Russia Analytical Report, Jan. 10-18, 2022

This Week’s Highlights

  • “The more willing the Biden administration is to admit that it too expects a sphere of influence in its corner of the globe, the better able it will be to ensure that Russia’s sphere of influence doesn’t destroy Ukraine or plunge Europe into war,” CUNY professor Peter Beinart writes in The New York Times.
  • “NATO leaders generally recognize that neither Ukraine nor Georgia, to say nothing of other former Soviet states, will be ready for membership for years—potentially decades—to come,” argue professor Rajan Menon and Thomas Graham, former senior director for Russia at the National Security Council, in a piece for Politico. “This could provide the basis for deferring a decision on admitting Ukraine (and Georgia), but without closing the door forever. Moscow may accept this compromise because it knows that NATO will never agree to an outright ban.”
  • RAND analyst Samuel Charap likewise writes in the Financial Times that NATO would not violating its principles “if it were to declare that, while Ukraine is free to pursue membership, the alliance is not offering it membership at present. That is a factually accurate statement.” 
  • The Ukraine conflict underscores that “ending NATO expansion would be an act of self-defense for the alliance itself, giving it the gifts that greater limitation and greater clarity confer,” Catholic University history professor Michael Kimmage writes in Foreign Affairs.
  • “Putin's success is the measure of Western intellectual and political failure,” Walter Russell Mead writes in the Wall Street Journal. “Until Western leaders emerge from the mists of post historical illusion and recover the lost art of effective foreign policy, he will continue to make gains at our expense.”
  • In his analysis of the unrest in Kazakhstan for Russia Matters, Eurasianet’s Central Asia editor Peter Leonard writes: “Spooked by the rising up of masses on one flank and the apparent scheming of high-ranking security officials on the other, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev lunged for support to Russia,” deeply compromising “Kazakhstan’s 30-year march toward sovereignty … by its need for outside help. Ties with the West may chill as Tokayev repays his debts to Moscow.” Looking forward, he writes, the bloodshed in Almaty “will calm moods for the foreseeable future. But Kazakhs have latterly developed a taste for street activism, and they see that the government is often inclined to back down when pushed. … If Tokayev’s welfare agenda makes any headway, he may yet obviate the need for especially deep political reform. Should he fail to achieve the former, while also suffocating civil society and free expression, more trouble will lie ahead.”


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

Nuclear security:

“The Nonproliferation Regime Is Breaking. Fixing It Will Require Tougher, Smarter Inspections,” Toby Dalton and Ariel Levite, Foreign Affairs, 01.13.22. The authors, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a senior fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program and Cyber Policy Initiative at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, write:

  • “The global system to prevent nuclear proliferation and promote disarmament is beginning to fray. Although the nonproliferation regime has held together for more than half a century, more countries are acquiring sensitive nuclear material and technology through illicit acquisition and preferential trade. In May 2021, for instance, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had accumulated ten kilograms of highly enriched uranium and severely restricted access to its nuclear sites. And in October 2021, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States announced a new strategic partnership (AUKUS) that will make Australia the first ever nonnuclear state to receive highly enriched fuel for nuclear-powered submarines. These two cases typify the growing challenges faced by the nonproliferation system.”
  • “To stop proliferation and reestablish a pathway for rolling back nuclear weapons, states and nonproliferation institutions will need to take multiple steps. They can start by promoting better norms around the acquisition of enriched uranium. Responsible countries should unilaterally commit to avoid procuring or enriching nuclear materials not needed for peaceful purposes. States that insist on exercising their “inalienable right” to possess sensitive nuclear materials and technologies for peaceful purposes should affirm their bona fides by undertaking additional transparency and verification measures, such as implementing the IAEA Additional Protocol, which requires states to provide the agency with far greater access to and information about their nuclear activities. They should also accede to and properly implement every nuclear convention and best practice in the areas of nuclear safety, security, liability, and environmental protection.”
  • “Norms, however, only go so far. ... [N]onproliferation institutions must increase their tracking of weaponization and delivery vehicle development.”
  • “Before the nuclear regime frays further, states must make an urgent effort to reinvigorate the NPT bargain. This work is essential both to stopping and rolling back future proliferation and to eventual disarmament—in other words, to a world in which nuclear technology doesn't contribute to geopolitical instability.”

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

“America Has No Good Options on Iran. But Reviving the Nuclear Deal Is the Least Bad,” Matthew Bunn, Foreign Affairs, 01.17.22. The author, James R. Schlesinger Professor of the Practice of Energy, National Security and Foreign Policy and faculty lead for the Project on Managing the Atom at the Harvard Kennedy School, writes:

  • “Should the United States manage to revive the 2015 deal, it would reduce the nuclear threat posed by Iran, but not to the extent that the original agreement did.”
  • “Some experts have suggested settling for a ‘less for less’ approach—for example, getting Iran to relinquish its stocks of 60 percent enriched uranium, stop stockpiling more enriched uranium and halt the installation of new centrifuges in return for lifting some sanctions. … Others have urged the Biden administration to give up on reviving the 2015 deal and instead impose tougher sanctions to convince Iran to compromise, offering a “more for more” arrangement in which Tehran would accept more substantial restraints than the 2015 deal … in return for lifting even more sanctions.”
  • “A more plausible path to a longer and stronger deal would be to first return to the original deal and then attempt to lengthen and strengthen it in subsequent negotiations. … But because a return to the 2015 deal would require lifting many of the sanctions on Tehran, Washington’s leverage for better terms down the road would be reduced. … A final option is a military strike, which could temporarily disable much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.” 
  • “[W]ith Iran’s hard-line leadership justifiably doubting American promises, there is no guarantee it will be possible to get back to the 2015 pact. And as time passes, the benefits of a return to the original deal will continue to diminish. Moreover, it will not be easy to limit the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program after the sunset clauses expire or to constrain its advancing missile program or address its support for armed groups throughout the Middle East. Ultimately, what is needed is a different relationship between Iran, its neighbors in the Middle East, and the West. A return to the nuclear deal would be one step forward on that long and difficult road.”

