Russia Analytical Report, Jan. 16-22, 2024

3 Ideas to Explore

  1. The U.S. and some of Ukraine’s European allies are “selling” Kyiv a strategy of “active defense” in hopes that it will enable the Ukrainian military to first repel a large-scale offensive, which the Russian army may launch as soon as this summer, and then launch its own offensive campaign with newly accumulated resources next year, according to FT. In the short-term, this strategy, as seen from Washington, would facilitate “entrenching positions and beefing up supplies and forces over the coming months” to prevent Russia from capturing the remainder of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, according to FT. One essential element of this “beefing up” of forces should be personnel reinforcements, but Ukraine’s civilian and military leaders are yet to agree on how many to call up and who should bear the prime responsibility for what would likely to be an unpopular and costly[1] measure. Ukraine’s military spymaster Kyrylo Budanov weighed in on this dispute on Jan. 21, telling FT that “it is not even conceivable to think that we can do without mobilization.” Whether Ukraine can finance mobilization of up to half a million is an open question, given that the delays in U.S. and EU aid, which Kyiv has hoped would cover $30 billion out of a $40 billion financial shortfall this year, according to WSJ.*
  2. Ukraine has lost its advantages in the drone war with Russia, which has not only copied the Ukrainian forces’ successes in using UAVs, but has also been outproducing it while maintaining superiority in EW, according to ex-CEO of Google Eric Schmidt. To fill the recent gaps in innovation and procurement, Ukraine needs its allies to provide sustained financial and technical support, Schmidt argues in a commentary for FA. “The West needs to back a concerted military effort to push back Russian forces and a diplomatic effort to bring the parties to the negotiating table,” according to Schmidt, who predicts that “the next few months will be difficult for Ukraine.” Echoing Schmidt in FA is Ukraine’s ex-defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk, who considers the deployment of more capable EW systems and drones to be important elements of “how Ukraine can regain its edge.”
  3. A series of attacks and smear campaigns targeting prominent Ukrainian journalists has cast a shadow over Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s record on safeguarding media freedom, according to FT. Recently, investigative journalist Yuriy Nikolov, who exposed corruption in the defense ministry, was targeted by several men, who banged on his door, yelling that he would be sent to the front line, and plastered signs that called him a “traitor” and “provocateur,” FT reported on Jan. 18. Nikolov’s articles led to the resignation of defense minister Oleskiy Reznikov, who was not directly accused of graft, and Zelenskyy saying he would demand greater transparency and reforms. The incident targeting Nikolov was followed by what appeared to be a coordinated campaign to discredit Bihus.info, an investigative news outfit in Kyiv that has spent years exposing government corruption, according to the FT article, entitled “Ukrainian media targeted by pro-Zelenskyy ‘info army.’”

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“‘Active defense’: how Ukraine plans to survive 2024,” Christopher Miller, Ian Bott and Steven Bernard, FT, 01.19.24.

  • One western official working on Ukraine policy believes there is “little prospect of an operational breakthrough by either side in 2024” let alone in the next few months. This reality has been acknowledged in Kyiv, where President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared in early December that “a new phase” has set in.
  • A western official says that a strategy of “active defense” — holding defensive lines but probing for weak spots to exploit coupled with long-range air strikes — would allow Ukraine to “build out its forces” this year and prepare for 2025, when a counteroffensive would have a better chance. But several factors are likely to determine Ukraine’s fortunes.
  • Ukrainian spirits have fallen and polls indicate that the unprecedented unity shown at the start of the war may be fracturing. More crucially, the country is now facing a mobilization challenge.   
  • It is Russia’s gains on the battlefield that have forced Ukraine into adopting a more defensive posture — a strategy supported by Kyiv’s strongest allies. The Estonian defense ministry published a report in December saying Ukraine should switch to a “strategic defense” …  That aligns with the strategy that Washington is reportedly selling to Ukraine. … Instead of ground offensives, the focus would be to hold the territory it has now, entrenching positions and beefing up supplies and forces over the coming months. 
    • Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine’s number two commander in charge of ground forces, suggested this week that the strategy does not amount to a drastic shift. “Our goals remain unchanged: holding our positions . . . exhausting the enemy by inflicting maximum losses,” he told Reuters.
  • There are others in Kyiv who worry that relying only on a defensive strategy would be detrimental to Ukraine’s war effort. Focusing on containment with no offensive component would be “a mistake of historic proportions,” warns Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former defense minister of Ukraine.
  • Another reason for Ukraine to increase focus on strengthening defences, suggest Ukrainian security officials speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues, is that Russia may be planning a large-scale offensive as early as summer.  Its goal would be to capture the remainder of the four regions — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — Putin claimed to have annexed in September 2022. In addition, the officials say, another attempt at Kharkiv or even Kyiv was not out of the question. 
  • The western official working on Ukraine policy says: “It’s probably fair to say that the Ukrainian system is entirely dependent on the continued military assistance from the west.”

“Ukraine Is Losing the Drone War. How Kyiv Can Close the Innovation Gap With Russia,” Eric Schmidt, FA, 01.22.24.

  • The use of drones has underpinned many of Ukraine’s recent successes on the battlefield. In its campaign in the Black Sea…Ukraine’s attacks on Russia’s maritime forces have kept sea lanes in the region clear enough for grain shipments, which are vital to Ukraine’s economy, to resume. ... The drone strikes have also denied Russia the option to fire missiles on Ukrainian territory from offshore ships and have weakened Russia’s defense of Crimea and position in the Black Sea. ... Ukrainian drone strikes have also reached deeper and deeper into Russia in recent months. 
  • In other ways, however, Kyiv has lost its advantages in the drone war. Russian forces have copied many of the tactics that Ukraine pioneered over the summer, including waging large coordinated attacks that use multiple types of drones. 
  • Since late 2022, Russia has used a combination of two domestically produced drones, the Orlan-10 (a surveillance drone) and the Lancet (an attack drone), to destroy everything from high-value artillery systems to combat jets and tanks. Ukraine surpassed Russia in drone attacks early in the conflict, but it has no combination of drones that match Russia’s dangerous new duo.
  • Russia’s superior electronic warfare capabilities allow it to jam and spoof the signals between Ukrainian drones and their pilots. If Ukraine is to neutralize Russian drones, its forces will need the same capabilities. ... Most Western-supplied weapons have fared poorly against Russia’s antiaircraft systems and electronic attacks … U.S. weapons in particular can often be thwarted via GPS jamming. 
  • Ukrainian officials estimate that Russia can now produce or procure around 100,000 drones per month, whereas Ukraine can only churn out half that amount. … Russia has doubled the number of tanks built annually before the invasion, from 100 to 200. Russian companies are also manufacturing munitions far more cheaply than their Western counterparts, often compromising on safety to do so: a 152-millimeter artillery shell costs around $600 to produce in Russia, whereas a 155-millimeter shell costs up to ten times that much to produce in the West. … [O]ne of Russia’s drones of choice, the Shahed, is far less expensive than the air defense systems required to neutralize it.
  • The next few months will be difficult for Ukraine. … Only with more and better weapons systems—both offensive and defensive—can Ukraine turn the tide on the battlefield. Filling this gap in innovation and procurement will require sustained financial and technical support from Kyiv’s allies.
  • The West needs to back a concerted military effort to push back Russian forces and a diplomatic effort to bring the parties to the negotiating table. 

“How the Drone War in Ukraine Is Transforming Conflict,” Kristen D. Thompson, CFR, 01.16.24.

