Russia Analytical Report, June 25-July 2, 2018

This Week’s Highlights:

  • Even if the situation in Ukraine is resolved peacefully, and if an armed clash between Russia and the United States is avoided in Syria, it will not be possible to overcome this wide-reaching crisis in U.S.-Russian relations with a single package of agreements, writes Alexey Arbatov, head of the Center for International Security at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations. Arbatov argues that in terms of relations with Russia, Barack Obama was probably the best U.S. leader after former president Franklin D. Roosevelt, but it was already too late for his peace overtures. Today, Arbatov writes, Moscow is gradually becoming more dependent on China in economic, technological and even potentially military terms, and Russia’s position in the world cannot be called favorable, despite a sense of official optimism.
  • In their preview of the Trump-Putin summit, Eugene Rumer, Dmitri Trenin and Andrew S. Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment assert that what is needed today is not another symbolic handshake or commitment to move past the old differences. The authors hope that when the two leaders meet on July 16, they will empower the reasonable voices in both countries to begin the conversation in earnest about the state of the relationship, about ways to repair it, and, at the very least, a mutually acceptable way for managing it.
  • Former U.S. ambassador Jack Matlock has a bone to pick with the often-cited Intelligence Community Assessment that confirmed Russian election interference, a report prepared by a group of analysts from three U.S. agencies pre-selected by their directors. If you can hand-pick the analysts, Matlock argues, you can hand-pick the conclusions. Additionally, Matlock writes that he was recently informed by a senior official that the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence Research—which was not one of the three agencies behind the report—did, in fact, have a different opinion than that presented in the report, but was not allowed to express it.
  • Ukraine’s path toward democracy remains fragile and reversible, write Daria Kaleniuk and Melinda Haring, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kiev and the editor of the UkraineAlert blog at the Atlantic Council. Activists and reformers within government fight every single day to defend the gains they have made since the 2013-2014 Euromaidan revolution, Kaleniuk and Haring write. The president offers verbal support for anti-corruption tools, institutions and activists, but the authorities he controls attack them. One lethal consequence of corruption in Ukraine is that an estimated daily average of 1,600 Ukrainians die from a lack of medicine caused by corruption that deprives the government of resources that could be used to provide essentials like health care for Ukrainian citizens, writes Goesta Ljungman, the International Monetary Fund resident representative in Ukraine.

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:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

“In Search of Light at the End of the Tunnel for US-Russian Relations,” Alexey Arbatov, U.S.-Russia Insight/Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.26.18The author, head of the Center for International Security at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, writes that “The state of U.S.-Russian relations is now often described as a new Cold War. … Russia abandoned … a path of European-style development … [and] set out instead on a path characterized by active diplomacy and a military buildup. … the United States and its allies … set out to counteract Russia. … Even if the situation in Ukraine is resolved peacefully, and if an armed clash between Russia and the United States is avoided in Syria, it will not be possible to overcome this wide-reaching crisis with a single package of agreements. The roots of this crisis are ... also internally political and ideological … The popular belief that there is no longer an ideological struggle between Russia and the West is incorrect. …  In terms of relations with Russia, Obama was probably the best U.S. leader after former president Franklin D. Roosevelt—but it was already too late. … at first, Russia was quite happy with Trump’s hostile attitude toward China and the likely growth of economic and political conflict between [the two]. … [However,] Moscow is gradually becoming more dependent on its neighbor in economic, technological and even potentially military terms. This development should worry Russia much more than the United States. … Nevertheless, Russia’s position cannot be called favorable … Moscow finds itself confronting the most powerful economic and military coalitions ... to the west, facing a tumultuous neighborhood to the south and grappling with an unequal partnership with China to the east. … The termination of the last Cold War demanded enormous effort and decades of hard work from many people … [who] correctly understood the priorities of international security and the catastrophic price of failure.”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Inspections Will Not Resolve the INF Treaty Dispute,” Pavel Podvig, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, 07.01.18The author, an independent analyst based in Geneva, writes that “the upcoming U.S.-Russian summit in Helsinki … might provide an opportunity to address some outstanding issues. The dispute about the INF Treaty is definitely one of those. … One idea … [that] keeps being mentioned … [is] one-time inspections that would demonstrate that neither the Russian 9M729 cruise missile nor the U.S. Mk-41 launchers deployed in Romania violate the treaty terms. … Unfortunately, the inspections … are unlikely to solve the issue. … the 9M729 missile itself has not been tested to the INF range … [but] [i]t is the ‘range capability’ that matters. … The most likely outcome … is that the United States will say that their analysis was correct that 9M729 does have the INF range capability. … Another problem is that Russia cannot really afford to admit that the 9M729 has compliance issues. … Russia apparently tested the missile from a standard Iskander-M launcher … from the point of view of the treaty Iskander-M launchers are ‘tainted’ and a true return to compliance would require eliminating all of them. This is not something that Russia would want to consider. … By all indications, Russia has never intended to violate the INF Treaty … Russia stumbled into this crisis largely through poor oversight of its defense industry and a bit of overconfidence in its ability to convincingly defend its case. U.S. politics played an important role too … the best that can come out of the Helsinki summit is a joint statement to the effect that the United States and Russia confirm their commitment to the INF Treaty and agree to work to resolve the differences. But even that would be difficult to expect these days.”

