Russia Analytical Report, July 30-Aug. 6, 2018

This Week’s Highlights:

  • Dmitry Gorenburg and Nikolas Gvosdev both weigh in on the rise of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, with the latter pointing out that while NATO and the EU show “no appetite” for bringing “the rest of the Black Sea littoral states” into the two blocs, “Russia has taken the lead in presenting itself as the best arbiter for pressing regional issues—from resolving the legal status of the Caspian Sea to ending the Syrian civil war.”
  • Three analysts examine U.S.-Russia ties post-Helsinki:
    • Tatyana Stanovaya describes two conflicting approaches by Moscow: one in which “Trump is the objective” and, therefore, “can and should be an active player in normalizing bilateral relations,” and one “where Trump is the instrument, … seen not as a practitioner of U.S. foreign policy but as a mechanism for disrupting it.”
    • Carnegie’s Eugene Rumer notes that “Putin’s economic miracle would have been impossible without … the West’s financial and technical help.”
    • William Polk argues that, “in almost every category, China presents a challenge more insistent and less amenable to hostile acts than Russia.”
  • “Russia’s requests to Interpol to issue Red Notices—the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today—against Kremlin opponents are being met with increasing deference by the Department of Homeland Security,” reports Natasha Bertrand of The Atlantic.
  • After the killing of three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic—where Moscow has concessions to explore natural resources—as they were investigating a shady private military contractor with reported ties to the Kremlin, Leonid Bershidsky writes that “it’s worth watching for reports of Russian concessions in other nations, such as Sudan, Chad, Rwanda and Gabon. The Wagner business model is well suited to the region where a forceful presence can be a prerequisite for successful business—and where looking into how this business is conducted can easily get one killed.”
  • In Ukraine, the Economist reports, a comedian who plays the leading role in a popular TV show about local politics “is, in some polls, Ukraine's second most popular presidential candidate, beaten only by Yulia Tymoshenko, a veteran populist. Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent, scores just 5%.” A real candidate, former Defense Minister Anatoly Grytsenko, says Ukraine "can't blame Putin for internal corruption, deceit and lack of reforms."


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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

“Is a New Russian Black Sea Fleet Coming? Or Is It Here?” Dmitry Gorenburg, War on the Rocks, 07.31.18: The author, a senior research scientist at the CNA think-tank, describes the recent “change in threat perceptions” in the Black Sea region by both Russia and NATO. He notes that last summer Russia said it “will continue to strengthen its forces” in the area “in order to ‘neutralize the security threat in the Black Sea region from NATO,’” while “[j]ust 10 years ago, the Black Sea was touted as a model of naval cooperation among former adversaries. … The situation changed radically after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, with NATO leaders expressing concern that Russia could turn the Black Sea into a Russian lake by devoting significant resources to the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet and strengthening Russian military forces in Crimea more generally,” says the author. “As ship numbers increase over the next five to 10 years, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet will assume the role of primary supplier of ships to Russia’s Mediterranean squadron. In addition to continuing to provide sealift for Russian operations in Syria, the Black Sea Fleet’s cruise-missile equipped ships will have a power projection role in the Mediterranean. … This does not mean that the Russian Navy should be expected to undertake aggressive actions in the Mediterranean,” according to Gorenburg. “Rather, its objective will be to create conventional deterrence against a Western attack by threatening to use its air and sea capabilities to inflict unacceptably high casualties on enemy naval forces attempting to engage Russian forces in the Black Sea or eastern Mediterranean. … As the fleet is strengthened over the next decade, it may take over primary responsibility for patrolling the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden, as well as the western sections of the Arabian Sea, all of which are currently the responsibility of the Pacific Fleet.”

