Russia Analytical Report, Jul. 31-Aug. 7, 2023

5 Ideas to Explore:

  1. Does the U.S. need to offer security guarantees to Ukraine? If yes, then why, and what should they look like? If not, why not? Russia Matters posed these questions to four prominent U.S. experts on post-Soviet Eurasia, including Thomas Graham of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Atlantic Council’s Melinda Haring, Mark N. Katz of George Mason University and Joshua Shifrinson of the University of Maryland. Graham believes that the U.S. should provide security guarantees to Ukraine as part of a larger effort to create a security system in Europe — one that with time would reintegrate Russia, while Haring argues that NATO membership for Ukraine is the only way forward. Katz, meanwhile, believes that there are no easy answers, as both offering guarantees and refraining from doing so present serious potential drawbacks for the U.S. Last but not least, Shifrinson argues that even Article 5-type guarantees pose real risks while offering only questionable gains given America’s limited interests in Ukraine. In the view of Rajan Menon of Defense Priorities, the U.S. is not the country that should be offering Ukraine security guarantees; rather, a coalition of European members of NATO should do that “without admitting it [Ukraine] to NATO,”  Menon writes in a commentary for FA.
  2. To make significant progress toward achieving Kyiv’s stated goal of retaking all of Ukraine’s territory, the Ukrainian military would need to break through Russian defenses to reach the Sea of Azov, “unravel[ling] the remains of the defending Russian army along the way … or encircl[ing] a portion of Russia’s sizable forces in hopes of annihilating them,” according to Barry Posen of MIT. “To fail at this kind of campaign will mean that Ukraine is likely destined for a long war of attrition,” he warns in a commentary for FP. Ukraine can render Russian defenses “thin” in such a war if it either succeeds in causing the attrition of the adversary or in finding a thinly defended stretch of the front to break through it, according to Posen. Neither is impossible, but “observers should not be surprised if this [Ukrainian] offensive peters out with, at best, a partial success,” according to Posen.
  3. “The West attacked Russia's economy,” but the result has been another stalemate, according to an analysis of the impact of Western sanctions by WSJ journalists Georgi Kantchev and Alan Cullison. Evidence of the “West's failure to quickly bring the Russian economy to its knees for its invasion” include the IMF’s recent decision to revise its forecast of Russia’s GDP; Moscow’s success in circumventing Western bans on imports of high-tech components; and the continued outflow of Russian crude, albeit at lower prices, according to the two veteran journalists. “Analysts say that the main effect of sanctions—technological backwardness and an inability to modernize — will hamper its economic growth in the longer term,” the journalists write. But while doing so, they also acknowledge: “how Russia has managed to avoid collapse and eke out some growth within a year despite a Western economic blockade will be a case study for analysts pondering where sanctions make sense as a policy tool in the future.”
  4. “While EU leaders talk of Ukraine being on ‘a path’ to membership, many member state officials and diplomats privately question whether it will really happen,” according to FT journalists Sam Fleming and Henry Foy. A significant proportion of reservations regarding Ukraine’s membership is associated with the redistribution of EU subsidies. If admitted into the EU, Ukraine would become “the bloc’s fifth largest member by pre-conflict population and its poorest by far.” An “estimate prepared by the EU Council suggests that Ukraine’s entry would make France a net payer into the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy], and Poland would swing from the largest net recipient of EU funds to an overall net payer,” Fleming and Foy write.
  5. The Black Sea grain initiative is not about hungry kids in Africa, Nigerian journalist Olatunji Olaigbe argues in a commentary for FP. “Africa has never really been the target consumer for Ukrainian grain… [for] only a fraction of this [grain] went as food aid to so-called troubled countries” in Africa, the award-winning journalist writes. “The fallout from the cancellation of [the deal] is mostly the same in Africa as in the wider world: The exit of a major food producer ... will cause a global spike in staple food prices that will create discomfort for many people,” according to Olaigbe.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Is North Korea Set to Become Russia’s Ally Following Shoigu’s Visit?” Fyodor Tertitskiy, senior research fellow at Kookmin University (Seoul), Carnegie Endowment, 08.01.22.

  • “It’s entirely possible … that Shoigu’s visit to Pyongyang will turn out to be a mere formality, like the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok in 2019.”
  • “At the same time, it can’t be completely excluded that this time will be different, because it appears to be in both sides’ interests to cooperate. Russia needs artillery shells for its war, and North Korea can produce them. North Korea needs humanitarian aid because its isolation during the pandemic has resulted in famine, and Russia can provide that aid.”
  • “For now, ‘it's hard to predict anything with confidence. There are a great many factors that could influence how events develop: the situation at the front; the state of the Russian defense industry; North Korea’s readiness to open its borders and accept foreign aid; China’s opinion; the positions of Putin and Kim; the efforts of key officials in both countries; and, quite possibly, some completely unpredictable events. Still, while change in North Korea may be rare and fleeting, history also shows that drastic change sometimes comes when it is least expected.”

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“The Black Sea Grain Initiative Is Not About Hungry Kids in Africa,” journalist Olatunji Olaigbe, FP, 08.01.23.

  • “On the day Russia pulled out of the [grain] deal, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield restated the cruelty of Russia’s action by emphasizing the importance of Ukraine’s grain to African countries. ... The United States, in a bid to score political points and sensationalize the news, has focused on the misguided, decades-old ‘starving African kids’ narrative. It has ignored who the biggest beneficiaries of the deal are as well as the nuances of food security in African countries.”
    • “Africa has never really been the target consumer for Ukrainian grain. According to data by the United Nations, all the grain sent to Africa since the Black Sea deal was implemented accounts for less than 13 percent of total exports, and only a fraction of this went as food aid to so-called troubled countries. ... Egypt and Kenya, both of which do not exactly fit into the picture of poor aid-consuming African countries, have been the biggest African importers under the initiative and account for roughly half of the 4 million metric tons sent to Africa. In comparison, Ethiopia has gotten just over 282,000 metric tons. Countries such as Djibouti and Sudan, which receive this grain chiefly as food aid, account for even less.”
  • “The fallout from the cancellation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative is mostly the same in Africa as in the wider world: The exit of a major food producer such as Ukraine would be terrible for food security globally … It will cause a global spike in staple food prices that will create discomfort for many people, but it will be much more devastating for residents of countries with lower purchasing power.”
  • “When push comes to shove, the grain demand of developed countries is what will drive the market, and developing states will have to deal with increasing prices despite their much lower demand. The current conversation tends to disregard these patterns and absolves the United States, the U.N., and other Western actors of putting forward a tired narrative of Africa as the land of hunger to score political points at a moment when their diplomatic influence on the continent is at a low point.”

“Americans on U.S. Role in the Ukraine-Russia War: A National Survey of Registered Voters,” analysts Steven Kull, Evan Fehsenfeld, Evan Charles Lewitus, Davis Bunn, Bethany Sapp, University of Maryland School for Public Policy, July 2023. 

