Russia Analytical Report, Jan. 22-29, 2024

7 Ideas to Explore

  1. The Biden administration is working on a long-term strategy for supporting Kyiv that does not anticipate significant gains by the Ukrainian forces in 2024, focusing instead on helping Ukraine fend off Russian advances while also strengthening its combat capabilities and its economy, according to WP. The strategy is to be outlined in an official U.S. document, which is being “written with four phases in mind: fight, build, recover and reform,” according to this newspaper. U.S. experts on post-Soviet militaries Michael Kofman, Rob Lee and Dara Massicot appear to share at least some views with the authors of the Biden administration’s draft strategy. “In 2024, [Ukraine’s] best defense is not likely to be a good offense, but rather one that maximizes efficiency and creates the right opportunities down the line,” the trio write in a commentary for War on the Rocks entitled “Hold, Build, and Strike: A Vision for Rebuilding Ukraine’s Advantage in 2024.”
  2. Is now the time to begin negotiations with Russia on Ukraine? Yes, it is, for “[i]f we have to negotiate eventually, we have more leverage to negotiate today than we are likely to have in a year or two,” according to Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Moreover, it has to be Washington that negotiates with Moscow, as only the United States is in a position to negotiate international security guarantees for Ukraine, Lieven argued in a recent debate with Andrew Kuchins of the Center for the National Interest (CFTNI). Kuchins begged to disagree with Lieven. “Ultimately, the resolution has to be negotiated. But it is not a realistic proposition that it will happen anytime soon,” Kuchins said in this CFTNI-sponsored virtual debate on Jan. 23. “There’s nothing that the Russians would agree to that the Ukrainians would agree to right now,” he added.
  3. When it comes to America’s Ukraine policy, the differences between Joe Biden and Donald Trump won’t be very stark, Stephen Walt of Harvard argues in FP.Trump has boasted he could solve the war ‘in one day’ and then waffled when asked if he wants Ukraine to win. Accordingly, you might think a Trump election would bring a sea change in U.S. policy. But here’s the rub: Biden is likely to follow a similar path if he wins another term,” Walt predicts. “Both [Biden and Trump] administrations will try to negotiate an end to the [Russian-Ukrainian] war after January 2025, and the resulting deal is likely to be a lot closer to Russia’s stated war aims than Kyiv’s,” according to Walt. Interestingly, on the Russian side, Andrei Sushentsov of the Valdai Club doesn’t expect Trump to execute dramatic change in U.S. policy toward the Ukraine war either. If Trump is elected, Russia should not expect the situation regarding the war to become “better for Russia,” according to Sushentsov.
  4. “Embarking on a long and contested process to seize Russian assets may allow Western governments to claim they’re doing something,” but “it won’t help save Ukraine,” according to Bloomberg’s recent editorial. Authors of the editorial oppose the idea of confiscating some $300 billion in CBR reserves, which have been immobilized by Western governments, arguing that such confiscations will face court challenges by Russia. Given these challenges, it will be years, if not decades, until and if Ukraine can access this money, according to the editorial. 
  5. Ukraine is entering “its third consecutive winter at war: still battling the demon of corruption, still defiant, yet visibly reduced, palpably tired,” according to Masha Gessen of The New Yorker. Gessen also proclaims that “[i]n Ukraine, democracy is largely suspended,” citing the postponement of the presidential election and the replacement of “what had been a vibrant and varied television news market” with war-related programming as evidence of this suspension. She also points a finger at the head of the presidential office, Andriy Yermak, who is “said to have placed his associates in high-level, lucrative positions in state organizations and on oversight boards.” “All of the people I spoke with this fall and winter in Ukraine ... said that they no longer thought about the end of the war. They could not imagine it,” she writes.
  6. As Russia begins its one-year presidency of the BRICS in a turbulent world, great power competition in the Global South will intensify, Angela Stent of Brookings predicts in a commentary for RM. “While the U.S. and its allies struggled to persuade these countries to support Ukraine and reject the Kremlin’s narrative about the origins and course of the war, Russia has largely succeeded in convincing them that the West is to blame for both the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas wars,” according to Stent. “Events in the Middle East make it less likely that the U.S. and its allies can sway much of the Global South away from its neutrality in this newly-intensified competition,” she writes.
  7. The nature of Boris Nadezhdin’s public statements mean there is no way he is currently acting as a spoiler candidate, or being curated by Kremlin managers, according to well-informed Russian journalist Andrey Pertsev. The 60-year-old liberal candidate’s election manifesto states that Putin is “dragging Russia back to the past” and that “Putin made a fatal mistake” when he went to war in Ukraine. The Kremlin would never agree to anyone saying such things, Pertsev points out in his commentary for CEIP. Whether he has become a genuine contender or not, however, Nadezhdin will most likely be removed from the race by the electoral authorities, Pertsev predicts.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

"Kim Jong Un’s Russia Lifeline Gives Big Reason to Avoid War," Jon Herskovitz, Bloomberg, 01.25.24.

  • Kim Jong Un’s bellicose rhetoric in recent weeks has revived speculation that the North Korean leader might be preparing for war. But Kim has at least one fresh reason to avoid plunging into conflict: North Korea’s economy is quietly improving, with growth on pace to reach the fastest level in nearly a decade. Pyongyang’s sales of ballistic missiles, artillery shells and other military equipment to sustain President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine is providing a jolt to an economy long isolated by international sanctions.

“North Korean nuclear forces: dyad or alternative triad?” Anastasia Barannikova, Russia In Global Affairs, 01.29.24. Clues from Russian Views.^ (RIGA is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • DPRK is quite capable of creating a nuclear triad, although this triad will differ from the Russian or American one. To deter the most likely enemy, it only needs one strategic component - ICBMs. The other [elements of the triad] can be of tactical [range] while fully coping with the assigned tasks, one of which is ensuring the survival of DPRK’s potential for a retaliatory strike.
  • The North Korean version of this triad could [also] include dual-use systems capable of carrying both nuclear and conventional warheads. ... Indeed, in addition to ICBMs, the DPRK has new tactical missile systems, such as KN-23, -24 and -25, as well as hundreds of relatively old, but repeatedly tested ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets on the territory of the Republic of Korea and Japan, including U.S. military bases. 
  • Finally DPRK may include anti-satellite weapons and/or cyber troops designed to undermine the command and control systems of enemy nuclear forces into its in its nuclear forces structure.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Russia is losing the battle for the Black Sea. Ukraine wants to keep trade flowing and destroy Russia’s fleet,” The Economist, 01.28.24. 

  • With 6.3 million tons of goods exported in December, the Odessa region’s three ports—Odessa itself, Chornomorsk and Pivdenny—are now almost back to pre-war volumes.  
  • Ukraine had to work hard to establish its own corridor, overturning Russia’s dominance of the Black Sea without a single working warship. According to Dmytro Pletenchuk, a navy spokesman, unlikely success came in three phases.
    • The first breakthrough came in the early weeks of the full-scale war, when Ukraine prevented an amphibious landing. It was a close run thing, but the key moment was halting the Russian westward encirclement of Odessa 100km away at Voznesensk in March 2022. 
    • Two months later, Ukraine was able to impose a 100-nautical-mile buffer in the north-western part of the Black Sea after destroying Russia’s Moskva flagship and regaining control of the strategic Snake Island. 
    • The third phase, completed over 2023, saw Ukraine push Russian warships entirely from the north-western, central and even south-western parts of the Black Sea.  This final part of the jigsaw was predicated on Ukraine’s maritime forces—the navy, domestic intelligence (SBU), military intelligence (HUR), border guards and army—developing a new arsenal of cruise missiles and naval drones to hunt and sink Russian warships. In total, Ukraine has destroyed at least 22 of the 80 working combat vessels of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and damaged another 13.  
  • Oleksiy Sobolev, Ukraine’s deputy economy minister, says the unblocking of the sea is forecast to add at least $3.3bn to exports in 2024, adding useful exchange-rate stability and a predicted 1.23 percentage points to GDP growth.

“To win the war with Russia, US support for Ukraine’s economy is essential,” Penny Pritzker, The Hill, 01.21.24. 

  • We face an inflection point in Ukraine. Russia’s war of aggression poses a serious threat not only to Ukraine but to the United States and Europe, our economic security and the very ideas of freedom and democracy that hold our world together. Putin’s war is about reconstituting a dictatorial, corrupt empire in the heart of Europe that seeks to undermine both NATO and the European Union. 
    • It’s worth noting that American allies and partners are shouldering most of the weight. Combined, they provide twice as much economic assistance to Ukraine as the United States has provided. In fact, the EU wants to support Ukraine with an additional $54 billion in aid this year. 
    • Second, U.S. economic support for Ukraine is a force multiplier. Our support for Ukraine’s International Monetary Fund program generates additional support from donors around the world. 
    • Third, our economic assistance is creating the basis for the greatest return on investment in terms of Ukraine’s state revenue. 
    • Fourth, our support is transforming a post-Soviet legacy of corruption to a competitive, free market future looking to the West. 
    • Finally, the Biden administration has prioritized oversight and accountability to ensure that every hard-earned American taxpayer dollar goes where it is supposed to go. 
      • Together, our security and economic package forms the core of our support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s naked aggression. That’s the double helix at work. If we act now, this package will send a message to friends and foes alike about American leadership, power and resolve when it comes to Ukraine winning this war and its future as a free, independent, democratic, economically prosperous country integrated into the Euro-Atlantic community. 

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“U.S. war plans for Ukraine don’t foresee retaking lost territory,” Karen DeYoung, Michael Birnbaum, Isabelle Khurshudyan, and Emily Rauhala, WP, 01.26.24. 

  • Still smarting from last year’s failed counteroffensive in Ukraine, the Biden administration is putting together a new strategy that will de-emphasize winning back territory and focus instead on helping Ukraine fend off new Russian advances while moving toward a long-term goal of strengthening its fighting force and economy.
    • The idea now is to position Ukraine to hold its position on the battlefield for now, but “put them on a different trajectory to be much stronger by the end of 2024 … and get them on a more sustainable path,” said the senior official, one of several who described the internal policymaking on the condition of anonymity.
    • The U.S. planning is part of a multilateral effort by nearly three dozen countries backing Ukraine to pledge long-term security and economic support — both out of necessity … and as a demonstration of enduring resolve to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Each is preparing a document outlining its specific commitments spanning up to a decade in the future. 
      • The U.S. document … is being written with four phases in mind: fight, build, recover and reform.
      • According to U.S. officials, the American document will guarantee support for short-term military operations as well as build a future Ukrainian military force that can deter Russian aggression. It will include specific promises and programs to help protect, reconstitute and expand Ukraine’s industrial and export base, and assist the country with political reforms needed for full integration into Western institutions. Not incidentally, a U.S. official said, the hope is that the long-term promise — again assuming congressional buy-in — will also “future-proof” aid for Ukraine against the possibility that former president Donald Trump wins his reelection bid.
  • Rather than the massive artillery duels that dominated much of the fighting in the second half of 2022 and much of 2023, the West’s hope for 2024 is that Ukraine will avoid losing any more territory than the one-fifth of the country now occupied by Russia. Additionally, Western governments want Kyiv to concentrate on tactics where its forces have had greater recent success — longer-distance fires, including with French cruise missiles promised for delivery within the next few months; holding back Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to protect naval transit from Ukraine’s ports; and tying up Russian forces inside Crimea with missile strikes and special operations sabotage.
  • U.S. policymakers say they expect the war will eventually end through negotiations — but also that they don’t think Putin will be serious about talks this year, in part because he holds out hope that Trump will win back the presidency in November and dial back support to Kyiv.

“Hold, Build, and Strike: A Vision for Rebuilding Ukraine’s Advantage in 2024,” Michael Kofman, Rob Lee and Dara Massicot, WoR, 01.26.24. 

