Russia Analytical Report, Feb. 12-16, 2024

3 Ideas to Explore  

  1. Don’t give up.” That was Alexey Navalny’s answer when he was asked in a 2022 documentary what message he would leave to the Russian people if he was killed, according to WSJ. “Everything that's needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. So act,” added the man who, in spite of imprisonment in a remote corner of Russia, had remained this country’s most inspiring and courageous opposition leader until Russian prison authorities reported him dead at the age of 47 on Feb. 16, blaming his death on a blood clot. Navalny – whom Russian authorities allegedly tried to kill by poison in 2020 – made his life an example of how a leader should relentlessly fight for his dream himself if he were to attract followers to his cause. When asked during a conversation in America whether it might be smarter (and safer) for him to continue his work from abroad, he said: “But there is no other option.” “I have to go home and fight with my fellow Russians, fight for our homeland,” Kathleen Kingsbury of NYT recalled him as saying. Even when in prison Navalny stayed true to pursuing his dream of building a “beautiful Russia of the future.”  In “15 points of a Russian citizen, who wants the best for his country” which he wrote in his outreach to compatriots from behind bars in 2023, Navalny said, “We are at the bottom, and to float up, we need to push off from it.”
  2. Western defense officials have recently issued an unprecedented number of public warnings of the possibility of a broader conflict in Europe with Russia. As FT reminds us, Denmark’s defense minister Troels Lund Poulsen believes Russia could test Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty “within a three to five-year period”; chair of the Bundestag defense committee Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann believes Russia can attack a NATO country within 5-8 years; and Estonian intelligence service’s leadership sees a potential NATO-Russia conflict within the next 10 years. Their colleagues from Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Romania have issued similar warnings since the beginning of this year while one senior European official event told FT that Russia’s “intent and capability” to attack a NATO country before the end of the decade was “pretty much consensus” within the alliance. One reason for Western officials’ alarm is Russia’s unexpectedly rapid revival of its industrial defense machine. Also, while Russia’s army has suffered huge losses in Ukraine, most Western officials now expect this army to reconstitute its forces within five to six years, according to FT. Another reason for the dire warnings was to prepare societies for the potential danger, according to officials interviewed by FT. At the moment, Europe could not defend itself against Russia in a conventional conflict without the help of the United States, Claudia Major, a defense expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told NYT. To be really prepared to fight Russia Europe would need 10 years, according to Armin Papperger, CEO of the company building a Rheinmetall ammunition factory in Germany.
  3. Russia still maintains the strategic objective of subjugating Ukraine, believing that it is winning, but “the Russian theory of victory” will become plausible only "if Ukraine's international partners fail to properly resource” the Armed Forces of Ukraine (ZSU), according to Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds of RUSI. Russia may think it is winning, but it is not, according to a Brookings survey of such experts, as Michael O’Hanlon, Steven Pifer, Angela Stent, and Tara Varma. Moreover, Ukraine might manage to not only deny Russia a victory, but also to “evict the Russian invaders from their positions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea,” according to NATO’s former supreme allied commander Wesley Clark. To do so the ZSU would need to identify potential breakthrough points and ensure “detailed advance reconnaissance, organized special tactical equipment, reserves and air superiority in such points, the retired U.S. general claimed even as ZSU continued to yield ground, coming to the verge of losing Avdiivka in the east. In contrast to Clerk, Olga Oliker, a former Pentagon staffer who now heads Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia program, believes that “if you say the only thing that is victory is the Russians go home entirely from Crimea and Donbas, Ukraine is in NATO, and Moscow somehow disappears off the face of the earth—that’s an unrealistic goal.”

 

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

 

Nuclear security and safety:[1]

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

Russia’s Dangerous New Friends. How Moscow Is Partnering With the Axis of Resistance, Hamidreza Azizi and Hanna Notte, FA, 02.14.24.

  • Over the past two years, Moscow has intensified its ties to the “axis of resistance”: the network of Iranian partners and proxies that stretches from Lebanon to Iraq. This axis, which includes Hamas, Hezbollah, the Yemeni Houthis, and Iraqi and Syrian militias, believes itself to be in confrontation with Israel and, by extension, the United States. It is a natural ally for the Kremlin.
  • The war in the Gaza Strip has earned the axis newfound support and prompted it to take military action against U.S. troops, Israeli forces, and international shipping. In doing so, it has given Russia new chances to weaken the United States and the United States’ allies. Moscow has seized these opportunities. After October 7, Russia stepped up its diplomatic support for Hamas and the Houthis, defending their actions before the United Nations and blaming their attacks on the United States. It has provided technical and logistical aid for the axis as it strikes Israeli soldiers. And there are worrisome signs that Russia might enable Hezbollah in a potential confrontation with Israel, perhaps through sophisticated electronic warfare.
  • Moscow’s cooperation with the axis’s anti-American activism will not be unbounded. Russia remains heavily invested in its ties with Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have afforded the Kremlin important economic benefits but have a hostile relationship to axis members. Russia also wants to maintain a modicum of civility with Israel. But these obstacles will not stop the relationship from deepening. 
  • For the United States, stopping this scheming will not be easy. ... But Washington can start by seeking an urgent end to Israel’s war in Gaza. The longer the war lasts, the more it will afford Russia multiplying paths to back, and benefit from, an increasingly strong axis.
  • More important, the United States can engage in serious diplomatic efforts to settle the region’s metastasizing conflicts. 
  • Finally, Washington should encourage third parties to use their leverage with Moscow to minimize mutual assistance between the Kremlin and the axis. 
  • Moscow does not welcome the axis’s disruptive actions simply because they distract from Ukraine, and the axis is not pro-Russia purely because the Kremlin offers assistance. Rather, the two entities view each other as comrades-in-arms in a broader effort to weaken the West’s dominance. If Washington is serious about disrupting each one’s schemes, it must stop them from working together.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Russian Military Objectives and Capacity in Ukraine Through 2024,” Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds, RUSI, 02.13.24.

  • Russia still maintains the strategic objective of bringing about the subjugation of Ukraine. It now believes that it is winning. Surrender terms currently being proposed by Russian intermediaries include Ukraine ceding the territory already under Russian control along with Kharkiv, and in some versions Odesa; agreeing not to join NATO; and maintaining a head of state approved by Russia. The only significant concession Russia proposes is that what is left of Ukraine can join the EU.
  • The process by which Russia aims to bring about this outcome is in three stages. 
    • The first requires the continuation of pressure along the length of the Ukrainian front to drain the Armed Forces of Ukraine's (AFU) munitions and reserves of personnel. Parallel to this effort, the Russian Special Services are tasked with breaking the resolve of Ukraine's international partners to continue to provide military aid. 
    • Once military aid has been significantly limited such that Ukrainian munition stocks become depleted, Russia intends to initiate further offensive operations to make significant – if slow – gains on the battlefield. 
    • These gains are then intended to be used as leverage against Kyiv to force capitulation on Russian terms. The planning horizon for the implementation of these objectives, which is providing the baseline for Russian force generation and industrial outputs, is that victory should be achieved by 2026.
  • By the beginning of 2024, the Russian Operational Group of Forces in the occupied territories comprised 470,000 troops. While Russian force quality is unlikely to increase so long as the Ukrainians can maintain a significant level of attrition across the force, the Russians will be able to maintain a steady tempo of attacks throughout 2024
  • Russian forces have reverted above battalion level to the traditional Soviet order of battle of regiments, divisions and combined arms armies, but have been significantly altered below the level of the regiment. Battalions are organized as line and storm battalions, and tend to operate in company groups which fight in small, dispersed detachments. 
  • While no large-scale offensive is currently taking place, Russian units are tasked with conducting smaller tactical attacks that at minimum inflict steady losses on Ukraine and allow Russian forces to seize and hold positions. In this way, the Russians are maintaining a consistent pressure on a number of points. 
  • Recruiters are currently achieving almost 85% of their assigned targets for contracting troops to fight in Ukraine. The Kremlin therefore believes that it can sustain the current rate of attrition through 2025.
  • The Russian theory of victory is plausible if Ukraine's international partners fail to properly resource the AFU. However, if Ukraine's partners continue to provide sufficient ammunition and training support to the AFU to enable the blunting of Russian attacks in 2024, then Russia is unlikely to achieve significant gains in 2025. If Russia lacks the prospect of gains in 2025, given its inability to improve force quality for offensive operations, then it follows that it will struggle to force Kyiv to capitulate by 2026
  • Adopting an approach that aims to ensure Ukraine's resistance through 2025 not only undermines the Kremlin's theory of victory but also provides sufficient time to establish a rational mobilization and training process for the AFU such that it can begin to qualitatively outmatch Russian forces, even if the latter continue to increase in overall size. 

