Russia Analytical Report, Jan. 8-16, 2024

6 Ideas to Explore

  1. Defense can offer a “path to victory if Ukraine and its Western backers can succeed in convincing Putin that there is no way for him to achieve [his] strategic objectives,” which include weakening Kyiv, seizing as much territory as possible and preventing Ukraine from further integration with Europe, according to Emma Ashford and Kelly Grieco of the Stimson Center. For Ukraine’s defense strategy to be successful, Ukraine would need to construct a system of defensive lines, keep the skies contested and expand its domestic weapons production, the two researchers claim in their FA commentary. “Even if this new strategy does not end the war, it will avoid the most catastrophic outcomes, will sustain Ukraine’s fighting capacity, and just might produce a stable equilibrium that allows a largely intact Ukraine to develop economically and integrate with Europe” in what should “count as a win” for Western policymakers, according to the Stimson Center duo. In contrast, Ex-NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak insist in FA that  “to achieve a lasting peace, Ukraine needs to defeat Russia on the battlefield and restore its territorial integrity, within its internationally recognized borders.” 
  2. As Donald Trump’s return to the White House becomes a distinct possibility, Russia has joined other countries that are “increasingly factoring into their relationship with the United States what may come to be known as the ‘Trump put’—delaying choices in the expectation that they will be able to negotiate better deals with Washington a year from now,” according to Harvard’s Graham Allison. “Putin’s calculations in his war against Ukraine provide a vivid example of the Trump put,” Allison writes in FA. “As a result of the Trump put, it is far more likely that the [Russian-Ukrainian] war will still be raging this time next year because “Putin knows that Trump has promised to end the war ‘in one day,’” according to Allison. “Facing a good chance that a year from now, Trump will offer terms much more advantageous for Russia than anything U.S. President Joe Biden would offer or Zelenskyy would agree to today, Putin will wait,” Allison writes.
  3. “The reality is that Putin senses victory is within reach, in terms he defines,” as the West continues to waffle over resumption of large-scale military aid to Ukraine, according to WP columnist Lee Hockstader. “By its hesitations and vacillations, the West has signaled weakness to the Russian tyrant. That, more than sending any missile to Ukraine, is the surest provocation, and the real danger,” he claims. While sending more military aid is a solution that both Hockstader, Andrew Michta and some other U.S. policy-shapers advocate, the resumption of deliveries is hampered as Republicans and Democrats search for an agreement on immigration reforms targeting illegal crossings at the U.S. southern border. The largely partisan skepticism in Congress over providing more military aid to Ukraine may also be fueled by the findings of a report by the Defense Department’s inspector general that the Pentagon has failed to properly track at least $1 billion worth of the weapons the U.S. has provided to Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion, according to NYT.
  4. The Kremlin has more of everything: more men, ammunition and vehicles. And they are not stopping despite their mounting numbers of wounded and dead.” This is how NYT’s journalists describe the latest dynamics of the Russian-Ukrainian war in an article entitled “Russia Regains Upper Hand in Ukraine’s East as Kyiv’s Troops Struggle.” The article states that “Russian troops are on the attack, especially in the country’s east. The town of Marinka has all but fallen. Avdiivka is being slowly encircled.” To change these unfavorable dynamics on the battlefield, the Ukrainian military needs personnel reinforcements and ammunition. However, efforts to rectify the personnel problem “have spawned a political argument between the military and civilian leadership,” according to NYT’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Finbarr O’Reilly.
  5. If the West wants “a prosperous Ukraine with a viable path toward liberal governance and European Union membership, we will have to concede that it cannot be a NATO or U.S. ally, and that this neutral Ukraine must have verifiable limits on the types and quantities of weapons it may hold,” according to George Beebe and Anatol Lieven of Responsible Statecraft. A refusal to agree to those terms will probably prompt Russia to “turn Ukraine into a dysfunctional wreck incapable of rebuilding itself, allying with the West or constituting a military threat to Russia,” Beebe and Lieven write. “There is very little realistic chance of the West being able to outlast Russia and force it to accept peace on Ukrainian terms,” they claim in a commentary published less than a week before security officials from 83 countries gathered in Davos to discuss these terms, known as Ukraine’s Peace Formula, according to FT. At the Jan. 14 meeting, some non-Western states reiterated their position that Russia should be involved and that a settlement should address Moscow’s security concerns, such as Ukraine’s desire to join the NATO military alliance, FT reported. Switzerland agreed to host the next meeting, but its foreign minister, Ignazio Cassis, said Russia should be invited too, according to NYT. In his Jan. 15 remarks, Cassis noted that the Ukrainian plan represented only one side in the war and Russia’s positions would have to be heard eventually. It would be an “illusion,” he added, to think that Russia would participate on the terms Ukraine has laid out in the peace formula.
  6. Russia continues to defy efforts by the U.S. and its allies to prevent it from importing critical battlefield components, according to an analysis conducted by the Kyiv School of Economics and cited in FT and Politico. “Countries that have imposed export controls on Russia were still involved in 48.5% of all imports of battlefield goods” in January-October 2023 according to the report, which urges the West to “close export controls policy gaps” and “target third-country circumvention.” Such targeting is needed to stop Russia circumventing the West’s export controls to import semiconductors, computer parts, electronics, automotive components and bearings from “outsourced production facilities in states that apply weaker export controls,” according to FT. Intel tops the list of makers of battlefield goods obtained by Russia, followed by Huawei of China, according to Politico’s summary of the KSE analysis. The top 10 also includes U.S. companies Analog Devices, AMD, Texas Instruments, IBM and Dell, as well as China’s Lenovo and Hikvision, according to the report.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

“3D printing and WMD terrorism: a threat in the making?” Nicolò Miotto, ELN, 01.10.24. 

  • Diverse hypotheses on the potential intersection between 3D printing and WMD have been made. 3D printing could develop gas centrifuges out of carbon fiber for uranium enrichment or to produce explosives for radiological dispersal devices. It could also be used to make laboratory equipment for the development of bio-weapons or to bio-print tissue samples to assess their effectiveness. It could aid the creation of miniaturized fluidic reaction ware devices for synthesizing chemical agents and producing WMD means of delivery, especially drones capable of dispersing chemical agents and pathogens.
  • The threat of the terrorist use of 3D printing to produce and use WMD capabilities remains low overall. However, as innovation continues at a fast pace, there is a need to monitor additive manufacturing’s developments and assess their security implications. Raising awareness of the potential threats stemming from 3D printing in coordination with key stakeholders, such as the private sector and academia, can help to empower governments to act swiftly if any of these threats become tangible. This can help prevent the misuse of this cutting-edge technology and to ensure that advances in this technology are instead used for the benefit of people and the planet.

“US struggles to free itself from Russian enriched uranium supplies,” Charles Digges, Bellona, 01.08.24. 

  • As the past year drew to a close, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would ban the purchase of enriched Russian uranium for use in American nuclear reactors — a measure meant to hobble Rosatom … The Prohibiting Russian Uranium Imports Act, which was approved by voice vote, would bar Russian uranium imports 90 days after enactment while allowing a temporary waiver until January 2028. The bill needs to be passed by the Senate and then signed by President Joe Biden to become law, though the timeline for this remains unclear.
  • That a U.S. uranium ban has not been pursued earlier puts … Washington in shaky moral territory, especially as Rosatom helped orchestrate the takeover of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant ... a state of affairs that has made the station hostage to an active war zone.
  • Like many of its European counterparts that support Ukraine’s resistance, the United States remains heavily dependent on enriched uranium from Russia. Last year — as in decades before — Russia was the United States’ number one supplier of enriched uranium supplies, sending almost a quarter of the nuclear fuel used in the America’s commercial reactor fleet, Department of Energy date show. 
  • As part of the new uranium-ban bill, the Biden administration would earmark $2.2 billion toward the expansion of uranium enrichment facilities in the U.S. But, under the proposed 2028 implementation of the ban, that only leaves another five years for U.S. nuclear power plants to find alternative suppliers. That’s a tight deadline. The single facility enriching uranium and providing Haleu is the American Centrifuge Company, owned by Centrus Energy, in Ohio. The plant has been on a 22-year hiatus, but in October, it began enriching again … But it will be difficult for the company to fully replace that supply in the near term.
  • All told, a cold-turkey break with Russian nuclear fuel supplies would be nearly impossible for the U.S. and its allies in the Ukrainian struggle to undertake. But Washington and its European counterparts nonetheless must develop an exit strategy, both for the near term, as the war continues to rage, and for the more distant future as well, when relations with Russia are impossible to predict.

“The world wants to triple nuclear energy: What will it take?” Ernest J. Moniz and Armond Cohen, Boston Globe, 01.09.24. 

  • Nuclear energy was an unexpected winner at COP28 … More than 24 countries, including the United States, and 120 companies committed to tripling nuclear energy by 2050 as an essential part of mitigating climate change. The principal goal is carbon-free energy available 24/7 as an essential complement to variable wind and solar electricity. 
  • To make good on the COP pledge, accounting for a ramp-up time, the world will soon need to build the equivalent of about 50 large nuclear power reactors per year until 2050. This is two-thirds more than were built at nuclear power's peak in the early 1980s, and the current pace of construction is well short of that.
  • Seventeen countries are building just one or two reactors at a time, each sometimes taking over a decade to build. In the West, nuclear construction projects are often long, complex, and characterized by delays and cost over-runs. Regulatory uncertainty and long timelines discourage investment. China, Russia, South Korea, and now the UAE have demonstrated the ability to build new nuclear reactors effectively, but this alone is clearly insufficient. Newcomer nuclear countries like Poland, Ghana, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines are looking to deploy domestically, but it will take time and considerable resources to meet simultaneously their project management, regulatory, security, finance and workforce ambitions.
  • To succeed, nations must rethink how to build, regulate, and finance nuclear technology. The United States offers a case in point. The second of two new-build gigawatt-scale nuclear reactors in Georgia is showing the immense value of learning from experience, but there aren't any other projects in the pipeline to take advantage of those lessons learned. The next U.S. nuclear build will likely need to go back to basics without the benefits of an experienced workforce as technology evolves and schedules from commitment to operation extend well over a decade.
  • While each country will need to pursue its own individual pathway to nuclear energy, it's essential the international community collectively reforms the system to enable success. Having recognized the need to expand nuclear energy, countries must now focus on cooperative implementation and work together to create the conditions for sustained scale-up of this important climate and energy security solution.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s opening remarks during talks with Foreign Minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Choe Son-hui, Moscow,” official web site of RF MFA, 01.16.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Today, we will have a detailed discussion on topical bilateral matters, including ways to further enhance our practical cooperation. As for the international agenda, we are looking forward to continuing our trust-based dialogue on the situation on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia in general. Russia reaffirms its principled position on the need to find comprehensive and fair solutions to the existing problems.
  • We have always advocated for talks without preconditions as a path to achieving lasting peace and stability across Northeast Asia. Russia has independently submitted proposals to this effect, as well as together with the PRC, to the UN Security Council. These proposals are currently on the negotiating table. We must recognize that the policy pursued by the United States and its regional satellites to create security threats for the DPRK does nothing to promote any positive advancements. We will continue to call for the rejection of any steps that lead to escalation and heightening tensions.
  • Russia has always supported the DPRK within the UN and appreciates the fact that you have treated Russia in the same manner, including on matters related to the ongoing special military operation in Ukraine.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Will Ukraine's Refugees Want to Go Back Home? More than 6 million Ukrainians have left their homeland since Russia's invasion, creating an economic and demographic challenge for the country's future,” Tamar Jacoby, WSJ, 01.11.24.

  • The startling news slipped by almost unnoticed in the last minutes of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's year-end press conference in December. Asked about the 6.2 million Ukrainians—nearly 15% of the population—who have fled the country over the past two years, Zelenskyy dashed off a list of incentives to encourage their return: cash payments, subsidized mortgages, startup business loans. But he devoted most of his answer to a very different idea: multiple citizenship. The goal would be to allow Ukrainians who live and work elsewhere to continue visiting, investing and otherwise contributing to the nation's life.
  • It's not a new concept, but hearing it from Zelenskyy was surprising. Was he acknowledging that many Ukrainian refugees may never return? The stakes are high: If the refugees don't come back, demographic projections suggest that the country's population, already shrinking before the war, could contract by 25% in decades ahead. Surveys suggest that the people who left Ukraine are better educated than the population at large, with two-thirds having completed higher education, so their absence would be a devastating economic blow for a country struggling to rebuild.
  • Nearly two years after Russia's invasion, Germany hosts more Ukrainians than any other country in Europe, just over 1.1 million. 
    • "We expect at least 50% of Ukrainians to stay in Germany even after the war," says Wolfgang Hummel, head of legal affairs at the Berlin state office for refugee affairs. "And the number goes up every day as they put down roots and the war destroys more of Ukraine."
  • An early survey by the Ukrainian firm Info Sapiens found that 88% of refugees wanted to return home. By early 2023, a large German government study found 29% saying they wanted to stay in Germany permanently, and another 15% aimed to put down roots for at least the next few years. Almost all Ukrainian families in Germany send their children to German schools, and three-quarters of adults are enrolled in or have completed a German language course.
  • Across Europe, roughly half of Ukrainian refugees have found jobs. The number is lower in Germany: only 25% of men are working, and even fewer women. Among the Ukrainians I met, men seemed readier than women to take jobs for which they were overqualified. … But they too seemed focused on the longer term, completing the state language course and enrolling in job training.
  • Ultimately, it will take both Europe and Ukraine to fashion a solution. European policymakers can help by subsidizing the trip home and providing a small nest egg for returnees, and Ukraine should offer a raft of incentives, from scholarships to interest-free loans and seed capital for new businesses. Still, in the long run, the most important lure will not be special benefits. What Ukrainians abroad want most is what all Ukrainians are fighting for—a secure, independent, democratic Ukraine with a vibrant economy.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Russia Regains Upper Hand in Ukraine’s East as Kyiv’s Troops Struggle,” Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Finbarr O’Reilly, NYT, 01.13.24.

