Russia Analytical Report, July 6-13, 2020

This Week’s Highlights

  • Many experts predict that the coronavirus pandemic will sharply accelerate the ongoing restructuring of international relations, which may eventually lead to U.S.-China bipolarity, writes Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council. Neither Russia nor the EU is interested in the creation of a rigid global bipolar system that would hamstring freedom of maneuver on the world stage for both sides, Kortunov writes, adding that maintaining and developing cooperation between Moscow and Brussels could be one mechanism for inhibiting that negative trend. Meanwhile, Carnegie’s Alexander Gabuev and Temur Umarov argue that the pandemic has pulled the curtain back on Russia’s one-dimensional economic model. With no likelihood of a speedy reconciliation with the West, the Kremlin’s hand vis-à-vis Zhongnanhai is likely to become even weaker, according to Gabuev and Umarov. Additionally, Carnegie’s Paul Stronski writes that the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus are facing an unprecedented challenge due to the coronavirus. Normally, Russia might be eager to capitalize on the crisis, but it is struggling to deal with the pandemic. According to Stronski, that leaves China as the sole remaining potential source of help to the struggling region.  
  • Putin, Xi, Netanyahu and Trump all differ from one another in many ways, writes Prof. Graham Allison, but each has reasons to avoid relinquishing his hold on power. Call it the czar’s dilemma: However daunting the challenges of holding power, the dangers of losing it are even greater. America’s best hope for escaping the czar’s dilemma, writes Allison, is for one candidate to win decisively.
  • As Black Lives Matter protests spread across the globe, Russia has proven a notable exception, writes PhD student Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon. In using the notoriety of the United States’ Black Lives Matter slogan and American white supremacy logic to shed light on Russian police brutality and promote ethnic Russian nationalism, she writes, Russian opposition members have undermined their own cause. Meanwhile, Prof. Nana Osei-Opare argues that in blaming the Russian bogeyman over America’s race issues, the American political establishment failed to explore the root cause of African American marginality and disillusionment with the American political system: the United States’ explicit and implicit embrace of white supremacy.
  • How serious a challenge will fallout from the coronavirus pose to Russia’s long-standing economic model, which remains heavily dependent on oil and gas exports? Tatiana Mitrova, director of the Skolkovo Energy Center, writes that in the coming months, that means a combined 20–25 percent decrease in volumes of Russian exports of oil, gas and coal, which is equivalent to a 50 percent loss of export revenues. For the budget, this means a sharp fall in income (of about 25 percent), and for fuel and energy companies, she writes, all of this will mean adopting strict cost-cutting. This could lead to an additional fall in GDP of 5–13 percent in 2020, according to Mitrova, (on top of the 5 percent reduction in GDP caused by the coronavirus and lockdown measures).
  • The shock arrest of former journalist Ivan Safranov shows that the rules have changed again, writes investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov. The FSB is applying its paranoid definition of espionage to journalists—and is going out of its way to make sure everyone knows. What’s more, writes Soldatov, senior leaders have apparently sanctioned the action. Today’s Kremlin leaders live and operate in a worldview of threats, a way of life that epitomizes the notorious “secret service mentality.”
  • "Reform seems to be dead in Ukraine," analyst Tim Ash said. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Council’s Melinda Haring writes that it’s impossible to change Ukraine. Everything is for sale, including parliamentarians. Name your price, and one can adopt a baby during COVID-19, illegally air-freight hundreds of dogs from a puppy mill to Canada and do just about anything else. Oligarchs appear to have recovered their control over the parliament for a pittance, Haring writes, and all along they controlled the media and all the major industries.


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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

“Don’t Let Russian Meddling Derail Afghanistan Withdrawal Plans,” Editorial Board, New York Times, 07.07.20: The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “There's a lot still missing from the reports that Russia paid for attacks on American and other coalition forces in Afghanistan. That's why it's critical that emotions and politics be kept at bay until the facts are in.”
  • “Legislators from both parties are already demanding explanations, and the House Armed Services Committee voted by a large bipartisan majority for an amendment to the defense bill to make any further withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan contingent on an assessment of whether any country has offered incentives for the Taliban to attack American and other coalition troops.”
  • “It is unfortunate to connect the issue of possible Russian payoffs with the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The administration ought to provide more information to lawmakers, which is why it was a missed opportunity for Mr. Pompeo to decline to attend the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. But whatever those investigations reveal, the war in Afghanistan needs to be brought to an end. Mr. Putin's intelligence services shouldn't get a say in what is in the best interests of the United States.”
  • “The threat to Mr. Trump's withdrawal deal alone should encourage the president to get to the bottom of the issue, and if necessary to confront Russia with the numerous tools of statecraft at his disposal.”

“Why We Need a Little Skepticism, and More Evidence, on Russian Bounties,” George Beebe and David B. Rivkin, Jr., The Hill, 07.05.20: The authors, a constitutional lawyer and the vice president and director of studies at the Center for the National Interest, write:

  • “This story has unfolded in two parts. The first is the allegation … that a secret Russian military intelligence unit has been paying Afghan militants to kill Americans. The second is the claim that President Trump either knows about this activity and has done nothing, or has preemptively closed White House doors to reports of Russian malfeasance.”
  • “The initial question to ask in evaluating the veracity of the allegation is, how credible are the sources? Here, the answer: not very. According to the New York Times, the primary sources are militants and criminals captured and interrogated by Afghanistan’s government.”
  • “The second question is, what other information might support or disconfirm the allegations? Here, too, there is reason for skepticism. … Between 14 and 22 Americans were killed in Afghanistan each year from 2016 to 2019; nine have been killed so far this year. If the Russian money indeed was sent to fund a bounty program within this time frame, why has it not had much impact? … Which brings us to a third question: Who benefits from these allegations? The list certainly includes the central Afghan government… The list also includes Trump’s domestic political opponents … Notably, the list does not include Russia.”
  • “Why such skepticism? For one thing, this kind of scalp-hunting would be an unprecedented escalatory act. … Russia today is undoubtedly hostile toward the United States and desirous of curtailing American global influence, but it nonetheless has not thrown all caution to the wind.”
  • “None of this disproves the allegation that the Russians are paying bounties for dead Americans in Afghanistan, an activity that, if true, would require a resolute U.S. response. It is not out of the question that the Russian government or parts of it might see such bounties as payback for perceived U.S. perfidy in Ukraine, Georgia and Russia itself. But it certainly means that the standard of evidence for validating such allegations should be much higher than our media’s barely concealed lust to embrace them would suggest.”

“We’ve Briefed Many Presidents. Uncertainty Comes With the Job,” Michael Leiter, Michael Hayden and Robert Cardillo, The Washington Post, 07.06.20: The authors, former directors of the National Counterterrorism Center, the CIA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, respectively, write:

  • “We had the easy job. We only had to present intelligence, which was almost by definition imperfect in countless ways, and advise. The harder job—making the ultimate choice—was, of course, the president's. And the big decisions, the ones that could have lasting effects on people across the globe, were far from easy. In fact, most often, they forced the president to tackle uncertainty in ways few of us can imagine.”
  • “It is with this background that we find the Trump administration's response to reports of Russian bounty programs targeting U.S. troops in Afghanistan so deeply disturbing. Although the administration's statements are anything but clear, the sum total seems to be that the president was not briefed because the reports were ‘unverified,’ or lacked intelligence community ‘consensus’ or—in the president's own words—were a ‘hoax.’”
  • “At the same time, national security adviser Robert C. O'Brien has said that the National Security Council had convened at least one meeting to prepare ‘options’ for the president. And finally, the administration has stated that it plans no immediate action in response to the reports. In our view, this makes no sense.”
  • “First, intelligence on critical issues is almost always unclear. … Second, it was often the very uncertainty of the intelligence … that demanded presidential attention. … Third, the White House argument that it was preparing options, but had not yet decided to act, fails to recognize that the president has already acted—just not in a way that protects U.S. interests.”
  • “We know well that if the commander in chief deflects or rejects intelligence that challenges his skewed worldview, the threat to our armed forces will be stronger and our nation will be weaker.”

