Russia Analytical Report, Jan. 30-Feb. 6, 2023

4 Ideas to Explore

  1. Russia may authorize a nuclear strike on Ukraine if the latter uses missiles supplied by NATO for strikes deep into Russia territory that would hit urban residential areas, according to Alexey Arbatov, one of Russia’s leading nuclear arms experts. NATO’s delivery of such missiles to Ukraine will constitute crossing a Russian redline, as would NATO’s direct involvement in the conflict, Arbatov told AiF. At the same time, Ukraine recapturing lands that Russian forces have taken does not qualify as a condition for Moscow’s nuclear weapons use against Kyiv, according to Arbatov, who hopes for a Minsk-3.1 As for NATO’s red lines in the Ukraine war, the alliance would consider them crossed if Russia were to strike NATO countries or use WMD, Arbatov said. In the interview, he criticized loose talk about nuclear weapons use by some of his country’s pundits and officials, accusing them of “complete ignorance.”
  2. U.S. fears of a Russian nuclear strike against Ukraine peaked during the successful counteroffensive by the Ukrainian military in October, but have subsided since then, according to NYT’s Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger. One of the factors that relieved tensions was a call in late October between Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, in which Russia's chief of the general staff outlined a use of nuclear weapons consistent with Washington's understanding of Russia's nuclear doctrine, Barnes and Sanger write. China’s warnings against the use of nuclear weapons may have also played a role in convincing Putin to tone down (but not desist) his nuclear rhetoric. “The most perilous moment,” during which Putin may choose to use nuclear weapons, will be when “Ukraine is on the cusp of victory, and Putin feels he can salvage his invasion only through an unprecedented escalation,” according to Kristin Ven Bruusgaard of the Norwegian Intelligence School.
  3. Russia’s non-compliance with New START’s inspections regime is particularly worrisome at a time when Putin has made veiled threats about the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine, according to Rose Gottemoeller’s commentary in FT. “At this fraught moment, perhaps it was inevitable that Moscow would link New START to NATO and Ukraine. However, ... sustaining New START is ... in the interest of both countries,” according to Gottemoeller, former U.S. chief negotiator for the treaty.
  4. Kyiv has obtained “very solid intelligence” of Russia’s intent to launch a potentially major offensive within 10 days, an advisor to the Ukrainian military told FT over the weekend. One of possible goals of the offensive would be to capture all the territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions by March, according to the Ukrainian military intelligence. Ukraine’s defense minister Oleksii Reznikov does not rule out that Russian forces may also make another attempt to capture Kyiv, but he downplayed Russia’s chances of succeeding, according to FT.2


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Victimized at home, Ukrainians are often re-victimized as refugees,” Editorial Board, WP, 02.05.23.

  • “Putin's scorched-earth campaign in Ukraine triggered Europe's biggest refugee wave since World War II and, with it, a heyday for sex traffickers and their clients. … Europe has struggled to stay abreast of criminal networks that have preyed on Ukrainians for years, and whose targets of opportunity have grown exponentially since the Russian invasion a year ago.”
  • “Alarmingly, data from web trackers have indicated enormous spikes, starting within days of Russia's invasion, in online searches using terms related to Ukrainian prostitutes, escorts, pornography, child pornography and rape. Amid a flood of images depicting refugees streaming out of Ukrainian towns and villages to escape bombardment and battles, online predators saw vulnerability, and they pounced.”
  • “Nonprofit groups across the continent, along with government social services agencies, have intensified information and awareness campaigns. More needs to be done to fashion a secure safety net, especially in providing child care, psychological and medical support, as well as jobs for refugees in desperate straits.”
  • “In addition, European policymakers and police agencies should mount a full-court enforcement press, especially by targeting online traffickers who profit from exploitation. Existing European Union laws outlaw online images portraying sex or sexual violence involving minors, but contain loopholes that allow sites to carry advertising for prostitutes whose age is unverified. Thousands of such websites are active across the continent. When officials confront them, site operators say the volume of sexual services advertising exceeds their ability to screen it for age compliance.”
  • “It's critical that EU lawmakers close that loophole, that police intensify their monitoring of sex services websites, and that government agencies scrutinize business sectors where traffickers operate, including hospitality, cleaning and domestic care. Ukrainian refugees withstood enough suffering before fleeing their homes; they should not be subjected to more of it as they seek shelter in other countries.”

“Ukraine’s Coming Electricity Crisis. How to Protect the Grid from Russian Attacks,” Thomas Popik, FA, 02.03.23.

  • “Ukraine’s woes should serve as a reminder that esoteric technical matters, such as the pivotal role of large transformers in electric grids, can shape the outcomes of conflicts. Countries fight not just military battles, but infrastructure battles, too. Modern societies will face calamity if electricity is out for an extended period. In Ukraine, epidemics caused by dirty water, starvation, mass migration, reactor meltdowns, dam failures and even military defeat have become real possibilities. But policymakers should remember that Ukraine’s electricity situation is also an opportunity to practice creative solutions, such as the remanufacturing of large transformers.”
  • “Ukraine’s electric grid can be reinforced, but time is running short. NATO’s leaders need to give their full attention to this looming crisis if they—and the Ukrainians—do not want to be left in the dark.”

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Ukraine prepares for renewed Russian offensive,” Ben Hall and Roman Olearchyk, FT, 02.05.23.

