Russia Analytical Report, Feb. 26-March 4, 2024

3 Ideas to Explore

  1. “Russia’s ability to absorb military losses, its deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure and the limitations of its conventionally armed land-attack missile arsenal provides” at least two “potential insights into Russia’s theatre nuclear doctrine,” according to William Alberque of IISS. “Firstly, given Russia’s indifference to civilian casualties in Ukraine, it stands to reason that Russia would see value in using NSNW [non-strategic nuclear weapons][1] to target NATO troops and potentially population centers,” he writes for IISS. “Secondly, if Russia’s confidence in its ability to control escalation is further eroded by the poor performance of its older dual-capable missiles, Moscow may decide to build up its arsenal to include faster delivery systems,” according to this expert. “Until such an arsenal is in place, however, Russia’s confidence in its escalation control may remain uncertain,” according to Alberque, “giving the West a temporary reprieve from at least some Russian nuclear threats.” The latest edition of such threats appeared in Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 29 address to the Russian parliament. In addition to rattling his nuclear saber at the West again, Putin also used this annual address to accuse his Western counterparts of “spooking the world” with the threat of a nuclear war, all while claiming to be ready for talks on nuclear arms control.
  2. “Despite its losses in Avdiivka, Russia will continue to put pressure on Ukrainian forces across multiple parts of the front line, hoping Kyiv’s units are degraded,” U.S. officials told NYT’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Anatoly Kurmanaev. “Some military analysts say taking full control of the Donbas is the bare minimum the Russian government needs to present the invasion of Ukraine as a victory at home,” according to NYT. However, the Russian military does not “have the kind of reserve forces that could immediately exploit” Ukraine’s weakened defenses, the U.S. officials told NYT. Nevertheless, an advance by the Russian army in the Donbas or Kharkiv regions is “very likely,” according to Russian analyst Nikolay Mitrokhin’s commentary in Russian opposition outlet Republic, translated by Russia.Post.
  3. Two years into the war, those Western companies still clinging on to their Russian assets have been counting on war fatigue in their home markets to ride out the initial wave of public outrage,” Anne-Sylvaine Chassany writes in FT. “After a series of prominent and costly corporate departures in the wake of the February 2022 invasion, the holdouts—more than 1,646 of them, compared with 356 leavers, according to the Kyiv School of Economics—are staying put,” according to FT’s companies editor. What’s more, the Western public is losing interest in the issue. A survey of European and U.S. consumers conducted by Danish corporate reputation expert Caliber showed that only a small minority knew which global companies had remained in Russia. “Those that have left...barely got a reputational boost,” according to Chassany.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Major Munitions Transfers from North Korea to Russia,” Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Victor Cha and Jennifer Jun, CSIS, 02.28.24 

  • Ammunition supplies have become critical in the Ukraine war. CSIS studied hundreds of commercially available satellite images since August 2023 on the continuing transfer of large quantities of munitions between North Korea and Russia. 
  • Notably, we find that vessel movement continues between Najin in North Korea and Dunai and Vostochny Port in Russia, along with some changes in vessel activity between these locations since late December 2023. These voyages have reportedly supported the transfer of more than 2.5 million rounds of artillery shells and other munitions. 
  • We find that since August 2023, there have been at least 25 different visits to Najin for the loading of munitions from North Korea to be delivered to Russia. Additionally, at least 19 “dark vessels” – vessels with their AIS transmissions turned off to avoid outside detection – have visited Vostochny Port in Russia to both unload and load containers from the port. 
  • There is also active expansion of infrastructure at Tikhoretsk Munitions Storage Facility, Mozdok Munitions Storage Facility, and Yegorlykskaya Airfield, which has been converted into a munitions storage facility to store ammunition closer to the front lines of the war.
  • While denuclearization of the DPRK remains the goal of U.S. policy, stopping North Korea’s munitions transfers should become the proximate priority given its implications for the war in Europe and Indo-Pacific security. 
  • All tools should be considered in such an effort, including PSI-type interception (although the routes used by Russia make this difficult). While sanctions remain the tool of choice (including secondary sanctioning), incentives should also be considered to exploit the DPRK’s innate paranoia of becoming too reliant on any one party for sustenance.  

Iran and its nuclear program:

“United Against America: Russia-Iran Military Cooperation Is a Looming Threat,” Nikita Smagin, 02.27.24. 

  • There are many reasons why Russia and Iran are not formal allies. Their rulers don’t trust one another; they compete with each other on energy markets; and Iran’s revolutionary Shiite ideology sits uneasily with Russia’s conservatism. When it comes to military matters, however, they are drawing ever closer, united in their opposition to the United States.
  • For the moment, the fight against the United States in the Middle East is taking place without Russia’s direct involvement. We have not seen Iranian-backed groups receiving large volumes of Russian weapons. But if the Ukraine conflict is frozen or becomes less intense, the chances of Russia ramping up its involvement in the Middle East will rise. Russia’s booming defense industry and the high numbers of Russian troops with battlefield experience could easily be channeled to the Middle East. Russian soldiers and arms would only be welcomed by pro-Iran groups keen to intensify their struggle against “U.S. neocolonialism.”

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“In Ukraine, Russia Is Inching Forward Death by Death,” Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Anatoly Kurmanaev, NYT, 03.04.24. 

  • Avdiivka was among the most costly [for Russian troops to seize]. ... Moscow lost more troops taking Avdiivka than it did in 10 years of fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s. 
  • “Despite Russia’s heavy losses in Avdiivka, they still have a manpower advantage along the front and can continue assaults in multiple directions,” said Rob Lee, a senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, which is based in Philadelphia.
  • Some military analysts say taking full control of the Donbas is the bare minimum the Russian government needs to present the invasion of Ukraine as a victory at home. That perhaps explains Moscow’s willingness to absorb huge losses to make marginal advances.
  • Despite their losses in Avdiivka, U.S. officials predict that Russia will continue to put pressure on Ukrainian forces across multiple parts of the front line, hoping Kyiv’s units are degraded. The battlefield defeat, along with declining morale — exacerbated by the United States’s failure to continue supplying ammunition — might give the Kremlin’s formations an opportunity to exploit the situation on the ground. The Russian military does not, however, have the kind of reserve forces that could immediately exploit the weakened defenses created by the retreat from Avdiivka, those officials said.

“Russia-Ukraine State of Play and Outlook,” Nikolay Mitrokhin, Russia.Post/Republic, 02.27.24.Clues from Russian Views.

  • Neither Ukraine nor Russia currently looks capable of achieving the goals set out and proclaimed by their political leadership. Even if Ukraine manages to carry out another mobilization and replenish its army, it will not be able to win back what it has lost since February 2022, not to mention a complete victory and restoration of the 1991 borders.
  • Judging by a reported discussion between Zelensky and his top commander, there are no funds to expand the army in 2024. In addition, none of the new weapons planned to be supplied by the West in 2024 (aviation and long-range missiles) guarantee a fundamental shift in the course of the war. At the same time, Western supplies of weapons and ammunition continue, while military production in Ukraine itself is growing. Financially, the EU is currently guaranteeing Ukrainian statehood.
  • Moving forward, we can expect further Ukrainian successes in and around the Black Sea and a very likely advance by the Russian army in the Donbas or Kharkiv Region. Both countries can keep fighting for a long time without a critical loss of territory that would force one side to negotiate. Overall, negotiations remain extremely unlikely until one of the current presidents goes.

"Ukraine and the Houthis Are Revolutionizing Naval Warfare," James Stavridis, Bloomberg, 03.03.24.

  • There are two significant maritime conflicts underway today. One is in the Red Sea, where Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists are effectively attacking merchant shipping in the dense waterways south of the Suez Canal. The other is in the confined battlespace of the Black Sea, where Ukraine — a country without an operational navy — is inflicting shocking losses on the supposedly formidable Russian Black Sea fleet.
  • In both cases, there are powerful lessons for the US Navy — which is directly participating in the Red Sea battle, while giving the Ukrainians an indirect assist in the Black. What will the US admirals learn from these conflicts to improve and protect our own seagoing forces?
  • Just under two years ago, the powerful cruiser Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, was sunk by Ukrainians using drones for targeting and cruise missiles for the knockout blow.
  • Amazingly, that was only the first example of Ukrainian innovation — coupled with Western intelligence and unmanned technology — putting Russian warships on the bottom of the Black Sea. The Ukrainians have used a combination of cruise missiles, aerial drones and small, unmanned surface vessels to sink or severely damage around 20 major warships, a third of the pre-war Russian fleet.
  • In doing so, they have checked the Russians’ strategic intent of closing the Black Sea to Ukrainian merchant traffic. Russian President Vladimir Putin desperately wanted to shut the Ukrainian seacoast from Crimea all the way to the major port of Odesa on the Black Sea’s western coast.
  • This leads us to perhaps the most important lesson of the Black Sea conflict: surface ships — destroyers, cruisers, even massive American aircraft carriers — are now very vulnerable to nimble unmanned assaults. It may not take a true capital warship to sink another: The old kids’ game of Battleship may need to remake itself and add naval drones to the mix. Looking ahead, we should study the Ukrainians’ successful merger of US-supplied satellite intelligence, data from the sensor suites on their own long-dwell air drones, and use of special forces — often operating in disguised fishing and commercial craft.