Chapter One: Defense and military analysis in The Military Balance, Volume 124, Issue 1 (2024) IISS, February 2024. 

  • Russia’s assault on Ukraine demonstrated that modern war still has echoes of the past. With its offensive stalled, Russia reverted to trench warfare, highlighting the value of capabilities such as mines and fortifications in defensive belts to slow a Ukrainian counter-offensive underpinned by Western-supplied arms. Some Western armed forces have again realized the requirement to focus on clearing complex obstacles, including trenches, as part of their training syllabus.
  • Kyiv has retaken more than 50% of the territory Moscow gained in the early days of fighting, with most ground regained in 2022. Kyiv’s 2023 counter-offensive, and at times criticism of its slow progress, also exposed some fallacies that have crept into some Western military thinking. After several wars in which Western countries enjoyed overwhelming equipment overmatch, the notion appears to have set in that the fighting phase of a conflict should be over quickly. Ukraine is a reminder that wars, more typically, are drawn-out affairs. [2]

“What Ukraine Can Learn From D-Day,” Wesley Clark, WSJ, 02.15.24. 

  • Recognizing the need for a change in strategy, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has appointed a new commander to lead the fight against Russian invaders. The U.S. should do something similar and redefine its policy toward the now two-year-old war. Instead of supporting Kyiv for "as long as it takes," Washington should commit to supporting Ukraine's internationally recognized borders, including Crimea. That would require providing greater and timelier support for a large-scale military operation -- breaking through Russian defenses -- that, if successful, would protect Ukraine and the West from Vladimir Putin's authoritarian designs.
  •  The U.S. experience in World War II reminds us that such a campaign is possible. In 1942 Allied leaders were eager to take the war to Germany from the West by seizing a beachhead in France. ... It wasn't until Allied commanders had gathered some 2,000 aircraft to attack German forces near the French village of Saint-Lo -- saturating a breakthrough zone of roughly 4 1/2 miles with more than 4,000 tons of bombs -- that they broke the Nazis' defenses. Victory depended, again, on detailed planning, air superiority and organized combat power at the breakthrough point while other forces pinned down German reserves elsewhere.
  • Yet with Eisenhower-style planning, Ukraine's forces can evict the Russian invaders from their positions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. That effort would require many of the tactics from Ike's playbook: detailed advance reconnaissance, organized special tactical equipment and reserve troops, and deception. Ukraine would have to arrange offensive air interdiction before breaking through Russian lines to degrade the enemy's reserves and impede its reinforcements. Above all, Ukraine would have to achieve air superiority across most of its front. 
  • Those skeptical of the costs and risks of such an operation would do well to reflect on the Allies' determination to liberate France and defeat Germany. That operation was successful, thanks in no small part to Allied courage, resourcefulness and materiel. Ukrainians have the same drive to liberate their country but need the sufficient and timely resources that much of the West hasn't yet provided.
  • For Ukraine, this is a matter of national survival. For the West, it is an opportunity to secure Europe and the rules-based international order at minimum cost and risk. It is the last best chance to avoid a larger confrontation with Russia that might require a general mobilization and engulf NATO in open warfare. China is watching. We mustn't wait for another Pearl Harbor to recognize and respond to the growing threat to our country.

“Can Ukraine Still Win?”  Keith Gessen, New Yorker, 02.15.24. 

  • Military analysts are a little hard-pressed to describe an actual military victory for Ukraine.
    • Scott Boston, a defense analyst at the RAND Corporation who often “plays Russia” in the think tank’s war games, said he has not heard anyone discussing the equipment and firepower Ukraine would need. .... In a situation where a roughly base level of support is having trouble making it through a divided Congress, Boston found it hard to see a way toward an even greater level.
    • “Ukraine needs to prepare for a long war,” Olga Oliker, a former RAND analyst and Pentagon staffer who is now the head of the Europe and Central Asia program at the International Crisis Group, told me. Oliker believes that a long war could be won, but it may not look like the victory some maximalists have been promising. “You have to create the space for Ukraine to claim victory under less-than-ideal conditions,” she said. “Because, if you say the only thing that is victory is the Russians go home entirely from Crimea and Donbas, Ukraine is in NATO, and Moscow somehow disappears off the face of the earth—that’s an unrealistic goal. To me, Ukrainian victory is a situation in which Russia can’t do this again or at least is going to have a very hard time doing it again.”
  • There is a third option for how the war might develop, beyond a “mutually hurting stalemate,” as it’s known in the literature, and a measured Ukrainian victory. As Michael Kofman, a longtime analyst of the Russian military who is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, stressed to me, Ukraine could start to lose. That could mean a breakthrough by Russian forces, though they have so far been unable to achieve one, or just enough wearing down of Ukrainian and Western will that Ukraine is forced to negotiate concessions from a position of weakness. The question then becomes what, aside from the catastrophic humanitarian and political consequences in Ukraine, a Russian victory would mean for the world. If Putin wins, or feels like he has won, what will he do next?
    • Some argue that he would do nothing—that Ukraine is a special case, more central to Russia’s conception of itself as an imperial power than any other country. The counter-argument is that we don’t know. 
  • Oliker, whose job at the International Crisis Group is to seek ways to end conflicts, does not see how this one can end just yet. She admitted that, in the aftermath of the failed counter-offensive, in the midst of a long cold winter, and with Western support in doubt, Ukraine is facing a very difficult moment. “But it was not a good moment for Russia in spring and summer of 2022,” Oliker said. “That’s war. If it is, in fact, a long war, prepare for a few more back-and-forths.” 

Answers to Question “Is Russia winning its war in Ukraine” in debate “Does the West’s Ukraine policy need a reality check?”, Brookings, 02.15.24.

  • Michael E. O’Hanlon: “Russia is not winning the war so far. Its original ambitions of taking over Ukraine and unseating its government were stymied. Even its more modest goals of fully controlling five provinces in Ukraine and keeping the country out of Western institutions appear unlikely to succeed over time. “
  • Steven Pifer: “Russia is not winning. Its military has suffered 315,000 casualties, according to CIA Director William Burns; others place Russian losses at a higher level. In addition, Russia has lost 2,600 main battle tanks, some two-thirds of its modern force, and is having to draw from stocks of 60-year-old tanks. The Russian Navy had to withdraw most of its Black Sea Fleet warships from occupied Crimea. For all that, Russia occupies little more Ukrainian territory than it did at the beginning of 2023 and far less than it did in the first half of 2022. To be sure, Ukraine faces a difficult year in 2024 and will find itself largely on the defensive. However, the past two years have shown how costly, and often how futile, offensive operations can be for the Russians.”
  • Aslı Aydıntaşbaş: “Russia is not winning in Ukraine—but neither is it losing. Despite early predictions of economic collapse, battlefield exhaustion, and international isolation, Russians have, by and large, managed to muddle through. Economically, the country has avoided a collapse; militarily, it has ramped up weapons production; and diplomatically, in a post-Gaza world, Moscow hardly seems isolated. Meanwhile, the West’s ability to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes” is increasingly looking doubtful to the rest of the world. ... we must be honest with ourselves and with Ukrainians. The strategic decisions available for the United States are limited, and not confined to two binary choices: either force Ukraine to negotiate with Russia or declare to support it forever. The real strategic opening is everything in-between, involving compromises, half-measures, and half-baked solutions that last for decades. That’s how wars end—with deeply unsatisfactory results.”
  • Angela Stent: “Russia is not winning the war with Ukraine but has managed to capture small amounts of Ukrainian territory since Kyiv’s disappointing 2023 counteroffensive. Moscow is conducting a war of attrition with heavy casualties and now has access to artillery and missiles from North Korea and drones from Iran. It will have to continue mobilizing men if it is to launch another offensive in 2024. Ukraine is not winning the war either and will focus on defense in 2024, perhaps launching another counteroffensive in 2025. It has recently been attacking inside Russian territory and bombing energy facilities.”
  • Tara Varma: “The good news is that Russia isn’t winning—at least not in terms of what a decisive victory would be: clear military advantage leading Moscow to win over Ukrainian territory, which is one of its key objectives. One should note that Russian self-avowed goals in Ukraine have evolved since the invasion in 2022, though Putin insists they remain the same, namely “denazification, demilitarization and [Ukraine’s] neutral status.” The initial full-scale invasion stemming both from the east and the north indicated a willingness not only to take Kyiv but actually the whole of Ukraine.”