“Russia’s Strategy in the Black Sea Basin,” Nikolas Gvosdev, War on the Rocks, 08.02.18: The author, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, argues that “[a]lthough Moscow is in no position to dominate the Baltic Sea, its efforts to turn the Black Sea into a mare nostrum are bearing fruit. … While most U.S. strategists worry about the Suwalki Gap on the Polish-Lithuanian border as a potential Russian invasion route into Central Europe, it is Russia’s buildup in the Black Sea that should concern policymakers. By using the Black Sea as a springboard, Russia can project power beyond its immediate surroundings—into the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean—and strengthen its reemergence as a great power. … This resurgence of Russian military capabilities in the Black Sea challenges the West’s default strategy in the region since the Soviet Union’s collapse: the inexorable expansion of Euro-Atlantic institutions to encompass the entire Black Sea littoral and contain Russia within its then-limited northeastern coast.” Gvosdev points out that “[t]here is no appetite, particularly in Europe, for the heavy lifting necessary to bring the rest of the Black Sea littoral states into NATO and the European Union. Meanwhile, Russia has taken the lead in presenting itself as the best arbiter for pressing regional issues—from resolving the legal status of the Caspian Sea to ending the Syrian civil war. Moscow’s message is clear: Black Sea countries do not need the United States to get involved.” This message, the author suggests, is amplified by the fact that “the United States lacks a coherent strategy” in the region.

NATO-Russia relations:

“NATO’s Purpose Is To Ensure We Don’t Have To Defend Montenegro,” Marc A. Thiessen, The Washington Post, 07.31.18: The author, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush, writes that “[t]he reason NATO was created out of the ashes of World War II was precisely to make certain such destruction never happens again. … When adversaries believe you are weak, they are emboldened to act—and prone to miscalculate. When they believe you are strong and determined, however, they are far less likely to test you and start cataclysmic wars. … Why did Russian President Vladimir Putin believe he could invade Ukraine and annex Crimea without consequence? It was no mere coincidence that Russia's intervention happened just six months after President Barack Obama failed to enforce his red line in Syria. … Obama projected weakness. On taking office, Trump rectified that situation by enforcing Obama's Syria red line, not once but twice—sending a message of strength that was heard not just in Damascus but in Moscow as well. There is a reason,” the author goes on, that “Putin despises the NATO alliance so much—and has fought to prevent further integration of the countries of Eastern Europe into it. He knows he may be able to bully his unallied neighbors, but he can't bully a NATO ally—because that ally is backed up by 28 others, bonded by a mutual commitment to each other's security and led by an American president who, while seeking friendship with all, is unafraid to flex U.S. military muscle. That is why Putin opposed the admission of Montenegro into the NATO alliance, reportedly even backing a plot to assassinate Montenegro's prime minister in an effort to stop it. … As Trump said in Warsaw, ‘As long as we know our history, we will know how to build our future. Americans know that a strong alliance of free, sovereign and independent nations is the best defense for our freedoms and for our interests.’ The whole point of NATO is not to defend Montenegro; it is to make sure we never have to defend Montenegro—or Warsaw, or Paris, or London again.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant commentary.


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant commentary.

