Russia Analytical Report, Dec. 5-12, 2022
5 Ideas to Explore
- Helping the Ukrainian military retake all its occupied lands will require a “greater flow of Western military support—possibly more than the West is willing and able to bear,” Daniel Michaels writes in WSJ. Realizing just how much more support would be needed may be a reason why U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has recently suggested that the U.S., which has already provided nearly $32 billion in aid to Ukraine, might not back Ukraine militarily in retaking Crimea and other areas that Russia seized back in 2014, according to this WSJ journalist.
- Viewed from Washington, the most significant medium- to long-term challenge of the Russo-Ukrainian war is that it drains the American military’s stockpiles of certain munitions, according to Michael Kofman. “The U.S. military is not optimized to support Ukraine’s way of war, which depends heavily on sustaining large volumes of artillery and rocket system fire,” this prominent military expert told Bloomberg’s Tobin Harshaw. Depletion has impacted the Russian military, too. As a result, “Russia is likely to be much more dependent on nuclear weapons,” Kofman said.
- When it comes to nuclear saber-rattling, Putin likes to turn the volume up … then down to keep the West on its back foot and China content. In the course of just three days last week, Putin first explicitly pledged to avoid “brandish[ing] these [nuclear] weapons like a razor,” but then asserted that Russia’s military-political leadership “should think” about adopting the concept of a disarming first strike. Such alternations of conciliatory and assertive nuclear rhetoric could be a ploy by the Russian autocrat to keep the West off balance without antagonizing China, which has called for an end to nuclear threats over the Ukraine war.
- Three propositions increase the likelihood that hostilities in Ukraine may end with an armistice, in the view of Gideon Rachman. “First, neither Russia nor Ukraine is in a position to achieve total victory. Second, the political positions of the two countries are too far apart to make a peace agreement possible. Third, both countries are suffering severe losses that could make a ceasefire attractive,” Rachman writes in FT.
- Should the West be afraid of Russian disintegration? No, and even Russia’s loose nukes could be managed thanks to an unspecified “mix of prudence and firmness from the West,” Kristi Raik of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute claims in a commentary for FP. Marlene Laruelle of George Washington University, however, argues the West should be worried, as “a Russian breakup would be disastrous for international security.” “A collapse would generate several civil wars. New statelets would fight with one another over borders and economic assets. Moscow elites, who control a huge nuclear arsenal, would react with violence to any secessionism,” Laruelle predicts.
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:
- “More than 300 million people, half of them children, are in need of desperate aid in some of the world’s poorest and most conflict-ridden regions. But they seem to have been deprioritized since Russia’s Ukraine invasion.”
- “According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 80% of the people in need of humanitarian aid live in 20 nations. ‘It is vital that support for refugees fleeing Ukraine not come at the expense of millions of refugees and other people in crisis around the world,’ the ICRC told Foreign Policy via email.”
- “But the rise across Europe of far-right political parties—parties that oppose Arab and African immigrants but have seemingly embraced Ukrainian refugees owing to religious and racial affiliation—has deeply influenced the continent’s political calculations. Many governments have responded to these new political pressures by chopping foreign aid while increasing spending at home. Among those are traditional donors such as Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
- “Denmark’s spending on Ukrainians has reportedly been diverted from its 50-million-crown pledge in support to Syria, 70 million crowns meant for Mali and 100 million crowns intended for Bangladesh. … Sweden reallocated over 4 and a half billion Swedish crowns from foreign aid to pay for refugee reception within Sweden.”
- “Syria, Ethiopia, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of the Congo did not even receive half their requested aid funding this year, and even though half of the populations of Somalia and Afghanistan are facing the prospect of famine, human rights organizations have been scrambling to garner the support they require. … It took Somalia … nearly an entire year to receive 68% of its requested funding, whereas humanitarian targets for Ukraine were achieved at the same levels in a matter of six weeks.”
- “The IMF estimates that if all goes well, the country will need $40bn in external fiscal support next year, plus $8bn for repair of infrastructure. If all goes badly it will need roughly an additional $9bn. The EU is expected to commit €18bn in fiscal support for next year. The U.S. administration has asked Congress for $14.5bn to September 2023, with more expected for the balance of 2023.”
- “The combined gross domestic products of the U.S., EU, U.K. and Canada are some 22 times that of Russia. Even fiscal support of $60bn next year would cost only 0.1% of the allies’ combined incomes. Who could argue this is unaffordable? Is it not far more unaffordable to let Putin triumph? Yes, it is painful to suffer the energy shock from this war. But it is the west’s duty to cope. It is Ukraine and Ukrainians who bear the brunt of the conflict. We in the comfortable west must give them the resources they need. Only when Putin knows he will not be allowed to win is the war likely finally to come to an end.”
- “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted unprecedented levels of military assistance from the West. But Ukraine needs more than weapons: it needs a financial lifeline.”
- “It’s really expensive to fight a war against a larger, brutal aggressor. Ukraine’s GDP is expected to drop by about 30% in 2022, and tax revenues cover only half of the government expenditures. Ukraine appreciates all the support its international partners have provided, but it needs more financing—and stable and predictable disbursements. At the IMF/World Bank annual meetings in mid-October, Ukrainian officials had many meetings with foreign counterparts and IFI representatives, but so far, there are no firm new commitments or planned disbursements. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military and society continue to fight for the fundamental principles of international law, and for the freedom that all people deserve. Ukraine is not the first country in such a predicament, and it won’t be the last one. Global financial institutions must be better equipped with the tools to respond.”
“The West should do whatever it takes to help Ukrainians survive the winter,” William B. Taylor of the United States Institute of Peace and David J. Kramer of the George W. Bush Institute, WP, 12.06.22.
