest Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border, following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and other hostile actions toward Ukraine, undermines regional and strategic stability. This looming danger to international security makes the U.S.-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue (SSD) both more difficult and more important.”
  • “The Joint Statement by the presidents in June has allowed Washington and Moscow to begin discussions to reduce the risk of armed conflicts and the threat of nuclear war, including laying the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures. The SSD includes regular discussions not only on nuclear deterrence but also on the risks of emerging technologies such as space and cyber technologies that could affect arms race or crisis stability and thereby increase the risk of escalation and conflict leading to nuclear war. SSD talks were held in July and September. Both meetings reflected the seriousness of the U.S. and Russian commitment to dialogue and reducing nuclear risks, with delegations led by senior officials on both sides.”
  • “A serious and good-faith dialogue with Russia about these risks to strategic stability (as well as dialogue with our allies and China) is necessary to understand the changing nature of those risks and the direction new arms races may take and to reduce the risk of unintended escalation.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

“America’s Cyber-Reckoning. How to Fix a Failing Strategy,” Sue Gordon and Eric Rosenbach, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2022. The authors, a senior fellow and the co-director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, write:

  • “The most important thing the Biden administration can do is embrace the notion that countries that can conduct destructive cyberattacks are not likely to be deterred by Washington’s own cyber-capabilities but can still be deterred by the United States’ conventional military power and economic might.”
  • “The first practical step the administration should take is to prioritize the defense of data. … The administration should also make the rapid public attribution of cyberattacks a core component of its strategy, even in politically complex situations.”
  • “The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency ... must become the true center of gravity for domestic cybersecurity operations. … Biden should shape Cyber Command into something more akin to today’s nimble, flexible Joint Special Operations Command and less like the lumbering Strategic Air Command of the 1950s.”
  • “Congress should consider creating a cybersecurity analog to the Securities and Exchange Commission.”
  • “Even if Washington does everything right, it will still need global cooperation ... Washington needs ... intensive cooperation with like-minded countries, such as France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom. The U.N. is not the place to do so, however: in that forum, China and Russia can advance their interests.”

“The End of Cyber-Anarchy?” Joseph S. Nye Jr., Foreign Affairs, January/February 2022. The author, University Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at and former dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, writes:

  • “Treaties regarding cyberspace may be unworkable, but it might be possible to set limits on certain types of behavior and negotiate rough rules of the road. During the Cold War, informal norms governed the treatment of each side’s spies; expulsion, rather than execution, became the norm. In 1972, the Soviet Union and the United States negotiated the Incidents at Sea Agreement to limit naval behavior that might lead to escalation. ... This seems to have been the approach explored by the Biden administration at a June summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, where cyberspace played a larger role on the agenda than nuclear weapons.”
  • “The Biden administration is wrestling with the fact that the domain of cyberspace has created important new opportunities and vulnerabilities in world politics. Reorganizing and reengineering at home must be at the heart of the resulting strategy, but it also needs a strong international component based on deterrence and diplomacy. The diplomatic component must include alliances among democracies, capacity building in developing countries, and improved international institutions. Such a strategy must also include developing norms with the long-term goal of protecting the old glass house of American democracy from the new stones of the Internet age.”

“The Case for Cyber-Realism,” Dmitri Alperovitch, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2022. The author, co-founder and chair of Silverado Policy Accelerator and co-founder and former chief technology officer of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, writes:

  • “When the United States faces a military threat from a hostile nation, it does not tell its citizens and businesses to fund their own private armies or to negotiate their own peace deals. Many cyberthreats are not meaningfully different from military or economic threats, and yet the United States allows much of the burden of defending against them to fall on individual companies and citizens.”
  • “In the short term, the United States must do more to harden its defenses and to help companies and citizens do the same. Ultimately, however, Washington must accept that cyberattacks are primarily an effect, and not a cause, of geopolitical tensions. Unless the United States treats the underlying disease, it will never fully recover from the symptoms.”