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“Russia Attacks America’s Election System. Trump Shrugs,” New York Times editorial, 08.01.18: The newspaper’s editorial board writes that “[w]ith fewer than 100 days to go until the midterms, the evidence continues to pile up that America's electoral system remains a hot target for hackers, most notably agents of the Russian government.” Last week, “Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat up for re-election this year, confirmed that she was one of two or possibly three congressional candidates whose computer networks had been unsuccessfully targeted by the Russians last year. … Three days later, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, acknowledged that, in an unrelated episode, her office also had been a target of multiple spear-phishing attacks, the origins of which have yet to be officially determined. The effort bears similarities to Russia's handiwork, but the matter is still under investigation. … This week, in fact, Facebook announced that it had identified and removed dozens of pages and accounts linked to a coordinated effort aimed at influencing the November elections. … It's no mystery why Russia and other bad actors would assume they could get away with such incursions. Despite repeated warnings from United States intelligence agencies regarding the nation's vulnerabilities, there remains no focused, coordinated plan by the White House for dealing with this crucial security issue. Nor does President Trump seem comfortable criticizing, much less holding accountable, the baddest of bad actors identified by American intelligence agencies—Mr. Putin. … At this point, pretty much everyone in Washington aside from Mr. Trump—and a smattering of his congressional toadies—acknowledges the threat Russia poses. … The biggest hurdle to combating this threat seems to be America's president.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Mr. Trump Goes to Helsinki,” William Polk,, 07.30.18: The author, a foreign policy consultant and author, offers “some perspective” on President Donald Trump’s approach to international affairs, and Russia in particular. He points to “two aspects” of Trump’s decision to favor “Putin’s opinions over those of his own team, our intelligence, military and diplomatic bureaucracies” at the two leaders’ summit in Helsinki: One is that American experts’ record for reliability has been “not exactly stellar. In case after case they proved wrong; sometimes they did not even evaluate options.” Second, all people assembling and evaluating facts are “subject to … human error” and “their reading[s] are also affected by prejudice, ambition and pressure.” Thus, writes the author, “while Mr. Trump may have been indiscreet in praising Mr. Putin’s viewpoint, he was certainly not wrong in listening to it.” Polk also points out the many instances in which the U.S. has interfered in other countries’ domestic affairs: “At the end of the First World War, we intervened in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution; [a]t the end of the Second World War, we bought governments we wanted in Italy and France; then we secured them and Germany with the Marshall Plan; we bombed, strafed and silenced those we regarded as unfriendly in Greece; we created a whole state to our liking in Palestine with money, arms and diplomacy; we tried to keep Chiang Kai-Shek in power, by putting our troops into the country despite his obvious lack of support of his own people; then there was Vietnam which formed a pattern we have followed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and now Yemen and Syria. …  Bashing the Russians for tampering with our politics may … play well in domestic politics but it is really rather silly,” he writes. While the author concedes that Trump may have “unsavory reasons to cozy up to Mr. Putin,” it was good that the Helsinki meeting went ahead as “[i]t is surely wiser to discuss our differences and emphasize points of agreement than to huff and puff.” Polk also questions the efficacy of sanctions, which the U.S. deploys “against a whole range of countries. … They have been applied without notable result often for years and have made enemies for our country by the millions.” Finally, the author points out some of the weak spots in the U.S. approach to Russia when juxtaposed with its approach to China; in particular, he writes that “in almost every category, China presents a challenge more insistent and less amenable to hostile acts than Russia.”

“Two Trumps in Helsinki: Russia’s Approach to the U.S. President,” Tatyana Stanovaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 08.02.18: The author, founder and CEO of political analysis firm R.Politik, argues that “Russia’s main objective in the run-up to the Helsinki meeting was not to reach specific agreements, but rather to institutionalize and legitimize dialogue. Putin offered Trump an assortment of potential initiatives, from broad and international to sensitive and local. For each issue, Moscow prepared a road map with just one goal in mind: to draw the White House back to the negotiating table to discuss all the issues.” Stanovaya lists “four new formats for cooperation” proposed by Vladimir Putin: (1) to establish “a council of experts well versed in the history of the two countries … to work on a positive strategic agenda in U.S.-Russian relations. The United States has yet to respond to this initiative”; (2) to create “a Russian-American business forum. This is a very ambitious idea, given the sanctions regime and the extreme toxicity of Russian money in the United States. It was cautiously accepted by the U.S. side, as confirmed recently by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo”; (3) “also acknowledged by Pompeo, … ‘to reestablish a working group on anti-terrorism’ at the level of the deputy foreign ministers. The other option discussed was establishing dialogue between the national security secretaries”; (4) to form “a cybersecurity working group. Its prospects remain unclear.” Furthermore, two goals for Syria emerged:  “First, Trump was attempting to essentially create an anti-Iran coalition with Russia. That did not yield anything new. Second, Moscow proposed a humanitarian project envisaging refugees returning to Syria and efforts to develop infrastructure to deliver humanitarian cargo. Ultimately, the idea that Russia would give up Iran and receive something from the U.S. in return, widely discussed before the summit, turned out to be too unrealistic. … Finally, on Ukraine, Putin invited Trump to support the idea of a referendum on special status for the breakaway Donbas region. This was supposed to be an alternative to Moscow’s attempts to achieve legal recognition of the region’s autonomy with a special law or amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution. The White House categorically declined this offer and soon reinforced its position with the Crimea Declaration, which rejected Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.” The author believes Moscow is torn between “two different approaches to building relations with Washington…, trying to make headway on both, but actually creating obstacles to progress. … Under the first approach, where Trump is the objective, the U.S. president can and should be an active player in normalizing bilateral relations. … Under the second approach, where Trump is the instrument, the U.S. president is seen not as a practitioner of U.S. foreign policy but as a mechanism for disrupting it.” The aftermath of the Helsinki summit, Stanovaya writes, shows “that the concept of ‘Trump as the instrument’ is more accessible and achievable for Russia, while the concept of ‘Trump as the ultimate objective’ leaves fewer hopes for real results.”

