Russia Analytical Report, Jan. 16-22, 2018

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

“Our National Obsession With Russia Is Preventing Sane Debate,” Eugene Rumer, Los Angeles Times, 01.22.18The author, a senior fellow and director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes: “We have developed a national obsession with Russia. … For all this, our national conversation about Russia … has barely advanced. The more hysterical we get, the harder it will be for us to have that conversation. … most of what we know today has been known for the better part of a year. … In the meantime, our understanding of other, arguably more important aspects of Russian interference in the 2016 election has barely progressed. We really don’t know what actual effect all this Russian activity had on our election. … It’s unclear, then, if Russia is even worth obsessing about in this manner. … Resilience has become a buzzword … . But we don’t know … whether our cyberdefenses … are any stronger today. We don’t appear to have made our public discourse more impervious to fake and distorted news. … We need to understand how we ended up in a new Cold War with Russia … . We should look at our record and ask ourselves whether we have done everything right … . Russia is not going away. … Putin is poised to be reelected in March … we should not count on his successor to become our friend. Sanctions are no substitute for effective policy. … A few decades ago, when Russia was weak, it was fashionable to think that Russia did not matter. Clearly, this is no longer the case. That’s what our national conversation should be about.”

Containing Russia, Again An Adversary Attacked the United States—It’s Time to Respond,” Robert D. Blackwill and Philip H. Gordon, Foreign Affairs, 01.18.18The authors, senior fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, write: “Whereas physical attacks on the U.S. homeland, such as Pearl Harbor or 9/11, have brought Americans together … an assault on the American sense of national unity could weaken … institutions and shared beliefs … . We come only reluctantly to the conclusion that the United States needs to confront Russia more forcefully. As it did during the Cold War, Washington should continue to interact with Moscow and to cooperate with it whenever cooperation is in the U.S. interest. … [The U.S.] should work closely with European partners to impose asset freezes and visa bans on additional Kremlin officials now known to be involved in election interference and extend similar sanctions on Russian organizations … U.S. officials should emphasize that all these measures are defensive and not designed to change the Russian regime—a fear Putin has harbored for years. … An additional U.S. armored combat brigade should be permanently stationed in Poland, along with multinational battalions in the Baltic states and the prepositioning of more equipment closer to NATO’s eastern flank. … On Ukraine, if Russia does not fully implement the February 2015 Minsk II cease-fire agreement or any successor to it, the United States should expand sanctions … . These sanctions should target the defense, mining and energy sectors … Washington should also provide additional defensive support to Ukraine … . Finally, to reduce European reliance on Russian energy, the administration and Congress should continue to remove restrictions on U.S. oil and gas exports. … If this package of measures sounds like a prescription for a new Cold War with Russia, it is. … Russia has demonstrated that it will not be a partner, strategically or tactically, in the foreseeable future.”

“The Pentagon Says China and Russia Are Bigger Problems for US Than Terrorists. American Voters May Not Agree,” Adam Taylor, The Washington Post, 01.21.18The author, a reporter for the news outlet, writes: “A newly released Pentagon strategy document proposes a new vision of America's national security priorities—one in which competition with China and Russia is more important to the United States than the fight against international terrorism. … Do American voters agree? Perhaps not. A number of polls conducted over the past year show that Americans remain deeply concerned about the threat posed by international terrorism, while they appear to be underwhelmed by the risks posed by a rising China or a belligerent Russia. That disconnect between U.S. voters and the U.S. national security apparatus may become an issue down the road. … There is little sign that the U.S. public is more concerned about the threat posed by China or Russia—or that it has stopped caring deeply about international terrorism. … Pew's data show that Americans aren't alone in prioritizing terrorism over Chinese and Russian threats. In 38 countries polled, it found concern about the Islamic State was double that found for Chinese or Russian power.”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“America and Russia May Find Themselves in a Nuclear Arms Race Once Again,” Richard Burt and Jon Wolfsthal, The National Interest, 01.17.18The authors, the former U.S. chief negotiator of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the is director of the Nuclear Crisis Group, write: “The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) will soon be released, and while claiming to seek a world where nuclear weapons use is less likely, the review’s recommendations would actually expand the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons. … The draft … seeks to add two new nuclear weapons to the American arsenal and would significantly lower the threshold for nuclear use. … Sadly, the document gives short shrift to the need to revitalize the moribund arms control and reduction process … . Much of the document rightly focused on enhancing deterrence with Russia and making clear to Moscow—and North Korea—that any decision to use nuclear weapons would bring about severe consequences to the attacker. … However, the … only mention of arms control and diplomatic engagement to reduce nuclear risks appear at the end of the document, almost tacked on as a fig leaf to show that the issue was not entirely ignored. … Russia’s alleged violation of the INF Treaty gets … much more [attention than] any consideration of how to use engagement, diplomacy and verification to reverse the dangerous trends in U.S.-Russian nuclear matters. … This ongoing arms competition is fueling a new dangerous dynamic that could threaten the security of Russia and the United States … . Until senior leadership in both countries understand that the alternative to effectively managing this competition is nuclear chaos, nothing will be done.”

