Russia Analytical Report, June 10-17, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • Past wars would pale in comparison to a conflict between the U.S. and Russia or China, writes retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales. Scales fears that, now used to “death in small numbers,” U.S. national security officials speak too loosely about potential conflict with Moscow and Beijing.
  • The U.S. and Russia lack a common understanding of the problem of political interference and its consequences, write Samuel Charap of the RAND Corporation and Ivan Timofeev of the Russian International Affairs Council. The first steps for any potential U.S.-Russia discussions on the issue could be to define terms and concepts clearly and then develop a code of conduct, they write.
  • David Sanger and Nicole Perlroth of the New York Times wonder if placing the equivalent of land mines in a foreign power network is the right way to deter Russia. While it parallels Cold War nuclear strategy, they write, it also enshrines power grids as a legitimate target.
  • While Washington gave Moscow some status and respect after the fall of the Soviet Union, writes Fareed Zakaria, it never truly took Russia’s security concerns seriously. Putin’s aggressive behavior today makes actions against Russia seem justified, Zakaria writes, but it’s worth asking: What forces produced the rise of Putin and his foreign policy? Undoubtedly, they were mostly internal, but to the extent that U.S. actions had an effect, they appear to have been damaging.
  • In today’s Russia, Putin and a handful of other policymakers are the “visible state,” the one that makes the strategic decisions and represents Russia, writes Alexey Yeremenko, an associate with Control Risks. But below the “visible state,” he writes, is the “submerged state,” a vast network of lower-level actors who pay lip service to the “outer state,” but definitely have their own agenda.

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

“The Iran–US Escalation: Causes and Prospects,” Hassan Ahmadian, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 06.09.19The author, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Belfer Center, writes:

  • “China and Russia are considered to be the countries closest to and most supportive of Iran. In addition to political support, these two countries continue to resist the U.S. sanctions by buying (China) or exchanging (Russia) oil with Iran and carrying out other economic projects.”
  • “However … the international support for Iran against U.S. unilateralism has not translated into international sanctions or clear international stances against the U.S. The only support that materialized was that of Russia and China, as previously mentioned. That is why Europe’s commitment to the nuclear agreement against Washington’s hardline stance does not mean anything to Tehran.”
  • “We can speak about three main scenarios … from the most likely to the least likely to happen. The first scenario is the continuation of the current situation, between a gradual escalation and truce, followed by another phase of escalation. … In the second scenario, the level of escalation between both sides increases. The probability of this scenario happening has increased … In the third scenario, which is the least likely to materialize in the coming two years because of Iran’s adherence to the principle of non-negotiation under threat and the absence of U.S. flexibility, the level of escalation and tension between both sides declines by or without mediation.”
  • “Existing indicators do not point at any willingness for confrontation from either side – at least at the moment. Therefore, the best scenario is the continuation of the current situation with the possibility of escalation at the next stage. And although some regional actors have attempted to pacify the tension, the prospects for a truce remain unlikely within the current context.”

New Cold War/saber rattling:

“The Price of Combat, Years Later,” Robert H. Scales, The Washington Post, 06.13.19The author, a retired Army major general and former commandant of the U.S. Army War College, writes:

  • “My father's generation died by the hundreds of thousands in World War II. We died by the tens of thousands. Today, four soldiers dead in Niger makes national news. I hope we haven't gotten too used to death in small numbers. I fear that after decades of low-cost wars, our national security gurus speak too loosely about conflict with Russia and China. Wars fought in the shadow of nuclear clouds would make past sacrifices pale into insignificance.”
  • “My experience in Vietnam was repeated many times by West Point classmates far braver than me. Our Class of 1966 suffered more deaths than any other in that war. Today, as old men, we remain a unique band of brothers and occasionally reminisce about our war. We all sincerely hope that those who send today's and tomorrow's soldiers into battle will listen—and comprehend the tragic cost of combat.”

NATO-Russia relations:

“A Report From NATO's Front Lines,” Michael O'Hanlon, The National Interest, 06.10.19The author, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes:

