Russia Analytical Report, July 9-16, 2018

This Week’s Highlights:

  • At his summit with Putin, Trump did nothing that could be construed as undermining U.S. interests as traditionally understood, writes columnist Leonid Bershidsky. Trump's comments revealed no freebies to Putin or even any sign that the two leaders had attempted to negotiate compromises on the many substantive issues that divide their two countries.
  • The Trump administration should prepare for the follow-up to the summit—the gradual normalization of diplomatic ties between the two powers whose relationship is integral to the future of Europe and the Middle East, writes history professor Michael Kimmage. The United States cannot coerce Russia into doing its will, Kimmage argues, as daily images of the joyful World Cup in Russia underscore the absurdity of trying to isolate the country in the manner intended. What cannot be done should not be attempted.
  • Dialogue must also be grounded in a basic truth: that Washington and Moscow have a common existential interest in preventing the use of nuclear weapons, write co-chairmen of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Ernest Moniz and Sam Nunn.
  • In 2018, a record 78 percent of Russians volunteered that they regard the United States as the most unfriendly foreign country, write Andrei Kolesnikov and Denis Volkov, the chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center and a sociologist at the Levada Center.
  • Trump does not see Russia as a significant economic or military threat to vital U.S. interests, argues foreign affairs professor Walter Russell Mead. Therefore, Trump does not believe that containing Russia should be the centerpiece of America's European strategy.
  • Senior members of Putin’s team do not expect to live long enough to see meaningful sanctions relief, and probably doubt that their kids will either, writes Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Moscow Center.
  • The fact that the relationship between Russia and China has not developed into a full alliance owes nothing to Japan's efforts, but is instead because neither side currently sees the need to involve themselves too deeply in the other's international problems, argues political science professor James D.J. Brown.

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

After the Trump-Putin summit in Finland:

“Putin and Trump Couldn’t Make the Relationship Work,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 07.16.18: The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes: “Given the weeks of apocalyptic speculation that preceded the Helsinki summit … the news conference that followed the meeting Monday should have been anticlimactic: Nothing was agreed, nothing gained or conceded. And yet John Brennan … tweeted that Trump’s performance was ‘nothing short of treasonous.’ … [Trump] did nothing that could be construed as undermining U.S. interests as traditionally understood. … So where’s the treason? … [T]he crux of the issue is Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation … Trump has said many times he considers the investigation a witch hunt and an attempt to undermine his victory … Putin … has denied any Russian government interference and will continue to do so … The Russian president did say something new at the press conference: For the first time, he said he’d wanted Trump to win the election. … Trump clearly believes Putin likes him and wishes him no ill. … I doubt, however, that Putin expects the U.S. president to start treating Russia as an ally. Being nice to Trump … doesn’t mean Trump will do anything for you. The U.S. president will continue acting in ways that aren’t in Putin’s interests. … [H]e will continue the tough Russia policies that Republican and Democratic administrations pursued before him, and then some: President Barack Obama, for example, was softer on the Iran issue. His relationship with Putin increasingly looks like a love affair that won’t be consummated. … Putin has nothing to offer that the U.S. media and the Republican establishment might support, and Trump is mindful of where he stands with both and is blocked by the Constitution from giving anything away. … Putin is probably sorry that he let his intelligence services and friendly troll factory owners stir up trouble in the U.S. in 2016. … He would have done better to stand aside and watch Trump win the election anyway. The confusion still would have been there, but bargains … probably would have been within reach. Now, Putin and Trump can only stare at each other like star-crossed lovers and play press conference tag. It’s not treasonous, just sad.”

Before the Trump-Putin summit in Finland:

“The Surprising Promise of the Trump-Putin Summit. The Real Opportunity Behind the Media Spectacle,” Michael Kimmage, Foreign Affairs. 07.11.18The author, a history professor at the Catholic University of America, writes: “Trump’s administration should do what it can to undersell the summit with Putin and avoid painting it as a breakthrough before or after. … Internally, the administration should prepare for the follow-up to the summit—the gradual normalization of diplomatic ties between the two powers whose relationship is integral to the future of Europe and the Middle East. … Once in place, a normalized U.S.-Russian diplomatic relationship should be Washington’s vehicle for shaping Russian behavior. The United States cannot coerce Russia into doing its will. … So far, coercion and isolation have both failed. Russian foreign policy has grown only more ambitious since 2014. Moreover, daily images of the joyful World Cup in Russia underscore the absurdity of trying to isolate the country in the manner intended. What cannot be done should not be attempted. Continued pressure where interests diverge plus diplomatic normalization would be a new approach for the United States. … Progress, if achieved, would be incremental. … Pompeo, Mattis, and Bolton … could be tasked to reverse the downward spiral of the U.S.-Russian relationship. This in turn could open up new options in Ukraine and Syria, options the United States might be happy to have.”