  • Following months of hard fighting, Ukraine’s offensive in 2023 proved a missed opportunity. The current situation is also not sustainable long term. It is clear Ukraine and the West need a new strategic vision. This means planning beyond the next six months or the next offensive operation. … Conversely, without major adjustments, or if Western support falters, the current path holds a high risk of exhaustion over time and Ukraine being forced to negotiate with Moscow from a position of weakness. 
  • The year 2023 ended with Russia taking marginally more territory than Ukraine, but it is still far from its official goal of seizing the entire Donbas. Territorial control is one measure of progress toward one’s objectives, but the balance of attrition, capacity for reconstitution, defense industrial mobilization, and the ability to employ force effectively at scale are more important determinants of long-term success. This is why what happens in 2024 is likely to determine the future trajectory of the war.
  • The strategic context in 2024 is starkly different from that of 2023. Kyiv is unlikely to have the artillery ammunition, manpower, or equipment for another strategic offensive. Conversely, Russia will be materially advantaged in 2024.
  • This is why the strategy should begin with a hold to hedge against Russian offensives this year, and relative advantages in materiel. 
    • This consists of, first, building a more fortified defense-in-depth, which will make it easier to defend the nearly 1,000-kilometer front line, allowing Ukraine to rotate forces, free up its best units, and reduce the ammunition required to defend. 
    • Second, Ukraine will have to revisit its policies on mobilization and recruitment to address long-standing issues in the structure and quality of its forces.. 
    • Third, working with Western countries, Ukraine can scale up and reform existing training programs, restoring combat effectiveness to its forces.  
    • Fourth, Ukraine can work with Western partners to significantly increase production of drones, as well as counter-drone electronic warfare systems, that will allow it to partially offset deficits in artillery ammunition and reduce its vulnerability to future disruptions in aid. 
    • Lastly, Western defense companies are more innovative than Russia’s defense industry, but they need the proper demand signals from Western governments to become more engaged.
  • In 2024, the best defense is not likely to be a good offense, but rather one that maximizes efficiency and creates the right opportunities down the line.  
  • To understand how best to plan for 2024 and 2025, it is important to briefly revisit why the offensive of 2023 did not repeat the successes of the fall of 2022. 
    • First, Ukraine lacked a decisive advantage in fires over the Russian military, and Russian forces were not sufficiently degraded through attrition prior to the launch of the assault, which meant there was no clear advantage to be exploited. 
    • Second, Ukraine could not effectively scale its employment of forces, operating at the level of two or three reinforced companies per brigade. This meant it could not exploit breaches or generate momentum. Combined arms integration was also lacking, though this proved tangential to first-order issues. 
    • Third, Ukraine lacked the enablers necessary to break through a well-prepared defense or to counter key Russian capabilities, like attack helicopters. In looking toward 2025, the West needs to think through on how to help Ukraine address all three categories of issues. 

“Rethink territory: How Ukraine can redefine victory,” Karsten Friis, ELN, 01.29.24. 

  • Victory should be defined in broader, non-territorial terms. It can be achieved in steps or dimensions, such as a vibrant democracy, a growing economy, societal welfare, as well as territorial liberation. Importantly, such an approach does not in any way preclude a principled aim of complete liberation of all occupied territories, but the important thing is that the absence of such liberation will not prevent victory.
  • Victory defined by such metrics allows the work to build a victorious Ukraine that can begin today. There is no need to wait for a final and decisive battle. Ukraine itself must outline a broader definition of victory, but in my view, it should focus on upholding security, democratic institutions, social prosperity, and economic growth.
  • These overarching goals are achievable, but Ukraine would need Western assistance. The Western strategic objectives for Ukraine should also be clarified. ‘As long as it takes’ and similar phrases are far too vague. The Western objectives should simply be the opposite of Putin’s, i.e. making Ukraine a secure, successful, and democratic state integrated into the transatlantic community.
  • The sooner Putin realizes that the Ukrainian state, people, culture, and economy are lost to him no matter what he does, the higher the likelihood of him potentially looking for a way to wind down his ill-conceived and expensive war. By taking control of the definition of victory, Ukraine and the West will win this war.

“Bind Ukraine’s Military-Technology Revolution to Rapid Capability Development, Mykhaylo Lopatin, WoR, 01.23.24. 

  • Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi’s [Economist] essay helps to lay out a theory of success for reconstituting Ukraine’s forces after the culmination of last year’s counter-offensive. Now, to implement his vision of technology-driven capability development, new institutional capacities are required.
  • Ukraine has been well served by the grassroots model of defense innovation that has evolved over a decade of war. Ongoing efforts to boost the development of Ukraine’s defense industry and scale the production of platforms — like the pledge to manufacture a million drones — are essential, but they cannot in themselves connect available technologies and mission needs.
  • Mainstream approaches to capability development are too slow to harness emerging and disruptive technologies, and the special operations model is not meant to be diffused and scaled. These approaches should be supplemented by a rapid capability development approach that serves the security and defense forces as a whole.
  • In the grand scheme of Ukraine’s defense acquisitions and security cooperation, the establishment of a capability accelerator will require few resources. But by aligning resources to mission priorities and scaling the pace of innovation, it can bring vital change.

“How Russia Stopped Ukraine’s Momentum. A Deep Defense Is Hard to Beat,” Stephen Biddle, FA, 01.29.24. 

  • The resilience of deep, prepared defenses in modern warfare will make it very hard for Ukraine to achieve a decisive breakthrough any time soon. For more than a century, this has required conditions that seem unlikely for Ukraine at this point. The commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, Gen.Valerii Zaluzhnyi, has characterized the war as stalemated, but believes that new technology can enable a Ukrainian breakthrough. He’s right on the first point, but probably not the second. War-winning weapons are very rare in land warfare
  • Ukraine’s prognosis depends heavily on the future of Western assistance, but even with continued aid, the conflict is likely to remain an attritional war of position for a long time to come, absent a collapse in Russian will to fight or a coup in Moscow. Success for Ukraine will thus require patience for a long, hard war on the part of both Ukraine and its Western allies. 
  • If the lesson of Ukraine’s 2023 offensive, in light of past experience, is that deep and well-prepared defenses remain robust, as they have been for the last century, then quality alone may not be enough to ensure the kind of short wars of quick decisive breakthroughs that U.S. defense planning has long tended to presuppose. Quality is necessary for opportunity but may be insufficient in itself for success. And if so, the United States may need to rethink its balance of quality and quantity in a world where permissive conditions happen sometimes but cannot be guaranteed.

Military aid to Ukraine:

“The EU’s €50bn package to Ukraine is a far cry from its rhetoric. A help set to be agreed next week is no match for the challenge,” The Economist, 01.25.24.

  • Europe’s purse-strings have been kept tight by three factors. 
    • One is that some politicians, notably in western Europe, may have silently been fine with Ukraine getting a trickle of money—enough for it not to lose but not to win too comprehensively either, lest that humiliate Russia. That may have been the case in the war’s early stages, but feels out of date now. Still, keeping the authorities in Kyiv on a short leash has its advantages, for example if Ukraine one day needs to be pushed towards the negotiating table.
    • The second is that assistance to Ukraine often comes not in the form of cash, but of military equipment. There is not much left in national armories to send east, so shells and cannons need to be made instead. 
    • The third reason for Europe’s stinginess is that Ukraine has been caught in the EU’s internal wrangling. The mooted €50bn has been sourced through the bloc’s institutions in Brussels, whose annual budget is itself tiny, at just 1% or so of the 27 members’ GDP. Because the aid to Ukraine is tied to a review of overall EU spending, it has taken seven months to unblock the amount. Changes to the union budget need to be agreed unanimously, which gave undue leverage to Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister and chum to the Kremlin. 
  • Amid the haggling and the summiteering, some simple facts seem to have been overlooked. Europe is a rich place. It would be far worse off if Ukraine lost the war. Proper funding would help Ukraine, which faces a budget shortfall just this year of over $40bn. A far more generous offer would be in Europe’s interest. Kaja Kallas, the Estonian prime minister, has suggested Ukraine’s allies should pony up 0.25% of their GDP per year. That is about one-third of what countries are meant to spend on development aid, and one-eighth of NATO defense-spending targets. Such an allowance, roughly triple what is on offer now, would allow the government in Kyiv to plan for victory, and for Russian defeat. Either Europeans are spewing nonsense about how tied their fates are to Ukraine’s, or they are being short-sighted. Either way, they are not putting their money where their mouths are. 

“Trump’s Ukraine Opportunity,” Paul J. Saunders, NI, 01.26.24. 

  • With prospects for a Senate border compromise looking increasingly murky amid opposition from former President Donald Trump, further substantial U.S. military assistance to Ukraine and Israel appears increasingly in doubt. Some congressional Republicans had earlier insisted that the assistance move forward only together with border security measures. Working to block compromise is likely to prove damaging not only to U.S. interests but also to the political interests of the former president and his congressional allies.
  • One problem for Mr. Trump and his congressional supporters is that in visibly blocking a bipartisan compromise that other Republicans could be prepared to accept, they will own a very large share of the responsibility for conditions along the border, in Ukraine and in Israel between now and Election Day, Nov. 4. The next nine months could see important shifts in all three areas. 
  • Withholding further significant military assistance to Ukraine could be far more consequential not only on the ground but also in voting booths.
  • Mr. Trump’s alternative—supporting a compromise—seems more likely to yield electoral advantage both immediately and in the long term. 
  • Changing course in this manner would require very little from Mr. Trump, who is quite flexible politically and could likely find a way to demonstrate that he forced changes in a compromise package to provide public justification for his revised position. That explanation would be far easier to offer than the one many will seek in September or October if Russia should prevail in Ukraine. Then, the question could be, “Who lost Kyiv?”

“What Ukraine's Defeat Would Mean for the US, Europe and the World,” Oleksandr V Danylyuk, RUSI, 01.24.24.

  • There is no alternative to defeating Russia in Ukraine. Any attempt to conclude a peace treaty with Russia, according to which Ukraine could survive in some form despite the loss of territory and sovereignty, would just be another Minsk Agreement – namely, giving Putin the strategic pause necessary to prepare the next phase of aggression. There is no way to force Putin to follow through on such a deal, even if it were made, and no reason to believe that he would voluntarily refrain from carrying out his original plan to destroy Ukraine.
  • Meanwhile, defeating Russia in Ukraine remains quite achievable and requires only a review of approaches to supporting Ukraine in this war. In the current confrontation, Russia is at the limit of its capabilities, directing about 30% of its state budget to supporting the war. In 2023, the war cost Russia about $100 billion. Russia will retain the ability to continue the war at this level as long as the prices of gas and oil – the sale of which remains the main source of financing for the Russian budget – remain high. At the same time, the costs of supporting Ukraine on the part of the Western coalition remain lower than the costs for Russia, despite the obvious economic advantage of the West. Moreover, the cost of supporting Ukraine is still less than the cost of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the US government estimates cost taxpayers $1.7 trillion. For comparison, the total military aid to Ukraine from the US for the entire duration of the full-scale war has amounted to about $46 billion. Such a situation gives the Russian leadership the impression that the West lacks commitment to achieving a Ukrainian victory and encourages them to continue their aggression.
  • It is believed that an advantage in forces and means of 3 to 1 is necessary for an effective offensive. This rule could also quite easily be applied to the financing of military operations. The only thing needed to win this war is to be ready to send three dollars to support Ukraine for every dollar allocated by Russia. In 2024, Russia will once again spend about $100 billion on the war. The West doesn’t even have to spend its own money to apply the 3 to 1 rule: by a strange coincidence, exactly $300 billion of Russian reserves are now blocked in accounts abroad.

 “Ukraine’s future is in the West’s hands,” Grant Shapps, Politico, 01.24.24.

  • Kyiv needs more support — and not just from the United Kingdom. Our fellow allies must step up too. For its part, the U.K. has been intensifying its efforts to aid Ukraine, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv earlier this month. And during his visit, Sunak announced the increase of U.K.’s military support to £2.5 billion — taking Britain’s total military aid to over £7 billion.
  • Over the past two years, the U.K. has galvanized the international community. It has brought together some 11 countries to help train more than 34,000 Ukrainian recruits here in the U.K. — forming part of the 60,000-strong Ukrainian personnel that Britain has trained since 2014. It has set up the International Fund for Ukraine, raising more than £750 million to procure priority military kit and another bidding round launching just yesterday. Moreover, alongside Norway, it has been leading a Maritime Coalition designed to put Ukraine firmly back in charge of its security in the Black Sea — and a long list of nations are waiting to join.
  • However, we must maintain this momentum. And we need more diplomatic, economic and military support to do so. There’s no world in which Putin can be allowed to win. Not only would it embolden him, putting our other Eastern European allies in Russia’s crosshairs, but it would also signal to China that everything is up for grabs. There can be no wavering. No fence-sitting. No waiting to see which way the wind blows. Putin believes the West can be worn down. He believes we lack strategic patience. And we must prove him wrong. In this great year of democracy, Ukraine’s future is in the West’s hands. We cannot let them down.

“US aid to Ukraine is an investment in US security,” Jeanne Shaheen, Boston Globe, 01.27.24.

  • America's targeted assistance to Ukraine is not charity, nor is it a blank check. It is a strategic investment with oversight that bolsters U.S. deterrence, protects democracies across Europe, and strengthens the U.S. industrial base — including to contractors in New England.
  • If autocrats like Putin are allowed to dictate the futures of sovereign countries, our world will change completely. The global economy will suffer, respect for human rights and democratic values will deteriorate, and dictators everywhere — like Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Chinese President Xi Jinping — will believe they, too, can have free reign over independent nations.
  • Our friends in Ukraine aren't so different from us, and their fight for life and freedom is our fight too.

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

"Seizing Russian Assets Won't Save Ukraine," Editorial Board, Bloomberg, 01.23.24. 

  • The idea of making Russia pay for its aggression with its own assets has undeniable moral and practical appeal. ... Some $300 billion in Russian central bank reserves have been immobilized by Western governments. ... In truth, there’s little to prevent the U.S. from authorizing such a transfer — it did so as recently as 2022, with frozen assets belonging to Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover. It seized Iraqi state assets in 2003.
  • Yet the circumstances and scale would make confiscation in Russia’s case unique. For all its savagery in Ukraine, Russia is a recognized state with a long-standing government. Any confiscation will face court challenges by Russia in multiple countries; Ukraine would be unlikely to have access to the money for years, even decades, if those processes are respected.
  • Aside from the legal wrangling, sovereign seizure on this scale would set a precedent that could be abused in the future, undermining the stability of international relations and economic systems. And it would deprive the West of a bargaining chip in any future negotiations with Russia over ending the war.
  • Rather than attempt to claim possession of those assets, the European Union should act swiftly on this week’s agreement to adopt a windfall tax on the income made by depositories on Russia’s frozen assets
  • Embarking on a long and contested process to seize Russian assets may allow Western governments to claim they’re doing something. But it won’t help save Ukraine.