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

 “When Will the U.S. Stop Lying to Itself About Global Politics,” Peter Beinart, The New York Times, 01.13.22. The author, a professor of journalism and political science at The Newmark School of Journalism at The City University of New York, writes:

  • “At the heart of the current crisis between Washington and Moscow is this: Vladimir Putin has massed troops on Russia’s border with Ukraine and implied that he may invade unless he receives a guarantee that Ukraine will never join NATO. The Biden administration rejects that demand out of hand. Powerful nations, it insists, cannot demand that their neighbors fall under their ‘spheres of influence.’ … It’s a noble principle, just not one the United States abides by. The United States has exercised a sphere of influence in its own hemisphere for almost 200 years.”
  • “Biden officials do not celebrate the Monroe Doctrine as their Trump administration predecessors did. But they still muscle America’s neighbors. Mr. Biden hasn’t eased the embargo of Cuba. Nor has he ended Mr. Trump’s effort to cut off Venezuela … from global trade.”
  • “None of this means Russia has the right to dominate Ukraine. If America’s regional bullying is wrong, Moscow’s cruder version … is even worse. But the problem with the Biden administration’s willful naïveté about U.S. policy toward Latin America is that it fosters a willful naïveté about the way international politics actually works.”
  • “Of course, Ukraine has the right to forge an independent foreign policy. But foreign policy isn’t an exercise in abstract morality; it involves questions of power. And the United States and its European allies lack the power to deny Russia a say over Ukraine’s future because they are not willing to send their sons and daughters to fight there.”
  • “So long as Moscow is ready to threaten war, it can keep Ukraine out of NATO. The Biden administration just doesn’t want to admit that publicly for fear of demoralizing the Ukrainian government and encouraging Vladimir Putin to make even greater threats. As Thomas Graham and Rajan Menon have suggested, the best solution may be artful diplomatic language that allows Moscow to claim it has blocked Ukraine from entering NATO and the United States and Ukraine to insist that it could still join in some distant, theoretical, future.”

“How to Get What We Want From Putin,” Thomas Graham and Rajan Menon, Politico 01.10.22. The authors, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of International Relations at the Powell School, City College of New York, write:

  • “[T]hese talks [between Russia and the U.S.] offer the Biden administration the opportunity to do something bigger and more enduring: the creation of a pan-European security order that includes Russia and reduces the risks of crises and confrontations on the continent. … The starting point is the recognition that American and Russian principles regarding European security are irreconcilable. ... So the key to progress is to avoid fruitless debates over first principles and instead move to a discussion of concrete steps to defuse tensions and promote stability.”
  • “The U.S.-Russian bilateral talks should be the primary negotiating forum. The Biden administration rightly insists that its allies and partners must be involved and that no decisions will be made solely by Russia and the United States. But multilateral talks are a recipe for stasis.”
  • “The West can keep Russia constructively engaged only if it demonstrates that it takes its concerns seriously and is committed to making progress—which is not the same thing as meeting Moscow’s every demand. There are several areas in which Russia and the West should, in principle, be able to reach mutually beneficial agreements without inordinate delay.”
  • “Agreement to restart routine dialogue in bilateral U.S.-Russian channels … and multilateral channels … should be a first step … Transparency in military exercises … and reciprocal limits on the deployment of troops and strike aircraft and missiles in frontier zones … A more complicated matter … is a commitment not to deploy intermediate range ballistic missiles in Europe. … These steps would not only help defuse the present crisis, they would buy time for addressing the most complicated, consequential issues—NATO expansion and a comprehensive settlement of frozen and ongoing conflicts in Europe.”
  • “Now is the time to think big and imagine a new, more durable order, one that can encompass Russia. … [T]he inescapable reality is that Russia has overcome a prolonged period of weakness and now sees itself as a great power with security interests, which it will and can defend, using force if necessary.”

“Time for NATO to Close Its Door. The Alliance Is Too Big—and Too Provocative—for Its Own Good,” Michael Kimmage, Foreign Affairs, 01.17.22The author, professor of history at the Catholic University of America, writes:

  • “The NATO alliance is ill suited to twenty-first-century Europe. ... NATO suffers from a severe design flaw: extending deep into the cauldron of eastern European geopolitics, it is too large, too poorly defined and too provocative for its own good.”
  • “The unanticipated perils of expanding NATO have been compounded by the open-door policy, which renders the alliance’s eastern flank incomprehensible. NATO’s declaration in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia will someday become members was at best aspirational and at worst insincere. Yet the potential for the eastward movement of NATO’s border is very real, as recent talks about the potential accession of Finland and Sweden have underscored.”
  • “The Ukrainian government’s drive to enter NATO has embroiled the alliance in the region’s most explosive ethnonationalist conflict … A defensive alliance is unequipped to handle a conflict between a nonmember seeking membership and a nuclear power hell-bent on denying that membership. That is a conflict NATO can only lose and one that might even threaten the existence of the alliance if a member state such as Poland or Lithuania were pulled into the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.”
  • “NATO must change course by publicly and explicitly refusing to add any more member states … The United States needs a new strategy for dealing with Russia in eastern Europe, one that does not rely primarily on NATO. … The United States and its European allies and partners should at the same time propose a new institution for deliberations with Russia, one that would focus on crisis management, deconfliction, and strategic dialogue. NATO should play no part in it.”
  • “In the event of a new military conflict with Russia, the United States should form an ad hoc coalition with allies and partners to deal with possible threats instead of directly involving NATO (unless Russia attacks a NATO member). … Ending NATO expansion would be an act of self-defense for the alliance itself, giving it the gifts that greater limitation and greater clarity confer.”

“How to Reach an Agreement on Ukraine,” Anatol Lieven, Real Clear World, 01.17.22. The author, a senior fellow of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, writes:

  • “Talks between American and Russian representatives on the security relationship between Russia and the West have gone nowhere. There are, however, a couple small, encouraging signs when it comes to Ukraine.”
  • “The first is that the Russian envoy, Sergei Ryabkov, has said Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine—though with Russian troops still massed on Ukraine’s border, it still has the capability to do so.”
  • “The second is that the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has hinted that it may be willing finally to put real weight behind the Minsk II agreement of 2015 on a settlement to end the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine … This is indeed the only possible solution for this conflict. Since 2015 however Ukrainian governments and parliaments have repeatedly refused to establish the legal basis for this autonomy, and Washington has brought no pressure on them to do so. The reason for this Ukrainian refusal is also an indication of why a solution to the Donbass conflict can lead to a wider agreement between Russia and the West. For the Ukrainian government fears that an autonomous Donbass would act to block Ukraine from ever joining NATO.”
  • “The Russian establishment has given up hope that without the threat of war, Western governments will ever put pressure on Ukraine to implement its part of the Minsk II agreement on autonomy for the Donbass. In addition to blocking NATO membership for Ukraine, Moscow believes that an autonomous Russian-speaking Donbas within Ukraine would act as a wider guarantee of the linguistic, cultural and civic rights of the Ukrainian-Russian minority. This is a goal that the West too should support, both in the name of the values that we have advocated elsewhere in the world and to counter the threat of future ethnic conflict within Ukraine.”
  • “Preventing an unnecessary war that the West cannot win should be the America’s first priority.”

“NATO honesty on Ukraine could avert conflict with Russia,” Samuel Charap, Financial Times, 01.13.22. The author, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, writes:

  • “NATO would not be acting contrary to this principle if it were to declare that, while Ukraine is free to pursue membership, the alliance is not offering it membership at present. That is a factually accurate statement.”
  • “Such a declaration of restraint would not be unprecedented. In December 1996, NATO allies declared they had ‘no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members’—the so-called ‘three no’s.’ This declaration was made before any of the new members joined the alliance. If it was acceptable for NATO to make such a commitment to self-restraint 25 years ago, it should be acceptable today.”
  • “A statement that the alliance has no intention to offer Ukraine membership at present should only be made in return for a tangible drawdown of Russian forces on the border. It concedes nothing to declare that NATO is not planning to do something it has no intention of doing anyway. If acknowledging this reality averts a conflict that might destroy Ukraine and destabilize Europe, that seems like a small price to pay.”