  • “Ukrainian officials have multiplied warnings in recent days about a coming Russian offensive, albeit with differing timelines.”
    • “Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, said on [Feb. 5] that his country expected Russia’s invading forces to launch a new offensive in the Donbas and southern areas where it currently occupies close to 20 percent of Ukrainian territory later this month. ... He added that while the modern tanks and other up-to-date equipment would not arrive by then, the country had ‘amassed resources and reserves which we can deploy and with which we can push back.’”
    • “Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his nightly address on Saturday evening, said Ukraine was entering a ‘time when the occupier throws more and more of its forces to break our defenses.’”
    • “An adviser to the Ukrainian military told the Financial Times that Kyiv had obtained ‘very solid intelligence of intent’ by Russia to launch the attack, adding that it could come within 10 days.”
    • “Andriy Chernyak, an official in Ukraine’s military intelligence, told the Kyiv Post news outlet on Wednesday that Putin had ordered his armed forces to capture all of Donetsk and Luhansk by March.”
  • “Analysts think a likely point for a fresh Russian attack is in the west of Luhansk province near Kreminna and Lyman, a city retaken by Ukrainian troops in last autumn’s counter-offensive. Russia has been assembling forces there for weeks, according to local officials and Western analysts. But Moscow is also building up its troops in the south of Donetsk province ... Reznikov did not rule out a renewed attempt by Russia to capture Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, but he downplayed Russia’s chances of succeeding.”

"Tanks a Lot (Well, Actually Not That Many for Ukraine),” Robert Hamilton of the U.S. Army War College, FPRI, 02.02.23.

  • “Although Western tanks are qualitatively superior to Russian tanks fighting in Ukraine, they will only affect the outcome of the war if they arrive in sufficient numbers, are used effectively, and are supported properly.”
  • “The decision by Western governments to send tanks—the premier ground offensive weapon of modern armies—represents greater Western confidence in Ukraine.”
  • “Russia will struggle to upgrade its own tank contingent in Ukraine to offset the new capability Western tanks will provide.”
  • “For Western tanks to affect the war’s outcome, the West needs to send more of them, Ukraine needs to use them as part of a combined arms team, and it must develop the capability to logistically support them.”

“NATO’s weapons stockpiles need urgent replenishment,” Editorial Board, FT, 01.31.23.

  • “The U.S. has at least begun signing contracts and writing cheques. It has pledged to expand artillery production by five times within two years.”
  • “European powers are further behind. Catching up will be costly. Germany says that building a 30-day ammunition stockpile alone could cost €20 billion. Outside aeronautics and missiles, Europe’s defense industry is fragmented and low-volume. It is all the more important that European governments join together for procurement. A German-led initiative on air defense involving 15 European countries is a good step forward.”
  • “Governments will balk at feather-bedding already profitable defense companies whose performance often leaves much to be desired. But defense industrial capacity is a vital component of security underpinning the international order and global trading system. Maintaining it is also a way of deterring aggression. It is a message to Moscow—and to Beijing—that Ukraine’s allies are in it for the long haul.”

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

“Walking the Talk: Threats and Ambiguity in Western Sanctions on Russia,” RUSI’s Tom Keatinge and Jane Ngan of the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, RUSI, 02.03.23.

  • “As Western leaders are discovering, sanctions are easier said than done. For many countries, previous sanctions regimes have been against more distant targets and have required limited action given the lack of connection between sanctions targets and those making the designations. A lack of effective implementation has thus been of little consequence.”
  • “Where sanctions have previously been deployed closer to home—such as against Russia following its 2014 annexation of Crimea and against Belarus following the fraudulent presidential election in August 2020—they have been lackluster and of limited impact. If one purpose of sanctions is ‘to send a message,’ then it would seem that the messages being sent by Western leaders 12 months ago in the lead-up to Russia’s military mobilization were not viewed as credible, or of any consequence, by the Kremlin—despite public unity in their political rhetoric and economic threats toward Russia.”
  • “In the 12 months ahead, the challenge is for these allies to remain united and to find further measures by which to restrict Russia’s military funding and resourcing. These must include identifying additional means of reducing Russia’s ability to earn foreign revenue and to source the components required to replenish its military activities; identifying and shutting down loopholes through which Russia circumvents the West’s own financial and trade restrictions; and addressing loopholes and sanctions evasion opportunities offered by third countries that have yet to recognize the importance to their own security of adopting sanctions in the face of Russian aggression.”
  • “Throughout Russia’s military build-up in the months prior to the invasion, sanctions were held out by the West as a critical tool in responding to the Kremlin’s aggression. Critical though they have been, it remains to be seen whether they will ultimately have the effect promised and wished for by so many political figures in their rhetoric.”

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“Tanks with spiders: The delay in the delivery of heavy equipment to Ukraine could be connected with the secret ‘consultations’ between the US and RF,” Yulia Latynina, Novaya Gazeta, 01.31.23.

  • “How can one explain the delay in [the West’s promise] to provide tanks on one side, and Putin's feverish and demonstrative preparations, on the other? ... At least four independent sources offer [the following] explanation: At that time, the United States, represented by CIA head William Burns and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, were trying to negotiate a truce with Putin. … [Zelensky’s aide] Mykhailo Podolyak categorically disagrees. ‘There were not negotiations, these were consultations,’ he says.” That means he still confirms that U.S. and Russian officials talked on the issue.
  • “The U.S. conditions were allegedly the following: withdrawal of [Russian] troops to the Feb. 23 line. …  Putin's conditions were insane. ... The Kremlin was allegedly ready to withdraw from the … Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions … in exchange for full control over the Donbas and Luhansk [regions], including those territories (Bakhmut, Slavyansk, Kramatorsk) that Putin still does not control.”
    • “[The sides also discussed how] a diplomatic solution to the problem of Crimea could be [the subject of] negotiations that would last for 15 years … as well as incorporation of Donbas and Luhansk into Ukraine within five years, i.e. Minsk-3.” This contradicts Latynina’s own description of how Putin has demanded “full control over the Donbas and Luhansk.”
  • “[Putin’s] conditions are absurd for many reasons. The simplest of them is that Putin, in principle, will not be able to keep the parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions that are now under the control of Russian troops and that constitute the so-called ‘land corridor’ to Crimea. Also, the territories Putin wants to receive in the [proposed] exchange include [parts of] the Ukrainian fortification lines, which took [Ukrainians] eight years to build. … [F]reezing the status of Crimea for 15 years and Minsk-3 would be a disaster for Ukraine and for the entire free world.”
  • “One way or another, the conditions [included] cessation of fire that would occur one week before Jan. 31. Those [conditions] were what the what [the] Rammstein [meeting] was being prepared for. However, Putin himself did not agree to all this. Instead, he appointed Gerasimov for a new offensive and began dragging air defenses onto rooftops to guard his residences. ‘Now you will be with me to the end,’ he allegedly told his inner circle.”
  • “The decision [to provide Ukraine with] tanks was supposedly delayed by one day because the deadline for reaching an agreement [at the secret U.S.-Russian] negotiations was extended. But Putin refused. Then the tanks began falling … and at the same time it was announced that the next meeting [that will be held in] Ramstein next month will be an ‘aviation one,’ [meaning NATO allies would agree to provide Ukraine with airplanes]. ... Ukrainian pilots, by the way, had been trained for [operating Western warplanes] long ago.”