  • “[Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has] triggered a series of debates over the U.S.’ role in this conflict, [including] the degree of U.S. intervention, if any; how to weigh any benefits of intervention against the risk of Russia escalating to nuclear attacks; [and] whether to press Ukraine to enter peace negotiations, and if so, under what conditions.” Analysts from the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation and the Center for International and Security Studies conducted a survey among 2,445 registered voters to gauge opinions on these matters among Democratic, Republican and independent voters, finding: 
    • “An overwhelming bipartisan majority of eight-in-ten favored the U.S. continuing to give humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, including providing food and shelter, and helping them repair critical infrastructure. … Asked whether they favored, ‘the U.S. continuing to give humanitarian assistance to Ukraine,’ 80% were in favor, including 92% of Democrats, 72% of Republicans and 73% of independents.” 
    • “Asked whether they favor, ‘the U.S. continuing to provide military assistance to Ukraine, including military equipment, ammunition, training and intelligence,’ 69% were in favor, including 55% of Republicans, 87% of Democrats and 58% of independents. Majorities in all types of congressional districts were in favor of continued military aid.” 
    •  “A large bipartisan majority—over seven-in-ten—approved of the NATO agreement reached in May 2023, in which the U.S. allowed its NATO allies to send U.S.-made fighter jets to Ukraine, and the U.S. agreed to train Ukrainian pilots to operate them. Over eight-in-ten Democrats approved of this agreement, as did over six-in-ten Republicans and independents.” 
    • “A majority (56%) were opposed to the U.S. encouraging Ukraine to enter into negotiations with Russia, whether or not Russia has committed to withdraw from all of Ukraine, including 68% of Democrats and 53% of independents, but less than half of Republicans (47%, with 53% in favor).” 

“Can War Funders and Profiteers Be Responsible for Crimes in Ukraine?” Anton Moiseienko of the Australian National University, RUSI, 08.07.23.

  • “There may be a disconnect between the moral and political assessment of war profiteers’ and, in some cases, funders’ role in Russia’s war in Ukraine and their legal responsibility. Some of them will no doubt be caught by existing rules, such as those who directly run private military companies that commit war crimes under their command. Others, such as those involved downstream in the theft and transfer of Ukrainian grain, may be left out. ... For a complete legal assessment, one would need to study potential international crimes committed in Ukraine one by one.”
  • “If a bespoke Ukraine war crimes tribunal was established, particularly complex issues would arise.”
    • “On the one hand, its statute could in principle provide for dedicated rules covering the funding of, or profiting from, international crimes committed in Ukraine. This would be consistent with the tribunal’s overarching objective to bring to accountability those with the greatest power over, and responsibility for, the war.”
    • “On the other hand, in doing so, one would need to be careful to respect the fundamental legal principle that one cannot be liable for conduct that did not constitute a crime at the time it was committed.”

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

Ukraine Has a Breakthrough Problem: Military history suggests Ukraine’s current campaign is far more daunting than the public understands,” MIT’s Barry R. Posen, FP, 08.03.23.

  • “It is the stated policy of the Ukrainian government to retake all of the territory that Russia has seized since 2014, including Crimea ... To achieve this goal through military action, the Ukrainian military must accomplish one of the most daunting of military tasks: It must break through dense, well-prepared defensive positions, find some running room, and then either move quickly toward an important geographic objective such as the Sea of Azov, hoping to unravel the remains of the defending Russian army along the way, or quickly attempt to encircle a portion of Russia’s sizable forces in hopes of annihilating them.”
  • “To fail at this kind of campaign will mean that Ukraine is likely destined for a long war of attrition … Ukraine naturally wishes to avoid the attritional war by succeeding at its breakthrough campaign. But military history suggests the challenges here are also more daunting than have been commonly understood—at least among the public in the West.”
  • “Historically, defenders have been rendered thin through two measures.”
    • “The most straightforward is prior attrition, supplemented by the immediate shock of truly massive offensive firepower … [but it] does not appear that Ukraine’s suite of artillery, rocket launchers and drones is quite up to this task.”
    • “The other way … is to surprise them on a stretch of front that, for their own reasons, they have left thinly defended. On first appraisal, Russian forces in Ukraine do appear thin on the ground, which has fed the hope of successful offensives. ... But modern technology … allows defensive units to take on bigger tasks than their forbearers ... The Ukrainian army’s offensive success in fall 2022 has also paradoxically allowed the Russians to shorten their lines, and thus eased their defensive task.”
  • “Observers should not be surprised if this offensive peters out with, at best, a partial success.”

“Stakes are high as Ukraine’s offensive starts to secure a military advantage,” Jack Watling of RUSI, FT, 08.04.23.

  • “The attrition of critical equipment is important for Kyiv both tactically and operationally. ... [T]he destruction of artillery, armor, radars and the loss of supplies are leaving Moscow’s infantry with diminishing support. However, Russian units continue to fight hard and Ukraine’s own equipment losses remain high.”
  • “The question is which side can sustain the current rate of attrition. ... At some point, Russia’s infantry might be spread too thin and, with insufficient artillery and armored support the defense could crumble. Dry weather will allow Ukraine to continue its push until the beginning of November. This will be a critical point: from then on, progress will depend on which side has made better preparations for winter fighting.”
  • “The stakes are high for Kyiv. If it breaks through it could liberate significant amounts of territory and force Russia to surge new units into Ukraine before they have finished training. Conversely, if Ukraine fails to breach the Surovikin Line then Russia can keep new units back, train and prepare them, and regain the initiative. Either way, Kyiv will need ongoing international assistance. But by autumn, the trajectory of the conflict will be clear.”

“Advancing in Adversity: Ukraine’s Battlefield Technologies and Lessons for the U.S.,” Grace Jones, Janet Egan and Eric Rosenbach, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, 07.31.23.[1]

  • “Five innovative technology applications [have been] used by Ukraine and [this report] explores four key lessons for the United States, including the benefits of flexibility in public-private partnerships and the changing role of the civilian in 21st century warfare.”
    • “Commercial Aerial Drones: To defend along an 800-mile front, Ukraine needed quickly deployable reconnaissance capability and adaptable weaponry. Low-cost commercial drones nearly immediately filled that gap and have played a crucial role in limiting Russia’s advances.”
    • “Naval Autonomous Systems: as Russian assets started operating further from the Ukrainian coastline, Ukraine turned to unconventional naval vessels on the surface and subsurface to attack and deter Russian forces ... with the simplest models appearing to consist of a water jet from a Sea Doo jet ski packed with explosives and communications devices.”
    • “Satellite Communication: After Russian hackers successfully disrupted more existing traditional satellite communications in the early days of the invasion Ukraine immediately pivoted to using Starlink.”
    • “AI: Ukraine is using AI-enhanced software Palantir, which synthesizes knowledge of friendly force weaponry and ranges, and then makes recommendations for targeting solutions. Additional uses of AI in the battlespace include the U.S. company Primer analyzing Russian radio.”
    • “Platforms and Applications: Battlefield situational awareness applications have reinvented warfare in the 21st century, but Ukraine has innovated and honed these technologies in three unique ways.”
      • “First, user friendly designs are employed and accessible at all levels.”
      • “Second, applications have engaged civilians directly as reconnaissance agents.”
      • “Third, Ukraine is able to act on raw social media information at an unprecedented speed.”
  • “Lessons for the United States:”
    • “Enhance public-private partnerships.”
    • “Prepare conventional and emerging warfare.”
    • “Engage civilians.”
    • “Lead global governance.”

“Ukraine Needs American Drones,” Seth Cropsey of the Yorktown Institute, WSJ, 08.06.23.

  • “China's recent decision to restrict exports of drones will blind Ukraine’s reconnaissance advantage in the war with Russia and constitutes an active intervention on Moscow’s side. The U.S. and its allies should respond by developing an industrial base that makes unmanned aerial systems.”
  • “The West can’t sustain Ukraine in a traditional fight. While Western artillery capacity is expanding and can meet Ukraine’s needs without dipping into stockpiles over the next 15 months, Ukrainian ammunition expenditure is premised on its UAS-reconnaissance system. The West would need to supply Ukraine with not 120,000 to 150,000 shells a month, but closer to half a million, and with 1,000 or more additional guns.”
  • “The U.S. and its allies must act immediately. Drone makers in the West are eager to compete with DJI and other Chinese companies. The U.S. should repurpose some of its aid to Ukraine to include quadcopters made by U.S. companies.”
  • “If Ukraine doesn’t get the UAS support it needs, Russia will gain the upper hand, likely by year end. If the U.S. doesn’t act, it risks handing a decisive victory to Russia—and a geopolitical gain to China.”