  • “All is busy on NATO’s eastern front. That was our main conclusion during a recent study delegation to Lithuania sponsored by the Lithuanian Ministry of National Defense and organized by the Atlantic Council.”
  • “There are three additional lines of effort that Washington and other NATO capitals should pursue in the interest of greater deterrence, stability and predictability in eastern Europe.”
  • “First … NATO should strengthen key pieces of its modest military presence in Poland and the Baltic states.”
  • “Second, nonmilitary elements of NATO resoluteness need to be strengthened, too. … [T]here are various types of very small Russian probing attacks that could leave NATO flummoxed and paralyzed over how to respond. These attacks might not reach the threshold … to invoke NATO’s Article V mutual-defense clause and send military forces in response, yet they could be too serious to ignore.”
  • “Third, while projecting resolve vis-à-vis Moscow, including retention of the EU and U.S. sanctions that have been imposed on Russia in recent years, NATO needs to rethink its broader strategy towards Russia. This strategy should include options for bettering relations in a post–Putin Russia. Various types of security architectures and arrangements should be explored and debated. For now, with a new president in Kiev, a concerted effort to help Ukraine reform its economy and further weed out corruption makes eminent sense.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“The CTBT Takes Another Hit,” Michael Krepon, Arms Control Wonk, 06.17.19The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes:

  • “John Bolton and his cohort do not seek clarification and implementation of the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty]; they want to resume low-yield testing and ‘unsign’ the Treaty.”
  • “Never mind that Russian leaders vehemently claim that they have not violated a treaty Moscow has ratified and that Washington has not. The door is open to clarify terms of the Russian moratorium through discussions and joint verification experiments. But absent the prospect of U.S. treaty ratification, Moscow may choose not to cooperate this time, especially on John Bolton’s watch. Instead, expect public charges without remedial action.”
  • “A treaty prohibiting nuclear testing that has ended tests with detectable yields by Russia, the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Great Britain and France for two decades deserves to be protected and not undermined—especially when there is no public evidence of any kind of nuclear testing at undetectable yields.”
  • “The best way to deter a campaign to ‘unsign’ the CTBT and carry out low yield experiments is through Congress’s power of the purse.”


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

“Defeating the Islamic State of Idlib,” Robert Gabil, The National Interest, 06.13.19The author, professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University, writes:

  • “President Donald Trump demanded in a June 2 tweet that Russia, Syria and to a lesser extent, Iran, stop ‘bombing the hell out of Idlib Province in Syria, and indiscriminately killing many innocent civilians.’ He added: ‘The World is watching this butchery. What is the purpose, what will it get you? STOP!’”
  • “Idlib is the last bastion of the hardened Salafi-jihadi-led opposition to the Syrian regime. It is the same province that, in 2017, Brett McGurk, then the U.S. envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State, called ‘the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.’ The president is right in showing concern for the innocent Syrian casualties … Still, the president has not yet addressed the hornet’s nest of terrorism following his declared victory over the Islamic State.”
  • “[T]he administration has no easy solutions for defeating the jihadis, checking the power of Russia, Syria and Turkey in Idlib and saving the civilians; nevertheless, the administration has to be fully involved in finding a compromise that would not only prevent a Syrian tragedy today but also an American tragedy tomorrow. Such a compromise must include Turkey and Russia.”
  • “Idlib is virtually an Islamic state ruled by the most hardcore of Salafi-jihadis. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has made clear that it wants to avoid getting involved in the Idlib’s crisis and appears reluctant to deal with the Salafi-jihadi threat there. Thus, the Trump administration is pursuing a policy at its own peril—one that could endanger Americans.”

Cyber security:

“Can Washington and Moscow Agree to Limit Political Interference?” Samuel Charap and Ivan Timofeev, War on the Rocks, 06.13.19The authors, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and the director of programs at the Russian International Affairs Council, write:

  • “After his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia had proposed a mutual non-interference pledge. … [T]he concept of elaborating norms of non-interference on a mutual basis might be the best way to stabilize U.S.-Russian relations and prevent the damaging episodes of recent years from happening again. … The risk of misinterpretation and, consequently, the likelihood of potentially catastrophic mistakes is growing, which is quite a disturbing prospect for two countries that control over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.”
  • “It is highly unlikely that retaliation, hardening of defenses or threatened costs could prevent the kind of behavior described in the Mueller report from occurring again. It is the nature of the information age that major cyber powers will always have the capability to influence domestic politics in other countries. … [M]utual self-restraint could be achieved through a negotiation.”
  • “[I]t might be best that such talks focus on interference in domestic affairs, not just the domain—cyber … Today, both sides appear not to know how far to go in their actions, nor do they know how to react to the other side’s behavior to signal ‘red lines.’”
  • “A first step for any potential U.S.-Russia discussions on the issue could be to define terms and concepts clearly. … A second … could be to determine the relevant modality to address each issue. … Rather than a formal treaty, a politically binding code of conduct might be the appropriate format.”
  • “[I]t seems likely that such a document could not be agreed on the official level at this time, given the tensions in the relationship. … The work on the code of conduct might best begin at the level of a ‘track 1.5’ working group with nongovernmental experts and former officials along with a small number of acting officials.”

