Russia Analytical Report, Feb. 11-19, 2019

This Week's Highlights:

  • The INF Treaty’s demise is due to the declining fortunes of the U.S.-Russia strategic stability regime and the regime’s inability to respond to a changing security environment, writes Brookings senior fellow Frank A. Rose. A new strategic stability framework would need to incorporate new actors and new technologies, he argues.
  • One option to stop a post-INF Treaty arms race in Europe would be for NATO to declare that no alliance members will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or their equivalent in Europe so long as Russia does not deploy such systems where they could hit NATO territory, writes Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
  • While 24/7 military and high-level contacts between Russia and the U.S. are crucial, writes Carnegie Moscow Center director Dmitri Trenin, they are no substitute for the kind of substantive dialogue between the two countries that will have to wait five to six years, or more.
  • The Russian Duma is set to approve a resolution reevaluating the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan as one that took place within the bounds of international law and in the interests of the USSR, write Artemy M. Kalinovsky and Sergey Radchenko, a senior lecturer and a professor of international politics, respectively. They write that while Putin may have intervened in Syria because of genuine security concerns, to avoid domestic opposition, the Kremlin cannot allow the public to perceive Syria through the prism of Soviet Russia’s actual Afghan experience.
  • Russia’s government has drawn a lesson: The population can be managed without higher incomes, meaning the elite has no need to share the fruits of growth, writes Chris Miller, an associate professor at The Fletcher School. Russia’s rulers respond to incentives, Miller writes, and while they feared protests in the 2000s, the past five years have convinced them that there is no clear link between impoverishment and dissent.
  • Despite his reputation, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin’s role has been grossly exaggerated and mythologized, writes Kommersant journalist Andrey Pertsev. “Putin’s chef” has accepted the role Russian and Western media assigned him, personifying the myths and stereotypes about the Russian regime’s dark side. This notoriety has forced Prigozhin into Putin’s inner circle, and he will now do everything he can to secure his place there, Pertsev writes.

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

  • No significant commentary.

NATO-Russia relations:

“NATO at Seventy: An Alliance in Crisis,” Nicholas Burns and Douglas Lute, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, February 2019The authors, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and a senior fellow at the Belfer Center, write:

  • “Approaching the 70th anniversary of its founding … the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) remains the single most important contributor to security, stability and peace in Europe and North America. … The NATO allies … are confronting daunting and complex challenges that are testing both their purpose and unity.”
  • “Challenges from Within NATO [include]: Reviving American Leadership … Restoring European Defense Strength … Upholding NATO’s Democratic Values … Streamlining NATO Decision-Making.
  • “Challenges from Beyond NATO’s Borders [include]: Containing Putin’s Russia … NATO allies need to take much stronger measures against Moscow than they have to date by: [r]eaffirming economic sanctions on Russia will remain in place for as long as it occupies Ukrainian territory; [s]ustaining indefinitely current back-to-back NATO rotational troop deployments to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland … ; [a]ddressing vulnerabilities in the area of hybrid warfare … ; [p]reparing cyber offensive options to deter Russia from further cyber attacks.”
  • “At the same time, it makes sense for NATO leaders to maintain continuing contacts with the Kremlin on the many issues that divide NATO allies and Russia … Containing Russian power will be a generational challenge until Putin’s Soviet-trained leadership circle leaves power during the next decade, perhaps beyond. There is no more important external challenge for NATO.”
  • “The need for action is urgent. Just maintaining the status quo would spell failure. Renewing U.S. presidential leadership is a crucial requirement.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Two Ideas That Might Stop a Post-INF Arms Race, and One That Won’t,” Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Now/Defense One, 02.11.19The author, executive director of the Arms Control Association, writes:

  • “If both sides begin to deploy intermediate-range ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles, our European allies will be less secure and the risk of a military incident or miscommunication leading to a full-scale war with Russia will increase.”
  • “Unfortunately, neither the Trump administration nor NATO have put forward a realistic plan to block the Russians from just such a build-up. Instead, … [they] have been issuing vague statements … [about] expanding the INF Treaty to China and other states that possess intermediate-range missiles. This idea gained no traction when Washington and Moscow formally proposed it in 2007; there is no chance Beijing would sign on today.”
  • “[A] new and more serious arms control initiative is needed—and it should be focused on the near-term problem on how Washington and Moscow can avert a new Euromissile race that would undermine the security [of] our NATO allies. … One option would be for NATO to declare … that no alliance members will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not deploy treaty-prohibited systems where they could hit NATO territory.”
  • “Another possible approach would be to negotiate a new agreement that verifiably prohibits ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Such an approach would require additional declarations and regular on-site inspections of any ground-launched, INF Treaty-range systems.”
  • “[L]eading NATO states most affected by the termination of INF, including Germany, can and should, in coordination with the United States, develop such and engage in serious talks with Russia.”

“The End of an Era? The INF Treaty, New START, and the Future of Strategic Stability,” Frank A. Rose, Brookings Institution, 02.12.19The author, a senior fellow at Brookings, writes:

  • “We need to acknowledge that the INF Treaty’s demise is a direct result of the declining fortunes of the U.S.-Russia strategic stability regime and the inability of that regime to respond effectively to the evolving security environment.”
  • “To be effective, any new strategic stability framework would need to incorporate new actors like China, and new technologies … It also needs to be flexible enough to address the changes in the security environment. But it will take time to transition to a new framework.”
  • “There are a number of strong reasons why the United States should seek to extend New START … [I]t will assist the United States with maintaining stable deterrence. … The treaty also gives the United States important information about Russian strategic nuclear forces … [U]nlike the INF Treaty, Russia is in full compliance with its obligations under New START. … Had it not been for New START, there are questions of whether it would have been possible to obtain support from some Democratic members of Congress for the strategic modernization program.”
  • “Extending New START could also help reassure critics that the Trump administration is not intrinsically hostile towards arms control. … Negotiating a new agreement over the remaining two years of the Trump administration’s current term in office is probably not a viable option.”

“How Russia Undermined Over 30 Years of Nuclear Arms Control,” Kay Bailey Hutchison, New York Times, 02.10.19The author, U.S. ambassador to NATO, writes:

  • “Over the next six months, the United States will continue to consult closely with its NATO allies to better understand the danger we collectively face, and to develop conventional, not nuclear, means to deter the use of such [INF-violating] missiles. NATO’s mission is to deter and defend, and to provide a security umbrella to all members of the alliance. Unlike Russia, the United States has scrupulously complied with the INF Treaty and its other international arms control obligations.”
  • “We hope that the Kremlin uses this time to come back into compliance and destroy its noncompliant 9M729 missile systems. But Russia’s leaders must understand that we will not hesitate to develop the capabilities necessary to ensure the security of ourselves and our allies.”

Counter-terrorism:

  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

“Upholding Stability in the Middle East: An Opportunity for Russia–Europe Cooperation?” Andrei Kortunov and Malcolm Chalmers, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), 02.12.19The authors, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council and RUSI’s deputy director general, write:

  • “If peace and stability [in the Middle East] are unlikely to come from regional cooperation, can they come from the outside? The role of external players … should not be overestimated; they cannot ‘fix’ the region to their liking. On the other hand, … [their] role … should not be underestimated.”
  • “What should external players do to reduce the risks and to capitalize on the influence they have? First … they need to cooperate with each other. … Europe, Russia, the U.S. and China all have a common interest in preventing further destructive wars in the region … Second … the major external powers should each make their positions towards the region as clear and unambiguous as possible … Predictability and reliability are rare commodities in the region and the demand for them is high.”
  • “Third, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for the region. … In places with ongoing fighting and a major foreign military engagement (such as Syria), the name of the game should be escalation avoidance and pressure on conflicting sides … to come to a political compromise. … Fourth, external players should keep in mind the inextricable link between security and development. There will be no stable development in the countries of the region until their basic security is provided.”
  • “Europe and Russia have more stakes in the Middle East than other global players … They are much closer to the region than others, which means … [they] will lose disproportionately if things go wrong, but also that they can reap substantial benefits (not least economically) if things go right.”