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

“The West Attacked Russia’s Economy. The Result Is Another Stalemate: Failure to quickly bring the Russian economy to its knees for its invasion of Ukraine mirrors a larger stalemate on the battlefield,” Georgi Kantchev, Alan Cullison, WSJ, 08.02.23.

  • “Economists expect the sanctions to cause Russia to stagnate in the years ahead and the fault lines are already emerging. But the West’s failure to quickly bring the Russian economy to its knees for its invasion of Ukraine mirrors a larger stalemate on the battlefield there.”
    • “Last week the International Monetary Fund gave some upbeat news for the Kremlin, saying it now expects Russia’s economy to grow 1.5% this year, supported by extensive state spending.”
      • “Government spending as part of gross domestic product has jumped by 13.5% in the first quarter compared with the same period last year … Economists attribute much of the growth in Russian industrial production this year to weapons and materiel.”
    • “Sanctions initially starved Russia of microchips and high-tech components last year, crimping its ability to produce precision-guided missiles. But since then Moscow has found loopholes through neighboring countries.”
    • “Russia’s crude oil continues to flow, even if the lower prices it fetches have hit state coffers. Analysts say that the main effect of sanctions—technological backwardness and an inability to modernize—will hamper its economic growth in the longer term.”
    • “Researchers at Capital Economics expect Russia’s energy export revenues to decline from $340 billion in 2022 to $200 billion this year and stabilize at around that level in 2024. At the same time, Russian oil production has declined only slightly. That is because Moscow has found ways to sell its oil to Asia by creating a shadow fleet of tankers.”
  • “How Russia has managed to avoid collapse and eke out some growth within a year despite a Western economic blockade will be a case study for analysts pondering where sanctions make sense as a policy tool in the future. Behind Russia's economic resilience has been a significant government stimulus, a shift to a war economy and an unprecedented rerouting of its trade to Asian partners, primarily China and India, analysts say. ... 'Without Asia's cooperation, you ’ can’t cripple Russia's economy,’ Nicholas Mulder, a professor of history at Cornell University said.”

“Russia Sanctions Aren't Stopping Putin But May Stop Xi,” Hal Brands of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Bloomberg, 08.01.23.

  • “There are four important factors that sanctions critics often miss.”
    • “First, sanctions aren’t yet causing flight from the dollar.”
    • “Second, sanctions can succeed by deterring future transgressions as well as by changing behavior to date.”
    • “Third, sanctions can be effective even when they don’t change regimes or behavior.”
    • “Fourth, and for this reason, the salience of sanctions for U.S. policy is going up, not down.”
  • “In the end, the critics are right up to a point: Effectiveness requires restraint. If the U.S. uses sanctions gratuitously, in relatively unimportant cases, it will be harder to convince key allies to come along on matters—mostly involving China—that matter more. After all, in the bigger scheme of things, sanctions aren’t just tools the U.S. uses to punish rogue regimes and hamper terrorists. They are increasingly central to the great-power contests that will define our age.”

“The role of emerging powers amid widening geopolitical sanction fault lines,” senior analyst Tobias Wellner and head of business intelligence Henry Smith, Control Risks, 07.27.23.

  • “Based on our experience advising organizations on sanctions compliance, when trading with or investing in countries with elevated exposure to Russia sanctions, we recommend:”
    • “Monitoring changes in the risk profile of specific jurisdictions.”
    • “Reviewing investigative reporting and advisories and enforcement action by governments to stay ahead of the product diversion tactics and trends that are relevant to your industry.”
    • “Applying additional scrutiny to subsidiaries, third parties and end customers in countries trading with Russia by adjusting due diligence and risk assessment methods.”
    • “Training frontline employees engaged in business development in the trends and tactics for product diversion and the legal consequences.”
    • “Monitoring sales data in countries trading with Russia to identify anomalous sales activity.”
    • “Conducting compliance audits of higher-risk subsidiaries and third parties to identify shortcomings in their approach to sanctions and product diversion, and monitoring the implementation of any improvements you mandate.”
    • “Ensuring your whistle-blower hotline is open for internal and external use and that prompt action is taken to investigate any incoming reports related to any alleged breach of international sanctions.”

Ukraine-related negotiations:

"Ukraine Peace Plan Talks End in Saudi With Few Concrete Steps,” journalist Alexander Nicholson, Bloomberg, 08.06.23.

  • “A peace plan pitched by Ukraine and its allies to more than 40 countries this weekend in Saudi Arabia brought little in the way of concrete steps to stop the war or reverse Russia’s territorial gains. The most tangible outcome from the Jeddah meetings was a plan to form working groups under various points of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s 10-point ‘peace formula’ — on areas including food supply and nuclear security — according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.”
  • “‘There were different points of view, but all the attendees declared allegiance to UN principles, international law and respect to sovereignty and territorial integrity,’ said Zelensky’s Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak... [but while Yermak] praised the consultations, representatives for China stuck to calls for a cease-fire as a precursor to peace talks — an approach that French delegates said was unacceptable because it would effectively freeze Russia’s gains in place.”

“Backdoor Negotiations Over Ukraine Would Be a Disaster,” Ben Lefkowitz and Kori Schake of the American Enterprise Institute, FP, 08.03.23.

  • “In a regular conflict, refusing negotiation might seem truculent. But amid an invasion by a country committing wholesale war crimes and threatening a potential genocide, it’s simply realistic. Pressing Ukraine to support negotiations or accept mediation offers condones aggression by requiring the victim to compromise with the perpetrator. A better answer would be to insist that negotiations penalize Russia for aggression, war crimes, destruction of the Ukrainian economy, and damage to international agreements on freedom of navigation. That approach would strengthen the international order that the Biden administration so often claims to be upholding. Even if Russia refused to provide compensation, making use of the $300 billion in Russian state funds frozen in Western central banks would provide a solid start.”
  • “Ceding the mediator’s role is contrary to both U.S. and Ukrainian interests. Russia seems to consider itself a great power like the United States, and to have a less powerful country as mediator would likely result in Russia being less likely to make concessions. It would be a mistake to cede diplomatic space to U.S. adversaries rather than allow the inevitable Ukrainian victors to dictate how this war ends. The failures from the Doha Agreement began when the United States decided to abandon Afghanistan. Forcing Kyiv into peace negotiations mediated by the Chinese, the AU, or the Saudis, rather than give it the support it needs to defeat Russia, risks winning the war and losing the peace.”

“Can India Bring Russia and Ukraine to the Table? What New Delhi’s Diplomacy Can and Cannot Achieve,” Happymon Jacob of India’s Council for Strategic and Defense Research, FA, 08.02.23.