- “The United States should lead a humanitarian operation to help Ukrainians survive. In addition to providing Ukraine with missile defense, anti-drone, and antiaircraft systems, the United States should organize and lead a major public and private, international humanitarian effort to help the Ukrainian people make it through the winter. We should send massive numbers of portable generators, fuel, repair parts for electricity generation and distribution nodes, blankets, winter clothes, camp stoves, plastic sheeting, building repair supplies, internet connection devices, other communication networks and food. We should send these supplies by rail, road, sea and air.”
Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:
- “TH: Are you worried about this creating a new cycle of escalation in which the West becomes very uncomfortable?”
- “MK: No, although I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks in the West were made uncomfortable by Ukrainian strikes aimed at Russia’s strategic bomber force. But Russia is using long-range aviation for regular strikes across Ukraine, so this is not an escalation, but a retaliation.”
- “TH: Ukraine’s fall offensive was a success by any measure, but it expended a lot of munitions and put a huge strain on its machinery. Will Kyiv, with Western aid, be able to re-supply over the winter? Will there be a relaxation in the fighting now?”
- “MK: I’ve not seen much evidence of a relaxation in the fighting. Instead, we’re seeing sustained attritional warfare … There may not be major offensives at this moment, but this is a transitional period in the war. ... Russia is using up munitions faster than it can produce them, and is increasingly dependent on imports of drones from Iran to sustain this campaign.”
- “TH: The war has put a major drain on U.S. coffers and, more alarmingly, its military stockpiles.”
- “MK: This is arguably the most significant medium- to long-term challenge of the war. The U.S. military is not optimized to support Ukraine’s way of war, which depends heavily on sustaining large volumes of artillery and rocket system fire, and our defense sector will take some time to increase production.”
- “TH: What about the medium-term or long-term impact on the Russian military?”
- “MK: In the coming years, Russia is likely to be much more dependent on nuclear weapons given its depleted military, but in several sectors the Russian armed forces have either not suffered significant losses or could replenish said systems more easily than the badly attritioned ground force. Russia will be a declining power, and may take a decade or more to rebuild its military, but it will remain dangerous, and endure as a strategic challenge.”
- “TH: If he hits the point of desperation, do you see Putin using nuclear or chemical weapons?
- MK: ... [T]he risk of nuclear escalation is not insignificant. If the Russian military suffers a defeat, leading to a cascade collapse and loss of cohesion, then the Russian political leadership may well consider nuclear escalation. … Nuclear use would come with significant costs for Moscow, and is hardly an attractive option, but desperate leaders can prove unreasonable in their calculus.”
- “The basis of all of our ‘increasing victories’ on the fronts and directions of the special military operation is the deepest crisis of strategic planning. Simply put, the troops are fighting ‘by inertia.’ They don’t have the slightest idea of the ultimate strategic goals of the current military campaign and can only make guesses about the vague plans of the command.”
- “In most parts of the RF Armed Forces, soldiers and officers do not understand ... for what purposes they are fighting. To them, the answers to the following questions are a mystery: What is the condition for victory or what are conditions for ending the war? And the authorities of the Russian Federation are not able to explain this to them, since setting a clear goal for special military operation would ‘limit room for maneuver.’”
- “Apathy prevails in the army … The absence of a clear military-political strategy does not allow the military to develop tactics that will contribute to its implementation. In the meantime … the RF Armed Forces are preparing for a protracted positional war ...The fact is that following the strategy of a protracted war amounts to a suicide for the Russian Federation (and its authorities and elites, too, by the way).”
- “I do not expect anything good at the front in the coming weeks as I watch how the enemy slowly (and without encountering any opposition) implements its own strategic tasks with the complete passivity of the military and political authorities of the Russian Federation.”
- “No, so-called ‘Ukraine’ will NOT freeze in winter, will NOT rebel and its quality of fighting will NOT deteriorate. On the contrary, its soldiers, who have already gained belief in their strength as a result of the autumn victories … and are fully supported by NATO, will only fight harder and harder. ... And they will encounter only by apathetic performance [on the Russian side].”
“Ukraine Can Win the War. But the Cost May Be Too High for the West. Western military officials offer sobering assessment of what would be needed,” Brussels bureau chief Daniel Michaels, WSJ, 12.11.22.
- “Ukrainian leaders have vowed to retake all territory occupied by Russia, prompting a debate over what would be necessary for Ukraine to win and evict Moscow's forces.”
- “The answer is primarily military because Russia is only going to abandon its hard-won gains if its troops suffer catastrophic losses, military strategists say. Behind those talks about weapons and ammunition is a deeper political question as Ukraine's battlefield fortunes rely heavily on the willingness of Western governments to continue their multibillion-dollar military assistance to Kyiv. And pushing Russian forces out of the entrenched positions they hold in more than 15% of Ukraine's territory will require an even greater flow of military support—possibly more than the West is willing and able to bear.”
- “Evicting Russian troops from Ukraine would entail a military assault beyond the current capacity of Kyiv's forces, military specialists say. Many of Moscow's troops have had months or years to fortify their positions or are in locations that are difficult to attack without suffering massive casualties.”
- “Kherson and the Kharkiv region are small compared with the Ukrainian territory that Russia still controls, said U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently. ‘Militarily kicking the Russians physically out of Ukraine is a very difficult task,’ Gen. Milley said.”
- “The mounting cost of furnishing Ukraine with weapons and other supplies is increasingly drawing attention. The U.S. has already provided nearly $32 billion in aid to Ukraine since Moscow's full-scale invasion in February, including almost $20 billion in arms and other security assistance. Funding the even greater quantities of military equipment that would enable Ukraine to evict Russian forces quickly would cost far more, analysts say.”
