Russia Analytical Report, Feb. 5-12, 2024

7 Ideas to Explore

  1. “To maximize Ukraine’s chances of eventual victory” in what is likely to be a long war, “Western countries need to recognize that the driving engine of Ukraine’s effectiveness has been a destruction-centered approach ... with attrition inflicted primarily through artillery and strike drones,” Michael Kofman of CEIP and Franz-Stefan Gady of IISS write in Survival. In this long war, “Ukraine and the West enjoy the overall advantage in resources, and attrition can prove an important part of their theory of victory,” they write. James Nixey of Chatham House also sees a long war that “undoubtedly favors the invader.” “Alternative scenarios to a long war would all result in a situation requiring increased defense spending by the West and consistent, committed support for Ukraine,” Nixey writes. Eugene Rumer of CEIP foresees a long war, too. “That means transitioning from the annual cycle of ad hoc attempts to lock in support for Ukraine to a long-term commitment to its security and defense,” Rumer writes of the consequences of the long conflict.
  2. A longer, more violent Russian-Ukrainian war “would lock in adverse consequences for U.S. interests,” significantly undermining Ukraine's postwar recovery, among other things, according to Samuel Charap and Miranda Priebe of RAND. In their view, “[t]he United States may be able to influence the conflict outcome” and it “has instruments to increase the likelihood that any peace endures.” “Further forward deployments and other measures are likely unnecessary to deter opportunistic Russian aggression, but may make war by misperception about U.S. intentions more likely,” the RAND duo warns.
  3. “As the war in Ukraine enters its third year, Russia is about to gain the military upper hand,” according to the Norwegian Intelligence Service’s (Etterretningstjenesten’s) latest annual threat assessment. “Russia’s position in the war [against Ukraine] is stronger than it was a year ago, and the country is in the process of seizing the initiative and gaining the upper hand militarily,” the assessment said. The report’s authors expect the Kremlin to step up its war effort in the months ahead. “The prospect of real negotiations is dim, and all signs point to the war continuing throughout 2024,” according to the Feb. 12, 2024 report. Despite Ukraine’s heroic efforts, reclaiming the initiative in the war would require large-scale Western arms support, according to Etterretningstjenesten.
  4. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy should stop “clinging to his promise that Ukraine will take back every inch of soil” and use the top brass reshuffle he has executed “to reframe his vision of the war,” according to the Economist. To sustain itself in the long fight ahead, Ukraine needs to increase its resilience, increasing its air-defense and artillery capabilities, according to this weekly. Zelenskyy should also redouble the efforts to boost Ukraine’s indigenous ability to produce weapons, such as drones, as well as to attract investment and aid, according to the Economist. As for the impact of the reshuffle, in which Zelenskyy has replaced Valerii Zaluzhnyi with Oleksandr Syrskyi as the Ukrainian armed forces’ top commander, “Zelenskyy is not helped by the fact that last year he publicly rebuked Zaluzhnyi for stating that the war had reached a stalemate … only then to accept Zaluzhnyi’s position,” according to Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute. It is also not clear that the reshuffle will solve one of the Ukrainian military’s critical problems: lack of frontline personnel, Lieven writes.
  5. Vladimir Putin has urged the U.S. to “make an agreement” with Russia on Ukraine. “You should tell the current Ukrainian leadership to stop and come to a negotiating table ... This endless mobilization in Ukraine, the hysteria, the domestic problems — sooner or later, it will result in an agreement,” Putin told Tucker Carlson in a two-hour interview. However, while claiming that “we are ready for this dialogue,” the Russian autocrat gave no indication that Moscow is open to abandoning at least one of its maximalist goals of using force against Ukraine, the latter’s “denazification.” “We haven't achieved our aims yet, because one of them is denazification,” Putin said of his “special military operation.” 
  6. Donald Trump’s public recollection of how, while president, he told the leader of a “big country” that the U.S. would encourage Russia to attack NATO members -- who underspend on defense -- created an uproar in Western capitals, with some calling for urgent rearmament of Europe and greater reliance on the U.K.’s and France’s nuclear forces for deterrence. The Economist writes that the “Europeans must act urgently to confront twin threats: attack by Russia and abandonment by America” in the wake of “Trump’s most damaging assault yet on NATO.” “Europe has no choice but to rearm,” this weekly warns, calling European countries to raise their defense spendings to 3% of GDP. The Economist adds that “the most sensitive issue will be how Europe’s two nuclear-weapons states, Britain and France, can provide greater deterrence for European allies in the absence of an American nuclear umbrella.” New York Times’ David Sanger pointed to Europe’s nuclear dilemma as well in his take on the impact of Trump’s statement. “At its core, the argument underway in Europe goes to the question of whether members of the alliance can be assured that the U.S. nuclear umbrella … will continue to cover the 31 members of the NATO alliance,” the senior fellow with the Belfer Center wrote in his NYT article.
  7. Even in the face of Russian aggression, a nuclear ‘Eurodeterrent’ is still a bad idea,” for four reasons, according to Stephen Cimbala and Lawrence Korb. “First, legitimate concern should not give way to exaggerated fears of NATO or U.S. abandonment of their political commitment to the deterrence of war in Europe or its defense if necessary,” they write in BAS. “A second challenge for a European nuclear deterrent lies in its organization and operational shape, including the chain of command over a (presumably) multinational nuclear force,” the duo writes. Third, a European nuclear deterrent “might stimulate nuclear proliferation and ultimately lead to more nuclear weapons states.” “Fourth, the argument that the U.S. nuclear force is insufficiently flexible for deterring or responding to nuclear coercion or nuclear first use deserves further scrutiny,” according to Cimbala of Penn State and Korb of the Center for American Progress. 

NB: The next Russia Analytical Report will appear on Friday, Feb. 16, instead of Monday, Feb. 19, because of the U.S. Presidents' Day holiday.

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“How Russia is Burning Down the Sanctions House – and What to Do About It,” Aaron Arnold, Chatham House, 02.06.24.

  • By acquiring ballistic missiles and conventional arms from North Korea, Russia is not only failing in its responsibility to uphold its international commitments; it is also flying in the face of decades of norms-building around WMD non-proliferation, in which Russia itself played an important – if not integral – role.
  • This is why Russia’s actions are so pernicious: they strike right at the heart of international security in yet another sign of decay, diminish trust in international organizations, and send a poor message to UN member states about their obligation to comply with sanctions resolutions against North Korea, which were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter – 
  • Unfortunately, because of Russia’s status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it is unlikely the country will face any repercussions – other than perhaps a strongly worded statement from the P3.
  • Other international organizations, like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – the body that promotes anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules and regulations – should step in to provide stronger guidance to members on the risks of violating international sanctions against North Korea via business with Russia. 
  • Furthermore, turning a blind-eye to the role and importance of the Global South will only hasten Russia’s attempts to burn down the house. The West needs to demonstrate the value of upholding norms and adhering to a rules-based system on terms consistent with the Global South’s values and interests. This may mean, for example, avoiding heavy-handed threats of secondary sanctions and instead demonstrating the broader risks and consequences of Russia’s violation of the sanctions against North Korea.

Iran and its nuclear program:

“Why Iran is hard to intimidate,” The Economist, 02.06.24.

  • America’s struggle to deter Iran stems from deeper contradictions in its Middle East policy, namely its desire to pivot away from the region while simultaneously keeping troops in it, leaving a military presence big enough to present a menu of targets but too small actually to constrain Iran.
  • Perhaps Iran could be dissuaded from using its proxies if it believed America was prepared to topple the regime of the Islamic Republic. After two decades of failed American adventures in the Middle East, though, neither Americans nor Iranians believe that. Even Donald Trump, who embodied Richard Nixon’s “madman theory” of foreign policy, stopped short of attacking Iran directly.
  • American allies in the region do not believe it either. A decade ago, Israel and some Gulf states might have cheered American strikes on Iranian proxies. Then as now, the region was ablaze: Iran was helping Bashar al-Assad turn Syria into a charnel house, and the Houthis were sweeping down from their northern redoubts to seize control of most of Yemen’s population centers. A sustained campaign of American strikes might have changed the course of civil wars in both countries.
  • Today, though, those wars are basically settled—in favor of Iran’s allies. The regime has its hooks deep in four Arab countries, and a few scattered sorties will not dislodge them. That is why Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have both tried to improve their relations with Iran: if America cannot protect its partners, they reckon détente through diplomatic engagement and economic incentives is a safer alternative.
  • In a briefing [FA1] with reporters after the strikes in Syria and Iraq, American officials made no mention of deterrence. Instead they talked of trying to “degrade” the capabilities of Iranian-backed groups. That might be a more realistic goal: if America blows up enough Houthi anti-ship missiles, they will have to stop firing (at least until Iran can deliver more). But that would require a prolonged campaign of the sort that Mr. Biden may wish to avoid, which gets back to the crux of the problem. In the Middle East America is torn between leaving and staying and cannot decide what to do with the forces it still has in the region. The status quo is not working—and, paradoxically, it is Iran that has deterred America from changing it.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Making Attrition Work: A Viable Theory of Victory for Ukraine,” Franz-Stefan Gady and Michael Kofman, IISS, 02.09.24. 

  • Conditions are not propitious for another major ground offensive in 2024. Our observations during field trips to Ukraine over the past year indicate that, to maximize Ukraine’s chances of eventual victory, Western countries need to recognize that the driving engine of Ukraine’s effectiveness has been a destruction-centered approach, resulting in high levels of attrition – that is, reducing an enemy’s capacity to fight by inflicting higher losses in personnel and materiel than one’s own side is suffering, which privileges firepower over mobility and direct attack or prepared defense over flanking action. Attempts at maneuver against a prepared defense have consistently floundered, especially in the absence of a decisive force advantage. While maneuver is still relevant on the battlefield, it will need a lot of help from attrition to bear fruit.
  • While Western countries should continue to help Ukrainian forces improve their overall quality and their ability to scale up combined-arms operations, prevailing conditions in Ukraine still favor attritional and positional approaches rather than those suitable for maneuver warfare. The operative factor is attrition, inflicted primarily through artillery and strike drones. The West is therefore best served by focusing on resourcing Ukraine’s fires-centered approach and helping Ukraine scale offensive operations to exploit a fires advantage when it is attained. This may be impossible to achieve via quantity, but it can be done through a combination of means which altogether add up to meaningful superiority in support of an offensive. These two factors should drive investment in drones to offset shortages of artillery ammunition, cheaper precision-strike capabilities, and electronic warfare to help restore mobility to the front line and reduce current Russian advantages in drone systems.
  • Ukraine’s military leadership appears keen to embrace technological innovation and tactical adaptation, and to rebuild the force’s combat potential. These objectives will take time to achieve, but it is clear that Ukraine’s military recognizes the scale of the challenge and the need to move out as soon as possible in 2024. This will be a long war requiring a long-term outlook in strategy, but also timely decision-making. Despite the high stakes, it has become less clear that Washington and European capitals can muster the political will to see Ukraine through this war. The fact remains that Ukraine and the West enjoy the overall advantage in resources, and attrition can prove an important part of their theory of victory.

Chapter 1 from “Focus 2024,” the annual threat assessment by The Norwegian Intelligence Service or Etterretningstjenesten, 02.12.24. 

  • As Russia’s conventional land power is weakened, its strategic forces become more important. With its proximity to NATO’s core areas, the Northern Fleet has many of these in its possession....As things stand at the start of 2024, Russia is highly unlikely to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine; that said, creating uncertainty regarding the nuclear weapons threshold is part of Russia’s strategy. The deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus can be seen as both posturing towards NATO and a measure to tighten control of Belarus. In and of itself, however, the deployment does not heighten the threat to the West, as Russia is already capable of attacking Europe with tactical nuclear weapons from Russian territory.
  • Norway is facing a more serious threat environment now than it has in decades. As the war in Ukraine enters its third year, Russia is about to gain the military upper hand. The Russian military industry is running at full steam, and China, Belarus, Iran and North Korea are providing considerable materiel support. Russia is better positioned in the war than it was a year ago, and the Russian armed forces remain the main military threat to Norway’s sovereignty, its people, territory, key societal functions and infrastructure.
  • Russia’s position in the war [against Ukraine] is stronger than it was a year ago, and the country is in the process of seizing the initiative and gaining the upper hand militarily. The Kremlin is expected to step up its war effort in the months ahead. The prospect of real negotiations is dim, and all signs point to the war continuing throughout 2024.
  • Despite Ukraine’s heroic efforts, reclaiming the initiative in the war would require large-scale Western arms support, including new capabilities. Ukraine is in dire need of ammunition, long-range weapons systems, air defense, combat vehicles and combat aircraft.
  • Russia is also facing a number of challenges. Its offensives have not yet yielded territorial progress. Low training standards and a poor ability to conduct joint operations will continue to limit combat power.
  • Although China has thus far refrained from supplying fully assembled weapons and ammunition to Russia, Chinese deliveries of military equipment and components are crucial to Russia’s warfare. China is supplying machines, vehicles, electronics and parts, and is helping to develop the Russian arms industry. There is close diplomatic coordination between the two countries both bilaterally and in the UN.
  • The Arctic is strategically important to both Russia and China. This region is especially important to Russia because of natural resources and the way Russia has shaped its nuclear deterrence capabilities. Defending the northern bastion and having access to the Atlantic will remain vital to Russia’s concept of security. Russia wants to be the dominant actor in the Arctic. At the same time, Moscow considers its position in the region to be more vulnerable than a few years ago.
  • The Russian arms industry is now tailored to support and continue the war in Ukraine at full pace. Russia still relies on Western technology to maintain and develop some of its military capabilities, including components and spare parts for maintenance of systems that Russia bought from the West before the invasion. Western components are also used in Russian-made systems.
  •  Influence operations are part of Russia’s information warfare. The public debate on defense and security policies, Arctic and Svalbard policies, energy and environmental policies and not least Western and Norwegian attitudes to the war in Ukraine are particularly vulnerable to Russian influence activity.
  • The sanctions and limited diplomatic presence in Europe have left Russia with fewer platforms for interaction and contact with the West. Access to information about Western and Norwegian affairs rely more on Russian intelligence and security services than before. 