  • “India could play a supporting role in maintaining the future of European security. … India seeks to establish itself as a pole in a multipolar international system, and intervening in this way in the war in Ukraine would underscore its ability to help maintain global order. This is all the more important for India at a time when its neighbor and rival China has also sought to style itself as an international peacemaker. By working toward securing an uneasy détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia, China has shown itself to be a major geopolitical force, something India has yet to demonstrate.”
  • “China has advanced its own peace plan for ending the war in Ukraine, although officials in Kyiv and the West do not take it seriously. But China’s bid to mediate has allowed it to cultivate goodwill in Russia, Ukraine and Europe, with Ukrainians and their Western allies hoping that China will be willing to support the eventual reconstruction of the devastated country. This will only boost China’s geopolitical standing.”
  • “The longer the war drags on, the more it increases Russian dependence on China—and further limits Russia’s ability and willingness to help New Delhi in its rivalry with Beijing. That should provide a strong incentive for Indian officials to risk upsetting Russia by nudging it to defuse hostilities. New Delhi does not want the war to leave Russia battered and weak but, rather, wants to preserve a strong Russia that can reinforce multipolarity in Asia and hold off Chinese hegemony.”
  • “The Ukraine war will eventually end. … New Delhi’s efforts could, at best, blunt the most devastating impacts of the war; at worst, they would make little difference. But Indian officials would be making a mistake if they did nothing when they and the world have so much to gain.”

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

“Expert Survey: Should US Offer Ukraine Security Guarantees?” RM Staff, 08.04.23.

  • “Does the U.S. need to offer security guarantees to Ukraine? … We posed these questions to four prominent U.S. experts on post-Soviet Eurasia, including Thomas Graham of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Atlantic Council’s Melinda Haring, Mark N. Katz of George Mason University and Joshua Shifrinson of the University of Maryland.”
  • “Graham believes that the U.S. should provide security guarantees to Ukraine as part of a larger effort to create a security system in Europe—one that with time reintegrates Russia, while Haring argues that NATO membership for Ukraine is the only way forward. Katz, meanwhile, believes that there are no easy answers, as both offering guarantees and not doing so have serious potential drawbacks for the U.S. Last but not least, Shifrinson argues that even Article 5-type guarantees pose real risks for questionable gains, in light of America’s limited interests in Ukraine.”

“An Enduring Coalition to Protect Ukraine. How to Keep the Country Safe Without NATO Membership,” Rajan Menon of Defense Priorities, FA, 08.07.23.

  • “The West could give Ukraine a formal security guarantee without admitting it to NATO. Crucially, that guarantee would not come from the alliance or involve the United States in any way. Instead, a coalition of European countries, particularly some of Ukraine’s neighbors, would pledge to defend it from future Russian aggression. Their commitment would help deter Russia, and it would also increase the chances of a diplomatic settlement to the conflict by addressing Moscow’s opposition to Ukrainian NATO membership.”
    • “A subset of NATO members … could jointly provide Kyiv the equivalent of an Article 5 commitment. Poland and the Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—are the obvious candidates, but others, including Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, could also participate.”
      • “The coalition of guarantors, all of whom would be NATO countries, would promise not to invoke Article 5 if forced to fight Russia to defend Ukraine. ... Of course, no Ukrainian official or military expert would see such a coalition-based guarantee as an acceptable substitute for the protection provided by NATO’s Article 5, and Kyiv will understandably continue its fight for NATO membership. But no matter how badly they might want to join, Ukrainians should begin to at least consider alternatives.”
  • “Ukraine could, of course, decide to fight on regardless of what its partners want. But with victory elusive and Western support uncertain, even Kyiv might decide that it is better to seek a negotiated and imperfect peace than to continue the war.”
  • “A coalition-based security guarantee may be a far cry from what Ukrainians yearn for. But in view of the war’s current trajectory and the fact that Ukraine cannot be certain about NATO membership, its leaders may have to accept what they now deem unacceptable. And if Kyiv cannot achieve its ideal military outcome, this coalition could turn out to be the best, most feasible way of ensuring that Russia never again tries to extinguish Ukrainian sovereignty.”

“Ensuring Ukraine’s security. From ad hoc support to long-term security guarantees as NATO member,” analysts Margarete Klein and Claudia Major, SWP, August 2023.

  • “Numerous options offering various degrees of support have been discussed, but most stop short of credible security guarantees. ... There are only three that offer Ukraine the maximum, reliable support that could qualify as a guarantee.”
    • “The first is the demilitarization of Russia – that is, the reduction of its armed forces and arms industry to a level that would allow it to engage only in self-defense, not offensive operations.”
    • “The second option is for Ukraine to strengthen its deterrent potential through unilateral nuclearization – that is, either building up its own nuclear arsenal or applying pressure through the announcement of such a step.”
    • “The third option: Ukraine’s integration into bilateral or multilateral systems of collective defense. A bilateral alliance with U.S. guarantees and / or a net­work of bilateral alliances with militarily strong states, preferably nuclear powers, could guarantee its security. However, while countries are offering security assis­tance, they have refrained from providing guarantees that go beyond support to constitute a pledge of mutual defense. The bilateral and minilateral agreements an­nounced within the G7 at the margins of the 2023 NATO summit offer support but not guarantees. This is because no state appears to want to take the risk of a mili­tary confrontation with Russia. Given its long-term orientation towards the Indo-Pacific, it is unlikely that the U.S. would commit to guaranteeing Ukraine’s security in this way. For the Europeans, who have a vested interest in the security of Ukraine, it would not be desirable either. Rather, the most effective deterrent against Moscow would be Ukraine’s NATO membership.”
  • “Since progress towards accession presupposes Ukraine’s military success, systematic and long-term military support for Ukraine is a prerequisite for every debate within the Alliance. The more successful Kyiv is in defending against Russia, the more realistic its NATO accession becomes. And that outcome would contribute structurally to the stability and security of Europe itself.”

“NATO’s Concept for Deterrence and Defense of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA),” Stephen R. Covington of NATO, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 08.02.23.

  • “The Alliance’s strengthened posture and military activities in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is an example of the DDA strategy in action. In 2022, Moscow sought to break Ukraine militarily, and concurrently sought to militarily intimidate and damage Alliance political cohesion with their military buildup around Ukraine and deployments in the Alliance’s AOR, including Russia’s large-scale maritime deployments and strategic nuclear exercise in early 2022. Moscow failed to intimidate or damage Alliance political cohesion.”
  • “The Alliance took decisions to strengthen military deterrence actions and posture across the AOR at the speed and scale relevant to the threat, demonstrating to Russia an Alliance united both politically and militarily. DDA reorganization of AOR-wide peacetime vigilance activities and Alliance adoption of the DDA single strategic defense plan for the entire AOR before Russia underpinned the military organization of the Alliance’s reactions to Russia’s force deployments and attack on Ukraine.” 

“How to safeguard NATO from Mr. Trump,” Editorial Board, WP, 08.02.23.

  • “One of Russian President Vladimir Putin's most cherished strategic goals is to subvert and divide the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the bulwark of peace and security in Europe for three-quarters of a century. He came close to realizing that dream five years ago, when President Donald Trump, at a NATO summit in Brussels, threatened to withdraw the United States from the alliance if Europe and Canada did not spend more on defense.”
  • “Hence the necessity for Congress to construct guardrails against U.S. withdrawal, which would be a wildly irresponsible act of foreign policy malpractice.”
  • “The Constitution describes how U.S. presidents enter into treaties - with ratification requiring approval by two-thirds of senators - but is silent on how they can cancel them. ... The Senate legislation that would impede any future president from pulling out of NATO was sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican. It passed with the backing of all Democrats present, plus 18 Republicans, who attached it as an amendment to the must-pass annual bill providing funding for the nation's defense. But it might face a tougher path in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where many GOP lawmakers are loath to constrain Mr. Trump in a second term.”
  • “Congress has a responsibility equal to that of the executive branch to protect and promote U.S. interests in the world. It can do so by enacting the measure in the Senate defense spending bill.”