- “Putin could lose in Kherson, or elsewhere in Ukraine, and accept his losses. He could even lose the Donbas, part of eastern Ukraine that Russia has occupied since 2014, and make do politically. But Putin surely regards losing Crimea and surviving as president as irreconcilable.”
- “Should such a battle [for Crimea] come to pass, three threats will emerge.”
- “The most important is the prospect of nuclear escalation. ... What was a bluff in Kherson may not be a bluff in Crimea.”
- “Second, even if Crimea’s 10,000 square miles were easy to conquer, the region would not be easy for Kyiv to administer.”
- “The third threat is the potential fracturing of the alliance that supports Ukraine.”
- “Ukraine should keep Crimea vulnerable by continuing to attack military targets. ... In the meantime, bolstering Ukraine’s antimissile and antidrone defenses and assisting its advance in the northeast and southeast are important short- and mid-term objectives. Ukraine should aim to break up the land bridge to Crimea.”
- “Over time, Russia’s built-in weaknesses and the West’s and Ukraine’s assets will have their effect. When they do, new options to address the question of Crimea will open up.”
- “Reports of significant attacks against two Russian air bases are a new and dangerous twist in the Ukraine war. One of the explosions was at the Engels-1 air base in the Saratov region, the other at Dyagilevo in the Ryazan area—both hundreds of miles inside the Russia-Ukraine border. Several Russians were reportedly killed or wounded, and at least two aircraft damaged. Moscow immediately blamed Ukraine for the strikes, which appear to have been conducted using unmanned aerial vehicles.”
- “If the Ukrainians are given tools to truly ‘close the skies’ over their nation, they might be more amenable to refraining from long-range attacks. But as things stand, Ukraine has every right to respond against targets inside Russia. Doing so with unmanned vehicles is a prudent path. Unless the West is willing to protect Ukrainians from a terror campaign from the sky, we should get out of their way.”
“An Arms Race and a Mine Field of Accidents,” Fyodor Lukyanov of Russia in Global Affairs interviews Maxim Shepovalenko of the Center for Strategy and Technology Analysis, Russia in Global Affairs, 12.05.22. Clues from Russian Views
- “FL: Is it true that NATO arsenals are running out of weapons that can be supplied to Ukraine?”
- “MS: There is a large consumption of means of destruction (what we call ‘ammunition’) and there are deliveries already being made from the stock of equipment available to military agencies of Western countries. But I think it's still far from exhausted. One cannot say that deliveries to Ukraine may be wrapped up in the near future due to the depletion of reserves.”
- “FL: Which of the things that Kyiv is now very actively requesting is the most scarce?”
- “MS: Means of destruction ... ammunition [are most scarce]. The rate consumption of artillery shells and unguided rockets is very high. This is a problem for the West, in particular the Americans, so we periodically see attempts to involve countries that are trying to abstain, such as, South Korea.”
- “FL: Can we expect a sharp increase in investments in the military-industrial complex and to what extent? And what will the new arms race look like?”
- “MS: I don't think we'll see a boom in weapons production anyway, because the market situation for manufacturers and developers remains unclear. It is not clear to them when the Ukrainian conflict will end. ... The markets are not sure about the timing, the geography of conflicts or their intensity. This is such a territory that is mined, so to say, so when one is walking through a mine-field of accidents ... one doesn’t know where the shots will be fired.”
Punitive measures related to Ukraine and their impact globally:
- No significant developments.
- “The hope that an armistice might be a route to the end of hostilities in Ukraine is based on three ideas.”
- “First, neither Russia nor Ukraine is in a position to achieve total victory.”
- “Second, the political positions of the two countries are too far apart to make a peace agreement possible.”
- “Third, both countries are suffering severe losses that could make a ceasefire attractive.”
- “It is possible that a Russian decision to wind the war down could be dressed up as an adjustment in military tactics, rather than an acknowledgment of defeat. This was what happened when Russia withdrew from Kherson. Putin distanced himself from the decision, which was announced by military commanders and the defense minister.”
- “The Ukrainians also have some incentives to freeze the conflict — without giving up their ultimate political aims. The major obstacle for them is a complete lack of trust in Russian intentions. But the fact that Ukraine’s western allies have also had their illusions stripped away about the nature of Putin’s Russia means that a post-ceasefire Ukraine will not be left alone to face the future. Instead, it is likely to be given military aid and security guarantees to turn it into an indigestible ‘porcupine’ that Russia would hesitate to attack.”
- “A ceasefire would also allow Ukraine’s sympathizers to pour in foreign aid that would allow the country to rebuild. South Korea was utterly devastated after the Korean war, but is now a prosperous, advanced nation. By contrast, a Russia that was still led by Putin, and that refused to atone for its crimes in Ukraine, could expect a future of continued international isolation and growing poverty. As that reality sank in, the long-awaited political reconstruction of Russia might finally begin.”
- “The West cannot casually dismiss the possibility of Putin escalating to use a nuclear weapon, but he has real reasons not to. Doing so would alienate the Global South and China as well as open a Pandora’s box with potentially nasty consequences for Russia. The Kremlin appears to understand that and has de-escalated the nuclear rhetoric.”
- “The West should hope for Ukrainian victory and liberation of all occupied lands. However, that might not prove possible, and instead a prospect of a serious negotiation could at some point develop, offering a hope of a settlement to end the war. Even then, the Ukrainians would have to exercise caution. They would not want to allow the Russians the possibility of ‘negotiating’ simply to buy time to reconstitute their military forces for a new offensive.”
- “If a serious negotiation were to emerge, it would almost certainly require that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his government compromise on some of their conditions for peace, which include the return of all occupied territories, full reparations for the immense damage and punishment of those responsible for war crimes.”
- “The Ukrainians—the victims in this war—first have to see that they have a serious Russian bargaining partner. They themselves must conclude that the time has come to make tough decisions on compromises to end the conflict. The questions of if and when to negotiate properly should remain Kyiv’s to decide.”