“Russia Denies It Violates the INF Treaty. OK, Show It,” Steven Pifer, The Moscow Times, 01.22.18The author, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes: “The U.S. government charges that Russia has violated the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by testing and deploying a prohibited intermediate-range cruise missile. Russian officials deny the missile in question—the Russian designator 9M729—can fly that far. There is a pathway that might resolve the impasse: the Russian military could exhibit the missile and explain its characteristics to make their point. … Russian and U.S. officials could use the Special Verification Commission established by the INF Treaty to work out procedures for Russia to exhibit a 9M729 to U.S. technical experts. … Something akin to an exhibition resolved a major 1980s compliance question. … U.S. and Soviet negotiators in 1987 agreed on the Joint Verification Experiment: U.S. monitors would be on-site and take measurements during a nuclear test at the Soviet site in Semipalatinsk. Soviet monitors would do the same during a U.S. nuclear test in Nevada. … Russian officials say that the Aegis Ashore launchers for SM-3 missile interceptors in Romania, which will also become operational this year in Poland, can hold prohibited cruise missiles … . To address this concern, U.S. officials could offer to let Russian experts visit the interceptor sites and open some number of the launchers to show that they contain SM-3 missile interceptors, not prohibited cruise missiles.”


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

“Turkish Onslaught in Syria Gives Putin New Victory Headache,” Henry Meyer, Bloomberg, 01.22.18The author, a contributor for the news outlet, writes: “It’s only been a month since Russian President Vladimir Putin made a flying visit to Syria to declare victory in the civil war he helped turn around. Winning the peace—or even preserving it—already looks like a huge challenge.  Like almost everything that happens in Syria now, Turkey’s unfolding attack on Kurdish militias just south of its border is Putin’s problem.” Russia’s plans “to shift the contest from military to diplomatic ground, and legitimize Assad’s rule … are in trouble. … Most urgent is Turkey’s intervention … against the Kurdish-held town of Afrin in northwest Syria, which threatens to open a new front in a conflict Russia is trying to end. … Russia is right that ‘the balance of power is shifting away’ from the exiled opposition, which is largely based in Turkey and Saudi Arabia … . But the exiles hold one trump-card as the sole opposition bloc represented at United Nations-sponsored peace talks. … Western powers have another lever in their efforts to get rid of Assad. An estimated $300 billion is needed to rebuild the war-shattered country. The U.S. and its allies will ‘withhold reconstruction aid to regime-held areas’ as long as Assad is in power.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“Americans Have Become Paranoid About Foreign Cyberattacks on Their Political System, but They Have Nobody but Themselves to Blame,” Henry Farrell, Foreign Policy, 01.17.18The author, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, writes that “Russian influence operations are real, but they are neither as Machiavellian nor as successful in changing people’s minds as they first appear. … a loose collective of Russians, with incredibly meager resources, have been working together in a disorganized way to probe American democracy for weaknesses.  … If a semi-incompetent social media campaign is all that one needs to send American politics into a halting state, then America’s troubles are far more fundamental than Russian interference. … Russia’s relative success in the United States … is because Russian operatives have chanced upon real weaknesses in U.S. democracy, and American elites are unintentionally giving them a helping hand. … In America … distrust and profound disagreements over facts have led to a kind of crisis of democratic knowledge that leaves democracy open to outside manipulation.” The “biggest consequence” of Russian social media activities “may be to spread the belief that Russian influence operations are ubiquitous and wildly successful. … It is unsurprising that there is little evidence that Russian activities have, for example, led to significant changes in what people think. … Yet the simple fact of their existence has spread suspicion and even paranoia about their extent and effectiveness.”