“Détente Revisited in Helsinki,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.12.18The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes: “Helsinki will mark the first détente in the four-year-old Hybrid War between Russia and the United States. … The two sides would need to come up with potential deliverables and, in the process, reengage with each other after a break of several years. … U.S.-Russian relations will not be miraculously transformed as a result. The Hybrid War will continue. But some rules will be laid down, and a measure of dialogue will be taking place. The Europeans will be at least relieved that the confrontation will not turn them again into a potential battlefield, and the Chinese will be glad to see a bit less chaos under the heavens.”

“How to Reduce Nuclear Risks in Helsinki,” Des Browne, Wolfgang Ischinger, Igor Ivanov and Sam Nunn, Gazeta.ru/European Leadership Network, 07.11.18The authors, the chair of the ELN, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference, a former Russian foreign minister and co-chairman and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, write that “we have entered a new era, in which a fateful error—triggered by an accident, miscalculation or blunder—could trigger a nuclear catastrophe. The risks of such an error are compounded by heightened tensions between NATO and Russia … The Trump-Putin summit is an opportunity to stop this dangerous drift. Reaffirming that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, the United States and Russia could agree to specific steps at Helsinki to reduce nuclear risks. First, begin discussions on how to increase decision time for leaders to reduce the risk of a false warning of a nuclear attack or a nuclear accident or miscalculation. … Second, begin discussions on reducing and managing cyber nuclear risks. … Third, work jointly to restart bilateral crisis management dialogue, including among uniformed military leaders in charge of nuclear forces, and multilateral crisis management dialogue throughout the Euro-Atlantic region, to reduce military risks. … Fourth, work jointly to preserve and extend existing agreements and treaties … Fifth, continue consultations relating to concluding practical arrangements for the full and expeditious implementation of the commitments in the Singapore Summit Joint Statement.”

“Trump-Putin Summit an Essential Step to Reducing Nuclear Danger,” Ernest Moniz and Sam Nunn, The Hill, 07.13.18The authors, co-chairmen of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, write: “There’s much to be done, but it must begin with the two presidents creating a climate for dialogue across our governments … Dialogue must also be grounded in a basic truth: that Washington and Moscow have a common existential interest in preventing the use of nuclear weapons. ... [A]n accident or miscalculation involving our military forces leading to a major international incident and escalation is likely. Without even informal understandings regarding the danger of cyber interference in command and control and early warning systems, we risk blundering into a nuclear exchange. … We must find ways to increase decision time for leaders to respond to what may be a false warning. … President Trump can use the Helsinki summit to begin to carve out a Russia policy that reduces the unnecessary nuclear dangers we are currently running, while maintaining our values and protecting our allies and interests. The meeting is a chance to reaffirm the declaration … that nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought; to extend and preserve mutually beneficial agreements that provide transparency, verification and stability on nuclear arms; and to launch a dedicated effort to cooperate on areas of common interest … Beyond the summit, the presidents should commit their diplomatic, military and scientific establishments to report back on jointly developed specific agreements and concrete actions that could reduce nuclear risk.”

“Why Trump Should Push Putin to Revive Arms Control,” Kimberly Marten and Olga Oliker, Foreign Affairs, 07.13.18The authors, chair of the political science department at Barnard College and director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, write: “To bring home a win from Helsinki, Trump should push to fix the fraying treaties that have undergirded U.S.-Russian arms control to date. This means extending … New START, and discussing the future of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Both sides should also resume a robust program of direct talks and activities between their armed forces. … The United States and Russia should agree to resume recently suspended programs … to bring their military officers into regular contact with each other. … [A] recommitment to these programs would allow officers on each side to gain a deeper understanding of the other side’s thinking. … [T]his improved understanding could help each side identify signals of intent through the noisy fog of confrontation. It might even spawn new confidence-building measures between the two militaries … New START, INF and military-to-military contacts are areas where bilateral progress not only is attainable but would represent a real breakthrough with the potential to slow, and perhaps even halt, the downward spiral in the relationship. Agreement in these areas would, importantly, not reward Russia for bad behavior … A focus on arms control and military discussions can ensure that even as Washington and Moscow continue to disagree and compete in years to come, they are better equipped to calibrate their policies and avoid instability.”

