Russia Analytical Report, Dec. 19, 2022-Jan. 9, 2023

6 Ideas to Explore

  1. Are Vladimir Putin’s days in the Kremlin numbered and/or might Russia be nearing collapse? In their recent commentaries, CFR fellow Liana Fix, Catholic University of America Professor Michael Kimmage, Rutgers University-Newark Professor Alexander J. Motyl and Russian opposition politician Leonid Gozman have answered one or both of these questions affirmatively, as did nearly half of the 149 experts polled by the Atlantic Council on whether or not they expect Russia to break up by 2033. “Russia has a history of regime change in the aftermath of unsuccessful wars ... [and] in the worst case, Putin’s fall could translate into civil war and Russia’s disintegration,” according to Fix and Kimmage’s commentary for Foreign Affairs. “It’s imperative to prepare for a possible disintegration” of Russia, writes Motyl for Foreign Policy. This is not the first wave of such predictions. In fact, one of the aforementioned commentators wrote seven years ago that “Russia may be on the verge of deep instability, possibly even collapse.” At one point these predictions reached such a critical mass that that they prompted former Moscow bureau chief for Business Week Paul Starobin to write an article titled “The Eternal Collapse of Russia.1
  2. Joe Biden is right to take Putin’s nuclear threats seriously for multiple reasons, according to Harvard University Professor Graham Allison’s contribution to Foreign Policy’s expert survey on “Lessons for the Next War.” “First, Putin commands a nuclear arsenal that can literally erase the United States from the map ... Second, Ronald Reagan’s grand imperative still holds: ‘A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’ ... Third, Putin’s nuclear arsenal includes tactical nuclear weapons designed for use at shorter range ... [and] fourth, nuclear weapons are a weaker power’s equalizer. … Finally, it is hard to deny ... similarity between Washington’s nuclear umbrella ... and Putin’s threat of nuclear retaliation against any attack on newly annexed territory,” according to Allison. With not just Russia, but also with China, “the goal should be to move both countries away from threatening nuclear behavior and back toward a shared interest in controlling nuclear weapons and avoiding their proliferation,” according to Rose Gottemoeller’s contribution to the FP survey.
  3. Biden and Volodymyr Zelensky differ on the path forward for Ukraine in the war against Russia, according to David Ignatius’ reading of the subtleties of the two leaders’ recent war summit in Washington. While Zelensky—who appears to see the enemy not simply as Putin, but as Russia itself—repeatedly emphasized the importance of achieving victory in the war, Biden did not utter the word even once during the duo’s remarks to reporters at the White House. One reason for Biden’s restraint is that he realizes “this war almost surely won’t end with the total elimination of Russian war power,” Ignatius writes in his recent WP column. Therefore, rather than engage in “rhetoric of ‘total victory,’” Biden emphasized the importance of seeking “a just peace” once Putin realizes “it’s clear that he cannot possibly win” so that Zelensky can then “decide how he wants to end this war.”
  4. “The real question isn’t whether Ukraine can regain all its territory,” according to retired U.S. Army Lt. Col Alex Vershinin. Rather it is whether Ukraine “can inflict sufficient losses on Russian mobilized reservists to undermine Russia’s domestic unity, forcing it to the negotiation table on Ukrainian terms, or will Russian’ attrition strategy work to annex an even larger portion of Ukraine,” Vershinin writes in his outlook for “What’s Ahead in the War in Ukraine.” Meanwhile, MIT professor Barry Posen in an article for Foreign Affairs writes that “Russian strategic decisions are finally starting to make military sense,” as evidenced by partial mobilization and the targeting of infrastructure, but warns that gains will come only at great cost for either Moscow or Kyiv.
  5. The past year has been bruising for Russia’s economy, but the worst forecasts are clearly not going to come to pass, according to The Economist’s analysis of the impact of Western sanctions on Russia. The Russian economy has shrunk by some 3-4%, which is less than previously expected, while joblessness “has barely budged.” These samples of “real-time” economic data paint a concerning picture for the West, according to this British weekly. As the Russian-Ukrainian war makes clear, “not having a credible sanctions coalition and endgame in place greatly reduces the chance of deterring, stopping or winning a war,” according to Maria Shagina of the Center for Eastern European Studies.
  6. Ukraine’s aid donors will eventually have to “strike a balance between support for recovery efforts and an accidental fostering of aid dependence,” according to Collin Meisel of the University of Denver. Moreover, the West may also “need to consider post-conflict support for Russia, which faces serious economic and demographic challenges ahead,” Meisel writes in a commentary for War on the Rocks

NB: Next week’s Russia Analytical Report will appear on Tuesday, Jan. 17, instead of Monday, Jan. 16, because of the U.S. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Russia’s abductions of Ukrainian children are a genocidal crime,” Editorial Board, WP, 12.27.22.

  • “War is not an excuse to abduct children from parents and their nation, as Russia is now doing in Ukraine. This is specifically prohibited by the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia—and attempts to brainwash them, removing their language and culture—is a genocidal crime that calls for prosecution.”
  • “While the number of children taken is not clear, Daria Herasymchuk, Ukraine’s top children’s rights official, has estimated that nearly 11,000 Ukrainian children have been taken by Russia without their parents.”
  • “[Putin] and the other Russian officials complicit in genocidal crimes against children should be held to account.”

“Ukraine’s Long-Term Road to Recovery,” Collin Meisel of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures, War on the Rocks, 12.28.22.

  • “What to watch for in the days and months ahead will be Western—especially American—support for Ukraine. Despite substantial support to date, Ukraine maintains a dire need for additional recovery funds, including a recent request for $17 billion in economic relief. As many inside and outside Ukraine have warned, support to get through this winter will be especially critical. Yet, in the long run, Western aid donors will need to strike a balance between support for recovery efforts and an accidental fostering of aid dependence, which would likely suppress long-term growth.”
  • “Even in the better potential scenarios for Ukraine, Western leaders may need to consider post-conflict support for Russia as well, along with potential (admittedly controversial) off-ramps to end the conflict. This approach of pairing deterrence with assurance may be unpalatable, but Russia faces serious economic and demographic challenges ahead, and officials will have to consider how economic inducement could be used to kick-start or sustain peace negotiations.”

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“What’s Ahead in the War in Ukraine,” retired U.S. Lt. Col. Alex Vershinin, RM, 12.22.22.

  • “The opposing sides have adopted two opposing strategies: Russians are fighting a traditional firepower-centric war of attrition; Ukraine is pursuing a terrain-focused war of maneuver. These opposing strategies are as much a product of national resource availability as a deliberate choice. As freezing ground ushers in the winter campaign season, both sides will follow their strategies into limited offensives.”
  • “So far both strategies appear to work. Ukraine has recaptured large swaths of territory but exhausted itself during the fall offensive. It suffered frightful losses and depleted key stockpiles of equipment and ammunition. There is still capacity to replace losses and establish new combat formations, but those are rapidly withering. I believe that neither side will achieve spectacular territorial gain, but the Russian side is more likely to achieve its goals of draining Ukrainian resources while preserving its own.”
  • “If the Ukrainians decide to launch a major offensive, they could do so in two places, in my view. The first is in the north, in the Kharkiv region, but limited crossing over the Oskil River generates the same logistical challenges the Russians faced at Kherson. The second is in the south, to cut off the Russian land bridge to Crimea, eventually capturing the peninsula. This is unlikely to succeed.”
  • “For the Russian leadership the question is: When and where to attack? The timing depends on Russian artillery ammunition stocks. If they are high, Russia may attack in winter, otherwise it may stockpile and attack in spring after the mud season. Timing is also driven by the training requirements for the mobilized reservists. … Will the pressure from domestic politics for a quick victory win out, or will military considerations favor delaying until the end of spring mud season in March/April? So far, the Kremlin has gone with military considerations ahead of political ones, suggesting that Russia will launch only a limited offensive this winter.”
  • “The real question isn’t whether Ukraine can regain all its territory, but whether it can inflict sufficient losses on Russian mobilized reservists to undermine Russia’s domestic unity, forcing it to the negotiation table on Ukrainian terms, or will Russian’ attrition strategy work to annex an even larger portion of Ukraine.”

“Six Factors That Will Shape Russia's Winter War in Ukraine,” bureau chief at large Stephen Fidler, WSJ, 12.26.22.

