Russia Analytical Report, Jan. 29-Feb. 5, 2024

6 Ideas to Explore

  1. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed to carry out what NYT described as a “broad overhaul of the country’s military and civilian leadership.” “A reset, a new beginning is necessary,” Zelensky told Rai News on Feb. 4. Zelenskyy’s vision of this “reset” includes firing commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (ZSU) Valerii Zaluzhnyi, though the planned overhaul “is not about a single person but about the direction of the country’s leadership,” the president said. He and Zaluzhnyi met last week to try to mend ties, but the talks “grew heated over the contentious issue of mobilization,” and, before the meeting ended, Zelenskyy informed his top general that he was to be replaced, according to FT. Two days after the Jan. 29 meeting, Zaluzhnyi published an essay with CNN, in which he said that bureaucracy is holding back Ukraine’s defense industry, underscored the growing importance of unmanned systems in warfare, and declared that “a new philosophy of training and warfare” is needed. By doing so, he “doubled down on a confrontation with Zelenskyy,” according to Bloomberg. The removal of the highly popular commander, which was yet to be publicly formalized as of Feb. 5 afternoon, could cause an uproar within both Ukraine’s civil society and ZSU’s rank-and-file, according to FT.
  2. After two years of war, ZSU is demonstrating that it is better at tactical adaptation, “learning and improving on the battlefield,” but “Russia is superior at strategic adaptation, or learning and adaptation that affects policymaking,” according to Mick Ryan. “Both forms of adaptation are important. But it is the latter type that is most crucial to winning wars,” this retired Australian general argues in a commentary for FA, entitled “Russia’s Adaptation Advantage. Early in the War, Moscow Struggled to Shift Gears—but Now It’s Outlearning Kyiv.” “Ultimately, if Russia’s edge in strategic adaptation persists without an appropriate Western response, the worst that can happen in this war is not stalemate,” Ryan warns. That worst case scenario would constitute a Ukrainian defeat, according to the retired general. In fact, the Ukrainian forces are already “at perhaps their weakest point since the summer of 2022,” according to NYT.
  3. Senate Republicans and Democrats have reached a deal on a bill that ties $60 billion in security aid for Ukraine to assistance for Israel, as well as U.S. border security reforms, but House Speaker Mike Johnson has already promised that this bill would be “dead on arrival” in his chamber, according to NYT. Donald Trump—who has many supporters among GOP Congressmen—has called for blocking the bill. Trump, who is apparently concerned that the bill’s passing will allow Joe Biden to score points with American voters, has drawn fire this past week from individuals with normally diverging political views, such as John Bolton and Gideon Rachman, for his Ukraine stance. The past week has also seen a number of policymakers and policy-shapers call for invigorating the West’s efforts to help Ukraine fight the war. Among those who have issued such calls are: Olaf Scholz, Mette Frederiksen, Petr Fiala, Kaja Kallas, Mark RutteMartin WolfWilliam BurnsJeffrey FrankelAlina Polyakova, James GoldgeierLee HockstaderDara Massicot and Eric Ciaramella. “Putin feels the wind in his sails,” Ciaramella of CEIP warned in an interview. In the absence of effective and sufficient military aid for Ukraine, “Putin probably feels pretty confident that he has the means to slowly grind down the Ukrainians,” Ciaramella said.
  4. “The Russia/Iran relationship greatly complicates the situation in the Middle East, Israel and Gaza, and the battlefield in Ukraine,” according to Fiona Hill. “Russia’s relationship with Iran—not just Zelenskyy’s Jewish heritage, or all the Russian speakers of Jewish Ukrainian heritage in Israel—as well as the U.S. role in support of both Ukraine and Israel start to draw the two sets of conflicts into the same geopolitical frame,” she warned in a recent interview with Brookings. “Whatever happens next in Gaza,” Putin will make sure “Russia is part of it,” according to Hill, who will explore how Russia’s geopolitical importance has shifted since the invasion of Ukraine at a Belfer Center seminar on Feb. 6, 2024. Hill—a member of the Harvard University Board of Overseers and the Chancellor of Durham University—believes there “will be more pressure this year, to try to find some quick resolution to Ukraine so that the issues in the Middle East can be focused on.” “And that will be disastrous,” she added.[1] For an RM compilation of Dr. Hill’s views on Russia, Ukraine and the post-Soviet space, see this link.*
  5. “Putin’s war has already been a failure for Russia on many levels,” according to CIA director William Burns. For one, “Putin’s “original goal of seizing Kyiv and subjugating Ukraine proved foolish and illusory,” according to Burns. In addition the Russian military “has suffered immense damage [while] Russia’s economy is suffering long-term setbacks, and the country is sealing its fate as China’s economic vassal,” Burns writes in FA. In spite of these setbacks, Putin’s “fixation on controlling Ukraine and its choices” should not be underestimated, according to Burns who predicts that “this year is likely to be a tough one on the battlefield in Ukraine.” “For the United States to walk away from the conflict at this crucial moment and cut off support to Ukraine would be an own goal of historic proportions,” Burns warned.
  6. Ukraine has come under closer Western scrutiny as “questions are being asked about political struggles, corruption and freedom,” according to Tony Barber’s recent column in FT. In spite of these questions, “neither the Biden administration nor most European governments are talking in public about applying pressure ... on Ukraine to end the war,” according to Barber. However, “it seems to me that the shift in Western news coverage and commentary reflects an emerging impulse among some policymakers and opinion-formers to question for how long, and under what conditions, Western support should continue for Ukraine’s war effort,” this FT columnist writes.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

“Could a Rogue Billionaire Make a Nuclear Weapon?” Sharon Weinberger, WSJ, 02.02.24. 

  • Military development has changed dramatically since the Manhattan Project … Building nuclear weapons no longer requires the scope and cost depicted in last summer's blockbuster "Oppenheimer." Entrepreneurs like [Elon] Musk are able to build on the massive government investments in rockets and nuclear technology, rather than starting from scratch. The study was intended to see what might happen when the barrier to entry to developing military systems is so much lower, according to Brian Michael Jenkins, a contributor to the study and a senior adviser to the president of Rand Corp.
  • Now, even the Pentagon acknowledges that private capital is the dominant source of funding for key technologies. Billionaires like Elon Musk control technologies they’ve developed outside of federal contracting, like Musk’s network of Starlink satellites, that can change the course of wars. Venture capitalists are flocking to the defense sector with the Pentagon’s encouragement. Abroad, the Wagner Group, the Russian mercenary firm whose global empire stretches from Europe to Africa, has shown the ability to threaten regimes. 
  • The report hypothesized that the potential customer might want to avoid the international pressure that comes with having those production capabilities, and a private company would be motivated to take on the risk for profit. It posits a scenario involving Saudi Arabia responding to a suspected Iranian weapons program. Not wanting to risk the exposure of the large facilities involved in nuclear weapons production, Riyadh might, the study suggests, find the idea of buying the finished product more attractive. "The project would remain deniable," the report states.
  • "I think in the 10 years since, there's certainly nothing that has occurred that I would say that makes what we were thinking about less likely," Jenkins said. "If anything, if we're talking about the privatization of war-making and waging wars through deniable proxies and private parties, I think the trajectory supports that thinking."

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Nuclear potential of the DPRK,” Konstantin Asmolov, Valdai Club, 02.05.24. Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.) 

  • Modern North Korea is a full member of the nuclear club. Its nuclear missile potential has crossed the threshold of minimum deterrence and is an important factor in preventing military conflict on the peninsula. The United States will have to learn to live with the knowledge that North Korean nuclear weapons will be aimed at the American mainland.
  • Despite the constant forecasts of Western analysts who “prescribed” a nuclear explosion for one date or another, the seventh nuclear test did not take place in 2022–2023. This can be explained both by Moscow’s position and the availability of computer modeling capabilities for such processes. Nevertheless, it is believed that the likelihood of a test remains high, since it is necessary to test a variant of tactical nuclear weapons.
  • The strengthening relations between Pyongyang and Moscow is ... a source of rumors about possible cooperation in the nuclear missile field, but so far there have been no visible fruits of this cooperation ... even if such a decision had been made during the summits of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un at the Vostochny cosmodrome, the transfer of technology could not have happened so quickly. ... In addition, cooperation between the two countries in the field of civil space and satellite launching seems more likely than in the military field.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Zelenskyy Hints at Major Shake-Up of Ukraine’s Government,” Marc Santora and Andrew E. Kramer, NYT, 02.05.24.[2] 

  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine said that a broad overhaul of the country’s military and civilian leadership was needed to reboot the war effort against Russia, suggesting that a major shake-up of his government was imminent. Mr. Zelenskyy’s comments, in a broadcast on Sunday night, indicated that his plans went beyond replacing the top military commander, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi. And they signaled a search for a new strategy among Ukraine’s leadership at a precarious moment, with depleted Ukrainian forces on the defensive and leaders in Kyiv waiting to see whether the United States will provide much-needed military and financial assistance.
    • “A reset, a new beginning is necessary,” Mr. Zelenskyy told the Italian media outlet Rai News. “I have something serious in mind, which is not about a single person but about the direction of the country’s leadership.”
  • Friction between the military and the civilian government represents the most serious schism in Ukraine’s leadership since the start of the war almost two years ago. The acrimony, which has been building for months, seemed to reach a breaking point last week, when Mr. Zelenskyy summoned Gen. Zaluzhnyi for a meeting to tell him he was being fired, according to Ukrainian officials familiar with the discussion.
  • Heightening the tension in Kyiv is the prospect of a new mobilization bill that could lead to the drafting of up to 500,000 troops. The bill, under debate in the Ukrainian Parliament, could be politically unpopular with the country’s war-weary citizenry.
    • Amid the speculation about his future, Gen. Zaluzhnyi’s only public comment Monday was a cryptic Facebook message to a top deputy, Gen. Serhiy Shaptala, reminiscing about collaboration through two years of war. “We can be sure that we will never feel shame,” Mr. Zaluzhnyi wrote.
  • With American aid stalled, political analysts have suggested that Mr. Zelenskyy might promote Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, who is seen as being in favor with the Biden administration, to a senior position in Kyiv. The U.S. government has been pushing for overhauls to strengthen anti-corruption safeguards on the billions of dollars in financial and military aid Ukraine is receiving during the war.
  • On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces are at perhaps their weakest point since the summer of 2022. Short of ammunition and personnel, they are struggling to hold back renewed Russian offensives across the front, with the epicenter of the fighting around the battered city of Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region. Russian soldiers, using heavy cloud cover to evade detection by Ukrainian surveillance drones, managed to break into the northern outskirts of the city in recent days, according to Ukrainian soldiers in the area. They are increasingly threatening a vital supply line and Ukraine’s control over the city. 
    • The fall of Avdiivka would represent the Russian forces’ most significant victory since they took Bakhmut in May.
    • It could also free up resources for another Russian push taking place several hundred miles to the north, in the Kharkiv region.
  • Moscow has amassed more than 40,000 troops and hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles near Kupiansk, part of what Ukrainian military commanders said is an intensifying bid to retake territory in Kharkiv that Russian forces lost in a Ukrainian offensive more than a year ago.
  • Ukraine is searching for a strategy to break out of the deadlock in the trench fighting, lest it be cornered into negotiations on a settlement on unfavorable terms, Mykhailo Samus, a deputy director at the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, a military research organization in Kyiv, said in an interview. He said the coming year might bring Ukraine’s last chance to shift the momentum of the war.
  • While Senate Republicans and Democrats on Sunday unveiled a $118.3 billion bill that tied $60 billion in security aid for Ukraine to assistance for Israel as well as U.S. border security reforms, Speaker Mike Johnson, who had insisted on linking the disparate issues, has said the bill would be “dead on arrival” in the Republican-controlled House. Former President Donald J. Trump is campaigning against the deal and is pressuring his supporters in Congress to block it.
  • Replacing the military’s commanding general amid a Russian offensive along nearly the entire eastern front carries risks, as Gen. Zaluzhnyi is well-regarded by soldiers and junior officers. His removal would be the most significant change in military leadership after the invasion. “Soldiers see in him a leader, him and nobody else,” said an army major who asked to be identified only by his first name, Bohdan. Other officers have said that the army, respectful of hierarchy, would adapt quickly.
  • Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, said that the White House had been consulted about possible changes in Ukraine’s leadership and would not weigh in on personnel decisions. “It’s the sovereign right of Ukraine and the right of the president of Ukraine to make his personnel decisions.” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We’ve been clear, we’re just not going to get embroiled in that particular decision. We have indicated that directly to the Ukrainians.”