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

“How to Get a Breakthrough in Ukraine. The Case Against Incrementalism,” former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, FA, 01.30.23.

  • “Nearly a year after he invaded Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has failed to achieve any of his major objectives. … The bad news, however, is that the war continues, and Putin … is planning a major counteroffensive this year.”
  • “Western leaders need to shift how they approach the conflict. At this stage, incrementally expanding military and economic assistance is likely to only prolong the war indefinitely.”
      • “The most important step the United States and NATO allies can take this year is to provide Ukraine with weapons that will allow its armed forces to go on the offensive sooner and more successfully in eastern Ukraine.”
    • “Rather than providing ATACMs in March, Reapers in June and jets in September, NATO should go for a Big Bang.”
  • “Governments supporting Ukraine also need to dramatically ratchet up sanctions. The United States should lead the way by designating the Russian Federation a state sponsor of terrorism.”
    • “The United States, together with other countries in the sanctions coalition, should enact full-blocking sanctions on all major Russian banks … as well as all state-owned enterprises … Individual sanctions must be expanded dramatically … New travel restrictions should also be imposed on all Russian citizens. … At the same time, democracies should make it easier for Russians opposed to the war to defect.”
    • “Ukraine needs more money, and the West needs to find new ways to provide it. The obvious place to start is to transfer the over $300 billion in Russian central bank reserves currently held by the West to the government of Ukraine.”
  • “The best way to commemorate Feb. 24 … is to make clear that this [helping Ukraine win as fast as possible] is the West’s strategy. This requires a rollout—coordinated by dozens of countries on the same day—of more and better weapons, tougher sanctions, new economic assistance, greater public diplomacy efforts and a credible commitment to postwar reconstruction.”

“Year Two of the Ukraine War Will Get Scary,” columnist Thomas L. Friedman, NYT, 02.06.23.

  • “Upholding th[e] liberal order is the underlying logic that brought the United States and its NATO allies to help Kyiv reverse Putin's '’marry me or I'll kill you'’ invasion of Ukraine.”
  • “Now the bad news. ... I don't think year two is going to be so easy. Putin, it's now clear, has decided to double down, mobilizing in recent months possibly as many as 500,000 fresh soldiers for a new push on the war's first anniversary. ... Putin is basically saying to Biden: I can't afford to lose this war and I will pay any price and bear any burden to ensure that I come away with a slice of Ukraine that can justify my losses. How about you, Joe? How about your European friends? Are you ready to pay any price and bear any burden to uphold your 'liberal order'?”
  • “There are also many voices on the left, though, who are legitimately asking: Is it really worth risking World War III to drive Russia all the way out of Eastern Ukraine? Haven't we hurt Putin so badly by now that he won't be trying something like Ukraine again soon? Time for a dirty deal?”
  • “Since I suspect that this question will be at the center of our foreign policy debate in 2023, I asked [the Brookings Institution historian Robert] Kagan to kick it off. 'Any negotiation that leaves Russian forces in place on Ukrainian soil will only be a temporary truce before Putin's next attempt,' he said. 'Putin is in the process of completely militarizing Russian society, much as Stalin did during World War II. He is in it for the long haul, and he is counting on the United States and the West to grow weary at the prospect of a long conflict. That the United States is flawed and uses its power foolishly at times is not debatable. But if you cannot face squarely the question of what would happen in the world if the United States kept to itself, then you are not engaging these difficult questions seriously.’''

“Ukraine wants in to NATO, and Putin has paved the way,” former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, WP, 01.30.23.

  • “[Putin] has vaporized the case against Ukrainian membership of NATO. People used to say that the Ukrainian population was too divided on the subject of NATO membership; and before 2014 you certainly could have made that argument. Look at the numbers now. Support for NATO membership in Ukraine is now stratospheric—83 percent, according to one recent poll.”
  • “Putin didn't invade because he thought that Ukraine was going to join NATO. He always knew that was vanishingly unlikely. He attacked Ukraine because he believed … that we were not really serious about protecting Ukraine. He attacked because he wanted to rebuild the old Soviet imperium and because he believed … that he was going to win.”
  • “For the sake of stability and peace, Ukraine now needs clarity about its position in the Euro-Atlantic security architecture. All our dodging and weaving has ended in slaughter. Ukrainians should be given everything they need to finish this war, as quickly as possible, and we should begin the process of admitting Ukraine to NATO, and begin it now. It would be no use if Moscow complains. They had a case once, and they were heard with respect. That case has been pulverized by the bombs and missiles of Putin.”

