Russia Analytical Report, Feb. 16-26, 2024

6 Ideas to Explore

  1. “No matter who Americans elect as their next president in November, the United States may no longer be willing to take its traditional lead in deterring Russia or defending the West,” according to Steven Erlanger’s and David E. Sanger’s article in NYT. “That will inevitably place more of the burden on a Europe that is not yet fully prepared,” according to their article, “Hard Lessons Make for Hard Choices 2 Years Into the War in Ukraine.” With these two years gone, “there is no foreseeable pathway toward a battlefield victory for Ukraine,” the NYT duo quotes Charles Kupchan of CFR as saying. Even if the “$61 billion of supplemental aid to Ukraine goes through, I have to be honest with you, that is not going to fundamentally change the reality on the battlefield,” American Sen. JD Vance was quoted as saying in this NYT article. Thus, in Vance’s view, “Europeans should regard the conclusion of the war there as an imperative ... and consider how exactly it is going to live with Russia when the war in Ukraine is over,” the GOP Congressman argues in FT.
  2. Ukraine has demonstrated that everything U.S. troops do in the field—from planning missions and patrolling to the technology that enables virtually every military task—needs to be rethought,” WP’s Alex Horton quoted U.S. officials as saying in an article on the Pentagon’s study of lessons of the Russian-Ukrainian war. For instance, wars of attrition were believed to be anachronistic, but this war has proved to be “an attritional slugfest,” Horton writes. In addition, successful jamming of satellite-guided systems has challenged a “long-held belief in the Pentagon that expensive precision weapons are central to winning.” The war has also demonstrated a need for better counter-drone systems in the U.S. armed forces, according Horton’s list of lessons.
  3. The past 78 years without a nuclear war and very limited nuclear proliferation is “a fragile achievement,” which is unlikely to be sustained for the next generation, according to Harvard University Professor Graham Allison. Speaking  at a recent panel on nuclear security at the Munich Security Conference, Allison described Putin’s threat to conduct nuclear strikes on Ukraine “as the single most dangerous moment or crisis ... between the U.S. and … Russia since the Cuban Missile Crisis.” “I don’t want Ukraine to be so successful … that it forces Putin to choose between a decisive loss and conducting a nuclear strike,” he added. That said, Ukraine merits the resumption of U.S. aid, Allison wrote in a separate article. “Thanks to Ukrainians’ remarkable courage, determination to fight for their own freedom and resilience, the adversary whom the U.S. threat matrix had ranked as the second most capable military power in the world has been fought to a draw,” he wrote in NI. That Putin would weigh the pros and cons of nuking Ukraine also follows from CSIS’s recent study, entitled “The Long Shadow: Russian Nuclear Calibration in the War in Ukraine.” “Based on the connection between Russian nuclear rhetoric and events on the ground, along with open-source reporting, it appears that Putin likely would consider nuclear use in Ukraine,” the study’s authors warn.
  4. The CIA and Ukraine’s special services have been in a decade-long partnership in which the Ukrainians have shared their information on Russian strategic systems among other subjects of interest to the U.S., while the Americans have provided not only critical intelligence on Moscow’s war plans and targeting data, but also equipment and training, according to NYT. The CIA has helped the Ukrainian intelligence community build 12 forward operating bases, but the U.S. agency says it has refrained from helping Ukrainians carry out lethal operations. Yet, in spite of such an enduring partnership, the question that some Ukrainian intelligence officers are now asking their American counterparts is whether the CIA will abandon them, NYT journalists Adam Entous and Michael Schwirtz write in their article on the U.S.-Ukrainian spy partnership. “It happened in Afghanistan before and now it’s going to happen in Ukraine,” the NYT duo quote a senior Ukrainian officer as saying in the concluding paragraph of their article. 
  5. In his long article, entitled “From the ‘Special’ to the ‘Military’ Operation,” renowned Russian military analyst Ruslan Pukhov acknowledges a number of points Russian leaders have denied regarding what they describe as the “special military operation” (SVO) in Ukraine. For instance, Pukhov writes that the Russian command had to withdraw troops from the Kyiv area in spring 2022 because of the risk that these troops, stretched in convoys and, thus, vulnerable, would suffer a resounding defeat at the hands of the Ukrainian army of the kind that the Red Army suffered in Poland in 1920. In contrast, Vladimir Putin and some of his top diplomats have argued that the withdrawal was executed as a good will gesture by Russia in response to Ukraine’s request to do so during the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations in spring 2022 in Istanbul. In his article, which is to be published in the next issue of Russia in Global Affairs, Pukhov also acknowledges that the Ukrainian armed forces could have succeeded in the 2023 counteroffensive if it had been launched earlier that year and, thus, before the so-called Surovikin line was built. Rather than attack, however, “the Ukrainian leadership kept delaying the launch of the offensive, waiting for the arrival of the maximum amount of Western military equipment and for the completion of training of new brigades in the West,” he writes. Looking into the future, Pukhov—who directs Russia’s leading non-state defense industry/military think-tank, the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, and sits on the Russian Defense Ministry’s public council—predicts a protracted war that will be waged for years “for the purposes of attrition in anticipation of internal changes on the adversary’s side.”
  6. NYT, WSJ and the Economist have all run articles in the past week exploring the limits of the impact of Western sanctions on Russia on the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion. “In the here and now, the sanctions have disappointed,” Edward Fishman, a former State Department official who oversaw Russia sanctions acknowledged in an interview with NYT. In its turn, WSJ explored how Russia has succeeded in dodging sanctions, including increasing trade with the Global South, the yuan-ization of Russia’s economy, using discounts and shadow fleets to keep selling oil and using ex-Soviet neighbors to import high-tech components from the West. Finally, the Economist has warned that one unintended impact of sanctions could be that “[t]he West’s campaign to reassert its dominance over the global financial system could see it lose control, once and for all.” 


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

Nuclear security and safety:

“Turning Back the (Doomsday) Clock: Lessons (To Be) Learned in Nuclear Security,” Graham Allison, Happymon Jacob, Patricia Lewis and Hanna Notte, Munich Security Conference, 02.16.24.

  • Graham Tillett Allison: [78 years without a nuclear war and very limited nuclear proliferation] are a fragile achievement…I think it is unlikely to be sustained for the next generation. 
  • GTA: [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s threat to conduct nuclear strikes on Ukraine was the single most dangerous moment or crisis of nuclear war between the US and…Russia since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
    • [We need to] continue doing what we have done to prevent Putin from conducting [nuclear] strikes on Ukraine.
    • I don’t want Ukraine to be so successful…that it forces Putin to choose between a decisive loss and conducting a nuclear strike.
  • Happymon Jacob: Realpolitik is back…as far as nuclear issues are concerned. Institutions [for example, IAEA] of nuclear order are under great stress…and resource-starved. 
    • The key lesson that people have learned from [the war in Ukraine] is that a nuclear-armed Ukraine would have been better off. 
  • GTA: Ukraine and other countries that do not live [with a nuclear umbrella] have a challenge that will continue to drive the incentives for proliferation.
  • Hanna Notte: The major [obstacle] to dealing with the complex nuclear order…is Russia’s fundamental opposition to compartmentalizing nuclear arms control and its diminished interest in nuclear non-proliferation…
    • We have lost Russia as a partner in efforts to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. 
    • [When asked to devise one solution to turn back the trend toward nuclear anarchy] We need to go back to the basics of nuclear predictability and transparency. I will plea for nuclear risk reduction…things like hotlines, enhanced transparency and perhaps some nuclear measures. We also need to protect the norm against nuclear testing. 

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“The Next Tripartite Pact? China, Russia, and North Korea’s New Team Is Not Built to Last,” Oriana Skylar Mastro, FA, 02.19.24. 

  • The United States and its allies can encourage fissures in the emerging autocratic bloc, but they must proceed with caution. Erecting obstacles is the wrong approach. Taking a page from history, Washington should recognize that China, North Korea, and Russia will sabotage their triangular alignment all on their own. 
  • Recently, the war in Ukraine provided a perfect opportunity for China to disappoint its partner by refusing to fully back Russia’s military campaign. But the Biden administration squandered that opportunity by threatening China with “consequences” should it assist the Russian war effort and by adding Chinese companies that it asserted were supporting the Russian military to a trade blacklist. 
  • The best way for the United States to counter the Chinese-Russian alignment is by using it to rally U.S. allies and partners.
  • For now, coordination between North Korea and Russia makes it harder for the United States and its allies to compel either country to leave behind its revisionist, aggressive tendencies and assume a constructive role in the international community. But if their relationship sufficiently threatens China, Beijing may choose to distance itself from both Moscow and Pyongyang. It might even go so far as to try to push North Korea and Russia apart. The United States and its allies were not the primary reason for the Sino-Soviet split during the Cold War, and they will not be the cause of the next Chinese-Russian rift—but they can make the most of the regional dynamics hastening a divide.

“On the significance of Vladimir Putin’s upcoming visit to the DPRK,” Andrei Kortunov, RIAC, 02.20.24.^ Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • Since both North Korea and Russia are under strong pressure from the West, strengthening bilateral ties between Moscow and Pyongyang is in the interests of both sides. Vladimir Putin does not travel outside the former USSR very often these days, and his trip to the DPRK underscores the importance that Moscow places on cooperation with the DPRK.
  • Putin’s visit will be primarily a demonstration of Russia’s political support for the DPRK and a signal to Pyongyang’s opponents (the United States, Japan and South Korea) that Moscow does not intend to join new possible sanctions against North Korea. Perhaps this is also a warning to the West, designed to prevent Seoul and Tokyo from further being drawn into the Russian-Ukrainian conflict on Kyiv’s side. It is also a demonstration that the West's strategy to isolate Moscow is failing.
  • The visit will give impetus to the development of economic partnership between the two countries. For example, Northern Korea is very interested in increasing the supply of Russian food, modernizing its transport infrastructure, and energy cooperation. Political dialogue at different levels will become more active. New cross-border projects can be expected.
  • I don’t think that Beijing views the development of relations between Russia and the DPRK as a challenge or threat to China. At the same time, I believe that Russian-Chinese consultations on security issues on the Korean Peninsula will become even more important.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Why the ICJ Keeps Throwing Out Genocide Claims,” Jill Goldenziel, Bloomberg, 02.19.24. 

  • Fears and accusations of genocide stalk both the war in Ukraine and the war in Gaza. But as painful as the human suffering is in both regions, the Genocide Convention defines this worst of human atrocities very narrowly. 
  • In its recent decisions involving genocide accusations in Ukraine and Gaza, the ICJ has shown that it is unwilling to expand the definition of genocide beyond that in the convention: the intentional destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such. These decisions, while disappointing for some human rights advocates, protect the original intent of the Genocide Convention — preventing the worst crime perpetrated by humanity. 
  • The court understands that abusing a term dilutes its intended meaning. Stretching the Genocide Convention too far undermines the rights — and the people — that it was designed to protect. Words have meaning — and misusing them has consequences beyond having a case thrown out of court.  Misusing the term erodes its power, meaning, and protection against the most atrocious crime in human history.

“There Must Be a Reckoning for Russian War Crimes,” Fredrik Wesslau, FP, 02.20.24.

  • Every day, Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General publishes on its website the total number of war crime cases that the office has registered since February 2022. This month, that number passed 125,000. The number—staggering by any account—increases every day, sometimes by the hundreds, and stands for thousands of destroyed lives. Each case is a devastating tragedy in and by itself. The actual number of war crimes is much higher, as the reported number doesn’t account for most of the crimes committed in the occupied territories, where Ukrainian law enforcement has no access—close to 20 percent of Ukraine. There may be some 3 million Ukrainians still living in these territories. Many residents have fled, but many still remain.
  • Holding Russia accountable for its crimes in Ukraine matters first and foremost to the victims and their families. It is primarily about ensuring justice for those who have suffered from Russia’s aggression. But it is also about denying Russia its strategic objectives in Ukraine. The pursuit of accountability puts pressure on the perpetrators and can help deter further crimes. It is a way to push back at Russia’s attempt to terrorize the population, dismember the country, and destroy the nation.
  • Accountability in Ukraine will help deter other would-be perpetrators of war crimes, regardless of their international status and standing. To this end, the arrest warrant against Putin for the deportation of Ukrainian children is particularly powerful. It restricts his ability to engage on the global stage and represent Russia in international relations. The designation as a suspected war criminal will follow him to his grave. Other would-be tyrants are taking note.

For more commentary on the humanitarian impact of the conflict see:

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

“What the Pentagon has learned from two years of war in Ukraine,” Alex Horton, WP, 02.22.24. 

  • The war remains an active and bountiful research opportunity for American military planners as they look to the future, officials say. A classified year-long study on the lessons learned from both sides of the bloody campaign will help inform the next National Defense Strategy, a sweeping document that aligns the Pentagon's myriad priorities. The 20 officers who led the project examined five areas: ground maneuver, air power, information warfare, sustaining and growing forces and long range fire capability.
  • The Ukraine conflict has challenged core assumptions. The war has become an attritional slugfest with each side attempting to wear down the other, a model thought to be anachronistic, said Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank.
  • It also has complicated a long-held belief in the Pentagon that expensive precision weapons are central to winning America's conflicts, Pettyjohn said. GPS-guided munitions provided to Ukraine have proven vulnerable to electronic jamming. Its military has adapted by pairing older unguided artillery with sensors and drones, which can be used to spot targets and refine their shots. U.S. military commanders have almost certainly taken notice, she said.
  • Ukraine has demonstrated that everything U.S. troops do in the field — from planning missions and patrolling to the technology that enables virtually every military task — needs to be rethought, officials say.
  • Vitally, commanders warn over and over that most electronic gear is a potential target. Soldiers are instructed to not use their phones in the training area, and observers, known as OCs, carry handheld detectors trying to sniff out any contraband.
  • Troops also have to consider the cellphone use occurring around them. Personnel tasked with portraying noncombatants capture photos and videos of troop locations and equipment, and upload the imagery to a mock social network called Fakebook. 
  • The technology's proliferation has also created a new urgency at the Pentagon to develop and field better counter-drone systems....  The Army, taking cues from the Ukraine war, has begun experimenting with dropping small munitions from drones, a tactic used by the Islamic State that has since become a mainstay in Ukraine. It also has made a decision to do away with two surveillance drone platforms, the Shadow and Raven, describing them as unable to survive in modern conflict.
  • The Ukrainians have discovered some innovative solutions to detect drones, Gen. James B. Hecker, the chief of Air Force operations in Europe and Africa, said during a recent symposium. He told the story of two Ukrainians who collected thousands of smartphones, affixed microphones and connected them to a network capable of detecting the unique buzzing sound of approaching unmanned systems. 

“Weathering the Storm: Western Security Assistance on the Defensive in Ukraine,” Jahara Matisek, Will Reno and Dr. Anthony Tingle, RUSI, 02.23.24. 

  • Ukraine’s success in 2024 and beyond rests on overall resilience, a streamlined Western security assistance plan, and the development of defensive positions capable of withstanding Russian meat attacks and increasingly innovative hourly drone attacks. The following are some practical ways to help reach these goals:
    • The infrastructure and institutions that are susceptible to continued kinetic and non-kinetic Russian attacks need to be identified and made more resilient to attacks to ensure that people and processes can weather continued Russian bombings, cyber attacks and information warfare. 
    • The outdated Western way of training the Ukrainians in combined arms maneuver and the provision of stale Cold War-era weapons systems need to be modified considerably. 
    • Ukraine’s forces need to invest in a resilient defensive posture, and would benefit from Western help to do so. 
    • Ukraine should continue espionage operations that punish Russian critical infrastructure such as the Trans-Siberian Railway and energy infrastructure to undermine Russian military-industrial production. 
  • The ultimate course of the war depends on which side masters a new technology at scale, creating enough mass to break the ‘will to fight’ of the opponent’s forces. To break the stalemate in favor of Ukraine would require a cheap and innovative way of clearing hundreds of meters of Russian minefields, and simpler and less risky ways of clearing Russian trenches and layers of defensive positions. Given our numerous discussions with those involved in the fight, doing this effectively requires producing and fielding at least 10,000 autonomous air, land, and sea drones per week with the requisite sensors, AI and firepower to punch through Russian lines and break morale. 

“The Spy War: How the C.I.A. Secretly Helps Ukraine Fight Putin,” Adam Entous and Michael Schwirtz, NYT, 02.25.24. 

  • The underground bunker, built to replace the destroyed command center in the months after Russia’s invasion, is a secret nerve center of Ukraine’s military. There is also one more secret: The base is almost fully financed, and partly equipped, by the C.I.A. “One hundred and ten percent,” Gen. Serhii Dvoretskiy, a top intelligence commander, said in an interview at the base... The listening post in the Ukrainian forest is part of a C.I.A.-supported network of spy bases constructed in the past eight years that includes 12 secret locations along the Russian border. 
    • In the bunker, General Dvoretskiy pointed to communications equipment and large computer servers, some of which were financed by the C.I.A. He said his teams were using the base to hack into the Russian military’s secure communications networks. “This is the thing that breaks into satellites and decodes secret conversations,” General Dvoretskiy told a Times journalist on a tour, adding that they were hacking into spy satellites from China and Belarus, too.
  • The C.I.A. and the HUR have built two other secret bases to intercept Russian communications, and combined with the 12 forward operating bases … the HUR now collects and produces more intelligence than at any time in the war — much of which it shares with the C.I.A.
  • The C.I.A. and other American intelligence agencies provide intelligence for targeted missile strikes, track Russian troop movements and help support spy networks. But the partnership is no wartime creation, nor is Ukraine the only beneficiary. It took root a decade ago.
  • And the C.I.A. also helped train a new generation of Ukrainian spies who operated inside Russia, across Europe, and in Cuba and other places where the Russians have a large presence. 
  • The C.I.A. also oversaw a training program, carried out in two European cities, to teach Ukrainian intelligence officers how to convincingly assume fake personas and steal secrets in Russia and other countries that are adept at rooting out spies. 
  • The C.I.A.’s partnership in Ukraine can be traced back to two phone calls on the night of Feb. 24, 2014, eight years to the day before Russia’s full-scale invasion....The government’s new spy chief, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, .. called the C.I.A. station chief and the local head of MI6. It was near midnight but he summoned them to the building, asked for help in rebuilding the agency from the ground up, and proposed a three-way partnership. 
  • In Kyiv, Mr. Nalyvaichenko picked a longtime aide, General Kondratiuk, to serve as head of counterintelligence, and they created a new paramilitary unit that was deployed behind enemy lines to conduct operations and gather intelligence that the C.I.A. or MI6 would not provide to them. Known as the Fifth Directorate, this unit would be filled with officers born after Ukraine gained independence.
  • In January 2016, General Kondratiuk flew to Washington for meetings at Scattergood, an estate on the C.I.A. campus in Virginia where the agency often fetes visiting dignitaries. The agency agreed to help the HUR modernize, and to improve its ability to intercept Russian military communications. In exchange, General Kondratiuk agreed to share all of the raw intelligence with the Americans.
  • Before the [current] war, the Ukrainians proved themselves to the Americans by collecting intercepts that helped prove Russia’s involvement in the 2014 downing of a commercial jetliner, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The Ukrainians also helped the Americans go after the Russian operatives who meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
  • The C.I.A. didn’t push its way into Ukraine. U.S. officials were often reluctant to fully engage, fearing that Ukrainian officials could not be trusted, and worrying about provoking the Kremlin. Yet a tight circle of Ukrainian intelligence officials assiduously courted the C.I.A. and gradually made themselves vital to the Americans. In 2015, Gen. Valeriy Kondratiuk, then Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, arrived at a meeting with the C.I.A.’s deputy station chief and without warning handed over a stack of top-secret files. That initial tranche contained secrets about the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet, including detailed information about the latest Russian nuclear submarine designs. Before long, teams of C.I.A. officers were regularly leaving his office with backpacks full of documents.
  • Around 2016, the C.I.A. began training an elite Ukrainian commando force — known as Unit 2245 — which captured Russian drones and communications gear so that C.I.A. technicians could reverse-engineer them and crack Moscow’s encryption systems. (One officer in the unit was Kyrylo Budanov, now the general leading Ukraine’s military intelligence.)
  • To try to reassure Ukrainian leaders, William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, made a secret visit to Ukraine last Thursday, his 10th visit since the invasion.. Referring to Mr. Burns’s visit to Kyiv last week, a C.I.A. official said, “We have demonstrated a clear commitment to Ukraine over many years and this visit was another strong signal that the U.S. commitment will continue.”
  • The question that some Ukrainian intelligence officers are now asking their American counterparts — as Republicans in the House weigh whether to cut off billions of dollars in aid — is whether the C.I.A. will abandon them. “It happened in Afghanistan before and now it’s going to happen in Ukraine,” a senior Ukrainian officer said.