Counter-terrorism:

  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

 “How Russia's Military Is Becoming Even Deadlier,” Dave Majumdar, The National Interest, 06.27.18The author, defense editor for The National Interest, writes: “In the Kremlin’s view, one of the most important reasons for Russia to continue its campaign in Syria is to further refine its newly developed precision-guided strike capability. … The Syria campaign has helped Russia to further develop its military leaders and provided its officer corps with actual combat experience. That, in turn, has allowed Russian forces to vastly improve their tactics, techniques and procedures. … The most important lesson the Russian military has learned in Syria is the need for airpower to coordinate closely with ground forces. … While the Syria campaign has exposed weaknesses in Russia’s weapons, sensors, tactics and training, it has also afforded Moscow an opportunity to address those deficiencies. … Moscow has lost both men and material during its intervention in that war-torn nation. … Putin—perhaps cognizant that the Russian population is not onboard with an open-ended commitment in the Middle East—said that Moscow does not intend to remain in Syria permanently. … While the Kremlin might claim that its campaign in Syria is of vital interest to Russia, there is room for considerable skepticism. ‘If it was [a vital interest], Putin would not be emphasizing how quickly they're positioned to leave. On the contrary, Moscow is keeping a close eye on how much they're leveraged into this conflict, and making sure there is nothing there that cannot be withdrawn on short notice,’ [CNA’S Michael Kofman said.]”