  • The need to cannibalize a destroyed Russian vehicle to help protect Ukraine’s dwindling supply of equipment underscores Kyiv’s current challenges on the battlefield as it prepares for another year of pitched combat.
  • Now Russian troops are on the attack, especially in the country’s east. The town of Marinka has all but fallen. Avdiivka is being slowly encircled. A push on Chasiv Yar, near Bakhmut, is expected. Farther north, outside Kupiansk, the fighting has barely slowed since the fall.
  • The Kremlin has more of everything: more men, ammunition and vehicles. And they are not stopping despite their mounting numbers of wounded and dead.
  • “The Russian advantage at this stage is not decisive, but the war is not a stalemate,” said Michael Kofman, a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who recently visited Ukraine.
  • For now, Ukraine is in a perilous position. The problems afflicting its military have been exacerbated since the summer. Ukrainian soldiers are exhausted by long stretches of combat and shorter rest periods. The ranks, thinned by mounting casualties, are only being partly replenished, often with older and poorly trained recruits.
    • One Ukrainian soldier, part of a brigade tasked with holding the line southwest of Avdiivka, pointed to a video he took during training recently. The instructors, trying to stifle their laughs, were forced to hold up the man, who was in his mid-50s, just so he could fire his rifle. The man was crippled from alcoholism, said the soldier. “Three out of ten soldiers who show up are no better than drunks who fell asleep and woke up in uniform,” he said, referring to the new recruits who arrive at his brigade.
    • Kyiv’s recruiting strategy has been plagued by overly aggressive tactics and more widespread attempts to dodge the draft. Efforts to rectify the problem have spawned a political argument between the military and civilian leadership. … [T]he office of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy … is apprehensive about introducing unpopular changes that could end with a drive to mobilize 500,000 new soldiers. That number, analysts say, takes into account Ukraine’s staggering losses and what is likely needed to push back the Russians.
  • The shortage of troops is only one part of the problem. The other and currently more pressing issue is Ukraine’s dwindling ammunition reserves as continued Western supplies remain anything but certain. Ukrainian commanders now have to ration their ammunition, not knowing whether every new shipment might be their last.
    • “Today we had two shells, but some days we don’t have any in these positions,” said the commander of an Ukrainian artillery crew from the 10th Brigade, who goes by the call sign Monk. “The last time we fired was four days ago, and that was only five shells.”
    • “I have two tanks, but only five shells,” said deputy battalion commander from Ukraine’s e 68th Brigade, who goes by the call sign Italian … “It’s a bad situation now, especially in Avdiivka and Kupiansk.”
  • The Russian units are in a position similar to the summer of 2022, where they can simply wear down a Ukrainian position until Kyiv’s forces run out of ordnance. But unlike that summer, there is no longer a frantic scramble in Western capitals to arm and re-equip Ukraine’s troops. And unlike that summer, drones have assumed a much larger presence in the arsenal of both sides — especially the FPV racing drones affixed with explosives and used like remote-controlled missiles.
    • In the past nine months, the FPV drone numbers have surged by at least 10 times, and more casualties are caused by drones than artillery on some parts of the front, Ukrainian soldiers said.
  • Washington’s suggestion for Ukraine to go on the defensive in 2024 will mean little if Kyiv does not have the ammunition or people to defend what territory it currently holds, analysts have said.

“Missiles from Iran and North Korea boost Russia’s onslaught on Ukraine,” John Paul Rathbone, Christian Davies, Roman Olearchyk and Christopher Miller, FT, 01.14.24. 

  • Russian air attacks — supplemented with Iranian drones and, according to the U.S., North Korean ballistic missiles too — have heated up. 
    • Russia fired more than 500 drones and missiles between Dec. 29 and Jan. 2 alone, said officials in Kyiv. Increasingly, the main targets appear to be in Ukraine’s defense industry … rather than the energy grid that Russia tried to destroy last winter.
    • The second big strike of the year came on Jan. 8, when Russia launched 59 drones and missiles and Ukraine’s air defenses shot down less than half of them, compared with their usual 80% interception rates.
    • On Jan. 13, Russia fired its third big barrage of the year, launching 40 drones and missiles including ballistic missiles, which its defense ministry said targeted Ukraine’s “military-industrial complex” 
    • Ukrainian air defense shot down eight of them, while another 20 munitions were electronically jammed and failed to reach their targets, the country’s air force said.
  • The scale and sophistication of Russia’s latest air strikes are of a different order from last winter’s attacks, according to officials and military analysts.
    • The attacks have been carefully planned, with staggered waves of drones and missiles designed to overwhelm Ukraine’s air defenses. On Dec. 30 and Jan. 2, they were augmented by short-range ballistic missiles sourced from North Korea, one of which flew 460km from its Russian launch site, the White House said last week. 
    • To break Ukraine’s defenses, Russia has typically first launched slow-flying drones, then low-flying subsonic cruise missiles, and lastly ballistic missiles that plummet to their target at multiples of the speed of sound which make them hard to hit.
    • The deadliest ballistic missile is the Kinzhal, or dagger, which President Vladimir Putin has called “a super weapon.” Russia has also fired Iskander-M ballistic missiles, which are similar to North Korea’s KN-23 missiles that Moscow has now used, defense analysts said.
      • Hardest of all to intercept are ballistic missiles, which [Ukraine air defense’s spokesman] Ignat said only U.S.-made Patriot systems can take down.
  • Ukraine’s mish-mash of air defense systems and surface-to-air missiles, dubbed “FrankenSAM,” has struggled to cope.
    • The first layer of defense — mobile units that are often a U.S.-provided Humvee mounted with Stinger surface-to-air missiles or heavy machine guns … But such units are now struggling to maneuver in deep snow.
    • The next layer of Ukraine’s air defenses … includes medium-range systems such as the German-provided IRIS-T and SAMP/T from France and Italy.
  • Russia’s alleged use of North Korean ballistic missiles in Ukraine, which would violate U.N. sanctions, has underlined how the balance of supplies might be moving in Moscow’s favor, said officials and military analysts.  Yang Uk, a defense expert at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said North Korea could have reserves of up to 100 KN-23s, most of which it might transfer to Russia for the right price.
  • Iran has the largest ballistic missile program in the Middle East and could supply Russia “with a few hundred ballistic missiles” just to start, said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
  • With its economy on a war footing Russia now makes over 100 long-range missiles a month, compared with about 40 at the start of invasion, and around 300 attack drones, according to Ukrainian and western officials. 
  • But Ukraine’s situation was far from hopeless, stressed officials and military analysts.

"Population Numbers Allow Ukrainian Military to Call Up 500,000, But Can It Afford to Keep Them?”, Simon Saradzhyan, RM, 01.11.24.

  • Since December … Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and its commander-in-chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi have sparred over who should assume prime responsibility for the plan to conscript up to 500,000 Ukrainians. … [W]e could not help wondering whether the Ukrainian authorities actually have the capacity to add (and keep) half a million to the fighting force.
  • Ukraine’s demographic resources do allow for recruiting 500,000 males to the fighting units of its armed forces. Ukraine had 9,307,315 men aged 25-59 in 2022, according to the World Bank’s latest data. However, Russia had 34,619,913 men aged 25-59 that year, according to one of the bank’s databases. Thus, if one doesn’t account for [certain] factors … then Russia in theory had 3.7 times more males in the 25-59 age cohort that it could draft than Ukraine could (so more than the 3:1 ratio generally required for offensives, ceteres parabuis). 
  • If [conscripts] are involved in combat on the actual frontline, then they are to be paid 100,000 hryvnia ($2,616) a month, according to Ukrainian media. Thus, if all 500,000 additional conscripts are actually sent to fight, then Ukraine will have to spend $15.7 billion on salaries alone every year (unless casualties are not replaced). One also needs to keep in mind that Ukraine will also have to spend sizeable sums to train, equip and feed each of the conscripts once they have reported for duty, as well as provide treatment to those injured and compensation to families of those that are killed. Thus, Zelenskyy’s recent estimate that a mobilization of 500,000 could cost $13 billion is not unreasonable.
  • Obviously, a sheer correlation of personnel strengths of each side’s forces cannot serve as a reliable sole predictor of whether either side might prevail, whether they have been reinforced through additional mobilization or not. How well the newly conscripted soldiers are trained, armed and commanded matters as much, if not more. Their motivation matters a great deal as well … The would-be Ukrainian recruits should be, at least in theory, more motivated than their Russian counterparts, given that the former defend their homeland, while the latter know they are fighting for the territory of another state, even if the Kremlin tells them this territory is all historic Russian land.

“How Ukraine Can Win Through Defense. A New Strategy Can Protect Kyiv and Stop Moscow From Winning,” Emma Ashford and Kelly A. Grieco, FA, 01.10.24. 

  • Despite the apparent stalemate on the battlefield, it is unlikely Putin would agree to a cease-fire until after the 2024 U.S. presidential election … He is also undoubtedly aware of the grim math of land warfare: Russia has a larger military-age population to draw from than Ukraine and a stronger industrial base. On paper, time is on his side.
  • [T]he White House is increasingly pushing Ukraine to pivot to a defensive strategy in 2024, and Zelenskyy and his military commanders have slowly come to accept the need for this shift … Yet U.S. policymakers also need a new theory of victory. 
  • A pivot to defense is the right idea, but both Washington and Kyiv are pursuing it for the wrong reasons. On both sides … defense is viewed largely as a stopgap measure to buy time to build capacity for future offensive operations. ... So far, however, these theories of victory have failed the battlefield test. 
  • At a strategic level ... Putin’s political objectives are relatively clear: weaken Kyiv, seize as much territory as possible and prevent Ukraine from further integration with Europe. 
  • Defense, then, can itself be a path to victory if Ukraine and its Western backers can succeed in convincing Putin that there is no way for him to achieve these strategic objectives. Under this approach, Ukraine would build strong fortifications and defensive capabilities to demonstrate that the country can sustain a long war of attrition and prevent further Russian advances, even with reduced Western support. Over time, a consistent, sustainable Ukrainian defense could eventually convince the Kremlin that continued fighting is futile, opening the prospect of peace. 
  • If there is one clear lesson to draw from this war, it is that today’s battlefield favors defense. Modern weapons, especially drones, advanced artillery, and long-range antitank missiles, make it much easier to hold territory than to capture it. Mobile ground-based air defenses are hard to detect and destroy, giving defenders an advantage over modern air forces. A shift to defense in Ukraine would capitalize on these advantages and would require three specific elements to be successful.
    • First, Ukraine would need to construct a system of defensive lines consisting of deep trenches, prepared firing positions, ditches, antitank mines, and the concrete antitank pyramid barriers known as “dragon’s teeth”—a system not unlike the so-called Surovikin Line of fortifications that Russian forces so successfully defended last year.
    • Second, Ukraine should prioritize keeping the skies contested, ensuring that neither side enjoys air superiority. 
    • Third, Ukraine must expand its domestic weapons production, reducing its reliance on Western arms supplies
    • A shift to defense is valuable not only because it could show the Kremlin that further territorial conquest is out of reach but also because it would help Ukraine address its two biggest problems: a shortage of soldiers and flagging Western support. 
  • To shore up flagging Western support, however, it will not be enough to simply pivot to defense on the battlefield. … [A] new battlefield strategy must be accompanied by a corresponding political strategy from the White House, beginning with messaging. The Biden administration should make clear that it is not seeking to support Kyiv with future offensive operations but is rather focused on providing Ukraine with defensive capabilities. ... By dialing down its funding request, the White House can signal it has adopted achievable strategic goals: a cheaper war is a far more sustainable war.
  • The White House can also broadcast its intentions by applying pressure on Kyiv. Indeed, a central obstacle to this new strategy will likely be opposition in Ukraine itself. Ukrainian leaders may oppose a shift to defense, as it could lead to the war’s ending along current lines of controlю 
  • Finally, the Biden administration will need to build Western consensus around this new approach. 
  • If executed well, a defensive political and military strategy may well be able to persuade Putin that he has no prospects for further conquest in Ukraine, creating an off-ramp for negotiations. And even if this new strategy does not end the war, it will avoid the most catastrophic outcomes, will sustain Ukraine’s fighting capacity, and just might produce a stable equilibrium that allows a largely intact Ukraine to develop economically and integrate with Europe. For Western policymakers feeling stuck between domestic constraints and the prospects of a Ukrainian loss, that should count as a win.

“How the best chance to win the Ukraine war was lost,” Yaroslav Trofimov[1], WP, 01.09.24. 