“The Trump-Putin Summit’s Potential Nuclear Fallout: When the US and Russian presidents meet in Helsinki, the biggest risk won't be on everyone's radar,” Jon Wolfsthal, Foreign Policy, 07.10.18The author, director of the Nuclear Crisis Group, writes: “The July 16 summit in Helsinki between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin presents a unique opportunity to reverse the dangerous nuclear competition between the United States and Russia and should be welcomed, despite its inherent risks. The opportunity to stabilize U.S.-Russian nuclear relations by extending New START … is paramount … It seems surreal that the nuclear dangers of the Cold War have returned so quickly. But it is dangerous to ignore them … While the contours of the tension may be different, the tools needed to reverse this dangerous pattern are proven and well know. New START is the latest example of such tools and should be extended without delay to give both countries the room to take broader and more productive action in the coming months. … If New START can be extended at the summit, then the two sides should also consider elevating the long-moribund and desperately needed strategic stability talks to a high level. One option would be to start a 2+2 dialogue of the U.S. secretaries of state and defense with their Russian counterparts on a regular basis, with technical teams meeting even more frequently.”

“The United States Won’t Get Everything It Wants, But It Would Be Wise to Protect Washington’s Remaining Interests Before It’s Too Late,” Samuel Charap and Jeffrey Martini, Foreign Policy, 07.10.18The authors, a senior political scientist and a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation, write: “Now that the Islamic State has largely been defeated, the Trump administration has set its sights on ‘kicking Iran out of Syria.’ … Although U.S. leverage is much diminished by the Assad regime’s recent gains, there are still opportunities for Washington and Russia to achieve a settlement that preserves some U.S. interests The Kremlin does not want to continue its air campaign in Syria indefinitely … Russia could therefore be expected to support a political settlement that meets its bottom line: no regime change in Damascus and no permanent U.S. military presence in Syria. … For the Trump administration, such a settlement would hardly be a major concession. And such a deal could also deliver on Washington’s bottom line—preventing the re-emergence of the Islamic State and denying Iran a free hand to expand its influence in the Middle East.”

“What Trump Should Keep in Mind When Meeting Putin: Putin, with his consolidated domestic grip on power, will negotiate from a position of strength,” Vladislav Inozemtsev, The National Interest, 07.09.18The author, director of the Center for Post-Industrial Studies in Moscow, writes: “For the majority of DC policymakers, in the recent quarter century there existed two Russias: the one of the 1990s, which was democratic, market-oriented and Western-friendly, and the other of the 2000s and 2010s, which became authoritarian and imperialistic … when meeting with the Russian leader, Trump and his aides should not please themselves with a tale of there being “two Russias.” … there is one Russia, Putin’s one, where business activities and the public service have been merged for a long time. If one hoped there were Yeltsin-era people who stood aside of the current regime, I would remind that, just several days ago, the Kremlin revealed that Yeltsin’s former chief of staff and son-in-law, Valentin Yumashev, has been Putin’s official advisor for the last 18 … years.”

“Craving Respect: The Russian Public’s Wish List in Helsinki,” Andrei Kolesnikov and Denis  Volkov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 07.11.18The authors, chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center and a sociologist at the Levada Center, write: “In recent polling by the independent Levada Center, 69 percent of Russians expressed negative feelings toward the United States. … But another question elicits the most negative response yet in Levada polls. In 2018, a record 78 percent of Russians volunteered that they regard the United States as the most unfriendly foreign country. … Yet Russians do hope for some kind of rapprochement with the Americans—so long as Russia emerges from it with respect. … The idea that the West needs to ‘listen to’ and respect Russia is a constant theme in the discourse of both the public and the elite. … The prevailing view from discussions on America in our focus groups is: … we should adopt a principle of ‘let’s not tread on each other’s toes.’ … The Russian public wants … a genuine desire to talk and try to agree. And it wants that good faith from its own president as much as it wants it from President Trump.”    