  • During earlier stages of the war…Ukraine relied on larger drones, such as the Turkish TB2 Bayraktar, to great effect. As time progressed and Russia took greater control of the skies, it was able to detect and shoot down these larger models.
  • The more abundant, smaller drones are proving to be serious game changers in that they have given Ukraine better battlespace awareness and more capability to hit targets…[by] single-use strikes with high precision while remaining less susceptible to Russian air defense systems.
  • [Drones] compress the so-called kill chain, shortening the time from when a target is detected to when it is destroyed and they can bolster a military’s ability to reconnoiter the forward edge of the battlefield. 
    • Drones with longer endurance profiles can effectively conduct hours of reconnaissance…[and] battle and collateral damage assessments or [expose] war crimes.
  • Drones are susceptible to air defenses. However, the continual use of [interceptor] systems…can be prohibitively costly, as a single drone could cost thousands or even millions of dollars to intercept. An emerging challenge of counter-drone defense is the need to develop and employ a system that is cheaper than its target.
  • While Russia seeks to build pockets of air superiority and bolster its drone production and anti-drone defenses, Ukraine continues to develop both more and less sophisticated solutions.
    • Russia finished constructing a drone factory in Tatarstan [to produce] an estimated six thousand Shahed-136 prototypes…by mid-2025.
    • Ukraine’s ability to acquire and crowdsource commercial drone technology, tactically modify drones in the field based on real-time feedback and alter tactics to defeat anti-drone systems have proved to be crucial to its war effort.

“Kyrylo Budanov: the Ukrainian military spy chief who ‘likes the darkness,”’ Christopher Miller, FT, 01.21.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • Ukraine’s military spymaster, Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov knows this will be a trying year for Ukraine. ... “To say that everything is fine is not true,” Budanov said when asked about Ukraine’s much-vaunted counteroffensive last year failing to achieve its objectives. “To say that there is a catastrophe is also not true.” Ukraine will still manage to keep Putin at bay, he predicted, and has already proved that “the whole legend of [Russia’s] power is a soap bubble.”
  • Budanov was reluctant to offer an assessment of Ukraine’s current military operations, deferring to the army’s general staff. But he warned that “it is not even conceivable to think that we can do without mobilization” — echoing the top brass’s call for more recruits. “The shortage [of manpower] is palpable,” he said.
  • Turning to arms production, Budanov said Russia was expending more weapons and munitions than it can make, while struggling with quality control. “This is precisely what explains Russia’s search for weapons in other countries,” he said. North Korea is Russia’s biggest arms supplier at present, Budanov said. “They did transfer a significant amount of artillery ammunition. This allowed Russia to breathe a little.” He added: “Without their help, the situation would have been catastrophic.”
  • Another challenge facing Russia is manpower. Moscow is losing as many or more troops than it can recruit, according to Budanov. His aide, Vadym Skibitskyi, said this week that about 1,000 to 1,100 people join the Russian army every day, through mobilization or voluntarily.
  • Budanov declined to make any bold predictions for 2024. “No,” he said. “I hope that our success will be greater than theirs.” 

“How Ukraine Can Regain Its Edge. Technology and the Element of Surprise Can Put Russia on the Back Foot,” Andriy Zagorodnyuk, FA, 01.17.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views. 

  • To win the war, Ukraine and allies should draw lessons from its nonlinear successes on land and at sea. The country must have the technologies needed to destroy Russian fortified positions, along with the equipment to interfere with Russian drones. This largely boils down to long-range firepower—including ammunition, missiles, aviation, drones—and electronic warfare systems. If the West cannot donate such weapons to Ukraine, it can help Ukrainians build them. 
    • Kyiv must regain technological superiority. 
    • Kyiv must keep using large conventional weapons systems to implement comprehensive operational concepts. 
  • Ukraine may be able to innovate better than Russia, but it cannot defeat the country on wit and creativity alone. Ukraine has no intention of capitulating in any scenario, but a long war that increasingly burdens Ukraine’s military, society, and economy will have disastrous consequences.  For the West, such a scenario would be both devastating and dangerous. 
  • Once it proves that the West will not enforce its strategic position, Russia can erode the bloc’s security architecture by constantly challenging Western countries and then agreeing to preserve the fragile status quo, but only with major concessions to Russia. Eventually, of course, that status quo will no longer benefit the West.
  • NATO leaders know these facts. The U.S. government, especially, has repeatedly issued many statements explaining why the West must support Ukraine, focusing on the conflict’s precedential value and historical significance. Yet despite this rhetoric, the U.S. government is not providing enough resources to win. That must change. 
  • Ukraine has an unwavering determination to win. If Kyiv is backed by the combined Western economy, and even a fraction of the West’s combined defense budgets, it will be fully capable of succeeding. In these circumstances, victory is not a question of possibility. It is, instead, a question of the correct strategy and policy. Most of all, it is a question of choice.

“Ukraine’s chief spy argues that its security deal with Britain is a game-changer: Russia can be deterred if other Western countries offer similar assurances, says Oleksandr Lytvynenko,” The Economist, 01.19.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views. 

  • Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, hopes that victory over Ukraine will help him regain control over the former Soviet republics on the principles of Russian imperialism that both preceded and have followed the communist era. The Kremlin understands that if Ukraine falls, it will be easier to reclaim other former Soviet republics. If Ukraine stands, it is a matter of time before Russia loses influence over the South Caucasus and Central Asia. 
  •  Russia also understands that it cannot achieve its goals there without disrupting the global order. ... Russia and its accomplices enjoy a great privilege. They are fighting with brute force to create a new global order, while many in the West are primarily seeking to use soft power to preserve the old one that emerged from the cold war. ... [I]f Russia fails to defeat Ukraine on the battlefield, its global goals will be significantly undermined. Strengthening Ukraine’s defense and security capabilities and ensuring the resilience of society and the state is the easiest and cheapest way for the West to stop Russia and other revisionist states. 
  • Today, Ukraine is able to repel Russian aggression with adequate Western military and economic support. That support will remain effective if it is prolonged (until the Russian aggression stops) and comprehensive (encompassing political, economic, military and intelligence support as well as help countering cyber-warfare and disinformation). The most recent example of this approach is the signing of the Agreement on Security Co-operation between Ukraine and Britain on Jan. 12. 
  • By signing the security agreement, Britain has taken a step in deterring the Russians. When others follow suit, their combined efforts will have a big impact on Russia’s war of aggression and on its future ambitions. To secure victory, Ukraine needs such joint efforts. The long road is made up of many steps.

“Every investment in the confidence of the defender shortens the war – speech by the President of Ukraine to the participants of the special meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos 16 January 2024,” official web site of the Ukrainian president, 01.16.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views. 

  • If anyone thinks this is only about Ukraine, they’re fundamentally mistaken. Possible directions and even timeline of a new Russian aggression beyond Ukraine become more and more obvious. Let me ask very honestly: which European nation today can provide a combat ready army on par with ours, holding back Russia? And how many men and women are your nations ready to send to defend another state, another nation?
  • Before the full-scale invasion, we constantly heard – don’t escalate! We called for proactive action, sanctions to prevent war expansion. We were told: don’t escalate. And after February 24th, nothing harmed our coalitions more than this concept.....Because of “don’t escalate,” time was lost. The lives of many of our most experienced warriors, who fought since 2014, were lost. 
  •  We can prove that Russia will reconcile with the complete loss of its Black Sea Fleet, which terrorized commercial ships. We must gain air superiority for Ukraine, just as we have gained superiority at the Black Sea. We can do it. Partners know what’s needed and in what quantities. This will allow progress on the ground.
  • How can one be satisfied with the sanctions against Russia or export controls if they don’t even block its missile production? 
  • This year must be decisive. Can freezing the war in Ukraine be its end? ...Putin is a predator who is not satisfied with frozen products. And we have to defend ourselves, our children, our houses, our lives. We have to do it. We can beat him on the ground. 
  • We must make it possible to answer the most important question: the war will end – with a just and stable peace. And I want you to be the part of this peace – starting from right now – to bring the peace closer. 
  • And these days, right here in such a beautiful country, in Switzerland, we have made a key political contribution to the possibility of ending the war.  There was the most representative meeting of national security advisors regarding the implementation of the Peace Formula. More than 80 countries and international institutions were represented. Yesterday, I had very productive negotiations with the President of Switzerland, discussing the possibility of holding a summit at the leaders’ level in Switzerland – the first summit, the Global Peace Summit. Today, our teams have already begun work on organizing such a summit. Not the World War Three, but the Global Peace Summit. And I invite every leader and country that respects peace and international law to join us.