“From the ‘Special’ to the ‘Military’ Operation,” Ruslan Pukhov, Russia in Global Affairs, 02.23.24.^ Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • The plan [of the special military operation] indeed provided for an operation that was primarily supposed to be a special operation rather than a military operation. The plan provided for the mission [the capture of much of left-bank Ukraine and Kyiv with regime change] to be completed without large-scale military operations and in the absence of organized military resistance [by Ukraine] ... The plan … in fact, reproduced the Soviet plan for sending troops into Czechoslovakia in 1968 that came to be known as Operation Danube.
    • The differences between the circumstances of Operation Danube and the operation of February 2022 included the fact that the political leadership of Ukraine and the command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine offered resistance [to the Russian attack]. The Dunai operation was being carried out by a powerful highly mobilized grouping of the Warsaw Pact forces, which were vastly superior to the forces of the Czechoslovak People's Army. In contrast, the initiators of the special military operation decided to send troops into a state that was much larger than Czechoslovakia in terms of territory, deploying a limited grouping of forces that was  estimated to include some 185,000 servicemen, or about 140 battalion tactical groups. Even if we take into account the forces of the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] and LPR [Lugansk People’s Republic] which totaled 110,000, that grouping was still inferior in personnel strength to the armed forces and security forces of Ukraine, which had already been partially mobilized.
  • The outcome of the first stage of the special military operation was determined by the ratio of the forces alone ... The Russian groupings of forces, which were dispersed in eight directions, were quickly stopped and forced to get involved in battles with a numerically superior enemy... Russia found itself in a state of a large-scale war on an enormously long front with a numerous and well-armed enemy, to whose aid all of the Western powers had come.
  • [In 2022] Russia’s greatest successes were achieved in the south, where, apparently certain “agreements” had been struck and where “sleeping” agents and supporters of Russia had done their work... However, the two main prizes of Ukraine’s Black Sea coastal regions [Mykoliav and Odesa] were not taken. Russia’s landing ships with marine forces ... were stopped by mines and by anti-ship missiles of Ukraine’s own production, named “Neptune.”
  • From the very beginning, the Kyiv direction was the most problematic [for the Russian forces]. There a group of troops from two military districts of the Russian Armed Forces had become stuck in the forests and swamps around Kyiv without ... prospects for their effective use.... only the extreme slowness and lack of initiative on the part of the Ukrainian command prevented the situation in the Kyiv direction from developing into an acute crisis for the Russian side. If confronted by a more energetic enemy, Russian troops near Kyiv would have faced a repetition of the events in the area of Warsaw in 1920.[1]... The Russian command realized that state of affairs and a decision to withdraw troops from Kyiv was made sometime in mid-March 2022.
    • The Russian leadership naturally presented the withdrawal of troops from Kyiv and from northern Ukraine as an “act of goodwill” during the peace talks in Istanbul. Apparently, it was this “act” - and not the intrigues of Boris Johnson - that led to the collapse of the Istanbul negotiations. Retreat of an army from the enemy's capital has never facilitated the attainment of a peaceful compromise.
  • By the end of spring and the beginning of summer 2022, the factors that determined the course of hostilities [included] Ukraine’s receipt of HIMARS with GMLRS missiles... The Russian side had to pull reserves back, deeper into the controlled territory, and partly even into the territory of the Russian Federation [because of the deliveries of these longer-range weapons]. This and the general lack of forces in the Russian Armed Forces [grouping in Ukraine] combined with the quantitative superiority of the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s grouping served as a prerequisite for the successful Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv region in September 2022.
  • By the beginning of 2023, the chances that Ukraine would succeed in offensive actions were significant. The first three months of 2023 were the time when the correlation of forces favored the Armed Forces of Ukraine most... However, the Ukrainian leadership kept delaying the launch of the offensive, waiting for arrival of the maximum amount of Western military equipment and for the completion of training of new brigades in the West. ... The Ukrainian command [thus] created a magical cocktail of delaying preparations, lack of operational and strategic surprise, dispersal of forces and disregard for the enemy.
  • [Now] neither the warring parties nor the West are ready for a peaceful solution: a military-political situation – that is emerging – bears similarities to the positional period of the Korean War in 1951–1953. The positional deadlock can be overcome either by [1] executing sharp build-up of troops to obtain multiple numerical superiority over the enemy, or by [2] obtaining military-technical superiority, which would, first of all, include a significant increase in the number and potential of high-precision weapons. Neither [option 1 nor 2] is attainable by either side in the near future. This makes a protracted war inevitable with the fronts remaining stable the same way they were during the Korean or Iran-Iraq war. It [the Ukraine war] will be waged for years for the purposes of attrition in anticipation of internal changes on the adversary’s side.
    • Ukraine and the West believe changes can occur in the event of Putin’s departure from power, while the Russian leadership apparently pins its hopes on a possible change of power in the United States in the November 2024 elections. Therefore, Moscow most likely intends to continue hostilities at least until 2025.
  • A turning point can be achieved [by Russia] only by saturating the armed forces with modern means of warfare, primarily high-precision and unmanned systems, as well as with  reconnaissance, target designation and electronic warfare equipment. This is a non-trivial task from both a technological and military-industrial point of view. Russia is unlikely to be able to get by with cheap and palliative political, military and industrial solutions.

“Putin Has Already Lost,” Rajan Menon, NYT, 02.23.24. 

  • Mr. Putin’s war has failed. As Carl von Clausewitz famously stressed, war is not ultimately about killing people and destroying things: It’s a means to achieve specific political ends. Those who start wars expect to be in a better strategic position once the gunfire stops. But even if this war ends with Russia retaining all the Ukrainian land it now holds — a scenario Ukrainians would find more than unpalatable — Moscow’s position will be worse. No matter what, Ukraine will go its own way. For Mr. Putin, more concerned by Ukraine than any other country that arose from the wreckage of the Soviet Union, that alone is tantamount to defeat.
  • His war has backfired not only in Ukraine but also in Europe. The European Union, jolted into action by the invasion, summoned a common spirit in its support for Ukraine. 
  • Then there’s NATO. Russia’s invasion was undeniably an attempt to forestall the alliance’s eastern encroachment, which Mr. Putin has long regarded as a threat. In the event, Russia’s assault on Ukraine impelled two more countries, Finland and Sweden, to seek NATO membership. Neither had shown the slightest inclination to sign up before the invasion and both have first-rate armies. With their addition, Russia will be even more hemmed in, not least in the Baltic Sea and by the 830-mile land border it shares with Finland.
  • What’s more, Russia’s attack jolted non-U.S. NATO countries into rethinking their longstanding aversion to boosting military expenditure. According to NATO estimates, the combined annual military spending of Canada and the European members of the alliance increased to 8.3 percent in 2023, from 2 percent in 2022. 
  • Ukraine, of course, is keen to join the alliance: a nightmare scenario for the Kremlin. But even if that desire remains unfulfilled — as seems likely, at least in the near term — Ukraine will continue looking to NATO countries for help in training its soldiers, equipping its armed forces and building modern defense industries by signing agreements for technology transfers and joint production. 
  • The pessimists may be right: If American military assistance were to cease, Ukraine would find it far harder, perhaps even impossible, to reclaim more of its land and may even lose additional territory. Yet even a smaller Ukraine will remain strategically important. 
  • Mr. Putin sees Ukraine as a peerless prize, even a Russian entitlement. But the war he started to possess it has guaranteed that it will never be his.

“A War Putin Still Can’t Win. To Thwart Russia, America Needs a Long-Term Strategy—and Ukraine Needs Long-Range Weapons,” Lawrence D. Freedman, FA, 02.23.24. 

  • The wear and tear of a long war is taking its toll on Ukraine. But the Ukrainians have shown that they can keep fighting. The current Western fixation on Ukraine’s problems, and the difficulty of working out exactly what is going on in Moscow, has led to easy assumptions that Russia can keep fighting without also showing wear and tear. In fact, for all the resources that Putin has thrown into this war, the results have been meager since its opening weeks, when Russia acquired the bulk of the territory it currently occupies. Russia can find additional basic manpower, but it has a much harder time replacing lost junior officers and modern equipment.
  • At least for now the Russian strategy seems unlikely to yield the kinds of gains that Putin needs to truly change the frontlines and gain a more decisive advantage in the war.
  • Even if Ukraine is unable to gain a major advantage, it can accomplish a great deal simply by keeping Russia’s casualties high and denying it easy wins. Its frequent disruption of Russian logistics, and its hits on factories, oil refineries, and even ships within drone range, will be the most likely morale-boosters for its forces. Ukraine’s ability to continue exporting grain by sea and its threat to cut off Crimea from Russia do not offer Kyiv a route to victory, but they embarrass the Kremlin.
  • The war is now at a critical stage. Ukraine will keep fighting, come what may, but it will have to move to a much more defensive stance if support from Washington continues to falter. If the U.S. aid package does come through, and without too much more delay, it should make it easier for Ukraine to hold its lines and, equally important, to recast its strategy for the longer term—the main task Zelensky has given General Sysrsky. ... the situation has advanced so much, and Russian strategy become so remorseless, that the United States will need to recognize the importance of Ukraine being able to hit more targets with accuracy and at distance.
  • In the Bible, David slew Goliath in a single encounter. But in a long war, it is much harder for David to beat Goliath. On the second anniversary of the war, there is no clear succession of battlefield wins, or an enemy in disarray, that points the way to an inevitable triumph. But
  • If Western support can hold steady, Putin may still find that the war appears to be as unwinnable on its third anniversary as it appears now at its second.

“What’s Wrong With General Zaluzhnyi’s Dismissal?” Alexander Golts, Russia.Post, 02.22.24. Clues from Russian Views

  • Zaluzhnyi is an outstanding military leader, and his departure is a significant loss for the Ukrainian army. At the same time, I do not take seriously the explanation that it was due to the fact that Zelensky was jealous of Zaluzhnyi’s popularity and feared that the general could become a rival in elections. After all, Zelensky has consistently demonstrated a rational approach and an ability to resist emotions during the two-year confrontation with Russia. 
  • To win, Zaluzhnyi needed more troops. Only a new mobilization can provide them, meaning new, extremely unpopular laws. But Zaluzhnyi was in no hurry to take responsibility and denied that it was the military who wrote the unpopular law on mobilization.
  • MacArthur saw the shortest path to military victory in defeating the Chinese forces as quickly as possible and therefore insisted on a rapid offensive. Washington feared that such an offensive would turn into a new world war, in which nuclear weapons would most likely be used. Although for different reasons than in the Zelenskyy-Zaluzhnyi clash, the basis of the standoff between Truman and MacArthur was the inability of the highest executive power to satisfy the demands of the military leader.
  • In such a clash, it is extremely important that the civilian authorities openly state their motives. Neither Zelensky nor Truman wanted to do this (for various reasons). Although both presidents had the right to dismiss their top commander, neither was able to control friction with the military. This cost Truman his presidency, as outraged Americans voted for Eisenhower in the next election in 1952. 
  • The consequences of Zelensky’s decision remain unclear. We only know that Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal resulted in a change at the top of the country’s military leadership, including within the General Staff. It is unlikely that what happened will strengthen the Ukrainian armed forces and the unity of Ukrainian society. The problem is not that the president fired his top general, but that he did so without providing the public with true and persuasive reasons.

 “How Ukraine Can Help Itself,” Franz-Stefan Gady, Foreign Policy, 02.19.2024.

  • To reduce reliance on Western weapons, Ukraine is increasingly focusing on producing its own arms like sea drones that have damaged the Russian fleet and strike drones hitting targets inside Russia itself.
  • However, turning the tide of the war requires a decisive advantage in firepower like artillery and drones, needing a major increase in military production not just in the West but also within Ukraine's own defense industry.
  • Ukraine is getting help from Western governments, defense firms, and private initiatives to retool and expand its arms manufacturing, including plans for new drone and vehicle factories. But Russian attacks still deter many Western investors.

“Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland: The Two-Year Anniversary of Russia's Full-Scale Invasion of Ukraine CSIS Transcript — February 22, 2024,” moderated by Max Bergmann, CSIS, 02.22.24.

  • Instead of fleeing, President Zelensky led. Instead of capitulating, Ukrainians fought, and so bravely. Instead of fracturing, the West united. And instead of shrinking, NATO grew.
  • The U.S. rallied the world to Ukraine’s defense in those early hours, days, and weeks. And we’ve kept that global coalition of more than 50 nations united for these two years, standing strongly with Ukraine.
  • Today NATO is stronger, larger, and better resourced. Finland has joined our defensive alliance and we’ll welcome Sweden very soon.
  • Russia is globally isolated. Over 140 nations voted four times in the U.N. General Assembly to condemn Putin’s brutal invasion.
  • And despite all the immense challenges from Putin’s vicious war machine Ukraine has survived Ukraine has retaken more than 50 percent of the territory seized by Putin's forces at the beginning of the invasion. It has pushed Russia’s Black Sea Fleet out of Sevastopol and off Ukraine’s coast, allowing Ukraine to restore grain exports to prewar levels and helping to feed the world once again. And, remarkably, Ukraine’s economy grew by 5 percent last year.
  • More broadly, our continued support for Ukraine tells tyrants and autocrats wherever they are that we will not stand by while the U.N. Charter is torn to shreds, that we will defend the rights of free people to determine their own future.
  • But on Ukraine’s front lines, unless and until the U.S. joins Europe in passing our supplemental funding request the situation will remain dire.

For more commentary on the military, security and intelligence aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts, see:

Military aid to Ukraine:

“What Americans Owe Ukraine,” Graham Allison, NI, 02.16.24. 

  • Imagine that two years ago—before Putin invaded Ukraine—someone had come to the US with a credible proposition to hobble Russia’s military threat to Europe for the decade ahead without the loss of a single American soldier. How much would Americans have been willing to invest in that initiative? A quarter of our $800 billion dollar defense budget? A tithe a year for several years?
  • Imagine further that the proposal would also:
    • Awaken our European NATO partners to the reality of bloody, large-scale combat in the 21st century—motivating them to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in building their own defense capabilities?
    • Persuade two of the most militarily capable European nations—Finland and Sweden—to join NATO and thus significantly enhance its deterrent strength.
    • Deliver to Putin a huge strategic failure—by decisively defeating his attempt to capture Kyiv and essentially erase Ukraine from the map.
    • Persuade the nation with the most important economy in Europe—Germany—to eliminate its dependence on Russia for cheap energy and begin building up its own military forces.
    • Revitalize the transatlantic alliance in a sustained coordinated campaign to defeat Russian aggression by arming and funding Ukraine and weakening Russia by imposing the most -comprehensive economic sanctions in history.
  • And if that were not enough, even arousing the individual who has the most sway with Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, to warn him both privately and publicly against any “threat or use of nuclear weapons”—thus strengthening the “nuclear taboo” that has emerged over the past 78 years since nuclear weapons were last used in war.
  • Had such a proposal been offered, it would have seemed unbelievable and likely dismissed as too good to be true. But if we examine what has actually happened over the 24 months since Putin invaded Ukraine, one incandescent fact is impossible to deny. Thanks to Ukrainians’ remarkable courage, determination to fight for their own freedom, and resilience, the adversary whom the US threat matrix had ranked as the second most capable military power in the world has been fought to a draw.
  • Last month, the EU voted an additional $54 billion for Ukraine. On Monday, the Senate passed legislation appropriating another $60 billion in military and economic aid that should allow Ukrainian warriors to fight Russians to a point where it will be in a position to negotiate with Russia to end this war. Members of the House of Representatives now face a fateful choice. Those who fail to vote to provide essential assistance to Ukraine will be remembered for having snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

“Europe must stand on its own two feet on defense,” JD Vance, FT, 02.19.24. 

  • The United States has provided a blanket of security to Europe for far too long. ... As the American defense budget nears $1tn per year, we ought to view the money Europe hasn’t spent on defense for what it really is: an implied tax on the American people to allow for the security of Europe.
  • Nothing in recent memory demonstrates this more clearly than the war in Ukraine. There is frankly no good reason that aid from the US should be needed. Europe is made up of many great nations with productive economies. They ought to have the capacity to handle the conflict, but over decades they have become far too weak. America has been asked to fill the void at tremendous expense to its own citizens.
  • Behind the price tag, this conflict has revealed the shocking weakness of the defense industrial base on both sides of the Atlantic. 
  • Defense spending and defense readiness are two different things. For example, Germany spends considerably more than France on defense each year, with little to show for it. 
  • The question each European nation needs to ask itself is this: are you prepared to defend yourself? And the question the US must ask is: if our European allies can’t even defend themselves, are they allies, or clients?
  • In the press, the burden-sharing debate is often framed in monetary terms: who spends what, and how much should each nation spend? But this conceals the real resource constraint. Wars are won with men and materiel.
    • Starting with materiel: we don’t make enough of it. At current production rates, it will take years to rebuild military stockpiles after this war — even if we stop sending critical defense stocks today, as we most certainly should. 
    • Ukraine also needs more men. The average Ukrainian soldier is about 43 years old. 
  • Americans want allies in Europe, not client states, and our generosity in Ukraine is coming to an end. Europeans should regard the conclusion of the war there as an imperative. They must keep rebuilding their industrial and military capabilities. And Europe should consider how exactly it is going to live with Russia when the war in Ukraine is over.
  • In the US, justifications for the war often depend on a contemporary domino theory: unless we stop Putin in Ukraine, he won’t stop there. But the time has come for Europe to stand on its own feet. That doesn’t mean it has to stand alone, but it must not continue to use America as a crutch.

“Failing to stand with Ukraine will remake the world as we know it,” David Cameron and Radosław Sikorski, Politico, 02.24.24. 

  • So, what has worked so far? 
    • Speed — getting kit to the front line quickly. For instance, immediately sending Soviet-era stockpiles held in countries like Poland. 
    • Simplicity — sending weapon systems, like shoulder-fired anti-tank NLAW or air-defense Piorun missiles, that Ukrainian troops can swiftly deploy. 
    • Support — ramping up our training of Ukrainian soldiers. 
    • And strategic impact — gifting advanced modern systems, like battle tanks and the Storm Shadow long-range missiles or Krab howitzers, which forced Russia on its backfoot. 
  • Still, Putin believes he may yet eke out some kind of win. .. For our own sake, we must prove him wrong. And we can... here are five simple priorities for us all:
    • First, finance. The American cult classic film “Jerry Maguire” has a renowned line: “Show me the money.” Britain and the EU have committed more funding to Ukraine, and we believe it is in the interest of America — and all of our allies — to do the same.
    • Second, munitions and equipment. We all need to scour our stocks for kit that is nearing its sell-by date, more Soviet-era equipment, systems like long-range missiles, and quickly deliver them to Ukraine. 
    • Third, training. There is still more that allies with bigger armed forces could do, particularly those that are able to offer training on game-changing systems like F-16 fighters.
    • Fourth, tackling sanctions circumvention. 
    • Finally, seizing frozen Russian assets. Morally, a down payment on future reparations is justified. Economically, their fiscal firepower could turn the tide of the war. We will explore all options. But we and our allies must act quickly to use them.

“Do not ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself – why Putin is still able to continue it,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Munich Security Conference, 02.17.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • [The war in Ukraine] defines more than just the place of Ukraine or the entire Europe in the world. This is Russia’s war against any rules at all.
    • Russia is worse in all [military] respects.
  • Keeping Ukraine in artificial deficits of weapons, particularly in deficits of artillery and long-range capabilities, allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war.

We must close all loopholes in the sanctions against Russia…This particularly relates to the nuclear sector.

“What It Means to Choose Between Ukraine and Taiwan,” Ross Douthat, NYT, 02.21.24.