“How Western tech companies are helping Russia to censor the Internet,” Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, The Washington Post, 12.21.21. The co-authors of “The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries” write:

  • “Russia calls its system for controlling online discourse the ‘sovereign Internet.’ ... Despite its name, though, the system depends to a crucial extent on foreign technology.”
  • “Its control center is powered by 30 servers from Chinese-owned Lenovo and 30 more from U.S. company Super Micro Computer.”
  • “Even more important is the deep packet inspection (DPI) software that allows Russian censors to suppress Tor traffic or to slow down Twitter across the country, as they did earlier this year. ... On the censors' orders, every Russian Internet service has to install a package of surveillance technology provided by the Israeli firm Silicom Ltd.”
  • “The companies cannot go on helping authoritarian regimes while claiming ignorance about the situation in those countries.”

“U.S. Catches Kremlin Insider Who May Have Secrets of 2016 Hack,” Henry Meyer, Irina Reznik and Hugo Miller, Bloomberg, 01.03.22. Bloomberg reports that:

  • “Vladislav Klyushin's cybersecurity work and Kremlin ties could make this Russian national who is now in U.S. custody a useful source of information for U.S. officials, according to several people familiar with Russian intelligence matters. Most critically, these people said, if he chooses to cooperate, he could provide Americans with their closest view yet of 2016 election manipulation.”
  • “According to people in Moscow who are close to the Kremlin and security services, Russian intelligence has concluded that Klyushin … has access to documents relating to a Russian campaign to hack Democratic Party servers during the 2016 U.S. election. These documents, they say, establish the hacking was led by a team in Russia's GRU military intelligence that U.S. cybersecurity companies have dubbed ‘Fancy Bear’ or APT28. Such a cache would provide the U.S. for the first time with detailed documentary evidence of the alleged Russian efforts to influence the election, according to these people.”
  • “Klyushin was approached by U.S. and U.K. spy agencies in the two years before his exit from Russia and received heightened levels of security in Switzerland. He also missed a final chance to appeal his extradition, an omission that baffled many observers in Moscow. His transfer to the U.S. represents a serious intelligence blow to the Kremlin, several of the people said, one that would deepen if Klyushin decides to seek leniency from U.S. prosecutors by providing information about Moscow's inner workings.”
  • “Following a Russia-U.S. presidential summit in June, the two sides were negotiating to swap two former U.S. Marines imprisoned in Russia, Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, for two Russians held in the U.S., including notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout. But after Switzerland declined to hand Klyushin back to Russia, the Kremlin demanded that his name be added to the swap … That derailed the potential exchange, which remains blocked.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Green Upheaval. The New Geopolitics of Energy,” Jason Bordoff and Meghan L. O’Sullivan, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2022. The authors, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and the Jeane Kirkpatrick Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, write:

  • “The energy transition will inevitably transform Russia’s relations with the other major powers. Russia is highly dependent on oil and gas exports, and in the long term, the clean energy transition will pose significant risks to its finances and influence. In the messy transition, however, Russia’s position vis-à-vis the United States and Europe may grow stronger before it weakens. As European countries come to increasingly depend on Russian gas in the coming years and as volatility in the oil market rises, both the United States and Europe will count on Russia to keep prices in check through its partnership with Saudi Arabia as leaders of the OPEC+ alliance, which is made up of the members of OPEC and ten other major oil-exporting countries.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“What the US Misunderstands About Russia,” Nina L. Khrushcheva, Project Syndicate, 12.28.21. The author, a professor of international affairs at The New School, writes:

  • “The conclusion that Putin is attempting a kind of Soviet reunification is facile. The late U.S. diplomat and strategist George F. Kennan … would surely take a more nuanced view. Kennan would argue that Russia’s behavior is best explained by a ‘special-nation’ mindset.”
  • “According to a 2020 poll, 58% of Russians support the country following its ‘own special path,’ and a whopping 75% think that the Soviet era was the ‘greatest time’ in their country’s history.  Yet, crucially, only 28% of respondents report wanting to ‘return to the path the Soviet Union was following.’ In other words, what Russians want is not to revive the USSR, but rather to preserve their country’s status and influence, which means maintaining its sphere of influence. The notion that the West could pursue an eastward expansion of NATO without pushback was always pure folly.”
  • “By ignoring Russians’ concerns about NATO, the U.S. and Europe will bolster support for Putin. Already, just 4% of Russians blame the Kremlin for the recent troop surge, with the rest blaming the U.S. or Ukraine.”
  • “While the ‘exceptional’ U.S. has long been able to act in its own strategic interest without, as one author put it, ‘the consequences that come with doing so,’ the time may have come for it to account for new variables—namely, that Russians, too, view their country as exceptional.”
  • “Unless and until that changes, the cycle of crises will continue, with escalating, and potentially catastrophic, risks. ‘Such is the destructive potential of advanced modern weapons,’ Kennan pointed out, ‘that another great conflict between any of the leading powers could well do irreparable damage to the entire structure of modern civilization.’”