“Ukraine’s army chief: The design of war has changed,” Valerii Zaluzhnyi, CNN, 02.01.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • And there is no greater challenge facing the military commander, in my opinion, than understanding – in good time – how each war is shaped differently.  Firstly, by technological progress, which determines the development of weapons and equipment.  And, secondly, by political conditions at home and abroad, and the economic environment. 
  • Crucially, it is these unmanned systems – such as drones – along with other types of advanced weapons, that provide the best way for Ukraine to avoid being drawn into a positional war, where we do not possess the advantage. 
  • But while mastery of such technologies is key, it is not the only factor influencing current strategy.  We must contend with a reduction in military support from key allies, grappling with their own political tensions. 
  • We must acknowledge the significant advantage enjoyed by the enemy in mobilizing human resources and how that compares with the inability of state institutions in Ukraine to improve the manpower levels of our armed forces without the use of unpopular measures. 
  • Finally, we remain hamstrung by the imperfections of the regulatory framework in our country, as well as the partial monopolization of the defense industry. These lead to production bottlenecks – in ammunition, for instance – which further deepen Ukraine’s dependence on its allies for supplies. 
  • We must constantly find new ways and new capabilities to help us gain an advantage over the enemy. 
    • Perhaps the number one priority here is mastery of an entire arsenal of (relatively) cheap, modern and highly effective, unmanned vehicles and other technological means. 
    • New operations might include digital field creation, radio-electronic environment control, or a combined operation using attack drones and cyber assets. 
  • The challenge for our armed forces cannot be underestimated. It is to create a completely new state system of technological rearmament. Taking everything into account at this moment, we think the creation of such a system could be achieved in five months.
  • Our goal must be to seize the moment – to maximize our accumulation of the latest combat capabilities, which will allow us to commit fewer resources to inflicting maximum damage on the enemy, to end the aggression and protect Ukraine from it in the future.

“Ukraine’s hopes for victory over Russia are slipping away,” Ishaan Tharoor, WP, 01.29.24

  • U.S. officials…anticipate a lean year ahead, where Ukraine’s increasingly exhausted forces focus more on consolidating their defense than chipping away at Russia’s land grabs.
    • [This perspective] undercuts Zelenskyy’s stated ambition of driving Russia out by [October 2024].
  • The Biden administration and European allies are working on a longer-term, multilateral plan aimed at…future-proofing support for Ukraine.
    • That includes pledges of economic and security assistance that stretch into the next decade and may pave the way for Ukraine [to integrate into the EU and NATO]
  • On the front lines…stocks of ammunition and artillery shells are running low for many Ukrainian units.
  • House Republicans have already stymied the latest tranche of funding that President Biden is trying to allocate for Kyiv.
    • [Former President Donald] Trump [if elected in 2024] may scale back support for Ukraine and take a friendlier view of the Kremlin’s security concerns in Eastern Europe.
  • [According to Wall Street Journal international correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov], the United States and its partners held back from supplying Ukraine with Western-made capabilities at a time when they would have had the biggest effect.
    • [However, according to Bloomberg Opinion columnist Hal Brands], more aid, sooner, would have been better — but there’s no guarantee it would have brought a decisive Ukrainian victory.

“Russia’s Adaptation Advantage. Early in the War, Moscow Struggled to Shift Gears—but Now It’s Outlearning Kyiv,” Mick Ryan, FA, 02.05.24. 

  • After two years of war, the adaptation battle has changed. The quality gap between Ukraine and Russia has closed. Ukraine still has an innovative and bottom-up military culture, which allows it to quickly introduce new battlefield technologies and tactics. But it can struggle to make sure that those lessons are systematized and spread throughout the entire armed forces. Russia, on the other hand, is slower to learn from the bottom up because of a reluctance to report failure and a more centralized command philosophy. Yet when Russia does finally learn something, it is able to systematize it across the military and through its large defense industry. 
  • These differences are reflected in the ways the two states innovate. Ukraine is better at tactical adaptation: learning and improving on the battlefield. Russia is superior at strategic adaptation, or learning and adaptation that affects national and military policymaking, such as how states use their resources. Both forms of adaptation are important. But it is the latter type that is most crucial to winning wars.
  • The longer this war lasts, the better Russia will get at learning, adapting, and building a more effective, modern fighting force. Slowly but surely, Moscow will absorb new ideas from the battlefield and rearrange its tactics accordingly. Its strategic adaptation already helped it fend off Ukraine’s counteroffensive, and over the last few months it has helped Russian troops take more territory from Kyiv. Ultimately, if Russia’s edge in strategic adaptation persists without an appropriate Western response, the worst that can happen in this war is not stalemate. It is a Ukrainian defeat.
  • To become better at strategic adaptation, Ukraine must also remove the institutional and timing obstacles that stand between tactical learning and doctrinal innovation and training. 
  • The West must also, of course, continue arming Ukraine with advanced weapons. But although increased overall Western provisions are important, it is crucial that the West focus on producing and sending the arms most likely to provide Kyiv with a strategic advantage. 
  • Finally, Ukraine must generally increase the speed at which it deploys new adaptations. 
    • Ukraine has no time to waste in implementing these measures. Russia has significantly improved its ability to learn and adapt in Ukraine. The longer the war in Ukraine lasts, the more Moscow will improve its strategic adaptation. The most convincing justification for improving Ukraine’s strategic adaptation and hindering Russia’s is to ensure that Ukraine does not lose the war. Russia currently holds the strategic initiative—so unfortunately, defeat is still a possible outcome.

“Ukraine’s survival: Three scenarios for the war in 2024,” Gustav Gressel, ECFR, 01.31.24. 

  1. The positive scenario: In the most positive scenario for Ukraine, Donald Trump finds himself barred from running for the presidency and Nikki Haley becomes the Republican nominee. ... While Ukraine blunts Russian offensives and inflicts significant losses in manpower and equipment, it simultaneously manages to improve its training activities behind the front. It increases the cohesion of its units, forms “new force” brigades, and tests new prototypes of electronic warfare equipment and drone defense weapons....As such, by the end of 2024, Ukraine has put in place the preconditions needed to regain the initiative and liberate more territories in 2025, when more armored combat vehicles roll off domestic and Western assembly lines and ammunition production has caught up with demand. In this regard, who wins the US presidential election has little bearing on events on the ground.
  2. The intermediate scenario: In the intermediate scenario, the Biden administration muddles though 2024 in a messy election campaign. Republicans in Congress behave transactionally, trading Ukraine assistance packages for concessions on domestic pet projects such as the wall along the United States’ southern border. The US carries on drip-feeding assistance to Ukraine.....In a nutshell, Ukraine remains on the defensive and survives 2024, with the result of the US presidential election set to decide the course of the war in 2025.
  3. The negative scenario: In the most negative scenario for Ukraine, Trump becomes the presidential nominee, and increasingly anti-Ukrainian rhetoric dominates US discourse.  ....At the end of the year, Trump defeats Biden. Panic grips Europe, and many European capitals halt deliveries to Ukraine altogether, funneling military supplies into their own armed forces in expectation of a US withdrawal from Europe and imminent Russian attacks on their own countries. The war in Ukraine is seen as lost by most in the West, although Ukraine itself keeps fighting against the odds.
  • The West still has agency in this war; it can still turn things around. For Europeans in particular, this means putting their money where their mouth is. The acquisition of ammunition, missiles, combat vehicles, and spare parts is severely behind schedule – not that it was ambitious to begin with. Although late in the day, Europeans can still correct this course. 

“Why Ukraine Is Not a Universal Resistance Model,” Brian Petit, WoR, 02.01.24.

  • While Russia bungled many aspects of this invasion, Ukraine deserves credit for creating a layered, resilient, and whole-of-society defense. Outside of the direct military combat power enabled by Western support, Ukraine’s national resistance system contains unique ingredients that enabled its scale, breadth, and relative orderliness. For the “Ukraine model of resistance” to be appropriately adopted, these four variables deserve close attention. Indeed, they were overlooked once already by the Russians.

Military aid to Ukraine:

“‘Ukraine fatigue’ is unpardonable,” Martin Wolf, FT, 01.30.24. 

  • While there seems little likelihood that the EU will fail to deliver [aid to Ukraine] in the end, despite Viktor Orbán’s vile opposition, the same is not true for the US. As Anne Applebaum argues in The Atlantic, there is a risk that Congress will abandon Ukraine. Some Republicans, it seems, really do prefer Putin’s Russia to Zelenskyy’s Ukraine. Others wish to fall in line with Donald Trump’s selfish wish to prevent a deal that might ameliorate the crisis on the southern border. That would be particularly serious for the supply of arms the US alone can give.
  • In brief, we are watching what has come to be called “Ukraine fatigue”. Yet the arguments for stopping Russia from destroying Ukraine have in no way diminished. On the contrary, the behaviour and rhetoric of the Russian government have, if anything, got worse. The extension of totalitarian control over the occupied regions of Ukraine is horrifying. This is an attempt to eliminate the aspirations and identity of a people. Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev threatens eternal war until Russia gets Ukraine. And what might Russia want next? The Baltics? Eastern Europe? And what might China want if it sees such a collapse in western will?
  • Yet aiding Ukraine is also cheap. No western soldiers are at risk. The sums to be agreed this year amount to less than 0.25% of the combined GDP of the EU, UK and US. The argument that this is unaffordable is ridiculous. As I noted on Feb. 28 2023, these sums are dwarfed by those spent on energy subsidies in Europe and on earlier US wars.
  • Personally, I find entirely persuasive the arguments from Robert Zoellick (and others) that the frozen Russian reserves can and must be used for the benefit of the country Putin is trying to destroy. This seems entirely just. But even without that, providing Ukraine with the resources and armaments it needs is a remarkable bargain, set against the moral and material costs of a feeble and reckless abandonment.
  • In the end, of course, there must be a peace. But it must be peace with honor. That will only come if Russia realizes that this time might will not be allowed to be right. The west has the resources to ensure this. The question, as the minister asked, is whether it believes enough in itself to show the will. If not, the price could prove to be beyond reckoning.