  • Over the weekend Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio went to the Munich Security Conference to play an unpopular part — a spokesman, at a gathering of the Western foreign policy establishment, for the populist critique of American support for Ukraine’s war effort. If you were to pluck a key phrase from his comments, it would be “world of scarcity,” which Vance used five times to describe the American strategic situation.,,, The case Vance pressed in Munich is more consistent, and its premises — not isolationist but Asia-first, more concerned about the Taiwan Strait than the Donbas.
  • In part, there’s a suspicion that some of the people making an Asia-first case don’t fully believe it, that it’s just a more respectable way of sloughing off American obligations and that if the conservative base or Donald Trump decided it wasn’t worth fighting for Taiwan, many China-hawk Republicans would come up with some excuse to justify inaction.
  • If you’re seeking full victory in Ukraine, signing up for years of struggle in which Taiwan will be a secondary priority, your choice basically requires betting on China’s aggressive intentions being a problem for much later — tomorrow’s threat, not today’s. Unlike the Ukraine hawks, I would not take that bet. Unlike the doves, I would not simply cut off the Ukrainians. There is a plausible path between those options, in which aid keeps flowing while the United States pursues a settlement and pivot. But a great deal hangs on whether that narrow way can be traversed: not just for Ukraine or for Taiwan but also for the American imperium as we have known it, the world-bestriding power that we’ve taken for granted for too long.

“No One Wants Ukraine to Win,” William McGurn, WSJ, 02.19.24. 

  • The dominant narrative today holds that Joe Biden and Donald Trump are opposites on Ukraine. ... But when it comes to the failure to spell out a strategic argument, the two are one. 
  • As president Mr. Trump used ... pressure to get delinquent NATO members to pay more. And it worked. But it’s still an argument only about costs, and it assumes Vladimir Putin would see it as another Trump exaggeration rather than as a sign of an America too divided to stop him. That’s the root of Republican incoherence on Ukraine, and it’s getting plenty of attention. 
  • But Mr. Biden is incoherent too ... Remember how Mr. Biden’s support for Ukraine started: He was backed into it ... The risks of supporting Ukraine are real, but so too are the risks of failing to do so. As expensive as aid might be, the Ukrainians are inflicting enormous damage to a U.S. adversary with a history of aggression toward its neighbors. In addition, frustrating Mr. Putin in Ukraine gives other unfriendly powers second thoughts about their own plans—especially China, with its threats to invade Taiwan. But if the case is so compelling, why hasn’t Mr. Biden taken advantage of the world’s greatest bully pulpit to sell it? Why no prime-time address from the Oval Office to the American people laying out a winning strategy?
    • [It is] likely that the president is skittish about splits within the Democratic Party. These are kept at bay so long as Ukrainians are given enough aid to keep the war going but not enough to prevail.
  • So here we are. Mr. Biden says we mustn’t give Mr. Putin a victory without quite committing himself to a Ukrainian victory. Mr. Trump says it’s “stupid” to give Kyiv anything but loans. Between the two, the American people aren’t getting the crucial debate about what we want the outcome to be and why.

For more commentaries on military aid to Ukraine see:

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

“Russia outsmarts Western sanctions—and China is paying attention. How the rise of middle powers helps America’s enemies,” The Economist, 02.21.24. 

  • The world is witnessing an unprecedented surge in financial warfare. But just as the West ratchets up sanctions, ways to circumvent them are becoming more sophisticated. Visit any country that courts the West’s business without buying into its principles, and you will find companies and people—hailing from China, Russia and the Middle East—under sanction and getting things done. Since the West first retaliated against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is in places such as India, Indonesia and the UAE, which have access to the dollar, that America’s and Europe’s aims are being thwarted.
  • Yet all these [punitive Western] measures must contend with the growing prosperity and financial sophistication of “third countries”—ones that neither impose American and European sanctions, nor are under sanctions themselves. The 120 members of the “non-aligned movement,” which include Brazil and India, produced 38% of global GDP in 2022, up from 15% in 1990. They are home to five of the world’s 20 most important financial hubs, measured by the number and variety of banks, and churn out lots that a modern army might need.
    • Brazil, India and Mexico all declined to participate in the West’s economic war soon after Russia invaded Ukraine. Indonesia’s foreign-affairs spokesman explained that his country would “not blindly follow the steps taken by another country”.  
  • America’s recent tougher stance has made dodging trade sanctions harder... Yet lots of business has simply moved beyond the West’s reach. When America and Europe banned firms from insuring ships that carry Russian oil if it sells above their price limit, India and Russia established their own insurers. Russia’s shadow fleet now carries 75% of its oil shipments. At the same time, trade between Russia and the West via places such as Central Asia and Thailand is only growing as companies have more time to set up shop.
  • When it comes to financial measures, third countries facilitate sanctions-dodging in two ways. 
    • The first is by expanding the options open to the West’s enemies. 
    • There is also a second, increasingly important way in which third countries thwart the West: they facilitate evasion while still using the dollar. 
  • More American action might reduce evasion in places that use the dollar, but at the cost of encouraging countries to shift away from the currency. During, say, the 1990s, countries relied on America’s financial system because it reached everywhere in the world, imposed relatively few costs and there was no alternative. All three reasons become less convincing as financial warfare becomes more intense. They would become still less convincing should American officials begin to intervene more often beyond their jurisdiction. Not all that much capital needs to flee to alternative financial systems built by rival countries, such as China, for sanctions, which already target a tiny portion of the world’s transactions, to lose even more power. The West’s campaign to reassert its dominance over the global financial system could see it lose control, once and for all. 

“U.S. Campaign to Isolate Russia Shows Limits After 2 Years of War,” Mike Crowley and Edward Wong, NYT, 02.22.24. 

  • The Biden administration and European allies call President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia a tyrant and a war criminal. But he enjoys a standing invitation to the halls of power in Brazil. The president of Brazil says that Ukraine and Russia are both to blame for the war that began with the Russian military’s invasion. And his nation’s purchases of Russian energy and fertilizer have soared, pumping billions of dollars into the Russian economy. The views of the president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, encapsulate the global bind in which the United States and Ukraine find themselves as the war enters its third year.
    • Mr. Lula has extended an invitation to Mr. Putin to attend a Group of 20 leadership summit in Brazil in November, even though his country is a member of the International Criminal Court and is obliged to enforce the court’s arrest warrant for the Russian leader 
  • The war has undoubtedly taken a toll on Russia ... “Today, Russia is more isolated on the world stage than ever,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken declared in June. Mr. Putin’s war, he added, “has diminished Russian influence on every continent.” Beyond North America and Europe, there is evidence to the contrary.
    • China, India and Brazil are buying Russian oil in record quantities, feasting on the steep discounts Mr. Putin now offers to countries willing to replace his lost European customers. 
      • The International Energy Agency reported last month that Russia exported 7.8 million barrels of oil per day in December, the highest in nine months — and only slightly below prewar levels. At the same time, its oil export revenues were $14.4 billion that month, the lowest in a half-year. 
    • A few weeks earlier, Mr. Putin was warmly received in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where he was greeted with a 21-gun salute and fighter jets overhead trailing smoke in the red, white and blue of Russia’s flag.
    • Russian influence is also expanding in Africa, according to a new report from the Royal United Services Institute, a security research group based in London. When Yevgeny V. Prigozhin.
      • To some Russia experts, American and European leaders have not fully reckoned with this reality.
    • At the United Nations, U.S.-led resolutions condemning the war have found little support among countries that are not closely aligned with the United States or Russia, demonstrating their reluctance to be forced to take a side in the conflict.
    • Russia has succeeded in forming tighter bonds with  China, North Korea and Iran [who] have given aid to Moscow in various forms.
  • “In the here and now, the sanctions have disappointed,” said Edward Fishman, a former State Department official in the Obama administration who oversaw Russia sanctions after Mr. Putin annexed Crimea in 2014. Over time, Mr. Fishman said, Western sanctions will take a greater toll.

“How Russia Dodged Sanctions,” Georgi Kantchev, WSJ, 02.24.24. 

  • The West tried to cut off Russia’s economy in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine. Two years later, Russia has engineered a wholesale rearrangement of its trade relationship with the world. Faced with punishing sanctions, it severed decades-long connections with the West and deepened Moscow’s dependence on China and other sympathetic nations. The switch kept Russia’s military industry and civilian economy alive in the process. Here’s how: 
    • Russia’s trade partners: the West vs. the rest: After Russia’s trade with Europe cratered, China became Russia’s economic lifeline. Trade turnover between the two countries hit a record $240 billion last year. Moscow sold China its oil that used to go to Germany and France. It massively stepped up purchases of Chinese goods for consumers and parts that go into weaponry.  
    • The yuan-ization of Russia’s economy: For years Moscow had tried to de-dollarize its economy, without much success because most global commodity trade runs on the U.S. dollar. But Western sanctions and booming Russian energy exports to China have added to the yuan's appeal. Payments in Chinese yuan for Russian exports have jumped to around one-third of the total. Meanwhile, Russian companies are increasingly borrowing in yuan while households are stashing savings in it.
    • Oil trade: discounts and shadow fleets: Half of Russia’s oil and petroleum exports in 2023 went to China, Moscow has said. India has also emerged as a big buyer as Russia has been forced to offer its oil at a discount to global prices because of a G-7 price cap. Moscow has used a network of tankers not owned by Western countries or insured by Western companies to bypass sanctions.
    • The 'Eurasian roundabout': Banned from acquiring many goods from the West, including consumer electronics and critical technologies, Russia has found a route through ex-Soviet republics. 
    • The battlefield supply chain:  Despite Western sanctions, Moscow has acquired a third of its foreign-sourced battlefield components from companies based in the U.S., Europe or their allies, according to an analysis by the Kyiv School of Economics. M
    • Tourism: Italy is out, Dubai is in

“How Russia's economy survived two years of war,” Alexandra Prokopenko, Alexander Kolyandr and Denis Kasyanchuk, The Bell, 02.24.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Military spending and buoyant revenues from hydrocarbons mean the Russian economy can appear to be flourishing. But this is not a healthy sort of flourishing, and economic growth is masking a decline in productivity, rising currency instability, fiscal difficulties, labor shortages and a reversion to less sophisticated technologies. 
  • It’s more than likely that these trends will continue through 2024, and we will see the level of military and national security spending exceed 8% of GDP for the first time in history. Alongside oil revenues, Russia’s economic fortunes are now tied to the military and the defense industry. 
  • The militarization of the economy has been the primary driver of rising demand on the labor market. And this rise was accompanied by a decline in supply as hundreds of thousands of able-bodied Russians went to the front, or fled the country. As a result, Russia is experiencing a labor shortage. This benefits workers, who can command higher salaries. As a result, real wages and disposable incomes in Russia are on the rise. However, this growth is relative as it follows a significant fall in 2022. In fact, real wages and disposable incomes have only just rebounded to 2020 levels.
  • Russia’s raw material exports have responded well to the loss of Western markets, and have been quickly diverted to other countries.
  • Technological and financial sanctions imposed by the West at the start of the war obliged Russia to replace imports from the EU and other developed countries. The main source of imports has shifted from Europe to China, which now provides 45% of Russia’s imports (up from 27% before the war). 
    • Amid the war in Ukraine, the Kremlin has managed to continue to acquire essential chips and semiconductors via third countries, and it has successfully switched its oil exports to Asian buyers 
    • In just two years, trade in the yuan on the Moscow Exchange went from almost nothing to nearly a third of the market. In December, 35.8% of Russia’s exports were purchased in yuan, along with 37% of imports. 
  • However, the current stability is not likely to endure: in 1-2 years, the structure will begin to wobble due to accumulated imbalances, and possible social problems.

“Don’t Buy Putin’s Bluff. The West Can Outspend Him,” Editorial Board, Bloomberg, 02.23.24.

  • Putin has radically changed course, both to fund the war and to prop up the economy amid Western sanctions. Military spending has gone from 3.6% of GDP in 2021 to an estimated 7.1%, boosting production of everything from artillery shells to computers. ... As a result, real GDP growth rebounded to 3.6% last year, defying predictions of a protracted recession... Yet the limits to such “military Keynesianism” are already evident. 
    • The war’s consumption of able-bodied workers has driven the unemployment rate to an extreme low of 2.9%, forcing civilian industries to pay more for scarce labor.
    •  To keep inflation in check, the central bank has had to hike its benchmark interest rate to 16%, further squeezing the private sector. 
    • Military spending won’t keep adding to GDP growth.
    • The government is running an annual budget deficit of about $17 billion, and its borrowing capacity is of limited use if domestic banks are the only available lenders. 
  • This war will almost certainly end in negotiation. For the West, the goal should be to ensure the most secure and independent Ukrainian state possible — and to deter others from attempting similar land grabs. To that end, it should make the most of Putin’s economic vulnerability, including by tightening sanctions and arming Ukraine. Given the political will, Western nations have ample resources to outlast him — an advantage they should use to stop the bloodshed as soon as feasible.

“How Biden Can Avenge Navalny's Death,” Bret Stephens, NYT, 02.21.24. 

  • President Biden said last week that he was ''looking at a whole number of options'' to make good on his 2021 warning to Vladimir Putin that Russia would face ''devastating'' consequences if Alexei Navalny were to die in prison. 
  • There are four broad approaches.
    • Finances: ''The single most important thing we can do to hit back at Putin is to enact legislation to confiscate the $300 billion of frozen Russian bank reserves for the defense and reconstruction of Ukraine,'' Bill Browder, investor and political activist, wrote me on Monday. Browder is best known as the moving force behind the Magnitsky Acts, which put sanctions on Russian officials implicated in corruption 
    • Recognition: ''Do not recognize Putin as the president of Russia after March 17 -- that simple,'' Garry Kasparov, the legendary chess and human-rights champion, told me by phone from Berlin. ''Do not recognize the regime as legitimate.''
    • Dissidents: When Natan Sharansky called me from Jerusalem, that great Soviet refusenik, who exchanged letters with Navalny last year, turned almost immediately to Vladimir Kara-Murza, another imprisoned dissident. 
    • Power: One of my sources for this column asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of his current position, but he's a long-admired expert on energy markets. ''America's liquefied natural gas is now part of NATO's arsenal against Russia,'' he told me. Biden, he advised, could ''restore U.S. credibility as an L.N.G. exporter by lifting the administration's 'pause' on new L.N.G. permits and thereby give Europe and Japan confidence to stop importing Russian L.N.G.''

“It’s Time to Declare Putin an Illegitimate Leader,” Aliona Hlivco and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, FP, 02.22.24. 

  • Next month, Russian President Vladimir Putin will stage a carefully managed, entirely undemocratic presidential election. The recent death of Russia’s best-known opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, in a penal colony is not the first time that a public figure opposed to Putin has died. Indeed, every prominent opposition figure—including Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Kara-Murza, and so many others—has been imprisoned, poisoned, murdered, or forced into exile abroad, and the election’s outcome is already assured.
  • Russian autocracy has crossed a point of no return. What began as a flawed but aspiring democracy in the early 1990s has morphed into a vicious regime that attacks its neighbors, stifles expression at home, silences opposition voices, and imprisons or assassinates those who dare to speak up. It is high time for governments, parliaments, and nongovernmental organizations around the world to unequivocally declare Russia’s upcoming election unlawful and its preordained victor an illegitimate president.
  • History shows that declaring a despotic leader illegitimate is more than a symbolic act; it can trigger real change. It is time for Western democracies to call the Russian regime out for what it is.

“Brain Drain From Putin’s Russia Is Far From Over,” Lionel Laurent, Bloomberg, 02.20.24. 

  • It’s the end of an era for Russia’s best-known tech company, Yandex NV, once hailed as the country’s answer to Alphabet Inc.’s Google and valued at $30 billion before the invasion of Ukraine. This month, it agreed to sell its domestic business for about $5.2 billion, a cut-price level for the Russian tycoons picking it up under the Kremlin’s watch.  Yet the deal also hints at a wartime brain drain of scientific and engineering talent that the West could do more to capture.
  • An estimated 11% to 28% of Russian developers have left the country since the outbreak of war, according to research cited by Science, and fear of more departures is apparently what stopped the Kremlin from nationalizing Yandex outright. While most of the company’s assets and 26,000 staff will stay in Russia, they’ve been separated from a new entity employing about 1,300 people operating abroad in hubs like Finland or Serbia and focused on artificial intelligence.
  • The pressure is even more acute in the world of scientific research. Russia has lost more than 50,000 researchers in the past five years, according to a senior member of the Russian Academy of Sciences cited by Interfax, as a crackdown on civil society and on wartime dissent takes its toll. Independent publication Novaya Gazeta recently identified at least 270 high-ranking academics who had left since the war began, with half having signed an open letter condemning it. 
  • The parallel with 1930s Germany is instructive: If just one Einstein emerged from the current wave of exiles from Putin’s war, wouldn’t that make it worth it? “Just imagine what would have happened if Britain or the US wouldn’t have hosted German scientists during the Nazi regime,” Joachim Hornegger, president of the FAU, told a conference last year. The US push to profit from these scientists after the war also helped deliver an estimated $10 billion in patents and know-how. If Yandex’s co-founder is right, Russia’s brain drain isn’t over. If Putin is alive to the threat, maybe the West should be too.

“Western timidity has only emboldened Putin,” Martin Sandbu, FT, 02.25.24. 

  • [Western] timidity is most visible in the question of arms. Ukraine is struggling to hold the front line because of a shortfall in munitions.... More decisive action two years ago would have left Ukraine, and the west, in a much better position today.
  • The same is true of economic measures. ..If, two years ago, the leaders who decided to immobilize Russia’s reserves had gone further and seized them outright, they would now be held in escrow for the sake of Ukraine’s future needs, or could already be funding reconstruction, further strengthening Ukraine’s ability to resist.
  • The lesson on both the military and the economic side is the danger of believing in the virtue of caution when that in practice means delay. Early “caution” has prolonged the suffering in Ukraine, emboldened the Russian dictator who thinks he can outwait Kyiv’s western supporters, and increased the cost of pushing him back. Whatever could have been achieved early, can now only be achieved in more time and at greater cost.

For more commentaries on the punitive measures related to Russia’s war against Ukraine see:

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Global Perspectives on Ending the Russia-Ukraine War,” CFR/Council of Councils, 02.21.24. 

  • Zhao Long of China: Although 2024 may not usher in peace for Ukraine, it could be pivotal for international cooperation on unlocking the stalemate.
    • First, Ukraine and its allies must define suboptimal victory. While preserving Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity remains the ultimate goal, it is crucial to acknowledge the challenges it present.. Establishing a robust defense and negotiations to restore the pre-war status could be seen as a more realistic definition of Ukraine’s victory.
    • Second, all parties must consider a situation of frozen conflict as the conditional peace. Although the frozen conflict cannot completely resolve the security dilemma, it can significantly reduce casualties and spillover effects, paving the way for a peace process starting with a ceasefire
    • Third, Russia, Ukraine, and their allies should facilitate a phased ceasefire framework.
    • Fourth, NATO should devise interim measures for Ukraine’s eventual membership.
    • Fifth, Russia, Ukraine, their allies, and mediators should craft a goal-based negotiation package. Simply retaking Russian-controlled territories won’t ensure lasting peace. Resolving the conflict requires long-term security assurances for Ukraine, addressing Russia’s legitimate security concerns, designing territorial sovereignty arrangements, and a comprehensive negotiation package on Ukraine, the European security architecture, and transatlantic strategic stability.
  • Lila Roldán Vázquez of Argentina: Even if a Ukrainian victory would be the fair, morally acceptable outcome, Russia will forever be a neighbor to the European Union and NATO. A compromise must be reached among Russia, Ukraine, and NATO to ensure lasting peace on the continent. Russia needs to honor its international commitments and, consequently, restore and respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. A mutual nonaggression pact should also be reached between NATO and Russia, with built-in guarantees for the latter to be reassured regarding its alleged security concerns.
  • Omotola Adeyoju Ilesanmi of Nigeria: . A greater focus should be placed on reaching a settlement through negotiations that can end the war by addressing both nations’ security concerns and settling their territorial dispute. 
  • Abdulaziz Sager of Saudi Arabia: The GCC states are not in a position to contain nor end the conflict in Ukraine. Yet they can provide a platform for discussions over possible resolution efforts.
  • Charles A. Kupchan of the U.S.: The door to diplomacy should remain open. In his recent interview with Tucker Carlson, Putin expressed interest in efforts to “negotiate” an end to the war, calling for Ukraine to cede territory to Russia. While that proposal is a nonstarter for both Ukraine and the West, Kyiv and its supporters should explore potential pathways to a ceasefire. An end to the fighting would then clear the way for negotiations about a lasting territorial settlement—ultimately Kyiv’s best option given that Ukraine has a better chance of restoring territorial integrity at the negotiating table than on the battlefield.
  • Nona Mikhelidze of Italy and Riccardo Alcaro of Italy: Most Western leaders are probably aware that President Putin will not be content with anything other than the complete subjugation of Ukraine. They should set aside any lingering hesitations and delays in arms deliveries and start acting upon the assumption that supporting Ukraine “as long as it takes” is not the right approach—if it were, Putin would have made concessions at this stage. Instead, the West should do “whatever it takes” to ensure Ukraine wins its battle for independence.
  • Daniel Szeligowski of Poland: The shortest path to ending this war runs through Ukraine’s accession to NATO, which would be the least costly, and, simultaneously, most effective stabilizing option for the broader transatlantic community. An accession to NATO would likely entail a painful delay for Kyiv in regaining some of the occupied territories, which Article 5 would temporarily not cover—the ultimate price to be paid for our foot-dragging in arming Ukraine.
  • Igor Yurgens of Russia: It appears that military stalemate provides an opportunity for diplomatic solutions. However, all parties remain dramatically opposed. For Ukraine, the presidential decree formally prohibits negotiations with Russia. For Russia, there are impossible demands for the “demilitarization, denazification and neutralization of Ukraine,” as well as a ban on Ukraine joining NATO. Informal and formal contacts between intermediaries have not yet led to any results. Many hopes are pinned to the period after the U.S. presidential elections. The year 2024 will see increasing tension and uncertainty.
  • Selim Yenel of Turkey: The Russia-Ukraine war will most probably continue until one side is depleted. The only way to end this war is to defeat Putin, the primary cause of it all. However, even a Russian defeat may seem to be a pause, with fighting only to flare up again later. ... Since Washington’s involvement in Europe is not guaranteed, it [Europe] must rely on its own resources to defend itself.   