Military aid to Ukraine

“Ukraine's Military Reset Is Doomed Without More U.S. Aid,” James Stavridis, Bloomberg, 02.16.24.

  • The Ukrainian war effort needs a reset. What should that look like, and can it succeed?
    • In terms of the reset, General Syrskyi is starting out emphasizing “clear and detailed planning” and trying to find way to rest his weary troops. The latter will require increased mobilization, probably of a younger cohort of soldiers. ‘=
    • A second element of a reset be coming up with more advanced warfighting technologies and integrating them into the war effort. At the top of the list will be the F-16 fighters provided by the West, with most of the training done in the U.S. and Germany....The problem is that the timeline for deployment keeps lengthening, with “by the end of this year” as the current vague estimate.  Drones are a better story: Improved generations will be operated by a new, dedicated branch of the Ukrainian armed forces (something the U.S. and NATO should consider). And the war at sea, in which Kyiv has already sunk at least a third of the Russian Black Sea Fleet (including the Flagship Moskva), will be enhanced by new anti-ship cruise missiles.
    • But the third and most difficult portion of the reset is unfortunately not at all under Zelenskiy’s control: the U.S. election, and a Republican Party that is increasingly turning against the Ukrainian cause under the sway of Trump. 
      • This is a dangerous moment, and not just for Ukraine. If the U.S. walks away — as it did from Europe and Asia in the 1930s — authoritarian powers will fill the void. And we would likely end up, as we did in 1941, embroiled in a conflict on a far larger scale. 
      • Yes, any reset must include changes by the Ukrainian military command and new technologies. But unless a real effort is made to restore the truthful narrative — that Ukraine’s fate is tied to Americans’ own, and the best mechanism we have to win is NATO — there is real danger ahead. Zelenskiy can’t do this by himself. It will require leadership in Washington from both sides of the aisle. 

“Europe is panicking about Ukraine aid. Biden’s team should tell the truth,” Josh Rogin, WP, 02.15.24.

  • More than half of it  [US aid to Ukraine] goes back into the U.S. economy via weapons purchases or to replenish U.S. weapons stocks. European countries contribute more total financial aid than the United States and several give a higher share of their gross domestic product.
  • Moreover, the consequences of pulling support now would be drastic. The Ukrainian economy could collapse, causing a ripple effect throughout Europe and the world. The prospect of living (or dying) under Russian occupation could push millions more Ukrainian refugees into Europe with destabilizing effects. NATO allies would lose faith in the alliance's credibility. Autocrats in the Middle East and Asia would be emboldened.
  • Rather than pretend everything will be fine, the Biden team ought to be more honest with its allies. The Ukraine aid is not coming soon. It might not come at all. Trump might win. He might pull the United States out of NATO.[3]

“If Putin swallows Ukraine, thank the GOP,” George F. Will, WP, 02.15.24.

  • Putin, who has made two wagers, quickly lost the first when he failed to quickly overrun Ukraine. He might, however, win his second wager: that the United States will live down to his disdain for what he considers its decadence. Surely his contempt is partly a response to former president Donald Trump's political durability, which Putin understands is evidence of America's retreat from seriousness.
  • Since February 2022, all U.S. assistance to Ukraine, military and other, has totaled $75.4 billion, much of it spent here replenishing U.S. war materiel. Even adding the $60 billion in the Senate bill, the total U.S. cost so far would be less than the cost of servicing the national debt for three months. And less than the $200 billion (a low estimate) of Medicare and Medicaid fraud since the war began two years ago next week.
  • Ukraine's survival, as well as perhaps the prevention of wars in the Baltic states and the Taiwan Strait, depends on Johnson's desire and ability - neither might exist - to prevent House Republicans from compelling Ukraine's capitulation. 
  • An America whose empathy is so shriveled that it will not help to sustain Ukraine's heroism had better hope that the world has exhausted its supply of nasty surprises. Such an America is unprepared for any future that resembles the past.

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

  • No significant developments.

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“The Diplomatic Path to a Secure Ukraine,” George Beebe and Anatol Lieven, 02.16.24, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. 

  • Conventional wisdom holds that a negotiated end to the Ukraine war is neither possible nor desirable.  This belief is false.   It is also extremely dangerous for Ukraine’s future. The war is not trending toward a stable stalemate, but toward Ukraine’s eventual collapse.  Russia has corrected many of the problems that plagued its forces during the first year of fighting and adopted an attrition strategy that is gradually exhausting Ukraine’s forces, draining American military stocks, and sapping the West’s political resolve. Sanctions have not crippled Russia’s war effort, and the West cannot fix Ukraine’s acute manpower problems absent direct intervention in the war.  Ukraine’s best hope lies in a negotiated settlement that protects its security, minimizes the risks of renewed attacks or escalation, and promotes broader stability in Europe and the world.   
  • Skeptics counter that Russia has no incentive to make meaningful concessions in a war it is increasingly winning. But this belief underestimates the gap between what Russia can accomplish through its own military efforts and what it needs to ensure its broader security and economic prosperity over the longer term. Russia can probably achieve some of its war aims by force, including blocking Ukraine’s membership in NATO and capturing much of the territory it regards as historically and culturally Russian. But Russia cannot conquer, let alone govern, the majority of Ukraine, nor can Russia secure itself against the ongoing threats of Ukrainian sabotage or potential NATO strikes absent a costly permanent military buildup that would undermine its civilian economy. Reducing the deep dependence on China created by the invasion will also sooner or later require Russia to seek some form of détente with the West. 
  • As a result, the United States has significant leverage for bringing Russia to the table and forging verifiable agreements to end the fighting.  But this leverage will diminish over time. The United States should therefore quickly challenge Putin to make good on his insistence that Russia is willing to negotiate by publicly supporting calls from China, Brazil, and other key Global South actors for talks to end the war.  And to help build trust and bolster dialogue, American officials should reach out to Russian representatives through both formal channels and a strictly confidential “back channel” that would facilitate sensitive discussions.  Given deep Russian doubts about U.S. intentions, our outreach will have to include signals that we are prepared to discuss Moscow’s concerns about NATO expansion in the context of a Ukraine settlement. 
  • Ukraine’s best hope lies in a negotiated settlement that protects its security, minimizes the risks of renewed attacks or escalation, and promotes broader stability in Europe and the world. No settlement will endure unless Ukraine, Russia, and the West all see it as sufficiently serving their interests and as preferable to continued war.  But we need not and should not simply trust that all parties will abide by its terms. Moscow and Washington have decades of useful Cold War experience in constructing, implementing, and monitoring a wide range of security agreements despite mutual distrust and broader geopolitical competition.  While formidable, the obstacles to success are not insurmountable. 
  • By combining defensive aid to Ukraine with a vigorous diplomatic offensive, the United States could secure independence for the vast bulk of Ukraine, provide a viable path toward its prosperity, and mitigate the dangers of long-term confrontation with Russia in Europe.  This would not constitute a complete victory, but it would still be a monumental achievement.

