Russia Analytical Report, Feb. 18-24, 2020
This Week’s Highlights
- Moscow has stepped back from its position that the next round of nuclear arms reductions should be multilateral rather than a continuation of the bilateral process [as] Russia and China have aligned more closely, argues Brookings senior fellow Steven Pifer. The Russians do not want to antagonize Beijing, but if Trump and the Americans somehow can coax China into the process, that suits Russian interests, and they will not say no.
- So far, not a single Democratic candidate has articulated their stance on Russia. This needs to change, writes Alberto Coll, former principal deputy assistant secretary of defense. What the U.S. needs is a policy of strategic engagement: while sharply disagreeing with Russia on key issues and containing its expansion where it matters, America should engage it in multiple areas where we have common interests, Coll argues.
- Russia has been accused of dividing Americans through the spread of "disinformation" to engineer specific electoral outcomes. These calls have resurfaced with allegations that Russia may be trying to help Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, write scholars Joseph Haker and Andrew Paul. But trying to unite the nation by blaming its problems on foreign actors and outsiders promotes the status quo and undermines meaningful efforts at structural change, Haker and Paul argue.
- The social-media technologies that Russia deployed in its cyber-attack on the United States in 2016 were certainly new, but Russia's strategy was far from unusual. In fact, the Kremlin has a long history of meddling in U.S. and other Western democratic elections and manufacturing disinformation to discredit and divide the West, writes Harvard’s Calder Walton. Disinformation poses fundamental challenges to societies about issues like what constitutes a fact. Such questions will need to be tackled through broad education and social efforts rather than through spies and their clandestine weapons, Walton writes.
- Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman reminds us that, to Russia’s credit, the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 was done largely peacefully and by international agreement. Moscow’s decision to annex Crimea 23 years later represented a reversion to unilateral aggression, he writes. It must remain an isolated example, rather than the harbinger of a new era.
- Certain policymakers in the EU and U.S. now, at least publicly, appear to regard Alexander Lukashenko as one of the sources of regional security and a defender of Belarusian sovereignty against Russia, writes Ryhor Astapenia of Chatham House. There is some truth in this. But, Astapenia writes, Lukashenko’s long-term record shows he has done little to ensure the country’s sovereignty: Since the conflict in Ukraine in 2014, Lukashenko’s primary goal has not been to strengthen the sovereignty of Belarus, but to preserve his absolute control over the country.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- No significant developments.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- No significant developments.
Iran and its nuclear program:
- No significant developments.
New Cold War/saber rattling:
- No significant developments.
“Europeans Try to Have It Both Ways,” Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal, 02.17.20: The author, the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities at Bard College, writes:
- “When asked by Pew if their country should go to war with Russia if it attacked a NATO ally, 50 percent of respondents said no, and only 38 percent supported honoring their commitment to NATO allies.”
- “Let those numbers sink in. Only 34 percent of Germans, 25 percent of Greeks and Italians, 36 percent of Czechs, 33 percent of Hungarians and 41 percent of the French believe their country should fulfill its treaty obligation if another European country is attacked. Only the U.S., Canada, the U.K., the Netherlands and Lithuania had a majority in favor of honoring the NATO commitment to mutual defense.”
- “Americans continue to believe that Europe is worth defending. We must hope that over the next few years more Europeans will come around to that position; otherwise, the prospects for ‘Westlessness’ will only grow.”
- No significant developments.
Nuclear arms control:
“Russia’s Shifting Views of Multilateral Nuclear Arms Control With China,” Steven Pifer, Brookings Institution, 02.19.20: The author, a non-resident senior fellow at Brookings, writes:
- “Over the past year, President Donald Trump and administration officials have made clear the importance they attach to engaging China in nuclear arms control along with Russia. The Chinese have made equally clear their disinterest in participating.”
- “The Kremlin undoubtedly would like to see China engaged in nuclear arms negotiations. While Russian officials do not state it openly, their large stockpile of non-strategic nuclear weapons is motivated in major part by concern about growing Chinese conventional capabilities—a point that Russian nuclear experts admit in private conversations. And one can see why: Russia’s military presently musters a total of 900,000 personnel, while China’s ground forces alone number 975,000. Non-strategic nuclear weapons pose a big equalizer.”
- “[However] Moscow, has stepped back from its position that the next round of nuclear arms reductions should be multilateral rather than a continuation of the bilateral process that produced the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2010.”
