Russia Analytical Report, Dec. 4-11, 2023

5 Ideas to Explore

  1. Ukrainians have begun to question Volodymyr Zelensky’s rose-tinted speeches, according to FT journalist Isobel Koshiw’s recent article. “For more than 650 days in a row, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky1 has given at least one video address to the nation—praising his troops, celebrating advances along the front lines … but with Ukraine enjoying few military achievements this year and Western support faltering, the communications strategy is creating a rift between the presidential administration and military leadership,” Koshiw reports, citing officials from the Ukrainian armed forces, former presidential staffers and communication strategists. “In order for society not to build castles in the air, and to take off its rose-tinted glasses . . . it is necessary to stop being afraid to speak the truth,” Iryna Zolotar, adviser and head of communications for Ukraine’s former defense minister Oleksii Reznikov, told FT. 
  2. With Ukraine’s counteroffensive stalled and Russian forces attacking in multiple sectors, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has indicated that Moscow’s primary conditions for a peaceful resolution of the conflict have not changed. These conditions continue to include a stop to Western military aid, Kyiv’s acceptance of Russia’s annexation of captured Ukrainian territories, Ukraine’s neutrality, observing the rights of the Russian-speaking population and some sort of a “de-Nazification.” "We will not allow the existence on our borders of an aggressive Nazi state from whose territory there is a danger for Russia and its neighbors," the ministry’s spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in written answers to AFP’s questions. “With the military balance at this stage of the war now tipping to his side … either Ukraine agrees to [Putin’s] terms—which would mean agreeing to a Kremlin-backed puppet government—or he will lay siege to Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro and Odesa to make sure that Ukraine is destroyed as a state,” according to prominent Russian liberal journalist Mikhail Fishman’s Russia.Post commentary. 
  3. With the Biden administration’s current cash reserves for Ukraine poised to run out this month, the White House has resorted to warning that if Ukraine is abandoned and Russia prevails, Putin could go on to attack a NATO ally and draw the U.S. into war, according to FT. “We’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today: American troops fighting Russian troops,” Biden warned. 
  4. Even in a drone-covered, 21st-century battlefield, there are still various ways to advance, as both Ukrainians and Russians are discovering,” Franz-Stefan Gady of IISS argues in FP. These include staying hidden as long as possible from the enemy by taking advantage of terrain, as well as paying attention to time of day and weather conditions, Gady writes in his analysis of the Russian-Ukrainian war, cautioning against the generalization that drone use has fundamentally changed the character of warfare, rendering larger-scale ground attacks obsolete. 
  5. When asked on Dec. 8 to run for reelection, Vladimir Putin heeded the request. “While the news surprised no one, the circumstances of his announcement were less expected,” Russian government insiders told leading Meduza journalist Andrei Pertsev in reference to Putin’s announcement, which he made in response to the speaker of the “DNR’s” parliament Artem Zhoga’s request that Putin run for reelection, made during a military awards ceremony in the Kremlin on Dec. 8. Sources close to the Kremlin told Meduza that even a few days before Putin’s “impromptu” announcement, his staff was confident he would announce his candidacy during his call-in show/press conference on Dec. 14. Meduza’s sources close to Putin’s administration said the Dec. 8 revelation was essentially a spontaneous move. “In theory, it shouldn’t be like this. Announcing candidacy should be done personally and publicly, not on the fly, in a rush. But the president wanted it this way,” one of the sources added. 


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:

  • No significant developments.

Military and intelligence aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“How an Army of Drones Changed the Battlefield in Ukraine. Ever-present surveillance has made movement extremely difficult, but there are still ways to evade detection,” Franz-Stefan Gady, FP, 12.06.23.

  • Some analysts … argue that the Ukrainian advance has been stopped by something much more fundamental than minefields and trenches: the changing character of warfare itself. The advent of pervasive surveillance, these observers argue, has created a newly transparent battlefield. … In other words: If the enemy can see everything on and behind the front lines, including units and even individual troops moving in the rear, the classic ground attack made up of massed armored formations is dead. 
    • As much truth as there is in this line of argument, however, as a sweeping generalization, it falls far short. Even in a drone-covered, 21st-century battlefield, there are still various ways to advance, as both Ukrainians and Russians are discovering. … Along the front line, so-called bite and hold infiltration tactics—smaller-scale, incremental attacks by infantry supported by artillery strikes—are still taking place. 
  • There are various ways to reduce or even deny the enemy the ability to conduct real-time tracking. … To stay hidden as long as possible from the enemy eyes puts a focus on dispersal and concealment. … Simple environmental factors … have influenced success and failure on the battlefield throughout military history, such as terrain, time of day, and weather conditions. 
    • Despite the apparent stalemate, the battlefield in Ukraine still presents various opportunities for breakthroughs and other successful advances if they are well coordinated and can exploit environmental factors such as darkness, bad weather, and the physical terrain.
  • It may well be true that the massed armor attacks taught by the NATO training books will be extremely difficult on a more transparent battlefield, but the idea that pervasive surveillance has put an end to decisive offensive operations is incomplete at best.
  • The timing and synchronization of military operations, when factoring in the environmental conditions of the battlefield, creates windows of opportunity to escape surveillance. While seizing these windows of opportunity may not immediately lead to decisive outcomes, it can help set the conditions for future larger-scale assaults and ultimately contribute to breaking the deadlock. To say that larger-scale attacks are a thing of the past and that the deadlock will define future warfighting in Ukraine—and perhaps elsewhere—is certainly premature.

“Ukraine’s counteroffensive ran into a new reality of war,” David Ignatius, WP, 12.07.23.

  • The basic dilemma for Kyiv is whether to keep fighting for a decisive victory. With more and better high-tech weapons from the United States and its allies, Ukraine could take another shot at cutting Russia's supply lines to Crimea, as it attempted over the summer. That might force Moscow to bargain an end to the war on terms that would be favorable to Kyiv.
  • The bitter alternative is to play for a draw. If the U.S. weapons pipeline is blocked—making a big new assault impossible—a fatigued and increasingly fractious Ukraine might have little choice but to explore a settlement. Like the separation of North and South Korea, such a deal would leave Russia in control of territory it has seized since 2014—but it could offer Kyiv the security of future membership in the European Union and NATO.
    • William B. Taylor, a former U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, sees a fork ahead: Either NATO nations increase support for Ukraine to regain its territory, or "Ukraine fights on with inadequate force" and might have to eventually accept a Korea-like partition.
  • The political divisions that have begun to surface inside Ukraine are … worrying. I heard an early version of them when I was in Kyiv in October. The internal sniping seems to be increasing, with rumors of growing friction between President Volodymyr Zelensky and his political rivals, and even with his much-admired commander, [Valery\ Zaluzhny. As Ukraine heads into a cold winter, this backbiting will probably get worse.2
  • Here's the holiday present that Ukraine needs from the United States: quick passage by the Senate and House of a generous military assistance package that can carry Kyiv through 2024. Ukraine suffered a severe setback this year, but its people are still in the fight. The least America can do is give them the weapons that would give them another chance at victory.

"What can Ukraine teach us about the future of war?”, Alec Russell, FT, 12.07.23. 

  • On the face of it, the fighting in Ukraine suggests that we have learnt little in the past 100 years. As in Flanders from 1914 to 1918, this is a war now largely fought in trenches and dictated by artillery. “Every soldier has concussion symptoms,” Kseniia Voznitsyna, a neurologist in charge of the Veterans Mental Health and Rehabilitation Centre in Kyiv told me this autumn. 
  • Conflict, by the decorated U.S. general David Petraeus and British historian Andrew Roberts, charts just about every war fought in Europe, the Middle East and Asia since the defeat of the Nazis. The authors’ main contention is that “exceptional strategic leadership is the one absolute prerequisite for success.” This leads directly to Vladimir Putin, whose hubris and lack of clarity over his initial war aims echo faulty decision-making over Vietnam and Iraq. 
    • Petraeus clearly believes the Biden administration should not have pulled troops out in August 2021, arguing that the presence of international forces had stabilized Afghanistan. The withdrawal is widely thought to have emboldened Putin in his belief that Washington had lost heart for international entanglements—and so repeat the mistake that Stalin made in May 1950 when he told Mao that America was not ready for a big war over Korea. 
    • Petraeus and Roberts believe that generals around the world are busily adjusting their battle plans after studying events in Ukraine. Russia’s success in withstanding Ukraine’s counteroffensive has, they suggest, led NATO to rethink its strategy in the event of war with Moscow. NATO will be considering a “hedgehog” defensive approach, they believe, assuming that “maneuver”—as displayed by the U.S.-led forces in the Gulf war and at the start of the Iraq war—is “extremely difficult” in an age of hyper-accurate drone-guided artillery. China’s generals, meanwhile, will see events in Ukraine as a cautionary tale for would-be attackers as they war-game scenarios over Taiwan. 
    • More broadly, the co-authors see the war as a reminder of the factors that have affected commanders for millennia—from the whims of political leadership to the arithmetic of logistics. 
  • [Modern Warfare, the latest book by] historian Sir Lawrence … is an excoriating dissection of Putin’s poorly planned, plodding offensive of February 2022. 
    • As of this autumn, he writes, [the war] had become “a test of endurance.” He rightly reminds the reader of the importance of logistics, of creating a “war economy,” focused on the production of arms, and for Ukraine of its supporters keeping it supplied with equipment and ammunition. 
    • As for the battlefield lessons, Russia’s shift to a war of “attrition” is not surprising, Freedman argues, pointing out how regularly that occurs in wars. But when it comes to the importance of leadership he is at one with Petraeus and Roberts: Putin, he concludes, “is left dealing with a catastrophe, for Russia as well as Ukraine, of his making.” 

“Putin’s Weak Link to Crimea. Kyiv Should Target the Kerch Bridge—but Needs Missiles to Take It Out,” Ben Hodges, Led Klosky, Robert Person and Eric Williamson, FA, 12.05.23. 

