Russia Analytical Report, July 17-24, 2023

5 Ideas to Explore

  1. The likelihood of any large-scale breakthrough by the Ukrainian military this year dims, raising an “unsettling prospect” for the U.S. and its allies, according to WSJ journalist Daniel Michaels’ news analysis. The recent NATO summit demonstrated a “shift in trans-Atlantic political winds,” as Ukraine's offensive appears to have stalled. European leaders seem unlikely to significantly increase support to Kyiv, especially if they sense reluctance in Washington, where many believe concerns about the war’s impact on Joe Biden’s reelection campaign are prompting growing caution around the amount of support to offer Kyiv, according to Michaels. However, not all is well on the Russian side, according to Dara Massicot of RAND, who believes the departure of PMC Wagner from the front line could create an “opening for Ukrainian forces.”
  2. The focus on the Ukrainian military’s lack of Western long-range systems such as Army Tactical Missile Systems and F-16s “is a bit of a red herring.” This is the impression that FT’s Edward Luce formed from listening to discussions of the Ukraine war at the annual Aspen Security Forum. “At some point, Volodymyr Zelensky ... will need to sit down with Vladimir Putin, or his successor, to reach a deal,” according to Luce. Stephen Walt of Harvard concurs with the FT columnist on the impact of additional arms supplies to Kyiv. While wishing for a Ukrainian victory, Walt doubts that it is possible “even if Kyiv receives ATACMS, F-16s and all the other items on its ever-expanding wish list.” “A prolonged stalemate may eventually produce a fragile peace, but the cost to Ukraine will be enormous,” Walt predicts in his FP column.
  3. Nuclear saber-rattling in Moscow won’t stop “for as long as Russia fights against Ukraine, and for as long as the United States and Europe support Ukraine in its defense,” according to Hanna Notte’s latest commentary, “The West Cannot Cure Russia’s Nuclear Fever.” “At best, Western states can hope to lower the temperature and seek to credibly deter Russia’s crossing of the nuclear threshold. At worst, U.S. and European leaders have to contemplate how to respond to nuclear use and all the implications that any such decision may entail,” Notte, of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, writes in War on the Rocks. Meanwhile, the debate among Russian experts on whether Moscow should resort to first use in the current conflict is really about “whether there are more important things for Russia, its leaders and its people than winning a war with the West,” according to nuclear arms scholar Andrey Baklitskiy.
  4. Vladimir Putin knows that the Soviet economy imploded in part because Mikhail Gorbachev had refused to liberalize prices, and he has so far refrained from freezing prices, according to former deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank Sergey Aleksashenko. “Free pricing is the main tool for stabilizing the Russian economy ... in its current state” and it can remain in that “stable, but not efficient state” for decades, Aleksashenko told Republic.ru.
  5. African leaders will use this week’s Russia-Africa summit to pressure Vladimir Putin to return to the Black Sea grain deal, while South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa will use his attendance at the event in St. Petersburg to advance his peace plan for Ukraine, according to FT. In an article written ahead of the July 27-28 summit, Putin claimed Russia will continue “its energetic efforts to provide supplies of grain, food products, fertilizers and other goods to Africa,” while also standing for “granting African countries their rightful place in the structures that determine the world’s fate.”

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

“Iran Is Breaking Out of Its Box: Washington Must Find New Ways to Counter Tehran’s Regional Influence,” Indiana University’s Jamsheed K. Choksy and Carol E. B. Choksy, FA, 07.20.23.

  • “The United States once functioned as a shield against Iranian aggression for Sunni nations. But these countries see signs that the U.S. commitment to protect them is waning. Unchecked by the United States, Iran is expanding its alliances with Russia and China. Over the past year, Tehran has brazenly sought to seize tankers transporting Saudi and UAE petrochemicals across the Gulf, and it has occasionally succeeded.”
  • “There is no evidence that Iran’s recent diplomatic overtures reflect any change to the core foreign policy doctrine that Supreme Leader Khamenei laid out in 2010. Not only do ‘the shores of the Persian Gulf and much of the Gulf of Oman belong to [Iran],’ he said, but Iran must vigorously ‘demonstrate its power’ throughout the region, because ‘this is our historical, geographical, and regional duty.’”
  • “Arab states are a taking a gamble in seeking hasty diplomatic rapprochements with Iran. Rather than rushing to appease Tehran with diplomatic agreements, other Arab countries must first demand that Iran prove its commitment to becoming a trustworthy regional partner. Tehran can start by halting its threats against tankers carrying oil and gas from Arab nations and stopping providing weapons to Yemeni factions, who use them to attack Saudi Arabia.”
  • “In the absence of such proof, the Gulf Arab nations and their other Middle Eastern counterparts should continue to lean on the United States. But the United States must reciprocate. By tangibly shoring up its security commitments in the Middle East and consistently objecting to Iran’s threats in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, Washington can reinforce its military, diplomatic, and economic engagements with its Sunni Muslim allies to reassure them that the United States has not abandoned them.”

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Is This the End of the Road for the Ukraine Grain Deal?” nonresident scholar Alexandra Prokopenko, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 07.19.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “Ukraine had been preparing for the deal to be stopped, and had independently contacted carriers and insurers, offering its own guarantees for the safety of the cargoes. Kyiv has created an insurance fund especially for this purpose worth about $547 million. Still, if Russia does not return to the deal in the near future, prices will rise.”
  • “One key issue that is still outstanding is the safety of Ukrainian port infrastructure. One year ago—the day after the signing of the deal in Istanbul—Russia launched a missile attack on the port of Odesa. Moscow is unlikely to progress to direct attacks on grain carriers right now, but it may begin to consider Ukrainian ports legitimate targets.”
  • “During the year that the grain deal has been in place, Russia has been unable to turn it to its advantage, having underestimated the changed balance of power. Putin initially saw it as providing Russia with additional leverage over Ukraine and the West, but instead Moscow has become a purely formal partner: the Russian leader is taken into account because he is unpredictable, but his threats are not taken seriously. Erdogan is expecting a visit from Putin as early as next month to discuss the deal, among other issues. The Turkish leader has plenty of leverage himself to convince Russia to return to the implementation of the grain deal—if the leaders of African countries have not already done so.” See section on Russia’s general foreign policy for analysis of the impact of the grain deal’s cancellation on Russia’s relations with African countries.*

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Ukraine's Lack of Arms Dims Hope for War Breakthrough,” Brussels bureau chief Daniel Michaels, WSJ, 07.23.23.

  • “When Ukraine launched its big counteroffensive this spring, Western military officials knew Kyiv didn't have all the training or weapons -- from shells to warplanes -- that it needed to dislodge Russian forces. But they hoped Ukrainian courage and resourcefulness would carry the day. They haven't. Deep and deadly minefields, extensive fortifications and Russian air power have combined to largely block significant advances by Ukrainian troops. Instead, the campaign risks descending into a stalemate with the potential to burn through lives and equipment without a major shift in momentum.”
  • “As the likelihood of any large-scale breakthrough by the Ukrainians this year dims, it raises the unsettling prospect for Washington and its allies of a longer war -- one that would require a huge new infusion of sophisticated armaments and more training to give Kyiv a chance at victory. The political calculus for the Biden administration is complicated. President Biden is up for re-election in the fall of 2024 and many in Washington believe concerns in the White House about the war's impact on the campaign are prompting growing caution on the amount of support to offer Kyiv.”
  • “European militaries lack sufficient resources to supply Ukraine with all it needs to eject Moscow's armies from the roughly 20% of the country that they control. European leaders are also unlikely to significantly increase support to Kyiv if they sense U.S. reluctance, Western diplomats say.”
  • “The shift in trans-Atlantic political winds, evident in tensions between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and U.S. officials at the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Lithuania, has come as Ukraine's long-expected offensive appears stalled.”
  • “Moscow's military, meanwhile, is grappling with low morale because of exhaustion, poor supplies and infighting among Russian leaders, Ukrainian and Western intelligence indicates.”
  • “The situation is a sharp change from last year, when Ukraine's scrappy and at-times uncoordinated fighters stunned Moscow and the world by halting and then repelling a far greater number of Russian forces from around Kyiv, and then Kharkiv and Kherson.”