"Ukraine Drafts Crucial Farm Workers in Desperate Rush to Bolster Military," Kateryna Chursina, Celia Bergin, Aine Quinn, Krishna Karra and Marie Patino, Bloomberg, 03.01.24.

  • So far, agricultural enterprises have escaped the focus of Ukraine’s mobilization efforts, in part due to their critical importance to the nation’s economy. Before the war, agriculture, fishing and forestry employed 15% of the workforce, and contributed 11% of gross domestic product. The country — often referred to as “the breadbasket of Europe” — has remained a major global food producer during the invasion, even as harvests decline
  • On paper, farm workers make ideal candidates for Ukraine’s military. They’re used to handling large equipment and driving tractors, allowing them to hone skills that are desperately needed in the battlefield. But they’re also crucial to the nation’s fiscal revenue and have had to endure exceptional challenges since the start of the invasion.
  • Kyiv’s efforts to replenish its depleted army has sparked worry among farmers that they will not have enough people to work, especially during the spring sowing of corn and oilseeds which has already started in the south ... Around 9% of cropland was unharvested in 2023 based on satellite imagery analysis.
  • “In some villages, there are no men left at all, and therefore no labor force, no people who used to work in agricultural enterprises,” said Andriy Dykun, chairman of the Ukrainian Agri Council. “This is frightening because if there is no enterprise, there is no Ukrainian village.”

Military aid to Ukraine:

“Emmanuel Macron reaches for ‘whatever it takes’ on Ukraine,” Leila Abboud, FT, 02.27.24.

  • In less than two years, French President Emmanuel Macron has gone from would-be peacemaker with Vladimir Putin to one of Europe’s most hawkish voices on Russia and the generational threat it poses to the region’s security. He broke a taboo on Monday in refusing to rule out sending ground troops to Ukraine, surprising EU leaders and Moscow alike. 
  • “Macron believes that we are approaching a moment of truth for Europe and its very ability to act as a true geopolitical power is at stake,” said Thomas Gomart, the director of Ifri think-tank. A Trump victory and far-right success at European elections could, if both occurred, “spell the end of European strategic ambitions.”
  • The problem for Macron is that France lacks the means to do “whatever it takes” to protect Ukraine. It has a mid-sized army and is the only nuclear-armed country in the EU. 
  • Macron also lacks consistency. For months, France has blocked the use of EU funds to buy artillery ammunition for Ukraine from outside the bloc on the basis that such spending does nothing to boost Europe’s own defense industry. 
  • Macron said not ruling out sending western troops into Ukraine was aimed at re-establishing “strategic ambiguity” to make Russia reconsider its assumption that western support will falter. Yet the episode may have put the spotlight on something more worrisome — allies are divided on just how far they are willing to go to help Ukraine.

“Making Sense of Macron’s Hint at Troops in Ukraine,” Daniel B. Baer and Sophia Besch, FP, 03.01.24.

  • French President Emmanuel Macron surprised fellow European leaders this week with his suggestion that some European countries might send troops to Ukraine to prevent Russia from winning its war of aggression there. Taken at face value, Macron’s remarks—made at a newly created European Union-Ukraine summit in Paris—put him immediately at the more forward-leaning end of the spectrum of Western leaders. 
  • Perhaps Macron meant what he said, and the rubber of strategic autonomy is finally hitting the road of European security. … Keeping future options open—and Putin guessing—could be a way to signal to the Kremlin that Europe is taking deterrence seriously. 
  • But Macron may have had other objectives. … [H]is intention may have been just to move the debate forward. In his comments, he bemoaned some countries’ tendency to initially reject most proposals for Ukrainian support before eventually acquiescing. 
  • If Macron really was serious about the possibility of European troops on the ground, his approach left much to be desired. He should, for one, have coordinated with at least a few key allies. … [H]e might also have chosen to be much clearer about scenarios in which European troops might be moved to Ukraine and perhaps outlined a concrete French role.
  • In the halls of NATO headquarters … and in a number of European capitals in recent months, complaints about French inaction have grown louder. … According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Ukraine Support Tracker, France ranks 22nd among the EU’s 27 members in terms of aid commitments to Ukraine as a share of GDP.
  • A more charitable reading of Macron’s comments is that, faced with the looming U.S. election and a potential vacuum created by the United States’ failure to provide leadership, he intended to mentally prepare Europeans for the potential imperative of mustering their own troops to contain the Russian threat.
  • Without fast action, Ukraine is going to lose the war. Precious few people in Western capitals are focused on the very real possibility that if the U.S. House of Representatives fails to act on the lagging aid bill and European powers don’t do more—not in 10 years but now—NATO leaders could gather at their summit in Washington in July as Russian troops make steady progress across Ukraine, capture more Ukrainian cities and call into question NATO’s capabilities and will.
  • If France wants to lead on European security, it should focus less on trial-ballooning the idea of troops on the ground and more on working with the existing Ukraine Defense Contact Group to send more military support to Ukraine, including French weapons and materiel. Before it’s too late.

“Germany, France and how not to do deterrence,” Constanze Stelzenmüller, FT, 03.04.24.

  • This is the brutal truth: the two key actors in continental Europe are bungling the strategic response to Europe’s greatest security threat in a generation, while Ukraine’s future is hanging by a thread.  France, its president’s acrobatics notwithstanding, at least has a powerful deterrent in its nuclear weapons. Germany’s government — despite its immense financial commitments and frenetic efforts to produce more weapons — appears to think that clinging to the US is a grand plan. Where it ought to have a Europe strategy, or a Russia strategy, there is a conceptual void. And the only thing it is deterring is itself.

“The West Can No Longer Hesitate on Ukraine. Allies must provide Kyiv with what it needs to win the war and secure the peace: arms supplies and a path to NATO membership,” Alexander Vershbow, FP, 03.01.24. 

  • As Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine enters its third year, the West remains in need of a clearer strategy for achieving victory.
  • Victory means securing Ukraine’s survival as a sovereign, democratic state that is fully integrated in the European Union and NATO, as well as bolstering its economic and military capacity to deter future Russian aggression. Given Putin’s denial of Ukraine’s right to exist, Russia must be defeated first and foremost on the battlefield.
  • To mount an effective strategy for victory in Ukraine, the U.S. Congress must promptly pass a bill to fund Ukraine’s defense through the end of 2024 and beyond, if possible. 
  • Assuming that Congress restores U.S. funding, there are two critical areas for ramping up support to Ukraine. 
    • The first is pulling out all the stops on military assistance—that is to say, playing to win, not just doing enough to ensure that Ukraine doesn’t lose. Last year’s decisions to provide a short-range version of the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), F-16 fighter jets, and Abrams tanks were encouraging, but they could have been provided earlier and in larger quantities. Most urgently, the United States needs to lift its self-imposed ban on the longer-range version of the ATACMS, which would enable Ukraine to strike targets deeper in Crimea and hit the systems launching missiles from inside Russia. Despite leaks suggesting an impending change in U.S. policy on this long-range missile system, the Biden administration continues to hesitate. Breaking Russia’s grip on Crimea is the key to Ukrainian victory and to the long-term viability of the Ukrainian state.
    • Second, the West should put Ukraine on a path to NATO membership during the alliance’s summit in Washington in July. Although it is good news that allies are extending bilateral security commitments to Ukraine, as the G-7 countries agreed last year, that cannot be the final answer. Until Ukraine joins NATO and is covered by its Article 5 collective defense clause, the alliance’s collective defense clause, there can be no certainty that Russia will not attack Ukraine again.

“Ukrainians Are Resilient—But They Still Need Washington,” Richard Fontaine, FP, 03.01.24.

  • The U.S. congressional fight over aid to Ukraine, entangled as it is with border policy and presidential politics, has become a matter of survival for 43 million Ukrainians. In more than two years of war, Russian President Vladimir Putin has not broken Ukrainian will. Abandonment by the United States could achieve what Putin never has.
  • The situation on the ground is changing, and U.S. political leaders should understand the enormous stakes. Those now debating the fate of assistance to Ukraine are deliberating over the fate of Ukraine itself.
  • Ukrainians are resilient but not invincible. They see bombed-out buildings, awaken to air alert sirens each night, and feel Moscow’s newfound confidence on the battlefield. They know that last year’s counteroffensive produced few gains, and that Avdiivka’s recent fall marks Russia’s first significant territorial gain since May 2023. Diminishing supplies of ammunition and other Western-provided weapons have made the war more difficult and more costly in terms of Ukrainian lives.
  • Yet most wish to fight on. Polls show a small but growing number of Ukrainians wishing to trade land for peace, if such an outcome is possible. The majority wish to continue the fight.
  • U.S. missile defense currently protects Ukrainian cities, and officials worry about the violence that Russia will unleash if U.S. interceptors stop arriving. Front-line Ukrainian troops are running out of ammunition, and declining access to military equipment could allow Russia to take more territory. Even factoring in the latest European aid package, Ukrainian officials (and those at the U.S. Treasury Department) project empty government coffers within months, rendering them unable to pay worker salaries or pensions. Their fallback plan is to print more money, fully understanding the disastrous hyperinflation such a move would produce. In the meantime, U.S. humanitarian aid provides food, shelter, medical care, and other support for a traumatized population that nevertheless wishes to carry on.
  • In conversations with everyone, from the top of government to citizens living just miles from the front lines, there was one message: Please stay with us—we can’t do this alone. U.S. abandonment would be devastating.
  • Calls to defend the rules-based international order tend to provoke eye-rolling derision these days. So too do descriptions of the United States’ indispensability in the face of global problems. Yet the prohibition against forcible conquest stands at the heart of the postwar global order. Putin’s violation of that taboo—if ultimately successful—would augur a new and more dangerous era. The United States, unfashionable though it may be to observe, is indispensable in resisting it. … The alternative to continued Western support is not an indefinite stalemate or frozen conflict. It is a potential Russian victory.