  • [Sometime in early 2022 the] CIA director, William J. Burns, had secretly flown to Kyiv at Biden's request, warning Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Russia was planning to assassinate him. "They spoke about the physical liquidation of our leadership, about the creation of filtration and concentration camps," said Zelenskyy's national security adviser, Oleksiy Danilov. "But what could we do? We kept asking: give us weapons. But they didn't really give weapons to us."
  • At the time, Ukraine's military leadership, under Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, had successfully kept Kyiv's war planning secret — and not just from the Russians. Neither Washington nor many senior officials in the Zelenskyy administration knew Zaluzhnyi's blueprint. "We were pessimistic about Ukraine holding out in part because the Ukrainians didn't share any of their preparations or planning with us," a senior Pentagon official told me later. "And the preparations and plans that they did share with us were military deception."
  • Poland, perhaps because of its history, was the only nation that didn't despair in these early hours. The mood was very different in other European capitals. "Nobody was giving the Ukrainians any chances," ex-British PM Boris Johnson said. "If this is going to happen, the best thing is that maybe it should happen quickly," a senior aide to German chancellor Olaf Scholz told him at the time.
  • In his speech on the day of the invasion [Feb.22, 2022], Putin threatened unimaginable consequences should the West try to help Kyiv. And, since the first days of the war, the White House's overriding priority had been not to overstep Russia's "red lines" and provoke a direct confrontation between Moscow and NATO — especially a nuclear one. Putin's admonishments worked, to a significant extent. In the months to come, 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, and prohibited Kyiv from using Western weapons to strike military targets on Russian soil. By the time many of these Western systems did arrive, in the second year of the war, Russia had built up defenses, mobilized hundreds of thousands of troops and switched its industries to wartime footing. The best window of opportunity for a clear and quick Ukrainian victory had disappeared.
  • The United States ... kept taking Russian nuclear warnings seriously. "The Venn diagram between our and Ukrainian interests overlaps about 85%, but that remaining 15% is pretty important," a senior Pentagon official told me. "The Ukrainians are already fighting for their existence. But the United States has a special obligation to avoid a nuclear war that would end all life on Planet Earth forever."
  • [In July 2022] Ukrainian, U.S. and British commanders were meeting at a U.S. base in Wiesbaden, Germany, to figure out precisely where the Ukrainians should launch their attempt to regain Russian-occupied land — at that point nearly a quarter of the country. From Kyiv, Zelenskyy and Zaluzhnyi advocated for a push to the Sea of Azov in the Zaporizhzhia region that, if successful, would sever Russia's "land bridge" to Crimea and deprive Moscow of its biggest prize in the war. After months of losses, the Russians were on a back foot, with as few as 100,000 combat-capable troops left in Ukraine. ... Russia was at its weakest. A better chance to strike a decisive blow might not present itself. What Ukraine needed to succeed, Zaluzhnyi calculated, were about 90 additional howitzers and adequate ammunition, according to his aides. It wasn't a huge ask, but the allies weren't convinced ... [and] without the requested package of U.S. weapons and ammunition, the Zaporizhzhia push was impossible. The Ukrainians focused on Kherson and Kharkiv.
  • In late September 2022, I followed Ukrainian troops into the just-liberated city of Kupyansk, which had served as the capital of the Russian-occupied part of the Kharkiv region. Russian defenses had crumbled overnight in Ukraine's most successful offensive of the war so far. U.S. officials were stunned — and worried.
  • That week, as Russian armies fled in disarray, a stern-faced Putin delivered a speech to the nation. Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions — none of them fully controlled by Moscow — would henceforth become unalienable parts of Russia. Once again, he reminded the world of Moscow's nuclear weapons. "In case of a threat to the territorial integrity to our nation, to defend Russia and our people, we will, without a question, use all the means available to us," he warned. "This is not a bluff." The war, he added, was no longer just against the regime of Ukraine but against "the entire military machine of the collective West." To win, Russia needed more troops. At least 300,000 more.
  • Ukraine called Putin's nuclear bluff. In the following weeks, Kyiv pressed its offensive into areas that Moscow now considered Russian soil, taking the city of Lyman in Donetsk and then Kherson — the only regional capital that Russia had occupied since the full-scale invasion. But in Washington, fears of a Russian nuclear escalation reached their highest point that week. According to U.S. intelligence estimates, Putin was likely to consider a nuclear strike under three scenarios. One was a major attack on Russia proper, especially with NATO involvement. Another was the possibility of losing physical control over Crimea. And the third, according to a senior Pentagon official, was a Ukrainian battlefield victory "that would completely and totally shatter the Russian military, such that the Russian state would sense an existential threat."
  • The Biden administration reached out to Moscow to de-escalate. National security adviser Jake Sullivan went on American television networks. "We have communicated directly, privately, to the Russians at very high levels that there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia if they use nuclear weapons in Ukraine," he said.
  • By late November 2022, the Ukrainian offensive had run out of steam. There was no massive resupply of artillery ammunition, and Kyiv's pleas for Western tanks and fighting vehicles kept getting turned down. ... All the hardware that Ukraine was begging for in 2022 — Leopard and Abrams tanks, Bradleys and Strykers, and Patriot batteries — was eventually provided the following year. ... But, by then, it was a different war. The Ukrainian offensives of 2023 gained little ground against an entrenched, prepared and more numerous enemy. Putin's nuclear brinkmanship had gained him time — not just to prevent a military collapse, but also for indispensable military aid to Ukraine to get caught up in the United States' own domestic politics.

“Ukraine's War Effort Is Stuck. This Heroic Battlefield Failure Shows Why. Rout of elite Ukraine forces in counteroffensive is a lesson in why the war effort is stalled,” Oksana Grytsenko and James Marson, WSJ, 01.10.24.

  • The planners of Ukraine’s counteroffensive against the country’s Russian invaders last year envisioned that elite forces, like the unit led by Capt. Anatoliy Kharchenko, would sweep in to deliver the final blows of a D-Day-like triumph. 
  • But by the time paratroopers in Kharchenko’s company entered the battle on a moonless night last August, the counteroffensive was already skidding toward failure—and his men were about to learn all of the deadly reasons why. 
  • The biggest problem may be that Ukraine is insufficiently armed to penetrate Russian defenses. The U.S. and allies were willing to provide armored vehicles for the counteroffensive—but not modern fighter jets that are central to the way Western militaries attack. That left Ukraine mismatched with its opponent. 
    • "This isn't World War II and Guderian," said a senior Ukrainian security official, referring to German Gen. Heinz Guderian, a pioneer of Blitzkrieg. "This is World War I and trenches."
  • It's unclear whether Ukraine and its allies can craft an alternative approach. Ukraine has lost thousands of troops.... The counteroffensive fizzled with an advance of only a few square miles to show for it.
  • Ukraine's top military officer says it needs better technology to defeat an enemy with a population more than three times larger, but support from the U.S., Ukraine's most critical ally, is wobbling amid domestic political squabbles.

“Military Summary from Nikolai Mitrokhin: The Ukrainian Military-Industrial Complex and Corruption Scandals,” Nikolai Mitrokhin,, 01.15.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • [Ukraine’s] lack of a military-industrial policy during the year and a half of the war and corruption schemes for ordering military equipment and ammunition cannot but affect the current situation. This week, the country’s largest metallurgical concern, “Metinvest,” invited Spanish journalists to its “top-secret” production facility to demonstrate to them the assembly of five anti-mine trawls per month, which it makes for the Armed Forces of Ukraine for free. In a conversation with a journalist, the main idea of the manufacturer was as follows: They could produce more, but there are no state [procurement] orders.
  • The equipment without which the Ukrainian counteroffensive of 2023 simply failed (the advancing columns had one Western-made trawl for five vehicles) was never put into mass production. And the wealthiest man in Ukraine, the owner of a six-billion-dollar fortune, Rinat Akhmetov, cannot afford to spend more than $50,000 a month (an estimated amount) on the production of five trawls for the Armed Forces of Ukraine without receiving compensation from the state. However, it is quite possible that he plans to sell the trawls to the state at an inflated price, and that is why his proposal has not found a response.
  • At the same time, Ukraine is shaken by new corruption scandals. Last week, Lviv businessman Igor Grinkevich, a supplier to the Ministry of Defense, was arrested. He was accused of trying to bribe an investigator with $500,000. Another former supplier, Tetyana Glinyanaya, became the hero of publications in the Ukrainian press: it turned out that she bought a chain of hotels in Croatia.

“On patrol with the Ukrainian army’s drone hunters,” Liz Cookman, The Economist, 01.15.24 is worth skimming. 

Military aid to Ukraine:

“U.S. Military Aid to Ukraine Was Poorly Tracked, Pentagon Report Concludes,” Lara Jakes, NYT, 01.11.24.

  • The Defense Department’s inspector general found that American defense officials and diplomats in Washington and Europe had failed to quickly or fully account for all of nearly 40,000 weapons sent to Ukraine. More than $1 billion worth of shoulder-fired missiles, kamikaze drones and night-vision devices that the United States has sent to Ukraine have not been properly tracked by American officials, a new Pentagon report concludes, raising concerns they could be stolen or smuggled at a time Congress is debating whether to send more military aid to Kyiv.
    • “It was beyond the scope of our evaluation to determine whether there has been diversion of such assistance,” the report stated.
  • The report found that American defense officials and diplomats in Washington and Europe had failed to quickly or fully account for nearly 40,000 weapons that by law should have been closely monitored because their sensitive technology and relatively small size makes them attractive bounty for arms smugglers.
  • The high rate of weapons that were missing or otherwise immediately unaccounted for in government databases “may increase the risk of theft or diversion,” the report found.
  • Even with better methods in place, it concluded, tracking additional materiel sent to Ukraine will “be difficult as the inventory continues to change, and accuracy and completeness will likely only become more difficult over time.”
  • The number of the weapons reviewed in the report represents only a small fraction of about $50 billion in military equipment that the United States has sent Ukraine since 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and parts of the eastern Donbas region. 
  • The report did not detail exactly how many of the 39,139 high-risk pieces of materiel that were given to Ukraine in the years before and after the invasion were considered “delinquent” but it put the potential loss at about $1 billion of the total $1.69 billion worth of the weapons that had been sent.
  • Dangerous combat conditions made it largely impossible for Defense Department officials to travel to the front lines to ensure the weapons were being used as intended, according to Pentagon and State Department officials responsible for tracking them.
  • The required accounting procedures “are not practical in a dynamic and hostile wartime environment,” Alexandra N. Baker, the acting undersecretary of defense for policy, wrote in a Nov. 15 response to an earlier draft of the report. She also said there were not enough to Defense Department employees at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to easily track all of the most sensitive weapons and equipment, which she said currently total more than 50,000 items in Ukraine “and growing.”

“Can Europe arm Ukraine—or even itself? More weapons production is a hedge against a Trump presidency,” The Economist, 01.14.24. 

  • Russia’s economy is nearly 14 times the size of Ukraine’s, but the combined resources of Ukraine’s allies are so much greater that it should be able to win. Yet as the conflict enters its third year, it is Russia’s defense industry that is slowly turning the war in its favor.
  • Nothing shows the problem more starkly than artillery shells. At the height of Ukraine’s summer counter-offensive, it was using some 7,000 a day, significantly more than the Russians. This has reversed: since last month, while Ukrainian forces have been rationed to 2,000 shells a day, the Russians have been firing five times that number. Talk of a stalemate is complacent. The West now faces a choice, said Jack Watling, an expert at RUSI, a think-tank in London, earlier this month. It can give Ukraine what it needs, “or cede an irrecoverable advantage to Russia”.
  • Both America and the European Union are having trouble delivering aid. In Washington, $61bn-worth of military assistance is held up in Congress by a row over immigration. In Brussels, €50bn ($54bn) of financial support is stymied by the veto of Hungary’s pro-Russian leader, Viktor Orban. The Europeans are optimistic that aid will be released at a summit in February. But Ukraine worries that American hyper-partisanship and Donald Trump’s hostility will steadily throttle support from the Pentagon. That may leave Ukraine wholly dependent on Europe.
  • One way for Europe to ramp up faster [production of ammunition] could be to relax technical specifications. Shells will rarely meet fine-tuned Western accuracy demands anyway when fired from Ukraine’s often worn-out artillery barrels (the country will probably need 2,000 new barrels per year). And safety regulations for long-term storage make little sense for shells that will be fired within days. In wars of attrition the need for quantity nearly always overrides quality.
  • Europe will struggle to keep Ukraine in the fight this year if American assistance dries up. In the longer term, with American support growing uncertain, the continent has no option but to rebuild its defense industry. “We have the technology, we must build the capacity,” says Mr. Morten Brandtzaeg, the boss of Nammo [short for Nordic Ammunition Company] “We can’t not do this.” 

“How the West's waffling undermines Ukraine's war effort,” Lee Hockstader, WP, 01.10.24.