“Killer drones pioneered in Ukraine are the weapons of the future,” The Economist, 02.08.24. 

  • Small, cheap, explosives-laden aircraft adapted from consumer models...are making a soldier’s life even more dangerous. These drones slip into tank turrets or dugouts. They loiter and pursue their quarry before going for the kill. They are inflicting a heavy toll on infantry and armor.
  • The war is also making first-person view (FPV) drones and their maritime cousins ubiquitous. January saw 3,000 verified FPV drone strikes. This week Volodymyr Zelenskyy , Ukraine’s president, created the Unmanned Systems Force, dedicated to drone warfare. In 2024 Ukraine is on track to build 1m-2m drones. Astonishingly, that will match Ukraine’s reduced consumption of shells (which is down because Republicans in Congress are shamefully denying Ukraine the supplies it needs).
    • In one week last autumn Ukrainian drones helped destroy 75 Russian tanks and 101 big guns, among much else. Russia has its own fpv drones, though they tend to target dugouts, trenches and soldiers. Drones help explain why both sides find it so hard to mount offensives.
  • This reflects a broad democratization of precision weapons.... Innovation also leads to the last trend, autonomy. Today, fpv drone use is limited by the supply of skilled pilots and by the effects of jamming, which can sever the connection between a drone and its operator. To overcome these problems, Russia and Ukraine are experimenting with autonomous navigation and target recognition. Artificial intelligence has been available in consumer drones for years and is improving rapidly.
  • Western countries have been slow to absorb these lessons. 

“Moscow’s Aerospace Forces: No air of superiority,” Douglas Barrie, IISS, 02.07.24. 

  • Russia’s Aerospace Forces (VKS) has suffered substantial losses. The Kamov Ka-52 Hokum B attack helicopter fleet lost 40% of its pre-war strength, with the Mil Mi-35 Hind and Mi-28N Havoc B inventory reduced too, even if less severely. Russia’s inventory of Mi-8MTPR-1 Hip electronic warfare helicopters is also at least 20% smaller than at the outset of the fighting. Those losses, along with others, like two-seat Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback fighter ground-attack aircraft and Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack aircraft, are reflected in the upcoming 2024 edition of The Military Balance. Losses are mounting, as evidenced by Ukraine’s air defenders downing a Beriev A-50 Mainstay B airborne early warning aircraft and damaging an Ilyushin Il-22M Coot B command-post aircraft on 14 January 2024. 
  • Russia also is facing pressure on its weapons stocks, having, for instance, run down its pre-war stock of Raduga Kh-101 (RS-AS-23A Kodiak) conventionally armed long-range land-attack missiles. A serial number, if genuine, stencilled on the side of a recently used Kh-101 suggests it was manufactured only in the fourth quarter of 2023. If correct, then the missile went straight from the Raduga production site to the frontline.
  • The VKS has underperformed and endured high losses, but it is tactically adapting. Russia still faces the challenge of increasing missile production to sustain its efforts. For Kyiv, this all means that it needs to continue to impose losses to prevent the VKS gaining the upper hand in the air domain.

“Ukraine’s Victory at Sea. How Kyiv Subdued the Russian Fleet—and What It Will Need to Build on Naval Success,” Mark Cancian, FA, 02.08.24. 

  • According to calculations from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Russia has lost about 40 percent of its naval tonnage in the Black Sea since February 2022. In addition to the Moskva, Ukrainian missiles and drones have destroyed or severely damaged two frigates, five tank landing ships, and a submarine. Strikes on Russian naval headquarters, shipyards, airfields, and air defense facilities in Crimea have weakened the fleet’s shore-based defenses, command-and-control networks, and logistical support. 
  • Ukraine has won the battle for the Black Sea. Yet ... Ukraine’s naval success does not spell an end to a war fought primarily on the ground. 
  • To build on its success, Ukraine will need to do more than reinforce its current capabilities.
    • Most urgently, the country needs better equipment and training to clear sea mines. 
    • The Ukrainian military must also learn to conduct antisubmarine warfare. 
    • Finally, Ukraine should build a modest amphibious capability that can threaten Russian positions in Crimea and the Russian rear areas along the Black Sea coast. ‘
  • Ukraine’s naval success is dramatic and unprecedented, but the tide of victory could ebb if the United States and other Ukrainian partners cut their assistance. If Ukraine cannot replace the munitions it fires and the equipment it loses in battle, Russian forces will again encroach on Ukrainian coasts and reestablish secure supply lines through Crimea. Were that to happen, Ukraine’s victory at sea could be fleeting.

“Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine,” Igor Delanoë, FPRI, 02.07.24.

  • Russia’s military command likely considered two important aspects of any conflict scenario in the Black Sea region.
    • The Black Sea is a critical economic outlet for Russia’s international sea trade… around 30 percent of Russia’s overall international sea trade transits through its Black Sea ports… any conflict breaking out in the vicinity of Russia’s Black Sea coast would automatically create tensions for Russian sea trade.
    • Four days after the conflict broke out—Turkey hermetically closed navigation through the Turkish Straits for war vessels… it…made things easier for the [Black Sea Fleet] BSF, which has not had to cope with the naval presence of potential non-Black Sea countries’ NATO warships. But… Turkey’s approach has created logistical difficulties…
  • [Because Ukraine had little to no naval force] BSF carried out the operations that were, by nature, subordinate to operations on land…[including] combat and support tasks carried out in the Azov and Black seas.
    • After the cruiser Moskva was sunk in April 2022, surface units of the BSF started to operate at a greater distance from the Ukrainian coasts…
    • [When it became clear that the war would last longer than expected], the posture of the BSF morphed from an offensive to a de facto active defense posture to consolidate the territories conquered during the first weeks of the offensive.
  • The emergence of the combined threats of surface drones and anti-surface missiles has not prevented the BSF from operating in the southwestern part of the Black Sea basin.
    • As the conflict has dragged on, the scope of the missions of the BSF has expanded to include the protection of military and civilian critical infrastructure exposed to surface drone attacks.
  • Likely, the experience acquired…by the Russian navy in the Black Sea naval theater will serve as the backbone of the naval component of the country’s future armament program.
    • The post-conflict BSF should have an enhanced littoral component emphasizing long-range cruise missile capabilities, possibly hypersonic.
    • The naval development of the conflict in Ukraine may furthermore act as a wake-up call for the Russian Navy in general regarding naval aviation.

“The dismissal of Valery Zaluzhnyi is a crucial new phase in the war. Unfortunately, President Zelenskyy risks getting it wrong,” The Economist, 02.08.24. 

  • The most important question is whether Mr. Zelenskyy can profit from General Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal to refocus his vision for the war. Today he is still publicly clinging to his promise that Ukraine will take back every inch of soil occupied by Russian forces, even if he privately knows that this will not happen soon, if at all. If Ukrainian forces could expel the Russian invaders it would be a wonderful thing. However, unless something completely unexpected changes, a war defined by territory is a war Ukraine cannot win.
  • Mr. Zelenskyy therefore needs to see this reorganization as a chance to reframe his vision of the war. To sustain itself in the long fight ahead, Ukraine needs to increase its resilience. In military terms, that means better air-defense and artillery, and an ability to make running repairs. Given the refusal of Republicans in Congress to agree on a big package of arms and money, Ukraine needs an even greater home-grown ability to produce weapons—especially drones. In economic terms, Ukraine needs to attract investment as well as aid, and to add more value to what it exports. In political terms it means that Mr. Zelenskyy should publicly rededicate himself to a war of values.

“Will Zelenskyy’s new commander-in-chief change Ukraine’s fortunes on the battlefield?” Orysia Lutsevych, Chatham House, 02.12.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • Zelenskyy’s decision to oust Zaluzhnyi stirred dismay and anxiety in Ukraine. ... So what were the motives behind Zelenskyy’s decision?
    • A key motive could be finding a person to blame for the failed summer campaign, problems in the army and a prolonged war. Zelenskyy’s team was keen to raise expectations in society for a quick win. His Chief of Military Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov was promising the liberation of Crimea in 2023. 
    • Another motive was the general’s rising popularity. Zelenskyy is very sensitive to his likability, a legacy of his past acting career. Zaluzhnyi is the only person who overtakes the president in public support. ... An IRI survey of public opinion shows that approval of Ukrainian armed forces remains very strong with 96 per cent support, while Zelenskyy’s approval rate declined from 94 per cent to 82 per cent between April 2022 and September 2023.  Although elections will not take place during the war and Zaluzhnyi has never expressed any interest in politics, this trend is causing a stir in the president’s office. 
    • More importantly, this might be a fallout related to the future of war and its strategy. The reality of a war of attrition is tough and a hard sell politically. Zaluzhnyi’s reference to a positional phase of fighting was publicly rebuffed by the president. He was irritated that a rhetoric of stalemates projected defeatism. Zaluzhnyi argued for the need of strategic defense in 2024 but Zelenskyy is impatient and wants to end the deadlock on the battlefield. The new general might be more willing to pursue this line. 
  • One thing is clear: Ukraine remains determined to fight. 

"Zaluzhnyi firing not even a band-aid as Ukraine strategy bleeds out,” Anatol Lieven, Responsible Statecraft, 02.09.24.

  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ’s dismissal of the Ukrainian army chief, Gen. Valery Zaluzhnyi, is a colossal political gamble for Zelenskyy and seems to indicate an increasing mood of desperation in Kyiv. 
  • Zelenskyy ’s dismissal of Zaluzhnyi reflects the fact that the general has long been seen as Zelenskyy ’s most dangerous future political rival, given his prestige in the army and popularity among the Ukrainian people. 
  • Although Zaluzhnyi’s replacement, Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, also enjoys considerable prestige as the defender of Kyiv at the start of the war, he has been blamed by many Ukrainian soldiers for bowing to political pressure and throwing away Ukrainian lives in what was seen as an unnecessary and doomed attempt to hold the town of Bakhmut last year. There is also considerable resentment among the soldiers due to their impression that not only Zaluzhnyi, but the military in general are being scapegoated for last year’s failure.
  • Zelenskyy  is not helped by the fact that after the Ukrainian defeat, he publicly rebuked and contradicted Zaluzhnyi for stating that the war had reached a stalemate and that Ukraine would now have to go onto the defensive — only then to accept Zaluzhnyi’s position when military reality (and advice from Washington) became overwhelming.
  • It is also not clear that General Syrsky’s appointment will change, or improve another critical factor that brought the tension between Zelenskyy and Zaluzhnyi to a head: conscription. ... Ukraine is running out of men. 
  • Ukraine’s military prospects have also been drastically threatened by the refusal to date of Republicans in the U.S. Congress to agree to new aid to Ukraine. 
  • The danger for Ukraine is that given the fraying of U.S. aid, the growing military odds in favor of Russia and the tensions reflected by Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal, if Kyiv waits too long to seek a compromise it may have nothing left to bargain with — not just because of developments on the battlefield, but because of the collapse of political unity within Ukraine.

“What Does General Zaluzhnyi’s Dismissal Mean for Ukraine?” Konstantin Skorkin, CEIP, 02.10.24. 

  • By firing Zaluzhnyi, Zelenskyy is taking a major risk. Never before has he so blatantly defied the public consensus for the sake of his own political survival.
  • This triumph of political expediency is a ticking time bomb, and adds to the day of reckoning the Ukrainian government will face from society after the war. In May this year, Zelenskyy’s constitutional powers expire with the end of his term. There will be no shortage of people ready to remind the president just how precarious his wartime legitimacy is. The proportion of Ukrainians who believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction was already more than a third in January 2024.
  • The choice of Zaluzhnyi’s successor also says a lot. General Oleksandr Syrsky could not be more different to Zaluzhnyi, who came up through the military ranks of an independent Ukraine. Syrsky, meanwhile, is eight years older than his predecessor, was born in central Russia (his parents still live there), and attended a military training academy in Moscow. 
  • It goes without saying that Ukraine’s political opposition would welcome Zaluzhnyi with open arms. Representatives of former president Petro Poroshenko’s party are already competing to see who can sing the praises of the outgoing commander-in-chief the loudest. ... But it makes no sense for Zaluzhnyi, a popular general with an impeccable reputation, to get involved with Poroshenko, who remains deeply unpopular, especially since there are no elections on the horizon. 
  • Right now, Zelenskyy is clearly going all out to reinvent himself. He is trying to once again lift the nation’s spirits with talk of an imminent victory and a total reboot of the system. Most likely, he will be at least partially successful: there are no grounds for the doom-filled prophecies issuing from Poroshenko’s circles that without Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine faces disaster. 

“Ukraine's Outgunned Military Has a Calculating, Hard-Charging New Chief; Oleksandr Syrskiy commands ground forces low on equipment and manpower as Russia ramps up its assaults,” James Marson, WSJ, 02.09.24.

  • Officers who have worked closely with him said Syrskiy is accustomed to fighting at a disadvantage after two years of war against a larger opponent. "He is a classic military crisis manager," said Col. Serhiy Cherevatiy. 
  • Syrskiy said he would focus on logistics, improving military administration and finding a balance between fighting and training. He also echoed earlier comments by Zaluzhniy that Ukraine needed "new technical solutions."
  • Retired Col. Viktor Kevliuk … said [Syrskiy is] a strong manager who listens to advice from key subordinates before making a decision.
  • He taught himself English and is a keen student of modern military innovations … as well as military history. He is known to cite [ancient Greek Gen.] Epaminondas … known for concentrating overwhelming force at one point on the battlefield to overcome a stronger enemy.
  • Syrskiy, 58, was born in Russia and attended a top Moscow military school before he was assigned to Ukraine. … In 2019, he was appointed commander of Ukrainian ground forces and, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, he took command of the defense of Kyiv.
  • In fall 2022, Syrskiy commanded a successful counteroffensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region, where a lightning operation took back more than 1,000 square miles of territory in a few days. 
  • Syrskiy was then put in charge of the defense of Bakhmut … Ukraine decided to hold the city to wear down Russian troops and prevent a breakthrough … But the cost was high in Ukrainian lives, too, earning Syrskiy some criticism among ordinary soldiers.[SS2] [FA3] 

Military aid to Ukraine

“A Russian Victory in Ukraine Would Imperil Us All; The West must sustain support for Kyiv, keep NATO solid, and spurn Putin's effort to divide us,” Olaf Scholz, WSJ, 02.07.24.