Military aid to Ukraine:

“Ukraine's $30 Billion Problem: How to Keep Fighting Without Foreign Aid; Kyiv could delay salaries, return to printing money if funding from U.S. and EU falls through,” Chelsey Dulaney, WSJ, 01.22.24.

  • Ukraine will run out of money within months and be forced to take painful economic measures to keep the government running if aid from the U.S. or Europe doesn't come through, according to economists and Ukrainian officials.
  • The country faces a $40 billion-plus financial shortfall this year, slightly smaller than 2023's gap. Funding from the U.S. and EU was expected to cover some $30 billion of that. 
  • Ukraine has introduced a windfall tax on banks, reallocated some tax revenues and ramped up domestic borrowing, which should cover budget spending through February, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Finance... Ultimately, Kyiv could be forced into printing money, a strategy that has fueled economic implosions in countries such as Venezuela.
  • Concerns over Ukraine's financial stability have weighed on the national currency, the hryvnia. The central bank spent a net $3.6 billion in December propping up the currency, the biggest monthly intervention since the early days of the war
  • Since Russia's invasion in February 2022, the U.S. and EU together have been responsible for about 70% of the financial aid Ukraine has received. Ukraine thought it would receive new financing from those two partners early this year. Instead, the EU's aid package, worth 50 billion euros or the equivalent of about $55 billion over four years, was blocked by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
  • Meanwhile, Republicans seeking changes to U.S. border policy have blocked the U.S.'s $60 billion aid package. The White House last week signaled it was willing to make concessions on immigration to unlock aid for Ukraine and Israel. But a deal being crafted in the Senate continues to face steep odds on Capitol Hill, with House Republicans making tougher demands.
  • Ukraine can pull together $8 billion and balance its budget for the first three months of the year by tapping leftover funding from 2023, delaying salaries and other noncritical spending, and increasing domestic borrowing, estimated Olena Bilan, the Dragon Capital economist.
  • Kyiv is spending nearly all of the revenue it collects on defense, an outlay that is likely to get even larger as it seeks to mobilize hundreds of thousands of new troops this year. Sending a single soldier to the front line costs Ukraine 1 million hryvnia a year, equivalent to about $26,000, said Natalia Shapoval of KSE Institute.
  • The U.S. and its partners are also exploring using some of the $300 billion in frozen Russian central-bank reserves to back loans to Ukraine. Economists warn that those efforts could take years to bear fruit. 

“The Battle for Aid To Ukraine Is Just Getting Started,” Jacob Heilbrunn, NI, 01.19.24. 

  • House Speaker Mike Johnson, who is in close contact with Trump, seems averse to bringing up a Ukraine aid bill. With conservatives already enraged by his approval for extending the funding of the federal government, he has little incentive to defy them once more on assistance to Ukraine. He says that he isn’t fixated on Ukraine but is concerned about a “national security and a humanitarian catastrophe” inside America’s border.
  • The question is whether Johnson will remain intransigent. To what degree is he engaging in public posturing, and to what degree will he seek a way out from the current impasse? Some Democrats are proposing a deal to protect Johnson himself should he allow a vote on aid. House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith, for example, is making it clear that Democrats would vote to support Johnson as speaker were he to face a revolt from his right-wing flank.
  • For now, Johnson and other conservatives are banking that Trump can win the presidency and they can get the immigration bill they truly want after 2024. More seasoned legislators, such as Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, know this is likely a pipedream. If Senate Republicans and the Biden administration reach a compromise on the border and send the bill to the House, the onus will be on Johnson. If he kills the bill, it hands Biden a political victory. And if the House narrowly passes the bill, it’s also a triumph for Biden.
  • Biden’s progressive flank will denounce him for caving to conservative demands on the border, but his readiness to compromise has served him well in the past. Biden’s whole presidency has been premised on the contention that he could restore normalcy to Washington. A legislative win on the border would be no small achievement for him. But if the House Republicans balked, he could head into the election year like Harry Truman in 1948—he could denounce a do-nothing Congress that sold out America’s allies in Ukraine, threatened international alliances, and refused to entertain any compromise on the border to boot. This is why a Ukraine financial aid deal is not dead. There are plenty of reasons for Republicans to support it. This is why Rogin and others may be premature in declaring Ukraine aid null and void. Trump’s battle with Biden and McConnell is not over. It has just begun.

“A MAGA-created nightmare is unfolding for Ukraine,” Josh Rogin, WP, 01.19.24 is also worth skimming. 

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

“Transferring frozen Russian reserves to Ukraine is elegant justice,” Robert Zoellick, FT, 01.21.24. 

  • If countries believe that they cannot conquer and annex their neighbors without losing access to their global reserves, that is a good thing.
  • With little risk, consider the diplomatic, economic, and legal gains from transferring frozen Russian reserves to an escrow for Ukraine and possibly other claimants. Russia is waging a war of attrition against Ukraine. Ukraine’s friends need to send a signal that Moscow cannot outlast Kyiv; it is elegant justice to do so with Russia’s own assets. Ukraine would also benefit psychologically from a large, enduring show of financial support during its winter of discontent.
  • If one approves of sending weapons to fight Russian soldiers, it seems odd to shrink from transferring Russia’s assets to Ukrainian victims. 
  • Well respected-international lawyers — from the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, and the United States — have endorsed the use of the countermeasures principle to transfer frozen Russian reserves to an escrow for Ukraine. 
  • Some critics of the proposed transfer use a mistaken analogy to reparations after the first world war. But Weimar Germany was a fragile democracy that had accepted defeat and a peace treaty. Putin’s autocratic Russia has done neither — and so Kyiv’s fragile democracy seems closer to Weimar Germany.
  • Finally, a transfer of Russian reserves should complement the continuation of military and financial support from the EU, the US and other friends of Ukraine. 

“The Russia risk around Chinese banks is rising. Penalties from US sanctions would far outweigh the sales boost for big lenders from Russian clients,” Lex, FT, 01.18.24. 

  • Chinese lenders had distanced themselves from big Russian clients in 2022, when international sanctions first kicked in. Nonetheless, their exposure to Russia’s banking sector has increased, having already quadrupled in the 14 months to the end of March last year. For China’s smaller banks, this business would have been a welcome source of additional revenue.
  • It increasingly doesn’t look worthwhile for bigger lenders. US laws and enforcement policies require foreign financial institutions that engage in US dollar transactions to comply with sanctions, or face steep penalties. In the worst case, there is the threat of restrictions on all sources of US dollar liquidity. At the end of last year, the US granted the Treasury new authority to penalize foreign lenders doing business with certain Russian sectors, even where there is no US connection to the transaction — so-called “secondary sanctions”. 
  • Those penalties would far outweigh the small boost to sales Russian clients mean for the largest banks, such as Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China.

“The US plan to break Russia’s grip on nuclear fuel,” Jamie Smyth and Sarah White, FT, 01.22.24. 