  • When Russia annexed Crimea in February 2014, the peninsula became crucial to Moscow’s strategy to dominate Ukraine and the Black Sea region. Critical to that domination is the bridge spanning the Kerch Strait, the narrow strip of water that separates Crimea from mainland Russia. 
  • The bridge is currently under Russian control and is of fundamental importance to the Russian war effort. It may, however, prove to be the key to Ukraine’s victory—not just in Crimea but in the wider conflict. No single event could more quickly turn the tide of the war, reset the narrative, and restore confidence in Kyiv’s ability to win than crippling the most potent symbol of Russia’s occupation of Ukraine. 
  • For Kyiv to succeed in permanently disabling or destroying the bridge, Ukraine’s Western allies must provide far larger numbers of powerful precision-guided missiles. This will be a matter of both quantity and quality////Washington should intensify its diplomatic efforts to convince the German government to provide Ukraine with Taurus missiles. 

“The Shortest Path to Victory in Ukraine Goes Through Crimea,” Luke Coffey, Peter Rough, FP, 12.08.23.

  • U.S. policymakers should recognize that the shortest and most direct path to victory for Ukraine runs through Crimea. Ukraine must be armed, trained, and equipped with the campaign for the peninsula in mind. Just as Russia’s war on Ukraine began with the invasion of Crimea in 2014, so too will it only end when Ukraine eventually regains control there.
  • For Washington, a clear eye on the campaign for Crimea is an antidote to doom and gloom. By adjusting its strategy, the West can help Ukraine make crucial progress, weaken Russia in the Black Sea, and chart a path to ending this long and bloody war.

“The ‘Ukraine Model’ for Intelligence Disclosure May Not be the New Normal,” Jack Duffield, RUSI, 12.06.23. 

  • In the right circumstances, public intelligence disclosure modelled on the U.K.’s Ukraine updates has been demonstrated as a potent tool. However, it is not a silver bullet for countering disinformation. 
  • There are many potential tools available to the U.K. to combat malign information activities, of which this is only one. Though it may be used again in future by the U.K. and its allies, public intelligence disclosure is best reserved for the narrow range of crises where it will be most potent.

“Joe Biden's Ukraine Emergency,” Editorial Board, WSJ, 12.06.23. 

  • The Senate voted Wednesday to block $110.5 billion in aid for Ukraine, Israel and U.S. allies in the Pacific, but this is best understood as kabuki-theater politics. Perhaps President Biden will now get serious about striking the kind of bipartisan compromise he said in 2020 that he was good at pulling off.
  • Democratic leader Chuck Schumer knew the Senate vote would fail because Republicans said they'd filibuster it. All 49 of them did. But Mr. Schumer held the vote anyway to appease his left flank and because he wants to blame the GOP if no aid eventually passes. He attacked Republicans for demanding that border-security provisions be added to the aid bill.
  • A large majority of Senate Republicans support aid for Ukraine, notably minority leader Mitch McConnell. But their voters also want something done about the surge of migrants that has even big-city Democratic mayors pleading for help. Republicans rightly see the military aid request as a chance to give Mr. Biden something he wants in return for something they want. This is how legislating gets done, or at least it used to be.
  • The White House seems to think it can jam Republicans to pass military aid by blaming them in advance if it all falls apart. Democrats are fooling themselves if they believe this. Support for Ukraine is Mr. Biden's policy, and the failure will be as much his as that of Republicans in Congress. The Kremlin and the world will see more evidence of Mr. Biden's political weakness. The winners will be Mr. Putin and U.S. adversaries abroad, and Donald Trump at home.
  • The way out of this mess is for Mr. Biden to get serious about an immigration compromise. Tell his negotiators to cut a deal with the GOP and then sell it to Democrats and the country as necessary to get his supplemental aid bill through a divided Congress.

“Why U.S. aid for Ukraine is a bargain,” Lee Hockstader, WP, 12.05.23.

  • At nearly $70 billion in less than two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion, the direct U.S. military, financial and humanitarian commitment to Ukraine is unquestionably significant. In just 21 months, Washington’s direct aid to Ukraine comes to more than one-fifth of its inflation-adjusted funding for Israel since its founding 75 years ago.
  • Yet by other measures, the pot of money approved by Congress to resist Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression looks modest. 
  • Nearly half of Americans now say the United States is spending too much on Ukraine. Yet at this point, U.S. allies in Europe have promised nearly twice the amount approved by Congress, according to the Kiel Institute, which tracks contributions. 
  • Altogether, the U.S. share amounts to less than one-third of all outside funding directed to helping Ukraine stave off Russia's onslaught. If you measure each donor country's contribution against its gross domestic product, the U.S. burden is less than about 20 other countries'. In fact, by that measure, the United States is sacrificing less than big countries such as Germany and Britain, as well as smaller ones on Europe's eastern flank, some of which reasonably fear they will be next on Moscow's menu if Putin succeeds in Ukraine.
  • Those fears in Eastern Europe buttress the odds that the long-term return will more than justify the U.S. investment. If Russia were to move against NATO allies such as the tiny Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia, let alone Poland or some other large NATO ally—hardly a far-fetched scenario, given 20th-century history—Washington would be obligated by its treaty commitments to send troops to defend them.
  • The cost of deploying U.S. troops to defend vulnerable NATO allies against a nuclear-armed power is imponderable. It would surely be huge, judging by the price paid for other U.S. wars in this century, which dwarf Congress's appropriations for Ukraine. Brown University researchers who studied the cost of America's post-9/11 conflicts found that 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria drained $8 trillion from U.S. coffers—about one-quarter of that sum in future dollars earmarked for U.S. military veterans.
  • In Ukraine, the long-term value of U.S. funding will depend largely on the war's outcome. So far, however, U.S. resolve has at least temporarily sapped Putin's ability to threaten America's NATO allies and weakened the Russian economy on which that threat depends. U.S. resolve has also sent a potent deterrent message to China and North Korea that they menace Taiwan and South Korea at their peril.
  • No one can assess the cost savings delivered by deterrence at that scale. But by any rational accounting, the United States wins big by diminishing the likelihood of potential future wars in Eastern Europe, Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula.

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

  • No significant developments

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Unfulfillable Promise: Mediation Efforts in the Russian-Ukrainian War Since 2014,” Tetyana Malyarenko and Stefan Wolff, PONARS, December 2023. 

  • Although there is now a recognition that the conflict in and around Ukraine involves many actors at different levels, this was insufficiently reflected in the mediation efforts between 2014 and 2022, which ultimately failed to prevent the escalation from hybrid to conventional war. This is not to suggest that mediation, in whatever format, could have accomplished this, but it is to caution against (albeit without dismissing) a fatalistic view that, with the benefit—and bias—of hindsight, now constructs a narrative that condemns mediation efforts as having enabled Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Rather, the point is that understanding why mediation at the gray-zone stage of the war was insufficiently effective may help to prevent a similar failure in the future if and when the current conventional war “slips back” into a hybrid disguise. Three points stand out in this context. 
    • First, the principal political framework of mediation—the Normandy format—focused too narrowly on just one aspect of the complex blended conflict in and around Ukraine. 
    • Second, while this pretense may have been helpful in keeping Russia engaged and thus in facilitating the relative, albeit temporary, successes of OSCE mediation in the Trilateral Contact Group, it meant that mediation failed to address two other, closely connected dimensions of the broader conflict, namely between Russia and Ukraine and between Russia and the West. 
    • Third, when it became evident that the Minsk agreements were unimplementable—Ukraine having been forced to sign on to arrangements that unfairly favored Russia and denied democratic forces any meaningful voice—Ukraine ’s partners not only stopped supporting their implementation outside the Normandy and TCG formats, but also failed to propose alternative formats through which a more adoptable and functional agreement could have been mediated.

“Russia sees shrunken, neutral Ukraine as basis for peace,” AFP, 12.06.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • Russia believes a lasting peace with Ukraine can only happen if the West stops sending arms and if Kyiv accepts "new territorial realities,” Russia's foreign ministry told AFP. Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in an interview that Moscow was open to negotiations but added: "At the moment, we do not see the political will for peace either in Kyiv or in the West.”
  • She also said that, for any deal to happen, Ukraine should have neutral status and the rights of Russian-speaking residents should be protected. "We will not allow the existence on our borders of an aggressive Nazi state from whose territory there is a danger for Russia and its neighbors," she said.
  • Zakharova also dismissed the "peace formula" proposed by Zelensky which includes a stipulation that Russian troops must leave all of Ukraine. She said Kyiv's proposal put forward last year "has nothing to do with peace and is an array of ultimatums for Russia to justify continued military action.”
  • Zakharova accused Kyiv of not wanting to "take into account current realities and … pursuing a completely different aim—the capitulation of our country with the help of the West.” She added: "Of course, based on these conditions, we will not speak with anyone from the Ukraine leadership.”
  • Zakharova added however that Moscow could restore a grain deal that allowed Ukraine to export grain through the Black Sea, but only if Western sanctions on Russian agriculture companies were lifted. "The possibility of reviving the Black Sea initiative remains," she said in a series of written answers to questions.
  • On the first anniversary of the conflict this year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a full Russian withdrawal from Ukraine. The resolution was backed by 141 member states, with 32 countries including China and India abstaining, and seven countries including North Korea voting against. But Zakharova pointed out that a large majority—80 percent—of the world's population lived in countries that have not adopted any sanctions against Russia.
  • In Asia, she said China was "a like-minded partner" with whom Russia was pursuing ties based on "comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation.” She said Russia was also strengthening relations with North Korea and accused the U.S. of "pursuing a path of escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula by increasing military activity.” She added: "This U.S. course is dangerous and fraught with serious consequences."

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

“Alarm Grows Over Weakened Militaries and Empty Arsenals in Europe,” Max Colchester, David Luhnow and Bojan Pancevski, WSJ, 12.11.23.