“What Washington Must Do for Kyiv Between Now and November,” Eric Ciaramella and Dara Massicot interviewed by Aaron David Miller, CEIP, 02.01.24. 

  • Dara Massicot: 
    • “Stalemate” would imply that neither side has a really good option moving forward, and that’s not true. This is still very much hotly contested along most parts of the front. Both sides are encountering the same type of problems when they try to move forward offensively. Both sides are also operating pretty efficiently on defense, too.
    • It is attrition. Russia is willing to absorb a lot of casualties that, frankly, Ukraine cannot afford to, but its power remains pretty disordered. If you look at all the advantages that it does have—whether it’s artillery rate of fire, glide bombs, missiles—it’s still not able to translate that into meaningful forward progress, which it would very much like to do.
    • Right now, they know they need to dig in, they need to go on the defensive, and they need support with that. The goal is to be able to defend their borders with Belarus and Russia and make it so complicated that Russia does not continuously try to attack them and move forward like they’re doing right now.
    • Ukraine’s position at a negotiating table will be made much stronger with the understanding that it is backed with American and European support in a significant and long-standing way.
  • Eric Ciaramella:
    •  If we think of it in traditional chess terms, “stalemate” implies that there’s no move that any side can make to change the picture on the board. And what’s actually happening here is a race to rearm. 
    • There is a broad sense of urgency that Russia can’t be allowed to prevail in Ukraine because it would have devastating effects on the whole European security order.
    • I would say he [Putin] feels the wind in his sails. He feels like the war is finally breaking in his favor. The fundamentals are good from his viewpoint. The Russian economy has proved remarkably resilient to Western sanctions. The Russian defense industrial base is ramping up after the [Yevgeny] Prigozhin mutiny last summer. There’s no real threat to his power on the horizon, neither from within the regime nor from society. There’s a farce of a Russian presidential election that’s going to happen in March, and he’s pretty much coasting to another six-year term in office. And Western politics is intervening, and the narrative has completely shifted. We’re talking about fatigue and how long the West can sustain this. ... So Putin probably feels pretty confident that he has the means to slowly grind down the Ukrainians and to bank on politics in the West—and in Washington, especially—intervening to give him a decisive advantage by the end of the year.
    • I think there’s a clear blueprint. 
      • First, Congress needs to pass the emergency funding. The Ukrainians have already started rationing ammunition since the fall.
      • The second, and I believe even more critical, component is that we need to start constructing a much broader policy framework in which we—the United States, European allies, and our allies in the Asia-Pacific—provide Ukraine a long-term security arrangement that can bridge the period of time from now until they formally enter Western institutions, whether it’s the EU or NATO.

“Call for a collective effort to arm Ukraine for the long term,” Olaf Scholz, Mette Frederiksen, Petr Fiala, Kaja Kallas and Mark Rutte, FT, 01.31.24. 

  • If Ukrainian soldiers are to keep up the fight, the need for ammunition is overwhelming. And the EU member states’ delivery of arms and ammunition to Ukraine is more important than ever.
  • We must renew our resolve and redouble our efforts in order to ensure that we sustain our support for as long as it takes. What is urgent today is to provide the ammunition and weapon systems, including howitzers, tanks, UAVs and air defense, that Ukraine so urgently needs on the ground. Now. Because new orders we place today will only reach the battlefield by next year. We must therefore insist on finding ways to accelerate the delivery of the promised artillery rounds to Ukraine. It can be through donation of existing stocks or joint procurement of ammunition through our defense industries. This requires expanding industrial capacities in Europe through framework procurement contracts and sustainable investments by member states. Partner countries could play an important role as well and are invited to join in our collective effort.
  • Our ability to continue to support and sustain Ukraine’s defense, both during the winter and in the longer term, is decisive. In fact, it is a matter of our common European security, and for the brave women and men of the Ukrainian armed forces a question of life and death.
  • The EU and its member states must renew their efforts and step up their military support. The burden is so great that all states need to do everything they can to support Ukraine — it must continue to be a collective effort.
  • Russia doesn’t wait for anybody and we need to act now. If Ukraine loses, the long-term consequences and costs will be much higher for all of us. We Europeans have a special responsibility. Therefore, we must act. Europe’s future depends on it.

“Helping Ukraine is a National Security No-brainer,” Jeffrey Frankel, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Views on the Economy and the World, 01.28.24.

  • Weighing costs and benefits, backing Ukraine is one of the most sensible US foreign affairs policy priorities in a long time.
    • The main costs of helping Ukraine are budgetary. The US has spent a bit over $75 billion helping Ukraine since January 2022. This is not peanuts, but it is less, as a share of GDP, than aid to Ukraine from many European countries
    • By comparison, US military spending in 2022 was $812 billion.
  • Unlike in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, the Ukrainians support their (democratically elected) government.
    • At the same time, the principle that national borders should not be changed by force remains important to everyone’s security globally.
  • All the Ukrainians ask is the means to defend themselves [and not engage in direct conflict with Russia].

 “A Cynical Deal in Congress May Yet Save Ukraine," Andreas Kluth, Bloomberg, 02.01.24.

  • Fortunately, not all Republicans in Congress are MAGAs. Some, including the party’s foreign-policy leaders in both House and Senate, feel as strongly as Biden does that sacrificing Ukraine to Putin would be, as CIA director William Burns puts it, “an own goal of historic proportions.” So the Congressional axis of sanity is now hatching a new and bipartisan plan to prevent the worst.
  • It would emerge from the Senate. The simple idea, as it’s been described to me, is to take the border issue, originally included for Republicans, out of the supplemental request again, and then to send a smaller package to the House that contains only support for Ukraine, Israel and America’s Asian allies. This new bundle, according to one estimate, could win with comfortable majorities of 80-85 votes (out of 100) in the Senate and 270-300 (out of 435) in the House. The biggest question mark is whether Speaker Johnson would put it to a vote.
  • Even a wily fox like Iron Chancellor Bismarck would be agape. Republicans would be spiking an attempt to control migration, and tabling a policy they’ve been pretending to demand, so they can keep accusing Biden and his cabinet of the chaos, while graciously nodding through a measure intended to safeguard one of America’s top national-security interests, the survival of Ukraine and future deterrence of Putin.

“The real obstacle to rebuilding Ukraine is not Viktor Orban,” Lee Hockstader, WP, 02.02.24.

  • Most of the E.U. funds will be dispensed as loans, not grants, meaning Kyiv will be expected to repay them at some point. That's hardly realistic for the foreseeable future, but it's what the politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels could manage.
  • That goes to the underlying problem: Europe, like the United States, pays constant lip service to the fact that Ukraine is fighting not just for its own survival but also to defend the rules-based international order. Yet measured against those very high stakes, and against its own enormous resources, the E.U.'s financial commitment is meager.
  • If the E.U. can mete out more than $200 billion for Italy, which, despite chronic growth problems, is prosperous and at peace, it is fair to ask why it can muster just $54 billion for Ukraine, which is locked in an existential struggle.
  • Orban is surely a thorn in the E.U.'s side, but European leaders showed this week that he can be managed — and tamed. Now it's time for the same leaders to take a hard look at what more they can do.

“Transparency for Victory: How Openness Can Improve Ukraine’s Public Relations,” Joshua R. Kroeker, War on the Rocks, 01.31.24.

  • With growing fears…of a returned Russian offensive as well as Western support of Ukraine beginning to falter, Ukraine’s military and government find themselves in a daunting predicament, prompting a reevaluation of their public relations strategy.
  • The time has come for Ukraine to change its public relations strategy. For much of [2023], Ukrainian and Western publics were in the dark about the status of the military’s counteroffensive.
    • …Opening up about the problems that Ukraine is facing…appears to be Ukraine’s last chance of turning the tide in its favor.
  • Logistical challenges carry existential consequences for Ukraine’s soldiers… munitions arrive in incorrectly labeled boxes, packaged and sealed by foreign suppliers. Others get lost within the country.
    • To address these issues effectively, transparency becomes the top priority, aligning with the European Union’s principles [of transparency].
    • …Confronting problems head-on, acknowledging losses and…demonstrating a willingness to learn from those mistakes will only assist in Ukraine’s fight for democracy and victory.
  • Providing local and Western journalists with (nearly) unfettered access to the front will help to disseminate wartime realities… [that are] far worse than most people can imagine…
    • …Sharing the human aspect of the war…can regain some of the global attention lost over [2023].
  • Giving journalists greater access will bring a number of additional benefits…
    • …It will enhance accountability within the Ukrainian Armed Forces. [And] reduce the payoffs of corruption both within the armed forces and society in general…
    • …It will be a trust-building exercise that…will demonstrate through hard facts and evidence that the funds given to Ukraine are serving their intended purpose.
    • Finally…it will make it more difficult for populist narratives to make fabricated claims to the contrary.
  • Initiating a campaign of transparency to show where money and equipment are going, including eventual losses, has the potential to gain further trust among foreign societies…
    • Beyond this, Ukraine should make further efforts to prioritize transparency at the political level…

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

“Turn frozen Russian funds into Ukrainian war bonds,” Maximilian Hess and Yakov Feygin, FT, 02.02.24. 

  • There is still a way for Europe to use Russia’s frozen funds to benefit Ukraine without seizing them. It can order that they be reinvested into Ukrainian war bonds. Such a strategy would lower the risk of a market reaction and the chances of success of inevitable Russian lawsuits.
  • Kyiv has issued war bonds since shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion -primarily in the domestic currency, the hryvnia, but also with Ukrainian law dollar bonds. Further innovation can make these an ideal investment for the frozen Russian assets. 
  • The proposed new class of war bonds would be structured as catastrophe bond. Cat bonds, as they are known, provide interest to the buyer in exchange for them taking the risk of losing the principal if the trigger event defined within occurs. They most frequently are structured to provide capital for natural disaster recovery, as well as to distribute the risk. 
  • There are ways to limit Russia’s future returns and turn them to Ukraine’s advantage. Interest payments on these bonds should not be in cash, but payment-in-kind (PIK), in the form of additional war bonds — mitigating against the risk that Russia is left earning cash interest claims at the end of the war and retaining the financial incentive against further aggression.
  • Another option to explore is to link bond payouts to Ukraine’s postwar GDP performance. Given the damage already inflicted on Ukraine’s economy, such a link could capture the consequences of Russia’s earlier actions. Ukraine had successfully issued such debt before the war. 
  • Finally, Russia shouldn’t be able to take any upside until it stops its aggression and pays for the damage it caused. 
  • Directing Russia’s frozen assets into Ukrainian war catastrophe bonds addresses many of Europe’s concerns about seizure and increases the cost to Russia of continuing its conflict there. Every bomb, missile or drone Putin launches towards Ukraine would effectively also be blowing up Russia’s wealth while providing Kyiv with funding to resist and recover from the onslaught.

“Russia’s Frozen Assets Present a Policy Dilemma,” Alexander Kolyandr, CEIP, 02.05.24.