“Stop the stumble toward war with Russia,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Washington Post, 01.18.22. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Ukraine provides an opportunity for Biden to commit diplomacy. Austria offers a model. In the mid-1950s, as the Cold War intensified and the nuclear arms race launched, the Soviets and the United States, Britain and France met to decide what to do with Austria. The Soviets, devastated by the loss of as many as 27 million people in World War II, had vowed never to concede an inch of the territory its troops occupied. Bellicose U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles initially opposed the idea of negotiations. Yet despite that, in 13 torturous days of talks, the two sides agreed to guarantee an independent and neutral Austria, freed of all occupying forces.”
  • “That surely provides a better alternative for Ukraine, for our European allies and for ourselves than fighting the Russians to the last Ukrainian. Ukraine is a divided state. Pervasive corruption and bitter division sabotage its economy and its democracy. U.S. and Russian meddling have made things worse. Independence, with guaranteed neutrality, would give it a chance to heal.”
  • “This would require tough compromise. The Russians would have to guarantee Ukrainian independence and agree to curb threatening military maneuvers even in its own territory. The United States would have to shelve delusions about NATO. Ukrainians would have to accept a federalized system that would provide guarantees for its Russian-speaking population. Both Putin and Biden would face harsh criticism from hawks prattling about surrender and credibility.”
  • “The question is whether Putin and Biden feel strong enough to choose restraint, dialogue and engagement rather than to stumble toward war.”

“As the U.S. and Russia debate Ukraine, it’s hard to see the wiggle room,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 01.11.22. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “[Sergei] Ryabkov’s own words suggest that perhaps there’s a pathway forward. Before the meeting with Sherman, he was asked by the newspaper Izvestia about Russian demands for ‘security guarantees.’ Ryabkov’s answer was telling in its seeming willingness to compromise—in contrast with the strident public comments Monday. ‘Diplomacy involves seeking solutions based on a balance of interests,’ he said. ‘We do not intend to contest every single objection—otherwise it would be a preemptory demand on our part rather than a proposal to negotiate.’”
  • “If Putin wants security assurances such as these, he’s probably pushing on an open door. Explains William B. Taylor Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine: ‘A return to the transparency, confidence building and risk reduction that would come with an agreement on military exercises would make both sides, NATO and Russia, more secure. If these negotiations proceed, it will have been worth it.’”
  • “Countries that have been nursing a grudge, as Putin’s Russia does, are often tempted to strike at what they think is the core of the problem. Israel did that when it invaded Lebanon in 1982. The United States did the same in its 2003 invasion of Iraq. Both are widely recognized as costly strategic mistakes. Now, Russia is considering a similar roll of the dice.”
  • “Russia’s desire to feel secure within its borders isn’t unreasonable. Every country wants that. But if Putin thinks he can achieve this goal by invading Ukraine, he’s almost certain to fail.”

“Putin Is Running Rings Around the West,” Walter Russell Mead, The Wall Street Journal, 01.12.22. The author, the Ravenel B. Curry III Distinguished Fellow in Strategy and Statesmanship at Hudson Institute, writes:

  • “Nobody knows whether Vladimir Putin will invade Ukraine, but it is increasingly clear that a divided and confused Western alliance doesn't know how to deal with the challenge he poses. … It is hegemony, not uniformity, that he wants. … Mr. Putin's goal is to re-establish ultimate control while leaving subordinate rulers in place. It's working. … Of the 15 constituent republics of the old Soviet Union, only five (the three Baltic states, Moldova and Ukraine) have held him at arm's length.”
  • “Meanwhile, the West is less well positioned to withstand Russian pressure on Ukraine than it was in 2014. Europe's doubts about American commitment and wisdom are greater than they were then. German pacifism is more deeply entrenched. Brexit has undermined relations among Europe's chief military powers. Europe's dependency on Russian oil and natural gas leaves the West as vulnerable as ever to energy blackmail … With oil prices above $80 a barrel and China backing his play, Mr. Putin may be less vulnerable to economic sanctions than the White House hopes.”
  • “Washington, meanwhile, is unintentionally but unmistakably telegraphing its vulnerability to blackmail. With the Biden administration lobbying Congress to block sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Moscow can't be blamed for thinking that the Americans are prepared to pay a price to preserve ‘stability.’”
  • “[Putin’s] decisions about what to do next will depend entirely on what he thinks will advance Russia's core goals. Haggle at the bargaining table while Western unity frays? Seize a chunk of Ukraine while the West sputters with impotent moralism? Magnanimously accept Western concessions and return to stability until the next time? … Until Western leaders emerge from the mists of posthistorical illusion and recover the lost art of effective foreign policy, he will continue to make gains at our expense.”

“Can the OSCE Help Resolve the Russia-Ukraine Crisis?” Andrew Lohsen, CSIS, 01.12.22. The author, a fellow in the Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program at CSIS, writes:

  • “The Biden administration—and the leadership of other participating states—might consider the following policy options to enhance the OSCE’s capacity to contribute to a positive outcome.”
  • “Intensify discussions taking place in the Structured Dialogue. … As the only remaining platform in the OSCE in which the United States and Russia have military-to-military contacts, it can continue to focus on technical issues at a time when mutual trust remains low but serve as a test bed for new ideas when an opening emerges.”
  • “Russia has repeatedly stressed its interest in legally binding security guarantees, yet some of its demands were covered under previous agreements that fell apart due to accusations of non-compliance, such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. An opportunity to salvage these mechanisms may have appeared when Deputy Secretary Sherman told her Russian counterpart on Jan. 10 that the United States is willing to consider reciprocal measures regarding limitations on weapons deployments and military exercises. The OSCE should promote discussions on what it would take to revive the CFE, INF, and Open Skies Treaties and to modernize the Vienna Document.”
  • “Increase funding and staffing support for the organization.”
  • “The current crisis has demonstrated the breadth and complexity of disagreements between Russia and the West. While some appear to be military in nature, others rest on more existential, foundational beliefs. As such, none of the existing security fora is the perfect venue for discussion, but the OSCE has many of the characteristics needed to facilitate a resolution to the crisis, provided its participating states are willing to invest in the effort.”

“As Putin bullies Ukraine, signs rise of European unity in opposition,” George F. Will, The Washington Post, 01.10.22. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “At the Yalta Conference (Feb. 4 to 11, 1945), Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill negotiated the postwar settlement of Europe. Four months before that, at an Oct. 9, 1944, meeting in Moscow, Churchill passed to Stalin a sheet of paper with proposed percentages of postwar influence that the allies would accept for the Soviet Union in some European countries: Romania 90, Bulgaria 75, Yugoslavia and Hungary 50, Greece 10. In his war memoirs, Churchill insisted that he urged Stalin to burn the paper, and said the percentages were meant to pertain only to ‘immediate wartime arrangements.’”
  • “The minutes of the meeting do not indicate that Churchill said the percentages were to be temporary. Three days later, Churchill showed W. Averell Harriman, U.S. ambassador to Moscow, a letter he intended to present to Stalin, affirming the percentages. Harriman in his memoirs said he firmly objected, saying that President Franklin D. Roosevelt would ‘repudiate the letter if it was sent.’ The Biden administration should be similarly brusque in rejecting any Russian demand that derogates any European nation's sovereignty.”

