Russia Analytical Report, June 17-24, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • For thirty years, U.S. administrations have pursued the same unrealistic policies that have contributed to the failure of the U.S.-Russian relationship, write Carnegie’s Eugene Rumer and Richard Sokolsky. To break out of this pattern, they argue the U.S. will have to make multiple key changes to its Russia policy..
  • In an interview, Harvard’s Stephen Walt says “It was naïve to the point of incompetence for the U.S. … to believe that we could continue to expand NATO and the EU eastward into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence … and expect them not to react.” While Russia is not blameless, Walt argues that the West “badly mismanaged the post-Cold War relationship with Russia.” However, he also argues that Russia is not a future superpower and that the long-term threat posed by it has been exaggerated.
  • The U.S. has entered an American-Chinese bipolar struggle, but it is a bipolar struggle with an asterisk called Russia, writes Robert Kaplan of the Center for a New American Security. While the Russians appear to U.S. media as classic bad guys, Kaplan writes, the Chinese are more opaque and business-like, so the gravity of the competition is still underappreciated by U.S. media.
  • Terrorism is a very real threat, which requires robust diplomatic efforts, intelligence cooperation with allies and partners and sometimes military action, writes U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. But as an organizing framework, he argues, the global war on terror has been a disaster for the U.S., with huge opportunity costs that allowed competitors like China and Russia to exploit America’s forever wars to expand their economic and political influence around the world.
  • Underneath the Nevada desert, U.S. scientists conduct experiments meant to model the run-up to a nuclear explosion without actually causing one, while in the Arctic Circle, Russian scientists are doing the same, writes Patrick Malone of the Center for Public Integrity. These experiments have come under criticism by other nations for violating the spirit of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. While Washington previously dismissed that claim, Malone writes, on May 29, the Trump administration abruptly leveled similar accusations at Russia—just as the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration is about to step up the pace of its nuclear simulation experiments, the Center for Public Integrity has learned.
  • Putin, trying to return to domestic concerns after a long foray into great-power politics, is facing a drop in popularity and Russians’ growing fatigue, writes Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky. While Putin made a valiant attempt to show he cares during his annual call-in show, he ultimately failed, according to Bershidsky, who says the spirit of what happened was best described by blogger Alena Popova: “The citizens of a poor country call the president of some other, rich country.”

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:

“Iran Must Escape the American Chokehold Before It Becomes Fatal,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 06.21.19The author, a veteran foreign correspondent-turned-columnist, writes:

  • “The most important variable in the current Persian Gulf confrontation is time. The Trump administration wants to play a long game, to draw the sanctions tourniquet ever tighter. Iran needs to play a short game.”
  • “Here's the danger ahead: Iran probably can't break out of this squeeze play without creating a larger crisis that forces international intervention—perhaps an Iranian attack that kills Americans and triggers a harsh U.S. retaliation. The Trump administration doesn't want such a war—at least, not yet—because officials know that with every day of sanctions, Iran becomes weaker. … But how does this end, if not in conflict?”
  • “Each side appears to be behaving rationally … [B]ut the danger of miscalculation remains huge. … Feeling backed into a corner, the Iranians decided, in effect, to fight their way out. Much like the Russians in Ukraine, they have mostly chosen a strategy of deniable operations through proxies. … These limited tactics haven't forced the United States to back off, and the Iranians escalated Thursday by shooting down the U.S. drone. A likely next step for the United States would be to send aloft F-18 fighter escorts to accompany the big drones.”
  • “For now Trump doesn't seem to want a shooting war; he's already waging a quite successful economic one, probably supplemented by covert actions in cyber and other domains. … Trump says he isn't seeking regime change in Iran. But frankly, it's hard to see another way that this confrontation will end.”
  • “This is a war that would be entirely unnecessary and would have very damaging consequences for Iran, the United States and the region. But there's an ironclad illogic at work here, and the internal dynamics of U.S. and Iranian policy are pushing us closer to the brink.”