  • The British military—the leading U.S. military ally and Europe’s biggest defense spender—has only around 150 deployable tanks and perhaps a dozen serviceable long-range artillery pieces. So bare was the cupboard that last year the British military considered sourcing multiple rocket launchers from museums to upgrade and donate to Ukraine, an idea that was dropped. 
  • France, the next biggest spender, has fewer than 90 heavy artillery pieces, equivalent to what Russia loses roughly every month on the Ukraine battlefield. Denmark has no heavy artillery, submarines or air-defense systems. Germany’s army has enough ammunition for two days of battle. 
  • Germany’s army, which at the end of the Cold War had half a million men in West Germany and another 300,000 in East Germany, now has 180,000 personnel. West Germany alone had more than 7,000 battle tanks by the 1980s; reunified Germany now has 200, only half of which are likely operational, according to government officials. The country’s industry can make only about three tanks a month, these officials said.
  • The Netherlands disbanded its last tank unit in 2011, folding the remaining few tanks into the German army. 

“The West wavers on Ukraine,” Henry Foy in Brussels, James Politi in Washington and Ben Hall in London, FT. 12.08.23.

  • Most unsettling for Kyiv is that support for Ukraine, once a matter of broad cross-party consensus, has become a political bargaining chip on both sides of the Atlantic.
  • “Ukraine is no longer special. It is no longer regarded as this issue of national security, of paramount importance for the EU, NATO, or the United States. Because if that was the case, people wouldn’t be playing politics with it,” says Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels.
  • While Ukraine has received nearly $100 billion worth of weapons and military training, it also needs foreign aid to pay for the government, public services, pensions and benefits. This requires $41 billion in external financing next year, according to the budget passed by parliament last month. It was counting on $18 billion from the EU, $8.5 billion from the U.S., $5.4 billion from the IMF, $1.5 billion from other development banks and $1 billion from the U.K. Kyiv is still negotiating with other partners, such as Japan and Canada. Although some of the required money will be paid whatever happens in Washington or Brussels, Kyiv needs cash to start flowing next month. If it fails to come through and Kyiv cannot borrow enough domestically, it may have to resort to monetary financing by the central bank, which could unleash hyperinflation and put financial stability at risk. Hence its alarm at the impasse in the EU and U.S. 
  • With cash for Ukraine running out, White House officials have grown increasingly concerned and frustrated. Biden’s tone has become notably bleaker: if Ukraine was abandoned and Russia prevailed, Putin could go on to attack a NATO ally and draw the U.S. into war, he said this week. “We’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today: American troops fighting Russian troops.”
  • The U.S. accounts for just under half of the nearly $100 billion in military aid provided to Ukraine since February last year, but it has been able to draw on its large inventories of advanced weaponry and its bigger defense industry to arm Ukraine, a role that Kyiv’s European allies cannot take over any time soon. Ukraine is ramping up its own weapons production but from a low base.
  • “All the times that Western policymakers have come to Kyiv and said, ‘We stand with you for as long as it takes’—I mean, it all sounds kind of hollow right now, right?” Kirkegaard said.

“The world cannot hedge against Donald Trump,” Edward Luce, FT, 12.06.23.

  • You can get insurance for almost anything nowadays. It is next to impossible, however, to insure against Donald Trump’s return to the White House. The time for America’s allies to hedge against Trump 2.0 is today. A year from now, when Trump could be president-elect, would be far more expensive. Unfortunately, there are no easy or foolproof ways of doing that. 
  • The only decent insurance is based on the worst-case scenario. On that basis, we have to assume that Trump’s victory would be taken as a green light by Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping to make big advances in their agendas. The U.S. would pull out of NATO. Ukraine would be left to its own devices. Allies and friends in Asia would have to adjust to a world in which the U.S. no longer underwrites their security. Meanwhile, the U.S. would abandon efforts to tackle global warming, uphold human rights and at least pay lip service to the rule-based international order. Trump’s plan for a 10 per cent tariff on all imports would make the open world trading system a distant memory. 
  • The most worrying hedge against Washington’s exit from Pax Americana would be a rush for the nuclear threshold. Among America’s allies, Japan, South Korea and Australia are each technically capable of going nuclear within months. 
  • Another option for America’s allies would be to move closer to the revisionist powers. Given Germany and France’s history of attempting to accommodate Russia, such a shift cannot be ruled out. Indeed, default appeasement of Moscow is likelier than a European defense union in the near future. Germany embraced its Zeitenwende—a historic turning point—after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. But the U-turn is incomplete and went against decades of German diplomacy. If the U.S. walked off the chessboard, it is not hard to imagine a German reverse Zeitenwende. 
  • Among the large European powers, only the U.K. could be relied on to stick with Ukraine. 

“Fears of a NATO Withdrawal Rise as Trump Seeks a Return to Power,” Jonathan Swan, Charlie Savage and Maggie Haberman, NYT, 12.09.23.

  • As he runs to regain the White House, Mr. Trump has said precious little about his intentions. His campaign website contains a single cryptic sentence: “We have to finish the process we began under my administration of fundamentally re-evaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission.” He and his team refuse to elaborate.
  • In interviews over the past several months, more than a half-dozen current and former European diplomats—speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from Mr. Trump should he win—said alarm was rising on Embassy Row and among their home governments that Mr. Trump’s return could mean not just the abandonment of Ukraine, but a broader American retreat from the continent and a gutting of the Atlantic alliance.
  • Amid those swirling doubts, one thing is likely: The first area where Mr. Trump’s potential return to the White House in 2025 could provoke a foreign policy crisis is for Ukraine and the alliance of Western democracies that have been supporting its defense against Russia’s invasion.
  • Mr. Trump has repeatedly declared that he would somehow settle the war “in 24 hours.” He has not said how, but he has coupled that claim with suggestions that he could have prevented the war by making a deal in which Ukraine simply ceded to Russia its eastern lands that President Vladimir Putin has illegally seized.
  • In reaction to Mr. Trump’s threats, some lawmakers—led by Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, and Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida—put a provision in the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress is likely to vote on this month. It says the president shall not withdraw the United States from NATO without congressional approval. But whether the Constitution permits such a tying of a president’s hands is also contestable. And European diplomats say that even if Mr. Trump were to nominally keep the United States in NATO, they fear that he could so undermine trust in the United States’ reliability to live up to the collective-defense provision that its value as a deterrent to Russia would be lost.
  • Michael Anton, a National Security Council official in the Trump administration, told the Europeans he could imagine Mr. Trump setting an ultimatum: If NATO members did not sufficiently increase their military spending by a deadline, he would withdraw the United States from the alliance.

"David Ignatius: Despite War Fatigue, Gaza, Putin Should 'Be Pretty Careful About Making Bets' In Ukraine," Vazha Tavberidze interviews the WP columnist, RFE/RL, 12.05.23. 

  • After the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive to achieve sufficient gains to force the Russians to consider what I think would have been a Chinese request that they seek a diplomatic resolution. I think that was the idea all along: to gain enough on the battlefield that the Chinese get nervous and the Russians have to listen to their Chinese friends, and then you have negotiations in the spring. That now seems very unlikely.
  • On my trip to Ukraine at the end of September and early October, I heard, for the first time, a real debate among young Ukrainians about how much the country can handle. I had a sense of commitment, as always, from Ukrainians, but also of exhaustion. I've been trying to think how, through the winter, can they get stronger? The things that you need to let yourself think about that would provide for some period going forward a strong Ukraine that's in Europe, that defers the reacquisition of its stolen territories until the time when it's stronger. As always, I think [the] Ukrainians have to lead that conversation… I think it's their decision to make; that's what I've always heard sincerely from top people at the [U.S.] State Department and the [National Security Council].
  • Asked about what sort of impact an alternative Democratic U.S. presidential candidate could have on Ukraine: Biden has been the leader who, on the one hand, was determined to support Ukraine, [and] on the other hand was determined not to get into a war with Russia. And there is an argument that he was so worried about the second part—not getting into a war with Russia—that he didn't do as well as he should have on the first part, that he deterred himself from taking actions that might have been more effective. So, it is conceivable that another Democrat, if that person replaced Biden, would have a different view.
  • Asked how a Republican president could change matters for the war: The assumption is that if Trump or some Trump-lite candidate won, that they'd make a deal with Russia. It's not very complicated. That they would make a deal to end the war quickly, giving Russia pretty much what it wanted. And I think there's one problem with that, which is that it implies that Ukraine itself isn't a factor. And I don't think Ukraine is ready to be Donald Trump's sacrificial lamb to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin… 
    • The next strongest candidate after Trump … right now seems to be [former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador under Trump] Nikki Haley. And Nikki Haley is an internationalist. Of this whole group of Republicans, she's probably closest to the traditional hawkish Republican national security view in terms of the Ukraine war. If she was the candidate, or if she was vice president even, I think that would be a factor for continuation of something like the Biden policy, maybe even escalating support for Ukraine. 

“Ukraine and its supporters need to prepare for a return of Trump,” Josh Rogin, WP, 12.05.23.

  • The Biden administration and Ukraine supporters in both parties should also lay out a long-term security assistance plan for Ukraine, modeled after President Barack Obama's 10-year security assistance plan for Israel. This is especially needed because even if Biden wins reelection, Trump-allied Republicans in Congress are sure to continue attempting to cut U.S. assistance.
  • Both Democratic and Republican leaders need to expand efforts to convince their constituents that aid to Ukraine is worth the money. Zelensky's team, too, should broaden its U.S. outreach beyond D.C. After all, no long-term Ukraine assistance effort will be sustainable without the continued support of Americans.
  • Keep in mind that if Trump were to return to office and end assistance to Ukraine, the war would not end. Russian President Vladimir Putin would probably keep advancing. The United States could get drawn into a wider war. And Chinese President Xi Jinping would be encouraged to move aggressively against Taiwan. Ukraine's supporters must act now to mitigate these risks.