“The Unlikely Convergence of Russia, Iran and Turkey,” Scott B. MacDonald, The National Interest, 02.18.19The author, chief economist for a research company, writes:

  • “Iran, Russia and Turkey have found each other. The factor that drove them together is Syria. … The common interest in Syria is the need for political stability and getting the U.S. and … the smaller French and British contingents, out of the Middle Eastern country, while making certain that the Islamic State does not make a comeback.”
  • “For Iran, Syria’s importance is based on its leadership being Shia and pro-Tehran as well as being part of a supply chain to another Iranian ally, Hezbollah in Lebanon. It also is a victory in Tehran’s cold war with Saudi Arabia.”
  • “For Russia, Syria … demonstrates that Russia is back as a great power, provides Moscow with warm water ports and air bases from where it can further project its power and a place where it has been able to test new weapons and give its military battle experience. … For Turkey, Syria’s strategic significance is due to concerns that the Syrian Kurds … could seek to stir Turkish Kurds into a rebellion to seek their own independent state.”
  • “The three countries also share concerns over environmental problems, transnational crime and issues further afield … Eurasia’s geopolitical landscape is undergoing major changes as traditional rivals are more inclined to work together to achieve common goals in an anti-Western, pro-autocratic and quite possibly a cautious-toward-China policy mix. This is significant as Eurasia appears to be where the major geopolitical drama of the twenty-first century is playing out … No doubt the Sultans, Shahs and Tsars of the pre-1914 world would have recognized the dangers of a fluid geopolitical landscape.” 

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“We’re Entering a New Phase of the Trump-Russia Investigation,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 02.14.19The author, a veteran foreign correspondent-turned-columnist, writes:

  • “We're entering a new phase of the Trump-Russia investigation … Information he tried to suppress about his business and political dealings is emerging. … A Deutsche Bank subpoena would be especially sensitive. Trump was enraged by a December 2017 report that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had subpoenaed the bank's records about its dealings with Trump.”
  • “Trump turned to the big German bank two decades ago, when U.S. banks wouldn't extend him more large loans. The Post estimated in 2016 that Deutsche Bank had $360 million in outstanding loans to Trump's companies. Deutsche Bank also lent $285 million to Jared Kushner's family real estate company in October 2016. … Deutsche Bank, unusually, managed its lending to Trump through its private-banking division rather than normal commercial lending. Finally, the bank has been implicated in Russian money laundering.”
  • “Some of Trump's assertions about not having business dealings with Russia have since [August 2017] been shredded. Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer, admitted in a guilty plea … that discussions about building a Trump Tower in Moscow continued until at least June 14, 2016.”
  • “Trump told reporters in November that in continuing the Trump Tower discussions through the 2016 campaign, he was just hedging his bets. … As [Rep. Adam] Schiff explains: ‘Trump Tower Moscow is all you need to know about why you can't let the subject of an investigation draw his own line in an investigation. He says he wasn't doing business with Russia, and he was—and seeking Kremlin help.’ … As investigators move into the once-forbidden zone, the likelihood grows that the public will finally learn the truth.”

“The Russian Spy Who Wasn’t,” James Bamford, The New Republic, 02.11.19The author, a documentary filmmaker, writes:

  • “With anti-Russia fervor in the United States approaching levels directed at Muslims following the attacks of September 11, 2001, it was easy for prosecutors to sell the story of Marina Butina as a spy to the public and the press. But is she really?”
  • “Butina is simply an idealistic young Russian … hoping to contribute to a better understanding between two countries while pursuing a career in international relations. … The government’s case against Butina is extremely flimsy and appears to have been driven largely by a desire for publicity. … That Butina’s prosecution was launched by the National Security Section of the District of Columbia federal prosecutor’s office, led by Gregg Maisel, is telling in itself: According to a source close to the Mueller investigation, the special counsel’s office had declined to pursue the case, even though it would have clearly fit under its mandate.”