New Cold War/saber rattling:

“Hypersonic Missiles Are Unstoppable. And They’re Starting a New Global Arms Race,” R. Jeffrey Smith, New York Times Magazine and the Center for Public Integrity, 06.19.19The author, managing editor for national security at the Center for Public Integrity, writes:

  • “[Michael Griffin,] the Pentagon’s undersecretary for research and engineering, is now the chief evangelist in Washington for hypersonics, and so far he has run into few political or financial roadblocks. … America needs to act quickly, says James Inhofe, the Republican senator … who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, or else the nation might fall behind Russia and China.”
  • “In 2018, Congress expressed its consensus in a law requiring that an American hypersonic weapon be operational by October 2022. This year, the Trump administration’s proposed defense budget included $2.6 billion for hypersonics, and national security industry experts project that the annual budget will reach $5 billion by the middle of the next decade. The immediate aim is to create two deployable systems within three years.”
  • “Development of hypersonics is moving so quickly, however, that it threatens to outpace any real discussion about the potential perils of such weapons … There are currently no international agreements on how or when hypersonic missiles can be used, nor are there any plans between any countries to start those discussions. Instead, the rush to possess weapons of incredible speed and maneuverability has pushed the United States into a new arms race with Russia and China — one that could, some experts worry, upend existing norms of deterrence and renew Cold War-era tensions.”
  • “Analysts say the Chinese are even further along than the Russians, partly because Beijing has sought to create hypersonic missiles with shorter ranges … And it’s not just Russia, China and the United States that are interested in fast-flying military power drills. France and India have active hypersonics development programs, and each is working in partnership with Russia, according to a 2017 report by the Rand Corp.”
  • “While it might not be too late to change course, history shows that stopping an arms race is much harder than igniting one.”

Military, NATO-Russia relations:

“What Will Russian Military Capabilities Look Like in the Future?” Andrew Radin, Lynn E. Davis, Edward Geist, Eugeniu Han, Dara Massicot, Matthew Povlock, Clint Reach, Scott Boston, Samuel Charap, William Mackenzie, Katya Migacheva, Trevor Johnston and Austin Long, RAND Corporation, June 2019The authors of this research brief write:

  • “The overall outlook for Russian development in key capabilities for ground combat is continuity, in terms of the overall approach and with respect to the characteristics of the military-industrial complex. Russia's future development of ground combat capabilities will likely continue to focus on long-range strike; command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR); and rapidly deployable forces.”
  • “Even after analyzing scenarios that could give Russia incentives to pursue different ground combat capabilities, the research team expects Russia to continue to prioritize capabilities associated with strategic deterrence, regional dominance and internal security. … Researchers found that the Russian elite has reached consensus on the threats facing Russia, and there is no indication that this will change. The team also identified a fairly coherent strategy for how Russia will use the armed forces to address these threats.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“US to Russia on Nuke Experiments: Do as We Say, Not as We Do,” Patrick Malone, Wired/ Center for Public Integrity, 06.18.19The author, a senior national security reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, writes:

  • “In a maze of tunnels 900 feet beneath the Nevada desert, U.S. nuclear weapons scientists have since the 1990s been intermittently agitating flecks of plutonium with chemical high explosives, carefully trying to push them to the brink of a chain reaction capable of yielding nuclear force. In a separate network of underground tunnels … in the northern Russian archipelago of Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Circle, Russia conducts its own such experiments.”
  • “Experiments at the two sites are used by both nations to help ensure their nuclear arsenals remain viable but conducted under a blanket of secrecy. And so they’ve given rise to suspicions—and accusations—that they violate a 1996 global treaty [the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] designed to stymie nuclear weapons innovations by barring any nuclear explosions.”
  • “Because the experiments are designed to closely simulate such explosions, 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries in 2016 called them violations of the ‘spirit and letter’ of the treaty … Washington dismissed that claim, but on May 29, the Trump administration abruptly leveled similar accusations at Russia, when a top intelligence official vaguely accused its scientists of transgressing the test ban treaty by conducting experiments meant to be barred.”
  • “The irony of the recent charge is that it comes just as the U.S. Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration is about to step up the pace of the country’s complex and costly nuclear simulation experiments … The frequency will … be increased from an average of one every year and a half to two, and possibly to three per year, using a decade-long budgetary infusion of $1 billion meant to expand and improve the underground Nevada site.”