“US Escalates Online Attacks on Russia’s Power Grid,” David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth, New York Times, 06.15.19The authors, a national security correspondent and a cybersecurity reporter for the news outlet, write:

  • “The United States is stepping up digital incursions into Russia's electric power grid … In interviews over the past three months, … officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia's grid and other targets as a classified companion to more publicly discussed action directed at Moscow's disinformation and hacking units around the 2018 midterm elections.”
  • “Advocates of the more aggressive strategy said it was long overdue … But it also carries significant risk of escalating the daily digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.”
  • “Since at least 2012 … the United States has put reconnaissance probes into the control systems of the Russian electric grid. But now the American strategy has shifted more toward offense, officials say, with the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before. It is intended partly as a warning, and partly to be poised to conduct cyberstrikes if a major conflict broke out between Washington and Moscow.”
  • “The action inside the Russian electric grid appears to have been conducted under little-noticed new legal authorities, slipped into the military authorization bill passed by Congress last summer. … The critical question … is how deep into the Russian grid the United States has bored. Only then will it be clear whether it would be possible to plunge Russia into darkness or cripple its military.”
  • “Two administration officials said they believed Mr. Trump had not been briefed in any detail about the steps to place ‘implants’—software code that can be used for surveillance or attack—inside the Russian grid. … The question now is whether placing the equivalent of land mines in a foreign power network is the right way to deter Russia. While it parallels Cold War nuclear strategy, it also enshrines power grids as a legitimate target.”

Elections interference:

  • No significant commentary.

Energy exports from CIS:

“Trump Doesn’t Need to Sanction Russian Gas,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 06.13.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “Donald Trump doesn’t have to impose sanctions on Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany if he wants Europe to buy more U.S. liquefied natural gas. The market is doing his work for him. Increasing competition is already reducing the European Union’s dependence on Russian exports, and U.S. LNG is an increasingly important factor in determining prices.”
  • “Poland’s state-owned oil and gas company, PGNiG. has long claimed it can source LNG at lower prices than those offered by Gazprom. This year, that claim doesn't look so outlandish. Gazprom’s average export price in Europe reached $254 per 1,000 cubic meters in the first quarter of 2019. Spot LNG prices have been lower, hovering about $5 per million British thermal units, or about $177 per 1,000 cubic meters. … It is a buyer’s market, at least for now.”
  • “Only three factors limit Europe’s ability to drive down natural gas prices: Gazprom’s long-term contracts; LNG terminal capacity; and demand in Asia, where prices are higher. The first two of these aren’t immutable.”
  • “Germany stands to benefit from this new setup. It needs a lot of gas as it tries to phase out both nuclear and coal power. … Nord Stream2 alone won’t be enough to cover those needs, so Germany will have to turn to the U.S. That, together with supplies from other sources, should help it to negotiate down Gazprom’s prices.”
  • “It’s a win-win situation for the U.S. LNG producers, Germany and even Gazprom as it seeks to keep a foothold in Europe. But two strong arguments still exist for sanctioning Nord Stream 2. One is the need to preserve the Ukrainian transit route for Russian gas. … The other reason is that Nord Stream 2 undermines Poland’s bargaining power over Gazprom.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

“Why Jailed US Investor Calvey Is the Least of Putin’s Concerns,” Tatyana Stanovaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.12.19The author, founder and CEO of a political analysis firm, writes:

  • “[T]he forum’s [the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum] main unofficial topic was the lawlessness and impunity of the security services, or siloviki. Faced with the question of what is preventing business and investors from developing in Russia, the authorities and the business elite had contradictory answers.”
  • “Putin’s speech at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum … is traditionally anti-American and anti-Western, but never before had he focused quite so much on criticizing the U.S. domination of the global economy. The эglobal development modelэ that, according to Putin, emerged in 1991 … was named as the main cause of the crisis in international economic relations.”
  • “For the Russian president, world trade has acquired more clearly defined contours, while major players … fit in easily to the confines of the Euro-Atlantic alliance. It was not by chance that Putin described the existing system of global economic development as ‘Euro-Atlantic.’”
  • “In this context, [Michael] Calvey, the founder and CEO of private equity firm Baring Vostok, was practically the main participant of the forum, despite sitting this one out due to being under house arrest. He was discussed by Sberbank CEO German Gref and former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, by current Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin, by Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, and by Putin himself. And during the forum, Calvey was joined as a cause célèbre by the journalist Golunov.”
  • “As for Putin … the president himself doesn’t really know to what extent Baring Vostok is guilty of anything, and so prefers to leave it to the supposed professionals. In this context, the Calvey case looks like a regrettable yet insignificant episode on the periphery of the global war for markets and spheres of influence, in which Putin, as head of a state under attack, is dealing with a completely different scale of tasks.”