- “So, what happened? Russia and China have aligned more closely over the past decade … Moscow seems eager to accommodate its large, dynamically growing partner and avoids raising questions unwelcome in Beijing. Hence, Moscow has backed away from years of earlier calls for a multilateralization of nuclear arms control—at least as far as China is concerned—and did so just as Trump began making China’s inclusion a priority.”
- “For now, Moscow is perfectly happy to leave the heavy lifting to Washington. The Russians do not want to antagonize Beijing, but if Trump and the Americans somehow can coax China into the process, that suits Russian interests, and they will not say no.”
“Beyond Arms Control: Cooperative Nuclear Weapons Reductions–A New Paradigm to Roll Back Nuclear Weapons and Increase Security and Stability,” William M. Moon, Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, 02.18.20: The author, an independent consultant and researcher, writes:
- “Arms control treaties have served admirably to control and limit nuclear weapons for several decades. The provisions and limits, however, have proven to be inflexible, often limited in scope to specific systems and countries, and difficult and time-consuming to negotiate.”
- “It is time for the nuclear weapons states to consider a new paradigm to incentivize reductions while building security and stability in a more enduring and expandable format. … Under a new cooperative forum to be established by the U.S. and Russia and then expanded to include all five declared nuclear weapons states, a new paradigm can be envisioned that would allow for modernization as a trade-off for reductions and increases in security and stability measures.”
- “The nuclear weapons states should create an enduring forum to negotiate trade-off formulas and implement them through specific contracts to be managed as issues and technologies arise. As security and stability measures strengthen, the nuclear weapons states can increase incentives to roll back inventories on a continuous basis.”
- “Given the deterioration of the current bilateral arms control regime, the United States and Russia should consider establishing a joint commission under the general auspices of the P5 forum. … Among the advantages of a joint commission are: establishment of a permanent, standing forum for the sides to raise concerns; a technical forum that can be insulate nuclear weapons concerns from other ongoing political disagreements; an opportunity for Presidents Trump and Putin to establish a legacy organization devoted to a just cause; an ability to formulate and update the scope of discussions and negotiations in a more structured architecture to explore potential trade-offs and to allow more difficult issues to sit on the sidelines without being totally ignored.”
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
“A Shameful Response to the Tragedy in Idlib,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 02.20.20: The news outlet’s editorial board writes:
- “What the U.N. describes as the worst humanitarian catastrophe of Syria’s nine-year-old civil war is unfolding in Idlib. The northwestern province is the last redoubt of the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which has launched a vicious offensive to recapture it, backed by Russian warplanes and Iranian-supplied fighters.”
- “Roughly 1 million people, a third of Idlib’s population … are fleeing from a campaign of terror that deliberately targets civilians. … There are some 20,000 jihadi fighters linked to al-Qaeda in Idlib. But there are also 3 million civilians. They have run out of places to run to, and their children are freezing to death in sub-zero temperatures.”
- “Western response to the tragedy is shameful. Russia has used its veto at the U.N. Security Council to shield Syria 14 times in 2011-19, often backed by China. But the U.S. is an onlooker and Europe nowhere to be seen. The West has things that Russia (and Iran) want, including relief from sanctions and help to rebuild Syria. President Vladimir Putin needs to be confronted—with the evidence of Russia’s war crimes—before Idlib turns into a bloodbath and more millions of helpless Syrians are scattered to the winds.”
“Five Myths About Cyberwar,” Ben Buchanan, The Washington Post, 02.20.20: The author, an assistant teaching professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, writes:
- “The U.S. indictment of four Chinese hackers in the massive Equifax breach, The Washington Post’s recent revelations about CIA encryption back doors, President Trump’s desire to rewrite the Russiagate findings and swirling worries about Huawei’s cybersecurity have all put cyberwar back into the national lexicon. … But as recent events show, many long-held ideas about cyberwars aren’t always borne out.”
- “Myth No. 1 Cyberwar is overhyped and impossible. … Myth No. 2 Cyberwar is about big hacks that crash power grids and airplanes. … Myth No. 3 Cyberspace is borderless, with no geography. … Myth No. 4 The purpose of cyberattacks is readily apparent. … Myth No. 5 It's impossible to know who conducted a cyberattack.”
“The Problem With Fearmongering About Russian Electoral Interference,” Joseph Haker and Andrew Paul, The Washington Post, 02.24.20: The authors, an adjunct faculty member in history at Century College and an adjunct assistant professor of humanities at the University of North Carolina Asheville, write:
- “Over the past three years, it has become conventional wisdom among many liberals that American democracy is under attack by foreign state actors. Russia in particular has been accused of dividing Americans through the spread of ‘disinformation’ to engineer specific electoral outcomes—notably the election of Donald Trump. These calls have resurfaced with allegations that Russia may be trying to help Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.”