  • Ukraine and the West agree that Russia should not get its assets back until it stops the war, gives up all the territory it has occupied, and pays reparations. Western governments are hesitant to ask their taxpayers—already suffering from inflation and an economic slowdown—to chip in for Ukraine’s war effort when it could theoretically be funded by enemy resources. This idea has many supporters, above all Washington (after Kyiv itself). The White House is backing a bill that would allow Russian assets frozen in the United States to be seized and used to help Ukraine. The precedent for this is the seizure of Iraqi assets in 2003.
  • Yet the bulk of Russia’s frozen assets are not in the United States but in Europe: primarily Germany, France, and in particular Belgium, where more than half of all Russia’s frozen assets are held by the depositary and clearing house Euroclear. But with no precedent to follow, European governments are reluctant to seize assets from a country with which they are not officially at war.
  • For now, an interim plan has been agreed: a 100 percent tax on all income generated by frozen Russian assets. Russia is unlikely to respond by nationalizing assets, nor foreign investors to divest of their holdings in euros. But this will only raise $5–6 billion a year.
  • Given the magnitude of the risks involved, European governments are unlikely to yield to U.S. pressure to seize Russia’s frozen assets anytime soon, and that may be for the best. For now, European and American leaders continue to advocate for new long-term aid packages for Kyiv, despite having domestic difficulties. The main challenge in supplying arms to Ukraine is limited production capacity, not funding.
  • The long-term prospects for aid, however, are uncertain. They will largely depend on the outcome of the upcoming election cycle. If at any point necessity begins to outweigh risk, discussion about appropriating Moscow’s assets will surely resurface, and Russian resources may end up being seized. But until that happens, it may make more sense to keep this card in reserve. 

“How to Kill Russia’s Oil Economy,” Anders Aslund, NI, 01.29.24. 

  • The Western aim should advance from eliminating Russia’s gas export and cutting the price of its oil exports to eliminating Russia’s exports of oil and petroleum products, which amounted to roughly $230 billion in 2021. Since approximately half of Russia’s total exports consist of oil, effective oil sanctions and Ukrainian bombing could slash off a significant chunk of total exports—$628 billion in 2022 and $460 billion in 2023. Then, Russia will be forced to its knees and have no choice but to restrict its military expenditures.

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

  • No significant developments.

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

“Spycraft and Statecraft. Transforming the CIA for an Age of Competition,” William J. Burns, FA, 01.30.24. 

  • Putin’s war has already been a failure for Russia on many levels. His original goal of seizing Kyiv and subjugating Ukraine proved foolish and illusory. His military has suffered immense damage. At least 315,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded, two-thirds of Russia’s prewar tank inventory has been destroyed, and Putin’s vaunted decades-long military modernization program has been hollowed out. All this is a direct result of Ukrainian soldiers’ valor and skill, backed up by Western support. Meanwhile, Russia’s economy is suffering long-term setbacks, and the country is sealing its fate as China’s economic vassal. Putin’s overblown ambitions have backfired in another way, too: they have prompted NATO to grow larger and stronger.
  • Although Putin’s repressive grip does not seem likely to weaken anytime soon, his war in Ukraine is quietly corroding his power at home. The short-lived mutiny launched last June by the mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin offered a glimpse at some of the dysfunction lurking behind Putin’s carefully polished image of control. … Prigozhin’s biting critique of the lies and military misjudgments at the core of Putin’s war, and of the corruption at the heart of the Russian political system, will not soon disappear.
  • This year is likely to be a tough one on the battlefield in Ukraine, a test of staying power whose consequences will go well beyond the country’s heroic struggle to sustain its freedom and independence. As Putin regenerates Russia’s defense production—with critical components from China, as well as weaponry and munitions from Iran and North Korea—he continues to bet that time is on his side, that he can grind down Ukraine and wear down its Western supporters. Ukraine’s challenge is to puncture Putin’s arrogance and demonstrate the high cost for Russia of continued conflict, not just by making progress on the frontlines but also by launching deeper strikes behind them and making steady gains in the Black Sea. In this environment, Putin might engage again in nuclear saber-rattling, and it would be foolish to dismiss escalatory risks entirely. But it would be equally foolish to be unnecessarily intimidated by them.
  • The key to success lies in preserving Western aid for Ukraine. At less than five percent of the U.S. defense budget, it is a relatively modest investment with significant geopolitical returns for the United States and notable returns for American industry. Keeping the arms flowing will put Ukraine in a stronger position if an opportunity for serious negotiations emerges. It offers a chance to ensure a long-term win for Ukraine and a strategic loss for Russia … For the United States to walk away from the conflict at this crucial moment and cut off support to Ukraine would be an own goal of historic proportions.
  • Just as 9/11 ushered in a new era for the CIA, so did Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I’m deeply proud of the work that the CIA and our intelligence partners have done to assist the president and senior U.S. policymakers—and especially the Ukrainians themselves—to thwart Putin. Together, we provided early and accurate warning of the coming invasion. That knowledge also enabled the president to decide to send me to Moscow to warn Putin and his advisers in November 2021 about the consequences of the attack we knew they were planning. Convinced that their window for dominating Ukraine was closing and that the upcoming winter offered a favorable opportunity, they were unmoved and unapologetic—badly overestimating their own position and underestimating Ukrainian resistance and Western resolve.
  • Meanwhile, disaffection with the war is continuing to gnaw away at the Russian leadership and the Russian people, beneath the thick surface of state propaganda and repression. That undercurrent of disaffection is creating a once-in-a-generation recruiting opportunity for the CIA. We’re not letting it go to waste.
  • While Russia may pose the most immediate challenge, China is the bigger long-term threat, and over the past two years, the CIA has been reorganizing itself to reflect that priority. We have started by acknowledging an organizational fact I learned long ago: priorities aren’t real unless budgets reflect them. 

“What is Russia's role in the Israel-Gaza crisis?” Fiona Hill interviewed by Kevin Huggard, Brookings, 01.31.24.[3] 

  • In the last two years since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the Kremlin started calling Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Jewish president of Ukraine, a Nazi and directly offended Israel on this issue.
  • But the bigger issue for Israel was not Russia’s fight with Zelenskyy about being Jewish and the Kremlin trying to denigrate him as a result—it was, and still is, about Russia over time becoming dependent on Iran for drones and other military and political support. ...As Russia turns to Iran, you start to see Russia’s relations with Israel sour even more.
  • Oct. 7, 2023, becomes a final point of rupture for Russia and Israel. Putin starts to make antisemitic comments—quite evidently antisemitic comments he hasn’t made before. He publicly backs away from the very close relationship with Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu that he previously loved to tout at every opportunity.
  • The Russia/Iran relationship greatly complicates the situation in the Middle East, Israel, and Gaza, and the battlefield in Ukraine. Russia’s relationship with Iran—not just Zelenskyy’s Jewish heritage, or all the Russian speakers of Jewish Ukrainian heritage in Israel—as well as the U.S. role in support of both Ukraine and Israel start to draw the two sets of conflicts into the same geopolitical frame.
  • I think prior to Oct. 7, the Russians were very interested in the idea of the Israelis having a breakthrough with Saudi Arabia that they could then capitalize on economically and politically. 
  • Putin will want to make sure that whatever happens next in Gaza, Russia is part of it.
  • I think there will be more pressure this year, 2024, to try to find some quick resolution to Ukraine so that the issues in the Middle East can be focused on. And that will be disastrous because Ukraine is the largest country in Europe after Russia. 
  • The irony, of course, is that Russia itself is an empire. … But most of the rest of the world doesn’t see Russia as an empire
  • I’ve heard representatives from African countries say: “Well, what do you guys know about Africa? Can you tell us about the history of this country or that country? Why should we know about Ukraine? This is a European problem, and this is a dispute between Russia and European countries that’s got nothing to do with us here.”
  • Putin is riding a wave that’s been created by the external framing of the war in Gaza as a post-colonial conflict, and he’s whipping it up. All of the ways that the United States is seen to blame, and that Israel is seen to blame—Putin is just fanning those flames. He’s not trying to calm the situation in any way right now. He’s trying to see what he can get out of it.
  • It’s a diversion from the past—from what Russia did in Chechnya—and it’s a diversion from what Russia’s doing now in Ukraine. It’s a diversion from the fact that Russia is cozying up to Iran. And it’s another way of finding an entry point into the Middle East to make sure that Russia has a role in “peacemaking”—to make sure it has a seat at the table. Putin always wants to be where the action is happening.

“Trump Is a Danger to U.S. Security,” John Bolton, NYT, 02.01.24.

  • If isolationism becomes the dominant view among Republicans, America is in deep trouble. The most immediate crisis involves Ukraine. Barack Obama's limp-wristed response to Moscow's 2014 aggression contributed substantially to Mr. Putin's 2022 attack. But Mr. Trump's conduct was also a factor. He accused Ukraine of colluding with Democrats against him in 2016 and demanded answers. No answers were forthcoming, since none existed. President Biden's aid to Ukraine has been piecemeal and nonstrategic, but it is almost inevitable that a second-term Trump policy on Ukraine would favor Moscow.
  • Mr. Trump's assertions that he was "tougher" on Russia than earlier presidents are inaccurate. His administration imposed major sanctions, but they were urged by advisers and carried out only after he protested vigorously. His assertions that Mr. Putin would never have invaded Ukraine had he been re-elected are wishful thinking. Mr. Putin's flattery pleases Mr. Trump. When Mr. Putin welcomed Mr. Trump's talk last year of ending the Ukraine war, Mr. Trump gushed: "I like that he said that. Because that means what I'm saying is right." Mr. Putin knows his mark and would relish a second Trump term.
  • An even greater danger is that Mr. Trump will act on his desire to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He came precariously close in 2018. The Supreme Court has never ruled authoritatively whether the president can abrogate Senate-ratified treaties, but presidents have regularly done so. Recently enacted legislation to stop Mr. Trump from withdrawing without congressional consent likely wouldn't survive a court challenge. It could precipitate a constitutional crisis and years of litigation.
  • Mr. Trump is unlikely to thwart the Beijing-Moscow axis. 
  • Given Mr. Trump's isolationism and disconnected thinking, there is every reason to doubt his support for the defense buildup we urgently need. He initially believed he could cut defense spending simply because his skills as a negotiator could reduce procurement costs. Even as he increased defense budgets, he showed acute discomfort, largely under the influence of isolationist lawmakers. He once tweeted that his own military budget was "crazy" and that he, Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi should confer to prevent a new arms race. Mr. Trump is no friend of the military. In private, he was confounded that anyone would put himself in danger by joining.
  • A second Trump term would bring erratic policy and uncertain leadership, which the China-Russia axis would be only too eager to exploit.

“Trump’s betrayal of Ukraine. The Republicans refusal to supply arms is sabotaging Kyiv’s war effort,” Gideon Rachman, FT, 02.05.24. 