“Russia Is Winning—Or Is It?” Eugene Rumer, The Moscow Times, 08.30.18: The author, who directs the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, questions whether the Helsinki summit was really “a win for Putin. … Will the decline of the West and the dismantling of the U.S.-led liberal international order so desired by Putin, and so eagerly facilitated by Trump, be good for Russia? Was the post-Cold War period of Western dominance as harmful to Russia as the Kremlin has been telling its citizens and the rest of the world? And what is likely to replace it?” Rumer argues that the 1990s, while “a horrible decade” for Russia were “hardly the West’s fault. In fact, the West acted as Russia’s principal source of desperately needed aid when its economy collapsed. … Western advisors, much maligned for their supposedly faulty advice to the Russian government, played a crucial role in designing and implementing badly needed economic reforms. Far from perfect, Western technical assistance paid off for Russia even before oil prices began to climb around the turn of the century and lifted the Russian economy. Putin’s economic miracle would have been impossible without those reforms and the West’s financial and technical help.” Moreover, the author writes, “[t]he United States spent many billions of dollars to relocate to Russia and secure the remnants of the Soviet nuclear arsenal scattered across several republics of the former USSR. Would Russia have been more secure if Ukraine on its southwestern border and Kazakhstan on its southeastern border had retained control over nuclear weapons deployed on their territory? … NATO enlargement [which supposedly damaged Russian interests] was accompanied by the dismantlement of its capabilities for conventional warfare in the European theater. The United States and its allies, eager to maximize the post-Cold War ‘peace dividend’ and preoccupied with contingencies far beyond Europe, had effectively turned NATO into a demilitarized zone. … It is hard to find another period in Russian history when its western border was as secure and free of the threat of invasion as between 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, and 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine. … Is the current sad state of the Western alliance really a cause for celebration in Moscow? What is likely to come after it? Are Russian interests better served by political paralysis in the United States and Germany, a divided European Union, and Poland and Hungary consumed by xenophobia, and nationalism? Does it make Russia more secure? More prosperous? If not the West, who else would have come to Russia’s rescue at the end of the Cold War with the magnanimity and the generosity displayed by governments striving for a long-term partnership with Russia? China? … As China emerges as both the alternative to the West and Russia’s preeminent partner, and the West is in disarray, Russian critics of the West should ask themselves what it would have been like had the West not been there in their country’s hour of need, and what it will be like if China supplants the West as the global rule-maker.”