“Trump Must Not Capitulate to Putin,” Susan Rice, New York Times, 07.12.18The author, former national security adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, writes: “The Helsinki summit appears set to mark a watershed in President Trump's comprehensive retreat from United States global leadership. … This big play, which Trump transition officials reportedly first hatched in 2016 in meetings with the Russians and Emiratis, aims to achieve the coveted holy grail of dividing Russia from Iran. … [T]he price the administration seems poised to pay for this illusory objective is way too high. It would require the United States to legitimize the use of force to seize another country's sovereign territory, while completely betraying Ukraine and our European allies. … It is a promise Mr. Putin cannot and would not keep. … What of tangible and lasting value, if anything, could accrue to the United States, as opposed to Trump personally? The answer is hard to fathom, which should give us all great pause.”

“Top-Down Presidential Leadership: The Helsinki Summit,” Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, The Cipher Brief, 07.11.18: The author, director of the Intelligence and Defense Project at Harvard’s Belfer Center, writes: “Based on the history of summit meetings, success this time around will be defined … in terms of defining a rigorous, patient, creative process as a foundation to implement presidential decisions and intentions. … In the current toxic environment, no official of rank or stature is going to go out on a limb in an effort to cooperate with the other side. … Who will underwrite the risks of U.S.-Russian cooperation? … [O]nly the authority of the president is sufficient to drive cooperation between these two reluctant partners: Top-down driven leadership is a must. … Once clear and decisive decisions have been made at the highest level, organizations bearing responsibilities to implement these directives … must be tasked to work effectively with their Russian counterparts, and vice versa. … [T]he rules of the game, the tradecraft, processes and infrastructure that the U.S. and Russia relied upon in the Cold War to pursue cooperation and smooth over differences must be rebuilt to meet the requirements of our new world.”

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Trump’s Retreat From the West,” Maxim Trudolyubov, New York Times, 07.09.18: The author, an editor at large for Vedomosti, writes that “the summit meeting in Singapore between President Trump and … Kim Jong-un, may well be remembered … for the dissolution of the West as a unified negotiating team driven by Western values. … [A]ll the meeting really accomplished was to open the prospect of new and probably lengthy negotiations for a final peace on the peninsula. … Mr. Putin was deeply dismayed at the Soviet Union’s decision … to give up control of … the Communists’ East Bloc [East Germany]. … He would surely be loath to see the West achieve a matching situation at its eastern door. … [T]he Singapore meeting did—at least in appearance—sideline Russia and even China. But was the United States still acting as ‘the West’ in doing so? … For decades, the united West saw the Kim dynasty’s totalitarian principality as a murderous anti-Western dictatorship. But if you take away the unity, the values of the West disappear with it. So does any ‘anti-West.’ … It is likely that without Mr. Xi’s nod, Mr. Kim would not have met with Mr. Trump. And China may have kept its distance … hoping that a peaceful North Korea colonized by Chinese, Russian and American businesses might emerge and make an American military presence on the peninsula irrelevant. This is not to suggest that Mr. Trump was doing China’s or Russia’s bidding. … But he was not acting as a leader of a collective West. … Mr. Trump’s foreign policy vision ignores concerns about other countries’ political structures as long as a deal can be reached. … So his political goals thus align better with those of China or Russia than with Europe’s—or with the postwar policies with which America built long-term strategic partnerships.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

  • No significant commentary.

NATO-Russia relations:

“A Strategic Reset for NATO,” Zalmay Khalilzad, The National Interest. 07.10.18: The author, former director of policy planning in the U.S. Defense Department and former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the U.N., writes: “The alliance should collectively take three steps to field an agreed set of defense outputs: Develop integrated defense plans within the NATO military committee for dealing with the Russian threat in northeast Europe, and instability and terrorist threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa … Agree to specific outputs … that each NATO member must develop and maintain at high readiness. … Engage in realistic large-scale annual exercises … In essence, the new construct is analogous to the Nixon Doctrine, only this time for the wealthy countries of Europe. … To implement this doctrine, the United States should play an active supporting role and develop a three- to five-year timeline and program to create the needed European capabilities. We need to shore up vulnerabilities now, but this has to be part of a plan to create European capabilities and to set limits on the U.S. role that enable us to prioritize the challenge in East Asia, deal with ongoing threats in the Middle East, and work within our fiscal constraints.”