  • There are still many months to go before the US presidential election. But Donald Trump is already having a deeply malign effect on American foreign policy. At Trump’s behest, Republicans in Congress are blocking military aid for Ukraine.
  • Republicans in the House of Representatives remain completely intransigent. As a result, it seems increasingly unlikely that military aid for Ukraine will get through Congress in the coming months — or even this year.
  • The consequences of that decision could be disastrous. Ukraine is already suffering from a shortage of ammunition — in particular artillery shells. That will become more acute this year, with increasingly dangerous results. Jack Watling of the Royal United Services Institute, a frequent visitor to the frontline in Ukraine, says the situation there is now “extremely serious”. 
    • The ammunition shortage has already led to an increase in Ukrainian casualties. With no certainty about when new supplies of materiel will arrive, the Ukrainian military is finding it impossible to plan future operations.
    • The shortage of weaponry is also having an effect on the willingness of Ukrainians to volunteer for military service. 
  • European production lines are not yet ready to fill the munitions gap left by the Americans. That will take until at least 2025, and makes the second half of this year potentially very dangerous for Ukraine.
  • Some of the Republican reluctance to pass new aid for Ukraine is driven by genuine skepticism about the war. But most of the foot-dragging is simply about Trump’s refusal to give Biden anything that looks like a “win” ahead of the presidential election. If the freedom of Ukraine and the security of Europe are collateral damage in Trump’s bid to win back the White House, the former president seems to regard that as a price worth paying. It is even possible that he would welcome a Ukrainian defeat.
  • Putin has made a long-term bet on Trump. Unless there is a last-minute change of heart in Congress, that wager may finally pay out — on the battlefields of Ukraine.

“How Trump is already damaging U.S. national interests,” Editorial Board, WP, 02.05.24. 

  • Mr. Trump has repeatedly depicted security alliances not as prudent long-term investments but as free rides for allies who get U.S. protection but do not shoulder their fair share of the defense burden. This is why Mr. Trump is pushing to end America's support for Ukraine and hinting at a separate peace of some kind with Russia's Vladimir Putin. His campaign website promises "fundamentally reevaluating NATO's purpose and NATO's mission."
  • Mr. Putin shows no signs of backing down in Ukraine or negotiating peace because he obviously hopes for a better deal from Mr. Trump. Democratic leaders in Europe, by contrast, speak nervously of hedging against Trump Round 2. Whether or not he wins, Mr. Trump has already created a more dangerous world, in which the power and principles of the United States are seen not as constants but as variables.

“Trump-Proofing Europe. How the Continent Can Prepare for American Abandonment,” Arancha González Laya, Camille Grand, Katarzyna Pisarska, Nathalie Tocci and Guntram Wolff, 02.02.24.

  • European leaders cannot count on a friendly United States. They must prepare for the possibility that, a year from now, the United States will again be led by Donald Trump. During his GOP primary campaign for president, Trump has suggested that if he is reelected in November 2024, he will negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the Ukraine war “in 24 hours,” demand that Europe reimburse the United States for ammunition used in Ukraine, withdraw from the Paris climate accords, and roil the global economy by imposing a ten percent tariff on all imports. 
  • Well before Russia invaded Ukraine, European leaders knew they had to grow up—which meant, in part, relying less on the United States. ... Only after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, however, did the European debate—and behavior—about security change dramatically. 
  •  Even if Ukraine thwarts Russia’s ambitions to rule its territory and people, Russia will likely remain a long-term security challenge, forcing Europeans to revisit collective defense scenarios and establish a level of military readiness it has not possessed since the Cold War. 
  • Perhaps the greatest risk Trump poses to Europe is to its values: multilateralism, care for the environment, the rule of law, and democracy itself. 
  • If the EU is serious about defending its principles, it should not shy away from considering the use of treaty provisions that suspend a member state’s voting rights in the European Council.
  • The EU must also promote democracy in its direct neighborhood by using the most effective tool it has: EU enlargement. Previous rounds of expansion have shown that the EU accession process itself gives the body considerable leverage to transform the governance and political culture of applicant countries. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has given the accession process new meaning and urgency. 
  • Even if Trump does not win in November, Europe has work to do. It may simply no longer be able to rely on the United States to be a consistent partner, no matter who’s in charge. 

 “If Trump wins, he will destroy the American-led world order,” Max Boot, WP, 01.31.24.

  • In Trump's first term, he did not manage to overturn more than 70 years of American global leadership, but he certainly undermined it. He pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iran nuclear accord. He tried to pull all U.S. forces out of Syria and about a third of them out of Germany. He temporarily blocked arms deliveries to Ukraine to coerce President Volodymyr Zelenskyy into helping him politically. He launched a pointless trade war with China that inflicted considerable costs on the U.S. economy.
  • According to Thierry Breton, a senior European Union official, Trump in 2020 told E.U. leaders "that if Europe is under attack we will never come to help you and to support you" and "NATO is dead, and we will leave, we will quit NATO." Congress recently passed legislation to prevent a president from exiting NATO without congressional approval, but Trump could still make the alliance a dead letter by refusing to honor the Article 5 obligation to defend members under attack.
  • Trump would almost certainly cut off U.S. aid to Ukraine — as his followers in Congress are already attempting to do, at his behest. He says he would end the Ukraine war "in one day" by telling Zelenskyy that Ukraine would have "to make a deal." Such a deal would presumably turn over at least 20 percent of Ukraine's territory to Russian occupation while dictator Vladimir Putin readied his forces to take the rest. Zelenskyy called Trump's talk "very dangerous," but Trump is far more interested in courting Putin than Zelenskyy. ("I was the apple of his eye," Trump recently boasted about his Kremlin pal.)
  • The November election will decide whether America continues its post-1945 internationalist foreign policy — or risks a return to the pre-Pearl Harbor policy of isolationism. How did that work out?

“Why NATO Needs Ukraine. Kyiv’s Survival and Europe’s Security Depend on a More Unified Front,” Alina Polyakova and James Goldgeier, FA, 02.01.24. 

  • The absence of a clear plan for Ukraine to join NATO has given Putin more confidence that he can wait out the West and defeat Ukraine in a war of attrition. Moreover, the lack of resolve on NATO membership sends all the wrong signals about the West’s own confidence in Ukraine’s ability to win, which makes policymakers more reticent to approve large military assistance packages. 
  • Some analysts may fear that the alliance’s Article 5 provision would require Washington and its allies to join the war more directly. But Article 5 does not automatically commit the alliance to enter the war. Rather, it stipulates that the alliance determines “action as it deems necessary,” which may or may not include putting troops on the ground. 
  • The war in Ukraine...  has already demonstrated that NATO membership deters Russian military attacks on member states’ territory. Putin knows full well where the supplies inflicting high casualties on his troops come from. And yet he has not attacked NATO territory to prevent resupply efforts. Like Biden and European leaders, he does not want a NATO-Russian war.
  • NATO membership is the only long-term means Kyiv has to deter future Russian attacks. 
  • The 2024 NATO summit is also an opportunity for Biden to lock in his Ukraine policy’s successes before the United States’ 2024 presidential election. 
  • NATO does not need to offer Ukraine an immediate formal invitation. It can announce that it is opening accession talks with an invitation to follow at a future date, as the European Union has done with Ukraine regarding EU membership. But as NATO representatives and the alliance’s heads of state and government gather in Washington, there must be a broad recognition that Ukraine should be a part of NATO as soon as it meets specifically stated requirements, particularly on defense sector reforms. In terms of preparedness, Ukraine already has the most capable army in Europe, with a battle-tested force that would become an asset, not a liability, to the alliance. Without strong concrete action by NATO at the upcoming summit demonstrating that Ukraine’s future is in the alliance, the situation in Ukraine is likely to continue to erode in Moscow’s favor—with profound negative consequences for Europe and the United States.

“Germany Braces for Decades of Confrontation With Russia,” Steven Erlanger and David E. Sanger, NYT 02.03.24. 

  • Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has begun warning Germans that they should prepare for decades of confrontation with Russia — and that they must speedily rebuild the country’s military in case Vladimir V. Putin does not plan to stop at the border with Ukraine. Russia’s military, he has said in a series of recent interviews with German news media, is fully occupied with Ukraine. But if there is a truce, and Mr. Putin, Russia’s president, has a few years to reset, he thinks the Russian leader will consider testing NATO’s unity.
  • “Nobody knows how or whether this will last,” Mr. Pistorius said of the current war, arguing for a rapid buildup in the size of the German military and a restocking of its arsenal.Mr. Pistorius’s public warnings reflect a significant shift at the top levels of leadership in a country that has shunned a strong military since the end of the Cold War. The alarm is growing louder, but the German public remains unconvinced that the security of Germany and Europe has been fundamentally threatened by a newly aggressive Russia.
  • With an undependable America, an aggressive Russia and a striving China, as well as a seemingly stalemated war in Ukraine and a deeply unpopular conflict in Gaza, German officials are beginning to talk about the emergence of a new, complicated and troubling world, with severe consequences for European and trans-Atlantic security. Their immediate concern is growing pessimism that the United States will continue to fund Ukraine’s struggle, just as Germany, the second-largest contributor, has agreed to double its contribution this year, to about $8.5 billion.
  • “If Ukraine were forced to surrender, that would not satisfy Russia’s hunger for power,” the chief of Germany’s intelligence service, Bruno Kahl, said last week. “If the West does not demonstrate a clear readiness to defend, Putin will have no reason not to attack NATO anymore.”
  • This year, for the first time, Germany will spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on the military, reaching the goal that all NATO countries agreed to in 2014, after the Russian annexation of Crimea, but that most experts warn is now too low. And Germany has committed to beefing up NATO’s eastern flank against Russia by promising to permanently station a brigade in Lithuania by 2027.
  • But if he [Sholz] remains reluctant to push Mr. Putin too hard, it is a caution Germans share. Polls show that Germans want to see a more capable German military. But only 38 percent of those surveyed said they wanted their country to be more involved in international crises, the lowest figure since that question began to be asked in 2017, according to the Körber Foundation, which conducted the survey. Of that group, 76 percent said the engagement should be primarily diplomatic, and 71 percent were against a military leadership role for Germany in Europe.
  • While Mr. Scholz acknowledges that the world has changed, “he is not saying that we must change with it,” said Ulrich Speck, a German analyst. “He is saying that the world has changed and that we will protect you,” Mr. Speck said. But doing so may well require far more military spending — upward of 3 percent of Germany’s gross domestic product. For now, few in Mr. Scholz’s party dare suggest going that far.

“Europe and NATO are stepping up on Ukraine,” Tara Varma, Brookings, 02.02.24. 

  • There is a need for NATO, the EU, and member states to demonstrate their willingness, in words and action, to support Ukraine in the long run.
  • The idea of a European “pillar” within NATO—meaning that a politically and economically strong Europe should contribute similar military capacity as the United States to mutual security—will be both a European and an American strategic interest.
  • The months and weeks leading up to the NATO Washington summit should be an opportunity for increased trans-Atlantic cooperation and for bolstering our defense plans, as we seek to protect Ukraine and provide it with all the equipment and assistance it needs. A strong and stable Europe is in the United States’ interest.

“The Christmas Gift that Keeps Giving,” Jack F. Matlock, Jr., American Diplomacy, February 2024. 