“Weary Soldiers, Unreliable Munitions: Ukraine’s Many Challenges,” journalists Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Natalia Yermak, Dzvinka Pinchuk and Yurii Shyvala, NYT, 07.23.23.

  • “Ukrainian infantry are focusing more and more on trench assaults, but after suffering tens of thousands of casualties since the war’s start, these ranks are often filled with lesser-trained and older troops. And when Russian forces are driven from a position, they have become more adept at targeting that position with their artillery, ensuring Ukrainian troops cannot stay there long.”
  • “Ammunition is in short supply, and there is a mixture of munitions sent from different countries. That has forced Ukrainian artillery units to use more ammunition to hit their targets, Ukrainian soldiers said, because accuracy varies widely between the various shells. In addition, some of the older shells and rockets sent from abroad are damaging their equipment and injuring soldiers. ‘It’s a very big problem now,’ said Alex, a Ukrainian battalion commander.”
  • “Finally, in the summer months, camouflage and greenery remain crucial factors in whether a battlefield operation will be successful. Defending forces almost always have the advantage, whether because of unseen trenches or hidden electronic warfare units that use deceit and concealment to throw off attacking forces.”
  • “Often, to fire or maneuver, Ukrainian combat vehicles have to forgo any type of camouflage, exposing them to another weapon that has proliferated across the front line in recent months: Russian Lancet drones. Often called ‘kamikaze’ drones, they have forced Ukrainian artillery and tank crews to take extensive measures at concealing their positions. Some tank crews have even welded homemade armor to their turrets to try to stop the self-exploding machines.”
  • “Electronic warfare is a hidden hand behind much of the war, with Russian abilities outmatching those of the Ukrainians. Russian forces can detect cellphone signals and jam GPS and radio frequencies, and they are often looking for Starlink Wi-Fi routers to target with their artillery.”

“The West Feels Gloomy About Ukraine. Here's Why It Shouldn't,” columnist David Ignatius, WP, 07.18.23.

  • “Russia is preparing a major new offensive of its own east of Kharkiv, according to a Ukrainian defense official. That could disrupt Ukrainian plans in the south, but given past Russian performance, it isn't likely to alter the balance of the war.”
  • “[T]here's an obvious danger that Putin might turn to the domain in which Russia remains a superpower: nuclear weapons. But that would be even riskier for Russia than for the West. Any demonstration of Russia's battlefield nuclear weapons would draw a devastating U.S. conventional military response—and probably cause the loss of China as an ally.”
  • “Pentagon officials keep reminding me that for all the angst about the slow pace of the offensive, Ukraine still hasn't committed the bulk of its mobile forces. It's watching for weak points in Russian lines where it can punch through. … A measure of the difficult battle ahead came Tuesday from Gen. Mark A. Milley … ‘I think there's a lot of fighting left to go, and I'll stay with what we said before: This is going to be long. It's going to be hard. It's going to be bloody.’”
  • “Ukrainian commanders say they need two more things to succeed. Given the stakes in this war, it's a mistake not to provide them.”
    • “The first is longer-range missiles, known as ATACMs, that can strike at Russian command and logistical centers deep in the rear.”
    • “Ukraine's second requirement is better air defense and protection from Russian air attacks.”
  • “Biden has always said this war should eventually be settled through negotiations, and as Ukraine advances, the administration should be working with partners to explore diplomatic options. It's a measure of Russia's weakness that some of Moscow's erstwhile friends, such as Turkey and China, seem increasingly interested in a negotiated settlement.”
  • “On the other side of this war is a better future for every party to the conflict, including an eventual post-Putin Russia.”

“All Is Not Well on Russian Front Lines,” RAND’s Dara Massicot, NYT, 07.19.23.

  • “Whatever his fate will be after the failed rebellion, Mr. Prigozhin’s critiques of the war are still dangerous—because they are correct. He repeatedly pointed out, in coarse, angry language, how the war is mismanaged at the highest levels by out-of-touch bureaucrats, leading to many logistical problems and ammunition shortages. He criticized Mr. Shoigu and Gen. Gerasimov for downplaying bad news and misleading Mr. Putin while also engaging in petty intrigues with subordinates. He noted how the children of Russia’s elite avoid military service while the poor return home in coffins.”
  • “But Mr. Putin’s cocoon of loyal interlocutors filters out these problems and instead offers a substitute view to both the president and a disengaged public. Dmitri Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s national security council, says 185,000 men joined the Russian military in 2023 alone. The Ministry of Defense claims to have destroyed over twice as many HIMARS as were ever delivered to Ukraine. As Mr. Shoigu says, ‘Everything is proceeding according to plan.’ None of this is true.”
  • “All is not well on Russian front lines. It is still not clear whether Wagner troops will fully withdraw from Ukraine. If they depart, higher casualties will be borne by regular military units at a time when they can hardly afford more losses.”
  • “This could create an opening for Ukrainian forces to exploit if they have the means. But they are experiencing difficulties, too. Subjected to persistent artillery strikes and without adequate air support, they are struggling to cut through dense Russian minefields.”
  • “For now, the Russian front lines are holding, despite the Kremlin’s dysfunctional decisions. Yet the cumulative pressure of bad choices is mounting. Russian front lines might crack in the way Hemingway once wrote about going bankrupt: ‘gradually, then suddenly.’”

“Roles and Implications of AI in the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict,” Sam Bendett of CNAS, RM, 07.20.23.

  • “Artificial Intelligence (AI) is emerging as a significant asset in the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Specifically, it has become a key data analysis tool that helps operators and warfighters make sense of the growing volume and amount of information generated by numerous systems, weapons and soldiers in the field.”
  • “On balance, Ukraine seems to be gaining more from using this technology, although it’s too early to predict whether such a technological edge will translate into significant gains against entrenched Russian positions. So far, Ukraine has managed to maintain a human-centric approach toward AI use, with operators making the final decisions. In my view, Ukraine’s Western partners are embracing that approach, but their militaries still need to agree on how to use AI after its debut in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.”
  • “A key role of AI in Ukraine’s service is the integration of target and object recognition with satellite imagery, prompting Western commentators to note that Ukraine has an edge in geospatial intelligence. AI is used to geolocate and analyze open-source data such as social media content to identify Russian soldiers, weapons, systems, units or their movements.”
  • “Within the Russian military establishment, the drive toward using AI in autonomous, uncrewed and robotic systems is one of the most visible aspects of the country’s high-tech research, development, testing and evaluation efforts. This technology is viewed as a critical mission multiplier to eventually replace human fighters in dangerous situations. … There are few, if any, examples of Russia’s visible practical application of AI in this war.”
  • “With the war in Ukraine likely to continue for some time, both sides are working toward achieving an edge over one another—and AI will continue to play a growing role in this confrontation.”

“Cluster Bombs and the Contradictions of Liberalism,” Harvard’s Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy, 07.19.23.