  • “The Weather: It is still the season of mud in Ukraine ... across much of the front line dividing Russian and Ukrainian forces, the tempo of the conflict has slowed.”
  • “Bakhmut: The Russian effort to capture the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region has taken on a psychological importance beyond its strategic significance. Losing would allow Ukrainian forces to retreat to higher, more defensible positions but would cede a propaganda victory to Moscow.”
  • “Ukrainian Offensives:  There are two obvious directions for Ukrainian offensives, military analysts said. The first would target a line between the eastern cities of Svatove and Kreminna in the Luhansk region, joined by the important R-66 highway. The second would aim at the cities of Melitopol and Berdyansk in the Zaporizhzhia region to the south. Achieving this objective would cut off key lines of supply and communications between Russia and Crimea.”
  • “Russian Defenses: One advantage of losing territory over the fall is that Russia now must defend a much shorter front. Ukrainian estimates suggest the front has shrunk from about 700 miles to about 550, of which 240 miles is made up of river barrier.”
  • “Russian Offensives: Senior Ukrainian officials have recently said that Russia is preparing for further major offensives in Ukraine, planning to combine half of the 300,000 reservists who haven't been sent to the front with existing units to conduct an offensive in the early part of next year.”
  • “Events Outside Ukraine: If Mr. Putin is hoping for Western support to waver, it hasn't happened yet.”

“‘Big war is back’: 5 lessons from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” correspondent John Paul Rathbone, FT, 12.26.22.

  • “One key insight, military officials and analysts said, is that ‘big war is back’ and with that the need for countries to have the industrial capacity and massive weapons stocks to sustain high-intensity fighting.”
  • “[Another] lesson for Moscow is the importance of quality over quantity. Good logistics, plentiful troop levels and adequate military hardware—whether drones or tanks—'are worth nothing if the force’s intelligence, leadership . . . are inadequate,’ said Ben Barry, a former British army brigadier now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank.”
  • “[Another] lesson is the importance of civil society in sustaining the war effort.”
  • “Perhaps biggest lesson from the war is that it is being fought on multiple fronts and not just with tanks, rockets and guns.”

“Russia’s Rebound. How Moscow Has Partly Recovered From Its Military Setbacks,” MIT Prof. Barry R. Posen, FA, 01.04.23.

  • “Russian strategic decisions are finally starting to make military sense.”
    • “The partial mobilization of reservists that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered in September has strengthened Russian forces at the front.”
    • “The bombing campaign against Ukrainian energy infrastructure that began in October is forcing Ukraine and its allies to divert resources toward the defense of the country’s urban population.”
    • “And the withdrawal of Russian forces from the city of Kherson in November has saved capable units from destruction and freed them for action elsewhere.”
  • “It is turning into a war of attrition, a contest in which any gains by either side will come only at great cost. Even the dim outlines of this future should make both Ukraine and Russia wish to avoid it, but neither country seems ready to negotiate, much less make the difficult compromises that might provide the ingredients of a settlement.”
  • “Russia’s war appears to have morphed from a regime change into a land grab. If the Kremlin can continue to make military decisions that are merely sensible and act on them in ways that are merely competent, a year from now, Western intelligence agencies may be counting another 50,000 to 100,000 casualties for each side, and Western legislatures may be debating another $100 billion of economic and military assistance for Ukraine. For now, diplomacy has little chance of altering this trajectory because both sides are so politically invested in the war. Each thinks that victory is possible and defeat unthinkable.”
  • “If it wanted to, the United States could develop a diplomatic strategy to reduce maximalist thinking in both Ukraine and Russia. But to date, it has shown little interest in using its leverage to even try to coax the two sides to the negotiating table. … If this bloody, costly, and risky stalemate continues for another year, perhaps that will change.”

“Putin, Isolated and Distrustful, Leans on Handful of Hard-Line Advisers,” Evan Gershkovich, Thomas Grove, Drew Hinshaw and Joe Parkinson, WSJ, 12.23.22.

  • “Russian troops were losing the battle for Lyman, a small city in eastern Ukraine, in late September when a call came in for the commanding officer on the front line, over an encrypted line from Moscow. It was Vladimir Putin, ordering them not to retreat.”
    • “The president seemed to have limited understanding of the reality of the situation, according to current and former U.S. and European officials and a former senior Russian intelligence officer briefed on the exchange. His poorly equipped front-line troops were being encircled by a Ukrainian advance backed by artillery provided by the West. Mr. Putin rebuffed his own generals’ commands and told the troops to hold firm, they said.”
    • “The Ukrainian ambushes continued, and on Oct. 1, Russian soldiers hastily withdrew, leaving behind dozens of dead bodies and supplies of artillery to restock Ukraine’s weapons caches.”
  • “Delegations of military experts and arms manufacturers emerged from presidential meetings [in July and in September] questioning whether Mr. Putin understood the reality on the battleground, according to people familiar with the situation. And while Mr. Putin has since then gone to lengths to get a clearer picture of the war, they say, the president remains surrounded by an administration that caters to his conviction that Russia will succeed, despite the mounting human and economic sacrifices.”

“Putin’s changing generals fails to fix Russia’s military performance in Ukraine,” CSIS’s Dov S. Zakheim, The Hill,

  • “In January 1940, just about a month after the Soviet Union attacked Finland in what came to be known as the ‘Winter War,’ Gen. Semyon Timoshenko replaced Kliment Voroshilov, a close associate of Joseph Stalin, as commander of the Soviet invading force. Voroshilov’s troops had suffered 320,000 casualties in that single month; the Finnish casualties were less than a fourth of that total. Timoshenko succeeded where Voroshilov disastrously failed: His forces broke through Finland’s defensive Mannerheim Line and defeated the Finns two months later.”
  • “In replacing general after general in Ukraine … the Russian autocrat is following Stalin’s example. Nevertheless, whereas the Soviet dictator chose the right general to replace his old comrade Voroshilov, Putin has yet to find his 21st century Timoshenko.”
  • “Putin’s changes appear to be achieving results that are no better. Ukraine fights on, and Russia’s military continues to be stymied on the battlefield, no matter who leads it. Putin has good reason to worry.”

“Responding to a Limited Russian Attack on NATO During the Ukraine War,” Bryan Frederick, Samuel Charap and Karl P. Mueller, RAND, December 2022.

  • “Although U.S. and [NATO] planners have long focused on preparing for the contingency of a large-scale conflict with Russia, the Ukraine war has created a unique set of circumstances that make a more limited Russian attack plausible. … Using four hypothetical limited Russian attack scenarios, the authors explore how variations across two dimensions of a U.S. or NATO response—the proportionality of a possible kinetic response and the nature of non-kinetic responses—could lead to trade-offs in the pursuit of different U.S. goals.”

“Ukraine's military policy puts women in headlines, but not front lines,” Jessica Trisko Darden, of Virginia Commonwealth University WP, 12.21.22.

  • “Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region began to clash with Ukrainian forces in 2014. At the time, of the 14,000 women in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, 1,582 served as officers. Today, an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 women serve in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, with about 900 serving as officers. These figures are difficult to verify, however.”
  • “The Ukraine war echoes a global pattern where national militaries accept women in larger numbers than in the past—yet relegate women to roles that distance them from front-line combat.”
  • “Of course, enshrining gender equality in law is not a catchall solution for entrenched inequality. While Ukraine's parliament is considering legislative changes to the country's conscription policy, any law that passes isn't likely to be a radical deviation from the current sex-discriminatory policy. The evidence suggests that the growing number of Ukrainian servicewomen, as well as those who wish to serve but can't, face a long battle in their fight for equal treatment.”

“Turning the tide in Russia’s war on Ukraine. Goal for 2023 must be to give Kyiv the means to end the conflict on its terms,” Editorial Board, FT, 01.02.23.

  • “Ukraine’s allies should ... do everything possible to ensure [Ukraine] can repel any renewed onslaught, and regain more territory. The aim is to put Kyiv in a position where it feels able to negotiate, with the strongest possible hand.”
    • “That means budget support and accelerated financial help with repairing infrastructure.”
    • “It also means more sophisticated defensive weapons, such as the Patriot missile defense system now approved by Washington, and offensive arms. Ukraine needs longer-range missiles, helicopters and tanks.”
  • “The objective should be to push Russia back at least to pre-Feb. 24 lines.” 

“Counter Russia’s and China’s Playbook,” David Petraeus, former CIA director and retired U.S. Army general, and Vance Serchuk, executive director of the KKR Global Institute, Part of FP’s  Lessons for the Next War series, 01.05.23.

  • “Out of the tragedy unleashed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, it is possible to envision the emergence of a set of military capabilities that not only beat back Russia’s assault on Ukraine but also dim other revisionist regimes’ dreams of conquest. If so, the West will owe thanks to the Ukrainians for showing how the A2/AD playbook developed to defeat the United States and its allies on the battlefield can instead prove their salvation.”

“Open Secrets. Ukraine and the Next Intelligence Revolution,” Amy Zegart of the Hoover Institution, FA, January/February 2023.

  • “Multiple reports and articles have found that [U.S.] intelligence agencies are not keeping pace with technological developments. These reports point to an unfortunate reality. Washington cannot address its present challenges by making incremental changes to existing agencies. Instead, developing U.S. intelligence capabilities for the twenty-first century requires building something new: a dedicated, open-source intelligence agency focused on combing through unclassified data and discerning what it means.”

