Russia Analytical Report, June 11-18, 2018

This Week’s Highlights:

  • The “long peace” of the past 70 years was not the result of a liberal order; it was the byproduct of a dangerous balance of power between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War, and then of a brief period of U.S. dominance, writes Graham Allison, former director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
  • In his book, Serhii Plokhy refers to “the crippling effect of the economic sanctions” on Russia, writes history professor Michael Kimmage, but each year since 2014 Russian foreign policy has grown more recalcitrant, more anti-Western and more ambitious.
  • Vladimir Putin’s regime may be a gangster kleptocracy, but it is not only that, according to professor Stephen Kotkin. Even corrupt authoritarian regimes can exhibit sustained good governance in some key areas, he writes, and smart macroeconomic policy has kept Russia afloat.
  • The war in Syria and the subsequent territorial collapse of the Islamic State have drastically changed the landscape of extremist and terrorist activities in Eurasia—transforming Russian-speaking extremist groups from a localized threat into transnational networks spanning the Middle East, Turkey, the European Union, Ukraine and the Balkans, with security implications for the U.S. and its allies, writes professor Jean-François Ratelle. Major international events like the World Cup highlight the fact that counterterrorism cooperation could benefit everyone.
  • On Russia’s involvement in Syria, professor Ibrahim Fraihat and Leonid Issaev, a senior lecturer at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, write that solutions achieved under a severe power imbalance, especially through military might, are difficult to sustain. Conflicts can be suppressed for a while, they argue, but will likely erupt again once those power relations change.
  • According to the new “vision statement” of the Pentagon’s Cyber Command, its new objective is to “contest dangerous adversary activity before it impairs our national power,” writes David Sanger of the New York Times.
  • No consensus currently exists within NATO on how to address the Russian ballistic missile threat, writes Brookings senior fellow Frank A. Rose.

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Everyone Wins: Russia, China and the Trump-Kim Summit,” Alexander Gabuev, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.13.18The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes that the “most important outcome [of the Trump-Kim summit] is to bring North Korea out of diplomatic isolation—something that is welcome to both China and Russia. … Russia can declare that the United States and North Korea are now following a three-point plan set out by Beijing and Moscow. … the next step [following Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to North Korea] may be a summit between Kim and Vladimir Putin. That could possibly happen in September when Putin visits Vladivostok for the Eastern Economic Forum. … Moscow has fewer levers of influence … than does Beijing, but it does have the reassurance that any agreement reached must be confirmed by resolutions of the U.N. Security Council, where it has a veto.”

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

“Rethinking the Regional Order for Post-Soviet Europe and Eurasia,” Samuel Charap, Jeremy Shapiro and Alyssa Demus, RAND Corporation, June 2018The authors, a senior political scientist at RAND, research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a policy analyst at RAND, write: “The contest between Russia and the West over the states that found themselves ‘in between’—Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan—has also taken a significant toll on these countries themselves. Current policy approaches to the regional order … seem likely to exacerbate these problems. … This Perspective proposes a new approach to the regional order … The initial steps proposed below are intended to create fertile ground and momentum for the subsequent, more-ambitious steps by instilling confidence that concessions will not be misused by the other side for later advantage. The first step would be to establish an informal dialogue among the key players … The second step would be to devise some reciprocal signals for each side to take to demonstrate seriousness of purpose during the negotiation. The third step would be to endorse a set of principles to guide the talks on the regional order. … As the fourth step, Russia and the West would outline a package of incentives to the in-between states that adopt the third way integration framework. Finally, the fifth step would be for all concerned parties to endorse an agreement and begin phased implementation.”