  • Disregard the happy talk in Washington and European capitals about the strategic defeat Moscow has suffered by its ruinous invasion. The reality is that Putin senses victory is within reach, in terms he defines. He has retooled the Russian economy to sustain the war indefinitely, confident that Western patience is wearing thin. One-third of Russia's budget will go for defense this year, almost triple the share in the U.S. budget. The Kremlin's military spending is on course to reach 6% of Russian economic output this year, more than twice the proportion earmarked by most NATO countries.
  • By contrast, Washington and its European allies appear exhausted by their effort to defend Ukraine, with tens of billions of dollars in further aid blocked for now by Republicans in Congress and by Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban in the European Union. Whatever Ukraine's own military mistakes, it is indisputable that the West could and should have done more, faster, to prepare Kyiv for its months-long counteroffensive that began last June. Instead the West dithered, and Ukraine's push petered out as fall turned to winter.
    • That has shifted the momentum on the battlefield, forcing Kyiv's troops into a defensive crouch as Russia fills the skies with projectiles aimed at Ukrainian cities and infrastructure. In a five-day span ending Jan. 2, Russia directed more than 500 missiles and drones at targets across Ukraine. The barrage left at least 90 civilians dead and more than 400 injured, according to the United Nations.
  • Western missiles provided to Ukraine by the United States, Britain and France could punch holes in the [Crimean] bridge. The [German-made] Taurus — air-launched, low-flying, highly accurate and able to penetrate its target before detonating — could sever it completely. That would render the bridge's twin road and rail spans unusable as supply arteries for Russian forces in Crimea, which Moscow has used as a platform to attack Ukraine. ... German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's reluctance to send the Taurus to Ukraine is a microcosm of the West's ambivalence and complacency.
    • Media reports suggest Scholz worries that Ukraine could use the Taurus, whose range is about 300 miles, to attack Russian territory; that he is concerned Putin would regard the missile's delivery to Kyiv as provocative; that the chancellor is scared it could trigger an escalation ... [but] previous fears that particular weapons shipments would provoke Putin have proved unfounded. 
  • Fear is corrosive, and it has subverted the allies' resolve to turn back Putin's land grab. By its hesitations and vacillations, the West has signaled weakness to the Russian tyrant. That, more than sending any missile to Ukraine, is the surest provocation, and the real danger.

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

“Moscow imports a third of battlefield tech from western companies,” Chris Cook, FT, 01.11.24. 

  • Russia obtained at least one-third of its foreign-sourced critical battlefield components from companies based in the U.S. and its allies last year — in large part because of outsourced production facilities in states that apply weaker export controls.…  These goods — worth a total of $7.3bn — were mainly manufactured in countries that are not part of the U.S.-led export-control coalition, according to an analysis by the Kyiv School of Economics. The largest share of these goods — worth around $1.9bn — were produced in China.
  • The 485 types of components in the analysis include semiconductors, computer parts, electronics, automotive components and bearings. 
  • The data also shows the critical role of China in Russia’s supply networks, including goods made by non-coalition companies. A majority of the goods on the list were made in the country, which has been joining an ever-deepening partnership with Moscow.
  • The U.S. is the only country to insist that goods made in a third country may potentially be covered by domestic controls. The “foreign-direct product regulations” (FDPR) are extraterritorial and can cover goods made in third countries if content, software or technology originating in the U.S. has been involved in their production. FDPR provisions apply even if the producer is not American. The U.S. dominance of semiconductor technology means the FDPR has particular impact on this sector. However, Emily Kilcrease, a sanctions expert at the Centre for a New American Security, said that applying the FDPR is difficult. 
  • Data reviewed by the Financial Times shows the goods were sold to Russia via distributors and intermediaries. ... The U.S. adding “distributors and other middlemen” to its sanctions list would be “a very effective way of addressing diversion of semiconductors and other items,” said Kevin Wolf, a partner at Akin law firm in Washington and a former assistant commerce secretary. “This would prohibit shipments to the listed entities by any company — even if the whole transaction happens outside the U.S.”
  • The KSE data suggests that Russia has been importing rising volumes of products made by some western producers — such as Analog Devices, a U.S.-based chipmaker. Russian imports of its goods rose from $123mn in 2021 to $269mn in the first nine months of 2023. Only $20mn of the Analog chips entering Russia in 2023 were listed in filings as made in the U.S., $93mn were made in China and $53mn in Malaysia.
    • Analog chips … [have] been recovered from a variety of Russian arms. Its components have been found inside the rockets of the 9M544 Tornado-S, a multiple-launch rocket launcher, as well the Russian-built versions of the Iranian Mohajer-6 and Shahed drones.

“Russia finds way around sanctions on battlefield tech: report,” Douglas Busvine, Politico, 01.11.24. 

  • Russia has largely succeeded in finding ways to get around sanctions on the technology it needs to fight its war against Ukraine, and that means the West needs to make the trade curbs more effective if it is to restrict Vladimir Putin’s aggression. That’s the main takeaway of an in-depth report by a U.S.-Ukrainian research team, which found that Russian imports of “battlefield goods” sanctioned by Washington and its allies totaled nearly $9 billion from January to October of last year — down just 10% from the level that preceded the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. 
  • “If anything, Russia’s capacity to manufacture missiles and drones appears to have increased in 2023,” finds the joint study by the Yermak-McFaul International Working Group on Russian Sanctions and the KSE Institute, a think tank affiliated with the Kyiv School of Economics.  Russia’s missile production capacity is estimated by Ukraine to have been 50 per month in 2022, doubling to 100 by mid-2023 and reaching 115 by the end of the year. However, if Russia continues to unleash its arsenal at current rates, that still means it will deplete its stocks, the study’s authors conclude.
  • Detailed analysis of Russian trade figures reveals that Western companies supplied 48% of such battlefield components in the first 10 months of last year, the report finds, above the 45% accounted for by China. U.S. semiconductor giant Intel tops the list of the makers of battlefield goods obtained by Russia, followed by Huawei of China. Also in the top 10 are Analog Devices, AMD, Texas Instruments, IBM and Dell — all American companies.
  • When it comes to the countries in which the components are made, sold and shipped, China and Hong Kong are the dominant suppliers, the study finds, confirming anecdotal evidence that Russia has managed to reconfigure its supply chains. Other leading conduits are Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

“Hammer Time: When US Sanctions Patience Ran Out,” Tom Keatinge, RUSI, 01.09.24. 

  • When Ukraine’s allies rolled out their sanctions regimes in response to the Kremlin’s full scale invasion in February 2022, both sides of the Atlantic were at pains to emphasize the extent to which coordination was central to their response. Despite some curious gaps between the various sanctions designations, the sense of coordination was real. And so it remained into 2023... but as the months passed, the tensions began to emerge. Notably, the EU’s glacial pace on introducing new sanctions packages contrasted with the more dynamic approach of the U.S. and U.K., which even felt it necessary at times to take unilateral action against targets in the EU itself.
  • After a year of anemic enforcement action by member states, the toing and froing and watering down by the EU of the 12th sanctions package was, perhaps, the breaking point for the U.S.
  • For decades, banks – unlike many of the manufacturers now at the center of the sanctions arrayed against Russia – have been required to conduct controls to ensure that they are not processing payments that facilitate sanctions evasion. In recent years, banks such as BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered and ING have faced heavy monetary penalties for facilitating such financial flows. Banks have thus long experienced the responsibility of being on the frontline of sanctions implementation, where they are expected to block transactions related to sanctioned individuals and companies. The latest step from the U.S. merely ramps up this responsibility. Not only must banks prevent sanctioned customers from using their services, but they must also prevent customers engaged in activities that are subject to sanctions from using their services. 
  • For the past two years, the Kremlin and its intelligence service have worked hard to outsmart Western sanctions, and while Ukraine’s allies have repeatedly targeted companies and individuals facilitating the procurement of sensitive goods and the circumvention of sanctions, the failure of countries to fully engage the private sector – notably banks – in this challenge has been an increasingly glaring gap. The White House’s year-end present for bankers was clear: ‘those who are supplying goods or processing transactions that materially support Russia’s military industrial base are complicit in Russia’s brutal violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.’

“Freeze to Seize or to Appease? Why Russian Assets are not a Bargaining Chip,” Anton Moiseienko, RUSI, 01.11.24. 

  • As calls to transfer Russian assets to Ukraine intensify, it is understandable that governments are proceeding with caution. There are important and difficult issues to consider, such as how to ensure that any resulting transfer sets a desirable precedent for future responses to aggression while minimizing the potential for abuse. The same attention should not be lavished on arguments that are opaque or simply implausible, such as vague invocations of damage to the international financial system or the insistence that Russia’s property be kept frozen as a ‘bargaining chip’.

“Who is in charge of Europe?” The Economist, 01.08.24. 

  • For decades the EU had similarly predictable political dynamics: whether composed of six countries or 12 or 27, member states chased compromises until whatever had been stitched up by France and Germany was accepted by all. But the old model of dominance by its two biggest members has long been creaking. As Europe faces up to repeated crises a new, more fluid geography of power is taking shape.
  • The sway central Europe [now] holds when it comes to Ukraine, its voice is scarcely heard when it comes to other bits of European policymaking. For when it comes to economic policy, Europe is being made to think ever more in French terms.
  • Britain is not the only one not to be found at the EU’s top table. A more surprising absentee is Germany: Mr. Scholz is seen as missing-in-action on the European scene. A tricky coalition including lefty Greens and free-market liberals has reduced his ability to cut deals in Brussels. “The German coalition moves slower than the debates within the EU,” rues a senior Brussels official. That has cost it influence.
  • Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this vacuum has been the EU’s centralized institutions in Brussels. ... Is this the sign of a federal Europe rising, a European superstate in the making? To the likes of Hungary and Poland, it can feel like it. But there are limits to the powers of the commission. 
  • Once the Euro-elections are out of the way, attention will turn to those in America, still the principal guarantor of European security and a major contributor to Ukraine’s war effort. A Trump victory would be greeted with widespread horror. That votes cast an ocean away from Paris, Berlin or Warsaw will matter so much to Europe’s future will surely unleash arguments that the architecture of power there still has much evolving left to do. 

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Russia's upper hand puts US-Ukraine at a crossroads. Absent a compromise settlement, massive levels of aid for Kyiv would have to continue, perhaps indefinitely,” George Beebe and Anatol Lieven, Responsible Statecraft, 01.11.24. 

  • Russian progress in the Ukraine war is pushing the United States toward a painful choice. If we want a prosperous Ukraine with a viable path toward liberal governance and European Union membership, we will have to concede that it cannot be a NATO or U.S. ally, and that this neutral Ukraine must have verifiable limits on the types and quantities of weapons it may hold. If we refuse to agree to those terms, Russia will quite probably turn Ukraine into a dysfunctional wreck incapable of rebuilding itself, allying with the West, or constituting a military threat to Russia.
  • The Kremlin is ... methodically grinding down Ukraine’s capacity not only to wage war, but also to reconstitute a post-war military, by killing and wounding enormous numbers of Ukrainian soldiers and exhausting Ukrainian and Western arsenals of arms and ammunition. Ukraine is running short of artillery shells, and the U.S. and Europe cannot manufacture new ones quickly enough to meet Ukraine’s needs. Russian barrages of long-range air and missile strikes are increasingly overwhelming the capacity of Ukrainian air defenses, and the West simply lacks the ability to continue providing Patriot missiles or other advanced air defense systems.
  • What U.S. policymakers need to understand and honestly acknowledge is that absent a compromise peace settlement, massive levels of aid will have to continue not just for the coming year, but indefinitely. There is very little realistic chance of the West being able to outlast Russia and force it to accept peace on Ukrainian terms. ... Under such circumstances, for the Biden administration to pledge American support to Ukraine for “as long as it takes” to defeat Russia is unwise, and even dishonest.[2] 
  • Time is not on Ukraine’s side, either militarily or economically, and so Ukraine’s position in any future negotiations may well be very much worse than at present. Russia’s population is at least four times that of Ukraine and its GDP 14 times. The Russian army is far better led and more tactically adept than it was at the start of the war, and Western sanctions show no signs of being able to cripple the Russian economy, which is more and more geared for war.
  • Most importantly, the United States has not tested the assumption that Russian President Vladimir Putin has no interest in talking. It is indeed very likely that Putin believes Russia now has the upper hand in the war and can afford to wait. Nonetheless, Putin has repeatedly insisted that Russia is ready to talk, and also that Washington – not Kyiv – makes the key decisions in the war and therefore it is for Washington to engage in talks. This may be posturing; but it is also possible that Putin recognizes that absent a settlement, Russia is headed toward the dangers of a permanently volatile confrontation with the West, an economy distorted by the demands of military production, and a constricting degree of dependence on China. Russians’ concerns about these problems are likely to grow as their fears they may lose the war in Ukraine diminish.
  • It is further alleged that Putin believes that a future Donald Trump presidency would be the Kremlin’s best hope for a settlement on Russian terms. However, Trump’s first term produced some friendly rhetoric but much hostile action toward Moscow, including withdrawal from nuclear arms agreements and increased flows of U.S. weapons and training for the Ukrainian army.
  • Washington will have to offer some serious incentives. These will need to include showing that the U.S. is prepared to meet Russian concerns about the U.S. and NATO security threat to Russia (concerns that are genuinely held throughout the Russian establishment). This will mean agreement to a Ukrainian treaty of neutrality, with security guarantees for Ukraine, that will allow that country to follow neutral Finland and Austria during the Cold War and develop as a free market democracy. Western sanctions against Russia would need at least to be eased if not suspended, but with a binding commitment that they would automatically resume if Russia launched new aggression. On the issue of the territories presently occupied by Russia, the only possible way forward is to defer this question for future talks under United Nations auspices, while putting the maximum possible security measures in place to prevent a resumption of war.

Zelensky Lands in Davos to Pitch a Peace Plan Russia Already Rejected,” Andrew E. Kramer and Jim Tankersley, NYT, 01.16.24. 