“Is Ukraine’s future West German? NATO membership will be essential to any negotiated end to the war with Russia,” Ivan Krastev, FT, 02.26.24.

  • Ultimately, Ukrainians will decide when and how to negotiate. But when Moscow advocates talks, it is important for western leaders to be clear about what is not negotiable when it comes to the future of both Ukraine and Europe. And what, in my view, should be non-negotiable is not so much Ukraine’s complete territorial integrity as its democratic and pro-western orientation.
  • It is now time for those who favor a negotiated end to the war to start advocating that NATO admit Ukraine as soon as possible as the only effective response to Moscow’s desire for territorial changes. Only a Ukraine that is part of NATO can survive the permanent or temporary loss of control over some of its territory.
  •  If Putin’s offer is, “if you really want to stop fighting, you need to stop supplying weapons”, the western counteroffer should be, “if you really plan to occupy Ukrainian land, you need to accept that Ukraine will be a NATO member” — as West Germany was during the cold war. It is time for the West German scenario to be put on the table.

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

“Why NATO members are sounding the alarm on Russia’s aggressive posture,” Henry Foy, Guy Chazan, John Paul Rathbone and Richard Milne, FT, 02.16.24. 

  • Russia’s bellicose “intent is still there”, said a second U.K. defense official. “Its land forces have been degraded in Ukraine, but its air force and navy are largely intact, and Russia is still a major nuclear power.” That warning hangs over the Munich Security Conference.
  • One reason for western officials’ alarm is Russia’s revival of its industrial defense machine over the past year, which took place at a speed many in the west had thought impossible. Russia churned out 4mn artillery shells and several hundred tanks during the year. It will recruit another 400,000 men this year without resorting to full-scale mobilization, Ukrainian officials forecast. At the same time, NATO’s own future has been cast into doubt by the prospect of Donald Trump’s return to the White House. 
  • While Russia’s army is heavily deployed in Ukraine and has suffered huge losses during two years of conflict, most Western officials expect that it would be able to reconstitute its forces within five to six years
  • Western defense officials in recent weeks have issued an unprecedented number of public warnings of the possibility of a broader conflict in Europe with a more confident and rearmed Russia.
    • Denmark’s defense minister Troels Lund Poulsen said last week that Russia could test NATO’s mutual defense clause “within a three to five-year period”. That followed similar warnings from colleagues from Sweden, the U.K., Romania, Germany and senior officials at NATO itself since the start of the year.
    • “We’re going to have to get used to the idea that it’s realistic that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will [attack a NATO country within 5-8 years],” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the Bundestag defense committee. 
    • Estonia’s foreign intelligence service said this week ...[Russia’s] potential military conflict with NATO [can occur] within the next decade.
    • One senior European official went as far as saying that Russia’s “intent and capability” to attack a NATO country before the end of the decade was “pretty much consensus” within the US-led military alliance.
      • “It is a credible threat, and we need to be prepared for that,” said one senior NATO diplomat of the warnings of a potential Russian attack on an alliance member. “I do not find such predictions fantasy . . . We do not have the luxury to think that Russia would stop in Ukraine.”
  • Officials said that one reason for the dire warnings was to prepare societies for the potential danger, and to ensure that civilian infrastructure was ready for the possible consequences.
  • NATO’s Joint Support and Enabling Command, an alliance command center in the southern German city of Ulm, is drawing up plans for how NATO military forces would deploy around Europe and be sustained and reinforced in the event of a conflict, officials said.

“Europe Wants to Stand on Its Own Militarily. Is It Too Little, Too Late?” Steven Erlanger, NYT, 02.14.24.

  • As Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany broke ground for a new ammunition factory this week, he celebrated a move that should enable the country to restore its almost entirely depleted arsenal of artillery shells. But despite his portrayal of the groundbreaking as another German response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which began two years ago this month, it was also a reminder of how slow the European reaction has been. It will be a year before the new factory is able to produce 50,000 rounds annually, with hopes of doubling that in 2026.
  • That is too little and too late to help Ukraine at a moment of greatest need, and just as Washington's own aid package may be faltering. And it is arguably late for Europe as a whole, as leaders warn that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, should he succeed in taking and holding even part of Ukraine, may try to test NATO's commitment to defend every inch of its territory in the coming years.
  • The theme of this year's Munich conference -- ''lose-lose'' -- seems to sum up Europe's growing anxieties as it opens on Friday. European leaders worry about Mr. Trump's unpredictability, and his seeming willingness to strike deals with Mr. Putin without involving Ukraine or its neighbors. But they also realize that even if Mr. Trump loses, the days when large aid and arms packages for Ukraine sail through Congress are likely over -- and the era of an American ironclad security guarantee may be over, too. That means that Europe, whose future commitments to Ukraine are already larger than Washington's, will likely have to spend far more on its own defenses and prepare for the possibility of a diminished American role in NATO.
  • But there is little prospect that Europe can replace the United States as a guarantor of security anytime soon -- and not without sharply enhanced military spending beyond the NATO goal of 2 percent of economic output, which only 11 of the alliance's 31 members currently meet.
  • And at the moment, said Claudia Major, a defense expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Europe could not defend itself against Russia in a conventional conflict without the help of the United States. To be really prepared to fight Russia, said Armin Papperger, the chief executive of the company building the ammunition factory, Europe would need 10 years to rebuild militaries that atrophied during the post-Cold War and whose arsenals were depleted in the rush to save Ukraine. [4]

“Trump’s awful truth: the U.S. can go it alone,” Simon Kuper, FT, 02.15.24.

  • Trump’s political genius lies in expressing aspects of the American id that were taboo in Washington. Insofar as he thinks about the world beyond the U.S., he wants to hurt it. Nationalists elsewhere fantasize about ditching alliances and acting alone. Britain has tried this with Brexit, Russia with various invasions and Israel in Gaza. Trump realizes that the impregnable U.S. actually could go it alone. It can downgrade allies to clients. In his long-standing vision of NATO as a US-run protection scheme, he sees Russia as the “muscle”, scaring Europeans into paying up. Trumpian isolationism could destroy Ukraine. That would embolden aggressors everywhere, from Russia in eastern Europe to China in Taiwan. But the distant screams would just be fodder for new American culture wars.

“Trump courts real danger with his invitation to attack NATO,” Michael E. O’Hanlon, Brookings, 02.15.24.

  • Under President George W. Bush back in 2008, the United States joined the rest of NATO in promising Ukraine membership in the alliance … someday. Then Presidents Barack Obama, Trump, and Biden failed to make that happen. We left Ukraine in a strategic no man’s land. Put differently, we painted a bullseye on its back, since Russia saw it had an opportunity to attack—and perhaps prevent Ukraine from ever joining NATO—before membership could take effect. Whether one blames the original decision to offer membership or the failure to complete the process, it’s pretty clear that the net effect contributed to a failure of deterrence. Withdrawing Article V pledges from a current member of the alliance could produce a similar type of strategic limbo, with similar risks of deterrence failure—and war. Trump is not just being unseemly and rhetorically belligerent. History shows he is playing with fire.

“On NATO, Trump doesn't speak for the nation. GOP lawmakers should stand with our allies by standing up to his bullying,” BG editorial, BT, 02.15.24.

  • The world was reminded of how dangerous former president Donald Trump's reckless rhetoric is when he doubled down on his criticism of NATO, which has been the bedrock of American national security since World War II. Not only did he heap scorn on the alliance designed to protect democratic nations from North America and Europe, but he also said he'd encourage the Russians to “do whatever the hell they want” to the alliance members who he deems to be “delinquent” in their own defense spending.
  • As NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement in response to Trump: “Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the US, and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk.” Trump's comments were dangerous — his ideas even more so. Lawmakers should stand in unity with Stoltenberg and our NATO allies in making it clear that Trump does not speak for the United States.

