Russia Analytical Report, Feb. 6-13, 2023

5 Ideas to Explore

  1. The Russian military has learned from its mistakes in Ukraine and now stands a chance to “snatch a diminished variant of victory from the jaws of defeat,” according to Dara Massicot of RAND. That victory would entail consolidating Russia’s control over its occupied holdings in Ukraine’s south and east, but Moscow “is unlikely to achieve its initial goal of turning Ukraine into a puppet state” thanks to Ukrainians’ unbroken will backed by Western’s aid, she writes in FA.
  2. A strategy of foreign policy restraint by the U.S. toward post-Soviet Eurasia would have reduced the risk of the Russian-Ukrainian war. That should serve as one of the main lessons of the war, according to Stephen Walt of Harvard University. Another lesson is that “it is very easy for leaders to miscalculate,” as exemplified by Putin’s decision to initiate the conflict. No matter how erroneous that decision has proved to be, Putin is unlikely to reverse it, however. “Outside support may enable Kyiv to hold the line and make limited gains ... but ousting Russia from all the territory it now controls may be impossible, no matter how much aid is sent,” Walt writes in FP.
  3. The first year of the Russian-Ukrainian war has demonstrated that the U.S. and EU alone are no longer capable of crippling a G-20 economy with sanctions, according to Nicholas Mulder of Cornell University. “Perhaps the most urgent lesson of the sanctions’ limited effects is what they make us miss: the dire economic position of Ukraine,” he writes in a commentary for NYT. It took the EU 30 years and trillions of euros to get its Eastern European member states to their current level of development, Mulder reminds us. “A similar challenge awaits the West if it wants to help build a prosperous, free and democratic Ukraine,” Mulder warns.
  4. The Russian government should be up in the arms over the $24.5 billion budget deficit in January, but this budget hole—equivalent to 2% of GDP—doesn’t herald the collapse of the Russian economy. This follows from a commentary by Alexandra Prokopenko, formerly of the Russian Central Bank, for the Carnegie Endowment. In fact, the Russian economy is entering 2023 stronger than expected thanks to high oil and gas prices in the first half of 2022 and the swift pivot of Russian energy suppliers to Asian markets, according to Prokopenko. “Even if there were to be a sharp shock to the budget, there would be no threat to military or social spending, which are protected and would be the last to see cuts,” she predicts.
  5. The burgeoning corruption scandal in Ukraine is a reminder that it needs to advance anti-graft, accountability and other reforms, according to the WP editorial board. Among other things, “Kyiv should expect [U.S.] lawmakers to demand accountability for the funds flowing from Washington,” WP editors write. In addition to ensuring accountability for foreign aid, Ukraine should also pursue an overhaul of its judicial system, including vetting judicial nominees for competence, integrity and political independence, they write. “Ukraine's day of reckoning cannot be delayed indefinitely,” the editorial warns.

NB: Next week’s Russia Analytical Report will appear on Tuesday, Feb. 21, instead of Monday, Feb. 20, 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:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Sanctions Against Russia Ignore the Economic Challenges Facing Ukraine,” Nicholas Mulder of Cornell University, NYT, 02.09.23. 

  • “The West has shown that it possesses the tools to destroy the growth prospects of import-dependent middle-income economies. But sanctions have failed to cause crippling and insurmountable problems of the kind that will cause the collapse of either the Russian economy or Mr. Putin’s war effort.”
  • “The last year has demonstrated that against a Group of 20 economy, the United States and Europe alone are no longer capable of mounting sanctions regimes with overwhelming consequences. Historical experience suggests that larger targets are better able to withstand sanctions pressure, both because they have more internal resources to draw on and because they are more difficult to sever fully from the world economy.”
  • “While Russian trade with the West has collapsed, its commercial exchanges with Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and African states have expanded. As the world recovers from the pandemic and adjusts to the shock of the war, Russia’s commodity exports are too appealing to shun entirely. The lure of cheap raw materials from Russia is spurring sanctions avoidance on a previously unseen scale ... Through a host of intermediaries, Western-made microchips continue to end up in Russian helicopters and cruise missiles.”
  • “Perhaps the most urgent lesson of the sanctions’ limited effects is what they make us miss: the dire economic position of Ukraine and what the West can do to shore it up. For all the attention lavished on sanctions, they are a sideshow and not the main arena in which Ukraine’s future will be determined. ... Which is in more acute trouble, a $1.8 trillion economy that has contracted by 3 percent, or a $200-billion economy that has lost one third of its GDP?”
  • “What the West needs to focus on above all is lasting assistance to Ukraine. ... Sanctions are important as an expression of support for Ukraine’s war of defense. But they are a diversion from the economic struggle that truly matters in this conflict.”

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“What Russia Got Wrong. Can Moscow Learn From Its Failures in Ukraine?” RAND’s Dara Massicot, FA, March/April 2023.

  • “As the war drags on into its second year, analysts must not focus only on Russia’s failures. The story of Russia’s military performance is far more nuanced than many early narratives about the war have suggested. The Russian armed forces are not wholly incompetent or incapable of learning. They can execute some types of complex operations—such as mass strikes that disable Ukraine’s critical infrastructure—which they had eschewed during the first part of the invasion, when Moscow hoped to capture the Ukrainian state largely intact.”
  • “The Russian military has learned from its mistakes and made big adjustments, such as downsizing its objectives and mobilizing new personnel, as well as tactical ones, such as using electronic warfare tools that jam Ukrainian military communications without affecting its own. Russian forces can also sustain higher combat intensity than most other militaries; as of December, they were firing an impressive 20,000 rounds of artillery per day or more … And they have been operating with more consistency and stability since shifting to the defensive in late 2022, making it harder for Ukrainian troops to advance.”
  • “Russia has still not been able to break Ukraine’s will to fight or impede the West’s materiel and intelligence support. It is unlikely to achieve its initial goal of turning Ukraine into a puppet state. But it could continue to adjust its strategy and solidify its occupied holdings in the south and east, eventually snatching a diminished variant of victory from the jaws of defeat.”

“Breaking the Mannerheim Line: Soviet Strategic and Tactical Adaptation in the Finnish-Soviet Winter War,” Franz-Stefan Gady of the Institute for International Strategic Studies, War on the Rocks, 02.08.23.