“Ukrainian Civilians Are Pioneering the Art of Resistance,” Nicholas Krohley, FP, 02.28.24.

  • From the very beginning of Russia’s war, the Ukrainian people self-mobilized en masse. Their proactive agency has been fundamental to Ukraine’s ability to stave off Russian aggression, and it has been lauded as the gold standard in whole-of-society resistance.
  • In 2022, as Russian armor surged across the border, ordinary civilians flooded the ranks of the Territorial Defense Forces. These units waged impromptu and ultimately successful localized campaigns to defend cities such as Sumy and Chernihiv, which were fundamental to the disruption of Russia’s invasion plan.
  • Within government-held areas of Ukraine, civil society remains engaged. Key efforts include adapting of drones and other civilian technologies for military use, providing support for displaced families, and raising funds for veteran care. Behind Russian lines, meanwhile, resistance networks have blossomed as well.
  • Despite the Ukrainian government’s uncertain, hands-off approach to civil resistance and the dangers posed under Russian occupation, nonviolent resistance has flourished.
  • Nonviolent resistance has been orchestrated by a decentralized amalgamation of independent groups that reach deep behind the front lines. Rather than building on existing social connections, they have coalesced digitally and anonymously in response to Russian aggression. Maintaining only occasional and informal communication with the Ukrainian government, they have pursued independently conceived courses of action in the furtherance of Ukraine’s national interests. 
  • The successes of the nonviolent resistance movement have catalyzed shifts in Russian messaging as well. Initially, Russian officials ignored such acts of resistance. As activity grew to the point that it could not be ignored, the Russians sought to dismiss and discredit the endeavor. 

For more commentaries on military aid to Ukraine, see:

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

“Have western brands that stayed in Russia made the right call after all? Two years into the war, European and US consumers barely know which companies are still there and which have left,” Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, FT, 03.01.24.

  • Two years into the war, those western companies still clinging on to their Russian assets have been counting on war fatigue in their home markets to ride out the initial wave of public outrage. After a series of prominent and costly corporate departures in the wake of the February 2022 invasion, the holdouts — more than 1,646 of them, compared with 356 leavers, according to the Kyiv School of Economics — are staying put.
  • Remaining western companies, which are typically not allowed by Russian authorities to repatriate their profit, have de-risked their local operations by making them more self-sufficient, tapping local producers more and importing goods from Central Asia. Some have pointed out that the Kremlin has made it virtually impossible to extract value from the sale of their Russian operations. Even those with a conciliatory approach are facing an uphill battle to monetize an exit.
  • The truth is that the western public is losing interest. A survey of European and US consumers conducted by Danish corporate reputation expert Caliber showed that only a small minority knew which global companies had remained in Russia among a selection of 18. Those that have left, including Volkswagen and Renault, barely got a reputational boost. Worse, many respondents incorrectly said companies were still in the country when they had left. While Americans were even more apathetic than Europeans, only a third of all respondents thought doing business in Russia was “completely unacceptable as long as the war with Ukraine is ongoing.”

“Our experience with Russia holds lessons for future sanctions,” Elina Ribakova, FT, 02.27.24.

  • The primary lesson [from West’s Russia sanctions] is that seeking complete isolation of a large, complex and globally-integrated economy is costly and unattainable. It took coalition governments almost a year to reduce purchases of Russia’s oil and gas — and many of their corporates are still actively engaged in trade with Russia.
  • Although Moscow’s statistics should be approached with great caution, two years into the war, Russia’s economy appears to have stabilize ... The Russian government’s statistics agency estimates GDP growth of 3.6 per cent in 2023 following a moderate contraction in 2022.
  • But even if the impact of sanctions was not as catastrophic as initially anticipated, Russia lost close to $170bn in exports due to them, experienced much weaker growth compared with other commodity exporters, and its medium-term outlook is bleak. 
    • The first lesson from the experience is that, just as Russia began preparing for another round of sanctions after the ones that were applied in 2014, China — and indeed other nations — are unlikely to be caught off guard. 
    • The second lesson is that the consequences of non-compliance must be strong enough to affect companies. 
    • The third lesson is that garnering multilateral support is challenging when the target country holds significant economic influence. 

“How to get around Russian reserve seizure nervousness,” Lee Buchheit, FT, 02.27.24.

  • In comparison with certain issues of international law, the question of how many angels can dance comfortably on the head of a pin looks like a bricks and mortar problem. Rarely has this been more visible than in the pearl-clutching legal response to the proposal that the roughly $300bn of frozen Russian assets be mobilized for the benefit of Ukraine.   
  • Any suggestion that the Russian assets be confiscated and made available for the benefit of Ukraine induces acute anxiety in certain politicians and their legal advisers. 
  • The problem is one of legal geography. The party holding the claim against Russia for reparations (Ukraine) does not control the Russian assets that could be applied to settle that claim. And the parties physically holding the frozen Russian assets (the G7 countries) do not themselves have a legal claim against Russia for the damages caused by the invasion.
  • There are two possible ways to cure this misalignment — move the assets into the hands of the party with the claim or, alternatively, move the claim into the hands of the party holding the assets.  The former would require the G7 countries first to confiscate the Russian assets before turning them over to Ukraine, a step some of those countries seem disinclined to take. The alternative approach would be to move the claim for reparations into the hands of the people physically holding the Russian assets, the G7, thereby positioning Russia’s debt to be set off against Russia’s claim against the G7 for the return of the frozen assets.
  • A Ukraine Reparations Loan could accomplish this...: The G7 countries would participate — in amounts to be agreed among themselves — in a syndicated loan to Ukraine. As collateral for that loan, Ukraine would pledge its entitlement to receive war reparations from Russia. Once the amounts of those reparations begin to be assessed by an internationally recognized body, the G7 can commence foreclosing on its collateral — Ukraine’s entitlement to the reparations. 

“What do you do with 191bn frozen euros owned by Russia?”, Economist, 02.28.24.

  • Much like every other central bank, the CBR [Central Bank of Russia] stores reserve assets abroad. After Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the G7 froze these assets and prohibited financial firms from moving them. 
  • Of the $282bn of Russian assets immobilized in Japan and the West, some $207bn (€191bn) are held at Euroclear, a clearing-house in Belgium. … This account is now home to roughly €132bn. Last year it earned a return of €4.4bn, which conveniently belongs to Euroclear, as per the clearing-house’s terms and conditions. … Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, wants to use Euroclear’s windfall to buy military equipment for Ukraine.
  • How exactly could this be done? Taking assets from someone usually requires a court order, but in international law things are a little more complicated. … Some, including Lawrence Summers, a former American treasury secretary, want to make use of states’ right to take so-called countermeasures. These are otherwise unlawful actions that are sometimes allowed in response to unlawful acts. That Ukraine is entitled to deploy countermeasures is undisputed. How broadly the same rules apply to those acting in support of Ukraine is more controversial. 
  • As Lee Buchheit, a veteran of international law, notes, the problem reflects a geographical mismatch. Ukraine has strong claims on Russia, but no frozen Russian assets it could use to settle them. The West has no claims but plenty of assets. Thus the challenge is to find a way to match these assets and claims. In a recent paper, Mr Buchheit and co-authors suggest just such a way. They argue that the West could provide a loan to Ukraine, in return for which Ukraine could offer its claims on Russia as collateral. The West would agree to use only this collateral for redemption of the loan. When Russia inevitably refuses to pay up, the West would then be able to foreclose on the collateral.
  • Would this work? One difficulty is that an international body would still have to determine precisely how much Ukraine is owed. … A second difficulty is posed by Belgium, which has access to most frozen Russian assets and would therefore need to receive most of the claims against Russia from Ukraine. It might be reluctant to play such a pivotal role, given the potential for retribution.
  • But perhaps there is no need to seize Russian assets after all. Indeed, the eu is already planning to implement a windfall tax on any profits they accrue. If returns continue to be siphoned off indefinitely, the difference between confiscating the asset and confiscating the income becomes smaller and smaller. In economic terms, the West is already the owner of Russia’s assets. All that is left now is to fund Ukraine’s fight.