  • Make no mistake: A Russian victory in Ukraine would not only be the end of Ukraine as a free, democratic and independent state, it would also dramatically change the face of Europe. It would deal a severe blow to the liberal world order. Russia's brutal attempt to steal territory by force could serve as a blueprint for other authoritarian leaders around the globe. More countries would run the risk of falling prey to a nearby predator. 
  • This possibility is why the U.S. and Europe support Ukraine's fight for freedom. ... We have to do our utmost to prevent Russia from winning. If we don't, we might soon wake up in a world even more unstable, threatening and unpredictable than it was during the Cold War. Despite our support, Ukraine could soon face serious shortages in arms and ammunition. ...So, what needs to be done?
    • First, we must sustain our support. 
    • Second, we must continue to move in a strategic lockstep on both sides of the Atlantic. 
    • Third, we don't see ourselves at war with Russia and don't seek confrontation with Russia. We will resist any attempt to drag the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine.
    • Fourth, the collective deterrence and defense of NATO must be credible. 
  • The sooner Mr. Putin understands that we are in this for the long haul, the sooner the war in Ukraine will end. The only way that we can contribute to a lasting peace is by keeping up our support, unity and resolve. We must stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

“A long war works against Ukraine – and the West’s own security,” James Nixey, Chatham House, 02.07.24. 

  • The long war (‘forever war’, say some) grows more likely, and undoubtedly favors the invader. For Ukraine, the long war is nothing short of disastrous. Even if it were willing to, the country cannot recruit anything like the numbers Russia can press into service. It also places greater value on human life than its opponent, meaning it inevitably suffers more from a protracted war of attrition.
  • Russia, by contrast, has settled into what Natalie Sabanadze has blackly called its ‘zone of comfort’. To Moscow, the war is manageable, the president and the elite are secure, and most crucially of all, Western resolve seems brittle. ...Russia currently has a 5:1 firepower advantage, as its shell production and acquisition has ramped up while Western supply has struggled.
  • Whatever the future question marks over Western support, discussions held at Chatham House last week indicated that alternative scenarios to a long war would all result in a situation requiring increased defense spending by the West and consistent, committed support for Ukraine.

“Speaker Johnson should see what I just saw in Ukraine,” Max Boot, WP, 02.12.24. 

  • I wish House Speaker Mike Johnson and other MAGA Republicans who have been holding up desperately needed aid to Ukraine could see what I just saw there. In particular, I wish they had been with me on Wednesday morning in Dnipro, a bustling city of about 1 million people in eastern Ukraine. If they had been, they might be less willing to betray the people of Ukraine in their desperate struggle for survival against a barbaric invader.
    • In Dnipro, we visited an apartment building where at least 64 people had died in an earlier Russian missile strike. 
    • The situation is even grimmer in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, which is located only about 20 miles from the Russian border. Russian forces are constantly bombarding Kharkiv with short-range rockets. 
  • Ukraine confronts two fundamental problems: a shortage of troops and a shortage of ammunition. The former is Ukraine's own doing. … The shortage of weapons, by contrast, is the West's fault. 
    • There is still time for the House of Representatives to do the right thing and pass the aid package that is finally advancing in the Senate. But it isn't clear whether the speaker, in thrall to former president Donald Trump and his MAGA extremists, will even give the bill a floor vote. As Johnson (La.) prepares to make the most momentous decision of his political career, he should travel to Ukraine to meet the people whose lives and liberties rest in his hands. … Johnson has not been to Ukraine since the Russian invasion and has not announced any plans to visit. That worries me. It's easier to stab people in the back if you're unwilling to look them in the eye.

“America’s ‘do-harm’ Congress,” Edward Luce, FT, 02.07.24.

  • Harry S. Truman famously branded Congress as “do nothing” in 1948. To be fair, the then Republicans were obstructing the Democrats’ agenda because they disagreed with it. Today’s Republicans, on the other hand, are blocking steps that they urgently demanded which reflect their priorities. To enact them would show that government works and America’s existential border crisis can be fixed, which would harm Donald Trump’s case for the presidency. They will not take yes for an answer. America is suffering by design from a “do-harm Congress.”
  • It is a conscious effort to darken the horizons for electoral profit. If that means another 10 months of border “emergency”, and deep Ukrainian setbacks on the battlefield, so be it. The chief instigator is Trump, who says the border bill is a “death wish” for Republicans. His chief instrument on Capitol Hill is. After Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in 2022, Johnson said: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s sovereign territory threatens the greatest destabilization of the world order since WWII and constitutes a national security threat to the entire west.” 
  • Today nothing apparently would convince him [Mike Johnson, Speaker of the House of Representatives] to approve more Ukraine funding. 
  • The Truman lesson for Biden is to spell out to Americans over and over again what is happening. ... The alternative is that America’s most bipartisan president in decades will be punished for the other party’s sins. In today’s hallucinogenic politics, it is Republicans who still own the phrase “Washington is broken.” Could there be a greater irony?

“The Self-Sabotaging GOP; After killing the border bill, will Trump also kill aid to Ukraine?”, Editorial Board, WSJ, 02.04.24.

  • Ukraine's military needs grow more urgent by the day, as its supply of munitions dwindles. In a conflict dominated by artillery, Russia is firing as many as 10 shells for every one by Ukraine. Without more U.S. weapons, Ukraine's supply of 155 mm shells could be gone before the summer. Ukraine has been doing a brilliant job of makeshift arms production, but Russia is receiving a surge of munitions from Iran and North Korea. Without U.S. artillery and air defenses, U.S. officials believe Ukraine will lose the war this year.
  • That would be a tragedy for brave Ukraine and a strategic catastrophe for free Europe and the U.S. It would also make Republicans morally complicit in an historic betrayal.

“Will Ukraine Survive?” Richard Haass, Project Syndicate/CFR, 02.09.24. 

  • Russia shows few signs of exhaustion. Despite the extraordinary human toll of the war, estimated to be more than 300,000 Russian troops killed or injured, Putin’s control of the media and public narrative has allowed the Kremlin to minimize dissent and persuade many Russians that their country is the victim rather than an aggressor.
  • Meanwhile, Ukraine is showing signs of political division. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy just fired his top general. More important, Ukraine is struggling on the battlefield, largely owing to Republicans in the US Congress blocking a $60 billion military assistance package. Republican opposition appears to reflect a mixture of resurgent isolationism, sympathy for the authoritarianism of Putin, and a partisan desire not to hand President Joe Biden a political victory before the presidential election in November.
  • This raises the question: How might Ukraine and its friends in Europe and elsewhere fill at least some of the void left by a US no longer prepared to offer significant levels of assistance?
    • Ukraine’s friends must help it reconstitute and expand its arms industry, so that it becomes less dependent on the ability and willingness of others to provide the resources the war effort requires.
    • At the same time, Ukraine can reduce its resource needs and save lives by adopting a largely defensive military strategy. Protecting and preserving the 80% of the country Ukraine now controls is feasible and essential. 
  • If Biden is re-elected, and if the US Senate flips to Republican control, as many expect, but the Democrats retake the House of Representatives, then the stage will be set for renewed US economic and military aid and possibly a tie between Ukraine and NATO. ... If, however, former President Donald Trump wins and the Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives, Ukraine will face a far more difficult future. The burden of Ukraine’s security would fall even more on itself and its friends in Europe and Asia. 
  • The difference between these two futures is stark. The stakes for Ukraine, for Europe, and for the world are enormous. Chinese President Xi Jinping, with his own designs on Taiwan, is watching with keen interest how this plays out. So, too, is Iran. If the US proves unwilling to meet its obligations and uphold the rule of international law that territory may not be acquired by force, we are looking at a future far more violent and dangerous than the past.

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

“The west has not gone far enough in sanctioning Russia,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, FT, 02.12.24.

  • The conflict has now become a grinding war of attrition. Victory will depend largely on whether Ukraine and its allies can outproduce Russia. We must realign our sanctions policy with this objective. 
  • We need to refocus in three areas. 
    • First, we should tighten enforcement of existing sanctions to stop western components reaching Russia’s military industrial complex. 
    • Second, step up sanctions against heavy industry, which has been co-opted to support the war effort. 
    • Last, use frozen Russian assets to fund Ukraine’s victory and recovery. 
  • Massive increases in defence spending may give a short-term boost to gross domestic product, but sanctions are driving up costs for businesses and restricting access to the latest technologies, damaging the country’s long-term productivity. We must now go further. Sanctions will never be a 100 per cent effective weapon, but in a war of attrition we must use everything in our arsenal to deliver a Ukrainian victory.

“Asia’s commercial heft helps keep Russia’s war economy going,” The Economist, 02.01.24.

  • China ... has done the most to undermine the West’s sanctions. Trade between Russia and China jumped by 29% in 2022 and probably by more last year. China and Hong Kong are now Russia’s chief suppliers of microchips, frustrating Western efforts to starve Russia of the integrated circuits essential to the war effort. China has also swiftly become the top supplier to Russia of cars and smartphones.
  • Chinese support is far from the only factor, however. The Insider, an online newspaper, recently revealed how Russian military enterprises are getting hold of sophisticated machine tools from Taiwan, despite sweeping sanctions there: middlemen in Turkey and elsewhere are sourcing what Russia needs. In Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are key conduits for shady “parallel imports” into Russia: their trade with neighboring Russia has boomed.
  • Even if the West successfully uses secondary sanctions to coerce Asian countries, says Nicholas Mulder, a sanctions scholar at Cornell University, the long-term risk is that economic warfare undermines both the primacy of the dollar-based financial system and America’s influence in Asia. And if America is having this much trouble getting Asians to support a sanctions regime against a (for them) relatively unimportant country such as Russia, think how much more trouble it would have with China’s neighbors should it ever attempt to impose a similar regime on the region’s military and economic colossus.

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Why Diplomacy Can’t End the Ukraine War,” Andreas Umland, NI, 02.10.24.

  • The Ukrainian and Russian constitutions, both country’s domestic politics, Crimea’s peculiar needs, and Eastern European historical memory all present obstacles to a diplomatic settlement.
  • In September 2022, Moscow repeated [the Crimea scenario] and declared four southeast Ukrainian mainland regions part of the Russian Federation. Russia’s Constitution was altered to incorporate them fully. As a result, there are now five administrative units of Ukraine claimed by Russia’s Constitution and scores of lower Russian legal acts, including laws, decrees, resolutions, etc.
    • Moscow’s illegal and ahistorical pretense to the five Ukrainian regions is now fully enshrined in Russian law, federal legislation and state structure.
  • Theoretically, the Ukrainian Constitution can be quickly amended by a two-thirds majority of Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council). Yet, such a constitutional reform will never pass.
    • [For a revision of the Russian Constitution] …the regime in Moscow and the situation in Ukraine would first have to change fundamentally.
  • Both Ukraine and Russia contain significant social and political groups that strictly oppose any territorial or political compromise with the enemy… Even symbolic concessions to the other side would generate domestic political challenges for both governments.
    • The radical wing, including Vladimir Putin himself, thinks the already achieved territorial expansion is insufficient.
    • Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea continues to have overwhelming support in Russia. This sentiment reaches far beyond the outspoken imperialist sections of Russian society.
  • [Because of Crimea’s reliance on access to the mainland] ...a hypothetical Russian-Ukrainian negotiation on the future of the currently occupied territories…is all or nothing not only for Kyiv but also for Moscow.
  • A quick ceasefire agreement today could eventually even help prolong the overall length of high-intensity warfare.
    • Once a meaningful agreement between Kyiv and Moscow is signed, its functioning must be ensured.
  • Providing substantial military support to Kyiv is thus the right strategy in three ways.
    • It will, firstly, help to prepare meaningful negotiations now. Secondly, it will ensure a sustainable accord between Kyiv and Moscow at some point in the future. Lastly, it will keep the peace, once it is reached, intact.

“Interview to Tucker Carlson. Vladimir Putin answered questions from Tucker Carlson, a journalist and founder of Tucker Carlson Network,” Kremlin.ru, 02.09.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Wouldn't it be better [for the U.S.] to negotiate with Russia? Make an agreement, already understanding the situation that is developing today, realizing that Russia will fight for its interests to the end. And, realizing this, actually return to common sense, start respecting our country and its interests and look for certain solutions. It seems to me that this is much smarter and more rational.... You should tell the current Ukrainian leadership to stop and come to a negotiating table... This endless mobilization in Ukraine, the hysteria, the domestic problems — sooner or later, it will result in an agreement.
    • Up until now there has been the uproar and screaming about inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia on the battlefield. Now they are apparently coming to realize that it is difficult to achieve, if possible at all. In my opinion, it is impossible by definition, it is never going to happen. It seems to me that now those who are in power in the West have come to realize this as well. If so, if the realization has set in, they have to think what to do next. We are ready for this dialogue.  
    • [When asked “Do you think it is too humiliating at this point for NATO to accept Russian control of what was two years ago Ukrainian territory?”] Let them think how to do it with dignity.
    • If you really want to stop fighting, you need to stop supplying weapons. It will be over within a few weeks. That's it. And then we can agree on some terms before you do that.
    • We haven't achieved our aims yet, because one of them is denazification. This means the prohibition of all kinds of neo-Nazi movement ... We have to get rid of those people who maintain this concept and support this practice and try to preserve it – that is what denazification is.
  • [When asked whether he can imagine a scenario where he sends Russian troops to Poland] Only in one case: if Poland attacks Russia. Why? Because we have no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else. Why would we do that? We simply don't have any interest. It’s just threat mongering. 
  • [When asked by Carlson whether he has “territorial aims across the continent”] It is absolutely out of the question. You just don't have to be any kind of analyst, it goes against common sense to get involved in some kind of global war. And a global war will bring all of humanity to the brink of destruction. It's obvious. … There are, certainly, means of deterrence. They have been scaring everyone with us all along: tomorrow Russia will use tactical nuclear weapons, tomorrow Russia will use that, no, the day after tomorrow. So what? These are just horror stories for people in the street in order to extort additional money from U.S. taxpayers and European taxpayers in the confrontation with Russia in the Ukrainian theatre of war.
    • [When asked “Do you think NATO was worried about this becoming a global war or nuclear conflict?”] At least that's what they're talking about. And they are trying to intimidate their own population with an imaginary Russian threat. This is an obvious fact. And thinking people, not philistines, but thinking people, analysts, those who are engaged in real politics, just smart people understand perfectly well that.”
    • I do not understand why American soldiers should fight in Ukraine. There are mercenaries from the United States there. The biggest number of mercenaries comes from Poland, with mercenaries from the United States in second place, and mercenaries from Georgia in third place. Well, if somebody has the desire to send regular troops, that would certainly bring humanity on the brink of a very serious, global conflict. This is obvious.
  • Humanity has to consider what is going to happen due to the newest developments in genetics or in AI... It is impossible to stop research in genetics or AI today, just as it was impossible to stop the use of gunpowder back in the day. But as soon as we realize that the threat comes from unbridled and uncontrolled development of AI, or genetics, or any other fields, the time will come to reach an international agreement on how to regulate these things. 
  • [When asked if he would agree to release WSJ journalist Evan Gershkovich] We have done so many gestures of goodwill out of decency that I think we have run out of them. We have never seen anyone reciprocate to us in a similar manner. However, in theory, we can say that we do not rule out that we can do that if our partners take reciprocal steps.
  • [On the rise of BRICS] You cannot prevent the sun from rising. You have to adapt to it... The BRICS countries accounted for only 16 percent in 1992, but now their share is greater than that of the G-7.
  • The West is afraid of a strong China more than it fears a strong Russia, because Russia has won 150 million people and China has a 1.5 billion population.   