“Why is the United States seeking to prolong the conflict in Ukraine?”, Andrey Sushentsov, Valdai Club, 02.06.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “In total, one can name eight reasons why the United States intends to drag out this conflict.”
    • “First is the relative weakening of Russia, which is forced to allocate significant resources to eliminate the hotbed of military threat in Ukraine, as well as to achieve its political goals of ensuring equal status in the European security structure at the post-war stage.”
    • “Second, the U.S. is interested in breaking up Russian-European energy cooperation.”
    • “Third, the U.S. seeks to eliminate any impulses of strategic autonomy from the states of the European Union.”
    • “Fourth, the United States does not want to allow the defeat of Ukraine, in which a lot of financial, political and symbolic capital has been invested over the past year.”
    • “Fifth, the U.S. has not backed down from the ideological imperative to defend what they interpret as ‘freedom.’”
    • “The sixth goal … is to encourage Europe to activate its own military industry and remilitarize it.”
    • “Seventh, the United States is striving for a general consolidation of European allies on the platform of fighting against such ‘growing’ opponents as Russia, China and Iran.”
    • “Eighth, the goal of the United States in Ukraine is its own reindustrialization.”
  • “The eight goals … will be achieved regardless of what happens to Ukraine. This makes the American strategy quite flexible and highlights the priority of containing Russia, rather than the future security and welfare of Ukraine.”

“Ukraine War Makes Unexpected Winner of Turkey's Erdogan,” Elvan Kivilcim and Jared Malsin, WSJ, 02.05.23.

  • “The war has given Turkey new leverage over the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. For months, Mr. Erdogan has threatened to prevent Finland and Sweden from joining the mutual-defense bloc. Now the U.S. is hoping to use the sale of a fleet of new F-16 jet fighters to prod him to approve an expansion of the alliance.”
  • “Modern Turkey, like its predecessors, has long wrestled with its category-shattering place at the intersection of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. For Mr. Erdogan, his unique relationships with Europe and Russia cap two decades of efforts to transform Turkey into a power with a global military and diplomatic reach. … ‘Everything is focused on the elections. Every single step that he takes is aimed to capitalize on any opportunity that is available,’ said Yasar Yakis, a former Turkish foreign minister and onetime member of Mr. Erdogan's party.”
  • “‘Putin is openly supporting Erdogan to get re-elected,’ said Soli Ozel, a political analyst and senior lecturer at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. ‘For Putin to have Erdogan as a fifth column in NATO is important.’ Elections aside, Mr. Erdogan is winning foreign support for his diplomatic efforts. Mr. Putin's deal with Ukraine and the U.N. unblocked Ukrainian ports for grain exports, bringing down global food prices and helping to ease a surge in world hunger caused in part by the war. The deal also set up U.N. efforts to facilitate the export of Russian food and fertilizer products. The June signing ceremony, in a converted Ottoman palace in Istanbul, was the apotheosis of Mr. Erdogan's vision of himself as a power broker. There the Turkish leader sat, in a vast stone room, at a grand table with a white tablecloth, flanked by Russia's defense minister, a Ukrainian minister and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who singled out Mr. Erdogan for praise. The world had come to him.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“The Risks of Russia’s Growing Dependence on the Yuan,” independent journalist Alexandra Prokopenko, Carnegie Endowment/MT, 02.02.23.

  • “One of the biggest problems Russia is currently facing is managing its foreign trade transactions. ... Efforts have now clearly shifted to cryptocurrencies and yuan payments, which means the Russian economy will grow increasingly dependent on the Chinese currency, with all the risks such a shift entails.”
  • “Even before the war, Russia’s central bank aimed to reduce the country’s dependence on Western currencies, particularly the U.S. dollar. The invasion and subsequent sanctions have forced Russian financial officials to accelerate those efforts: in the third quarter of 2022, the proportion of foreign currency in the Russian banking system fell to an all-time low of 15%. In nine months, the share of dollar and euro transactions on the Russian market declined from 52% to 34% and from 35% to 19% respectively. They have been replaced by ruble and yuan payments, which have seen respective increases of 12.3% to 32.4% and 0.4% to 14%. The yuan’s share in stock market trading has also skyrocketed: from 3%to 33%.”
  • “Now Russian reserves and payments will be influenced by the policies of the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Bank of China. Should relations between the two countries deteriorate, Russia may face reserve losses and payment disruptions.”
  • “It’s believed that the yuan can’t become a full-fledged reserve currency because of the current restrictions on capital transactions in China. It constitutes just 3% of global currency reserves, overshadowed by the dollar (60%) and the euro (20%). … [T]he yuan’s strength as a reserve currency doesn’t weaken the dollar; rather, the two currencies complement each other. This means that Beijing can’t really help Moscow in its crusade against the dollar.”
  • “Whichever [cryptocurreny] option Russia chooses, China is the only possible partner. … In the future, Russia’s economic dependence on China will only grow, meaning the Kremlin will be forced to reckon with China’s geoeconomic interests, often to its own detriment.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Destructive distillation of arms,” Alexey Arbatov of the Center for International Security at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, AiF/RIAC, 02.06.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • In reality, this situation is not the most dangerous yet. In October 1962, during those 13 days of the Caribbean [Cuban missile] crisis, we were much closer to a nuclear war.”
  • “We have many commentators, politicians and even officials freely improvising on this topic [conditions for Russia’s use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict]. … [T]he people who are authorized to make statements on these issues—and this is the president, the foreign minister and the defense minister—they all say that Russia is not considering the possibility of using nuclear weapons. And neither does our military doctrine envisage the use of nuclear weapons in response to the transfer of Leopard or Abrams tanks to Ukraine. … [T]his document spells out only one reason for the use of nuclear weapons, excluding a response to a nuclear attack or an attack with use of other weapons of mass destruction. That reason is an aggression [against Russia] with the use of conventional weapons which threatens the very existence of the Russian state.”
  • When asked to comment on the possibility nuclear weapons use in response to Ukrainian armed forces’ recapturing territories “Russia considers its own now”:  “[I]n my opinion, this doesn’t really qualify as a reason for a nuclear war because the new subjects of the Russian Federation do not constitute a guarantor of the very existence of the Russian Federation. … [W]hat can really cause an escalation is the transfer of Western long-range missiles to Ukraine … If these missiles strike deep into Russian territory … then some of them may fly into residential areas. And that is what can give a completely different quality to the situation, when the use of nuclear weapons will be considered in all seriousness.”
  • When asked where the real red lines are: “First, NATO countries are not directly involved in the conflict, although they supply weapons, and Russia does not strike at NATO countries. Secondly, NATO countries do not supply long-range missiles for strikes deep into the territory of the Russian Federation, while Russia does not use weapons of mass destruction. These two conditions have not yet been formally fixed anywhere, but are tacitly observed. These are the very ‘red lines’ that are really dangerous to break.”
  • “Both in Russia and in the West, the very phrase ‘Minsk-3’ is perceived by many as derogatory, but I have a different view on this. … And then, if a ceasefire is established and is reliably controlled, it will be possible to start peace negotiations. And to discuss all the painful issues—the status of Ukraine, the status of territories, etc.”