NATO-Russia relations:

“NATO’s Enemies Within: How Democratic Decline Could Destroy the Alliance,” Celeste A. Wallander, Foreign Affairs, 06.14.18The author, president and CEO of the U.S. Russia Foundation, writes: “NATO today faces multiple challenges. … But the most serious problem is … the breakdown of liberal democracy within the alliance itself. … Today, the Kremlin once again poses a serious threat in Europe and beyond. But unlike the last time the alliance faced down Russia, now NATO is in peril. Multiple members are dismantling the institutions and practices of liberal democracy that emerged triumphant in the Cold War, and things may get worse if autocratic demagogues exploit populist fears to gain political clout in other member states. … Authoritarianism enables corruption, and in Europe, corruption enables Russian access and influence. … If the cohort of backsliders grows, NATO may find itself with a bloc within the alliance bent on protecting illiberal democracy. … Given the proliferation of problem members, NATO should consider adopting a form of the EU’s “qualified majority” rule for internal governance. … NATO should also make one of its senior officials responsible for monitoring and reporting on the liberal democratic credentials of not only new or aspiring members but also all allies. … Finally, NATO should work more closely with the EU. … These challenges cannot be resolved in NATO’s shiny new headquarters in Brussels through procedural modifications or by pointing fingers at the worst offenders. They must be defeated at home.”

Missile defense:

“Will the Upcoming Missile Defense Review Maintain the Current Course or Plot a New Direction?” Frank A. Rose, Brookings Institution, 06.11.18The author, a senior fellow for security and strategy in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, writes: “The Missile Defense Review (MDR) was expected to be released in February yet the wait continues. … How the upcoming Missile Defense Review addresses these two issues [the missile threat from Russia and China and the future of space-based interceptors] will have significant implications for the domestic consensus on missile defense within the United States, strategic relations with Russia and China and ally relationships. … no such [bipartisan] consensus exists to re-orient U.S. missile defenses against Russia and China … there are also serious questions as to whether the United States has the technical capability to deal with advanced missile threats from Russia and China. … if a decision is made to fundamentally alter the U.S. missile defense approach towards Russia and China, it will indeed have significant implications. … Russia and China [would] respond in kind with adjustments to their own military postures. And for the foreseeable future, … the Russians and Chinese can add ballistic missiles, and particularly ballistic missile warheads and decoys, at dramatically less cost than the United States can add missile defense interceptors. Such a change could impact NATO missile defense. A consensus currently exists within the Alliance on the need to deploy missile defenses to address ballistic missile threats emanating from ‘outside the Euro-Atlantic area.’ … No such consensus exists within the Alliance on how to address the Russian ballistic missile threat. … The other potential friction point … is on the issue of space-based missile defense interceptor capabilities. … Russia and China see space-based interceptor capabilities as an ‘existential threat’ to their strategic deterrents.”

Nuclear arms control:

  • No significant commentary.


"Terror Threat from Russian-Speaking Jihadists Won’t End with World Cup, and the West Should Care," Jean-François Ratelle, Russia Matters, 06.13.18: The author, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa with an academic focus on insurgency in the North Caucasus, writes: “As Russia gears up to host the month-long World Cup soccer tournament … security experts … have been warning of possible terrorist attacks, primarily by jihadists returning to Russia from abroad and by local groups or lone actors inspired by militant Islamist ideology. … What policymakers and officials worldwide should be monitoring closely, however, are the longer-term security risks posed by the hundreds of Russian-speaking militants fleeing Syria and Iraq. … the war in Syria and the subsequent territorial collapse of the Islamic State (IS) have … [transformed] Russian-speaking extremist groups from a localized threat … into transnational networks … with security implications for the U.S. and its allies. … Russia has adopted heavy-handed methods against returnees … In response … militant groups have adapted their strategies and are working to extend their networks in Europe and Turkey. … some Russian-speaking militants abroad are also turning to encrypted communications to plot potential terrorist attacks inside the country and recruit local Muslims to carry them out. … major international events like the World Cup highlight the fact that counterterrorism cooperation could benefit everyone. … However, mistrust and strained relations … have largely limited such cooperation … Moscow has too often appeared to use counterterrorist operations for political purposes … this, in turn, has engendered skepticism among its would-be partners.”