- “Now is not the time to push for premature peace. Unless Russia abandons its goal of conquering new territory in Ukraine, peace talks have little chance of achieving anything.”
- “What is at stake in Ukraine is not just Ukraine’s existence but Europe’s security architecture, with its core principles of territorial integrity, sovereignty, and prohibition of the use of force. We cannot allow the fundamental principles of the U.N. Charter and the European security architecture to be trampled underfoot. For that reason, Ukraine must win, the Russian aggressor must fail, and war criminals must face justice. No peace that is reached before these goals are achieved can ensure anyone’s security.”
Great Power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:
- “For once, Vladimir Putin has decided to be honest with the Russian people and admitted that the war with Ukraine will be long. … There has been speculation that these developments [recent setbacks] will cause Putin’s regime to crack or that they will force him to negotiate an end to the war. Both are premature. Russia’s battlefield setbacks notwithstanding, Putin is poised to wage his war on Ukraine and its people for as long as it takes to achieve his ultimate vision of victory.”
- “The tragedy of this situation is that the more the Russian army loses on the battlefield, the less likely Putin is to back down from his murderous course. The more Russia’s industry is hamstrung by sanctions and the less access it has to advanced technology to produce ‘smart’ weapons, the more indiscriminate and destructive Russian missile and artillery barrages will be.”
- “If one looks to the future beyond Putin, Russia’s national security establishment is more than likely to keep Ukraine in its crosshairs as the great strategic prize in the standoff with the West … The misfortune of Ukraine’s geography means that it will always be in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis Russia, absent a fundamental change in Russian domestic politics and strategic culture.”
- “A negotiated end to the war that can reliably ensure security for Ukraine and restore durable peace in Europe cannot be achieved with Putin. The odds are that it will not be achieved with the leader or regime that will succeed him, either. The alternative is then for Ukraine’s security to be achieved through a combination of military capabilities sufficient to deter Russia from launching another aggression and security guarantees or assurances provided by its partners and possible future allies.”
- “The world is facing a Zeitenwende: an epochal tectonic shift. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has put an end to an era. New powers have emerged or reemerged, including an economically strong and politically assertive China. … The Zeitenwende goes beyond the war in Ukraine and beyond the issue of European security. The central question is this: How can we, as Europeans and as the European Union, remain independent actors in an increasingly multipolar world? “
- “The way is open, and the goal is clear: an EU that will consist of over 500 million free citizens, representing the largest internal market in the world, that will set global standards on trade, growth, climate change and environmental protection and that will host leading research institutes and innovative businesses—a family of stable democracies enjoying unparalleled social welfare and public infrastructure.”
- “Our goal today...is to close ranks on crucial areas in which disunity would make Europe more vulnerable to foreign interference. Crucial to that mission is ever-closer cooperation between Germany and France … More broadly, the EU must overcome old conflicts and find new solutions. European migration and fiscal policy are cases in point. … Europe must also continue to assume greater responsibility for its own security and needs a coordinated and integrated approach to building its defense capabilities.”
- “NATO is the ultimate guarantor of Euro-Atlantic security, and its strength will only grow with the addition of two prosperous democracies, Finland and Sweden, as members. But NATO is also made stronger when its European members independently take steps toward greater compatibility between their defense structures, within the framework of the EU.”
- “[Some] see the dawn of a new cold war approaching, one that will pit the United States against China. I do not subscribe to this view. ... Germany and its partners in the EU, the United States, the G-7 and NATO must protect our open societies, stand up for our democratic values, and strengthen our alliances and partnerships. But we must also avoid the temptation to once again divide the world into blocs. This means making every effort to build new partnerships, pragmatically and without ideological blinders.”
- “In her interview with Der Spiegel, Merkel mentions that she liked ‘Munich: The Edge of War,’ a 2021 Netflix film based on a Robert Harris novel. This portrayed British premier Neville Chamberlain not as a leader whose appeasement of Nazi Germany was catastrophically wrong, but as someone who cleverly bought time for the U.K. to rearm and later fight a successful war against Adolf Hitler.”
- “Merkel thinks that, like Chamberlain, she bought time for Ukraine by negotiating with Putin after his 2014 annexation of Crimea and armed intervention in the eastern Donbas region. When Russia’s full-scale attack began this year, Ukraine was better prepared.”
- “For me, this defense of Chamberlain—and of German policy toward Russia under Merkel—doesn’t hold water. Horace Wilson, a close adviser to Chamberlain in the late 1930s, confessed in retirement in 1962: ‘Our policy was never designed just to postpone war, or enable us to enter war more united. The aim of our appeasement was to avoid war altogether, for all time.’”
- “Merkel and her advisers thought all-out war belonged to Europe’s dark 20th-century history, not to our own age. They did far too little to remedy the weaknesses of Germany’s armed forces, and they turned a deaf ear to the warnings of allies such as Poland and the Baltic states about Putin’s increasingly aggressive intentions.”
- “The Russian leadership has repeatedly made the outlandish claim that Poland is preparing to annex territories in western Ukraine.”
- “In reality, of course, Polish officials have never made any statements questioning the territorial integrity of Ukraine, to whom Warsaw remains a staunch ally. The idea of a NATO peacekeeping mission has never been anything more than a proposal by Kaczyński, who does not currently hold any official positions.”
- “So why does Russia continue to insist that Ukraine’s western neighbors covet its territory, even though these incongruous claims are clearly unconvincing? It appears that this is less about Russia’s real expectations of actions by Poland, and more about its overall views on Ukraine.”