  • Shortly after Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the US banned all imports of Russian oil, liquefied natural gas and coal. 
  • Moscow’s invasion exposed many vulnerabilities in US and European energy supplies, not least in the nuclear sector, where more than a fifth of the enriched uranium fuel required to power both regions’ nuclear fleets comes from Russia. 
  • For the US energy sector, it was a call to action. Utilities companies have spent two years stockpiling nuclear fuel in case Russian supplies are disrupted. At the same time, Washington is undertaking a multibillion-dollar push to rebuild its nuclear supply chain, which was ravaged by a collapse in demand after the Fukushima accident in 2011 and years of neglect. 
  • More than a fifth of the fuel used by the 93 nuclear reactors in the US is supplied through enrichment contracts with Russian suppliers, mainly Rosatom. The European Union is even more dependent on the company because of its 18 Russian-made reactors in Finland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which have until recently relied on Russian fuel. 
  • The Biden administration is pursuing a three-pronged strategy to rebuild the enrichment and conversion supply chain: subsidize domestic industry; enlist international partners in a “friendshoring strategy”; and impose sanctions on Russian imports to protect investments by taxpayers. 
  • Washington’s drive to rebuild its fuel supply chain reflects concerns that Russia and China are gaining a technological lead just as the global nuclear sector is booming, with 60 reactors under construction and a further 100 planned. Russian and Chinese rivals have successfully designed and built SMRs while US companies have so far failed to deliver on plans. Meanwhile, Rosatom is building more than 30 standard nuclear reactors overseas, including in China, Vietnam, Hungary and Bangladesh, and in December 2022 boasted that it has $200bn in foreign orders for the next decade. 
  • Utilities are also preparing in case Moscow orders Rosatom to immediately halt supplies to US power plants with “tit-for-tat” sanctions. “It is a real risk. It is probably 50-50 whether they [Russia] would cut off supplies or carry on,” says Malcolm Critchley, chief executive of ConverDyn, a US-based provider of uranium conversion services. 

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

Vladimir Putin’s “Meeting with heads of municipalities from Russian regions,” official web site of the Russian president, 01.16.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • What is happening in the neighboring territories? People, just onlookers, are asking, “Why are the Kyiv authorities doing what they are doing: shelling peaceful cities and towns, and indiscriminately attacking entire areas? What military sense does it make?” It makes no sense, zero. But why are they doing it? There is an answer to that question.
    • First, they thus show their people and their sponsors who give them money, weapons, and ammo, that they are able to respond to Russia's precision strikes that target military infrastructure and defense enterprises scattered all over Ukraine in order to fulfil one of its main goals which is to demilitarize Ukraine. They are trying to prove that they, too, are a capable force. But instead of working on combat missions, they, like barbarians, are using multiple rocket launchers to lay entire towns and villages to waste.
    • The second task. By refusing to negotiate – they refused to talk, let me remind you that we reached an agreement in Istanbul. ... We agreed on everything. Moreover, the head of the negotiating team on the Ukrainian side even signed off on this. We have the document, it bears his signature. But they said they needed some kind of signal that Russia seriously intended to resolve those issues peacefully, such as withdrawing our troops from Kyiv. We pulled out. A day later, they threw all the agreements in the garbage. 
  • As for this negotiation process, it is an attempt to make us give up the gains that we have made over the past year and a half. That is impossible. Everyone understands that it is impossible – the ruling circles in Ukraine, and the Western elites – everyone understands that the so-called peace formulas widely discussed in the West and in Ukraine are mere extensions of the Ukrainian President’s order banning any negotiations with Russia. That is what it is. These are requirements that prohibit negotiations.
  • If they do not want to, let them be. It is just that if the current situation persists, what is happening now – it is quite obvious that, not only has their counteroffensive failed, but the initiative is entirely with the Russian Armed Forces now – if this continues, Ukrainian statehood may sustain an irreparable, very serious blow. But that is their responsibility. It will be the result of their policies, their governing decisions.

For Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent take on what peace could look like, see “Every investment in the confidence of the defender shortens the war – speech by the President of Ukraine to the participants of the special meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos 16 January 2024,” official web site of the Ukrainian president, 01.16.24. in “Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts” section.

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

“A ‘multipolar’ world defies the ‘rules-based’ order,” Gideon Rachman, FT, 01.18.24. 

  • In the battle for global influence, all sides have their jargon. The US and allies talk of the “rules-based international order” (RBIO). Russia and China prefer a “multipolar” world. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s astute foreign minister, recently split the difference by talking about the need for a “multilateral rules-based international order.”
  • Russia and China believe the decline of US global power is necessary and inevitable — the result being a more just world in which US power is constrained and multiple centers of power operate. According to the Russians and Chinese, this will allow different civilizations to live by their own rules, rather than having to hew to a Washington consensus. For the US and allies, these arguments are dishonest. The US and the EU believe that, while the idea of multipolarity can sound appealing, it often boils down to a demand from autocracies, in Moscow and Beijing, to have their own poles of influence. That means imposing their will on democratic neighbors like Ukraine and Taiwan.
  • Very few countries have voted to defend Russia’s actions at the UN. However, important Global South nations, notably India, have abstained on votes condemning Russia. As well as reflecting such interests as a desire to buy cheap Russian oil and weapons, India’s UN votes reflect sympathy with Moscow’s argument that the world order is too shaped by western colonialism’s legacy. 
  • One country steadfast in backing Russia is China. Cushioning the blow of western sanctions, Chinese economic support has essentially kept the Russian economy afloat. 
  • Countries that align with Washington, Moscow or Beijing, usually do so based on hard-headed assessment of their interests. But those views are strongly linked to underlying values. Democracies are clearly more likely to buy into the US-led RBIO. What happens to the RBIO if Donald Trump is re-elected is a huge question weighing on the global system.

“Ukraine: Do Liberal Democracies Have Staying Power?” Sir Simon Gass, RUSI, 01.17.24.

  • In Ukraine’s case, many of the elements for a strong public narrative are in place, and many of Kyiv’s political supporters have made the case for continued support eloquently. But as the going has got tougher, the argument has too often become about individual decisions on packages of military or economic support or Ukraine’s future membership of NATO or the EU rather than restating why it is in the interests of Ukraine’s supporters – including the US – not to allow a Russian victory.
  • There are many ways to express this last point. Many of us remember the shock of seeing Taliban fighters entering Kabul in August 2021 and the feelings of guilt and remorse when we thought of what little it would have taken to avoid that outcome. Imagine what we would feel if we saw Russian troops driving into Kyiv. A triumphant Putin. Patriotic Ukrainians being murdered. Democracy crushed. Beijing celebrating a further loss of US prestige. Alarm within NATO about what Russia’s further revanchist ambitions might be. And further evidence in the minds of the West’s enemies that it doesn’t have the staying power. Trouble would follow, and of a type that the US would find it impossible to stay out of.
  • The costs of preventing that disaster are modest compared with the damage that would be done. Political momentum often arrives when high principle and self-interest combine. Ukraine is exactly such a case for the West – but we need to keep explaining why.

“Freedom on Trial,” Paul Saunders, NI, 01.20.24.

  • Leadership is much easier to claim than to earn; by definition, it requires followers (better-termed allies and partners) in that sovereign governments have their own citizens’ interests to advance. This, in turn, requires that the leader is responsive to allies’ and partners’ concerns and priorities, sometimes at the leader’s expense. Indeed, one reason that China and Russia have thus far struggled to win true allies, as opposed to subordinate clients, is that officials in Beijing and Moscow have been unwilling to sacrifice their interests (national and otherwise) for others. (The fact that they have only subordinate clients is also the reason that many Chinese and especially Russian officials appear to believe that America can “order” its allies to act in various ways.) If the United States took a similar view of American interests and leadership, Washington might eventually find itself in a similar position. 
  • If the United States is to maintain its international leadership in the coming years, American officials and politicians will have to define, explain, and execute a new vision for leadership that can secure long-term domestic support while recruiting committed allies, partners, and others to work toward shared goals. Before all else, this means developing a shared and realistic understanding of the United States and the world that can serve as foundations for such an effort. It similarly requires a hard-headed definition of U.S. national interests and priorities, though not a self-absorbed and narrow definition like that of America’s rivals, but one developed through an enlightened and strategic approach. And it requires recalling Richard Nixon’s prescient warning that freedom and democracy are on trial, not primarily among nations but within them, for only there can they prove their value.

“Ukraine’s Desperate Hour: The World Needs a Russian Defeat,” Hal Brands, Bloomberg, 01.18.24.  