“Ending America’s Endless War. We Must Stop Giving Terrorists Exactly What They Want,” Bernie Sanders, Foreign Affairs, 06.24.19The author, a U.S. senator and Democratic presidential candidate, writes:

  • “I am very concerned that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, the Trump administration’s moves against Iran, and Iran’s moves in response, could put us in direct conflict. We should all understand that a war with Iran would be many times worse than the Iraq war.”
  • “In the nearly two decades since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States has made a series of costly blunders that have not only weakened our democracy but also undermined our leadership. … Withdrawing from Afghanistan is something we must do. … But just to end our military interventions in these places is not enough. We need to rethink the militaristic approach that has undermined the United States’ moral authority, caused allies to question our ability to lead, drained our tax coffers, and corroded our own democracy.”
  • “Terrorism is a very real threat, which requires robust diplomatic efforts, intelligence cooperation with allies and partners, and yes, sometimes military action. … Orienting U.S. national-security strategy around terrorism essentially allowed a few thousand violent extremists to dictate the foreign policy of the most powerful nation on earth. We responded to terrorists by giving them exactly what they wanted.”
  • “The war on terror has come with huge opportunity costs as well—things we haven’t been able to do because we were mired in costly overseas conflicts. Competitors like China and Russia have exploited our forever wars to expand their economic and political influence around the world.”
  • “The American people don’t want endless war. … American power should be measured not by our ability to blow things up, but by our ability to build on our common humanity, harnessing our technology and enormous wealth to create a better life for all people.”

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant commentary.

Cyber security:

“What a US Operation in Russia Shows About the Limits of Coercion in Cyber Space,” Benjamin Jensen, War on the Rocks, 06.20.19The author, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, writes:

  • “The New York Times recently reported that the United States planted computer code in the Russian energy grid last year. … The character of cyber competition appears to be shifting from political warfare waged in the shadows to active military disruption campaigns. Yet, the recently disclosed Russia case raises question about the logic of cyber strategy. Will escalatory actions such as targeting adversaries’ critical infrastructure actually achieve the desired strategic effect?”
  • “The New York Times report highlights the operational limits of using cyber capabilities to compel rival states. … The U.S. response to Russian election inference illustrates the complexity of signaling an adversary in a connected era. To be credible, signals of the possible use of force need to be backed by a reputation for resolve and sufficient capabilities to achieve the desired effect.”
  • “Russia needs to know the United States is willing to shut down the power to Moscow, to St. Petersburg and to key military installations and that it has the capability to do so. … [O]ne has to ask: What Russian action would really push the United States to shut down power and cripple civilian as well as military facilities in a nuclear-armed state’s territory? Would the United States really run the risk that Russia might view the power cuts as the precursor to a preemptive strike?”
  • “The United States needs a broader public conversation engaging practitioners and scholars that evaluates different strategic approaches to securing U.S. interests in cyberspace. The new Cyber Solarium Commission is the perfect forum for starting this conversation. The commission will need to do the following: Define what strategy is in a connected world. Test different strategic approaches. Consider the long-term consequences for America’s society and economy. Explore alternative futures.”

“Russia's Power Grid Is an Easy Target for US Hacking.,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg/The Moscow Times, 06.18.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “A report in the New York Times that the U.S. Cyber Command has intensified secret efforts to hack the Russian power grid is less interesting for its content than because of U.S. officials’ apparent cooperation in publicizing the activity. Like any power grid undergoing a digital transformation, the Russian one is quite hackable—but why would the U.S. want public discussion of the matter?”
  • “My theory is that they wanted to send a message to the Kremlin — but not specifically that the Cyber Command has increased its activity in the Russian power grid. … [T]he message concerns the approval procedure for the offensive efforts. The Times story says they occur under new, obscure legislation passed by Congress last summer that allows the defense secretary to authorize ‘clandestine military activity’ in cyberspace without going to the president for approval.” 
  • “The U.S. officials are effectively telling Russian President Vladimir Putin not to remonstrate with Trump in case of attack—the U.S. president may not even know what’s happening, and it’ll be perfectly legal.”