“The Case for Taking Crimea. Why Ukraine Can—and Should—Liberate the Province,” Chair of the Centre for Defence Strategies Andriy Zagorodnyuk, FA, 01.02.23. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • “Ukraine must retake Crimea for reasons that go beyond justice. Russia has turned Crimea into a large military base, which it used to launch its sweeping invasion. This use of the peninsula is why Russia has had much more success fighting in Ukraine’s south than in its north. Russia continues to use the Crimea-stationed Black Sea Fleet and the peninsula’s air bases to launch drone and missile attacks. This belligerence makes it clear that Ukraine cannot be safe or rebuild its economy until Crimea is out of Russian hands. … Kyiv and its allies must press on, battling until it can make Moscow hand over Crimea via negotiations or until Ukraine has forcibly pried the peninsula from Moscow’s grasp.”

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

“In 2022 Russia kept the economic show on the road,” The Economist, 12.29.22.

  • “The past year has been bruising for Russia’s economy. Foreign investors fled en masse, many never to return. Official forecasts suggest that few countries will see their GDP shrink by more this year. Only a handful of countries, including war-torn Ukraine, will end up posting worse numbers.”
  • “However, it became clear that the worst forecasts were not going to come to pass.”
    • “During the summer and the autumn economists revised up their growth forecasts. Now they expect the Russian economy to shrink by some 3-4% this year.”
    • “Unemployment has barely budged, in part because firms have been told to keep workers on, even if on lower or no pay.”
  • “Two main reasons explain why Russia’s downturn has proved shallower than expected: policy and trade.”
    • “In the early days of the invasion the quick actions of the central bank and regulators convinced ordinary Russians that they were serious about tackling surging inflation. Inflation expectations, having jumped, came back down again. Higher interest rates encouraged the public to return money that they had taken out from their bank accounts in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, preventing a financial crisis.”
    • “Sanctions have been tough, but for most of 2022 there were few restrictions on the sale of hydrocarbons (that is now changing). So far this year, Russia has racked up a current-account surplus of over $220 billion, twice its level the year before.”
  • “‘Real-time’ economic data paint a concerning picture for the West. At present, the Russian economy is in better shape than expected. Meanwhile Europe, weighed down by sky-high energy costs, is falling into recession.”

“The End of the Age of Sanctions? How America’s Adversaries Shielded Themselves,” Global Forecasting Director at the Economist Intelligence Unit Agathe Demarais, FA, 12.27.22.

  • “The United States’ power to impose sanctions on other countries derives from the primacy of the U.S. dollar and the reach of U.S. oversight of global financial channels. It makes sense, then, that enemies of the United States would seek out financial innovations that diminish these U.S. advantages. Increasingly, such countries have found them with currency swap agreements, alternatives to SWIFT and digital currencies.”
  • “Within a decade, U.S. unilateral sanctions may have little bite. Multilateral measures, supported by Japan, the United States, the countries of the European Union and other like-minded powers, will probably become the best alternative. ... Similar institutions already deal with issues that require global collaboration, such as maritime law, the war on drugs and the resettlement of refugees. Why not establish one for sanctions?”

“To Deter War, Have a Better Sanctions Plan,” Maria Shagina of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Part of FP’s Lessons for the Next War series, 01.05.23.

  • “Despite threatening Russia with massive sanctions in the run-up to its full-scale attack on Ukraine, the West failed to deter the Kremlin. Whether Moscow did not think the threats were credible or the signaled costs weren’t high enough, sanctions are now aimed at a different purpose: constraining Russia’s financial, economic, technological, and military capabilities as the war goes on.”
  • “The limitations of Western economic statecraft against China make planning all the more important. The United States and its allies should start to design a proactive policy of economic statecraft today. As Russia’s war in Ukraine makes clear, not having a credible sanctions coalition and endgame in place greatly reduces the chance of deterring, stopping or winning a war.”

“What sanctions risks await Russia in the new year,” RIAC’s Ivan Timofeev, Profil/RIAC, 12.28.22. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “What to expect from sanctions in 2023? The first and obvious answer is that sanctions will expand ... new packages of sanctions will come in abundance, but they are unlikely to seriously harm the economy. ... The already imposed sanctions are much more dangerous. Their effect will accumulate.”
    • “A decline in production and exports of oil, gas, oil products, coal, ferrous metallurgy products in the next few years may become inevitable. In 2022, the decline in volumes was offset by high prices. But what happens if prices fall?”
    • “Another serious problem is the shortage of industrial and high-tech goods and components. First of all, we are talking about electronics.”
  • “Sanctions cannot isolate Russia. But they can absolutely raise its costs and complicate its foreign trade. The question is how durable the Western-centric global economy itself is. If, for one reason or another, China also falls out of it, the effectiveness of Western sanctions will noticeably decrease. However, such a scenario still seems to be a distant prospect. And in 2023, tough positional battles await us on the sanctions front.”

Ukraine-related negotiations:

No One Would Win a Long War in Ukraine. The West Must Avoid the Mistakes of World War I,” Vladislav Zubok of the London School of Economics, FA, 12.21.22.

  • “Even if the Russians are swept back to the status quo ante, many Ukrainians fear that Moscow will simply retrench and regroup, waiting for the next opportunity to invade. ... What is missing, then, is a coherent political plan to bring an end to the suffering, and to reassure Ukrainians that Russia will not begin a new war at the earliest opportunity, even if Putin remains in power. That will require the Russians to accept a defeat but also require the Ukrainians to accept that complete victory may be unobtainable.”
  • “But if those goals are to be achieved, Western populations will need to accept the end of Russia’s pariah status and its ‘return to Europe’ while providing credible security assurances to Kyiv. In other words, the West must formulate a major policy vision that obviates the desire of Ukraine and its staunchest supporters to have Russia smashed and neutralized. If the United States and its partners fail to lay out such a plan, the chances for … a war of attrition, the danger of escalation and catastrophe and a troubled aftermath to the war will grow. ... Rather than waiting to react to Moscow and Kyiv’s latest actions or hoping for Putin’s imminent downfall, the West must take the initiative at last.”

“‘Let’s Make a Deal’? Ukraine and the Poor Prospects for Negotiations with Putin,” Frank G. Hoffman of FPRI, Orbis/FPRI, 01.05.23.

  • “The best way to gain an enduring peace is to ensure that Putin understands that continuing this war will generate great political and economic losses that are as bad as the staggering defeats he has gained in the military domain. Then he will be pushed aside or forced to make a deal ... We should help clarify for Putin and his supporters that there is no prize or better deal forthcoming, no matter how barbaric his tactics are.”

“On Negotiations. To Aid Interpreters,” Alexei Chesnakov, Telegram, 12.20.22. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “It is possible and necessary for experts and politicians to talk about future peace talks. All conflicts come to an end. Most do so as a result of negotiations.”
  • “However, one gets the impression that many people who talk in the public field do not have a very good idea of the set of possible options and call negotiations what they think is desirable or beneficial. For example, when Zelensky or Sunak talk about starting negotiations only after Russia withdraws to the 1991 borders, they insist on negotiating the terms of Russia's defeat. When Peskov talks about negotiations, he means negotiations about a future world. So the negotiations may be different.”
  • “There is no serious evidence that the elites and the masses of the conflicting countries are presently dominated by supporters of any negotiation options or their opponents.”

“The Attack on Ukraine and the Militarization of Russian Foreign and Domestic Policy,” SWP’s Margarete Klein and Nils Holger Schreiber of the London School of Economics, SWP, December 2022.  

  • “The Kremlin will only be prepared to engage in serious negotiations if it either wants to avoid a disastrous defeat of its armed forces or impose a peace through surrender on Ukraine. In accordance with the logic of Russian regime legitimacy, substantial concessions in between do not make sense, but tactically motivated negotiation offers that merely serve to buy time for the personnel and materially exhausted Russian armed forces to regroup and reinforce themselves do.”

“It Would Be Hard for Ukraine to Lose the War to Russia,” columnist Holman W. Jenkins Jr., WSJ, 01.06.23.

  • “Mr. Putin desperately needs talks if they can get him out of the mess he created. They can't. He waited too long and now it appears nothing can seriously alter the outcome. By the same token, if you were Ukraine's president and able to play a subtle game, you might actually sign a cease-fire that concedes for now a Russian presence on Ukrainian soil with a certain jaunty confidence. That's because, from the moment the shooting stops, your economy, your military capacity, your social cohesion go straight up, kindled not only by a powerful sense of victory and national achievement, but by an in-pouring of U.S. and European aid seeking to share the victory and express gratitude for the peace.”

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

“‘Victory’? Zelensky and Biden differ on the path forward for Ukraine,” columnist David Ignatius, WP, 12.22.22.