“How the U.S. Fumbled Niger's Coup --- A week of missteps and breakdowns pushed a key ally toward Russia,” journalists Joe Parkinson, Benoit Faucon and Drew Hinshaw, WSJ, 08.04.23.

  • “Niger's president Mohamed Bazoum … is still imprisoned in his palace, [as] junta leaders are seeking aid from Vladimir Putin's regional partners and America is on the verge of losing its most important ally in a crucial and unstable part of Africa.”
  • “The situation could yet turn into open military conflict. Eleven West African countries, led by Nigeria, have threatened to use force to restore Bazoum to power if the coup isn't reversed by Sunday. In return, the pro-Russian leaders of Mali and Burkina Faso have vowed to defend Niger.”
  • “Officials in the U.S. and Europe are scrambling for ways to return Bazoum to power but concede the window is closing. The Kremlin on Friday warned against any intervention.”
  • “The coup, if successful, could lead Russia to pick up some of America's most important drone bases, used to fly missions across the Sahara between Libya and Nigeria.”
  • “This outcome wasn't predestined. A week of missteps and communication breakdowns pushed the vast nation of Niger toward Russia.”
    • “The U.S. has spent more than $500 million arming and equipping Niger's military. Yet the country's special forces, trained for nearly every counterterrorism eventuality, had no answer for Sunday's coup.”
    • “Though the U.S. had spent hundreds of millions of dollars transforming Niger into its top military outpost in the Sahara, it didn't have an ambassador in the country.
    • Washington also has no ambassador at the African Union or in neighboring Nigeria.”
  • “Russia was in an excellent position to step into the vacuum. Vladimir Putin was already receiving African leaders invited to a Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg due to start the day after the coup.”

“Putin and Wagner Are Still Gunning for Africa,” columnist James Stavridis, Bloomberg, 08.02.23.

  • “The Russians have several reasons for expanding their African footprint. They want to increase their influence in multinational organizations like the UN and its organs; 54 African nations equals lots of votes in those bodies. More important, Russia wants to engage with other centers of raw materials on the continent — creating synergies and manipulating the prices of critical resources, for example. And of course, Putin wants to push back on U.S. influence in the region, a goal he shares with Xi Jinping’s China.”
  • “The U.S. and its European partners need to craft an overarching strategy for Africa. We would be unwise to try and impose our own value systems, or to force African states to choose between us and authoritarian states like Russia and China. Instead, we should recognize that the 50-plus African countries range considerably in history, geography, resources and culture and require individual approaches within an overarching plan. The U.S. must forge coherence and cooperation in its currently disconnected interagency efforts… Military training in counterterrorism can be offered — but carefully, as the last thing we want is to foment more coups or new wars. Washington and its allies must encourage private-public cooperation in ways that can advance their policy objectives, for example through the U.S. Development Finance Corporation. Finally, we must craft a coherent message that says in simple and direct terms that we value Africa and our partners there.”
  • “Bogged down in Ukraine, Putin’s Russia is still on the move in Africa and will continue to undermine the U.S. and its friends. We need to recognize that challenge, and make clear that we have more to offer African states than Wagner mercenaries and a piddling amount of grain.”

“Stand With Ukraine, My African Friends,” author Bernard-Henri Levy, WSJ, 08.02.23.

  • “My African friends, Russia definitely isn't your friend. In each of your countries where you open your arms wide to Russia, it reproduces the most atrocious of what the French, English, Belgian, Portuguese and German colonizers did before you chased them out.”
  • “Russia's anti-Western rhetoric and incessant harping on yesterday's imperialism is a crude distraction that shouldn't fool you and that has no other effect but to hide the imperialism that Russia practices today.”
  • “This blindness is unworthy of Africa's history. You can't have fought so many wars of liberation only to turn your backs on a country, Ukraine, who is taking the same path and shaking free of its chains in turn.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Why Joe Biden is the heir to Trump,” commentator Gideon Rachman, FT, 08.07.23.

  • “The new rivalry with China was also geopolitical. The Trump administration’s national security strategy, announced in 2017, made ‘great-power competition’ with China and Russia the centerpiece of its approach to the world.”
  • “And what has Biden done with all this ‘weird shit’? Rather than shovel it to one side, his administration has retained most of these Trump-era policies — and even built on them. ... This administration has also embraced the concept of great-power rivalry with China. Biden’s own National Security strategy describes China as the ‘most consequential’ geopolitical challenge for America.”
  • “It may seem strange — even repulsive — to give him credit for serious shifts in ideology and policy. For many in Washington, Trump is a barbarian, whose defining legacy will always be his assault on the American democratic system. But perhaps it needed a taboo-breaking barbarian to engineer such a decisive break with a 40-year-old consensus on trade, globalization and China.”

“The West must match Russia and China in the dark arts of the grey zone,” Michael Miklaucic of the U.S. National Defense University , FT, 07.31.23.

  • “Military support alone cannot produce a Ukrainian victory, much less victory in the bigger struggle over the liberal global order. If we wish to preserve this order, we must master the dark arts of the grey zone, using a full arsenal of sub-threshold tools based on the non-military elements of strategic power.”
  • “The portrayal of Vladimir Putin as a war criminal, and support for the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant, show how the west can do this. As a result of the ICC warrant, Putin was forced to cancel a trip to South Africa’s meeting of the BRICS countries. In July, only 17 African heads of state out of 54 attended Putin’s Russia-Africa summit, as opposed to 43 that attended in 2019, limiting his ability to exert influence. To exploit this success, western countries should continue to ostracize Putin and mobilize their full information firepower to portray Putin as the criminal that he is.”
  • “The enduring relevance of the grey zone should not be dismissed. On the contrary, it is there that victory will be won in Ukraine and in the wider conflict over the future global order.”

Missile defense:

“Russian Missiles and the European Sky Shield Initiative,” analyst Lydia Wachs, SWP, August 2023.

  • “By focusing solely on procurement, European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI) is not realizing its full potential. Instead, it leaves important issues unresolved and thereby risks creating political tensions within NATO instead of strengthening the Alliance’s cohesion vis-à-vis Russia. There are a number of steps that Germany could take to address these issues and live up to its aspirations of assuming a leadership role in air defense.”
    • “First, it could seek to expand the initiative. A possible goal would be not only to strengthen capabilities in the participating countries but also to enhance the air defense of the Alliance as a whole, including coordination and interoperability at various levels.”
    • “Second, Berlin could further expand the initiative by seeking joint steps with NATO states beyond those countries participating in ESSI. Such steps could be taken in the areas of logistics, training, exercises, the joint use of infrastructure, maintenance, the development of operational concepts and even the establishment of joint units.”
    • “Third, as part of an expanded initiative, Berlin could seek discussions with NATO and individual Allies on the role of Arrow within the Alliance if the long-term plan is, in fact, to integrate Arrow into NATO structures. In particular, it should be discussed how Arrow could be incorporated into the overall air and missile defense strategy, especially with regard to NATO IAMD and BMD. At the same time, it should be made clear how Arrow could benefit the Allies in the long term.”
  • “In the short term, upgrading the initiative in this way would require considerable effort and coordination on the part of Berlin. But in the medium to long term, it could not only improve Germany’s image as a leading nation in air defense but also create more sustainable technical solutions and strengthen the political cohesion of NATO.”

Nuclear arms:

“Report on the Reasons that Continued Implementation of the New START Treaty is in the National Security Interest of the United States,” Bureau of Arms Control, U.S. State Department, 07.26.23.