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

  • Conventional wisdom that a negotiated end to the Ukraine war is impossible or undesirable is false and dangerous for Ukraine's future. Ukraine's military prospects are diminishing, while a "fortress Ukraine" able to thrive amidst ongoing war is unrealistic. Diplomacy is needed to secure Ukraine and address broader European security issues.
  • The war is trending towards Ukraine's eventual collapse as Russia corrects earlier mistakes and adopts an attrition strategy. 
  • Sanctions have not crippled Russia's war effort and the West cannot fix Ukraine's manpower problems without direct intervention. Ukraine's best hope is a negotiated settlement that protects its security, minimizes escalation risks, and promotes broader stability.
  • Russia can achieve some war aims militarily but still has incentives to negotiate, including reducing dependence on China and securing economic links to Europe. 
  • The U.S. has leverage to bring Russia to the table now, but this will diminish over time if not utilized. Bringing Russia to talks requires signaling U.S. seriousness, like willingness to discuss NATO expansion, as well as outreach to China and the Global South to pressure Russia.
  • A settlement is possible if it serves the key interests of Ukraine, Russia and the West; Cold War experience provides useful models. Practical U.S. policy steps should aim to incentivize Russia to talk while aiding Ukraine’s defense, including offering to discuss NATO membership and working with China.
  • By combining aid to Ukraine with diplomacy, the U.S. could secure independence for most of Ukraine and mitigate long-term dangers. A compromise could trade Ukrainian neutrality for security guarantees, economic aid, and addressing Russian concerns over NATO expansion. Verification measures can build trust.

“To Seek Peace in Ukraine, Remember the End of the Cold War,” Anatol Lieven, The Nation, 02.20.24. 

  • An honest accounting with history in both Russia and the United States is essential if we are to bring about a lasting peace in Ukraine and escape from the past generation’s spiral of hostility, which could in the worst case become a death spiral for the whole of humanity. Russians need to understand how the imperial and Soviet past, and Stalin’s crimes in particular (together with the more repellent aspects of the Putin regime), have made so many of Russia’s neighbors fearful of any regime based in Moscow, and that the hostility of these countries is not just due to manipulation by Washington. Americans need to acknowledge the crimes committed by the United States during (and after) the Cold War, which make it impossible for most Russians and many people around the world to accept America’s right to lecture them on morality, let alone to dictate their own security policies.
  • Soviet crimes (at least under Lenin and Stalin) were vastly worse than those of the United States; indeed, their exposure played an important part in the collapse of Communist Party authority after Gorbachev introduced glasnost. Thereafter, however, Russian willingness to acknowledge these crimes was not only greatly inhibited by the creation of the Putin regime, but also by the way in which the memory of these crimes was weaponized by forces in the West and in Eastern Europe to serve their anti-Russian agendas. In particular, the attempt to equate Soviet and Nazi crimes and blame the Soviet ones on Russia and the Russian people caused widespread national outrage, especially given that so many of the victims of communism were Russians, and so many of the perpetrators (including Stalin himself) were non-Russians.
  • National self-righteousness, buttressed by a refusal to admit national crimes, is a key obstacle to the empathy with other nations’ leaderships that the German American political scientist Hans Morgenthau declared is both a practical and an ethical duty of true statesmanship—the ability and willingness, that is, to place yourself in the shoes of your opposite numbers and understand what really matters to them.
  • Empathy by no means necessarily implies sympathy or agreement. ..An empathetic understanding of how the Russian leadership understands its country’s vital interests would have prevented the fatuous illusion in the West that Russia could be expected to peacefully accept turning Ukraine into a military outpost of the West and radically downgrading the role of the Russian language and Russian culture there.  If on this basis the decision had still been made to expand NATO and the EU, at least it would have been made with open eyes and an awareness of the likely consequences, and as a result would have been backed both by serious resources and by compromises in other areas (notably in concessions to China).
  • It is the task of US policymakers working at a safe distance to develop the cool-headed objectivity that will allow this recognition; and to develop this objectivity, the first thing they need to do is look in a historical mirror.

“Can the West Still Achieve Victory in Ukraine?”, Stefan Wolff, NI, 02.20.24. 

  • Searching for an off-ramp does not mean letting Putin win. It means enabling Ukraine to defend the areas currently still under its control. This will require more Western aid, but also serious consideration of negotiating a ceasefire. An end to the fighting would buy Western Europe and Ukraine time to build up stronger domestic defense capabilities. Ukraine has concluded bilateral security deals with the UK, France, and Germany – and deals with other G7 members are likely to follow. These deals would provide more of a guarantee for Ukrainian democracy and sovereignty than the currently futile attempt to restore the country’s territorial integrity in full – or its hopes for imminent NATO membership that are unlikely to be fulfilled.
  • Reassessing current realities on the battlefield in this way will undoubtedly be seen as appeasement by some. But a more fitting analogy might be that of West Germany in 1949 and, even more so, of South Korea in 1953, both of which needed to establish internationally recognized borders in order to establish sovereignty in the face of hostile neighboring powers. The challenge for Ukraine and its Western partners is to establish the equivalent of the Korean peninsula’s 38th parallel.

"An escalation of the Ukrainian conflict now looks more likely than détente," Fyodor Lukyanov, Profil/Russia in Global Affairs, 02.24.24.^ Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • Any change in configuration of Ukraine will not be legally recognized by it or its Western allies... we can only talk about a freeze, a suspension of hostilities - a kind of Eastern European version of the Korean “38th parallel.” 
  •  Recognition of the changed geopolitical realities is theoretically possible only if an obvious and indisputable military outcome is attained. 
  • In 2022, [Henry] Kissinger came to the conclusion that the neutral status of Ukraine was no longer relevant and that Ukraine should be accepted into NATO, sacrificing part of the territory. ....Now this will of the last great international leader of the twentieth century is beginning to look like [Wes’s] main plan. American strategists no longer consider the return [re-capture] of territories under Russian control to be probable. Accordingly, there is an underlying idea that the preservation of Ukrainian statehood and its consolidation as part of the Euro-Atlantic bloc will become a true victory of the anti-Russian coalition.
  • There is no compromise in sight; both sides [Russia and West] view the issue of [Ukraine’s membership in NATO] as fundamental. Russia still hopes to force the United States and its comrades to recognize the need for a political retreat on this issue. The United States and its allies consider this [such a retreat] to be categorically unacceptable.
  • The worsening discord in the United States in the election year, the fragmentation of Europe, the increasingly unclear socio-political situation in Ukraine... promise to [make] the third year of the campaign a decisive one in every sense.

Interview of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Mikhail Galuzin with "Russia Today," Russian Foreign Ministry, 02.21.24.Clues from Russian Views.

  • On the diplomatic track, Kyiv and its Western masters continue to promote Zelenskyy’s completely discredited [peace] “formula.” At the same time, they flatly refuse to consider realistic initiatives proposed by other countries to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.
  •  We see no signs of interest from the United States and its satellites in a peaceful resolution of the crisis around Ukraine... Currently, neither Ukraine nor the West demonstrate a desire for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. 
  • Over the past few months we have not heard anything about any new peace proposals to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. Since the beginning of the special military operation, about 20 states and regional associations have come up with [peace] initiatives, including China, Brazil and African countries. Many of the ideas, which they presented, contained fundamental points that we share. Our partners from the countries of the Global South and East have shown a sincere desire to contribute to achieving a just and sustainable solution to the conflict... Of course, we highly appreciate their efforts... I am convinced that there would be more such proposals if Kyiv did not immediately reject the ideas of mediation put forward by the countries of the World Majority. Having monopolized the right to peaceful initiatives, the Zelenskyy regime, together with the United States and NATO countries, is promoting a futile [peace] “formula.”

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

“The war in Ukraine holds two lessons: Russia isn’t an imminent threat, and Europe must rearm regardless,” Anatol Lieven, The Guardian, 02.23.24.

  • Russia simply doesn’t pose a serious threat of conventional attack on the EU and NATO. 
    • For one, Russia has revealed itself to be a much weaker military power than was thought – and than Putin assumed – before the invasion... why would any Russian planner expect victory in an offensive against NATO? Even without the US, European countries combined heavily outweigh Russia in terms of numbers, weaponry and military spending (the greatest problem is the failure to pool these resources); and the Ukraine war has shown the great advantages currently enjoyed by the side that stands on the defensive. Moreover, in the event of an attack on a NATO country, western countries would certainly impose a complete and crippling naval blockade on Russian maritime energy exports.
    • Putin’s nuclear threats have been meant to deter the US and NATO from intervening directly in Ukraine. In terms of its own actions against NATO, however, the Russian government to date has been very cautious, despite the massive assistance NATO has given to Ukraine.
  • Remove the threat of a Russian invasion, and the real argument for European rearmament is almost the diametrical opposite: that it is necessary to make peace with Russia. For only a Europe confident of its ability to defend itself can break the circle – not only vicious but increasingly absurd – by which it is desperately afraid that the US will cease to guarantee its security, and therefore supports US policies that gravely damage its security. It is also, of course, obvious from recent comments by Donald Trump and his supporters that US military commitment to Europe cannot, in fact, be guaranteed in the long term.
  • Given the absence of an imminent Russian threat, Europe has time to conduct a measured program of rearmament. This should involve limited increases in military spending, but much more importantly the pooling and coordination of military production, the unification of military forces and their deployment to eastern Europe to reassure EU members there. This rearmament will, however, be utterly pointless unless it forms the basis for strategic autonomy and the defense of the real interests and the real security of Europe.

“Hard Lessons Make for Hard Choices 2 Years Into the War in Ukraine,” Steven Erlanger and David E. Sanger, NYT, 02.24.24. 

  • Only a year ago, many here predicted that Ukraine’s counteroffensive, bolstered by European tanks and missiles and American artillery and air defenses, could push the Russians back to where they were on Feb. 24, 2022. Now, some harsh lessons have emerged.
    •  The sanctions that were supposed to bring Russia’s economy to its knees — “the ruble almost is immediately reduced to rubble,” President Biden declared in Warsaw in March 2022 — have lost their sting. ... With the setbacks, and the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, hope has just about collapsed that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia will conclude anytime soon that he can make no further gains and should enter a serious negotiation to end the war. American and European intelligence officials now assess that Mr. Putin is determined to hold on.
    • As isolationism rises in a Republican-controlled Congress beholden to Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden has shifted from promising to give Ukraine “whatever it needs, for as long as it takes” to last December’s less ambitious “as long as we can.” 
    • In the view of Charles A. Kupchan, ... the United States should be exploring ways to get negotiations started to end the war. ... After two years of war, Mr. Kupchan said, “there is no foreseeable pathway toward a battlefield victory for Ukraine,” even with the imminent arrival of long-range missiles or F-16s. 
      • Mr. Zelensky faces a stark choice, he said: whether to keep every inch of sovereign Ukrainian territory, or find a way to secure an economically viable state, with a democratic future, Western security guarantees and eventual membership in the European Union and in NATO. In private, some senior Biden administration officials say they have been trying to nudge Mr. Zelensky in that direction. 
      • American military officials in Europe, led by Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli, have been quietly warning that the best the Ukrainians can hope for is a largely frozen conflict. General Cavoli rarely speaks publicly, but officials emerging from recent briefings with him described a downbeat assessment, one in which, at best, the Ukrainians use 2024 to defend, rebuild and attempt another counteroffensive next year.
    • For years, American officials have urged Europe to spend more on its defense. Now, Europeans are beginning to confront the cost of complacency. No matter who Americans elect as their next president in November, the United States may no longer be willing to take its traditional lead in deterring Russia or defending the West. That will inevitably place more of the burden on a Europe that is not yet fully prepared.
      • To fully replace American military assistance this year, according to an assessment by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Europe would still have “to double its current level and pace of arms assistance.”

“Two Years On, What’s Next in Ukraine? Eight thinkers shed light on the state of the war,” FP, 02.19.24. 

  • Angela Stent, “Bracing for a Long War”:
    • Neither Russia nor Ukraine is winning or losing the war decisively as it enters its third year. It has become a stalemate and war of attrition, with both sides suffering heavy casualties and equipment losses.
    • There is little prospect for negotiations to end the war in 2024. Russia wants Ukraine's surrender and "demilitarization", which Ukraine will never accept. Putin may be hoping the next U.S. president abandons support for Ukraine after the 2024 election.
    • Proposals for how the war might end—including the Korean model, which would involve an armistice, no peace treaty, and Western security guarantees for Ukraine—presuppose that Russia would ever accept an independent Ukraine. As long as Putin or a successor who shares his worldview is in power, that is unlikely to happen.
  • Jo Inge Bekkevold, “Like It or Not, We Are Now in Cold War II”:
    • Russia’s war has thus exposed the increased frailty of the Western bloc. Europe still suffers from its post-Cold War dreams and delusions. Accustomed to three decades of peace and globalization, many European politicians seem to be reluctant to face up to the realities of war, whether it comes in the form of an ongoing Russian invasion or it takes shape as a new cold war. Russian aggression also casts another spotlight on the rise of nationalism, populism, and polarization in the United States and a number of European countries. During the U.S.-Soviet Cold War, Washington was able to exploit the differences between Beijing and Moscow, whereas today, Beijing and Moscow are in a stronger position to exploit the differences within the Western bloc.
  • Kristi Raik, “Can Europe Go It Alone?”:
    • Looking beyond 2024, Ukraine can win the war if the West steps up support and makes the cost of war unbearable for Russia. Moscow can win if the West fails to mobilize the necessary resources and, more importantly, will.
    • Should Russia win in Ukraine, there is a chance that this would finally be the effective shock to compel Europe and the United States to get serious about stopping Russian expansion. I’d rather avoid that test.
  • Anders Fogh Rasmussen, “Time to Call Putin’s Bluff”: At this year’s NATO summit in Washington, leaders should call Putin’s bluff and issue an invitation for Ukraine to join the alliance. Membership would not happen overnight, but it would send an unequivocal message to Putin that he cannot stop the process and that his war is futile. In that way, a membership invitation for Ukraine can help pave the path to peace.
  • Franz-Stefan Gady, “How Ukraine Can Help Itself”:
    • Turning the tide in the war will require a decisive advantage in firepower on the battlefield, principally artillery munition and strike drones. That, in turn, will require a significant increase in military production not just in Europe and the United States but also in Ukraine itself. 
    • One possible way forward is to expand Ukraine’s military industrial base on NATO territory using joint ventures with Western companies underwritten by a dedicated investment fund. 
  • David Petraeus, “Where Will the War Go From Here? It Depends”:
    • Any answer to a question about the future of Russia’s war in Ukraine has to begin with: It depends. Because the course of the war will, indeed, depend on a number of critical developments.
      • Foremost will be the level of assistance on which the U.S. Congress finally agrees. 
      • Of equal importance—given that Europe has provided twice as much assistance to Ukraine as the United States when nonmilitary aid is included—will be the level of support from the European Union and its members, as well as other Western countries.
      • Much depends, as well, on each side’s ability to refine new unmanned capabilities.
      • Also critical will be the U.S.-led effort to tighten sanctions and export controls on Russia—and cut off schemes to evade them. 
      • Of enormous impact, as well, would be providing Ukraine with the nearly $300 billion in Russian reserves currently frozen in Western countries. 
      • Finally, the course of the war will depend on each side’s ability to learn and adapt as the battlefield evolves
    • This year promises to be another very difficult one for both countries’ military forces on the ground as well as their homefronts. Two years on, there does not appear to be a conceivable end to the war in sight.

“Is Europe ready to defend itself?” The Economist, 02.22.24.[2] 

  • As the fighting enters its third year, Russia is winning in Ukraine. Having put the economy on a war footing, Russia’s president is spending 7.1% of GDP on defense. Within three to five years, Denmark’s defense minister has said, Mr. Putin could be ready to take on NATO, perhaps by launching hybrid operations against one of the Baltic states. His aim would be to wreck NATO’s pledge that if one country is attacked, the others will be ready to come to its aid.
  • Even as the Russian threat is growing, Western deterrence is weakening. That is partly because of wavering American support for Ukraine. But it is also because Donald Trump, who may very well be the next American president, has cast doubt on whether he would rally to Europe’s side following a Russian attack. 
  • The implications are grim. Europe depends utterly on NATO’s dominant military force. One American general recently complained that many of its armies would struggle to deploy even one full-strength brigade of a few thousand troops. In 2015-23 Britain lost five of its combat battalions. Many countries lack capabilities, such as transport aircraft, command and control, and satellites. 
  • Given the long cycles in military planning, Europe needs to start putting this right today. The priority is boosting its own ability to fight. That begins with a massive program of recruitment and procurement. 
  • Filling that gap will be tough. In 2022, after eight years of increases following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the European members of NATO spent in total no more than they had in 1990 in real terms. Social spending had more than doubled. Arguments about NATO budgets often boil down to whether a country allocates 2% of GDP to defense. How the money is spent matters, too. Yet even with efficiencies, 2% will not be enough.
  • Russia is much poorer and less populous than Europe. Mr. Putin’s depredations make it a declining power. But the bear can still spread destruction and misery. The best place to stop Mr. Putin is in Ukraine. Yet even if that succeeds, Europe will have to think very differently about defense. It needs to start now. 

“Wars and elections: How European leaders can maintain public support for Ukraine,” Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard, ECFR, 02.21.24.

  • Europeans appear pessimistic about the outcome of the war [in Ukraine]. An average of just 10% of Europeans across 12 countries believe that Ukraine will win. 
    • Twice as many expect a Russian victory…The polling finds Hungary is where the largest number of people expect a Russian victory (31%) and where most respondents want to push Ukraine to settle (64%).
  • A majority of Europeans (60%) believe that the war in Gaza has been equally impactful for the future of the world as the war in Ukraine.
    • On average, 48% of people across Europe view the [US] political system as broken, including large pluralities in all 12 countries polled except for Hungary, Poland and Romania…Some 47%, on average, view the EU’s political system as either completely or somewhat broken.
  • In the wake of a US withdrawal [from supporting Ukraine], only a minority of Europeans (just 20% on average, ranging from 7% in Greece to 43% in Sweden) would want Europe to increase its support for Ukraine.

“The War in Ukraine in a Transitional World Order,” Robert Legvold, RM, 02.23.24.

  • The fundamental questions raised by the war in Ukraine are like the two sides of a coin: on one side, there is the overarching but largely ignored question of how the war is reshaping an international system released from its moorings and lurching in uncertain directions; on the other side, the elusive but no less consequential question of how this untethered international system is affecting the course and prospective outcome of the war. 
  • The answers to both questions put the war’s historical significance into perspective; they also provide a basis for the U.S., Russia and China—the three key actors in this nexus—to formulate more far-sighted foreign policies going forward. What these actors, along with the EU member states, do or fail to do next in the Ukraine war will be crucial in determining its outcome. But whether and how the three address the destructive interaction between the war unfolding in Ukraine and an international political system in transition will be crucial in determining the character of the world to follow.
  • If leaders in Russia, China, and the United States look hard at both sides of this coin, they should want to rethink the course they are on. The change needed, however, requires a broader perspective and longer-term vision than currently exists in any of the three capitals. Still, it cannot be in the interest of any of the three to risk the security ruptures and unaddressed global existential challenges of an increasingly polarized international political system. Nor can it be in their interest to leave unregulated an increasingly unstable nuclear world with multiplying actors in intensifying arms races, threatened by new destabilizing technologies; or to allow a further fragmenting of the international financial system; or to contemplate a Europe at or near permanent war; or to accept a return to an era where force determines borders and settles territorial claims. And it certainly cannot be in their interest to see the world solidify into a new bipolarity driven by a U.S.-China cold war merged with that between Russia and the West.

“Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Prince Faisal, Stephen Harper, Margrethe Vestager and Meghan O’Sullivan on New World Order,” a discussion at the Munich Security Conference, 02.20.24.[3]

  • Meghan O’Sullivan: There is a mismatch between global problems and global capabilities; the global problems that are intensifying… are climate change, security problems, and pandemics. They are global in nature and transcend boundaries. 
    • By definition, we would think that the best way to deal with them is through global institutions and global cooperation. But…the global institutions are not working well because the big factor…is great power competition. 
  • MO: We are in a transition. The liberal international order is moving into something else…something multipolar in nature…but we are not there yet. There is the rise of middle powers, countries that are not interested in being aligned with either side but… maximizing their opportunities.
    • The challenge is that…there are countries with more weight in the international system that are not interested in making permanent alliances. The opportunity is that they are not looking to build permanent coalitions with America’s adversaries. 
  • Subrahmanyam Jaishankar: Today, the divides are really deep and the [international system’s] architecture is frozen at a certain level. 
    • We are moving into a much looser order…where there isn’t a rigidity to it. The idea that there is one route, way and solution is over. The world is returning to its natural diversity. 
  • Prince Faisal bin Farhad Al Saud: In the end, what should drive us is the search for a win-win environment. One of the challenges of the unipolar order was that the interests of someone were always prioritized over the interests of others. 
  • MO: The notion of fluid coalitions addressing multiple problems at different periods of time sounds good, but we are leaving out two important things. This is happening in a dynamic of great power competition [and] the possibility of a great power conflict, which could upend the entire emerging global order. 
    • How do these fluid coalitions solve global problems? I can see how fluid coalitions can address particular issues for particular regions, but when we have existential global problems, would this order do any better [than the past one]?
  • SJ: Great power competition is not so bad…what is really bad is great power collaboration because the rest of us get squeezed out. 
  • MO: The Inflation Reduction Act is the biggest piece of American climate legislation ever made…that was a product of great power competition. 
    • [When asked to devise practical advice on how to shape the new order] There is an imperative and an opportunity…to figure out how the Global South can develop in a way that it becomes a part of clean energy supply chains.

“Trump’s NATO Threat Reflects a Wider Shift on America’s Place in the World,” Peter Baker, NYT, 02.17.24. 

  • When former President Donald J. Trump told a campaign rally in South Carolina last weekend that he would encourage Russia to attack NATO allies who “didn’t pay,” there were gasps of shock in Washington, London, Paris, Tokyo and elsewhere around the world. But not in South Carolina.
  • The visceral rejection of the American-led security architecture constructed in the years after World War II serves as a reminder of how much the notion of U.S. leadership in the world has shifted in recent years. Alliances that were once seen as the bulwark of the Cold War are now viewed as an outdated albatross by a significant segment of the American public that Mr. Trump appeals to.
    • While 80 percent of Democrats believe the United States benefits from alliances with Europe, just 50 percent of Republicans do, according to surveys released in October, with similar numbers for alliances in East Asia. Sixty-eight percent of Democrats would support aiding NATO allies like Lithuania, Estonia or Latvia if Russia invaded, while just 48 percent of Republicans would.
  • “The old idea of NATO’s collective defense needs to be reassessed,” Russell Vought, a former budget director for Mr. Trump who now serves as president of the Center for Renewing America, told The Financial Times. “We have a narrower view of our interests than Estonia would like us to have.”

“Trump’s Outbursts Weaken NATO and Harm the US,” Editorial Board, Bloomberg, 02.26.24.

  • Tough negotiating with allies over sharing costs is one thing. Threatening to abrogate the treaty if its members don’t instantly submit to US demands — going so far as to say that the US would have no objection to Russian aggression — gravely weakens the alliance’s credibility. The importance of maintaining this asset is hard to overstate. As Putin and other adversaries make their calculations about what they can get away with, America’s perceived willingness to stand with its allies is paramount. If the US is seen to be wavering on its commitments, or even eager to walk away from them, its adversaries will surely be emboldened. In short order, that will leave the US, at home and abroad, weaker and in greater peril. Angry responses to Trump’s reckless declarations often serve his purposes. Sometimes, as in this case, they’re necessary anyway. Trump is once again telling voters that he’s unfit for the presidency. They should listen.

“On Europe's Defense, U.S. Needs to Take Yes for an Answer; Allies are already stepping up military spending, but leaders need cover for hard political decisions,” Joseph C. Sternberg, WSJ, 02.22.24.

  • Europe had already begun heeding America's call on defense spending before Mr. Trump's remarks. The NATO secretariat announced this month that 18 of the alliance's 31 members are on track to hit the 2% target in 2024, up from 11 last year and three in 2014. All allies now meet the 20% procurement target.
  • As this transformation continues, a new challenge comes into view: not that Europe isn't spending enough, but that spending isn't enough to guarantee Europe's defense.
  • Europe must rebuild hollowed-out defense industries to absorb that money; the struggle to produce enough ammunition to deliver on promises to Ukraine is instructive. Increasing military personnel numbers is a multiyear process of recruitment, training and cultural change that encourages young people to view the military as a desirable career option. European governments (and voters) also need to relearn how to assess strategic risks and set spending priorities. Still to come in many parts of Europe—in a world of rising interest rates, slowing economic growth and unstable tax bases—are fights over which domestic priorities will have to give way to defense.
  • Washington should be eager to encourage allies to undertake these cultural transformations, and ready to help. The danger is that in a mistimed fit of pique, the U.S. withdraws its interest in Europe precisely when European leaders could most benefit from Washington's political cover to make challenging domestic choices about defense. Such a withdrawal can only embolden the anti-Americans, Putin admirers, pacifists and myriad other naïfs and cranks in Europe who have yet to be touched by the Continent's new realities.
  • In a perfect world, European politicians and voters would recognize their own best interests without constant nudges and prods from the U.S. In the real world, they often don't or can't for domestic political reasons. A healthy American realism would be to recognize when the good guys in Europe are winning those arguments and not throw them under the bus.

“Russia’s Ukraine Resurgence Shows It's Often Down But Never Out,” Hal Brands, Bloomberg, 02.23.24. 

  • Even if Ukraine gets more American assistance, it has a hard task ahead in liberating occupied territory. If it doesn’t get that aid, it could be gradually pushed back by Russian forces that have the luxury of paying for earth in blood. A larger, stronger Russia could eventually wear down a smaller, weaker Ukraine, forcing it to make peace on distinctly disadvantageous terms.
  • If this happens, it would be a tragedy for Ukraine and a grave geopolitical setback for the free world. It would also be yet another testament to the strategic resilience of a country that, in good causes and bad, has repeatedly proven too big and too tough to keep down for long.
  • A Ukrainian defeat is not inevitable. A properly supplied and supported Ukraine could weather Russian attacks this year, while striking deeper into Crimea and Russia, clearing the Black Sea of Moscow’s Navy, and building the forces necessary for another offensive. In this scenario, a difficult 2024 could lay the groundwork for a 2025 in which the advantage shifts back to Kyiv. Or, perhaps, a tenacious Ukrainian effort will ultimately force Putin to strain his military, his economy and his regime to the breaking point, inviting one of those collapses that have rocked Russia before.
  • How the war ends will powerfully affect what happens next: A Russia that occupies big chunks of Ukrainian territory, as well as long stretches of its Black Sea coastline, is far better positioned for mischief than one that does not. But regardless of when and where exactly the front line is when fighting concludes, the course of this war — and the course of Russian history — reminds us not to count that country out.
  • If Russia’s ability to replace losses in this war is any indication, it may regenerate conventional military power faster than previously expected, as well.
  • Governments in Europe are already warning that a Russian attack on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization could come in three to five years. I’m skeptical of this: War with NATO would be a truly epic gamble for Moscow, even if it had won a costly victory in Ukraine. But Putin might well wage a war of nerves against his Western foes, while more aggressively deploying migration flows, political meddling and other tactics to sap their cohesion and strength. After all, a NATO led by an American president who visibly detests that alliance might present an inviting target.
  • One way or another, don’t assume Russia — whatever the lacerations it has received in this criminal war — will be chastened and cautious for long. More likely, a country with a history of reversals and revivals will be ready for the next round sooner than we think.

“The Age of Amorality. Can America Save the Liberal Order Through Illiberal Means?” Hal Brands, FA, March/April 2024.

  • U.S. President Joe Biden took office pledging to wage a fateful contest between democracy and autocracy. After Russia invaded Ukraine, he summoned like-minded nations to a struggle “between liberty and repression, between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force.” 
  • Biden’s team has indeed made big moves in its contest with China and Russia, strengthening solidarity among advanced democracies that want to protect freedom by keeping powerful tyrannies in check. But even before the war between Hamas and Israel presented its own thicket of problems, an administration that has emphasized the ideological nature of great-power rivalry was finding itself ensnared by a morally ambiguous world.
  • Biden’s conflicted strategy reflects the realities of contemporary coalition building: when it comes to countering China and Russia, democratic alliances go only so far. Biden’s approach also reflects a deeper, more enduring tension. American interests are inextricably tied to American values: the United States typically enters into great-power competition because it fears mighty autocracies will otherwise make the world unsafe for democracy. But an age of conflict invariably becomes, to some degree, an age of amorality because the only way to protect a world fit for freedom is to court impure partners and engage in impure acts.

Expect more of this. If the stakes of today’s rivalries are as high as Biden claims, Washington will engage in some breathtakingly cynical behavior to keep its foes contained. Yet an ethos of pure expediency is fraught with dangers, from domestic disillusion to the loss of the moral asymmetry that has long amplified U.S. influence in global affairs. Strategy, for a liberal superpower, is the art of balancing power without subverting democratic purpose. The United States is about to rediscover just how hard that can be.

  • the issue of reconciling opposites relates to a final principle: soaring idealism and brutal realism can coexist. During the 1970s, moral debates ruptured the Cold War consensus. During the 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan adequately repaired—but never fully restored—that consensus by combining flexibility of tactics with clarity of purpose.
  • Reagan supported awful dictators, murderous militaries, and thuggish “freedom fighters” in the Third World, sometimes through ploys—such as the Iran-contra scandal—that were dodgy or simply illegal. Yet he also backed democratic movements from Chile to South Korea; he paired rhetorical condemnations of the Kremlin with ringing affirmations of Western ideals. The takeaway is that rough measures may be more tolerable if they are part of a larger package that emphasizes, in word and deed, the values that must anchor the United States’ approach to the world. Some will see this as heightening the hypocrisy. In reality, it is the best way to preserve the balance—political, moral, and strategic—that a democratic superpower requires.

“G-7 Leaders’ Statement,” The White House, 02.24.24. 

  • We remain convinced that we can ensure the people of Ukraine prevail in fighting for their future and help to forge a comprehensive, just and durable peace.
  • We will hold those culpable for Navalny’s death accountable, including by continuing to impose restrictive measures in response to human rights violations and abuses in Russia and taking other actions.
    1. We will continue to support Ukraine’s right to self-defense and reiterate our commitment to Ukraine’s long-term security, including by concluding and implementing bilateral security commitments and arrangements, based on the Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine we endorsed in Vilnius last July. 
    2. We call on Russia to immediately cease its war of aggression and completely and unconditionally withdraw its military forces from the internationally recognized territory of Ukraine. 
    3.  We will continue to raise the cost of Russia’s war, degrade Russia’s sources of revenue and impede its efforts to build its war machine, as demonstrated by our recently approved sanctions packages. We remain committed to fully implementing and enforcing our sanctions on Russia and adopting new measures as necessary. 
    4.  We continue our support to Ukraine in further developing President Zelenskyy’s Peace Formula and commit ourselves to supporting a comprehensive, just and lasting peace consistent with the principles of the UN Charter, international law and respectful of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. As Ukraine enters the third year of this relentless war, its government and its people can count on the G-7’s support for as long as it takes.

“NATO has no choice but to strengthen its bulwarks against Putin,” Alexander Gabuev, FT, 02.19.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Putin’s mistaken prediction on the odds of subjugating Ukraine in a swift “special military operation” led to disastrous action. Yet after painful defeats and costly adjustments, Russia appears to have the advantage in the looming war of attrition. The Russian president, so fond of second world war parallels, believes he is now in the same position as Joseph Stalin at the end of 1942: the toughest battles may still be ahead, but the trajectory points to victory.
  • In the first year of war, some of the Russian elite privately challenged Putin’s wisdom. Now these whispering doubters have been silenced completely, helped by the fiery end met by mercenary-turned-mutineer Yevgeny Prigozhin and, this week, the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in prison. With Putin set to extend his presidential mandate by another six years next month, it’s hard to see any obstacle in the ageing leader’s path if he chooses to raise the stakes in what he views as an existential confrontation between Russia and the west.
  • Putin describes the war not as against Ukraine, but as against NATO and American global hegemony... The Russian president is desperate to secure his place in history as the man who avenged the humiliation of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
  • With no checks on his capacity to make fatal mistakes, an ageing Russian ruler surrounded by sycophants may embark on more reckless moves in coming years than anything we’ve seen so far. If the Kremlin believes that no major western power has the resources and will to fight for minor allies like the Baltic states, it may be tempted to test NATO’s Article 5 commitment to collective defense
  • While the chances of these scenarios are still low, not taking them seriously is an invitation to future trouble. 
  • A Ukrainian victory under President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s definition — including a return to Ukraine’s 1991 borders — looks unrealistic for now and, in any case, will not resolve Europe’s Putin problem. Increased western military support for Ukraine remains essential both for Kyiv and as a strategy to limit Russia’s resources, but is not enough to secure Europe.
  • This bulwark against Putin will not only be expensive, but will also have political consequences for Europe’s leaders. 
  • The end of the peace dividend, coupled with growing inflation, is one of the many second-order effects of Putin’s war. Striking the right balance between security and social spending will involve hard choices.
  • This predicament will not last forever. There is no guarantee that the next Russian leader will have a more co-operative foreign policy outlook, but at least he might not share all of Putin’s dark obsessions. Some checks and balances may return to Kremlin decision-making. However, since Putin’s departure is likely to still be years away, the principle of “wish for peace, prepare for war” is a costly but necessary insurance for Europe’s fragile security.

“Russia’s Scariest New Threat Is Underwater, Not in Space,” James Stavridis, Bloomberg, 02.22.24. 

  • Mike Turner, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warns that the US is “sleepwalking into an international crisis” by ignoring Russia’s intent to put nuclear weapons in space and use an electro-magnetic pulse to disable the constellation of satellites that underpins our intelligence, navigation and warfighting capabilities. He is right to be concerned that this capability — although not in place yet — is a serious challenge for the West. 
  • But there is an even more vulnerable Achilles’ heel that threatens global commerce, worldwide military readiness and logistics, and the internet itself: the highly vulnerable complex of undersea cables that provide the backbone of the world’s connectivity. In a report released early this week by the highly regarded and nonpartisan Policy Exchange of the United Kingdom, the vulnerabilities become chillingly clear. 
  • The new report lays out the facts quite clearly: Globally, more than 10 trillion dollars of financial transactions, commercial payments, and trade transactions occur daily. Well over 95% of the world’s communications are carried by a network of roughly 500 cables laid across the seven seas. 
    • The first thing to do is simply realize how vulnerable these underwater communication systems have become. 
    • We also must increase the technology we are applying to protect the cables. 
    • We should also be exploring data compression concepts that would, over time, permit more use of space-based alternatives. 
    • On both the offensive and defensive sides, we need to invest in seabed warfare. 
    • Finally, as with nuclear weapons and general maritime operations, there is a potential role for arms-control measures. Given how critical these systems are to the overall global economy, it is conceivable that the US and China could construct protocols outlawing interference with the cable networks. 
  • An unfortunate side effect of decoupling Russia from the global commercial system (rightly so, given the illegal invasion of Ukraine) is that there is far less motivation for Moscow to restrain itself. But perhaps over time, global pressure to protect the systems that allow trade and commerce to flourish could be brought to bear even on pariah states like Russia, North Korea and Iran.

“In It to Win It: The Future of Ukraine and Transatlantic Security,” Christiane Amanpour, Kaja Kallas, Pete Ricketts and Jens Stoltenberg, Munich Security Conference, 02.16.24.

  • Kaja Kallas: We’ve seen the same thing in the 1930s…American isolationism, not stopping the aggressor when we had a chance to stop him and then seeing the aggression spread…
  • Jens Stoltenberg: As long as we convey [that an attack on one ally will trigger the response from the whole alliance] to Moscow…no ally will be attacked. 
  • Pete Ricketts: The European allies…still need to do more [to contribute to NATO]. If Putin wins in Ukraine, he won’t stop there. There is no doubt that the Baltic states or Poland will be at risk if we don’t stop him in Ukraine. 
    • When he loses in Ukraine, he is still going to be a threat. That’s why we have to continue to bolster our Eastern flank…
  • JS: This year, we expect 18 allies to meet the 2% guidelines. That’s up from 3 in 2014. In total, European allies have added 600 billion for defense. 
  • KK: It turned out [European] defense industry was incapable [of delivering sufficient ammunition to Ukraine]. In Estonia, we have a big tech sector. Why don’t we combine the tech and defense sectors to produce something not for the 20th century? 
  • JS: NATO is the strongest military power in the world today. We are stronger than Russia, but the war in Ukraine has demonstrated that there are some serious gaps [in] sustainability: spare parts, maintenance and ammunition. At the beginning of the war, we depleted our stocks, and now they are running low. 
    • The European allies have provided more support for Ukraine than the United States. It is not about making the right decisions; it’s about making [them] early because it’s urgent. 
  • JS: [When asked about a potential European nuclear weapon] NATO has an established nuclear deterrent. Any questioning of that deterrent would only undermine its [credibility]. The idea of a parallel joint nuclear deterrent among some NATO allies, not including the US…is not helpful. 
    • [When asked about NATO interoperability] We have done a lot to reinforce the NATO standards…that will reduce the costs and ensure that weapons and ammunition are interchangeable. 
  • PR: Xi is also a dictator and he has his territorial ambitions in Taiwan… he’s watching closely what happens in Ukraine. This is why we must support Ukraine…and work with Taiwan to make sure they’ve got the weapons they need to deter Xi from trying to take Taiwan by force. 
  • JS: It is a good deal for the United States to support Ukraine. It is not charity but an investment in its security because it makes it less likely for Xi to use force against Taiwan. 

“Russia’s threat to Europe: Gideon Rachman speaks to writer and historian Anne Applebaum,” FT, 02.22.24. 

  • Gideon Rachman: Do you think by the end of the year that it’s not only possible but really quite likely that Europe will be facing a full-scale security crisis? Because if you combine a potential Trump victory with Russia making progress in Ukraine, the atmosphere in Europe could go from apprehension to something much closer to a sense of crisis really quite soon.
  • Anne Applebaum: I don’t wanna say that it’s likely, because there are a lot of things that could happen that would make it less likely. You know, there are clearly some cracks inside Russia. I mean, Putin, if he felt really secure and confident, he wouldn’t be killing his political opponents, right? The money could pass. It’s possible that a lot of people want it to pass. It might pass, you know, in the next few weeks and that could make a difference. Trump might lose. I mean, there are many reasons to think that that won’t happen, but it is a scenario out there that has to be taken into consideration. Yes, we could be a year from now, facing a security crisis on a new scale if we aren’t able to prevent it, either by making sure Biden wins the election or by making sure that Ukraine wins the war.

“The Challenge to U.S. Leadership on Ukraine Comes From Home; Domestic politics, not Russia's Putin, pose the greatest threat to the U.S. role abroad,” Michael R. Gordon, WSJ, 02.25.24. 