“Fears of Russia's Use Of Nuclear Weapons Diminish, but Linger,” reporters Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger, NYT, 02.04.23.

  • “Concerns remain over Russia using a nuclear weapon, but the tensions have since abated [from the fall]. … A more stable battlefield, China's warnings against the use of nuclear weapons, improved communications between Moscow and Washington and an increased role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Ukraine have contributed to a measure of stability.”
    • “A call in late October between Gen. Mark A. Milley … and his counterpart, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov … Gerasimov outlined a use of nuclear weapons consistent with Washington's understanding of Russia's nuclear doctrine. Also CIA director William Burns met with his counterpart … at the time in Turkey to warn Russia about its nuclear threats.”
  • “Putin … a senior U.S. official said recently, may well have come to the conclusion that the threats, which he once saw as leverage, were backfiring. … [N]early a year into the war there, American policymakers and intelligence analysts have more confidence that they understand at least some of Mr. Putin's red lines.”
  • “The Pentagon continues to war game what might happen if Mr. Putin moves tactical weapons into position as a reminder that he can back up his conventional forces. But overwrought threats, in the absence of other intelligence, are causing little stir.”
  • “This week, in response to Germany's decision to supply Ukraine with tanks, Mr. Putin delivered a veiled warning. '’We aren't sending our tanks to their borders,' he said. 'But we have the means to respond, and it won't end with the use of armor.’''
  • “'It is a risk we cannot afford to take lightly; on the other hand, the purpose of the saber rattling is to intimidate us,'  Burns … said. 'So I think we have to stay on an even keel in weighing those threats carefully but also not being intimidated by them.'”
  • “The U.S. officials expect that if Mr. Putin wants to raise the level of alarm, he will make a public show of transferring weapons or make sure Western allies pick up chatter among the units that control those weapons. ... Still, their use makes little sense for Russia, U.S. officials insist—not least because it could potentially alienate countries that have either explicitly supported Russia or remained neutral.”

“The Case for Caution on Crimea,” James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, War on the Rocks, 02.02.23.

  • “Even if Zelensky has privately promised the United States he would negotiate over Crimea in return for increased military aid, Washington should have serious doubts about this ability to deliver. Helping Ukraine to threaten Crimea is therefore unlikely to advance productive negotiations, but it just may spark a nuclear war.”
  • “Some close observers believe Crimea to be a real redline for him [Putin]. Should Ukraine threaten Russia’s hold on Crimea, Putin could plausibly respond by ordering a limited nuclear attack against, say, Ukrainian forces on the battlefield.”
  • “While it is not in U.S. interests for Ukraine to threaten Russia’s hold on Crimea, it is also not in those interests for Crimea to become a sanctuary for Russian forces. ... The United States, therefore, should adopt a policy of supplying Ukraine with more and better equipment, but only in types and quantities that would not enable Ukraine to credibly recapture Crimea. ... As unsatisfactory as it is, the resolution of the peninsula’s status should wait for another day.”

“How Russia Decides to Go Nuclear: Deciphering the Way Moscow Handles Its Ultimate Weapon,” Director of the Norwegian Intelligence School Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, FA, 02.06.23.

  • “The West should pay attention not only to Putin but also to Russia’s military leaders when thinking about Russia’s nuclear weapons. The West should also convey the significant risks and costs increased nuclear signaling—and actual use—entails in order to deter Russia. Ultimately, the ambiguity of Russia’s doctrine and protocols means that nuclear use would create a deeply dangerous situation that neither side may be able to control.”
  • “An order must pass from both Putin’s briefcase and the briefcase of one of the other two military officials before Russia can use nuclear weapons. Gerasimov’s sign-off is especially important, and perhaps even essential. Any nuclear order must be authenticated through a central nuclear command post of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, which is under the direction of Gerasimov’s general staff.  As with many aspects of Russia’s nuclear strategy, these checks and balances were inherited from the Soviet Union.”
  • “If Putin were to seriously consider nuclear use, he would consult with Gerasimov and Shoigu, both of whom are old-timers in his regime and still have his trust. In response, Gerasimov’s staffers … would provide the three leaders with key aspects of current policy and ongoing debates about what political outcomes nuclear weapons use could produce and at what risk. The staff would then make a recommendation on whether Russia should carry out an attack or reserve this option for later.”
  • “Russian military doctrine provides little guidance for the situation Russia currently faces in Ukraine because the same doctrine declares that Russian conventional forces should be able to win this kind of war. … This has produced a situation in which analysts wonder whether Russian losses (in Crimea, for example) would make Russian strategists reconsider the threshold for using nuclear weapons.”
  • “The most perilous moment will be when Ukraine is on the cusp of victory, and Putin feels he can salvage his invasion only through an unprecedented escalation. But another perilous moment will come if Russian military or political leaders decide that a direct military confrontation with NATO is inevitable. It is this second contingency that Western policymakers should actively seek to mitigate, by using calibrated deterring communication and military maneuvers that cannot be misinterpreted as preparations for an operation against Russia.”