  • “Make no mistake: Beyond the rousing, heartfelt cheers for Ukraine’s brave President Volodymyr Zelensky, his [December] visit to Washington was a war summit. And it appears to have ended with a gap between the two allies about their strategies for ending the war.”
    • “In his address to Congress, Zelensky said emphatically that he seeks ‘absolute victory’ over Russia, the same kind of triumph that President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised as the United States was entering World War II. ... Zelensky used the word ‘victory’ 11 times in his speech, and once during his remarks to reporters at the White House after his meeting with President Biden. Tellingly, Biden didn’t use the word a single time.”
      • “This war almost surely won’t end with the total elimination of Russian war power, which helps explain why Biden actively resists the rhetoric of ‘total victory.’”
    • “There’s another subtle tension in how these two leaders envision this conflict. For Biden, it’s about stopping Vladimir Putin and what Biden called the Russian president’s ‘unprovoked, unjustified, all-out assault on the free people of Ukraine.’ Once Putin realizes ‘it’s clear that he cannot possibly win this war,’ Biden said, then Zelensky can ‘decide how he wants to end this war’ and seek a ‘just peace.’ Zelensky offered a somewhat different formulation. Like dozens of Ukrainians with whom I’ve talked during two visits to Kyiv this fall, he appears to see the enemy not simply as Putin, but Russia itself.”

“The Realist Guide to World Peace,” Harvard University’s Stephen Walt, FP, 12.28.22.

  • “It’s tempting to blame the elusiveness of peace on the arrogance and folly of individual autocrats, and lord knows there’s no shortage of either of those qualities this year. Russian President Vladimir Putin may have had legitimate reasons to worry about NATO enlargement and its impact on Russia’s security, but his ‘solution’ to those concerns has caused thousands of innocent deaths and vast human suffering and will leave Russia neither stronger nor safer.”
  • “My holiday message to every world leader is this: By all means, maintain defense forces that can protect your territory if you happen to be attacked or that can help a key ally if something similar happens to them. At the same time, ask yourself if your own foreign and national security policies might be unwittingly encroaching on another state’s vital interests. If they are, consider whether there is something you could do to mitigate the problem without leaving your own country vulnerable. Explore that possibility with them sincerely and openly—it just might work.”
  • “Most important of all: If one of your advisors starts trying to convince you that you can solve some political problem by starting a war, and if they tell you that conditions are optimal, the stars are lining up, the time is right, the costs will be low, the risks are small, and the time to act is now, thank them politely for their advice and immediately seek a second opinion.”

“The Long War in Ukraine. The West Needs to Plan for a Protracted Conflict With Russia,” Ivo H. Daalder of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Stanford University's James Goldgeier, FA, 01.09.23.

  • “Rather than assuming that the war can be ended through triumph or talks, the West needs to contemplate a world in which the conflict continues with neither victory nor peace in sight. In such a world, the United States and its allies will need to continue providing Ukraine with military support to defend against further Russian aggression. They will need to contain Russia’s larger ambitions by maintaining economic sanctions and isolating Moscow diplomatically. And they will need to ensure that the conflict does not escalate.  At the same time, they will need to lay a long-term basis for security and stability in Europe. That will require integrating Ukraine fully into the West while forging a containment policy that emphasizes both deterrence of Russian aggression and efforts to engage Moscow to avoid the escalation of the war to a broader military confrontation that no one wants.”
    • “Washington should also explore the possibility with its allies of augmenting Ukraine’s promised EU membership with eventual membership in NATO itself.”
    • “Eventually, the West and Russia will need to adopt some version of the agreements the United States and its allies forged with the Soviet Union between 1975 and 1990 to limit the worst outcomes and create more stability in Europe.”

“Republicans Lose the Plot on the Ukraine-Russia War. The benefits of helping Kyiv defeat Putin far outweigh the costs,” Editorial Board, WSJ, 12.22.22.

  • “The costs [the U.S. incurs because of the war in Ukraine] are dwarfed by the benefits. Economist Timothy Ash wrote in November that Ukraine aid is ‘an incredibly cost-effective investment,’ burning up Russia’s military power for a single-digit share of the Pentagon’s annual budget, though Moscow is one of America’s most formidable adversaries. Wars are also, in Mr. Ash’s words, ‘shop windows for defense manufacturers.’ Any country browsing a Russian tank or air-defense catalogue is having second thoughts and will want to buy American.”
  • “Many of the same Republicans sneering at Mr. Zelensky will claim the U.S. needs to abandon Ukraine to focus on China. But Beijing and Moscow are working together to undermine the West. The best step the U.S. could take to deter another assault like Mr. Putin’s is delivering to Ukraine more of the best long-range weapons, aircraft, missiles, tanks and other tools it needs to defeat the invasion.”

“Putin Has No Red Lines,” Nigel Gould-Davies of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, NYT, 01.01.23.

  • “‘What are Putin’s red lines?’ This question, asked with growing urgency as Russia loses its war in Ukraine but does not relent in its aggressions, is intended to offer analytical clarity and to guide policy. In reality, it is the wrong question, because ‘red line’ is a bad metaphor. Red lines are red herrings. There are better ways to think about strategy.”
  • “America should focus on three things.”
    • “First, it should no longer declare that there are measures it will refrain from taking, and weapons systems it will not provide, to support Ukraine.”
    • “Second, America, with its partners, must make clear that time is working against Russia—not in its favor, as Mr. Putin still believes.”
    • “Third, the West should make clear to a wide range of Russian audiences that it is safe to end the war by leaving Ukraine. An orderly withdrawal is unlikely to lead to regime change, let alone the breakup of Russia.”

“What Ukraine Teaches Us About Power,” columnist Paul Krugman, NYT, 01.06.23.

  • “Once Ukraine had beaten off the initial attack and the invasion became a war of attrition, it also ceased to be a simple war between Russia and Ukraine. It’s true that on the Ukrainian side, Ukrainians are doing all the fighting and dying. But they haven’t had to rely on their own military-industrial base. Thanks to a form of soft power—Ukraine’s ability to portray itself as the defender of democracy against a brutal tyrant—the country has been getting lots of weapons from the West. And when you take a wider view of these military resources, that picture of Russian dominance vanishes.”
  • “Productive capacity—ultimately, economic power—tends to be decisive in a war of attrition. And Russia is just hugely outclassed by that measure: All that said, this is, thankfully, not an overt war between Russia and the liberal-democratic West, in which the full force of these GDP and military disparities would be in play. So it’s hard to see exactly how the conflict between Russia and Ukraine ends.”
  • “During World War II, Nazi military power didn’t really collapse until 1944, when Allied planes achieved air dominance over Germany and were able to destroy much of the country’s war-fighting capacity. Ukraine won’t be able to do that to Russia, nor can Russia do that to NATO, whose members will presumably continue to send supplies to Ukraine. So the brutal slogging match may continue for a very long time.”

“How Russia's invasion of Ukraine altered the world in 2022,” columnist George F. Will, WP, 12.28.22.

  • “As Henry Kissinger recently wrote in Britain's Spectator, ‘Ukraine has become a major state in Central Europe for the first time in modern history.’ This has ‘mooted the original issues regarding Ukraine's membership in NATO. Ukraine has acquired one of the largest and most effective land armies in Europe, equipped by America and its allies. A peace process should link Ukraine to NATO, however expressed. The alternative of neutrality is no longer meaningful, especially after Finland and Sweden joined NATO.’”
  • “In two other caroms from Putin's aggression, the two nations that by their aggressions initiated World War II have been propelled into more active commitment to preventing aggression.”
    • “Putin's war began on a Thursday; the following Sunday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a ‘Zeitenwende’ or turning point: an increase in defense spending unthinkable four days earlier.”
    • “Japan, in another incremental step away from its formal (meaning constitutional) pacifism, is ramping up military spending beyond weapons classified, with varying degrees of plausibility, as merely defensive.”
  • “In 2022, what the Soviets used to call ‘the correlation of world forces’ shifted substantially against the Russian rump of the Soviet empire, and against China, which 10 eventful months ago said there are ‘no limits’ to its cooperation with the rump.”

“Putin is getting the opposite of what he wanted—more NATO, not less,” NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, FT, 12.22.22.

  • “For President Vladimir Putin, it has been a year of dismal failure. He made two big strategic mistakes when he launched his brutal full-fledged invasion.”
    • “First, Putin underestimated Ukraine.”
    • “Putin’s other mistake was to underestimate NATO unity. 
  • “Putin claimed he wanted less NATO on Russia’s borders. He is getting the opposite—a stronger, larger NATO.”
  • “If Putin prevails in Ukraine, the message to Russia—and to other authoritarian regimes—will be that force will get them what they want. This would be a catastrophe for Ukraine. But it would also make the whole world more dangerous, and all of us more vulnerable. So it is in our own security interest to maintain our support for Ukraine this winter, and for as long as it takes.”

“A Free World, If You Can Keep It. Ukraine and American Interests,” Robert Kagan of Brookings Institution, FA, January/February 2023.