  • With fighting still raging in Ukraine, and a front line that has barely shifted in more than a year, the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, headed on Tuesday to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, amid a swirl of diplomatic discussions about possible peace talks.
  • At the forum … Mr. Zelenskyy is promoting a diplomatic initiative called the Peace Formula, which has gained the backing of dozens of countries. But those countries do not include Russia, and Moscow has rejected its terms. Russia has signaled through informal envoys that President Vladimir V. Putin is now open to cease-fire talks. But Ukrainian officials have said that they will reject any temporary truce that comes separate from a broader settlement, lest Russia merely use the pause to regroup and attack again.
  • On Jan. 15, Switzerland agreed to push the Ukrainian plan a step forward. Switzerland will host a summit of countries backing the Peace Formula later this year, the country’s president, Viola Amherd, said after a meeting with Mr. Zelenskyy. The plan calls for a full Russian withdrawal from all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea; payment of reparations; and prosecution of war crimes. All of those demands are considered, by analysts and even politicians backing the proposal, to be unreachable given the current balance of forces on the battlefield. The proposal also includes intermediary steps, such as securing Ukrainian nuclear sites, ensuring grain exports and exchanging prisoners of war.
  • The Swiss foreign minister, Ignazio Cassis, has suggested that Russia should be invited to the Peace Formula meeting even if Moscow was unlikely to accept. The Ukrainian plan represented only one side in the war, Mr. Cassis said at a news conference on Jan. 14, and Russia’s positions would have to be heard eventually. It would be an “illusion,” he added, to think that Russia would participate on the terms Ukraine has laid out.
  • Mr. Zelenskyy said last month that Ukraine would engage with Russia by conveying, via an intermediary, the settlement proposal after a meeting of leaders backing the plan. That formulation is a slight revision to his previous insistence that Ukraine would only negotiate after liberating its territory. Russia now occupies about 20% of Ukraine. Mr. Zelenskyy said that 83 countries had participated in a conference of national security advisers on Sunday in Davos to agree on a final draft of the peace proposal. “For us, it is very important to show the whole world is against Russian aggression and the whole world is for a just peace,” he said.

“Putin Is Making His Plans Brutally Clear,” Nataliya Gumenyuk, NYT, 01.16.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views. 

  • In 2023 there were more than 6,000 air alerts in Ukraine. Last month alone, Russia launched some 624 drones carrying explosives, according to official sources. On Dec. 29, more than 120 Russian missiles and drones targeted towns across the country, killing 44 people. It was the deadliest attack on civilians in Kyiv since the beginning of the war. In all of December, there was just one night without an attack.
  • Russia’s strikes increased as attempts to authorize more funding for Ukraine stalled in the U.S. Congress and in Europe. Since the fall, Kyiv’s western allies have reportedly been quietly pushing for negotiations to end the war. By the end of December, Vladimir Putin was also reportedly signaling that he, too, was ready to make a deal.
  • Peace would require a genuine guarantee that the Kremlin won’t use a cease-fire simply to rearm and launch a renewed assault from the occupied Ukrainian territories. According to recent polling, most Ukrainians are still against any territorial concessions to Russia and many say any peace deal must also bring Crimea back under Ukraine’s control, lest the threat of invasion continue indefinitely. What Mr. Putin is offering — according to The Times, a cease-fire that “freezes the fighting along the current lines” — is not peace but occupation, and occupation is just a different kind of war.
  • The Reckoning Project, which investigates and documents potential war crimes in Ukraine — I am one of its co-founders — has investigated the deaths of hundreds of civilians in attacks on towns far from the battlefield, strikes on residential areas, shopping malls and restaurants and attacks that used precise ammunition on civilians evacuating train stations. Life in the parts of Ukraine that are now under Russian rule is even more dreadful. 
  • If the Ukrainian army lays down arms, more people could be harmed. For us, that simple fact drives us forward in this war. So Ukrainians feel it is their duty to persuade the world, and particularly America and Europe, that their support is not in vain. That it saves lives every day.
  • Mr. Putin is making his plans brutally clear. But Ukrainians are still capable of turning their anger into action.

"The US Can Make Ukraine Play Defense, on One Condition," Andreas Kluth, Bloomberg, 01.16.24. 

  • Zelenskyy is right to reject recurring Western calls for a ceasefire. Russia would use the pause to rearm and restock, in order to resume its full-bore attack on Ukrainian society later. But Ukraine, during the same truce, may not get more money and weapons from the West. So a ceasefire now could be tantamount to capitulation later. The shocking thing about this insight is how badly the West has already betrayed Kyiv.  
  • Zelenskyy must whisper to Sullivan what both men already know: Sure, we’ll stop driving our Western Abrams and Leopard and Challenger tanks over well-mined mud and trenches while the Russians swarm us with drones from above. We’ll stop that because it makes no sense. We’ll instead try to hold on to what we still have, even if our compatriots in occupied Ukraine will think we’re abandoning them to their Russian overlords. We’ll do that because we need to turn time into our ally, not Putin’s. But we can defend our lines only if you in the US and Europe keep sending us the drones, missiles and bullets, and also the kit to build impenetrable fortifications. 
  • On Ukraine, at least, there can be no optimism in Davos this year, only redoubts of bravery. 

“Unfulfillable Promise: Mediation Efforts in the Russian-Ukrainian War since 2014. Part 2” Tetyana Malyarenko and Stefan Wolff, PONARS, 01.12.24.[3]

  • After almost two years of war and twelve months of limited gains on the battlefield, and with no major third-party peace initiative on the horizon that could change the belligerents’ calculations, both Moscow and Kyiv appear to have pragmatically accepted the status quo of continued conflict. This implies an adjustment of both sides’ war aims away from their public commitment to victory and toward a position of simply avoiding defeat. If that shared assumption extends to a prolonged stalemate, it will entrench a view in both camps that neither is capable of escalating to victory. In such circumstances, Kyiv and Moscow will look to protect what they already have. For Ukraine, this means the kind of credible bilateral security guarantees embodied in the G-7 Leaders’ Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine. For Russia, it means no NATO membership for Ukraine and keeping Western support below the level that would give Kyiv such a technological edge that it could contemplate defeating Moscow on the battlefield.
  • At this stage, all signs point toward both the belligerents and their supporters working to make the current stalemate sustainable by preventing it from hurting either side too much. If they fail to achieve this, both sides will keep fighting for fear of the consequences of stopping. If they succeed, all the parties will in effect be resigned to stabilizing the status quo. This will create space for other actors to pursue humanitarian issues and possibly enable the belligerents to return to negotiations on a ceasefire. None of this is necessarily equivalent to the just and lasting peace that Ukraine and Ukrainians deserve. And while the parallels with the settlement after World War II are, in many ways, deeply flawed, they also embody the hope of ultimately achieving such a peace at the negotiating table, and not on the battlefield.

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

“Trump Is Already Reshaping Geopolitics. How U.S. Allies and Adversaries Are Responding to the Chance of His Return,” Graham Allison, FA, 01.16.24. 

  • The 2024 U.S. presidential election is already having [an effect] on the decisions of countries around the world. Leaders are now beginning to wake up to the fact that a year from now, former U.S. President Donald Trump could actually be returning to the White House. Accordingly, some foreign governments are increasingly factoring into their relationship with the United States what may come to be known as the “Trump put”—delaying choices in the expectation that they will be able to negotiate better deals with Washington a year from now because Trump will effectively establish a floor on how bad things can get for them. Others, by contrast, are beginning to search for what might be called a “Trump hedge”—analyzing the ways in which his return will likely leave them with worse options and preparing accordingly. 
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s calculations in his war against Ukraine provide a vivid example of the Trump put. In recent months, as a stalemate has emerged on the ground, speculation has grown about Putin’s readiness to end the war. But as a result of the Trump put, it is far more likely that the war will still be raging this time next year. Despite some Ukrainians’ interest in an extended cease-fire or even an armistice to end the killing before another grim winter takes its toll, Putin knows that Trump has promised to end the war “in one day.” In Trump’s words: “I would tell [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky, no more [aid]. You got to make a deal.” Facing a good chance that a year from now, Trump will offer terms much more advantageous for Russia than anything U.S. President Joe Biden would offer or Zelensky would agree to today, Putin will wait. 
  • Ukraine’s allies in Europe, by contrast, must consider a Trump hedge. As the war approaches the end of its second year, daily pictures of destruction and deaths caused by Russian airstrikes and artillery shells have upended European illusions of living in a world in which war has become obsolete. Predictably, this has led to a revival of enthusiasm for the NATO alliance and its backbone: the U.S. commitment to come to the defense of any ally that is attacked. But as reports of polls showing Trump besting Biden are beginning to sink in, there is a growing fear. Germans, in particular, remember former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conclusion from her painful encounters with Trump. As she described it, “We must fight for our future on our own.” 
  • Trump is not the only U.S. leader to ask why a European community that has three times the population of Russia and a GDP more than nine times its size has to continue to depend on Washington to defend it ... Today, Trump’s campaign website calls for “fundamentally reevaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission.” When considering how many tanks or artillery shells to send to Ukraine, some Europeans are now pausing to ask whether they might need those arms for their own defense were Trump to be elected in November. 
  • Unhelpful as it may be to foreign-policy makers and their counterparts abroad, the U.S. Constitution schedules quadrennial equivalents of what in the business world would be an attempted hostile takeover. As a result, on every issue—from negotiations on climate or trade or NATO’s support for Ukraine to attempts to persuade Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, or Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to act—Biden and his foreign policy team are finding themselves increasingly handicapped as their counterparts weigh Washington’s promises or threats against the likelihood that they will be dealing with a very different government a year from now.   

“Victory Is Ukraine’s Only True Path to Peace. And EU and NATO Membership Are the Only Way to Achieve Enduring Security,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Andriy Yermak, FA, 01.11.24.

  • To achieve a lasting peace, Ukraine needs to defeat Russia on the battlefield and restore its territorial integrity, within its internationally recognized borders. 
  • Relying on its economic and demographic advantages, Russia is hoping to defeat Ukraine through a war of attrition. Therefore, Ukrainian victory relies on better utilizing the economic and industrial might of the democratic world, which dwarfs that of Russia and its allies. .... Together, the West can vastly outproduce Russia. It just needs to show the political will, so Putin understands that his war is unwinnable and that Russian forces will be driven outside of Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders. 
  • In addition to securing the long-term supply of weapons and munitions to Ukraine, it is crucial for Europe and the United States to start putting structures in place to ensure that Russia can never threaten Europe’s security again. Moving Ukraine along its path to EU membership 
  • Long-term security guarantees and EU membership would go a long way toward protecting Ukraine, but neither can replace Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty... If at the end of the war, Ukraine is left in the gray zone between Russia and NATO, it will be a recipe for further instability and Russian aggression. 
  • At this year’s NATO summit in Washington, D.C., in July, the alliance’s leaders would bring the world closer to peace by wholeheartedly embracing Ukrainian membership. The time has come to issue an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO. That does not mean that Ukraine would become a member overnight, but it would send an unequivocal message to Putin that his war is already lost.

“The West needs to get real about security,” Andrew A. Michta, Politico, 01.15.24.

  • The West has grown weary of an open-ended “as-long-as-it-takes” approach. If this is to change, it’s time for a new strategy.
  • What is needed is the strategic courage to reimagine Europe’s security architecture in a way that stabilizes the Eastern flank, deals Russia an unequivocal strategic defeat in Europe and deters future aggression by Moscow against NATO. 
  • However, none of these objectives can be achieved without bringing Ukraine into NATO; without restructuring the U.S. force posture in Europe through the creation of permanent U.S. military bases in Poland and Romania, as well as either Finland or the Baltic States; and without putting unrelenting pressure on NATO’s Western European allies to rearm at scale and speed, so they can provide the core of the alliance’s conventional deterrence and defense 
  • Above all, Washington is in need of a national security strategy that isn’t reactive and instead shapes the global security environment. ... the U.S. will have to rebuild its defense-industrial base and expand its military to meet the challenges it’s currently facing. It will also need to significantly increase its defense spending to match its adversaries’ efforts. 
  • America’s political class needs to articulate what victory in this round of great power conflict looks like. It must also communicate a specific strategy to achieve this in terms that it citizens can embrace and support, driving home the realities of this increasingly dangerous world we find ourselves in.
  • It’s time for an American national security strategy that doesn’t merely speak about “strategic competition” and “maintaining the rules-based international order” in normative terms, but also draws a geostrategic map of the world that favors U.S. interests — as well as those of its allies.

“Nowhere to rush: the long confrontation between Russia and the USA,” Andrey Sushentsov, Valdai Club, 01.11.24. Clues from Russian Views.[4]

  • As the Ukrainian crisis entered an acute phase at the end of 2021, the United States, in my opinion, made a major mistake by deciding to apply a strategy to grind and crush Russia, instead of employing a positional strategy. ... The United States tried to apply a crushing strategy to our country, without possessing superiority in resources and while incorrectly assessing their own and their allies’ capabilities to achieve goals, which were to isolate Russia, stimulate internal protests and collapse support for the government; create major obstacles at the front; and, ultimately, deal defeat [to Russia] as fast as possible. Now the confrontation in the military domain has moved into a phase that is convenient for us: a gradual turning point at the front.
  • Our confrontation with the United States will last for a long time, although we will observe certain pauses in this confrontation, which the United States will use to propose issues from areas of common interest for discussion. Based on the experience of the Cold War, we recognize the shared responsibility for the survival of humanity, and I assess the risks of nuclear escalation in the confrontation as relatively low. 

“Joseph Nye: ‘You can coerce by economic means,’” Henry Mance, FT, 01.14.24.  