“NATO at 75: Time to Deliver on Its Promises. What Has to Happen at the Washington Summit,” Karl-Heinz Kamp, DGAP, 02.08.24.

  • NATO heads of state and government will meet in Washington on July 11, 2024, to mark the Alliance’s 75th anniversary. Not only will the leaders have to elect a new secretary-general, the anniversary will take place in the midst of an explosive global situation. As the war in Ukraine continues, the prospect of a second presidential term for ­Donald Trump also worries the Alliance. In order to strengthen NATO’s ability to defend its members in this time of multiple crises, leaders need to advance seven specific topics.
  • NATO should swiftly provide Ukraine with a perspective for membership, as there are no reasons for further hesitation.
  • In light of the threat from Russia, it is important to reiterate that members should adhere to the NATO target contribution of 2% of GDP. 
  • Future partnership policy should follow three principles: interest-­oriented, values-oriented, hierarchical.
  • To unite the role of nuclear weapons in the Alliance under a strategic umbrella, a new political consensus paper is urgently needed.

“How the Peace was Lost,” Richard Sakwa, Russia.Post, 02.15.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Amidst the endless debates today about world order, there is a fundamental confusion. We need to distinguish between the international system, which today remains the UN-based framework established in 1945, and various world orders that compete and contest at the level of international politics. The Charter system establishes the norms and parameters of international politics, defining what is legitimate and what is not, and creates a legal mechanism for sanctioning recalcitrant actors.
  • From this perspective, it is the political West that has become revisionist, repudiating the principles upon which it was originally established to fight the Cold War. The perpetuation of cold war practices and institutions after 1989 has now arched back to subvert the foundations of the political West’s own normativity. This does not exonerate the non-Western powers of their own subversion of Charter principles, but it does suggest a framework in which new Cold War hostilities can be tempered.
  • Unfortunately, the current clash of world orders is if anything more intense than anything seen during the original cold war. The struggle between capitalism and communism was legible and intelligible, but the struggle today, couched as it is in such terms as democracies vs autocracies, liberalism vs illiberalism, and even between the rules-based order vs anarchy, renders it both deeper and more amorphous. It will be much harder to navigate a passage out of this cold war than out of the first, especially since the institutions and practices of diplomacy have themselves become the arena for contestation.
  • Few signposts remain, except one – recognition of the equality represented by sovereign internationalism. Civilisational and political difference have once again to be normalized, although contestation over models of modernity will undoubtedly endure. This leads the way back to the primacy of Charter liberalism, and with it perhaps a new peace agenda.

“Trump Is at Odds With NATO, and Reality,” Paul Krugman, NYT, 02.16.24. 

  • There's been widespread attention on Donald Trump's asserting that he would refuse to defend NATO allies he considers ''delinquent'' and even saying he might encourage Russia to attack them… here's how Trump's repudiation of NATO went down: He didn't make a straightforward case, which would have been arguable, that we're spending too much on defense while our allies are spending too little. Instead, he told a story: ''One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, 'Well, sir, if we don't pay and we're attacked by Russia, will you protect us?' I said, 'You didn't pay? You're delinquent? ... No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.''' 
  • To use the language of intelligence assessments, it's highly unlikely that this conversation or anything like it actually happened.... Either Trump is telling an especially pointless lie or he's confused about past events.
  • Unlike Biden's missteps, whatever you may think they have been, Trump's mishandling of Covid and election denial were uniquely Trumpian -- the behavior of a man who doesn't like to accept reality when it isn't what he wants it to be. And does anyone think he's improved on that front over the past three years?

“The Main Topic Of The 60th Munich Conference Is Whether Europe Can Cope On Its Own,” Fyodor Lukyanov, RG.ru, 02.15.24. Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • The 60th Munich Security Conference is taking place on February 16-18. The idea [to organize such a conference arose in 1963, a few months after the Cuban Missile Crisis... The conference emerged as a product of the balance that was achieved on the world stage between rival blocs [after CMC]....The present situation is the opposite of what it was then.
    • The modern version of the Cold War is structurally and qualitatively different from the previous one. If we draw parallels, it resembles that war’s first, unbalanced period. There is no trace of balance, and the fight is taking place in a zone that is extremely sensitive for one of the direct participants (Russia) and extremely risky for the entire adjacent space (Europe). ...This process will someday culminate in a new equilibrium. But it is unknown how it will happen, and most importantly, unexpected turns await us along the way to it.
  • The main topic of the sixtieth conference in Munich is whether Europe can cope on its own, with questions being raised about whether [Europe may even need] its nuclear weapons, if the Americans close their [nuclear] “umbrella”. The answer to that question is a foregone conclusion: [Europeans need to] urgently work to expand their own military-strategic capabilities, but disallow a ‘divorce’ [with US] under no circumstances. This answer is cunning. Implicitly, no one believes that the Old World is able to increase its capabilities to the minimum acceptable level, while Trump [only] portrays a brutal businessman, demanding [that Europeans spend 2% of GDP on defense]! It is impossible to imagine that Trump will withdraw the United States from NATO or that the Americans will revoke nuclear guarantees.
  • The Russian campaign in Ukraine, the prelude of which was [Moscow’s] demand to reconsider NATO strategy, was designed to reverse the military-political dynamics that prevailed at a time of deep decline in Russia's geopolitical capacity. The West accepted the challenge, choosing to protect its acquisitions. Over the course of two years, problems emerged [among U.S. and its allies], but the intentions did not waver. No one is ready to agree to Russia’s right to challenge the order of things. The successes of Russian forces on the battlefield and the internal failures of the Western community should make sides think about a compromise, but the opposite is also likely: an attempt to inflate and mobilize to prevent change.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“What Putin and Xi Have in Common Will China follow Russia into war?” Leon Aron, The Commentary, March 2024. 

  • There are remarkable similarities between some of the key building blocks in the foundation of Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia and policies that China’s president, Xi Jinping, has implemented in slightly over a decade of rule. The parallels extend to the chronology and sequencing of policy choices, as well as the rhetoric and legitimizing mythology in which the two leaders have couched those choices.
    • The threats they respectively pose to Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China are essentially the same. Both are ethnically very close to, or identical with, their huge authoritarian neighbors. They are proto- or fully democratic and pro-Western. And taken as a whole, they are living negations of the key elements of both Moscow’s and Beijing’s legitimizing narratives of national revival through confrontation with the West; the absence of civic and political liberties; state control or ownership of the economy; imperial expansion; and warmongering.
    • The economic and political conditions that prefaced Putin’s invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022, too, are akin to those in which Xi finds himself today. 
    • No polls track fluctuations in Xi’s popularity and support for his regime. Yet it is not hard to imagine that the economic and social dynamics of today’s China are as fraught as those that heralded Putin’s invasions of Ukraine. 
  • Concurrences, of course, are not set in stone. But if they are consistent enough over a significant period of time, they do enhance the plausibility of similar outcomes. 

“Ukraine War Has Strained But Not Severed Russia-Taiwan Ties,” Andrei Dagaev, CEIP, 02.14.24.