Elections interference:

“Europe Is Starting to Tackle Disinformation. The US Is Lagging,” Alina Polyakova and Daniel Fried, The Washington Post, 06.17.19The authors, director of the Project on Global Democracy and Emerging Technology at the Brookings Institution and a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, write:

  • “[W]e looked into how European and U.S. authorities are addressing the challenge of disinformation—and found that the Europeans come out on top.”
  • “First, the good news. Democracies on both sides of the Atlantic have moved beyond ‘admiring the problem’—or reacting with a sort of existential despair in the face of a new threat—and have entered a new ‘trial and error’ phase, testing new policy responses, technical fixes and educational tools for strengthening resistance and building resilience against disinformation.”
  • “Now for the bad news. The United States lags behind the EU in terms of strategic framing of the challenge and policy actions to deal with it. At a basic level, it remains unclear who in the U.S. government owns this problem.”
  • “It's time for the United States to step up, work with Europe and together pull together like-minded governments, social media companies and civil society groups to learn from each other. With resources, time, attention and especially political will, we can develop a democratic defense against disinformation.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Thirty Years of US Policy Toward Russia: Can the Vicious Circle Be Broken?” Eugene Rumer and Richard Sokolsky, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 06.20.19The authors, the director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program and a nonresident senior fellow in the program, write:

  • “Why Russia matters: [it] remains a nuclear superpower, and is the only country that poses an existential threat to the United States and its major treaty allies; is endowed with vast natural resources and has weaponized this asset to achieve its political objectives in Europe; has veto power on the United Nations (UN) Security Council … is capable of projecting military power well beyond its borders in pursuit of a competing vision of global order and its own great power aspirations; and pursues geopolitical ambitions inimical to U.S. interests.”
  • “For three decades, U.S. administrations have pursued the same unrealistic policies and contributed to the failure of the relationship [with Russia]. Two in particular stand out: a refusal to accept Russia for what it is … and insistence that NATO is the only legitimate security organization for Europe and Eurasia and the extension of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture to the Eurasian space surrounding Russia.”
  • “The difficulty of managing the relationship is compounded by the fact that both countries are set in their respective approaches to each other and will find it hard to change course. … To break out of this impasse, the United States will have to—for its part—make several key adjustments to its Russia policy, including: prioritize U.S. interests vis-à-vis Russia and focus on the essentials—the nuclear relationship and strategic stability; leave Russia’s internal affairs for Russians to untangle; halt NATO’s eastward expansion and refocus on the alliance’s core mission of collective defense; be clear with Ukraine and Georgia that they should not base their foreign policies on the assumption that they will join NATO, but sustain robust programs of security cooperation with them; and rethink the sanctions policy toward Russia and use them with restraint.”

“The Fall of American Primacy?” Interview with Stephen Walt, Institut Montaigne, 06.12.19In the discussion, the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School says:

  • “[I]f you want to keep NATO going, it has to be organized around whatever the central concern of Americans is. And this concern is going to be China in the future. … There is a lot to say on this subject [Russia]. Great powers are very sensitive about what happens around their borders, regions that had traditionally been their concern. Therefore, it was naïve to the point of incompetence for the U.S.—and the EU—to believe that we could continue to expand NATO and the EU eastward … and expect them not to react.”
  • “It appears that it never even occurred to the Obama administration that Russia might actually do something to derail the movement of Ukraine towards the EU … It is pretty clear that the West badly mismanaged the post-Cold War relationship with Russia. This is not to say Russia is blameless, or to imply that annexing Crimea was legal or legitimate.”
  • “[W]e have also exaggerated the long-term threat that Russia poses. It has done more with its interference in domestic politics through Facebook and social media than it has done with its army. That’s likely to continue to be the case because by all the normal indicators of power Russia is in decline … This is not a future superpower.”
  • “NATO’s European members spend three to four times what Russia spends on defense every year. They don’t spend it very well, but these states clearly have the wherewithal to protect themselves. … [I]t would be good for Europe, Russia and the United States to try to work out a deal, yet it is probably impossible under Trump.”
  • “If NATO and EU expansion stopped for the foreseeable future, that would be good for Russia. Lastly, it would be good for the United States if Moscow and Beijing started to be drifting further apart as opposed to being pushed together.”