“I Was a Counterrorism Chief. Trump Knew What Russia Was Doing,” New York Times, 07.12.20: The author, a former senior operations officer in the CIA, writes:

  • “Did President Trump know about U.S. intelligence community assessments that the Russians had offered bounties to the Taliban for attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan?”
  • “He has still, despite weeks of public debate over Russian bounties, not offered a clear and unambiguous condemnation of such Russian aggression. It’s imperative that he be held accountable. The president must explain to the American people, and especially to those who risk their lives for their country and our families, why he continues to abide Russian threats to our troops, our security and our democracy.”

“Since Trump Won't Act to Protect American Troops, Congress Must,” Maura C. Sullivan, The Boston Globe, 07.07.20: The author, a former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, writes:

  • “Reports that President Trump was informed in March 2019 that Russian agents were offering bounties on U.S. service members in Afghanistan should alarm every American.”
  • “The administration must immediately provide a full accounting to Congress and to the American public. Since the president refuses to protect America's national interests, Congress must act swiftly to hold Russia accountable and protect our troops. Our citizens, as well as our service members, veterans and their families, deserve nothing less.”

“How Russia Built a Channel to the Taliban, Once an Enemy,” Michael Schwirtz and Mujib Mashal, New York Times, 07.13.20: The authors, a senior correspondent and an investigative reporter for the news outlet, write:

  • “It was clear to many [U.S.] officials that Russia had been working to hedge its bets with the Taliban for years. The Russians saw the Afghan government as entirely controlled by the United States, and at worst so fragile that it would struggle to survive the U.S. withdrawal.”
  • “In interviews, Afghan and American officials and foreign diplomats with years of experience in Kabul say that what began as a diplomatic channel between Russia and the Taliban just under a decade ago has more recently blossomed into a mutually beneficial alliance that has allowed the Kremlin to reassert its influence in the region.”
  • “The shift coincided with increasing hostility between the United States and Russia over Syria’s civil war and other conflicts, analysts say, as well as Russia’s frustration with rising instability in Afghanistan and the slow pace of the U.S. pullout.”
  • “American intelligence officials now date Russia’s discreet outreach to the Taliban as beginning about eight years ago—around the time that Mr. Putin, after a four-year hiatus as prime minister, reassumed the presidency with a more confrontational posture with the West.”

“The US Defense Space Strategy Works on Paper, but Will It Be Implemented?,” Frank A. Rose, Brookings Institution, 07.06.20: The author, co-director of the security and strategy team in the foreign policy program at Brookings, writes:

  • “Overall the Defense Space Strategy (DSS) provides the guidance that DOD needs to plan and structure its forces to address the increasing threat to U.S. and allied systems from countries like Russia and China. … It describes how Russia, China and other countries like Iran and North Korea are developing anti-satellite and counter-space systems ‘designed to contest or deny U.S. access to and operations in the [space] domain.’”
  • “The DSS argues that expanding cooperation with allies and partners will be critical to its successful implementation. I made a similar point in my 2018 testimony before Congress, stressing that America’s system of alliances was one of its key asymmetric advantages with Russia and China, especially with regard to emerging domains like space and cyber. Unfortunately, President Trump does not seem to share these views.”
  • “Space security has traditionally been one of the perennial issues that Russia and China have used in diplomatic forums like the United Nations General Assembly … and the Conference on Disarmament … to claim it is the United States that is ‘weaponizing’ outer space. Indeed, Russia and China have been moderately successful in advancing their diplomatic agenda in this area … By re-introducing politically loaded terms like ‘space superiority,’ the Trump administration is making Russia and China’s disinformation campaign that much easier.”
  • “Overall, the DSS does a solid job outlining an effective strategy for advancing U.S. defense space objectives over the next 10 years. But political challenges, especially President Trump’s view of the role of allies in U.S. defense strategy, raise serious questions as to whether it can be implemented. This is essentially the same fate that has befallen the Trump administration’s other defense strategy reviews. Absent a fundamental change in the president’s worldview, it is difficult to see how the story of the DSS will be any different.”

“Maintaining the Competitive Advantage in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning,” Rand Waltzman, Lillian Ablon, Christian Curriden, Gavin S. Hartnett, Maynard A. Holliday, Logan Ma, Brian Nichiporuk, Andrew Scobell and Danielle C. Tarraf, RAND Corporation, July 2020The authors of the report write:

  • “Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies hold the potential to become critical force multipliers in future armed conflicts. The People's Republic of China has identified AI as key to its goal of enhancing its national competitiveness and protecting its national security. If its current AI plan is successful, China will achieve a substantial military advantage over the United States and its allies. … As of early 2020, the United States has a modest lead in AI technology development … China is attempting to erode this edge through massive government investment. The lack of a substantial U.S. industrial policy also works to Chinese advantage.”
  • “China has an advantage over the United States in the area of big data sets that are essential to the development of AI applications. This is partly because data collection by the Chinese government and large Chinese tech companies is not constrained by privacy laws and protections. However, the Chinese advantage in data volume is probably insufficient to overcome the U.S. edge in semiconductors.”
  • “Breakthrough fundamental research is not a critical dimension for comparing U.S.-China relative competitive standing from a DoD perspective. Fundamental research, regardless of whether it is U.S., Chinese or a U.S.-Chinese collaboration, is available to all.”
  • “Commercial industry is also not a critical dimension for competitive comparison. Industries with corporate headquarters in the United States and in China seek to provide products and services wherever the market is.”
  • “[The U.S. should:] Manage expectations by developing and maintaining a forward-looking AI roadmap, highlighting realistic goals for DoD AI employment for near (one to two years), middle (three to five years) and far (six to ten years) terms. … Create an engineering pipeline under DoD control. … Create and tailor verification, validation and evaluation techniques for AI technologies. … Create development, test and evaluation processes for new operational concepts that employ AI.”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant analysis.