  • “The Biden administration’s controversial decision to supply Ukraine with cluster munitions is a telling illustration of liberalism’s limitations as a guide to foreign policy. The administration’s rhetoric extols the superiority of democracies over autocracies, highlights its commitment to a ‘rules-based order,’ and steadfastly maintains that it takes human rights seriously. If this were true, however, it would not be sending weapons that pose serious risks to civilians and whose use in Ukraine it has criticized harshly in the past. But as it has on other prominent issues (e.g., relations with Saudi Arabia, the expanding Israeli oppression of its Palestinian subjects, or the commitment to an open world economy), those liberal convictions get jettisoned as soon as they become inconvenient. This behavior shouldn’t surprise us: When states are in trouble and worried that they might suffer a setback, they toss their principles aside and do what they think it takes to win.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken at Aspen Security Forum Fireside Chat Moderated by NBC News Chief Washington and Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, State.gov, 07.21.23.

  • [When asked “How concerned are you about the counteroffensive, which is bogged down, by Ukraine’s own admission?”] “Look, these are still relatively early days. We have said from the start, we’ve known from the start that this would be hard going. You’ve heard a number of people talk about that. The Russians have laid significant and serious defenses when it comes to mines initially. The Ukrainians are working their way through that. I believe they have what they need to be very successful.”
  • “The ultimate difference is, unlike the Russians, they’re [Ukrainians] fighting for their land, they’re fighting for their country, they’re fighting for their future, they’re fighting for their freedom. That is the single biggest difference-maker.”
  • “If we saw any evidence that Russia was interested in having meaningful peace talks, we would be the first to jump on it – well, maybe the second because I suspect the Ukrainians would be first. No one wants this war over more quickly than the Ukrainians. They’re on the receiving end of Russia’s aggression every day. Unfortunately, I see zero evidence that Russia’s interested.”

“Ukraine’s Other Allies: The West Should Assist the Private Actors Helping Arm Kyiv,” U.S. Naval War College’s Jahara Matisek, Northwestern University’s William Reno and the University of Texas’s Sam Rosenberg, FA, 07.19.23.

  • “The West must acknowledge the significant impact that seemingly small actions by nonstate actors have on the war in Ukraine. The United States and its allies can significantly enhance the campaign to defeat Russia and restore Ukraine’s sovereignty through integrating these actors into a more flexible, irregular strategy of statecraft. … [T]he United States and its allies and partners should remove obstacles and bureaucratic hurdles to informal assistance.”

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

“The Risks of One of the Most Severe Tools in America’s Foreign Policy Arsenal,” Editorial Board, NYT, 07.24.23.

  • “There is nearly universal consensus that certain egregious violations of international laws and norms demand a forceful and concerted response. … Harsh economic sanctions have long been viewed as the answer.”
  • “The eternal question, though, is: What comes next? When do sanctions stop working? Or worse, when do they start working against the United States’ best interests? … [O]ver the past two decades, economic sanctions have become a tool of first resort for U.S. policymakers, used for disrupting terrorist networks, trying to stop the development of nuclear weapons and punishing dictators.”
  • “Policymakers turn to sanctions so frequently—the United States accounts for 42 percent of sanctions imposed worldwide since 1950, according to Drexel University’s Global Sanctions Database—in part because they are seen as being low cost, especially compared with military action. In reality, the costs are substantial. They are borne by banks, businesses, civilians and humanitarian groups, which shoulder the burden of putting them into effect, complying with them and mitigating their effects.”
  • “Peter Harrell, who served on the National Security Council staff under Mr. Biden, argues that sanctions should automatically expire after a certain number of years unless Congress votes to extend them.”
  • “For sanctions to incentivize change rather than merely punish actions in the past, the United States should be prepared to lift sanctions … if the stated criteria are met. Sanctions, as attractive as they are, rarely work without specific goals combined with criteria for sanctions to be lifted. That applies to current as well as future sanctions. Without goals and relief criteria, these measures … risk working against American interests and principles in the long run.”

“Danone/Carlsberg: expropriation escalates Russia’s war on business,” Lex, FT, 07.19.23.

  • “Lawyers joke that a country can only break the law once. A second infringement makes law instead, by confirming a precedent. Russia has gone for that double hit by expropriating Russian businesses of France’s Danone and Carlsberg of Denmark. The beneficiaries are cronies of Vladimir Putin. Danone’s Russian assets will go to the nephew of Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov.”
  • “Western companies still active in Russia will wonder how safe their own assets are from covetous allies of Putin. PepsiCo, Mars, Philip Morris, Nestlé all have businesses ripe for the plucking.”
  • “Banks like Italy’s UniCredit, Intesa Sanpaolo and Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank remain too. But their genuine strategic importance provides some protection: Russia still needs financial links to the West to sell gas and process currency. … Putin, however, is happy to go it alone in the demanding technocratic field of yogurt production.”

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • No significant developments.

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

“Ukraine’s Frustrating Summer,” FT’s U.S. national editor and columnist Edward Luce, FT, 07.24.23.

  • “I drew ... conclusions from the last few days [at the annual Aspen Security Forum].”
    • “The first is that the focus on the supposed lack of Western long-range artillery and planes — Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and F-16s — is a bit of a red herring. In my fireside conversation with Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s national security adviser, which you can watch here, he convincingly made the point that neither was critical to Ukraine’s war effort. ... Ukraine’s immediate need is ammunition.”
    • “Even if Ukraine does make significant inroads in the next three months, which seems like a reasonable bet, another winter will move both sides, plus their backers, closer to the point at which jaw-jaw will feel like an increasingly tempting alternative to war-war. At some point, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who spoke to us by video last week, will need to sit down with Vladimir Putin, or his successor, to reach a deal.”
    • “There was also plenty of speculation on how far Putin’s grip had been weakened by the fact that Yevgeny Prigozhin … had so far got away with his life for last month’s aborted march on Moscow. As CIA director Bill Burns told us, either emperor Putin has no clothes or he is taking a long time to get dressed. Putin’s fragility may be the biggest wild card of the coming months.”

“You See What You Want to See in Russia. Why didn’t Prigozhin’s mutiny against Putin change anyone’s mind?” Harvard’s Stephen M. Walt, FP, 07.21.23.

  • “After nearly 18 months of war, how many pundits have admitted they were wrong about anything about the [Russian-Ukrainian] conflict? None of us has been right about everything, but with the partial exception of Henry Kissinger, I can’t think of a single prominent commentator who has publicly changed their mind about the key issues involved or reluctantly concluded that their original prescriptions were faulty.”
  • “To be clear: I don’t know how this war ends. I would like Ukraine to win decisively and regain most if not all of its territory, but I doubt this is possible even if Kyiv receives ATACMS, F-16s and all the other items on its ever-expanding wish list. Unlike some observers, I remain concerned that Russia will use weapons of mass destruction if it faces the sort of catastrophic defeat that hard-liners in the West still yearn for. A prolonged stalemate may eventually produce a fragile peace, but the cost to Ukraine will be enormous. But as I try to figure out where things are headed and what should be done, I wish I had more confidence that the people I’m reading were telling me what they really think, or spending any time asking themselves where they might be wrong.”

“How to Ensure Ukraine's Long-Term Survival,” Editorial Board, WP, 07.24.23.

  • “Had Kyiv retained its nukes then [in the 1990s], it would probably not be fighting an existential war against Moscow's invading forces today. Ukrainians know that when it comes to security help from its friends, assurances are nice but legally binding promises are better.”
  • “That history is pertinent in the aftermath of what the world's leading industrialized democracies called an ‘enduring’ pledge this month to provide Ukraine with advanced weapons and enhanced training and intelligence sharing.”
  • “Even if Ukraine remains in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's waiting room, where it has been for 15 years, the West will need to meet Kyiv's heavy requirement for arms.”
  • “The responsibility for doing so rests with the G-7 signatories and also with Ukraine's smaller allies in Europe. It is especially incumbent on the United States, whose military capacity dwarfs all the others' combined.”
  • “The Biden administration and Congress [should give] teeth to the G-7 promise to protect Ukraine from Moscow's predations. Ukraine's fight against Russia is central to the West's interests in driving back an unprovoked aggression that threatens the pillars of the world's law-based order.”