“If the U.S. is unwilling to send money to Ukraine, use Russia's instead,” Max Boot, WP, 01.22.24. 

  • Whichever genius in the House Republican Conference decided to condition aid to Ukraine on the passage of a comprehensive immigration overhaul deserves a medal ... from the Kremlin. 
  • Yet there is still a giant pot of money that President Biden and other Western leaders could access to aid Ukraine - if only they can find the will to act. When the full-scale Russian invasion occurred nearly two years ago, the United States and its allies froze Russian central bank funds in their own financial institutions. It is estimated that some $300 billion of Russian funds is being held in the West, with the bulk of it (roughly $200 billion) in Belgium's Euroclear, a major financial clearinghouse. At least $5 billion of the Russian holdings are in the United States.
    • The definitive case for using the frozen Russian funds to help Ukraine was laid out in a 123-page paper written by the distinguished constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School and a team of lawyers from Kaplan, Hecker & Fink. 
  • A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation to facilitate the transfer of frozen Russian funds, but the Tribe report makes a convincing - indeed, irrefutable - case that the president already has the power to do so under the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Not all European countries have similar statutory authority, but they could quickly pass legislation that would give their leaders similar powers.
  • Congressional Republicans don't seem to care how many Ukrainians die as a result of their political games. The Biden administration clearly does - yet, despite its commitment to supporting Ukraine, the White House continues to move with agonizing, bureaucratic caution on this vital matter. With Republicans shamefully turning against Ukraine, the administration should be moving heaven and earth to provide that embattled democracy with the funding it needs to survive. So far, I'm sorry to say, the administration simply hasn't done enough.

“Europe is too shy about using its economic power,” Martin Sandbu, FT, 01.29.24.

  • Russia’s assault on Ukraine in 2022 was so egregious as to bring unprecedented forcefulness and unity to sanctions policy, in welcome contrast to the ineffective sanctions imposed after Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014. But unlike the U.S., the EU is extremely reluctant to apply extraterritorial force to its sanctions and unleash all its economic power against sanctions-busting companies in third countries. Governments look out for their companies’ interests, leaving collective security a victim of a geopolitical tragedy of the commons.
  • The same allergy to using power applies to Russia’s foreign exchange reserves, more than €200bn of which is blocked in EU jurisdictions. One may debate the wisdom of confiscating these assets to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction. But most of the EU’s political system has been pushing to place the issue beyond the realm of legitimate options altogether, by clinging to the most conservative legal analysis available and diverting political attention to whether to tax EU-based institutions’ windfall profits from managing Russian state holdings. 

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Should Washington Talk to Moscow Now?” a Debate of Anatol Lieven and Andrew Kuchins at the Center for the National Interest, moderated by Jacob Heilbrunn, 01.23.24.

  • Anatol Lieven: time is not on Ukraine’s side. The offensive failed with huge casualties. Russia has four times the population and 14 times the GDP of Ukraine.
    • There is no reason…to think that a future Ukrainian offensive on the ground would have any greater success. Yes, we can give more weapons to the Ukrainians; we cannot manufacture Ukrainian soldiers.
    • [Without negotiations], if Ukraine cannot reconquer [lost] territories by force, it will not get them.  
  • AL: …If we have to negotiate eventually, we have more leverage to negotiate today than we are likely to have in a year or two.
    • …Future Western aid on the scale necessary simply cannot be guaranteed. The aid [to Ukraine] should continue [in 2024]. But it must be used as leverage in talks with the Russians.
    • If we could preserve the independence and the western parts of 80 percent of Ukraine, at the expense of a treaty of neutrality… [this would be] a victory for Ukraine. 
  • AL: The idea that the United States should not play a leading role is…contrary to history…reality….and the responsibility of an American administration to the American people…
    • Only the United States can negotiate [international security guarantees for Ukraine] with Russia. 
  • Andrew Kuchins: This war has told us that the United States and the Western Europeans must take major steps to restore their military-industrial complexes.
  • AK: There’s nothing that the Russians would agree to that the Ukrainians would agree to right now. They will never trust Russia anytime in the next several decades. 
  • AK: The rate of attrition of Russian soldiers and lost Russian soldiers and lost Russian equipment is far higher than that of Ukrainian soldiers and Ukrainian equipment.
    • There is no evidence to suggest that Ukraine is losing the war. Their offensive was not successful in 2023. Neither did they lose. 
    • [Despite limited Western aid], the Russian Black Sea fleet has been out of commission. The Ukrainians have been operating without even an air force. There are ways of strengthening their position. 
  • AK: Ultimately, the resolution has to be negotiated. But it is not a realistic proposition that it will happen anytime soon, nor do I see it in our interests…
    • We are not talking about sending American soldiers…we are talking about financial commitment. 
    • Russian Central Bank reserves held outside Russia…absolutely should be transferred…for the use by the Ukrainians. That itself…would cover enough financial assistance that is going to Ukraine.

“Russia-Ukraine: Putin Signals Interest in Discussing End to War,” Bloomberg, 01.25.24. [1]

  • Vladimir Putin is testing the waters on whether the U.S. is ready to engage in talks for ending Russia’s war in Ukraine. He’s put out feelers to the U.S. via indirect channels to signal he’s open to discussion, including potentially on future security arrangements for Ukraine, according to two people close to the Kremlin. 
  • The people close to the Kremlin … said the signals were conveyed to senior U.S. officials last month through an intermediary they declined to identify. Putin, they said, may be willing to consider dropping an insistence on neutral status for Ukraine and even ultimately abandon opposition to eventual NATO membership. But it would come at a cost that Kyiv has rejected outright - acceptance of Kremlin control over territory it has come to occupy. 
  • “I heard these rumors and I don’t know what to make out of them - if it’s to win political gains, to be perceived as moderate,” Swedish National Security Advisor Henrik Landerholm said … “Putin would obviously be pretty happy if he could get an agreement based on the current territorial gains, which is of course out of the question for our Ukrainian friends.”
  • “It benefits them for everyone to think that there’s a back channel and it’s so secret no one can figure it out because it scares the hell out of the Ukrainians,” said Fiona Hill, a former top White House official responsible for Russia. “The Russians want us to create this idea that the channel is there and that everything depends on the U.S. so no one or nothing else plays a role,” she added. “It’s a classic Russian play.” 
  • “The Russians from Putin on down have been saying publicly that they are ready to talk for months,” said Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corp. “It may be a trap, a bluff, or a devious attempt at wedge-driving. Or it may be real. Until someone tests that proposition, we’ll never know for sure.” 
  • Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the pro-Kremlin Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow, said that any agreement that formalized Russian control over the occupied lands “would amount to the creation of a new security system in Europe, which indeed was Putin’s primary goal from the beginning. But there’s no signs now that anyone is ready for that.” 

“The Dangers of Defeatism for Ukraine,” Dmytro Kuleba interviewed by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, FA, 01.25.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • Dmytro Kyleba: If the goal is to defeat Russia…to teach a lesson to everyone in the world who is thinking of changing borders by force, then whatever happens on the ground in Ukraine should not be used as an excuse for cutting support or casting doubt about the feasibility of the ultimate goal.
  • DK: Ukraine’s victory is in the strategic interests of countries who believe in the…rules-based order and realize that whatever the price of helping Ukraine is, it is cheaper than fixing the world if Ukraine doesn’t win.
  • DK: There can be multiple answers to [why we have defeatist voices]. One of them is that…Russia…is still trying to use hybrid warfare to cast doubt, to sow divisions among the elites and stakeholders involved in the decision-making processes…
  • DK: [Some of Ukraine’s allies] think [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is a man…who made a great mistake that he has to pay for - not an evil that must be eliminated as a political concept, as a way to handle international affairs. 
    • We remember numerous attempts to make a deal, reset relations with him, appease and engage him, but they all failed. 
    • Nothing benefitted Putin more than the “don’t escalate” concept in this war. Because [it] protracted the adoption of many decisions. They were still made, but we lost time, territories and lives. 
  • DK: The second conceptual issue…is this line that Russia must not win this war. The right way to put it is that Ukraine must win this war. 
    • The strategy must be…militarily, politically and economically put him in a situation where he will go for a face-saving option…that he can sell to his own people – not a face-saving option for international affairs. 
  • DK: [Putin] is playing the argument that “If you go too far in pushing me out of Ukraine, this will destabilize the situation in Russia to the extent where you will have to sort out the mess across a large span of territory.”
    • We had the same set of fears dominating the thinking of Western powers in the months and weeks ahead of the breakup of the Soviet Union. This nightmare did not come true. 
  • [When asked about the consequences if Ukraine does not get more funding from the United States] DK: [Those who oppose the new funding package assume] that Ukraine will realize that it’s time to make concessions to Russia....and that will end the war. 
    • We held 200 rounds of consultations with Russia between 2014…and February 2022…We agreed on 20 ceasefires with them and all of them failed…Russia wanted the war all the time. 
    • Ukraine will keep fighting, but the situation on the battlefield will get much worse. We already feel a much bigger shortage of artillery ammunition than we had two months ago. 

“Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s remarks at a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine, New York, Jan. 22, 2024,” Russian Foreign Ministry, 01.22.24.^ Clues from Russian Views.

  • We have heard more than once and will probably hear from our Western colleagues today an underhanded argument that boils down to the following: “If Russia stops fighting, the war will end but if Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine will end.” Officials at the highest levels of the U.S. government have even gone so far as to say that next Russia will attack Poland, the Baltic states and Finland. They will say anything to squeeze more money out of Congress and European parliaments and persuade them of the need to continue endlessly helping Ukraine to the last dollar and euro, to the detriment of their own citizens. 
  • In fact, what will happen if Ukraine stops fighting? Hundreds of thousands of people who are being pursued by the Kyiv authorities like cattle in the streets, in bars or churches and sent to die as cannon fodder for Western geopolitical interests and what they call “democratic values,” will undoubtedly survive. 
  • Let me remind you that we have never renounced peaceful methods and have always been ready for negotiations. However, these talks should focus on how to overcome the destructive legacy of the past decade, which was dedicated to pillaging Ukraine and inflicting violence on its people. The talks should be about eliminating the root causes of the Ukrainian tragedy, rather than keeping the heads of the Ukrainian regime in power or indulging their delusions. All other so-called peace plans, platforms and “formulas” that the Kyiv regime and its masters are still futilely pursuing have no connection to peace whatsoever and only serve as a cover for the effort to perpetuate the war and bleed Western taxpayers for money. 
  • All these “formulas” lead nowhere. The sooner Washington, London, Paris and Brussels realize this, the better it will be for Ukraine and the West, whose crusade against Russia has already exposed evident reputational and existential risks. I suggest they listen carefully to this, while there is still time. 

“Interview with A.A. Polishchuk, Director of the Second Department of CIS Countries of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the TASS news agency, RF, MFA, Jan. 28, 2024,” Russian Foreign Ministry, 01.28.24.^ Clues from Russian Views

  • More and more countries are realizing the pointlessness of discussing issues of Ukrainian settlement without the participation of Russia. Many understand the absurdity of the situation, recalling Zelenskyy’s decree that prohibits negotiations with the Russian leadership.
  • The “Copenhagen format” has no prospects due to the defectiveness of Zelenskyy’s [peace] “formula” itself. Let me remind you that at its core is the ultimatum demands to Russia, which are divorced from reality, to withdraw troops to the 1991 borders.
  • Meetings in the “Copenhagen Format” and Zelenskyy’s “formula” usurp the right to pursue peaceful initiatives and impede the promotion of reasonable proposals from other countries, including the ideas of our Chinese, Brazilian and African partners.
  • For Washington, London and Brussels ... it is beneficial to fuel the Ukrainian crisis, with the help of which they are not only trying to solve the problem of inflicting a “strategic defeat” on Russia, but also taking measures aimed at economically weakening competitors from the countries of continental Europe.
  • Russia has always remained open to truly meaningful proposals for overcoming the current crisis through political and diplomatic methods. 

“Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment,” ISW, 01.28.24. 

  • Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Director Sergei Naryshkin reiterated that the Kremlin is not interested in any settlements short of the complete destruction and eradication of the Ukrainian state, likely in an ongoing effort to justify the long-term and costly Russian war effort to domestic audiences. Naryshkin told Kremlin journalist Pavel Zarubin during a televised “impromptu” interview on Jan. 28 that the Ukrainian state and government have “a very sad fate” and that “Russia will not stop halfway,” presumably in its efforts to destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. 
    • Naryshkin made a similar statement on Jan. 27 during the opening of a memorial to the Soviet victims of Nazi genocide in Leningrad Oblast, claiming that “Russia will not stop halfway” in its fight with the current followers of Nazi ideology. The similarity of both statements suggests that Naryshkin may be using pre-approved Kremlin rhetoric to signal to Russian citizens that the Kremlin is not open to negotiating with Ukraine or compromising in any settlement of the war Russia started, despite recent Western reports to the contrary.
  • Russian officials have consistently reiterated Russia‘s commitment to its maximalist objectives in Ukraine - which are tantamount to complete Ukrainian and Western capitulation- and statements by Russian officials suggesting that Russia is or has always been interested in peace negotiations with Ukraine are very likely efforts to feign interest to prompt preemptive Western concessions regarding Ukraine’s sovereignty or territorial integrity.

“Reconstructing the Istanbul Accords,” David C. Hendrickson, NI, 01.24.24.

  • There is much we don’t know about the course of the spring 2022 negotiations; historians and polemicists will undoubtedly argue about their crooked path for a long time to come. Naftali Bennett recalled that the parties exchanged seventeen drafts, of which there is little to no public record. Ukrainian negotiators said at the time that the Russians were shifting their positions almost daily. The Russians said the same about the Ukrainians. A tangled web, indeed.
  • However, the public record does disclose far-reaching differences between the parties that persisted throughout the negotiations. Though Russia’s terms preserved Ukrainian sovereignty in most of its territory, it did amount to an effective Ukrainian capitulation on the points that had brought about the war. The Ukrainians were in no mood to do that. That made any peace agreement a remote prospect in the spring of 2022. 

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

“Another Trump Presidency Won’t Much Change U.S. Foreign Policy. The world’s fears are mostly exaggerated,” Stephen M. Walt, 01.22.24. 

  • If we turn to foreign policy, the differences [between Biden and Trump] are not so stark. Although many people now fear that a second Trump term would have dramatic effects on U.S. foreign policy, I suspect the differences will be less significant than you might think. Trump will be erratic, mercurial, boorish, and confrontational—especially toward America’s NATO allies—just as he was during his first term. But in other respects, a second Trump term may not be that different from what Biden would do should he win another four years in office. To see this, consider how each man is likely to deal with what are arguably the three most important items on today’s foreign-policy agenda [including] Ukraine.
  • .With typical bombast, Trump has boasted he could solve the war “in one day” and then waffled when asked if he wants Ukraine to win. Accordingly, you might think a Trump election would bring a sea change in U.S. policy. But here’s the rub: Biden is likely to follow a similar path if he wins another term, even if he pursues it in a different way. The tides of war turned against Ukraine in 2023, and although its supporters keep coming up with optimistic schemes for reversing its fortunes and liberating the territory that Russia has illegally conquered and annexed, their hopes are almost certainly illusory, and the Defense Department probably knows it. Biden & Co. aren’t going to admit this prior to the election, because it would cast doubt on their handling of the war up until now. If returned to office, however, they are likely to pressure Kyiv to adopt more realistic objectives and to move toward a settlement.
  • I believe Biden would do this in a measured way and try to help Kyiv strike the best deal it could. By contrast, Trump would probably exhibit the same diplomatic skill he showed in his amateurish bromance with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un (that is to say, none) and be more inclined to cut and run. The broader point, however, is that both administrations will try to negotiate an end to the war after January 2025, and the resulting deal is likely to be a lot closer to Russia’s stated war aims than Kyiv’s.
  • On balance, the upcoming election will have a far greater impact on U.S. domestic politics than on key issues of foreign policy. As I noted at the outset, the stakes at home are sufficiently large and clear-cut—and sufficiently worrisome—that I won’t have much trouble deciding how to vote. Because I like living in a democracy, I just hope a majority of voters in enough key states agree with me come November.

“The world must start to prepare for Trump 2.0,” Editorial Board, FT, 01.25.24.

  • Whatever the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, Europe’s leaders need to speed up the fulfilment of the military pledges they made after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which they have largely failed to keep. All NATO members should be accelerating efforts to increase defense spending above the agreed target of 2% of GDP (on which Trump has a point). They have to consider not just the short-term financing of Ukraine but how to manage Europe’s defense and procurement potentially without U.S. support. This is not only about weapons but about strategic heft, such as transport and aircraft, and even structures.
  • February 2022 prompted a remarkable display of unity in the EU. A second Trump term would threaten this. He might try to woo individual countries. Different capitals might take different bets on how to deal with him should he become president. Officials need to be thinking, from now, about what to do if the post-1945 order of collective U.S.-European defense is weakened. The EU and NATO will need to consider how to co-ordinate with each other, including with non-EU members of NATO — in particular the UK. It is hard to see the neophyte European Political Community, the sprawling grouping of more than 40 states formed in 2022, being the answer.

“NATO's twin challenges: Russia and now Trump,” Lee Hockstader, WP, 01.25.24.

  • During the Cold War [Netherlands’] no-nonsense armed forces fielded nearly 1,000 tanks, including hundreds of top-shelf ones designed to help its NATO allies slug it out with Moscow's army on the northern German plains. Two decades after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, the Netherlands' active-duty tank inventory had dropped to zero - a small example of the massive disarmament and military downsizing that took place across Europe after the Cold War ended. 
  • Now, the man who took office as the Netherlands' prime minister just before it mothballed its last tanks, Mark Rutte, is the odds-on favorite to head the U.S.-led NATO, which is again locked in a long-term test of wills with the Kremlin. 
  • Senior NATO officials now think the gathering strategic threats and the alliance's own blueprints to defend its borders justify a much greater commitment. They are discussing a minimum increase of one-third over today's collective military spending by non-U. S. members to build muscle in five key areas: air and missile defense, long-distance firepower, IT and communications, logistics, and heavy ground combat forces. That buildup over a decade or more would saddle NATO's non-U. S. members with a bill of at least $100 billion annually, requiring a seismic political, economic and psychological pivot. It would very likely mean cuts in Europe's generous social welfare programs and could blunt intensifying efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, which European officials say could cost $1.6 trillion annually.
  • Europe has deep pockets, but they're not deep enough to meet those military, social and environmental goals simultaneously. Facing down NATO's enemies doesn't translate into armies on the scale of the Cold War, when big European countries had hundreds of thousands of men under arms. But even in an era of tech-driven wars, the buildup NATO foresees would require massive modernization and expansion of forces that atrophied for more than 30 years.
  • That would be the top priority for Rutte if he is selected to succeed Jens Stoltenberg as NATO's secretary general. A close second on the priority list, if Trump is elected, would be managing a mercurial president - a job for which Rutte, who deployed both flattery and a firm hand in dealing with Trump when he was president, might be quite well suited.

“Preparing Europe for Trump 2.0,” Tony Barber, FT, 01.27.24. 

  • The consequences of a Trump second term could also be devastating for Ukraine. If he were to withdraw U.S. support and propose a ceasefire or settlement, with Russia still in control of large parts of Ukrainian territory, Europe would be divided over what to do. Some governments might try to keep up military and financial support for Ukraine, but others would surely fall in line with Trump and accept it was time to end the war. In this article for the Centre for European Reform think-tank, Ian Bond sets out some fairly drastic options for Europe if Trump were to pull the plug on Ukraine: NATO and EU members that take defense seriously should be war-gaming not only how to save Ukraine, but how to respond to an attack on an EU or NATO member in the event that the U.S. decided to remain aloof. They should consider whether the remaining allies could “take over” NATO if the U.S. pulled out.

“For Europe and NATO, a Russian Invasion Is No Longer Unthinkable,” Lara Jakes and Christina Anderson, NYT, 01.29.24. 

  • With the rise of former President Donald J. Trump, who in the past has vowed to leave NATO and recently threatened never to come to the aid of his alliance allies, concerns are rising among European nations that Mr. Putin could invade a NATO nation over the coming decade and that they might have to face his forces without U.S. support. That could happen in as few as five years after a conclusion of the war in Ukraine, according to some officials and experts who believe that would be enough time for Moscow to rebuild and rearm its military.
    • “The past few years have also made it very, very clear that NATO as a military alliance, a lot of countries, are not ready to conduct large-scale operations — meaning, in simple human language, a lot of NATO militaries are not ready to fight Russia,” said Maj. Gen. Veiko-Vello Palm, the commander of the Estonian Army’s main land combat division.
    • “I’m not saying it is going wrong tomorrow, but we have to realize it’s not a given we are in peace,” Adm. Rob Bauer of the Netherlands, the chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, told reporters on Jan. 18.
    • In a Jan. 21 interview, Norway’s top military commander warned that “we are short on time” to build up defenses against an unpredictable Russia. “There is a window now that will perhaps last for one, two, maybe three years, where we will have to invest even more in a secure defense,” said the commander, Gen. Eirik Kristoffersen.
      • “There is nothing to suggest that the war is at the door now, but it’s clear that the risk of war has increased significantly,” Mr. Kristersson said in an interview with Sveriges Radio.
    • And this month, Sweden’s top military commander, Gen. Micael Byden, and its minister for civil defense, Carl-Oskar Bohlin, each warned that Sweden must be prepared for war.
    • We don’t think that this question is whether or not” Russia will try to invade, said said Col. Mati Tikerpuu, the commander of Estonia’s 2nd Infantry Brigade. For many Estonians, he said, “It’s only a question of when.”
  • Moscow has dismissed concerns that Russia is planning to attack NATO. The head of Russian’s foreign intelligence service, Sergei Naryshkin, said in an interview last week with the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti that they are part of a Western disinformation campaign to stir up discontent against Moscow.

“The Next Global War. How Today’s Regional Conflicts Resemble the Ones That Produced World War II,” Hal Brands, FA, 01.26.24. 

  • The parallels between this earlier era and the present are striking. Today, as in the 1930s, the international system is facing three sharp regional challenges. China is rapidly amassing military might as part of its campaign to eject the United States from the western Pacific … Russia’s war in Ukraine is the murderous centerpiece of its long-standing effort to reclaim primacy in eastern Europe and the former Soviet space. In the Middle East, Iran and its coterie of proxies—Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and many others—are waging a bloody struggle for regional dominance against Israel, the Gulf monarchies, and the United States. Once again, the fundamental commonalities linking the revisionist states are autocratic governance and geopolitical grievance; in this case, a desire to break a U.S.-led order that deprives them of the greatness they desire. Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran are the new “have not” powers, struggling against the “haves”: Washington and its allies.
  • Two of these challenges have already turned hot. The war in Ukraine is also a vicious proxy contest between Russia and the West; Russian President Vladimir Putin is buckling down for a long, grinding struggle that could last for years. Hamas’s attack on Israel last October—enabled, if perhaps not explicitly blessed, by Tehran—triggered an intense conflict that is creating violent spillover across that vital region. Iran, meanwhile, is creeping toward nuclear weapons, which could turbocharge its regional revisionism by indemnifying its regime against an Israeli or U.S. response. In the western Pacific and mainland Asia, China is still relying mostly on coercion short of war. But as the military balance shifts in sensitive spots such as the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea, Beijing will have better options—and perhaps a bigger appetite—for aggression.
  • As in the 1930s, the revisionist powers don’t always see eye-to-eye. Russia and China both seek preeminence in central Asia. They are also pushing into the Middle East, in ways that sometimes cut across Iran’s interests there. If the revisionists do eventually push their common enemy, the United States, out of Eurasia, they might end up fighting among themselves over the spoils … Yet for now, the ties between revisionist powers are flourishing and Eurasia’s regional conflicts are becoming more tightly interlinked.
  • Russia and China are drawing closer through their “no limits” strategic partnership … And just as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 once allowed Germany and the Soviet Union to rampage through eastern Europe without risking conflict with each other, the Sino-Russian partnership has pacified what was once the world’s most militarized border and enabled both countries to focus on their contests with Washington and its friends. More recently, the war in Ukraine has also enhanced other Eurasian relationships—between Russia and Iran, and Russia and North Korea—while intensifying and interweaving the challenges the respective revisionists pose.
  • Since Oct. 7, Putin has declared that conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East are part of a single, larger struggle that “will decide the fate of Russia, and of the entire world.” And in another echo of the past, tensions across Eurasia’s key theaters stretch U.S. resources thin by confronting the superpower with multiple dilemmas simultaneously. The revisionist powers aid each other simply by doing their own things.
  • The international scene has darkened dramatically in recent years. In 2021, the Biden administration could envision a “stable and predictable” relationship with Russia—until that country invaded Ukraine in 2022. In 2023, U.S. officials deemed the Middle East quieter than at any time this century—just before a devastating, regionally destabilizing conflict broke out. U.S.-Chinese tensions aren’t particularly febrile at the moment, but sharpening rivalry and a shifting military balance make for a dangerous mix. Great catastrophes often seem unthinkable until they happen. As the strategic environment deteriorates, it’s time to recognize how eminently thinkable global conflict has become.

NATO Societies Must be Ready for War, Ed Arnold, RUSI, 01.26.24. 