  • “Despite the lack of evidence against Butina, however, prosecutors … were intent on getting a win. In the context of the Mueller investigation, and in the environment that arose after Trump’s election, an idealistic young Russian meeting with influential American political figures sounded enough like a spy to move forward.”

  • “Lacking evidence of espionage, money laundering, passing cash to the Trump campaign, violating Russian sanctions, or any other crime, prosecutors finally turned to Section 951, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign power. Based on the Espionage Act of 1917, the law was enacted in 1948 during the “Red Scare” … Arresting Butina on such grounds set an extremely dangerous precedent.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

“Why Russia Can Afford to Jail US Investors. Putin isn't pinning his hopes on entrepreneurs, but rather on giant state companies,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 02.19.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “The arrest of Michael Calvey, a U.S. citizen and one of the biggest private equity investors in Russia, sends two messages to foreign investors: The rules of the Russian business jungle apply even to those who do things by the book—and neither foreign citizenship nor a stellar investment record are grounds for an exemption.”
  • “Calvey founded Baring Vostok Capital Partners in 1994. … Calvey became a legend in the Russian market, in part because of his reputed aversion to any kind of foul play and focus on industries and companies unlikely to attract the attention of Russia’s authorities. … The investment in Orient Express Bank … turned into a headache as bad loans soared. Baring Vostok was forced to inject additional capital into the bank several times before merging it with Uniastrum Bank.”
  • “Calvey’s partnership with Uniastrum’s owner, Artem Avetisyan, soon turned sour. Calvey had accused Avetisyan of asset stripping Uniastrum before the merger and was suing him in a London court. … Avetisyan hasn’t commented on Calvey’s accusations, but it was his ally Sherzod Yusupov who filed the criminal complaint that led to Calvey’s arrest. … Calvey … argues that this dispute between shareholders doesn’t warrant criminal prosecution. However, … [a]ccording to Russian media reports, Avetisyan and Yusupov are well-connected individuals with business ties to the sons of some top Russian officials and major state company managers.”
  • “Russia’s frosty relationship with the U.S. has led to some high-profile arrests in both countries … In this situation, the authorities don’t mind sending the message that U.S. citizens won’t enjoy special status in Russia. As for Western investment, the Kremlin knows it has already withered under heightened U.S. sanctions. Whatever happens to Calvey he is unlikely to make things worse.”

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“The New Containment: Handling Russia, China and Iran,” Michael Mandelbaum, Foreign Affairs, 02.12.19: The author, a professor emeritus of American foreign policy, writes:

  • “The United States should apply containment once again, now to Russia, China and Iran. The contemporary world is similar enough to its mid-twentieth-century predecessor to make that old strategy relevant but different enough that it needs to be modified and updated.”
  • “Now as before, the revisionist powers are dictatorships that challenge American values as well as American interests. But today’s circumstances differ from those of the past in several important ways. … Now [Washington] must cope with three separate adversaries, each largely independent of the other two. … Cold War containment was a single global undertaking, implemented regionally. Contemporary containment will involve three separate regional initiatives, implemented in coordination.”
  • “As during the Cold War, containment today requires American military deployments abroad. ... Diplomatically, Washington needs to maintain or assemble broad coalitions of local powers to oppose each revisionist challenge. … The dependence of the revisionists on access to the global economy gives the United States and its coalition partners a potential source of leverage.”
  • “Cold War containment was an open-ended policy with a hoped-for eventual outcome. The same will be true for the new version … Constructive regime change, for example, especially the advent of democracy, would alter the foreign policy orientations of the revisionist powers. … A well-executed policy of containment could increase the chances of disruption by creating an external context that would encourage it.”