For reactions to Carlson’s interview with Putin, see section “U.S.-Russian relations in general” below.

“Trump's Russia Policy Is Appeasement,” Casey Michel, WSJ, 02.07.24. 

  • With Donald Trump now heavily favored to be the Republican nominee for president, his policy ideas are in the limelight. But his proposed solution for Russia's invasion of Ukraine -- the greatest security threat to Europe and the West in decades -- has drawn little scrutiny or pushback. It can be summarized in one word: appeasement.
    • Last year he suggested letting Russia "take over" parts of Ukraine, and a few months ago claimed he would "resolve the war within 24 hours." The only way to do that is to give Vladimir Putin what he wants, including recognition of Moscow's proclaimed annexations in eastern and southern Ukraine.
  • The stalemate in Ukraine is frustrating, as is Washington's dithering over unlocking funds to buck up Ukrainian forces. But Mr. Trump's proposals are far worse, for all the reasons the West supposedly learned years ago. The perils of appeasement -- of thinking that granting concessions to an autocrat on the offensive will sate him -- are legion. 
  • Thinking that appeasement will satisfy Mr. Putin's ambitions is as foolhardy as Chamberlain's belief that such a policy could halt Hitler -- not least because it elides Mr. Putin's broader goals in Europe. While Mr. Putin supposedly aims at "de-Nazifying" Kyiv, the Kremlin is pushing for broader and more unsettling goals. As Russia scholar Fiona Hill wrote in early 2022, "Putin hopes he can strike a new security deal with NATO and Europe to avoid an open-ended conflict, and then it will be America's turn to leave, taking its troops and missiles with it." 
  • The idea that appeasing him will bring peace in our time should be dismissed out of hand -- and has no place in the White House.

“Trump Says War in Ukraine Must End Even as US Aid Advances,” Stephanie Lai and Alicia Diaz, Bloomberg, 02.11.24.

  • Donald Trump said that war started by Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine must end and reiterated his disapproval of sending more aid overseas as the Senate attempts to move forward with a package to provide emergency funding for Ukraine and Israel. “We’ve got to get that war settled and I’ll get it settled,” Trump, the Republican front-runner for the 2024 presidential nomination, said at a campaign rally Saturday in Conway, South Carolina. 
  • He called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “the greatest salesman in history” and sought to suggest that the US could be “out hundreds of billions of dollars” if Ukraine made a deal with Russia — which invaded the country two years ago — and “all of a sudden they don’t want to deal with us anymore.” 

“The Kremlin's Occupation Playbook: Coerced Russification and Ethnic Cleansing in Occupied Ukraine,” Karolina Hird, ISW, 02.08.24. 

  • Russia is now implementing the same occupation playbook in the lands Russia has taken since Feb. 24, 2022, that the Kremlin has used in Crimea and Donbas since 2014. The Kremlin has employed that playbook successfully enough that all discussions of the Russian full-scale invasion treat the lands Russia illegally seized in 2014 differently from the rest of Ukraine. Western leaders regularly question whether Ukraine should even try to liberate Crimea and parts of Donbas even though the actual status of these lands under international law is the same as that of any other part of sovereign, independent Ukraine. ...Russia intends to achieve the same effects in the lands it has occupied since Feb. 24, 2022, and will be more likely to succeed in that effort the longer that it is allowed to hold that territory. The liberation of these strategically vital Ukrainian lands is thus urgent. 
  • Russian victory in Ukraine, achieved by a cease-fire that freezes the frontlines and maintains the Russian occupation of 18 percent of Ukrainian territory and 5 million Ukrainian people in the first instance, and using the current frontline as a springboard for further attempts to seize more Ukrainian territory in the second instance, will further concretize the destruction of Ukraine as a sovereign state. 
  • Negotiations on Russia’s terms and freezing the lines as they currently stand would also cede to Russia the millions of Ukrainians living behind those lines. It would constitute an implicit but concrete endorsement of Russia’s ethnic cleansing campaign and send a clear signal to Russia that the West will ultimately accept Russia’s project of completely erasing the Ukrainian people. 
  • The West must not fool itself into believing that a ceasefire offers any meaningful future prospect of reversing the destruction of Ukrainian identity, culture, language, and lives in the occupied lands. Western leaders must also internalize the reality that simply holding onto the lands Russia happens to have secured already will never satisfy Putin or any successors of like mind. The Russian war against Ukraine was always a war to eliminate Ukrainian nationhood and thus cannot end until Kyiv itself is made over into a Russian city and all Ukraine a Russian province.

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

“Europe must hurry to defend itself against Russia—and Donald Trump,” The Economist, 02.12.24. 

  • If Donald Trump is returned to the White House, ... he is likely to prove the wrecker of the Western alliance. At a rally on February 10th Mr. Trump, the near-certain Republican presidential nominee recounted how the leader of a “big country” once asked him whether America would defend an ally that was “delinquent” on its payments, presumably one that was not meeting the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defense. “No, I would not protect you,” Mr. Trump replied. “In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.”
  • These words are Mr. Trump’s most damaging assault yet on NATO, and should set alarms ringing across the defense alliance. It does not much matter whether he was indulging in hyperbole or recounting an old conversation. Exhorting Russia to attack any NATO country in any way is to weaken the sacred promise of Article 5 of the North Atlantic treaty: that an attack on one ally is an attack on all; and that an attack on even the smallest ally is, in effect, an attack on America. 
  • Europeans must act urgently to confront twin threats: attack by Russia and abandonment by America. Rather than moan about Mr. Trump, they should get on with meeting the 2% target. They should also revise the threshold: 3% of GDP is probably what is now required to meet NATO’s existing defense plans, and it would have to be higher without American help. America spent nearly 3.5% of GDP on defense last year. 
  • This will serve three purposes: strengthen Europeans’ ability to help Ukraine and defend themselves against Russia; prove that Europeans are sharing the burden and that the alliance is a good deal for America; and create a hedge against abandonment by Mr. Trump. 
  • The most sensitive issue will be how Europe’s two nuclear-weapons states, Britain and France, can provide greater deterrence for European allies in the absence of an American nuclear umbrella. 
  • Mr. Trump’s words mean that Europe has no choice but to rearm, not least because Europe’s weakness is itself a cause of instability. The best way to preserve the Western alliance—and to limit the damage should a hostile Mr. Trump come to power—is to prepare for a more insecure era. Even then, be under no illusion that rearming can fully replace the loss of American power.

“An Outburst by Trump on NATO May Push Europe to Go It Alone,” David E. Sanger, NYT, 02.12.24. 

  • Long before Donald J. Trump threatened over the weekend that he was willing to let Russia ''do whatever the hell they want'' against NATO allies that do not contribute sufficiently to collective defense, European leaders were quietly discussing how they might prepare for a world in which America removes itself as the centerpiece of the 75-year-old alliance.
  • The larger implication of his statement is that he might invite President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to pick off a NATO nation, as a warning and a lesson to the 30 or so others about heeding Mr. Trump's demands.
  • His statement stunned many in Europe, especially after three years in which President Biden, attempting to restore the confidence in the alliance lost during Mr. Trump's four years in office, has repeatedly said that the United States would ''defend every inch of NATO territory.'' And while a spokesman for the White House, Andrew Bates, denounced Mr. Trump's comments as ''unhinged,'' by Sunday morning they had already resonated with those who have argued that Europe cannot depend on the United States to deter Russia.
    • Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, which comprises Europe's heads of government and defines their common policies, wrote that ''reckless statements'' like Mr. Trump's ''serve only Putin's interest.'' 
    • And in Berlin, Norbert Röttgen, a member of the German Parliament's foreign affairs committee, wrote on the social media platform X, ''Everyone should watch this video of #Trump to understand that Europe may soon have no choice but to defend itself.''
      • All of this doubt is bound to dominate a meeting of NATO defense ministers on Thursday in Brussels and then the Munich Security Conference....In fact, that re-evaluation has been underway for months, some European diplomats and defense officials say, though they have alluded to it only obliquely in public, if at all.
  • At its core, the argument underway in Europe goes to the question of whether members of the alliance can be assured that the U.S. nuclear umbrella -- the ultimate deterrent against Russian invasion -- will continue to cover the 31 members of the NATO alliance.
  • Whether Mr. Trump wins in November or not, the fact that such a vision of NATO has taken hold with a significant number of Americans represents a shift that is bound to affect the view of the trans-Atlantic alliance in Europe for years to come.

“Trump and NATO Deterrence,” Editorial Board, WSJ, 02.11.24. 

  • Donald Trump’s ... comments Saturday that he once told the leader of a NATO ally that he'd invite Vladimir Putin to invade is the reason many Americans won't vote for him.
  • A charitable interpretation is that this is an extreme version of his boasts that he forced NATO countries in Europe to increase defense spending. There's no doubt he coaxed more money from allies in his first term. But this isn't 2020 any more. 
  • Deterrence depends on a combination of force and the will to use it. Mr. Trump's boasts that he wouldn't aid an ally will sow doubt in the minds of our allies and might encourage Mr. Putin to think he could get away with another invasion. Mr. Putin has all but said that the Baltic states are rightfully Russia's.
  • Mr. Trump now says he'll end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours, even before he's inaugurated. The only way to do that is to deny Ukraine more weapons and tell President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to give Mr. Putin what he wants. The word for that isn't peace; it's appeasement.
  • The U.S. should be having an election debate over the growing dangers to U.S. security and how to counter them. Instead we have an incumbent who has presided over the collapse of U.S. deterrence, and a GOP front-runner who dotes on dictators. No wonder Mr. Putin is looking so confident these days.

“Planning for the Aftermath. Assessing Options for U.S. Strategy Toward Russia After the Ukraine War,” Samuel Charap and Miranda Priebe, RAND, February 2024. 

  • Wartime choices could shape the postwar worldNot taking these longer-term factors into consideration could lead to missed opportunities to shape the postwar environment.
  • The choices that will have to be made in the immediate aftermath of the war can have ripple effects on many long-term U.S. interests: These effects are not straightforward. Policymakers thus need time — long before the war ends — to consider these choices.
  • The United States may be able to influence the conflict outcome to promote its long-term postwar interests: The United States cannot determine the outcome of the war on its own; its decisions will never have the same impact as those of the two combatants. But Washington does have policy options to try to affect the trajectory of the conflict.
  • A longer, more violent war would lock in adverse consequences for U.S. interests: For example, a longer war could significantly undermine Ukraine's postwar recovery.
  • U.S. policy during and after the war can reduce the risk of Russia-Ukraine conflict recurrence: The United States has instruments to increase the likelihood that any peace endures.
  • Ramping up military pressure on Russia in Europe after the war could pose more risks than benefits: The war has weakened Russia and shown that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has a strong deterrent against Russian attacks on allies. Further forward deployments and other measures are likely unnecessary to deter opportunistic Russian aggression, but may make war by misperception about U.S. intentions more likely.

“Fiona Hill warns U.S. against losing focus on Ukraine, Putin amid Israel-Hamas war,” Liz Mineo, Harvard Gazette, 02.08.24.[1]

  • “The war has damaged Putin,” said former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill. “The more this drags on, the less beneficial it is for Putin.”  The senior fellow at the Brookings Institute Center on the United States and Europe Hill offered her assessments on the war’s prospects, Putin’s political future, and Russia’s geopolitical importance during a talk Tuesday afternoon, sponsored by the Belfer Center and Russia Matters at Harvard Kennedy School.
  • Putin remains committed to winning the war, launched in February 2022, because it could bolster his chances to stay in power, she said. Putin, who became Russia’s president in 2000, passed a law in 2021 that would allow him to remain in power until 2036. “The end game for Putin is Ukraine’s capitulation,” said Hill.
  • Hill noted that the Israel-Hamas war had shifted some of the world’s attention from Ukraine, a development that might not bode well for Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. She stressed the need for the U.S. government to remain vigilant.
  • “Russia will always matter,” said Hill. “It’s not just about the battlefields or the way we think about nuclear weapons. It’s the inescapable fact that we have this large country, the largest country on Earth in terms of land mass … Because of its strategic location, the size of its land mass, its environmental impact, we’re not going to be able to avoid dealing with Russia.” For example, Russia, which has the world’s largest forest area, must be included in any conversation about climate change, said Hill. “Russia has to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem,” she said.
  • “Every new administration that comes in rediscovers Russia,” said Hill. “We haven’t been consistent in trying to think about the way that Russia acts, or the way Putin acts … The one thing I would say about Putin and Russia is this: Never write either of these off because Russia always matters and right now, while he is still with us, Putin matters as well.”
  • Another aspect to consider is Russia’s relationship with China, said Hill. China’s president, Xi Jinping, visited Russia in February 2023 in a show of the solid ties between the two nations. China has become Russia’s most important trading partner in the aftermath of Western sanctions imposed against Russia.