“The Democratic Differences on Foreign Policy That No One’s Talking About,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Washington Post, 06.18.19The author, editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, writes:

  • “[H]ow did the U.S. blow its end of history, ‘unipolar,’ ‘indispensable nation’ moment at the end of the Cold War and instead bumble into one folly after another, leaving us mired in endless wars without victory, headed into a new arms race against both Russia and China and chasing terrorists across the world, all while lavishing hundreds of billions on a military that seems unable to win a war?”
  • “[T]o date, the mainstream media has been remarkably impervious to this reality. Instead, the candidates who have indicted the past failures—particularly Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)—have been strafed. Meanwhile, those calamities’ champions—former vice president Joe Biden, among many other contenders—have largely been given a pass.”
  • “Largely missing, is recognition that, for decades, Sanders has been a prescient opponent of what turned out to be ruinous, largely bipartisan follies. … He voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement … He correctly warned that expanding NATO toward the Russian border would cause a fierce reaction. … He voted against the invasion of Iraq … He co-led the bipartisan effort to end U.S. complicity in Saudi Arabia’s ravaging of Yemen.”
  • “Aside from Sanders, Gabbard has centered her presidential bid on challenging the failures of the past and the present. She sensibly argued that the Islamic State posed a real threat, suggesting that the United States cooperate with Russia and Syria and Iran in fighting it …  She has warned against the ‘ever-escalating tensions’ that leave the United States on ‘the brink of nuclear war’ and called for averting the descent into a new cold war with Russia. Yet her courage … was met with articles alleging that Gabbard had the backing of ‘Russia’s propaganda machine.’”
  • “Contrast all this to the treatment accorded Biden.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • No significant commentary.


“Russia, China Vie for Influence in Central Asia as US Plans Afghan Exit,” Craig Nelson and Thomas Grove, Wall Street Journal, 06.18.19The authors, a bureau chief and reporter for the news outlet, write:

  • “As the U.S. seeks an exit from the Afghan war, Central Asia is on the cusp of a new era, with Russia and China vying for influence in a region that will no longer be dominated by America's post-9/11 undertaking to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.”
  • “The two countries are wary of Islamist militancy, both on their soil and spilling over from Afghanistan, while China wants to safeguard the billions of dollars its companies have invested in the region … In recent years, Moscow and Beijing have taken more aggressive steps to protect their interests in the face of what they view as the weakening political grip of the American-allied government in Kabul, the expanding sway of the Taliban across Afghanistan and the threat posed by Islamic State and other Islamist militant groups.”
  • “China in early 2017 committed $85 million to set up an Afghan-led army brigade in northeastern Badakhshan province … In neighboring Tajikistan, China in 2015 or 2016 signed secret agreements with authorities that gave Beijing rights to refurbish or build up to 30 to 40 guard posts on the Tajik side of the country's border with Afghanistan.”
  • “Under the accords, Chinese border guards have replaced their Tajik counterparts along large swathes of the territory along the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, where Beijing deems the Tajiks incapable of stopping militants potentially infiltrating Tajik territory.”
  • “Although Moscow and Beijing are likely to deepen their political ties with Afghanistan, a campaign reminiscent of the 19th-century ‘Great Game’ contest between Russia and Great Britain for control of Afghanistan, is unlikely because Russian goals there … are mostly to celebrate what they see as America's bumbled foray into the country.”

“America Must Prepare for the Coming Chinese Empire,” Robert Kaplan, The National Interest, 06.17.19The author, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, writes:

  • “As one imperium-of-sorts declines, another takes its place. China is not the challenge we face: rather, the challenge is the new Chinese empire. … We have entered a protracted struggle with China, which hopefully will not be violent at certain junctures.”
  • “The Russian attempt to influence our politics is an example of war by integration … The information age has added to the possibilities for warfare rather than subtracted from it. … The Chinese have demonstrated an ability to quickly adapt … The Chinese also have more capable leadership than we do. … The truly formidable, dynamic leaders, whatever their moral values, are more likely to be found outside the United States and Europe. Witness, in addition to Xi, Japan’s Shinzo Abe, India’s Narendra Modi, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.”
  • “We have truly entered an American-Chinese bipolar struggle. But it is a bipolar struggle with an asterisk: the asterisk being Russia, which can always inflict consequential damage on the United States. Yet, whereas the Russians appear to our media as classic bad guys, the Chinese are more opaque and business-like, so the gravity of our competition with Beijing is still insufficiently appreciated by our media.”
  • “Grand strategy is about recognizing what is important and what is not important. … [M]oving closer to Russia now achieves little, though stabilizing our bilateral relationship is in our interest.”
  • “Starting from scratch means realizing that however inspiring the dreams of our elite are, those dreams will be stillborn if not grounded in both granular, local realities around the world and widespread public support at home that spans party lines—and that must be sustained over the long-term. We must be respectful of local realities, whether in Wyoming or Afghanistan.”