For more commentary on punitive measures, see:

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“What the Istanbul Agreements Reveal About the Future of Russia-Ukraine Negotiations,” Ivan Grek, Russia.Post, 03.01.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • To envisage possible negotiations, we need to return to the Istanbul agreements of March 2022. 
  •  Both Kyiv and Moscow have revealed some key details of the document, yet they have stuck to the mutual agreement not to publish it. Even though the text remains inaccessible, the details confirmed by both sides shed light on the fundamental reasons behind Russia’s invasion, the structure of possible negotiations and Moscow’s evolving demands. It is likely that the agreement to keep the document secret is due to the fact that it represents a significant framework for future talks, while the ongoing war will set the stage for reinterpretations of the different points concluded in March 2022.
  • The Istanbul agreements will likely frame future talks, but the change in the situation on the battlefield will affect the terms. After the successful operations in Kharkiv and Kherson regions, Ukraine was in a position to amend the Istanbul agreements as Russia was on the verge of a major military collapse. The Zelensky administration decided to continue the offensive, which forced the Kremlin to call a mass mobilization in Russia that, by the end of the second year of the war, has given Moscow the edge at the front and made Ukraine’s official victory plan of returning to the 1991 borders look unrealistic. The initiative is with Russia now.
  • Russia will not retract its demand for Ukraine to be nonaligned, and might even return to the demand of neutral status for Kyiv. Neutral status could be supported by the international community and countries that will become its guarantors. In the flashed Istanbul agreements document, Putin mentioned the US, France, Russia, the UK and China. Thus, Moscow intends to bring China into a new European security system to regulate the resolution of the war in Ukraine. Having refused to participate in meetings about resolving the conflict that do not involve Russia, Beijing seeks to strengthen its position in Europe through the backdoor proposed by Putin.
  • The future is highly uncertain, with the warring countries influenced by the battlefield realities and changes in the global and domestic backdrops, such as the US presidential election in November. Still, the Istanbul agreements will continue to provide the basic framework to envisage what a peace could look like. This framework will not resolve the question of justice, but might prevent more injustices from occurring.

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

“Containing Global Russia,” Michael Kimmage and Hanna Notte, War on the Rocks, 03.04.24.

  • To recognize the scale of the challenge Russia represents is, first and foremost, to connect the dots of its global foreign policy. To diminish Russia’s sources of self-preservation, the United States should continue to close the loopholes on sanctions. Disrupting weapons transfers from Iran and North Korea will be a tall order, but other efforts to starve Russia’s war machine are having an effect — as shown by the growing number of foreign banks that are restricting their business with Russian clients. Although Russia’s military presence outside of Europe remains modest, the United States should counter Russia’s support for malign actors in the Middle East, where possible, while buttressing partner governments in Africa to limit the further expansion of Africa Corps. Since Washington cannot (and need not) take on Moscow everywhere, it should focus on those theaters where Russian military activities risk producing the greatest negative spillover effects.
  • The United States should not expect Russia to return to compartmentalization any time soon. Efforts at restraining a nuclear North Korea and preventing Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold will have to be done not just without, but also in opposition to, Russia. Washington should call on Russia to return to nuclear arms control talks before New START expires in 2026, while seriously planning for the eventuality that Putin will not cooperate.
  • Contending with Russia’s efforts to upend the international order and to advance its own integration projects will be very difficult. Washington’s support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s irresponsible government has further degraded trust in the West, elucidating a simple lesson: The more the United States and its allies have to offer the Global South in its terms, whatever those may be, and the more respect they show to the foreign policy autonomy of those countries, the more they will expose the many points of hollowness that inform Russian foreign policy. The power of example will in every case outshine the power of argument. The same is true for the power of negative example.
  • Most urgent is continued support for Ukraine. If Moscow wins the war, its efforts to remake international order will accelerate. A Russia in control of Ukraine would feel more self-confident, and it would suffer from fewer resource constraints. Its appeal as a partner to non-Western states would grow, while Western credibility in Europe and elsewhere would be in ruins. Russia’s global game runs through Ukraine. That is where it must be stopped.

“NATO’s Confusion Over the Russia Threat,” Franz-Stefan Gady, FP, 02.27.24. 

  • In Europe, not a week goes by without another stark warning about the growing potential of a Russian attack on a European Union member, especially if Ukraine loses the war ... But all these exhortations to get ready for a potential war with Russia beg the question: What, exactly, is Russia preparing for? And what, in turn, does Europe need to do to be ready for various contingencies?
  • With scenarios and threat perceptions so different across NATO, it is difficult for the bloc to come up with a realistic joint timeline for when Russian forces might be ready to pose a threat beyond Ukraine. Most importantly for Western defense planning, it remains unclear when Russia’s major combat operations in Ukraine will cease and what losses in manpower and equipment Russia will have sustained by then. Other questions include what Russia can rebuild and reconstitute, what it can fund given the size of its economy, which technologies it can access, and whether it can generate the necessary human resources in both the defense industry and the military itself. On all these points, there are vigorous debates in Western analyst and intelligence communities.

“Ukraine: the balance of resources and the balance of resolve,” Nigel Gould-Davies, IISS, 02.26.24. 

  • It might thus be tempting to say that 2022 and 2023 showed, respectively, the limits of Russian and Ukrainian power, and that 2024 should be a year of compromise and peace-making supported by the West. This would be a grave error for three reasons.
    • Firstly, neither side is ready to compromise. 
    • Secondly, the war has not reached a stalemate but remains dynamic and unpredictable. 
    • Thirdly, while last year saw little change on the battlefield, the wider geopolitics of the war were transformed. NATO is enlarging and reforming. Several European states have signed bilateral security agreements with Ukraine, and the European Union has begun accession negotiations. Russia has few allies, but its dependence on drones and ballistic missiles from Iran, and ammunition from North Korea, has drawn it closer to both. Since Russia and Ukraine each depend on external support, the capacities and choices of the states that supply them will determine the outcome of the war.
  • The balance of resolve favors Russia. It now spends around 7.5% of its GDP on defense and security, while only 11 NATO members spent more than 2% last year. By devoting a larger slice of a smaller pie, Russia’s repressive regime may prevail against a prosperous coalition of democracies. 
  • The West urgently needs a geo-economic strategy for the war to harness its superiority in economic power to its security imperatives. This should have three elements.
    • Firstly, the West should mobilize military-industrial production for Ukraine and for itself. 
    • Secondly, the West should move towards a general prohibition on trade with Russia. 
    • Thirdly, the West should use the US$300 billion in Russian Central Bank assets that have been frozen for the past two years to provide urgent support for Ukraine and ease the pressure on Western taxpayers. 

“The Big Lesson From the West’s Last Invasion of Russia,” Theodore Bunzel, FP, 03.04.24.

  • From 1918 to 1920, the United States, Britain, France, and Japan sent thousands of troops from the Baltics to northern Russia to Siberia to Crimea—and millions of dollars in aid and military supplies to the anti-communist White Russians—in an abortive attempt to strangle Bolshevism in its crib. It’s one of the most complicated and oft-forgot foreign-policy failures of the 20th century. 
  • The disturbing question hanging over Anna Reid in her new book, “A Nasty Little War: The Western Intervention Into the Russian Civil War” is whether the West is doomed to repeat history. 
  • Despite the current pall of pessimism pervading Western capitals, today’s war in Ukraine presents some of the more propitious circumstances a policymaker could hope for—unlike those faced by the Allies during the Russian civil war. Ukraine is a worthy and competent ally, fighting to defend its territory with a highly motivated population behind it. The Ukrainian cause is a righteous one, with a Manichean quality to it easily explained to Western publics.
  • If the United States and its allies can avoid the pitfalls of the Western intervention in the Russian civil war—developing a clear long-term strategy, continuing to coordinate closely, and reinforcing domestic support by making the case to their own populations—then they have a real shot of prevailing over Putin. Given the auspicious conditions, the main, perhaps only obstacle to long-term success is the political will to see the job through.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“How Russia war-gamed a Chinese invasion,” Max Seddon and Chris Cook, FT, 02.29.24.

  • War games, which were written by Russian officers between 2008 and 2014 and leaked to the Financial Times, offer an extraordinary window on the army’s long-standing fears about Beijing’s real intentions, according to experts who reviewed the files. The documents recount years of exercises rehearsing a possible Chinese invasion, revealing the military establishment’s deep suspicion of Beijing. 
  • One document from a 2014 exercise describes relations spiraling towards conflict following the rise to power of “a new generation of nationalist leaders” in Dasinia, the fictional name for a country with China’s precise geography
  • Some documents suggest concern that China might mount offensives via Kazakhstan — possibly leading to strikes on western Siberia and even the Urals. But in several exercises dating back as far as 2008, the invasion force’s ultimate goal is to take over the Russian far east.
  • Spheres of competition between Russia and China remain, particularly in Central Asia. Russia’s focus on Kazakhstan in the documents indicates how Moscow saw the challenge from Beijing in Central Asia coming through military diplomacy, said Jack Watling, senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.
  • Michael Kofman, a senior fellow at Carnegie, cautioned that the “road to war” in military exercises are often “contrived, designed to test the force, and set up the exercise.” “They’re not necessarily reflective of what is assessed as the likeliest or most realistic threat.”

For more commentary on Chinese-Russian relations, see: 

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms and space-based weapons:

“Russia’s nuclear-capable missiles: a question of escalation control,” William Alberque, IISS, 03.01.24. 