“Crunch Time in Ukraine,” Holman W. Jenkins Jr, WSJ, 12.06.23. 

  • Bluntly, the U.S. would have best served itself and Ukraine by standing between President Volodymyr Zelensky and the demand of his voters for a quick and happy ending that isn't in the cards. The long political fight is what matters now. This column saw merit in a limited offensive aimed at reclaiming Bakhmut to rob Mr. Putin of the short-term prestige boost he sought in capturing the city. Ultimately the war can't be won on the ground. Ukraine won't be marching on the Kremlin to install a new regime to make peace on Ukraine's terms.
  • Now a problem looks dangerously likely to last through Election Day and perhaps beyond—the lack of a U.S. president willing to impose a new approach. Trump voters need someone to tell them, whatever their grievances from four years ago, that his brand of chaos won't be useful in the world that has come into being on Joe Biden's watch. By all appearances, neither is Mr. Biden's. His NATO muscle memory was valuable at the war's start, but Mr. Biden isn't, and probably never was, a Lincoln-FDR-Nixon type to chart a tortuous path through history to bring a new strategic reality into being.
  • The lack of direction engulfing the U.S. effort doesn't arise from any innate hopelessness of Ukraine's position, which is still enviable if seen in the right light. The Putin autocracy has fatally injured itself in Ukraine. Time is on the West's side whenever Kyiv and the West are ready to start playing for the long term. But it requires a different sort of president than offered by today's two front-runners.

“Europe Must Urgently Prepare to Deter Russia Without Large-Scale U.S. Support,” Justin Bronk, RUSI, 12.07.23. 

  • In the event of a clash with China in the Indo-Pacific that removes the capacity for large-scale U.S. military reinforcement and support elsewhere, Europe will be left vulnerable to concurrent military aggression by Russia.
  • The only likely scenario in which Russia might directly attack a European NATO country is during a concurrent standoff or actual conflict that leaves U.S. forces largely fixed in the Indo-Pacific. In the event of such a military confrontation with China in the mid-to-late 2020s, Russia will have a strong incentive to take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to break NATO while the U.S. cannot reinforce Europe effectively. By 2026-2028, Russia’s industry will have been at full-scale military production for years, allowing it to rebuild its increasingly battle-hardened forces.
  • To deter this concurrent threat, European countries—including the U.K.—must urgently invest in significantly increasing production capacity for the artillery ammunition, spare parts and air defense missiles required to keep Ukraine in the fight while also refilling their own dangerously depleted stockpiles. European air forces, in particular, must also rapidly procure specialized weapons and dedicate serious aircrew training time and focus to developing high-end suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses (SEAD/DEAD) capabilities. 
  • Investing at scale in munitions and weapons production will require real political leadership, not least the courage and eloquence to explain to publics unused to genuine military threats why such investment is necessary at a time when so many other public services are desperately short of money. However, Ukraine illustrates vividly that the costs of successfully deterring a well-armed and amoral adversary pale in comparison to the unimaginable costs of even a successful defensive war once it has begun. History suggests that few start wars that they believe will be long or difficult, but many long and difficult wars are started because one side believes the other cannot prevent a quick victory. Thus, the immediate target need not be the full capability to immediately fight and win a long war with Russia. Rather, it must be putting Ukraine’s defense on a sustainable footing and simultaneously rebuilding Western ammunition and equipment stockpiles, as well as the SEAD/DEAD capacity needed to convince Russia it could not achieve a quick and easy landgrab in Europe if the U.S. and China were to come to blows.

“Why the U.S. must support Ukraine with aid,” Stephen F. Lynch, The Boston Globe, 12.08.23. 

  • In the interests of U.S. national security and international peace, Congress must unite to enact new aid for Ukraine in its fight for freedom and democracy in the face of the brutal invasion launched by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
  •  Throughout this conflict the Ukrainian people have been willing to fight and die for their freedom, and to the surprise of many, their courage has brought them no small amount of success. As their sons and daughters continue to die in that noble cause they ask for ongoing assistance from the United States and NATO countries so they might remain a free people.
  • The Ukrainian people are facing their destiny bravely. Is it too much to hope that Congress might do the same?

“Blood and Iron: How Nationalist Imperialism Became Russia’s State Ideology,” Andrei Kolesnikov, CEIP, 12.06.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Having failed to chart a workable path for Russia’s future and having lost a race with the so-called global West and a rising global East centered on China, Putin’s regime is unable to abandon its leadership ambitions. Instead it is directing all of its energy into clawing its way back to a storied past. The Russian system under Putin has stopped playing catch-up when it comes to long-overdue tasks connected to modernization. It has started pursuing demodernization, a stage of development that has culminated in the “special operation” in Ukraine.
  • Putin presumably was once perfectly comfortable with the idea of building a retro-style utopia. Unfortunately for him, that goal has by now morphed completely into a terrifying dystopia made up of scraps from the darkest chapters of Russia’s past. Such a basis for Russian statehood and its role on the international stage look even more preposterous in the twenty-first century. The Kremlin’s penchant for embracing a nationalist imperial ideology has once again lived up to its self-destructive reputation.

“Putin Will Not Agree To Anything Less Than Surrender By Kyiv,” Mikhail Fishman, Russia.Post, 12.08.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • With the military balance at this stage of the war now tipping to his side, Putin will hardly compromise on his goal. He has no reason to negotiate. On the contrary, it is increasingly likely that after his reelection in March 2024 Putin will double down on his military efforts and try to conquer more Ukrainian territory.
  • As the two decades of his rule have shown, in foreign policy Putin is unwilling to stick to the status quo. As a shark will drown if it stops moving forward, Putin considers quiescence an existential threat. He simply cannot stop. In this regard, his ambitions go beyond Ukraine, and the argument that the Ukrainians are fighting not only for themselves but also “for Europe” no longer sounds like an exaggeration.

“An Aid Package That Invests in U.S. Security Goals,” Editorial Board, NYT, 12.10.23.

  • The Biden administration has asked Congress to approve a $105 billion military aid package, mostly to Israel and Ukraine, and lawmakers appear to be at an impasse over the border security measures included in it. It is essential that Congress overcome this opposition and approve it promptly, as an investment in America's security goals.
    • Here's what this aid package is: a commitment against authoritarianism in Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as a commitment to regional stability in the Middle East. The bill includes $61.4 billion in military and economic assistance for Ukraine and about $14.3 billion in arms assistance to Israel, along with more than $9 billion in humanitarian assistance to both countries and to Gaza. To help win Republican support, the White House added $7.4 billion in security assistance to Taiwan and other Pacific allies—as well as almost $14 billion to bolster security on the U.S. border with Mexico.
    • Here's what this aid package is not: a decision to neglect security at home in favor of fighting conflict abroad. A strong and free Ukraine, one that is capable of standing up to Russian aggression, is essential to peace and stability in Europe. If Vladimir Putin's strategy of waiting for American resolve to falter is successful, he would then be in position to attack NATO allies and potentially draw American troops into a war, as President Biden said on Wednesday.

“Victory Seems Not to Be an Option for Biden,” Garry Kasparov, WSJ, 12.10.23.

  • If Mr. Biden allows Mr. Putin to take more Ukrainian territory by force today, he would embolden Mr. Xi to invade Taiwan tomorrow. Weakness invites aggression. War and terror spread until the leaders are neutralized.
  • If Mr. Biden armed Ukraine for victory, Mr. Putin wouldn’t survive long. His downfall would cripple a circle of thugs and terrorists from Caracas to Tehran. It’s also possible that Russia as it exists today wouldn’t survive. So what? Recall that many foreign-policy experts, including President George H.W. Bush, attempted to preserve the Soviet Union out of fear of what might happen if it fell. I’m grateful they failed.
  • The collapse of the Soviet Union led to an unparalleled expansion of global freedom, an opportunity that Ukraine and others seized. Mr. Putin and his KGB gang ripped that from our grasp. The end of the Russian mafia state would be a mortal blow to the forces of terrorism and tyranny. Israel and Ukraine are fighting the same fight. The Biden administration should be doing everything possible to help them win instead of holding them back.

“2024 - the year of geopolitical awakening.” Sergey Naryshkin, Razvedchik, 12.23. Clues from Russian Views. (Razvedchik is a magazine associated with Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR).)

  • Global turbulence, provoked by the fierce struggle of the West, which is trying to maintain its dominance…will continue to gain momentum in the coming year.
    • …The world restructuring…will be accompanied by the geopolitical awakening of an increasing number of countries, peoples and entire continents…
  • The current state of the world is increasingly reminiscent of a classical revolutionary situation, when the “top” represented by the weakening United States is no longer able to ensure its leadership, and the “bottom,” to which the Anglo-Saxon elite…refers all other countries, no longer want to submit to the Western dictates.
    • The coming year on the world stage will be marked by a further intensification of the confrontation between the two geopolitical principles…the Anglo-Saxon ‘divide and conquer’ and the continental “unite and lead.”
  • Due to the objective impossibility of achieving a military victory [in Ukraine], Western politicians will try to drag out the hostilities as much as possible and turn the [war] into a “second Afghanistan.”
  • It is likely that further support for the Kyiv junta, especially given the increasing “toxicity” of the Ukrainian issue for transatlantic unity…will accelerate the decline of the West’s international authority.
    • The United States risks creating a “second Vietnam” that every new American administration will have to deal with…
  • We are likely to see an increase in the level of social and political disunity in the United States and Europe on a range of topics, from support for Ukraine to the promotion of the LGBT agenda.
    • Western politicians will habitually try to blame Russia for the inevitable increase in internal tensions in their countries…

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Could China, Russia’s “no-limits” friend, help rebuild Ukraine?", Economist, 12.07.23.