“The Cold War is over. Why do we still treat Russia like the Evil Empire?” Joseph Weisberg, The Washington Post, 12.17.21. The author of “Russia Upside Down: An Exit Strategy for the Second Cold War” writes:

  • “Typically, two nations in conflict try to negotiate mutual concessions … but we aren't doing that successfully with Russia, and mutual concessions aren't necessarily effective at addressing the roots of a conflict anyway. We'd be better off focusing on our own attitudes and policies and offering Russia some basic goodwill gestures ... I don't know if this kind of unilateral action would prompt Russia to reciprocate. I don't know if it would reduce tensions enough to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine—where it's not at all clear Putin really wants to invade. ... We have played, at the very least, our own significant role in fueling the animosity between our two countries.”

“The limits of US sanctions in dealing with Russia are becoming clear,” Megan Greene,  Financial Times, 12.16.21. The author, a senior fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard Kennedy School, writes:

  • “If economic sanctions are not a silver bullet, why does the U.S. keep using them? Dan Drezner, a professor in international politics at Tufts University, offers one explanation. He argues they are both a reflection of American decline (adversaries are less afraid of the U.S. and American leaders have fewer tools at their disposal) and a catalyst for it. Sanctions antagonize enemies, irritate allies, impose costs on innocent people and drive targets to find alternatives to the U.S. financial system, undermining dollar supremacy.”
  • “The Ukraine issue is a difficult one. Biden and Putin failed to resolve their differences in a two-hour phone call last week. It’s not clear what inducements the U.S. and its allies can offer Putin to back off. Yet the threat of more sanctions may not accomplish much. They would impose a cost, but, to paraphrase Richard Nephew, former principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the state department, ‘One can’t blame the [hammer] if it fails to perform the work of a screwdriver.’”  

“Stopping international corruption begins here at home,” Frank Vogl, The Boston Globe, 12.30.21. The author, a former World Bank official, writes:

  • “Kleptocrats and their cronies from countries such as Russia, China and Nigeria steal staggering amounts of money from their citizens and seek safe and secret homes for their wealth. To do this they need enablers—bankers, lawyers, auditors, real estate brokers, art dealers and financial consultants—on Wall Street, in the City of London and in other leading international financial centers.”
  • “Upwards of $2 trillion of dirty money is laundered this way every year. I estimate, conservatively, that some $600 billion of it flows into U.S. investments … Or consider that more than $235 billion of dirty money from Russia and neighboring countries was laundered over several years through the Estonian branch of Denmark's Danske Bank.”
  • “The transfer of vast wealth from authoritarian regimes into Western investments strengthens the power and security of these regimes. And as we have seen with Russian efforts to undermine elections here and in Germany, and as Chinese authorities have sought to steal our technology and have ramped up their anti-democracy propaganda, the challenges that kleptocratic regimes pose to our security are formidable.”
  • “At a minimum, all banks and real estate and auction companies need to be subject to explicit know-your-customer rules that demand that they do thorough due diligence on where and how large potential customers have obtained their cash. Then the U.S. banking and justice authorities need to have substantial budget resources to deploy artificial intelligence to monitor the tens of millions of financial transactions that cross borders into the U.S. financial system and to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute. Further, there needs to be a law that explicitly holds the board chairs and CEOs of major enabling institutions criminally accountable for money laundering and foreign corruption pursued by their businesses.”
  • “Western governments, led by the United States, must demonstrate a far deeper commitment to rooting out corruption—both abroad and at home.”