- “If Ukraine is an artificial construct, then only the successor of the country that once granted Ukraine its current borders by seizing land from its neighbors can now ensure the inviolability of these borders. Just as the postwar USSR considered itself the sole guarantor of Poland’s new borders, which included land Poland received from Germany, so can Russia become a guarantor protecting Ukraine from the ‘encroachments’ of Poland, Romania and Hungary. The Russian president wants to convince the Ukrainian and Russian audiences of the magnitude and severity of this threat, and it seems that the Kremlin cares little about whether its attempts are persuasive.”
China-Russia: Allied or aligned?
- “It is important for representatives of the Soviet generations of Russians, who are sometimes justly annoyed by the semi-official course of vilifying socialism and social justice in Soviet Russia, that the deeds of Jiang Zemin show what an effective socialist state can be. Socialism by no means died with the fall of Soviet power in Russia. And the PRC, both in the era of Jiang and today, shows that socialism is quite competitive in the 21st century. The ... course put forward by Jiang Zemin made it possible to seriously expand and modernize the social base in the socialist state, to harmoniously integrate market principles into the socialist economy. Looking at the legacy of Jiang Zemin, one can say that the problem is not socialism and Marxism, but in our own Russian mistakes.”
- No significant developments.
Question to Putin from member of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights Svetlana Makovetskaya, head of the Grani Center for Civil Analysis and Independent Studies, asked during the council’s Dec. 7 video-meeting: “I cannot help speaking about a problem, which, as it seems to me, worries a formidable number of people in our country—the threat of a world nuclear war seems to be real now. It seems to me that it would be extremely highly valuable to prevent this threat. I believe that it would be a true gesture of goodwill if you, Vladimir Vladimirovich, made a personal statement that under no circumstances will Russia be the first to use nuclear weapons. Excuse me that this last section [of my statement] is beside the point [I have focused on in my statement].”
- “Concerning the threat of nuclear war. Ms. Makovetskaya, you are right, the threat is growing, to be honest. Regarding Russia never using [nuclear weapons] first under any circumstances. Well, if it does not use them first, then it will not be the second to use them either, because in the case of a nuclear strike at our territory, our capabilities will be significantly limited. Nevertheless, our strategy of using means of defense—and we view weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons as a defense—is entirely centered around the so-called retaliatory strike1, that is, we strike back when we are attacked.”
- “Have we ever spoken about the possibility of their [nuclear weapons] use? No, we have not. Whereas the former U.K. Prime Minister, God forgive her, said publicly that she was ready to do that. In response, I had to highlight some issues. Her statement was disregarded by everyone whereas whatever we say is immediately overemphasized, and our statements are used to scare the world.”
- “Therefore, we have not lost our minds, we are well aware of what nuclear weapons are. We have them, and they are in a more advanced and up-to-date condition that the weapons in the possession of any other nuclear power. It is obvious, it is an obvious fact today. Yet we are not going to wield these weapons like a razor running around the globe. However, we proceed from the fact that we have them. This is a natural deterrent which does not provoke an escalation of conflicts but is rather a deterring factor.”
Question from Russian TV journalist Konstantin Panyushkin: “You said, and I quote: ‘If Russia does not use nuclear weapons first, it won’t use them second, either.’ This caused an uproar. Please explain what you meant.”
- “The United States has this theory of a preventive strike. This is the first point. Now the second point. They are developing a system for a disarming strike. What does that mean? It means striking at control centers with modern high-tech weapons to destroy the opponent’s ability to counterattack, and so on. What are these modern weapons? These are cruise missiles that we did not have at one time... But now we have them and they are more modern and even more efficient.”
- “There were plans to deliver a preventive disarming strike with hypersonic weapons. The United States does not have these weapons, but we do. Regarding a disarming strike, perhaps we should think about using the achievements of our U.S. partners and their ideas about how to ensure their own security. We are just thinking about this. No one was shy about discussing it out loud in the past.”
- “The United States has a theory and even practice. They have the concept of a preventive strike in their strategy and other policy documents. We do not. Our Strategy talks about a retaliatory strike. There are no secrets whatsoever. What is a retaliatory strike? That is a response strike. It is when our early warning system, the missile attack warning system, detects missiles launched toward Russian Federation territory. First, it detects the launches, and then response actions begin. … After the early warning system receives a signal indicating a missile attack, hundreds of our missiles are launched and they cannot be stopped. But it is still a retaliatory strike. What does that mean? It means that enemy missile warheads will fall on the territory of the Russian Federation. This cannot be avoided. They will fall anyway. True, nothing will remain of the enemy, because it is impossible to intercept hundreds of missiles. And this is, without a doubt, a potent deterrent. But if a potential adversary believes it is possible to use the preventive strike theory while we do not, this still makes us think about the threat that such ideas in the sphere of other countries’ defense pose to us.”
- “Putin’s nuclear threats were more effective than they might have been because there was at best a random application of deterrence messaging. Every weapons transfer was analyzed through an ill-defined and smoky prism of ‘escalation.’ Arms-control measures were taken, with artillery transferred to Ukraine that could not strike attacking positions located in Russian territory. The presumption that there was only one rung on an escalation ladder was nearly universal. The idea that one could regularly adjust one’s response—flexible response—to maintain escalation dominance was lost.”
- “Eventually, in the autumn of 2022, the U.S. sent a clear message to Putin that any nuclear use would have catastrophic consequences for Russia. It might have had more deterrent value if the U.S. had specifically said that any nuclear use would mean that all the United States’ conventional power would be put at the disposal of Ukraine to eject Russia from Ukraine’s internationally recognized territory.”
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Energy exports from CIS:
- “In an earlier TMC article, I explain why the West's price cap could backfire. Russian crude trades at $50/barrel—that's $10 below the price cap—and Russia has also built a ‘dark’ tanker fleet to reduce its reliance on Western shipping companies.”