Conflict in Syria:

“Russia Doesn’t Solve Conflicts, It Silences Them: The Kremlin’s involvement in the Middle East has raised Moscow’s profile while letting underlying tensions fester,” Ibrahim Fraihat and Leonid Issaev, Foreign Policy, 06.12.18The authors, an associate professor in international conflict resolution at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and a senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, write: “To better establish itself as a world leader today, Russia knows it needs to rebrand itself. … Russia has pursued its interests in the region [the Middle East] by trying to present itself as a problem solver. … Russia’s conflict-mediation approach tends to be effective in freezing conflicts rather than resolving them. … By helping Bashar al-Assad eliminate nearly all opposition to the Syrian regime, Russia has not allowed any opportunities for transitional justice in Syria, which is a key factor for the durable resolution of any conflict. … Solutions achieved under a severe power imbalance, especially those achieved through massive military might, are difficult to sustain. Conflicts can be suppressed for a while but will likely erupt again once those power relations change. … Resolving conflicts in a lasting manner generally requires a serious financial commitment, something that Russia’s interventions lack. … The most important message that Russian foreign policy sends to the Middle East and the world is that Moscow will fill a vacuum wherever the West has failed, even if this means producing situations where conflicts are suppressed rather than resolved.”

Cyber security:

“Pentagon Puts Cyberwarriors on the Offensive, Increasing the Risk of Conflict,” David Sanger, New York Times, 06.17.18The author, a national security correspondent and a senior writer for the New York Times, writes: “Until now, the Cyber Command has assumed a largely defensive posture … But in the spring, as the Pentagon elevated the command's status, it opened the door to nearly daily raids on foreign networks, seeking to disable cyberweapons before they can be unleashed … The change … was not formally debated inside the White House … it reflects the greater authority given to military commanders by President Trump, as well as a widespread view that the United States has mounted an inadequate defense against the rising number of attacks aimed at America. … Adversaries like Russia, China and North Korea, all nuclear-armed states, have been behind major cyberattacks, and the United States has struggled with the question of how to avoid an unforeseen escalation as it wields its growing cyberarsenal. … taking action against an adversary often requires surreptitiously operating in the networks of an ally, like Germany—a problem that often gave the Obama administration pause. The new strategy envisions constant, disruptive 'short of war’ activities in foreign computer networks … [and] is born … of more than a decade of counterterrorism operations … The objective, according to the new ‘vision statement' … is to 'contest dangerous adversary activity before it impairs our national power.'”

Elections interference:

“Don't Wait for Trump to Testify, Mr. Mueller,” Philip Allen Lacovara, The Washington Post, 06.18.18The author, a former president of the D.C. Bar and counsel to the Watergate special prosecutor, writes: “To ensure that the investigation does not tilt the scales in the November midterm elections, Mueller should promptly return any indictments that the evidence warrants. … Mueller was appointed to conduct this investigation almost 13 months ago. … the central issue remains unresolved: To what extent did President Trump and his campaign actively conspire with the Russians to influence the election? A comparison with the Watergate special prosecutor's investigations is illuminating … within 10 months following Archibald Cox's appointment, and despite his intervening firing in the Saturday Night Massacre, Cox's successor, Leon Jaworski, was able to achieve indictments of all principal players in the Watergate coverup, as well as in all other areas of inquiry—and to have the grand jury name the president an unindicted co-conspirator. … One loose end seems to be dragging on the pace of Mueller's inquiry: possible testimony from Trump. … The chance that Trump actually will submit to an interview voluntarily, much less provide testimony under oath, is vanishingly small.  … If testimony from Trump were essential to finding out what happened, this confrontation might be worth it. But it is not … Any resemblance between the president's statements and the facts would be purely coincidental. … Far better to wrap up the Russian collusion investigation before the summer ends. It's time for Mueller to act and let the chips fall where they may.”