“How the Media Got Russiagate Wrong,” George Beebe, The National Interest, 12.31.21. The author, vice president and director of studies at the Center for the National Interest, writes:

  • “At first glance, the cases of Russiagate and Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) might appear to have little in common. ... The key to each of these cases is collective rather than individual failure—a widespread inability to determine where truth lay amid sensational claims, information gaps and willful deception. Put bluntly, the very institutions that once served as bulwarks against error now advertised, amplified and exploited fraudulent reports.”
  • “According to Gallup’s annual governance poll, 60 percent of Americans say they trust mass media ‘not very much’ or ‘not at all.’ Their faith in the accuracy and objectivity of U.S. intelligence organizations is probably not much higher. What, then, should be done?”
  • “Establishing fact-checking organizations devoted to combating disinformation and ‘fake news’ is a popular remedy. To date, however, such efforts have only made the problem worse. ... The answer is more likely to be found in a return to the methodological and ethical standards that have traditionally governed institutions designed to uncover truth. Journalists have a well-developed set of evidentiary standards and professional ethics.”
  • “Contrary to the Washington Post’s Trump-inspired slogan, democracy does not die in darkness. It perishes when its institutions fall prey to false information and ignore objective standards of truth. It is time to revive them.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“In Closing Memorial, Russia Heralds a New, Grimmer Era of Repression,” Rachel Denber, The Moscow Times, 12.29.21. The author, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, writes:

  • “In two days, Russian courts have delivered a one-two punch to Russia’s human rights movement. Just a few days after the 30-year anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union, courts ruled to close Memorial, Russia’s top human rights group.”  
  • “Yesterday the Supreme Court granted the Prosecutor General’s request to ‘liquidate’ Memorial International, which for 32 years has worked to commemorate victims of Soviet repression, preserve the facts about The Great Terror and provide a platform for open debate.”
  • “And today the Moscow City Court ruled in favor of the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office lawsuit to liquidate the Memorial Human Rights Center, Memorial International’s sister organization, which documents a wide range of abuses in Russia, particularly in the North Caucasus, maintains a list of political prisoners and documents human rights violations in neighboring countries.”
  • “The liquidation petitions made clear the relentless determination of authorities to wrestle back total control over public discussion and memory related to the atrocities of the Stalin era, the Gulag and more broadly, Soviet-era repression. The Kremlin intends to leave no doubt that only the authorities will assess the Soviet era, and will aggressively silence those who publicly do not conform to the state’s view of the Soviet era and Russian history more broadly.”
  • “Try as it may, Russia can’t wipe out historical memory or force people to stop working to protect their rights.”

“Putin’s attempt to control the past follows the Xi model,” Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, 01.03.22. The author, chief foreign affairs columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “In the dying days of 2021, the Russian and Chinese governments both took dramatic action to censor discussion of their countries’ history. In both cases, the decision to ‘control the past’ sends a bleak signal about the future.”
  • “Russia’s Supreme Court closed Memorial, an organization founded in the last years of the Soviet Union to record and preserve the memory of the victims of Stalinism. … In Hong Kong, local universities bowed to China’s central government—removing from campuses statues commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.”
  • “The closing of Memorial feels like a turning point for the whole of Russia. For all the brutality of the Putin regime, Russia, until recently, has allowed considerably more latitude for political dissent than China. … Observers in Russia see the closure of Memorial as a deliberate move towards Chinese levels of censorship and control.”
  • “In both Russia and China, moves to shut down historical debate go hand in hand with an intensification of present-day repression.”
  • “Both Putin and Xi have engineered changes in their countries’ constitutions that will allow them to rule unchallenged, long into the future. If Putin stays in the Kremlin until 2036, which now seems distinctly possible, he will have ruled for longer than Stalin himself. If you intend to emulate Stalin, why would you allow criticism of him?”