  • In 2022, with Putin’s army flailing and Ukraine’s friends rallying, it appeared that a brutal invasion would fortify an American-led global order. In early 2024, Putin’s forces are entrenched, Ukraine’s prospects are uncertain and the war could still become a setback, not a victory, for the democratic world. 
  • The Russian economy contracted by just 2.2 percent in 2022 and resumed growing in 2023. Russian trade has been rerouted to Asia; financial, technological and commercial relations with China are flourishing… There is no near-term prospect of the economy…falling apart.  
    • With the Kremlin pouring money into the defense sector, military production is soaring: Russia will pump out more artillery shells in 2024 than the US and Europe combined.  
  • The Russia that emerges from this war may be a hyper-mobilized, hyper-illiberal revisionist power with a deep pool of trained military manpower and a deep sense of grievance toward the West… a recipe for trouble on NATO’s Eastern front. 
  • “Ukraine fatigue” is rising in much of the West.  
    • If Donald Trump wins the presidency this November, democratic solidarity could devolve into transatlantic rancor. 

“Siberian reversal 2.0. From ‘Yermakovo Pole’ to Karakorum,” Anatoly Omelchuk and Sergey Karaganov, Tyumenskaya Gubernia, 12.29.23. Clues from Russian Views 

  • For the last 75 years, we have lived relatively peacefully … Now, we are facing a gigantic problem – people have lost their fear of war and even of nuclear weapons. I am professionally engaged in trying to preserve this fear in a good way, to revive it again. 
  • There is a revival process... [it] was dramatically intensified by a military operation [in Ukraine]. Moreover, I am almost certain that part of the plan…was precisely the task of reviving Russia and freeing it from external fetters. In addition, the elite's renewal is now underway because the people fighting for the great Motherland will inevitably come to power. 
    • In all our calculations – and we are working quite a lot on political forecasts – it is quite clear that we must not stop in any case until we liberate the south and east of Ukraine. 
    • But there is no need to reunite with the whole of Ukraine. We are not a completely united people. There, the center and the west are slightly different people. They are close to us by blood but have a different history. Everyone conquered them all the time. Unlike the native Russians, who always fought and endured, they were always subdued…In addition, the places there in the USSR were the heaviest burden in terms of subsidies.  
  • Previously, [the Russian state] was focused on rapprochement with the West, which was stupid. Now…they have realized that this was a short-sighted…strategy. Beneficial to a small group of people. But…the events in Ukraine are diverting attention from promising projects. This is the Siberianization of Russia, a shift in the center of Russia's spiritual, economic, political and cultural attraction towards the Urals, Siberia and the Far East.  
    • I want us to create a Siberian capital and move Russia’s spiritual and partly economic center to Siberia. Moreover, this movement is not only towards Asia. It is also a movement towards the great southern cultures – Arab and Hindu.  

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“America’s Nuclear Weapons Are Dangerously Out of Date,” Roger Wicker and Deb Fischer, WSJ, 01.09.24. 

  • Satellite imagery reveals that China has built more than 300 new ICBM silos since at least 2021—more than the U.S. has constructed in the last five decades. Beijing has tested a new weapon capable of orbital nuclear attacks with almost no warning and set a pace to exceed the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal by 2030. Russia already commands the world’s largest nuclear force. It is now fielding heavy ICBMs of almost unlimited range. The Kremlin also boasts a 10-to-1 advantage over the U.S. in shorter-range tactical nuclear weapons, as well as intercontinental-range nuclear-powered torpedoes and cruise missiles. 
  • As the ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, we will use all congressional oversight tools to maximize taxpayer investment in the Sentinel program. Expanding training for skilled workers, applying the Defense Production Act to broaden construction commodity availability and stabilize inflation, and restoring America’s position as the global hub for manufacturing innovation all would receive bipartisan backing. 
  • We must hold the administration accountable for its failures. But to make up for decades of neglect, our colleagues in Congress must also commit to restoring U.S. industrial health and developing the workforce required to keep America’s nuclear forces armed and ready for any challenge. 

“Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions during a news conference on Russia’s foreign policy performance in 2023, Moscow, January 18, 2024,” official web site of the Russian MFA, 01.18.24. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • There has been much talk lately about the prospects for reviving our strategic dialogue with the United States. This topic comes up often in our conversations and interactions with the media. Since we are all adults here, we cannot seriously discuss these prospects without taking into account the overall global security outlook and the strategic stability issue you have mentioned. Today, we are witnessing a lot of negative momentum in this regard, and the situation is getting worse. This is primarily attributable to the escalating confrontation accompanying what can be called without any exaggeration a seminal process as the world transitions from a unipolar to a multipolar order.
  • The New START’s preamble sets forth our commitment to the principle of indivisible security, which means that no one can strengthen its security at the expense of others. But preparations for the conflict in Ukraine and efforts to unleash it rendered this principle meaningless. The same preamble sets forth the commitment by Russia and the United States to forge their relationship based on mutual trust and cooperation. Is there any trust to speak of today? Everyone understands this perfectly well. 
  • The [Americans] have recently become aware once again of the importance of nuclear arms control and started sending us signals,... showing their readiness to resume dialogue on these matters. Interestingly, they suggested taking strategic stability talks out of the general military and political context. Every day brings further evidence that we are operating in a hostile environment, which is unacceptable. 
  • There was a time when they raised this topic just for the sake of resuming inspections and being able to visit our nuclear facilities. At the same time, they sent weapons to the Ukrainians, and these weapons targeted our military bases where strategic bombers are deployed. These people simply lack common decency. I am not even talking about treating national interests in a comprehensive manner or understanding what is possible in international talks and what is not. In this case, they failed to observe the most rudimentary decency. This did not come as a surprise to us.
  • This makes Russia their enemy and they cast us as an enemy, while showing readiness to discuss whether they can look at our strategic nuclear arsenals, as if it were a separate matter. We understand what they are after. They are trying to use the reciprocity motto in order to be able to control our nuclear arsenals and to minimize nuclear risks arising from their efforts to carry out a strong-arm policy towards us. More and more people in the West have been talking about a possible direct confrontation between nuclear powers. There are fewer and fewer constraining factors or deterrents. 
  • We believe that the ideas put forward by the United States are unacceptable. When discussing strategic stability, the Americans do not hide that they wanted to leave aside the means of non-nuclear military confrontation, i.e., the non-nuclear forces. Their goal is rather obvious. The collective West enjoys a substantial edge in this regard, quantity-wise, and wants to strengthen it. Washington has been waging a hybrid war against Russia. In this context, we do not see any reason not only for taking additional joint measures on arms control or reducing strategic risks, but also for engaging in strategic stability talks with the United States in general.
  • We do not reject this idea altogether, just as we do not reject and have never rejected efforts to settle the existing differences by political and diplomatic means. However, before we move forward on these opportunities, we will be firm and unwavering in demanding that the West fully rejects its malicious policy of undermining Russia’s security and our interests and stops openly neglecting our fundamental interests.
  • Any future strategic stability discussions would be predicated on the United States demonstrating its readiness to work on this matter considering all the essential strategic stability factors instead of singling out specific aspects according to Washington’s preferences.  

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

“Geopolitics—Not Just Summits—Will Shape the Transition to Clean Energy. How COP28 Demonstrated What’s Missing From Climate Diplomacy,” Jason Bordoff and Meghan L. O’Sullivan , FA, 01.18.24. 