  • China, while professing to be neutral, supports Russia, such as by helping it dodge Western sanctions. But China’s business and political ties with Ukraine are not broken. Under a U.N.-brokered deal that allowed safe passage of ships carrying Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, China was the biggest recipient of their cargo. Russia withdrew from the pact in July, but China remains an important buyer as traffic picks up along a new shipping corridor. 
  • China has interests in Ukraine that stretch beyond its clear desire for the war to weaken Western alliances and leave Russia much as it is, in tune with China’s worldview. Before the invasion, both China and Ukraine hoped to reap economic benefits from their relationship. China had overtaken Russia as Ukraine’s largest single trading partner (though as a bloc, the European Union was still the biggest). Chinese firms were already doing deals for the building or financing of infrastructure (a new line for the metro is one that may eventually materialize).  
  • But will China play much of a role in what could become the biggest frenzy of construction in Europe since the one that followed the second world war? This will depend in part on how the shooting ends. In the unlikely event Russia winds up in control of Ukraine, China would have a stark choice to make: siding with Russia in such a scenario would risk a meltdown of relations between itself and the West. Assuming the government in Kyiv remains in control of most of Ukraine—and has an appetite for Chinese help—China would have to calculate how much its contribution would risk annoying Russia, whose friendship it sees as vital to its own security. 
  • Ukraine and its supporters are already planning for the reconstruction phase. They have held two conferences—in Lugano, Switzerland, in 2022 and this year in London—to discuss Ukraine’s post-war recovery. China did not take part in either. The Ukrainian foreign-ministry official says he hopes it will join subsequent meetings. “If they want to be part of this, they should start engaging with international efforts,” he says. In Beijing, however, that may seem like abandoning a beloved friend. Providing Russia with moral support is still China’s priority—not figuring out how a country that China’s state-controlled media portray as a Western puppet can win a distant-seeming peace.  

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear and conventional arms control:

“Pragmatic Steps to reinforce the NPT on the way towards the 2026 Review Conference,” Tarja Cronberg, Thomas Hajnozci, Valeriia Hesse, Jan Hoekema, Patricia Jaworek and Andreas Persbo, ELN, 12.11.23.

The NPT states parties should:

  • Implement the recommendations of the Working Group on Further Strengthening of the Review Process (WGSRP): As States broadly support improvements to the NPT review process, states parties can (unilaterally or collectively) implement the WGSRPs recommendations. Ambassador Viinanen’s draft could serve as a “best practice guideline” for the remainder of the review cycle.
  • Protect the base of the nuclear non-proliferation regime: On nuclear testing, NPT states parties should make protection of the CTBT and the norm against nuclear testing an urgent priority. On nuclear arms control, the impending expiration of New START in 2026 ushers in an arms control interregnum. States parties to the NPT should demand the commencement of direct talks among the three largest possessor states—China, Russia, and the United States—on nuclear risk reduction and arms control without preconditions.
  • Reduce the salience of nuclear weapons: Diminution of nuclear weapons in security postures requires the consideration of the admissibility of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. The NPT can serve as a framework for further consideration of the Final Declarations of the G-20 Summits of 2022 and 2023 which stated that “The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.”

“Why There Should Not Be a Norm for ‘Minimum Safe Distance’ Between Satellites,” Robin Dickey and James Wilson, War on the Rocks, 12.11.23.

  • When American and Soviet naval officers went to negotiate an agreement to minimize escalatory incidents between their respective fleets, the U.S. diplomats specifically rejected the notion of minimum safe distance and focused on unsafe or unprofessional behaviors instead. 
  • Even without establishing spherical (or circular) keep-out zones at sea, most naval operators have a sense of what they believe is too close, and some are more sensitive or more risk averse than others for various reasons. This can be the same in space, where satellite operators have different thresholds for what they consider too close (or too high of a risk of collision). Satellite operators can and should call out potentially threatening close approaches, as U.S. leaders have done. The problem is that there is no “sphere” that would work well as a broadly applied norm for space safety or security. Because operators have a wide range of factors for what distance would give them concern, and because the physics of motion in space don’t lead to spherical metrics for measuring risk, a spherical keep-out zone would simply not be effective as a universal metric for judging unsafe or threatening behavior. 
  • Ultimately, there are many possible paths to create norms, rules, and tools for mitigating threats and hazards in space. It is not yet entirely clear what the best ones are, but it is quite obvious what one of the wrong ones is. The safety- and security-driven desire for keep-out zones for satellites is commendable. We should be finding ways to improve the safe operation of spacecraft and to proactively identify threatening behaviors. However, as we do so, we should consider the unique physics-based constraints under which satellites operate. Techniques that work on Earth do not directly apply to space, and failure to take this into account could significantly degrade the usefulness of our space-based infrastructure. 


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

CNBC Middle East interviews Meghan O'Sullivan, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, CNBC Middle East/X, 12.05.23. 

  • [Asked why Putin would have chosen to come to the Gulf when he did:] Probably the forcing function—why [he’s coming] this week, as opposed to next week or a few weeks earlier—has to do with the OPEC Plus decision to rein in production as a whole with a coalition. And there's some concerns in the market that the promises that OPEC made in its meeting actually the first day of COP coincidently aren't going to be met. And so I think there's probably a very intense conversation to be had among the Saudis, the Emiratis and the Russians about how to make these cuts credible in order to bolster the price of oil. … I'm sure he's also going to talk about the war that's unfolding in the Middle East, as well as really trying to demonstrate to the world that he's not isolated, and that, in fact, is really just a Western—a U.S. focus trying to isolate him over his egregious actions in Ukraine. 
  • [Asked if she believes strengthened ties between Russia and the Gulf states would be of strategic concern to the U.S. in the region]: Ten or so years ago, when I worked in the White House [under George W. Bush] … Russia was really not a contender in this region as all … That’s changed. I would quibble. with the idea that it's a strategic concern because the countries here know that it's important to have a good relationship with Russia, particularly when it comes to oil, but that Russia is not a strategic partner in any sense, and could not possibly be a replacement for the United States, or even China.

"The Russian Challenge to Europe’s Gas Supplies this Winter and Beyond," René Balletta, Dr Sidharth Kaushal and Dan Marks, RUSI, 12.08.23. 

  • With Europe facing another winter of war in Ukraine and the broader stand-off with Russia showing no signs of easing, the continent’s gas supply remains precarious and reliant on offshore infrastructure. What are the principal dangers, and how can they be mitigated? The recent disruption of the Baltic Connector pipeline linking Finland and Estonia serves as a timely warning of the vulnerabilities that Europe faces in the maritime domain, particularly at a time when gas markets remain tight and European supply is still vulnerable.
  • While the precise circumstances of the events which led to the disruption of the Baltic Connector are still subject to enquiry, the incident should nonetheless lend further momentum to nascent discussions regarding the types of vulnerability that adversaries might seek to exploit.
  • If circumstances arise that constrain gas supply—a cold winter, restricted LNG supplies, an outage at key infrastructure (strikes in Australia alone would have taken 7% of global LNG supply out of action)—then Russia will have more potential to cause damage to the European energy system. The simplest way it could do this would be by ceasing its ongoing supply. A pretext has already been created. The Russian government has asserted that an arbitration launched by Ukraine’s Naftogaz constitutes an aggressive act that could allow sanctions to be imposed, should the government so choose. Even in a normal winter without disruption elsewhere, this would result in storage levels dropping to 12% by April and the potential for severe price increases.
  • As discussed, Russia has a number of avenues with which to pressure Europe. The most likely and doctrinally consistent of these is a limited attack with plausible deniability that would test NATO responses and appetite for escalation. However, we cannot preclude a more dramatic attack that could cause severe damage to the European economy as a whole. Tight gas markets combined with a perceived strategic advantage for Russia might motivate an attack on a single pipeline with a view to achieving disproportionate effects.
  • To effectively surmount the threat, Western navies need a campaigning framework which allows them to shape the legal and operational dynamics in ways that proactively constrain the threat, rather than reactively responding to it. This requires the creative use of lawfare, the engagement of actors beyond government and the creation of retaliatory options short of war.

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:

“‘It shouldn’t be like this’ The time and place of Putin’s reelection announcement seem to have caught some Kremlin insiders by surprise,” Andrei Pertsev, Meduza,

  • On Dec. 8, Vladimir Putin said he would run for a fifth presidential term. While the news surprised no one, the circumstances of his announcement were less expected. Putin confirmed his candidacy at a Heroes of the Fatherland Day award ceremony after Artem Zhoga, the speaker of parliament for the self-proclaimed “DNR,” asked him to run “on behalf of the residents of the annexed territories” and the military. In what the Kremlin has described as an “absolutely spontaneous” decision, Putin agreed. It seems, though, that Putin’s staff had a less “militarized” setting in mind for the occasion. Meduza special correspondent Andrei Pertsev spoke with Russian government insiders about the now-defunct plans the Kremlin had for the announcement and the effect this “surprise” statement will have on Putin’s campaign.
  • Sources close to the Kremlin told Meduza that even a few days before Vladimir Putin’s “impromptu” announcement … Putin’s staff (at least the political and media blocs, headed by Sergey Kiriyenko and Alexei Gromov respectively) were confident he would announce his candidacy on Dec. 14, during his call-in show “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin.” Everything ended up happening a week earlier, though. On Dec. 8, … Zhoga … asked Putin to run for president. “You’re right, now is the time to make a decision,” Putin responded. “I will run for the office of President of the Russian Federation.”
  • Meduza’s sources close to Putin’s administration said this was essentially a spontaneous move. They noted that Kremlin staff didn’t have time to “prepare it and set it up properly.” “In theory, it shouldn’t be like this. Announcing candidacy should be done personally and publicly, not on the fly, in a rush. But the president wanted it this way,” one of the sources added.
  • Originally, the Kremlin was also considering having Putin announce his decision to seek another term on Nov. 4, Russian Unity Day, during the opening of the “Russia” expo at the VDNKh exhibition center in Moscow. Sources told Meduza that both this scenario and an announcement during “Direct Line with Vladimir Putin” were likely options.
  • “Both the media and political blocs were preparing for [‘Direct Line’]. The rationale [for choosing this option] was clear: the public is anxious, waiting and then one of them asks [when Putin will run]. The expo also makes sense: look at these achievements, we have to confirm this trajectory will continue. But it turned out the [president] himself was more drawn to talking with the military,” explained a Kremlin insider.