“Munich Conference Exposes the Decline of the West,” Jacob Heilbrunn, The National Interest, 02.18.19: The author, editor of the magazine, writes:

  • “Former Vice President Joe Biden announced, ‘we will be back.’ … He was referring to what he sees as America’s natural leading role in the international stage. … Vice President Mike Pence … tried to paint Trump as strengthening the NATO alliance, a goal that Trump himself displays zero interest in pursuing.”
  • “Whether the Europeans believed any of this folderol from both Biden and Pence is doubtful. Trump has accelerated America’s drift away from Europe, which took place under President Barack Obama.”
  • “Of course, the Europeans are doing a fine job of sabotaging themselves. German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered an impassioned speech defending the West, but latest reports indicate that the Germans can barely field a functioning army. If a hard Brexit occurs, Europe will be further weakened politically and economically. Germany could start looking East rather than West.”
  • “[T]ensions are rising between Washington and Berlin over … Nord Stream 2 … France and other countries worry that the project will strengthen German-Russian ties at the expense of Ukraine. Merkel is an advocate of maintaining political ties to Moscow. … No matter what Biden or Pence may say, Europe knows that it is increasingly on its own. Munich did not create any new transatlantic policies or clashes. It simply exposed them.”

“State of Play: Russia and the Fraying West,” Dmitri Trenin, Security Times, 02.18.19: The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “How should Russia deal with America and Europe in their present condition? … Above all, one needs to accept that while the West is altering its structure at the national, international and supranational levels, it is not withering away. The United States will continue to be in the lead, even if its leadership looks less benevolent and less altruistic. Europeans and other allies will have to accept the new regime … and protect some of their own interests.”
  • “Russia would be wise to focus its U.S. policy on preventing a direct military collision. It must accept that the current confrontation will probably go on for years, meaning that sanctions will not be lifted. The Kremlin also must stay away from Trump: Vladimir Putin’s meetings with him only make things worse.”
  • “Crucial here is a 24/7 U.S.-Russian military-to-military communication link, and high-level personal contacts between their military and security chiefs. These contacts, of course, are no substitute for a comprehensive dialogue that will have to wait at least five to six years, and possibly more.”
  • “Russia’s relations with Europe will need to focus largely on protecting EU-Russia trade links … and allowing human contacts to proceed despite growing alienation and estrangement. … [N]o such discussion can avoid the formal reason for the breakdown of Russia-Europe relations: Ukraine. While chances for solving the issue in the foreseeable future are slim, every effort must be made to ensure that incidents … do not lead to escalation. The hybrid war may take a long time to play out, but it is crucial that, like its predecessor, its stays mostly cold.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Why Russia No Longer Regrets Its Invasion of Afghanistan,” Artemy M. Kalinovsky and Sergey Radchenko, The Washington Post, 02.15.19: The authors, a senior lecturer and a professor of international politics, write:

  • “Criticizing the decision to go to war in Afghanistan has generally not been controversial in Russian politics. On the contrary, a consensus has developed over decades that the war was a costly mistake. Now, however, the Russian government is considering reversing this earlier verdict.”
  • “Two things have changed in recent years. The first is how Russia looks at the Soviet past. … Increasingly … the government has turned to a more unabashedly positive assessment of the Soviet era, including even of Joseph Stalin's crimes. In the Kremlin's reading of history, the glory of being a superpower somehow compensated for the Soviet regime's brutalities. … The second is Russia's foreign policy and particularly its willingness to use force abroad.”
  • “Putin may have intervened in Syria because of genuine security concerns, a legacy of friendship with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad or a desire to project Russia's great-power status to the detriment of the United States. Regardless, Moscow finds itself in an open-ended and costly commitment. To avoid domestic opposition, it cannot allow the public to perceive Syria through the prism of the Afghan experience.”
  • “The most important lesson of the Gorbachev era, for today's leaders, is that criticism of the past brings few political benefits and comes fraught with danger. Rather, it is much better to create a past that is usable.”