“One Month Into the Zelensky Presidency and Ukraine’s Still Here,” Steven Pifer, Atlantic Council/The Brookings Institution, 06.17.19The author, a non-resident senior fellow at Brookings, writes:

  • “Presumably, any consideration in the Kremlin of a change in policy will wait until after the parliamentary elections and a chance for Moscow to assess the resulting line-up of political forces. The key question for Zelensky—and for Ukraine’s supporters in the West—likely will remain how to change the Kremlin’s cost/benefit calculation so that Russia seeks a genuine peace.”
  • “Zelensky has called for a new impetus to the peace effort but avoided specifics. Unlike his predecessor, the new president has said he would reach out more actively to Ukrainians in the occupied part of the Donbass. That makes sense; ordinary people need to feel that when the conflict is over, they will be welcome as full Ukrainian citizens.”

“Playing Dumb: The Kremlin's Denials on the Downing of MH17,” Leonid Bershidsky, The Moscow Times/Bloomberg, 06.20.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “Three Russians and one Ukrainian have been charged in the Netherlands for their alleged roles in downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine five years ago. Only one of them may have been in active service in the Russian military at the time, but the international investigation has plenty of evidence of official Russian involvement.”
  • “I’ve said before and will say again that the Kremlin’s evasions in the MH17 case are a disgrace. … The court’s ruling will be important for the civil cases in which the families of the 298 victims (192 of them Dutch) demand compensation from the Russian government. There isn’t much Russia can do to stop this.”
  • “The remaining gaps in the MH17 story aren’t particularly important for the bigger truth—that Russian citizens, fighting in eastern Ukraine with the unofficial approval of the Kremlin, obtained a deadly weapon and its crew from the Russian military, and this missile was used to down a civilian plane.”
  • “It’s been five years, and no credible alternative theory has emerged. It’s time for mea culpas and payouts, not for more cynical and boneheaded Kremlin denials. If anything, these denials only harden the resolve of some wavering European nations to keep sanctioning Russia, and may even drive them to harden the sanctions. If Russia tries to disregard the eventual court verdicts, such measures will, alas, only be logical.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“What Is Behind Georgia's 'Anti-Russia' Protests,” Thomas de Waal, The Moscow Times/Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.24.19The author, a senior fellow with Carnegie Europe, writes:

  • “Georgia is an angry democracy. A recent Gallup survey found that 27 percent of Georgians said they felt angry ‘yesterday.’ That was more than enough to bring large numbers of protestors out onto Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi’s traditional arena of protest on the night of June 20—who were then met with extreme violence in the form of tear-gas and rubber bullets from the Georgian police.”
  • “Russians may be surprised at how quickly and violently events unfolded in the Georgian capital in response to the appearance of one Russian Duma deputy in the parliament. After all, on a people-to-people level, relations between the two countries have improved markedly since the 2008 war.”
  • “This does not reckon with how feelings of anger and humiliation toward the Russian state have persisted since 2008. Had Sergei Gavrilov been an ordinary participant in the parliamentary session on June 20, he would probably have got away it. Yet the sight of him sitting in the speaker’s chair … was genuinely offensive to many Georgians. … [I]mproving people-to-people relations have stabilized the relationship between the two countries, but cannot resolve the deep political differences.”
  • “There are some political forces in Georgia who want to force regime change from the street and are looking for pretexts to do it. Former president Mikheil Saakashvili urged his supporters to come out on the streets yesterday. … A small number of these protestors made maximalist demands … and some of them tried to storm the parliament building.”
  • “This points to a persistent weakness of Georgia. Its politics are so polarized that there is no single leader who can speak for the whole nation. … It is unfortunate that, despite having built democratic institutions, Georgia is still resolving its disputes in this way.”