  • “Americans have done some foolish things: the Vietnam and Iraq wars in particular. There’s no reason as a realist not to think that we could do stupid things again.” 
  • “When you’re dealing with wars, you’d be foolish not to start with military power. But that’s not the whole story. In Ukraine, Zelenskyy realized that wearing a green T-shirt and appealing to victimhood would develop sympathies. [He] was brilliant at using soft power, and that translated into hard power, in the form of shipments of military equipment. Hard power is the core, but soft power plays an auxiliary role.” 
  • Soft power is “the ability to get what you want through attraction, rather than coercion or payment”. It includes the cultural appeal from “Harvard to Hollywood”. (The concept has been distorted as it has entered the mainstream: “unfortunately a lot of the people who use it think it means anything other than military power. You can coerce by economic means.”)
  • Nye gives five reasons why the US will not necessarily be eclipsed by China: geography and friendly neighbors; domestic energy supplies; the dollar-based financial system; demographics; and tech leadership. 

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Taiwan can still avoid Ukraine’s fate,” Gideon Rachman, FT, 01.15.24. 

  • There are some clear similarities between Taiwan’s perilous position and that of Ukraine before 2022.
    • The first is that both Putin and Xi regard Ukraine and Taiwan, respectively, as territory that rightfully belongs to their nation. Putin’s rhetorical acceptance of an independent Ukraine was insincere. 
    • The second link is that both Putin and Xi argue Ukraine and Taiwan lack any real autonomy, and are being used as tools of a hegemonic and aggressive America. 
      • The chance to be a world-historical figure is surely alluring for a strongman leader. And Putin and Xi fit that strongman mold.
  • Even as they insist that history is moving in their direction, both Putin and Xi betray some anxiety that events may actually be moving against them. The Russian leader’s decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 was probably driven, in part, by a fear that Ukraine was slipping irrevocably out of Russia’s grasp. If he did not act quickly, he risked going down as the tsar who “lost Ukraine”. There is a clear danger that Xi will come to the same conclusion about Taiwan. 
  • But does that mean Xi will eventually decide that he has to follow Putin’s example and use force to achieve his personal and national ambitions? 
    • The catastrophic costs that Russia has paid for its ill-fated invasion will surely give Xi pause. 
    • There is also a crucial difference in the position of America. ... Biden has said repeatedly that the U.S. would fight to defend Taiwan.
    • And then there is geography. Russia was able to invade Ukraine across a land border and still got bogged down. China would have to attempt an amphibious invasion, which is much harder.
  • Nonetheless, the U.S. believes that Xi has told his forces to be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027. The task of Taiwan and America is to make sure — when that date rolls around — Xi decides that it is still too risky to invade. 

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Interview with Sergei Karaganov: ‘Some people have lost their fear of hell. It needs to be restored,’” Biznes Online/Russia in Global Affairs, 01.07.24. Clues from Russian Views.[5]  

  • We are now destroying the foundations of the collective West’s 500 years of dominance in the world system. ... They cannot and will not rob any more.
  • On the fields of Ukraine ... we are fighting ... with the understanding that we have a special mission, that we believe in a higher power and are ready to serve this higher power. Even those who do not believe in God should still serve.
  • From my point of view, the special military operation [SVO] has several objectives. It is not only a war against the West, against NATO expansion and for our security.
    • Through this war we are rebuilding our society
    • At the same time, the SVO is used to get rid of pro-Western elements in our elite.
    • No less important is the fact that a new Russian elite is being born on the battlefields. ... I sincerely believe and hope that we will avoid mass repressions. 
  • China and Russia are allies and beneficiaries in relations with each other. ... They [the Chinese] would not be able to fight the United States if they did not have friendly Russia beside them and behind them ... This danger [that Russia will become completely dependent on Chinese corporations] always exists. But, firstly, we must be aware of it. And secondly, the danger of dependence on the West was not only economic. The West and part of our pro-Western population sought to change our identity. The Chinese don't want this.
  • The level of the threat of a third [World War] ... is now higher than at any time since 1945, except for a few days during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • I think we can fight [in Ukraine] for another year or two in the hope that we will break the West in Ukraine and force it to retreat. ... If we do not reinstall the nuclear fuse that has ensured peace for the 70 years after nuclear weapons appeared, then we are doomed to [experience] the third world war. 
  • We have already begun to change our nuclear doctrine and demonstrate that we are already moving on the escalation ladder. I have [formulated] twenty steps ... several of them have been taken, such as the deployment of missiles in Belarus, conducting a series of strategic exercises, the trip of our Minister of Defense and the head of Rosatom to Novaya Zemlya [testing range], withdrawal from a number of agreements. ... I think that if we take a few more steps at the official level, then after a while they in the West will believe that we can launch a nuclear strike. And then they will run. ... If we do not restore nuclear deterrence, the world is doomed to a global nuclear war within ten years.
  • I propose to restore the deterrent role of nuclear weapons because a large part of the people have lost the fear of hell. We need to restore this fear. God forbid that we do this through the use of nuclear weapons. 
  • [When asked: “Where is the red line that will cause us to strike first?”] Unfortunately, we have already allowed several red lines [to be crossed]. ... These red lines are obvious. Now we need to start winning. This requires a combination of nuclear and non-nuclear threats and the introduction of new types of weapons. And the final result should be defeat, and not just capitulation of the enemy on the territory of Ukraine. [When asked: “Are we definitely not going to launch a nuclear strike on the Ukrainians?”] In no way.[6] A nuclear strike on Ukraine will not solve any problem.
  • A truce [in Ukraine] is possible. Moreover, they will definitely offer it to us, because in the West they understand that they have begun to lose. But the question is what kind of truce is beneficial to us. In principle, of course, we should be talking about complete defeat and capitulation, about part of the population of the South and East of Ukraine rejoining Russia with the subsequent re-education [of this part], about creating a friendly neutral buffer on the remaining territory. ... We must return the Russian lands. And the main image of victory is to break the will of the West in the military struggle against Russia. 

“Why a nuclear weapons ban would threaten, not save, humanity,” Zachary Kallenborn, BAS, 01.10.24. 

  • Even if nuclear abolition were achieved, the basic knowledge underlying nuclear weapons would not disappear. Even if all nuclear warheads were dismantled, weapon designs were destroyed, and enrichment facilities closed, the historical and scientific knowledge of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons would not disappear. Nuclear weapons knowledge would need to be retained even in a global zero world to support any monitoring or verification programs aimed at ensuring that a nuclear global zero stays “zero.” That knowledge could provide the seeds for rearmament. So, while nuclear abolition might reduce nuclear-related existential risks in the short-term, abolition might counterintuitively increase nuclear existential risk in the long-term.
  • For better or worse, ensuring human survival means keeping nuclear weapons for their deterrent effects, accompanied by diligent efforts to ensure that they are never used.

 Also see the summary of “How the best chance to win the Ukraine war was lost,” Yaroslav Trofimov, WP, 01.09.24 in the “Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts” section.

Counterterrorism and counterinsurgency:

“Replacing the standard bearer: Theorizing leadership transition in insurgencies,” Mark Youngman and Cerwyn Moore, European Journal of International Security, 12.22.23.

  • The succession from one leader to the next is an essential part of any insurgency that directly affects the insurgency’s repercussions. In weakly institutionalized insurgencies, leadership is a negotiated relationship where both leaders and followers exert influence. Successfully navigating these tasks is crucial for maintaining this relationship and ensuring the continuity of the movement. 
    • During an insurgency, the effectiveness of strategies targeting senior rebel leaders hinges on two conditions: the significance of the leaders and the capabilities of their successors. 
    • In groups with a hierarchical structure and well-defined lines of succession, the process of transition tends to occur more rapidly.
  • In insurgencies with limited formal structures, leadership is more relational and less institutionalized. 
    • The Islamic Caucasus Emirate (IK) was a blend of collective and individual authority. The weakening and eventual demise of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) under President Aslan Maskhadov, due to the targeted elimination of his allies, marked a significant shift. This change paved the way for an ideological transformation within the insurgency. The deaths of IK leaders led to further ideological shifts and challenges in responding to domestic and institutional issues. The IK's existence until the penetration of IS in 2014 was defined by organizational monopoly across the North Caucasus.
  • The uncertainty and risks associated with not having a clear successor for leadership positions can be attributed to two main factors. Firstly, identified successors become targets for counter-insurgency efforts, creating external risks. Secondly, such successors can also pose internal threats to the current leader's authority. 
  • When leadership is viewed as a negotiated relationship between leaders and followers, the rise of a new leader presents a chance to redefine this relationship. When leaders depart, they often leave behind a network of connections that new leaders must reestablish. 
  • A crucial task for new insurgent leaders is to affirm the group's continued viability and motivate people to remain committed to its cause. This involves not only managing operational aspects but also inspiring and retaining the loyalty of followers.
    • The continuity of a group can be reinforced through demonstrative actions, showing that the group remains active and effective. 
    • New leaders in insurgent groups cannot immediately implement radically different objectives unless they already possess substantial support. This constraint ensures stability and continuity in the group's direction and objectives during leadership transitions.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“Artificial Intelligence and Nuclear Stability,” Michael Depp and Paul Scharre, War on the Rocks, 01.16.24. 

  • The United States should push for international agreements with other nuclear powers to mitigate the risks of integrating AI into nuclear systems or placing nuclear weapons onboard uncrewed vehicles. The United Kingdom and France released a joint statement with the United States in 2022 agreeing on the need to “maintain human control” of nuclear launches. Ideally, this could represent the beginning of a commitment by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council if Russia and China could be convinced to join this principle. Even if they are not willing to agree, the United States should further mature its own policies to address critical gaps and work with other nuclear-armed states to strengthen their commitments as an interim measure and as a way to build international consensus on the issue.   
  • While policymakers are understandably reluctant to adopt restrictions on emerging technologies lest they give up a valuable future capability, U.S. officials should not be complacent in assuming other states will approach AI and automation in nuclear operations responsibly. Examples such as Russia’s Perimeter “dead hand” system and Poseidon autonomous nuclear-armed underwater drone demonstrate that other nations might see these risks differently than the United States and might be willing to take risks that U.S. policymakers would find unacceptable. 
    • How Russia intends to use the [Poseidon] weapon is unclear — and could evolve over time — but an uncrewed platform like the Poseidon in principle could be sent on patrol, risking dangerous accidents. Other nuclear powers could see value in nuclear-armed drone aircraft or undersea vehicles as these technologies mature. 
  • Allowing autonomous systems to participate in nuclear launch decisions risks degrading stability and increasing the dangers of nuclear accidents. The Stanislav Petrov incident is an illustrative example of the dangers of automation in nuclear decision-making.[7] 
  • In clarifying its human-in-the-loop policy, the United States should make a firm commitment to reject “dead hand” nuclear launch systems or a system with a standing order to launch that incorporates algorithmic components. Dead hand systems akin to Russia’s Perimeter would appear to be prohibited by current Department of Defense policy. However, the United States should explicitly state that it will not build such systems given their risk. 
  • Russia’s Perimeter and Poseidon systems demonstrate that other nations might be willing to take risks with automation and autonomy that U.S. leaders would see as irresponsible. It is essential for the United States to build on its current momentum to clarify its own policies and work with other nuclear-armed states to seek international agreement on responsible guardrails for AI in nuclear operations. Rumors of a U.S.-Chinese agreement on AI in nuclear command and control at the meeting between President Joseph Biden and General Secretary Xi Jinping offer a tantalizing hint of the possibilities for nuclear powers to come together to guard against the risks of AI integrated into humanity’s most dangerous weapons. The United States should seize this moment and not let this opportunity pass to build a safer, more stable future. 

“AI in war: Can advanced military technologies be tamed before it’s too late?” Steven Feldstein, BAS, 01.11.24. 

  • Some experts argue that the United States cannot afford to stymie progress towards developing fully autonomous weapons lest the Chinese or Russians surpass their efforts. And to be sure, AI capabilities are rapidly proliferating. As the Ukraine war and the hostilities in Gaza show, without a common framework and agreed upon limitations, states risk a race to the bottom, deploying successively more destructive systems with scant restrictions.
  • The current war in Ukraine has been described as a “super lab of invention” that has given tech companies and entrepreneurs an opportunity to test new tools directly on the battlefield. The conflict has revealed a major shift in how war is fought. One of the most consequential changes has been the introduction of integrated battle-management systems that offer up-to-the-minute transparency about troop movements and locations—all the way down to basic unit levels. “Today, a column of tanks or a column of advancing troops can be discovered in three to five minutes and hit in another three minutes,” Maj. Gen. Vadym Skibitsky, a senior official in Ukraine’s military intelligence service, cautions. “The survivability on the move is no more than 10 minutes.”
  • The Ukraine frontline has been flooded by unmanned aerial vehicles, which not only provide constant monitoring of battlefield developments, but when matched with AI-powered targeting systems also allow for the near instantaneous destruction of military assets. Naturally, both the Russians and Ukrainians have turned to counter-drone electronic warfare to negate the impact of unmanned aerial vehicles. But this has ushered in another development—a rapid push for full autonomy. As military scholar T.X. Hammes writes, “Autonomous drones will not have the vulnerable radio link to pilots, nor will they need GPS guidance. Autonomy will also vastly increase the number of drones that can be employed at one time.”
  • As the wars in Ukraine and Gaza attest, rival militaries are racing ahead to deploy automated tools despite scant consensus about the ethical boundaries for deploying untested technologies on the battlefield. My research shows that leading powers like the United States are committed to leveraging “attritable, autonomous systems in all domains.” In other words, major militaries are rethinking fundamental precepts about how war is fought and leaning on new technologies. These developments are especially concerning in light of numerous unresolved questions: What exactly are the rules when it comes to using lethal autonomous drones or robot machine guns in populated areas? What safeguards are required and who is culpable if civilians are harmed?
  • As more and more countries become convinced that AI weapons hold the key to the future of warfare, they will be incentivized to pour resources into developing and proliferating these technologies. While it may be impractical to ban lethal autonomous weapons or to restrict AI-enabled tools, it doesn’t mean that nations cannot take more initiative to shape how they are used.
  • American policymakers can do better, with three ideas worth considering.
    • First, the United States should commit to meaningful oversight regarding the Pentagon’s development of autonomous and AI weapons. 
    • Second, the United States and like-minded democracies should push for the creation of an internationally sanctioned independent expert group to monitor the continuing effects of AI tools used in war. 
    • Finally, states should agree on establishing a floor for conduct for how militaries will use emerging technologies in war. 