  • Examining ... three areas – Russia’s ability to absorb military losses, its deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure and the limitations of its conventionally armed land-attack missile arsenal – provides potential insights into Russia’s theatre nuclear doctrine. Furthermore, it raises questions about Moscow’s ability to control escalation. 
    • Russia’s capacity to sustain military losses is considerable, and it outstrips that of the United States and Western allies. ... This has key implications for American and Russian military strategy as the two countries try to calculate each other’s threshold of ‘unacceptable losses’ to force the other side to concede. If the US and its allies’ tolerance for losses among their own personnel and materiel is an order of magnitude lower than Russia’s, then, in the event of a direct confrontation, Russia could be incentivized to use nuclear weapons to inflict an unacceptable number of losses on NATO armed forces to force capitulation. 
    • As Russia destroys civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, it appears that Moscow is pursuing a strategy in which civilian casualties are a feature, not a consequence, of its campaign. This stands in contrast to the objectives of the United States, which seeks to minimize civilian casualties in military operations, including through the use of precision-guided weapons and improved targeting procedures.  ...This indicates that, in the event of a theatre war, there is a possibility that Russia would target NATO civilians, potentially by directing nuclear weapons at cities to quickly break Western will without escalating to a general nuclear war with the US. 
    • Ukraine’s success at intercepting Russia’s land-attack cruise missiles has arguably demonstrated a vulnerability in Russia’s nuclear-war planning. Nearly all of the conventional land-attack systems in the Russian inventory have nuclear analogues.  ....This has possible implications for aspects of Russia’s nuclear strategy, as Moscow may consider that launching calibrated nuclear strikes using small numbers of non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNW) would allow it to attempt to control a conflict. For example, limited theatre nuclear strikes with NSNW could be used to prevent the US from escalating to a general nuclear exchange or to end the conflict on Russian terms. But if Russia’s NSNW face the same survivability issues as their conventional counterparts, Moscow would need to fire a larger number of nuclear-armed missiles to breach NATO defenses and hit its target. Such an attack risks being interpreted by the US as a much larger nuclear strike despite Russia’s more limited intentions. This could undermine any Russian aim to limit escalation and prevent a retaliation against Russian territory as a result.   
  • Russia’s capacity for military losses, its tolerance of civilian casualties and the apparent limitations of those systems in its arsenal that have both conventional and nuclear-armed variants give rise to two possible conclusions regarding its nuclear doctrine. 
    • Firstly, given Russia’s indifference to civilian casualties in Ukraine, it stands to reason that Russia would see value in using NSNW to target NATO troops and potentially population centers to destroy the Western will to fight, discourage US escalation or terminate the conflict on Russia’s terms. Russia appears to be less worried about the military and civilian cost of any potential retaliation at the battlefield or theatre level. 
    • Secondly, if Russia’s confidence in its ability to control escalation is further eroded by the poor performance of its older dual-capable missiles, Moscow may decide to build up its arsenal to include faster delivery systems, such as the 3M22 Zircon (RS-SS-N-33), which was first deployed in early 2023. Until such an arsenal is in place, however, Russia’s confidence in its escalation control may remain uncertain, giving the West a temporary reprieve from at least some Russian nuclear threats. 

“Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly,”, 02.09.24. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • The so-called West, with its colonial practices and penchant for inciting ethnic conflicts around the world, not only seeks to impede our progress but also envisions a Russia that is a dependent, declining, and dying space where they can do as they please. 
  • The Armed Forces have expanded their combat capabilities many-fold. Our units have seized the initiative and will not surrender it. They are confidently advancing in several operational theatres and liberating more territories.
  • The strategic nuclear forces are on full combat alert and the ability to use them is assured. We have either already accomplished or are about to accomplish all our plans in terms of weapons in keeping with what I said in my 2018 Address.
    • Kinzhal, the hypersonic air-launched complex, has not only entered combat duty, but has been effective when carrying out strikes against critical targets during the special military operation. 
    • By the same token, Zircon, a ship-based hypersonic missile complex, has already served in combat. It was not even mentioned during the 2018 address, but this missile system has also entered combat duty.
    • Avangard hypersonic ICBMs, as well as the Peresvet laser complexes have also entered combat duty. 
    • Burevestnik, a cruise missile with an unlimited range, is about to complete its testing stage and so is the Poseidon, an unmanned underwater vehicle. 
    •  Our troops also received the first serially produced Sarmat heavy ballistic missiles. 
  • Incorporating our real combat experience, we will continue to strengthen the Armed Forces in every possible way, including ongoing re-equipping and modernization efforts. Today, the share of modern weapons and equipment in the strategic nuclear forces has already reached 95%, while the naval component of the “nuclear triad” is at almost 100%. We have begun serial production of new Zircon hypersonic missiles. Trials of other offensive systems are nearing completion. Last December, new strategic submarines were added to the navy. Just the other day in Kazan, four Tu-160M missile carriers were transferred to the Armed Forces.
  • Russia is ready for dialogue with the United States on issues of strategic stability. However, it is important to clarify that in this case we are dealing with a state whose ruling circles are taking openly hostile actions towards us. So, they seriously intend to discuss strategic security issues with us while simultaneously trying to inflict strategic defeat on Russia on the battlefield, as they themselves say.
  • Here is a good example of their hypocrisy. They have recently made unfounded allegations, in particular, against Russia, regarding plans to deploy nuclear weapons in space. Such fake narratives, and this story is unequivocally false, are designed to involve us in negotiations on their conditions, which will only benefit the United States.
  • Our position is clear: if you want to discuss security and stability issues that are critical for the entire planet, this must be done as a package including, of course, all aspects that have to do with our national interests and have a direct bearing on the security of our country, the security of Russia. 
  • We are also aware of the Western attempts to draw us into an arms race, thereby exhausting us, mirroring the strategy they successfully employed with the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Let me remind you that in 1981–1988, the Soviet Union’s military spending amounted to 13 percent of GDP.
  • We need to shore up the forces in the western strategic theatre in order to counteract the threats posed by NATO’s further eastward expansion, with Sweden and Finland joining the alliance.
  • The West has provoked conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle East, and other regions around the world while consistently propagating falsehoods. Now they have the audacity to say that Russia harbors intentions of attacking Europe. Can you believe it? We all know that their claims are utterly baseless. And at the same time, they are selecting targets to strike on our territory and contemplating the most efficient means of destruction. Now they have started talking about the possibility of deploying NATO military contingents to Ukraine.
  • But we remember what happened to those who sent their contingents to the territory of our country once before. Today, any potential aggressors will face far graver consequences. They must grasp that we also have weapons – yes, they know this, as I have just said – capable of striking targets on their territory.
  • Everything they are inventing now, spooking the world with the threat of a conflict involving nuclear weapons, which potentially means the end of civilization – don’t they realize this? The problem is that these are people who have never faced profound adversity; they have no conception of the horrors of war. We – even the younger generation of Russians – have endured such trials during the fight against international terrorism in the Caucasus, and now, in the conflict in Ukraine. But they continue to think of this as a kind of action cartoon.
  • Artificial intelligence is an important element of digital platforms. Here, too, Russia must be self-sufficient and competitive. An executive order has already been signed approving the updated version of the National Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence. The document sets new goals, including the need to ensure technological sovereignty in such revolutionary fields as generative artificial intelligence and large language models. Practical application of such systems promises to produce a real breakthrough in the economy and social sphere, and so it shall. 

“Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine continues to threaten the nuclear order’s grand bargain,” Olamide Samuel, European Leadership Network, 02.27.24.

  • The NPT’s grand bargain is a delicate balance of obligations undertaken by nuclear weapons states (NWS) and non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) to ensure the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the spread of nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes, even as all states parties are obliged to strive towards the elimination of nuclear weapons as per Article VI of the treaty.
    • Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has increased the salience of nuclear weapons in ways that threaten to jeopardize the NPT’s grand bargain.
  • President Vladimir Putin’s issuing of overt nuclear threats to shield his expansionist agenda in Ukraine sparked serious consideration about whether some NWS could begin to see a coercive role for nuclear weapons.
  • Russia’s invasion has upset the fragile balance of obligations in the NPT’s bargain by dramatically increasing the perceived salience of nuclear weapons and reigniting latent motivations for horizontal proliferation as a consequence.
    • As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked, Russia’s invasion sent the “worst possible message” about the value of nuclear weapons.
  • One can argue that Russia’s invasion goes against the spirit of Article I of the NPT, which calls on NWS to not directly or indirectly encourage or induce any NNWS to otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or control over such weapons or explosive devices.
  • Fortunately, the Russian invasion has not yet become the ‘proliferation trigger’ many had anticipated at the start of the conflict.
  • Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, NWS revalidation and expansion of security assurances have taken on increased importance. It is incumbent on NWS to reaffirm their commitments to negative security assurances and demonstrate a willingness to reinforce them, just as some have reaffirmed their commitments to nuclear-backed security alliances.

“Leaked Russian military files reveal criteria for nuclear strike,” Max Seddon and Chris Cook, FT, 02.28.24. 

  • Vladimir Putin’s forces have rehearsed using tactical nuclear weapons at an early stage of conflict with a major world power, according to leaked Russian military files that include training scenarios for an invasion by China.
  • The cache consists of 29 secret Russian military files drawn up between 2008 and 2014, including scenarios for war-gaming and presentations for naval officers, which discuss operating principles for the use of nuclear weapons.
  • The defensive plans expose deeply held suspicions of China among Moscow’s security elite even as Putin began forging an alliance with Beijing, which as early as 2001 included a nuclear no-first-strike agreement.
  • A separate training presentation for naval officers, unrelated to the China war games, outlines broader criteria for a potential nuclear strike, including:
    • An enemy landing on Russian territory, the defeat of units responsible for securing border areas, or an imminent enemy attack using conventional weapons.
    • The slides summarize the threshold as a combination of factors where losses suffered by Russian forces “would irrevocably lead to their failure to stop major enemy aggression,” a “critical situation for the state security of Russia.”
    • Other potential conditions include the destruction of 20 per cent of Russia’s strategic ballistic missile submarines, 30 per cent of its nuclear-powered attack submarines, three or more cruisers, three airfields, or a simultaneous hit on main and reserve coastal command centers.
    • Russia’s military is also expected to be able to use tactical nuclear weapons for a broad array of goals, including “containing states from using aggression […] or escalating military conflicts,” “stopping aggression,” preventing Russian forces from losing battles or territory, and making Russia’s navy “more effective.”