“Russia Misjudged and Seeks to Restrain the Revolution in Armenia,” Pavel Baev, PONARS Eurasia, June 2019The author, a research professor at Peace Research Institute Oslo, writes:

  • “The revolution indeed will not deliver any tangible prosperity, particularly with Russia controlling many Armenian economic assets, so Putin can work on the assumption that, given time, politics in Yerevan will return to fraud and profiteering as usual, as happened in Ukraine after the Orange revolution in late 2004.”
  • “The urge in the Kremlin to do something about the Armenian revolution could be strengthened by the overlap of various crises in the North Caucasus … but still, direct action remains improbable.”
  • “Armenia is, after all, one of the few strategic allies of Russia that wants to keep up pretenses for benevolent leadership in the post-Soviet third of Eurasia.”

“New Balance of Power Takes Shape in Kazakhstan, Defying Assumptions,” Nikita Shatalov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.18.19The author, a political analyst, writes:

  • “The transfer of power in Kazakhstan is not complete now that the elections are over, and will not be until [Nursultan] Nazarbayev … fully withdraws from the political arena.”
  • “For now, while civil activity is only substantial in the limited segment of young people in Almaty, the Nazarbayev-Tokayev tandem has the opportunity to reduce uncertainty and conduct political modernization from above. This would be in line with the vision of the country’s first president, who considers himself the father of independence.”
  • “Successful political reforms would also bestow the status of the father of Kazakh democracy upon Nazarbayev and make up for past errors. Or, at the very least, they would keep his legacy from being challenged decades later, when Kazakh institutions become fully operational.”

“Moldovan Regime Change Is Rare Example of Russian-Western Teamwork,” Vladimir Solovyov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.19.19The author, a journalist with Kommersant, writes:

  • “The collapse of oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc’s regime in Moldova has brought this small, impoverished former Soviet nation to global attention. The bomb planted by Plahotniuc was removed jointly by Russia, the United States and the EU. The Kremlin and the West agreed to work together, demonstrating that outside interference can be a positive thing.”
  • “Plahotniuc’s ouster from Moldovan politics means Russia can count on new authorities there who will not create as many problems for Moscow as the oligarch did. Following the routing of the Democratic Party, the pro-Russian Socialists could certainly aspire to a leading role in Moldovan politics. That means the game is not over and there is more to come—except, it seems, for Plahotniuc.”

“Moldova Crisis: The First Battle in the War for Democracy,” Vadim Pistrinciuc, European Council on Foreign Relations, 06.21.19The author, a visiting fellow with ECFR’s Wider Europe program, writes:

  • “The Democratic Party in Moldova relinquished power and transitioned to opposition. A matter of hours later, the media reported a bottleneck of private jets on the tarmac at Chisinau airport—Vladimir Plahotniuc had left, officially off on vacation, together with his closest partners. Plahotniuc had been leader of the Democratic Party; he did not hold an official position in the country, but was known to many as the oligarch that controlled Moldova.” 
  • “These events marked the end of a week-long political crisis in the country, the deepest it has had since independence. The week before Plahotniuc fled, a new, temporary governing coalition formed, made up of both the pro-European ACUM party and the pro-Russian Socialist party. Despite intense political differences and rivalry, the coalition came together with one goal in mind—to free Moldova of mono-oligarchic control.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Putin’s Domestic Comeback Isn’t Working,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg/The Moscow Times, 06.24.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “Putin, who’s trying to return to pedestrian domestic concerns after a long foray into great-power politics, is facing a drop in popularity and Russians’ growing fatigue. … He made a valiant attempt [at his annual call-in show] to show he cares, but he ultimately failed. The spirit of what happened … was best described by feminist blogger Alena Popova: ‘The citizens of a poor country call the president of some other, rich country.’”
  • “For about a year, polls have shown that Russians … are tired of incomes stagnating far below the 2014 level, irritated by an increase in the retirement age and a hike on the value-added tax and worried the country is moving in the wrong direction.  Putin’s so-called national projects … have failed to register in the polls.”
  • “Widespread poverty is a major issue. Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin … called it a ‘disgrace’ this week that 19 million Russians, out of a population of 144 million, live below the official poverty line. … [Additionally,] the arrest of the reporter, Ivan Golunov, highlighted two issues: The excessive power and corruption of law enforcement agencies, and the ease with which police can turn anyone into a drug dealer by planting small quantities of controlled substances.”
  • “What he [Putin] said in response to desperate pleas about low wages often sounded insensitive. … He also went into a long and patently incorrect spiel about how real disposable income was the wrong benchmark, and that people should watch the growth in nominal salaries instead.”
  • “Putin, of course, isn’t on the verge of being overthrown. But he’s gradually losing the voters who have backed him through thick and thin—the ordinary people in small towns and villages, who are older, poorer and more dependent on government support than the relatively cheeky urban Russians. That loss could be catastrophic—if not for Putin himself, then for his plans to engineer a smooth succession.”