“NATO's Open-Door Rhetoric On Ukraine Is Running Up Against Harsh Realities,” U.S. Naval War College’s Nikolas Gvosdev’s interview to RFE/RL. 07.18.23.

  • “What we've learned at Vilnius is that NATO is an unwieldy alliance of 31 members. ... Now we have this very vague formulation that says, well, Ukraine will join when conditions warrant and the allies agree. And that doesn't give us a lot of clarity as to what are the conditions? When will they be met? Who will evaluate whether the conditions have been met? And what does it mean for the allies to agree?”
  • “So, in some ways, this summit worsens Ukraine's position in that Ukraine doesn't have a clear invitation, it doesn't have a timeline, but it also doesn't have, at least from the alliance, concrete security guarantees. And now what is going to happen in the aftermath of Vilnius, which is going to be critical, is whether or not individual countries, starting with the United States, are going to extend clearer, firmer guarantees of support to Ukraine, [which] the alliance—as the alliance—was unwilling to do in Vilnius.”
  • “Unless in the days following Vilnius, the alliance clarifies what that [statement] means, then it has very much these echoes of Bucharest (at the 2008 NATO summit). Because right now, one could say, ‘Well, as long as we don't know what the conditions are, they can never be met.’ There'll never be time for Ukraine.”

“NATO shouldn’t give Vladimir Putin an excuse to prolong the war,” Elizabeth Shackelford of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Chicago Tribune, 07.14.23.

  • “The debate over Ukraine’s potential NATO membership centers on whether it would deter Russia from invading Ukraine again or would instead provoke Russia and drag the entire alliance into war. The bigger question for NATO members should be whether the risk of the latter is worth the benefit to NATO.”
  • “I believe that question can only be answered with any certainty once the war is done. An offer of membership won’t hasten that conclusion, so the question of Ukraine’s membership is premature, serving neither the interests of NATO nor peace.”
  • “NATO allies who strongly favor Ukraine’s ultimate accession, particularly those that border Russia, such as Poland, want NATO to provide a specific and accelerated timetable for Ukraine to join once the war is concluded. ... Others disagree. The U.S. is the most vocal but not the only NATO country that views such assurances as unnecessary provocations to Russia.”
  • “While I do not buy the ‘NATO made Putin do it’ argument, I do believe a promise to admit Ukraine after the war ends would be an obstacle to Russia accepting peace and that NATO allies today can’t know if Ukraine’s membership will be a benefit or burden when that peace finally comes.”
  • “It might be unsatisfying to Ukraine today to leave Vilnius with no clear path, but it’s the best decision for the possibility of peace and the interests of NATO’s existing members in the future.”

“Off the MAP: Ukraine and the Problems of Expanding NATO,” fellow Walter Landgraf, FPRI, 07.20.23.

  • “The North Atlantic Council’s decision at the 2023 Vilnius summit to exempt Ukraine from obtaining a Membership Action Plan (MAP), the formal institutional mechanism used by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to guide chosen applicants toward membership, is a turning point for the alliance’s expansion in the post-Cold War era.”
  • “NATO has now undercut its own established procedure to ensure that candidates have met the alliance’s standards for membership.”
  • “This could have serious repercussions for Ukraine, other potential members, and Euro-Atlantic security. By removing the MAP for Ukraine but not other countries in the membership queue, NATO exposes itself to accusations of double standards, while drawing closer to direct war with Russia.”

“Biden’s Search for a Security Model for Ukraine Comes Up Short,” Geoffrey Aronson of Middle East Institute, NI, 07.23.23.

  • “The Biden administration continues to search for a workable security assistance formula that promises Ukraine more than a tactical approach to incrementalism capable of achieving the strategic objective of imposing a ‘strategic defeat’ on Russia. The Israel model is, at worst, a dangerous incentive for Kyiv to reinvigorate nuclear capabilities surrendered during the U.S.-Russia honeymoon a generation ago. At best, Biden’s interest is a reflection of the confusion that currently passes for strategic thinking on Pennsylvania Avenue.”

“Tell Russians Putin Has to Go. Biden Should Call on Russians to Oust Putin and End Their Isolation,” Max Bergmann of CSIS, 07.18.23.

  • “Biden would need to communicate that for Russia to have a path back, it would need to end the war and replace the leadership in the Kremlin.”
  • “Forging an acceptable peace with a post-Putin Russia would still be an extremely difficult task. Russia would have to accept Ukraine’s potential membership in the EU and NATO. Poland and the Baltic states would inevitably resist efforts to thaw relations or to roll back EU sanctions. Ukraine would rightly demand justice and reparations for Russian war crimes and destruction. But the reality is that Russia is not going to be fully conquered at the conclusion of this war, making reparations difficult to demand. Ukraine or The Hague will be able to try war criminals only if Russia willingly turns them over.”
  • “A proposed settlement to the war that insists on Russia’s weakness or extensive concessions will only strengthen hard-liners inside the country. The United States should instead reassure Russians that if they end the war, respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, reduce tensions with the West, and oust Putin, they will be saving their country from defeat and decline and giving Russia a chance to peacefully thrive alongside its neighbors.”

“The New Spy Wars. How China and Russia Use Intelligence Agencies to Undermine America,” Belfer Center’s Calder Walton, FA, 07.19.23.

  • “Today, Western governments are in a new cold war with Russia and China that is again transforming the nature of espionage. … It was colossally difficult for Western clandestine services to collect reliable intelligence on closed police states behind the Iron Curtain; now it is even more difficult for them to operate effectively in Russia or China, with their Orwellian domestic surveillance systems. Meanwhile, it is relatively easy for Russia and China to steal secrets from the open, free and democratic societies of the West, just as it was for the Soviets before them.”
  • “But the similarities between this superpower conflict and the last one should not blind us to their differences. China’s massive economic weight and integration into the global economy differentiate it from the Soviet Union. Today’s information landscape is also much different from that of even the recent past. Commercial satellite companies, for example, now offer capabilities that until recently would have been the preserve of governments. Open-source and commercial intelligence are transforming national security. In the last Cold War, approximately 80 percent of U.S. intelligence was derived from clandestine sources while 20 percent came from open sources. Today, those proportions are thought to be reversed. The future of Western intelligence lies not with governments but with the private sector.”
  • “What Western governments need more than anything, however, is imagination … Imagination is what led the CIA to develop high-altitude U-2 planes that were capable of spying behind the Iron Curtain when other methods were impossible. Similar imagination is needed today in areas at the forefront of national security, including open-source intelligence gathering, the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence and quantum computing. These will be the weapons of this century’s cold war—and those that will determine its outcome.”

“The Illusion of Great-Power Competition. Why Middle Powers—and Small Countries—Are Vital to U.S. Strategy,” Jude Blanchette and Christopher Johnstone of CSIS, FA, 07.24.23.