Impact of the pandemic:

“The Oil Price Crash: Will the Kremlin’s Policies Change?” Tatiana Mitrova, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.08.20The author, director of the SKOLKOVO Energy Center, writes:

  • “How serious a challenge will fallout from the coronavirus pose to Russia’s long-standing economic model, which remains heavily dependent on oil and gas exports? The first phase of the global pandemic and lockdown measures froze much of the economic activity around the world. In turn, energy demand dropped virtually overnight, and oil and gas prices plummeted.”
  • “[In coming months] [w]e’re looking at gas prices halving and oil prices reducing by one-third. All told, that means a combined 20–25 percent decrease in volumes of Russian exports of oil, gas and coal, which is equivalent to a 50 percent loss of export revenues. For the budget, this means a sharp fall in income (of about 25 percent), just as the public and private sector are experiencing the greatest need for state support.”
  • “For fuel and energy companies, all of this will mean adopting strict cost-cutting measures and making cuts to capital investment programs, which will in turn impact other companies that serve the oil and gas sector. According to our calculations, this could lead to an additional fall in GDP of 5–13 percent in 2020 (on top of the 5 percent reduction in GDP caused by the coronavirus and lockdown measures).”
  • “Still, the current shocks faced by Russian energy markets, serious as they are, may pale in comparison to their potential long-term consequences. It is highly likely that the coronavirus crisis will amplify and accelerate trends for decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization, especially in Europe, Russia’s main market.
  • “Energy-importing countries could come out of the crisis with transformed energy systems, strict carbon footprint restrictions on any imported raw materials and permanently reduced demand for hydrocarbons. … In the current conditions, the Russian oil and gas sector must not only survive, but also think about long-term options for restructuring the entire industry and integrating hydrocarbons into the green agenda. … For now, however, there are no other options in sight for securing the long-term stability of Russia’s export-focused resource-based economy.”

“Russia–US: No Reset, Just Guardrails,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.08.20The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “In a nutshell, what Russia wants from the United States is to resume dialogue based on mutual interests, and without preconditions. Moscow’s U.S. agenda is currently essentially limited to arms control issues.”
  • “The coronavirus outbreak has created an unexpected opportunity. The American public’s attention is focused on China as the source of the pandemic. President Trump, for whom Beijing, rather than Moscow, has always been the main adversary, is tempted to drive wedges between Russia and China.”
  • “If New START is to be saved, the U.S. administration must work with the Kremlin on it right now. … It is hard to say, however, whether the Trump administration, which is generally more hostile toward Russia than the president himself, is prepared to do that work. … The ceasefire in Ukraine’s Donbass region should remain stable and allow for humanitarian and economic exchanges across the line of contact.”
  • “The longer-term consequences of the coronavirus will significantly impact the global context of Russia-U.S. relations. The most important factor will be the further intensification of U.S.-Chinese rivalry, and the emerging Sino-American bipolarity.”
  • “While the context of Russian-American relations is changing as a result of the coronavirus, the relationship between Moscow and Washington is unlikely to be substantially altered by it. No new reset is in the offing, and the outlook remains negative, if generally stable. The U.S.-Russian confrontation will continue—with some guardrails around it.”

“Will the Pandemic Increase Russia’s Economic Dependence on China?” Alexander Gabuev and Temur Umarov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.08.20The authors, the chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program and a consultant at the Carnegie Moscow Center, write:

  • “Trade data show that Russia’s economic exposure to China continues to grow as a result of the pandemic. In the first quarter of 2020, China’s share in Russian trade turnover reached an all-time high of 17.3 percent ($31.8 billion) compared to 15.8 percent ($34.1 billion) in the same period last year, despite the decline in oil prices.”
  • “The coronavirus and its consequences will force Russia to increase its economic outreach to China. The deepening Sino-Russian relationship may create structural shifts that are not entirely comfortable for Moscow. But in the short term, Russia has left itself few options other than becoming ever more economically exposed to its giant neighbor.”
  • “The strategic landscape for Russia is likely to be less favorable. The pandemic has pulled the curtain back on the country’s one-dimensional economic model. There is no likelihood of a speedy reconciliation with the West, which is contending with serious coronavirus-related economic challenges of its own. Against that backdrop, the Kremlin’s hand vis-à-vis Zhongnanhai is likely to become even weaker.”

“How the Pandemic Will Change EU-Russian Relations,” Andrey Kortunov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.08.20: The author, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, writes:

  • “For the past five or six years, Russia and the EU have been waiting for a black swan event that would compel their opponent to acknowledge the error of their ways, to rethink their attitudes, and to make at least symbolic concessions. During that time frame, numerous black swans in global politics flew by without disrupting the new normal for EU-Russia relations that had emerged in 2014, and which proved surprisingly stable and quite acceptable to both sides ever since.”
  • “But then along came the mother of all black swan events: the coronavirus pandemic. It’s already clear that the EU and Russia will be among its prime victims. The EU states have found themselves at the epicenter of the pandemic, while Russia must simultaneously deal with a major threat to public health and its long-running economic model.”
  • “Additional economic problems between Russia and the EU are looming. The collapse of oil prices has demolished the core of Russian exports to Europe.”
  • “Many experts predict that the coronavirus pandemic will sharply accelerate the ongoing restructuring of international relations, which may eventually lead to U.S.-China bipolarity. Neither Russia nor the EU is interested in the creation of a rigid global bipolar system that would hamstring freedom of maneuver on the world stage for both sides. Maintaining and developing cooperation between Moscow and Brussels could be one mechanism for inhibiting that negative trend.”

“Coronavirus in the Caucasus and Central Asia,” Paul Stronski, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.08.20The author, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “The countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus are facing an unprecedented challenge that will test every aspect of their political systems, economies, societies and foreign relations [due to the coronavirus]. Their traditional partners in the West that have for the past three decades supported their state-building and economic and political reforms are distracted. Normally, Russia might be eager to capitalize on the West’s distraction and the region’s need for assistance, but it has limited resources to do so at best, and is struggling to deal with the pandemic.”
  • “The economic downturn that the coronavirus has caused across the region will likely have long-term impacts for Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) as well. In the midst of the pandemic, Kazakhstan pushed back at Moscow’s draft vision for Eurasian integration through 2025. With global gas demand down, Moscow and Yerevan have started squabbling again over gas prices, while closed borders and the growing economic problems have caused migrant labor opportunities to dry up in Russia, reducing a key lever of influence Moscow holds over weaker EAEU and prospective EAEU members states.”
  • “That leaves China as the sole remaining potential source of help to the struggling region. Beijing has been trying to whitewash its COVID-19 record and has targeted the leaders and the general publics of the South Caucasus and Central Asia. It has used the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to promote its narrative about its response to the pandemic. In its effort to make inroads in both regions, China has been sending high-profile humanitarian and medical aid missions and promoting its digital technologies as the means to keep the virus from spreading.”
  • “With luck, some [of the countries in post-Soviet Eurasia] may emerge from this crisis with better governance and enhanced public trust, but its consequences will be felt throughout the region for a long time.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“Our Nation Needs a Wake-Up Call to the Nuclear Threat,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Washington Post, 07.07.20The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “In 1982, the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union had reached a fever pitch. … Today, the threat posed by nuclear weapons is just as great as it was nearly 40 years ago. But the sense of urgency has since waned. We need a wake-up call, and former defense secretary William J. Perry, together with leading nuclear policymaker Tom Collina, has given us just that.”
  • “Their new book, ‘The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump,’ is the alarm our nation needs—especially now. … Perry and Collina offer 10 solutions that would place our nation on a more secure path.”
  • “First, they would eliminate the president's sole discretion to initiate nuclear attack. Instead, that decision would be shared with a select group from Congress. … Perry and Collina's other ideas include diplomatically engaging with North Korea and Iran, saving the New START accord, retiring our stockpile of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and scaling back a $2 trillion plan to rebuild our nuclear arsenal. … The authors' final recommendation is simple: Elect a committed president.”
  • “As Collina said, ‘Nuclear disarmament must be part of the new mass movement.’”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

Elections interference:

“Roger Stone Remains a Convicted Felon, and Rightly So,” Robert Mueller, The Washington Post, 07.11.20The author, former special counsel for the Justice Department, writes:

  • “Congress investigated and sought information from Stone. A jury later determined he lied repeatedly to members of Congress. He lied about the identity of his intermediary to WikiLeaks. He lied about the existence of written communications with his intermediary. He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of WikiLeaks’ releases. He in fact updated senior campaign officials repeatedly about WikiLeaks. And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress.”
  • “The jury ultimately convicted Stone of obstruction of a congressional investigation, five counts of making false statements to Congress and tampering with a witness. Because his sentence has been commuted, he will not go to prison. But his conviction stands.”
  • “Russian efforts to interfere in our political system, and the essential question of whether those efforts involved the Trump campaign, required investigation. In that investigation, it was critical for us (and, before us, the FBI) to obtain full and accurate information. Likewise, it was critical for Congress to obtain accurate information from its witnesses. When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. It may ultimately impede those efforts.”
  • “We made every decision in Stone’s case, as in all our cases, based solely on the facts and the law and in accordance with the rule of law. The women and men who conducted these investigations and prosecutions acted with the highest integrity. Claims to the contrary are false.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Sanctions-Mad America Turns on Its Friends,” Stephen Kinzer, The Boston Globe, 07.10.20: The author, a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, writes:

  • “Washington's sanctions frenzy is entering a new phase. Having already sanctioned every country we could possibly consider an adversary, we are beginning to sanction our friends. … Most remarkably, Congress is moving to sanction Germany, a major ally for generations, because it is building a gas pipeline to Russia.”
  • “German leaders calculate that the pipeline will save consumers billions of dollars over coming decades. Some in Washington are determined to stop it because this project could bring Russia and Germany closer together, weakening the American campaign to isolate Russia. A bill introduced in late June would impose sanctions on any company that helps to lay the almost-completed pipeline—potentially affecting 670 companies from 25 countries. … Sen. Ted Cruz … said the pipeline ‘poses a critical threat to America's national security.’ That is highly debatable, but in any case German politicians don't care. They insist that since Germany and Russia have decided to proceed with this project, the deal is done and no one else's business.”
  • “One of the government's spokesmen in parliament said that ‘the legislation proposed by the U.S. senators is once again a hostile act towards the U.S. allies. It is unacceptable and attacks the sovereignty of Germany and Europe.’ Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is considering counter-attacks, including sharply increased tariffs on American goods. Legislators want the entire European Union to follow suit.”
  • “American sanctions on the pipeline project could put the United States in direct conflict with Merkel, who has been strongly pro-American and is widely considered the most potent leader in Europe.”
  • “Sanctioning adversaries can be good or bad policy, depending on circumstances. Sanctioning friends can only be bad. We may need them someday.”

“Russia-Saudi Roller Coaster: From a High Five to a Price War,” Marianna Belenkaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.08.20The author, an expert on Arab affairs and a journalist at the Kommersant publishing house, writes:

  • “Amid the pandemic, the Russian-Saudi ties have taken a serious test, and have largely survived. Typically for Moscow’s current relations with the countries in the Middle East, a few shared interests with its partner are flanked and occasionally overshadowed by serious divergencies. This produces an inherently unstable mix and calls for a highly pragmatic approach.”
  • “For Russia to succeed in pursuing its regional interests—upgrading its geopolitical standing, securing strategic outposts, promoting arms sales, co-setting oil prices, luring investment to Russia and so on—it needs to have active relations with the key Middle Eastern powers, including Saudi Arabia. And, given the nature of the political regimes in both countries, much will depend on the personal relationship between the two leaders.”    

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“When It Comes to America’s Race Issues, Russia Is a Bogeyman,” Nana Osei-Opare, Foreign Policy, 07.06.20: The author, an assistant professor of African and Cold War history at Fordham University, writes:

  • “As Black Lives Matter protests against police killings of Black people began spreading across the United States in late May, it did not take long for Russia to wade in. Russian media outlets jumped on the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, highlighting America’s grave racial injustices. Russian bots helped spread disinformation about the protests.”
  • “In blaming the Russian bogeyman, the American political establishment failed to explore the root cause of African American marginality and disillusionment with the American political system: the United States’ explicit and implicit embrace of white supremacy.”
  • “Merely stopping Russian and foreign bots and actors … will not destroy the fertile ground that aided Russia’s foreign-policy objectives. The 2019 Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian influence failed to substantially address police brutality and systemic racism against African Americans that gave rise to the conditions that facilitated Russia’s efforts. Whereas the Senate report criticized private firms like Google, Twitter and Facebook for not countering Russia’s efforts, Republicans and their appointees remain as guilty, if not more so, for depressing African American voter turnout.”
  • “If the United States is going to emerge stronger as a nation, it must not conflate African Americans’ real and historical issues with Russia’s foreign-policy aims. Addressing systemic racism and white supremacy across the United States is a national security concern, and it must be approached as such. As long as America creates and upholds racist policies, it does not even need foreign actors to exploit its original and ongoing sin to implode the country from within.”

“The Curious Case of ‘Russian Lives Matter’,” Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, Foreign Policy, 07.11.20: The author, a doctoral student in history at the University of Pennsylvania, writes:

  • “As Black Lives Matter protests spread across the globe, Russia has proven a notable exception. There have been solidarity demonstrations and localized movements against racism and police violence in Helsinki; Almaty, Kazakhstan; and Vilnius, Lithuania; but no such scenes in Moscow.”
  • “Instead, Russia has used the civil unrest in the United States to continue its history of reflecting the United States’ most unbecoming aspects on itself. The Russian government and its liberal opposition alike have used their platforms to discredit the relatively peaceful spirit of the demonstrations and project ideas of U.S. weakness.”
  • “In using the notoriety of the United States’ Black Lives Matter slogan and American white supremacy logic to shed light on Russian police brutality and promote ethnic Russian nationalism, opposition members have undermined their own cause. In its eagerness to ignore the role of racism in Russia, the Russian Lives Matter movement has inadvertently stumbled on the same messaging as Putin’s regime. In the long run, this can only hurt its cause. Putin has no problem using the police and accusations of hooliganism to stop public demonstrations against his regime. Now, Moscow can point to the very logic of the opposition regarding the protests in the United States amid any accusations of state oppression.”

“Five Uneasy Pieces of the US-Russian Agenda,” Eugene Rumer, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.08.20The author, director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “If there is one piece of conventional wisdom that all experts on U.S.-Russian relations agree on, it’s that the relationship between the two countries is at its worst in decades. … Can anything be done to avoid that? To answer that question, it’s worth examining how five major elements of the bilateral U.S.-Russian relationship stack up right now.”
  • “The first element is the new coronavirus pandemic, which has eclipsed nuclear weapons as the most pressing facet of U.S.-Russian relations. … The second element is nuclear weapons and strategic stability—an area where the situation has deteriorated in the past few years.”
  • “The third element is terrorism, which for nearly two decades was the driving concern of U.S. national security policy, and which experts on U.S.-Russian relations have held up as an area where cooperation could serve the interests of both countries.”
  • “The fourth element is information wars, which have risen to the top of the U.S.-Russian agenda in the aftermath of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. … The final element is U.S.-Russian trade and economic relations, which can be described as stagnant at best and irrelevant at worst.”
  • “There is more on the U.S.-Russian agenda—not least Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela and, more recently, Libya—but the five issues outlined here comprise the bilateral U.S.-Russian agenda and need to be tackled first. The relationship did not get to this low point overnight, and it will not improve quickly. There is little chance of improvement before the 2020 U.S. presidential election. But afterward—regardless of who is elected in November—there will be a window of opportunity to change the course of the relationship.”