“How Russia Persecutes Its Dissidents Using U.S. Courts. Russia’s requests to Interpol for Red Notices—the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant—against Kremlin opponents are being met with increasing deference by the Department of Homeland Security,” Natasha Bertrand, The Atlantic, 07.30.18: The author, a staff writer for the magazine, examines “Russia’s abuse of Interpol and the American court system to persecute the Kremlin’s rivals in the United States” through the story of “Sasha” (a pseudonym), a pro-democracy activist who was detained in the tiny Russian republic of Kalmykia by plainclothes police, spent seven months in prison and “pleaded guilty without knowing why. In court weeks later, Russian prosecutors revealed the substantive case against him for the first time: Sasha, along with two others, had been accused and convicted of kidnapping someone, holding him in an apartment and beating him repeatedly with a hammer. Sasha maintains that he never learned who the alleged victim was… But he served a brief prison sentence and was released on probation in December 2012, at which point he fled to the United States on a B-2 tourist visa and applied for asylum at the end of 2013. … In October 2017, Sasha and his wife were driving to work in Atlanta when they were pulled over by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.” They told Sasha that Interpol “had issued a Red Notice at Russia’s behest, alerting authorities that he had violated the terms of his probation by traveling to the U.S. years earlier. … Russia’s requests to Interpol to issue Red Notices—the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today—against Kremlin opponents are being met with increasing deference by the Department of Homeland Security, according to immigration attorneys and experts in transnational crime and corruption” with whom the author spoke. According to the Justice Department, she writes, “‘the United States does not consider a Red Notice alone to be a sufficient basis for the arrest of a subject because it does not meet the requirements for arrest under the 4th Amendment to the Constitution’… But the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. immigration courts are effectively facilitating ‘backdoor extraditions,’ as one immigration attorney said, in their reliance on Red Notices as a basis for detention and, ultimately, removal. … Michelle Estlund, a criminal defense attorney who focuses on Interpol defense work [said]…, ‘There is a disconnect between our decision to not have an extradition treaty with Russia and the decision to allow Russia to circumvent the extradition process using Red Notices. The effect is that we are removing people to countries that we would not normally extradite to.’ … Two other Russian nationals currently being detained in the U.S. on the basis of a Red Notice argue that DHS and the immigration courts have relied exclusively on Russian charges—which they contend are politically motivated—to keep them detained and deny them bond hearings.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Death, Diamonds and Russia’s Africa Project. The killing of three reporters in the Central African Republic pulls a private, pro-Kremlin military company out of the shadows,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 08.04.18: The author, a journalist and veteran Russia watcher, writes that “[t]he murder of three Russian journalists last week in a remote area of the Central African Republic, the world’s poorest country according to the World Bank, has turned a spotlight on what looks like a big Kremlin play for influence and resources in Africa. Where China has spent decades and billions of dollars trying to entrench itself there, Russia is offering its brute force and strong appetite for risk. It’s already making headway. The three journalists, Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguev and Kirill Radchenko, were in the Central African Republic working on an investigative film about the Wagner private military company. That's a secretive Russian contractor linked by news reports to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg catering entrepreneur close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin is also one of 12 people indicted in the U.S. along with the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm he funded that has been caught up in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Wagner has provided mercenaries to fight in eastern Ukraine and Syria, and it’s probably also present in the Central African Republic and neighboring Sudan.” Back in March, Bershidsky writes, Russia said it was working with the CAR government “to explore the country’s natural resources on a concession basis. At the same time, … Russia had sent weapons along with five military and 170 civilian instructors to train the nation's military forces. … The mining concessions and the ‘civilian instructors’ … appear to be more closely linked than the Foreign Ministry let on. Africa Intelligence, a Paris-based investigative and research outfit, reported in July that the government of the Central African Republic had begun extracting diamonds on an alluvial site not far from the capital, Bangui, with the help of a company called Lobaye Invest. The company, according to Africa Intelligence, is a subsidiary of the St. Petersburg firm M Invest, founded by Prigozhin. Africa Intelligence reported that Wagner fighters were delivering mining equipment to the site in armored trucks. … This is a business model Wagner has reportedly used in Syria, where it lends its private troops to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and in return receives a share of revenues from the oil wells and refineries the troops recover from regime opponents. … Like Syrian oil, Central African Republic diamonds are a commodity on which no ordinary business can get its hands. In the 1960s, the country exported half a million carats of diamonds a year, a volume that would make it the seventh-biggest exporter in the world today. … Another of the country's major resources is gold, and the three Russian reporters died while trying to drive out to a gold mine, apparently to check on Russian presence there. … Putin’s Russia has sought to restore its Soviet-era influence throughout the developing world, and its activity in Africa is not limited to the Central African Republic. It’s worth watching for reports of Russian concessions in other nations, such as Sudan, Chad, Rwanda and Gabon. The Wagner business model is well suited to the region where a forceful presence can be a prerequisite for successful business—and where looking into how this business is conducted can easily get one killed.”