“Keeping New START alive is vital for the world’s nuclear future,” Rose Gottemoeller of Stanford University, FT, 01.31.23.

  • “The U.S. has just declared Russia to be in non-compliance with the New START treaty … The issues are straightforward: Washington has asked to restore on-site inspections, which both sides suspended during the pandemic, and requested a meeting of the treaty’s implementation body. Moscow has refused on both counts.”
  • “These issues are easy to fix. Russia is not violating the central limits of the treaty … New START continues to keep the overall numbers of both Moscow’s and Washington’s nuclear forces under control. But by refusing important implementation obligations, Russia is beginning to tear at the fabric of the treaty. This is particularly worrying at a time when Vladimir Putin has made veiled threats about the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine.”
  • “If New START falters, and China pursues its build-up without any curbs, then all three capitals will be forced to sink extra money into nuclear systems at a time when new technologies are driving a revolution in conventional weapons.”
  • “However, Russian officials seem to be in some alternative universe, seeking to leverage New START to address their grievances over NATO expansion and Ukrainian sovereignty. ... At this fraught moment, perhaps it was inevitable that Moscow would link New START to NATO and Ukraine. However, until now, Washington and Moscow have been able to maintain work on issues that are in their mutual interest no matter how poor the state of the overall relationship.”
  • “Sustaining New START is no less in the interest of both countries. The treaty ensures that our bilateral nuclear future is clear and predictable. It provides a moral, political and technical backdrop against which we can each engage China. And it means that we will not again build up to the 12,000 nuclear weapons that we readied, one against the other, by the Cold War’s end.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

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:

“Looking back on the coverage of Trump,” investigative reporter Jeff Gerth, CJR, 01.30.23.

  • “In June 2016, the Russia cloud over the election darkened. First, the Washington Post broke the story that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, a breach … attributed, in the story, to Russia. … The next week, the Post weighed in with … ‘Inside Trump’s Financial Ties to Russia and His Unusual Flattery of Vladimir Putin.’ … Josh Rogin, an opinion columnist for the Washington Post, wrote a piece about the party’s platform position on Ukraine.”
  • “In early October, the intelligence community put out a brief statement concluding that Russia had been behind … recent hacks … But, the report continued, it would be ‘extremely difficult,’ even for a nation-state, to alter voter ballots or election data. The report was quickly lost in a frenzied news cycle. … In December, President Obama secretly ordered a quick assessment by the intelligence community of Russia’s involvement in the election.”
  • “[O]n Jan. 6, 2017, Comey briefed the president-elect about the dossier about him and Russia. … Columnist David Ignatius disclosed that incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn had phoned Russia’s U.S. ambassador ‘several times’ at the end of the year [2016] … Ignatius … said ‘it was hard to argue’ against the need to ‘improve relations with Russia.’”
  • “Trump, in July 2018, finally had a summit meeting with Vladimir Putin, the man he mistakenly claimed in 2015 to have met years earlier and his supposed puppet master, according to Steele’s dossier. … Trump met with … John Bolton, to discuss how to deal with Russian meddling. The president ‘remained unwilling or unable to admit any Russian meddling because he believed doing so would undercut the legitimacy of his election and the narrative of the witch hunt against him,’ Bolton wrote in his 2020 memoir … For his part, Trump, when asked about Helsinki in my interview, blasted Bolton.”
  • “Despite the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment in January 2017 that it couldn’t measure ‘the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,’ the Times weighed in … in September, with its own verdict: ‘The Plot to Subvert an Election.’ … [T]hough a number of rigorous academic studies that the media largely ignored painted a more benign footprint.”
  • “Barr … sat down with Mueller and his colleagues, and learned of their two overarching conclusions: no case of conspiracy or collusion between the Russians and Trump—though there had been offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to help the Trump campaign—and 10 episodes that raised possible obstruction-of-justice issues but no analysis or determination of whether they constituted a crime.”

“Russian Mercenaries Are Destabilizing Africa,” Colin P. Clarke of The Soufan Group, NYT, 01.31.23.

  • “One of the groups that have risen to international prominence (or infamy) with the invasion of Ukraine is Wagner, a Kremlin-backed mercenary outfit that regularly employs former criminals. In Ukraine, they often fight when conventional Russian Army troops flee the battlefield, and they are noted for their brutality. But it’s Wagner’s activities in Africa, especially the geopolitically important Sahel region, that require closer attention.”
  • “Combining hard and soft power, Wagner’s forces are destabilizing poorly governed regions, like the Sahel, through wanton human rights abuses, rapacious resource extraction and covert disinformation efforts that meddle in the internal politics of the countries where they operate.”
  • “Strategically, through Wagner, Russia is filling the security void in Africa and the Middle East left by the drawdown of French and American troops.”
  • “Revenue from training and weapons sales to African nations helps bring in desperately needed cash for Russia, even as its lackluster battlefield performance raises doubts about the quality of its security assistance.”
  • “The United States should view the Sahel as a critical region in this broader contest for access. Washington needs robust diplomacy, accompanied by a more aggressive posture toward Wagner.”
  • “[I]t is imperative that the United States, France and other Western nations craft a comprehensive approach to Russia’s use of proxies, which forms part of Moscow’s broader conduct of hybrid or ‘gray zone’ warfare around the world.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“How Russians Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the War,” Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Endowment, FA, 02.01.23.