“Realism in the Arctic,” Kenneth Yalowitz and Ross A Virginia, The National Interest, 07.10.20The authors, a former U.S. ambassador to Belarus and Georgia and the director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth College, write:

  • “The United States and Russia have disagreements on many issues, including the organization of the international system. No ‘reset’ in relations is in sight but there is a need to put a floor in the relationship and work on possible areas for cooperation. The Arctic can be one.”
  • “First, the United States should resume high-level military to military contacts on the Arctic. This would not reward Russian aggression in Ukraine or its reported reprehensible steps in Afghanistan. Rather, a hard security dialog over the Arctic could give us a better understanding of the aims of the Russian military buildup and reduce the risk of incidents leading to unintended consequences.”
  • “Second, the United States should explore discussions on whether the Northern Sea Route is an internal passageway as Russia contends or an international waterway governed by the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea as the United States contends. Russia has taken steps to enforce its interpretation which the United States views as a violation of the right to freedom of navigation guaranteed under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. And third, we could explore a code of conduct for the Arctic Ocean building on the 1972 U.S.-USSR Incidents at Sea Agreement which remains in effect.”

“Rationalizing Russian (War) Memory Since 2014,” Ivan Kurilla, PONARS Eurasia, July 2020: the author, a professor at the European University at St. Petersburg, writes:

  • “After two decades of (official) American neglect of Russian/Soviet sufferings during World War II, President John Kennedy, in his 1963 address at American University, recollected that ‘no nation in the history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union in the Second World War.’ Such a recognition was a vital step toward Soviet-American understanding and the start of détente. However, the memory theme shifted on May 8 this year when President Donald Trump overlooked the sacrifices made by the Red Army and the Soviet people on Victory in Europe Day. He reveled, ‘America and Great Britain had victory over the Nazis!’”
  • “This ‘nationalization of history,’ a trending phenomenon over the last two decades, is a sign of a renewed split between Russia and the West. Loss of common ground increases the threat of (emotionally-driven) conflict in the bilateral relationship and everywhere. The mechanics of this separation process are visited here, with Russia serving as an example, with its alienation from the West and development of particular national views. A return of universal values could begin to bridge many splits.”
  • “A more attainable hope is the turn of humankind toward the discussion of a better, broad, universal future. Within the Trump and Putin times, there is demand for such a discourse. People in United States and in other countries are out on the streets right now, calling for renewed dialogue about painful themes founded in history and grounded in memory.”

“The Deadly Fallout of Disinformation,” Calder Walton, The Washington Post, 07.08.20: The author, assistant director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Applied History Project, writes:

  • “The most effective disinformation is inflicted by Western societies on themselves, true believers willing to amplify falsehoods. The year before Chernobyl, CIA officials testified before Congress about the nature of Soviet active measures. Robert Gates, future CIA director and defense secretary, explained that exposure was the best strategy to defeat disinformation. When probed by a senator about the actual threat Soviet active measures posed, Gates said they were mostly a nuisance and generally did not pose a strategic threat to the United States. However, Gates warned, ‘in a close election or legislative battle, they could spell the difference.’”
  • “The senator asking questions about Kremlin disinformation was Joe Biden. His presidential campaign today should heed the same principles that he identified then about countering disinformation. Then, as now, light is its best disinfectant.”
  • “Today's social media landscape makes it quicker, easier and cheaper to spread disinformation than the KGB ever could. Unlike the past, today's White House has also itself learned the power of misinformation, with President Trump regularly tweeting about conspiracy theories and unproven medical treatments and castigating journalists for asking hard-hitting questions. Disinfecting light needs to be cast not only on China's coronavirus disinformation, but also on America's own catastrophic virus meltdown.”

“Trump Might Not Want to Relinquish Power. Presidents Leave. Czars Stick Around,” Graham Allison, The Atlantic, 07.12.20The author, former director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes:

  • “American presidents customarily leave office when voters reject them. Czars, emperors and would-be prime ministers for life do whatever they can to hold on to power. … To extend his rule until 2036, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently held a referendum to amend his country’s constitution. While some Russians publicly opposed the proposal, few had any doubt about the outcome.”
  • “In short, three leaders whom Donald Trump has praised [Putin, Xi and Netanyahu] have extended their tenure in office. On this canvas, what could Trump do? Undoubtedly, a whiff of paranoia is evident in many claims of potential skulduggery now swirling about. And yet the fear that Trump may not leave office, no matter what happens in November, has become mainstream.”
  • “Putin, Xi, Netanyahu and Trump all differ from one another in many ways, of course. But each has reasons to avoid relinquishing his hold on power. Putin, Xi and Netanyahu genuinely have grand ambitions. Each wants to expand his country’s formal borders … Trump’s signature banner promises to ‘Make America great again,’ and the thought that this could include territorial expansion—specifically the purchase of Greenland—has also occurred to him.”
  • “Historically, heads of state clung to power until they died or were overthrown. Of the 23 czars who ruled Russia from 1547 to 1917, how many voluntarily handed over power to a successor? Zero. Fifteen died of natural causes, six were overthrown and two were assassinated. Over roughly the same four centuries, China had 16 emperors—all but one of whose reigns ended involuntarily … Call it the czar’s dilemma: However daunting the challenges of holding power, the dangers of losing it are even greater.”
  • “If our society remains discombobulated amid a continuing pandemic, if voter-suppression measures keep some Americans from having their say, if mail-in-ballot glitches and foreign interference affect vote counts and if exit polls suggest that the election is close, nightmare scenarios become more probable. Under these conditions, America’s best hope for escaping the czar’s dilemma is for one candidate to win decisively.”

“ICE Is Putting International Students in a Terrible Position—And Hurting America,” Margarita Konaev, The Washington Post, 07.08.20: The author, a specialist in military applications of artificial intelligence, Russian military innovation and urban warfare in the Middle East, Russia and Eurasia, writes:

  • “The United States' excellent higher education institutions—and their ability to attract international talent—are a strategic asset given that countries such as China and Russia often struggle to retain their ‘best and brightest.’ Nearly half of international students in the United States are pursuing education in STEM fields, making them indispensable to American scientific and technological innovation.”
  • “Though I was born in the Soviet Union and grew up in Israel, where my family moved to escape poverty, growing criminality and anti-Semitism, I am writing this article from my home in Washington, because of that F1 visa I received so long ago. Forcing international students to upend their schooling and professional growth, or to choose between their health or their education, doesn't just hurt them. It weakens America.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russian Authorities Are Targeting Journalists, Historians and Activists: The Rest of Us Could Be Next,” Ilya Klishin, The Moscow Times, 07.10.20: The author, the former digital director of the New York-based Russian-language RTVI channel, writes:

  • “Russian liberals repeatedly shout about a ‘new ‘37.’ That is, they habitually raise the alarm that the country is about to experience a repeat of the worst of the great Stalinist terror of 1937, when masses of innocent people were arrested at night and sent either to their execution or to the Siberian Gulag camps.”
  • “A type of semantic uncertainty—in which there is repression, but not against everyone, and only enough to warrant the occasional critical post on Facebook or attendance at a protest rally—has reigned in Russia for years, right up until the plebiscite on the Constitution on July 1.  Even now, it’s not clear exactly what has really changed, other than that Putin can remain in office until 2036. But for some reason, the siloviki suddenly redoubled their activity once the voting had ended and things feel different.”
  • “The authorities have since arrested and accused Ivan Safronov, the former correspondent of a leading business newspaper, of spying for the Czech Republic; subjected Mediazona publisher and Pussy Riot member Pyotr Verzilov to an insane number of searches and leveled criminal charges against him for holding a Canadian passport; brought terrorism charges against Pskov journalist Svetlana Prokopieva; requested a 15-year sentence for historian and civil rights activist Yuri Dmitriev of Karelia; and prosecuted an activist in the Far East for drawing a vagina.”
  • “Every day, without interruption, brings more searches, detentions, arrests and criminal charges. What’s going on? Nobody knows, but this time it really is scary. Not for what might happen, but for what has already happened. Worse, the borders are closed due to the pandemic. There is nowhere to flee to, and the search and detentions just keep coming.”
  • “This might not be a ‘new ’37,’ but it is devilishly disturbing, whatever it is.”