  • No significant commentary.


“Politics surpasses satire in Ukraine. Eight months before an election, the country remains filthy,” Economist, 08.04.18: The magazine reports on the run-up to next year’s presidential election in Ukraine, describing the plot of "Servant of the People," a satirical television show that first aired in 2015 and has commanded a viewership of 20 million people—half of Ukraine's population: “One morning a history teacher wakes up in Kiev to find himself elected president of Ukraine—thanks to a video secretly recorded by a pupil and uploaded to YouTube. It shows the teacher cursing Ukraine's political class for their lies and its people for their indifference. ‘Our politicians don't know history, but they are brilliant mathematicians: they all know how to add, divide and multiply their wealth,’ he tells a colleague. The video goes viral, and a local oligarch-prime minister backs him in the hope of gaining a puppet. Instead, the new president imprisons the oligarch and goes after his cronies. … Ironically,” the article goes on, the show “plays on a channel owned by Igor Kolomoisky, an oligarch. Less amusing is that Vladimir Zelensky, the comedian who plays the teacher, is in some polls Ukraine's second most popular presidential candidate, beaten only by Yulia Tymoshenko, a veteran populist. Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent, scores just 5%. The election may not be until next March, but the jostling for power is in full swing. … The job of regaining sovereignty is especially important for Ukraine, since Donald Trump feels no urge to defend it. … As Anatoly Grytsenko, a former defense minister and a presidential candidate running, unusually, without the support of oligarchs, points out, to be treated like a sovereign country Ukraine needs to behave like one. ‘We can't blame Putin for internal corruption, deceit and lack of reforms,’ he says. … Over the past three years America and the European Union, along with Ukraine's civil activists, have created the anti-corruption infrastructure needed to break up an entrenched system designed to siphon off public money into offshore accounts. This includes an investigative bureau (NABU), a special prosecution service and an anti-corruption court, finally set up in June under pressure from the IMF and activists. Yet Ukraine's rulers have done everything in their power to undermine these institutions from within. … ‘We are fighting for our life, and we have not got much time,’ says Mr. Grytsenko. His support has been rising despite his lack of money or access to the oligarch-controlled media. Some voters still crave honesty in their politicians. The risk is that the bloody operetta will prevail.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Inside the Explosive Case Against Armenia’s Ex-President,” Mikael  Zolyan, Carnegie Moscow Center, 08.06.18: The author, a historian and an associate professor at Yerevan State Linguistic University, writes that “[t]he case against Robert Kocharyan—the second president of Armenia and the predecessor of the recently deposed Serzh Sargsyan—concerns the so-called March 1 affair. On March 1, 2008, security forces cracked down on street protests over the disputed outcome of the previous month’s presidential election. Sargsyan, widely viewed as Kocharyan’s pick, was declared the winner at the time. The ensuing violence claimed ten lives—eight civilians and two police officers—and hundreds were injured. A state of emergency was declared in Armenia, with army troops deployed to Yerevan and many protest organizers and participants arrested or forced to go on the run, including Nikol Pashinyan, who is now prime minister. Sargsyan may have been the main beneficiary of the 2008 vote, but it is Kocharyan, then head of state and commander-in-chief, whom Armenians blame for the March 1 affair. … Kocharyan has denied the charges against him, which were announced on July 26. … The case against Kocharyan has fueled tensions in the Russo-Armenian relationship and may cause Russia to fear that Armenia will follow in the footsteps of Georgia and Ukraine,” Zolyan argues. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “expressed his concern, ‘in part, from the standpoint of the normal work of the Commonwealth of Independent States entities in which Armenia participates.’ Russia’s reservations extend beyond Kocharyan. Moscow was upset by the situation surrounding Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Secretary General Yuri Khachaturov, who served as Chief of the General Staff of Armenia under Sargsyan. He was charged in relation to the March 1 affair as well, but was released on bail in light of his high rank. … Despite Moscow’s suspicions,” the author argues, “this has nothing to do with either the Russo-Armenian relationship or the CSTO and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Armenian withdrawal from these organizations is highly improbable, and the country’s supposed pivot to the West is the stuff of imagination. One reason for Russia’s apprehension, and the tendency of observers to discuss the Kocharyan case in overwhelmingly geopolitical terms, may be that Kocharyan’s arrest is widely viewed as a precedent for the entire post-Soviet space… [T]his is the first time that a former president has been put under arrest and threatened with a real prison sentence. That said, the Kocharyan case is best considered through a local lens. … Armenian society needs the dark pages of history, especially those related to the March 1 affair, to be investigated. The new government cannot ignore the uncomfortable legacy of the past without losing many of its supporters. Yet if such an inquiry is taken too far, all of Armenia’s post-Soviet ruling elites will have to be put on trial, which is not what the new government wants to do. It needs to concentrate on formulating the new rules of the game, not settling old scores.”