“How to Make Peace in Afghanistan? Moscow Has Some Lessons,” Artemy Kalinovsky, New York Times, 02.15.19: The author, a senior lecturer, writes:

  • “Mikhail Gorbachev … had hoped that he could end the [Afghan] war by getting the United States and its allies to stop supporting the resistance … in exchange for the withdrawal of Soviet troops. But the Reagan administration would agree to end support only if the Soviets ceased all military aid to Kabul. And Washington saw the resignation of the socialist government as a precondition for any settlement.”
  • “[Gorbachev] announced a withdrawal without waiting for a deal, hoping that Washington, Islamabad and the mujahedeen would … do what was best for Afghanistan. It didn’t work out that way. … Gorbachev’s strategy might seem naïve in retrospect … Yet considering what followed the Soviet withdrawal … it is hard not to see 1989 as a missed opportunity. Mr. Gorbachev did not expect miracles, just that the United States would apply enough pressure on its allies and clients to get them to the table, which would in turn make it easier for him to pressure his allies in Kabul to compromise.”
  • “That experience is worth considering as the United States plans to withdraw from Afghanistan. … Critics of both the Soviet and American-led wars often say that the people of Afghanistan should decide their own fate without the interference of outsiders. That would be just, but it is unlikely.”
  • “Back in 1989, getting Afghanistan’s warring parties to agree to a peace deal was difficult enough. Then the rivalries, ambitions and lingering mistrust among outside powers destroyed whatever prospects for peace had been created by the Soviet withdrawal. This time, other countries should take every opportunity to secure peace for Afghanistan.”

“Trump Can’t Drive Europe Into Russia's Arms. Russian authoritarianism has rendered rapprochement with Europe untenable,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 02.18.19: The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “As the U.S. demands more from Europe and castigates it ever more stridently, it’s increasingly clear that Russia is missing a historic opportunity. If President Vladimir Putin hadn’t made Russia an unreliable partner for its neighbors, he’d be poised to realize his fondest dream—of displacing the U.S. as Europe’s security guarantor.”
  • “An alliance between the EU and Russia would have obvious economic and geopolitical advantages. … But only marginal political forces in Europe talk about an alliance with Russia, even now that the U.S. is unpopular and increasingly perceived as unfriendly.”
  • “The EU and the statehood of the countries within it are based on values and rules as much as interests. Even if it’s unclear what values Trump’s U.S. stands for and what rules it respects, at least it’s a functioning democracy that doesn’t depend on the whims of a dictator or an oppressive state ideology.”
  • “An undemocratic Russia is of no use to Europe. It is at worst a threat and at best unpredictable. Instead of working patiently to make Russia more European, Putin went off in the opposite direction, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance is no longer available to him. Even if Russia turns towards democracy after Putin, the opportunity for displacing the U.S. as Europe’s partner probably won’t be there anymore. By then, Europe will find other ways to ease out of U.S. dependence—or to sink deeper into it if it surrenders to Trumpian demands.”

China:

  • No significant commentary.

Ukraine:

“Russia and Ukraine: A Lethal Codependency,” Gleb Pavlovsky, Carnegie Moscow Center, 02.14.19: The author, president of the Russia Institute, writes:

  • “For the foreseeable future, any topic that is cloaked in the Ukrainian context has become unresolvable. The expansion of NATO, EU enlargement, the U.S. missile defense, the base of the Black Sea fleet, the difficult destiny of the Eurasian Union—all these are now reasons why Russia feels insulted and forgets to form a strategy. And, in truth, what could Russia actually do with Ukraine—try to keep it?”
  • “Ukraine doesn’t want a victory over Russia—on the contrary. The Russian intervention is a gift that Kiev has long desired, a window to Europe cut by Putin himself. … The price it pays is the loss of territory and the white-hot hatred between Kiev and Donetsk.
  • “Is there a way out of this strategic cul-de-sac? Only if these twin mutually dependent satellites acknowledge the deep and destructive connection between them. Russia would consider ceasing fighting its war on the Ukrainian flank—but only if it drew Kiev closer. Ukraine dreams of liberating itself from Russia, but wants to score a symbolic victory at the same time.”