  • Today, Russia’s unprecedented dependence on China prevents Moscow from even thinking about its relations with Taipei, while Taiwan, for its part, has no desire to cultivate any such ties: on the contrary, it has used the Ukraine war to draw attention to the threat posed by mainland China. Still, it is too soon to write off bilateral relations entirely.
  • The full-scale invasion of Ukraine conclusively put Taipei and Moscow on opposite geopolitical fronts. Immediately after the start of the war, Taipei expressed unequivocal support for Ukraine and pledged to join Western sanctions. In response, Russia included Taiwan in its list of “unfriendly countries and territories.” When it comes to sanctions, however, Taiwan shows little initiative, preferring to follow the lead of the United States and its allies. 
  • Still, imposing sanctions is one thing, and closely monitoring their implementation is another. In January 2024, a joint investigation by Taiwanese publication The Reporter and Russia’s The Insider revealed that Russia continues to import Taiwanese machinery and processing centers, despite all prohibitions.  Up to 50 percent of the banned equipment reaches Russia through Turkey, with the rest arriving through mainland China and other countries. 
  • .On the political front, the island authorities still refrain from making hostile statements concerning Moscow, other than occasional criticism of the Kremlin’s adherence to the One China principle. 
  • The Taiwanese education department continues to grant scholarships for its universities to Russians; Russia studies programs are still in place; and the Russian service of Radio Taiwan International is still broadcasting.
  • None of that prevents the island’s authorities from aiding Ukraine. Taiwan has sent various humanitarian aid, from blankets, clothing, and food to ambulances. While opportunities for cooperation between Russia and Taiwan have noticeably decreased, Taipei is not trying to sever all ties with Moscow and preemptively align with Western sanctions. In East Asia, the Russia-Ukraine conflict seems far, far away. Taiwan is no exception, and so in some situations, it is prepared to turn a blind eye to violations of export restrictions. Both Moscow and Taipei will likely try to maintain relations at their current level.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

  • No significant developments.

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“Ukraine’s Rapid Digitalization: Human Rights Risks and Opportunities in a Postwar Environment,” Report by Marti Flacks, Caitlin Chin-Rothmann, Lauren Burke, Julia Brock, and Iryna Tiasko, CSIS, 02.14.24.

  • As the government of Ukraine and its international partners look to the postwar reconstruction process, Ukraine’s rapid and widespread digitalization presents both innovative opportunities and unprecedented risks. Though the war has not yet ended, the Ukrainian government is already thinking ahead to the future of the country and how it can achieve both security and prosperity in the long term. EU accession is a large part of that vision, and reaching certain benchmarks in terms of privacy and human rights will be vital to the success of their bid. This report by the Human Rights Initiative and the Strategic Technologies Program outlines four strategies to center human rights values within a post-conflict digital governance framework in Ukraine: c
    • continue to effectively safeguard e-governance systems and critical private infrastructure from external attacks; 
    • promote the accessibility of digital services for all Ukrainians; 
    • engage in dialogue with citizens on the appropriate limitations of surveillance technologies in peacetime; 
    • and continue working to ensure consistency with emerging EU standards on digital technology, particularly with respect to privacy and surveillance.

“I was head of the NSA. In a world of threats, this is my biggest worry,” Paul M. Nakasone, WP, 02.14.24.

  • Approaching the end of my five-plus years as director of the National Security Agency, I have heard the same question again and again: What's your greatest worry as you conclude decades of service to your nation? People expect me to name a particular country or challenge threatening the United States — maybe China or Russia, or even criminal hackers targeting our critical infrastructure. I have plenty of worries about each of those. What worries me most, though, isn't an external threat, but the possibility that we are on the verge of making a grave mistake.
  • I worry that we could make ourselves blind to external threats such as the ones I've named and more if Congress allows a critical intelligence collection authority — Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — to expire in April, or renews it with crippling restrictions. Either move would be a self-inflicted wound that our nation cannot afford.
  • We should take a step forward by reauthorizing Section 702 — and improving it. That means enshrining in statute the extensive reforms the intelligence community has already made to prevent noncompliant queries of 702 databases. We are only human, and mistakes happen, but the key is to learn from our mistakes and be transparent about them so they can't happen again. These are the boldest reforms to Section 702 the executive branch has ever proposed in a reauthorization cycle, and they'll better protect both our security and Americans' privacy.

Energy exports from CIS:

“The Final Countdown: Will Russia and Ukraine Renew Gas Transit Deal?” Sergey 

Vakulenko, CEIP, 02.15.24.

  • At the end of 2024, a five-year agreement expires governing one of the oldest and biggest economic links between Russia and Europe: the transit of Russian gas through the territory of Ukraine. Kyiv has already said it will not extend the agreement, and Russian officials have confirmed no negotiations to that end are under way with either Ukraine or the EU. Still, that is not to say that no more Russian gas will ever be shipped via Ukraine.
  • In purely pragmatic terms, therefore, the continuation of gas transit after the end of 2024 is likely to be beneficial for both Russia and Ukraine. For European countries that continue to purchase Russian gas, the advantages are also clear. 
  • The situation may change in 2026–2027, when significant new volumes of LNG from the United States and Qatar are due to enter the market. It is possible that supply growth will outstrip demand growth, causing LNG prices to drop considerably. Accordingly, it will become less expensive for EU countries to go without Russian gas, and political pressure will increase as the deadlines laid out under REPowerEU approach.
  • There are still many unknowns in this equation, however. In Washington, the Biden administration has announced a pause on granting new LNG projects the right to export to countries that do not have a free trade agreement with the United States. While that will not affect the market balance in 2026, it may cause European buyers to doubt the reliability and inexhaustibility of U.S. LNG supplies, and persuade them to maintain alternative options, including Russia.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“How to Handle a Post-Putin Russia,” Liana Fix and Maria Snegovaya, CFR, 02.15.24. 

  • Given the omnipresence of the state, the weakness of Russian civil society, and historical precedents, Putin’s successor is likely to emerge from within the current system. It is possible but unlikely that Putin will manage the succession, as he has forgone multiple opportunities in the past to appoint a successor. Leadership change will most probably be a top-down process set off by elite power struggles, rather than a bottom-up societal process. However, certain bottom-up dynamics could increase pressure on elites and push them to prematurely seek out alternative leadership. For example, a sudden deterioration of Russia’s economy or an unsatisfactory war outcome could lead to dissatisfaction with Putin’s performance among elites, triggered by the war’s ongoing political and economic consequences.
  • Once a leadership change is underway, the United States and its allies should plan for the various types of politicians who could succeed Putin. Three scenarios are plausible: a radicalization scenario with a Yuri Andropov­–type successor, a retrenchment scenario with a Nikita Khrushchev–type successor, and a fragmentation scenario. A Westernization scenario, in which Russian elites oust Putin because he has isolated Russia from Europe as well as the Western world and replace him with a Western-oriented leader in the mold of Mikhail Gorbachev, is implausible because Putin has marginalized or coopted the liberal, Western-oriented faction among Russian elites. could go either way, and the two events will likely cross-fertilize each other.
  • The United States and its allies should start planning for potential leadership change in Moscow by identifying more and less favorable scenarios and ways to indirectly influence the outcome in line with U.S. interests. They should begin discussions with allies to develop a strategy for different types of possible successors to Vladimir Putin. A retrenchment scenario could offer opportunities for Ukraine and Russia-West relations, whereas the risks of a radicalization or a fragmentation scenario need to be mitigated. If the United States fails to develop a contingency plan with its allies, it risks unnecessary division and delayed response.                 

“Does Biden Even Have a Russia Policy?” Danielle Pletka, FP, 02.14.24.

  • There should be little doubt that every U.S. president since Woodrow Wilson hoped to see a free and democratic Russia—or, at the very minimum, a normal Russia that set aside imperial ambitions. But hope is not a foreign policy. And the actual policies in place, particularly since the end of the Cold War and the demise of the concept of mutually assured destruction, have little to do with Russia’s internal policies and much to do with its external relations. Even Obama’s reset was more about “important areas to discuss with the Russians” and less about the future of Russia itself.
  • The core problem is that Russia’s internal situation and its foreign policy are inextricably intertwined. Dictators with visions of world domination or of reconstituting the greatness of the Russian Empire of yesteryear have long shaped the Kremlin’s choices, with devastating consequences around the world. Absent a specific policy for Russia, U.S. policy will remain reactive, with constant tactical adjustments that merely manage the problem.
  • The place to begin is a new declarative policy in favor of freedom in Russia. This means exerting much more effort to support the Russian opposition—not with money or arms, but with Washington’s “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval. 
  • It should also mean an end to punitive policies that ultimately unite Russia’s oligarchs behind Putin. 
  • The Kremlin has $300 billion in foreign reserves in foreign banks. That money should be garnished to repay damages and underwrite the rebuilding of Ukraine.
  • If Russia loses in Ukraine—and its loss must be central to NATO policy—the humiliation will be an albatross around Putin’s neck. But even in the event of that loss, the Biden administration (like many of its predecessors) has no policy in place to exploit Putin’s failure. Needless to say, neither does the Republican Party.
  • [Putin’s] only way out is to hope that once the question of Ukraine is resolved, he will be able to reenter the community of nations, with all forgotten in the hopes of yet another reset. But no reset will stick absent fundamental change in Moscow. It’s time to orient ourselves toward facilitating that change.