“Western unity will prevail in the stand-off with Putin,” Daniel Fried, Financial Times, 01.14.22. The author, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, writes:

  • “The U.S. and Europe need to keep framing the issues the right way: resist the temptation to respond to threats with concessions, and maintain a willingness to discuss European security in a way that benefits all, not just Moscow.”
  • “One Kremlin trap to avoid is to talk about NATO as if its enlargement is aggression for which Moscow must be compensated.”
  • “The U.S. and Europe should ... be patient, determined and respond firmly to provocations. Then the Kremlin just might find a way to move from ultimatums to a more productive discussion of European security, perhaps re-establishing arms control, transparency and stabilization measures that the Kremlin has ignored, violated or denigrated in recent years. There is a way ahead, but the coming weeks could be rough.”

“Even if Putin doesn't seize all of Ukraine, he has a larger strategy. The U.S. needs one, too,” John R. Bolton, The Washington Post, 01.16.22. The author, national security adviser under U.S. President Donald Trump, writes:

  • “Consider Russia's options from its decision-makers' perspective. … Totally annexing Ukraine may not be what they want or need. Putin could order Russian columns to approach Kyiv, making its vulnerability obvious, as Russia did with Georgia in 2008 … Toppling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's government and hoping for (or assisting) a Moscow-aligned leader to appear are eminently feasible.”
  • “Russia could seize and hold significant territory in eastern and southern Ukraine, beyond Crimea and the Donbass, with only marginal fears of guerrilla war or anti-Russian terrorism later. Amid reports that the Biden administration might support an insurgency, in addition to imposing massive sanctions, if Russia seizes Ukraine, would the White House take those steps if the seizure were ‘merely’ partial? Would Europe? Or would the West breathe a collective sigh of relief, saying, ‘It could have been much worse,’ and do next to nothing? Putin might bet on this scenario.”
  • “The United States and its allies must quickly change Putin's cost-benefit calculus before Russian troops begin hostilities. … If we fail Kyiv (again), thereby endangering nearby NATO members, Putin will have perfected a road map to further erode NATO's deterrence and its entire collective defense rationale. He not only has a strategy, which the West doesn't, he has also proven himself an adroit tactician. Today, he is still calling the shots. That needs to change.”

“Putin’s demand for security guarantees: Not new and not to be taken literally, but not to be ignored,” Andrey A. Baklitskiy, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 01.14.22. The author, a senior research fellow at the Center for Advanced American Studies at the Institute of International Studies at the MGIMO, writes:

  • “The remarkable thing about the Russian proposals on the security guarantees—which come in the form of two draft treaties, one with NATO and one with the United States—was that almost nothing in them was new.”
  • “Whatever one thinks about the Russian proposal on security guarantees, it is here to stay. The fact that the West was quick to respond and engaged in a dialogue is encouraging, because too much was at stake to ignore Putin’s proposal. Now comes the hard part—figuring out how Moscow’s request could be reconciled with existing diplomatic formats and the security interests of the other parties involved. As Article 1 of both proposed Russian agreements says, ‘The Parties shall cooperate on the basis of principles of indivisible, equal and undiminished security.’ And that is a tall order.”

“Turkey Could Lose Big in the Russia-Ukraine Standoff,” Jeffrey Mankoff, Foreign Policy, 01.13.22. The author, a distinguished research fellow at the U.S. National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies, writes:

  • “Since U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2021, Ankara has attempted to patch up its outstanding quarrels with Washington and other NATO allies—in part because of concern that growing isolation leaves it increasingly vulnerable to Russian pressure. Yet attitudes in Washington have hardened in recent years.”
  • “Ankara risks diplomatic isolation and strategic overextension in the event of renewed conflict [in Ukraine]. Russia could step up pressure against Turkish interests (in Syria’s Idlib pocket, for instance) to make sure Ankara stays on the sidelines in Ukraine. It could also dangle carrots: Coupled with the downturn in gas supplies to Europe through Belarus and Ukraine, cancellation or suspension of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline by German regulators would be a boon for the Blue Stream and TurkStream pipelines, reinforcing (at least in the short term) Turkey’s ambitions to bolster its role as a transit state.”
  • “Yet the broader consequences of a Russian offensive against Ukraine are likely to be negative, such as the further consolidation of Russian military/naval superiority in the Black Sea, the weakening of Turkey and Ukraine’s partnership, further damage to the Turkish economy, and the potential for refugee flows and attacks against Turkish interests in Syria and elsewhere.”
  • “Escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine would be a tragedy for much of Europe. For Turkey, it could spell the end of the long-running balancing act between NATO and Russia—along with ending the ambition for regional influence that has defined Erdogan’s time in office.”

“Moscow’s sanction-proofing efforts weaken western threats,” Max Seddon and Polina Ivanova, Financial Times, 01.18.22. The authors, Moscow bureau chief and Moscow correspondent for the news outlet, write:

  • “Russia’s efforts to reduce its reliance on the global financial system have made it better prepared to weather the sanctions that the U.S. and Europe have warned would follow a new attack on Ukraine.”
  • “The relative success of what investors have called Moscow’s ‘Fortress Russia’ strategy is likely to make western threats less of a deterrent, analysts say. Meanwhile, the EU has not weaned itself off Russian gas, making any restrictions on Russian energy exports potentially self-damaging—and leaving the possibility for Moscow to retaliate by limiting supplies.”
  • “The western sanctions under discussion could go far beyond those passed following Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014. They could ape punitive measures used against Iran and North Korea that all but cut the countries off from the global economy. But Russia’s finance ministry, which has stress-tested worst-case scenarios for years and set up a unit working to counter possible measures from the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, says Russia’s economy could withstand even those types of measures. ‘Obviously, it’s unpleasant, but it’s do-able. I think our financial institutions can handle it [if] these risks emerge,’ finance minister Anton Siluanov said last week.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“China and Russia test the limits of EU power,” Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, 01.17.22. The author, chief foreign affairs columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Are Europeans doomed to spend the 21st century being pushed around by outside powers? In Brussels, they like to argue that the collective power of the EU is the only way of saving the old continent from that ignominious fate. Although no single European country can stand toe-to-toe with America or China, the EU collectively ranks as one of the world’s three largest economies.”
  • “But the idea that the EU’s economic weight can be easily converted into geopolitical power is undergoing a brutal reality check. The Ukraine crisis has seen the EU sidelined. Meanwhile China has imposed unofficial economic sanctions on Lithuania, an EU member—and Brussels is struggling to find an appropriate response.”
  • “If things go badly for the EU over the coming weeks and months, talk of a “geopolitical” Europe will sound increasingly ridiculous. But it is also possible that the current crises—in particular the Lithuanian challenge—will lead to a leap forward in the EU’s ability to defend its interests in the global arena.”
  • “EU’s legislative processes is tortuous, making it unlikely that anti-coercion instruments can be agreed before the summer. By then Lithuania may have been forced to back down. In their own interests, the Europeans need to stop that happening. If China successfully bullies Lithuania while the EU watches impotently from the sidelines, that lesson will be noted—not just in Beijing, but in Moscow and Washington, too.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“A new arms race beckons. History shows what could freeze it,” Henry Richard Maar III, The Washington Post, 01.13.22. The author, a modern U.S. historian, writes:

  • “In recent weeks, the United States, Russia and the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council reaffirmed that a nuclear war ‘cannot be won and must never be fought.’ It was welcome news. But we should also take a closer, skeptical look at this statement.”
  • “After all, the same nations … continue to fund and build a new generation of destabilizing weapons not currently covered under arms control treaties, while simultaneously boycotting at the United Nations the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The United States, for example, plans to spend $400 billion over the next decade and $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize its nuclear arsenal.”
  • “As tensions with Russia rise, strategically obsolete intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) remain on hair-trigger alert, creating the potential for accidental nuclear war. With the unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, a new arms race beckons.”
  • “In subsequent years, the U.S. and Soviet/Russian nuclear arsenals saw drastic reductions thanks to successive arms control treaties. Current U.S.-Russian relations, however, may well return to the myopic levels of the early 1980s, bringing with them an ever-increasing chance of catastrophic nuclear war. As President Biden concludes the Nuclear Posture Review, 700 Nobel laureates have called for him to take steps to reduce that risk. In Congress, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) have introduced the Hastening Arms Limitation Talks (HALT) Act, with the goal of a freeze on the further global deployment of nuclear weapons.”
  • “But there's a key difference between the contemporary call for a 21st-century nuclear freeze and its 1980s counterpart: The latter was at the center of a vast social movement with grass-roots support across the nation. For the HALT Act to succeed, it will need the support of a grass-roots peace movement that can flex its membership muscle much as the Freeze did.”

“Putin’s Fixation With an Old-School U.S. Missile Launcher,” Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy, 01.12.22. The author, FP’s Pentagon and national security reporter, writes:

  • “When top Russian officials huddled before whirlwind arms control talks with the United States this week, they weren’t preoccupied with fears of a state-of-the-art futuristic U.S. weapons system being developed in a clandestine Pentagon laboratory. Instead, with Russian troops continuing to build up on the Ukrainian border, their minds were on a U.S. weapons system that was first deployed way back in the Reagan administration, on U.S. destroyers, to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles: The Mark 41 missile launcher, also known as the MK 41, has been fired more than 4,000 times since first entering service in the 1980s by the United States and its allies and over three decades has become the Defense Department’s weapon of choice for retaliatory strikes, used everywhere from Iraq and Syria to the former Yugoslavia. Now Russia is worried that it could be the next target.”
  • “U.S. officials have long brushed aside Russia’s fears about the MK 41 launchers on European soil, insisting that it is strictly a defensive system. Yet as negotiations between the United States and Russia heat up over Ukraine this week, there appears to be some wiggle room on missile defense—one of the areas where Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin seemed open to compromise after meeting in Geneva last June. In that way, the Russian gripes over the Cold War-era missile launcher could be a cudgel for a larger debate: over the conditions for reentering a reimagined INF Treaty.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

“An Unauthorized War. The Shaky Legal Ground for the U.S. Operation in Syria,” Brian Finucane, Foreign Affairs, 01.11.22. The author, senior adviser in the U.S. Program at the International Crisis Group, writes:

  • “The hundreds of U.S. troops who are still stationed in Syria, on a mission to ‘maintain the enduring defeat’ of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), are fighting an off-and-on battle with Iranian-backed militias. … Even if … the administration maintains its current course in Syria, the legal contortions the U.S. government has taken there should not be allowed to become a precedent.”
  • “Under international law, the U.N. Charter prohibits the use of force and assigns to the Security Council the responsibility for authorizing it in the service of maintaining international peace and security. … Article I of the U.S. Constitution, meanwhile, gives Congress the power to ‘declare War.’”
  • “In addition to conflicts authorized by Congress, the president has some independent authority to use force under Article II of the Constitution … Although the scope of this authority is contested, it includes defending the United States and U.S. forces from sudden attack. … When the United States initiated military operations in Syria, both its domestic and its international legal justifications were tied to the idea that these activities served a counterterrorism mission.”
  • “The range of U.S. operations in Syria does not fall neatly into the counter-ISIS mission the United States claimed it had authority for when it first sent forces there. In order to accommodate the inconvenient facts of U.S. combat in Syria, the executive branch has resorted to creative lawyering.” 
  • “Domestic and international legal constraints on the use of force are designed to promote deliberation and ensure that the costs and benefits of war are adequately weighed before one is waged. What is going on in Syria illustrates how creative legal theories cooked up by the executive branch and unchallenged by Congress erode these constraints and increase the likelihood of future conflict. To restore the limits on war making, the Biden administration and its allies in Congress should start rebuilding the safeguards that too many administrations have chipped away.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“How Democracy Can Defeat Autocracy,” Kenneth Roth, Foreign Policy, 01.13.22. The author, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, writes:

  • “The outcome of the high-stakes battle between autocracy and democracy remains uncertain. The autocrats are on the defensive as popular protests mount, broad pro-democracy political coalitions emerge, and managed elections prove unreliable. Yet democracy’s fate depends in large part on the actions of democratic leaders. Will they address the major challenges before us, elevate public debate, and act consistently, both at home and abroad, with the democratic and human rights principles they claim to defend?”
  • “Being the least bad system of governance may not be enough if public despair at democratic leaders’ failure to meet today’s challenges leads to public indifference, if not despair, about democracy. That opens the door for charismatic autocratic leaders.
  • The defense of human rights requires not only curbing autocratic repression but also improving democratic leadership.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Why Russia might appeal for dividend hunters,” John Dizard, Financial Times, 01.15.22. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • For investors with a high-risk appetite that are willing to overlook geopolitical tensions and concerns over the way Moscow governs, the research [on Russian troop deployments at the Ukrainian border] might be better deployed on deep-value Russian equities.”
  • “One outcome of the Kremlin’s economic and social control over its big companies is high dividend payouts. Since 2016, it has been Russian state policy to force key companies to pay out at least half of their profits in dividends. … For investors, that means there are quite a few deep-value Russian equities with high dividend yield.”
  • “From the Kremlin’s perspective, every dollar a corporate insider siphons from company cash flow into property on the Côte d’Azur is a dollar lost. And, while Moscow does not care what some non-government organization thinks about western-style press freedom, it is interested in imposing international accounting standards on public companies. Especially legacy resource companies with partial state ownership.”
  • “The high dividend-increased corporate transparency regime was first codified by the finance ministry under former prime minister Dmitry Medvedev … The current prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, made his bones by his digital transformation of the Russian tax service. While Mishustin makes all the expected noises about ‘sovereignty’ and ‘Made in Russia,’ he supports the finance ministry’s corporate governance push, and has concentrated on reducing the stultifying complexity and opacity of the central administration.”
  • “There are, of course, still big risks with investing in Russian companies. The companies that put on what might be described as the acceptable face of Russian capitalism tend to be the ones that interact most with the outside world. Others are more opaque. … Even so, investors targeting dividend yield in some of the biggest Russian companies will find their interests may be aligned with those of Putin and his finance ministry.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant developments.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • No significant developments.