  • To truly understand the impact of COP28 on climate progress … one must look beyond the language of the final agreement and consider the geopolitical forces at work behind it. Although geopolitics matters greatly for climate progress, it rarely gets the attention it deserves at climate negotiations. In fact, to the extent to which geopolitics appeared at COP28, it was often to complicate it. Russia, for instance, frustrated the effort to find a suitable eastern European host for the next conference; the United Arab Emirates rolled out the red carpet for Russian President Vladimir Putin just miles away in Abu Dhabi, distracting and irritating American and European negotiators and observers; and OPEC+ countries decided to slash oil production just days before the conference began. 
  • [J]ust as every tenth of a degree matters in the push to limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, gradients matter in geopolitics. Every notch of international tension that can be lowered will be helpful for the transition. 
  • Most important is the U.S.-Chinese relationship. … [C]limate action that takes place in the context of great-power competition can often be effective. But even modest areas of cooperation can make a big difference. At their November 2023 summit, for instance, U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to curb their countries’ methane emissions and triple their renewable energy capacity, which laid the groundwork for broader multilateral agreements on those two issues in Dubai. By contrast, a deterioration in U.S.-Chinese relations could derail the energy transition. 
  • The past year has offered painful reminders that war and conflict can also sap the resources, attention and stamina necessary for the challenging clean energy transition ahead. With governments allocating massive amounts of scarce resources to defense and warfighting in places such as Israel and Ukraine, there are fewer funds left to scale up support for accelerating the deployment of clean energy. And with the conflict between Israel and Hamas showing signs of escalating … policymakers concerned about keeping gasoline prices in check—particularly in an election year—will prioritize retaining access to oil supplies to calm jittery markets. The risks of a slower transition, in turn, will feed those same sources of conflict in the long run, as climate change exacerbates natural disasters, fuels conflict over scarce water supplies and mineral and energy resources, and drives migration into countries where the far right is on the rise.
  • Integration of climate action and foreign policy—at COP and elsewhere—is still too rare. There were still relatively few foreign policy professionals in Dubai in December 2023, and even fewer climate leaders can be found at the most significant national security and foreign policy gatherings. That needs to change, as geopolitics and foreign policy will both shape and be shaped by climate change and efforts to accelerate the clean energy transition. Successfully navigating today’s geopolitical problems and risks is important not only for the sake of peace and stability but also to drive faster climate action.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“‘Putinism is Based on Very Deep Demands,’” Mikhail Suslov, Russia.Post/Republic, 01.18.24.Clues from Russian Views

  • Putinism is a combination of three main postulates: identitarian conservatism, right-wing communitarianism and populism. 
  • Putinism is not a monolithic ideology that was handed down once and for all. It has developed and continues to develop. I would highlight three main stages in this process... The first is the period between 2004 and 2009, when United Russia discussed and adopted its ideological program. But it turned out that it is very difficult to develop such liberal conservatism in Russia. And so in the second stage they moved from liberal conservatism to radical conservatism – this is what I call “identitarian conservatism.” ... The third stage began after 2014, when geopolitics was added to the identitarian conservatism and the idea of Russia as a separate civilization emerged. ... We can probably say that the next stage, the fourth, has now begun. It began in the context of the war, around the autumn of 2022, when there was a desire to make Putinism more attractive outside of Russia, to the third-world countries – what they call the “global majority.”
  • It is important to understand that Putinism is not some random aberration or mistake. It expresses the deepest sentiments of many Russians
  • Support for Putinism can be found in African countries and probably in Latin America in particular. For example, there is the ideology of Bolivarianism, named after Simon Bolivar, the famous fighter for the liberation of the South American colonies. 
  • [F]or the Putinists, the main prize and dream is to ensure that China is ideologically on their side. Here, everything is a little more complicated, and it may be the other way around – Russia will end up on China’s side. In any case, it is possible that Putinism will come to mix traditional values and a leftist agenda. And if this happens, yes, it will become a very powerful ideology, attractive to the majority. It seems to me that the Kremlin is aware of this and is aiming for it.

“Vladimir Putin: Signs of weakness behind the facade of invincibility,” Michael Thumann, Zeit, 01.19.24.[2]

  • Since the end of the Ukrainian offensive, Western commentators have spoiled the mood by stating that Ukraine has actually all but lost the war. … This is the trap that Vladimir Putin wants to drive the West into. He acts as if the battle had already been fought. 
  • Apart from the fact that the Russian statistics are edited with a sharp pen by the Russian government: Putin hides his own weaknesses. This is particularly important before the planned celebration for the president over three days from March 15th to 17th - also called the "election" in Russia. … What should be suppressed with all force are the numbers that worry the Kremlin internally. It's about oil, eggs and the prices for them.
  • The oil price fell in January to its lowest level since late last summer and is trending downward. All attempts to drive up the price of Russia's essential export product have failed … The Americans have increased their production - they and other oil nations have stolen market share from the Russians and Saudis. 
  • The “National Welfare Fund,” as it is officially called, has shrunk by 12% in the almost two years since the attack on Ukraine, says expert Tatiana Orlova from the Oxford Economics analysis institute. … Of the almost 9 trillion rubles actually available (currently just under 100 billion euros), only around 5 trillion are left, says Orlova. The welfare fund melts in the heat of war. 
  • At the same time, consumer prices are rising. … When a Russian woman asked Putin at a citizen's question time in mid-December why the prices for eggs were so exorbitantly high, the President seriously joked that he had to ask the Agriculture Minister "what was wrong with his eggs." … Anyone who doesn't earn top salaries as a Moscow bureaucrat or risk death at the front for top pay can afford less and less in the supermarket. 
  • Many citizens also notice that in some Russian cities the heating stops at minus 20 degrees because the district heating pipes burst. The infrastructure is mostly from the Soviet era and is therefore at least 33 years old. There is currently no money for renovations. Putin's prediction from 2022, when he turned off Germany's gas, that from now on Germans would sit in freezing cold houses is now becoming a reality in thousands of Russian apartments.
  • This is far from leading to a revolution, and there are no signs of the collapse of the regime. Putin is likely to be cheered by a large majority of voters in March. But the signs of weakness behind the façade of invincibility show that Russia is giving everything for a dirty triumph in Ukraine, perhaps in the end too much. Putin is betting that his completely over-the-top war economy will last longer than the West. Our collapse is his hope.

“The Grim Reaper and the Whipping Boy: Why the Patrushevs Won’t Run the Kremlin,” Chris Monday and Andrew C. Kuchins, NI, 01.18.24.[3] 

  • As we argued in our Dec. 28 article in The National Interest, it is in the Kremlin’s interests to create the impression of an orderly transition, if needed, and long-term political stability and continuity. That article focused on Putin’s first cousin once removed, Anna Putina Tsivilyova, whose meteoric emergence in the Russian public sphere was remarkable. This article considers her potential rival, Russia’s Agricultural Minister Dmitry Patrushev, frequently depicted as an anointed successor, and his father, Nikolai, a KGB officer who serves as Putin’s chief enforcer. 
  • Over the decades, Nikolai Partushev has accumulated bad blood among the elites. Indeed, it’s doubtful that the Patrushev clan could unite even the intelligence services, the warriors and the traders. But even if Nikolai could, Russia’s oligarchs would fear a vindictive Patrushev in the highest position of power and able to go after anybody whom he wants. This would cause a split (Raskol) among the elite. In particular, it’s not clear why regional kingpins, notably Ramzan Kadyrov, would fall in line behind Patrushev. Moreover, neither Nikolai nor Dmitry Patrushev has a media presence or popular following. Finally, a Patrushev succession would face blowback from the technical and financial cadres.
  • Patrushev could come to power only in the case of some unforeseen catastrophic event. Moreover, for the Patrushev clan to seize power, they would need a charismatic front man, such as Dmitry Rogozin. But even in the Putin catastrophe scenario, the Russian constitution calls for the sitting prime minister to take over until elections are held within ninety days. This was precisely the scenario (without the catastrophe, but rather Yeltsin’s sudden resignation on Dec. 31, 1999) that brought Vladimir Putin to power. The current Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, is one of Putin’s most capable underlings.

“The Broken Bargain of Russian Womanhood.” Anastasia Edel, FP, 01.20.24.  