“The West should Support Ukraine's Reform Trajectory,” Carl Bildt, The Washington Post, 02.14.19: The author, former prime minister of Sweden, writes:

  • “Ukraine is now facing presidential and parliamentary elections that will chart its course for the next five years. … There is no way of knowing whether sitting President Poroshenko, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko or TV presenter and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky will emerge victorious in the final round on April 21. This is a genuine open democratic election. … But … [the] basic foreign policy course is almost certain to remain the same.”
  • “Ukraine will require continued attention and help from the rest of Europe in its reform efforts. Firm U.S. and EU policies must withstand Russian attempts to destabilize the efforts. The sooner that happens, the better for all, not least for Russia. But a firm Western policy of support for Ukraine should be a priority.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors

  • No significant commentary.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russians Lower Their Standards. Life may be getting harder in Russia, but Putin doesn’t care,” Chris Miller, Foreign Policy, 02.11.19: The author, an assistant professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, writes:

  • “According to new data from Russia’s state statistics agency—an organization that is often accused of fudging data in the Kremlin’s favor—2018 marked the fifth straight year in which Russians’ inflation-adjusted disposable incomes fell …There are several causes, not all of which are in Russia’s control.”
  • “Russia isn’t the only country where firms have been doing better than workers … but Russia’s government is unique in the vigor with which it embraces policies that everyone knows will make Russians worse off. Russian society is also unique in that no one seems to care. … Put these policies together, and a trend emerges: Not only is the Kremlin unprepared to pursue policies to raise Russians’ incomes, but it is actually embracing measures that make Russians poorer. Yet Russians do not seem to have caught on, at least not yet.”
  • “Over the past five years, though, Russia’s government has drawn a lesson: The population can be managed without higher incomes. …The elite has no need to share the fruits of growth. And with growth so meager—only 1 or 2 percent over the coming years—there is not much growth to share.”
  • “Like most governments, Russia’s rulers respond to incentives. In the 2000s, they feared protests. The past five years, though, have convinced them that there is no clear link between impoverishment and dissent. Some Russians joke that the population is in a tug of war between their refrigerators and their televisions. The fridge is empty, but the television says everything is great. And for those who don’t believe the television, there is the police baton. So far, those have worked wonders in keeping Russians off the streets. And so long as Russians sit at home, the Kremlin has no reason to keep their fridges full.”

“Overhyped: How ‘Putin’s Chef’ Became One of the Most Influential People in Russia,” Andrey Pertsev, Carnegie Moscow Center, 02.19.19: The author, a journalist with Kommersant, writes:

  • “Businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin used to avoid the spotlight. Much of his work—the Russian internet troll factory, the Wagner private military company and political research in Africa—required secrecy. But all that changed when Russian and Western media exaggerated his role in Russian politics and essentially forced him into President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.”
  • “Prigozhin’s role has been grossly exaggerated and mythologized. … [T]he ‘Kremlin chef’ earns serious money through food procurement, but this privilege came with an obligation to create a private military company. Initially, Prigozhin wasn’t happy about having this project foisted on him, Russian news site The Bell suggested in a convincing article on the businessman.”
  • “We also cannot call Prigozhin an individual particularly close to Putin … The two men only met in the early 2000s. … ‘Putin’s chef’ has accepted the role the Russian and Western media assigned him and is now playing it openly. He is the personification of all the myths and stereotypes about the Russian regime’s dark side. This notoriety has literally forced Yevgeny Prigozhin into the president’s inner circle, and he will now do everything he can to secure his place there.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.