- “But rather than protecting American democracy, this sustained focus on foreign threats to our elections can harm it. Throughout American history, various political actors have delegitimized or suppressed internal discontent by blaming discord on the conniving of foreign actors. Whether cynical or well-intentioned, these arguments work to suppress the messiness and hard work of democracy in favor of a bland, compulsory nationalism. And blaming outsiders distracts attention from the very real domestic problems that make ‘disinformation’ campaigns coherent in the first place.”
- “Trying to unite the nation by blaming its problems on foreign actors and outsiders promotes the status quo and undermines meaningful efforts at structural change. … The reinvigoration of American democracy does not depend on purging it of all foreign influence. It depends on giving disaffected people a reason to have faith in the first place.”
“How Not to Panic Over the Wuhan Virus (or Russia),” Holman W. Jenkins Jr., Wall Street Journal, 02.21.20: The author, a member of the news outlet’s editorial board, writes:
- “An effort is palpably afoot to let the public know that a global pandemic (which is not the same as the end of the world) may be in the offing. … The operative strategy is called social distancing or social mitigation: Wash your hands. Avoid public places. Expect, in most cases, infection to be unpleasant but not debilitating.”
- “In a separate but not unrelated story, Donald Trump is not wrong to be concerned about his intelligence agencies reporting to Congress that the Kremlin intends to aid his re-election. We are idiots if we think the Russians are asking themselves what they can do to advance Trump's cause. The Kremlin is asking how to keep American politics roiled and distrustful.”
- “To the Kremlin today, the choice between a Democrat and Republican isn't really much of a choice at all (though Mr. Trump does seem to be succeeding where others have failed in scuttling Vladimir Putin's dearest project, a new pipeline to siphon money out of Europe in return for Russian gas). The real upside of Russia's meddling comes from keeping Americans unreasonably and unnecessarily poisoned against each other.”
"Spies, Election Meddling and Disinformation: Past and Present,” Calder Walton, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Fall/Winter 2019: The author, assistant director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Applied History Project, writes:
- “Following Russia's ‘sweeping and systematic’ attack on the 2016 U.S. presidential election—which was intended to support Moscow's favored candidate, Donald J. Trump, and undermine his opponent, Hillary Clinton—the media frequently labeled the operation ‘unprecedented.’”
- “The social-media technologies that Russia deployed in its cyber-attack on the United States in 2016 were certainly new, but Russia's strategy was far from unusual. In fact, the Kremlin has a long history of meddling in U.S. and other Western democratic elections and manufacturing disinformation to discredit and divide the West. … Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, has reconstituted and updated the KGB's old Cold War playbook for the new digital age.”
- “Disinformation poses fundamental challenges to societies about issues like what constitutes a fact. Such questions will need to be tackled through broad education and social efforts rather than through spies and their clandestine weapons.”
Energy exports from CIS:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
“Candidates Need to Articulate Russia Policies Now,” Alberto Coll, The Hill. 02.20.20: The author, a former principal deputy assistant secretary of defense, writes:
- “So far, not a single Democratic candidate has articulated its stance on Russia. This needs to change. … With 145 million people, the earth's most significant landmass, its sixth-largest GDP by purchasing power parity and a nuclear arsenal and technical elite second to none, Russia is, as it has been for the past three centuries, one of those Great Powers with a proud identity and culture, to which the German historian Leopold von Ranke pointed as shaping the very destiny of humanity. Yet, today the United States has no coherent strategy towards Russia.”
- “What we need instead is a policy of strategic engagement: while sharply disagreeing with Russia on key issues and containing its expansion where it matters to us, we should engage it in multiple areas where we have common interests.”
- “First is arms control. At present, both powers are amid a runaway, costly arms race involving nuclear, hypersonic and space weapons, which neither one can win. … The second is Ukraine. Working closely with Europe, Washington should probe whether Moscow is seriously interested in settling the conflict. …The third is trade and investment. The sanctions Europe and the United States have imposed on Russia have succeeded mostly in drawing Russia closer to China, while disproportionately hurting European farmers and American manufacturers. … It would be highly unwise for the West to convince Russia that its economic and strategic future lies with China.”