“This Is How Putin Buys Influence in the West,” Anne Applebaum, The Washington Post, 06.15.18The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes: “Nowadays, when the Kremlin makes a covert effort to exert political influence and undermine democracy, it has far more tools available [than it used to]—big companies, rich oligarchs, both of which need to keep in with the government … That's the background to the curious story of Russian influence unfolding in Britain over the past week … Arron Banks, was the most important funder of the pro-Brexit UK Independence Party (UKIP) as well as Leave.EU … Banks, who is married to the daughter of a Russian state official, may have sought business advice further east. On at least one occasion … the Russian ambassador to Britain, Alexander Yakovenko, offered to help him set up an investment in some gold mines in Siberia. Banks denies that anything came of it. … It illustrates how the modern Kremlin political influence machine operates—legally, and without necessarily incurring any government expense. When the Russian government sought to cultivate a former German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, … state companies, and companies close to the state, offered him an outsized role in the Russian energy industry … ‘Let us introduce you to some useful business contacts’ was also, it seems, one of the ways in which the Russian government kept the attention of the Trump family. Even as late as fall 2015 … Russian-born businessman Felix Sater was seeking to broker the construction of Trump Tower Moscow. … [These stories] do reveal the Russian government's modus operandi. Contacts are offered. Connections are made. Some deals go through. Others are dangled … Maybe someone will help you win your election, maybe not. … Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's not corrupt.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“The Myth of the Liberal Order. From Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom,” Graham Allison, Foreign Affairs, 06.14.18The author, former director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, writes that “since the beginning of the Trump administration, alarm about the fate of the liberal international rules-based order has emerged as one of the few fixed points. … the reigning consensus makes three core claims. First, that the liberal order has been the principal cause of the so-called long peace among great powers ...  Second, that constructing this order has been the main driver of U.S. engagement in the world … And third, that U.S. President Donald Trump is the primary threat to the liberal order—and thus to world peace. … The ‘long peace’ was the not the result of a liberal order but the byproduct of the dangerous balance of power between the Soviet Union and the United States during the four and a half decades of the Cold War and then of a brief period of U.S. dominance. U.S. engagement in the world has been driven … by the need ... to preserve liberal democracy at home. ... Trump is ... far from the biggest threat to global stability. … the end of the Cold War produced a unipolar moment, not a unipolar era. … foreign policy elites have woken up to the meteoric rise of an authoritarian China … and the resurgence of an assertive, illiberal Russian nuclear superpower … they are [also] discovering that the United States’ share of global power has shrunk. … Long before Trump, the political class that brought unending, unsuccessful wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, as well as the financial crisis and Great Recession, had discredited itself. … The overriding challenge for American believers in democratic governance is thus nothing less than to reconstruct a working democracy at home. … as Kennedy put it … it will be enough to sustain a world order ‘safe for diversity’—liberal and illiberal alike. That will mean adapting U.S. efforts abroad to the reality that other countries have contrary views about governance and seek to establish their own international orders governed by their own rules.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

“The People's Authoritarian: How Russian Society Created Putin,” Michael Kimmage, Foreign Affairs, 06.14.18The author, a professor of history at the Catholic University of America, writes: “Serhii Plokhy, Shaun Walker and Masha Gessen, the authors of three recent books on Russia … rely on history and direct observation to explain eternal Russia and to chart … [its] enigmas … Yet all three books … bypass the problem that has most vexed Western policy since 2014. … The Russian people … remain poorly understood. … In the eyes of the West, Russia should be rapidly distancing itself from its traumatic twentieth-century history. To many Russians, that would be tantamount to amputation. They want a Russian leader who, like Putin, works with, rather than against, the past. … diplomatic efforts to end the war in Ukraine have failed … Plokhy refers to ‘the crippling effect of the economic sanctions.’ But each year since 2014, Russian foreign policy has grown more recalcitrant, more anti-Western and more ambitious. … The Russian population will tolerate major sacrifices for the sake of prevailing in a confrontation with the West. ... Western powers, then, should confront Moscow only on issues on which their own will is strong … They should not attempt to deter Russia with false displays of strength, because Russian politicians pay a heavy domestic price for backing down and will do so only as a last resort. At the same time, the West should pursue extensive cultural and diplomatic contacts with Russia, just as it did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. When and if Russia westernizes, it will be on Russian terms.”