  • “For many observers, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s increasingly aggressive saber rattling across the Indo-Pacific have divided the world into blocs, dragging the United States and its allies into a ‘new Cold War’ … Others see this as an era of competition among great powers, in which the United States and China are the central protagonists in a global struggle. The latest U.S. National Security Strategy reflects this view.”
  • “But these frames are oversimplified and outdated: they overemphasize the unilateral power of the United States and China, underappreciate both countries’ own dependencies and overlook the vital importance of middle and small powers, as well as commercial entities and other nonstate actors. Although some aspects of the Cold War hold true today … the integration and interdependence that characterize the international system in this century places today’s policymakers on a vastly different landscape than the one their twentieth-century predecessors navigated.”
  • “As the United States wrestles with a fluid international system, it should follow a few key principles.”
    • “First, in a world in which few countries are willing to explicitly align against China, the United States will need to be careful when presenting partners with zero-sum choices.”
    • “A key element of U.S. strategy must include renewed commitments to the multilateral trading system and a willingness to negotiate meaningful market-access agreements.”
    • “Washington also needs to show more awareness of the domestic political situations its partners face. The fact that some coalitions and individual partners say one thing in private and another in public is often less a demonstration of cowardice and more a reflection of political and economic realities constraining overtly anti-China actions.”

“The Upside of Western Hypocrisy. How the Global South Can Push America to Do Better,” Carnegie Endowment’s Matias Spektor, FA, 07.21.23.

  • “Western hypocrisy can be beneficial, as long as it is handled well. This requires policymakers in the Western alliance to get their response right whenever they are confronted with their failure to live up to their moral commitments. Rather than merely reaffirming the value of the principle that they are violating, they should specify measures to comply with it. Such a proactive response has the advantage of showing the world that in the face of criticism, the Western international order is capable of learning, adapting, and evolving.”
  • “By responding to charges of hypocrisy by doing better in the future, the United States and its allies can prepare for a more competitive and conflictual world. Countries of the global South have rarely accused Beijing of hypocrisy, in part because China has shied away from articulating a coherent vision of international order. But as the country grows more powerful and influential, its policymakers will be forced to present to the world ideas and projects that will require some kind of appeal to virtue and principle. In turn, this will inevitably result in the details of Chinese foreign policy grating against some of the country’s professed values. As its clout in world politics expands, Beijing will increasingly face complaints of hypocrisy. And when that day comes, people the world over may find that hypocritical behavior under the banner of liberal values was not that bad after all.”

“Asian Allies Have a Role to Play in NATO,” former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, WSJ, 07.24.23.

  • “Ukraine dominated the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's recent summit, but concern with Asian threats was evident. While the final communique asserted China's ‘stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values,’ it was mostly diplomatic verbiage.”
  • “By contrast [to French leadership], most other alliance members welcome closer security relations with like-minded Indo-Pacific allies.”
  • “Washington should give careful, strategic thought to expanding NATO's Asian role. It need not admit Asian members tomorrow, but it can certainly work toward that goal.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Vladimir Putin Is Still Useful to Xi Jinping. Until He Isn’t,” historian Sergey Radchenko, NYT, 07.23.23.

  • “Mr. Xi, perhaps sensing diminishing returns from deeper engagement with America, has brought things full circle once more during the Putin era, embracing the Russian leader and denouncing the United States. The West is right to be worried. Turning the clock back to the days of Sino-Soviet brotherhood, Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi have unequivocally sided with each other in challenging the Western-led world order. The combination of Mr. Putin’s revanchism and military aggression and China’s economic power is dangerous.”
  • “But Mr. Putin has made a potentially grave error, burning bridges with the West to go all in with China in reckless disregard for Beijing’s track record of instrumentalizing its friendships.”
  • “Looking weakened and less secure after the Wagner revolt last month, he  [Putin] risks becoming even more dependent on China for political and economic support. Mr. Xi will no doubt take note. Like past Chinese leaders, he respects strength but knows how to exploit weakness, and Russia will remain useful to him as he continues to challenge the United States. Mr. Putin can still make major strategic choices for his country, as long as they coincide with China’s interests. But will China stand by him if those interests diverge? Or if Russian elites run out of patience with his poor decisions and try to push him out? Or if the global costs of standing with him prove too onerous for China?”
  • “China remains the same secretive, self-serving Communist Party state that it was in Mao’s day, with an outlook on global politics in which alignments are viewed as temporary. ... The West, so concerned today about this newly united front between China and Russia, should remember that. So should Mr. Putin.”

“The U.S. Can Help Ukraine and Deter China,” former special assistant to President George W. Bush Michael Allen and Connor Pfeiffer of the Forum for American Leadership, WSJ, 07.18.23.

  • “The twin imperatives of backing Ukraine and bolstering deterrence in Asia are achievable for now. But Ukraine urgently needs more weapons, and the U.S. must act quickly to strengthen deterrence in Asia, even if a Chinese invasion of Taiwan might not come until 2027. A narrow trade-off argument focused on Javelins and Stingers obscures the real problem—the limitations of the U.S. defense industrial base. Stated plainly, even if the U.S. stopped providing assistance to Ukraine today, the most glaring obstacles to deterrence in the Pacific—from surface ships and submarines to precision-guided munitions—would remain.”
  • “The good news is that the war in Ukraine has catalyzed action to revitalize America's industrial base, which will ultimately put the U.S. in a better position to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The Pentagon is investing billions in industrial capacity. To remain the arsenal of democracy, the U.S. must allocate additional resources, authorize long-term weapons purchases, and reform glacial bureaucracies. Only then can the U.S. sustain its longer-term national security objectives in Asia and Europe.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“The West Cannot Cure Russia’s Nuclear Fever,” Hanna Notte of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, War on the Rocks, 07.18.23.

  • “The nuclear musings [in Russia] are especially disconcerting in light of the ‘known unknown’: Vladimir Putin’s threshold for using a nuclear weapon. Putin’s views matter, since he is the one ultimately deciding on nuclear use. While he appears to have always viewed nuclear weapons as a deterrent, Putin has also championed the development of nuclear systems intended for regional warfighting, repeatedly recalled the United States’ bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as having set a ‘precedent,’ and embellished his statements on the nuclear subject with messianic overtones. Those looking toward Russia’s declaratory policy for firm cues about the circumstances that could trigger nuclear use will not find comforting certainty, either, since it is meant to deter with intentional ambiguity.”
  • “Western observers must therefore accept an uncomfortable reality: For as long as Russia fights against Ukraine, and for as long as the United States and Europe support Ukraine in its defense, there will be no cure against Russia’s ‘nuclear fever’—and the risk of nuclear war will remain. Russia’s heightened efforts to induce fear via nuclear signaling are also entirely consistent with the country’s deterrence strategy, which has been honed over decades. At best, Western states can hope to lower the temperature and seek to credibly deter Russia’s crossing of the nuclear threshold. At worst, U.S. and European leaders have to contemplate how to respond to nuclear use and all the implications that any such decision may entail.”

“What We Learned From Recent Calls for a Russian Nuclear Attack,” Andrey Baklitskiy, expert on nuclear policy and arms control, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 07.20.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “The recent public discussion in Russia on using nuclear weapons against the West was really a discussion about how Moscow can extricate itself from the difficult situation in which it finds itself—and what price it is willing to pay for a victory.”
  • “It was Sergei Karaganov, honorary chairman of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, who kicked off the debate. In an article published in the middle of June, he .... said, it is necessary to scare the West with Russia’s willingness to use nuclear weapons, and then possibly ‘hit a bunch of targets in a number of countries in order to bring those who have lost their mind to reason.’”
  • “The opinions of most other experts can be gleaned from the titles of their articles: ‘A Preemptive Nuclear Strike? No!,’ ‘Why We Won’t Be Able to Sober Up the West with a Nuclear Bomb,’ and ‘Nuclear War Is a Bad Way to Solve a Problem.’ ... The only significant public figure to support Karaganov was Dmitry Trenin. ... Even Putin waded into the debate on the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Answering a question at the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin said: ‘First, we see no need to use them, and, second, considering this even as a possibility factors into lowering the threshold for the use of such weapons.’”
  • “Upon closer inspection, the nuclear weapons discussion is actually a discussion about whether there are more important things for Russia, its leaders, and its people than winning a war with the West. In the world described by Karaganov and Trenin, the answer is ‘no.’ They see the standoff with the West as existential and argue that, as Moscow has fewer resources than its enemies, a first strike is logical. This position is not just unacceptable to Russian nuclear policy experts, however, but also—as far as it is possible to judge—to the Russian leadership.”
  • “Advocates of a nuclear first strike like Karaganov and Trenin have not only failed to scare their foreign opponents, but, as the recent discussion illustrates, have not even succeeded in winning over their colleagues. Ordinary Russians are likely similarly opposed: a recent survey by the independent pollster Levada Center revealed that 86 percent of Russians believe nuclear weapons should not be used in Ukraine under any circumstances.”