  • “Putin spent years probing to see what the Americans would tolerate, first in Georgia in 2008, then in Crimea in 2014, all the while building up his military capacity (not well, as it turns out). The cautious American reaction to both military operations, as well as to Russian military actions in Syria, convinced him to press forward. Are we better off today for not having taken the risks then?”
  • “Should the United States reduce its involvement in the world today, the consequences for Europe and Asia are not hard to predict. Great-power conflict and dictatorship have been the norm throughout human history, the liberal peace a brief aberration. Only American power can keep the natural forces of history at bay.”

“World elections will shape the outcome of the war in Ukraine,” Ivan Krastev of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, FT, 01.05.23.

  • “The war in Ukraine is taking place in the shadow of critical elections scheduled for 2024. Elections in Russia, Ukraine, Taiwan and the U.S. will be crucial in shaping the prosecution of the war in 2023. The outcome of these votes could define the shape of the next international order.”
    • “In March 2024, presidential elections will be held in Russia and Ukraine. It takes a lot of imagination to see Vladimir Putin losing elections organized for the single reason that he will win them. But saddled with his failing ‘special operation,’ he has every reason to worry that in the event of military defeat, or a conflict frozen to his disadvantage, he will face opposition not just from the few liberals left in the country but also from a mobilized and credible nationalist right.”
    • “Ukraine’s polls will also profoundly affect the strategic choices that President Volodymyr Zelensky makes in 2023. They will make it impossible for him to accept any territorial compromise, lest he lose the vote. Postponing the election is not an option.”
    • “Ukrainians have reason to fear that the Democrats may lose the presidency, as U.S. support for their war effort could soften depending on which Republican wins. … Either Russian success on the frontline or a great NATO involvement in the conflict could tip the balance of the American presidency toward the Republicans.”
  • “To win wars in the 21st century, it is not always enough to get the upper hand on the battlefield. You also need to win elections, and not in your own country alone.”

“Alternative History,” RIAC’s Andrei Kortunov, RIAC/Izvestia, 12.28.22. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “What would the world of the last century have become if there had been no  Soviet Union[?]”
    • “It can ... be assumed that the ‘collective West’ would manage ... to defeat the revanchist powers, Germany and militaristic Japan, on its own. But the post-war world would certainly have turned out to be fundamentally different.”
      • “It is likely that the United States would have returned to the isolationism of the interwar period, leaving Europe to its own fate. And this means that there would have been neither the Marshall Plan nor the North Atlantic Alliance, and perhaps the European Union would not have come into being.”
      • “Probably, the rapid rise of China at the end of the last century would have occurred without the influence of the Soviet Union, simply due to the huge demographic and resource potential that the PRC had in the 20th century.”
    • “The worldwide process of decolonization would have been much slower. It is likely that European colonial systems ... would have survived until the end of the 20th century.”
  • “Without the grandiose Soviet social experiment, the world would have been more static, conservative and, ultimately, provincial. It was the Soviet challenge that forced the liberal democracies of the West to rethink their experience, to mobilize, to look for new directions for long-term development.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Biden needs allies to keep China and Russia in check. Here's how to do it,” contributing columnist Sebastian Mallaby, WP, 01.05.23.

  • “Taken together, its efforts against Russia and China during 2022 have restored the United States to a position of international leadership not seen since the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.”
  • “According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, three in four Americans think trade is good for the U.S. economy. As globalization becomes less China-centric, public support should broaden further. In addition to their geostrategic logic, Biden's China sanctions therefore offer the political advantage that they will make trade with the rest of the world easier to sell. This is an opportunity that the Biden administration must seize.”
  • “By leveraging bipartisan support for a tough-on-China policy, and by tapping into the silent majority's support for trade, Biden can lay out an international economic vision that is strategically and politically viable. He can make a case for a new kind of globalization, conceding that China's admission to the WTO may have been a mistake, but explaining why globalization designed around allies will serve both American paychecks and national security. If the president can pull this off, he will have achieved a remarkable trifecta: containing Russia, checking China and fashioning a fresh approach to global economic engagement. Each feat will reinforce the other two. It will be quite a legacy.”

“Turn Taiwan Into a Bristling Porcupine,” former NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Part of FP’s Lessons for the Next War series, 01.05.23.

  • “The most important way to deter a Chinese move on Taiwan now is to ensure a Ukrainian victory. If Russia can gain territory and establish a new status quo by force, China and other autocratic powers will learn that the democratic world’s resolve is weak. That in the face of nuclear blackmail and military aggression, it chose appeasement over confrontation.”
  • “This outcome would make the entire world a more dangerous place. That is why all those who believe in a democratic Taiwan and a rules-based international order must work to ensure Ukraine prevails.”

“In Every Modern War, Ukraine Has Been the Big Prize,” columnist Hal Brands, Bloomberg, 01.03.23.

  • “Putin targeted Ukraine in hopes of subduing one crucial piece of the post-Soviet landscape, and thereby bringing others, from Belarus to Kazakhstan, into line. ... Not much has gone according to plan, and a Ukrainian victory would bring very different consequences. It would make one of the world’s leading tyrants look pathetic rather than preeminent. It could create tension in Russia’s partnership with China by forcing an enfeebled Putin to beg for assistance that Beijing would be reluctant to give. It would produce a revitalized Western community with a commanding position against a dangerous but degraded Russia.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Nuclear Weapons Still Matter,” Harvard Kennedy School Prof. Graham Allison, Part of FP’s Lessons for the Next War series, 01.05.23.

  • “What does Biden know that makes him take Putin’s [nuclear] threats so seriously, and what does that tell us about any future conflict?”
    • “First, Putin commands a nuclear arsenal that can literally erase the United States from the map.”
    • “Second, U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s grand imperative still holds: ‘A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’”
    • “Third, Putin’s nuclear arsenal includes about 1,900 tactical nuclear weapons designed for use at shorter range.”
    • “Fourth, as students of strategy know, nuclear weapons are a weaker power’s equalizer.”
    • “Fifth, seven decades after the first and last use of nuclear weapons in war, what is now called the ‘nuclear taboo’ has led many to believe that nuclear weapons are no longer usable in war—despite the fact that both the United States and Russia continue to rely on the threat to use nuclear weapons to defend themselves. This is the essence of nuclear deterrence.”
    • “Finally, it is hard to deny an uncomfortable echo of similarity between Washington’s nuclear umbrella over NATO allies and Putin’s threat of nuclear retaliation against any attack on newly annexed territory. Both cases raise questions of credibility. … Until it is challenged, it is difficult to distinguish between a serious threat and a bluff.”

“A New Push for Nuclear Guardrails,” Stanford University’s Rose Gottemoeller, Part of FP’s Lessons for the Next War series, 01.05.23.

  • “With both Russia and China, the goal should be to move both countries away from threatening nuclear behavior and back toward a shared interest in controlling nuclear weapons and avoiding their proliferation. This goal will be easier to accomplish if negotiators can focus, at least to begin with, on pragmatic and narrow objectives—resuming inspections under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, resolving Russian concerns about U.S. implementation of the treaty, figuring out what makes sense for a new treaty and understanding the ideas behind China’s proposed moratorium. Grander, more ambitious discussions of what makes for nuclear stability in the future can wait.”

“Freedom from fear,” Fiona Hill, BBC Reith Lecture/Brookings, 12.21.22.

  • “Vladimir Putin has transformed himself into the much-feared, biblical ‘four horsemen of the Apocalypse.’ ... [But] Putin’s goals in conjuring the Apocalypse are not biblical ... Putin threatens a pre-emptive, one-sided, use of a nuclear weapon because he is losing the war that he himself started in Ukraine in February 2022. Putin’s Nuclear Armageddon is nothing more than nuclear blackmail. Putin is playing on ‘the sum of everyone’s fears.’ His aim is to end American and European military support to Kyiv, to force the capitulation of Ukraine’s government, and to ensure the surrender of Ukrainian territory to Russia.”

“In Russia’s Nuclear Messaging to West and Ukraine, Putin Plays Both Bad and Good Cop,” RM founding directory Simon Saradzhyan, PONARS, 12.23.22.

  • “When it comes to Russia's nuclear messaging over the war against Ukraine, is Putin playing the good cop or the bad cop? My answer is both. As I argue in this PONARS commentary, while nuclear saber-rattling has failed to deter Ukrainians from counter-offensives Putin can be expected to continue playing both bad cop and good cop when ‘thinking out loud’ about the conditions under which Russia could resort to nuclear weapons. He can be expected to continue to do so as long he thinks such alterations can help him deter the West from greater involvement in Ukraine’s war efforts while also accommodating China’s wish that Russia avoid rattling its nuclear saber too loudly.”