  • “Four armies consisting of 21 Soviet divisions of the Soviet Leningrad Military District … invaded Finland on the morning of Nov. 30, 1939 on eight main axes of advance along the 800-mile long Finnish-Soviet border without a formal declaration of war.”
  • “In the end, however, the Winter War of 1939 to 1940 ended in a Soviet military victory, as did the follow on War of Continuation. What exactly enabled this costly victory, however, seemed to have escaped many contemporary military analysts at the time and many others in the profession ever since.”
  • “With some obvious parallels to the ongoing war of Russian aggression in Ukraine, including massive intelligence failures … a series of severe military setbacks and defeats in the opening weeks of the war, an utter disregard for mounting losses of both men and equipment, poor logistics, rotten tactical leadership and an inability to conduct combined arms operations, reexamining the Soviet experience in the Winter War may be timely.”
    • “Perhaps the most important parallel … is that both the Red Army in Finland and Russian forces in Ukraine have shown an ability to strategically, organizationally and tactically adapt, underpinned by a determination to fight on (notably, neither the Winter War nor the war in Ukraine has so far seen mass desertion or capitulations).”
    • “[A] major takeaway is that a relatively untrained, tactically badly led and ill-equipped conscript force can indeed strategically, organizationally and tactically adapt under the right leadership. Such a force can achieve a level of proficiency at all three levels sufficient enough to ultimately militarily prevail against a more highly motivated, tactically superior, if outnumbered and poorly equipped adversary.”
  • “One should indeed be wary of writing Russian forces in Ukraine off too early. The crucial difference between 1939 to 1940 and 2022 to 2023, of course, is the massive ongoing Western military support for Ukraine, without which the war may very well have gone the way of the Winter War.”

“The Somme in the Sky: Lessons from the Russo-Ukrainian Air War,” Michael Stefanovic, Robert ‘Chuck’ Norris, Christophe Piubeni and Dave Blair, War on the Rocks, 02.09.23.

  • “The skies over Ukraine resemble an aerial version of the World War I Battle of the Somme. In contrast to the first frenzied days over Kyiv, neither side is attempting to penetrate deep into the other’s airspace.”
  • “The key lesson for U.S. and allied planners is to aggressively pursue interoperability, both on the technical front with Joint All-Domain Command and Control technologies, and on the tactical front through exercises.”
  • “The threats that Washington and its allies face in the Atlantic and the Pacific theaters are well suited to defensive campaigns. In the case of both Taiwan and the Baltics, small allied or partner nations face the risk of an invasion from a larger neighbor. If an attacker like China or Russia gained control of the airspace above one of these countries, that country could still seek to use, contest, or control the airspace below 10,000 feet to considerable effect. Small drones like the Ukrainian Aerorozvidka have proved immensely successful in both directing fires and dropping gravity munitions, which would be valuable in slowing or distracting an attacker. Furthermore, in this situation, integrated air defense systems, special operations forces and traditional shoulder-fired missiles could also be used to create a fearsome low-level environment.”
  • “In conclusion, the air campaign has been an indispensable aspect of the Ukrainian success to date. Allied military planners and strategists should not draw the wrong lessons, especially by conflating a seeming lack of motion in the air with its lack of importance. The Ukrainian Air Force and air defense force’s ability to leverage all domains into an air campaign demonstrate the value of a stalemate. Waging an exemplary defensive air campaign provides many case studies, especially for allies and partners who find themselves in a position of aerial disadvantage.”

“US-led Security Assistance to Ukraine is Working,” Jahara Matisek, Will Reno and Sam Rosenberg, RUSI, 02.08.23. 

  • “The U.S. and the West face a paradox: how successful can the Ukrainians be with donated arms and supplies, short of dragging the U.S. and its partners into a direct conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia? Such concerns have led Washington to impose numerous restrictions on Kyiv in how it utilizes Western intelligence and weapons systems in conducting counteroffensives and interdicting Russian supply lines. Similarly, continued lofty expectations of Ukrainian battlefield performance might hinder realistic objectives and outcomes in the current conflict. This presents a future problem in terms of narratives on how the war is going, negotiating a settlement, and how much longer Western citizens will permit their elected leaders to continue the open-ended support to Ukraine.”
  • “The U.S. and its partners should keep battlefield conditions in context with measured security assistance, while taking steps to streamline equipment transfers and optimize command relationships. Our interactions with Ukrainian soldiers and their commanders indicate that assistance can be directed in ways that leverage the Ukrainian armed forces’ organizational and cultural strengths on the battlefield. A nuanced approach of this sort can help Ukrainian soldiers to use hardware (and software) to exploit Russian military asymmetries. Such efficiencies mean achieving quality over quantity with the Ukrainians, purposefully avoiding security assistance mistakes made in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and South Vietnam. This is no easy task, but the alternative is even worse.”

“Giving RAF Typhoons to Ukraine Would Be a Very Expensive Symbolic Gesture,” Justin Bronk, RUSI, 02.09.23.

  • “U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has asked the Ministry of Defense to provide options for gifting RAF fighter aircraft to Ukraine to help the country defend its skies against the continued Russian invasion. F-35Bs are out of the question in this context for a host of technical, security, political and legal reasons. That leaves the RAF Typhoon force, and in particular the remaining Tranche 1 jets which are due to be retired around 2025.”
  • “The U.K.'s Typhoons represent a critical source of flying hours and capacity in an overstretched and critical part of the Armed Forces In this context, there will be a very serious cost to providing even a small number of Tranche 1 Typhoons to Ukraine. ... Giving them to Ukraine would also require donating critical spare parts kits, removing specialist contractors from the Typhoon maintenance and support chain to send to Ukraine, and introducing a type-conversion training requirement into an already struggling RAF pilot training pipeline.”
  • “This might, conceivably, be worth it if it acted as the trigger for supplies of more operationally suitable and sustainable jets for Ukraine. The Swedish Gripen C, in particular, stands outs as particularly suitable from an operational point of view. It is explicitly designed to counter Russian SAMs and fast jets by flying very low and having an internal electronic warfare suite, and to be easy to maintain and operate from dispersed bases with mobile teams in vehicles.”

“Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment,” analysts Kateryna Stepanenko and Frederick W. Kagan, ISW, 02.12.23.

  • “Russia has partially regained the ability to conduct successful information campaigns in support of strategic objectives and even discrete operational aims. … Russian information campaigns have supported a continuous strategic objective of deterring or slowing the West’s provision of material support to Ukraine.”
  • “Russia’s operational-level information campaigns aim either to set conditions for planned Russian operations or to mitigate Russian military failures. … The Kremlin reframed its information operations to exaggerate the importance of every tactical advance.”
  • “It is now clear that the Russian information campaign centering on peace negotiations that intensified in December 2022 was aimed—among other things—at delaying the provision of Western tanks and other advanced equipment essential for the continuation of Ukrainian mechanized counteroffensives in order to set conditions for Russia’s own planned offensives.”
  • “Kremlin officials are continuing to foster the narrative that Western transfers of longer-range precision rocket systems and Leopard tanks pose some new threat to Russian security, even though they pose no greater threat than the provision of Soviet tanks or other precision systems.”
  • “All these information campaigns will support overarching Kremlin strategic aims of splitting the West from Ukraine, deterring or delaying the provision of Western materiel and generally undermining Western support for Ukraine and the cohesion of the Western coalition.” 

“We can all learn from the Finnish approach to defense,” Elizabeth Braw of the American Enterprise Institute, FT, 02.09.23.