“The Derailment of Memorial’s Goals – for Now,” Mark Kramer, The Moscow Times, 01.02.21. The author, director of the Cold War Studies Project at Harvard’s Davis Center, writes:

  • “Even if Memorial as a legal entity is now defunct, the guiding force behind the organization since 1989—the desire to understand why so many millions of people were unjustly killed, tortured, and imprisoned in peacetime at the hands of their own rulers—will undoubtedly persist.”
  • “Putin’s efforts to curtail scrutiny of the Stalin era may succeed in the short term, but the years of research undertaken by Memorial cannot simply be erased from the historical record. Although a renewed drive for historical accountability may be infeasible until Putin is gone from the scene, a new generation of Russians at some point will want to know why so many innocent people died under Stalin’s regime. The work of Memorial will give a crucial boost to any such quest for understanding.”

“In Putin’s Russia, the Past Is Never Past,” Alexander Baunov, Foreign Policy, 12.20.21. The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center and editor in chief of, writes:

  • “As a repository of accurate, archived information, Memorial is an obstacle to the Kremlin’s wish for a centralized memory of Soviet repression—one that papers over any conflict and minimizes continuity between the Soviet Union and today’s regime by conveniently ignoring the perpetrators.”
  • “Even bigger thorns in the Kremlin’s eye are some of Memorial’s activities other than commemorating the victims of Stalin-era repression and fighting for archive access. The Memorial Human Rights Center compiles a list of modern political prisoners in Russia.”

“Fact-Check: Is Russia's Economy 'Nuclear Weapons and Oil Wells and Nothing Else,' as Biden Claimed?” RM Staff, Russia Matters, 12.28.21. The authors write:

  • “While hydrocarbons play an outsized role in Moscow’s federal budget and its nuclear weapons may figure in GDP, Russia’s economy is more diverse than that, with oil and gas making up just over 15% of last year’s GDP by one Rosstat estimate. Russia provides other countries with more civilian nuclear reactors and related services than any other nation and is the world’s second largest exporter of conventional arms. It earns hundreds of millions of dollars by providing services in the space sector and sells billions of dollars’ worth of metals. Russia is also the world’s top producer and exporter of wheat, a major coal exporter and home to a domestic services sector that plays a major role in its economy.”

“Russia's Discouraging Demographics Shouldn't Change US Approach,” Alexandra Vacroux, Russia Matters, 12.21.21. The author, executive director of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and a lecturer on government at Harvard University, writes:

  • “There’s little doubt that Russian demographic trends look discouraging. But should this change the U.S. approach to the country? No. The possibility that Russia might have fewer people and a smaller economy will not negate the fact that it is a nuclear superpower with unfriendly intent. What Russia becomes is less important than what Russia is willing to do.”
  • “How do these demographic trends tie into Russian foreign policy? Most directly, Russia wants to increase the number of Russian citizens. If it cannot produce them biologically, it will need to acquire them through other means. A 2002 law made it relatively simple for former citizens of the Soviet Union to claim Russian citizenship. … When it can’t acquire citizens, Russia looks for Russian-speaking supporters abroad who see benefits in being closely associated with Russia.”
  • “Yet the shrinking of Russia’s population and a stagnating economy should not be driving American strategy. Russia may or may not be a declining power, but it is not a declining threat, in the words of Michael Kofman. Russia will continue to interject itself in the global order in ways that undermine our principles and goals. Its military will remain a force to be reckoned with, its cyber-capability will continue to improve and its willingness to foment agitation abroad will not diminish. We cannot afford to dismiss Russia as a declining power and focus on China. We must deal with Russia as it is today, and not as it might end up generations from now.”

Defense and aerospace:

“The Changing Face of Russian Counter-Irregular Warfare,” Benjamin Arbitter and Kurt Carlson, War on the Rocks, 12.21.21. The authors, Army Special Forces officers, write:

  • “Today, Russian expeditionary counter-irregular packages draw from professional volunteer brigades and battalions, including force multipliers such as special operations forces, drone forces, military police and private military contractors.  When integrated with air power, these force packages allow Moscow to conduct sustained operations abroad with a relatively small and scalable footprint on the ground. This ability to tailor force composition to create expeditionary counter-irregular task forces is new in the Russian experience, and represents a watershed in expeditionary mobility and command organization. The Russian kill chain is now shorter, its forces are more specialized and capable, and it retains the ability to rapidly scale Moscow’s investment abroad in a way new to Russia’s historical experience as a continental power.”