“Here's what we know about Russia's military buildup near Ukraine,” Dmitry Gorenburg and Michael Kofman, The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage, 01.15.22. The authors, a senior research scientist at CNA and director of the Russia Studies Program at CNA, write:

  • “The key factors to consider are those most relevant to a potential Russian military campaign. These involve force readiness—the extent to which a military force is prepared to fulfill its missions, such as engaging in combat—along with the ability to maintain training, whether the deployed forces include personnel or primarily consist of prepositioned equipment and the operational implications of keeping them in the area for a prolonged period. While maintaining its current buildup is not especially taxing for Russia, keeping troops in forward positions comes at a cost and may also harm Russia's military prospects in a potential operation against Ukraine.”
  • “Russian forces near Ukraine total at most 60 battalion tactical groups (BTGs), along with support elements. … Adding the supporting units, the total number of Russian troops is likely to be 85,000—with more on the way. … [T]here are [also] about 15,000 separatist forces, or Russian-led formations in Ukraine's Donbass region. Media outlets are reporting around 100,000 troops in total, but estimates vary widely.”
  • “The forces deployed within approximately 125-200 miles of the Ukrainian border fall into two categories. Divisions and brigades permanently stationed in the area figure substantially into the total but come at no added cost or disruption. … A second set of forces are units that have been temporarily deployed near Ukraine's border from formations elsewhere in Russia. … But some of these forces may be constrained in the time they can spend in the area before having to return to their home bases.”
  • “Over the past year, Russian deployment has been slow and deliberate. This allows Moscow greater freedom to select the potential timing of an operation while retaining some element of surprise. Of course, seasonal weather, hardening of terrain, the presence or absence of foliage for camouflage, and other factors may affect the Russian calculus on what the optimal time might be for a military campaign. However, the more forces mass on Ukraine's border, the less sustainable the deployment will be over time, and the more disruptive it will be to … Moscow's actual ability to conduct a large-scale military operation.”

“Putin’s Ukrainian War Is About Making Vladimir Great Again,” Niall Ferguson, Bloomberg, 01.02.22. The author, the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, writes:

  • “It is not Stalin’s Soviet Union for which Putin hankers. It is the rising Russian Empire of Peter the Great. He made this quite clear in a fascinating interview with Lionel Barber, then editor of the Financial Times, in 2019.”
  • “At the Battle of Poltava (July 8, 1709), Peter the Great won the most important victory of his reign ... Where was Poltava then? Certainly not in Russia. But you could not really say that it was in Ukraine, either — not in the modern sense, anyway.”
  • “In any case, Putin does not need to go to war in the style of 1939, with columns of tanks rumbling across the Ukrainian fields. A full-scale land invasion is just one of his options. He could also launch an amphibious assault on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, or a precision bombing and missile campaign against key Ukrainian targets. He could seize additional territory in Ukraine’s eastern region by ramping up the weaponry of its militias in the region. Or he could launch large-scale cyberattacks, crippling Ukrainian communications and infrastructure.”
  • “So what does Biden mean when he says, as he told Putin on Thursday, that the U.S. will ‘respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine’? The answer is that, as in 2014, violence will be met with sanctions. The Not-So-Great Northern War that seems about to break out will be asymmetrical in more ways than one. Russian forces seem likely to overwhelm Ukrainian defenses.”
  • “War, I fear, is coming. It has a habit of doing that to Ukraine and its vicinity, a part of the world justly called the ‘Bloodlands’ by Yale historian Timothy Snyder because of the horrors it witnessed in the 1930s and 1940s. Yet that is not the history uppermost in Vladimir Putin’s mind. Do not be surprised if his victory parade takes place in Poltava.”

“The EU’s regrettable absence on Ukraine,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 01.10.22. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “The current weakness of the EU on the Ukraine crisis is indeed regrettable. This is a perilous moment for Europeans and their security. A stronger and more united EU voice would help the west to deter Russia. It would be unfortunate if it required a severe security crisis—such as a Russian attack on Ukraine—to create the unity and urgency that the EU so badly needs.”

“The folly of a new Russian war in Ukraine,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 01.16.22. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Putin may believe that he can repeat his ‘small war’ of 2014, when he complicated Ukraine’s hopes of western integration, seized territory, and sent his poll ratings soaring—at what the Kremlin saw as an acceptable cost. Even today, Ukraine’s now much better trained and equipped army may be no match for the air power and heavy weaponry Russia could deploy. The lesson of eight years ago, however, was that even Ukraine’s Russophone easternmost regions did not fall easily into Russia’s lap. Ukrainians further west would mount an even more fierce and dogged resistance. The narrative of Russian body bags coming home from a Slavic ‘brother’ nation, on top of an economic hit, could become difficult for the Kremlin to control.”
  • “Above all, Russia’s aggression in 2014 did more to cement a Ukrainian sense of identity and sovereignty than any event since the second world war. It swung a previously skeptical majority in favor of joining NATO. New interference by Russia would entrench Ukrainian anger for generations. There may, sadly, be no one left in Moscow able to tell this to Russia’s president. Rather than going down in history as a modern-day ‘gatherer of Russian lands,’ however, Putin might instead go down as the leader who finally lost Ukraine.”

“The Time Is Right for Ukraine to Revisit the Lessons of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War,” Olena Lennon, PONARS Eurasia, 01.12.22. The author, adjunct faculty in political science and International Affairs at University of New Haven,

  • “While the tactical value of UAV technology is unquestionable, Azerbaijan’s decisive use of drones is not an appropriate place for Ukraine to draw inspiration or encouragement in favor of a military solution in its own security challenges. This is not to say that Ukraine should not continue modernizing both its armed forces and the military-industrial complex. It should, and it has been. And the collective West should continue providing security assistance to Ukraine to bolster its defenses.”
  • “Armenia’s optimism and subsequent losses should be instructive for Ukraine. As we consider the tactical, strategic, and political lessons of military conflicts in other countries, the most important lesson among them is the irreversible trauma of the loss of human life and the irreparable damage wars cause to societies for generations to come. Drawing lessons from other people’s tragic experiences and mistakes is but an opportunity for self-reflection. Political and military leaders should be careful not to draw self-validating conclusions and flawed analogies from other conflicts and carefully consider opposing points of view in search of best solutions specific to Ukraine’s unique situation, despite its entrapment in a great power contest between the West and Russia.”
  • “While the signs for a looming Russian offensive appear worrying, it is not a foregone conclusion. The Biden administration has announced plans to hold talks with the Kremlin, in coordination with NATO and OSCE, to ease tensions and establish reciprocity. For a successful resolution, all parties involved should be willing to recognize and address not only each other’s aspirations but each other’s security delusions as well. No stone should be left unturned to prevent more deaths in Ukraine, only to return to the inevitability of political negotiations.”