“Fearing Russia, the Baltic states improve their defenses,” The Economist, 02.10.24.

  • In January the defense ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania announced that they would build a string of “anti-mobility defensive installations” along their border with Russia and Belarus, collectively known as the Baltic Defense Line.
  • Estonian officials estimate their stretch of the border will need around 600 concrete bunkers, each 35 square meters, each capable of holding around ten soldiers and taking a hit from a large shell. 
  • The appeal of fortifications is easy to see. European officials worry that Russia’s breakneck rearmament is outpacing Europe’s own effort to ramp up arms production. Baltic leaders have emphasized that even small Russian advances could be existentially threatening to their states. “It cannot be ruled out that within a three to five year period, Russia will test Article 5 and NATO’s solidarity,” warned Troels Lund Poulsen, Denmark’s defense minister, on February 9th. “That was not NATO’s assessment in 2023. This is new information that is coming to the fore now.” In light of this febrile mood, the Baltic Defense Line is both a military statement and a political one.
  • This throws up a dilemma. NATO armies have long preferred a more elastic defense in depth, in which forces retreat as needed and destroy the enemy on more favorable terrain. That is incompatible with defending every inch of NATO soil. But with an “operationally static defense”, observes Lukas Milevski, an expert at Leiden University in the Netherlands. “it’s much more of an imperative to ensure that the blow, when it comes, is as weak as possible”. That puts a much greater emphasis on using heavy firepower to strike deep behind Russian lines to wear down the attacking force and break up its command and logistics. In short: heavy bombardment of Russian soil. “Western political leaders,” he warns, “may be squeamish about such attacks.” 

“In Year Three of the Ukraine War, It’s Time to Learn the Lessons of the First Two,” Eugene Rumer, CEIP, 02.07.24. 

  • With Putin’s murderous ambitions unchanged, and with Russia possessing superior military capabilities, Ukraine has little choice but to adopt the “active defense” strategy not only for 2024 but for the long run. The goal of liberating all of its occupied territory will remain its objective, but with the correlation of forces favoring Russia decidedly, it is likely unattainable for the foreseeable future. 
  •  Ukraine’s allies and partners ...need to prepare for a long war. That means transitioning from the annual cycle of ad hoc attempts to lock in support for Ukraine to a long-term commitment to its security and defense. Ukraine is the fulcrum of the new, extended East-West confrontation.
  • Increasing numbers of Americans believe that the United States is doing “too much” to support Ukraine. Against this backdrop, there is virtually no chance of obtaining Senate ratification for Ukrainian membership in NATO in the foreseeable future. Instead of making unfulfillable promises while support for helping Ukraine is still strong, the Washington summit should strive for a long-term program of security assistance for Ukraine backed by allied pledges and a U.S. commitment enshrined into law.
  • Year one of the war produced unrealistic expectations. Year two rendered those expectations unrealized. Year three is the year to learn the lessons of the first two and position Ukraine and NATO for what promises to be a long confrontation with a powerful, dangerous, and implacable adversary. What is the alternative to that?

Introduction to “Lose-Lose? Munich Security Report 2024,” Tobias Bunde and Sophie Eisentraut, Munich Security Conference, February 2024.

  • The geopolitical and economic optimism of the post–Cold War era has vanished. Although this era saw impressive absolute gains in wealth and security, the fact that  these gains were far from equally distributed has led to dissatisfaction with the status quo.
  • Against the backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions and economic concerns, key actors in the West, in powerful autocracies, and in the Global South have become increasingly worried about relative gains and losses and begun to de-risk their international relations.
  • While these policies are rational responses to a changing geopolitical environment, they are costly, as they threaten to eat away at the absolute gains of global cooperation. They also risk triggering a vicious cycle, in which states’ focus on relative gains and losses may bring about a   zero-sum world.
  • The transatlantic partners need to strike a balance between competing for relative gains and cooperating to realize inclusive absolute benefits. While they need to safeguard trust-based cooperation among like-minded democracies, they must also try to introduce guardrails for competition with autocratic challengers, search for areas of mutually beneficial cooperation with competitors, and build new global partnerships that ensure more inclusive benefits.

“Shades of Gray Zone” in “Lose-Lose? Munich Security Report 2024,” Nicole Koenig and Leonard Schütte, Munich Security Conference, February 2024.

  • Russia’s war against Ukraine has destroyed the remnants of Europe’s cooperative security architecture and forced countries in Eastern Europe to pick sides. For Ukrainians, the choice is clear, with an overwhelming majority supporting integration into the EU and NATO. 
  • Russia’s war has compelled the EU to view enlargement as a geostrategic tool to move countries out of the gray zone. But it is unclear how quickly this can happen and whether all members are willing to bear the costs. NATO enlargement is on the agenda, too, but internal disagreements stand in the way of quick progress. 
  • The Russian post-Soviet “empire” currently only extends to Belarus. While Russia has failed to draw Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and the Western Balkans into its camp, it can still spoil their EU and NATO ambitions.
  • EU and NATO members should rapidly back up the promise to shrink Eastern Europe’s gray zone and help Ukraine defeat Russia with substantial and sustained political, financial, and military assistance.

"Ditch the ‘Rules-Based International Order,’" Andreas Kluth, Bloomberg, 02.08.24. 

  • People have laid down their lives for love, freedom, justice, the fatherland and more. But nobody has ever died clutching the banner of the Rules-Based International Order. It’s time to junk that cliche, and replace it with something more fitting.
  • That’s not only because the term is an Orwellian linguistic atrocity with all the emotive oomph of a Powerpoint slide. It’s also a shibboleth that, when used by American diplomats in particular, makes US foreign policy look hypocritical, from the Middle East to Africa, Asia and beyond.
  • Biden and his diplomats talk up the rules-based international order so much that Stephen Walt at the Harvard Kennedy School, a scholar in the hard-nosed “realist” tradition, has mocked the turn of phrase as a “job requirement.”
  • The world is skeptical about this American shtick, especially in Africa, Asia and South America, where countries are feeling — and often resisting — pressure by Washington to align with the West against Russia and China.
  • My advice to Biden and other Western leaders is to send out a staff memo: Drop the rules-based international order in all speechifying, and instead pledge fealty to international law. Then hold Russia, China and Iran accountable to that standard — but also Israel and, yes, even the US when necessary.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Does Ukraine Offer Lessons for Taiwan?”, Irene Entringer, García Blanes, Ian Harman, Susan Peterson and Michael J. Tierney, FP, 02.06.24. 

  • What accounts for the split in expert opinion between those who believe that the U.S. response to Russia’s war in Ukraine has reduced the likelihood that China will use force against Taiwan and those who believe that U.S. actions have had no effect? One obvious candidate to explain these differences is respondents’ theoretical paradigm. 
    • Realism, which is based on the idea that the distribution of power explains international politics, doesn’t make a definitive prediction. Viewed through this lens, U.S. support of Ukraine could lead China to believe that the costs of invading Taiwan would be too high. But the U.S. decision not to become militarily involved in Ukraine could also lead China to conclude that its costs would be relatively low in Taiwan. Chinese officials could also decide that these two factors cancel each other out.
    • Liberals and constructivists—who focus on institutions, economic interdependence, and ideas as sources of cooperation in international politics—should be more likely than realists to believe that U.S. support for Ukraine and NATO makes China less inclined to invade Taiwan. Among the IR scholars we surveyed, self-described liberals were considerably more likely than realists (58.62 percent vs. 43.1 percent) to say that events in Ukraine reduced the likelihood of war in Taiwan.
    • Two other factors correlate with IR experts’ views. First, younger scholars—assistant professors—were more likely than their more senior colleagues to believe that U.S. support for Ukraine has increased the likelihood that China will invade Taiwan or that events in Ukraine have had no effect on the probability of conflict in East Asia. Asked whether the U.S. response to the war in Ukraine has increased the chances of a Chinese attack on Taiwan, 15.38 percent of assistant professors said yes, compared to only 4.90 percent of associate professors and 7.37 percent of full professors Similarly, 53.85 percent of assistant professors thought Ukraine has had no effect on Chinese calculations, compared to 47.06 percent and 44.87 percent of associate and full professors, respectively.
    • Finally, respondents’ gender appeared to play a role in their views on the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on other global conflicts. While 56.55 percent of female IR experts said the events in Ukraine haven’t influenced the chance of Chinese aggression against Taiwan, only 41.75 percent of male IR experts agreed... Women were more likely than men to be experts in international law, human rights, and international organization, fields where respondents were more likely to say that the U.S. response in Ukraine has made China more cautious on Taiwan

“The ‘Thucydides’s Trap’ Author on the Risk of China-Bashing,” Benjamin Hart interviews Graham Allison, New York Magazine, January 2024. 

  • GA: Basically, there are seven reasons why a rational, alert actor in Beijing watching what happened in Ukraine would be more cautious about Taiwan. I could take you down the whole list, but let me just start at the top.
    • First, combined warfare turns out to be a lot more complicated than it might seem on paper. 
    • Second, American intelligence about what was going on in Ukraine has been brilliant. 
    • Third, the Chinese use a lot of Russian equipment. Obviously, some of the Russian equipment is not working so well because the Russians were lousy in maintaining it.
    • Fourth, the new technologies that the Americans and the Ukrainians are bringing to bear here, they’re pretty amazing. So I would say, you go on down that list, there are many reasons why they would, if they’re being rational, be more restrained.

“Ukraine vs Gaza,” John Raine, IISS, 02.09.24. 

  • The Arab Gulf states have taken an independent line from the beginning of the war in Ukraine and will probably continue to do so. They are likely to be encouraged by the resilience of authoritarian power projection.
  • Russia’s  relationship with China, which at one point looked imperiled by Putin’s costly miscalculations, has been reaffirmed by both sides. ... The authoritarian axis, along with the brand, is holding. It received a boost, if not a relaunch, by way of the expansion of BRICS at a summit in October to include leading middle powers in the Middle East and Africa.
  • However imperfect the expansion, BRICS now includes four top hydrocarbon producers: Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Buoying the enduring value of hydrocarbons are the adoption by parties to the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference of a watered-down resolution to phase hydrocarbons down rather than out, and steadily rising demand for Gulf-produced hydrocarbons in the Indo-Pacific. 
  • The unprecedented de-escalation starting with the Abraham Accords in 2020 and extending to the restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia in 2023 reflect a shared disposition to balance the region politically in order to permit economic growth. Despite the political and humanitarian rupture of the Gaza war, that is likely to remain the Gulf states’ objective. It will incline them to urge, or at least settle for, manageable ceasefires. On Ukraine, they represent many in the global majority. Their position on Palestinian statehood, which enjoys consensus international support, is apt to be more complicated. In any case, they will not endorse maximal war aims in either conflict
  • Israel’s war will continue. So will its shadow over the Russia–Ukraine war. It may widen further, but it will remain asymmetric.... Less helpful to Zelenskyy is the fact that whatever form its next phase takes, Israel’s war is now an active ingredient in the evolving geopolitics that he and his supporters must navigate.

“Is the US-China relationship the most consequential relationship for America in the world?” answered by Graham Allison, Brookings, 02.06.24. 

My answer is: yes. If not China, who? China is:

  • one of only two nations that poses an existential threat to the United States.
  • the only nation that poses a systemic threat to the U.S. position as the global leader, architect, and guardian of the post-World War II international order.
  • the largest emitter of greenhouse gases—accounting for more emissions in 2022 than the United States and Europe combined.
  • the second backbone of the world economy: the manufacturing workshop of the world, the No. 1 trading partner of most countries in the world (including the European Union and Japan), and the supplier of most critical items (including everything green and clean) in global supply chains.
  • both a classic Thucydidean rival and America’s inseparable, conjoined Siamese twin.

Missile defense:

“The Future of Missile Defense,” Lawrence J. Korb and Stephen Cimbala, NI, 02.09.24.

  • We are headed for either an offense-dominant, defense-dominant or offense-defense competitive environment… due in part to the mastery of technology by artificial intelligence, quantum computing and human-machine interfaces.
  • New technologies for anti-missile defense are challenging the assumed priority of offense over defense.
    • Defensive technologies may be more competitive than offensive ones, but this welcome attribute involves some complications for strategy and arms control.
    • By the 2030s, it may be possible to develop and deploy defenses exploiting “left of launch” techniques that can destroy ballistic missiles on their launch pads or shortly after liftoff.
  • We are also headed into an advanced precision strike regime with improved accuracies for weapons of longer ranges…Hypersonic weapons will also reduce the time available to defenders for indications and warning, decision-making and timely response to attack.
    • Some hypersonics will also be equipped with capabilities purposely built to evade defenses…
  • The future domains for conflict will include competitive technologies for space, cyber deterrence and warfare.
    • The interactive complexity of deterrence and war across these domains while exploiting these emerging technologies will challenge the sluggishness of decision-making.
  • There is also the Cheshire Cat effect: offense can become defense and defense is transformed into offense.
    • [For example] If another state’s satellites approach too closely to the first state’s space-based assets and appear ready to conduct a disarming strike, the defender’s satellites (DSATs) might be tasked to strike preemptively at the prospective attacker.
    • The degree to which systems malfunction in real time may not be apparent before partial degradation is transformed into holistic catastrophe…
  • Improvements in AI and quantum computing accelerate the rate at which digital systems can acquire information, process data and generate alternative response patterns for decision-makers. 

Nuclear arms:

“Even in the face of Russian aggression, a nuclear ‘Eurodeterrent’ is still a bad idea,” Stephen J. Cimbala, Lawrence J. Korb, BAS, 02.12.24. 