  • “When fully implemented by the Russian Federation, the New START Treaty enhances U.S. national security by limiting Russian Federation nuclear forces and by providing predictability, transparency, and unique insight into its ICBM, SLBM, and heavy bomber nuclear forces and planning. For that reason, the United States seeks the Russian Federation’s return to compliance with the New START Treaty. The Russian Federation has a clear path back to compliance with the New START Treaty.”
  • “The United States assesses that, as of July 1, 2023, the Russian Federation has not engaged in significant activity above the New START Treaty central limits. U.S. confidence in the Russian Federation’s adherence to the treaty’s central limits will diminish over time if the Russian Federation persists in not implementing the treaty’s verification provisions.”
  • “The United States continues to assess that there is not a strategic imbalance between the United States and the Russian Federation that endangers the national security interests of the United States, and to assess that the Russian Federation’s violations of the treaty do not currently threaten the national security interests of the United States. While the treaty remains in force, the United States is prepared to adhere to the treaty’s central limits as long as it assesses the Russian Federation is doing so. Were the Administration to have indications or assess that the Russian Federation intended to or was acting to break out of the central limits of treaty, the Administration would immediately inform the Committees on Foreign Relations and Armed Services of the Senate. Were the Administration to determine that the Russian Federation’s violations of the New START Treaty threaten the national security interests of the United States, the Administration would consult with the Senate regarding the implications.”
  • “The Russian Federation’s noncompliance with the New START Treaty underscores the vital importance of retaining and modernizing a safe, secure, and effective U.S. nuclear deterrent and achieving a resilient and adaptive nuclear security enterprise. The United States continues to believe that mutual full compliance with the New START Treaty makes the United States, its allies and partners, the Russian Federation, and the entire world safer. The United States is prepared to work constructively with the Russian Federation on a pathway back to full implementation of the New START Treaty and on a post-2026 nuclear arms control framework.”

“Could the U.S. Have Ended World War II With a 'Demonstration' Bomb?,” author Evan Thomas, WSJ, 08.05.23.

  • “Some scholars have seen a tragic lost opportunity in Truman's refusal to make a peace offer before dropping the atomic bomb. Truman's (and especially Byrnes's) motivation, they say, was to intimidate the Russians. But the diaries and records of Japanese officials strongly suggest that the Japanese military, which controlled the government, would have regarded a peace offering as a sign of weakness and a further incentive to fight to the death. .. In fact, even after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs—on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9—the Japanese weren't prepared to surrender unconditionally. … The American Army Air Force commander in charge of bombing Japan, Gen. Carl ‘Tooey’ Spaatz, suggested dropping a third atomic bomb, this time in the vast area of Tokyo—some 20 square miles—already burned out by American fire-bombing raids in March and May. Spaatz was in effect proposing a demonstration.”
  • “In Washington Spaatz's idea was initially rejected, but it apparently caught President Truman's attention. According to a report from the British embassy in Washington, at about noon on Aug. 14, as the Japanese appeared to be dithering over whether to surrender, Truman ‘remarked sadly’ to British officials ‘that he now had no alternative but to order the atomic bomb dropped on Tokyo.’ A third bomb would be ready for delivery by Aug. 20.”
  • “Fortunately, a few hours later Truman learned that the Japanese had accepted America's surrender terms.”
  • “Oppenheimer hoped that the horror of the atomic bomb would make the world renounce nuclear war, and he has been proved right—so far. But with Russia and China building up their nuclear forces, the threat is once again growing.”
  • “We can only hope that it doesn't take the use of nuclear weapons to demonstrate their horror to a new generation.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Wait and See: How Ordinary Russians Are Adapting to the New Reality,” senior fellow Andrei Kolesnikov, Carnegie Endowment, 08.04.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “During the Nazi occupation of Paris, most of the city’s residents neither supported nor opposed the Germans. They were attentistes: waiting it out. As the American historian and essayist Louis Menand wrote in his book The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War: ‘They were fully aware of the hollowness of appearances and the fragility of normal life, but they discovered that it was possible to coexist, and even, occasionally, to fraternize with the Germans and still go about their business without feeling that they had sacrificed too much moral or political self-respect.’ This is a precise portrait of the passive conformists that make up a large part of the Russian population today. It is this indifference, opportunism, and adaptability of the majority that keep Putin’s regime afloat.”
  • “Nonresistance to the regime has been contrasted with support for it by some sociologists when arguing that most Russians are not actually in favor of the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. Yet in practical terms, it still amounts to support—in exchange for not being sent immediately to the trenches.”
  • “Furthermore, these attentistes à la Russe are fully prepared to fraternize with the authorities when the system that forces conformity requires it of them, since those are the rules and the price to pay in order to be more or less left in peace, and for a relatively slow and bearable decrease in their living standards.”
  • “An environment of almost total coerced conformity has taken hold in Russia... The main thing is to sit tight and wait out this period of unpleasantness until things sort themselves out. The population will be informed of any further changes by the powers that be. This worked out well for the Paris attentistes in August 1944, when the French capital was finally liberated from Nazi rule: they didn’t even have to relocate from their favorite café.”

“The Faux Ideologies of Late-Stage Putinism,” journalist Andrey Pertsev, Carnegie Endowment, 08.02.22. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “The Kremlin has come up with a faux ideology designed to rally support for President Vladimir Putin ahead of the 2024 presidential elections. While it doesn’t include a clear vision for the future, it is not rooted in the past, either. Instead, people are being asked to believe in a series of dogmas such as ‘Russia is a young civilization that cannot be defeated by an aging West,’ ‘the authorities and society at large share a common goal,’ and ‘Russians are inclined toward collectivism, sacrifice, and state service.’”
  • “Imagining history as a civilizational competition is convenient for the current Russian leadership because it means they can perceive themselves as part of a young civilization and, as such, they don’t need to waste time calculating risks, investing in the economy, or conducting a reasonable foreign policy. Youth is forgiven everything, and Russia will inevitably, therefore, be a world leader.”
  • “This approach is also advantageous because it rules out the existence of common human values: a concept that has been at the heart of Putin’s criticism of the West (which supposedly imposes its values on other cultures and peoples). And it reinforces the validity of another theory beloved by the Kremlin: that the world should be a multipolar one.”
  • “There are few reasons to think that an ideology concocted in Kremlin offices will catch on. More likely than not, it will repeat the fate of Soviet communism. Even though communism had a vision for the future, people were still disappointed when they realized it would not be delivering material abundance. The Kremlin’s ‘civilizational’ approach doesn’t offer any such promise: only the option to serve the fatherland because it is supposedly preordained by ‘science.’ In the coming months, those loyal to the authorities will strive to show how closely they subscribe to this civilizational worldview. In a crisis, however, those same people will ditch such artificial constructs just as quickly as the Soviet people ditched communism.”

“Putin’s Forever War,” journalist Roger Cohen , NYT, 08.06.23. 