Vladimir Putin’s Remarks at “Russia Calling! Investment Forum,”, 12.07.23.Clues from Russian Views

  • What we want is to create a new model, a truly democratic model where honest competition between all economic players will dominate. … However, Western elites, which are currently at the top of this process, are trying to slow it down, to contain growth artificially in what they regard as the global periphery, which they have traditionally exploited and used as a resource, as a source of [economic] rent and simply as a colony. To attain this goal, they use sanctions, for example, exacerbating the political situation and provoking conflicts in whole macro-regions in an attempt to maintain their slipping domination.
  • Only recently, we thought that the European jurisdictions were safe, that they were what was called the safe havens, but this is no longer the case. They have adopted the friend-or-foe approach, much like the IFF—Identification Friend or Foe system in the air force. This is how they determine whether to grab someone’s assets and leave them without a dime, and block assets, companies or enterprises, take them away or even liquidate them after acts of sabotage like with the Nord Stream pipelines. This is what competition is all about in a rules-based order. Who needs these rules? 
  • Today, transactions in national currencies are effectively replacing this system. … We are increasingly converting to advanced solutions, including those involving blockchain and digital currencies through central banks. According to the analysts, this will pave the way for revolutionary shifts that will deprive the major Western banks of their monopoly. 
  • As some Western colleagues put it, they wanted to make our citizens “suffer.” These were the humanistic plans for Russian citizens. They wanted to create problems for millions of Russian families. But, how did this turn out in reality? Individuals and businesses never even noticed the seamless transition to the national payment system, which is now successfully operating and expanding. 
  • In the first ten months of this year, Russia’s GDP grew by 3.2 percent. It is already higher right now than it was before the Western sanctions attack. By the end of the year, GDP growth is expected to reach 3.5 percent—at least, we are all counting on that. Russia is Europe’s largest economy4 and is now ahead of all the leading EU countries in terms of growth rates. 
  • Moreover, the so-called essential non-commodity industries are accounting for an increasing share in the structure of Russia’s economic growth. These include manufacturing, transport, logistics, construction, information, communications, and housing and utilities. For example, in the second quarter of this year, they accounted for more than half (54 percent, to be more precise) of economic growth. Another 44 percent had to with what is known as the support industries—trade, catering, other services. And only 2 percent, I would like to emphasize this, only 2 percent came from mineral extraction. Now let’s hear someone refer to Russia as a fuel station, like they did in the not too distant past.
  • From the beginning of March 2022 to this November, the number of foreign companies in Russia… has not decreased. Can you imagine? I was surprised to discover this myself when I was looking at the materials. It has increased. As of March 1, 2022, 24,100 foreign organizations were registered in Russia. As of this Nov. 1, there were almost 1,500 more, about 25,600. This is an indicator of their interest and willingness to work in Russia.
  • Conditions are being created for carrying out the effective structural transformation of our economy, increasing labor productivity and improving the quality of life. Income growth is also a very important indicator—by now real wages and salaries have grown 7 percent and real disposal income by 4.4 percent. 
  • Thank God, our relations with China are growing very effectively. Our target is to achieve $200 billion in trade next year, or in the coming years. We will reach $200 billion this year, and I think no one has any doubts about that. … Of course, if our trade with China will reach nearly $200 billion this year, it would be only right to increase it with India, too. 

“The Russian economy is in good shape—if you cherry pick data,” The Bell, 12.08.23.

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin tried hard to persuade officials and businessmen that the economy is doing well in a speech at the annual Russia Calling forum, which is run by state-owned bank VTB. However, recent data, as well as comments from senior officials, suggests the real picture is not nearly as rosy as the Kremlin would like.
    • Putin’s key talking point at the Thursday event was Russian GDP, which could increase by as much as 3.5% this year. … However, there might be a limit to how far even this growth can go. Despite plans for further spending increases, the Central Bank has already flagged indicators that a slowdown is around the corner. “The first signs of a cooling in aggregate demand can be noted in the dynamics of financial flows in most sectors, as well as a decline in businesses’ assessment of the current level of demand for their products,” the regulator said in a report this week. 
    • Putin also boasted about a 7% rise in salaries in 2023, and a 4.4% increase in real household incomes. … However, real wage increases are outstripping both economic growth, and increases in productivity (figures suggest productivity has risen 1.7%—half as much as GDP and a quarter of the rise in real incomes). And this is usually a sign of a warped economy. In Russia, we’ve seen this before during periods of rising oil prices. But now it’s being caused by increased state spending, and a labor shortage … the gap between rich and poor is not falling as rapidly as it was before, with the Gini coefficient, which measures inequality, ticking up to 0.404 (in recent years, it has been below 0.4). There are several reasons for this. 
      • The number of Russians earning over 75,000 rubles a month was up 3.3 percentage points to 15.8% in the 12 months before October. 
      • And high inflation means that the poor spend a greater share of their income on essentials, while the wealthy benefit from better returns on their savings.
      • Another factor could be the subsidized loans that are so unpopular with Central Bank head Elvira Nabiullina. 
    • Finance Minister Anton Siluanov made it clear at the forum that, next year, the government will overhaul taxes for big business—we can assume this means tax hikes. 
    • In his speech at Russia Calling, Putin said 98% of Russia’s GDP growth in 2023 came from the manufacturing sector, trade and services, with just 2% from resource extraction. … Putin is right—but, of course, he did [not] mention that the reason is the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
  • Putin appears to be indicating to foreign companies what they should do if they want to stay in Russia. If they are willing to keep doing business, apparently, the authorities will help them cover their tracks and hold open the door for their return at some unspecified later date. At least a third of Western companies working in Russia have yet to announce any plans to leave. And among those that have said they will exit, by no means all have taken any real steps to make good on their words. That’s the audience Putin is seeking to reach.

“Vladimir Putin is running Russia’s economy dangerously hot,” The Economist, 12.10.23.

  • In 2024 defense spending will almost double, to 6% of GDP—its highest since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mindful of a forthcoming election, the government is also boosting welfare payments. Some families of soldiers killed in action are receiving payouts equivalent to three decades of average pay. Figures from Russia’s finance ministry suggest that fiscal stimulus is currently worth about 5% of GDP, a bigger boost than that implemented during the covid-19 pandemic.
  • This, in turn, is raising the country’s growth rate. Real-time economic data published by Goldman Sachs, a bank, point to solid growth. JPMorgan Chase, another bank, has lifted its GDP forecast for 2023, from a 1% decline at the start of the year, to 1.8% in June and more recently to 3.3%. “Now we confidently say: it will be over 3%,” Mr. Putin recently boasted. Predictions of a Russian economic collapse—made almost uniformly by Western economists and politicians at the start of the war in Ukraine—have proven thumpingly wrong.
  • The problem is that the Russian economy cannot take such rapid growth. Since the beginning of 2022 its supply side has drastically shrunk. Thousands of workers, often highly educated, have fled the country. Foreign investors have withdrawn around $250 billion-worth of direct investment, nearly half the pre-war stock. Red-hot demand is running up against this reduced supply, resulting in higher prices for raw materials, capital and labor. Unemployment, at less than 3%, is at its lowest on record, which is emboldening workers to ask for much higher wages. Nominal pay is growing by about 15% year on year. Companies are then passing on these higher costs to customers.
  • Higher interest rates might eventually take a bite out of this demand, stopping inflation from rising more. An oil-price recovery and extra capital controls could boost the ruble, cutting the cost of imports. Yet all this is working against an immovable force: Mr. Putin’s desire to win in Ukraine. With plenty of financial firepower, he has the potential to spend even bigger in future, portending faster inflation still. As on so many previous occasions, in Russia there are more important things than economic stability.

“In Russia, All Policy Roads Lead to the War; Over the past year, the invasion of Ukraine is at the core of Russia's domestic, economic and foreign policy,” Alexander Gabuev, Wall Street Journal, 12.08.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • My colleagues Andrei Kolesnikov and Denis Volkov have found that the war has general approval among about 75% of the population. Many Russians see the conflict as one between their country and the West, not Ukraine. … That data reinforces what is clear on the ground—that the war has been fully internalized by the majority of Russians, at both the popular and elite levels.
  • Just as in domestic politics, the war is becoming a mainstay of the Kremlin's economic policy. In the 2024 budget, military spending is set at 6% of GDP for the first time since Russia's independence in 1991, exceeding social expenditure. Around 39% of the budget will go on the war in Ukraine, including beefing up Russia's defense industry and payments to soldiers, and domestic security.
  • War has also become a central tenet of Russia's foreign policy. Every relationship with a foreign power is assessed from the viewpoint of whether ties to that country can directly help Russia's war effort through the supply of military goods, by filling the Kremlin's war chest, or helping Moscow punish the West for its support for Ukraine. 
    • When in September, Azerbaijan resorted to military force to resolve the decades-long conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, Moscow didn't lift a finger to protect the interests of its treaty ally Armenia, mostly because Baku and President Ilham Aliyev's patrons in Turkey have become indispensable in helping the Kremlin to withstand sanctions.
    • Moscow was forced to source artillery shells, drones and missiles from Iran and North Korea in exchange for large payments and sharing sensitive military technology with these pariah regimes, and to take sides in regional conflicts where Moscow had previously hedged its bets. This is why the Kremlin's muted reaction to the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas and ensuing full-throated criticism of Israel's war in Gaza would once have been unimaginable, but is hardly surprising in 2023.
  • Nor is it any surprise that in 2023, China has finally become Russia's single most important foreign partner. The relationship with Beijing checks all three boxes, providing the Kremlin with critical components for its war machine, keeping the Russian economy afloat, and making sure that U.S. influence is kept in check by a more assertive and military powerful China.
  • In 2024, when Putin is set to win a new six-year term in staged elections slated for March, he will continue his course of destroying Ukraine in the hope that he will be able to wear down the Ukrainians and their Western supporters. With war the organizing principle of Russian life, the continuation of aggression against Ukraine and the crusade against Western interests at home and abroad is becoming the raison d'être for the entire machinery of Putinism.