- “This dark tanker fleet helps Russia evade the West's sanctions. But the vessels are substandard and operate outside of global regulatory frameworks. Sanction-busting involves risky activities that can cause accidents and oil spills, with catastrophic consequences for the marine environment.”
- “Ensuring safer operations of tankers operating outside maritime regulatory frameworks will become a major challenge for EU and G-7 maritime authorities.”
- “If G-7 and EU authorities seek to mitigate the safety risks, one option would be to conduct enhanced satellite monitoring of risky shipping activities.”
- “And Western countries could also undertake advance preparations to assist sanction-busting tankers in distress.”
- “They could also cooperate with India, China and other big importers of Russian crude to guarantee safety standards on sanction-busting vessels.”
- 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:
- “Western policymakers should not fall into the trap of conflating political exiles’ radical statements with the views of Russian citizens, which are much more nuanced. … Ethnic minorities are [also] not more inclined toward democracy, human rights, good governance and pro-Western liberalism than the Russian ethnic majority.”
- “Russia’s main cultural divide is not between ethnic Russians and minorities but between big urban areas and the rest of the country … Russia’s big cities have shown growing signs of civil society engagement and grassroots pluralism over the past decade … Rural residents and minorities, in contrast, tend to be more conservative in terms of cultural mores and more supportive of an authoritarian and paternalistic regime.”
- “Advocating for Russia’s collapse is an erroneous strategy, founded on a lack of knowledge of what ties together Russian society in all its diversity. More important, such a strategy also fails to consider that a Russian breakup would be disastrous for international security. A collapse would generate several civil wars. New statelets would fight with one another over borders and economic assets. Moscow elites, who control a huge nuclear arsenal, would react with violence to any secessionism. The security services and law enforcement agencies would crush any attempts at democratizing if that meant repeating the Soviet Union’s dismemberment.”
- “To be sure, Russia’s breakup is unlikely. In the aftermath of Putin’s disastrous war, however, the regime will nonetheless face growing pressures to decentralize. The best outcome would be for local self-government—inscribed in the Russian constitution but scrapped by Putin—to become a reality. This refederalization of Russia would be possible only if accompanied by a national reckoning on the legacy of Russia’s colonialism. … But as in the United States and Europe, that societal transformation will take decades.”
- “With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime in a downward spiral due to the Kremlin’s disastrous war against Ukraine, the Russian regime’s collapse and even Russia’s possible disintegration have become a major cause of concern.”
- “For Ukraine to secure its freedom, Russia must suffer a clear defeat in Ukraine.”
- “That’s not to say that concerns related to Russia’s nuclear weapons shouldn’t be taken seriously. Managing the threat requires a mix of prudence and firmness from the West. Because of an overabundance of prudence, however, Russia has managed to smartly manipulate fears of a nuclear Armageddon to maintain the West’s self-imposed constraints on sending heavier and longer-range weapons to Ukraine. Thankfully, the West is now relearning deterrence—including clear messaging to Russia about the devastating consequences it would suffer if it were to follow through on its nuclear threats.”
- “It is in the interest of global stability that the Kremlin does not succeed in using nuclear blackmail to eke out a victory in Ukraine. What’s more, Russia resorting to nuclear weapons carries great risk for Putin and is therefore highly unlikely. Russia using conventional force to occupy territories in neighboring countries, unfortunately, is a devastating reality.”
- “It may well be that any meaningful improvement in the overall [U.S.-Russian] bilateral relationship requires Putin’s departure from the Kremlin. A second requirement could be that Putin’s successor adopt policy changes to demonstrate that Russia is altering course and prepared to live in peace with its neighbors.”
- “This does not mean to advocate a policy of regime change in Russia. That is beyond U.S. capabilities, especially given the opacity of today’s Kremlin. U.S. policy should remain one of seeking a change in policy, not regime.”
- “While it remains difficult to predict the outcome of the war or the impact it may have on Putin’s time in the Kremlin, there is little doubt that the fighting with Ukraine and its ramifications will leave Russia diminished in significant ways. It must contend with a badly-damaged military that will take years to reconstitute; years of likely economic stagnation cut off from key high-tech imports; a potentially worsening situation with regard to energy exports and future production; an alarmed, alienated and rearming Europe; and a growing political isolation that will leave Moscow even more dependent on its relationship with China. Putin still seems to cling to his desire of ‘regaining’ part of Ukraine, which he considers ‘historic Russian land.’ But the costs of that for Russia mount by the day.”
- “On the gain side,”
- “Putin managed to expand the Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia from some 42,000 square kilometers in 2014 to some 87,000 square kilometers.”
- “Geopolitically, the adventure allowed Russia’s ruling elite to shake off its laziness and turn decisively toward the global east and south.”
- “The Russian economy [has so far] survive[d] the worst Western sanctions in history. In the first half of the year, the Russian current account surplus hit a record high of $146 billion as energy exports continued at high prices and imports only dropped 6.7%.”
- “On the loss side, the list is longer and scarier … even without contemplating the human tragedies, the deaths, the devastation.”
- “The currently occupied area is only slightly more than half of what Russia held by mid-summer … Eastern and Southern Ukraine have been lost to Russian influence. … Equally lost is Europe as a political and economic partner.”
- “Even if one accepts Putin’s cavalier attitude to the economic side of things, the loss of Europe … is a major security issue for Russia.”
- “Russia will be spending almost $160 billion a year on defense and security—a growing burden on an economy that will shrink 3.6% this year and 3% next year.”
- “Ordinary Russians are being dealt a pretty hopeless hand: Their standard of living can only deteriorate as their country continues to militarize at the expense of much-needed development.”
- “There is, however, one development that doesn’t fit on either side of a conventional ledger of gains and losses, because it’s a time bomb under the Putin regime but a potential boon for Russia, especially should it lose the war: the end of the regime’s foundational lies.”