  • “After 23 years leading Russia, Mr. Putin’s hold on power is still firm as fighting intensifies in southern and eastern Ukraine. He learned long ago, indeed from the outset of his rule in 2000, that, as the author Masha Gessen has put it, ‘wars were almost as good as crackdowns because they discredited anyone who wanted to complicate things.’”
  •  “‘There are currently no grounds for an agreement,’ Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, told me. ‘We will continue the operation for the foreseeable future.’… I asked Mr. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, if Russia sought more Ukrainian territory beyond the four provinces annexed. ‘No,’ he said. ‘We just want to control all the land we have now written into our Constitution as ours.’”  
  • “‘For how long should Russia tolerate open warfare from the West using Ukrainian meat?’ Sergei Karaganov, a well-connected Russian foreign policy expert, asked in an interview. ‘There is a high risk of nuclear war, and it is increasing,’ he said. ‘The war is a prolonged Cuban missile crisis, but this time with Western leaders who reject normal values of motherhood, parenthood, gender, love of country, faith, God.’”  
  • “‘Our presidential election is not really democracy, it is costly bureaucracy,’ said Mr. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman. ‘Mr. Putin will be re-elected next year with more than 90 percent of the vote,’ Peskov said.”
  • “The only time that Mr. Putin’s popularity plunged was last September when a partial mobilization was ordered. ‘We saw the biggest overnight drop in support for Mr. Putin in 30 years of polling,’ Denis Volkov, the director of Levada Center, the only major independent pollster in Russia, told me in Moscow. ‘Suddenly the war was here!’ Mr. Putin’s approval rating fell to around 50 percent from 80 percent, according to Levada, which focuses on door-to-door polling.”
  • “Mr. Putin almost certainly has enough of his country, and enough cash, behind him to pursue the war for at least another 18 months to two years, three Western ambassadors to Russia told me in Moscow.” 

“Russia Is Returning to Its Totalitarian Past A forever war in Ukraine comes with almost limitless possibilities to stifle dissent,” journalist Alexey Kovalev, FP, 08.02.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “Wartime repression is a useful smokescreen not only for getting rid of vocal opponents, but also for ensuring the loyalty of the Russian elite. That includes not only those who aren’t explicit enough in supporting the invasion, but also those who criticize the invasion for its supposed lack of vigor and ruthlessness against Ukrainians. Similarly, the Russian military itself is being purged of real and potential dissent. Several major military figures who may have been friendly with Prigozhin, including Russian Aerospace Forces Commander in Chief Sergey Surovikin, have been missing from the public eye. Others have been removed or demoted from their posts.”
  • “Accelerated repression is also a signal of the regime’s nervousness about the presidential election scheduled for March 2024. While Russian elections are obviously rigged and there is no doubt that Putin will stay in power, they still inject some uncertainty into the system. Next year’s election will be a spectacularly complex piece of political choreography, during which many things could go wrong on the way to the 80 percent majority for Putin, which the Kremlin has set as a minimum goal. This is where Girkin’s arrest comes in: Angry nationalists unhappy with the way the military leadership is conducting the war are an unpredictable wild card. In the next few months, it’s safe to expect more of them to be arrested.”
  • “The clampdown also suggests that the regime is digging in for a prolonged war in Ukraine. In the face of multiple military failures and no realistic prospect of victory, Putin appears to have settled for the next best thing to solidify his power. A forever war in Ukraine, presented to Russians as an existential struggle for the future of their nation, comes with almost limitless possibilities for stifling dissent, aligning Russians behind the regime, and rooting out the slightest whisper of opposition.”

“Putin’s Justification for War Is Unraveling,” Thomas Sherlock of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, FP, 08.03.23.

  • “Putin’s struggle to craft a coherent story that binds the invasion of Ukraine to the memory and conceptual framework of the Great Patriotic War is one of his biggest challenges. There is a lack of credible evidence—for the simple reason that it isn’t true—that Ukraine constitutes a neo-Nazi threat resembling the existential struggle of the Great Patriotic War, the only historical event able to stimulate intense national pride among Russians.”
  • “Theories of social conflict suggest that a threat can unite a group, including a society, but only if the group as a whole perceives the threat as authentic, powerful, and immediate. In Russia, the war against Ukraine doesn’t have that salience—in part because Putin’s narrative is simply too detached from reality.”

Defense and aerospace:

“Mobilization and Gosplan on the Horizon,” journalist Aleksandr Golts, Russia.Post, 08.02.23.

Clues from Russian Views.

  • “The only means that the military could offer the Kremlin to achieve victory was establishing absolute numerical superiority. At first glance, there are grounds for this. According to Rosstat, as of January 1, 2022, there were 7.2 million men aged 17 to 29 in Russia. About 18 million more men aged 30 to 44 can be mobilized, at least on paper. It was these numbers that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu apparently proceeded from when last December he announced plans to increase the size of the armed forces by a third, to 1.5 million servicemen. Five new divisions are to be formed from them, as well as an army corps. On top of that, 12 existing brigades are to be enlarged to the size of divisions. This can only be done through mass mobilization.”
  • “The set of laws adopted at the end of July provides for just such a mobilization. However, the people behind the plans for a massive buildup of the armed forces on the Soviet model have not taken into account several factors of critical importance.”
    • “First of all, it is junior commanders, lieutenants and captains who should command the platoons and companies of mobilized men. The inevitable losses of junior commanders in the course of hostilities in Ukraine should … be considered. The Soviet model assumed that junior commanders in wartime would be graduates of civilian universities, who, almost without exception, underwent military training during their course of studies, and, upon graduating, received the rank of reserve lieutenants. In the past 30 years, the Russian army did not need lieutenants, and this system vanished. It will now take at least five years to resurrect it.”
    • “Besides, to conduct an effective mass mobilization, a large number of skeleton formations must be restored to serve, once again, as the basis for the formation of new divisions. To do that, it is necessary to recreate the network of gigantic training centers, training grounds and weapons depots.”
    • “Finally, and most importantly, the transition to a mass mobilization army will inevitably require fundamental changes in the organization of industry and a revision of property rights – in other words, changes in the structure of the Russian state
  • “Only a defense industry organized on the Soviet model – that is based on a so-called planned economy and autarky – can provide a mass mobilization army with the adequate number of weapons and amount of equipment. As a totalitarian state, the Soviet Union was able to provide a mass mobilization army with human and material resources. Only such a state needs a mass mobilization army that can occupy vast foreign territories.”

“Inside the Wagner Group’s Armed Uprising,” journalist Joshua Yaffa, New Yorker, 07.31.23.

  • “In Ukraine, Wagner was but one piece of the military effort; elsewhere it represents the majority of the Russian presence. Marat Gabidullin, the former senior adviser of Wagner’s ISIS Hunters, spoke to a number of Wagner fighters in Syria, who told him that the uprising had not affected their operations: ‘They say that they expect to continue their work, even if certain conditions change.’ Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said of Wagner’s missions in the C.A.R. and Mali, ‘This work, of course, will continue.’”
  • “Still, Putin is unlikely to repeat the same mistake twice: allowing a private army led by a hotheaded sadist to take an outsized role in Russia’s security. ‘How can Putin claim to have total control over the country, and then something like this happens?’ the member of the Russian political élite said. ‘They’ll have to lose their independence and be integrated into the Army.’ But putting Wagner on a tighter leash would lead to a very different Wagner, one that, as the U.S. defense official put it, would trade ‘an increase in control for a reduction of deniability.’ That would lessen the danger of such a group, but it would also challenge the fundamental reasons that the Kremlin found it useful in the first place.”

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“The Unpredictable Dictators. Why It’s So Hard to Forecast Authoritarian Aggression,” Columbia University’s Keren Yarhi-Milo and Laura Resnick Samotin, FA, 08.04.23.