“Ukraine Doesn’t Need the West to Defend It. We Need Help Preparing for War,” Alyona Getmanchuk, The New York Times, 01.18.22. The author, director of the New Europe Center, writes:

  • “While we Ukrainians appreciate that American leaders take pains to say, ‘Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,’ that’s not exactly happening. Our voice is often drowned out amid the rhetorical volleys being traded by the United States, its NATO allies and Russia.”
  • “Ukraine is not asking for the West to defend it. Rather, it is asking for help to prepare for this fight by bolstering our military capacity. Moreover, the best way to defend Ukraine is to defend Western doctrines and values, including the ‘no spheres of influence’ principle barring large countries from dominating their neighbors and NATO’s ‘open door’ policy of welcoming new applicants to the alliance. Close cooperation between Ukraine and the alliance—like military exercises, which enhance the Ukrainian Army’s ability to work with NATO member states and also remind Russia that Ukraine is not alone—should continue.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“In Kazakhstan Upheaval, Economic Grievances Collide With Tricky Transfer of Power,” Peter Leonard, Russia Matters, 01.12.22. The author, the Central Asia editor at, writes:

  • “Kazakhstan has never in its brief post-independence history looked so vulnerable.  Last week’s unrest—which has led to dozens of deaths and nearly 10,000 arrests—saw the country’s leadership come under assault from three directions: below, within and abroad.”
  • “[F]inancially struggling Kazakhs came onto the streets with demands for the soaring cost of living to be contained. Their anger at the country’s distant, unresponsive rulers was shared by the more politically minded middle-class who later rallied in the commercial capital, Almaty … Evidence—circumstantial so far—is emerging that rival pretenders to power exploited this moment of national ferment to fuel violence and chaos. From what is understood for now, there is the sitting president on one side and allies of the former president on the other.”
  • “Spooked by the rising up of masses on one flank and the apparent scheming of high-ranking security officials on the other, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev lunged for support to Russia … Thousands of Russian troops, operating under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), were dispatched to Kazakhstan to help settle the turbulence. ... Ties with the West may chill as Tokayev repays his debts to Moscow.”
  • “The crisis leaves Kazakhstan, by Tokayev’s own admission, in urgent need of a reset. He has pledged an overhaul of the economy … and a gutting of the security apparatus—both of which, if poorly executed, could lead to further turmoil. His dark brooding about the role played by ‘free media,’ civic activists and a diaphanous terrorist conspiracy point to the prospect of an authoritarian turn.”
  • “The bloodshed seen in Almaty will calm moods for the foreseeable future. But Kazakhs have latterly developed a taste for street activism, and they see that the government is often inclined to back down when pushed. … If Tokayev’s welfare agenda makes any headway, he may yet obviate the need for especially deep political reform. Should he fail to achieve the former, while also suffocating civil society and free expression, more trouble will lie ahead.”

“The Winter of the Patriarch. The Nazarbayev Era Is Over, but What Comes Next for Kazakhstan?” Nargis Kassenova, Foreign Affairs, 01.18.22. The author, a senior fellow at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, writes:

  • “The era of Nursultan Nazarbayev is over in Kazakhstan.” 
  • “Both the protests and the invitation of Russian troops to help resolve the crisis in Kazakhstan will trigger major reflections among the Kazakh intelligentsia and public on the state of the country. The shakeup of Kazakhstan’s political system and the exposure of its major deficiencies could spur improved governance. Political elites might realize that it’s in their interest to take greater responsibility for the welfare of the general public. Tokayev, however, is still a product of the old system. His government may fail to deliver the promised reforms and lean back on the habits of the Nazarbayev era. But at the very least, events this month have shown that Kazakhs will not quietly allow their leaders to ignore their discontent; they will make their voices heard.”

“Will the Crisis in Kazakhstan Signal Change in Its Foreign Policy?” Alexander Baunov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 01.11.21. The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center and editor in chief of, writes:

  • “What is happening in Kazakhstan has come to resemble a domestic coup on the back of a wave of social protest. … By inviting Russian (CSTO) troops to Kazakhstan, therefore, President Tokayev isn’t just getting valuable reinforcements. He’s reassuring Putin that the attack on his former allies there doesn’t mean a change in political direction. On the contrary, Kazakhstan and Russia will become closer.”
  • “The activation of the CSTO is an unpleasant surprise for the West. During its 2020 war with Azerbaijan, Armenia complained that the CSTO appeared to be a paper tiger. In this instance, it has sprung into action to head off an apparent threat of regime change.”
  • “The protests in Kazakhstan are social, anti-authoritarian, anti-nepotism, and against high levels of debt—but they are not anti-Russian. … Right now, the protesters have neither a clear enemy, nor a clear leader.”
  • “Unlike Russia, Kazakhstan has yet to directly accuse the West of being behind events. This restraint is the Kazakh leadership’s last-ditch attempt to preserve years of balance in the country’s foreign policy.    Nor has the West has yet jettisoned Kazakhstan.”
  • “For Russia, Kazakhstan is both an opportunity to realize its ambitions and a risk that it will be exposed as being incapable of living up to them. For post-Soviet countries, it’s an example of how difficult it is becoming to maintain an equilibrium in the contested space between Russia and the West. The viability of the ‘Western-friendly autocracy’ appears to be almost at an end.”

“Kazakhstan pays the price for ignoring public discontent,” Erica Marat, Financial Times, 01.11.22. The author, associate professor at the College of International Security Affairs of the National Defense University, writes:

  • “Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s former long-serving president, hoped to make his country part of a ‘post-industrial’ world by 2050. For a while, his ambitious vision of a strong economy and social development worked. The economy expanded. His administration reformed the education, pension and law enforcement systems inherited from the Soviet past. Compared with its central Asian neighbors, Kazakhstan built stronger public institutions. But nationwide protests last week showed that the reforms of the past 30 years failed to improve the lives of many.”
  • “The problems with Kazakhstan’s failed reforms are multiple. Nazarbayev engaged technocratic elites in designing them, but the strategy was developed primarily to match his personal vision. Kazakhstan drew inspiration from western practices and Singapore’s economic miracle. Nazarbayev’s administration hired well-paid consultants, including Tony Blair, the former U.K. prime minister, for advice on building a positive image at home and abroad. These methods offered superficially attractive but shallow solutions to complex problems of economic inequality, social mobility and political aspirations.”
  • “Kazakhstan’s reform effort was expensive, but the cost for the regime of ignoring grassroots grievances has proved to be even higher. The country’s example shows that it is hard to implement ambitious reforms without a broad public consensus. The opportunity for Kazakhstan to catch up with advanced, post-industrial nations is not gone. But to achieve it, the regime needs to meet the expectations of its people.”