“Defanging Russian Nuclear Threats,” Kori Schake of the American Enterprise Institute, War on the Rocks, 07.21.23.

  • “There remain at least three plausible uses of nuclear weapons by Russia at this stage of the war.”
    • “The first is tactical use on massed Ukrainian armor preparing to strike the main Russian lines as the Ukrainian offensive progresses.”
    • “The second is a long-range strike on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.”
    • “The third could come with spectacular success of Ukraine’s current offensive, as a last gasp destruction for either simply punitive reasons or to preserve the Putin regime from internal challenge.”
  • “Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny is likely to increase those concerns. … The Biden administration is right to be concerned about the prospect of nuclear weapons use by Russia, either in Ukraine or to draw the United States into the war.”
  • “A better response to potential Russian nuclear use would be to make very clear that the consequences of that choice would be disastrous for Putin and his supporters. … [R]eporting by the Financial Times suggest that the United States, along with France and the United Kingdom, has already warned Russia that any nuclear use would invite a conventional response.”
  • “U.S. intelligence about Russian actions has been excellent—America should publicize any Russian preparations. The United States should tell the Russians that if any preparations are perceived, America will give Ukraine both the targeting and weapons to pre-empt Russian use. If the United States fails to prevent nuclear use, it should send NATO response teams to Ukraine to help manage the effects and help defend Ukraine. And the United States should be clear that it will hunt down and either kill or drag to The Hague anyone who participated in the decision or carried out the order. While the United States and its allies are unlikely to reach into Russia to seize Putin and other complicit Russians, this would prevent them leaving the country and holding assets abroad, while risking being turned over by future Russian governments.”
  • “As the war enters its most dangerous phase, those of us least likely to suffer damage need to keep our nerve and adopt policies that deter Russia from making the catastrophic choice of using nuclear weapons.”

“After the NATO Summit: Are We Already at War with Russia?” research fellow Emily Ferris, RUSI, 07.20.23.

  • “While it would be unwise to ignore Russia’s signaling around the potential use of nuclear force, it does seem that the Kremlin has come to expect a response from the West whenever it is mentioned, as this returns to the agenda the urgency of opening emergency communication channels with Russia. It is possible that Russia views the West’s response as a potential weakness, or it could be attempting to probe NATO’s own willingness to use nuclear force. Or, it could be seeking to create the future basis for a practical security discussion.”
  • “Discussions about nuclear weapons and their movement to Belarus might represent more of a foreign policy tool than an actual willingness to escalate at a senior level. While it is difficult to determine where Moscow’s thresholds are, there are few issues that grab the West’s attention like the nuclear question, and Russia might have viewed this as an opportunity to insert itself back into the conversation.”
  • “If we assume that Russia does believe it is already at war with NATO, then there ought to be a more pressing discussion about what the West does with Russia from here. NATO’s final communique mentions Russia numerous times as the most significant and direct threat to the world order and international security. But what was not addressed was whether there has been any collective improvement since the war began in the Alliance’s understanding and anticipation of how Moscow thinks – either regarding NATO, or about the conditions for nuclear warfare, or where its other red lines might be. If the answer is that there has not been any improvement, then there does not seem to be an agreed-upon sense of how that could change in the longer term, and the practical implications this would have for military spending or prioritization of resources.”

“Neither Trust nor Verify. The New Normal and the Future of the START Treaty?” IMEMO researcher Alexander Ermakov, RIAC, 07.19.23.1 Clues from Russian Views.

  • “U.S. interest in the inspection part of agreements on the reduction of strategic arms has not diminished. ... In a professional environment, there is even a maxim that ‘in the START [treaty], the U.S. needs inspections, and Russia needs ceilings.’”
  • “What about ceilings and why are they important to Russia? ... Limiting the upper ceiling of strategic nuclear forces made it possible [for Russia] to allocate more funds to conventional weapons. It is obvious that over the past year this issue has only become more relevant for Russia.”
  • “Today, Russia does not need to announce plans to start a quantitative race in strategic nuclear missile weapons—military spending has somewhere to direct itself.”
  • “The American side is also incapable of a significant increase in arsenals in the medium term.”
  • “In this situation, it looks like that, despite regular mutual reproaches, the working scenario is that the parties ... will generally continue to adhere to the provisions of the START for the period of the agreement, and possibly longer.”

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

“Climate Action in an Era of Great Power Competition,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs director Meghan L. O’Sullivan, 07.18.23.

  • “For a generation, the cooperative approach embodied in the COP made sense. As carbon emissions transcend borders, the best strategy was a co-operative one; no one country can address the challenge alone. ... Today, we are in a different world. Collaborative undercurrents of the past have been replaced by great power competition that has permeated across the globe. U.S.-China tensions pull at countries from south-east Asia to Latin America. The effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine have been crippling for people living thousands of miles from Europe. The dominant dynamic is one of competition, and even conflict.”
  • “It is therefore not just folly, but also irresponsible, to expect that a cooperative mechanism like COP will be the primary means to deliver climate action in an era of global competition.”
  • “The challenge for policymakers is to further map out a competitive approach for climate action. A good next step is to consider climate finance. Although there is not yet agreement on how to tackle the issue at COP28, good work is being done on how to reform the global financial system to expedite the flow of capital to developing countries caught in the crosshairs of the energy transition.”
  • “Perhaps a more competitive approach will yield further — or complementary — results. The IRA has transformed how the U.S. aims to tackle climate change domestically but allocates no resources for a different policy internationally. Washington and the governments of other developed countries have the opportunity and the imperative to remedy this.”
  • “Instigating a race between the U.S., China and other actors like the Gulf States — and their private sectors — to meet climate financing needs of countries in Africa, south-east Asia, Latin America and elsewhere is what will catapult us to a new level of climate action — with or without a successful COP in November.”

“The West Must Prepare for Vladimir Putin to Weaponize Energy Again,” energy editor David Sheppard, FT, 07.19.23.

  • “A growing band of energy experts are warning that Western countries should not be blasé, as they remain vulnerable to Russian perfidy in energy markets. The worry is that if Putin suspects he is losing the war in Ukraine—and with it potentially his grip on power—then the West must be prepared for further disruption, including attempts to weaponize oil supplies for the first time.”
  • “The International Energy Agency warned this week that there remained a risk of Russia cutting off its remaining pipeline flows to Europe, which go through Ukraine and Turkey. If LNG supplies are also lower and the weather is unkind, the IEA said there would be a risk of ‘price volatility and supply disruptions in the case of a late cold spell.’”
  • “For Putin, the upsides of boosting petrol and diesel prices ahead of the U.S. elections may overshadow fears of damaging the Russian oil sector or diplomatic relations.”
  • “Western powers are not defenseless. IEA members hold emergency stocks of oil, and last year the Biden administration released about 200mn barrels from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help keep prices in check. But further releases are becoming more politically challenging, with critics accusing Joe Biden of undermining U.S. energy security by draining SPR stocks to the lowest level since the 1980s. With only 350mn barrels left, further releases would need to be weighed carefully. Putin may even think energy markets are finally moving in his favor.”