  • Rationale for a Eurodeterrent. 
    • The first reason given for a European nuclear deterrent is the possibility that a future US president might not be as committed to NATO as his or her predecessors. 
    • A second reason for the renewed interest in a possible European nuclear deterrent is the war in Ukraine and the recurring threats by Russian President Vladimir Putin to resort to nuclear first use if needed to protect Russian security interests in that region.
    • A third reason might be the growing nationalism in Europe and in the United States, spanning across the general public, leadership classes, and political office holders. 
    • A fourth concern among some supporters of a European nuclear deterrent lies in doubts about the reliability of the US nuclear umbrella for the deterrence of war in Europe. 
  • Why it’s a bad idea. 
    • First, legitimate concern should not give way to exaggerated fears of NATO or US abandonment of their political commitment to the deterrence of war in Europe or its defense if necessary. 
    • A second challenge for a European nuclear deterrent lies in its organization and operational shape, including the chain of command over a (presumably) multinational nuclear force. Something like this was attempted in the 1960s when several military planners and politicians put forward a proposal for a Multilateral Force (MLF) mixing personnel and weapons, including nuclear warheads, from several European powers. The problems of authoritative political control and operational management in such a force soon became evident and proved to be too challenging. 
    • A third riposte to the idea of a European nuclear deterrent is that it might stimulate nuclear proliferation and ultimately lead to more nuclear weapons states, either in Europe or beyond. 
    • Fourth, the argument that the US nuclear force is insufficiently flexible for deterring or responding to nuclear coercion or nuclear first use deserves further scrutiny. 
  • In today’s world of high tech competition among major powers, neither the United States nor any other aspiring military can afford to rest on dated plans, aging technology, or roseate assumptions about the likelihood of wars. Surprises are inevitable: preparation and agility are the hallmarks of superior military performance. As Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

“Why and how the NPT must prepare for an arms control interregnum in the post-New START era,” Maximilian Hoell, ELP, 02.08.24.

  • Russia’s suspension of New START…means that the global nuclear order edges closer to the collapse of formal bilateral nuclear arms control.
    • …Both parties have stated publicly that they continue to abide by New START’s numerical caps on strategic offensive weapons and launchers… such voluntary measures will be rather fragile…[and] lack the verification provisions.
  • Attempts to negotiate new arms control agreements between the United States, Russia and China in a bilateral or trilateral constellation have proven unsuccessful thus far.
    • Russia is unwilling to enter negotiations with the United States unless the United States guarantees the end of Western military support for Ukraine.
    • China, too, may be reluctant to “compartmentalize” and “only seek to discuss nuclear weapons in the context of the overall strategic relationship.”
  • At the same time, China, like Russia, has demonstrated little interest in mitigating or managing nuclear risks, recent U.S.-China talks notwithstanding. 
    • China’s drastic expansion of its arsenal signals the emergence of a new tripolar security environment in which the United States and its allies face, for the first time, two nuclear peers at once.
  • From Washington’s perspective, a worst-case scenario could see Moscow’s and Beijing’s “friendship without limits” evolve into a combined strategic force outnumbering the American strategic arsenal... It is equally questionable if such an agreement would appeal to Russia or China, given the considerable uncertainty about their nuclear intentions.
  • The NPT membership must prepare for a security environment unconstrained by nuclear arms control. The defining challenge of this arms.
    • Moscow and Beijing may converge in the assessment that a robust NPT is primarily a Western objective and, as such, not necessarily in their best interest.
    • Although the NPT can only succeed with Russian and Chinese cooperation (or at least acquiescence), the crucial task before the NPT membership for the foreseeable future is to prevent Russian brinkmanship and Chinese ambivalence from eroding the regime.
  • The West must offer a compelling vision for ensuring the NPT’s resilience that resonates with as broad a coalition of States parties…
    • …The vision must go on the offensive with a persuasive narrative about real nuclear dangers, the value of the nonproliferation regime and the responsibility of Western actions…
  • The NPT membership should… prepare future arms control opportunities by advancing disarmament verification and…cooperative risk reduction measures, echoing the cold-war pattern where arms competition eventually led to negotiated arms limitation treaties.

“Escalating to de-escalate with nuclear weapons: Research shows it’s a particularly bad idea,” Daniel R. Post, BAS, 02.09.24. 

  • If both sides in a conflict subscribe to escalate-to-de-escalate-type thinking, the logical outcome is an endless escalatory cycle. This outcome is distinctly at odds with a strategy aimed at de-escalation. Scholars and practitioners should beware of seeing a limited nuclear attack as some sort of resolve-demonstrating “trump card.”

Counterterrorism:

“Russia” in “Global Terrorism Threat Assessment 2024,” Catrina Doxsee, Alexander Palmer and Riley McCabe, CSIS, 02.08.24.

  • Terrorist trends in Russia are broadly similar to those in other European countries. The overall rate of terrorist attacks is low, but the threat of Islamic State terrorism persists and the threat of right-wing violence is rising-both of which have historically posed security challenges in Russia. Asymmetric violence associated with the war in Ukraine has also affected Russia on several occasions, but it is impossible to cleanly delineate state and non-state action in the current situation, and distinguishing the terrorist threat from the broader asymmetric warfare threat is beyond the scope of this report. 
  • Rates of attacks [by Salafi-Jihadists in Russia] have been steadily decreasing since at least 2018, and no Salafi-jihadist violence was recorded in 2022. 1 Despite this decrease in attacks, a Salafi-jihadist threat to Russia persists. 
  • Russians also experience non-state violence associated with far-right ideologies. Attacks against ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ groups, and women are reported at a low but consistent tempo. 
  • Terrorism in Russia is also difficult to distinguish from activities connected to the war in Ukraine. Russia identifies drone attacks it attributes to Ukrainian forces as terrorism
  • Unlike other European countries, Russia has also been credibly accused of using terrorist proxies as part of its foreign policy. 

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“Vladimir Putin wants to catch up with the West in AI. Good luck with that,” The Economist, 02.08.24. 

  • For Mr. Putin, “leading” on AI is part of an ideological battle with the West. The success of tools such as ChatGPT, developed by an American startup called OpenAI, has led him to decry the dangers of relying on Western AIs trained on English-language data. 
  • Russia’s Yandex claims that YandexGPT-2 does better than GPT-3.5, the model behind an earlier version of ChatGPT, when answering queries in Russian. But Western experts consulted by The Economist have found no independent analysis to confirm this contention, and there have been no public comparisons with GPT-4, the much more powerful current iteration of OpenAI’s model.
  • Russia also lags behind the West on a variety of AI-innovation indicators. A report compiled by Stanford University said that, in 2022, the country produced only one “significant” machine-learning system, compared with 16 in America and eight in Britain. As of June 2023, Russia was thought to have just seven of the world’s 500 most powerful supercomputers, in contrast with America’s 150. Russia also ranked 38th out 193 countries in the latest AI-readiness index by Oxford Insights, a consultancy; America came first.
  • Russia has made progress in military AI, says Katarzyna Zysk of the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies, a think-tank, particularly in drones. But in the West and even in China, a Russian ally, the excitement over machine learning has been fueled chiefly by recent leaps in general-purpose applications such as ChatGPT, not specialist ones like pilotless aircraft. Western and Chinese strategists are counting on such fast-improving civilian AI to confer an economic and, ultimately, geopolitical and military edge. So long as it remains on a war footing, Russia will not make much progress on that front.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

“Traditional Conflicts and Dynamic Coali­tions at the World Climate Conference,” Jule Könneke

And Ole Adolphsen, SWP, 02.05.24.

  • The outcome of the 28th UN Climate Change Conference shows that international cooperation remains possible despite today’s challenging geopolitical situation.
    • …Dynamic North-South coalitions have formed in the negotiation tracks on “loss and damage” and the global energy transition.
  • The dissatisfaction… in the Global South over the crisis management of wealthy countries in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the handling of the consequences of the Russian attack on Ukraine is weighing on the multilateral negotiation process.
  • As a priority of developing countries, adaptation has traditionally been closely linked to the issues of finance and global justice. 
    • To what extent coalitions of developing and industrialized countries will be able to prevail against fossil interests in the future depends largely on whether sufficient finan­cial support can be provided. There is a…gap between the amount of adaptation funding provided and what is required…
  • Unlike in other negotiation tracks, developing and industrialized countries have not yet formed a viable coalition in the area of adaptation; as a result, old rifts have prevented an ambitious result from being achieved.
  • The broad alliance in favor of moving away from fossil fuels that was formed in Dubai – and the room for maneuver provided by it – will prove sustainable only if industrialized countries pursue ambitious domestic climate policies.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“How Tucker Carlson became Putin’s useful idiot,” Gideon Rachman, FT, 02.09.24.

  • A century has now passed since the death of Lenin in January 1924. But “useful idiots” — the term usually attributed to Lenin — are still making the trek to the Kremlin to broadcast Russia’s message back to the west. The latest in this long line of credulous foreigners is Tucker Carlson, a self-styled journalist, whose interview with Vladimir Putin was broadcast earlier this week.
  • It would be a mistake to believe that Carlson and Putin were simply talking past each other. ... Carlson has ... denounced Zelenskyy in florid terms, calling the Ukrainian leader “a dictator, a dangerous authoritarian.” It is little wonder that this American celebrity was so welcome in the Kremlin. Predictably, Carlson invited Putin to agree that Zelenskyy follows orders from the US government. But Putin failed to endorse that idea. He even seemed to hold open the possibility that Zelenskyy could decide to be a partner in peace negotiations.
  • At other times, however, Putin has shown himself all too aware of the ideological bugbears of the U.S. far-right — and more than willing to cater to them. As the Russian analyst Mikhail Zygar points out in a recent article for Foreign Affairs, Putin and his circle have deliberately waded into the “war on woke” in an effort to find allies on the far-right in America and Europe.
  • The Russian leader seized the chance to tip the Washington debate further in Russia’s direction. But his eccentric history lectures are unlikely to have swayed many votes on Capitol Hill. Yaroslav the Wise might have done better.

“Why Putin’s Interview With Tucker Carlson Didn’t Go to Plan,” Tatiana Stanovaya, CEIP, 02.12.24. 

  • Strategically speaking, Putin gave up on the West at the end of 2019 when he convinced himself that whoever was in the White House, Washington would still seek to destroy Russia. That meant Moscow increasingly saw dialogue as a waste of time, and caused Russian politics to descend into a civilizational stand-off with the West.
  • Since then, Putin has spoken endlessly about Washington’s tendency to self-harm, its inability to think in strategic terms, and its failure to understand its own interests. He regularly claims that the United States wants to destroy the world order and spark new wars. In this context, the [Tucker] Carlson interview could be seen as a Russian attempt to return to some sort of dialogue. But Putin’s aim was not dialogue with the U.S. political mainstream. Instead, he was speaking to U.S. conservatives personified by the likes of Carlson, former (and possible future) president Donald Trump, and billionaire Elon Musk.
  • When it came to Putin’s tactical goals, he likely had a whole series of them. 
    • The most important was to show Washington that Russia remains determined to achieve Ukraine’s capitulation. 
    • In addition, Putin offered a quid pro quo to the West: stop arming and supporting Ukraine, and we will halt military action. 
  • Putin apparently believes there is an opportunity for Russia to seize the upper hand in Ukraine in 2024. ... Putin senses that the geopolitical winds are beginning to blow in his favor, handing Russia the initiative on the battlefield, and he was trying to use the interview with Carlson to maximize his current advantage.
  • The problem was that even when speaking to a “friendly” journalist like Carlson, Putin found it hard to achieve what he apparently set out to do. .... Given the broader context, even a dialogue between Putin’s Russia and conservative America is an extremely difficult goal to achieve.

“The real message of Vladimir Putin’s chat with Tucker Carlson,” The Economist, 02.09.24.

  • Watch closely [Putin’s interview to Carlson], though, and it offers valuable insights, if probably not the kind either participant intended.
    • One is about the risks of rulers staying in power for decades. As his comments revealed, even now Mr. Putin resents the West’s role in the wars in Yugoslavia of the 1990s and other long-ago crises. In democracies, transitions of power are an amnesiac balm for such grievances, allowing relations with other countries to heal and move on. In office for almost a quarter of a century, Mr. Putin is still avenging old grudges.
    • Another lesson lay in his sneering hauteur. He faced a hand-picked interviewer who lobbed softball questions. Even so, Mr. Putin’s answers showed no regard for the patience or interests of viewers. Then again, why would they? He is not accustomed to explaining himself. He does not rule through persuasion or charm but by violence and fear.

“How Putin's Obsession With History Led Him to Start a War; Long-winded, often factually erroneous arguments back his conviction that Russia has a historic right to Ukraine,” Yaroslav Trofimov, WSJ, 02.11.24. 

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin's lengthy European history lesson, presented during a two-hour interview with Tucker Carlson a few days ago, may have seemed arcane to many viewers. But as Putin recounted events of centuries past and trotted out 17th-century documents, he was expounding on deeply held views about the past, many widely disputed by historians, that have driven him to launch the continent's bloodiest conflict since World War II.
  • Putin's obsession with the history of Ukraine and the Slavic peoples is far from new. In 2008, as Putin sat down with then-U.S. Ambassador William Burns, now the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he was blunt in expressing his vision. "Don't you know that Ukraine is not even a real country?" the Russian president asked, according to Burns. Putin's moves since—from his initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and the annexation of Crimea to the full-scale war Moscow launched in 2022—all stem from this conviction.

“Why MAGA Loves Russia and Hates Ukraine,” David French, NYT, 02.08.24.

  • … We’re receiving reports from the front lines that Russia is advancing, in part because of Ukrainian ammunition shortages.
    • The war is reaching a critical stage, and Ukraine may lose because Republicans are willing to hand authoritarian Russia a historic military victory…
  • …The mass Republican movement against Ukraine is rooted far less in policy than it is in a particular bespoke reality of the MAGA universe, in which Ukraine is a pernicious villain, Putin is a flawed hero and Russia should have crushed Ukraine long ago.
    • [There is a] MAGA claim that it was Ukraine and not Russia that interfered with the 2016 election… Combine that claim with the fact that Hunter Biden had a lucrative business relationship with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma…
    • MAGA found…the perfect villain…Trump wasn’t in bed with a hostile power in Russia; the Democrats were in bed with a hostile power in Ukraine.
  • To MAGA, Putin isn’t just innocent; he’s admirable.
    • He’s defined as an anti-woke leader who defends Christian civilization by taking on the decadent West.
  • Jordan Peterson…went so far as to imply that Russia’s aggressive attack may have been merely self-defense against the threat of Western cultural decadence.
  • They are aiding Vladimir Putin because they see him, too, as opposed to their domestic enemies.
  • there are thoughtful people who disagree with additional aid on fiscal or strategic grounds… But the MAGA infotainment right isn’t engaged in thoughtful analysis.
  • …never in my lifetime have we been on the verge of a mistake so profound and catastrophic that was the direct result of theories and ideas that were so shallow, stupid and, frankly, bizarre.