  • Just as the USSR supported revolutions to create “socialism” and military intervention in other countries to preserve it (the Brezhnev Doctrine), so has the United States justified its military activity abroad as necessary to create, support, and defend what it calls “democracy. Numerous questions arise. Here are a few, chosen almost at random from some that are basic and at least one trivial:
    • If, in a Liberal World Order (sometimes called the “rules-based order”), one country does not invade or make war against another unless attacked or authorized by the United Nations Security Council, how is it that the US and its NATO allies unleashed an undeclared war by bombing Serbia in 1999? A more egregious offense occurred subsequently when the United States, along with Great Britain and a few others, invaded, occupied, and destroyed the entire government of Iraq, justifying the action by the false assertion that Iraq had illegally retained weapons of mass destruction.
    • How is it that the United States and NATO are conducting an all-but-declared war against Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine, but are providing the weapons and political cover to Israel to conduct a genocidal campaign against the people living in Gaza?
    • Does a “rules-based order” allow a country to invade another and attempt to remove its leader? (Note Syria.)
    • Is it proper for a powerful country that has more than once violated the rules of the Liberal World Order to assume the role of enforcer of rules it has violated, even to the point of conducting economic warfare against an alleged offender?
    • If the US goal is to create and defend democracies, how is it that it arms one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies, Saudi Arabia?
    • If NATO is an alliance of democracies, how is it that Montenegro, an autocracy and one of the world’s most corrupt countries, qualified for membership?
  • Just as Brezhnev invaded “socialist” countries to preserve socialism, our American government is attempting to use its military and economic power to impose its political system on the world. It is not working any better than it did for Brezhnev.

“New Myths About America’s Role in the Ukraine War,” Alexei Sobchenko, NI, 02.02.24. 

  • The most effective way for Russia to reverse these unfavorable [economic and demographic] trends is by ousting Putin and his inner circle from power and establishing conditions conducive to genuine democracy. To assist the Russian people in this endeavor, the United States could provide Ukraine with a substantially larger supply of weapons and ammunition, enabling them to vanquish the Russian military on the battlefield. It’s worth noting that military defeats, such as the Crimean War, the Russo-Japanese War, the First World War, and, to some extent, the war in Afghanistan, have often catalyzed significant changes in Russia’s history. A decisive defeat of the Russian military in Ukraine could potentially bring about the desired transformation. 
  • The issue lies in the fact that, in contrast to Layne and Schwarz’s assertions[4], the Biden administration does not appear to favor regime change in Moscow, which could be accelerated by providing Ukraine with significantly larger and urgent military assistance in defeating the Russian military on the battlefield. Instead, according to the German newspaper Bild, America and Germany have devised a plan to compel Ukraine to negotiate with Russia by limiting its arms supplies. If Ukraine is coerced into a ceasefire, it could resemble the creation of a new Alsace-Lorraine—a persistent geopolitical issue on the continent that has the potential to flare up again at any moment.
  • By assisting Ukraine in defeating the Russian military on the battlefield, Washington could potentially address, once and for all, the Russian threat to its neighbors and global security, which would come at a fraction of its military budget. This, not specious claims about American culpability for the war, remains the genuine challenge for the West in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Russia’s Nuclear Modernization Drive Is Only a Success on Paper,” Maxim Starchak, CEIP, 01.31.24. 

  • At first glance, it might seem as if Russia’s nuclear modernization drive has been successful. Notably, last year, the proportion of modern (i.e. non-Soviet) arms in the arsenal of the Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN) increased from 85% to 88%. For example, the Yars missile transporter erector launcher (TEL) is replacing the Soviet-era Topol. RVSN’s Kozelsky Missile Division is being re-equipped with silo-based Yars inter-continental ballistic missiles, and the Bologovsky Missile Division has already completed this process. The Orenburg Missile Division recently re-equipped with brand new Avangard missile systems (the third such regiment to do this in recent years).
  • Less progress, however, has been made with the Sarmat missile system, which is supposed to replace the Soviet-era Voevoda. President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Yuri Borisov, the head of state-owned space corporation Roscosmos, all promised the Sarmat system would be deployed by the end of 2023. But not one Sarmat has yet been loaded into a silo, a step originally scheduled for 2021.
  • So important is RVSN re-armament that the Kremlin is even skimping on testing. ...There is a similar amount of uncertainty surrounding air-launched systems. 
  • The most troubled aspect of Russia’s nuclear modernization is air delivery systems, with industry still incapable of producing new bombers. Even the modernization of existing aircraft faces production and management problems. ... Responsibility for upgrading Tu-160s lies with the Kazan Aviation Plant (KAZ), which has so far—more or less—concluded work on four bombers. .. These delays are easily explained. KAZ’s own modernization (supposed to be concluded by 2020) has been disrupted by Western sanctions, and difficulties with import substitution.
  • Similarly behind schedule is Russia’s development of an advanced, long-range bomber. The first prototype of a next-generation strategic stealth bomber—another KAZ project—was due in 2021–2022, but has failed to materialize. The Trade and Industry Ministry is also suing over these delays—this time for 4.98 billion rubles.
  • All the while, the introduction of a series of highly publicized new sea-based weapons [e.g. Poseidon and Burevestnik] has seriously stalled. 
  • The new nuclear weapons hyped by the Kremlin will see out yet another year as nothing more than projects-in-development.

“Vladimir Putin addressed the plenary session of the Everything for Victory! forum,”, 02.02.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • I would like to highlight separately that today our strategic nuclear forces have been almost completely modernized, by 95 percent. Their maritime component has been almost 100 percent renewed. This provides a solid, reliable foundation for our strategic security. It is a reliable home front, both literally and figuratively speaking. 

Also see “Putin and Lukashenko,” R. Politik Weekly Digest No. 5 (19) 2024, in the “Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors” section below.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“Russia’s Countervalue Cyber Approach: Utility or Futility?”, Gavin Wilde, CEIP, 02.05.24. 

  • Russia’s disruptive cyber and information operations against Ukraine have proven less decisive—and its victims more resilient—than previously feared. This dynamic follows similar failures by states to coerce or punish targeted populations into submission, suggesting the need to tailor Western threat perceptions of Russian activity—and Western aspirations—in cyberspace.
  • Russia’s performance in Ukraine does raise broader questions for military and cyber strategists: Is there any degree of success in countervalue cyber operations sufficient to compensate for counterforce failures? Were Russia’s operational shortcomings in Ukraine situationally unique or more broadly indicative of an upper limit of utility for countervalue cyber operations in war and geopolitics?
  •  Like all cyber-related questions, a host of unknown variables demands humility in answering them. The true extent of cyber operations in this war is likely known only to Ukrainian and Russian commanders. Even so, for militaries, there is at least a plausible case to be made that countervalue cyber operations—whether conducting or responding to them—entail significant opportunity costs that might drain resources and focus better concentrated elsewhere.
  • Cyber scholar Martin C. Libicki notes that the efficacy of cyberattacks is “strongly, perhaps overwhelmingly, determined by features of those systems [they] are targeted against.” For hardened battlefield systems, this logic is readily apparent. It is what makes a successful counterforce cyber operation—like electronically disabling an air defense system to enable a successful bombing run against a military target—such a daunting challenge. Insofar as sociopolitical cohesion can also be considered such a system, civil adaptability and resilience are more likely to be decisive in blunting countervalue operations than is commonly appreciated. Rather than posing what Erica Lonergan calls “unpalatable choices between capitulation and escalation” in response to any Russian cyber operations whatsoever, a resilience-based approach “obviates that need by anticipating that setbacks will be part of the strategic environment and, therefore, preparing in advance to address them.”
  • Russia’s countervalue cyber operations—however disruptive and costly—can reasonably be seen as Moscow’s cheap solution to its mounting foreign policy problems, a sign of highly sophisticated intelligence tradecraft being squandered in service of a deeply flawed military strategy. Meanwhile, the historical rubble from air bombardments, the rugged determination of Ukrainian society today, and the gradual evolution of American thinking about cybersecurity all seem to call for more faith and focus in domestic and civil resilience and less fear and fixation on Russia’s putative cyber prowess.

“What does global military AI governance need?” Mahmoud Javadi and Michal Onderco, ELN, 02.02.24. 

  • To sustain the current momentum spurred by REAIM [Responsible Artificial Intelligence in the Military Domain], it is imperative for the EU and its member states to actively engage and allocate resources to ensure its success. It may not be characterized as overly ambitious since it is focused on advancing knowledge and understanding military AI, according to the EU statement in the 2023 Conference on Disarmament. Nevertheless, it serves as a crucial prerequisite for any efforts, including the Political Declaration.
  • The evolving landscape of global military AI governance is both expansive and intricate, particularly when viewed within the context of strategic rivalries. The establishment of a robust framework for military AI governance is a responsibility that should fall under the purview of the UN, renowned for its legitimacy as a truly global forum based on international law. Until the UN assumes a central role in this regard, addressing the challenges associated with regulating military AI becomes more attainable by aligning with the democratic, depoliticized, and decentralized principles articulated by REAIM.
  • The ultimate objective of the Political Declaration is not something Europeans shy away from, as evidenced by the widespread endorsement from nearly all European states and all the EU member states in particular. However, the crucial consideration lies in the strategies and approaches to attain this goal. This becomes particularly significant given the potential impact of the U.S. presidential elections this year, which could once again influence all multilateral state-level initiatives.
  • If the US attempts to lead from the center in the governance of military AI, it becomes imperative to also lead from behind. Therefore, the wisest policy choice for Washington is to acknowledge that achieving the visions and missions of REAIM would contribute significantly to fulfilling the Political Declaration.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“The surprising resilience of the Russian economy. Heavy public spending on defense has led to a rebound in growth but could also be storing up problems for the near future,” Anastasia Stognei and Max Seddon, FT, 02.02.24.

  • Russia’s president gloated that Russia’s economy had not only withstood an onslaught of sanctions from western countries — but was now bigger than all but two of them. He was referring to the World Bank’s ranking of GDP by purchasing power parity, by which Russia slightly edges ahead of Germany. “All of our industry did their part,” he said.
  • On Tuesday, the IMF appeared to concur with Russia’s president. The IMF revised its own GDP growth forecast for Russia to 2.6% this year, a 1.5 percentage point rise over what it had predicted last October. [Russia grew faster than all the G7 economies last year and the IMF forecasts it will again in 2024, according to this FT chart.]
  • The Russian economy’s resilience has stunned many economists who had believed the initial round of sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago could cause a catastrophic contraction. Instead, they say, the Kremlin has spent its way out of a recession by evading Western attempts to limit its revenues from energy sales and by ramping up defense spending.
  • Russia is directing a third of the country’s budget — Rbs9.6tn in 2023 and Rbs14.3tn in 2024 — towards the war effort, a threefold increase from 2021, the last full year before the invasion. This includes not only producing hardware, but also giving war-related social payments to those who fight in Ukraine and their families, as well as some spending on the occupied territories.
  • Putin’s own top economic officials have warned a surge in public spending comes at the risk of a major overheating of the economy shortly. But for the time being, it is keeping growth robust. All of this would have been impossible if Russia had not continued to generate colossal revenues from its energy resources, despite sanctions. In 2023, Russia’s energy revenues reached Rbs8.8tn — a decline of about a quarter from the record-breaking result in 2022 but above the average for the past ten years. Despite this, the state has had to resort to increasingly irregular methods to generate revenue from one-off taxes and levies, including “voluntary donations” Western businesses have to pay when leaving Russia.
  • The Russian finance ministry estimates that war-related fiscal stimulus in 2022-23 was equivalent to around 10% of GDP. In that same period, war-related industrial output has risen 35% while civilian production has remained flat, according to research published by the Bank of Finland Institute for Emerging Economies. Putin claimed on Friday that civilian production had increased by 27% since the start of the war, but did not cite a source for the figure.
  • The Kremlin’s shift to what Vasily Astrov, a senior economist at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (WIIW), calls “military Keynesianism” is a radical break from the conservative macroeconomic policy of Putin’s first two decades in power.
  • The pace of growth may not be sustainable even if Russia keeps up its current level of military spending, economists say.