“Our people, our land, our truth,” Dmitry Medvedev, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, 12.25.22. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “By the end of 2021—the beginning of 2022, the situation had escalated to very edge, reached the last line, crossing of which would lead  a global catastrophe.”
  • “Is the West ready to unleash a full-fledged war against us, including a nuclear one, with the hands of Kyiv? Western politicians avert their eyes and hesitate to give an honest answer.”
  • “The only thing that stops our enemies today is the understanding that Russia will be guided by the Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence. And if there is a real threat, Russia will act in accordance with them [the 2020 principles]. The trouble is that in this case, no one will subsequently figure out what it was—a retaliatory [launch-on warning] strike or a preventive one.”
  • “The Western world is balancing between a burning desire to maximally humiliate, offend, dismember and destroy Russia, on the one hand, and the desire to avoid a nuclear apocalypse, on the other.”
  • “New disarmament agreements are currently unrealistic and unnecessary. The sooner the maximum security guarantees that suit our country are received, the sooner the situation will normalize. If we do not receive them, the tension will persist indefinitely. The world will continue to balance on the brink of World War III and nuclear catastrophe. We will do everything to prevent them.”

“Russia’s proposals for Ukraine should be implemented before it is too late,” interview with Sergei Lavrov, TASS, 12.27.22. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “Our proposals for the demilitarization and denazification of territories controlled by the regime, the elimination of threats to Russia's security emanating from there, including our new lands—the DPR, LPR, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions—are well known to the enemy. ... [T]hey should be implemented before it is too late. Otherwise, the issue will be decided by the Russian army.”
  • “On the one hand, irresponsible speculations that Russia is about to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine are unceasingly circulating there [in the West]. References are being made to some statements of the political leadership of Russia that have not been made. We are talking about something completely different: the West's policy of total containment of our country is extremely dangerous. It bears the risk of a slide into a direct armed clash between the nuclear powers. On the other hand, the messages in the nuclear sphere coming from the West are very confrontational. ... Washington went the furthest—there some ‘unnamed officials’ from the Pentagon actually threatened to inflict a ‘decapitation strike’ on the Kremlin, which in fact constitutes a threat to physically eliminate the head of the Russian state. If such ideas are actually hatched by someone, this someone should think very carefully about the possible consequences of such plans.”

“Russia’s Policies toward Ukraine: The Context, Evolution and Outlook,” Dmitri Trenin of Russia’s Foreign and Defense Policy Council, IPRI Journal XXII, no. 2 (2022). Clues from Russian Views.

  • “For Russia, the fighting in Ukraine—which is the military element of the wider hybrid war between Russia and the collective West—is existential. The Kremlin cannot afford to lose it or be seen losing by the Russian people.”
  • “The United States definitely does not want a head-on kinetic collision with Russia: should that happen, there is a high probability of the conflict going nuclear. The Russian military doctrine specifically provides for the use of nuclear weapons in case of an existential threat, which a Russian strategic defeat in Ukraine at the hands of Kyiv’s U.S. equipped/trained/supported forces would certainly be.”
  • “A direct Russia-NATO clash ... is likely to lead, in short order, to the use of nuclear weapons. To some in the United States, a limited nuclear war overseas may appear extremely bad but bearable, particularly if its outcome turns out to be favorable to the U.S. and its allies. However, it would be absolutely naïve to count on Moscow playing by Washington’s rules and deploying its tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine itself. In a March 2018 TV interview, President Putin memorably asked, ‘why should we need a world without Russia?’ In the context the phrase was used, this was not an off-the-hand remark, but a carefully considered policy statement. Faced with an existential threat, Russia would not oblige Washington planners by sparing U.S. territory from its nuclear strike.”

“Are nuclear weapons ineffective in deterring non-nuclear weapon states? The paradox of Russia’s war on Ukraine,” Polina Sinovets and Adérito Vicente of the Odesa Center for Nonproliferation, The Foundation for Strategic Research, 12.19.22.

  • “The concept of nuclear deterrence is closely linked to the ownership of nuclear weapons by five NPT-permitted nuclear weapon states … and four other nuclear-possessing states … It is based on what Dr. Strangelove satirically describes … as the idea of ‘producing in the mind of the enemy the fear to attack.’ Thus, the effectiveness of this threat must be credible and comprehensible to other states. In addition, this message should be carried with a devastating retaliatory threat for using nuclear weapons, which should deter the aggressive behavior of a potential attacker.”
  • “In the context of the present war in Ukraine, the problem is that Russian nuclear deterrence has not been entirely credible and might undermine the declaratory policies of other nuclear weapon states. However, deterrence against U.S./NATO is working and its use as a cover for Russian aggression in Ukraine could be successful.”
  • “Furthermore, the world has already witnessed some other capabilities of nuclear deterrence, in particular, ‘offensive deterrence’ or ‘aggressive sanctuarization’ as it is called sometimes. By offensive deterrence, we mean the strategy where nuclear capabilities are used not only to deter the enemy’s attack on one’s home territory or allies’ territory but also to ensure an invasion of a sovereign state through the coercive threat of nuclear use to prevent the interference of the third parties. This strategy is based on Russia’s attempts to establish anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) capabilities along its borders, designed to force any attacker into a major escalation, in which Moscow could pursue both defensive and coercive aims, depending on the circumstances.”
  • “Russia’s war on Ukraine provides the perfect case for the ineffective role of nuclear weapons in deterring a non-nuclear weapon state (i.e., Ukraine) which is heavily supported by a strategic deterrent adversary (the United States).”

“NPR 2022 Recognizes Importance of Risk Reduction, Falls Short on Reducing Role of Nukes,” former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy Leonor Tomero, RM, 12.26.22.

  • “In many respects, the 2022 NPR is much more aligned with Donald Trump’s 2018 NPR than with Barack Obama’s 2010 NPR. It maintains focus on both nuclear modernization and arms control/risk reduction as essential elements of deterrence but falls short on actions to reduce the role of nuclear weapons, which was a priority goal for Biden. Moreover, in a way, the NPR even seems to have broadened that role.”
  • “The most notable difference from the 2018 NPR is the recognition of new geopolitical realities and threats, notably the nuclear military expansion from China and Russia (including in the context of the war in Ukraine), that raise new questions about how to maintain effective deterrence into the future. … It also continues the decades-long warfighting strategy that drives high numbers of nuclear weapons. … Further, echoing STRATCOM’s concerns conveyed in 2021 and 2022 congressional testimonies, the NPR opens the door to the potential need to increase the number of nuclear weapons given Chinese and Russian nuclear modernization and expansion.”
  • “[T]he NPR missed an important opportunity to rethink nuclear deterrence and adapt to new threats. These include Russia’s increased reliance on nuclear weapons, the growing threat low-yield nuclear weapons use in the context of a regional conventional conflict—brought to the forefront in the context of Russia’s invasion and on-going war in Ukraine—the development of novel nuclear systems by both Russia and China and increasing threats in the space and cyber domains.”
  • “In the absence of willing partners for arms control and risk reduction8 and in the face of a looming dangerous nuclear arms race, the United States should prioritize innovation for deterrence resilience and to reduce the increasing risks of miscalculation that could lead to nuclear war. Technological and private section innovation in space architectures, space imagery, big data analytics, additive manufacturing and machine learning represent crucial new capabilities to advance U.S. competitive edge against Russia and China.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

“The Weaponization of Humanitarian Aid. How to Stop China and Russia from Manipulating Relief Money,” Natasha Hall of CSIS and Hardin Lang of Refugees International, FA, 01.09.23.

  • “The United States and its allies should work to enshrine the right to humanitarian assistance even if a sovereign government arbitrarily denies it. This could be done by means of a General Assembly resolution or by an amendment to the 1991 resolution that essentially created the current international humanitarian system.”
  • “Acting now is critical. China and Russia will likely grow even more willing to use their influence on behalf of tyrants as great-power competition grows fiercer. Their weaponization of humanitarian aid is devastating for millions of civilians and will be costly for the United States and its partners. Yet with diplomatic cooperation and persistence, the crisis in Syria could serve as the international community’s chance to tackle the problem head-on and, in the process, save lives in other humanitarian crises, both now and in the future.”

Cyber security:

“Real War Trumps Cyberwar,” former director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs, Part of FP’s Lessons for the Next War series, 01.05.23.

  • “What explains the Russians’ lack of cyberdominance? Did their teams lack the necessary time to plan and get in position? Was it their hubris, thinking Ukraine would be easily occupied in a matter of days? Did they want the networks to be intact for their own use after the invasion? All are possible, and only the Kremlin knows the answer.”
  • “Part of the answer may lie on the side of the defenders. Like their military preparations, the Ukrainians had improved the nation’s cyber-resilience. ... This defensive surge paid off. Even under constant Russian attacks, Ukrainian network defenders avoided catastrophe.”
  • “The main takeaway from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine might be that cyberwarfare is more of a contributing factor than a deciding one, although even contributing factors can make an impact. The Ukrainians understood this relationship and, with help, prepared accordingly. In the absence of a clear, decisive, cyber-enabled victory over Ukraine, the Russians have demonstrated the most important limitation of cyberwarfare: In war, violence still dominates.”