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“The Ukraine War Wouldn't Have Surprised Richard Nixon,” Chapman University’s Luke A. Nichter, WSJ, 07.22.23.

  • “What is most striking about the seven-page, single-spaced letter [by Nixon to Clinton] dated March 21, 1994, is that Nixon anticipated a more belligerent Russia, the rise of someone like Vladimir Putin and worsening relations between Moscow and Kyiv. Nixon, who was 81, had just returned from a two-week trip to Russia and Ukraine.”
    • “Nixon warned that Boris Yeltsin's brief experiment with democracy was already over. ‘As one of Yeltsin's first supporters in this country and as one who continues to admire him for his leadership in the past, I have reluctantly concluded that his situation has rapidly deteriorated since the elections in December, and that the days of his unquestioned leadership of Russia are numbered,’ Nixon wrote.”
    • “Nixon also said that Moscow's relationship with Kyiv would worsen. … ‘If it is allowed to get out of control,’ Nixon warned, ‘it will make Bosnia look like a PTA garden party.’”
    • “It was equally important that the U.S. anticipate Yeltsin's potential successor. … It wasn't clear who that successor might be. … ‘The Russians are serious people. One of the reasons Khrushchev was put on the shelf back in 1964 is that the proud Russians became ashamed of his crude antics at the U.N. and in other international forums.’ In other words, if the U.S. didn't act promptly to cultivate Yeltsin's successor, Russia could again shift to a more nationalist, hard-line leader, as when Leonid Brezhnev succeeded Khrushchev.”
  • “Mr. Putin has sparred with five presidents to date, but it was Nixon who saw him coming. ‘After he died, I found myself wishing I could pick up the phone and ask President Nixon what he thought about this issue or that problem, particularly if it involved Russia,’ Mr. Clinton said in 2013. Nixon didn't live to see Mr. Putin succeed Yeltsin, but his newly declassified correspondence with Mr. Clinton shows that he wouldn't be surprised by Russia today.”

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“The Russian economy can remain in its current state for decades,” interview with former deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank Sergey Aleksashenko, Republic.ru, 07.19.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “The main stabilizer of the Russian economy is its market nature, it is free prices. That is something that Putin inherited from the 90s he so disliked.”
  • “The Soviet economy collapsed not because there were some unskilled people in [the Soviet state planning committee and its state supply agency]. They were very qualified. It collapsed because Gorbachev did not dare to reform the pricing mechanism although he promised to do so in 1987. And due to the fact that prices did not change, the economy became increasingly unbalanced with each … year.”
  • “Free pricing is the main tool for stabilizing the Russian economy and keeping it in a stable (but not efficient!) state. ... If Putin had said: ‘Come on, let's freeze all prices,’ here the professionalism of the employees of the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance would not be able to help anymore. In its current state, in such a stable, but not efficient state, the Russian economy can remain for decades.”

“Putin’s Fear of Strong Generals Is as Old as Russia Itself,” author of “Stalin, The Romanovs, and The World: A Family History of Humanity” Simon Sebag Montefiore, FP, 07.19.23.

  • “Every Russian ruler must exist in a perpetual state of ferocious vigilance, paying paramount attention to personal security. … Putin has studied these lessons, recalling how Fidel Castro … told him how he had survived many assassination attempts by always keeping personal control of his security.”
  • “When Putin made the dire decision to attack Ukraine, Prigozhin enthusiastically embraced the war, and shaming the venal bureaucrats and military pencil pushers Shoigu and Gerasimov, he shaped Wagner as a Russian storm force. Putin’s promotion of an independent unit and its warlord was itself a sign of state weakness—and lack of confidence in his own military.”
  • “The failure to promote an effective general to fight the Ukraine war is one of Putin’s most egregious lapses. ... Fearing that a successful rival general could provide an alternative potentate around whom his courtiers could rally, Putin instead empowered Prigozhin to promote himself and attack the military hierarchy as slothful and crooked while he emulated Stalin’s penal battalions of World War II by recruiting criminals from Russian prisons.”
  • “Prigozhin was serving in a classic role as a way to intimidate the military command, but unlike Stalin’s Beria, this ferocious, loudmouthed military amateur was also winning admiration from some generals, possibly including Surovikin.”
  • “Putin now finds himself the prisoner of the conundrum of despot as supreme commander and security sentinel. … His weakness now means that any retreat from command could lead to a hemorrhage of power.”

“Strelkov’s Arrest,” Tatiana Stanovaya, R.Politik, 07.24.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “On July 21, Igor Girkin (Strelkov), former Minister of Defense of the Russia-declared 'DNR' was arrested under Article 280 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (‘on public calls to carry out extremist activities committed with the use of mass media or the Internet’).”
  • “It is the first arrest of a major pro-war blogger by authorities. Strelkov supported the war in Ukraine (and was responsible for the fatal downing of MH17 in 2014) but regularly criticized Russia's military leadership and Vladimir Putin personally. More than 875,000 people subscribe to his Telegram channel.”
  • “The FSB is in favor of a hardline approach toward ‘angry patriots,’ especially figures like Strelkov, who is regarded as a nationalistic ‘Navalny.’ Regardless of the fact that the criminal case was opened by the Investigative Committee, the FSB is behind it. The Ministry of Defense appears to be the main beneficiary of Strelkov’s arrest.”
  • “Many political experts who cooperate closely with the Kremlin were confused that authorities had ignored the problem for so long. One of the main reasons behind this was Putin's personal attitude toward radical patriotic figures: that they are loyal to the state and to Russia, even if extremely critical of authorities. Following [Prigozhin’s] mutiny, the authorities in general and Putin in particular are much less indulgent toward their critics.”
  • “However, unlike the now-destroyed non-systemic liberal opposition, ‘angry patriots’ will not be completely suppressed: the Kremlin still has to deal with the ‘patriotic camp’ as an important part of national political consolidation within the context of its invasion.”

“When Failed Coups Strengthen Leaders,” University of Cambridge’s Naman Karl-Thomas Habtom, War on the Rocks, 07.21.23.

  • “The rhetoric by Putin about the possibility of civil war suggests that the Kremlin might be willing to take major actions in the medium to long term [in response to Prigozhin’s rebellion]. While allowing Prigozhin to move to Belarus and not face any criminal charges might seem like a major climb down, it does not mean that Putin will not take further actions later. The fact that the Russian government did not use armed force to suppress the revolt but instead preferred a peaceful resolution is not a new tactic. In fact, in places such as Syria and the Central African Republic, Russian officials have repeatedly negotiated agreements with local rebels, ranging from disengagement to safe corridors. This strategy has helped Damascus and Bangui consolidate their power—often in conjunction with more brutal measures later on. Putin’s June 29 meeting with Prigozhin in the Kremlin could very well be part of such a strategy.”
  • “The hopes that the Wagner rebellion will bring down Putin seem to reflect a degree of wishful thinking that has plagued much Western coverage of Russia. Indeed, Putin’s fall has been predicted as far back as the March 2012 presidential elections. Government responses to something as unnerving as a rebellion range from the emotional to the rational, from carefully thought out to instinctive. As a result, this might well be the moment Putin makes a fatal misstep. But precedent suggests the odds are against it.”

“A powerful voice of conscience refuses to be silenced,” Editorial Board, WP, 07.24.23.