  • Recently, the U.K. Defense Secretary argued that the world was becoming a more dangerous place. Indeed, the contemporary and future security challenges facing the U.K. will need a whole-of-society approach. However, the societal dimension cannot be transformed as easily, or as quickly, as the military component. An incremental approach is the best and most politically acceptable route. Therefore, the recent collective NATO announcements should not be seen as an overreaction, but rather as an attempt to start to set the conditions in NATO societies for further developing individual and collective systems, learning from each other, to be better prepared for the future.
  • It is important that this should also include a new social contract which is explicit and transparent about national security risks and the costs of both action and inaction. Moreover, it must be non-party political. Indeed, support for Ukraine and the recent UK strikes against Houthi positions in Yemen have fostered unprecedented levels of support from the opposition Labor Party at the operational level, although disagreements are still evident on policy. This may or may not involve a discussion on the pros and cons of conscription or another model of mobilization, but it is an opportunity to start to publicly articulate why this could be necessary in the future and how it might develop. Yes, a public debate on conscription would be politically sensitive, but it is clear that the current approach is not working and that it is a critical national security risk, with the Army not meeting its recruitment targets for 14 years. Developing a new social contract will take time and a government willing to legislate in the face of public apathy or even antipathy.
  • Ultimately, it is an acknowledgement that defense spending will have to increase to keep the country and its people safe, as the only realistic mitigation measure against a more dangerous world. If this all sounds politically unappealing – or too costly, to NATO capitals – there is an easier and much cheaper solution: giving Ukraine what it needs to win.

“Russia projects confidence as it pursues alliances to undermine West,” Catherine Belton, WP, 01.27.24. 

  • Russia is increasingly confident that deepening economic and diplomatic ties with China and the Global South will allow it to challenge the international financial system dominated by the United States and undermine the West, according to Kremlin documents and interviews with Russian officials and business executives. Internal Russian Security Council documents obtained by a European intelligence service and reviewed by The Washington Post, show that the Kremlin convened meetings in 2022 and 2023 on ways to undermine the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency. The ultimate goal, one of the documents stated, was to dismantle the post-World War II global financial system and the power it gives Washington. “One of the most important tasks is to create a new world order,” one of the documents dated April 3, 2023, states. “Western countries led by the United States have tried to impose their own structure, based on their dominance.” 
  • While most of the West still hopes for a return to the previous order, a senior European security official said, Russia’s billionaires “have understood that the old life is finished and now is the time to create a new future.” The Russians, the official continued, “have passed through the Rubicon, and the West has not. The West wants to return to business as usual. But the Russians understood that this is impossible, and they are trying to build a new world.”

“Ukraine in the hands of the United States: tool, asset, mistake?” Andrey Sushentsov, Valdai Club, 01.26.24. Clues from Russian Views. (The Valdai Club is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • Ukraine is a convenient, rather cheap tool for weakening and containing Russia, as well as forcing the European allies to embrace discipline and obedience.
  • I believe that we will not see anything new in American strategy, and since the newly proposed Russian budget assumes continued military conditions on the horizon for the next three years, I do not believe that the Americans will be ready to give up Ukraine as an asset.
  • Is it possible that the American election campaign will influence the Ukrainian conflict? I would consider a scenario in which it would not affect this conflict for the better for Russia, and proceed without placing too much emphasis on who sits in the White House.
  • It is necessary to understand that questions that were common 20 years ago are no longer being asked as frequently.  
  • The topic of fighting terrorism was shared by Russia and the U.S. for some time — in the early 2000s, we tested the possibility of in-depth work with each other. But this area is one of the markers that shows the unilateral approach of the United States to international cooperation with Russia.
    • First, contacts with Russia in the fight against terrorism were interrupted, although this is an absolutely vital area of interest, cooperation in which is extremely important.
    • Second, Americans quite often instrumentally use groups recognized as terrorist in Russia to pursue their goals.

“David Sanger's ‘New Cold Wars’ explores Biden, China, Russia, Ukraine,” Mike Allen, Axios, 01.26.24.

  • David E. Sanger, White House and national security correspondent for the New York Times, will be out April 16 with his fourth book, "New Cold Wars" — reported from around the world, with interviews with leaders, combatants and former government officials.
  • "The first hundred pages or so are a reported, sometimes anecdotal account of how the U.S. deceived itself into thinking it would bring China and Russia into the West's economies and into its embrace," Sanger tells Axios. 
  • "And then what happened when the inevitable collision occurred — with Russia over Ukraine and a new hostility to the West that will change our lives for decades, and with China in a technology competition that seems increasingly likely to veer into something worse," Sanger continues.
  • Why it matters: The book "explores the question of whether this hostility was avoidable, and how this set of Cold Wars will be infinitely more complex than the past," Sanger says.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“What Worries Me About War With China After My Visit to Taiwan,” Nicholas Kristof, NYT, 01.27.24.

  • Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is concerned enough about the risk of war between the United States and China that he is listening to the audiobook version of Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August,” the classic history of how the major powers in 1914 stumbled into World War I. “I think this is the most dangerous time since I was a kid in 1962,” during the Cuban missile crisis, he told me. “The world war potential is really, really significant.”
  • Perhaps the single best way to discourage Xi Jinping from attacking Taiwan is to help Ukraine against Russia. The more the West is united in making Russia pay a stiff price for Vladimir Putin’s invasion, the less inclined Xi will be to take a whack at Taiwan. Yet some Republicans who in theory are hostile to China nonetheless resist funding for Ukraine.
  • As for President Biden, he has done an excellent job in leading the Western alliance against Putin. But he let himself be intimidated by Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling, especially early in the war, refusing to provide some advanced arms to Ukraine for fear that Putin would respond with tactical nuclear weapons. Xi may thus have absorbed the lesson that nuclear threats work.
  • Maybe the best recommendation I heard came from Mark Liu, the chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. He offered this useful advice for Americans aiming to help Taiwan’s security: “Do more. Talk less.” That advice might have helped the major powers in August 1914 avoid a cataclysmic and unnecessary war. It remains sound counsel today.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Russian Military Thought and Doctrine Related to Non-strategic Nuclear Weapons: Change and Continuity,” William Alberque, IISS, 01.22.24. 

  • Moscow sees its non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNW) as playing a significant role, in coordination with the full range of its military and non-military instruments of power, in deterring unwanted conflicts, shaping the battlefield for planned conflicts, limiting escalation within conflicts and ensuring that it prevails in any conflict. It also sees its NSNW as providing a comparative and asymmetric advantage over its immediate neighbors and the U.S. and its allies. President Vladimir Putin has asserted that Russia’s nuclear weapons are a guarantor of its sovereignty and great-power status, deterring an otherwise inevitable U.S. effort to replace his rule. It is highly likely that Putin perceives NSNW as among a series of flexible tools he can use to: 
    • coerce adversaries;
    • control escalation in conflict and near-conflict situations;
    • dissuade outside powers from intervening in any conflict that Russia deems critical to its interests; 
    • force adversaries to agree to war termination on conditions dictated by Russia;
    • prevent any conflict from escalating from the local to the theatre level of war (for instance, in Europe through intervention by NATO); and
    • prevent any conflict from escalating from the theatre to the strategic level of war (that is to say, escalation to direct strikes on the U.S. and Russian homelands). To this end, Russia employs and continues to develop NSNW of varying types and ranges to provide a nuclear option at every rung in the escalation ladder.
  • Recent developments reinforce these observations about Russian thought and doctrine regarding NSNW. 
    • In its war on Ukraine, Russia has used direct nuclear signaling to the U.S. and NATO with its strategic and theatre nuclear forces. 
    • More recently, it has shown with Belarus that it sees NSNW as a useful tool to exert further control over its near-abroad and increase its coercive power against NATO. 
  • Russia probably discounts the U.S. NSNW arsenal as a significant threat. While it mirrors the U.S. interest in air-dropped nuclear-armed bombs, it has developed a suite of short- and medium-range NSNW options to provide it with a perceived advantage in crisis management, escalation and war termination in compensation for a lack of confidence in its conventional forces. The Russian perception of the lack of credible Western will to use nuclear weapons or to accept casualties in conflict further reinforces Russia’s aggressive NSNW thought and doctrine. 
  • In light of this, options for policymakers from the US and its allies and partners include:
    • continuing to monitor the debate in Russian-language military journals and other publications for the general direction of Russia’s debate – as well as specific, core doctrinal issues – while acknowledging the divide between public thought and classified doctrine;
    •  focusing on changes to Russia’s force posture, especially nuclear-storage sites – their numbers and size, the levels of activity inside the facilities and any related movements in or out – as well as exercises that explicitly or implicitly involve NSNW;
    • continuing to examine Russia’s military exercises to gain insights on potential NSNW scenarios, discounting deceptive scenarios, and focusing on coordinated exercises of radiological-defense troops interacting with high-readiness forces as a key indicator of Russia preparing to fight in a radiological environment;
    •  working to improve awareness and understanding among the US and its allies and partners of Russia’s NSNW thought, doctrine and force posture, as well as the value of US extended-deterrence guarantees through better coordination, planning, exercising and public outreach; and increasing the base of experts on NSNW thought and doctrine within the governments of the US and its allies and partners, as well as engagement with academia, think tanks and mass media.

“The Altered Nuclear Order in the Wake of the Russia-Ukraine War,” Rebecca Davis Gibbons, Stephen Herzog, Wilfred Wan and Doreen Horschig, American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 12.23.

  • [Moscow’s] suspension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and deratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) have been setbacks for arms control and disarmament.
    • The risk calculus of some states changed, impacting their views on the utility of nuclear weapons. Vulnerable states…may be further incentivized to develop nuclear weapons or seek protection from nuclear-armed patrons to avoid being invaded like Ukraine.
  • The war has exacerbated a schism between those who advocate for nuclear disarmament and those who favor nuclear deterrence. 
    • If nuclear weapon use is strategically effective and carries limited collateral damage, this could lead some governments and publics to more the altered nuclear order readily accept the nuclear deterrence narrative. 
    • If nuclear use does not contribute to a Russian victory and/or results in mass casualties, the appeal of nuclear weapons should plummet. This would buttress the disarmament narrative.
  • Russian involvement [in bilateral and multilateral risk-reduction efforts] will eventually be necessary, as Russia has the largest nuclear weapons stockpile.
  • If the war in Ukraine causes an increase in calls for nuclear proliferation, counterproliferation incentives will grow alike, prompting an increased risk of escalation between actors due to the operations’ illegal nature and violation of sovereign rights.

"As Trump looms, top EU politician calls for European nuclear deterrent," Jakob Hanke Vela and Nicolas Camut, Politico, 01.25.24.

  • Facing the potential return of Donald Trump to the White House, the head of the EU’s biggest political grouping is calling for Europeans to prepare for war without support from the United States and to build its own nuclear umbrella.
  • Manfred Weber, leader of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) — currently tipped to come first in the European Parliament election in June — described Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin as “the two who set the framework” for 2024.
  • “Europe must build deterrence, we must be able to deter and defend ourselves,” he said. “We all know that when push comes to shove, the nuclear option is the really decisive one.”
  • According to Weber, it’s now time to bring back that idea of internationalizing the “force de frappe.” “I would like to see the European dimension of nuclear defense as a long-term goal,” the EPP leader said. “But as long as this is not realistic, we should take up Macron’s offer and think now about how France’s nuclear armament can also be embedded in European structures.”

“Speech by the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva G.M. Gatilov at the plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament,” Russian Foreign Ministry, 01.26.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Given the refusal of the United States and its allies to joint efforts to stabilize the strategic sphere, Russia is forced to follow a balanced and pragmatic approach in order to ensure at least a minimum level of predictability and restraint. Thus, we continue to adhere to the quantitative restrictions under the New START Treaty and the moratorium on the deployment of ground-based INF Treaty announced four years ago.
  • We would like to reaffirm our country's full commitment to its obligations under Article VI of the NPT, where the goal of achieving a world without nuclear weapons is set in the context of general and complete disarmament. We believe that nuclear disarmament should be carried out gradually, on the basis of consensus, and take place in such a way that the corresponding steps do not harm anyone’s security and lead to strengthening international stability, peace and security for all.
  • At the moment, the most acute risks of a strategic nature come from the U.S.’ and NATO’s commitment to escalating the Ukrainian crisis, which is fraught with a slide into a direct military clash between nuclear powers with catastrophic consequences. Russia is committed to the understanding, which was developed back in the 1980s, that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and that it should never be fought.
  •  We consider it important pay increased attention to the agenda item “Prevention of nuclear war, including all related issues.” At the same time, it is necessary to consider the whole range of problems associated with the root causes, risks and consequences of irresponsible behavior of states, which can lead to irreversible and disastrous developments for the whole world. 


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“How the West Can Match Russia in Drone Innovation,” Samuel Bendett and Jane Pinelis, WoR, 01.25.24. 