  • “When Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, Kyiv surprised the Kremlin by demonstrating the extent to which Ukrainians were willing to defend their country. Other countries should take heed, even if no such invasion is imminent, because real defense is about more than just buying weapons—it involves the entire population. Finland has been engaging its citizens in national security initiatives for decades, with results that suggest their example is one to follow.”
    • “According to an annual poll conducted by the Finnish Defense Ministry, 82% of the country’s inhabitants say they would be ‘prepared to participate’ in defense activities. This is not a new sentiment. Five years ago, 87% answered yes.”
  • “Finland’s effectively managed conscription gives the nation an obvious head start when it comes to defense. Every country, though, can involve its citizens—and the governments of developed nations are well placed to do so by one measure.”
  • “Of the OECD’s member states, 17, including Germany, Australia and most of Northern Europe, enjoy the trust of more than half of their population. Governments would do well to recognize the link between a trustworthy government and citizens’ will to defend. They should offer people opportunities to help keep their country safe. When a crisis occurs, they will find that this investment pays enormous dividends. Indeed, it can even help prevent a crisis in the first place.”

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

“For Fear or Money, Consumer Giants Are Staying in Russia,” reporters Dasha Afanasieva and Daniela Sirtori-Cortina, Bloomberg, 02.12.23.

  • “It’s been nearly a year since Russia invaded Ukraine, but shoppers in Moscow can still get ahold of Activia yogurt and Oral-B electric toothbrushes and L’Oréal serums. Some products are left over from the days before President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border, but many goods continue to be supplied by American and European companies with outposts in the pariah state.”
  • “And should these companies change their mind about staying in the face of mounting legal and reputational risks, they now have another challenge: the Kremlin is making it more expensive to leave.”
  • “While there are no Western sanctions on the everyday consumer sector, restrictions on Russian banks and individuals have made operating in the country more difficult. Groups that have been open about their choice to stay, such as Colgate, Procter & Gamble and L’Oréal, have a complicated balance to strike: They must protect their bottom lines and local staff, retain a foothold in a major market and not come across as morally compromised, even as they pay taxes to the Kremlin.”
    • “‘The later you leave, the harder it is,’ said Nabi Abdullaev, partner at the advisory firm Control Risks.”
  • “However complicated it is to leave, staying does carry risks. French peas and corn producer Bonduelle denied claims in December that it had supplied the Russian military with tinned food after photos of a soldier holding its products were posted on social media. The incident served as a warning for other Western companies still in Russia.”
  • “‘The reputational risk for operating in Russia faded after the first two months of the war,’ said Mark McNamee, director for Europe at research company FrontierView. But with things going the way they are, he added, he suspects this won’t last. ‘Every quarter we see companies get more realistic and say, ‘screw it.’’”

“Western components have no place in Russia’s arsenal,” Olena Tregub of Nako, FT, 02.08.23. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • “[F]ar too little has been done to exploit the Russian army’s key vulnerabilities. Without serviceable equipment, its invasion will grind to a halt. The immediate solution is to recognize that the problem exists. Up to now, businesses and policymakers alike have gone to great lengths to shirk responsibility. For businesses, deliberately interrogating customers about their end users and conducting more enhanced due diligence would be a prudent first step.”
  • “Governments, meanwhile, must take immediate steps to examine the supply networks both inside and outside their borders and review and strengthen export controls. They should also investigate third countries which are facilitating re-export or trans-shipment of controlled goods to Russia as an urgent priority. Finally, policymakers should consider whether suppliers of dual-use products to Russia—accidental or otherwise—should be allowed to bid for government contracts.”
  • “Weapons supply and maintenance is the Russian army’s Achilles heel. It is high time the West lived up to its responsibilities by helping Kyiv to exploit it.”

“It is time to cut Russia out of the global financial system,” Ukrainian Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko, FT, 02.12.23. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • “Ukraine calls on the Financial Action Task Force to expel Russia and blacklist it. This would arguably be the most effective tool for restricting terrorists’ access to the global economy, as it would force all states to apply enhanced due diligence to any transactions involving the financial system of a blacklisted jurisdiction.”
  • “Russia has been allowed to undermine the system from the inside for too long. The international order can only survive if the rules are followed. We have powerful mechanisms available to enforce these rules. The time has come to use them.”

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“Russia and Ukraine Have Incentives to Negotiate. The U.S. Has Other Plans,” contributing Opinion writer Christopher Caldwell, NYT, 02.07.23

  • “The United States’ recent promise to ship advanced M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine was a swift response to a serious problem. The problem is that Ukraine is losing the war … because the war has settled into a World War I-style battle of attrition, complete with carefully dug trenches and relatively stable fronts.”
  • “Such wars tend to be won … by the side with the demographic and industrial resources to hold out longest. Russia has more than three times Ukraine’s population, an intact economy and superior military technology. At the same time, Russia has its own problems … Both sides have incentives to come to the negotiating table.”
  • “The Biden administration has other plans. It is betting that by providing tanks it can improve Ukraine’s chances of winning the war. In a sense, the idea is to fast-forward history, from World War I’s battles of position to World War II’s battles of movement … But the Biden strategy has a bad name: escalation. Beyond a certain point, the United States … is replacing Ukraine as Russia’s main battlefield adversary. It is hard to say when that point will be reached or whether it has been already.”
  • “In an age of smart devices, robotics and remote control, the United States’ involvement in the war has always been greater than it appeared. ... Most of the new weapons’ destructive power comes from their being bound into an American information network, a package of services that keeps working independently of the warrior and will not be fully shared with the warrior. So the United States is participating in these military operations at the moment they happen. It is fighting.”
  • “We should not forget that, whatever values each side may bring to it, this war is not at heart a clash of values. It is a classic interstate war over territory and power, occurring at a border between empires. In this confrontation Mr. Putin and his Russia have fewer good options for backing down than American policymakers seem to realize, and more incentives to follow the United States all the way up the ladder of escalation.”

“To End the War, Ukraine Needs Justice, Not Peace,” C. Anthony Pfaff of the U.S. Army War College, NI, 02.12.23.

  • “It is time to talk specifics about what a just settlement might look like. Determining those specifics requires answering three questions: 1) should Ukraine revise its military objectives to make settlement more likely; 2) at what point are the United States and NATO permitted to reduce or end assistance even if there is not a just settlement; 3) at what point are the United States and NATO permitted to escalate to bring a more rapid—and just—end to the conflict.”
    • “The answer to the first question is provisionally ‘no.’ … The answer to the second question is that the United States and NATO should continue to assist Ukraine until Russia is ready to negotiate a minimally just settlement. … As Russia escalates … the United States and NATO should find ways to increase costs to Russia as well as assistance to Ukraine to mediate the effects of that escalation.”
  • “The ethics of conflict termination, as described here, suggest the following path to a just termination of the conflict.”
    • “First, Ukraine should continue to fight, and the United States and NATO should continue to provide assistance as long as the former’s military goals are feasible and the means to achieve them are proportionate.”
    • “Second, as long as Russia fails to return occupied Ukrainian territory, the United States and NATO should continue to impose sanctions and other costs to incentivize meaningful participation in negotiations.”
    • “Third, to ensure Russia is not able to exploit any pause a frozen conflict allows, the United States and NATO should continue military cooperation with Ukraine to improve its ability to defend itself in the future.”
    • “Fourth, the United States and NATO should address Russia’s security concerns, while not recognizing Russia’s illegitimate claims to Ukrainian territory.”
    • “Fifth, the United States and NATO should not lift sanctions until Russia compensates Ukraine.”
    • “Sixth, should Russian domestic conditions change, and it agrees to a minimally just settlement, the United States should consider a more rehabilitative approach.”