“The rising threat to democracy of AI-powered disinformation,” Hannah Murphy, FT. 01.11.24. 

  • Two days before the Slovakian election in September, a mysterious recording went viral on social media. In it, liberal opposition candidate Michal Šimečka could apparently be heard plotting with a journalist to buy votes and rig the result.....The most explosive thing about the recording was that it was fake — a sophisticated hoax created by artificial intelligence, said fact-checkers, citing indicators such as unnatural diction and atypical pauses.... the recording was shared by thousands of voters during the country’s moratorium on reporting on the election, making it harder for Šimečka’s allies or the media to debunk it as fake.
  • Online disinformation has been a factor in elections for many years. But recent, rapid advances in AI technology mean that it is cheaper and easier than ever to manipulate media, thanks to a brisk new market of powerful tools such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, AI art start-up Midjourney or other text, audio and video generators. At the same time, manipulated or synthetic media is becoming increasingly hard to spot.
  • Already, realistic deepfakes have become a new front in the disinformation landscape around the Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine conflicts. Now, they are poised to muddy the waters in electoral processes already tarnished by dwindling public trust in governments, institutions and democracy, together with sweeping illiberalism and political polarisation.
  • “The technology is here to stay and will get very, very good,” says Nicolas Müller, machine-learning research scientist at Fraunhofer AISEC. “You will probably not be able to just trust media like audio or video. This will need a paradigm shift in our head. Maybe, like Covid, we just have to live with it.”

“The Right Way to Regulate AI. Focus on Its Possibilities, Not Its Perils,” Alondra Nelson, FA, 01.12.24. 

  • AI governance needs an international component. In 2023, the European Union advanced significant new laws on AI governance, and the United Kingdom is moving to address AI regulation with what it calls a “light touch.” The African Union has a regional AI strategy, and Singapore has just released its second national AI strategy in four years. 
  • Democratic leaders must understand that disrupting and outpacing the regulatory process is part of the tech industry’s business model. Anchoring their policymaking process on fundamental democratic principles would give lawmakers and regulators a consistent benchmark against which to consider the impact of AI systems and focus attention on societal benefits, not just the hype cycle of a new product. If policymakers can congregate around a positive vision for governing AI, they will likely find that many components of regulating the technology can be done by agencies and bodies that already exist. But if countries do decide they need new agencies—such as the AI Safety Institutes now being established in the United States and the United Kingdom—they should be imagined as democratic institutions that prioritize accountability to citizens and incorporate public consultation.
  • Properly constructed, such agencies could be a part of a broader governance infrastructure that not only detects how AI can infringe on rights and livelihoods but also scouts out how AI can proactively enhance them—by making dangerous jobs less perilous, health care more effective, elections more reliable, education more accessible, and energy use more sustainable. Although AI systems are powerful, they remain tools made by humans, and their uses are not preordained. Their effects are not inevitable. 
  • AI governance need not be a drag on innovation. Ask bankers if unregulated lending by a competitor is good for them. Simply put, the ballast provided by proactive governance offers stability but also provides a controlled range of motion. First, however, policymakers must acknowledge that governing AI effectively will be an exercise in returning to first principles, not just a technical and regulatory task.

The following item is also worth skimming. “The Real Dangers of Generative AI,” Danielle Allen and E. Glen Weyl. " Journal of Democracy, vol. 35 no. 1, 2024, p. 147-162, via Project MUSE. 

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:

“Russia’s Managed Democracy Is Facing a Participation Crisis,” Andrei Pertsev, CEIP, 01.16.24.

  • The Kremlin’s political managers have long known what they want from the 2024 presidential election: a record turnout, and for President Vladimir Putin to get his largest ever share of the vote. Their plans had to be adjusted on the fly, however, when the leaders of two political parties said they would not run. Instead, Putin will run against stand-ins and spoiler candidates, undermining the Kremlin’s narrative about the election’s significance. 
  • The extreme nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) will be represented by its leader Leonid Slutsky, who is the president’s biggest rival in terms of formal status. The head of the Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, has declined to run, and will be replaced by Nikolai Kharitonov. Nor is the leader of the centrist New People, Alexei Nechaev, taking part: he will be represented by State Duma deputy speaker Vladislav Davankov.
  • It’s no secret that the Kremlin wanted Zyuganov and Nechaev on the ballot. Firstly, they are senior politicians known to the public. Secondly, their participation would have made it easier for the Kremlin’s political managers to deliver the big Putin win they were seeking. In the 2018 presidential elections, Putin got 76.7% with a 67.5% turnout. Both these records must now be beaten. In other words, the Kremlin can allow Putin’s opponents up to 20% of the vote. 
  • If he were standing, Zyuganov would have been able to aspire to about 10% (approximately the current level of support for the Communist Party, which has recently alienated protest voters by supporting the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine). The LDPR candidate could expect a few percentage points less than their level of support nationally (around 8%). The candidate from New People could, therefore, hope for about 3%.
  • The absence of Zyuganov and Nechaev complicates the electoral math for the Kremlin. Some Communist Party supporters will be unhappy with Kharitonov’s candidacy, and will not vote for him. That will make it harder to hit the turnout goal: Communist Party voters can usually be relied on to get themselves to the polling stations. Davankov’s participation may also make it more difficult for Putin to get his record result. The issue is not Davankov’s rhetoric, but the fact that he’s a newbie—and relatively young. 
  • The loss of higher-quality candidates means the Kremlin will have to opt for quantity. It’s likely a few more names will appear on the ballot paper between now and the vote on March 15–17, such as Communist Party spoilers, or small-fry politician Andrei Bogdanov, who stood for the presidency in 2008, and got 1% of the vote. All of this upsets the Kremlin’s long-laid plans: the elections were supposed to be a solemn spectacle—and solemn spectacles do not have minor candidates or spoilers.
  • It is also clear that no anti-war candidates (for example, the liberal Boris Nadezhdin) will be allowed to stand. Russians are tired of the war in Ukraine, which means any candidate calling for an end to the fighting is guaranteed some support. And that could ruin the Kremlin’s plans.
  • After the elections, the problems of “managed democracy” mean the Kremlin will be obliged to rethink Russia’s political system. The obvious solution is to dismiss all thoughts of farce from people’s minds by ramping up the levels of intimidation and fear, and further cracking down on dissent.

“As Election Looms, Putin Is in a Wartime Trap of His Own Making,” Tatyana Stanovaya, CEIP, 01.15.24. 

  • Just like Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, the presidential election is influencing domestic political trends and changing Russia. The Kremlin can bend over backwards to build a digital gulag and tighten the screws of political control, but the very existence of the presidential campaign presupposes a discussion within the regime about the present and future. Take the battle that unfolded over the scenarios for Putin’s nomination for reelection.
    • The Kremlin’s domestic policy bloc was adamant that the vision for the country’s future should be built upon a civilian agenda, with buzzwords such as “achievements,” “progress,” and “development.” ... In the end, however, Putin confirmed that he would run again in a very different setting, and in a mumbled response to a clumsily staged request from a former Donbas military commander. The message—that the country is fighting for its survival, and every Russian must play their part—could not have been more different to that planned. The proponents of this message are betting everything on a long-term political mobilization in which the general public becomes complicit in military decisions.
  • Staking everything on the war as the dominating factor of everyday life is a political choice that will exacerbate conservative trends, accelerate the pace of repression, and make Russian politics even more intolerant and pitiless. 
  • The war is beginning to dictate its own rules to Putin. The president and his inner circle are being forced to submit to the new wartime reality that they themselves created. By choosing war and allowing it to pervade everything else, Putin is becoming caught in a trap, turning into a function and instrument of that war. The upcoming elections are acting as a catalyst for all of those processes.
  • Reactions to the thorny issues of mobilization and abortion prove that the Kremlin and Putin personally are monitoring public opinion, and that they take the threat of mass protests seriously. No matter how closely the Kremlin controls television and how ruthlessly it crushes the opposition, the objective agenda imposes its own logic of action and betrays Putin’s fear of the unpredictable masses. Indeed, no one can predict where the explosion may come. 

“‘He’s just not charismatic’ Russia’s leaders want this guy to take second place in the next election. They have their work cut out for them,” Meduza, 01.16.24.

  • The Putin administration’s political bloc wants Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of Russia’s ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), to win second place in the country’s upcoming presidential election, according to two sources from Russian regional governments. One source is from a presidential envoy’s office, and two sources are from the LDPR’s leadership who spoke to Meduza.
  • It’s unclear exactly how much of the vote the Kremlin wants Slutsky to receive; the party leader himself did not give specific figures when he announced the plan at an LDPR party meeting in early January, and regional officials have not been given precise numbers by the President’s Office.
  • “The most important thing is that the president receive about 80%; the rest is just variations. Right now, [the other candidates, Nikolai Kharitonov, Leonid Slutsky, and Vladislav Davankov,] are a blank slate for voters, and how much of the vote they garner depends largely on themselves. But [the Putin administration’s political bloc] advised us that we need to help Slutsky,” a source from the leadership of one of Russia’s regions told Meduza.
  • A source from one of the presidential envoys’ offices, however, told Meduza that helping Slutsky win second place in the election will be “difficult” and will “verge on impossible.” “He’s totally inarticulate [as a politician], and this is especially noticeable [to voters] after Zhirinovsky. [Communist Party candidate Nikolai] Kharitonov is also like that, but the Communist Party’s electorate is more disciplined. For now, [all of the candidates except for Putin] have low levels of support,” said the source. In his view, the Putin administration will not hold regional governments “strictly responsible” if Slutsky fails to come in second: “Everyone understands the situation: there’s a chance he won’t win over voters simply because he’s not charismatic.” In a poll conducted by the state-owned public opinion agency VTsIOM, 16.1% of respondents said they have a favorable view of Slutsky, while 30.6% said they do not trust him. In an open survey, no citizens named the LDPR leader as a politician they feel they could rely on.

“After Putin, a Putina?” Andrew C Kuchins and Chris Monday, The National Interest, 12.28.23.

  • Monday and Kuchins argue that Putin believes that there is no one better to protect the interests of his family once he leaves leadership than a member of this family, specifically his cousin, Anna Putina.
  • Vladimir Putin, known for limiting the influence of his subordinates, has uniquely allowed Anna Putina to extend her influence across various realms, including politics, economy, and culture. Her rapidly growing prominence in Russia, despite being virtually unknown internationally, mirrors Putin's own rise to prominence before becoming president. Her lack of experience, as seen with Putin, does not seem to be a hindrance to her expanding role and influence.

Defense and aerospace:

“The Russian Strategy: ‘Ignoring Losses and Betting on Superiority in Manpower’,” Alexander Golts, Russia.Post, 01.15.24

  • How many people are serving in the Russian army? Ministry of Defense officials, either intentionally or due to carelessness, have maximally muddled the data that is of fundamental importance for understanding the course of the current war – namely, figures regarding the size of the armed forces. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported at the Board meeting in December 2023 that “all plans for recruiting for the army and navy this year have been completed in full. Their number has been increased to 1,150,000 servicemen.”
  • In addition, he promised in 2024 “to increase the number of contract servicemen, taking into account the recruitment of new formations, to 745,000 people by the end of the year.” But back at the end of 2021, he had announced that the number of contract soldiers was twice as large as the number of conscripts. There were 262,000 conscript soldiers then. Therefore, if you believe that, then back in 2021 there should have been 524,000 contract soldiers. And, according to the defense minister’s latest report, 490,000 people signed contracts in 2023 alone.
  • Thus, there should already be more than a million contract soldiers in the army. Keep in mind that during war, contracts are automatically renewed and there is no possibility of terminating them. So, Shoigu is assuming that over three years of fighting, the number of contract soldiers will not increase but decrease by approximately 300,000, which could indicate the size of the occurred and expected losses.
  • There is the same problem with the overall size of the armed forces. From Shoigu’s comments in 2021 it follows that at that time there were over 900,000 servicemen in the army. In 2022, according to official statements, 300,000 were mobilized, while in 2023 490,000 signed contracts. So, the total number should be at least 1,690,000 servicemen.
  • Yet Shoigu reports that the current number is only 1,150,000. It seems extremely unlikely to me that the minister of defense wanted to hint that in two years of fighting the Russian army lost half a million people. Most likely, whoever wrote these speeches, as usual, took all the figures out of thin air, simply being too lazy to bring them into line with what Shoigu said two years before.
  • The obvious conclusion reached when sorting through these piles of fiction is that the Russian military command, to put it mildly, is distorting the real state of affairs. However, one should remember the rule well known to those who analyzed Soviet economic statistics: even with the considerable distortions, the data is still indicative of an existing trend.
  • In this case, it is the Kremlin’s intention to win a victory in Ukraine by increasing the number of troops. During his annual call-in show, Vladimir Putin put the number of servicemen fighting in the special operation at 617,000. This is more than half the entire armed forces.
  • I suspect that this figure, as they say, was a slip of the tongue. Later, all pro-Kremlin commentators dutifully avoided it. And that was no accident. At the very least, the figure poorly reflects the effectiveness of the army, which, according to official Ukrainian data, is being opposed by an armed force of 800,000 servicemen, 600,000 of which are on the battlefield. In other words, it is taking more Russian troops to fight on the defensive than Ukrainian troops to fight on the offensive.