- “Russians have always been slow to accept the truth about their leaders and even slower to act on it. But the longer the war drags on in its plodding, hopeless way with no obvious upside, the likelier that Russians will eventually choose the truth over the debunked lies.”
- “In late September, following devastating Russian setbacks in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s controversial ‘partial mobilization’ of the Russian population, the Kremlin faced an explosion of popular discontent on social media. Notably, some of the most vocal criticism came from the government’s core supporters: ultranationalists and military hard-liners who felt that Russia was not fighting as well as it should.”
- “But just as the situation appeared to be getting out of control, the criticisms died down. By November, most of the hard-liners had been brought in line and were no longer assailing Russia’s war strategy. Meanwhile, the military itself has quietly been handed control over many parts of the Russian economy, giving the government and the Ministry of Defense broad new powers, even in the private sector.”
- “Taken together, these developments highlight the growing influence of the military, and those close to it, in the way that Putin wields power at home. Rather than making the regime more vulnerable, as some Western observers have suggested, the setbacks in the war in Ukraine over the past few months have offered Putin an opportunity to expand his hold over Russian society, and even over his military critics.”
- “If anything, the most recent stages of the conflict have given the Kremlin an opportunity to further tighten the screws. The chances that domestic pressure could force him to seek to end the war are slimmer than the military situation suggests.”
- “The vicious public campaign being waged by controversial businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin against St. Petersburg Gov. Alexander Beglov has rocked Russian society, which is not accustomed to open conflicts of this nature. Yet no one is reprimanding Prigozhin, an ex-con who later set up a catering company used by the Kremlin for official events, and later still, an army of mercenaries.”
- “The real intrigue is why a notorious wartime figure who has been portrayed by both Russian and international media as one of the most dangerous and powerful people in Russia cannot even resolve some trivial day-to-day issues in his hometown. Perhaps supposedly powerful people are not as powerful as they seem, and what we are actually seeing is how helpless the Russian elites are: that they only acquire any real power when they become part of a process controlled by the Kremlin, be that war, when Prigozhin is permitted to trawl prisons in search of recruits for Wagner, or elections, when the system built by the Kremlin enables Beglov to become governor without any difficulty.”
- “It also appears to show that it’s impossible to be in control of a society that has descended into hysteria while remaining a cool-headed pragmatic for whom the greatest sin is airing dirty laundry. It’s too much to expect members of the Russian elite to rant and rave in the State Duma or at the U.N. General Assembly one day, and yet remain calm and sober-headed in their interactions with each other the next. In this respect, Prigozhin constitutes if not a new Russian elite, then at the very least a new pattern of elite behavior. For him, it’s more important to be seen than to get what he wants. What seems shocking to people right now will soon become par for the course.”
- “Russian President Vladimir Putin has imposed Stalin-like restrictions on speech about the military and its disastrous invasion of Ukraine. On Friday, opposition politician Ilya Yashin was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison for calling attention to possible war crimes committed by Russian troops in the Ukrainian city of Bucha during the early days of the war. This marks another attempt to lock up the truth.”
- “Mr. Putin may hope that by jailing Mr. Yashin, he will intimidate others into silence. But the truth won't sit quietly behind bars. The barbarism that has taken place in Ukraine is being closely observed and should lead to war crimes trials.”
- “‘We won this trial,’ Mr. Yashin declared on his Telegram channel after the verdict. ‘We told the truth about the war crimes and called to stop the bloodshed. … With this hysterical verdict, the authorities want to frighten us all, but in fact they only show their weakness. … Only weak leaders seek to shut everyone up, to burn out any dissent.’”
- “The real reason behind the constant punishments is and always has been, of course, Navalny’s condemnation of the Ukraine war and his opposition to the Putin regime. My father uses every appeal hearing as an opportunity to make an anti-war statement.”
- “The Russian regime has always been based on corruption and it is now based on war – for Putin, these are the two prerequisites for staying in power. That is why he is ready to destroy anyone who dares to expose them. And he treats my father with a personal hatred—as his most implacable opponent for many years.”
- “As you read these lines, Navalny is in mortal danger, but he continues to stand by what he believes in. He has proven willing to sacrifice his freedom, health, and even his life to see Russia become a democratic, prosperous country. And right now, even from prison, he is fighting to make it peaceful. By his example, he supports and inspires millions of Russians who, like him, are unwilling to tolerate war and injustice.”
- “Putin must be defeated. He is a threat not only to Russia and Ukraine but to the world.”
- “One afternoon late August, as Russia’s military pursued its invasion in Ukraine, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s top advisers was mustering public-relations officials from government bodies and ministries for a fight on the home front. ‘The main war that is taking place right now is the war over people’s minds,’ Sergei Kiriyenko, a longtime aide to Mr. Putin charged with key domestic and Ukraine policies … ‘All of us in this room are the special forces fighting this war.’”
- “The Aug. 30 speech, a recording of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, gives a rare insight into Mr. Putin’s efforts to mobilize all of society for Russia’s war with Ukraine and its neighbor’s Western backers. Girding for a lengthy war, the Kremlin is seeking a return to a level of control over shaping its citizens’ minds that the country hasn’t seen since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.”
- “That the person in charge of the message should be Mr. Kiriyenko, a bespectacled, bald 60-year-old, demonstrates how the country has changed. Once a liberal reformer, he is now in charge of shaping public opinion as Russia hunkers down for a long war. … Mr. Kiriyenko told the Russian officials the propaganda campaign went beyond the conflict in Ukraine.”
- “Mr. Kiriyenko spoke at a private seminar organized by ANO Dialogue … The 175-strong list of participants brought together at least 43 government bodies, according to the seminar’s Telegram channel. They included the ministries of interior, education and energy, as well as Moscow’s subway, the National Guard, an internal security force and an agency that regulates prisons.”