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

“The Top Five Lessons from Year One of Ukraine’s War,” Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University, FP, 02.09.23.

  • “Lesson No. 1: It is very easy for leaders to miscalculate. As I wrote late last year: It is now obvious that Russian President Vladimir Putin erred when he assumed Ukraine could not mount a serious resistance and that it wouldn’t matter if it tried.”
  • “Lesson No. 2: States unite to counter aggression. The Ukraine war also reminds us that states in the international system typically unite to oppose overt acts of aggression. This is another lesson that Putin overlooked.”
  • “Lesson No. 3: ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’ Outside support may enable Kyiv to hold the line and make limited gains come spring, but ousting Russia from all the territory it now controls may be impossible, no matter how much aid is sent. There is also the continued possibility of escalation (including the use of a nuclear weapon).”
  • “Lesson No. 4: War empowers extremists and makes compromise harder.”
  • “Lesson No. 5: … This war would have been far less likely if the United States had adopted a strategy of foreign-policy restraint. Had U.S. and Western policymakers heeded repeated warnings about the consequences of open-ended NATO enlargement … instead of trying to incorporate Ukraine into Western security and economic institutions, Russia’s incentive to invade would have been greatly reduced.”
  • “Bonus Lesson: Leaders matter (duh). ... Would Poroshenko have been able to rally his fellow citizens and win outside backing as effectively as Zelensky has? Seems unlikely. Or what if Donald Trump were in the White House instead of Joe Biden? ... This war is not over yet, and what we see as bold and effective leadership (or incompetent malfeasance) today may look somewhat different once the guns have fallen silent and the final costs are tallied.”

“Friends in Need. What the War in Ukraine Has Revealed About Alliances,” Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University, FA, 02.13.23.

  • “The recent behavior of Russia and the West confirms that states form alliances not to balance against power but to balance against threats. … The war may have given NATO a new lease on life and shown the value of its well-established procedures, but it also underscores the degree to which its European members remain dangerously dependent on the United States.”
  • “Having one country in the driver’s seat made it easier to orchestrate a rapid response, but the United States’ preeminent role has a serious downside. Because Washington has long guaranteed its wealthy allies’ security, the latter let their armed forces erode and become dangerously dependent on U.S. protection. Had the United States not responded to Russia’s invasion—as it might have done under a different president—there is little that NATO’s European members could have done to help Ukraine.”
  • “Some see this episode as proof that U.S. leadership is still indispensable, but the real lesson of this war is that a new division of labor between the United States and Europe is both feasible and long overdue.”
  • “Europe should rebuild its forces and gradually take over primary responsibility for its own defense … Sharing burdens within NATO would allow the United States to focus on balancing China in Asia, a task Europe is neither willing nor able to perform.”
  • “In an emerging multipolar world, states that can attract and retain allies are more likely to succeed than those whose actions cause others to join forces against them. ..Aggression sometimes pays, but usually only when a powerful state can arrange to fight its victims one-on-one. The Ukraine war shows that favorable circumstances of this kind are hard to arrange, because overt acts of aggression tend to unite other states in opposition.”

“The World Rejects the Wilsonian Order,” columnist and professor Walter Russell Mead, WSJ, 02.07.23.

  • “Mr. Putin's challenge to Wilsonian order is why so many liberals, especially in the U.S. and Europe, have become uber-interventionist on Ukraine.”
  • “Within the Biden administration, the struggle is among three groups: liberal internationalists, who want America and the West to do what it takes to ensure that Russia loses the war; pragmatists who want to check Russia but fear Russian escalation and believe that the war will inevitably end in a compromise peace that falls short of Wilsonian hopes; and Asia-firsters. ... President Biden has tried to stay in the middle.”
  • “For Wilsonians, world politics today is less about great-power rivalries between the U.S. and rivals like China and Russia and more about the struggle between principles and selfishness, order and chaos, democracy and authoritarianism. Wilsonians hailed the recent wins of a pro-Western candidate in the Czech election and of Lula da Silva over Trump ally Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil as victories in the global struggle for liberal order.”
  • “Lula's skepticism [refusal to provide ammunition to the Ukrainian military] reflects decades of wariness in the Global South about the Wilsonian agenda. To the degree that Wilsonian institutions work, much of the Global South sees them as instruments of Western domination that should be feared and resisted.”
  • “As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last month in Davos, Switzerland, the world's rich countries fail to grasp just how alienated from the Western world system the Global South has become. Warning of the ‘gravest levels of geopolitical division and mistrust in generations,’ Mr. Guterres went on to describe an immense gap between what the West is willing to do and what the South wants.”
  • “Wilson's world order-building efforts collapsed because he overestimated the political appeal of his principles in the U.S. and abroad. A similar blindness afflicts his 21st-century heirs. We must hope that their failure will be less consequential than his.”

“There Is No ‘Global South’ and ‘West’ When It Comes to Ukraine,” contributing editor Leon Hadar, NI, 02.09.23.

  • “What binds together Brazil and other American partners in Latin America, technologically-advanced and pro-America Israel, wealthy Saudi Arabia, post-apartheid South Africa, and the mighty regional power and great civilization of India? Each of these states made a cost-benefit calculation which led them to conclude that the costs of joining the United States and its allies in a global military-economic campaign against Russia outweighed the benefits they could derive from such a policy.”
  • “Mead is wrong to think that the problem, to quote United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres, is that the West has failed to grasp just how alienated the South has become from the Western world system, supposedly reflecting the ‘gravest levels of geopolitical divisions and mistrust in generations.’ ... As before, interests rule the day.”

“Increased Linkage between the Ukraine War and Iran’s Regional Rivalries,” Mark N. Katz of the Atlantic Council and George Mason University, Kyiv Post, 02.08.23.

  • “It has been a great disappointment to the U.S. and Ukraine that America’s Middle East allies have not joined the Western effort to support Ukraine or sanction Russia. The recent attack on an Iranian weapons production facility in Isfahan, though, is an indicator that it may be getting increasingly difficult to keep the war in Ukraine and Iran’s regional rivalries separate.”
  • “[W]hether or not the Israeli attack on the Isfahan facility disrupted the export of Iranian weaponry to Russia, it showed that Israel—and others, including the U.S.—can do so. The condemnation of this attack by the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson shows that Moscow is very unhappy about this. Up until Russia began to import Iranian drones for use against Ukraine, America’s Middle Eastern allies which most fear Iran were willing to overlook Russia’s support for Tehran … But with the Russian war effort now relying heavily on armed drones from Tehran, there have been numerous reports that Iranian officials expect Moscow to return the favor by selling advanced Russian weapons … to Iran.”
  • “Since the outbreak of the war in February 2022, Israel and America’s other Middle East allies have tried to avoid involvement in the Ukraine conflict while Russia has tried to maintain good relations with America’s Middle East allies while continuing to back Iran. But Russian dependence on Iran for weapons for use against Ukraine as well as Russian actions increasing Iran’s ability to threaten America’s Middle Eastern allies are making this attempt at compartmentalization increasingly difficult.  The war in Ukraine on the one hand and the rivalry between Iran and its many adversaries on the other are increasingly linked.”