“Safronov’s Arrest Is a New Low for Freedom of Speech in Russia,” Andrei Soldatov, The Moscow Times, 07.08.20: The author, a Russian investigative journalist and Russian security services expert, writes:

  • “When the Federal Security Service (FSB) requested in September 2012 that the State Duma stiffen the article on high treason in the Russian Criminal Code, everyone understood what the agency was after.  Many in the Kremlin had accused the FSB of falling asleep on its watch and falling to predict the 2011 street protests. Then, with the ruling regime just recovering from that jolt, the FSB did what intelligence agencies usually do in such situations—it requested broader authority.”
  • “The FSB wanted greater powers for its counterintelligence activities … The FSB got what it wanted. The revised version of Article 275 of the Criminal Code expanded the range of the usual suspects for high treason from military personnel, scientists and researchers to include experts and journalists.”
  • “For many years before that, it had been almost impossible to accuse journalists of treason or revealing state secrets because, by definition, they had no access to such information. Prior to 2012, the FSB had to contrive all sorts of things in order to charge journalists under this article of the Criminal Code.”
  • “Life became much easier for investigators in 2012.  From that time onward, the FSB could target anyone who had transmitted information that the intelligence agency itself considered harmful to national security.”
  • “The shock arrest of former journalist Ivan Safranov shows that the rules have changed again. The FSB is applying its paranoid definition of espionage to journalists—and is going out of its way to make sure everyone knows. What’s more, senior leaders have apparently sanctioned the action.”
  • “Today’s Kremlin leaders live and operate in a worldview of threats, a way of life that epitomizes the notorious ‘secret service mentality.’”

“Interview With Konstantin Remchukov: Why Vladimir Putin Will Likely Resign In 2024,” Jacob Heilbrunn, The National Interest, 07.10.20. In this interview with Remchukov, an authority on Russian politics and the proprietor and editor-in-chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Heilbrunn asks:

  • “You originally thought the vote on Russian president Vladimir Putin's extension in office would lead to a less restrictive Russia. But is the reverse occurring? … Konstantin Remchukov: No, my perception is that constitutional changes brought an end to the opposition's political line, which was called transition. … They tried to implant in the public mind the idea that the only thing that is worth talking about is a transition from Putin's Russia. … By these legal acts the Kremlin stopped the entire concept of transition. It's irrelevant.”
  • “Heilbrunn: Security officials in masks have arrested regional Governor Sergei I. Furgal who was a long-time member of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party. He … is now suddenly accused of participating in murders. The New York Times says the Kremlin is clawing back power from the regions. Is this interpretation correct? Remchukov: I don't think this is about the regions. Our political society is split by two groups. … You are for or against Putin. … The Kremlin doesn't need traditional, official Duma parties any longer.”
  • “Heilbrunn: … the Levada Center indicates that public confidence in Putin has dropped to 25 percent. Moreover, 58 percent of Russians back an age limit for the president set at seventy. Putin is sixty-eight. Do you think Putin will face a crisis? Remchukov: My prognosis is 55 percent versus 45 percent that he will not run for the presidency in 2024. Let's face it: he didn't want to be a lame duck. His thinking was that elites shouldn't look for a future leader; they should stop thinking about the future. … Most likely Putin will quit the job in 2024 and not violate the spirit of the constitution.”
  • “Heilbrunn: But overall you remain optimistic? Remchukov: If the economic situation doesn't improve, it could push Putin to a more authoritarian type of rule. … The problem is that politically it has become tense. It's like you lack oxygen. … The intelligentsia talks in the kitchen about these matters, but we don't know how many years this political regime will prevail. There is no ideal of what other path Russia should follow. … Russia sticks to its old, anti-Western way—which is close to Putin's ideal.”

“Putin Finally Sheds All Democratic Appearances,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, The Washington Post, 07.06.20: The author, a Russian democracy activist, politician, author and filmmaker, writes:

  • “Joseph Stalin was reported to have said, at a Bolshevik party meeting in 1923, that voting is ‘completely unimportant—'what is extraordinarily important is … who will count the votes, and how.’ Except for a brief democratic interlude in the 1990s, this maxim has governed the Soviet and later the Russian government's approach to elections ever since. It was also on full display last week as the Central Election Commission announced the official results of a recent plebiscite that waived Vladimir Putin's presidential term limits, allowing him to remain in power until 2036. Evidently unconcerned with appearances, the commission began publishing the tallies before voting has ended.”
  • “A referendum … would have provided an opportunity to campaign on both sides; it would also have clearly established procedures on voting and counting; and it would have allowed independent and international observation at polling places. Given the trends in Russian public opinion—including the fall of public trust in Putin to 25 percent and a clear majority for age-limiting the presidency at 70 (Putin turns 68 this year)—it is hardly surprising that the Kremlin decided not to entrust such an important decision to the whim of the electorate. Instead of a referendum, Russians got an ill-defined ‘public vote’—as Electoral Commission chair Ella Pamfilova called it, ‘a unique one-time affair.’”
  • “In regular circumstances, many of these manipulations would have been exposed by independent observers—as they had been in previous Russian elections, most prominently in 2011. This time, however, the only observers allowed for the count were those approved by state-controlled institutions.”
  • “By subverting term limits through a patently fraudulent vote, Putin has become illegitimate de jure; in the same league with rogue regimes that had employed this trick before.”

“Silencing Dissent: Russian Culture on Trial,” Alexander Baunov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.10.20: The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center and editor in chief of, writes:

  • “The suspended sentences handed down last week in the embezzlement trial of theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov and his colleagues illustrate perfectly the deep schism within both Russian society and its ruling class. The main aim of the trial and the sentences was to put an end to state funding for subversive elements once and for all.”
  • “For critics of the director and his theater studio, the true crime was not the dubious embezzlement case against him, but the mere fact of state subsidies for contemporary art. Such subsidies are viewed by their detractors as embezzlement in themselves, and the fact that they were available is proof that the state system isn’t working properly and must be mended.”
  • “Custodial sentences in the Serebrennikov case would have been too obvious a victory for one particular group. For the leader of a personalistic regime, the victory of one group would mean a loss of balance. He would no longer represent different groups, and would not be guided by them in equal measures, but would become dependent on the winners and risk losing the support of rival groups.”
  • “A not-guilty verdict would have meant an ill-advised loss of face for the siloviki, whose services are far more crucial to Putin than those of cultural figures. Who will try to punish an enemy of the regime if they risk being shamed in court?”
  • “A prison sentence, on the other hand, would have created too deep a rift between Putin and the cultural intelligentsia … Neither group won outright, but the liberals were punished more, since sentences were handed down. But those who initiated the case didn’t get everything they wanted either, to make sure they know their place.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant developments.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