“Bureaucracy as the Pillar of Stability: Are There Any Real Institutions Inside the Russian Political Regime?” Ekaterina Schulmann, CEIP, 12.08.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • The system formed to a large extent under the current president is trying desperately to survive, and in places (such as the financial-economic bloc), it’s not doing a bad job. It still seems collectively to consider the preservation of the status quo, however risky and devoid of prospects, as preferable to the dangers of attempted change. Yet this precarious balance is being recalculated daily by actors and interest groups who cannot fail to realize that, for better or worse, the “Putin era” is entering its final stage, however drawn out that stage may be.
  • Bureaucratic structures in Russia often house experienced professionals in a range of fields. The social and financial advantages of positions in the finance and economic ministries and regional governments, along with the need to contribute substantively, have prevented negative selection. This contrasts with the top echelons of the siloviki, where impunity, lack of accountability, and the constant rewarding of loyalty over competence have yielded the opposite effect. It is conceivable that the country’s ruling mechanism—bureaucratic institutions—may outlast the personalism that has been both a burden and an asset. This vast network of civil servants, technocrats, and administrators forms a modestly resilient framework that endures beyond individual political decisions, providing continuity and ensuring the steady day-to-day functioning of the government. 

“Beslan made me rethink what Putin is doing.” Mikhail Kasyanov on relations with the president, the Russian opposition and the war in Ukraine.” Mikhail Kasyanov interviewed by Farida Kurbangaleeva, Republic. 12.07.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • Putin and his system, including these quasi-liberal economists and finance people, keep the situation more or less normal, eating up future growth possibilities. [This is] because the economy has been put on a war footing.
  • I do not think Putin wanted to restore the Soviet Union. Even now, I disagree that he wants to restore it. He wants to increase Russian influence, akin to how the Soviet Union influenced Eastern European countries when they could not do anything serious without its consent. I think he would like these countries to be unable to pursue an independent policy…without including them within the borders of one state.
  • Putin has turned the war [in Ukraine] into a war of attrition. He believes that both human and economic resources are on his side and that Ukraine will not withstand this war. Especially [because] no one wants to go to war with Russia directly…on the part of NATO. But I do not believe that the topic is closed, that Ukraine has not won the war, and it needs to agree to territorial concessions.
  • Ukraine can restructure its armed forces. And with the support of the supply of Western equipment and training, including pilots, it will be able to liberate even more territory. Maybe not all of the territory occupied by Putin’s regime, but a significant part. Then, a stronger negotiating position can be formed for the end of hostilities. Then, start negotiations, to which Putin will agree.

Defense and aerospace:

“Russia’s Military Cruelty Begins With Its Own Conscripts,” Kristaps Andrejsons, FP, 12.10.23. 

  • Every six months, approximately 130,000 Russian conscripts are called up for their year of service, where most of them will face sadistic hazing. In Russian, it’s called dedovshchina, a brutal internal army regime that began in Soviet times but is thoroughly embedded in modern military culture. Western militaries have worked hard to reduce bullying and hazing in the ranks with some, but not complete, success. But in Russia’s army, dedovshchina is a unique cultural staple and a formative part of the military identity. It’s a process that leaves Russian soldiers brutalized and traumatized; it in turn teaches them to inflict pain on others.
  • Some of the ways to … break, the young conscripts are genuinely disturbing—and those who’ve served seldom want to talk about the worst experiences they’ve had. This isn’t surprising, because oftentimes it’s on the same level as the worst punishments in the prison culture, and parallels incidents in today’s police torture cases in Russia. There are cases of rape and being forced into prostitution and threats of such. Then there are abuses like the infamous sitting on a bottle, often used by Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechen units to punish those who oppose them. It’s all about humiliation—some of it imitated from the ponyatiya, the sadistic regime of Russian prison culture. 

Vladimir Putin’s Remarks at “Presentation of Gold Star medals to Heroes of Russia,”, 12.08.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • You, your comrades-in-arms and all heroes of our country uphold honor, duty and selfless love for the Fatherland above all else. These values are paramount today, setting the highest standard of responsibility for each of us. And the selflessness and courage demonstrated by our fighters serve as examples to be emulated by workers and engineers at our defense enterprises, by the personnel of other economic sectors, who have not only risen to meet the challenges of sanctions but are increasing production, as well as by all our citizens, who are contributing to the strengthening of Russia’s economic, technological and cultural sovereignty. 
  • Your courage serves as inspiration for volunteers, who are supporting the front, and for all those who are eager to act for the benefit of the Fatherland.
  • See also 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:

“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions following the 21st Doha Forum,”, 12.10.23.

  • We strongly condemned the terrorist attack against Israel on October 7, as we condemn any terrorist act. At the same time, we do not consider it acceptable to use this occasion to collectively punish millions of Palestinians by indiscriminately shelling residential areas. You mentioned the number of victims. It is growing day by day. Women and children suffer the most. We can see the consequences of what is happening on… TV channels every hour… On October 7 of this year, Hamas carried out a terrorist attack, which we immediately condemned.
  • Using his [veto power]…, the U.S. representative in the U.N. Security Council…said that they could not support the demand for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip because it would sow the seeds for a future war. Americans are “remarkable” in what we call “cancel culture.” Whenever they do not like a part of a story or an event, they “cancel” what preceded it. As for this phrase, “By declaring a ceasefire, we will sow the seeds for the next war.” We must all remember the origins of the situation in the Palestinian territories [and] what is happening with the 75-year-old resolution promising the Palestinians a state.
  • [The Russian-Ukrainian war] is not a war of choice. This is an operation that we could not avoid, given that Ukraine has been used for years by the United States and NATO as a tool to undermine Russia’s security.
  • [When asked what are the chances of an immediate ceasefire and the start of negotiations] You need to call…Zelensky. A year and a half ago, he signed a decree prohibiting negotiations with Vladimir Putin’s government. This is a well-known fact. President…Putin has repeatedly quoted it in response to such questions. They had a chance in March and April 2022, and shortly after the start of the special military operation in Istanbul, negotiators reached an agreement based on Ukraine’s neutrality—no NATO. At the same time, security guarantees would be provided to Ukraine by the West and Russia together. This was rejected.
  • The main result for us and for others (who will feel it later) is that Russia is already much stronger than it was before. And so it will be after the end of the war.

“The Gaza War Has Convinced Russia It Was Right All Along,” Nikita Smagin, CEIP, 12.07.23.

  • The conflict in the Middle East is the perfect crisis for Russia, which is reaping a whole host of political benefits. The confrontation between Israel and Hamas has not only boosted the Kremlin’s hopes of changing the mood around the war in Ukraine, but also strengthened its belief that the Western-centric system of international relations is breaking down.
  • The full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 put an end to most internal Western disagreements when it came to Russia, uniting countries on both sides of the Atlantic. But the Israel-Hamas war has seen divisions resurface at a state level: while the United States insists Israel has a right to self-defense, there have been bitter disagreements between European countries about what position the European Union should take.
  • There are also societal divides, with protests by opponents and supporters of Israel taking place regularly from Washington to Stockholm. Even state agencies are not immune to these differing views, with media reports of widespread discontent among U.S. officials with the White House’s pro-Israel stance.
  • Whatever the difficulties, President Vladimir Putin apparently believes that every cloud has a silver lining—and he communicates this confidence to his subordinates. Any successes, particularly if they seem to come from nowhere, strengthen both Putin’s fatalism and belief in Putin’s infallibility. Everything is in God’s hands, and God, of course, is on the side of Russia.
  • There are also more rational arguments. Moscow’s bet on the disintegration of a Western-oriented international order appears to be paying off. Today it’s Israel and Palestine; tomorrow, it could be Taiwan and China. As such, the Middle East conflict confirms the hypothesis that Russia cannot be isolated. The Global South no longer trusts the West, and that means new opportunities for Moscow. The conflict also shores up the Kremlin’s hope that the difficulties caused by the war in Ukraine will—with time—dissipate on their own. This approach has been tried and tested by Russia many times. Even if the invasion did not go as planned, the logic runs, everything will resolve itself.
  • Taken together, all of this means that Russia will remain a passive actor in the Israel-Hamas war. Moscow had no role in triggering the crisis, and couldn’t resolve it even if it wanted to. Russia cannot even play the role of an intermediary, because Israel is nervous of its closeness to Tehran. The only option left is to watch events unfold from a distance and repeat empty phrases about a two-state solution. In the meantime, the benefits the Kremlin is reaping from events in the Middle East only serve to convince the Russian elite that they have chosen the right path.

“Putin listens to nothing other than the language of power," Rieke Havertz and Michael Thumann interview Finnish President Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Zeit Online, 12.07.23.