“Central Asia’s Precarious Path to Development. Will Today’s Projects Repeat Soviet-Era Mistakes?” Artemy Kalinovsky, Foreign Affairs, 08.02.18: The author, a senior lecturer in East European studies at the University of Amsterdam, writes that, “[m]ore so than at any other point since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the countries of Central Asia seem poised for a major economic transformation. Chinese investment is tying the region together through its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative and reviving long abandoned industrial and extractive projects. Uzbekistan’s opening-up under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in power since the death of dictator Islam Karimov in 2016, has removed one of the key obstacles to regional integration, and there are many other reasons to be optimistic. There are also signs, however, that the projects currently being pursued will repeat the worst mistakes of the Soviet era without restoring the standard of living and income security that the majority of the region’s population enjoyed in the final decades of the Soviet Union. … In the late 1980s, frustration at the uneven distribution of benefits from Soviet development and concern about ecological costs drove the protest movements that challenged the Communist Party’s hold on power in the Soviet periphery. Both Chinese leaders and Central Asian elites have sought to avoid the kind of instability seen in the late Soviet and early post-Soviet eras. If they are not careful, however, they will spark resistance even fiercer than Soviet party bosses faced at the time.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Putin's Plan to Russify the Caucasus. How Russia's New Language Law Could Backfire,” Neil Hauer, Foreign Affairs, 08.01.18: The author, an analyst focusing on the North Caucasus, writes about new Russian legislation, passed by the lower house of parliament on June 19, that “makes education in 34 of Russia’s 35 official languages—every language except Russian—optional, limiting instruction in ethnic-minority languages to two hours per week. Previously, native-language instruction had been exclusively the purview of regional governments in Russia’s 26 ethnically defined autonomous republics and okrugs” (or districts). In July of last year, the author notes, President Vladimir Putin, while speaking to reporters in “the Mari El Republic (where the ethnic-minority Mari language shares official status with Russian), … veered into an unexpected diatribe on languages. He stated that the Russian language was ‘the spiritual framework’ of the country, ‘our state language,’ and that it ‘cannot be replaced with anything.’” The author argues that the “one glaring hole” in Putin’s campaign “to centralize Moscow’s control over Russia’s regions” had been the republic of Tatarstan and that Putin’s speech was aimed at Tatar authorities first and foremost. “Yet the law is not only, or even primarily, directed at the Tatars. It is also intended to suppress minority identity in another region where Putin has long feared ethnic nationalism: the North Caucasus. The Kremlin’s new language policy,” according to the author, “represents an unprecedented escalation in its struggle to subjugate that region’s minority populations, which have long resisted the central authority of Moscow. … [B]ut the potential for blowback is dire.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.


Teaser photo courtesy of the Russian Defense Ministry.