  • “Alexei Navalny has spent more than 900 days behind bars - and nearly 200 in solitary confinement - for having the courage to speak critically of Russia's despotic president, Vladimir Putin. Now, in addition to his current sentence of more than 11 years, prosecutors in a new trial have asked for an additional 20 years on ludicrous charges of ‘extremism.’ And once again, Mr. Navalny refuses to be silenced.”
  • “He summed up the rationale of those who rule Russia this way: ‘We will become richer than the czars of the past.’ ... Then came the invasion of Ukraine, in which Mr. Navalny said Russia under Mr. Putin had ‘slipped and collapsed with a crash, destroying everything around it. And now it is floundering in a pool of either mud or blood, with broken bones and the poor, robbed population, surrounded by the tens of thousands of victims of the most stupid and senseless war of the 21st century. … Of course, sooner or later, it will rise again. And it is up to us to determine what it will rest on in the future.’”
  • “These brave words, written from the cramped, miserable conditions of solitary confinement, are those of a man who possesses a vision for Russia and the high principles to lead it - unlike the brute who sits in the Kremlin.”

“Formidable Obstacles to Russia’s Democratization,” Grigorii Golosov of the European University at St. Petersburg, Russia.Post, 07.24.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “The relative stability of the situation [in Russia] is largely ensured by the absence of strong drivers that could prompt the part of the population that now passively supports the regime to accept alternative interpretations of what is happening, and on that basis to reformulate their political preferences. Such drivers could be a marked deterioration in people’s economic situation, a large-scale military defeat or an acute conflict within the ruling group. The experience of other authoritarian regimes shows that fundamental shifts in the mass consciousness can be swift, but only if the accumulated, latent discontent coincides with the sudden emergence of strong external incentives.”
  • “Currently, there are no clear grounds to speculate on what exactly could serve as the impetus for a change in the existing model of relations between the Russian state and society, and even more so on what ideological direction such a shift could take. The direction depends on two factors. First, situational conflicts within the ruling group and its security apparatuses – which now seem to be the most likely driver of future political dynamics – will play an important role. Second, it depends on the ability of the politicized groups of the population to effectively organize their supporters when the moment presents itself.”

Defense and aerospace:

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.

 

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Russia and Africa: Joining Efforts for Peace, Progress and a Successful Future,” Vladimir Putin, Kremlin.ru, 07.24.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “We are sure that a new multipolar world order, the contours of which are already seen, will be more just and democratic. And there is no doubt that Africa, along with Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, will take its worthy place in it and finally free itself from the bitter legacy of colonialism and neo-colonialism, rejecting its modern practices.” 
  • “We stand for granting African countries their rightful place in the structures that determine the world’s fate, including the U.N. Security Council and the G-20, as well as for reforming the global financial and trade institutions in a way that meets their interests.”
  • “Russia’s trade turnover with the African countries increased in 2022 and reached almost 18 billion U.S. dollars. However, we are all well aware that the potential of our trade and economic partnership is much higher … We understand the importance of uninterrupted food supplies for the socio-economic development and political stability of the African states.”
  • “Many have probably heard of the so-called ‘grain deal’ ... while it was publicly advertised by the West as a gesture of goodwill that benefited Africa, has in fact been shamelessly used solely for the enrichment of large U.S. and European businesses.”
    • “Judge for yourselves: in almost a year, a total of 32.8 million tons of supplies were exported from Ukraine under the ‘deal,’ with over 70 percent of the exports ending up in high-and upper-middle-income countries … whereas such countries as Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia … received less than 3 percent of the supplies.”
  • “Notwithstanding the sanctions, Russia will continue its energetic efforts to provide supplies of grain, food products, fertilizers and other goods to Africa. ... [W]e intend to continue providing assistance to African states in building their national human resource capacity.”
  • “We attach great importance to the upcoming second Russia–Africa Summit. We expect that the Summit would adopt a comprehensive declaration, a number of joint statements and approve the Russia –Africa Partnership Forum Action Plan to 2026.”

“Ukraine War Casts a Shadow Over Vladimir Putin’s Summit With African Leaders,” journalists Joseph Cotterill, Andres Schipani and Max Seddon, FT, 07.24.23.

  • “The first Russia-Africa summit, in 2019, was a statement of the Kremlin’s ambitions to grow its overseas influence, as dozens of African leaders took in exhibits of weaponry and nuclear technology. The successor gathering, which begins on Thursday, comes a year and a half into Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine. Moscow’s forces have stepped up the bombing of Ukrainian ports since it exited a U.N.-led grain deal, leaving some African leaders fretting over possible food riots at home.”
    • “Korir Sing’Oei, principal secretary for foreign affairs for Kenya, which has been rocked by waves of protests over soaring prices, called Putin’s decision last week to quit the accord that has facilitated the export of 33mn tons of Ukrainian grain, a ‘stab in the back . . . that disproportionately impacts countries in the Horn of Africa already impacted by drought.’”
    • “Kenyan president William Ruto, who has not confirmed whether he would travel to Russia, said of gatherings such as this and the recent U.S.-Africa summit: ‘Some of the people who invite us to these meetings tell us ‘if you don’t come, there will be consequences.’”
  • “Evghenia Sleptsova, senior emerging market economist at Oxford Economics, said the African leaders who attend would ‘likely try to pressure Russia to return to the grain deal,’ while Moscow would seek to ‘use the opportunity to try and extract bigger concessions from the West before renewing its participation in the initiative.’”
  • “South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa will use his attendance at the summit to advance a peace plan that he and three other African presidents pitched on visits to Kyiv and Moscow last month, according to South African officials. The plan has called for not just free trade in the Black Sea but also the importance of territorial sovereignty.”

Ukraine:

“Why The West Should Localize Anti-Corruption Efforts In Ukraine,” Olena Lennon, PONARS Eurasia, July 2023.

  • “Russia’s invasion has upended every aspect of Ukraine’s existence, including its anti-corruption ecosystem. Five changes are noteworthy.”
    • “The main change in Ukraine’s anti-corruption ecosystem has resulted from the imposition of martial law, which necessitated restrictions on some democratic processes, including dialing back government transparency.”
    • “Second, Ukraine’s institutional capacity, including anti-corruption agencies, has been greatly diminished due to the outflow of human capital, physical destruction and human losses.”
    • “Third, Ukraine’s notorious oligarchs have been disempowered as a result of the war.”
    • “Fourth, the environment of enhanced national unity created by the war has diminished rivalry among domestic groups, a frequent source of historical corruption.”
    • “In addition to these internal changes to Ukraine’s anti-corruption ecosystem, a significant external force has been the EU’s decision to grant Ukraine candidate status in June 2022.”
  • “Prioritizing anti-corruption efforts during the war, as well as during recovery and reconstruction, will require localizing safeguards around the distribution of aid and reconstruction processes while continuing to advance broader national anti-corruption reforms.”
  • “Local authorities’ direct involvement with Western donors as full-fledged partners, not just sub-grantees, is the only way to cultivate a cultural shift focused on bottom-up integrity and accountability.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Lukashenko Won the Putin-Prigozhin Fight,” columnist Anchal Vohra, FP. 07.17.23.

  • “‘Putin was about to obliterate Wagner, but several hours later there is an agreement that Prigozhin will go to Belarus, and no one even touches him,’ said Yauheni Preiherman, the founder and director of the Minsk Dialogue Council on International Relations. ‘Lukashenko did exercise his agency.’”
  • “Since brokering the deal, Lukashenko’s popularity inside Russia has skyrocketed. According to a poll by Levada Center on July 1, a week after he brokered the deal, Lukashenko was the second most popular politician in Russia, after the Russian president. For a man who wanted the top job in Russia, such high popularity could be a reason for strife with his patron.”

 

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 2:00 pm Eastern Time on July 24, 2023.

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

Footnotes

  1. Translated with use of machine translation.

Slider photo shared by the National Police of Ukraine (npu.gov.ua) under a CC BY 4.0 license.