  • The war in Ukraine is pushing innovation on both sides to the limit, forcing the adversaries to adapt and adopt the latest in military and civilian technologies for combat. While Ukraine had the initial lead in such innovation in 2022, by late 2023 to early 2024 the Russian military and the volunteer efforts have caught up, adopting many similar technologies and concepts while building on these developments to fit their needs. The volunteer communities in Russia are especially tuned into the latest technical developments, given that many volunteers come from academia and the high-tech sector, and often contribute to drone research, development, and assembly after their full-time jobs. Drone use in the Russo-Ukrainian war is only going to grow, with first-person-view and small quadcopter drones becoming dangerous technologies in the field in ever-increasing numbers. Enabling their operations with AI is the next logical and technological step already undertaken by both belligerents. 
  • The “homegrown” AI use is likely to accelerate and might make drone warfare even deadlier. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense is much more focused on augmenting human warfighters than on replacing them. It is taking a measured and thoughtful approach, navigating the intricacies of maneuvering a large existing bureaucracy and infrastructure. When ample time permits the refinement of such a system, strategizing for the long term could yield favorable results. However, the imperative question beckons: What measures would we be willing to undertake if our preparation falls short as the clock ticks down? 
  • The rapid integration of unvetted commercial technologies into military operations, as observed in the approaches adopted by Russia and Ukraine, might not align with the rigorous standards upheld by the United States. In light of this, Washington should critically contemplate the alternative strategies. At the current rate, the United States may well face a set of choices, both of which can be unacceptable: taking unknown or unquantified risks on fielding AI-enabled systems, or entering a conflict with mostly traditional military systems while adversaries move forward with the first choice. The only way to avoid this set of choices is to urgently channel leadership, resources, infrastructure, and personnel toward assuring these technologies. With many in the Department of Defense leadership now keenly aware of the magnitude of the AI assurance issue for the department, Pentagon funding allocations should reflect a commitment to securing a technological edge while remaining true to America’s democratic values. 

“Containment for AI. How to Adapt a Cold War Strategy to a New Threat,” Mustafa Suleyman, FA, 01.24.24. 

  • Over the next ten years, grappling with AI’s inbuilt tendency toward uncontrolled spread will become a generational challenge. It will, accordingly, require a generational response akin to what the West mobilized in the early days of the Cold War. At that time, the American diplomat George F. Kennan talked about containing the Soviet Union by using hard power and economic and cultural pressure to ensure that the Soviets were kept behind their borders and the democratic world was not overwhelmed. Today’s challenge requires a similarly broad and ambitious program, in this case to keep AI in check and societies in control. It will be, like Kennan’s, an effort based on laws and treaties. It will also necessitate, however, a massive global movement and changes to the culture of technology companies. This modern form of containment will be needed not only to manage AI and prevent it from creating catastrophe but also to ensure that it becomes one of the most extraordinarily beneficial inventions in human history.
  • Containment will require hard technical questions to be answered by international treaties and mass global movements alike. It must encompass work on AI safety, as well as the audit mechanisms needed to monitor and enforce compliance. The companies behind AI will be critical to this effort and will need to think carefully about how to align their own incentives with government regulation. Yet containing AI will not be the sole responsibility of those building its next generation. Nor will it rest entirely on national leaders. Rather, all of those who will be affected by it (that is, everyone) will be critical to creating momentum behind this effort. Containment offers a policy blend capable of working from the fine-grained details of an AI model out to huge public programs that could mitigate vast job destruction.
  • Collectively, this project may prove equal to this moment and capable of counteracting the many risks that AI poses. The cumulative effect of these measures—which must include licensing regimes, the staffing of a generation of companies with critics, and the creation of inbuilt mechanisms to guarantee access to advanced systems—is to keep humanity in the driver’s seat of this epochal series of changes, and capable, at the limit, of saying no. None of these steps will be easy. After all, uncontrolled proliferation has been the default throughout human history. Containment should therefore be seen not as the final answer to all technology’s problems but rather, the first critical step.

Energy exports from CIS:

“Russia’s Oil Industry Threatened by Ukrainian Drones, Western Sanctions,” Sergey Vakulenko, CEIP, 01.26.24. 

  • Russian oil refineries rarely generate much news. Yet since the start of 2024, they have barely left the front pages: first, there was an accident at Lukoil’s Kstovo refinery; then successful Ukrainian attacks on refineries in Ust-Luga on the Baltic Sea, and Tuapse on the Black Sea. These incidents garnered so much media attention because they pose major questions about how well Russia’s energy industry is coping with the pressures of wartime.
  • On one hand, the additional income Russia receives from exporting the products made by its refineries instead of the oil they are made from, is relatively insignificant compared to what it makes from selling the crude oil. Ironically, Russia’s tax system means that the state loses money if energy companies export oil products instead of crude oil.
  • On the other, oil products exports allow Russia to target multiple segments of the global oil market. And, of course, refineries are crucial for both the Russian economy and waging war in Ukraine: cars, trucks, tractors, harvesters, tanks, ships, and planes need gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel; they cannot run on crude oil.
  • The two refineries attacked by Ukraine in January are export-oriented, and do not play a major role in the domestic market. However, if small drones with no more than 5 kilograms of explosives managed to reach Ust-Luga, which is 620 miles from Ukrainian territory, this means there are a total of eighteen Russian refineries with a combined capacity of 3.5 million barrels per day (more than half the Russian total) that are possible targets.
  • Small drones like those used in Ust-Luga and Tuapse cannot cause major destruction. Still, they are cheap, and can be used for nuisance attacks. With a bit of luck, they can damage not just pipelines, but also compressors, valves, control units, and other pieces of equipment that are tricky to replace because of sanctions.
  • If this is Kyiv’s plan, it’s similar to the tactics employed by Russia a year ago, when it targeted the Ukrainian power system, bombing transformers in the hope that repairs would take time. In the end, Ukraine managed to source enough spare parts, and come up with enough quick fixes that Russia’s campaign failed. Now, it’s Russia’s energy infrastructure that’s in the crosshairs—and Russia needs to find a coping strategy.
  • On the one hand, there’s no doubt that Russia has a much larger industrial base than Ukraine, which means there are more opportunities to source parts domestically. On the other hand, Russia is more isolated from international markets than Ukraine. If we are seeing the beginning of a wave of attacks on western Russia’s oil refineries, the consequences will be serious. Either way, Russia’s reserves of resilience and ingenuity look set to be severely tested. The speed and quality of the repairs at Kstovo, Ust-Luga, and Tuapse will be key indicators of Moscow’s readiness.

“Russian Gas Transit Through Ukraine,” Tatiana Stanovaya, R.Politik Weekly Digest No. 4 (18) 2024, 01.28.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Ukraine and the EU may allow the continuation of Russian gas supplies after 2024 on the condition that European companies individually order transit capacities from GTS. This possibility involves Russia delivering gas to the Ukrainian border, followed by an arrangement made by an EU entity with Ukraine’s transmission system operator to transport the gas to Austria, Slovakia or the Czech Republic – the three countries most dependent on Russian gas. 
  • Sergey Vakulenko, from the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre, told R.Politik that Ukraine has been advocating this approach for many years but faced considerable resistance from Gazprom. For Ukraine, this arrangement would simplify the process of purchasing gas directly from Gazprom's European buyers and avoiding disputes with the Russians over delivery points, especially since one such point is now under Russian control. The further away from the end markets that a “united Europe” buys gas from Gazprom, the fewer opportunities Gazprom has for arbitrage between different markets and conversely, the more opportunities arise for European traders. Given the current context, Gazprom has limited options and could be open to any feasible solution that maintains its contracts with European countries.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“The Myths That Warp How America Sees Russia—and Vice Versa. How Mutual Misunderstanding Breeds Tension and Conflict,” Michael Kimmage and Jeremy Shapiro, FA, 01.25.24. 

  • After more than a century of tension and conflict, the U.S.-Russian relationship is now structured around ... myths. Myths weigh down that relationship, obscuring nuance and clear perception. And they have shaped, and will continue to shape, each country’s part in the war in Ukraine. The myth that many Russians hold of the United States is continually driving the Kremlin toward harmful belligerence.  The myth that Americans hold of Russia is also a trap, leading policymakers to misread the Kremlin and to miss opportunities to weaken the regime or to find compromises. 
  • In Russia, it is conventional wisdom that the United States is power-mad. The American public, many Russians believe, is under the thumb of a megalomaniacal U.S. elite. ... [T]he myth of a United States drunk on power and unwilling to stick to agreements makes it very hard for Moscow to negotiate over regional questions. Russians cannot imagine that the leaders of countries such as Ukraine have minds of their own. For Moscow, Ukrainian hostility is simply the veiled extension of American hostility, and American hostility toward Russia demands equal Russian hostility toward the United States. If the only language the United States understands is power, then negotiation, deliberation, and the granting of concessions all entail undue risk.
  • American myths about Russia have similarly deep historical roots. The U.S. image of Russia as an unadulterated autocracy dates to the nineteenth century ... The United States’ myth of Russia—that Russia is an evil and ambitious tyranny—has some domestic political uses. To interest inward-looking Americans in the outside world, Washington needs to conjure a single omnipotent villain. 
  • The biggest problem posed by the myths that Russia and the United States have of each other is that they are mutually reinforcing. 
  • These myths will long be with us. But Washington must recognize them as such. If the United States could, in its own internal policy debates, challenge the myth of Russia’s unalloyed autocracy and uncover the ways in which domestic politics and public opinion constrain and construct Russian foreign policy, it might discover tools that could disrupt Russia’s war effort. It would also be more ready for a post-Putin political transition. Politically, Russia tends to change suddenly; its politics do not remain forever frozen.
  • As they try to predict Russian behavior, U.S. leaders would also benefit from a greater awareness of the United States’ mythical status in the Kremlin, which is wildly at odds with Washington’s self-image. Russians believe that the timeless essence of the United States is the will to power: this clarifies the Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine, and it also explains Russia’s refusal to wind down its devastating war in Ukraine. Captivating as they are, myths mislead by obscuring the awesome complexity and open-endedness of reality. In all they reveal about human nature, myths admit endless interpretation. But at their heart, they are also static—and they get in the way of sound strategy and agile diplomacy.

“The Clinton-Yeltsin Moscow Summit, January 1994,” Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton, National Security Archives at GWU, 01.25.24. 

  • Declassified highest-level records from the Moscow summit 30 years ago this month detail U.S. President Bill Clinton’s strong personal support for Russian President Boris Yeltsin, their close cooperation on security issues, and deep concern about Yeltsin backtracking on economic reforms newly understood by the Clinton team as too “harsh” on the Russian people.
    • The documents include verbatim transcripts of Clinton’s two “one-on-one” discussions with Yeltsin, their trilateral discussion with Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk about removal of nuclear weapons from Ukraine, the detailed report from the U.S. Embassy Moscow on the dinner thrown by Yeltsin at his official dacha for Clinton, and the transcript of the expanded bilateral discussion between Clinton and Yeltsin on security issues.
    • The e-book includes an overview briefing memo for the President from national security adviser Anthony Lake, which describes Yeltsin as “arguably your most important foreign counterpart,” and the economic briefing memo to Clinton that admits that market reforms urged by the U.S. and implemented by Yeltsin failed to provide a social safety net for Russians, who reacted by voting against the reformers in the December 1993 parliamentary elections.
    • One highlight among the documents from January 1994 is the 12-page “eyes only” memo from Strobe Talbott to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, with Christopher’s extensive handwritten comments in the margins, including the admission that “set speeches” were “a real weakness” of his. Just a few days after being nominated to be Christopher’s deputy, a major promotion after less than one year as ambassador for the former Soviet republics, Talbott provides his boss with an almost anthropological account of Washington’s foreign policy village, with candid commentary on Russia and NATO policies (and their critics), on State Department personnel issues, and on internal tensions in the Clinton team. These included Lake’s “runs” at “knocking me out of Presidential events on Russia,” such as the upcoming Moscow one-on-ones.
    • Two of the documents, the Clinton-Kravchuk memcon at Kyiv’s Borispol Airport and the trilateral memcon with Clinton, Yeltsin and Kravchuk in Moscow, mark a key moment in the history of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.... Ukraine had no capacity to service and maintain the nuclear warheads—which were reaching the end of their service lives and were thus mini-Chernobyls waiting to happen—and couldn’t afford to build a nuclear reprocessing cycle (the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences’ estimate was $3 billion), especially with the international sanctions that would have ensued. In order to remove the nukes, Ukraine needed compensation and security assurances; at the same time, some voices in the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, argued for keeping the nukes. The Moscow summit documents, including the Trilateral Statement signed by the three leaders, show the first steps towards the ultimate deal. The U.S. put up $60 million to prime the pump; the Russians provided fuel assemblies blended down from warhead fissile material to fuel Ukrainian nuclear power plants; and the Ukrainians started shipping warheads to the Russians for reprocessing. Ukraine also received debt forgiveness for hundreds of millions of dollars in already supplied Russian oil and gas and security assurances that lasted until 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, in 2022, popularized the notion that Ukraine should have kept its nukes, but the record shows that maintaining a nuclear arsenal wasn’t really an option for the country in 1994.
  • The biggest worry among the Clinton team at the Moscow summit was not so much the Ukraine trilateral but the fate of economic and democratic reforms in Russia after the shock of the December elections. During the opening dinner at Yeltsin’s dacha on January 13, the Russian president referred to the leading reformer, former prime minister Yegor Gaidar, as the leader of the government party in the Duma, “clearly impl[ying] that Gaidar would be out of the government and work only in the Duma.”  