“Put an End to Brinkmanship,” CEO of New America Anne-Marie Slaughter, Part of FP’s Lessons for the Next War series, 01.05.23.

  • “A principal legacy of Russia’s war in Ukraine should be the replacement of MAD with MAC—mutual assured cyberdestruction. Countries of all sizes can now develop the capability to bring one another’s societies to a grinding halt by depriving them of electricity, including the backup generators that keep vital emergency services running. In the coming era of electric vehicles, such an attack would bring transport to a halt as well ... It is time to end the specter of thermonuclear holocaust once and for all.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“A Month of Russian Oil Sanctions Puts the Heat on Putin,” strategist Julian Lee, Bloomberg, 01.05.23.

  • “Seaborne crude flows from Russia in the four weeks to Dec. 30 were the lowest of any similar period in 2022. But the weather may have played a bigger role than sanctions, with the key port of Kozmino on Russia’s Pacific coast closed by storms for more than 11 days in December. So it could be tempting to look at the flows and conclude that the whole process has been an abject failure. It hasn’t.”
  • “What the European buying ban—initially voluntary, now mandated—has done is to deprive Russia of a key crude market on its doorstep. At the start of 2022, the country delivered about 1.6 million barrels of crude a day on ships that took just a few days to make their journeys. Last month, the figure was less than 160,000 barrels a day. The rest has been diverted to willing buyers in Asia, particularly India. That shift may have helped Russia preserve the volume of its crude exports, but not their value. Purchasers in India, alongside others in China and Turkey, have only been lured by big discounts, at times topping $30 a barrel. At current prices, that’s costing Russia’s oil industry about one-third of its potential export income.”
  • “Have the sanctions and price cap delivered a knockout blow to Vladimir Putin’s war chest? No. And anyone who thought they would, could, or should is living in a parallel universe. But they are most definitely an important tightening of the screws.”

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, including claims of the collapse of Putin’s Russia:

“Putin’s Last Stand. The Promise and Peril of Russian Defeat,” CFR’s Liana Fix and Catholic University’s Michael Kimmage, FA, January/February 2023.

  • “Russia has a history of regime change in the aftermath of unsuccessful wars. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 and World War I helped lead to the Bolshevik Revolution. The collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, came two years after the end of the Soviet military’s misadventure in Afghanistan. Revolutions have occurred in Russia when the government has failed in its economic and political objectives and has been unresponsive to crises. Generally, the coup de grâce has been the puncturing of the government’s underlying ideology, such as the loss of legitimacy of Russia’s monarchy and tsardom in the midst of hunger, poverty and a faltering war effort in 1917. Putin is at risk in all these categories. His management of the war has been awful, and the Russian economy is contracting.” 
  • “In the worst case, Putin’s fall could translate into civil war and Russia’s disintegration. Power would be contested at the top, and state control would fragment throughout the country.” 
  • “If Russian power recedes, the West should capitalize on that opportunity to shape an environment in Europe that serves to protect NATO members, allies and partners. A Russian defeat would furnish many opportunities and many temptations. One of these temptations would be to expect that a defeated Russia would essentially disappear from Europe. But a defeated Russia will one day reassert itself and pursue its interests on its terms. The West should be politically and intellectually equipped both for Russia’s defeat and for Russia’s return.”

“The West’s axis of prudence risks a Kremlin victory by default in Ukraine,” Brookings Institution’s Constanze Stelzenmüller, FT, 12.20.22.

  • “Ukraine’s allies have exactly two choices: one failing state to Europe’s east, or two. Conversely, if Ukraine is given the chance to win, and to transform into a well-defended, stable democracy with a Slavic culture, that would not just be a huge security gain for Europe but a model for Russia. That, of course, is what Putin fears most.”

“Global Foresight 2033,” Mary Kate Aylward, Peter Engelke, Uri Friedman and Paul Kielstra Atlantic Council, January 2023.

  • The Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security surveyed “leading global strategists and foresight practitioners around the world” to answer its “most burning questions about the biggest drivers of change” over the next 10 years; 167 experts shared their insights:
    • “Nearly half (46 percent) of respondents expect Russia to either become a failed state or break up by 2033.”
    • “More than a fifth (21 percent) consider Russia the most likely country to become a failed state within the next ten years, which is more than twice the percentage for the next most common choice, Afghanistan.”
    • “Even more striking, 40 percent of respondents expect Russia to break up internally by 2033 because of revolution, civil war, political disintegration, or some other reason. Europeans are particularly pessimistic about Russia breaking up: Forty-nine percent of them foresee such an event, compared with 36 percent of Americans.”
    • “Fourteen percent of respondents believe that Russia is likely to use a nuclear weapon within the next ten years. Among those expecting the country to experience both state failure and a breakup in the coming decade, a sobering 22 percent believe that use of nuclear weapons will be part of that history ten years hence.”
    • “Some, though, see hope: Of those who believe Russia is likely to experience state failure or a breakup over the coming decade, 10 percent think that it is the most likely of any currently autocratic country to become democratic by the end of this period.”

“It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse,” Alexander J. Motyl, professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark, FP, 01.07.23.  

  • “The failed war with Ukraine, which has revealed the weakness of Putin and his state, could very well be the spark that ignites the frayed timbers of Russia’s institutions.”
  • “It’s imperative to prepare for a possible disintegration. [Marlene] Laruelle’s and [Henry] Kissinger’s unlikely worst-case scenarios should inform policymakers as they hope for the best, expect the worst, keep cool heads, and prepare for contingencies. They should avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, such as trying to help a clearly dying Soviet Union survive and prioritizing the needs of Russia over those of its neighbors. The countries along Russia’s border—from the Baltic states to Central Asia—will, if they manage to remain stable and form a cordon sanitaire, be key to containing whatever instability takes place within Russia. They will also be key to helping the Russian Federation’s newly independent successor states stabilize and behave with moderation. Seen in this light, continued strong Western support for Ukraine—and eventually for a free Belarus and key countries like Kazakhstan—is the best guarantee that the aftershocks will be minimized if Putin’s empire comes to an end.”

“Once Unthinkable, Capitulation Could Still Be Russia's Saving Grace,” Leonid Gozman, who is a Russian opposition politician and former co-chair of the Pravoye Delo political party, MT, 01.04.23.

  • “This war can only be followed by peace if it ends with the complete military and political defeat of Putin’s Russia and the dismantling of the current regime. Putin’s state must cease to exist: not Russia, but the current state, hostile to the entire world, itself included. Any other outcome would only result in a temporary ceasefire, as … Putin’s regime will simply go on another attack as soon as it's replenished its strength.”
  • “Defeat in war can be beneficial for any nation: Russia's defeat in the Crimean War back in the mid-19th century was soon followed by the abolition of serfdom. Today, the capitulation of the regime is in the interests of Russia and its people, as the state isn’t just destroying Ukraine, it’s causing huge damage to Russia too.”

“The end of geopolitical procrastination,” Oleg Karpovich and Anton Grishanov, Russia in Global Affairs, 01.09.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “The Washington establishment still nurtures hopes for some delayed effect from the combination of ‘hellish’ sanctions and arms supplies to Ukraine. Many local ‘strategists’ have moved into the world of fantasy and are seriously discussing whether it is necessary to force the disintegration of Russia.”
  • “In Moscow, while maintaining a realistic and pragmatic view of the situation from the leadership of the country, at the expert level, until recently, there were enough ‘oracles’ who predicted that the divided United States was about to drown in its own problems and lose interest in the Ukrainian issue. The outcome of the midterm elections, which kept the American political landscape in a state of balance, demonstrated that such expectations were, if not completely wrong, premature. The voices of individual opponents of Washington's adventurism in terms of Ukraine do not affect the overall nature of the U.S. position, at least in the short term. The American factor, including in the context of the Ukrainian problem, is with us seriously and for a long time.”
  • “It can only be stated with certainty that the period of geopolitical procrastination has finally exhausted itself. 2023 will mark a shift from expectations and theorizing to action, which will either be a return to intense diplomacy or a final change in our understanding of where the red lines in U.S.-Russian relations lie—and how unshakable they are.”

“Portal to Eternity,” Fyodor Lukyanov of Russia in Global Affairs, Kommersant, 12.26.22. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “The Ukrainian mine was laid at the time of the collapse of the USSR. The gloomy realists immediately knew that the demarcation of a single space, where it was almost impossible to draw a natural border, would not work just like that.”
    • “In Russia, as at the bottom of a peat bog, disagreement with the loss of territories that had a decisive cultural and historical significance smoldered. In Ukraine, nationalist radicals complained that independence came ‘for free,’ while nations are born in wars. The two extremes eventually met.”
  • “The vagueness of the goals of the special military operation reflects the all-encompassing nature of the challenge [faced by Russia]. What comes out [of the operation] becomes the goal.”
  • “The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has become a clash for self-determination for Russia no less than for Ukraine.”
  • “The year between the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the USSR (December 2021) and the 100th anniversary of its creation (now) has become an amazing portal to eternity. The eternal existential questions that have arisen for our country over and over again throughout its history are again relevant. And let the whole world order wait.”