“The West Is Getting In Too Deep in Ukraine,” columnist Pankaj Mishra, Bloomberg, 01.30.23.

  • “Despite almost a year of harsh economic sanctions, and even severe setbacks on the battlefield, Russia appears no readier to negotiate an end to the war. … Russian President Vladimir Putin is only likely to escalate further, and more viciously, in response to the West’s decision to send battle tanks to Ukraine. … Meanwhile, there are no signs that a significant number of Russians have grown angry or disillusioned with their reckless leader.”
  • “There is no evidence either that the people and governments of the Global South, who are suffering most from the economic consequences of the war, are turning decisively against Putin, or that most of the world’s population sees Russia’s assault on Ukraine as qualitatively different from the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In India, supposedly allied to the West, a recent poll found that more respondents blamed either NATO or the U.S. than Russia for the war in Ukraine.”
  • “There are too many signs that the search for allies in what is effectively now the West’s war against Russia is affecting political and moral judgment. Thus, India is routinely presented in the West as a counterweight to Chinese and Russian autocrats even as its Hindu supremacist government intensifies its assault on democracy and the country ramps up its purchases of Russian oil. A bizarre forgetfulness about two world wars prevails as, to wide cheers in the West, Germany rearms and dispatches military hardware to its old killing fields. Among the simple historical lessons being neglected is that governments everywhere are prone to grow more reckless as military escalation begins to seem the only route to peace.”
  • “Such signs of irresponsibility are equally apparent among Western political establishments, who are trying to expand their military footprint abroad even as they struggle against economic crises at home. They are the clearest warning we have of a deeper and more extensive conflagration ahead.”  

“It makes no sense to blame the west for the Ukraine war,” chief foreign affairs columnist Gideon Rachman, FT, 02.13.23.

  • “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made an unlikely celebrity of Professor John Mearsheimer. [In] his 2015 lecture ... and in later articles and talks, the University of Chicago academic argued that the West had provoked a war in Ukraine — by pursuing policies that Russia saw as an existential threat.”
  • “A ... telling charge against Mearsheimer is that his theory of international affairs is amoral, ahistorical and deterministic. These arguments are made in a recent book by Jonathan Kirshner called ‘An Unwritten Future’ that critiques ‘offensive realism,’ a theory developed by Mearsheimer, which holds that all great powers seek to dominate their regions, so as to ward off threats to their own security. Kirshner argues that by assuming that all great powers behave identically, Mearsheimer becomes incapable of distinguishing between the actions of, for example, Weimar Germany and Nazi Germany.”
  • “This is not to deny that his theories can be a powerful analytical tool, which provides insights not just into Russia’s behavior, but also into China. As long ago as 2001, Mearsheimer was arguing that efforts to integrate China into a liberal world order were doomed to fail—and that Beijing would inevitably seek to dominate its own region, making war with the U.S. likely. Those arguments also look prescient today. But dig deeper into Mearsheimer’s work and it sometimes bears the hallmarks of an academic too in love with his own theoretical constructs to accept that there are some facts that do not fit the theory.”

“Polls Show Western Public Favors General Support for Ukraine, But Is Increasingly Skeptical About Supplying Arms,” RM Staff, RM, 02.09.23.

  • “Our review of available polling data suggests that, if current trends continue, the share of Westerners who oppose continuing the supply of arms to Ukraine may exceed the share of those in favor some time in the war’s second year. Meanwhile, the relative proportions of those who support compromise in the name of peace vary more greatly and trends have been harder to discern.”
  • “With Western aid to Ukraine ballooning into the tens of billions of dollars, recent polls show that the share of Americans who favor keeping up such support to Ukraine has shrunk somewhat in recent months, though it continues to exceed the share of those who oppose it. … When it comes to the Western public’s support for specific kinds of assistance, most polls show a decline in support for military aid both in the U.S. and EU. … Europeans were generally more supportive of EU assistance to Ukraine when pollsters did not specify whether the aid was military or some other kind, according to the October-November issue of the European Parliament’s Eurobarometer survey.”
  • “As the Western public’s appetite for military assistance to Ukraine has shrunk, support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict through compromise has been mixed, with some of the variance probably explained by the different wording of pollsters’ questions.”
  • “Trends in Western opinion on continuing the war at all costs vs. compromising for peace have been harder to capture. As decision-makers in the U.S. and EU— and also in Ukraine and Russia—weigh the pros and cons of these two options, they are no doubt keeping an eye on public opinion in their own countries, and in states that are key stakeholders in this conflict.”

“Why does Zelensky need a long war with Russia?” program director Andrey Sushentsov, Valdai Club, 02.13.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “Zelensky could have initiated a proposal for negotiations which would fix the status-quo that is still convenient for Ukraine. Obviously, as the military campaign develops and the Russian troops advance, the situation will change ... and the initiatives—that the Russian delegation came up with at the very beginning of the crisis—will no longer be on the negotiating table. As a result of them [the negotiations], it would be possible to achieve a sustainable peace and curtail the risks of escalation in which the largest post-WWII military conflict in Europe would slide into nuclear catastrophe.”
  • “It is unlikely that Zelensky is counting on a military victory for his country. Ukraine does not have its own military and economic resources, and the funds provided by the West will never be enough to inflict a final defeat on Russia. Zelensky could be possibly calculating that he can continuously mobilize Western support and, therefore, ensure survival of his government by offering Ukraine as a tool for the West in the fight against Russia.”
  • “Zelensky could be counting that even in the event of his defeat and the loss of part of the territories, the West will continue to need him and he will remain in power as the military leader of the new Ukraine, which would constitute kind of a main anti-Russian outpost on Russia's western borders. ... I believe that Zelensky is quite sincerely convinced that he will be able to turn Ukraine into Israel—a paramilitary state that is in a hostile environment and lives with a sense of constant military threat.”