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“The Self-Destruction of American Power. Washington Squandered the Unipolar Moment,” Fareed Zakaria, Foreign Affairs, 06.11.19The author, host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, writes:

  • “Sometime in the last two years, American hegemony died … As with most deaths, many factors contributed to this one. There were deep structural forces in the international system that inexorably worked against any one nation that accumulated so much power. In the American case, however, one is struck by the ways in which Washington … mishandled its hegemony and abused its power, losing allies and emboldening enemies.”
  • “China’s rise was one of those tectonic shifts in international life that would have eroded any hegemon’s unrivaled power … The return of Russia, however, was a more complex affair. … [I]n the early 1990s, leaders in Moscow were determined to turn their country into a liberal democracy, a European nation and an ally of sorts of the West. … Who lost Russia is a question for another article. But it is worth noting that although Washington gave Moscow some status and respect … it never truly took Russia’s security concerns seriously.”
  • “Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive behavior makes every action taken against his country seem justified, but it’s worth asking, What forces produced the rise of Putin and his foreign policy in the first place? Undoubtedly, they were mostly internal to Russia, but to the extent that U.S. actions had an effect, they appear to have been damaging, helping stoke the forces of revenge and revanchism in Russia.”
  • “The greatest error the United States committed during its unipolar moment, with Russia and more generally, was to simply stop paying attention. … Both the White House and Congress during the George H. W. Bush administration had no appetite for an ambitious effort to transform Russia. … The question now is whether, as American power wanes, the international system it sponsored … will survive. Or will America also watch the decline of its empire of ideas?”

“Democracy Demotion. How the Freedom Agenda Fell Apart,” Larry Diamond, Foreign Affairs, 06.11.19The author, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, writes:

  • “For three decades beginning in the mid-1970s, the world experienced a remarkable expansion of democracy—the so-called third wave—with authoritarian regimes falling or reforming across the world. … But around 2006, the forward momentum … came to a halt. In every year since 2007, many more countries have seen their freedom decrease than have seen it increase, reversing the post–Cold War trend.”
  • “Adding to the problem, democracies have been expiring in big and strategically important countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, has long been using the power granted to him through elections to destroy democracy in Russia.”
  • “The Iraq war was the initial turning point. Once it turned out that Saddam Hussein did not, in fact, possess weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration’s ‘freedom agenda’ became the only way to justify the war retrospectively. … If this was democracy promotion, most Americans wanted no part of it.”
  • “The competition between democratic governments and authoritarian ones is not symmetrical. China and Russia are seeking to penetrate the institutions of vulnerable countries and compromise them, not through the legitimate use of ‘soft power’ … but through ‘sharp power.’”
  • “This is not the first time that global freedom has been under threat. Back in 1946 … Kennan … understood: that the greatest asset of the United States was its democracy … Kennan advised: ‘Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society . . . is a diplomatic victory over Moscow worth a thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiqués.’ … Today, as the United States confronts not a single determined authoritarian rival but two, Kennan’s counsel deserves remembering.”

“With Great Demographics Comes Great Power. Why Population Growth Will Drive Geopolitics,” Nicholas Eberstadt, Foreign Affairs, 06.11.19The author, the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute, writes:

  • “Today, the international arena is dominated by one superpower (the United States) and two great powers (China and Russia). … A look at demographic projections for China and Russia, however, suggests that fears that the United States will lose its position of primacy anytime soon are misplaced.”
  • “With decades of extremely low fertility in its immediate past, decades more of that to come, and no likelihood of mass immigration, China will see its population peak by 2027, according to projections by the U.S. Census Bureau. Its working-age population has already been shrinking for the past five years, and it is set to decrease by at least 100 million between 2015 and 2040.”
  • “For Russia, the demographic outlook may be even worse. The Kremlin sees itself as helming a global power, yet its grandiose self-conception is badly mismatched with the human resources at its disposal. From the standpoint of population and human capital, Russia looks like a power in the grip of all but irremediable decline … [Russia] is facing demographic constraints that will make it extraordinarily difficult for him [Putin] and his successors to maintain, much less seriously improve, Russia’s geopolitical position.”
  • “The United States’ most obvious demographic advantage is its size. … Compared with other developed countries, the United States has long enjoyed distinctly high immigration levels and birthrates. … [However,] warning lights are flashing for a number of key demographic metrics. In 2014, U.S. life expectancy began slowly but steadily dropping for the first time in a century. … [P]rojections generally assume that U.S. fertility will return to replacement levels. But U.S. fertility fell by about ten percent after 2008 and shows no sign of recovering.”
  • “Even with these troubling signs of decline, no rival is likely to overtake the United States in terms of raw human potential anytime soon.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Europe Alone. What Comes After the Transatlantic Alliance,” Alina Polyakova and Benjamin Haddad, Foreign Affairs, 06.11.19The authors, the director of the Project on Democracy, Authoritarianism and Emerging Technology at the Brookings Institution and the director of the Future Europe Initiative at the Atlantic Council, write:

  • “The transatlantic alliance can and should remain the bedrock of the Western model of liberal democratic values and principles. But it will have to transform to meet the growing economic, security and political challenges from China and Russia. … [T]he United States and Europe must now invest in and accept the consequences of autonomy.”
  • “Without a common vision for defense, and with destabilizing pressures on its periphery, the continent will soon serve as a theater … in a great-power competition. … Europe … [must] shed its culture of complacency in favor of autonomy. It must develop the ability to better defend itself and pursue common European interests. … The Europeans will also have to overcome their internal foreign policy divisions. … Despite pushback from incipient populist movements and domestic business interests, the EU has stayed firm on its sanctions on Russia.”
  • “U.S. fears that Europe’s homegrown defense push is incompatible with NATO are overblown. … Europe should continue to invest in NATO and develop a foreign policy that puts security interests above the continent’s aversion to foreign military engagements. More and more, Europe will need to send troops abroad to secure itself by stabilizing its periphery and neighboring regions.”
  • “When Brussels was negotiating a free-trade agreement with Ukraine in 2014, it in essence sent well-meaning economists to a deeply geopolitical fight. … Most Ukrainians saw the agreement … as an opportunity to anchor their country more fully in Europe and thus challenge Russia. … Ironically, for all the talk of Putin’s anachronistic, Machiavellian understanding of power, the Russian president was much more attuned than Brussels to the real significance of the EU’s technocratic instruments.”
  • “If Europe can choose its own path, the transatlantic relationship will mature into a more balanced alliance. By 2030, NATO could be stronger and more capable than it is today. …  It [Europe] could invest in Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and the Balkans, thus pushing back against Chinese and Russian influence there.”

“How Realpolitik and the Predictability of the West’s Weaknesses Helps Autocrats Legitimise Their Foreign Policies,” Leila Alieva, The Foreign Policy Center, 06.05.19: The author, a senior common room member of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University, writes:

  • “With democracy and liberalism in decline … the resilience of the political models based on democratic principles, human rights and freedoms is increasingly being tested. The external threats posed by powers like Russia, coupled with domestic political trends of xenophobia and illiberalism manifesting in growing far right movements, are threatening democratic institutions and values”
  • “[T]hese challenges are faced with fractious responses from the Euro-Atlantic states … These responses are leading many democratic sceptics and passive conformists with autocratic regimes to justify their positions by asking: if, in this current international landscape, there is a difference between Russia and the Western powers when it comes to their foreign policies?”
  • “[A]t this stage of global interconnectedness the values and interests of a state … are not easily separated and the survival of states’ democratic political systems and identities are increasing linked to how they conduct themselves in relation to other states.”
  • “As he perceives it, Putin is ‘copying’ the West by getting involved in various geographic areas; to either establish Russia’s military presence, help incumbent regimes, use secessionist conflicts to preserve Russia’s influence, establish its peacekeeping forces or border troops, or dragging states, where possible, into the Russia-led regional organizations.”
  • “But the West can turn a ‘military victory’ by Putin into a moral defeat, by behaving contrary to his expectations – depriving him of status and attention, and offering the societies a way to reach a better political model. … What can the West do? The most reliable way is to restore its role as a normative power, or be more consistent and clear in its value-driven policies. … It is important not to justify the ‘predictability’ of the West’s behavior by compromising on this goal for the sake of pragmatic interests, but rather demonstrate integrity, unity and consistency.”