- “In the August speech, Mr. Kiriyenko recommended directing ‘a constant stream of stable good news’ to the public. ... Comments on a private chat channel used by some attendees, seen by the Journal, offered a less enthusiastic assessment. ‘After such a speech from Kiriyenko, half the people here might resign,’ one of them said.”
- “Weiss and Brown use stories … in which Putin’s deluded self-image sharply contrasts with a less-than-heroic reality, as a window to the psyche, aspirations and pathologies of Russia’s longtime leader. … [T]hese stories serve as an explanatory framework applied to much later actions undertaken by the Russian president at home and on the world stage. Unsurprisingly, this strategy is of little real use as a heuristic—though it makes for an often enlivening words-and-pictures portrait of a very troubled and troubling world leader.”
- “In Weiss/Brown’s near-psychoanalytic account, Putin acts out of deep insecurities brought on by an inferiority complex coupled with a Napoleon complex; a suspicious, even paranoid nature; and a fraught xenophobia—especially of the West—inherited from his ancestors. In a sense, Putin encapsulates, in a diminutive package, the worst of Russian culture as imagined by thinkers at home and abroad.”
- “There have already been a number of fine Putin biographies, most notably Clifford Gaddy’s and Fiona Hill’s ‘Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin’ (2015), Masha Gessen’s ‘The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin’ (2013) and more recently Philip Short’s ‘Putin’ (2022). It is not the remit of ‘Accidental Czar’ to add anything new in terms of content, but rather to make its subject accessible to a different, wider readership.”
Defense and aerospace:
- See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- No significant developments.
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
- No significant developments.
- “The Russian invasion is affecting Ukraine's oligarchs, a group of fewer than 20 fantastically wealthy people who have wielded outsize—and often, anti-corruption activists contend, malign—influence over Ukraine's politics, economy and society since the country's independence in 1991.”
- “In interviews with more than two dozen current and former Ukrainian and U.S. officials, analysts and others, nearly all agreed that the dominant power of oligarchs in Ukrainian life has been diminished. They cited vast losses from the war, growing government pressure and a newly energized population no longer willing to tolerate the politics of the past. They said that could give Ukraine the opportunity to rebuild a postwar society that is more democratic, less corrupt and more economically diversified.”
- “Tymofiy Mylovanov, president of the Kyiv School of Economics and a former government economic development minister, said the war has clarified for almost all Ukrainians that their economic future will follow a European or U.S. model, not a Russian one. ‘It will be more civil, more Western,’ he said. ‘It will be more lawyers and less bribers.’ Competition, he said, ‘is the real vaccine against oligarchs.’”
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
- “Belarus is extraordinarily unlikely to invade Ukraine in the foreseeable future whatever the course of these information operations. A Belarusian intervention in Ukraine, moreover, would not be able to do more than draw Ukrainian ground forces away from other parts of the theater temporarily given the extremely limited effective combat power at Minsk’s disposal.”
- “Belarusian entry in the war would at worst force Ukraine to temporarily divert manpower and equipment from current front lines. Ukrainian General Staff Deputy Chief Oleksiy Hromov stated on Nov. 24 that 15,000 Belarusian military personnel, in addition to the 9,000 Russian personnel stationed in Belarus, could theoretically participate in the war with Ukraine, Even if Lukashenko committed a substantially larger number of his forces to an offensive into Ukraine, the Belarusian military would still be a small force that would be unable to achieve any substantial operational success.”
- “Belarus will continue to help Russia fight its war in Ukraine. Belarus can offer material to Russia that Russia cannot otherwise source due to international sanctions regimes against the Russian Federation that do not impact Belarus. Belarusian provision of territory and airspace allows Russian forces to support their offensive operations in Ukraine and conduct their strikes on Ukrainian civilian targets from a safe haven.”
- “Russian officials will continue to conduct information operations aimed at suggesting that Belarusian forces might invade Ukraine in order to pin Ukrainian forces at the Belarusian border. These information operations are extraordinarily unlikely to herald actual Belarusian intervention in the foreseeable future.”
- “Clearly, Chinese foreign aid has a relational aspect, as it aims at adaptively building ties to ruling elites. This is true both in the case of Kyrgyzstan, which has survived multiple successive regime changes, and Tajikistan, which has had a more stable, enduring regime.”
- “Chinese officials have used gifts to signal sentiments of sympathy, support, and solidarity, while local elite recipients have responded to Beijing with requisite expressions of gratitude and appreciation, even as they use such largesse toward their own ends.”
- “Yet behind the proper appearances and rhetoric, the perceptions and feelings held by both sides are more complicated. Central Asian recipients of Chinese aid are suspicious about the real motives behind this assistance.”
- “Despite the rhetoric of South-South cooperation, the people of Central Asia sense a new hierarchy emerging and nurture publicly expressed fears that their countries will be overwhelmed by China. Local elites have learned to benefit from Chinese engagement and express gratitude, but their loyalty is fluid and determined by local power configurations. China will need to continue to adapt, since political change is likely to persist in Kyrgyzstan and eventually to come to Tajikistan as well.”
- Putin used the term “otvetno-vstrechny udar,” which has often been translated in the Western publications as “launch-on-warning,” but which the Kremlin’s translators translated as “reciprocal counter strike” in 2018. In December 2022, however, the Kremlin’s translators have chosen to translate it as “retaliatory strike,” both on Dec. 7 and Dec. 9. See more on Putin’s earlier descriptions of “otvetno-vstrechny udar” here: https://www.russiamatters.org/blog/putins-remarks-use-nuclear-weapons-are-confusing-unlikely-constitute-shift-nuclear-posture