“Great power competition and overseas basing in the Arctic,” U.S. Coast Guard officer Jeremy Greenwood, Brookings, February 2023

  • “Targeted and expedited sustainable investments in Alaska are the first steps toward a sound U.S. Arctic policy. There is a desperate need for deep-water ports, roads and communications infrastructure; airfields need to be upgraded; and infrastructure threatened by the ravages of climate change need to be relocated.”
  • “Maintaining a peaceful Arctic does not necessarily require the construction of new military bases in Alaska or throughout NATO countries, but it does require the constant maintenance of existing infrastructure, upgrades to accommodate new assets, and the proper economic infrastructure to support temporary deployments of ships and aircraft to the region. The United States will require significant investment in polar satellite coverage and other long-range communications facilities in Alaska and allied countries to sustain any future deployments and to ensure that the region remains attractive for private economic development that can benefit from similar communications infrastructure.”
  • “Polar ice is melting at a rapid pace, but there will still be a significant amount of ice in the Arctic Ocean for the foreseeable future. Importantly, normal ships, including naval assets, cannot sustain contact with any substantial ice. This makes the U.S. Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutters even more critical to operations. Icebreakers will provide more than just military access; they will drive economic growth by providing much-needed sea lane access. They will also enable search and rescue efforts, as well as scientific research that is vital to gaining civilian and military knowledge of a changing planet.”
  • “In addition to its commitment to Alaska and overall infrastructure development, the continued expansion of access rights and partnerships with NATO Arctic nations will enhance U.S. military capabilities. The accession of Sweden and Finland to the NATO alliance presents an opportunity for NATO to revamp its High North strategy, while ensuring that the Arctic does not become a zone of constant military exercises. Demonstrating Arctic military capabilities in a measured fashion, while fostering a commitment to the military support of logistically difficult and expensive Arctic research, will pay dividends for the alliance.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“If Arms Control Collapses, US and Russian Strategic Nuclear Arsenals Could Double In Size,” Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen of FAS’s Nuclear Information Project, FAS, 02.07.23.

  • “Both sides should be clear-eyed about the stakes, and more specifically, about what happens if they fail to secure a new deal limiting strategic offensive arms.”
    • “Combined, if both countries uploaded their delivery systems to accommodate the maximum number of possible warheads, both sets of arsenals would approximately double in size. The United States would have more deployable strategic warheads but Russia would still have a larger total arsenal of operational nuclear weapons, given its sizable stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear warheads which are not treaty-accountable.”
  • “It is important to note that even if such worst-case scenarios were to occur, in the past the Department of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence have assessed that even a significant Russian increase of deployed nuclear warheads would not have a deleterious effect on U.S. deterrence capabilities.”
  • “The United States’ second-strike capabilities remain as secure today––even among Russia’s noncompliance and China’s nuclear buildup––as they did a decade ago. As a result, it seems clear that although uploading additional warheads onto U.S. systems may seem like a politically strong response, it would not offer the United States any additional advantage that it does not already possess, and would likely trigger developments that would not be in its national security interest.”

“Crimea Is a Powder Keg,” Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute, Jacobin, February 2023.

  • “The greatest threat of nuclear catastrophe that humanity has ever faced is now centered on the Crimean peninsula. In recent months, the Ukrainian government and army have repeatedly vowed to reconquer this territory, which Russia seized and annexed in 2014.”
    • “As a Russian liberal acquaintance (and no admirer of Putin) told me, ‘In the last resort, America would use nuclear weapons to save Hawaii and Pearl Harbor, and if we have to, we should use them to save Crimea.’”
  • “An understanding of the importance of Crimea to Russians can be drawn largely from the goals of Western hardliners.”
    • “The first is Crimea’s emotional significance, stemming from memories of the heroic defense of Sevastopol against the French, British and Turks in 1854–55, and the Germans and Romanians in 1941–42. … The second is that between Crimea’s 1783 conquest by Catherine the Great from the Ottoman Empire and its Crimean Tatar allies, and its 1954 transfer to Ukraine by Soviet decree, Crimea was part of Russia. … The third is that Ukraine has an ethnic Russian majority.”
  • “It is impossible to say for sure if Russia would in the last resort use nuclear weapons to hold Crimea. It seems likely that they would begin by a less dangerous unconventional attack—for example the disabling of U.S. satellites—that could begin escalation toward nuclear war. There are no grounds at all, however, for reasonable doubt that the Russian state would be willing to run colossal risks, for itself and for humanity. This being so, we should remember the words of President John F. Kennedy … Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy—or of a collective death-wish for the world.”

"God help us to avoid a return to an unlimited nuclear arms race," academic Alexei Arbatov, Kommersant, 02.09.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “I really hope that the parties [the U.S. and Russia] will make efforts to solve the inspection problem and preserve the [New START] treaty. Specialists' calculations show that the collapse of the New START will allow the US to double and even triple the number of its strategic nuclear warheads in a few years with minimal costs, and then to conduct the planned comprehensive renewal of nuclear forces with complete freedom of arms.
  • “If we did not have the [New START] agreement, what is happening now in Ukraine would probably have already brought us close to the brink of nuclear war. … At the global level, it [nuclear deterrence] works, but there is no such certainty regarding the theater of military operations.”
  • “The President of Russia spoke about what the Leningrad street taught him: ... if you cannot avoid a fight, you must strike first. But just such a blow makes a fight inevitable, and in the case of a nuclear war, it ends with both sides perishing.”
  • “That large-scale hostilities would be occurring in the center of Europe for a whole year, in which one great power would be fully involved, while others indirectly would participate through the supply of weapons and intelligence—this has never happened before. The leaders of that time [the Cuban Missile Crisis] … had a kind of reverent fear of nuclear weapons as a harbinger of the end of the world. In contrast, the current generation of politicians and strategists does not seem to feel anything of that kind.”
  • “First of all, it is necessary to agree on a ceasefire in Ukraine, and then proceed to a peaceful settlement. ... At the same time, it is necessary to resume negotiations between Russia and the United States on strategic stability within the framework of the next treaty on strategic offensive weapons after 2026. ... It will be necessary to agree on restrictions on high-precision long-range and medium-range conventional weapons, missile defense systems, tactical nuclear weapons and space systems. Think about how to include in the regulation the rapidly growing nuclear potential of China and the forces of other nuclear powers.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