“Putin’s Threats: More Bark Than Bite,” Yulia Latynina, New York Times, 06.28.18The author, a Russian journalist with Echo of Moscow and Novaya Gazeta, writes: “Russian dreams of challenging the rest of the world militarily have become the main theme of state propaganda. In May, when Russia celebrated the anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, ‘We can do it again’ was the most popular slogan … Can Russia really storm Berlin again? Is it even willing to try? … On Feb. 8 at Deir al-Zour, Syria, a number of Russians who are believed to have been mercenaries … were reported killed during American airstrikes. The Kremlin … remained silent, except for denying there had been any Russian soldiers at Deir al-Zour. Two months later, President Trump ordered airstrikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities, and this time the Kremlin put on a great show. Its ambassador to Lebanon … issued a warning that American missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted … In reality, Russia was careful not to shoot down a single American missile, let alone sink any American ships. … On May 10 … Israel wiped out in a single airstrike ‘almost all of the Iranian infrastructure in Syria’ … Among other items destroyed were … the very systems that General Rudskoy had said performed so well against American missiles. To this humiliating defeat, there was no Kremlin reaction at all. … These three events illustrate that despite his bluster, Mr. Putin is keen to avoid any direct military confrontation with the West. … What he wants is a television war—a computer simulation—with all the public relations advantages of being at war and none of its downsides.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“Musings II … The ‘Intelligence Community,’ ‘Russian Interference’ and Due Diligence,” Jack Matlock, Jackmatlock.com, 06.29.18The author, former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, writes that the Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian election interference “is not that. … The report was prepared by a group of analysts from the three agencies pre-selected by their directors, with the selection process generally overseen by James Clapper, then Director of National Intelligence … If you can hand-pick the analysts, you can hand-pick the conclusions. … During my time in government, a judgment regarding national security would include reports from, as a minimum, the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) … There was no mention of INR or DIA [in the January report]! … The first question responsible journalists and politicians should have asked is ‘Why is INR not represented? Does it have a different opinion? If so, what is that opinion?’ … The second question should have been directed at the CIA, NSA and FBI: did all their analysts agree with these conclusions or were they divided in their conclusions? … As I was recently informed by a senior official, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence Research did, in fact, have a different opinion but was not allowed to express it. … reports of the intelligence agencies reflect the views of the heads of the agencies and are not necessarily a consensus of their analysts’ views. … Prominent American journalists and politicians seized upon this shabby, politically motivated, report as proof of ‘Russian interference’ in the U.S. election without even the pretense of due diligence. They have objectively acted as co-conspirators in an effort to block any improvement in relations with Russia, even though cooperation with Russia to deal with common dangers is vital to both countries.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Can the Trump-Putin Summit Restore Guardrails to the US-Russian Relationship?” Eugene Rumer, Dmitri Trenin and Andrew S. Weiss, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 07.02.18: The authors, the director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, write: “Since the end of the Cold War, every U.S. and Russian president has … attempted to develop a cooperative bilateral and personal relationship. Each attempt has ended in bitter disappointment … What is needed today is not another symbolic handshake ... but rather a sober look at the root causes of successive crises in U.S.-Russian relations as well as a clearer understanding of why major disagreements have lingered despite both sides’ attempts at reconciliation. … At the heart of the long-standing conflict … is a disagreement about their respective approaches to the conduct of foreign affairs. Until Trump arrived on the scene, the United States traditionally championed … the international liberal order … Russia … stressed the importance of national interests rather than liberal values … Aside from unrealistic expectations, the successive attempts to improve U.S.-Russian relations often had a significant structural flaw … The U.S. approach to the relationship typically favors small steps and modest initiatives … The Russian approach … favors grand bargains among equals and unvarnished realpolitik … Both sides’ interests would be better served by mutual efforts focused on managing … [the] relationship rather than engaging in brinkmanship. … one other issue requiring immediate attention is arms control. … The real work … will have to begin with lowering the heat of political rhetoric … and conducting a high-level dialogue about the nature of major disagreements and mutual grievances and about their goals, expectations and desired rules of the road for the relationship. … The experience of the Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore suggests that … such encounters can create a positive atmosphere for the real hard work of repairing relations to begin. The Trump-Putin summit potentially ... can empower the reasonable voices to begin the conversation in earnest about the state of the relationship, about ways to repair it and, at the very least, a mutually acceptable way for managing it.

“Putin and Trump Have Nothing to Talk About: A successful summit would require the two sides to give and take, but this one has no agenda or desired outcome,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 06.27.18The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes: “The planned summit between Trump and President Vladimir Putin … will be a pure waste of time for everyone involved. … The two leaders could discuss Trump’s suggestion that Russia should rejoin the G-8. The agenda could also cover the U.S. president’s reported stance on Crimea … But Trump doesn’t have the authority to extend invitations on behalf of the other members of the group of industrialized nations … In addition, Putin doesn’t seem eager to rejoin that group. … Nor is Trump authorized to recognize the Crimea annexation even if he wanted to. … there are other things Putin might want from Trump, including a pullback of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces from Russian borders, a U.S. recommitment to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a withdrawal from Syria, a return to the Iran nuclear deal and the end of U.S. support for Ukraine. None of those concessions are on the table. … No give and take is possible because Putin has nothing to offer the U.S. as there is no part of the Trump agenda that Russia could help advance. … Someday, Russian and U.S. leaders will meet for an explicit discussion of what they can offer each other. Trump and Putin aren’t likely to make that kind of history.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Russia and Turkey in the Black Sea and the South Caucasus,” International Crisis Group, 06.28.18The International Crisis Group reports: “Russia and Turkey have repaired relations that nearly collapsed after Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian Su-24 warplane near the Syria-Turkey border in late 2015. Russia has since lifted most of the sanctions it had imposed on Turkey. The two countries coordinate in Syria, have relaunched energy projects and agreed to Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles. But Russia-Turkey rivalry is still all too evident in … the Black Sea and South Caucasus. … While Russia and Turkey have different, often conflicting, objectives in the region, their rapprochement might open an opportunity for the two countries to prevent flare-ups in their shared neighborhood: Ankara might use its ties to both NATO and Russia to mitigate the risk of incidents in the Black Sea … Prospects for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are slim, but Moscow and Ankara could work to prevent another outburst … Ankara should use its improved relations with Moscow to engage the Russian leadership on the status and rights of the Crimean Tatars.”

China:

  • No significant commentary.