“Five things I think about Kazakhstan,” Daniel W. Drezner, The Washington Post, 01.10.22. The author, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, writes:

  • “The authoritarian playbook for unexpected social protests has now been codified. The color revolutions and Arab Spring protests took a lot of authoritarian rulers by surprise. Over the past two decades, however, these leaders have begun to perfect their playbook of how to respond to such movements. Crack down on online communications. Blame external agitators for the violence. Use overwhelming force to reestablish control. Ignore external criticisms.”
  • “Authoritarian leadership transitions are tough.”
  • “The Sino-Russian entente is stronger than Washington expected. ... China does not like to see authoritarian governments toppled by popular protests. And this shared concern is one reason that this Kazakhstan business is unlikely to ruffle bilateral Sino-Russian ties.”
  • “21st-century challenges are not just a problem for democracies.”
  • “This is bad for climate change.”

“Kazakhstan Crisis Shows That Russia Still Trumps China's Power in Central Asia; Beijing's huge investments in the region increasingly rely on Russian protection,” Yaroslav Trofimov, The Wall Street Journal, 01.10.22. The author, chief foreign-affairs correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “For years, Russia and China have had a tacit division of labor in the Central Asian region that both consider their strategic backyard: Moscow provided security oversight while Beijing helped develop the area's economies. This month's uprising in Kazakhstan, Central Asia's biggest economy, reaffirmed that Moscow's security primacy remains undisputed—despite China's growing military might and Beijing's recent attempts to expand its own security footprint.”
  • “China has invested tens of billions of dollars in Kazakhstan and the rest of Central Asia, much of it in the oil, gas and minerals sector, over the past decade. ... Yet China, for now at least, doesn't have the military or intelligence capabilities to protect its regional allies in their hour of need. ‘China lacks the kind of tools that Russia possesses, such as the airborne troops who speak a language that the locals would understand, and who are ready to fly out and help,’ said Alexander Gabuev, a China expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center. ‘These Russian paratroopers defend China's own economic interests,’ he added. ‘They protect a secular, pragmatic, friendly regime that's headed by a Sinologist fluent in Chinese.’”
  • “Although all Central Asian states are, to varying degrees, wary of Russia, their former colonial power, China is usually eyed with an even greater suspicion. While no Central Asian government dared to openly criticize Beijing for its repression of ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz in Xinjiang, it is an issue that reverberates within public opinion, particularly in Kazakhstan.”
  • “‘China has a controversial image in Kazakhstan. With Russia, there is a difficult past and the nationalist discourse that has been present over the past 30 years, but the overall attitude toward Russia remains more positive,’ said George Voloshin, a Kazakhstan-born analyst at the Aperio Intelligence consultancy. ‘People understand what to expect from Russia. When it comes to China, the population has much greater fears.’”

“Is the Crisis in Kazakhstan the Rebirth of the Soviet Union?,” John Bolton, The Wall Steet Journal, 01.11.22. The author, national security adviser under Trump, writes:

  • “Belarus and Kazakhstan are prominent candidates for full reintegration into Russia. Moscow has already outright annexed Crimea from Ukraine and achieved de facto control of the Donbas. Two Georgian provinces declared independence, and Transnistria remains outside Moldova’s control. Mr. Putin has a paradigm. Across the former Soviet republics, people with nationalist sentiments of course oppose Russian interference, erosion of sovereignty, and military intervention or annexation. Their problem is their inability to resist without Western support. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania can give thanks they gained NATO membership before European and American feet began to get cold.”
  • “America and NATO must not give an inch to Mr. Putin’s demands, particularly to his insistence that NATO commit not to enlarge further.”
  • “NATO must urgently develop a strategy for the non-NATO former Soviet states. It is insufficient to say we have no treaty obligation to defend them, which ignores strategic reality. Russia’s imperiling of their security will inevitably affect NATO. It is no surprise neutral Finland has unequivocally reaffirmed its sovereign right to decide on NATO membership, and Sweden is increasingly called on to do the same.”
  • “NATO firmness now can render Mr. Putin’s expansionist aims untenable. But if NATO confines itself to rhetoric about the ‘rules-based international order’ and asking all sides to ‘exercise restraint,’ historians may mark the Kazakh crisis as the point where the Soviet Union rose from its ashes.”

“Russia Is Worried About Challenges in the Caucasus,” Eugene Chausovsky, Foreign Policy, 01.14.22. The author, a nonresident fellow at the Newlines Institute, writes:

  • “The Kremlin finds its dominant power status in the former Soviet periphery being challenged from numerous directions, and Russia’s CSTO deployment in Kazakhstan and its military maneuvers along the Ukrainian border are intended to show that Moscow is both able and willing to use military force to maintain its position as the dominant regional power in the post-Soviet space.”
  • “However, such military actions may only take Russia so far, and they have their own risk of blowback. For example, Russia has to consider that its CSTO deployment to Kazakhstan may set a dangerous precedent, as other member states like Armenia are no strangers to mass protests and unrest. For example, if violent demonstrations were to erupt in Armenia in the future, would Russia have to intervene again? And if so, could it be certain such an intervention will succeed? Such questions could become increasingly relevant as Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to stare each other down and Turkey and others look to expand their position in the region. The Caucasus may soon prove to be no less dynamic and consequential than Eastern Europe or Central Asia, both for Russia and the powers with which it contends.”

“Is Kazakhstan the Second Act of the Ukraine Drama?” Leon Aron, AEI/NI, 01.14.22. The author, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes:

  • “With 18 million citizens and a territory of a million square miles, Kazakhstan is too big for an outright takeover, but a plausible target for a limited annexation. Kazakhs had never had their own state, Putin averred. Instead, he continued, the country was ‘created’ by President Nursultan Nazarbayev (who ruled the Central Asian nation between 1991 and 2019) ‘on the territory where no state ever existed.’”
  • “The immediate ‘official’ pretext for a limited invasion is most likely to be a claim that the ethnic Russian minority was endangered by the turmoil: a Crimea-Donbass scenario, with Islamic ‘religious extremists’ in Almaty replacing the ‘Russophobic Nazis’ in Kyiv as an imminent danger to the lives of Russia’s compatriots.”
  • “Busy at the moment with the martial drama he is enacting on the Ukrainian border, Putin’s preference is almost certain to wait and see if President Tokayev can quell the unrest with the assistance of the ‘peacekeepers’ from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a military alliance of Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Yet the temptation to boost his much advertised image as protector of all Russians no matter where they live and, even more so, of an in-gatherer of ‘historic Russian lands,’ lost in the Soviet collapse, may prompt a second edition of the Crimea-Donbass script. Stay tuned!”