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Anti-War Presidential Bid Causes Headache for Kremlin, Andrey Pertsev, CEIP, 01.29.24.  Clues from Russian Views.

  • An attempt by Russia’s longshot independent candidate Boris Nadezhdin to collect enough signatures to stand in the March presidential election has generated political shockwaves. Over 200,000 people have so far turned out to support the openly anti-war politician, with long lines forming outside signature collection points all over the country. 
  • The Kremlin has been discussing the idea of allowing a tame liberal candidate to take part in the elections for months. Nadezhdin’s record means he would have been a good pick for this role, and it’s very likely there were some preliminary negotiations. However, it seems the idea was ultimately ditched by the Kremlin, and Nadezhdin decided to go it alone.
  • The nature of his public statements mean there is no way he is currently acting as a spoiler candidate, or being curated by Kremlin managers. His election manifesto states that Putin is “dragging Russia back to the past,” that “Putin made a fatal mistake” when he went to war in Ukraine, and that the country is “racing toward medieval feudalism and obscurantism.” The Kremlin would never agree to anyone saying such things.
  • What will happen next? More likely than not, the Central Election Commission will simply bar Nadezhdin from running. There are many precedents for the commission carrying out the Kremlin’s wishes in this way: handwriting experts simply deem some of the collected signatures to have been faked and therefore invalid, and if a legal challenge is mounted in response, the courts back them up.
  • If and when Nadezhdin is disqualified, there will not be any significant street protests: the risks for participants are just too high. Even so, the men and women who stood in line for him have acquired experience of political participation, and will be on the lookout for other opportunities to express their opposition. Nadezhdin’s supporters could also prove an electoral headache for officials who are trying to ensure both a record turnout at this election, and Putin’s highest ever vote share.
  • Most importantly of all, Nadezhdin’s campaign has had the opposite effect to that intended by Kremlin spin doctors. While they wanted to use him to show the unpopularity of democratic ideas, they have achieved the opposite. Images of people lining up in support of an anti-war, anti-Putin candidate have proven there are still many Russians who desire political change.

“The anti-war candidate channeling Russians’ discontent with Putin. Little-known Boris Nadezhdin attracts supporters despite suspicions about his presidential bid being approved by the Kremlin,” Courtney Weaver and Anastasia Stognei, FT, 01.26.24. 

  • Russians opposed to Vladimir Putin for years have been inspired by telegenic anti-corruption campaigners willing to risk their freedom and even their lives to expose the Kremlin’s crimes. Now, after two years of war and with most opposition figures either in jail, in exile or dead, they have been left with Boris Nadezhdin.
  • As the only anti-war candidate in a highly controlled presidential contest, the little-known, portly, goatee-bearded 60 year-old has shot from obscurity to become a release valve for Russians inside and outside the country who are frustrated by the war in Ukraine and the regime. An amiable if bumbling former deputy in the Duma, or legislative assembly, Nadezhdin has spent the past three decades in politics, but largely toiled in obscurity. Sceptics say he is a Kremlin project designed to give false legitimacy to the upcoming presidential vote and distract the opposition-minded portion of the population
  • Yet his candidacy has struck a nerve. This week, with the deadline approaching for Nadezhdin to collect the necessary 100,000 signatures to appear on the ballot, social media posts have shown thousands of Russians queueing to give their signatures in major cities such as Moscow, St Petersburg, and Ekaterinburg. Supporters were also seen turning out in central Russia’s Bashkortostan and the Arctic republic of Yakutia, where a handful of fans lined up in the minus-45-degree cold.
  • Asked by a reporter on Wednesday whether Putin considered Nadezhdin a political threat, the president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We do not consider him a rival. Not at all.” Yet political analysts said it was unlikely the Kremlin would allow Nadezhdin’s popularity to progress too far. Authorities could refuse to put him on the ballot, by deeming some of his signatures invalid, they said, or find some other means to influence him, such as the threat of prison.

“Putin’s Grand Plan for Russia’s 2024 Elections,” Callum Fraser, RUSI, 01.29.24. 

  • The outcome of the election is by all accounts a given. Instead, the focus of analysis over the next few months should be on how Putin’s election campaign is conducted, as this will indicate his intentions while in office for the next term. Over the next few weeks, we should expect Putin to continue projecting the message that he stands alone, peerless and unassailable in the role of steering the Russian political machine. The suspiciously poor selection of opposing candidates, combined with their lackluster commitment to campaigning, only further adds to the grim portents for Russia’s short-term political future.

“How the war in Ukraine could wear Russia down in the end,” Leon Aron, WP, 01.25.24.

  • The fighting in Ukraine is likely to heighten the strain on most Russian lives, and increasingly imperil many, as the war eats like a voracious mole into the Kremlin's stores of money and men.
  • In 2024, the Kremlin is hiking defense expenditures by 68 percent over last year. Combined with spending for law enforcement, the military will consume 40 percent of the country's budget. Where will the money come from? .... The next likeliest tactic is raising the 20 percent value-added tax on producers and retailers, who are certain to pass the costs on to consumers. With Joseph Stalin's U.S.S.R. increasingly a model for Putin's Kremlin, another highly unpopular levy in the pipeline could be "voluntary" subscription to government bonds.
  • The prices of key staples continue to rise. Eggs cost 43 percent more than a year ago, chicken is up almost 27 percent, and sugar is over 10 percent more expensive. For its part, to make up for the plunge in foreign sales, the natural gas behemoth Gazprom has raised domestic prices for gas by 11 percent over the second half of last year and plans to increase them by another 8 percent in 2024. 
  • Social spending, already meager, is being further cut back. Health-care appropriations are slated to go down by 10 percent. Funding for maintaining and repairing utilities — water, sewage, electricity, heat — will be slashed by half in 2025.
  • More dangerous incidents are likely to be in store for Russia's airlines, which suffered more than 180 accidents and malfunctions in 2023 — triple the previous year's number. 
  • In the greatest peril in 2024, however, are Russia's young men. Apparently, last fall's biannual military draft did not yield enough recruits, and Putin signed a decree expanding the armed forces by 170,000 soldiers, to a total of 1.3 million military personnel. Yet to reach that number in the face of front-line casualties, some believe the Kremlin might have to conscript as many as 300,000 recruits.
  • Even as Putin scrapes the bottom of the barrel, pardoning convicted murderers, rapists and, lately, Satanists and cannibals, after six months of service in special Storm-Z units in Ukraine, the flow of volunteer inmates appears to be thinning.... Meanwhile, the reservists sent to the front during "partial mobilization" in September 2022 are still in Ukraine, with little prospect of a rotation, much less discharge. Another national conscription, which is very likely to follow Putin's reelection set for March 17, on the 10th anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, will be extremely unpopular, igniting more protests from the growing movement of reservists' wives and mothers.
  • If the West stays in the race — steady, firm and patient in its support for Ukraine — and lets the mole of the senseless, criminal and profligate war do its job this year, the outcome of Putin's marathon is far from predetermined.

“Bashkortostan Protests: Should the Kremlin be Worried?” Nikolai Petrov, Russia.Post, 01.26.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • A criminal case was opened against Fail Alsynov, a popular leader of a Bashkir national movement, alleging that he incited ethnic hatred at an April 2023 gathering of citizens “with a speech of negative content in relation to persons of Armenian, Caucasian and Central Asian nationality.” 
  • It was about protests by residents against plans of Eurasia Mining to conduct geological exploration for gold in the vicinity of the village of Baymak on the Irendik mountain range.... The discontent was attributable to fears about migrants being used for cheap labor and environmental concerns. 
  • The January protests in Bashkortostan can be seen as similar to the riots featuring anti-Semitic slogans in Dagestan in October 2023 and even the mass protests against the arrest of Governor Sergei Furgal in Khabarovsk Region in 2020. In all three cases, the protests were spontaneous and widespread.
  • The current protests in Bashkortostan, like the previous ones in 2019-20, were of a regional nature... However, it would be wrong to conclude, based on this, that the protests create no serious problems for the Kremlin.
    • Firstly, Bashkortostan, with its four million residents, is a politically important region. In the 1990s, along with Tatarstan, it was a leader of regional opposition to Moscow and the struggle for regional sovereignty.
    • Secondly, the current protests indicate both the rise of social tension and the politicization of environmental, economic and other problems, which cannot be solved through the current week and ineffective mechanisms for representing the interests of different groups and channeling feedback between society and the authorities.

“The Sale of Foreign Currency Earnings: A Big Debate,” Tatiana Stanovaya, R.Politik Weekly Digest No. 4 (18) 2024, 01.28.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • The Russian government has decided to extend the mandatory sale of foreign currency earnings for major exporters until the end of this year. This measure, initially set to expire on 30 April, was introduced by presidential decree (not published) last October to stabilize the weakening ruble. It required 43 exporters, whose export proceeds exceed 60 percent of their total earnings, to sell foreign currency. First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov stated that “the measures have proven effective”, helping to stabilize the currency market by ensuring sufficient foreign currency liquidity and covering the currency shortage needed by importers to maintain supplies. This view is supported by the Ministry of Finance, which believes extending the requirement is justified as the measure “helped stabilize the domestic currency market.” Finally, Putin’s aide on economy affairs, Maksim Oreshkin, also endorsed the extension. 
  • However, the Central Bank is opposed to this move, citing the absence of “good reasons” for it. The regulator attributes the national currency's exchange rate stability more to tightened monetary policy and increased exports. Additionally, the rise in the value of exports since mid-summer 2023 has significantly influenced the foreign exchange market, albeit with a delay due to the timing of foreign trade settlements. According to Kommersant, the business sector is also dissatisfied with the decision to extend compulsory currency earnings sales, urging the government to at least reduce the share of sales, which currently stands at 90 percent. 
    • Dmitry Peskov stated that currency regulation falls under the purview of the government. He said that Putin regularly meets with the cabinet, highlighting that Andrei Belousov is one of the key participants in these discussions. This comment shows that the decision to extend the mandatory sale of foreign currency earnings aligns with the stance taken by Belousov.   

Defense and aerospace:

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Russia, the West and the ‘World Majority,’” Angela Stent, RM 01.25.24.

  • As Russia begins its one-year presidency of the BRICS in a turbulent world, great power competition in the Global South will intensify. The Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas war have enabled the Kremlin to solidify and increase its influence in the Global South, or what Russia now calls the “World Majority.” The Global South comprises those developing or less- developed countries in the Southern Hemisphere. The Russian definition of the World Majority, however, is not economic, but political. It refers to a community of non-Western countries that have no binding relationships with the United States and the organizations it patronizes.
  • Why has Russia succeeded in strengthening its standing with many countries in the Global South even as it pursues its brutal war of attrition in Ukraine? Moscow starts out with a major advantage—deep skepticism amongst these countries about the West, especially the United States. Many Global South countries assert that they see no difference between what Russia is doing in Ukraine and what the United States did in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. Russia also taps into the alienation and resentment in many countries that both the war and the West’s rivalry with China are distracting attention and shifting resources away from their own urgent challenges, such as debt, economic growth, food, energy, climate change and health. These countries view the United States and many of its European allies as neo-colonial powers who still treat them with condescension. They do not accept that what Russia in doing in Ukraine is a form of colonialism, because Russia repeatedly invokes the Soviet past and the USSR’s support for anti-colonial liberation movements to prove its bona fides as the leading anti-colonial power.
  • Votes in the United Nations General Assembly tend to reflect these sentiments. In February 2023, the votes in favor of condemning Russia’s invasion as a violation of the U.N. Charter and demanding that Russia withdraw its troops from Ukraine were 141 in favor, 7 against, with 32 abstentions, including China, India and other countries in the Global South. However, a significant number of Global South countries did vote to condemn Russia.

“Assisting Africa’s security and development needs does not have to be a football match,” Andrey Kortunov, Global Times, 01.25.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • One explanation for the elevated attention Africa has received from the U.S. lies in global geopolitics. The U.S. should be seriously concerned about the eroding Western influence in many places in Africa. It is sufficient to mention that since 2020, there have been eight regime changes in the continent, with many African countries shifting away from their former Western partners to China and to Russia. 
  • These days, Beijing funds most of the large-scale African infrastructure development projects, and Moscow is getting more and more involved in providing security for a growing number of African countries. Not surprisingly, most of these countries prefer not to join the Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia led by the U.S. and EU or to take the American side in the U.S.-China economic standoff.
  • The big question, however, is simple: except for speaking softly and carrying a big stick, what exactly can Uncle Sam offer its African counterparts and potential partners? U.S. trade with Africa has been at best stagnating for at least the past twenty years and it now makes less than 2 percent of the total U.S. foreign trade. The overall value of U.S. exports to the continent fell from $32.9 billion in 2011 to $26.7 billion in 2021, while imports declined from $93 billion in 2011 to $37.6 billion in 2021. It is about a quarter of China's overall trade with Africa. Furthermore, U.S. trade with Africa is far less diverse than China's trade - both in terms of its geography and its structure.  U.S. foreign direct investments (FDI) to Africa demonstrate a similar underperformance. China surpassed the U.S. in overall FDI to African countries back in 2013 and since then, the gap between the two has been steadily widening. 
  • International competition for projects, contracts and influence is not something entirely wrong, but assisting the continent's security and development needs does not have to be a football match. The reality is that Africa is big enough to accommodate everybody - its needs are incredibly huge and its prospects are truly breathtaking. ... The Cradle of Humankind should rather become a global lab for innovative models of multilateral cooperation, which will ultimately benefit us all. 