- “As the 21st century plays itself out, we cannot write Russia off, or hope to build a more stable world without it as an active partner. Inevitably, we will disagree and compete on many issues. But such tensions need not preclude the West from pursuing areas of common interest. … Candidates, let's hear how you plan to engage.”
“Levada Polls Show Russian Public Opinion Toward West Is Thawing,” Simon Saradzhyan, Russia Matters, 02.21.20: The author, founding director of Russia Matters, writes:
- “Several polls just released by the Levada Center on Russians’ attitudes toward foreign countries show that Russians’ animosities toward the West … are declining. As many as 67 percent of Russians believe their country should treat the West as a partner, according to the poll … The previous such poll was conducted in June 2018, at which time 61 percent of Russians believed the West should be treated as Russia’s partner. In contrast, the share of Russians who think their country should treat the West as an enemy or competitor declined from 21 percent in June 2018 to 19 percent in January 2020.”
- “It is difficult to ascertain exactly what has led to the increased number of Russians who view the West as partner or a friend. We would imagine that that the more time elapses from the revolution in Ukraine, the less Russians are inclined to bear a grudge toward its Western supporters. The recent absence of major new sectoral sanctions may have also played a role, as could have calls for re-engagement with Russia … along with Russia’s re-installment in PACE.”
- “Should U.S. President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson join Macron in accepting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to attend the May 9, 2020 Victory Day parade in Moscow and hold a P5 summit either in the Russian capital or on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Russians could develop an even more favorable view of the West.”
- “Overcoming Russian-Western differences over such key issues as the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, the deployment of medium-range missiles and election meddling would have a much greater normalizing impact on both relations and the public opinion in Russia and the West.”
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
“Surkov’s End and the KPIocrats’ Triumph,” Mark Galeotti, The Moscow Times, 02.19.20: The author, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, writes:
- “Vladislav Surkov, once Putin’s ‘grey cardinal,’ not so much his political technologist as political theatrician, is gone.”
- “However, with even those close to him hinting that he himself walked out, over the appointment of Dmitry Kozak as Donbass proconsul-in-chief, it may well be that his lives are spent. After all, Putin values the ‘good soldier’ who uncomplainingly accepts a tough fate. This may lead to movement on the Donbass, although so far, the movement has largely been of trigger fingers.”
- “But it likely also says something about Putinism, making the final end of its fluid, postmodern, imaginative, too-clever-by-half aspects. … Surkov’s time is over … Late Putinism is about a different, safer kind of spectacle. It is about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Great Patriotic War cavalcades and a more discreet kind of embezzlement for a more discreet kind of VIP. The appointment of Kozak, the tried-and-tested trouble-shooter, as his replacement in the Donbass is a particular signal of this preference for managerialism.”
“Constitutional Reform: Challenges & Risks,” Tatiana Stanovaya, Bulletin No. 5 (45) 2020, R.Politik, 02.24.20: The author, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:
- “Discussion of Russia’s proposed constitutional amendments has intensified over the last few weeks, but must be completed by March 10.”
- “It is clear from the way the Kremlin has been preparing for the upcoming advisory referendum (the presidential administration prefers the term 'vote') that the entire process has been a big exercise in improvisation. The Kremlin clearly did not have enough time to check Russian law to see how constitutional reform works—so the mechanics have become a major headache.”
- “First of all, there is no legal basis for the vote (Russia has no legal procedure for advisory referendums or votes of this kind). … According to sources, the Kremlin will demand regional governors secure turnout of over 50 percent, and get no less than 70 percent approval—a real challenge. The main problem is motivation.”
- “The federal constitutional law adopted in 1998 throws up another problem with the reforms: it says every different amendment to the constitution must be submitted to the State Duma as a separated bill. The Kremlin appears to have overlooked this clause as Putin submitted a package of amendments on mostly unrelated subjects—some lawyers say there are seven—as a single bill.”
Defense and aerospace:
- No significant developments.
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- No significant developments.
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
“Annexation: The Return of a Dangerous Idea,” Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, 02.24.20: The author, chief foreign affairs columnist for the news outlet, writes:
- “A recent opinion poll for the Pew Research Center reveals that startling numbers of Europeans are not satisfied with their nation’s borders. Asked whether there are ‘parts of neighboring countries that really belong to us,’ 67 percent of Hungarians replied in the affirmative, as did 60 percent of Greeks, 58 percent of both Bulgarians and Turks, 53 percent of Russians and 48 percent of Poles. Such sentiments even lurk in western Europe—37 percent of Spaniards, 36 percent of Italians and 30 percent of Germans also agree with the statement.”