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:

“Difficult Relations with Moscow. German Policy towards Russia Must Be More Carefully Calibrated,” Sabine Fischer, SWP, December 2021. The author, a senior fellow at SWP, writes:

  • “German policy continues to be guided by assumptions that are increasingly difficult to reconcile with the reality of relations with Russia. … For example, there is still a widespread belief that economic integration will, in the long term, bring about positive change in Russia’s economic and political systems, and thus also in its attitude towards Germany and the EU.”
  • “The same applies to the hope that dialogue could prompt Moscow to adopt more conciliatory positions.”
  • “The new German government would be well advised to stop searching for perpetually new opportunities for ‘selective engagement’ with Russia.”
  • “The next Federal Government must tailor its actions even more closely to the political reality in Russia. Coordination within the EU and with the Western alliance must also be a top priority.”  

“COVID-19 ‘Humanitarianism’: The Geopolitics of Russia’s Coronavirus Assistance,” Mariya Omelicheva, PONARS Eurasia, 12.13.21. The author, a professor of national security strategy at the National War College, writes:

  • “The Kremlin might have scored points by presenting itself as a responsible global power delivering much-needed medical supplies at a time of U.S. retrenchment. Its political gambles under the guise of humanitarian COVID-19 assistance were fleeting. When the pandemic hit hard at home, the Kremlin put its humanitarian ambitions on hold. Russia’s ability to translate its humanitarian contributions into political leverage has been further limited by global, regional and country-specific factors, such as competition from China and self-interested local actors.”


“Why Moscow Sees Biden As the Key to Avoiding War in Ukraine,” Jacob Heilbrunn, National Interest, 01.01.22. The author, editor of the National Interest, writes:

  • “When it comes to Russia policy, Biden has sought to promote what might be called détente-lite with Moscow without using the dreaded word ‘reset.’ …  This is why Russian President Vladimir Putin requested a second phone conversation with Biden. The Russians believe that absent Biden’s personal involvement any potential progress would likely be sabotaged by the State Department bureaucracy, which is highly sympathetic to Ukraine.”
  • “The real crux of the issue is Russia’s demand not to bring any new neighbors, including Ukraine and Georgia, into NATO. Biden says he is not publicly negotiating, but on the issue of NATO enlargement, there doesn’t seem to be much, if any, progress. The key question will be how central this issue is to Putin. If it is central, there doesn’t seem to be potential for a deal.”
  • “Biden’s goal will not be to propitiate Putin but to allay his vociferously expressed national security concerns. One possible road ahead might center on an ‘Austrian solution’ for Ukraine. ... If Putin is willing to accede to Ukrainian neutrality rather than attempting to transform it into a puppet state or claim full suzerainty over it, then the Austrian model might serve as a possible solution to the vexed status of Ukraine.”
  • “All of this would come as a bitter pill to Ukraine itself. But neither Europe nor the United States appears to have much of an appetite for engaging in protracted economic and military standoff with Russia over Ukraine. The last thing that Biden needs is a Russian invasion of Ukraine that would drive up oil prices and add to the sense of siege surrounding his presidency. In coming weeks, he may well seek to score a diplomatic success abroad.”

“It’s an open secret there’s no NATO plan for Ukraine. Why not just tell Putin?” David Von Drehle, The Washington Post, 12.17.21. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Few presidents have promised more liberty and more democracy to the world [than George W. Bush]. Laying out his Bush Doctrine in 2002, he declared: ‘...America cannot impose this vision—yet we can support and reward governments that make the right choices for their own people.’ ... Nearly 20 years later, the only part of that grand promise that has been redeemed is the one about the United States being unable to impose its vision. Russia is not the friend that Bush described in that speech, nor is China opening up as he theorized, nor have we nurtured free and prosperous societies in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
  • “It ought to be possible to say forthrightly what everyone in the West knows to be true: NATO has no plan, short or long term, for bringing Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance. Bush did not have a plan in 2008, and no administration has developed such a plan in the years since. If Putin needs assurance that no such plan exists, what’s the harm in giving it to him?”

Graham Allison in “Russian Troops Near Ukraine’s Border: How Should the West Respond?” Survey of Experts at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, 12.16.21.