“A World Safe for Autocracy? China’s Rise and the Future of Global Politics,” Jessica Chen Weiss, Foreign Affairs, 06.11.19The author, an associate professor of government at Cornell University, writes:

  • “China’s four decades of rapid economic growth have demonstrated that development does not require democracy. … Beijing … supports autocracies in more direct ways, especially through international institutions. Along with Russia, China has regularly used its veto in the U.N. Security Council to shield other authoritarian countries from international demands to protect human rights and to block interventions that would force governments to end abuses.”
  • “Many Western leaders … worry that Beijing is working to undermine democratic systems. The openness of democratic societies has allowed their adversaries, primarily Russia, to sow discord, paralyze debate and influence elections. Although there is no evidence that China has illegally interfered in U.S. elections … some of the CCP’s overseas activities have stifled open discussion, particularly among the Chinese diaspora. Yet Beijing’s aim is to advance its interests and portray Chinese actions in a positive light, not to export a particular form of government.”
  • “At home and abroad, the CCP is fighting a defensive ideological battle against liberal norms of democracy and human rights, but so far at least, it is not engaged in a determined effort to spread autocracy. In order to respond to Beijing’s actions effectively, the United States and its allies will need to be more precise about what exactly China is doing. In the end, the best way to respond to China is to make democracy work better. That would set an example for others to follow and allow the democratic world to compete with the true sources of China’s international power: its economic and technological might.”


“Zelensky in Donbass,” Jana Kobzova, European Council on Foreign Relations, 06.11.19The author, an associate fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, writes:

  • “Less than a month into his first term, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has already made clear that he will primarily focus on domestic issues, leaving his country’s foreign policy objectives unchanged. Kiev will continue to hold the line on its Minsk Agreements with Moscow and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine: it understands that, unless the Kremlin changes tack, the Ukrainian authorities can do little to end the war there.”
  • “Yet the president can reframe Kiev’s political approach to Donbass, by shifting away from a militarized and defensive approach, and towards outreach and reconstruction. … Zelensky can now priorities the defense of the country’s people. Through outreach to residents of Donbass, he can change the deadly status quo. This is hardly a risk-free strategy, but it could eventually help Ukraine shift the balance of power in the conflict and force Moscow to reconsider its approach.”
  • “Zelensky can provide Ukraine with a fresh start by adopting a strategy focused on reconstruction, initially in the areas Kiev controls. In this, he should aim to reconnect the region—physically and mentally—with the rest of Ukraine. Moreover, Kiev can take practical steps, and adopt confidence-building measures, designed to ease the burden of life on the frontline.”
  • “Simultaneously, Zelensky could set up a task force to examine how to phase out restrictions on trade with NGCA (non-government controlled areas). Another task force should work with international partners … to devise technical solutions for making pension payments to residents of NGCA.”
  • “Kiev should also speed up the implementation of the 2018 Donbass Reintegration Bill and provide an official interpretation of some of its elements … In the medium term, Kiev could explore the possibility of establishing more crossing points on the line of contact.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan: Democratization or Authoritarian Upgrading?” Edward Lemon, Foreign Policy Research Institute, June 2019The author, the DMGS-Kennan Institute Fellow at the Daniel Morgan Graduate School, writes:

  • “With the death of the first President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, in 2016, came the death of the paternalistic ‘Uzbek Path.’ Years of isolationism and widespread repression left Karimov’s successor Shavkat Mirziyoyev facing a stagnant economy and an authoritarian political system.”
  • “Instead of following his predecessor’s path, Uzbekistan’s new president surprised onlookers, embarking on a four-pronged reform strategy aimed at economic liberalization, bureaucratic reform, political relaxation and foreign policy diversification. Yet while these changes have produced genuine benefits for the population, Mirziyoyev’s reform agenda primarily serves the elite.”
  • “His platform does not entail true democratization, but authoritarian upgrading: the transition to a softer authoritarian regime that relies more on persuasion than coercion.”

“The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: Engagements Beyond Europe and Eurasia,” Jason Strakes, PONARS Eurasia, June 2019The author, an associate research fellow and former visiting lecturer in the politics and security progam at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, writes:

  • “It remains to be seen whether Armenia and Azerbaijan are simply engaging in competitive balancing against the [Minsk OSCE group] co-chairs by aggregating outside support for their respective preferred outcomes, or whether real innovations might be introduced through more direct and constructive involvement of states and institutions in the Global South in the resolution process.”
  • “Following the Aliyev-Pashinyan meeting in Vienna, both sides pledged to continue discussions amidst positive statements, but with little substance and no new initiatives. It is apparent that the meeting was prompted by the emergence of new Armenian leadership rather than any new determinations by France, Russia and the United States. Despite the optimism, the Minsk Group’s function foreshadows the maintenance of the status quo; it remains unable to impose a settlement or convince either party to accept concessions. Thus, it is hoped that different perspectives on conflict management toward Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh might contribute new insights beyond conventional assumptions in post-Soviet and European security studies.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“The Golunov Case Exposes Russia's 'Submerged State': Businesses and foreign investors would do well to remember that even Putin’s brightest plans can be derailed by a single official far down the chain of command,” Alexey Yeremenko, The Moscow Times, 06.13.19The author, an associate at Control Risks, writes:

  • “Some of the lessons from the case of Russian journalist Ivan Golunov are obvious, such as Russian society’s rising willingness to go toe-to-toe with the powers that be over what it perceives as the most egregious rights abuses. But it also shows deeper things about the functioning of the Russian system of power that businessmen and policy analysts would do well to heed.”
  • “Golunov’s arrest was orchestrated by a group of individuals forming one tiny patch of the great, national government morass just below the Kremlin and its closest allies. In the center of Moscow … there are entirely independent actors who periodically run amok with catastrophic effect.”
  • “This layer of government can be even more opaque than the innermost corridors of the Kremlin. And it is the layer that most international investors encounter with the greatest frequency. In today’s Russia, Putin and a handful of other policymakers are the ‘visible state,’ the one that makes the strategic decisions and represents Russia in the eyes of the world and its own electorate. But below them, is the ‘submerged state’—a vast network of lower-level actors who pay lip service to the ‘outer state,’ but definitely have their own agenda.”
  • “What the Golunov case shows is just how much this ‘submerged state’ is out of sync with the ‘visible state.’ Or perhaps it is the other way around … What the Golunov case also showed is how this lack of synchronicity backfires on the ‘visible state.’ … Moreover, the ‘submerged state’ seems to be looking for protection from the ‘visible state’ … Putin’s official policy has always been tough on any public protests because they are seen as a threat to his hold on power.”
  • “The Russian ‘submerged state’ is not going anywhere … The only force able to tame it is the public, and this is a decades-spanning job.”

“How a Russian Reporter Beat the Kremlin,” Alexander Baunov, Politico/Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.13.19The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center and editor in chief of, writes:

  • “The men who ordered the arrest of Ivan Golunov in early June on fabricated drugs charges can have had no idea how his name would be known to millions within just a few hours and overshadow the speeches of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum the same weekend.”
  • “The reaction was so strong … that the authorities actually backed down on June 11, just five days after taking him into custody. … Why the big fuss? …  He’s a journalist, well-known, before last week, only to a small circle … The police who seized him surely reckoned he was a nobody they could detain quite brazenly. … [I]t was Golunov’s unassuming modesty that propelled the kind of protests that Russia has not seen for years.”
  • “In 2004, 40,000 people were in jail in Russia on various drugs charges. Today that number stands at an immense 140,000 … [T]he accused always seem to possess just the right amount of narcotics to make them eligible for criminal prosecution. … Russia’s drug business has become a police extortion tool. … Golunov’s story … should not be read as another tale of Russia’s Westernized liberals fighting the regime. The whole Russian media community rose up to defend him, including journalists from pro-government outlets such as RT.”
  • “Now that Golunov is free and several senior policemen are being punished, it’s not just the editors who ‘want blood,’ a large segment of society wants it too. They want to see the higher-ups who dreamed up this abominable episode held to account and arrested.”
  • “In Italy, the murder of anti-mafia investigator Giovanni Falcone in 1992 caused such public revulsion that it became a turning point in the fight against the Mafia. The protest against Golunov’s arrest has a similar feeling about it—Russians want to be rid of the mafia-like grip the security services have over their everyday lives.”

“Ivan Golunov Is Free. Other Victims of Russia’s Police Are Not So Lucky,” Olga Romanova, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.13.19The author, director of a prisoners’ rights organization, writes:

  • “People are sick of the fact that like Golunov, any one of us could have drugs planted on them; that they could be beaten and tortured with impunity; that the head doctor called on to examine their injuries would be on the side of law enforcement … and wouldn’t be afraid to admit that publicly … that a major TV channel would show a fictitious report about them … that they could explain all of this in court … and hope for a judicial enquiry, but none would come: the judge doesn’t care. … The judge doesn’t doubt that the complainant was beaten, but can’t and doesn’t want to do anything about it.”
  • “I’ve been following cases just like this for the last twelve years. In recent years, the number of people serving prison sentences for drug-related crimes has stood at about 140,000. That’s currently 26–27 percent of all prisoners. It wasn’t always like that. … Are there more drugs, or are the law enforcement agencies working more efficiently? No. Or rather, we don’t know. There are no precise data, nor indeed can there be in a situation in which cases are fabricated from start to finish.”
  • “Falsified drug cases are neither a new nor an undocumented phenomenon. A report by the Institute for the Rule of Law at the European University at St. Petersburg found that ‘Russian law enforcement officers have been put in a situation in which they are forced to use any means to achieve crime targets imposed on them by management … In the case of drug crimes, those means can include entrapment, the planting of drugs, deliberate manipulation of drug test results and falsification of information about drug crimes entered into statistical records.’”
  • “Even one victim yanked out of the jaws of the system could become the beginning of its end.”