“The Case for Refashioning NATO,” Doug Bandow, The National Interest, 07.10.18The author, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writes: “European governments find it difficult to increase military outlays because European peoples feel little need to do so. Vladimir Putin is a nasty character, but he isn’t Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Benito Mussolini. … His security vision appears to be that of a Tsar of old: Russia want[s] secure borders and international respect. … Georgia was easy prey. … Ukraine was similar. … Neither of these Russian interventions, though lawless and unjustified, was a portent for European-wide aggression. … [T]he result almost certainly would be economic isolation and full-scale war, which Moscow would be bound to lose. … Europe faces its share of international problems … but its most important concerns are internal. … Instead of arguing about money, upon which President Trump appears to fixate, the administration should decide what it is willing to do. First, Washington should turn Europe’s defense over to Europe. … Second, Washington should suggest continuing cooperation over shared interests beyond Europe. … Such a division of responsibilities suggests refashioning NATO. The Europeans could take over the alliance, perhaps with America as an associate member. Or they could turn NATO into something more closely aligned with the European Union, though again offering intermediate status for Washington. … There is no reason to believe that an alliance created decades ago in the midst of the Cold War is the best form of military organization today.”

“Towards a NATO-Russia Basic Understanding,” Task Force on Cooperation in Greater Europe, European Leadership Network, July 2018: The authors, a select group of senior statesmen and women from the key states of greater Europe, write that “the situation [between Russia and the West] is already tense … The risks of confrontation are acknowledged, but not necessarily managed properly. … Whether one likes it or not, relations between NATO and Russia will persist. … [T]here is no disciplined and results-oriented NATO-Russia dialogue that could address the current political and military realities. … a new interim and temporary approach is needed. Treating each other as adversaries, NATO and Russia should at the same time take precautions to ensure they do not to stumble into a conflict. No new document is needed. But establishing a shared understanding about the basics of the current relationship could not only reduce risk but enable all sides to make better progress on specific issues … Reaching such a basic understanding on the interim ‘rules of the game’ … would open the way for more transparency, predictability and risk reduction and for the avoidance of misunderstanding, miscalculation and unintended escalation … in order to find the way out of the current predicament, Russia and NATO need to start being much more imaginative and forthcoming in creating opportunities for meaningful dialogue and working towards stabilization of their confrontation.”

“What America Gets Out of NATO,” Nicholas Burns, New York Times, 07.11.18: The author, former U.S. ambassador to NATO, writes: “Donald Trump prepared for this week’s NATO summit by … making a case that the alliance is a bad deal for the American people. … But he’s wrong … First, NATO’s formidable conventional and nuclear forces are the most effective way to protect North America and Europe … NATO is a force multiplier: The United States has allies who will stand by us, while Russia has none. … NATO allies need to increase their defense spending under the treaty … [but they] have increased their defense spending by a total of more than $87 billion since Mr. Putin annexed Crimea in 2014. … A second reason for maintaining the trans-Atlantic alliance is America’s economic future. … Third, future American leaders will find Europe is our most capable and willing partner in tackling the biggest threats to global security … While he [Trump] cannot outright kill NATO … he has eroded significant levels of trust and good will. … Mr. Trump wants Americans to believe that their allies are simply taking advantage of them. On Sept. 11, 2001, I witnessed a far different reality as American ambassador to NATO. Canada and the European allies volunteered within hours of the attacks to invoke Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which compels all members to respond to an attack on any single member, for the first time in history. … Are we now going to throw off that mutual protection, and go it alone in a dangerous 21st-century world? That would be a historic mistake. But that is where we may find ourselves if Mr. Trump’s anti-Europe vendetta continues.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“The Holy Grail of Deterrence Stability,” Michael Krepon, Arms Control Wonk, 07.09.18The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes: “Deterrence stability lies in the eye of the beholder. … During much of the Cold War, China maintained minimal deterrence capabilities against two massive superpower arsenals … Neither superpower launched a nuclear attack against China, so Beijing could reasonably claim that its minimal deterrent served national security purposes. … A competition to enhance qualitative and quantitative nuclear capabilities does not lead to deterrence stability … Partly because deterrence stability by means of force structure was so difficult, the superpowers agreed not to play with fire in highly sensitive locations after the Cuban missile crisis and accepted the post-Cold War division of Europe with West Germany as a non-nuclear weapon state. Only then were they in a position to negotiate constraints on their strategic nuclear forces. These negotiations did not, however, produce deterrence stability. … Significant force reductions became possible only when the Soviet Union was facing dissolution and the United States was led by a President prepared to accept deep cuts. A period of deterrence stability then followed, ending when the Russian Federation revived to challenge the post-Cold War order. … If nuclear-armed states have no ambitions beyond limited deterrence, there is evidence that deterrence stability can be claimed and maintained.”