  • “America has no vital interests in Ukraine. Contrary to hotheads calling for a military response, President Biden wisely underlined that point when he said last week that sending troops to defend Ukraine is ‘not on the table’ Since Eisenhower, presidents have repeatedly had to face choices about sending troops to defend European victims of Soviet/Russian aggression. In every case, they decided: No. That was Bush’s decision in 2008 when Russia ‘liberated’ two provinces of Georgia; that was Obama’s decision in 2014 when Putin seized Crimea. Attempting to deter Putin by threatening severe economic consequences while engaging in serious diplomacy to find a ‘good-enough’ compromise makes great sense. Going to war over Ukraine would be folly.”

“Air strikes or invasion: what are Putin’s military options for Ukraine?,” Max Seddon, Financial Times, 12.29.21. The author, Moscow bureau chief for the news outlet, writes:

  • “As Vladimir Putin threatens possible military action on Ukraine, western military analysts say Russia’s president could contemplate a wide range of scenarios—from targeted missile strikes to a limited incursion from the east or south of the country, and even a full-scale invasion backed by cyber warfare.”
  • “‘Putin has the best track record of using force to achieve political ends of any leader by far,’ said Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist at CAN … ‘How many offensives does he have to conduct in Ukraine for people to think he’s not bluffing?’”
  • “The current deployments lacked the full scope of logistical support necessary for a sustained operation—such as ammunition stocks, field hospitals and blood banks—but there was evidence Moscow was in the process of moving these towards the border, the western officials said.”
  • “Russia could inflict significant damage on Ukraine’s military through aerial assaults on the front lines, military facilities and critical infrastructure, according to Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation. … Russia’s military superiority would enable it to overrun Ukraine’s army in weeks by launching assaults on multiple fronts—including from Belarus and the Black Sea, according to CNA’s Kofman.”
  • “‘They could inflict tens of thousands of casualties after a couple of days. They could significantly degrade Ukraine’s military capability in the east. But would that be enough to force Ukraine to concede? That comes down to their cost-benefit analysis,’ according to Rob Lee, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.”

“Why the Stalemate in Eastern Ukraine Will Likely Hold,” Katharine Quinn-Judge, Foreign Affairs, 12.15.21. The author, a consulting senior analyst for Ukraine at the International Crisis Group, writes:

  • “Russia’s latest military buildup seems to have been aimed, at least in part, at perceived Western slights and provocations, such as the presence of U.S. ships in the Black Sea and various delays to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that is supposed to supply Russian gas to Europe without crossing Ukraine. By showing Russia’s readiness for an invasion, Putin’s primary goal may have been to force Biden into a dialogue and deter a NATO expansion. This does not mean one should ignore the risk of an accidental escalation or an impulsive move by Putin to force all of Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit.” 

“Is a War Over Ukraine Inevitable?” Dov S. Zakheim, The National Interest, 12.22.21. The author, a former U.S. undersecretary of defense (comptroller), writes:

  • “If Putin is serious about resolving Russian concerns regarding NATO expansion, he should order no further buildup on the Ukrainian border.”
  • “In the meantime, Washington could limit its military assistance to Kyiv by restricting arms shipments to low levels of purely defensive systems as it has done until now. NATO could do the same.”
  • “Under these circumstances, both sides could begin to negotiate meaningfully, something that would be impossible with the specter of war in the background.”
  • “Ultimately, the choice is Putin’s. If he prefers to continue the force buildup on Ukraine’s border, he is likely to provoke an increasingly tough NATO response both economically—even previously passive Germany is now threatening to cut off the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline—and militarily. If, on the other hand, he is serious about a negotiation, he will find Washington and NATO ready to talk, though not on the basis of terms set out in the two draft agreements that would have made Stalin proud.”