  • “Far from weakening Putin’s hold on power, the ‘special military operation’ has only strengthened it. Those who fear Putin have either fled the country or are silent. The regime has a formidable arsenal of instruments to deploy against anyone who speaks out or otherwise expresses opposition. It has used the legal system to crush any dissent, handing down Stalinist prison terms to antiwar activists.”
  • “Instead of protesting, most Russians have made clear that they prefer to adapt. Even fleeing the country is not necessarily a form of protest: for many, it is simply a pragmatic answer to the problem of how to avoid being killed or becoming a killer.”
  • “2022—a year of war, a year of permanent shock—has done little to change popular acquiescence for the regime.”
  • “When people are being killed and cities and essential civilian infrastructure are being razed, disavowing responsibility is both infantile and amoral. But Russians’ acceptance of collective responsibility, not to mention guilt, will have to come later—if at all. For the foreseeable future, the brutal authoritarian regime under which they live imposes certain norms of behavior and has no intention of disappearing, toning down its repression and propaganda or bringing an end to the war. Of course the obedient if weary population will accept with gratitude whatever the autocrat gives—even peace.”

“Outlook 2023: Russia,” Ben Aris, BNE, 01.31.23.

  • “Russia’s economy is likely to limp on as business tries to remake itself with relations in the Global South. While Russia will be cut off from the latest technology it is now trying to marry itself to the faster growing part of the global economy that will somewhat mitigate the pain of leaving the advanced economies. Moreover, Russia has a lot to offer the emerging world as it remains a cornucopia of raw materials and fuel, while its military and energy technology—especially nuclear power—remains advanced and attractive.”
  • “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the vast majority of the Ukrainian people are committed to fighting the war to the bitter end, unless talks are forced on them by a weary Europe. That might happen, as by November it was clear that a certain Ukraine fatigue was appearing in the West. While the U.S. has been making a profit out of the war thanks to its capture of Russia’s share of the European gas market with its record-high LNG exports, the cost to Europe has been enormous. According to bne IntelliNews estimates Europe had committed some €550 billion to support and relief for companies and consumers by December and the cost of the war to European economies was on course to top €1 trillion by the end of winter.”
  • “A palace coup remains unlikely while Putin commands the loyalty of the population—his approval rating in December had dropped only 2 percentage points to 78% despite the humiliating success of Ukraine’s Kharkiv offences and the decision to retreat from Kherson—which makes him untouchable by the Russian elite. Moreover, as any change in guard at the top would likely be accompanied by a purge and redistribution of control of Russia’s richest assets, the majority of Russia’s ruling elite have little incentive to rock the boat.”

“Vladimir Putin: Pauper or Princeling?”, Peter Rutland of Wesleyan University, Jordan Center, 02.03.23.

  • “Dogged new research by Chris Monday, a professor at Dongeo University in Korea, raises some questions about the standard story of Putin’s humble origins.”
  • “Vladimir was not the first famous Putin to come out of Leningrad. Mikhail Eliseevich Putin (1894–1969) came from the same district in Tver province as Vladimir’s grandparents, and in the 1920s became a celebrated ‘shock worker’ in Leningrad’s Red Vyborzhets pipe factory. ... There followed a long career as a party agitprop leader: when he died in 1969, his obituary was on the front page of Pravda.”
  • “Chris Monday argues that there were only a handful of families with the name ‘Putin’ in mid-century Leningrad, all of them, it seems, coming from the Pominovo district in Tver province. He posits that the parents of Vladimir would have known Mikhail and may have reached out to him for help. He suggests that Mikhail may have lodged with Vladimir’s grandfather, Spiridon, on Gorokhovo street from 1906, and that Mikhail may have helped Vladimir’s mother when she moved to Leningrad in 1941—while grandfather Spiridon was working as a cook for Stalin in Moscow.”
  • “Monday argues that ‘the existence of a kin relationship between the two men would help explain certain puzzles linked to Putin’s biography’—such as Vladimir’s enrollment in Leningrad State University and recruitment by the KGB: two elite institutions with high barriers to entry.”
  • “Philip Short, the author of a new biography of Putin, … is skeptical of the Mikhail connection, pointing to the absence of hard evidence. Putin’s family lived in one room in a communal apartment, hardly a sign of communist privilege.”
  • “His relationship with Mikhail Putin, wherever the truth lies, will remain a footnote to history. And only academics are interested in footnotes. But given Putin’s pivotal significance in Russian history, it is important to continue the work of trying to better understand the mechanics of his rapid and unexpected rise to power.”

"Why the Russian Orthodox Church Supports the War in Ukraine,” journalist Ksenia Luchenko, Carnegie Endowment, 01.31.23

  • “When Russia invaded Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) did not hesitate to throw its support behind the Kremlin’s war against a neighboring Orthodox nation. Far from wavering, that support has only grown more strident as the war progressed.”
  • “The reason is not just that the church is used to giving its blessing to any actions taken by the country’s leadership. Quite simply, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the ROC, is betting on Putin’s tanks to preserve the institution of the church throughout the fallen empire.”
  • “Yet the more militant the patriarch’s rhetoric and the more visible he becomes in Russian propaganda, the more bigoted he looks from the outside and the stronger the centrifugal forces within the church. By using force to try to keep the splintering parts of the once-unified ROC together, the patriarch is only driving them away.”
  • “It’s not impossible that these centrifugal processes will at some point come to a halt, after which some kind of new Orthodoxy in the Russian tradition will emerge: without the ROC and without Putin.”

Defense and aerospace:

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“The Deeper Reason Netanyahu Won’t Arm Ukraine Against Russia,” Steven A. Cook of CFR, FP, 02.06.23.