“Russia’s plan to seduce Christians in Africa. The Ukraine war has split Africa’s Orthodox church,” The Economist, 01.25.24.

  • One possible reason for the Russian church’s African adventure is to do down the Patriarchate of Alexandria, a branch of the Greek Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Church considers all Ukrainian Orthodox churches to be under its authority. But in 2019 the Greek Orthodox patriarchs of Constantinople and then Alexandria recognized the independence of the newly formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill, the Russian church’s head, broke off relations with Alexandria and Constantinople, damning their support for Ukrainian “schismatics”.
  • In revenge the Russians are now muscling in on the Greek Orthodox Church, which claims exclusive jurisdiction over Africa and accuses the Russian church of trying to lure its priests away with money. “They want to humiliate us because of our connection with Ukraine,” says Archbishop Makarios of Nairobi.
  • Russia may have more than ecclesiastical goals in mind. “Punishing the Alexandrian Patriarchate was just an excuse,” says Cyril Hovorun, a Ukrainian theologian. He believes the Russian church waded into Africa to spread propaganda and stoke hostility towards the West. The idea is less risible than it may at first seem. The Russian church’s favorite subject—“traditional values” and how the decadent West wants to pervert them—aligns with conservative religious views in Africa, where clerics tend to oppose homosexuality.


“What latest polling says about the mood in Ukraine – and the desire to remain optimistic amid the suffering,” Gerard Toal, The Conservation, 01.29.24. 

  • The latest survey by the National Democratic Institute released on Jan. 26 provides insight into how Ukrainians are coping. Administered by the reputable Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, this telephone survey recorded the views of 2,516 Ukrainians from Nov. 14-22, 2023. Four findings stand out:
  1. Costs in lives and mental health are high: Since the outset of the war, the National Democratic Institute has asked Ukrainians if they have experienced the loss of family and friends from the war. In May 2022, one-fifth of respondents indicated that they had. In November 2023, almost half said they had lost loved ones, with higher rates among middle-aged and young respondents.
  2. More Ukrainians are willing to negotiate Since the war began, the National Democratic Institute survey has asked if Ukraine should engage in negotiations with Russia to try to achieve peace. A majority (59%) said yes just a few months into the war in May 2022. But, by August 2022, in the wake of accumulating Russian assaults and alleged war crimes, sentiment had flipped with a majority against. By January 2023, the share of those in favor had dropped 30 points to a low of just 29%.
  3. Resistance to land concessions continue: To most Ukrainians, it is unacceptable to hold only the territory it currently controls as the price for peace – 71% strongly reject this, another 13% less strongly in the survey. Only 12% see peace based on current territorial control as acceptable.
  4. Ukrainians expect a long war but remain optimistic  Ukrainians do not think the conflict will end any time soon, with 43% saying that war will go on for an additional 12 months, at least. A third responded that they simply do not know when the conflict will end. In May 2022, just a few months into the conflict, 1 in 4 Ukrainians thought the war would end within three months. In November 2023, only 3% had that expectation.

“The situation is catastrophic: what will happen to the population of Ukraine after the war,” Valeria Shipulya,, 01.23.24.^ Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • The demographic situation in Ukraine remains difficult: the birth rate is falling, the death rate is rising and people are leaving abroad.
    • By the beginning of 2022, the population of Ukraine [in the 1991 borders] was approximately 42 million…If the war…ends at the end of 2024 or 2025, then 15 years later, the population will be approximately 30.5 million people.
    • Only after [two or four years after the war’s end] will the demographic processes more or less stabilize.
  • The average male life expectancy in Ukraine has fallen by eight years due to the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation compared to the relatively peaceful year of 2021… If [in 2021] in Ukraine the average life expectancy of a man was 65 years, then in 2023 it will be 57.3 years…
  • For the generation of children to replace the generation of parents, the average woman must give birth to 2.15 children in her lifetime… In 2021, this figure was 1.2 in Ukraine. In 2022, it is likely to decline to 0.9. [In 2023] we are counting on 0.6-0.7.
    • This trend will continue after the war and…will affect the next generations because those who should give birth in 19-20 years will not be born…
  • By the end of November 2023, almost nine million Ukrainians are outside the country, of which about three million are labor migrants. 
    • [For people to return to Ukraine, there must be] safety, well-paid jobs and housing.
    • The willingness to return…will depend on the duration of the war. If the war continues, then every year, Ukraine will…lose 10-15 percent of those who want to return.
  • Some countries encourage [Ukrainians] to return home. They do not take away the [monthly state] allowance; on the contrary, they pay those who return to Ukraine. Similar initiatives exist in Norway, Finland, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.

“Ukraine’s Democracy in Darkness,” Masha Gessen, New Yorker, 01.29.24.

Such was the state of Ukraine as it entered its third consecutive winter at war: still battling the demon of corruption, still defiant, yet visibly reduced, palpably tired. [Head of the State Agency for Restoration and Infrastructure Development Mustafa] Nayyem feared that, if the war went on long enough, Ukraine would become more like Russia: autocratic, corrupt, nihilistic. 

  • In Ukraine, democracy is largely suspended. 
    • According to the regular order of things, Ukraine should have a Presidential election in March. Up until the end of November—a few weeks before the deadline for scheduling the election—Zelensky’s office seemed open to having one, but ultimately decided against it. 
    • The current government was never meant to last. [Volodymyr] Zelensky... promised to serve for just one term. 
    • At the start of the war, .. the parliament... decided to vote only on bills that a majority wanted to bring to the floor, and to limit discussion of amendments. This effectively shifted the center of legislative work to the President’s office. Among other bills, the parliament approved the declaration of martial law, introduced by Zelensky on the first day of the war, and has regularly renewed it. Martial law enables the cabinet of ministers to control who can enter and leave the country—since the start of the war, men under the age of sixty have been forbidden to leave—and to regulate the work of all media outlets, printing presses, and distribution companies.
    • Zelensky’s office created the United News TV Marathon, a round-the-clock program of war-related news and talk shows, supplanting what had been a vibrant and varied television news market. ....Other government-controlled media target an international audience. 
  • Part of the problem with patronal democracies is that the patrons are also the pillars of the political system. “I call Ukrainian reforms ‘kick-ass reforms,’ Oleh Rybachuk,, the longtime politician, told me. “You kick some ass, reforms move forward a little bit, you kick some more ass, they move forward some more.” But today, when the West demands such reforms of Ukraine—a country that has borne unspeakable losses in its fight for democracy—it can feel painfully unfair. “It’s difficult to build anti-corruption mechanisms in the middle of a war,” Mustafa Nayyem told me. “Corruption levels decrease when there is less money. There is a lot of money in war.” 
  • The office of the President is run by Andriy Yermak, a fifty-two-year-old former movie producer. People who have regular interactions with the administration talk about Yermak as though he had more power than the President. Yermak is said to have placed his associates in high-level, lucrative positions in state organizations and on oversight boards. One of Yermak’s deputies, Oleh Tatarov, has been plagued by bribery accusations. But, when Ukraine’s anti-corruption authorities opened an investigation, Yermak defended Tatarov publicly; the investigation was subsequently closed. More allegations have since come out, but Tatarov has kept his job. 
  • All of the people I spoke with this fall and winter in Ukraine—politicians, government officials, civil activists, journalists, a book publisher, a movie producer, and several soldiers—said that they no longer thought about the end of the war. They could not imagine it. This was by far the most worrisome sign, not only for the fight but also for the thing they’d fought so hard for. 

“Political Hurdles on Ukraine’s Way to EU Membership,” Thomas Graham, CFR, 01.17.24. 

  • In 2019, Ukraine amended its constitution to state that its strategic objectives included membership in the European Union (EU) and NATO. Ukraine made little progress in realizing those ambitions before Russia’s massive invasion in February 2022. Since then, however, its path to the European Union has become clearer; in December, the EU agreed to start accession negotiations with Ukraine. 
  • The process will likely prove long and arduous, and the outcome is uncertain, no matter what today’s rhetoric implies. The EU has never conducted negotiations with a country that is engaged in a war of national survival against an enemy like Russia, which looms so large in European security. Kyiv will need considerable time to bring its legislation in line with the acquis communautaire, the hundreds of rules and regulations that constitute EU law on a broad range of socioeconomic and political matters. As negotiations drag on, there is always the danger that some EU members will reconsider their support for Ukraine as they seek to form a durable security system that includes Russia.
  • Particularly challenging for Ukraine will be meeting the criterion that calls for “stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.” Despite its current self-image as a brave defender of the West’s freedom against Russia’s imperialist aggression, Ukraine has in fact made little progress in consolidating democratic rule since it gained independence in 1991: Freedom House has consistently rated it as only “partly free.” 
  • The situation with minority rights is more complex, and fraught with even greater consequences for Ukraine’s EU membership. The largest, and most problematic, ethnic minority is the Russians, who accounted for about a sixth of Ukraine’s pre-war population and live mostly in regions now under Russian occupation. Even before Russia’s invasion, Kyiv was promoting Ukrainian language and culture as part of its nation-building process, while also restricting the avenues that Russia could exploit to interfere in Ukraine’s domestic affairs. 
  • Should EU negotiations drag on, it is not difficult to imagine Ukrainians asking why, while they are making such enormous sacrifices to defend their sovereignty against Russia, they should now delegate some of it to a distant Brussels, as EU membership requires, especially if doing so brings few tangible benefits and erodes barriers against Russian meddling. That would be a bad outcome for both the EU and Ukraine. Avoiding it will require flexibility and creativity in Brussels, and a genuine commitment to democracy as the foundation of nationhood in Kyiv. The effort is more than worthwhile. In the end, a free, democratic, and prosperous Ukraine anchored in the West would mark the final defeat of Russia’s aggression.

“Ukraine Is Committed to Europe and Democracy. Ukrainians deserve credit for fighting for their democracy,” Steven Pifer, Carlos Pascual, John Herbst, William Taylor, John Tefft and Marie Yovanovitch, The Bulwark, 01.25.24.

  • In a recent essay, “Political Hurdles on Ukraine’s Way to EU Membership,” [Thomas] Graham, a former senior director for Russia at the National Security Council, Yale professor, and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, seriously mischaracterizes the state of democracy in war-torn Ukraine and its EU prospects. 
  • Graham [states] that Ukraine’s process of accession to the European Union will “prove long and arduous.” That is true—EU accession negotiations always are—but he also asserts that some EU members might later reconsider supporting Ukraine’s membership as “they seek to form a durable security system that includes Russia.” Even as rank conjecture, this is preposterous. 
  • The assertion that Ukraine has “made little progress in consolidating democratic rule since it gained independence in 1991” does not reflect the Ukraine we know. 
  • Graham faults Kyiv for “promoting Ukrainian language and culture” even prior to Russia’s invasion. 
  • Graham’s reference to “egregious infringements on civil and political rights” hardly seems correct, given the circumstances. Ukraine is at war with Russia. 
  • Graham offers no basis for his suggestion that, if Ukrainians succeed in defeating Russia and preserving their sovereignty, they will then prove reluctant to hand some of that sovereignty to the European Union. Ukrainians understand what EU membership means and requires. Polls have shown strong support for joining the European Union going back twenty years, if not more.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Is Moldova Ready to Pay the Price of Reintegrating Transnistria?” Galiya Ibragimova, CEIP, 01.24.24. 

  • Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine initially sparked fear in Moldova. But when Moscow’s troops failed to reach the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria, anxiety gave way to confidence. Moldova now sees a historic opportunity to end a long-running conflict and reintegrate Transnistria. The obstacles, however, are daunting—and success is far from guaranteed.
  • If the separatist regime in Transnistria were to survive, this would put a brake on Chisinau’s aspirations to join the EU. Even though Brussels has said Moldova could accede in its current form, it’s difficult to imagine member states being happy with Russian soldiers stationed in the bloc.
  • Nor will reintegration be the end of the problem. The absorption of Transnistria’s population—largely pro-Russian and alienated by Chisinau’s antagonism toward Moscow—will inevitably generate tensions. Politically, it could change the electoral map by creating a pro-Russian majority.
  • Nevertheless, Moldova continues to seek common ground with the inhabitants of Transnistria, recently making it easier for them to switch their driver’s licenses for Moldovan ones and more straightforward to become Moldovan citizen, and offering them the chance to learn Romanian (a state language in Moldova) for free. All this matters—it’s just the start of a long, difficult process.



  1. The Kremlin on Jan. 26 denied that President Vladimir Putin is probing to see whether the United States is willing to engage in talks for ending the war in UkraineMT reported. “It’s completely untrue,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Jan. 26 in a reference to the Jan. 25 Bloomberg report.


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. 

^ Translated with the help of machine translation.

Photo by the Presidential Office of Ukraine shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 DEED license.