“No Change Ahead, a Jaded Putin Signals at Annual Phone-In,” Tatyana Stanovaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.24.19The author, founder and CEO of a political analysis firm, writes:

  • “President Vladimir Putin’s annual phone-in show on June 20 was the first to be held in the new political reality: a year ago, the consequences of raising the retirement age, falling ratings and growing protests were not yet fully clear or palpable. … The main message running through the entire phone-in was: we are doing everything right. Funds are being allocated, revenues are recovering, the national projects are improving quality of life ‘right this instant.’”
  • “This all shows that Putin perceives growing discontent with the authorities as a purely emotional reaction, based not on real problems but on society’s failure to understand the true picture. This means that no significant revision of the country’s social and economic direction should be expected.”
  • “In contrast to his position on social issues, on many political issues Putin was harsh and uncompromising in his defense of the system.”
  • “Only one non-random topic from the foreign policy part of the phone-in deserves particular attention: the cost of making concessions to the West. In recent times, a topic of discussion among the Russian elite has been the need to soften Russia’s rhetoric, and potential concessions that could be made to reduce the pressure of sanctions. Putin gave his traditional, crystal-clear answer: no concessions will reduce the pressure on Russia.”
  • “In other words, the conflicts are a consequence of the United States’ long-term, deliberate policy to weaken Russia … And so, following this year’s session of social therapy, it was time for Putin to return to the front.”

“How Putin and the Kremlin Lost Russian Youths,” Vladimir Milov and Olga Khvostunova, The Washington Post, 06.16.19The authors, a Russian opposition politician and the director of the Institute of Modern Russia, write:

  • “In March 2017, thousands of young Russians, defying all expectations, took to the streets to protest government corruption. So is the Kremlin winning or losing their hearts and minds? … [O]ur new report for the Free Russia Foundation suggests that President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin may have already lost the unfailing support of youths.”
  • “A generational conflict is one of the key drivers of the growing disconnect between Russia's leadership and its youth. … Moreover, Russia's gradual economic decline has exacerbated inequality. … Young Russians are increasingly aware that corruption and nepotism contribute to their economic uncertainty.”
  • “But perhaps the most interesting factor at play is the Kremlin's failed youth policy. … The results of the Kremlin's new efforts to co-opt youths will take years to come to fruition. But if recent history is any indication, these efforts will not be successful.”

“Russia’s Three Fronts of Civil Society,” Andrei Kolesnikov, Center for East European and International Studies/Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.19.19The author, a senior fellow and the chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “The society of citizens and its representatives in Russia face a dilemma. One option is to cut a deal with the state and work in its interests and on its terms. The other option is marginalization, to become outcasts destined to be in constant conflict with the state. As a result, conflict and polarization in Russia are on the rise.”

“Putinism in the Dock for Airliner Shootdown,” Holman W. Jenkins Jr., Wall Street Journal, 06.22.19The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The prosecution of Russian agents in the 2014 shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine has given Vladimir Putin one more reason not to relinquish power when his term ends in 2024 even if the Russian constitution says he must.”
  • “When asked in 2014 if he intended to be ‘president for life,’ Mr. Putin tersely answered ‘no,’ but it's hard to see better options for a man with his headaches. A much-discussed possibility is a federation with Russia's pliant neighbor, Belarus, creating a new federal presidency that Mr. Putin could assume without violating Russia's current constitution.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.