“A new arms race could go to infinity - and beyond absurdity,” Editorial Board, WP, 03.01.24. 

  • President Biden chose his words carefully about U.S. intelligence reports of a possible Russian nuclear-armed antisatellite weapon in space. "There is no nuclear threat to the people of America or anywhere else in the world," he said, adding that such a weapon has not been deployed. Left unsaid: It would pose an enormous danger to satellites upon which billions of people rely.
  • President Vladimir Putin sometimes boasts about new and exotic weapons systems. Not all of them exist, nor will they. But the latest controversy is a reminder that such boasts can become reality. New weapons and technology often lead to arms races, tension and instability.
  • The United States now faces not one but two rivals in Russia and China; competition with them will be necessary, difficult and costly. Mr. Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine makes arms control negotiation nearly impossible - he cannot be trusted - and China has refused to talk about limits on nuclear weapons. Still, at the very least, extension of the New START accord beyond 2026 with Russia and starting talks with China would be in everyone's interest. In the long term, arms control treaties might again be needed to contain the dangers, not only of nuclear weapons but also of armaments in cyber, disinformation or something entirely new.

"Space Defense Must Look Beyond Russia’s Nuke Threat," Editorial Board, Bloomberg, 03.01.24.

  • Any agreement to restrict anti-satellite weapons is a distant possibility; neither Russia nor China has signed on to the US’s voluntary moratorium on anti-satellite missile tests that generate debris, and they’re unlikely to limit their capabilities as long as they think the US holds an advantage. It’s hard even to define what constitutes a space “weapon”: Satellites able to seize enemy assets can also be used for repair and maintenance.
  • But there is more the US can do. As a start, it should keep pressuring Russia’s Vladimir Putin to back down. While Putin is unlikely to cancel or even admit to his program, enough global outrage might convince him to keep any space nukes grounded for now. Countries such as India and China have every interest in keeping space free from nuclear threats and minimizing orbital debris.
  • At the same time, the US ought to accelerate efforts to replace its big, vulnerable satellites with constellations of smaller, cheaper ones... Some newer satellites might be made more maneuverable, so they can switch between orbits, or outfitted with stealth or deception capabilities.
  • Critical assets such as nuclear command-and-control satellites may require more active defenses. The US and its partners could declare “safety zones” around them, inside which any intrusion would be deemed hostile. They could also deploy so-called bodyguard satellites to shove away interlopers.
  • Inevitably, the US will have to continue efforts to develop its own space weapons.
  • Finally, the US needs to prepare for failure. Undersea and ground-based communication lines should be strengthened, in case satellites are knocked offline.

“Space development: Star Wars or Star Trek?” Andrey Kortunov, Global Times, 02.28.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • During a recent regular press briefing in Washington, John Kirby, White House National Security Communications Advisor, expressed concerns about Russia allegedly working on new anti-satellite weapons. 
  • The good news is that it is not too late to start multilateral negotiations on space-related matters. Over the last 20 years, China and Russia promoted the idea of complete demilitarization of outer space. On February 12, 2008, the two nations submitted a draft treaty on banning weapons in outer space to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament. According to Beijing and Moscow, the Treaty should be comprehensive, legally binding, subject to appropriate verification procedures in participating countries and accompanied by credible mechanisms of implementation verification. Needless to say, to conclude such a treaty would be a non-trivial task, particularly under the current challenging geopolitical circumstances, but even the first steps in this direction would already make a lot of difference in the overall political atmospherics around the space weapons problem.
  • The two most famous US space movie sagas are Star Wars and Star Trek. In many ways, they look similar to each other, but there is at least one fundamental difference between the two. Star Wars is about the eternal struggle between good and evil, about a black-and-white world, in which characters have to decide whether to go to the light side or the dark side. Star Trek is about exploration of the limitless universe, about the quest for knowledge and about how to understand and accept alien cultures. If humankind is committed to its survival and prospering, it has to choose the Star Trek path over the Star Wars path.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“The Perilous Coming Age of AI Warfare,” Paul Scharre, FA, 02.29.24.

  • The deployment of [autonomous drones] shows that the window to regulate autonomous weapons is closing fast. The unconstrained development of autonomous weapons could lead to wars that expand beyond human control, with fewer protections for both combatants and civilians.
    • Autonomous drones are so valuable [because] they do not rely on vulnerable communications links [human operators].
  • All…drones [used in the war in Ukraine], which are currently remotely controlled, could be upgraded to become autonomous, allowing continued operation if the communications link were jammed.
  • Although autonomous weapons could…reduce civilian casualties by precisely targeting combatants, in the hands of a state that cares little about civilian casualties… could be used to commit devastating atrocities.
  • One of the most extreme risks comes from integrating AI and autonomy into nuclear weapons.
    • In 2022, the United States declared that it would always retain a “human ‘in the loop’” for decisions to use nuclear weapons…Yet Russia and China have not.
    • Moscow has begun to develop a nuclear-armed autonomous underwater drone.
  • An all-out ban [of autonomous weapons] …is unlikely. Governments are…reluctant to give up a potentially valuable weapon because of uncertain claims about potential future harms.
    • Moscow’s and Washington’s opposition is fatal, as a ban on autonomous weapons is meaningless if it does not include the world’s major military powers.
  • States could adopt uniform rules of the road for autonomous drones to reduce the risk of accidents.
  • Governments could adopt a broad principle that establishes the minimum necessary human involvement in lethal decision-making.
    • [Governments could] also agree that…any use of autonomous weapons must be limited in geography, time and the targets being attacked.
  • Governments could ban autonomous weapons that target people… antipersonnel autonomous weapons pose greater risks than those that target only vehicles or equipment.
  • The United States should…persuade other nuclear powers to pursue an agreement ensuring strict human control over nuclear weapons.

“AI in the Year of Elections: A Force to be Reckoned With?” Sam Power, Dr Pia Hüsch and Emma De Angelis, RUSI, 02.29.24.

  • The adoption of AI can also support free and democratic elections and help secure them against interference.
    • AI can be used to create better and more accessible data on campaign financing. This has the potential to improve transparency and ultimately trust.
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP) has the potential to allow for near real-time analysis of election spending and campaigning, such that wrongdoing can be identified during an election as opposed to months after. 
  • It is…hard to measure the effects of disinformation campaigns during elections. But the most recent…work suggests that fake news is more likely to simply reinforce existing partisan beliefs than it is to have a radical effect on voting behavior.
  • Engagement by the whole of society is needed, including close collaboration with the private sector to enable information exchange between sectors and foster mutual approaches.
    • It is…important that technology companies…watermark AI-generated content.
  • It is unlikely that AI will be as debilitating or damaging as the prevailing narratives we will see during the 2024 electoral cycle.

“History Says Ukraine Can Win the War Against Russia,” Alexander J. Motyl, The National Interest, 02.29.24.

  • Numbers alone are a poor predictor of military outcomes. But if numbers are all that matters, Ukraine shouldn’t have survived the invasion of 2014 and the all-out war of 2022.
    • But so do other things, such as leadership, economies, technology, tactics, strategies, grit, faith, morale and many other tangible and intangible factors.
  • [“Freezing” most of reality for analysis] makes for…poor policy advice, precisely because policymakers inhabit a complex world in which everything seems to matter.
    • All analysts simplify…but simplification also means that no one prediction can stand for the whole.
  • [Looking at numbers,] Ukraine did well as long as the West provided it with the requisite number of weapons and ammunition. Ukraine began struggling when those supplies were reduced to a trickle. 
    • If numbers are all that matters, Russia is certain to lose as long as the West “outnumbers” Russia.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“If Republicans won't stand up to Putin, he won't stand down in his threats to American interests,” Editorial Board, BG, 02.28.24.

  • This is no time for partisan gamesmanship to take precedence over protecting Americans and our allies from the multifaceted national security threat Russia poses. But that is exactly what Republican lawmakers seem to be doing. It's a dereliction of their duties, not to mention the values many of them claim to stand for, and they need to reverse course now.
    • First and foremost, they must immediately pass a funding measure to provide aid to Ukraine to help the emerging democracy fend off Russia's brutal power grab of a war, restore its most basic government operations, and prevent a Russian victory that could embolden Putin to attack more countries and US allies. 
      • Helping Ukraine fight off Russia is not an act of charity. It is a vital investment in world security. Failing to help Ukraine now only raises the risk of America getting dragged into far more expensive and dangerous conflicts later, if a triumphant Putin moves on to US allies like Poland or the Baltic states.
    • Putting America's needs first requires that we not only stand up for our allies but also protect Americans from ongoing Russian threats to Americans' safety and US elections — and stop acting as witting or unwitting accomplices in Russian efforts to destabilize US politics.
  • The death in a Russian prison of dissident Alexei Navalny — of “sudden death syndrome,” a common ailment among Putin's political opponents — is proof of just how empowered Putin feels right now. Republicans must stand up to him rather than implicitly doing his bidding. That is an American need that calls for urgent attention.