- “If the acceptability of annexation spread, it would result in bloodshed and the displacement of populations.”
- “To Russia’s credit, the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 was done largely peacefully and by international agreement. Moscow’s decision to annex Crimea 23 years later, represented a reversion to unilateral aggression. It must remain an isolated example, rather than the harbinger of a new era.”
- “The best way of dealing with such dilemmas is robust agreements on minority rights or dual-citizenship arrangements. But it is not inherently illegitimate to argue for a change of borders. The key is that any such change has to be done through negotiation.”
“Russia Leans on Mercenary Forces to Regain Clout,” Benoit Faucon and James Marson, Wall Street Journal, 02.23.20: The authors, a senior reporter and deputy Moscow bureau chief for the news outlet, write:
- “Almost three decades after the collapse of the Soviet empire, Russian President Vladimir Putin is on a mission to rebuild Moscow's international influence in the Middle East and Africa. The campaign relies partly on building alliances with developing countries outside official channels, often through proxies such as private security contractors, businesses and advisers, according to people involved and European security officials.”
- “During the Cold War, the Soviet Union spent billions on military aid to African allies. The collapse of Communist rule forced a retreat from the global stage. Now, at a time of diminished Russian economic and military power, its efforts to exert political influence involve private security companies and businesses seeking access to oil, gold and diamonds, according to European security officials who monitor the groups. The private companies answer to the Kremlin, people said.”
- “Earlier this month, the top American envoy to Syria said Russian military contractors are engaging in tense encounters with U.S. troops in Syria. … In Libya, Russia's involvement could give it a foothold in a major energy and migration hub near Europe. Libya is a large exporter of oil and natural gas to Europe, but most of its reserves … are untapped.”
- “A Russian company won a gold-mining contract in Sudan, where affiliated contractors have also been training forces, according to Russia's foreign ministry and European security officials. … The Kremlin's first major foray into Africa since Soviet days came two years ago in the Central African Republic. In late 2017, Moscow persuaded the United Nations to allow Russia to undertake a mission to train the Central African Republic's army … The first deployment—several dozen Russian mercenaries—arrived in January 2018.”
“New Revelations Depict a Russian-Sponsored Assassination on German Soil,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 02.23.20: The news outlet’s editorial board writes:
- “In April 2019, a Russian man drove to a training base outside Moscow run by the Federal Security Service … The nonprofit journalism outfit Bellingcat has identified the man as Vadim Krasikov, and says that, based on cellphone data, he spent four days at the facility, an important clue about who was behind a murder in Germany last August.”
- “Bellingcat says Mr. Krasikov, who traveled under a fake name, is the man charged by German federal prosecutors with the shooting in Berlin on Aug. 23 of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a former Chechen rebel field commander, who had fought Russia in the Second Chechen War.”
- “Krasikov was frequently in contact with Eduard Bendersky, who heads an FSB veterans association and runs private security agencies that provide services to state-owned companies.”
- “Germany has expelled two diplomats, saying Russia was not cooperating with the investigation, but that's barely a slap on the wrist. The investigation by Bellingcat and its partners depicts a state-sponsored assassination on German soil, not unlike the earlier attempt to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain and, before that, the murder of Alexander Litvinenko with polonium-laced tea in London. Germany must show that such crimes will not be tolerated.”
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
“On Russia-China Border, Life and Commerce Frozen by Coronavirus,” Andrew Higgins, New York Times, 02.24.20: The author, Moscow bureau chief for the New York Times, writes:
- “Li Lihua, a Russian-speaking Chinese businesswoman, has been working in Blagoveshchensk since the 1990s, surviving repeated economic and political crises to build up a small empire of restaurants, factories and real estate projects. The current paralysis, she said, is far worse than previous trials. The Chinese laborers she needs to finish building four 10-story apartment blocks on the outskirts of Blagoveshchensk cannot enter Russia, and nobody in Russia, she said, wants to get involved with a venture so dependent on China.”
- “Suspicion is now creeping back, fanned by strident nationalist voices on social media and gossip on the street.”
- “Nikolai Kukharenko, a co-director of Blagoveshchensk’s Confucius Institute, part of a Beijing-funded program to spread the teaching of Chinese abroad, said he was appalled this month by the reaction online to photographs he posted of face masks he had collected for delivery to China. Self-proclaimed Russian patriots assailed him as a ‘traitor,’ who, as one zealous critic said, had forgotten that ‘China is not an ally but our most important potential opponent and enemy.’”