  • [At the 2024 NATO summit] "There'll be a lot of brave talk, but the subtext will be that we can't rely on the Americans anymore," said Alexander Vershbow, who served as the U.S. ambassador to NATO and to Russia.
  • The continent, which is still struggling to overcome weaknesses in its defense industrial base, wouldn't be able to cover the shortfall if the U.S. supply of artillery shells, air defense interceptors and other key weapon systems isn't quickly resumed, a deficiency Western analysts say Russia would move to exploit. 
    • "Putin's calculation is that we won't be able to get our act together quickly enough," said Fiona Hill, the former top Russian expert on Trump's National Security Council. "A focal point of the propaganda right now is that Ukraine seems to be a losing proposition."

“Ukrainians want to know if NATO still wants them,” Josh Rogin, WP, 02.23.24. 

  • “We are confronted with a nuclear power. Either we will become a member of NATO, allied with a nuclear power, or we should restore our nuclear status,” Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko said. “I don’t see any other option. What option would you prefer?” 
  • [Yet] The Biden administration is signaling that a formal invitation this summer is not in the offing. Former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder told me a formal invitation is less important than coming up with concrete ways to help Ukraine cooperate and integrate with NATO.
  • Daalder and former State Department official Karen Donfried are working together on several ideas they discussed with U.S. and European officials in Munich. NATO could establish a process to more clearly define what Ukraine needs to do to get to the invitation stage. Work could be done to clarify how Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine would be treated when Ukraine joins, to avoid triggering a NATO-Russia outright conflict. NATO could also take over the U.S.-led multilateral effort to arm and train Ukrainian forces. 
  • The Biden team should also finalize its long-pending 10-year memorandum of understanding to establish long-term U.S. support for Ukraine's security, modeled after a U.S.-Israel agreement signed by President Barack Obama. It's too risky to put off these issues until after the U.S. presidential election, given that former president Donald Trump's return to office could mean the United States pulls away from Ukraine or NATO or both.
  • Ultimately, this is about whether Ukraine's future will be decided in Kyiv or Moscow. Ukraine wants to be part of the West, and the West needs Ukraine as a partner and a bulwark against Russian aggression. Putin may not like it. But he doesn't control Ukraine - and NATO can ensure he never will.

For more commentaries on the great power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations, see here:

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Russia Might Win in Ukraine. China Can’t. The price Beijing has paid for Vladimir Putin’s invasion is steep and will only mount with further Russian gains on the battlefield,” Minxin Pei, Bloomberg, 02.21.24. 

  • As the bloody war in Ukraine marks its second anniversary, Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely feeling more relaxed, even vindicated, about his strategic bet on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Last year at this time, Russia appeared on the verge of a disastrous defeat as Ukrainian forces equipped with advanced Western weaponry prepared to launch a powerful counter-offensive, hoping to sever the land bridge between Crimea and Russia. 
  • Putin’s position has strengthened immeasurably since then. A tenacious defense blunted the Ukrainian offensive. Russian troops have gone on to make their own gains, recently seizing the Ukrainian stronghold of Avdiivka. Most importantly, Republicans in Congress are blocking a crucial $60 billion aid package for Ukraine. With Russia’s weapons factories humming and Western aid drying up, the odds of Putin achieving something he can claim as a victory in Ukraine are rising.
  • Unfortunately for Xi, Putin’s gains cannot make up for the huge strategic costs his war has already imposed on China. Even if the conflicts ends with Russia winning territorial concessions from Ukraine and a pledge not to join NATO, China’s net geopolitical position will almost certainly be worse than before Feb. 24, 2022.
    • The chief cost of Putin’s invasion has been the irreversible rupture of Sino-European relations. ... The EU now largely views China from the same perspective as the US. 
    • Just as dangerously for China, Putin’s invasion sounded the alarm to US allies and partners about the threat of a great power war in East Asia, specifically over Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory.
    • Adding to China’s deteriorating security environment is a mad exodus by Western firms that do not want to be caught flat-footed if war breaks out in the region. 
    • Moreover, the war has weakened Russia grievously and made it a much less potent ally for China. 
  • China may take solace in the idea that any diversion of Western strategic resources and attention works to its advantage. This is an illusion. More likely, Russian victories on the battlefield will deepen suspicions of China in the US, Europe, and Asia. While Xi might conceivably change some minds by pressuring Putin to cease his assault and offer Ukraine a fair peace deal, the chances of the Chinese leader doing so — or Putin agreeing — are slim. The uncomfortable fact is that whatever benefits China draws from Putin’s war will be temporary. Its strategic losses are permanent.

“Kissinger and the True Meaning of Détente. Reinventing a Cold War Strategy for the Contest With China,” Niall Ferguson, FA, March/April 2024. 

  • Détente 2.0 would surely be preferable to running a new version of the Cuban missile crisis over Taiwan, but with the roles reversed: the communist state blockading the nearby contested island and the United States having to run the blockade, with all the attendant risks. That is certainly what  [Henry] Kissinger believed in the last year of his long life. It was the main motivation for his final visit to Beijing shortly after his 100th birthday.
  • Like détente 1.0, a new détente would not mean appeasing China, much less expecting the country to change. It would mean, once again, engaging in myriad negotiations: on arms control (urgently needed as China frantically builds up its forces in every domain); on trade; on technology transfers, climate change, and artificial intelligence; and on space. Like SALT, these negotiations would be protracted and tedious—and perhaps even inconclusive. But they would be the “meeting jaw to jaw” that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill generally preferred to war. As for Taiwan, the superpowers could do worse than to dust off their old promise, hammered out by Kissinger, to agree to disagree.
  • Détente, of course, does not work miracles. In the 1970s, it was both oversold and overbought. The policy unquestionably provided the United States with time, but it was a chess strategy that perhaps required too many callous sacrifices of lesser pieces on the board. As one Soviet analyst, puzzled by U.S. opposition to his country’s intervention in Angola, remarked, “You Americans tried to sell détente like detergent and claimed that it would do everything a detergent could do.”
  • Critics ultimately succeeded in poisoning the term. In March 1976, Ford banned its use in his reelection campaign. But there was never a workable replacement. Asked then if he had an alternative term, Kissinger gave a characteristically wry response. “I’ve been dancing around myself to find one,” he said. “Easing of tensions, relaxation of tensions. We may well wind up with the old word again.”
  • Today, the Biden administration has settled for its own word: “de-risking.” It is not French, but it is also barely English. Although the starting point of this cold war is different because of the much greater economic interdependence between today’s superpowers, the optimal strategy may turn out to be essentially the same as before. If the new détente is to be criticized, then the critics should not misrepresent it the way Kissinger’s détente was so often misrepresented by his many foes—lest they find themselves, like Reagan before, doing essentially the same when they are in the Situation Room.

“China, Russia and the USA as Civilizations in International Relations,” Andrey Sushentsov, Valdai Discussion Club, 02.26.24.

  • Following the Cold War, the West, still in its logic, relied on the thesis that there was only one liberal democratic center in the world… The goal was to expand [common principles and values] core and gradually include other regions of the world.
    • China, like Russia, encountered this assertive approach early on and realized that there are both valuable benefits that they gain from interacting with the West and a significant baggage of problems.
  • The Western tradition…implies that the “global game” is long-term, consisting of several rounds, each of which must be won. …The East places less emphasis on the cause-and-effect principle [and is] reflected in Confucianism as the idea that noble people share an understanding…despite having different views. 
    • The West presents itself to the world as a standard that needs to be reproduced… the Chinese model does not imply this: it recognizes the uniqueness of the experience of other peoples and their civilizational paths. 
    • This approach was…adopted as a doctrinal idea…by then-Foreign Minister Evgeny Primakov and recorded in the Russian-Chinese Declaration on a New World Order and Multipolarity in 1997…It understands peace as a fragile, unstable and rare state of international relations.
  • For Russia, the central fact is that China is open to integration projects. 
    • The process of integration in accordance with the principles of equality, mutual respect and…rules of engagement is a conceptually different approach compared to the rigid list of rules that the Westerners come with.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“The Long Shadow: Russian Nuclear Calibration in the War in Ukraine,” Heather Williams, Kelsey Hartigan, Lachlan MacKenzie, and Reja Younis, CSIS, 02.23.24.

  • Initially, when the Kremlin believed that it could seize Kyiv in a matter of days, Russian officials used the threat of nuclear use in an attempt to deter direct NATO intervention in the war. As it became clear that the war would drag on, the Kremlin attempted to use nuclear signaling to deter a wider range of activities. Although Russian officials maintained a steady drumbeat of menacing nuclear rhetoric from late 2022 through mid-2023, the urgency and intensity of this signaling paled in comparison to that of September and October 2022. Russian officials downplayed the risks of nuclear use in November and offered muted reactions as Ukraine launched strikes deep into Russia, and NATO supplied new types of military aid. Western officials took Russian warnings seriously, but they increasingly cited a decreased risk of nuclear use. In the absence of more aggressive nuclear threats, Russia soon began manipulating risk by other means. The Kremlin suspended participation in the final strategic arms control treaty between Russia and the United States and announced plans to station nuclear weapons in Belarus.
  • While the Kremlin’s narrative was not static, it also was not inconsistent. Russia’s nuclear messaging has consistently pointed to Russia’s nuclear arsenal as the ultimate security guarantor, and it has used nuclear signals—whether explicit rhetoric and messaging or posturing—as part of a wider strategy. This nuclear calibration is an important trait of Russia’s war in Ukraine and will likely continue to shape its actions going forward. 
  • This study set out to answer three primary questions. 
    • First, to what ends has Russia used nuclear signaling, and what impact has it had? Russian nuclear signaling appears to have been intended to deter three developments: 1) direct NATO intervention in Ukraine, 2) Western aid for Ukraine, and 3) attacks on Crimea and Russia. It is possible that Russian nuclear signals deterred NATO intervention and slowed military aid. But these messages have not deterred incremental military aid for Ukraine nor have they enabled Russia to achieve its goals in Ukraine.
    • Second, have Western efforts to prevent nuclear use been effective? Western deterrence signaling appears to have played a role in the de-escalation of Russian rhetoric. This is particularly true following a period of alarming signaling in October 2022. Western officials repeatedly warned of severe consequences if Russia used nuclear weapons but largely stopped short of specifying publicly what a response might entail. While the United States, United Kingdom, and France reportedly warned the Kremlin that they would respond to nuclear use with conventional weapons, most messaging from President Biden and senior U.S. officials was ambiguous and highlighted the certainty of a response, not the nature of it. For example, in September 2022, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan stated, “We have communicated directly, privately, at very high levels to the Kremlin, that any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia, that the United States in our allies will respond decisively.”[70] External actors, namely India and China, also seem to have played a role. An improved understanding of what deterred Russia from nuclear escalation during the war in Ukraine may point to ways for the United States and NATO to continue to strengthen deterrence—including through financial and military aid to Ukraine and through bolstering NATO’s conventional and nuclear force postures—without being overly concerned about escalation.
    • Third and finally, would Putin consider using nuclear weapons if Russia were facing defeat in Ukraine? Based on the connection between Russian nuclear rhetoric and events on the ground, along with open-source reporting, it appears that Putin likely would consider nuclear use in Ukraine. Russia relies on nuclear weapons to manipulate risk over the war in Ukraine. Nuclear rhetoric is tied to developments on the battlefield and appears intended to deter Western intervention and support for Ukraine. The Kremlin’s nuclear signaling was most intense when Russian forces faced collapse in the fall of 2022. There is reason to believe that Russian nuclear signaling would intensify, and the risks of nuclear escalation might rise, if Russia faces a similar battlefield situation in the future, or if the conflict expands in new or unexpected ways, such as sustained Ukrainian strikes on Russian critical infrastructure. These signals could include nuclear exercises or military testing that could risk misperceptions and lead to unintended escalation. Russian nuclear rhetoric, however, is seemingly responsive to international pressure, as it became more conciliatory in November 2022 after clear international warnings against nuclear use in September and October. The Kremlin also cares about its international image: officials deny that Russia has threatened to use nuclear weapons at international fora and strike a comparatively reassuring tone when discussing nuclear risks with non-Western media.
  • Russian nuclear signaling would intensify, and the risks of nuclear escalation might rise, if Russia faces a similar battlefield situation in the future, or if the conflict expands in new or unexpected ways, such as sustained Ukrainian strikes on Russian critical infrastructure.

“Managing Escalation Lessons and Challenges from Three Historical Crises Between Nuclear-Armed Powers,” Alexandra T. Evans, Emily Ellinger, Jacob L. Heim, Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, Zachary Burdette and Lydia Grek, RAND, 02.22.24.

  • A war between the United States and a capable, nuclear-armed adversary would introduce the risk of destruction on a scale the United States has not seriously contemplated since the end of the Cold War. The main debate in the policy world is between advocates of theories of victory that are reliant on denial and advocates of theories of victory that depend on cost imposition. Cost-imposition strategies, such as those requiring a distant blockade or a punitive air campaign, require the United States to successfully navigate what the authors refer to as the Goldilocks Challenge: specifically, identifying with high confidence a “sweet spot” of pressure points that are valuable enough to influence enemy decisionmaking but not so valuable that they cause unacceptable retaliation.
  • To help the U.S. Air Force evaluate the feasibility of a cost-imposition strategy and assess the associated risks of uncontrolled escalation, the authors examine the ability of past decisionmakers to identify adversary thresholds and to apply this information to control escalation during militarized crises between nuclear-armed states.
  • The authors analyze three historical cases of militarized crises and conflicts between nuclear-armed major powers: (1) the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis between the United States and the Soviet Union, (2) the 1969 border conflict between China and the Soviet Union, and (3) the 1995–1996 crisis between the United States and China over Taiwan.
  • Key Findings
  • The United States will have a limited ability to control how adversaries interpret its coercive actions. Adversaries may wrongly surmise U.S. intentions from uncoordinated, unauthorized, or unrelated policies or actions—and vice versa.
  • Decisionmakers may not immediately recognize that a crisis or conflict has begun. Delays can impede the transmission of coercive signals, skew assessments of adversary resolve and valuation of targets, and limit parties' ability to avert or control escalation.
  • Decisionmakers' assessment of the value of a target or the significance of a threat may change over time as a conflict evolves and potential costs become clearer. This suggests that the boundaries of any sweet spot within the Goldilocks Challenge framework will be fluid, increasing the prospect of inadvertent escalation.
  • The reorganization or creation of decisionmaking bodies may alter access to or interpretation of information, complicating efforts to sway power centers. Changes in the composition or procedures of such forums may change the balance of influence among leaders and contribute to unpredictable outcomes.
  • A perceived loss of control over the intensity, pace, or scope of a confrontation might not compel a rival to capitulate. Leaders may respond in unpredictable ways to unanticipated escalation or a loss of battlefield or theater awareness.
  • Nuclear threats may increase adversary fears without compelling substantial changes in behavior. In all three cases studied, an inferior nuclear power antagonized a more powerful rival. Varied attitudes toward the utility of nuclear weapons for warfighting may make some leaders more tolerant of nuclear threats

“Is This a Sputnik Moment?” Kari A. Bingen and Heather W. Williams, NYT, 02.17.24.

  • Earlier this week, veiled comments started to emerge on Capitol Hill regarding an unnamed and “serious national security threat.” By Thursday, a White House spokesman, John Kirby, let the American public in on what members of Congress were talking about: a new Russian space-based antisatellite capability.
  • A Russian nuclear weapon capable of targeting satellites would be alarming for a list of reasons. 
    • For a start, it’s illegal. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which Russia is a party, prohibits the placement of “nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction” in orbit around Earth. 
    • It could have a deeply destabilizing impact on an already messy geostrategic landscape — and give Russia the ability to put some of America’s most prized assets at risk. 
  • The idea of a nuclear detonation in space is not new. Both the Soviet Union and United States conducted high-altitude nuclear detonation (HAND) tests in the 1950s and 1960s. ... Nor is it new for Russia to violate nuclear arms control agreements. 
  • Just as Sputnik spurred leaders into action last century, this moment should do the same.
    • First, the United States and its allies should work to deter Russia from making this capability a reality. 
    • Second, the United States should boost investments in defense capabilities to counter future space-based threats. 
    • Third, we need to be realistic about prospects for future arms control with Russia. 
    • Finally, policymakers need to protect our intelligence sources and intelligence gathering methods. 
  • If Russia plans to deploy nuclear weapons in space to target satellites, the threat is definitely serious. But the United States is not powerless to meet the challenge. If this turns out to be a Sputnik moment of strategic significance, let’s act fast.

“Putin’s Space Nuke Is So Crazy, It’s an Opportunity,” Andreas Kluth, Bloomberg, 02.23.24. 

  • The specter of Russian nuclear escalation in space could be an occasion for Biden and Xi to make common cause in restraining and deterring Putin, who cannot afford to lose Chinese support. If that seeds trust between Washington and Beijing, all the better. In time, it could lead to them once again cooperating on restraining North Korea, lowering carbon emissions, stabilizing the Middle East and the newer task of regulating Artificial Intelligence. Or, for that matter, on beginning new arms-control negotiations, this time involving the US and Russia as well as China. 
  • For now, there’s no need to aim so high — stopping the madness in outer space would do. Putin’s assault on decency, order, humanity and indeed sanity has gone far enough. It’s now up to the US and China together to ensure that Putin won’t go astral.

“An Age of Wars? Article Two. What Is to be Done,” Sergei Karaganov, Russia in Global Affairs, 02.21.24. Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • China is the main external resource for our internal development, an ally and partner for the foreseeable future. Russia should help develop China’s naval and strategic nuclear capabilities in order to help oust the United States as an aggressive hegemon, ... but adjusted to the new reality.
  • India is another natural ally in creating the new world system and arresting our slide towards the Third World War.  
  • On the North American track, Russia should facilitate the U.S.’s ongoing long-term withdrawal into neo-isolationism, quite natural for it, at a new global level. ... There are no intractable contradictions between us and the U.S.
  • A break with Europe is an ordeal for many Russians. But we must go through it as quickly as possible.  
  • When preemptively (although belatedly) starting a military operation against the West, we, acting on old assumptions, did not expect the enemy to unleash a full war. So, we did not use active nuclear deterrence/intimidation tactics from the very outset. And we are still dragging our feet.
  • We have forgotten the basics of deterrence. Reduced significance of nuclear deterrence benefits an actor with greater conventional military potential and human, and economic resources, and vice versa.
  • Greater reliance on nuclear deterrence, and accelerated movement up the escalation ladder are designed to convince the West that it has three options regarding the conflict in Ukraine.
    • First, to retreat with dignity, for example, on the conditions proposed above.
    • Second, to be defeated, to flee as it did from Afghanistan, and to face a wave of armed and sometimes thuggish refugees.
    • Or, third, the exact same, plus nuclear strikes on its territory and the accompanying societal disintegration.
  • A viable nuclear deterrent and a security buffer in Western Ukraine should guarantee the end of the aggression. The Special Military Operation must be continued until victory.  
  • It will be impossible to prevent the world from sliding into a series of conflicts and subsequent global thermonuclear war, to ensure our country’s continued peaceful revival and its transformation into one of the architects and builders of the new world system, unless our nuclear deterrence policy is drastically energized and updated. ... We should clarify and strengthen the wording [of Russia’s military doctrine on nukes] and take the corresponding military-technical measures. The main thing is that we demonstrate our readiness and ability to use nuclear weapons in case of extreme necessity.
  • I have no doubt that the doctrine is already being updated, to which many concrete steps testify. The most obvious one is the deployment of long-range missile systems in fraternal Belarus. These missiles are clearly intended for use not only when the “very existence of the state” is threatened, but much earlier.
  • By intensifying nuclear deterrence, we will not only sober up the aggressors, but also perform an invaluable service to all humanity. There is currently no other protection from a series of wars and a major thermonuclear conflict. Nuclear deterrence needs to be activated.
  • Russia’s policy should be based on the assumption that NATO is a hostile bloc that has proven its aggressiveness with its previous policy and which is de facto waging a war against Russia. Therefore, any nuclear strikes on NATO, including preemptive ones, are morally and politically justified. This applies primarily to countries that provide the most active support to the Kyiv junta.
  • From my point of view, Russian nuclear policy and the threat of retaliation should also deter the West from the massive use of biological or cyber weapons against Russia or its allies.
  • It is time to end the quarrel, pushed by the West, about the possibility of using “tactical nuclear weapons.” Their use was theoretically envisaged during the previous Cold War. ... I believe it appropriate to gradually raise the minimal yield of nuclear warheads to 30-40 kilotons, or 1.5-2 Hiroshima bombs, so that potential aggressors and their populations understand what awaits them. Lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, and increasing their minimal yield, is also necessary to restore another lost function of nuclear deterrence: the prevention of large-scale conventional wars.
  • Strategic planners in Washington and their European minions must realize that the downing of Russian planes over our territory, or the further bombardment of Russian cities, will entail punishment (after a non-nuclear warning strike) in the form of a nuclear strike. Then, perhaps, they will take it up upon themselves to do away with the Kyiv junta.
  • It also appears necessary to alter (to some extent, publicly) the list of targets for nuclear retaliatory strikes. ....they do not care even about their own citizens, and will not be frightened by casualties among them.
  • God struck Sodom and Gomorrah—mired in abomination and debauchery—with a rain of fire. The modern equivalent: a limited nuclear strike on Europe.  
  • I believe that it would be advisable, after consultation with friendly states but without shifting responsibility to them, to resume nuclear testing as soon as possible.
  • Sooner or later, Russia will have to change its official nuclear non-proliferation policy. The old one had some utility, as it reduced the risks of unauthorized use and nuclear terrorism. But it was unfair to many non-Western states... Raising the nuclear threat could deter the militarization of AI technologies. But most importantly, nuclear weapons, including their proliferation, are necessary to restore the aspects of nuclear deterrence that have ceased functioning—to prevent not only major conventional wars (as in Ukraine), but also a conventional arms race.
  • There will be no polycentric and sustainable future world order without nuclear multilateralism.
  • Needless to say, some countries should be permanently and firmly denied the right to possess nuclear weapons, or even come close to obtaining them [Germany and Japan].
  • A sustainable nuclear balance must be established in the Middle East between: Israel, if and when it overcomes its delegitimization by the atrocities that it has committed in Gaza; Iran, if it withdraws its officially announced pledge to destroy Israel; and one of the Gulf countries or their commonwealth. The most acceptable candidate to represent the entire Arab world is the UAE, and if not it, then Saudi Arabia and/or Egypt.