“Why is the Kremlin Ignoring Social Problems Ahead of the Presidential Election?” Mikhail Vinogradov, Russia.Post, 01.30.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Just over two months before the presidential election in Russia, within the race there have been no attempts to provide an outlet for people to blow off steam, no high-profile electoral program initiatives, no serious intrigues. Instead, the emphasis has been on sucking the air out of the agenda – much the same as it was in the run-up to the 2016 and 2021 parliamentary elections and the presidential election in 2018. The general message is that after the obvious victory of the current government, everything will basically stay the same. Still, it can hardly be said that this January has passed incident-free. The beginning of the year was marked by serious problems with basic services, as heating disruptions plagued large urban areas and snow hampered traffic on major highway.
  • At the same time, there have been signs that Ukrainian strikes against Russian infrastructure are becoming more effective. In addition, conspicuous protests took place in Bashkortostan, a region known for its loyalty to the Kremlin. 
  • The above is an incomplete list of problems with which the Russian authorities have started the new year. The December decision of the Central Bank to hike its key rate made life harder for those who planned to take out a mortgage to buy a house and has already led to serious conflicts between banks and construction companies. Meanwhile, the problem of inflation remains very sensitive. A disagreement is intensifying between the government and the Central Bank over the extension of a requirement mandating the sale of FX earnings by exporters, an emergency measure adopted last year to stop the depreciation of the ruble against global currencies.
  • All these events do not quite fit into the logic of Putin’s reelection campaign. Or rather, its two versions. 
    • The first one is “peace” – it is reflected in a big exhibition about Russia that is taking place in Moscow, which presents the achievements – economic, technological, infrastructural – of the country’s regions and corporations during Putin’s presidency. There is practically no war theme there.
    • The second version of the reelection campaign is “war.” It promotes the thesis that Russia is waging a “defensive war for its existence with the collective West,” with a vote for Putin in the presidential election seen as an important contribution to defending Russia against external threats.
  • Since public opinion is weakly politicized, people in general are not reacting to the fact that in the official campaign there is no mention of the problems in January – the heating crisis, local protests, uncertainty at the front.

“Why Russians Prefer Propaganda and Shield Themselves from Independent Reporting,” Anton Shirikov, PONARS, February 2024.    

  • Even if the Russian media environment were to be magically transformed overnight and independent, critical reporting were somehow to become widespread, many Russians would still avoid or reject such truths (just as many Americans believe that the 2020 election was fraudulent, despite all evidence to the contrary). Piercing this bubble is even more difficult with the propaganda apparatus in full swing, and efforts to increase awareness about the war are unlikely to be effective.
  • As such, Western counter-propaganda efforts should focus not on providing accurate information, but on breaking the political and emotional bond between the Kremlin and the Russian public. Helping Ukraine win the war may be one way to do this. Modeling communications with ordinary Russians on the practices of communication across partisan lines might also help. But ultimately, the lesson is that even in autocracies with extensive censorship and propaganda machines, much of what citizens learn and believe about the world is driven by their own choices and identities.

“Putin's Presidential Election Rivals Aren't Even Pretending to Put Up a Fight,” Matthew Luxmoore, WSJ, 02.05.24.

  • In Russia's coming presidential election, the candidates running against Vladimir Putin are confident of one thing: their certain defeat. "I don't dream of beating Putin. What's the point?" Leonid Slutsky, the leader of Russia's Liberal-Democratic Party, or LDPR, said after registering his candidacy in December. Andrei Bogdanov from the Russian Party of Freedom and Justice was more blunt when asked if he can win: "Of course not. Do I look like an idiot?"
  • Putin's biggest potential challengers have either fled or are locked up in prison. Criticism of his war in Ukraine is rarely heard. Indeed, his bet that Russia can outlast the West's support for Ukraine appears to be paying off as political leaders in Europe and the U.S. bicker over aid to Kyiv, while Russia's economy steps up production of the arms and ammunition needed to sustain the war. So why do Putin's opponents bother to run, and why does he hold the election at all?
    • "It's a question of principle," says Tatyana Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst in Paris who maintains contacts with people close to the Kremlin. "He wants to reassure himself that people support him and he needs it to show the world that he still benefits from huge social support."
    • , Putin requires a coterie of Kremlin-approved parties that participate in Russian elections to uphold a veneer of democracy. Some have greater scope to push their own policy ideas, so long as they don't threaten Putin's hold on power. Others are entirely subordinate to the state. "From Putin's point of view this is a healthy, responsible and constructive opposition that understands the rules," said Stanovaya. "But they are part of the vertical, and they are not really independent."
  • Russians have in recent days lined up in the cold to leave signatures for antiwar candidate Boris Nadezhdin, whose surname roughly translates to "Man of Hope." Analysts say that at a time when criticizing the military or speaking out against the invasion of Ukraine can easily lead to jail time, an endorsement of Nadezhdin is the closest thing to protesting the war. But Stanovaya says that wartime conditions and Putin's secure hold on power have diminished the Kremlin's appetite for risk. Few expect Nadezhdin, who has long been in the state's good graces with appearances on television talk-shows where he plays the token liberal, to be allowed onto the ballot.[5]

“Oppositional Candidate Messing up the Script. How will the Kremlin Respond?” Gleb Cherkasov, Russia.Post, 01.31.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Boris Nadezhdin’s campaign looks like a real one, sucking up anti-Kremlin sentiments. 
  • The Central Election Commission can reject signatures – as a technical matter, this is not difficult. That would be the end of Nadezhdin’s campaign, though he would probably go to court. The likelihood that an anti-Kremlin candidate will end up on the ballot is low, but a shocking outcome should not have been expected either. 
  • Conspiracy theorists may assume that everything that has happened with Nadezhdin’s campaign was designed to tighten the screws. To weed out dissenters (they did leave their passport data with their addresses) and crack down even more. However, this would suggest a spirit of adventurism, which, in fact, is completely uncharacteristic of the operators of the political process.

Defense and aerospace:

“Meeting with activists participating in the Everything for Victory! Forum,”, 02.02.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Our 6,000 defense industry enterprises employ 3.5 million people. That’s a lot. But if we consider that, apart from these purely defense enterprises, another 10,000 enterprises are in one way or another connected with the defense industry, are their supply chain, their contractors to some extent, then you can imagine what this is, what kind of “army” this is. In the last year and a half alone, 520,000 new jobs have been created in the defense industry, more than half a million jobs. But it is not that people showed up and got paid. Everyone works there, and they work hard. They work in two and, in some places, three shifts.
  • To be successful on the battlefield today, it is necessary to respond quickly and adequately to what is happening there. Success is achieved by the side that can react quickly to the enemy’s means of destruction, reconnaissance and suppression. It should not just be quick in finding opportunities to suppress them but it should also create its own, more effective weapons. The side that does it quicker wins the battle. This is today’s approach to an armed struggle. Our defense industry is operating at a very good pace and with high quality.
  • Of course, if we compare modern NATO weapons with the arms of the late Soviet years, the latter are inferior in some specifications, but not all of them. And if we take our latest weapons, they are clearly superior to anything else. 
  •  See “Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts” section 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 and India Are Developing Their Relations of Privileged Strategic Partnership on the Base of Mutual Trust and Respect for Each Other’s Position,” Igor Ivanov, RIAC, 02.04.24. Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • We are all living in turbulent times. Large-scale regional conflicts may well turn into a global stand-off; economic, technology and other types of hybrid warfare crawl around the world; the arms control system, which took years to establish, is now eroding, while new arms race is running strong; the language of unilateral sanctions has largely displaced a culture of dialogue, which chips away at the more and more fragile system of international relations.
  • We may have differences as to the root causes of these international problems. However, it is quite obvious that the world is now at a point when the need for the international order to be revised is hard to deny. This conclusion is shared by a majority of policy-makers, scholars, academics and experts. At the same time we see a clash of positions regarding the contours of a future world order. Political bias in assessing the current and the future balance of power in the world remains a major setback on our path towards a new just and democratic world order.
  • Amid these circumstances, it is very important that engaged conversations between experts accompanied discussions on political level on relevant issues on the international agenda. Russia and India are developing their relations of privileged strategic partnership on the base of mutual trust and respect for each other’s position. As was noted in President Putin’s greetings to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of the nation’s Republic Day, this “fully meets the interests of our friendly people as it is in the line with strengthening security and stability both regionally and globally.”

“Macron’s European Security Order: Stronger European Defense, Less Reliance on US and New Post-War Dynamic With Russia,” Rym Momtaz, RM, 02.02.24.

  • Since French President Emmanuel Macron was first elected in 2017, he has advocated for reviewing the terms of the European security order to adjust them to post-Cold War realities. The fundamentals of his vision have remained largely constant. They continue to be based on supercharging European defense, depending less on the U.S. and establishing a new dynamic with Russia. 
  • [S]ince his speeches in February 2023 at the Munich Security Conference and at GLOBSEC, Macron has consistently stated that Russia cannot and must not win its war against Ukraine—but at the same time, he has repeatedly talked about the need to build a security architecture “with” Russia once the war is over (as opposed to against it), and said that NATO countries failed to build an security architecture with Moscow in 1990, both of which are anathema to Eastern Europeans, the Baltics and the U.S.
  • More broadly, as Macron and the EU seek to establish a post-war dynamic with Moscow they will need to create a credible power dynamic with a Russia that promises to remain adversarial for the foreseeable future. Yet without the current level of American involvement, as well as an overhaul of the European defense industrial base, that goal seems elusive. … [W]hile EU member states have come a long way in awakening from their strategic slumber, they still lack the means to confront the strategic challenge posed by Russia.
  • Macron’s view has been that, for better or worse, the EU and Russia, as neighbors on the same continent, must find a modus vivendi that maintains stability on the basis of new arms control treaties and Russia renouncing its neo-imperial designs. This overarching goal remains a primary feature of his vision for the European order, even if Russia has not expressed any interest in it and even if it is more elusive than ever.
  • The U.S. position on Ukraine’s NATO membership, difficulties with the production of weapons revealed by the Ukraine war and growing uncertainty about the American posture toward Europe if Donald Trump is reelected, has nudged at least some European leaders slightly closer to Macron’s vision for the future of the transatlantic relationship, without fully embracing it.


“Ukraine under closer western scrutiny. As the war approaches its third year, questions are being asked about political struggles, corruption and freedom,” Tony Barber, FT, 02.03.24.