Counter-terrorism:

  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

“Russia Stays in the Driver's Seat in Syria,” Ishaan Tharoor, The Washington Post, 07.10.18: The author, a reporter for the news outlet, writes: “From Moscow's perspective, things are going mostly according to plan. … Backed by Russian air power, the Syrian regime has been able to topple rebel strongholds and assert control over all of the country's major cities. The rest of the world's zeal to oust Assad has faded, with a grudging acceptance of the Russian-authored status quo taking hold in Western capitals. American critics … once suggested that Syria would prove a quagmire for Russia … But if Russian President Vladimir Putin has not quite followed through on multiple promises to withdraw, the relatively small death toll suffered by official Russian forces has left public opinion largely on his side. With President Trump keen to wipe his hands of the mess in Syria, the Russians can wait out Washington. … ‘The Russians are now demonstrating Machiavellian skills that are defining what success looks like on the battlefield,’ wrote Kamal Alam, a visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank. ‘For the first time in modern history, a foreign military intervention has triumphed in the Middle East.’"

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“Following the Tentacles of Guccifer 2.0 to Russia,” David E. Sanger, Jim Rutenberg and Eric Lipton, New York Times, 07.16.18The authors, a national security correspondent, a media columnist and an investigative reporter for the news outlet, write: “The message from WikiLeaks in July 2016 to a group of Russian intelligence officers who prosecutors say were posing as a Romanian hacker named Guccifer 2.0 urged swift action before the opening of the Democratic National Convention that month. … WikiLeaks had begun seeking stolen files from Guccifer 2.0 weeks earlier … according to private messages cited in an indictment filed Friday … The exchange offers a new look at the central role of Guccifer 2.0, the digital persona alleged to have been set up by Russian military intelligence … The effort by the team that posed as Guccifer … shows how aggressively the Russian operatives worked in 2016 to interfere with the presidential election. … In addition to WikiLeaks, the Russians made contact with Americans who held sway both in Republican circles and with Mr. Trump, the indictment says. It does not assert that the Americans knew that Guccifer 2.0 was a creation of Russian spies. … Using Guccifer 2.0 as their main means of communication, the Russian agents had regular contact with both conservative and mainstream journalists, the indictment said. In one case, it said, the Russians gave an unidentified reporter a password to view documents.” 