“The Coming Flood of Disinformation. How Washington Gave Up on the Fight Against Falsehoods,” Nina Jankowicz, FA, 02.07.24.

  • Nearly eight years after Russian operatives attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, U.S. democracy has become even less safe, the country’s information environment more polluted, and the freedom of speech of U.S. citizens more at risk. Disinformation—the deliberate spread of false or misleading information—was never the sole domain of foreign actors, but its use by domestic politicians and grifters has ballooned in recent years. 
  • The chimera of censorship chills legitimate academic inquiry into disinformation, undermines public-private cooperation in investigating and addressing the problem, and halts crucial government responses. The result is an information ecosystem that is riper for manipulation than ever.
  • Americans have every right to—and should—ask questions about the ways their government is protecting both the First Amendment and their national security, but those questions must be rooted in reality; the campaign against disinformation researchers is not. If Republicans are truly frightened of social media firms censoring conservative speech, they should pass bills to provide needed oversight over the social media platforms themselves. After all, if social media companies were more transparent, the American public would get a better and less politicized picture of the decision-making inside these firms.
  • Over two billion people will cast ballots in elections this year, including in the United States. Elections abroad are vulnerable to the kinds of disinformation rife in this country. In allowing politics to undermine efforts to establish social media transparency and oversight, the United States has failed in leading the world in the protection of the truth. And as long as the United States continues to fail, disinformation will only grow more pervasive and harder to contain.

II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“There are lessons from Russia’s GDP growth — but not the ones Putin thinks,” Martin Sandbu, FT, 02.11.24.

  • The IMF has in the past three months more than doubled its estimate for Russia’s 2024 growth in gross domestic product, which it now puts at 2.6 per cent. So does Putin have a point? Have sanctions failed? And are there lessons for us in Russia’s economic management? The answers are no, no, and quite possibly.
    • First, note that strong GDP growth does not tell the story it might in other countries. GDP, the sum total of all paid activity in an economy, is influenced by how much people want to buy: since its full-scale attack on its neighbor, Moscow has gone on a shopping spree for soldiers, imported weapons, and ramped up its own arms production. The Bank of Finland’s Institute for Emerging Economies (Bofit) finds that most of the growth in Russian manufacturing is in war-related subsectors. 
      • This does not mean the growth in GDP is not “real”. Activity has clearly increased, as is visible from other indicators such as the falling unemployment rate. But the aggregate figure reflects a changed composition of economic activity — and even then, on Russia’s own numbers, GDP has barely caught up with its pre-invasion level. 
    • It is an error...to conclude from Russia’s GDP growth that sanctions have failed. Redeploying resources towards war camouflages the underperformance of the ordinary economy. The correct counterfactual is how badly the Russian economy would have performed in its previous configuration. 
  • Nevertheless, Moscow is exploiting a possibility that liberal market democracies ignore: if you disregard economic policy orthodoxies, you can mobilize resources for political goals, and squeeze more real activity out of an economy in the process. 
  • This ought to give liberal market democracies pause. Not that they should emulate warmongering dictators. But they should realize that mobilizing and allocating very large resources — not to war, but to worthwhile investments — is perfectly doable. 
  •  Moscow’s experience reminds us why the orthodoxies arose in the first place: the war economy cannibalizes its own economic future. Non-military infrastructure suffers because investments are diverted. Bofit points out that Russia spends less on scientific research than a decade ago. 

“What no one expects. After the attack on Ukraine, the West imposed tough sanctions on Russia. Nevertheless, the economy there is growing faster than here. What's behind it?,” Michael Thumann, Die Zeit 02.08.24.[2] Clues from German Views:

  • Has the West miscalculated with the sanctions against Russia? On the first day of this year, Vladimir Putin boasted that his country's economy would have grown by 3.5 percent in 2023. “Russia is winning,” the Russian ruler triumphed in front of war veterans, because it was growing – while Germany was shrinking. Since the state agency Rosstat does not plan to publish the final data until April, we have to rely on Putin's personal statistics. But international organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also attest to Russia's strong economic growth.
    • First of all, it should be said: Russian numbers are fluid quantities; statistics are part of warfare. The Duma passed a law in February 2023 that allows the government to keep data secret at will. If Putin doesn't agree with the numbers, Rosstat will change the method of data collection.
  • From what is known, the Russian defense industry is booming. … Putin's war economy allows parts of the economy to flourish, drives the arms industry and its suppliers, creates a shortage of skilled workers and ultimately higher wages. There are no signs of collapse in Moscow, as has been speculated in the West in 2022. 
  • No matter how much the central bank manipulates capital flows and exchange rates, it cannot get inflation under control. Inflation is still over seven percent. And since salaries are barely growing for many who don't work in the defense industry, many Russians are becoming impoverished. 
  • To tame inflation, the central bank is keeping interest rates at a record high of 16 percent. This means that the civilian economy, which is not subsidized by the state budget, can hardly take out loans. The consequences: No money for investments, no money for new technology, no money for higher wages. 
  • But what if the war is eventually over? Then the defense sector would have to shrink, while the civilian economy would be technologically outdated and over-indebted. This was also a problem for the Soviet Union when it ended in 1991. Putin may therefore be tempted to drag out the war so that the bill is not presented to him.

“The elites were shown that there are no borders, and they could be reached anywhere.” How the Russian establishment has changed in two years and what it fears.” Farida Kurbangaleeva’s interview with Nikolay Petrov, Republic, 02.08.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Russian elite has finally lost its independence… The influence of the security forces has increased dramatically…
  • [When asked about the new law enabling property seizure for oppositional speech] This law is more likely needed by deputies to demonstrate their usefulness and activity against foreign agents and other unpleasant people rather than concerning the owners of some real assets.
  • Since 2014, Putin has dramatically increased his legitimacy as a leader and no longer needs political elites…
    • His social circle has shifted towards those who report to him and are supposed to meet with him regularly, that is, the security forces.
  • The role played by the…special services today is enormous. But this is an instrumental role. They are not independent; they carry out the political order that the Kremlin formulates…
    • Putin’s principle [is] that one shouldn’t concentrate different types of resources that are important for the system in a single person… if [Secretary of Security Council of Russia, Nikolai] Patrushev has a political resource, then he has been deprived of a power resource.
  • [After the invasion of Ukraine] The West helped Putin in terms of pressure on the elites and has built such a “fence” that their dependence on Putin has increased dramatically.
    • They were cut off from all options except loyal service. 
    • There are two reasons [why many of the liberal elites stay]. Those…who would not make moral concessions have long been weeded out by the system…[and] it’s getting sucked into the game step by step.
  • [For the West to deconsolidate Russian elites] there are two ways. First, lift the sanctions against [Rostec CEO Sergey] Chemezov and not explain anything… This raises serious questions and mistrust within [the Russian establishment].
    • The second way is a differentiated approach to the elites that changes approaches to personal sanctions… It was missed from the very beginning and…is hardly possible today.

“In exile, Russian journalists battle the Kremlin's Goliath,” Lee Hockstader, WP, 02.12.24. 

  • In exile, once-profitable independent Russian media outlets have been severed from what had been their main base of subscribers and advertisers, who are forbidden from supporting them. Their business models are no longer viable.
  • To sustain their reporting, they rely largely on charity. That means thousands of donors, mainly foundations and individuals in the West. At some outlets, those gifts now account for three-quarters of the revenue needed to pay for TV studios, equipment, travel and salaries. The resulting work is accessed by millions of Russians on YouTube, Telegram and the other remaining pinholes of uncensored content.
  • But the sense that they are working on borrowed time is an undercurrent to everything I've heard from Russian journalists. It is because of not only the uncertainly of funding but also the Kremlin's intensifying efforts to muffle information that does not slavishly echo propaganda.
    • "In 2022, our Russian website was blocked four times," said Alexander Gubsky, publisher of the Moscow Times, who described the regime censors' cat-and-mouse game to silence unfettered reporting. "Last year, it was blocked four times a week."
    • Mikhail Fishman is the well-known host of a weekly show on TV Rain, an independent channel that was banned after the invasion, prompting dozens of staffers to flee. It now works from Amsterdam; Fishman's show attracts well over half a million viewers on YouTube and more on other platforms. "Russian exile journalism still matters," he said. It transmits a critical message to opponents of the regime and the war: You are not alone.
  • For Russians who have left, the choice is often excruciating. Often it means leaving parents or children behind; Fishman and some other well-known exiles would face certain prosecution were they to return. Still, they remain undaunted.
  • Derk Sauer, a Dutch media executive who founded the Moscow Times in the 1990s, ... has been instrumental in establishing a safe harbor in Amsterdam for dozens of exiled Russian journalists and raising money for their work. “That’s the $100 million question," he said. "There's no big master plan. If they all lose their jobs and become pizza deliverers, then you have no [Russian-language] journalism left. You have only propaganda."

“Russia’s Attempt to Extradite Bi-2 Rock Band Reveals the Extent of Its Fantasy World,” Alexander Baunov, Carnegie Politika, 02.09.24.

  • Russia’s latest special operation—last week’s failed attempt to deport members of the veteran rock band Bi-2 from Thailand to Russia… was thwarted when it went from being a police matter to a political issue. If anything, Russia’s cack-handed attempt at revenge may have the opposite effect to that intended.
    • The episode is indicative of the Russian regime’s crackdown on political emigres and, most importantly, of the Kremlin’s relationship with the non-Western world.
  • The outcome showed that the Global South may not have thrown its conditional support behind Ukraine, but nor is it Russia’s unquestioning ally—especially where Moscow’s domestic foes are concerned.
  • Until recently, the Kremlin seemed glad that critics of the war and the regime had left the country.
    • Now Moscow seems keen to show that, just as in Soviet times, it has a long arm. The regime is strangling its enemies by making sure they cannot receive income from the sales of tickets or their work and even from selling or renting out property that belongs to them.
  • The Russian parliament passed an unconstitutional law enabling the state to confiscate the assets—including property—of Russians found to have “discredited” the Russian army or called for sanctions against Russia.
  • It’s hard to imagine countries like Brazil, Mexico or South Africa, which have legalized gay marriage, extraditing LGBT activists at Russia’s request.
    • Instead of becoming more closely aligned, as Moscow intended, the agendas of Russia and the Global South are only drifting further apart.
    • This is a direct result of Russia’s attempts to drag its partners into its own battle against both its domestic enemies and against the West.

“Siberization: Russia’s second turn to the East lies ‘beyond the Stone,’” Sergei Karaganov, RG.ru, 02.05.24. Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • We are now repelling the last, hopefully, attack of the outgoing West, which is striving, by inflicting a strategic defeat on us on the fields of Ukraine, to turn history back. This battle must be won, even by threatening and, if necessary, using the most brutal means. This is necessary not only for the victory of the country, but also to prevent the world from sliding into the Third World War.
  • The war that the West provoked and unleashed in Ukraine should not distract us from moving towards the South and East – which is where the center of human development is moving to.
  • The new geostrategic situation urgently requires Russia’s... turn to the East, which should be accomplished through the primary development of all of Siberia, including, of course, the Urals, the “Siberianization” of the entire country.
  • Russia’s future lies in the East and in the South, where the center of the world is moving. And Russia, with its unique culture and openness, is called upon to become an important part of this shift. We are present at the birth of a new world. In many ways, we have become the midwife of that world, knocking out the foundation from under the five-hundred-year-old hegemony of Europe-West - its military superiority.

“Post-Authoritarian Russia Will Need Transitional Justice: Evidence from In-Depth Interviews with Russian Wartime Migrants,” Mikhail Turchenko, PONARS, 02.08.24. 

In the aftermath of the transition from authoritarianism, a crucial task will be to rebuild Russian justice institutions from scratch. Those who participated in running the aggressive war against Ukraine and committed human rights violations within Russia must also be held accountable. TJ is especially important, as allowing former authoritarian elites to disperse across state institutions undermines the quality of democracy, opens the door for political corruption, and decreases trust in public institutions.

  • Both the international community and the Russian opposition must take seriously the idea of holding war criminals, high-profile officials, the security apparatus, and propagandists accountable for their actions at home and abroad. The international community should consider mechanisms to limit these actors’ ability to escape retribution and should take steps to invest in investigations of Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine.
  • The Russian opposition must acknowledge that at least among Russian wartime migrants, there is a strong demand for justice back home. The question of holding supporters of the Putin regime accountable should not be avoided. 

“A movement builds against Putin's war in Ukraine,” Amy Knight, WP, 02.06.24.

  • Putin will win his reelection in March, regardless of whether Nadezhdin is on the ballot. But that won't put an end to the growing discontent over the war, especially if the Russian leader orders a second mobilization to throw fresh troops into the so-called meat grinder in Ukraine.
  • As Russian opposition politician Leonid Gozman observed, Putin's administration might have seriously misjudged the people's mood: "There now exists an open wound — the war in Ukraine. Whichever issue you press upon now, the pain will radiate in that wound." And an emboldened antiwar movement is likely to press on 

"History as a weapon," Michael Thumann, Zeit, 02.07.24.[3]

  • Vladimir Putin revealed his secret weapon in a public consultation at the end of last year: "Wars are won by teachers." That was supposed to be a Bismarck quote, but the former Chancellor never said it. But as is well known, Putin is not concerned with historical accuracy, but rather with getting his own message across to the people. 
  • Teachers, journalists and historians would work together to show students how to find the right approach to history. Understandable, simply written, catchy, if necessary, in video clip format. “History is a weapon,” said Olga Sanko, “that is being used today in the war against our country. We must fend off attacks on our history and consolidate our view of the past.

Defense and aerospace:

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

“The plot to extort the biggest bribe in Russian history,” The Bell, 02.08.24.