  • [Asked who has changed more in recent years amid the deterioration of Russian-Finnish ties—Putin, or himself] I doubt that Putin has changed significantly. I see a profound change between Europe and Russia. In the early 2000s, we Europeans were very confident, expecting our continent to be a model for the world within a decade. We did not meet our own expectations. Unfortunately, peace is not always maintained as we wished back then. In 2015, then-EU President Jean-Claude Juncker proposed a common European army. I have always emphasized the need for stronger European defense and welcomed the proposal. It was never implemented. Today, bitter reality has come close to Europe, and we are in the midst of it. Still unprepared.
  • [On Europe’s defense preparedness] After the Cold War, many European countries, for example, suspended conscription. … In Finland, conscription is the backbone of our defense. It demonstrates the general mindset and the willingness to defend our country. If you look around in Europe, even the stockpiles of armaments are not very large. But the most troubling thing is the polls about whether citizens would be willing to defend their own country in case of a real threat. In Finland, Sweden, and perhaps Poland, about 70 percent say yes. But the numbers in the rest of Europe are very low. All of this is part of the same thinking that security is not a problem. And that's precisely why it is such a big problem now.
  • [On why Putin did not seem to have a strong reaction to Finland joining NATO] I believe that, for Putin, it was not a question of a military power shift but more a matter of perception. During the Cold War, the Russian leadership showed the population that it could cooperate with Finland, even though it was a Western country. For decades, they had told their citizens that NATO and the U.S. were the devil, but that good relations could be maintained with neighbors like Finland. Therefore, our NATO membership is more a defeat in perception for Putin than a defeat in substance.
  • [On what he has learned from dealing with Russia over the years] I believe that Russians and Putin listen to nothing but the language of power.
  • [Asked what a solution to the war might look like] China's role in this enormous war is important. China at least economically considers Europe important. If Europeans realize that China supports Russia, the image of China among citizens, who buy so many Chinese goods, would change. When I met President Zelensky at the beginning of the year, he emphasized that he is ready to talk to China. China should be involved, at least in this phase where we are planning what final security guarantees Ukraine could receive. Because if China is involved in such a solution, it must also hold its Russian friends accountable. 
  • [Asked if Western nations quietly assume Ukraine cannot win the war] No, I don't believe that. Finland has just pledged another aid package, including military equipment. Germany has also put together another large package. Certainly, there are some voices that argue that way. But Russian activities at our border aim to harm Europe. And that could even help strengthen the will in Europe to help Ukraine more.


“Ukrainians question Volodymyr Zelensky’s ‘rose-tinted’ speeches,” Isobel Koshiw, FT, 12.10.23.

  • For more than 650 days in a row, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has given at least one video address to the nation—praising his troops, celebrating advances along the front lines and reaffirming resolve in the face of Russian aggression. The message is always “we’re moving forward”, with the aim of maintaining optimism at home and abroad, according to three people familiar with the communications strategy. 
  • But with Ukraine enjoying few military achievements this year and Western support faltering, the communications strategy is creating a rift between the presidential administration and military leadership, say officials from the armed forces, former presidential staffers and communication strategists. “We need to add more realism . . . and we have to be as courageous about it as we were on February 24 [2022],” said a person connected to the presidential communications strategy in reference to the day Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
  • Political rivals have begun to openly criticize Zelensky, with Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko recently accusing the president of authoritarianism and even comparing him to Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, military leaders have argued that the gap between official messaging and the situation on the ground is no longer convincing, and therefore not motivating Ukrainians or the country’s Western partners. 
  • The differences burst into the open last month, when Ukraine’s top general Valery Zaluzhny told The Economist that the land war was at a “stalemate”—a taboo word in Kyiv, despite the fact the front lines in eastern Ukraine have barely moved since the country’s counteroffensive began in June. Zaluzhny’s candor surprised many Ukrainians, and some Western leaders even called Kyiv to ask what it meant and whether negotiations were now a priority, according to the official.
  • “In order for society not to build castles in the air, and to take off its rose-tinted glasses . . . it is necessary to stop being afraid to speak the truth,” said Iryna Zolotar, adviser and head of communications for Ukraine’s former defense minister Oleksii Reznikov. “That victory will come with difficulty, that it is a marathon and is long and exhausting.” Zolotar said the current strategy had left audiences in the West asking why they should contribute their taxpayers’ money if Ukraine was always “about to win.”
  • “Almost everybody in Ukraine has relatives or friends fighting or who have suffered directly from the war,” said Oksana Romaniuk, director at Ukraine’s Institute for Mass Information, a media monitoring organization. “If there is no negative information, it will kill the trust towards the government.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Armenia is turning against its erstwhile guardian, Russia: The Western-leaning prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, has few good options,” The Economist, 12.07.23.

  • Russia is close to losing one of its last old friends: Armenia. The Kremlin is irritated by the country’s recent overtures to America, Europe and Ukraine. Armenia says Russia has abandoned its pledge to protect it from Azerbaijan. In October, Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister, accused Russia of trying to overthrow his government. Moscow did little to deny it: its state media quoted an anonymous high-ranking source accusing Mr. Pashinyan of “following in the steps of [Ukraine’s President Volodymyr] Zelensky.”
  • Relations … began to sour in 2020, when Russia stayed largely neutral while Azerbaijan bested Armenia in an attack on Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic-Armenian enclave. Still, after that war Russia sent 2,000 peacekeepers. Afterwards Azerbaijan carried out repeated incursions. That should have activated the mutual-defense provisions of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led pact to which Armenia belongs. But Russia dithered. In September 2023 Azerbaijan launched a lightning offensive to capture the rest of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian authorities surrendered, nearly the entire population fled, and the Russians just watched.
  • Armenia’s room for maneuver is slim. Russia is its biggest trading partner by far and provides nearly all its grain and energy imports. Many Armenians depend on remittances from family members working in Russia. In November Russia began turning away Armenian lorries for “phytosanitary” (plant-health) reasons, which Armenia sees as a shot across the bow.
  • Armenia’s choices are unpromising. America’s credibility was hit when a State Department official told Congress that it would “not tolerate” an attack on Nagorno-Karabakh, yet when Azerbaijan invaded five days later the American response was limited merely to critical statements. The head of the EU’s monitoring mission in Armenia recently admitted that, in a war, the unarmed monitors would flee. “They cannot be human shields,” said a Western diplomat in Yerevan. The main problem, he said, was that the Armenians themselves “don’t know what the endgame is.”

“Armenia Under the Gun. Azerbaijan’s Territorial Ambitions Extend Beyond Nagorno-Karabakh,” Olesya Vartanyan, FA, 12.08.23.

  • In late September, one of the most shocking human upheavals since the century began took place in the former Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh… After three decades of tensions and conflict, it took just one day in September for Azerbaijan to seize the disputed enclave. 
  • Armenia stood largely on the sidelines, not strong enough to intervene, causing Nagorno-Karabakh’s population of some 120,000 ethnic Armenians to flee en masse… Azerbaijan has faced no international consequences for its actions, a fact made all the more striking by the possibility of a new war in the region.
  • The fall of Nagorno-Karabakh did not resolve all the problems between Armenia and Azerbaijan. These two neighbors have never established diplomatic ties and do not engage in trade, and their citizens cannot freely visit one another. Both countries have now raised three generations of people who view the other side as the enemy. … Much is at stake. After more than a decade of rearmament and arms deals with Israel, Turkey, and other countries, Azerbaijan’s military is far more powerful than Armenia’s; it could within a matter of hours take control of swaths of Armenian territory. Its forces have already occupied a series of positions in southern Armenia. Observers fear that Azerbaijan might be preparing another offensive, with the goal of securing a route to its own exclave of Nakhichevan—a region of around 100,000 people that is separated from Azerbaijan by a sliver of Armenian territory. 
  • The peculiar geography of South Caucasus fuels these tensions. Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhichevan is separated from Azerbaijan by a narrow strip of southern Armenia. Azerbaijan has long demanded the creation of a special route through this territory to connect Azerbaijan with its exclave. It has advocated a route, which it calls the Zangezur corridor, that would run through Armenian territory near the border with Iran. … In the last three years, both Russia and the West have been attempting to proactively mediate talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan to reach a deal regarding the corridor. … An agreement regarding the corridor could be within reach … But to make progress, both countries need to resume talks.
  • Despite their failure to prevent the recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh, the United States and the EU are still the only powers both willing and able to push negotiations forward. Their readiness to continue shuttle diplomacy between Armenia and Azerbaijan is helpful, and the West should continue to try to bring Azerbaijan back to the negotiating table. The prospects for success in the Western-led process may now look small, but if Azerbaijan does not see any reason to return to the table, it may seek to advance its interests on the battlefield instead.

“Belarus Is Reluctant to Share Fleeing Western Firms’ Assets With Russia,” Olga Loyko, CEIP, 12.05.23.

  • Throughout his nearly thirty-year reign, Belarus’s contested ruler Alexander Lukashenko has said that state assets should not be given away. True, he hasn’t always abided by this rule himself: Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom controls the country’s gas transportation system, and a quarter of the banking system is also in Russian hands. Still, most Russian plans to expand into the Belarusian economy have been frustrated. Some thought Belarus’s involvement in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent exodus of Western investors would give Moscow another opportunity to snap up assets. But Belarus has played hardball.
  • The foreign companies on Belarus’s list have a choice: sit tight or sell and take a financial hit. The vast majority chose the former. In the year since the list was drawn up, just 1.5 percent of the companies on it have formally applied to liquidate their assets. The reason is pragmatism. Principles are all well and good, but business is booming in Belarus as a result of increased Russian defense orders, joint Belarusian-Russian import substitution projects, and the replacement of Western software.
  • Despite its international isolation, Minsk does not intend to allow the uncontrolled Russian acquisition of Belarusian assets. The first in line to get their hands on companies up for sale will be the Belarusian state, or loyal tycoons and businesses. No one else should expect any favors.



  1. Zelensky is to visit the U.S. later this week to meet U.S. President Joe Biden on Dec. 12 to discuss U.S. aid to Ukraine. While in D.C., he is also to meet with Congressional  leaders, as well as IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. U.S. lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington at the end of the week for the holiday break, according to Bloomberg.
  2. Zelensky is to meet Biden in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 12.
  3. For the CEIP version of Pertsev’s analytical take on Putin’s reelection announcement, see this link.
  4. See our check of that claim here:


*Translated with the help of machine translation.

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 12:00 pm Eastern time on the day this digest was distributed. Unless otherwise indicated, all summaries above are direct quotations. 

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

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