“String of Murders Chills Chechen Exiles in Europe,” Max Seddon, Financial Times, 07.11.20: The author, FT’s Moscow correspondent, writes:

  • “Mamikhan Umarov turned to the camera in front of Vienna’s airport last week and dared Chechnya’s strongman ruler [Ramzan Kadryov] to kill him. … Two days later, Umarov—better known as his YouTube alter ego Anzor from Vienna—was shot dead, the fourth assassination or attempted killing of a Chechen dissident in Europe over the past year.”
  • “Umarov’s murder last weekend appears to be the latest in an intensifying string of attacks on critics of Ramzan Kadyrov, the former warlord who rules the mostly Muslim province in Russia’s north Caucasus Mountains.”
  • “The killings have struck fear into Europe’s more than 100,000 Chechen exiles, many of whom fled the abductions, torture and disappearances that rights groups said are rife in the region after two bloody separatist wars between 1994 and 2009.”
  • “Umarov, a former mercenary for Chechnya’s separatist government in the 1990s, moved to Austria in 2005, fearing reprisals against his family. Friends of his told the Financial Times he began working with Austrian intelligence a few years later, after his brother allegedly died at the hands of Chechen security forces.”
  • “Most of the Chechens previously killed abroad were pretenders to Mr. Kadyrov’s throne or had fought Russia in an Islamist insurgency that carried out several bombings. … But the targets of recent attacks appeared to have transgressed by publicly criticizing Mr. Kadyrov.”


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“’We’ll Outlast You All.’ What the Amendments to the Constitution Say About the Kremlin’s Foreign Policy,” Vladimir Frolov, Republic, 07.09.20: The author, a Russian political analyst and columnist, writes:

  • “The adopted amendments to the Russian Constitution also have a foreign policy dimension. The two most resonant ‘foreign policy amendments’—on the inviolability of Russian territory and on the prevalence of Russian laws over international law—will have relatively limited practical effects. Putin’s term clock reset is much more important.”
  • “The amendment on ‘inviolability of Russian territory’ … affects first and foremost Crimea and the southern Kurils, ensuring that scenarios of international legal resolution of territorial disputes that would entail the transfer of territories and water areas currently controlled by Russia would be taboo for Russian leaders. … But in reality, this problem does not exist. … All non-marginal political players in Russia believe that the long-term resolution in relations with Ukraine should include Kiev’s recognition of Russian sovereignty in Crimea. … Regarding the southern Kurils, the amendment simply gives Moscow a stronger negotiating position with Japan.”
  • “The preeminence of the Russian Constitution over international law … gives Russia’s leadership the ability to selectively execute international court decisions that do not favor Russia. … But this amendment will not have serious consequences for Russian foreign policy except to additionally solidify Russia’s course toward isolation from Western institutions.”
  • “More significant in international terms is the amendment about ‘resetting’ Vladimir Putin’s presidential terms. This is not so much a reset of Putin's term limits as it is a nullification of any other players with presidential ambitions, as well as the theoretical hopes of ‘our Western partners’ for a change in Russia's leadership after 2024. ... Now it has officially been announced: ‘after Putin, there will be Putin,’ and any hopes for ‘new thinking’ from Moscow should be abandoned by the West.”

“Ventilator Diplomacy in the Balkans,” Maxim Samorukov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.08.20: The author, the deputy editor of, writes:

  • “The Kremlin has never trusted Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, and it is determined to play a prominent role in Balkan security issues. Moscow can still count on the strength of pro-Russian sentiment in many quarters of the Serbian military and extremely positive views of Russia from the general public. China may have moved quickly to expand its regional influence, but the enduring nature of the coronavirus pandemic promises to give the Kremlin a rare chance to convert its established assets in the Western Balkans into an ever-greater military role in a contested region.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • No significant developments.


“Ukraine’s Bank Chief Quit and Received a Coffin as a Warning. It’s a Scandal That Threatens the Country’s Economic Health,” David L. Stern and Robyn Dixon, The Washington Post, 07.11.20: The authors write:

  • “Ukraine is looking for a new central banker, but applicants beware. The job takes nerve. It means constant attacks from the TV stations of powerful tycoons. Then there is the pressure from politicians. Paid demonstrators are liable to turn up at your front gate. The threats are hardly subtle. On Wednesday, a coffin and a row of extravagant funeral wreaths were near the home of Yakiv Smolii, who said he was forced out of the central bank's top post June 30 by systematic pressure.”
  • “The developments also blasted another hole in the clean-government pledges of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a former TV comedian and political neophyte who came to power last year promising to uproot the corruption that has plagued the country's courts, business culture and politics for decades. Now, Zelenskiy's government could face some serious fallout from those Ukraine needs most: supporters in Europe, the United States and global financial institutions.”
  • “Questions over political interference in the National Bank of Ukraine, the central bank, could threaten future International Monetary Fund support for Ukraine at a critical time. Ukraine's economy, hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, is projected by the government to shrink by 4.8 percent this year.”
  • “‘Reform seems to be dead in Ukraine,’ analyst Tim Ash added. ‘The obvious concern now is that we see a return to the disastrous economic policies run under former Ukraine president [Viktor] Yanukovych,’ he said referring to a pro-Russian Ukraine leader forced from office in the 2014 Revolution of Dignity.”
  • “The timing of Smolii's acrimonious departure was also a blow: less than three weeks later, Zelenskiy signed a memorandum agreeing to IMF conditions to allow money to flow. ‘Which means,’ said Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, ‘his word means nothing.’”

“Five Reasons Why Zelenskiy Is Failing in Ukraine,” Melinda Haring, The National Interest, 06.06.20: The author, the deputy director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, writes:

  • “Zelenskiy was elected on three promises: to end the war in eastern Ukraine, to make the large Eastern European country of 42 million rich, and to stanch corruption. But after an initial burst of activity on the reform front, he ended up faltering on these pledges. The kettledrum rhetoric about fundamentally changing Ukraine has faded away to a faint pianissimo. Only a year in, he seems languid and defeated.”
  • “The shift isn’t just in tone; it’s also in substance and personnel. Zelenskiy sacked his reform-minded prime minister, most of his cabinet, prosecutor general, and many other top officials in March and April, stunning everyone. The timing couldn’t have been worse. The global coronavirus pandemic reached Ukraine a few weeks later and may well devour up to 8.2 percent of its GDP. Zelenskiy has hired flunkeys with little experience and even old Yanukovych cronies. At the same time, he is supporting politically motivated charges against the former president, prosecutor general, former infrastructure minister, and heads of the tax and customs services.”
  • “It’s impossible to change Ukraine. Everything is for sale, including parliamentarians. Name your price, and one can adopt a baby during COVID-19, illegally air-freight hundreds of dogs from a puppy mill to Canada and do just about anything else. Oligarchs appear to have recovered their control over the parliament for a pittance, and all along they controlled the media and all the major industries. … Until the role of money in Ukraine’s politics changes, it doesn’t matter who’s president.”
  • “One thing is clear: the show will go on in Ukraine, but whether Zelenskiy will be the starring act is another matter. Instead, in Kiev, it increasingly looks like back to the future.”