“Moscow’s Original ‘Special Operation’: Why Russia Is Staying in Syria,” Nikita Smagin of the RIAC, Carnegie Endowment, 02.07.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “The war in Ukraine has rapidly depleted Russia’s resources, causing it to seek additional reserves, and Syria is one of the most obvious sources of military personnel with real combat experience.”
  • “At the same time, reports of a sharp decrease in Russia’s military presence in Syria should be taken with a grain of salt: moving certain detachments to the Ukrainian front has barely reduced Moscow’s strategic capabilities in the region. Russian troops are involved in fewer military operations in Syria now simply because the active phase of the Syrian conflict is over. Still, airstrikes on Syrian territory continue, as do Russia’s joint military exercises with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army.”
  • “Russia has no plans to leave Syria. It sees its presence there as an important accomplishment and a bargaining chip in possible dialogue with a variety of partners, from regional powers in the Middle East to Western states. At the same time, Moscow is increasingly unwilling to intervene in Syria’s domestic affairs, whether militarily or financially. Instead, it is focused on convincing the parties not to escalate the situation. After all, Russia is keen to minimize any distractions from Ukraine, the foreign policy priority that is consuming almost all of its resources.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Does a Record Budget Deficit Herald the Collapse of the Russian Economy?” independent analyst Alexandra Prokopenko, Carnegie Endowment, 02.10.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “January’s figures for Russian budget spending look so alarming that they have prompted talk of the impending collapse of the economy. The first month of 2023 saw the deficit reach a record 1.8 trillion rubles. Spending grew by 58 percent compared with January 2022, when there was a budget surplus of 125 billion rubles ($25 billion), while revenues fell by over a third.”
  • “Yet it would be premature to write off the Russian economy based on the figures from a single month. Despite wide-ranging sanctions, the Kremlin still has plenty of opportunities to export hydrocarbons, and the country’s economic life is gradually returning to normal. Major spending in January may make it possible to economize in coming months.”
  • “Even if there were to be a sharp shock to the budget, there would be no threat to military or social spending (together worth about 17 trillion rubles), which are protected and would be the last to see cuts. Their limits are calculated based on what budget revenues can be counted on, regardless of the situation on commodities markets (about 11.5 percent of GDP in 2023, or 17 trillion rubles).”
  • “The Russian economy is entering 2023 stronger than expected thanks to high oil and gas prices in the first half of 2022, and the swift pivot of Russian energy suppliers to Asian markets.”
  • “The Russian economy’s adaptation to the new reality is far from over. The reduction in export revenues and restoration of imports will put pressure on the ruble’s exchange rate. Regressive import substitution remains the most likely prospect for the Russian economy: when imported components reach the end of their lifespan, they will be replaced by less advanced alternatives. Many manufacturing enterprises have already adopted this practice. Slowly but surely, the sanctions noose is tightening.”

“Wagner Founder Has Putin’s Support, but the Kremlin’s Side-Eye,” Moscow bureau chief Anton Troianovski, NYT, 02.11.23.

  • “Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the once secretive tycoon, is confounding Moscow's Kremlin-allied elite by starting to dabble in politics alongside waging war in Ukraine. … Spewing vulgarities, disregarding the law and displaying loyalty to no one but Mr. Putin, Mr. Prigozhin is becoming a symbol of wartime Russia: ruthless, shameless and lawless, while his mercenary force takes thousands of casualties in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.”
  • “Even the Kremlin appears to be trying to keep Mr. Prigozhin's political rise in check. Sergei Markov, a pro-Putin political analyst and former Kremlin adviser who appears frequently on Russian state television, said that officials had been transmitting an unusual directive to Moscow's talking heads in recent weeks: 'Don't excessively promote Prigozhin and Wagner.'”
  • “Mr. Markov said that even as the Kremlin tries to keep Mr. Prigozhin's popularity in check, he has Mr. Putin's personal backing. 'He is very clearly defending Prigozhin,' he said. 'Because the number of people who have their claws out for him in the bureaucracy is huge.'”
  • “'Prigozhin is behaving like a public politician,' said Aleksandr Kynev, a political scientist in Moscow. 'But there are practically no vacancies in public politics in Russia today.'”
  • “Some analysts also believe that Mr. Prigozhin could yet turn on Mr. Putin, especially in the event of new Russian military setbacks in Ukraine. Given his access to a private army as well as his personal, uncompromising image, Mr. Prigozhin is uniquely positioned to cause problems for the Kremlin. 'As long as Putin is relatively strong and able to maintain the balance between groups of influence, Prigozhin is safe for him,' Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recently wrote. But, she went on, 'war breeds monsters, whose recklessness and desperation can become a challenge to the state should it show the slightest weakness.'”

“Russia’s Second, Silent War Against Its Human Capital,” senior fellow Andrei Kolesnikov, Carnegie Endowment, 02.08.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “We are seeing a phenomenon Russia has faced many times: wave after wave of wars and repression that drain away human resources. The best way to promote higher birth rates is to create the conditions for a stable, predictable, peaceful and safe life—including for young men, safe from the clutches of the military.”
  • “The proposal to change the conscription age to twenty-one, which was likely approved by the Kremlin, will be a double whammy for the labor market and the economy: highly qualified college graduates will not be able to enter the labor market and will instead end up in the military and lose their qualifications, while young men with vocational degrees who are already in the labor market will be torn from the economy partway toward improving their skills.”
  • “Essentially, there is a second war under way at home: a war against the quality of human capital. And the militarization of the country creates all of the conditions to reduce this quality for the longest of terms. Although Russia will not see large-scale unemployment, this is only the case because the economy will face a deficit of both high-skilled and low-skilled labor.
  • “Authoritarian regimes want to get rid of high-quality and globally competitive education. The ‘special military operation’ has only accelerated the political purges at Russian educational establishments. We have yet to find out how many young people with science and technology degrees have left Russia … A high-quality, modern education produces modern, thinking people, and thinking people aren’t prepared to go and fight for false ideals. … A militarized state does not need independent people. It needs people who diligently obey orders.”

“How 2022 Wiped Out a Decade of Progress in Russian Science,” Alexandra Borissova Saleh, MT, 02.08.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “[There are already] severe equipment shortages already faced by many Russian researchers, which are only set to intensify in the coming year as domestic stockpiles are depleted.”
  • “Like a timebomb, the lack of new deliveries to replace existing equipment is not yet particularly noticeable, but in just a few years it will force entire fields of Russian scientific research to cease activity. However much the government claims the contrary, not everything can be produced domestically.”
  • “For now, researchers affiliated with Russian institutions can still publish papers, but many report hostile reactions from editors, reviewers and even erstwhile co-authors on a personal level.”
  • “The war has also caused the few foreign experts still working in Russia to leave the country, even from institutions that were once the most successful in attracting them, such as Skoltech outside Moscow, which was founded in collaboration with MIT in 2011.”
  • “Russian science has in the space of a year been reduced to little more than a soft power theatre piece, and it’s not surprising that the actors are now leaving the stage in droves.”

Defense and aerospace:

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Russia in Africa: how Moscow bought a new sphere of influence on the cheap,” journalists David Pilling and Andres Schipani, FT, 02.07.23.

  • “In Africa, Russia has been making dramatic inroads. Even in the year since Russian troops poured into Ukraine, Moscow has notched up further successes on the continent.”
  • “Russia’s attempt to build its influence in Africa is concentrated on the Sahel region, where mercenaries from Wagner and other Russian private military companies are helping weak governments to control their territory.”
  • “Helped by a volatile mix of jihadist terror, anti-French sentiment and coups d’état, it has succeeded in challenging Western influence and establishing what a senior adviser to Emmanuel Macron calls ‘a second front’ in Africa.”
  • “Russia’s gains, concentrated in francophone Africa, have come mostly at France’s expense. Anti-French sentiment has reached boiling point in several former French colonies, where its military interventions have backfired and where its diplomats and businesses are accused of neo-colonial meddling.”
  • “Putin’s ‘anti-colonial’ message, articulated in a September speech to celebrate the annexation of Ukrainian territory seized by Russian troops, has resonated in countries where suspicion of former colonial powers runs deep and nostalgia for the Soviet Union still flickers. In March, 25 African countries either abstained or refrained from voting in a U.N. resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

“Why Still Pro-Russia? Making Sense of Hungary’s and Serbia’s Pro-Russia Stance,” Helena Ivanov of The Henry Jackson Society and Marlene Laruelle of The George Washington University, PONARS, 02.10.23.