“Vladimir Putin hardly needs to interfere in American democracy,” Economist, 02.29.24.

  • President Vladimir Putin of Russia must get a kick out of spreading disinformation to Americans for its own sake. Otherwise it is hard to see why he would bother. As has episodically been the case for eight years, Washington is abuzz over allegations of Russian manipulation. The special counsel investigating President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, has charged FBI informant Alexander Smirnov with telling lies about the president that have been central to Republican efforts to impeach him; the indictment links the informant to Russian intelligence.
  • You might expect such a dramatic development to derail the impeachment. That would betray a touching faith that the truth mattered in the first place. Republicans who once trumpeted the informant’s claims are shrugging them away and insisting that impeachment will move ahead based on other suspicions and suppositions, though the Republicans’ two-seat majority in the House of Representatives is all but certain to doom any vote, given the misgivings of some members.
  • No Republican who hyped Mr Smirnov’s accusations has expressed regret, and the leader of the committee pursuing impeachment, James Comer, insists his inquiry, which has yet to produce evidence of a crime by the president, “is not reliant” on them. It would be reassuring to discover that, at bottom, Mr Putin is responsible for all this nonsense. What seems more probable is that he offered an assist to politicians already more than capable of wasting their chance to do some good while in office.


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Putin’s state-of-the-nation address offers Soviet vision of Russia’s future,” Alexander Kolyandr and Alexandra Prokopenko, The Bell, 03.01.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state-of-the-nation address Thursday broke records, both for length and the number of “spontaneous” outbreaks of applause (there were 116 of them, according to one count). But the parallels with the Soviet Union don't end there. Putin spent only a short time talking about the main threat to the economy – Russia’s war in Ukraine – and instead threatened the West, engaged in nuclear saber-rattling, and appeared to promise a far greater role for the state in the Russian economy.
  • Opinion polls suggest that the most popular candidate in presidential elections next month would be someone who does not harp on about the war, but who offers solutions to Russia’s domestic problems. So, once he’d got the saber-rattling out of the way, the lion’s share of Putin’s speech was about his plans through 2030.
    • One of the new initiatives that Putin announced was five “national projects.” Four of these (Family, Youth, Long and Active Life, and Personnel) are related to human capital. Only one, Data Economy, relates directly to the economy. 
    • Putin's speech suggested the state intends to act as the major player on the market – not just as a guarantor. 
    • Putin also pledged billions of dollars of spending. The promised new spending over the next six years comes to around 6 trillion ($66 billion), or about one trillion rubles a year. It may sound like a lot, but in reality it is relatively little – about 0.6% of GDP each year. 
    • And Putin hinted that the state could impose new taxes, or raise existing ones, to pay for its additional social spending, as well as to boost productivity and to wean the country off imports. In particular, Putin suggested raising corporate taxes and hiking income tax for the wealthy. 
  • Another important takeaway from Putin's speech was that those pursuing private business have, in effect, been erased from the national elite. Putin put it bluntly. “The word “elite” has discredited itself, especially when applied to those who lined their pockets in the 1990s,” he said. “The real elite are the workers and warriors who serve Russia.”
  • There were also some odd moments in Putin’s speech. The president praised Russians for drinking less, despite the fact that recent official figures showed the first increase in the number of alcoholics in Russia for a decade. He also said the number of people in poverty should be reduced to 7% of the population – even though six years earlier he had set a far more ambitious target. 
  • Ominously, Putin promised to prevent an economic collapse like the one that occurred in the late Soviet Union. … State capitalism in Russia is becoming more and more about the state, and less and less about capitalism. State spending, national projects and inflated government outlays are now a much better pathway to wealth than the free market. Nor did Putin much bother with presenting a new vision for the future in his speech. His new six-year plan can be summed up as: everything will be like before, only better. Some of Putin's planned projects have obvious beneficiaries, such as the construction sector, and the new military elite. But who exactly will be better off, and how exactly this will work, is not at all clear. 

“Putin’s Six-Year Manifesto Sets Sights Beyond Ukraine,” Tatiana Stanovaya, CEIP, 03.01.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • As Vladimir Putin prepares to run for re-election in less than three weeks’ time for a fifth presidential term, the Russian leader has not troubled himself with writing a manifesto. Instead, he chose to use the platform of his annual state of the nation address on Thursday as a convenient campaigning opportunity.
  • Unsurprisingly, Putin began with what matters most to him personally: the war in Ukraine. The speech to both chambers of the Russian parliament conveyed a tangible feeling that this is a pivotal moment: in the eyes of the Russian leadership, Russia has passed some kind of geopolitical milestone, establishing its long-term strategic advantage.
  • In last year’s address, Putin seemed to believe that the outcome of the confrontation had not yet been determined. That speech was peppered with emotional outbursts and notes of bitterness, resentment, and agitation. This time around, Putin behaved as if he were sure that the critical line had already been passed, and his rhetoric was proud and confident. Russia has seized the military initiative and gone on the offensive, he announced.
  • The horizons of this “holy war” have now expanded. If a year ago, Putin focused on protecting “our land” and relied on defensive and even sacrificial rhetoric, this year he sounded victorious, speaking not on behalf of a geopolitical victim, but as a “formidable and invincible force.” This change can be explained by the Kremlin’s growing faith in Russia’s military advantage in the war with Ukraine, and a sense of the weakness and fragmentation of the West.
  • Putin also made it clear that his agenda does not stop with Ukraine. He used the address to present Russia as “a stronghold of the traditional values on which human civilization stands,” and as a geopolitical ideologist backed by “the majority of people in the world, including millions in Western countries.” It would be a grave mistake to underestimate the ambition of these words. This is not empty propaganda, but a reflection of plans for ideological expansion, the export of “Putinism” to Western countries, and active work with potential “friends.” In other words, the geopolitical battlefield for values is once again moving to Western territory, and Putin feels more confident than ever.
  • For now, people are invited to join the war effort on a voluntary basis: any kind of participation is welcome
  • His main pre-election gift... , is a guarantee of protection from “strategic defeat”: from the West’s dastardly plans to turn Russia into a “dependent, declining, and dying space where they can do as they please.” This particular extract from Putin’s speech is the embodiment of former first deputy chief of staff Vyacheslav Volodin’s famous comment: “no Putin, no Russia.” Today it could be updated to: “without the war, there will be no Russia.” This message to the West was perhaps the most important element of the speech. 
  • The Russian authorities have already made it clear that they are only prepared to enter into a strategic dialogue with Washington on an “inclusive” basis, i.e., as part of the search for a solution on Ukraine. In reality, this means that Russia is demanding that the United States agree to the partition of Ukraine.

“We should not call Russia's economic policy military Keynesianism,” Sergei Guriev, Novaya Gazeta Europe, 02.28.24.

  • There is data according to which the Russian economy slightly outperforms the German economy in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). A country’s GDP to PPP is not a meaningful indicator. A different story is the per capita calculation. We do not know how many people live in Russia, where the borders are in 2022, how many people were born, how the 2021 census was conducted…
  • [In terms of] GDP in market prices…Russia is in eighth place; previously, it was in 11th place. [In terms of] GDP per capita to PPP… Russia is in about 50th and 60th place. 
  • GDP is a good measure for a peaceful country…in a country [at war], GDP is misleading.
    • The fact that Russia is spending money on war distorts GDP. But the idea of the Keynesian model of economics is that you have the Great Depression and huge unemployment. You are spending public money to employ people and reduce unemployment.
    • In Russia…there was low unemployment, and now there is simply a shortage of workers. If Keynes looked at this, he would have said that it was necessary to reduce government spending. Because you are overheating the economy, you will have rising inflation.
  • Regarding GDP, the Russian economy is doing relatively well… [it] has overcome the recession of 2022. Russia's GDP is higher than it was in 2021. To be sure, this growth will continue as [President Vladimir] Putin ramps up military spending. The only hope is that he will run out of money sooner or later because of decreasing oil revenues.
    • Putin plans to increase military spending in rubles by one and a half times, from 4% to 6% of GDP. This plan can be implemented in 2024. [However] without sanctions, Putin would have even more resources.
  • In Russia, the civilian sector is suffering from the rising costs of loans. But if you make tanks, you are doing well [in terms of some indicators].
    • In the civilian sector, you have to pay higher salaries because the military sector poaches your workers…
  • There will be no uncontrolled inflation in Russia. There will be that dual economy. One (military) economy will fare well; the other (civilian) will suffer from rising wages and interest rates. In addition…hundreds of thousands of people are at the frontlines. They don’t produce anything.
  • Oil sanctions aimed to take the oil rent from Putin and give it to third countries, such as India…to limit Putin’s resources.
    • The West's Russian oil and gas consumption has fallen to almost zero. Imports of hydrocarbons from Russia have fallen by more than ten times.… In 2023, Putin's budget lost about 3% of GDP because of hydrocarbon sanctions.

“Alexei Navalny's mourners also grieve for a democratic Russia,” Francesca Ebel, WP, 03.02.24.