“Ukraine May Not Yet Escape US Domestic Politics,” Steven Pifer, Kyiv Post/Brookings Institution, 02.18.20: The author, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, writes:
- “Impeachment is now over, but Ukraine may find itself again an object in U.S. politics, as America ramps up for the November presidential election.”
- “Start with Trump. … He will repeat the falsehood that the Ukrainian government organized an effort to sabotage his 2016 bid for the presidency. … Then there is Rudy Giuliani. … Attorney General William Barr said he would take information provided by Giuliani, even though Giuliani himself reportedly is under U.S. Department of Justice investigation. … In the Senate, Lindsey Graham plans to conduct hearings to investigate the Bidens and their connection to corruption in Ukraine.”
- “So, Ukraine may find itself again enmeshed in American politics. How should Kyiv respond? … [I]t should adopt a strategy of not antagonizing President Trump and counteracting unflattering narratives about corruption and reform in the country.”
“Ukraine: Six years After the Maidan,” Steven Pifer, Stanford University/Brookings Institution, 02.21.20: The author, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, writes:
- “Today, Ukraine has made progress toward meeting the aspirations that caused Ukrainians to fill the streets of Kyiv: to become a normal European democracy with a growing economy and reduced corruption.”
- “Mr. Zelenskiy and Ukraine face two challenges. First, they need to complete the critical mass of reforms and reduce corruption so that the Ukrainian economy grows faster and living standards can begin to catch up with those of Ukraine’s neighbors in Central Europe and the Baltics. … Second, they have to find a way end settle the conflict in Donbass.”
- “Mr. Zelenskiy and his inner circle see ending the Donbass conflict as the most urgent priority, as Ukrainians die nearly every week along the line of contact.”
- “Mr. Zelenskiy and his government can effect domestic reform by themselves and take other key steps, such as curbing the oversized political influence of the country’s oligarchs. The government has secured a number of reform laws over the past six months … and has set ambitious plans for domestic and future growth. If they can deliver on those plans—possible though not guaranteed—Ukraine will develop as a stronger and more resilient state. That will be a state better able to withstand Russian pressure and a state reflective of the aspirations that triggered the Maidan Revolution.”
“Ukraine’s Oligarchs Jostle for Influence With President Zelenskiy,” Roman Olearchyk, Financial Times, 02.19.20: The author, a correspondent for the news outlet, writes:
- “Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest and most camera-shy oligarch … is angling to become a closer ally of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy while weakening the influence of longtime rival Igor Kolomoisky.”
- “Akhmetov has noticeably been offering supportive television coverage to Mr. Zelenskiy, the former comedian elected last spring. By doing so, Mr. Akhmetov is giving the president an alternative to Kolomoisky, who backed the new Ukrainian leader’s rise with a similar wave of helpful airtime.”
- “[T]he Donbass, is Mr. Akhmetov’s home and fiefdom … Mr. Akhmetov ‘would have to be part’ of any Donbass peace agreement, a Western diplomat said. … One senior member of Mr. Zelenskiy’s government described Mr. Akhmetov’s channels as lately ‘being very nice to us.’”
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
“Lukashenko’s Commitment to Belarusian Sovereignty Is Overstated,” Ryhor Astapenia, Chatham House, 02.18.20: The author, the Robert Bosch Stiftung Academy Fellow at Chatham House, writes:
- “Certain policymakers in the EU and U.S. now, at least publicly, appear to regard Lukashenko as one of the sources of regional security and a defender of Belarusian sovereignty against Russia. There is some truth in this. He has taken a neutral position in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, and he has consistently resisted pressure from the Kremlin to establish a military base in Belarus.”
- “But Lukashenko’s long-term record shows he has done little to ensure the country’s sovereignty. Lukashenko has resisted reforms that would have strengthened the economy (because they would have weakened his own position). The political system is also dependent on Russia because Lukashenko has been unwilling to build better relations with the West. Belarusians are still strongly influenced by Russian culture and media because the authorities marginalize their own national identity.”
- “Since the conflict in Ukraine in 2014, Lukashenko’s primary goal has not been to strengthen the sovereignty of Belarus, but to preserve his absolute control over the country.”
- “Lukashenko is unlikely to still be president in 10–15 years, so policymakers should develop relations with the broader ruling elite, which will remain after he leaves, and try to be present in Belarus as much as possible helping it to improve public governance and develop private businesses. The West should also support the country’s civil society and independent media.”