“Dmitry Medvedev in His Own Words: From Modernizing Liberal to Hateful Hawk,” RM Staff, RM, 01.04.23.

  • “Now that Putin once more faces the constitutionally mandated end of his presidential term in 2024, there’s a new question: Will Medvedev again be in the running as a potential successor? … [While president,] Medvedev played up his credentials as a liberal and was routinely referred to as such in the West. … Today, Medvedev serves as deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, first deputy chairman of Russia’s Military-Industrial Commission and chairman of the Kremlin-created political party United Russia, which formally controls parliament. And there is no visible trace of the liberal left in him.”
  • “His public comments about Russia’s war in Ukraine have positioned him as one of the most vitriolic of all Russian hawks, with Ukraine’s leadership and its Western supporters as perhaps his most frequent targets. … One obvious explanation for Medvedev’s transformation is a struggle to remain politically relevant in a Moscow where hawks rule.”
  • “[W]e have started collecting a sampling of Medvedev’s quotes since his time as president, meant to shed light on his views on issues that impact vital or important U.S. interests.”

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 next for Putin’s Russia?” FT’s Gideon Rachman speaks with Georgetown’s Angela Stent, FT, 01.05.23.

  • “Before February the 24th 2022, Putin—certainly the relationship with the West was getting worse—but … he wasn’t a major risk taker… he still wanted to be a member of the global board of directors and sitting at all important meetings. And I think what’s changed … is that he seems to have been determined … to implement his legacy. … [H]e appears to have planned this invasion very much by himself and has taken what appeared to be quite reckless moves that have really backfired on Russia itself.”
  • “[Russia] certainly isn’t isolated. I mean, Joe Biden said at the beginning of this war, Russia will be a pariah. Well, it is in most Western countries, but it certainly isn’t in the rest of the world. … Russia will still be able to interact with and have the support of a large number of countries around the globe.”
  • “The idea that you could have a cooperative security arrangement in which Russia is a full participant—it’s very difficult to imagine that now. I think it would take the next generation of leaders in Russia to really rethink what their role in Europe is. Right now, what Putin has done is to jettison centuries of Russia wanting to become part of Europe, to be closely allied with Europe. And he’s gone completely the other direction now, just focusing on Asia. He’s closed the window to Europe, if you like, that Peter the Great opened. And until you have another generation that understands that that’s not in Russia’s interests and then is interested in renewing a relationship with Europe, that’s not going to happen. And I don’t see that happening for some time.”

“Russia’s War Could Make It India’s World,” Paris bureau chief Roger Cohen, NYT, 12.31.22.

  • “S. Jaishankar, the Indian foreign minister, … believes [in] today’s transformative moment. A ‘world order which is still very, very deeply Western,’ as he put it in an interview, is being hurried out of existence by the impact of the war in Ukraine, to be replaced by a world of ‘multi-alignment’ where countries will choose their own ‘particular policies and preferences and interests.’ Certainly, that is what India has done since the war in Ukraine began on Feb. 24. It has rejected American and European pressure at the United Nations to condemn the Russian invasion, turned Moscow into its largest oil supplier and dismissed the perceived hypocrisy of the West. Far from apologetic, its tone has been unabashed and its self-interest broadly naked.”
    • “In other words, with its almost 1.4 billion inhabitants, soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous country, India has a need for cheap Russian oil to sustain its 7 percent annual growth and lift millions out of poverty. That need is nonnegotiable.”
    • “‘Since February, Europe has imported six times the fossil fuel energy from Russia that India has done,’ Mr. Jaishankar said. ‘So if a $60,000-per-capita society feels it needs to look after itself, and I accept that as legitimate, they should not expect a $2,000-per-capita society to take a hit.’”
    • “‘For many years, the United States did not stand by us, but Moscow has,’ Amitabh Kant, who is responsible for India’s presidency of the Group of 20 that began this month, said in an interview. New Delhi has enough rivals, he said: ‘Try, on top of China and Pakistan, putting Russia against you!’”


“Ukraine takes two steps forward, one step back in anti-corruption fight,” reporter Veronika Melkozerova, Politico, 12.26.22.

  • “Ukraine’s advances on rule of law are swifter than expected, but it’s a case of two steps forward and one (very worrying) step back.”
    • “The appointment of a new chief prosecutor has given the fight against graft a boost with many high-profile cases finally resulting in sentences. The Ukrainian parliament also liquidated the Kyiv Administrative District Court, infamous as the most corrupt court in Ukraine.”
    • “On the same day that Ukraine liquidated the administrative court, however, it made a major misstep on reforming its all-important Constitutional Court. On December 13, Ukraine’s parliament voted on a law that … establishes an advisory group of three government officials and three independent experts with the same number of votes during the selection of judges. They would choose candidates by a simple majority vote. The decision of the group is also not final, making it possible for candidates who did not pass the evaluation to still run for Constitutional Court seats. On December 19, the Venice Commission recommended changing the new law and introducing a seventh member to the advisory group to give the independent experts a casting vote during the selection… Only the next day, however, Zelensky, on his way from the front-line city of Bakhmut to Washington, signed the bill into law, ignoring the Venice Commission’s recommendation.” 
      • “When asked why Zelensky had now signed such a controversial law, Mykhailo Zhernakov, chairman of the board of the Dejure Foundation, a nongovernmental organization focusing on legal reform, said that while the Ukrainian government has been doing a lot to bring Ukraine closer to the EU, there are still people in the president’s office resisting change.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“The West Must Act to Avert War in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Lara Setrakian of the Applied Policy Research Institute based in Yerevan, Armenia, FP, 12.26.22.

  • “This is the time for the West to use its significant stores of unspent capital, through levers of hard and soft power, to bring Armenia and Azerbaijan back to the negotiating table.”
  • “The dangerous slide toward conflict is one that the West can skillfully resolve. While the European Union facilitated recent peace talks, it is still the United States that underwrites the weight of the Western position. Washington needs to act like the ‘supervisor’ keeping diplomatic efforts on track, said Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. That means wielding tools that include suspending U.S. military assistance to Baku. The United States provided $164 million in security support to Azerbaijan from 2002 to 2020, without sufficient oversight of key conditions, such as ensuring it was not used by Azerbaijan for offensive purposes against Armenia.”
  • “Washington should also consider various economic sanctions on the country until Baku consistently chooses diplomacy over forcefully imposed outcomes.”
  • “To get a comprehensive peace agreement in the South Caucasus, responsible powers need to leverage sweeteners and consequences to put states on a peaceful path. Armenia can also be pushed to take measures it has long deferred, including a process of transitional justice that accounts for abuses and violations on both sides over more than 30 years of conflict. It will take a major diplomatic investment, but there is a precedent for success with such an approach, even in long-running interstate conflicts. The investment will pay off in security restored, radical risks avoided, and sustainable value created in the region.”

“Russia and Central Asia: Never Closer, or Drifting Apart?” Temur Umarov, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 12.23.22.

  • “Central Asia’s move away from an increasingly unattractive Russia is a natural process. The Central Asian states have never been as self-sufficient as they are right now, nor has the public in these countries ever demanded so much of their leadership, including on foreign policy issues. Yet Moscow, instead of recognizing the agency of the Central Asian nations and working on making itself more appealing to them, demands that the former Soviet republics uphold the historical dominance inherited by the Kremlin.”
  • “Russia had every opportunity to make the Central Asian nations gravitate toward it. Instead of that, it is trying to stop the progression of time. If the Kremlin doesn’t change its approach to foreign policy—and that’s not something that will happen under Vladimir Putin—then Russia’s influence in the region will wither away.”

 “Central Asia emerges gingerly from the shadow of Russia,” European comment editor Tony Barber, FT, 12.28.22.

  • “The craving for democracy and integration into Western alliances visible in former Soviet republics such as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine is … not replicated in Central Asia. All the same, Putin’s invasion means that in the leaders’ eyes, Russia no longer looks like a reliable guarantor of order in the region—and at worst it may turn into a threat.”



  1. Here and elsewhere italicized text represents contextual commentary by RM staff.
  2. The author writes: “For Air Force Gen. Sergey Surovikin, commander of Russia’s Aerospace Forces, and a Hero of the Russian Federation—appointed in October 2022 by Vladimir Putin as commander of all Russian forces in Ukraine—who reportedly was replaced this week by Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Nikiforov after a mere three months, humiliation is an understatement.” In fact, reports in Russian media indicate Surovikin remained in command of Russian forces in Ukraine as of this week. As for Nikiforov, he appears to have been appointed to the post of the commander of Russia’s Western Military District, which is one of the districts involved in the war, but not the only one.