“Putin’s Likely Course of Action in Ukraine,” Frederick W. Kagan, Nataliya Bugayova, George Barros, Kateryna Stepanenko and Mason Clark, ISW, December 2021. The authors of the report write:

  • “A full-scale Russian invasion would consist of numerous discrete operations, almost every one of which could also be conducted independently of the others to achieve more limited objectives at lesser cost and risk. The most salient of those operations include, in order from most- to least-likely:”
    • “Deploying Russian airborne and/or mechanized units to one or more locations in Belarus that would support a planned attack on Ukraine as well as pose other threats to NATO member states;”
    • Deploying Russian mechanized, tank, artillery and support units overtly into occupied Donbass;”
    • “Breaking out from occupied Donbas to establish a land bridge connecting Russian-occupied Crimea with Russian territory near Rostov along the northern Sea of Azov littoral, as well as seizing the Kherson region north of Crimea and securing the Dnepr-Crimea canal;”
    • “Conducting airborne and amphibious operations to seize Odesa and the western Ukrainian Black Sea coast; and”
    • “Launching a mechanized drive to seize the strategic city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine.”

“Ukraine stood with the West in 2014. Today we must stand with Ukraine,” Rob Portman and Jeanne Shaheen, The Washington Post, 12.24.21. The authors, U.S. senators, write:

  • “The Biden administration has placed diplomacy at the forefront of its efforts to deter Russia. However, these efforts must be combined with the necessary economic and military measures that would strengthen a diplomatic approach and give it greater credibility.”
  • “First, the United States must increase the military weaponry it sends to Ukraine to enhance the country's defensive capabilities and tailor that weaponry to the threat Ukrainians will face. ... The United States must speed up the pace of assistance and provide antiaircraft, antitank and anti-ship systems, along with electronic warfare capabilities.”
  • “Second, the Biden administration should not support any attempts to force Ukraine to cede control in Donbas outside the Minsk agreements. … Third, Biden should seriously reconsider the imposition of sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.”
  • “Finally, the United States must continue to build an international coalition of partners in Europe and elsewhere who see this threat with clear eyes.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Phoney peace fails to break Armenia-Azerbaijan deadlock,” Laurence Broers, Chatham House, 12.15.21. The author, an associate fellow at Chatham House, writes:

  • “Two significant post-war dynamics contradict the notion that the Karabakh conflict is now resolved.”
  • “The first is the widening of the spaces and issues in conflict. Azerbaijan’s restoration of sovereignty over territories it lost in 1990s surfaced the long-submerged issue of border demarcation between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijani forces are now deployed across the border to occupy 40-100 square kilometers of Armenia’s territory.”
  • “The second dynamic is the narrowing of active mediation efforts to focus only on issues appearing since the ceasefire. The OSCE’s Minsk Group—mandated to negotiate a comprehensive peace agreement—has struggled to reassert itself after being sidelined during the 2020 war.”
  • “Armenia’s development as a positive, the past year has not shown that this is compatible with security and dignity for Karabakh Armenians, or even Armenia itself. This widens the gap between his government—which is now advocating for peace measures—and Armenian society where perceptions are being reinforced that the rehabilitation of the Armenian army is the sole route to security.”
  • “Prescriptions for peace must recognize that many of the core dynamics of the prior status quo remain in place. Despite the passing of more than a year since the ceasefire, there remains a combustible mix of domestic political motives driving conflict, undiminished communal antagonisms and coercive bargaining tactics—alongside great power rivalries and severe limits on Russia’s capacity to contain any festering violence.”

“Why Russia Sees Little Threat in China’s Growing Involvement in Tajikistan,” Temur Umarov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 12.31.21. The author, a research consultant at Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Competition between Russia and China in Central Asia is patently obvious, but their cooperation is underappreciated. There is a reason why Putin calls ‘work in third countries’ an important vector of Sino-Russian cooperation. After the Taliban took power in Kabul in August 2021, Chinese and Russian leaders held regular discussions of regional security and the situation at the Afghan border. In addition, Sibu/Cooperation-2021, the largest bilateral military exercise conducted by Moscow and Beijing since the start of the pandemic, focused on combating terrorism. Among other things, military commanders from both countries explored cooperation scenarios in the event of a potential break through the Afghan border.”
  • “The danger of conflict between China and Russia in Central Asia is overestimated, while their potential for cooperation is underappreciated. Even if there is cause for competition in Central Asia, both Moscow and Beijing see friendly bilateral relations as a priority, especially against the backdrop of their escalating confrontation with the West.”