 Ukraine:

“The Spirit of Reform Lives on in Ukraine—But Not Because of the President,” Daria Kaleniuk and Melinda Haring, The Washington Post, 06.27.18The authors, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kiev and the editor of the UkraineAlert blog at the Atlantic Council, write: “Ukraine’s presidential race officially began when former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko straightened her blond locks, donned hipster glasses and outlined a manifesto to revive Ukraine’s economy … Three days later, current President Petro Poroshenko launched his own reelection bid with an op-ed in The Post taking credit for just about every major anti-corruption reform since 2014. Poroshenko is right that Ukraine is changing … but the accomplishment isn’t his to claim. In fact, his role is more deserving of questions than kudos. … corruption is the wound that won’t stop bleeding. … Ukraine’s path toward democracy remains fragile and reversible. Activists and reformers within government fight every single day to defend the gains they have made since the 2013-2014 Euromaidan revolution. The president offers verbal support for anti-corruption tools, institutions and activists, but the authorities he controls attack them. … Ukrainian civil society has shown remarkable resilience and strength. Citizens continue to exert pressure for real reform. The West should do everything it can to support their efforts.”

“Goesta Ljungman: What Is the Economic Cost of Corruption in Ukraine?” Goesta Ljungman, Kyiv Post, 06.28.18The author, the International Monetary Fund resident representative in Ukraine, writes: “An important part of the explanation why Ukraine continues to lag behind in economic development is that it has not succeeded in reducing corruption. … In Transparency International’s survey of the perceived level of corruption, Ukraine scores only 30 out of 100 (with 0 being completely corrupt and 100 being completely clean). This stands in contrast to peer countries in the region, which score 50 and higher. … Kickbacks in procurement, government contracts going to friends and family, private use of state property and embezzlement of public funds increase costs and deprive the government of resources that could be used to provide education, health care, public infrastructure and defense. As an illustration, the NGO Patients of Ukraine estimates that 1,600 Ukrainians die daily from the resulting lack of medicine … A study by the IMF from 2017 shows that by bringing the level of corruption … down to the average level of corruption in the European Union, Ukraine would increase annual GDP growth by about 2 percent.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant commentary.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Expect No Changes From Russia’s New Presidential Administration,” Andrey Pertsev, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.21.18The author, a journalist with Kommersant, writes that “what surprised people [about the new presidential administration] was the lack of change: most key figures retained their positions, from Chief of Staff Anton Vaino and his deputies responsible for domestic policy, Sergei Kiriyenko, and TV, Alexei Gromov, to spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Vladislav Surkov, the presidential aide responsible for Ukraine and Donbas, will also stay in place … The presidential adviser on foreign policy, Yury Ushakov, isn’t going anywhere either, even though he is already seventy-one: a year older than the cutoff age for government service. Presidential administration officials enjoy incredible job security. … The phrase ‘Putin’s stability’ is now taking on a new meaning: it stands for tranquility, lack of external change, the same people in the same jobs. … To predict what the Kremlin will do, we need look no further than the ambitious but unrealized initiatives of the mid-2000s, such as enlarging the regions and tax reforms. The same is true of the Kremlin’s staffing policy … Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin now heads the Audit Chamber, and the former ministers of agriculture and health, Gordeyev and Golikova, are now deputy prime ministers responsible for those areas. Putin is increasingly comfortable talking to familiar people on familiar subjects.”

“Putin and Yumashev: Survivors of the Nineties,” Gleb Pavlovsky, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.29.18The author, president of the Russia Institute, writes: “Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov confirmed that Valentin Yumashev had worked for Putin ever since he helped Yeltsin write the resignation speech that he delivered on New Year’s Eve 1999 and in which he stepped down to ensure Putin’s succession. Nowadays, a day does not go by in which Russian television does not curse the ‘wild Nineties’ of the Yeltsin era. … Yet Putin is also a child of that dangerous era and seasoned political survivor. The group of survivors, led by Putin, to whom Yeltsin entrusted power on the night of January 1, 2000, are mostly still there. They have several things in common. Despite what they may say, they are globalists. They fear that Russia’s global isolation would threaten their survival. … Just as in 1999, the new transition process that is underway with Putin’s fourth presidential term is not just a domestic Russian affair, but an international one, shaped by Russia’s role in the world and the world order. The Kremlin is getting ready for the process of grooming Putin’s successor in part by building bridges with the rest of the world. The July meeting with Donald Trump is only the beginning.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary. 

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.