“Putin must wonder what else America knows about Russia,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 08.16.18: The author, a regular foreign-affairs columnist for the newspaper, writes that “Putin's elite spy world has been penetrated by U.S. intelligence. That's the implication of the … indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence (GRU) officers” produced by Robert Mueller's investigators last week. “The 11-count charge includes names, dates, unit assignments, the GRU's use of "X-agent" malware, its bitcoin covert funding schemes and a wealth of other tradecraft. Putin must be asking himself: How did the Americans find out all these facts? What other operations have been compromised? And how much else do they know? … In putting all the detail into the indictment, Mueller was giving Russian intelligence a hint of how much America can see. But this public disclosure may mask much deeper capabilities—perhaps a capacity to expose many more layers of GRU military-intelligence operations and those by the Russian civilian spy services, the FSB and the SVR. American intelligence agencies rarely tip their hand this way by disclosing so much in an indictment; clearly they did so here to send messages. … [One] message is: If you don't stop cyber-operations against the United States, we have the detailed information to identify and disrupt your intelligence services, officers, sources and methods. Mueller isn't asking Russia to stop; he's warning them of the consequences of going forward. The indictment also sends a message to President Trump and members of his entourage who are potential targets of Mueller's probe: Here's a hint of what we know; how much are you willing to wager that we don't know a lot more about Russian contacts and collusion? … And here’s a spooky final question: How much has the intelligence community told Trump about its operations against Russia? If you were one of the American intelligence officers who helped gather the information” included in the indictment, “what would you think about the fact that Trump has asked for a private meeting first with Putin?”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“How Trump Plans to Change the World,” Walter Russell Mead, The Wall Street Journal, 07.10.18: The author, a professor of foreign affairs at Bard College, argues that President Donald Trump “is a revisionist who wants to alter the terms of the world system in America's favor. From the president's perspective, America's superior military strength and its large trade deficit provide important advantages in international politics. Mr. Trump wants to boost America's military edge while using military and economic tools to persuade other powers to accept his revisions to the world system. Mr. Trump respects China as a serious long-term rival but believes that its economy depends more on Sino-American trade than the U.S. economy does. … In Europe, Mr. Trump seems quite serious about disrupting the status quo. In his view, the trans-Atlantic relationship is more valuable to Germany than to the U.S., even as America contributes most to its upkeep. … Most controversially, Mr. Trump does not see Russia as a significant economic or military threat to vital U.S. interests. Therefore he does not believe that containing Russia should be the centerpiece of America's European strategy. As a realist, he does not think ideological disagreements or humanitarian concerns about President Vladimir Putin's regime should impede advantageous cooperation with Moscow. Instead, he would like to gain Russian support in the Middle East and to pull Russia away from China. In the Middle East, Mr. Trump believes that the Iranian regime is implacably hostile to the U.S.—but overstretched and vulnerable to a mix of economic, diplomatic and military pressure. … Drama, crisis and risk have been Mr. Trump's constant companions for many years. He will not be easily deterred. His unorthodox foreign policy may not succeed, but he is determined to give it a try. We should brace ourselves for a wild ride.”

“Sanctions Give America Zero Leverage in Punishing Russia,” Alexander Gabuev, The Hill, 07.14.18: The author, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes that “[i]f Trump believes that sanctions relief is what the Kremlin ‘needs or simply can’t do without,’ he is sorely mistaken. As unpleasant as the sanctions may be for certain oligarchs and parts of the economy, they are more of a blessing than a curse for Putin. First of all, the toll of sanctions on the Russian economy is not large enough to pose an existential threat. According to former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, a liberal stalwart, sanctions have shaved off a mere 0.5 percent of GDP per year. … The Russian economy is not doing great, but the current growth rate of 1.8 percent is nothing to sneeze at. … Then there is the increasing number of constituencies in Russia who are thriving on sanctions. A ban imposed by the Kremlin on food imports from the United States and European Union has played into the hands of local businesses in agriculture, particularly those with good ties to the regime. Industrial import substitution has not made Russian manufacturing globally competitive, but it helped to increase market share of the bloated state conglomerates at the expense of Western firms. The sanctioned state banks have received massive capital injections from the central bank and are aggressively consolidating control over the entire sector. Even more importantly, sanctions give an enormous political boost to forces in Russia that see only the upside in the current breakdown in relations with the West. … A renewed push by Western governments to squeeze Russian money in Britain, Cyprus and the Baltic states, which were long a safe haven for wealthy Russians, play straight into Putin’s hands and help him to ‘nationalize’ the elite. … Last but not least, in the wake of the sanctions signed by Congress into law last year, sanctions are seen as more or less a permanent reality by the Kremlin. Senior members of Putin’s team do not expect live long enough to see meaningful sanctions relief, and probably doubt that their kids will either.” 

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • No significant commentary.

China:

“Japan Seeks to Neutralize the Threat of a China-Russia United Front—And It's Not Working,” James D.J. Brown, The National Interest, 07.08.18: The author, an associate professor of political science at Temple University, Japan, argues that “in the event of a regional crisis, such as clashes over the disputed Senkaku Islands, Tokyo’s nightmare is that it would face a Sino-Russian united front, while support from the United States would be equivocal. … To neutralize this danger, the Japanese leadership has sought to avoid antagonizing Russia and has tried to use cooperation to encourage the Russian leadership to distance their country from China. … Although the logic of Japan's security policy towards Russia is clear, it is unlikely to prove fruitful. For a start, the relationship between Moscow and Beijing continues to become ever closer. … The fact that this relationship has not developed into a full alliance owes nothing to Japan's efforts but is instead because neither side currently sees the need to involve themselves too deeply in the other's international problems. It is also apparent that Japan's attempts to foster security ties with Moscow have not led to a reduction in Russian military activity on Japan's northern frontier. The realpolitik of Japan’s Russia policy is also regrettable because it has contributed to divisions within the G7. … The Japanese leadership is right that the country is facing an insecure future. However, these growing threats are best countered by consistently committing to the rules-based international order.”