"Vladimir Putin’s Answers to Questions from Journalist Pavel Zarubin,” official web site of the Russian president, 02.14.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • When Biden and I met in Switzerland, even if it happened several years ago, in fact, three years ago, there were already those back then who were saying that he was unfit for office. I did not see anything of this sort. Well, he did keep glancing at his notes but, to be honest, I looked at mine too. Nothing special about that. And the fact that he banged his head on something when descending from a helicopter, well, who of us has never banged his head on something. Let them throw the first stone, as the saying goes.
  • Trump’s stance ...is fundamentally no different. He wanted to force Europeans to raise their defense expenditure or, as he said, to pay the United States for protection and for opening a nuclear umbrella over their heads. Well, I do not know, it is their problem, they need to work it out for themselves. There may be logic from his perspective. There is none from the Europeans’ perspective. Europe wanted the United States to continue performing certain functions that it took up at the establishment of NATO, at no charge. It is their business.  I personally believe that there is absolutely no point in NATO. Its only purpose is to serve as a tool of U.S. foreign policy. If the United States considers this tool no longer necessary, that is their decision. 
  • Nowhere in the interview [with Carlson] did I say that the start of the special military operation in Ukraine is linked to the threat of a NATO attack on Russia. .. What I actually said was that we have been constantly deceived about NATO’s non-expansion to the east. ....However, what served as the trigger was the current Ukrainian officials’ outright refusal to comply with the Minsk agreements, coupled with Ukraine’s relentless attacks on the unrecognized republics of Donbass, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic.

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“15 points of a Russian citizen, who wants the best for his country,” Navalny.com, Alexey Navalny, 02.23.2023. Clues From Russian Views.

  • In anticipation of the anniversary of the full-scale and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, I formulated as briefly as possible political platform, both for myself and hopefully many other normal people.
  • 15 points of a Russian citizen who wants the best for his country.
  • What was it before, and what is it now?
    • 1. President Putin launched an unjust, aggressive war against Ukraine under absurd pretexts. He is desperately trying to give this war the status of a “people’s war”, trying to make all Russian citizens his accomplices. However, his attempts are failing. There are almost no volunteers for this war, so Putin’s army has to rely on prisoners and those who have been forcibly mobilized.
    • 2. The real reasons for the war are political and economic problems within Russia, Putin’s desire to retain power at any cost, and his obsession with his historical legacy. He wants to go down in history as a “conqueror king” and “gatherer of lands.”
    • 3. Tens of thousands of innocent Ukrainians have been killed, and pain and suffering has been inflicted on millions. War crimes have been committed. Cities and infrastructure in Ukraine have been destroyed.
    • 4. Russia is suffering a military defeat. The recognition of this is precisely what has changed the authorities’ rhetoric from “Kyiv in three days” to hysterical threats regarding the use of nuclear weapons in the case of a loss. The lives of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers were senselessly lost. The final military defeat can be delayed at the cost of the lives of hundreds of thousands more mobilized, but in general it is inevitable. The combination of “aggressive war + corruption + untalented generals + weak economy + heroism and high motivation of the defenders” only results in defeat. The Kremlin’s deceitful and hypocritical calls for negotiations and a ceasefire are nothing more than a realistic assessment of the prospects for military action.
  • What to do?
    • 5. What are Ukraine’s borders? The same as Russia’s - internationally recognized and defined in 1991. We also recognized them then. Russia must recognize these borders now as well. There's nothing to discuss here. Almost all the borders in the world are random and cause someone's dissatisfaction. But it is impossible to fight for their change in the 21st century. Otherwise, the world will be plunged into chaos.
    • 6. Leave Ukraine alone, and let it develop the way its people want it to. Stop the aggression, end the war, and withdraw all Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine. To continue the war is precisely a hysteria of powerlessness, while stopping it is a strong move.
    • 7. Together with Ukraine, the United States, the European Union and Britain, we must find acceptable ways to compensate for the damage brought upon Ukraine. An example of this (after the change of power in Russia and the end of the war) would be by lifting restrictions on our oil and gas, but allowing for the allocation of part of the income from the export of hydrocarbons to compensation.
    • 8. Investigate war crimes in cooperation with international institutions.
  • Why is stopping Putin’s aggression in Russia’s interests?
    • 9. Do all Russians have an imperial consciousness? This is nonsense. For example, Belarus is participating in the war against Ukraine. Do Belarusians also have an imperial consciousness? No, they just also have a dictator in power. In Russia, as in any country with historical preconditions for this, there will always be people with imperial views, but this is far from the majority of people. There is no reason here to cry and lament. Such people must be defeated in elections, just as right-wing and left-wing radicals are defeated in developed countries.
    • 10. Does Russia need new lands? Russia is a huge country with a shrinking population and dying provinces. Imperialism and the desire to seize territories is the most harmful and destructive path. The Russian government is once again destroying our future with its own hands in order to make the country look bigger on the map. But Russia is already big. Our task is to save the people and develop what we have in abundance.
    • 11. The inheritance from this war will be a tangle of complex and, at first glance, almost unsolvable problems. It is important to determine for ourselves that we really want to solve them, after which we must do so honestly and openly. The key to success is the understanding that this will be good not only for Russia and its people, but that will also be very beneficial to end the war as soon as possible. This will be the only way to begin moving towards the lifting of sanctions, the return of those who left, the restoration of business confidence, and economic growth.
    • 12. Let me emphasize once again that, after the war, we will have to compensate Ukraine for the damage caused by Putin’s aggression. But the restoration of normal economic relations with the civilized world and the return of economic growth will make it possible to do this without hampering the development of our country. We are at the bottom, and to float up, we need to push off from it. This will be morally correct, rational, and beneficial.
    • 13. Dismantling the Putin regime and his dictatorship. Ideally, through general free elections and the convening of a Constitutional Assembly.
    • 14. Establishment of a parliamentary republic based on the rotation of power through fair elections, an independent court, federalism, local self-government, complete economic freedom, and social justice.
    • 15. Conscious of our history and traditions, we must be part of Europe and follow the European path of development. We don’t have anything else, and we don’t need anything else.

Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin's Most Ardent Critic, Dies in Prison; Politician had been serving sentences amounting to more than 30 years in a penal colony,” Matthew Luxmoore, Thomas Grove, WSJ, 02.16.24. 

  • Russia's Alexei Navalny, a fierce anticorruption campaigner who galvanized the country's political opposition, died in prison, bringing to an end a life dedicated to fighting Russia's slow descent into authoritarianism under Russian President Vladimir Putin. The cause of his death was still being established, said prison authorities. He collapsed after a walk at his prison colony on Friday after which, they said, he lost consciousness and could not be revived.
  • Ahead of a presidential election next month, in which Putin is widely expected to win a fifth term, Navalny's death eliminates the last real political opposition that still remained inside Russia following Putin's invasion of Ukraine, his crackdown on freedom of speech and the passage of increasingly draconian laws aimed at stamping out any dissent.
  • The death also solidifies Putin's position following two disastrous years of war that have killed hundreds of thousands, led to Russia's isolation from the West and impoverished the Russian economy. Putin has crushed any remaining dissent to his rule in Russia, jailing thousands of protesters and forcing into exile those who oppose him.
    • Navalny's wife Yulia Navalnaya surprised attendees at the Munich Security Conference after news of his death emerged. "I want Putin and his entire circle to know that they'll bear responsibility for what they did with our country and my family and my husband," she said in an emotional speech, saying that she was waiting for confirmation of his death. "And this day will come very soon." 
    • Speaking on the sidelines of the Munich Security Forum, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Putin's fixation with Navalny underscored the "the weakness at the heart of the system that Putin has built." "We'll be talking to many other countries concerned about Alexei Navalny, especially if these reports bear out to be true," he said.
    • Navalny "was killed, like many thousands who have been tortured to death, all because of this one person: Putin," said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
    • "This is terrible news," U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrote on X. 
  • Navalny now leaves a political opposition either cowed by the authorities, in prison or in exile, severely weakened and riven by infighting. 
  • In an Oscar-winning 2022 documentary about his life, Navalny was asked what message he would leave to the Russian people if he was killed. "Don't give up," he responded. "Everything that's needed for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. So act."