  • Russian investigators are currently probing a case related to the biggest attempted bribe in recorded Russian history. FSB officers and officials from the Investigative Committee are said to have fabricated a murder case then tried to use it to extort 15 billion rubles ($200 million) from the alleged suspects, the owners of one of the country’s leading electronics trading companies. The brains behind the plot were the son of an old friend of Vladimir Putin and the business partner of Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s son-in-law.
    • The case surrounding the biggest attempted extortion in Russian history began in 2020 when police arrested Oleg Karchev, Vladislav Mangutov and Alexei Abramov — three co-owners of Merlion, one of the leading firms in the Russian household appliance market. The Investigative Committee accused the trio of attempting to murder their former CEO Vyacheslav Simonenko, rather than pay him a $5 million bonus, and apprehended the alleged perpetrator of the hit, a veteran of the war in Donbas. 
    • The businessmen spent six months in detention and were facing up to 20 years behind bars if convicted. While in jail, the security forces used corrupt lawyers to propose a deal: they would drop the case in exchange for 15 billion rubles ($200 million at the exchange rate of the time), and a future cut worth 2% of Merlion’s turnover (about 5 billion rubles) every year. 
    • The businessmen refused to pay and the case against them soon began to crumble, forcing them to be released. 
    • It has now become clear from a new investigation that the businessmen fell victim to a gang of two dozen high-ranking law enforcement officials.  …Among those arrested in the subsequent probe included the head of the Investigative Committee in Moscow’s north west district and three FSB officers, one of whom had oversight of Moscow’s courts. A number of corrupt lawyers and former security officers were also involved.
      • Several managed to flee to Dubai, including Alexander Nesnov, the state investigator who opened the initial case based on the fabricated evidence. 
      • The real heavyweight on the team was Sergei Romodanovsky, head of the investigative committee branch for north-west Moscow. His superpower was not his position, but his name. His father, Konstantin, served with Vladimir Putin in the 1970s and in the early 2000s was one of several FSB and former KGB officers who hung onto Putin’s coattails as he rose to power. 
      • Investigators also identified two more interesting characters among the organizers of the planned scam — father and son team Vitaly and Kirill Kachurov. Vitaly, the father, was a business partner of Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s brother-in-law Alexander Udodov in the early 2000s. 
  • The war has accelerated the redistribution of resources and influence among Russia’s elite. It’s entirely possible that this process undermined the calculations of these once influential officers and their fixers, devaluing their connections and leaving them vulnerable to arrest as the fabricated case fell apart.

“Russia, Ukraine, and organized crime and illicit economies in 2024,”

Vanda Felbab-Brown and Diana Paz, Brookings, 02.06.24.

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has significantly affected regional illicit economies and criminal networks, but the basic power balance between the Russian state and organized criminal groups has not changed. Due to its direct involvement in illicit economies, the Russian state has remained in a dominant position vis-à-vis criminal groups even as Western sanctions have prompted the emergence of new trafficking routes to supply the industrial and consumer goods that are subject to Western sanctions. This balance of power between the state and crime is likely to continue in 2024, even as Russian citizens’ security starts deteriorating.
  • In contrast, in Ukraine, Russia’s aggression significantly severed long-established cooperation between Russian and Ukrainian criminal networks. Yet to be seen in 2024 and 2025 is whether Ukrainian criminal groups’ split from their former Russian organized crime partners will persist despite the strong possibility that Ukrainian forces will face increasing attrition in the second half of the year, especially if Western aid falters and dries up.
  • Overall, in 2024, the prospects are high that the Russian state will maintain its upper hand vis-à-vis Russian organized crime, while Ukrainian organized crime may start posing a multifaceted challenge to Ukraine.

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Closer Ties to the West Don’t Mean Turkey Will Give Up On Russia,” Dimitar Bechev, CEIP, 02.07.24.

  • Is Turkey on the side of Russia or the West when it comes to the ongoing war in Ukraine? The answer is that it depends on your viewpoint. 
    • On the one hand, Ankara provides military and diplomatic support to Kyiv. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed never to accept Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian territory: the same position he took during Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Turkey has played a crucial role in securing Ukraine’s seaborne exports, initially through a UN-brokered grain deal, and now thanks to a corridor in its territorial waters. 
    • On the other hand, Turkey never joined the West in imposing sanctions on Russia. It has become a top buyer of Russian crude oil, behind only China and India. While most of Europe has cut aviation links with Russia, Istanbul airport remains a hub for flights to and from Russia’s major cities. Erdoğan is now preparing to host Putin on February 12, despite the Russian president's pariah status in the West.
  • Turkey’s balancing act has gone through various phases, with the country sometimes leaning more to the West, sometimes cozying up to Moscow. Most recently, there has been a swing toward the United States and its allies.... [However,] Erdogan and the Turkish elite do not intend to abandon Russia.
  • The huge profits to be made from the energy trade ensure that Turkey’s partial shift to the West will not have a major impact on its relations with Russia. Moscow needs Erdoğan more than ever because of the economic lifeline he provides. In a similar way, Washington prefers engagement with Ankara over hostility. Both the United States and Russia have learned to live with Turkey’s balancing act. 

“Drifting Away? Russia’s Dissatisfaction With the Law of the Sea,” Caroline Tuckett and Dr Kevin Rowlands, RUSI, 02.09.24.

  • Recent open-source reporting has indicated increasing Russian dissatisfaction with international maritime norms. This includes three major pivot points: (1) the failure of Russia to be re-elected to the Council of the International Maritime Organization (IMO); (2) Russia questioning continued adherence to UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); and (3) the declaration of the Sea of Azov as Russian internal waters. The cumulative effect could have significant far-reaching repercussions for the so-called rules-based international order.
  • Although at present unlikely, if Russian rhetoric turns to action and it withdraws from a [UNCLOS] treaty it believes is no longer fit for (its) purpose, and if China then follows (two very big ‘ifs’), it would spell the end of the current near-global consensus on the governance of the oceans. The world could enter an era of competing rules-based systems with consequent impact on territorial claims, safety and environmental regimes, resource exploitation, and the flow of trade. Crucially, this could also impact how new technologies such as uncrewed vessels are governed at sea.

“Russia, Greater Eurasia and modern international politics,” Timofey Bordachev, Valdai Club, 02.07.2024. Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • It is now extremely important for Russia to build a strategy in the Eurasian direction and beyond that will not dependent on how quickly the goals of the special military operation in Ukraine,...will be achieved.
  • In general, the richness and diversity of the agenda of interaction between the countries of Greater Eurasia creates a huge number of promising areas for Russia’s foreign policy that do not directly depend on the dynamics of our conflict with the West. Practical successes here will become in the coming years an important incentive for Eurasian countries to achieve national development goals sand establish a new international order in which there will be no place for dictatorship and the division of states into a privileged group and an exploited majority.

“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at a gala meeting devoted to Diplomatic Worker’s Day, Moscow, February 9, 2024.” Official web site of the Russian MFA, 02.09.24. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • The US-led collective West is not letting up in its attempts to impose an unfair unipolar global arrangement on the world. With this aim in mind, it is trying to exert pressure on all those who are in the way of its hegemonistic plans, those who, like Russia, support democratization of international life and its development on the enduring principles of international law, primarily the principle of the sovereign equality of states.
  • Acting together with the countries of the global majority, our associates in the international arena, we will continue working for the unconditional guarantees for our lawful interests in regional security based on the principle of an indivisible Russia.
  • We will continue working with them in our efforts to create a fairer world arrangement that is designed to ensure the wellbeing of all humanity while preserving its cultural, religious and civilizational diversity. This is the priority goal in our work with our closest allies in the CSTO, the EAEU, the CIS, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and in the framework of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. We intend to continue consolidating our strategic partnerships with the PRC, India, Brazil, South Africa, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and a vast number of other countries.
  • In the forthcoming period, the diplomatic service will focus on ensuring the proper conduct of the presidential election in Russia.

Ukraine: 

“A new world order will be born out of this confrontation.” How two years of war have changed Ukraine and the whole world. Evgeny Senshin’s interview with analyst Konstantin Skorkin, Republic, 02.08.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • For Kyiv… a critical moment is coming. Society is tired of war…the fighting has become a routine. What to do next is unclear: to go on the defensive or try to attack. This excites both the top and the bottom alike.
    • [The second reason is that] Western support is beginning to wane. Without it, resistance is impossible, the Ukrainian budget is half based on external aid, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are critically dependent on Western supplies of weapons and ammunition…
    • [However,] representatives of NATO military departments are intensively preparing to contain Russia… for Russia not to go further, Ukraine will receive everything it needs.
  • Ukraine’s main mistake was euphoria from the Western world providing it with unprecedented assistance, which quickly began to be taken for granted in Kyiv’s offices.
    • Corruption is still the main national disaster after the war, of course. The result is a loss of trust from the West. And the fact that Ukraine is now facing problems in terms of receiving aid is a direct consequence of corruption scandals.
  • The political class has gone from the forced consolidation of the elites around the President…to the return of the political struggle. …It takes place in a much more centralized model of power…the opposition has much less opportunity to influence the authorities than in peacetime.
    • The real new opposition will emerge after the war when front-line soldiers…enter politics… and are not ready to put up with…corruption. [However, they] can bring brutality and a penchant for radical measures into politics…
    • [Resistance to anti-corruption measures may come from] representatives of the authorities who profit from the war. For example, deputies from the ruling Servant of the People party have recently been regularly caught taking bribes and abuses.
  • The Office of the President considers [former Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Valerii] Zaluzhnyi a potential competitor. The level of trust in the President is decreasing, while trust in the army remains at the same level.
    • The President’s office wanted to get rid of [Zaluzhnyi]. Still, there are several issues: the society is categorically against replacing him, there is no comparable replacement…, replacing [Zalushnyi] for political reasons may lead to concerns among Western allies and Zaluzhnyi’s replacement may disorganize the defense lines…
  • …The possibility of the Maidan as a mass popular protest [is] low, no matter how Zelenskyy or his team disappoint Ukrainians, everyone understands that unrest in the rear only plays into the hands of the enemy…The militarization of Ukraine is inevitable…the confrontation with the Russian Federation will last a long time…
    • [Despite challenges to democracy, the backsliding faces obstacles including] the tradition of democratic resistance in Ukrainian society, the strength of civil society and intolerance of usurpation of power…[and] Western controls.

“After Russia’s invasion the people of Bessarabia switched sides,” The Economist, 02.11.24.

  • WHEN RUSSIA first attacked Ukraine in 2014 Bessarabia was a place to worry about. Less than half of its people identified as Ukrainian. The region was poor and, for historical and economic reasons, many people thought that Vladimir Putin might be their savior. But Russia’s endeavors to stir up trouble in this strategic Ukrainian borderland have failed. Ukrainian forces beat back Russian attempts to land commandos at the beginning of the full-scale invasion in 2022, and the security services arrested dozens of agents. Although the Russians damaged and closed one of the two bridges linking Bessarabia to the rest of the country, they have failed to shut down the other.
  • Oleh Kiper, the governor of the Odessa region, which includes Bessarabia, says that pro-Russian sentiment there dwindled after 2014 and “crashed” in the wake of the Russian invasion in February 2022. One reason why, he says, is that, thanks to help from France, “Russian satellite TV propaganda” has been blocked there since 2015. Since then Bessarabia has been not only peaceful, but a crucial lifeline for Ukraine. Hundreds of lorries thunder through daily, loaded with grain and other goods. They carry vital currency-earning exports to the Danube-river ports of Izmail and Reni, or into Romania and onwards.
  • Although the fear of separatism has evaporated, the threat from corruption has not. Ivan Rusev, an environmental researcher and activist, says that the army has sealed off parts of Bessarabia’s national parks. Park guards now have no power there. Inside the closed zones, he says, people with connections are grabbing land for farming or hunting. Letting corruption flourish under cover of fighting Russia does not bode well. Asked about Rusev’s allegations, Kiper, the governor, said simply: “Thank you for informing me.” 

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“South Caucasus Turns Away From Russia Toward Middle East,” Emil Avdaliani, CEIP, 02.08.24.

  • The South Caucasus is undergoing a geopolitical transformation. ...The decline of Russian power has led to the reemergence of close links between the South Caucasus and the broader Middle East. Indeed, geography favors such a connection. Russia lies across the formidable Caucasus mountains, and Middle Eastern states have long regarded the South Caucasus as a natural continuation of their own territories.
  • The deepening ties are visible in growing trade, investment, energy infrastructure, and railways that link the South Caucasus to two large neighboring powers: Turkey and Iran.
  • With an end to Russian dominance in the South Caucasus, it’s clear that the region is growing closer to the Middle East. Historically speaking, this is actually a return to normal practice, with Middle Eastern powers traditionally the most influential in the region. For Iran and Turkey, Russian hegemony was always an aberration.
  • The process could yield benefits for the West. After all, shifting tectonic plates create opportunities for multiple actors to project power. But the EU and United States are limited by geographical distance, and the absence of significant economic levers. Turkey and Iran are both nearby, and eager to accrue more influence in the South Caucasus.

“Armenia and Azerbaijan: an elusive peace,” Sergei Markedonov, RIAC, 02.08.24. Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • At the end of 2023, there was no shortage of forecasts about the imminent signing of a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. ... However, the New Year celebrations passed, and the quantity of optimistic forecasts and statements did not translate into quality. ... we should not forget that. ...neither the problems of demarcation and delimitation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border, which is by no means limited to the Karabakh lands, nor the issues of transforming the Armenian national-state project have disappeared from the political agenda.
  • The most sensitive issue is land communication between the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan and the western regions of this Caspian republic. For Yerevan, the principles of extraterritoriality for communication between the two parts of Azerbaijan are categorically unacceptable, while Baku believes that the opposite side is artificially inflating the problem. In Armenia, they are especially afraid that the concessions on Karabakh will not be the last, and that the neighboring state will be replenished with new lands at Armenian expense.
  •  One or a whole series of signed documents will not amount to a sustainable peace [between Armenia and Azerbaijan]

 

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

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

Photo by The White House shared in the public domain. 

[1] Also see "National Security Expert Fiona Hill Says Russia ‘Will Always Matter’ at HKS Event," William C. Mao and Dhruv T. Patel, The Harvard Crimson, 02.07.24, and "Are we indulging Putin? | Fiona Hill full interview," The Institute of Art and Ideas, 02.06.24.

[2] Machine-translated

[3] Machine-translated