“The Truth About the FBI's Russia Probe,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 01.17.18The author, a veteran foreign correspondent-turned-columnist, writes: “A careful look at the evidence rebuts the claim … that the [FBI’s] operations are in disarray. … What about Republican claims that Steele spawned what Trump calls a ‘witch hunt’? … When Steele contacted the FBI in mid-2016 with information about Trump and the Russians, he was already a valued source. On about July 4, 2016, he met with his FBI friend in London to share … the first chapter of his eventual dossier. In that first report, Steele's sources claimed that Russia had been ‘cultivating’ Trump for at least five years. … Steele's information didn't get much high-level attention at first. … Australian intelligence told the FBI about an unusual conversation two months earlier between Australia's London high commissioner and George Papadopoulos, a Trump foreign policy adviser. …  Based on the Australian account … the bureau requested another meeting with Steele to dig deeper. … the FBI official asked Steele if he had ever heard of Papadopoulos … . Steele hadn't. … Far from a yarn concocted by Steele, the FBI probe was driven by its own independent reporting about Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty last October to lying about his Russia contacts. The bottom line: There may be something in tatters at the center of this investigation, but it isn't the FBI.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Russia's Presidential Election Runs Into Reality,” Nikolas K. Gvosdev, The National Interest, 01.21.18The author, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, writes: “Before a single ballot is cast, a majority of the U.S. political establishment will already consider the results of [Russia’s presidential election] poll to be illegitimate.” Following the election, “two looming problems … will still be there. … There doesn’t seem to be an overarching, compelling, captivating vision for the fourth term, other than the slogan ‘A strong president for a strong Russia.’ … the problem of political succession … still has not been solved. Putin, in many ways, cannot give up power because he and those around him would not have the political and legal guarantees that they require. … There is no authoritative or binding mechanism and process by which the factions within the ruling elite can select and agree on new leaders. … The other problem … is the question of Russia’s role in the Eurasian region and the world.  … In the West, there remains the assumption that our foreign-policy problems with Russia are personal: that they stem from Putin. … The reality is that any leader in the Kremlin pursuing Russian national interests is likely to have points of friction with the United States … Russians—and the world—will wake up on March 19 to find that not much has changed. But the clock counting down towards domestic and international crises will be running.”

“Contrary to Expectations, US-Russian Relations Deteriorate Under President Trump,” Thomas Graham, Russia Matters, 01.18.18The author, managing director at Kissinger Associates, writes: “Donald Trump’s presidency began a year ago with widespread expectations of improvement in U.S.-Russian relations … . His first year in office ends, however, with relations in worse shape than he found them. … rebuilding relations was never going to be easy after their near total collapse in Obama’s final years. … The task was further complicated by the absence of any credible signs of Russian flexibility. … Moreover, during the campaign, observers read more than warranted into Trump’s warm words for Putin and hope for closer relations. … Tellingly, all Trump’s nominees … advocated a harder line toward Russia than Trump did. … Finally, as Trump assumed office, his petulant refusal to accept the Intelligence Community’s firm judgment that Russia had actively meddled in the presidential campaign helped forge a broad bipartisan front in Congress determined to prevent him from drawing closer to Russia. … One might think that relations had nowhere to go but up. But the omens suggest otherwise, that relations will continue to deteriorate … . In the next two weeks or so, the administration will release the so-called ‘Kremlin list’ of wealthy Russian businessmen with close ties to the Kremlin. … To make matters worse, the political calendars in both countries militate against a near-term easing in tension. … Rather than sharpening the differences, Russia and the United States should be seeking ways to contain the disorder and build a new and enduring global order … there is an urgent need to ease the tensions before an inadvertent nuclear conflict, catastrophic terrorist attacks or other disasters befall both Russia and the United States.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“An EU-Russia Modus Vivendi in the East?” Andrey Devyatkov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 01.17.18: The author, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic Research, sees modest “signs that the EU and Russia are managing their relations better in their common neighborhood.” Through its Eastern Partnership initiative the EU “managed to devise a new agreement … with Armenia that does not touch on trade issues but aims to strengthen cooperation in areas such as public sector reform, the energy market, combating illegal migration and the education sector.” The agreement has won praise—even in a European Parliament resolution—“as a positive example of a nation being part of both the [Moscow-led] EEU and the Eastern Partnership.” Russia “reacted calmly” to the agreement and “is signaling policy shifts in other areas of the shared neighborhood with the EU.” These include: a draft resolution for deploying U.N. peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine; an exchange of prisoners with Kiev; cooperation with the EU on some practical solutions to several long-standing problems in the Transdniestria conflict; and acceptance of “a Moldovan-Ukrainian customs checkpoints on the Transdniestrian segment of their border” and “Transdniestria’s de facto accession to the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between Moldova and the EU. … Although a ‘grand bargain’ is not possible at the moment, the two sides [EU and Russia] have a common interest in halting a deterioration in relations.”


  • No significant commentary. 