“Putin’s Economy Does Not Grow by Decree: The right words about supporting business and improving the investment climate lose their meaning if they are at odds with reality,” Filipp Sterkin, The Moscow Times/Vedomosti, 06.14.19The author, deputy editor-in-chief at Vedomosti, writes:

  • “The International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg was not held in vain — it demonstrated clearly why the Russian economy is not developing. It boiled down to a forum of ‘no confidence,’ a forum at which participants spoke about their fears.”
  • “What businesspeople want is respect and freedom. They do not want to be told where to invest or how to conduct their businesses. They want laws that apply to everyone, and not only to the enemies of the regime. They want the right to say what they think … They want political representation.”
  • “They don’t want everything to depend on whether the word ‘Agree’ gets written on their letter to the regional head, governor or president. Businesspeople are tired of writing letters to senior officials … letters that mean nothing until Putin has weighed in.”
  • “Businesspeople are tired of fearing the siloviki who have become the main consideration in conducting a business. They discussed all of this at the Forum. … Putin’s explanation as to why Calvey was released from detention while others were left behind bars sounded like sheer mockery. ‘How can someone be put under house arrest if he has no house or no apartment? But we will consider this issue,’ Putin said. It’s a good thing he didn’t add: ‘We can’t just toss them out on the street, you know.’”
  • “Members of the government sincerely believe that they are trying to understand the reasons why the business community doesn’t trust them: they attend meetings, listen to complaints travel around the regions … But what can they see from a car window or learn from conversations with hand-picked businesspeople voicing pre-selected problems?”

“Russians Are Getting Sick of Church,” Alexander Baunov, Foreign Policy/Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.12.19The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center and editor in chief of, writes:

  • “An extraordinary protest unfolded in Russia’s fourth-largest city, Yekaterinburg, in recent weeks. Large crowds of locals gathered to demonstrate against plans to construct a big new church in a park in the center of the city. And despite facing intimidation, arrests and the disapproval of both regional and federal politicians, not to mention the huge authority of the Russian Orthodox Church, the protesters prevailed.”
  • “The events in Yekaterinburg show that the direct link between liberalism and spirituality that dates back to Soviet times has finally been broken. From now on, most Russian liberals will be officially against the church, and Russian conservatives will support it. This may even shape party politics in the future. If Russian politics ever opens up, it could see the emergence of a Social Democratic Party and a Christian Democrat Party, as in Germany, and the divides between Democrats and Republicans in the United States over abortion and same-sex marriage. The West’s culture war may have arrived in Russia.”

Defense and aerospace:

“How the Russian Church Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” Dmitry Adamsky, Foreign Affairs, 06.14.19The author, a professor at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the IDC Herzliya, Israel, writes:

  • “Since the Soviet collapse, the Russian Orthodox Church … and the Orthodox faith more broadly, has exerted a growing influence on public and private life. Although relatively few Russians are actual practitioners, the majority of the population (about 80 percent) identifies as Orthodox, and many citizens consider the religion to be a defining element of Russian national identity.”
  • “That the church carries extraordinary weight on Russia’s domestic scene is well-known and not that unusual. What is more surprising, and less often explored, is the church’s influence within Russia’s nuclear weapons complex … During the last three decades, the priesthood has entered all levels of command and positioned itself as a guardian of Russia’s nuclear potential.”
  • “That the Russian Orthodox Church has so deeply penetrated the country’s nuclear complex will likely have significant and lasting effects. When nuclear organizations compete for resources within and outside the Russian military, the church may become a tool of influence. It already helps recruit qualified youth to elite units, and nuclear corps commanders may come to see Orthodox draftees as particularly reliable and motivated, and so to seek them out.”
  • “[T]he Orthodox faith has become so associated with national identity and patriotism that those seeking the fast track to promotions within the military and foreign policy communities may see fit to profess the faith. … There are, of course, limits to the influence of religion within Russia’s foreign policy establishment. But the theocratization of Russia’s military and foreign policy establishment is real and significant, and the trend has flown under the radar for too long. We can no longer understand the Kremlin’s political mentality and strategic culture without factoring in the influence of the Orthodox Church and faith.”

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.