  • “Serbia and Hungary serve as very good case studies for understanding how democracy-aspiring countries can turn to the right of the political spectrum, and that restrictions and threats of punishment may not always be the best course of action and can backfire. Perhaps more importantly, these two countries could serve as good test cases on how to improve the perceptions about the West in any country currently experiencing the rise of Euro-sceptic and/or far-right political parties. Whilst the two policies we propose are likely to take time to make a difference, we argue that they are a much better alternative than anything else on the table.”
  • “Nevertheless, these policies seem more likely to yield some results whilst also being realistic from the perspective of the EU. Anny restrictive measures are likely to further deteriorate relations between Serbia and the West, and do not provide any guarantees that they will work even in the short term. Other, perhaps more positive policies – such as, for example, mellowing down the attitude towards Kosovo (likely to be viewed positively by most Serbs) – remain unrealistic from the Western point of view and, as such, cannot be reasonably proposed.”


“A shakeup in Ukraine masks deeper problems,” Editorial Board, WP, 02.12.23.

  • “The procurement of eggs and pickles for Ukrainian soldiers defending their country amid the carnage of Russia's invasion is not the gravest problem confronting President Volodymyr Zelensky. Still, recent reports that officials in his government were profiteering from wildly inflated prices for those goods was a useful reminder … that Russian President Vladimir Putin's imperial ambitions are not the only peril facing their country. Another is the threat posed by scandal or misuse of funds, particularly involving the billions of dollars of Western aid that have enabled Ukraine to defend itself, to what has been solid U.S. and European support of Kyiv.”
  • “The corruption scandal that broke at the end of January has burgeoned, with 10 high-level officials having been fired or forced to resign, including the president's deputy chief of staff. Separately, the authorities raided the property of a media mogul who was a key backer of Mr. Zelensky's 2019 presidential campaign.”
  • “There has been no suggestion that Western military assistance to Ukraine has been diverted or misappropriated. But Mr. Zelensky is shrewd not to ignore graft, sweetheart deals and the vestiges of oligarch capitalism that were a stain on the country's reputation long before Moscow launched its full-scale invasion a year ago. In its most recent Corruption Perceptions Index, for 2022, Transparency International ranked Ukraine No. 116 among 180 countries … still second-worst in Eastern Europe, behind only Russia. … Kyiv should expect [U.S.] lawmakers to demand accountability for the funds flowing from Washington.” 
  • “Central to that problem is the ongoing resistance to judicial reform among Ukrainian judges, who have been repeatedly cited by Western experts as corrupt, overtly political and, too often, in thrall to Russia. ... A raft of reforms has been proposed by outside experts, including vetting judicial nominees for competence, integrity and political independence.
  • “Mr. Zelensky has been an advocate for judicial reform, but he lacks the power on his own to implement it. The push, if one is to materialize, will have to come from Ukraine's Western allies, whose influence is enormous—but who might be reluctant to divert attention from the overarching international priority to help Ukraine fight the war.”

“These tools could help bring Ukraine into the EU,” European economics commentator Martin Sandbu, FT, 02.12.23.

  • “European Stability Mechanism’s huge borrowing capacity should be repurposed for Ukraine’s reconstruction. The ESM treaty authorizes finance ministers to revise its support instruments. They could issue ESM bonds to fund euro governments which would lend on to a reconstruction platform.”
  • “As for EU membership, the debate has ignored the European Economic Area, which extends the single market to three European Free Trade Association countries—Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. … EEA membership is the closest existing alignment with the EU. If Ukraine qualifies for the EU, it will have qualified for the EEA. Conversely, qualifying for the EEA would fulfil important requirements for EU membership, and bring the rewards of the single market. Why not aim for the EEA as a staging post?”
  • “In the spirit of recycling, let’s find new uses for old tools. Economizing on institutional engineering to leave more space for statecraft is the geopolitical version of thinking locally and acting globally.”

“Make Russia Pay: Lessons From the West’s Botched Response to Moscow’s 2008 Assault on Georgia,” Vasil Sikharulidze of FPRI, FA, 02.10.23.

  • “When Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, he was confident that this new assault on the rules-based international order would not be met with serious pushback—and with good reason. For more than a decade, Putin had gotten away with this type of aggressive behavior. From land grabs in Georgia and Ukraine to war crimes in Syria, from interference in other countries’ domestic politics to murder within and outside Russia’s borders, his list of crimes was long, but Putin never paid a substantial political or economic price for his offenses.”
  • “The strength of Western support for Ukraine will shape European security and the stability of the rules-based order for years to come. A Ukrainian victory that includes the restoration of its territorial integrity and the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes and genocide will be a fundamental advance toward lasting peace in Europe. But the West should not stop there.”
    • “NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine is the first step.”
    • “The United States and its allies should support the liberation of Russian-occupied territories, including Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Moldova’s Transnistria.”
    • “Europe, for its part, needs to wean itself off Russian energy once and for all.”
  • “It will take time and effort, primarily from the Russians themselves, before the country becomes a freer, more pluralistic society that does not pose a danger to its neighbors and the world. For now, the best way to head off the threat from Russia is to support the democracies around it. That will bring Europe closer to being whole, free, and at peace.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“International ordering and great power competition: Lessons from Central Asia,” Alexander Cooley of Barnard College, Brookings, February 2023.

  • “Renewed strategic competition among the great powers is challenging and transforming the U.S.-led liberal international order. And this has important implications for the standing of U.S. bases abroad. Basing agreements in regions that are of acute interest may be undermined by revisionist powers, particularly China and Russia, as they further develop their regional security architectures, allocate and distribute rival nonmilitary public goods, and promote domestic political norms that are more aligned with the values and governance practices of often autocratic host country regimes. In Central Asia, revisionist efforts are already challenging regional U.S. leadership and undermining its capacity to establish overseas bases and access.”
  • “The rise and decline of the U.S. basing presence in Central Asia and the expansion of the Russian and Chinese security footprint offer some insights into the broader question of how strategic competition might impact regions in which the United States once exerted considerable leverage (in part because of its legacy deployments).”
  • “Although the U.S. military presence in Central Asia was significant for operations in Afghanistan in 2001, China and Russia have since increased their influence and leverage over Central Asian states by establishing new security organizations, providing more economic goods, and supporting the states’ nondemocratic political practices. Simply put, China and Russia now wield more levers of influence over Central Asian states than the United States does.”
  • “The United States will find it increasingly difficult to compete or outbid competitors for basing access as states find regional alternatives to the security initiatives, public goods, and political norms of the liberal international order. Even small and relatively weak countries will be empowered to drive harder bargains to allow the United States access. In Central Asia, rather than attempt to sabotage China and Russia efforts in the region, U.S. officials would be better served to maintain non base-related security cooperation with Central Asian militaries and as well as increase their own investments in visible regional public goods that promote U.S. soft power.”