  • “There is a reason officials fail to anticipate foreign misadventures. Policymakers and analysts typically use a ‘rational actor model’ to make predictions, and in keeping with its name, the model holds that policymakers will act rationally… It does an especially poor job at predicting the behavior of autocrats, who can pursue illogical ideas without domestic pushback.”
    • “This insight holds important implications for the way the United States and other democracies think about how to confront their adversaries. It is particularly critical for policymakers considering Beijing’s plans for Taiwan. … surrounded by supplicants, Xi could persuade himself that a war for Taiwan would be fast. He could believe, as Putin did with Ukrainians, that Chinese troops would be welcomed by many Taiwanese people.”
  • “To better account for adversaries’ perspectives, political scientists have created behavioral models that attempt to calculate how different countries perceive the world. In doing so, researchers have found (not surprisingly) that personality traits and emotions affect decision making in multiple ways.”
  • “Analyzing emotions can help analysts forecast the future. Such an approach, for example, might have produced a more accurate prediction of Khrushchev’s intentions during the Cuban missile crisis or Saddam’s motivation in the lead-up to his invasion of Kuwait.”
  • “Thankfully, there are ways for foreign-policy officials to account for uncertainty. The first is to game out the universe of mistakes that an adversary could make, consider the range of potential miscalculations, and then prepare various responses. To assess whether Russia might attack a NATO state, for example, analysts could map out the various ways Putin could expand its war beyond Ukraine. Then, they would evaluate the likelihood of each of these actions and consider what miscalculations would lead Putin to take them. Finally, analysts would generate a range of possible Western responses.”
  • “Ultimately, experts must remember that when it comes to dealing with autocrats, there are no certainties. Leaders will frequently ignore advice given to them or overestimate their abilities and miscalculate risks. In other words, leaders will not always be guided by level-headed rationalism, regardless of what outside observers think. It is a mistake for intelligence analysts and policymakers to assume otherwise.”

"Is Russia losing India?” Andrei Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council, Natstrat, 08.01.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “The modern world is evolving, albeit slowly and reluctantly, in the direction of a new geopolitical, economic and technological bipolarity. This is clearly not what most of us hoped for earlier this century, but this trend cannot be ignored and it affects both Moscow and New Delhi. Year after year, Russia is moving farther east, strengthening and developing its multiple ties with China. Year after year, India is shifting further west, increasing various forms of cooperation with the United States. This is the reality we have to acknowledge before moving any further.”
  • “This trend contains considerable risks. If it continues in the medium term, the two friendly nations may eventually find themselves in opposing geopolitical, economic and technological blocs. … Over time, it will become increasingly difficult for Moscow and New Delhi to even maintain bilateral cooperation at the current level, let alone its possible deepening and broadening.”
  • “Neither Moscow nor New Delhi today has the resources and opportunities needed to radically reverse this unfortunate and destructive trend in the ongoing evolution of the international system. … It is in their common interests to resist the emerging bipolarity and, where possible, to mitigate its negative repercussions, with an emphasis on promoting multilateral mechanisms of international cooperation.”
  • “Ultimately, the future of Eurasia depends crucially on the future of Sino-Indian relations. None of the external players, including Russia, can ‘fix’ these relations instead of Beijing and New Delhi. However, external players, including Russia, are able to contribute to the ‘reset’ of these relations by creating incentives for both sides to interact with each other in trilateral or other multilateral formats. An alternative approach — namely, balancing Beijing and New Delhi against each other — may give Moscow some situational advantages, but would not serve Russia's long-term strategic interests.”

“Russia-Africa summit fails to deliver concrete results, analysts Alex Vines and Tighisti Amare, Chatham House, 08.02.23.

  • “There is no doubt that the reduced turn out of African leaders and straight talking about the need for peace and a grain deal will have sent a clear signal to Moscow. At a press conference following the summit, President Putin stated that the peace initiative presented by African leaders has nothing to do with the grain deal. But there is no doubt that the reduced turn out of African leaders and straight talking about the need for peace and a grain deal will have sent a clear signal to Moscow.”
  • “African leaders who went to St Petersburg expecting tangible results from Putin’s promised new program of support for Africa will undoubtedly have concluded that Russia is unable to offer what they need, further raising the question of whether summit diplomacy should continue to be the main tool for Africa’s partners.”


“The ‘monumental consequences’ of Ukraine joining the EU,” journalists Sam Fleming and Henry Foy, FT, 08.06.23.

  • “While EU leaders talk of Ukraine being on ‘a path’ to membership, many member state officials and diplomats privately question whether it will really happen. Not only is Ukraine a country at war, but it would be the bloc’s fifth largest member by pre-conflict population and its poorest by far, which has implications for how its budgets would be divided up.”
  • “The war may have changed the political winds, but it has not altered the immutable challenges around the EU’s capacity for expansion. In Brussels, and across the union’s capitals, officials are not only asking if Ukraine can carry out the long list of reforms required to join the EU when the war is over, but whether the bloc can reform itself sufficiently to absorb Ukraine as well as a host of potential new members.
  • “The debate [in EU], says Luuk van Middelaar, founder of the Brussels Institute for Geopolitics, is being framed in Brussels as one of ‘absorption capacity.’… This issue of absorption capacity boils down to two key topics.”
    • “First, how would the EU reform its budget when faced with new members that would probably be net beneficiaries of EU funding? How would less rich member states respond to the idea of becoming net contributors?”
    • “A second question is: what institutional reforms would be necessary to ensure the EU could ensure smooth decision-making processes if the union comprises as many as 35 capitals, up from the current 27.”
  • “Ukraine’s membership would weigh most heavily on the EU’s finances. As an internal Council of the EU note seen by the FT highlights, the two biggest areas of the EU budget are the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and cohesion, or regional spending, which together account for around 62 per cent of the EU’s seven-year budget or around €370 billion each. Admitting Ukraine, with farmland that exceeds the size of Italy and an agricultural sector that employs 14 per cent of its population, would be a game-changer. It follows that Ukraine would become the biggest recipient of CAP funding, the majority of which comprises direct payments to farmers or income support.”
  • “If Ukraine was plugged into the current 2021-27 cohesion budget, it would jump to the top of the list of recipients, dwarfing Poland’s €77 billion allocation, calculates Zsolt Darvas at the Bruegel think-tank. Another informal estimate prepared by the EU Council suggests that Ukraine’s entry would make France a net payer into the CAP, and Poland would swing from the largest net recipient of EU funds to an overall net payer.
  • “For now, even as the EU starts work on what might be required to make it happen, Ukraine’s membership remains hypothetical.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“The kleptocracy strikes back. An Azerbaijani economist should be freed,” Editorial Board, WP, 08.06.23.

  • “As an economist, Gubad Ibadoghlu has often turned a critical eye on his native Azerbaijan and its oil riches. He has asked, correctly, why the oil wealth has not led to a more prosperous or democratic country, and called out corruption and kleptocracy under President Ilham Aliyev. Now Mr. Aliyev is striking back… Mr. Ibadoghlu was remanded by a court to three months and 26 days of pretrial detention on spurious charges of corruption.”
  • “Mr. Ibadoghlu is diabetic and has hypertension. His family says he has been denied access to medicine, and they fear for his health. Meanwhile, the United States has been pressing Mr. Aliyev to ease the blockade that Azerbaijan has imposed around Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave, leading to a humanitarian crisis there. Azerbaijan is seeking to regain full control of Nagorno-Karabakh, which ethnic Armenian forces have controlled for three decades. Armenia and Azerbaijan have engaged in peace talks. Any contacts with Azerbaijan about the crisis should also include a plea for the immediate release of Mr. Ibadoghlu.”


[1] This piece is part of a series of analyses released by the Belfer Center on the war in Ukraine, which has most recently included a primer on Ukraine and NATO’s relationship.  

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 2:00 pm East Coast time on August 7, 2023. Here and elsewhere, the italicized text indicates comments by RM staff and associates. These comments do not constitute RM editorial policy. Slider photo shared by the White House press service via Flickr through the Public Domain.