  • Russian women have, shockingly, embraced the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine despite the heavy toll it exerts on their men. 
    • They show little gender allegiance to the women of their former sister republic. Some are actually proud of their “defenders.” 
  • Russian womanhood, routinely held up in the country’s lore as a paragon of strength, patience and sacrifice, is now functionally a cover-up for the crimes of Russia’s men.  
    • Two of Russia’s most notorious propagandists, Margarita Simonyan…and Olga Skabeyeva…are women.  
    • Beneath them lurk less prominent figures with important platforms. Putin’s Brigades, a motley crew of activist grandmothers…rally the masses for President Vladimir Putin and his war. The Project in Red Dresses, which is supported by an organization run by one of Putin’s relatives, mobilizes women across Russian towns.  
  • Women support the war effort in other ways… knitting camouflaging nets for Russian troops and teaching children how to make trench candles to send to the battlefield. 
    • Schoolteachers—the majority of whom are women—are now responsible for children’s patriotic upbringing. 
  • Women haven’t always been so compliant with the state’s agenda. The Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia was instrumental in pressuring then-President Boris Yeltsin to end his war on Chechnya in 1996. 
    • Nearly two years of Russian carnage in Ukraine, however, have produced mostly acts of individual heroism. 
    • Even mothers and wives demanding the return of their sons mobilized to fight in Ukraine often start by avowing their support for Putin’s war… many simply insist on replacing their men, who paid their dues, with others. 

Vladimir Pastukhov on Changes of Power in Russia, Telegram, 01.14.24. Clues from Russian Views 

  • In general, the statistics [on changes of power in Russia] are not in favor of Putin’s clan. They do not confirm the hypothesis about the high probability of a peaceful transfer of power to “their own” after Putin. 
  • Starting with Peter the Great, there were [24] “chiefs” in Russia, including 14 emperors, two chairmen of the Provisional Government and eight Soviet leaders. This does not include the “nominals” like Konstantin or Mikhail, who technically ruled Russia for a few days. 
  • Of these 24 “chiefs,” 11 came to power as a result of a coup d'état or revolution, four were killed either during a coup d'état or sometime after it, three were removed from power as a result of a coup d'état but survived and one was practically removed from power in the last years of his life, although he was formally considered a leader. In general, the chances of a peaceful transfer of power to Putin’s successor, based on these statistics, are about 1:4. I wouldn’t say they are promising. 
  • Observing how they are trying to construct a model of order out of Russian history is ridiculous. The entire modern Russian history is an example of endless “swindling,” instability and ruptures of gradualism. I don’t see a single reason why it should suddenly become different now. 

Defense and aerospace:

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.

 

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Potential Russian Uses of Paramilitaries in Eurasia,” Kimberly Marten, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Carisa Nietsche, Nicholas Lokker and Kristen Taylor, CNAS, 01.17.24. 

  • Though Russia is facing headwinds due to its war in Ukraine, the Kremlin is unlikely to give up on trying to maintain itself as a dominant regional power in Eurasia. The more likely scenario is that the Kremlin addresses challenges caused by the war—such as bureaucratic overload, strained resources, and growing skepticism in the region—by relying  on semi-state military companies and other similar organizations. 
  • Following Prigozhin’s failed mutiny and death, there remains much uncertainty about the future of the remnants of the Wagner Group and of other semi-state military companies, informal fighters, and networks in Russia. However, the Kremlin might not have many other compelling options to advance Russia’s foreign policy goals in the region. These organizations could advance Russian interests by amplifying the Kremlin’s influence operations and filling gaps in the Kremlin’s capacity and influence in the wake of the invasion.
  • Non-Wagner forces could be even more insidious, as they could enjoy the benefits of operating in the shadows with murkier ties to the Kremlin than Wagner eventually had. Worryingly, a non-Wagner Group PMC could learn from Wagner’s mistakes and right Wagner’s wrongs. Likewise, it could be more effective in executing its mission—one that undoubtedly amplifies the Kremlin’s interests.
  • Russia’s growing footprint in Eurasia will challenge the United States and Europe. It could provide a blue-print for how the Kremlin could continue to expand its influence even closer to Europe’s doorstep in NATO and EU countries using semi-state military companies and similar organizations. While the ripple effects of the June 2023 mutiny remain unclear, policymakers must be prepared for a future in which these organizations continue to operate on behalf of the Kremlin to challenge U.S. and European interests. Managing the consequences of the proliferation of these groups is key for the United States and Europe today and moving forward.

“How viable is Arctic shipping?” The Economist, 01.18.24. 

  • Shipping lanes are under pressure… fewer ships are using the Suez Canal [and] the volume of trade passing through the Panama Canal…has declined by 30% since November [2023]. 
    • The spot rate for sending a forty-foot container from China to northern Europe has risen by 283% since early December [2023]. 
  • [Arctic routes] could cut up to 40% off the length of journeys made via the Suez Canal.  
    • The Arctic is warming four times faster than the global average… the Arctic’s first ice-free summer could come as soon as the 2040s.  
  • The most popular shipping route…is the [Northern Sea Route (NSR)], which is controlled by Russia. Trade volumes along the route increased by 755% between 2014 and 2022… Russia wants traffic to increase tenfold from 2022 levels by 2035.  
    • Ships must have permission from Russian authorities to sail along the NSR; almost no Western vessels use it. 
  • [However] in 2022 fewer than 1,700 ships entered the Arctic; over 23,000 went through the Suez Canal and 14,000 through the Panama Canal. 
    • Poor mapping, combined with extreme and unpredictable weather, increases the likelihood of accidents. Arctic navigation requires expertise and specialist ships. Both come at a cost. 
  • The Arctic will struggle to rival established shipping routes. Extreme seasonal weather limits its potential for commercial shipping. But as the ice cover shrinks, its waters will become busier—and Russia will make ever greater use of them. 

Ukraine:

“Ukrainian media targeted by pro-Zelenskyy ‘info army’. Online and physical attacks on journalists cast shadow on president’s rule,” Christopher Miller, FT, 01.18.24.

  • A series of attacks and smear campaigns targeting prominent Ukrainian journalists has cast a shadow over Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s record on safeguarding media freedom. 
    • In a rare statement since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Mediarukh, an association of media outlets and watchdogs, on Wednesday directly called on the country’s president to “resolutely condemn” the attacks and “take over control of the investigation” in order to find out who the culprits were. 
  • While journalists have been subject to online intimidation and smear campaigns before, in the past few days this has escalated into harassment in real life. Investigative journalist Yuriy Nikolov, who exposed corruption in the defense ministry, was targeted by several men on Sunday, who banged on his door, yelling that he would be sent to the front line, and plastered signs that called him a “traitor” and “provocateur.” Nikolov’s articles led to the resignation of defense minister Oleskiy Reznikov, who was not directly accused of graft, and Zelenskyy saying he would demand greater transparency and reforms.
    • Natalia Lyhachova, editor-in-chief of Detector Media, said the case showed how online attacks allegedly waged at the behest of the government against journalists working to hold power to account have moved into the physical world. Pro-government online voices dubbing themselves the “information army” operate “in the most vile way,” she said, by “turning all critics of the government into Russian agents, evaders, enemies of the president and Ukraine.”
  • The incident targeting Nikolov was followed by what appeared to be a coordinated campaign to discredit Bihus.info, an investigative news outfit in Kyiv that has spent years exposing government corruption. ... Denys Bihus, the group’s founder, said the reporters’ phones were also likely to have been tapped for more than a year, he added, because the conversations included in the video date back as far as 2022.
    • The SBU said on Wednesday that a criminal investigation had been opened into the illegal wiretapping and video recording of Bihus.info employees. 

“The Quiet Transformation of Occupied Ukraine. Away From the Frontlines, Russia Cements Its Conquest,” David Lewis, FA, 01.18.24. 

  • The prospects for the occupied territories are bleak. Ukraine lacks a political and diplomatic strategy to challenge Russia’s occupation over the longer term. Ukrainian policymakers had hoped that a quick and successful military counteroffensive last year would free these territories and roll back Russian forces. That did not come to pass. With the frontline at a territorial stalemate, Ukraine’s chances of regaining full control of the occupied territories by force of arms in 2024 appear slim. Any armistice or freezing of the conflict would draw a line through southern and eastern Ukraine, leaving millions of Ukrainians under Russian rule. As the war grinds on, Russia has time to further consolidate its political, economic, and administrative occupation, making the eventual reintegration of these territories back into Ukraine increasingly difficult.

“Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Greatest Performance,” book review of “The Showman” by Simon Shuster, David Kortava, NYT, 01.21.24. 

  • Nine months into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in 2022, the Time magazine correspondent Simon Shuster caught a ride on a presidential train that few, if any, journalists had seen from the inside. In a private carriage, with the blinds drawn, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was fueling up on coffee during a trip to the frontline. He’d been reading about Winston Churchill, but with Shuster he’d sooner discuss another key World War II figure: Charlie Chaplin. “He used the weapon of information during the Second World War to fight against fascism,” Zelenskyy said. “There were these people, these artists, who helped society. And their influence was often stronger than artillery.” 
  • It’s a telling moment in Shuster’s “The Showman,” an intimate account of the invasion’s early months, and it captures his thesis — that Zelenskyy’s effectiveness as a wartime leader is rooted in his skills as a performer, honed over more than two decades in the entertainment industry. 
  • Shuster has been reporting from Kyiv since 2009. In 2019, he interviewed Zelenskyy the presidential candidate ... In the space of less than three years, as Shuster vividly details, Zelensky transforms from a clean-cut funnyman into a war hero out of central casting, “an unlikely fashion icon” in his army-green fleece embroidered with the golden trident of the Ukrainian coat of arms.  
  • Among Zelenskyy’s advisers are movie producers and stand-ups who first crossed paths with their habitually cheery boss on the comedy circuit. They paint a striking picture of the way the novice statesman slid into his new role. “His aides could see Zelenskyy’s posture stiffen,” Shuster writes. “His tone became clipped.” 
  • Written off as a dead man walking [less than a week before the war], he elected to project strength, galvanizing his fellow Ukrainians with the vigor of his rhetoric. … It’s a testament to Zelenskyy’s diplomatic prowess that days after counseling him to negotiate the terms of his own surrender, Kyiv’s allies in the European Union assented to his appeal for arms. 
  • Despite his limited experience as a statesman, Zelenskyy had won the West’s approbation and material support and he did it largely by seeking attention in the spirit of a SoundCloud rapper pushing a new single through TikTok: with incessant repetition and a belief that every venue offered something useful.  
  • Even before Vladimir Putin announced his “special military operation” in Ukraine, Zelenskyy had banned three television channels reportedly owned by a close associate of the Russian president. ... His government also prevailed on six major networks to jointly produce a round-the-clock program called “Telemarathon United News,” which Zelenskyy has described as a “unified weapon on information” and which critics have recently dismissed as state propaganda. 
  • The pressing issue is whether Zelenskyy’s powers of persuasion — his showmanship — will be enough to sustain the West’s resolve until the end. 

“The Dangers of Losing Focus on Russia’s War Against Ukraine,” Alexander Baunov, CEIP, 01.17.24. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • As the Ukrainian war has disappeared from the front pages of major Western media, ... the world’s view of Zelenskyy has also changed. He’s still a hero, just a more distant one: someone else’s hero. The power of the Zelenskyy effect has also weakened. When the leader of a country under attack leaves to give a speech to a foreign parliament—still wearing military fatigues—he gets a standing ovation and promises of support. The second, third, and fourth time he does it, the effect is not the same. 
  •  From being a hero and savior, Zelenskyy risks becoming the man who ordered others to their deaths. The mobilization that helped Ukraine to survive in 2022, and even allowed it to retake territory, is now seen by some as the reason they lost their loved ones.
  • The routinization of the horrific fighting at the front line and continued airstrikes against urban centers, along with Putin’s purely formal reelection as president, mean the brutal new version of Russia is here to stay.
  • Eighteen months ago, everything seemed very clear. War may have destroyed lives, upended plans, and deprived people of their homes, but it also provided an unshakable moral foundation for international unity, including unity between and with anti-war Russians. Now, while this clarity may remain for individuals, it’s no longer a foundation for a broader coming together—except for sympathy in the West for Ukraine and an enduring sense of the threat emanating from Putin’s regime. Instead, it’s now a shattered mirror where each piece reflects something independently of the others. 
  • We should be striving to retain unity when it comes to what is most important to us, despite social and political turmoil. For the moment, though, it feels as if we’re living through the darkest hour.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Potential Russian Uses of Paramilitaries in Eurasia,” Kimberly Marten, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Carisa Nietsche, Nicholas Lokker and Kristen Taylor, CNAS, 01.17.24. 

  • Russia will likely continue to work with semi-state armed formations. 
    • Russia’s degraded military capacity and constrained economic resources… will increase the attractiveness of these organizations as low-cost tools for advancing Russian objectives… 
  • The Kremlin could use semi-state security formations… by waging political influence and disinformation campaigns, physically protecting friendly governments, sustaining Russia’s influence as a key security provider, destabilizing unfriendly governments and limiting any threats that Russia’s diaspora population might pose. 
    • …The proliferation and increased activity of these groups would make it more difficult for the United States and its allies to attribute such actions to the Kremlin…[It] would raise the risk that these groups and the opportunistic individuals that lead them might stake out positions independent of the Kremlin or even at odds with it… 
  • Even if the Wagner Group remains intact…it is unlikely to play a major role in Eurasia going forward, given obstacles that would complicate its ability to function in the region. 
    • Newly created organizations would likely face high barriers to entry in areas where [the Wagner Group] already operates…[hence] they could focus on new regions such as Eurasia [where Russian influence is waning]. 
    • In the Western Balkans, Russia has sought to exacerbate lingering ethnic tensions in the region by playing the role of spoiler and pursuing actions that undermine regional reconciliation and integration processes while promoting itself as the traditional patron of Serbia and the Republika Srpska political entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina. 
    • [In Armenia] Disinformation campaigns might aim to undercut the authority of [Nikol Pashinyan’s] government, including by capitalizing on the discontent of Armenians in the aftermath of its hostilities with Azerbaijan. 
    • In Central Asia, information campaigns could help prop up officials with close ties to the Kremlin… 
    • [In Belarus] Moscow could use the Wagner Group remnants or other new groups to protect Lukashenko against popular protest.

“A “Frozen Conflict” Boils Over: Nagorno-Karabakh in 2023 and Future Implications,” Walter Langraf and Nareg Seferian, FPRI, 01.18.24. 

  • Azerbaijan’s lightning attack on Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023 ended three decades of de facto independence for the [Nagorno-Karabakh breakaway republic]. 
    • Many issues are still unresolved in this long-running conflict… [including] directing much-needed humanitarian aid to those displaced [and the] potential for future Azerbaijani incursions into Armenia to secure a path to its exclave of Nakhchivan. 
  • The principle of nonuse of force is…affected by the fall-out of this dispute, risking the normalization of international violence with impunity. 
  • The US has limited options to affect the current situation on the ground. 
    • It could expand its diplomatic footprint in the region to reinforce its influence. 
    • It should work with and through the European Union and other regional players to implement an enduring monitoring mechanism to safeguard against renewed escalation. 
    • This effort should focus on reducing human suffering while improving the quality of life of people displaced by violence. 

 

Footnotes

  1. Sending a single soldier to the front line costs Ukraine 1 million hryvnia a year, equivalent to about $26,000, Natalia Shapoval of the Kyiv School of Economics told WSJ. Thus, sending half a million, which is the ceiling that Ukrainian authorities have floated when discussing a new mobilization bill, would cost $13 billion a year.
  2. Translated with the help of machine translation.
  3. For a 2022 compilation of Nikolai Patrushev’s views on U.S.-Russian relations and other issues, see https://www.russiamatters.org/analysis/world-according-patrushev

 

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

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

Photo by Mil.gov.ua shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED license.