“Ukraine's ‘Holocaust Disneyland,’” Vladislav Davidzon, Wall Street Journal, 07.10.20: The author, the Odessa Review's chief editor and Tablet Magazine's European culture correspondent, writes:

  • “The territory of Ukraine was the site of countless horrors committed against the Jewish people under Nazi occupation. Yet the resource-strapped country lacks a major museum and memorial dedicated to the Holocaust. While an international initiative to create one began in 2016, the ambitious project is in disarray, with one critic calling it ‘Holocaust Disneyland.’”
  • “For centuries Ukraine has constituted the historical homeland for much of European Jewry, and more than half of American Jews have roots in the region. An estimated 1.5 million Jews were killed on its territory during the ‘Holocaust by bullets,’ with some 90% of the killings carried out directly by German forces. Babyn Yar—a ravine outside of Kyiv, where some 34,000 Jews were rounded up and shot Sept. 29-30, 1941—has come to symbolize the killing fields across Eastern Europe.”
  • “The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center initiative, launched in 2016, likely will be the last major Holocaust memorial built during the lifetimes of survivors. Costs are projected to surpass $100 million.”
  • “The desire of the memorial's core donors and board to forge an original and affecting memorial is laudable. Yet Russian filmmaker Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s record of approaching the totalitarian past by re-creating it in the most visceral manner raises a disturbing question. Is vividly bringing the aesthetics of Nazi terror on the very ground where it had taken place an appropriate way to honor victims?”
  • “The victims deserve a powerful retelling of the tragedy on Ukrainian soil. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, himself of Jewish descent, should take the lead in setting matters right at the troubled Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center.”

“Russia and Ukraine in the Age of Coronavirus,” Konstantin Skorkin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.08.20: The author, an independent journalist based in Moscow, writes:

  • “A year into Zelenskiy’s presidency, his main goal—peace with Russia—appears to be no closer than when he took the oath of office. The coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout from it have weakened his hand in dealing with both principal obstacles he is facing—Russia’s refusal to make concessions and the usual factional politics in Kyiv. He has been forced into making compromises with the latter, which in turn has undercut his ability to deal with the former.”
  • “COVID-19 is exacting a cruel toll on Ukraine. Its economy, its presidency, its prospects for peace with Russia, and its ties with its key Western partners have all suffered as a result of the pandemic. The consequences of this affliction are likely to last well beyond the cycle of the disease itself.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Lukashenko Is Putin’s Future,” Chris Miller, Foreign Policy, 07.09.20: The author, assistant professor of international history at Tufts Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and co-director of the school's Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “The collapse in Lukashenko’s support will transform politics in Belarus even if the old dictator survives by jailing his rivals. For the rest of the world, what happens in Belarus matters more as a glimpse into Russia’s potential future. There is no country more similar to Russia than Belarus. And Lukashenko is probably the best-known foreign politician in Russia. A quarter of Russians even think that Belarus and Russia should become a single country.”
  • “There are differences between the two countries, of course, most notably Russia’s great-power status, which enables Putin to wrap himself in the flag in a way that no Belarusian president ever can. But the many similarities in the political platforms offered by Lukashenko and Putin—promises of social spending, Soviet nostalgia, and strongman tactics—mean that Lukashenko’s fate matters greatly for Russia’s future. If Lukashenko relies more heavily on repression to retain power, it will undermine Putin’s claim that their shared political promises are widely popular. If Lukashenko is ousted, it would set a precedent very dangerous for Putin as he eyes 16 more years in power. The Kremlin must hope that Lukashenko somehow restores his credibility, lest his popularity sink any deeper—and drag Putin down with him.”

“Belarus’s Lukashenko Walks a Tightrope Ahead of Presidential Poll,” James Shotter and Max Seddon, Financial Times, 07.07.20: The authors write:

  • “During his 26 years in charge of the former Soviet state wedged between Russia and the EU, Mr. Lukashenko has turned playing off his eastern and western neighbors into a fine art, using periodic improvements in relations with Brussels to counterbalance Minsk’s economic dependence on Moscow.”
  • “But in recent weeks that balancing act has begun to look more difficult. Faced with mounting public discontent at his botched handling of the coronavirus pandemic ahead of a presidential election on Aug. 9, Mr. Lukashenko has cracked down hard on his opponents. Two prominent opposition leaders and scores of activists have been detained. Analysts say that if the crackdown continues, Mr. Lukashenko’s efforts to improve relations with the west, which has long pressured the autocratic leader over his human rights record, could be set back.”
  • “Links with the US have also improved, with Washington planning to restore ambassadorial relations with Minsk. … But analysts say the current clampdown could send these processes into reverse, and leave Mr. Lukashenko even more dependent on Mr. Putin. Moscow has over the past year been increasing the pressure on Minsk to accept deeper economic and political integration.”
  • “‘Russia does not want any of its allies to go over to the enemy camp and force the Kremlin to readjust. That is why Lukashenko is the best candidate—it is obvious that with him Belarus has no chance of joining [NATO or the EU] and the door is closed,’ said Artyom Shraibman, the founder of … a Minsk-based political consultancy. ‘They want him to have as little room to maneuver as possible. The more untouchable he becomes in the west, the less he can diversify his foreign policy and energy system and the more dependent he becomes on Russia.’”

“Belarus and Russian Oil: All Is Not as It Seems,” Mateusz Kubiak, RUSI, 07.07.20: The author, a senior oil and gas analyst with Warsaw-based consultancy firm Esperis, writes:

  • “The latest oil dispute [between Russia and Belarus]  began earlier this year when Belarus challenged the terms of supplies proposed by Russia and demanded additional discounts and compensations.”
  • “The oil spat between Minsk and Moscow was resolved in April, but since then Belarus remains adamant that it will continue its effort to diversify away from its reliance on Russian energy supplies.”
  • “Belarus has decided to build a new domestic oil pipeline and bring in more tankers with non-Russian cargoes, including the very first shipments of crude oil from Saudi Arabia and the US. Moreover, at the beginning of June, Belarusians stated that they were already in talks with their Saudi and Azeri counterparts regarding possible long-term crude oil supply contracts.”
  • “[However,] ultimately Belarus may try to play the diversification card not so much to replace Russian crude oil with alternative supplies but to secure better terms of cooperation with Russian companies in the future. Lukashenko has been taking advantage of such ‘tug-of-war’ images in boosting his foreign policy for many years already, and there is no reason to think that this time it could be different.”
  • “Of course, there still might be more non-Russian supplies to Belarus in the future, as the tax manoeuvre is being rolled out and Russia’s oil subsidies (in the form of duty-free shipments) continue to decrease. Moreover, Belarusian interest in crude oil deliveries from the direction of Poland, Ukraine or the Baltic States will also rise temporarily in times of crises in Minsk’s relations with Moscow. But it is unlikely that this will translate into the breakthrough that many in the West are currently anticipating, namely a transformed Belarus ready to stride confidently as an independent state.”

“Authoritarian Learning: Making Sense of Kazakhstan’s Political Transition,” Azamat Junisbai, PONARS, July 2020: The author, a professor of sociology at Pitzer College, writes:

  • “If the elite jockeying for position in the post-Nazarbayev era produces clear winners and losers among current members of his inner circle, it will upset the delicate equilibrium that Kazakhstan’s first president has long worked to maintain. In the absence of robust and independent political institutions capable of providing stability and continuity, an all-out conflict between different elite factions could have profoundly destabilizing effects for the whole of society. Such an outcome would not only illustrate the limits of authoritarian learning but could very well throw the whole country into turmoil.”