  • For most of the two years after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, the emphasis was on Ukraine’s heroic self-defense...This began to change towards the end of 2023, as it became clear that Ukraine’s counteroffensive had failed to achieve a breakthrough, and that US and European backing for Kyiv’s war effort was mired in political difficulties.
  • Neither the Biden administration nor most European governments are talking in public about applying pressure, mild or otherwise, on Ukraine to end the war. ... However, it seems to me that the shift in western news coverage and commentary reflects an emerging impulse among some policymakers and opinion-formers to question for how long, and under what conditions, western support should continue for Ukraine’s war effort.
  • Mark Galeotti, a prominent western commentator on the Russian-Ukrainian war, was not alone this week in suggesting, in a piece for The Spectator magazine, that “Zelenskyy’s rivalry with Zaluzhnyi spells bad news for Ukraine”.
    • One reason is that Zaluzhnyi is more popular than Zelenskyy with the Ukrainian public. In the survey below, published by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, we see that trust in Zelenskyy dropped to 62% last December from 84% in December 2022. By contrast, 88% of Ukrainians expressed trust in Zaluzhnyi (there are no comparable data for a year earlier).
  • In my view, the Zelenskyy-Zaluzhnyi dispute is important not only in itself, but because it relates to the way that some western specialists are starting to question the president’s leadership in terms of the quality of democracy and governance in Ukraine.
  • In this article for Business Insider, published in December, Paul Starobin, an author with long experience of Russia and Ukraine, took a look at Andriy Yermak. ... According to Daria Kaleniuk, a respected anti-corruption campaigner,  Yermak is “intoxicated with power” and may be creating a new system of oligarchy, over which he presides. 
  • The risk of a new oligarchy may be rising under the extreme pressures of wartime economic management. 
  • Alongside western interest in political and business power struggles in Ukraine, attention is turning once again to corruption. In its 2023 corruption perceptions index, released this week, the watchdog Transparency International placed Ukraine 104th equal, next to Algeria, Brazil and Serbia and up from 116th equal in 2022. 
  • However, new examples of corruption keep cropping up. Last month, Ukraine’s security service said it had uncovered a $40mn fraud scheme in weapons procurement.
  • Corruption isn’t the only issue unsettling Ukraine’s western friends. Another is political and media freedom.... Thomas Graham discussed the problem that, under martial law, parliamentary elections due last autumn were postponed and a presidential contest scheduled for this year is likely to suffer the same fate. Graham observes: “ . . . the longer the country goes without elections — which could be quite some time given that the war is currently at an impasse — the more questions about Ukraine’s commitment to democracy will mount, in both Ukraine and the west.”

“Zelensky's Corruption Problem,” Brendan Cole, Newsweek, 01.28.24. 

  • With the war started by Russia entering its third year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is also fighting on another front—corruption. On January 9, Zelensky's defense minister, Rustem Umerov, said an audit had uncovered corruption connected to military procurement worth 10 billion hryvnia ($262 million) in only the four months he had been in post. His predecessor, Oleksii Reznikov, resigned in September over scandals that threatened to sap domestic and international confidence in Kyiv.
  • These cases included the dismissal of two senior officials over allegations the ministry had inflated contracts for food supplied to troops, including eggs. In December, a defense ministry official was arrested on suspicions that he embezzled nearly $40 million in the fraudulent purchase of much-needed artillery shells for Ukraine's military.
  • There was also outrage in August over inflated prices for an order of 233,000 jackets for $20m from Turkish firm Vector Avia that were too light and thus useless for the impending winter.
  • "In the past, it was unclear how this corruption affected people's lives in Ukraine—now it's very clear that corruption inhibits Ukrainians' ability to defend themselves," said Matthew Orr, a Eurasia analyst at risk intelligence company RANE. "Because the country's economy has changed, now the corruption is inherently linked to the war effort. There's almost benefits in that to Ukrainians because it raises the anger and intolerance of corruption to an even higher level," Orr told Newsweek.
  • Zelensky will be keen to avoid a repeat of officials being accused of taking bribes from those seeking to avoid the frontlines, which prompted him to dismiss the heads of Ukraine's regional military recruitment centers in August. "The administration had to do it because they have to show that the buck stops with them," said Orr. "The people that replaced them were very motivated soldiers who have been fighting in the war of various ranks but there was the question about whether these jobs were actually suited for them and whether they'll be more effective elsewhere."

“Amid Frontline Stalemate, Kyiv Targets Ukraine’s Beleaguered Diaspora in Russia,” Konstantin Skorkin, CEIP, 02.02.24.

  • Kyiv...stopped trying to engage in dialogue with Ukrainian nationals living in Russia long ago, having stripped them of the right to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections back in 2019 in order to prevent pro-Russian forces from getting more votes from the diaspora, which is assumed by Kyiv to be disloyal.
  • Ukraine’s new law on the holding of additional nationalities allows ethnic Ukrainians from any country in the world to obtain Ukrainian citizenship, but bans them from voluntarily obtaining Russian citizenship. It makes no allowances for Russian Ukrainians. In this light, Kyiv’s apparent concern for the cultural and linguistic rights of Ukrainians in Russia looks like pure propaganda, rather than being aimed in any way at solving the genuine problems faced by that minority, which has become a hostage of the conflict between Moscow and Kyiv. 
  • Indeed, at any other time, the Ukrainian diaspora could have been a key mediating influence between the two countries. But the harsh reality of war means that Russia’s Ukrainians are condemned to either assimilate fast, which will be seen by the authorities as a sign of loyalty, or move back to their historical homeland which, given the Ukrainian government’s suspicion of anything to do with Russia, will not be an easy option either.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Putin And Lukashenko,” R.Politik Weekly Digest No. 5 (19), 02.04.24. 

  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visited Russia for meetings with Vladimir Putin and to participate in the Union State Supreme State Council. This visit, though routine (there have been many in recent months), offers a glimpse into the complex dynamics of Russian-Belarusian relations, highlighting several interesting features:
    • Belarus has become a spatial extension of Russia's war effort in Ukraine. According to Rochan Consulting, Belarusian military formations, including remnants of Wagner, maintain a high level of training activity. Additionally, a group of Belarusian servicemen have traveled to Russia to participate in a training program aimed at preparing them to become military instructors. Russia uses Belarus's healthcare facilities and training infrastructure for its armed forces, as well as using Belarusian territory to move/deploy heavy weaponry and stage various joint exercises.
    • From a geopolitical perspective, Moscow sees Belarus not just as a “buffer zone", but also a useful strategic platform with which to project its nuclear threats towards the West. On 29 January, Putin declared Belarus a nuclear power[6], a statement Lukashenko has echoed multiple times, claiming that the shipment of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarusian territory is now complete (Iskander surface-to-air missile defense systems and Su-25 attack aircraft) - although experts question whether Russia has actually sent the nuclear component. Nuclear arms analyst Pavel Podvig told R.Politik that construction appears to be underway for what might become a storage facility, although its completion date remains uncertain. Regardless, no nuclear warheads will be placed under the control of Minsk. The weapons will be maintained by the Russian military, specifically the 12th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense. The transfer of Su-25s and potentially Iskanders does not by itself indicate a nuclear capability. Even with trained pilots and crews, these forces may operate similarly to their Russian counterparts, without nuclear warheads.
    • One focus of the discussions was the Belarusian arms industry's weapons production for Russia. 
    • The Kremlin vigilantly monitors all political developments in the country, ensuring that the overall situation remains under tight control. 
    • For Putin, the integration project with Belarus remains a top priority. He is convinced that Russia and Belarus must form a unified state, encompassing not only shared markets and standardized regulations but also a common currency and a central issuing authority—a concept Lukashenko has consistently opposed
    • Belarus is also in the process of updating its National Security Concept and military doctrine (Minsk claims that the latter does not talk about the mechanisms for using tactical nuclear weapons). It would be inaccurate to view these Belarusian efforts simply as aligning with Russian plans vis a vis Ukraine. Instead, these updates reflect Belarus’ complex position between the 'hostile' West, which has intensified activity on Belarus's borders, prompting Minsk to enhance border security measures, and Russia, which may seek to draw upon Belarusian military resources for its operations in Ukraine in the future. Nevertheless, there is a creeping “domestication” of Belarusian territory by Russia, particularly in terms of military and defense infrastructure. 

“How nuclear power saved Armenia,” Areg Danagoulian, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 01.31.24.

  • …Western use of natural gas and petroleum from aggressive dictatorships…has backfired badly.
    • [Studies on the value of nuclear energy] rarely study the experiences of small countries like Armenia.
    • …Armenia… [which] draws 40% of its energy from nuclear power [shows] how nuclear power can be instrumental in building societal reliance and political stability.
  • [Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the re-ignition of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict], Azerbaijan [shut off] some of the natural gas pipelines that led to Armenia.
    • What followed is a period…[of] severe shortages of electricity, freezing concrete apartment complexes, closed schools and many other disruptions.
    • The economy collapsed, with Armenia’s gross domestic product contracting by an estimated 50 to 80% between 1990 and 1993. 
    • …A massive exodus followed, shrinking Armenia’s population by a quarter in just a few years.
  • [Armenian] authorities decided to make significant safety improvements to the reactors [of the Metsamor nuclear power plant].
    • [After restarting one of the nuclear reactors] almost overnight, lights were turned on, water pumps worked again and industries revved up to capacity.
    • Over the 13 years that followed, Armenia’s economy grew by an unprecedented 700%.
    • In 2020, about 35% of electricity generated in Armenia came from nuclear, 25% came from renewables (primarily hydropower) and the remaining 40% from fossil fuels.
  • Armenians, whose…democracy [is threatened by] authoritarian governments in the region, cannot achieve cultural and existential security if they do not have a state that ensures their security. 
    • And that includes energy security, to which nuclear power generation is key.


  1. For more insights by Dr. Hill on Russia, Putin and Ukraine, see this week's episode of CNAS' Brussels Sprouts podcast, "Russia, Putin, and Ukraine in 2024 with Fiona Hill," CNAS, 02.02.24.
  2. For more details, see “Volodymyr Zelenskyy pledges to shake up Ukraine’s leadership,” Christopher Miller, FT, 02.05.24. 
  3. For more insights by Dr. Hill on Russia, Putin and Ukraine, see this week's episode of CNAS' Brussels Sprouts podcast, "Russia, Putin, and Ukraine in 2024 with Fiona Hill," CNAS, 02.02.24.
  4. October essay in The American Conservative called “The American Origins of the Russo–Ukrainian War.” Written by Christopher Layne, a Professor of International Affairs and holder of the Robert M. Gates Chair in National Security at Texas A&M University, along with Benjamin Schwarz, the former executive editor of World Policy Journal.
  5. “The Central Election Commission (CEC) of Russia has found flaws in documents backing Boris Nadezhdin’s bid to run in next month’s presidential vote, he has said. The CEC informed the aspiring antiwar candidate on Monday [Feb. 5] that it had found 15% of the signatures he submitted to access the electoral race to be invalid, Nadezhdin said. The commission could now block his bid to enter the election… as the CEC does not tolerate more than a 5% error." (Al Jazeera, 02.05.24)
  6. According to the Kremlin’s translation of Putin’s remarks at a meeting with Lukashenko on Jan. 29, Putin said: “The construction of a Belarusian nuclear power plant was completed in 2023 with Russia’s direct participation. This, of course, is very serious progress. Not only that a station has been built, but, as we always say, an industry is being created. And in this sense, Belarus, of course, has become a nuclear power; this is a serious step forward in the development of the economy and scientific sphere, as well as in technology.” While the Kremlin’s translators translated this designation as “nuclear power,” in reality, Putin referred to Belarus as an “atomnaya derzhava,” which we would translate as “atomic power.” (Russians refer to nuclear power plants as atomic electric stations, not nuclear electric stations or nuclear power plants.)*


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

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

Photo by shared under a CC BY 4.0 license.