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

“FSB Gamekeepers Turn Poachers in Putin’s Crime-Riddled State,” Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov, CEPA, 01.10.24. 

  • When three officers of the FSB in Moscow were arrested on charges of accepting more than 5 billion rubles ($55.2m) in bribes, it hardly came as a huge surprise. The name of the directorate all three officers were part of is telling that this scandal is deemed to be repeated.   
  • The three were members of the FSB’s Directorate M (which is designed to fight corruption in the Interior Ministry, Emergencies Ministry, and Ministry of Justice). They had been engaged in an ongoing investigation against the country’s largest electronics distributor, Merlion, and had decided to extort money from the company by promising to close their inquiry. 
  • The case is the biggest scandal to affect the FSB since 2019, when three officers in the intelligence organization’s banking supervision unit, known as Department K, were jailed on charges of corruption and extortion after $199m in cash was found in their homes and those of their parents. 
  • Putin’s system of control based on an omnipresent FSB has completely failed. Too much of his new nobility is rotten with graft. Supposedly steely-eyed state operatives have been distracted by unchecked power and the opportunities for self-enrichment.  Much like the Bourbons of pre-revolutionary France, the regime has the strength to carry on but lacks the wisdom to learn from its mistakes. 

“Arrests In The FSB” Tayana Stanovaya, in  R. Politik  Bulletin No. 1 (131) 2024, 01.15.24. 

  • A prolonged corporate conflict within the IT distribution company Merlion has resulted in arrests within the FSB and the Investigative Committee. These arrests predominantly target the Moscow and Moscow region branches of the FSB, especially its Directorate M, which oversees law enforcement and judicial bodies.
  • The developing situation could affect the political influence of the FSB's Moscow leadership, led by Aleksei Dorofeev, and the secret service's first deputy head, Sergey Korolyov, once seen as a potential successor to FSB Director Aleksander Bortnikov.
  • President Putin is growing exasperated over continuous corruption scandals in the secret services. This may increase the likelihood of serious personnel changes within the FSB, something that has been widely anticipated for some time.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries


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

“Achievements and Potential of Economic Cooperation Between India and Russia,” Pawan Anand, Valdai Club, 01.10.24. Clues from Indian Views.

  • India today is the fastest-growing economy in the world, with a strong outlook of 7-8 % growth rates for the coming decade. Russia, despite having become the most sanctioned economy in the world, has shown uncommon resilience and returned to positive GDP growth. 
  • Bilateral relations between India and Russia have stood the test of time, enjoying widespread popularity and political support in both countries. Despite the current international turbulence and changing geostrategic landscape, the earlier geopolitical logic of a strong Russia being in India’s interest and vice versa endures. 
  • There is also strong convergence of opinions regarding global and regional affairs, including a shared perspective on multipolarity serving as the basis for international order. Ironically, the current geoeconomic necessities posed by massive Western sanctions on Russia have given unexpected impetus to the economic pillar of the relationship. 
  • There are strong complementarities between Indian and Russian economies. Being the most populous country in the world, India offers a young workforce and large domestic demand compared to Russia which faces demographic challenges. 

“Russia Steps Up the Competition in Africa,” Raphael Parens, FPRI, January 2024. 

  • The Kremlin is taking up the mantle of Wagner Group after Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death, and is now moving to compete directly with the West in Africa, particularly in the Sahel region.
  • Russia’s continued war in Ukraine may marginalize these operations, given limited manpower reserves and the increasing attrition rate of military and paramilitary leadership.
  • Unless it secures valuable resource extraction contracts or other types of collateral, such as port facilities, Russia cannot sustain its security operations in Africa.
  • The United States and its allies are slowly being drawn into this competition, which could lead to escalation.

“Germany Needs a Strategy—Grand and Democratic,” Benjamin Tallis, Florence Schimmel and Roderick Parkes, IPQ, 01.16.24. 

  • Germany’s political class must use the expanded horizons of possibility that the Zeitenwende has opened up to drive the strategic discussion to where it needs to be. Having a clear vision of how to end Russia’s war—the shock (to Germany) that opened up this space for thinking and doing differently—and for Europe and the world after the war is the primary task, but a grand strategy will need to cast its net wider.
  • Selective uses of the past can no longer dominate the discussion. Principles such as “never again” must continue to play a role in a new foreign policy identity, but an open-minded and frank conversation is needed about what it is that cannot be repeated. Is it war as such or the kind of genocidal imperialism and expansionist dictatorship that Russia is engaging in? This should lead to consideration of what Germany should do, in accordance with its interests but also its values, when the former (war) is needed to stop the latter (genocide or imperial expansion). 
  • Although it was Russia’s war that has made this necessary discussion possible, for Germany’s strategy to be grand it should have a vision of ends that extends beyond war to the kind of peace, the kind of order that is desired and properly assessing the threats to that objective. This means addressing not only geopolitical but, at a minimum, geoeconomic, ecological, and technological transitions as well as doing so in an integrated manner—and developing the means to match. This is what is meant by grand strategy—and by developing one democratically, Germany can push the strategic field forward, doing good while doing well for its people and its allies.


“What a post-war future holds for Ukraine and Russia,” Tony Barber, FT, 01.16.24. 

  • The four books under review describe the origins and course of the [Russian-Ukrainian] war, place it in the context of Ukraine’s history and emphasize how much is at stake for Europe and western democracy as a whole. While Hrytsak traces Ukraine’s often violence-scarred emergence as a modern state[8], Simon Shuster’s The Showman[9] and Yaroslav Trofimov’s Our Enemies Will Vanish[10] assess the personality and leadership qualities of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and provide a detailed narrative of the war. The fourth book, Paul Starobin’s Putin’s Exiles[11], sketches the lives of Russians who fled their homeland and are at once critical and ashamed of their country’s neo-imperialist expansionism under President Vladimir Putin.
    • With honesty and common sense that are the book’s trademark, Hrytsak briskly dismisses the quarrels among Russian and Ukrainian polemicists about whether the first east Slav state, medieval Kyivan Rus, was Russian, as Putin would have it, or Ukrainian. It was neither, Hrytsak says. In fact, “calling Rus a nation-state is like calling a wooden abacus the first computer”.
    • Towards its conclusion, his [Shuster’s] book strikes a worried note. One day, perhaps even before the war ends, Zelenskyy will be under pressure to restore the constitutional freedoms suspended during the conflict. “I don’t know how Zelenskyy will handle that fraught transition, whether he will have the wisdom and restraint to part with the extraordinary powers granted to him under martial law, or whether he will, like so many leaders through history, find that power too addictive,” Shuster says.
    • Trofimov’s Our Enemies Will Vanish pays tribute to Zelenskyy’s courageous leadership but is mostly a fast-paced, witness narrative of the war’s first year, perceptive in its accounts of Russian overconfidence and the inventive, makeshift ways in which Ukrainians — professional soldiers, volunteers and civilians alike — fought back against a larger force invading on three fronts. 
      • Trofimov portrays the war almost exclusively from the Ukrainian side. When Russians appear in his book, they are invaders, destroyers, propagandists and sometimes prisoners. 
    • In Putin’s Exiles, Starobin offers tightly drawn portraits of Russian critics of the president who, early in the war, denounced people who had fled abroad as “scum and traitors”. Well-known exiles include singer Alla Pugacheva, author Maxim Osipov and economist Sergei Guriev, who says: “We owe this to the world — to fix Russia.”
  • The war grinds on, its scars are deep and memories will last for generations. As for Putin’s departure and the emergence of a new Russia, we can devoutly wish for both but neither, at present, appears to be on the horizon.

“The War Has Reined In Ukraine’s Oligarchs, at Least for Now,” Constant Méheut, NYT, 01.15.24. 

  • The fighting at Azovstal, in the besieged city of Mariupol, was a signature moment in the early months of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It was also a major setback for Ukraine’s richest man, the plant’s owner .
  • With the destruction of Azovstal, the owner, Rinat Akhmetov, lost an industrial jewel accounting for one-fifth of Ukraine’s steel output — a multibillion dollar loss that dealt a severe blow to his longtime grip on the Ukrainian economy. Mr. Akhmetov’s case underlines how the war, by ravaging Ukrainian industry, has curbed the power of the country’s so-called oligarchs, tycoons who have long reigned over the economy and used their wealth to buy political influence, experts say.
  • Dmytro Goriunov, an economist at the Kyiv-based Center for Economic Strategy, said oligarchs had been a major obstacle to Ukraine’s economic development, hampering competition through monopolies. Before the war, they controlled more than 80 % of industries like oil refining and coal mining, according to a study he cowrote. In the war’s first year, the total wealth of the 20 richest Ukrainians shrank by more than $20 billion, according to Forbes magazine. Mr. Akhmetov took the biggest hit, losing more than $9 billion. He is one of only two billionaires left in Ukraine, down from 10 before the war, according to The New Voice of Ukraine newspaper.
  • Mr. Goriunov, the economist, said Ukraine remained dependent on many of the oligarchs’ businesses. Mr. Akhmetov’s energy holding, DTEK, accounts for two-thirds of the country’s thermal coal production.
  • Now, the Ukrainian authorities plan to use their wartime powers to try to make a clean break with the oligarchs. The aim is to reduce their influence over the economy and politics, and to prosecute those who had engaged in corrupt practices, carrying through on policies that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had promised to pursue before the invasion. “They are weak, and it’s a unique opportunity to achieve justice in terms of how the country should be run,” Denys Maliuska, Ukraine’s justice minister, said in an interview.
  • The crackdown could eliminate influence buying, but it may also reduce pluralism in Ukrainian politics and sideline some of Mr. Zelenskyy’s opponents. ... Some critics also say the wartime concentration of power around the government may give rise to a new oligarchy, and analysts say that oligarchs still retain significant levers of influence.
    • Valeria Gontareva, who was Ukraine’s central bank governor from 2014 to 2017, said she was concerned about the seizure of oligarchs’ assets during the war and how government officials might use them for personal gain. “It’s state capitalism,” Ms. Gontareva said. “Now the threat is not the old oligarchs, but the new ones who benefit from the war through the redistribution of assets and business segments Daria Kaleniuk, the executive director of Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Center, concurred. “In the fight against dragons,” she said, “we have to be cautious not to become dragons ourselves.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Indomitable Moldova—Punching Above Its Weight,” Joseph Vann and Valbona Zeneli, NI, 01.14.24. 

  • Since its independence, it [Moldova] has been trying to escape its post-Soviet legacy in the face of never-ending Russian destabilization activities. The good news is that Moldova’s current leadership is serious and committed to advancing the country’s best interests for the benefit of its people—a foreign concept for Russia and many of Moldova’s previous corrupt politicians.   
  • Moldova’s President Maia Sandu and Prime Minister Dorin Recean, both economists, are at the helm, steering the ship of state in this direction. The vision and strategy are straightforward: to pursue a democratic path in partnership with the world’s most advanced and prosperous democracies to benefit the citizens of Moldova. Both have been serious about taking the hard decisions to lift the country out of its past and put it on the road to becoming a high-performing country and, ultimately, a member of the European Union by 2030. 
  • Moldova is moving forward and on a path to success and is at the beginning of a great story. Ensuring Moldova’s continued success is essential not only for Moldova but also for the West and the good of the rules-based international order.



  1. Yaroslav Trofimov is the chief foreign affairs correspondent of the Wall Street Journal. This article is adapted from his new book, “Our Enemies Will Vanish: The Russian Invasion and Ukraine’s War of Independence.”
  2. Biden used a different verbal formula when hosting Zelenskyy on Dec. 12, 2023. He said “We’ll continue to supply Ukraine with critical weapons and equipment as long as we can.”
  3. Part 1 is available here:
  4. Translated with the help of machine translation.
  5. Translated with the help of machine translation.
  6. See alternative translations of “Ни в коем случае” here
  7. Pavel Podvig’s take on this incident here
  8. Ukraine: The Forging of a Nation by Yaroslav Hrytsak, translated by Dominique Hoffman, Sphere £25/Public Affairs $32.50, 448 pages.
  9. The Showman: The Inside Story of The Invasion That Shook the World and Made a Leader of Volodymyr Zelenskyy by Simon Shuster, William Collins £22, 384 pages.
  10. Our Enemies Will Vanish: The Russian Invasion and Ukraine’s War of Independence by Yaroslav Trofimov, Penguin Press £25.11/$32, 400 pages.
  11. Putin’s Exiles: Their Fight For a Better Russia by Paul Starobin, Columbia Global Reports £12.99/$17, 126 pages.


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. 

White House photo shared in the public domain.