  • “Since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the Israeli government—much like the Turkish government—has played a double game, offering rhetorical support for Ukrainian independence and providing humanitarian aid to Kyiv. At least the Turks are willing to sell the Ukrainians weaponry. The Israelis, in contrast, are scrupulously avoiding any policies that will damage Jerusalem’s ties to Moscow.”
  • “The primary reason for this is security. The Russians have a major presence in Syria and its airspace.”
  • “Even if much of the Israel-Russia relationship is about Syria and security, there is more to these ties. Israel’s leaders almost reflexively define the country as both democratic and part of the West, but worldview matters. And as Israeli politics have moved steadily to the right under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stewardship, Jerusalem has forged ties with countries that do not fall into either category.”
  • “Israel is on a political trajectory that places it among illiberal states in the world. It would be inaccurate to suggest that Israel is just like Russia, which is just like India, which is just like Hungary. Yet leaders in all of these countries share a similar outlook about how to organize their societies. So, yes, it is true that Jerusalem’s ties to Moscow are intertwined with its security concerns and the emergency that is Iran’s presence in Syria. But for those who think of Israel as a Western-oriented democracy, its relationships with Russia and other illiberal states are much more consequential than that.”

“Russia at War and the Islamic World,” Marlene Laruelle of the George Washington University, IFRI, 01.30.23.

  • “[T]his new Note takes stock of 10 months of Russia’s war against Ukraine to reflect on Russia’s relationship with the Islamic world, both domestically and internationally. Russian citizens from Muslim backgrounds have been playing a critical role in the Russian Armed Forces, and the Islamic world, especially the Middle East, has been able to maintain a balancing act between both sides of the conflict and has even strengthened its strategic autonomy. This confirms that the war has a global effect on the world order and that Russia’s decline does not mean a rise in the West’s influence; on the contrary, it seems to substantiate a decline of both on the global scene in favor of a more decentralized world order.”
  • “On the international scene, Russia is down but not out. The decline is resulting in a retrenchment strategy … [T]he Middle East will continue to play a key part in Russia’s foreign policy; with little hope of rebuilding its relationship with the West for years, if not decades, to come, the Kremlin will now fully concentrate on the Global South. By losing part of its great-power status, it will become a more equal partner to its fellow BRICS members and BRICS-aspiring countries, as well as in the role it plays within the SCO, and let China lead both organizations.”
  • “The Kremlin will have to learn to deal with its weakened status and projection of power, with some potential impact on its capacity to support the Syrian regime, to be involved as far away as the Libyan theater of operations and to maintain its presence in African countries such as Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo … Turkey and Iran will be able to regain influence in their own ‘near abroad’ with less coordination coming down from Moscow. For the Kremlin, the OPEC+ forum and its relationship to Riyadh will become crucial to keeping up the pressure on Western energy markets.”


“Brussels urged to rein in Ukraine’s ‘unrealistic’ EU hopes,” journalists Henry Foy and Sam Fleming, FT, 01.31.23.

  • “Senior diplomats from EU capitals are concerned that unfeasible Ukrainian expectations—including EU accession by 2026—have been encouraged rather than tempered by Brussels’ top officials. ‘No political leader wants to be on the wrong side of history . . . Nobody wants to be blamed for not doing enough,’ said one senior EU diplomat. ‘So they tell them it’s all possible.’”
  • “Multiple member state officials told the Financial Times the commission needed to make clear to Ukraine that there were huge hurdles ahead of beginning formal accession negotiations, which themselves can take a decade or more. ‘That gap [between promises and reality] has been growing for some time. And we are getting to the point where it’s too wide,’ said a third EU diplomat. ‘They appear to believe that they can just become a member tomorrow. And that’s obviously not the case.’”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Inaction is Complicity: Is Artsakh becoming another Srebenica?” Mary Papazian of San Jose University and Vatche Sahakian of Harvey Mudd College, LA Times, 01.31.23.

  • “Following several years of war, the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians prevailed and in 1995 formed an independent democratic state known as the Republic of Artsakh, based on the ancient pre-Stalin name of the region. … During this same period, Azerbaijan embraced authoritarianism, becoming a petro-dictatorship governed by one family from 1993 to today. … Human Rights Watch has called the human rights situation in Azerbaijan ‘appalling’ … Azerbaijan also has nurtured a culture of ‘Armenophobia’ in its schools and state institutions.”
  • "In 2020 … Azerbaijan launched a successful attack on the Republic of Artsakh. … The war ended with a truce brokered by Russia that left the Republic of Artsakh on a fraction of its historic territories, a single land corridor linking it to the Republic of Armenia and the outside world. Since the 2020 peace agreement, this Lachin corridor has been monitored by Russian peacekeepers delegated to secure the transport of people and goods in and out of the enclave.
  • “On Dec. 12, 2022, with war escalating in Ukraine, the Azerbaijani government launched a siege of Artsakh’s Armenian population by blocking the Lachin corridor, inflicting collective punishment on 120,000 civilians. … Other than the occasional shuttling of critically ill patients out of the region through the help of the Red Cross, Azerbaijan has blocked all movement in and out of Artsakh.”
  • “The Azerbaijani dictator, Ilham Aliyev, stated in a TV interview on Jan. 10 that his government aimed to depopulate the region of the Armenians of Artsakh. These statements and the blockade of the Lachin corridor led a group of scientists and academics to declare: ‘As scholars studying the genocide process, we believe that the actions of the Azerbaijani government pose a threat of genocide to Armenians in the region.’”
  • “More than 160 scholars recently signed a public statement demanding: organizing airlifts of supplies to the Republic of Artsakh immediately; creating an international mandate for the Republic of Artsakh to protect the local population from ethnic cleansing and genocide; applying economic sanctions targeting the corrupt ruling elite in Azerbaijan.”



  1. Arbatov’s view on such recapturing contrasts with warnings made by Putin and some of his key aides that Russia could resort to nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war to protect its territorial integrity. (Here and elsewhere italicized text represents contextual commentary by RM staff.)

  2. That Volodymyr Zelensky is treating warnings of a major Russian offensive seriously follows from the fact that he has reportedly decided to postpone appointing Kyrylo Budanov, the current head of military intelligence, as the new defense minister, as such reshuffles could impact the chain of command at such a crucial moment, especially if he travels to Brussels, as planned, this week.