“The Example of Alexei Navalny's Courage; Vladimir Putin thinks he can kill opponents with impunity, and he knows he must to retain power,” The WSJ Editorial Board, WSJ, 02.16.24

  • Alexei Navalny didn't have to return to Russia in January 2021. That he did is a testament to his remarkable courage and also an explanation for why Vladimir Putin so feared Navalny, the opposition politician who died in a Siberian prison Friday at age 47.
  • Navalny's death may be a sign that Mr. Putin feels secure and therefore can risk provoking protests about Navalny's fate. 
  • Yet the paradox of dictatorship is that the autocrat who believes he can kill a domestic opponent with impunity also knows that he must to keep power. Navalny's courage during his life reminds the world that many Russians still want something better for their country.

“Navalny Had No Option but to Fight,” Kathleen Kingsbury, NYT, 02.16.24. 

  • Toward the end of our meal together [in 2010], a friend asked him [Navalny] whether it was safe for him to return to Russia, whether it might be smarter to continue his work from abroad, whether he was worried that he might be imprisoned when he returned or worse.
  • His answer was firm. “But there is no other option,” he said. “I have to go home and fight with my fellow Russians, fight for our homeland.” That fatal decision was one that Navalny would make over and over again in the years since. While he may not see his battle against Putin’s evil to its end, his legacy will be the willingness of his many fellow citizens in Russia to pick it up for him.[5]

“Even from a Russian prison, I can see Putin’s weakness,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, WP, 02.14.24. 

  • The formal results of Russia’s March election (it feels wrong to write this word without quotation marks) are, of course, not in doubt. With [Boris] Nadezhdin out of the running, Russians who oppose the war will be left to spoil their ballots or boycott the vote altogether. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has more than enough tools in its toolbox — from traditional coercion of state employees to uncontrolled mass online voting — to produce the required numbers.
  • Putin’s official vote tally on March 17 will likely be the highest in all his 24 years in power. But it will also be the furthest removed from reality. A small upstart campaign by a cautious critic has exposed the lie behind the Kremlin claims of solid public support for Putin and for his war. “Few people believed this could happen, but Russian citizens now feel that change is actually possible in our country,” Nadezhdin told journalists after the meeting of the election commission.
  • This doesn’t mean that change will happen tomorrow or next month. But a society that feels more empowered and more confident about itself is suddenly a force to be reckoned with. And that is bad news for any dictator.

Defense and aerospace:

“In the arms race for space weaponry, Russia fires a shot across the bow,” David Ignatius, WP, 02.15.24.

  • The Ukraine war demonstrated the military impact of Starlink and other space-based communications and intelligence networks. Now, Russia appears to be working on weapons aimed at disabling such systems using new space-warfare technologies.
  • Although national security officials caution that the Russian capability isn't an imminent danger to the United States, Mike Turner's spotlighting of Moscow's aggressive plans could have a short-term impact on congressional approval of additional military assistance for Ukraine.
  • Russia warned more than a year ago that it might take action against commercial satellite providers. Konstantin Vorontsov, a senior Russian diplomat, said in a speech at the United Nations in October 2022 that the array of private satellites was "an extremely dangerous trend that goes beyond the harmless use of outer-space technologies and has become apparent during the latest developments in Ukraine." He said this "quasi-civilian infrastructure may become a legitimate target for retaliation."
  • U.S. officials didn't provide details of Russia's new capability. But the Russians might be planning to use directed-energy weapons or electromagnetic pulses in space that could disable commercial and military networks. Such systems could, for example, attack the exotic "mesh networks" that allow Starlink and other companies to bounce signals among their satellites before sending data back to Earth.
  • Russia, it seems, is looking for new ways to challenge the United States' space supremacy. But given the ingenuity of U.S. engineers in helping friends and evading enemies, it's a safe bet that the cycle of punch and counterpunch in space is just beginning.

“What is Russia’s mysterious new space weapon? Theories include a space-nuke or a nuclear-powered jammer,” The Economist, 02.15.24.[6]

  • Washington was abuzz on February 14 with news of a mysterious Russian space weapon. Mike Turner, chairman of the House intelligence committee, urged the White House to declassify intelligence on a “serious national-security threat”. 
  • What could this be? There are essentially three options: 
    • a “pop-up” nuclear weapon designed to destroy satellites, which would be stationed on the ground and launched only when it was about to be used; 
    • a nuclear weapon that would be stationed in orbit; 
    • or a nuclear-powered satellite which would not be a bomb itself, but instead used nuclear energy to power some other sort of device.
  •  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:

“Russia Suspends Funding for the Arctic Council: Wake up Call Not Death Knell,” Jennifer Spence, High North News, 02.15.24. 

  • If you are an Arctic enthusiast like me, your newsfeed on Wednesday morning was likely full of articles announcing Russia’s decision to suspend annual payments to the Arctic Council until “real work” resumes or some variation on that theme. Not surprisingly, I had colleagues who immediately assumed that this was a sign of the further decline of Arctic cooperation and another nail in the coffin for the Arctic Council.
  •  But, as someone who has studied and worked for the Arctic Council, this announcement actually gave me hope.
  • We are at a crossroads in Arctic governance. The Arctic Council is alive, but hobbling. Based on multiple accounts, efforts to re-invigorate working-level cooperation have had mixed results, but it is far from where we need to be to effectively respond to the critical issues facing the region and the globe – mitigating and adapting to climate change, supporting resilient and thriving Arctic peoples and communities, pressing infrastructure needs, growing demand for the region’s resources, increasing risk of human-induced and natural disasters, and so many more. 
  • Russia’s announcement makes it clear that the status quo is not an option. This is a wake-up call. The Arctic Council can still play a central role in circumpolar cooperation, but there is more work to do to get there.

Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant developments.

NB: The next Russia Analytical Report will appear on Friday, Feb. 26, instead of Monday, Feb. 19, because of the U.S. Presidents' Day holiday.

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 11:00 am Eastern time on the day this digest was distributed. Unless otherwise indicated, all summaries above are direct quotations. 

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

[1] MSC is to hold a panel on nuclear security, entitled “Turning Back the (Doomsday) Clock: Lessons (To Be) Learned in Nuclear Security” on Friday, February 16, 2024.

[2] Also see “Does the United States Need a New Ukraine Strategy?” Emma Ashford and Matthew Kroenig, FP, 02.16.24, https://foreignpolicy.com/2024/02/16/does-the-united-states-need-a-new-ukraine-strategy/

[3] Also see “Europe May Now Be Ukraine’s Only Hope. That’s Scary,” Marc Champion, Bloomberg, 02.16.24, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2024-02-16/munich-conference-a-backdrop-for-europe-ukraine-security-needs

[4] This assessment is concurrent with the one shared with Bloomberg. This agency cited senior European officials tasked with preparing their countries for a NATO-Russia conflict as saying this week, that Europe is at least a decade away from being able to defend itself unaided.

[5] On Navalny’s death, also see: 

[6] Also see   “US Downplays Threat of Russian Space Bid That Riled Lawmaker,”  Justin Sink, Bloomberg, 02.15.24, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-02-15/us-says-security-threat-tied-to-russian-anti-satellite-efforts