Sergei Karaganov interviewed by Spanish digital newspaper “El Confidencial,” 02.18.24. Clues from Russian Views.[4]

  • [When asked: “According to the Bundeswehr, Russia can attack the Baltic countries in a couple of years. Do you think this is a possible scenario?] I think the people who are whipping up military hysteria in Europe are self-murderers. They have lost their mind because any war between Russia and NATO will end with a nuclear blow on NATO countries. Nobody will protect them because Americans are not crazy. No American president will sacrifice New York or Boston for Poznan or Frankfurt.
  • [When asked: “You supported the use of nuclear weapons against Europe as a way to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. Please explain the rationale behind this conception]. Unfortunately, the world is heading for a series of wars that sooner or later will evolve into World War III. The main reason for this is the desperate attempt by Western elites to preserve the dominant positions in the world they had in the past. But there are also other reasons. The world must be stopped from sliding towards a nuclear catastrophe. Naturally, I do not call for a nuclear strike, but I think that Russia should mount the escalation ladder in order to force Western elites to change their mind and make it clear to them that they have lost their mind and the sense of responsibility to their own societies.
  • [When asked: “But may a nuclear strike on Europe lead to a nuclear apocalypse? You said you wanted to avoid it, didn’t you?] I know the American strategy very well, and I know that unless there is a madman and America-hater in the White House, the Americans will never use nuclear weapons in response to a strike on Europe. According to their scenarios, the United States will respond with conventional weapons, but in this case we would deliver a second strike on Europe and a third one on American bases in Europe. God help us escape this.
  • When asked: “What are possible solutions to the conflict in Ukraine?”] The West has three options. The first one is to retreat with dignity. The second one, which will cost Ukraine hundreds of thousands more lives, is its stunning defeat and the West’s shameful flight from the country, as it already happened in Vietnam and Afghanistan. The third one―a horrendous option indeed―is the nuclear scenario. The West has no other options.
  • [When asked: “Would the “Korean scenario” be most realistic at this point?] I think that this kind of scenario will only delay the resolution of the conflict and makes no sense. It may last for a while, but it will mean living on a powder keg. Russia will win anyway. The only question is how many hundreds of thousands or millions of Ukrainians will die.
  • Ukraine is a failed state; it may cease to exist altogether, or a small part of it may remain in the west.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

“The Future of Arctic Council Innovation: Charting A Course for Working-Level Cooperation,” Jennifer Spence and Hannah Chenok, Belfer Center, 02.20.24.[5] 

  • On Feb. 14, 2024, the Russian Federation announced that it would suspend its annual payments to the Arctic Council “until the resumption of real work in this format with the participation of all member countries.” This suspension comes after over two years without in-person Arctic Council meetings. It highlights the importance of carefully examining how the Arctic Council got here, and what opportunities there are for cooperation in the future.
  • More than two years have passed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted a pause in in-person Arctic Council meetings. Since then, some work has resumed, particularly at the working level. Workshop participants took stock of the Arctic Council’s progress since the 2022 invasion, and four key trends emerged:
    • The Arctic Council Chair’s role has been elevated. 
    • Indigenous Peoples’ participation is crucial and at risk
    • The Arctic Council is still capable of realignment.
    • The Council suffers from a perceived lack of transparency and communication.
  • Promoting working-level cooperation is the best way to preserve the Arctic Council’s efforts to sustain strong Arctic networks and communities of practice and, by extension, advance Arctic issues. Recommendations to strengthen working-level cooperation under current constraints include 
    • Allow working-level projects to move forward as long as they align with established Arctic Council priorities and mandates.
    • Make working-level participation more accessible to Permanent Participants.
    • Invest in expert work.
  • Recommendations to Improve Extra-Institutional Cooperation
    • Facilitate indirect information sharing. 
    • Support outside activity that aligns with the Arctic Council’s mission.

“Why the Arctic - and Russia's Role in It – Matters,” Viktoria Waldenfels and Margaret Williams, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, 02.23.24.[6] 

  • Here are several compelling reasons why we should all care about the Arctic.
    1. The Arctic is home to unique and important ecosystems and wildlife... Among all of the Arctic nations, Russia has the oldest and largest system of strictly protected areas, known as zapovedniks.
    2. Arctic Indigenous communities sustain diverse cultures linked to the land and sea.
    3. The Arctic is an epicenter of climate change... Russia encompasses half of the northern hemisphere’s permafrost region. The consequences of Arctic warming extend far beyond the region, affecting weather patterns, ecosystems, and communities worldwide.
    4. The Arctic is rich in economic resources, including fishing, fossil fuels and minerals.. The Northern Sea Route across the Arctic coast of Russia and through the Bering Strait offers shorter transit times between major shipping hubs, reducing cos
    5. The Arctic can serve as a model peaceful governance for other regions.
  • The Arctic is a critical part of our planet's ecosystem, with far-reaching implications for biodiversity, climate stability, and global connectivity. Protecting the Arctic requires collective action, from promoting sustainable resource management to supporting indigenous rights and fostering international cooperation. By caring for the Arctic, we can ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.

For more commentary on the climate change and the Arctic, see:

"Russia's war on Ukraine chills Arctic climate science," Chelsea Harvey, Politico, 02.23.24.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Russia looms over yet another Trump presidential campaign,” Ashley Parker, WP, 02.26.24.

  • Trump's reticence to forcefully confront Russia and his regular adulation of Putin have long raised the question: With Trump, why do "all roads lead to Putin?" as then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) memorably asked in 2019... His latest round of pro-Russian cheerleading raises the same query — but now against a dramatically changed backdrop. The Russia-Ukraine war is entering its third year, with no signs of abating. 
  • Both Russia experts and some Trump confidants say the answer is far more straightforward than some of the existing theories, including the theory that the Russians have damaging material — known as kompromat — on Trump and are using it to blackmail him. Rather, they say, the former president simply likes dictators and strongmen like Putin.
  • The U.S. intelligence community, a bipartisan Senate panel and a two-year investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III all found that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But Trump has refused to acknowledge that reality.
    • "For him, the idea that Russia interfered on his behalf undercuts his great win," said Fiona Hill, who served as senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council during the first two years of the Trump administration. "He was always saying, 'No, no, I won. I had a great win.' He also didn't want to be humiliated on behalf of Putin." She added: "If Putin actually did say to him, 'You know, Donald, we did steal the election for you,' he'd just implode because it undercuts his idea of being a winner."
    • Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Trump and Russia was what everyone was talking about at the recent Munich Security Conference, during which news of Navalny's death emerged. "It's all anybody ever asks: 'Is he coming back, and what does it mean?'" Hill said, repeating the queries she fielded about Trump in Munich. "They just keep asking the same question, and they keep getting the same answer: 'Yeah, he could come back, and it means you need to get your act together.'"


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russia’s opposition has lost a crucial leader but gained a martyr,” The Economist, 02.17.24.

  • “If it happened, if they decided to kill me, it means that we are unbelievably strong at that moment,” Alexei Navalny once told an interviewer, on one of the many occasions he was asked about being assassinated. The answer was vintage Navalny: ever hopeful in the face of existential terror. But now that it has happened, now that Mr. Navalny has been pronounced dead in an arctic prison, it is Vladimir Putin, his longtime nemesis, who appears all too strong.
  • On social media, many Russians reposted a picture showing Mr. Navalny holding up a sign reading, “I’m not afraid, don’t you be afraid either.” Yet the fear that Mr. Putin uses to rule is real, and growing. As Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an American think-tank, argues, the Kremlin’s treatment of Mr. Navalny shows how Russia has transformed “from a dictatorship of lies, to a dictatorship of fear, and after the beginning of the war, into an open dictatorship of terror.”
  • The grieving opposition movement will have to reinvent itself from abroad. Mr. Navalny’s foundation, which now operates from Lithuania, can still reach millions of followers through broadcasts on YouTube and posts on social media. But his personal charm and authority were unparalleled, and will be hard to replace. 
  • Their first test will be to catalyze a show of opposition to Mr. Putin at next month’s elections. Although the results are preordained, the vote remains a rare legal window to express dissent... Yet even a powerful midday showing will not be enough to prevent Mr. Putin’s “election” to another six years in office.
  • With the elections behind him, Mr. Putin will have a freer hand to further escalate his campaign of repression. “In Russia people love to say that it’s darkest before dawn. I think that’s true—only we probably haven’t come to know true darkness yet,” Greg Yudin, a political philosopher, wrote in Meduza, an independent Russian news site, after Mr. Navalny’s death. “It looks like dusk is just beginning to fall. The sun is gone.” 

“The Death of Alexei Navalny—and His Alternative Russia,” Andrei Kolesnikov, CEIP, 02.16.24. 

  • It’s especially poignant that Navalny died during the presidential election campaign. It might seem that Putin has no rivals, but he does: not so much in the electoral sense, but, as those in power like to say, in an “existential” sense. His rival’s name was well known. First (in December, at the very beginning of this quasi-electoral game) Navalny was sent to the Arctic Circle, to continue serving multiple jail terms widely considered to be revenge for his political activity. With his rival dead, our supreme commander is beyond competition. He is henceforth a solus rex: a lone king.
  • The political consequences of what has happened will only add to the feeling of absolute omnipotence and unaccountability of the ruling class and its apparatus of repression. That means that the silent part of society, which prefers to applaud any initiative by the autocracy over free speech, will withdraw into itself even further, or even start to demonstrate zeal in its support for the authorities. Some passive conformists will understand that for personal peace of mind, they need to turn into active conformists.
  • Alexei Navalny will not be forgotten. He was a unique example of a fearless politician in a country where politics in the traditional sense of the word is directly forbidden on the threat of reprisals. In a normal situation of political competition, he would have stood a chance of becoming the head of state. What’s more, unlike the never-changing regime, which is in the throes of a protracted goal-setting crisis, he had a clearly defined image of the future of Russia. Even in conditions of severely limited competition, at one time, all of Russian politics could be condensed to the standoff between Putin and Navalny. 
  • Nor will Navalny be forgotten in the Kremlin, in the FSB headquarters, or at other official addresses. He was an alternative to them, and he presented an alternative to an enormous nation. For the last half a century at least, only Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin have played that role: each in their own way, and with varying popularity among the masses who wanted to see changes in their country. 
  • Navalny was a rare leader in Russian history who wished the best not for himself, but for the entire nation. He stood up to be counted, and he will still be given his due. His efforts did not go unnoticed and they will certainly not be forgotten. 

“How Navalny Changed Russia. Putin Cannot Silence the Opposition Leader’s Movement,” Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, FA, 02.16.24. 

  • As brazen and heinous as it would be, a decision by Putin to kill Navalny should not come as a surprise. For the Russian president, silencing him once and for all makes perfect sense, even if the Kremlin’s spin doctors try to deny it. 
  • In a way, Navalny’s death marks the culmination of years of efforts by the Russian state to eliminate all sources of opposition. For more than two decades, Putin has made political assassination an essential part of the Kremlin’s toolkit. It is a method he has used against troublemakers such as the journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko. He has used it against his political opponents Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down close to the Kremlin in 2015, and Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has been poisoned twice and is now in prison. Navalny, who had survived previous assassination attempts, was an even greater target.
  • But even now, the forces that Navalny unleashed are unlikely to go away. His death is a terrible blow to anti-Putin Russians. It will be hard to find a successor who can unify the opposition in the same way, even if the task is pressing, for it will be crucial for the Russian opposition to have a say in a post-Putin future. But Navalny has left behind his organization and his supporters, and that is what matters. Those people are not going anywhere, and there may be more of them now than ever.

“Vladimir Putin has been fighting not just Ukraine, but his own people. He will not stop,” The Economist, 02.19.24. 

  • Two years after he launched his invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, things are going Vladimir Putin’s way. 
    • Ukraine’s summer counter-offensive failed, and Russian troops are slowly creeping forward. 
    • Russia’s president is also advancing on the home front. On Feb. 16, he finally got rid of Alexei Navalny, a brave opposition leader who died in jail in the Arctic where Mr. Putin had placed him. 
  • This domestic assault goes well beyond Mr. Putin’s opponents. Cowed compliance is no longer considered enough for the president who, like any paranoid dictator, sees danger everywhere; the number of treason cases each year has gone up tenfold since the start of the war. With its opponents rotting in jail, dead or exiled, the regime is now turning even against those friendly to it.
  • This internal war is waged against the young and cosmopolitan in Russia’s great cities. Any mention or display of LGBT attributes has been criminalized. Access to abortion has been restricted. Priests who preach peace instead of victory have been expelled from the church. ... Private property has also been violated. Dozens of private firms have been nationalized without compensation. 
  • All this is causing resentment. Public protests are brutally suppressed, but discontent bursts out in different forms and places. 
  • [There is one] reason why the majority remain silent even if they don’t support the war, argues Kirill Rogov, a political analyst. It is an inability to fathom how Russia might withdraw its troops without its entire social order coming crashing down. 
  • The damage caused to the economy cannot be repaired without ending the war and seeing Western sanctions lifted, [according to] Alexandra Prokopenko of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre. Yet Mr. Putin cannot do this, because his regime can now only exist in a state of war. It is safer for him to double down, imposing greater repression on his people, than to stop, which would prompt inevitable questions about the costs and causes of the war. 
  • The gap between Mr. Putin’s militarism and people’s wish for life to get back to normal will only grow. 
  • Seated under the medieval vaults of his Kremlin fortress, Mr. Putin sees the world differently. To him the high cost of this war justifies the scale of his endeavor. As his recent interview with the ex-Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson vividly demonstrated, he dwells among Russia’s ancient princes and tsars, measures his efforts in centuries and sees it as a historic mission not only to restore their lost empire but to overthrow the social order that emerged after the second world war in the West and that spread eastwards after the fall of the Berlin wall. He wants to defeat the very sense of individual will that Mr. Navalny embodied. And he will not stop. 

“The Death of Navalny,” R.Politik Weekly Digest No. 7 (21) 2024, Feb. 12-18, 2024.

  • According to R.Politik’s understanding of the situation, the FSB leant on the FSIN to impose more severe conditions on Navalny, accelerating his physical decline in line with their own interpretation of justice. This scenario would not necessarily have entailed an explicit written directive demanding Navalny's death, but rather an expressed desire to make his prison conditions intolerably harsh, with an unspoken hope of provoking his death... The authorities in the colony are in a state of panic and the Kremlin was caught unprepared.
  • Opinions among the elites about Navalny's death are mixed, yet the prevailing view is that it was to be expected. Many believe that Navalny, fully aware of the risks to his person, should not have returned to Russia and as such bears partial responsibility for his own fate. 
  • For Putin personally, Navalny's fate, particularly after his imprisonment in 2021, was a marginal concern — a “resolved” issue that no longer warranted his attention. This contrasts sharply with the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, where Putin ensured that no harm came to the oligarch while he was in prison. With Navalny, however, the FSIN received no special instructions to exercise caution regarding his health.
  • While Putin and his administration might not see Navalny's death as a political issue for the upcoming presidential elections, the FSB is much more wary. They view Navalny's death as a potential trigger for external forces to cause instability and challenge Putin's reelection using domestic supporters. 

“Navalny’s courageous example will damage Putin’s home front,” Sergei Guriev, FT, 02.22.24.

  • From day one of the war, Navalny called on his supporters to protest against it. He spoke out against the invasion not only because it was brutal, unjust and unprovoked. He also understood that the war is destroying Russia’s future, as well as Ukraine’s.
  • A year ago, he published, again from a prison cell, “15 theses of a Russian citizen who desires the best for their country.” This programmatic statement argued that it is in Russia’s interest to end the war immediately, withdraw the troops, return to the 1991 borders, pay reparations and investigate war crimes together with international institutions.
  • Navalny was a person of extraordinary courage. With his death, anti-war Russians have lost a leader and Europe and Ukraine a significant ally. But his vision that Russia could and should become peaceful and democratic will continue to inspire others.
  • In a documentary, he insisted that “you’re not allowed to give up.” Three days after his death, his wife Yulia Navalnaya made a brave and unambiguous declaration that she will carry on the fight begun by her husband. She played a role in all Navalny’s political campaigns, offering crucial feedback and advice. And now she will be a strong leader in her own right.

“Vladimir Putin, riding high before Navalny's death, seems unstoppable,” Catherine Belton, WP, 02.17.24. 

  • When Russian prison authorities announced the death of Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin's most potent political opponent, the Russian president appeared to be overflowing with cheer. Addressing a group of workers and students at a machinery plant in the Russian industrial city of Chelyabinsk on Friday, a smiling Putin, unsurprisingly, made no mention of Navalny's death in a faraway Arctic prison and instead professed himself to be satisfied at the technological progress he had just seen. "Forward! Success! To new borders!" Putin declared to one young worker who had proclaimed her admiration for the president.

“Spotlight: Future of Russia,” Fiona Hill, Zhanna Nemtsova, Ekaterina Schulmann and Irina Shcherbakova, Munich Security Conference, 02.16.24.

  • Zhanna Nemtsova: The murder of [Russian opposition leader] Alexei Navalny is not only an act of terror to terrorize those who are not only inside the country but also…the risks for those outside Russia are greater. 
    • The authorities were scared of the long lines of people giving signatures for [the opposition candidate Boris Nadezhdin]. 
  • Irina Shcherbakova: So far, [Memorial’s] work with the past has failed; you have to be honest about it. It allows us to learn the lessons about what has not been done and why there has been no comprehensive recalibration of the past. What gave Putin the ability to create a new power system that is fascist and imperialist?
    • They are glorifying Stalin and extreme nationalism – these are very dangerous things. For more than 20 years, people were exposed to [the quasi-history].
    • The fact that people know that one can be tortured in prison so openly strengthens the fear. 
  • Ekaterina Schulmann: The world view that the current Russian authorities have no perspective of the future. 
    • The current view of Russia as a country with limitless resources that can be at war eternally is…a propagandist image. We see a demand from the people for a different type of life. 
    • By the end of 2023, the war [in Ukraine] ceased to be approved by most Russians. However, the reasons for wishing for the war’s end are diverse. Those who support the war have shrunk to 15-12 percent. Russian authorities know it. Navalny’s voice is dangerous at a time when there is a need to show national unity during elections. 
    • The story of Nadezhdin’s unexpected success changed the decision-making process and was taken over by the siloviki. They have two instruments: murder and prosecution. 
    • If this trend continues, we will see new appointments in the economic bloc of governance, which may become less rational. 
  • ZH: Prigozhin’s mutiny is also a strange but a signal that there is a demand for change. 
  • ES: The Russian society in 2022 is not a society ready for large-scale war. Demographically, this war was started at the most inconvenient moment. 
    • We no longer have limitless human resources, nor do we have limitless labor. 
    • Most people in high positions are [elderly Russian men] when they [die, the gap between the society and the ruling class may be narrowed].
  •  IR: The future is unclear…but I am convinced that Russia’s future depends on whether Putin will lose this war or not. We need to do everything possible to [make him lose].
  • ZN: The response to Navalny’s murder should be more military aid to Ukraine… and sanctions. 