“Realist World: The Players Change, but the Game Remains,” Stephen Kotkin, Foreign Affairs, 06.14.18The author, a professor of history and international affairs at Princeton University and a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, writes: “The course of the coming century will largely be determined by how China and the United States manage their power resources and their relationship. … Over the last decade, Russia has confounded expectations by managing to weather cratering oil prices and Western sanctions. Vladimir Putin’s regime may be a gangster kleptocracy, but it is not only that. Even corrupt authoritarian regimes can exhibit sustained good governance in some key areas, and smart macroeconomic policy has kept Russia afloat. China, too, has a thuggish and corrupt authoritarian regime, and it, too, has proved … adaptable … For today’s gladiators to buck the odds and avoid falling at each other’s throats … four things will be necessary. Western policymakers have to find ways to make large majorities of their populations benefit from and embrace an open, integrated world. Chinese policymakers have to continue their country’s rise peacefully … rather than turning to coercion abroad … The United States needs to hew to an exactly right balance of strong deterrence and strong reassurance vis-à-vis China and get its house in order domestically. And finally, some sort of miracle will have to take care of Taiwan.”


“Ukraine's Revolution of Dignity is Not Yet Dead,” Christopher Russell, The National Interest, 06.14.18The author, an attorney and former Title-VIII research fellow at the Kennan Institute, writes: “With presidential elections less than a year away, the Poroshenko administration’s tough stance against the Kremlin may not be enough for the Ukrainian voter. The administration has rightfully embraced public international law to protect its borders … But the administration has neglected the health of the country’s domestic legal order and its progress against corruption. … When Poroshenko angered civil society by rejecting its call for greater international involvement in Ukraine’s judicial reform, the president may have very well recognized that legal development assistance … now carries real consequences. … the U.S. commitment to Ukraine's rule of law must continue to guide it in its diplomatic support for Maidan's stakeholders and Ukraine's future leaders.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Armenia Shows Democratic Reform Can Triumph Even in Russia’s Shadow,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 06.14.18The author, a veteran foreign correspondent-turned-columnist, writes: “If you're looking for some good news from a faraway land, here's a tale of Armenia's ‘velvet revolution,’ which just deposed a corrupt, authoritarian government and installed a team of eager young reformers to govern a tiny nation perilously bordering Russia. … Maybe it's the start of a counter-trend … But it must be said: Time is not on the revolutionaries' side. The squeeze on Armenia, from its neighbors and domestic power brokers, could undo the gains of the bottom-up protest movement that toppled the long-entrenched, pro-Moscow government of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan. … For now, there's something of a festival atmosphere here, as Armenians enjoy the aftermath of what the new prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, described to me as a ‘revolution of love and solidarity.’ … The miracle of this revolution is that it happened at all. Russia had long supported Sargsyan and his oligarch cronies. But in May … the Kremlin didn't block Pashinyan's accession to prime minister. That's partly because Pashinyan declared, as he told me, that his movement had ‘no geopolitical agenda.’ … What's next for the velvet revolution? Pashinyan outlined his program, but it was long on democratic idealism and thin on specifics.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Bullying the Big Cities: The Kremlin’s New Approach,” Andrey Pertsev, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.15.18The author, a journalist with Kommersant, writes: “This year, the Kremlin is preparing for elections in Russia’s third and fourth most populous cities. Novosibirsk (population: 1.6 million) and its surrounding region (2.7 million) will elect a governor, while Yekaterinburg (1.45 million) will take to the polls to form a new city parliament. In both regions, local influence groups and the electorate have successfully fought off candidates imposed by Moscow and the ruling party. … Until now, local elites had succeeded in finding a compromise with Moscow: they delivered the results that the Kremlin wanted in federal elections in exchange for the opportunity to play a deciding role in regional politics. But Moscow is no longer satisfied with that arrangement. … The forceful expulsion of old regional barons doesn’t guarantee that public politics will disappear with them, so the results of the September elections … have the potential for big surprises. These major cities didn’t succumb to the Kremlin in 2013 and 2014, and they won’t give up easily now. On the contrary, the banner of public pushback and local patriotism could be picked up by new regional politicians, who might be even less convenient for Moscow than the current ones.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

No significant commentary.