  • When he was alive, Navalny, an anti-corruption and pro-democracy activist, had urged his followers not to be afraid as they struggled for what he called a free and "happy" Russia of the future. On Saturday, one day after he was laid to rest at a Moscow cemetery, mourners, many of them carrying bouquets, were still braving the police to pay their respects. But in today's Russia, freedom and happiness have never seemed further away.
    • "I want to scream in anger," said Tamara, 34, who visited the grave Saturday, only to be quickly ushered away by police. "But I have hope," she said, declining to give her full name out of fear of reprisal by authorities. "Of course there is hope."
    • "I do not see any light in this darkness," said Anna, 47… "It is even more difficult to live in Russia now without him," she said, also declining to give her full name out of fear of reprisal by authorities. "Nobody wants to talk about how bad the situation is, everyone is scared, and they are trying to maintain a fragile balance within themselves." … "Everything is getting worse and worse," said Anna. "We need a miracle."
    • But others wouldn't give in to despair. Irina, 30, went with her mother to the cemetery Saturday to lay flowers for Navalny. "Alexei was all about hope, about the beautiful Russia of the future," she said. "And look at how many people there are here."
    • Tamara, who wore a red headscarf, said she was proud of her fellow Russians for turning out to grieve a man who was hated by the state. Neither Putin nor Russian state media mentioned Navalny's funeral. "For the longest time, propaganda told us that the majority only care about their basic needs — putting food on the table and that's it," she said. "What we saw yesterday showed that so many people still have their heads. They still have a bit of bravery, the kind of bravery that Alexei tried to teach us," she said, adding, "As it turns out, we are still alive inside."

“Kremlin sends ‘message of fear’ to Vladimir Putin challengers,” Courtney Weaver, FT, 03.03.24. 

  • When Russian authorities banned anti-war candidate Boris Nadezhdin from participating in this month’s presidential election, their message was clear: the Kremlin would no longer tolerate a competitive electoral landscape — even one in which Vladimir Putin’s victory was guaranteed.
  • The death of Alexei Navalny, Putin’s fiercest critic, in an Arctic prison colony last month after spending the past three years behind bars and surviving a poisoning attempt, has had a further chilling effect on the opposition.
    • “He didn’t just kill him, he made a show of killing him, just before the elections so that no one would doubt Putin’s involvement,” wrote Ilya Yashin, another jailed opposition figure in a public letter.
  • “Putin understands in his relations with Russian society there is no love and there can be unpleasant surprises,” said Vladimir Milov, a former Russian government minister turned opposition activist and former associate of Navalny. “He wants to send the message of fear: Don’t even try to stick your head out.”

“The World According to Dyumin—Putin’s Former Bodyguard and His Potential Successor,” Olga Kiyan, RM, 02.29.24.

  • Should … Putin decide to eventually pick a successor due to age or other reasons, chances are that his former bodyguard Aleksey Dyumin will be one of the top contenders thanks to his proximity to the Russian leader and his versatile experience. 
  • In 1996, Dyumin transferred to the Federal Guard Service, where he remained until 2013. Starting in August 1999, he was a member of the unit providing security for then acting premier Vladimir Putin. In that position, Dyumin developed a personal relationship with the Russian leader, one that has lasted to this day, and which has been rewarded. 
  • During 2013-2016, he served as chief of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff and as deputy commander of the Ground Forces. In 2015-2016, Dyumin served as a deputy defense minister before being appointed by Putin to serve as governor of the Tula oblast in February 2016, and then elected into the position in September 2016.
  • Dyumin occasionally hints at his close connection with Putin, with whom he plays hockey, but officially he insists that “this is not a special relationship.” Given his closeness to Putin, Dyumin has been sanctioned by the United States in 2018 and the United Kingdom in 2023 for involvement in Russian malign activities worldwide. … Dyumin also noted a close relationship with Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group PMC. … Dyumin’s praise of Prigozhin, however, did not cause Putin to end the relationship with his former bodyguard, the closeness of which was on display during Putin’s visit to Tula earlier this month. 

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

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 external policies and it relations with “far abroad” countries:

“Russians Keep Turning Up Dead All Over the World,” Matthew Luxmoore, Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw, WSJ, 03.03.24. 

  • Since the invasion of Ukraine, prominent Russians have died in unusual circumstances on three continents. Some were thought to harbor politically subversive ideas, while others may have been caught up in run-of-the-mill criminal warfare. Some may have actually died of natural causes. But there are enough of them that Wikipedia publishes a running list, at 51 names, entitled "Suspicious deaths of Russian business people (2022–2024)."
  • The president, a former KGB colonel, has long said he would hunt down Russian defectors: “Whatever they got in return, those thirty pieces of silver, they will choke on them,” he once told a hushed press conference, after a reporter asked him if he’d ever signed an order to liquidate traitors living in exile.
  • Now, his spy services are becoming more brazen and creative in squashing dissent abroad, U.S. and European intelligence officials say. The boundaries between Russia’s three main intelligence agencies—the FSB, the GRU military intelligence and SVR foreign intelligence—are increasingly blurring, analysts say, making it more difficult to know which is responsible for an operation. 

“Conservatism by decree: Putin as a figurehead for the global far-right,” Ksenia Luchenko, ECFR, 03.01.24. 

  • In his state of the nation address on 29 February, Vladimir Putin doubled down on a theme that has become familiar to Russians over the past few months: family, or more specifically, “traditional family values.” “Some countries,” he said, “deliberately destroy norms of morality, institutions of the family, push whole peoples towards extinction and degeneration.” Not so in Russia: “we choose life.” The ultraconservatism tied up in this discourse has been central to Putin’s campaign ahead of the Russian election this month – and will shape his fifth term as president that follows.
  • By ramping up his far-right credentials in this way, Putin... aims to win (and win back) friends abroad, especially where Russia and Russian Orthodoxy have historically had a strong presence – for instance, in EU candidate countries Serbia, Georgia, and Moldova. There, pro-Russian political forces garner support in part through their hostility towards feminism, abortion, and the LGBT+ community. Georgia and Moldova will head to the polls this year – and Russian propaganda will use the full range of anti-Western rhetoric to increase its influence and weaken these countries’ support for Ukraine.
  • Indeed, Russian journalist Mikhael Zygar has argued that Putin’s far-right positioning is a form of statecraft, aimed mainly at this external audience. Putin thus builds Russian influence by adopting trends from the very West that he rails against. He seems to want to show his current and potential allies that an alternative to democracy exists, one that allows for the disregard of human rights and international law in pursuit of “traditional values.” In this way, he sets himself up as a figurehead for the informal international conservative alliance – a political and societal network that unites right-conservative forces worldwide.

“Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s remarks and answers to questions at the special session of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum,” Russian Foreign Ministry, 03.01.24.

  • By and large, the US now identifies China as its foremost long-term challenge to dominance. However, it is important not to overlook the fact that China achieved its current standing while adhering to the rules set by the Americans with the support of other Western countries in the context of their concept of globalization. 
  • It is remarkable how swiftly these principles and canons of the free market were discarded when the United States decided to punish Russia.
  • Everything you are witnessing now confirms the original plan not to compromise, to go all the way in turning Ukraine into an “anti-Russia.”
  • Eurasian security is a natural process. All the more so since the center of global development has shifted to the Asia-Pacific region, primarily to South and East Asia. In general, Eurasia is now the engine of the world's development. The Euro-Atlantic has already lost this role. This is roughly how we perceive the future.


  • No significant developments.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Russia's Backdoor for Battlefield Goods From China: Central Asia; Trade routes through the region are increasingly important to Moscow's efforts to thwart Western sanctions,” Clarence Leong and Liza Lin, WSJ, 03.04.24. 

  • Chinese exports of dual-use goods to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have surged since February 2022, when the war began, according to China's customs data. Exports of the 45 targeted goods rose to $1.3 billion in 2023, up 64% over 2022 levels. Many of these goods were then sent to Russia, according to trade records shared by C4ADS.
  • The two Central Asian nations aren't the only source of dual-use goods to Russia. Goods are also flowing through countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. China, the largest source, exported $4.5 billion of such goods directly to Russia last year.
  • In the two years before the war, China didn't report exporting a single drone to Kazakhstan. But in 2023, Kazakhstan bought $5.9 million worth of unmanned aircraft from China and exported $2.7 million worth of such products to Russia, according to Kazakhstan and Chinese trade data. Kazakhstan isn't a major producer of drones.
  • Diverted trade originating from China and traveling through Central Asia has only risen in importance as U.S. and European Union regulators have clamped down on their own chip exports. In 2022, the first year of the war, millions of dollars worth of U.S. and EU chips exports ended up in Russia via Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia. But in 2023, U.S. and EU chip exports to those countries fell by 28% to about $22 million. U.S. and European officials have pressed these nations and China to clamp down on gray-market trade with Russia.
  • China is already the largest official source of Moscow's imports, with bilateral trade roughly doubling to $200 billion in 2023 over the past five years, according to Chinese trade data. China sells computer chips, jet-fighter parts and jamming technology to Russian defense companies, The Wall Street Journal has reported. China has said it doesn't send lethal weapons to parties involved in conflicts, and the U.S. hasn't accused it of doing so.
  • Russia managed to import $8.8 billion worth of dual-use goods from around the world in the first 10 months of 2023, just 10% lower than in the pre-sanctions period, according to a January report by the Kyiv School of Economics.



  1. FT has obtained a cache of 29 Russian military files, which describe a threshold for using NSNWs that is lower than Russia has ever publicly admitted, according to this newspaper.


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. 

Italicized text indicates comments by RM staff and associates. These comments do not constitute an RM editorial policy.

Slider photo by shared under a Creative Commons license.