Ukraine:

“A Narrow Focus on Corruption Overlooks Remarkable Progress,” Adrian Karatnycky and Alexander J. Motyl, Foreign Affiars, 07.16.18: The authors, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a professor of political science at Rutgers University, respectively, argue that although corruption in Ukraine “is a serious problem” (as pointed out by U.S. President Donald Trump at the recent G-7 summit), “the West’s obsession [with it] obscures the progress that Ukraine has made in dramatically reducing its scope. Many Western observers have also ignored the other enormous positive changes that Ukraine has experienced since the Euromaidan revolution of 2013–14.” The authors believe that: “For the first time since independence in 1991, Ukraine possesses a genuine army capable of defending the country. … The country is also finally developing a functional state apparatus, both nationally and locally. … The economy, which contracted by more than 20 percent in 2014–15, is finally growing this year at a respectable 3.5 percent clip. … [I]n contrast to Western criticism, Ukraine has made great strides in reining in corruption. A series of gas pricing, procurement, banking, and tax system reforms have restored as much as $6 billion per annum in revenues formerly stolen from the state. … Even the ongoing war in the Donbas has offered an unexpected boost for Ukraine, as it has galvanized Ukrainian identity and patriotism, moved the government to adopt needed reforms and removed a reactionary, pro-Russian, anti-Western and anti-reform electorate from the political calculus. … If Ukraine’s reformist project fails, it won’t be for insufficiently tackling corruption. Rather, the two most immediate threats to the country’s continued positive development are the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections and Russia. … Petro Poroshenko is without doubt the best president that independent Ukraine has had. … Meanwhile, most alternatives to him, including Yulia Tymoshenko, Oleh Lyashko, Volodymyr Zelensky, and Yuri Boiko are populists, demagogues, untested outsiders or politicians with close links to former President Yanukovych. … Whereas corruption can reduce Ukraine’s long-term viability, only Russia can destroy Ukraine overnight. … Western governments and international financial institutions must abandon their nearly exclusive focus on corruption and broaden their view of Ukraine to include the many positive things happening in the country. The West needs to continue to support Ukraine economically, diplomatically and militarily. This is so not only because Ukraine is the only thing standing between Europe and Putin’s Russia but because, as a rapidly Westernizing country that has made remarkable progress over the past four years, Ukraine simply deserves it.”

“Nothing can stand between Ukraine and its European ambitions,” Petro Poroshenko, Financial Times, 07.09.18: In his second op-ed in a major Western newspaper in the space of one month, Ukraine’s president writes: “My ambition is to translate Ukraine’s European aspirations into deeper alliances with the EU, starting with the digital market, customs co-operation and energy solidarity, and including a commitment from European capitals to take part in the restoration of cities in the Donbass. … In security policy, I will continue to call for the strengthening of Ukraine’s ties with NATO. This is our sovereign choice, and no other country should have a veto on our ambitions.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant commentary.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russia's Rebound: How Putin Became a Worldwide Brand,” Anton Troianovski, The Washington Post, 07.12.18: The newspaper’s Moscow bureau chief writes that “two decades of efforts by Kremlin specialists have chiseled an international icon of inscrutability and might out of a former municipal bureaucrat… ‘We intensified Putin's mystery on purpose,’ said political strategist Gleb Pavlovsky, a key architect of Putin's public persona until he feuded with and cut ties to the Kremlin in 2011. … The Putin ethos gives Russia political drawing power that overcomes language barriers, national borders and criticism … in the West. It bolsters the country among populist politicians and their supporters … and provides Moscow a point of entry into the politics of other nations. Putin was the world's first modern ‘strongman,’ his longtime spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview, specifying that he saw that word in a positive light. … In Halle, Germany, a right-wing activist and printing entrepreneur named Sven Liebich has sold thousands of Putin T-shirts, the most popular one featuring a smirking, sunglasses-wearing Russian president, his head Photoshopped onto a muscular, tattooed torso, giving the viewer the finger.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.