“Navalny’s death is a watershed for modern Russia,” Alexander Baunov, FT, 02.16.24.

  • The death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in prison marks a significant turning point for modern Russia, signifying its transformation into a ruthless dictatorship of terror akin to the Soviet Union under Stalin. Previously, the regime was more deceptive, but now it has become outright oppressive, crushing dissent and political opposition with extreme force and harsh sentences.
  • Navalny's death highlights the vicious and unforgiving nature of Putin's regime, which has evolved from merely cheating in elections to outright killing of opposition figures. Navalny, once allowed to participate in local elections, was later poisoned, arrested, and eventually sentenced to a harsh 19-year prison term on political charges before his alleged death in custody.
  • While the death of an opposition leader has sometimes led to the eventual collapse of brutal regimes in other countries, such as in the Philippines after the murder of Benigno Aquino, it remains uncertain whether Navalny's death will immediately spark widespread protests in Russia. However, his death symbolizes the regime's insecurity and fear of his growing influence and popularity as a potential future leader of a post-Putin Russia.

“After Navalny: ‘They will arrest the activists . . . then everything will die out,’” Max Seddon, Anastasia Stognei and Polina Ivanova, FT, 02.16.24.

  • Alexei Navalny, the prominent Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist, has likely died in a remote Russian penal colony at the age of 47. His death leaves Vladimir Putin with unchallenged power as he prepares for another presidential term, and it deals a severe blow to the Russian opposition movement that Navalny had led.
  • Navalny's death is seen as a deliberate move by Putin to eliminate a significant rival and potential threat to his rule. Despite being imprisoned and his movement being outlawed, Navalny had continued to criticize Putin and the war in Ukraine from behind bars, inspiring protests and dissent. His death has left the opposition movement demoralized and struggling to find a leader to fill his shoes.
  • While Navalny's supporters have vowed to carry on his work, the muted reaction to his death in most of Russia underscores how much the Kremlin has suppressed dissent and opposition. The Kremlin is expected to arrest activists and crack down on any protests or memorials, effectively allowing the opposition movement to "die out" as a former Kremlin official predicted.

“The extraordinary courage of Alexei Navalny,” Editorial Board, FT, 02.16.24.

  • Alexei Navalny, a prominent Russian opposition activist and anti-corruption campaigner, has died in a harsh penal colony after being poisoned and imprisoned for his criticism of the Putin regime. His death is widely seen as a political assassination by the Kremlin, representing a return to the use of violence against dissidents in Russia.
  • Despite surviving an earlier assassination attempt with a nerve agent, Navalny courageously returned to Russia from Germany, knowing he would likely be arrested. His exposés of corruption in the Russian government, including a viral video about Putin's lavish Black Sea palace, made him a thorn in the side of the authorities.
  • Navalny's death highlights the repressive nature of Putin's rule and the dangers faced by critics of the regime. The international community must pressure Russia to release wrongfully imprisoned activists, human rights workers, and journalists, and ultimately hold Putin accountable for crimes committed both domestically and in Ukraine.

For more commentaries on the impact of Navalny’s death, please see:

“Putin’s Puppets Are Coming to Life,” Mikhail Zygar, NYT, 02.17.24. 

  • A month ago, many Russian voters had never even heard of Boris Nadezhdin. Today, after a wildfire candidacy that caught the imagination of the nation, he is the country’s second-most-popular politician. Before his sudden rise to fame, the most noteworthy part of Mr. Nadezhdin’s biography was that he worked with Sergei Kiriyenko and was a member of his liberal parliamentary group. 
  • In his role, Mr. Kiriyenko has often relied on political puppets. In 2018, for example, he offered Ksenia Sobchak, a popular journalist and daughter of a former mayor of St. Petersburg who had been Mr. Putin’s boss, the chance to run for president. ... This year, Mr. Nadezhdin, 60, appeared destined for a similar role. Like Ms. Sobchak, he is well known to television audiences. 
  • Mr. Nadezhdin publicly stated that he had not discussed his candidacy with his old friend Mr. Kiriyenko. But it is hard to believe him. According to sources close to the Kremlin, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, Mr. Kiriyenko himself greenlit the whole thing. 
  • But the campaign did not go according to plan. After Mr. Nadezhdin declared himself the only antiwar candidate in the contest, calling Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a “fatal mistake,” tens of thousands of people lined up in Russian cities across the country to sign up in support. That enormous popularity clearly impressed Mr. Nadezhdin. He seems to have decided that he was much more than a puppet of the Kremlin; he could afford to be an independent politician
  • The lesson for the Kremlin was cautionary. In such a fallow political field, where only Mr. Putin reigns, anyone who appears to offer a clear alternative immediately becomes a superstar. Despite the removal of Mr. Nadezhdin from the race, he is by no means the last candidate who may frighten the Kremlin in this campaign. 
  • In theory... The New People Party’s candidate Vladislav Davankov, ... should pose no real threat. He is an associate of Yuri Kovalchuk, Mr. Putin’s closest friend, and an experienced puppet. ... But if all those opposed to Mr. Putin’s rule, including those living in exile, start campaigning for him, he could become the antiwar candidate even against his will. The Kremlin will then have to contend with yet another of its brainchildren gone awry.

“The Evil Empire collapsed. Putin’s regime will, too,” Natan Sharansky and Carl Gershman, WP, 02.17.24.

  • [Alexei Navalny] was so dedicated to exposing the nature of Putin’s regime that he chose to return to Russia to force his would-be murderers to make their villainy public.
    • Navalny and [Vladimir] Kara-Murza… have followed in the footsteps of Andrei Sakharov…who showed that, with courage and moral clarity, it is possible to change the world.
  • The scope of political repression extends far beyond the vocal democratic opposition. … More than 8,500 administrative cases have been initiated under Article 20.3.3 on “discrediting the armed forces.” 
  • It would be profoundly wrong to assume that there is no possibility for a democratic opening in Russia… That can’t happen without the leadership of the prisoners of conscience…They deserve our full solidarity.

“Repurposing Tradition to Justify the War in Ukraine,” Marat Iliyasov, Valeria Umanets, Aleksandra Garmazhapova and Yasin Hakim, PONARS, 02.20.24. 

  • The Russian authorities strategically employ diverse strategies and social mechanisms to advance their overarching narrative, which portrays the conflict as a special military operation geared toward denazifying Ukraine. Different mechanisms currently operate in various local contexts to encourage support for the Russian war effort: these include societal (gendered) pressure; ethnic traditions, often framed within a religious narrative; and the desire for social cohesion.
  • While the narrative of the Great Patriotic War and the reinforcement of masculinity and traditional gender roles serve as universal references and motivation across Russia, local authorities exploit ethnic and religious narratives to rally support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, invoking “Islamic values” or even urging “jihad” in Ukraine. This phenomenon may be partly explained by the values primed in areas with ethnic minorities and suggests that regions with such minorities may exhibit less enthusiasm for promoting the “Russkii Mir” (the Russian World), an ideology championed by the Russian leadership and Patriarch Kirill that sees Russia as a “special civilization to preserve.”

Defense and aerospace:

  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

Russia’s general external policies and relations with “far abroad” countries:

“The Threat from Russia’s Unconventional Warfare Beyond Ukraine, 2022–24,” Jack Watling, Oleksandr V. Danylyuk and Nick Reynolds, RUSI, 02.20.24.[7]

  • This report’s primary conclusions are that Russia’s special services actively seek to expand their capacity in several areas that pose strategic threats to NATO members.
    •  First, the GRU is restructuring how it manages the recruitment and training of special forces troops and is rebuilding the support apparatus to be able to infiltrate them into European countries. 
    • Second, the GRU has taken the Wagner Group’s functions in house and is aggressively pursuing the expansion of its partnerships in Africa with the explicit intent to supplant Western partnerships. 
    • Third, the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, is being used to build a broad network of influence among Chechen and Muslim populations in Europe and the Middle East, with the aim of contributing to the subversion of Western interests. These lines of effort should be countered.
  • This report... has demonstrated three things. 
    • First, although the Russian capacity for covert violence in Europe was disrupted by the exposure of its personnel and the breaking up of elements of its support apparatus, the Russian state is actively working to rebuild this capacity. 
    • Second, the intent to achieve this reflects a wider intent to widen the aperture of its geostrategic competition with the West, which could manifest in Europe, but is already being carried out at scale in Africa. 
    • Third, as the example of Kadyrov shows, the kaleidoscopic and chaotic lines of effort pursued by Russia’s special services – if left unchecked – will become increasingly mutually supporting and harder to disrupt.
  • In the face of this threat, Western states must appreciate that undermining the human intelligence activity that supports unconventional warfare methods is vital to degrading Russia’s capacity to employ the techniques described in this report. In this context, countering disinformation – while important – is far less consequential than breaking Russia’s access to and leverage over elites, and its support apparatus for active measures. This can be achieved through the exposure and arrest of its agents, intelligence officers and activities. Stepping up counterintelligence activity in this regard is an important priority. The risk is that the effort to constrain Russia becomes a McCarthyite paranoia. As a lot of Russia’s unconventional operations are self-defeating, countering Russian unconventional warfare must be premised on careful, selective and intelligence-driven targeting. This is why having a broad understanding of Russian forms and methods is essential; it protects a state from jumping at shadows. 
  • Russia is using unconventional warfare to advance its vision of a multipolar world order. This poses threats far beyond Ukraine. It is critical that Western states rise to meet that challenge.

“The strange loyalty of Putin’s global fan club. Admirers of the Russian leader may soon lead the world’s three largest democracies,” Gideon Rachman, FT, 02.19.24.

  • It would be comforting to believe that the death of Alexei Navalny will finally make Vladimir Putin an international pariah. But recent history and current politics suggest otherwise. It is sadly likely that Russia’s leader will continue to be treated with respect — and even admiration — in large parts of the world.
  • It is entirely possible that the world’s three largest democracies — India, the U.S. and Indonesia — will all elect admirers of Putin as their leaders this year. Prabowo Subianto of Indonesia, Narendra Modi in India and Donald Trump in the U.S. are all notable for standing aside from the international condemnation of Putin — for reasons that go beyond realpolitik.
    • Prabowo won a decisive victory in Indonesia’s presidential election last week. ... Last year, Prabowo proposed a peace settlement for Ukraine that was so accommodating to Putin’s ambitions it was dismissed by Ukraine as a “Russian plan”. 
    • At the beginning of the year, Modi had a friendly phone call with Putin in which the Indian and Russian leaders wished each other luck in their upcoming elections. Modi, unlike Putin, will be running in a genuine election, which he is likely to win easily...Putin’s anti-western and anti-colonial rhetoric finds a large and appreciative audience in India, where Modi has chosen to stress his identity as a nationalist strongman who is finally freeing his country from the legacy of colonialism. 
    • And then there is Trump. While U.S. President Joe Biden accused Putin of responsibility for the death of Navalny, Trump remained silent. This could be partly because he was preoccupied by denouncing the massive fines imposed on him by a New York court. But Trump — normally so free with insulting language and nicknames — has famously never uttered any criticism of the Russian leader. Instead, he has praised Putin as strong and smart.
  • Navalny specialized in highlighting and ridiculing the corruption and violence of Putin and his inner circle. He has paid for his bravery with his life. It is long past time for Putin’s foreign fan club to finally pay attention to the sordid realities Navalny exposed.

“‘They are among us’: Russia’s terrifyingly effective poisoning operation,” Courtney Weaver, FT, 02.22.24.

  • During the Soviet period, the Kremlin was said to have one of the biggest biological and chemical weapons programs in the world. At one point, according to Boris Volodarsky, a former Russian military intelligence officer and author of a book on the KGB’s poison factory, it involved an estimated 25,000 to 32,000 people across more than 20 military and civilian laboratories, plus an additional 10,000 staff at bioweapons laboratories run out of the defense ministry. 
  • Most targeted poisonings are, by design, hard to detect. “It’s very difficult,” said Yuri Felshtinksy, a KGB historian and author of From Red Terror to Terrorist State, a book about Russia’s intelligence services. “I mean, if [someone is] killed with a gun or with a knife, it’s very easy to prove. But if the idea is to eliminate somebody without letting people obviously know that person was eliminated, poisoning is a very useful tool.”
  • The horrific details of Russian poisoning attacks have accumulated over decades: the hiding of a ricin pellet inside the tip of an umbrella said to have been used in 1978 to stab the Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov in the leg, killing him in less than a week. The placing of a radioactive isotope, Polonium-210, in the green tea drunk by the former Russian security services agent and Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. The smearing of one novichok variant, a deadly nerve agent, on the British double agent Sergei Skripal’s door in 2018 and another on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s underpants in a Siberian hotel room in 2020. Last week, three and a half years after his suspected poisoning attack, Navalny died suddenly in a maximum-security prison colony in the Arctic Circle, despite seeming to be in stable health days before.
  • The deaths of individuals like Navalny, Litvinenko and Markov have tended to overshadow less high-profile affairs, sometimes known as “soft poisonings”. On the day after Litvinenko’s death, Yegor Gaidar, the former Russian prime minister turned liberal opposition leader, became violently ill in a suspected poisoning, which some speculated was intended to distract from the Litvinenko affair. In recent months, observers have reasoned that the increasingly authoritarian atmosphere inside Russia has lowered the bar for who is deemed a target.
  • The experience of Natalia Arno, the Russian activist and non-profit director, in Prague came as word was spreading of a spate of other suspected poisonings. In October 2022, Elena Kostyuchenko, a Russian journalist working for the independent news outlet Meduza, became violently ill on her way back to Berlin from Munich. The same month, Irina Babloyan, a radio journalist with an independent station, got sick on the day she was meant to travel back from Tbilisi to Berlin via Armenia. Kostyuchenko and Babloyan experienced similar symptoms: sharp pain in the upper abdomen, palms that burnt or swelled, severe vertigo and fatigue.
  • A non-fatal attack can serve as a warning — to its target and their circle. Strangely, poisoning can be even harder to prove if the target survives, said Christopher Holstege, a University of Virginia School of Medicine toxicologist who helped to diagnose the 2004 poisoning of the Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko by dioxin.   

“Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s remarks at the G20 Ministerial Meeting on reforming global governance, Rio de Janeiro,” Russian Foreign Ministry, 02.22.24. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • In 2023, the BRICS countries’ share in world GDP, in purchasing power parity, grew to 35 percent, exceeding the G7’s share of 30.3 percent. According to the IMF’s latest forecasts, the economic growth rates in the emerging market countries will be higher than the global average of 3.1 percent. It will be about 4.1 percent in 2024 and 4.2 percent in 2025. Many Western economies, especially in Europe, are actually stagnating against this background. These statistics are from Western-supervised institutions – the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD. These institutions are becoming relics from the past. 
  • Unfortunately, the current efforts to reform global governance institutions have stalled. The Western countries want to maintain their dominance. 
    • Institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, the EBRD, and the EIB are prioritizing Kiev’s military and other needs. The West allocated over $250 billion to tide over its underling thus creating funding shortages in other parts of the world. Ukraine is taking up the bulk of the funds, relegating Africa and other regions of the Global South to rationing. 
  • Without a doubt, new institutions that focus on consensus and mutual benefit are needed to democratize the global economic governance system. 
  • Many of our colleagues have discussed reforming the U.N. Security Council. The root of the problem is the same as with the Bretton Woods institutions. The developing countries are clearly underrepresented in decision-making processes. Considering that six of 15 U.N. Security Council members represent the Western bloc, we will support the expansion of this body solely through the accession of countries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.


“Ukraine owes it to itself and to the West to stem corruption,” James P. Moore Jr., Fortune, 02.22.24.

  • The long, dark shadow that continued to grip Ukraine because of its Soviet legacy was the internal threat of corruption. Transparency, accountability, and just day-to-day transactions across the country have long been compromised and have posed a threat to Ukraine’s economic future and the well-being of its people. That ubiquitous concern hangs over the future of the country and its people, particularly among Western allies who are being distracted by other global concerns like the war in the Middle East.
  • Fraud and graft exist everywhere in the world, albeit to different degrees, but the need for Ukraine to cleanse a culture of everyday ethical malfeasance is critical to its immediate future. It will take time. While President Zelensky has launched a top-to-bottom cleansing of unethical practices, the country is in serious need of civil society support for anti-corruption efforts. Creative, innovative measures are needed to make Ukrainians and the global community comfortable with the country’s anti-corruption standards.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Next-door to Ukraine, Moldova's president warns, 'Putin will not stop',” Max Boot, WP, 02.20.24. 

  • If Zelensky is the Winston Churchill of Ukraine, then Sandu is the Margaret Thatcher of Moldova.
  • If Moldovans see that the United States no longer supports Ukraine, she warns, they will not risk voting for her again and will instead support a pro-Russian candidate.
  • But Sandu is also implicitly scathing about the failure of current Western leaders to provide more armaments more quickly to Ukraine. "The West was afraid of what Putin will do," she said. "I don't know why. … I would like the West to become more courageous. The longer the war lasts, the more difficult the situation becomes for us."
  • While Sandu rues "missed opportunities," she insisted, "I still believe the war is not lost." She sees no alternative to defeating Russia: "I don't believe Putin will stick to anything he signs. He lies all the time. He will use a cease-fire to strengthen his military capacity. He's not going to stop. He believes he's strong. Why would he stop?"
  • If the Biden administration wants a fresh and credible voice to make the case for supporting Ukraine, it should bring President Sandu to Washington to explain some home truths to Republicans eager to abandon Ukraine — and thereby to put all of Russia's neighbors in danger of becoming Putin's next victims.

“Moldova’s Sandu Stakes Reelection on EU Integration,” Vladimir Solovyov, Carnegie Politika, 02.26.24.

  • This [since 2020] has been a turbulent time in Moldovan politics with the coronavirus pandemic, energy crisis, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Moldova’s neighbor Ukraine, an influx of Ukrainian refugees, disruption to supply chains and loss of traditional markets.
    • …Representatives of the ruling party admit there have been numerous problems [with handling crises]. The party, the government and the president are all seeing their ratings suffer as the price of people’s disappointment.
  • [President Maia] Sandu and her team rode to power on three promises: EU integration, the fight against corruption and institutional reform, primarily of the judiciary. 
    • Attempts to reform the judicial system have been clumsy and only made the authorities look incompetent. Nor has it been possible to stamp out corruption.
  • Sandu proposed holding a referendum on whether the country should join the EU at the same time as the presidential election. …Twinning the two votes is also a ploy to boost Sandu’s…political chances.
    • [The referendum] will not only mobilize pro-Western supporters of Sandu…[but] also bring out those who are dissatisfied with the ruling party but who support EU integration.
  • Sandu remains the most authoritative figure among Moldova’s many pro-Western political parties, but a credible challenger could emerge from the left.
    • As the presidential election approaches…it’s likely that the pro-Russian opposition…will take to the streets with increasing frequency… it will be supported by Moscow morally, materially and with favorable media coverage. 

For FTNI’s 02.24.24 event “Russia's Changing Profile and Influence in Central Asia” click here.



  1. The author is referring to the Red Army’s defeat in Poland in the second half of 1920.
  2. The following piece in The Economist is also worth skimming: “Can Europe defend itself without America? It would need to replace military aid, a nuclear umbrella and leadership,” The Economist, 02.18.24.: “An American president who declined to risk American troops to defend a European ally would hardly be likely to risk American cities in a nuclear exchange.”
  3. "The Observer Research Foundation, in partnership with ORF America, Ministry of External Affairs, India, and the Embassy of India in Berlin, was delighted to host a ministerial lunch discussion at the Munich Security Conference 2024," according to ORF's Youtube account.
  4. Translation provided by Karaganov’s staff.
  5. This report is based on insights from a two-day workshop hosted by the Arctic Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in collaboration with the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, the Center for Ocean Governance at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and the Polar Institute at the Wilson Center.
  6. This six-session study group, led by Arctic Initiative Senior Fellow Margaret Williams, is evaluating the costs and benefits of renewing cooperation with Russia on science and conservation issues.
  7. For one description of this RUSI report, see “Russian spies are back—and more dangerous than ever,” The Economist, 02.20.24.


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.

^ Translated with the help of machine translation tools.

Photo by Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Orlanys Diaz Figueroa shared in the public domain.