“A New Peace Effort Is Needed in East Ukraine A new Ukrainian law recognizes the demise of the Minsk agreements. This shouldn't be the end of the road,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 01.19.18: The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes that, “for the last three years, the West's approach to the conflict in eastern Ukraine has been through the Minsk agreements. Now Russia says a new Ukrainian law buries the deal. In reality, Minsk has been dead for a while—in large part because Germany and France, which helped negotiate it, have done nothing to enforce it. … The new [Ukrainian] law essentially disavows … promises” made under the Minsk accords, but it didn’t kill the deal, the author argues. “Russia is responsible for failing to make the ceasefire work and have heavy weaponry pulled back from the separation line. Ukraine, for its part, has not worked to make an election [in rebel-held areas] even theoretically possible: That would have looked to voters like a betrayal of national interest. … As soon as Germany has a government, Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron should try to revive Minsk, building on Putin's willingness in principle to allow United Nations peacekeepers into eastern Ukraine.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“ASEAN, Uzbek-Style: Tashkent’s New Ambitions in Central Asia,” Rafael Sattarov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 01.19.18: The author, a young political analyst focusing on Central Asia, writes that “Tashkent is trying to emerge from the isolation imposed by the late president, Islam Karimov, … and to create a new, more open economic order in Central Asia.” The new Uzbek leader, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, wants “to drag the Uzbek economy out of stagnation. And to that end, any tactic is considered… Russian companies plan to invest about $16 billion in Uzbekistan, while the Uzbek side plans to increase exports of fruit, vegetables, and cars to the Russian market. … Tashkent is trying to get across the message to its neighbors that economic prosperity is the key to everything, and that this goal is worth forgetting other petty grievances and putting major problematic issues on hold.” Uzbekistan has proposed economic integration projects, cross-border trade and developing ways to share the region’s water—long a contentious topic.  “Tashkent believes that effective cooperation in Central Asia has the potential to double regional GDP. … Discussions have even begun about the possibility of Uzbekistan entering the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), although the current foreign policy doctrine still classifies integration projects within the former Soviet space as an obstacle to the development of trade and economic relations with other countries, as well as a limit on sovereignty. … Tashkent appears to be firmly set on replicating the ‘Asian paradox’ … in which political problems are no hindrance to the development of economic relations.”

“Russian Military Intervention in Kazakhstan,” Dmitry Gorenburg, American Enterprise Institute, 01.17.18: The author, a military analyst and senior research scientist at CNA, writes that “Kazakhstan’s size and Russia’s lack of significant military presence in the region make outright invasion unlikely. … Nevertheless, the death or deposition of … President Nursultan Nazarbayev could generate regional instability, which may prompt Russia to intervene in support of a new regime or to undermine a newly empowered Kazakh nationalist one. … The likeliest cause of intervention would be to put down an Islamist insurgency, either with or without a request from Astana.”

“A Troubling Scenario for Kazakhstan,” Paul Stronski, American Enterprise Institute, 01.17.18: The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes that Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev “has anchored the country’s political system for over a quarter century, making the uncertainty of his eventual succession a potential flash point for instability. … In the event of volatility in Kazakhstan, Russia would, at a minimum, seek to secure its own borders and also possibly intervene on the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians living in Kazakhstan’s northern regions, potentially even seizing some territory in the process. … Unstable neighbors, the potential for militant Islamism and a precarious economic situation pose threats that Nazarbayev or a less competent successor may not be able to control.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Putin 4.0: The President’s New Modus Operandi,” Tatyana Stanovaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 01.18.18: The author, director of the analytical department of the Center of Political Technologies in Moscow, writes that “Putin is sending signals that his fourth term will be governed by an entirely new set of rules. … Throughout his tenure, Putin came to be seen as a hands-on leader with strong authoritarian tendencies, a command of public policy and an ability to transcend partisanship by acting as an arbiter among his managers. Now, almost none of those qualities remain. … Putin has finally transferred the task of domestic governance to a lower, technical level. His absence of leadership in domestic politics has created a power vacuum, allowing independent domestic initiatives to emerge. … In the political sphere, the real threat to Putin’s power comes from the non-systemic opposition, as the Kremlin-sanctioned political opposition has lost relevance in the current system.”

“Dominant oligarchs leave Russian companies exposed: Action against bosses linked to Putin has disproportionate impact on businesses,” Neil Buckley, Financial Times, 01.17.18: “Since French police detained Suleiman Kerimov in Nice in November and placed the Russian oligarch under formal investigation for suspected tax fraud, shares in Polyus, the Russian gold miner his family controls, have tumbled 12 percent. … The Kerimov case highlights a broader issue with Russian corporates: the extent to which they are one-man bands, associated with a dominant shareholder. … The phenomenon presents a particular risk” ahead of the release of the so-called oligarch list by the U.S. Treasury, which will identify wealthy Russians close to President Vladimir Putin. Even if the individuals on the list are not sanctioned, simply having their name there “could make tycoons ‘toxic for lots of investors or counterparties,’ says Chris Weafer of Macro-Advisory.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.