Russia Analytical Report, June 26-July 5, 2023

  5 Ideas to Explore

  1. Even though the pace of Ukraine’s counteroffensive has “progressed more slowly than many had hoped,” the West’s interests “lie in continuing to arm, train and help defend Ukraine in the face of an ongoing threat from Russia ,” according to WP’s editors. One reason for “the slower rate” of Ukraine’s territorial gains is that Ukrainian forces are focusing on an “asymmetrical attrition gradient that conserves Ukrainian manpower,” according to ISW analysts. ISW’s optimistic view of Ukraine’s multi-pronged counteroffensive contrasts with the the Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force’s assessment of gains Ukrainian forces have so far achieved. According to this task force’s war report card Ukraine has liberated net 143 square miles in the past month, advances so far more similar to Russia’s winter offensive in Bakhmut than Ukraine’s fall counteroffensive, which averaged approximately 700 square miles of Ukrainian advance per week between its August 29 launch and the liberation of Kherson. At this rate, it would take Ukraine 16 years to fully liberate its territory, which remains Ukraine’s official goal.*
  2. “It is improbable that Russian production of higher-end cruise and ballistic missiles will ever fall to zero,” according to CSIS missile defense specialist Ian Williams, who argues that Western sanctions could make the production of missiles harder and costlier for the Russians, but will not stop it. Thus, as long as the war continues, “Ukraine must maintain a robust air and missile defense, which will require steady support from the United States and its many other international partners,” Williams wrote. RM wrote about the problems associated with the claim that Russia was running out of missiles in December 2022
  3. Debates over whether Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny have made Vladimir Putin stronger or weaker have continued. Emma Ashford of the Atlantic Council believes that “Putin has been weakened politically.” More than that, Washington needs to prepare for a post-Putin Russia in the wake of the mutiny, according to FT columnist Peter Spiegel. In contrast, the Carnegie Endowment’s Eugene Rumer argues that if anything, the mutiny strengthened Putin’s grip on power. Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute, seems to agree, asserting that the failed mutiny shows Vladimir Putin’s regime remains “stubbornly strong.” Whatever the full longer-term consequences of the mutiny, “ a democratic outcome for Russia [is] seemingly as far away as ever,” in the view of Harvard’s Timothy Colton.
  4. While PMC Wagner’s Moscow-bound convoy could have easily reached one of Russia’s nuclear arms depots by taking a short detour in the Voronezh region, the mutineers would have found it very difficult to actually use of one of the warheads, in the view of UNDIR’S Pavel Podvig, Christopher David LaRoche of Central European University, and Kirill Shamiev of ECFR. “Can an armed group like Wagner take control of some of Russia's nuclear weapons and somehow use or detonate them? The short answer is no, it's virtually impossible,” tweeted Podvig. Still, the seizure of nuclear arms would have enabled the mutineers to engage in nuclear blackmail even if they could not have caused these arms to detonate.
  5. A nuclear “Apocalypse is not only possible; it’s also quite probable,” according to Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, whose nuclear saber-rattling has been among the loudest since the launch of the Ukraine invasion. To avoid such a nuclear war, the West needs to concede to “regime” change in Kyiv, a new Helsinki Act and a restructuring of the UN, lest the current “era of confrontation” between Russia and the West end in a nuclear apocalypse, Medvedev’s wrote in an op-ed in the Russian government’s daily. In the meantime, it has emerged that Xi Jinping personally warned Medvedev’s boss Vladimir Putin against using nuclear weapons during his state visit to Moscow in March, according to FT.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

“Wagner Rebellion Raises Doubts About Stability of Russia’s Nuclear Arsenal,” Moscow bureau chief Robyn Dixon, WP, 07.05.23.

  • As the Wagner rebellion unfolded earlier this month, United States officials contacted Moscow to assure Putin that Prigozhin’s rebellion was an internal Russian matter, according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. That reassurance highlighted the worry among Western leaders that Putin, sensing a Western plot or fearing defeat, could take radical action.”
  • “After seizing a military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, Wagner fighters moved north to the city of Voronezh raising alarm about the Voronezh-45 nuclear weapons storage facility located about 130 miles further east. But even if Wagner had targeted the weapons — and there is no evidence it did — the mercenaries would not have been able to use them, analysts said.”
  • “’Can an armed group like Wagner take control of some of Russia's nuclear weapons and somehow use or detonate them? The short answer is no, it's virtually impossible,’ tweeted Pavel Podvig, nuclear arms expert at the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research, after a blue-checked Twitter conspiracy theorist spread disinformation to more than 250,000 Twitter followers that Wagner leader Yevgeniy Prigozhin had ‘got the nukes.’”

“Russia’s Nukes Are Probably Secure From Rogue Actors,” Christopher David LaRoche of Central European University, and Kirill Shamiev of the European Council on Foreign Relations, FP, 06.30.23.

  • “Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin’s abortive mutiny last weekend raised concerns that Russia’s nuclear arsenal could fall into the wrong hands. U.S. officials reportedly had their eyes on the stockpile in the weeks running up to and during the insurrection. If Russia faces another crisis of authority — or collapse — could private militaries or other rogue actors actually use warheads from the Kremlin’s atomic stockpile?”
  • “The short answer is probably not. Although details are murky, Russia’s nuclear command and control likely makes it very tough for a rogue actor to use its weapons or acquire enough nuclear material to make one. In a conflict marked by open Russian debate about preemptive nuclear use and heightened doomsday concerns, that’s good news.”
  • “The bad news is that nuclear weapons have more than one use for rogue actors looking to make a buck. Warheads and their components can be sold on the black market or used in a dirty bomb. And because mutinies create high levels of uncertainty and risk, they threaten nuclear escalation within existing command-and-control structures.”

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Russia’s Smoking Guns. How to Prove the Putin Regime’s War Crimes in Ukraine,” Janine di Giovanni of the Council on Foreign Relations., FA, 07.05.23.

  • “As the legacy of past conflicts has shown, it will be crucial for Ukraine to address the issue of war crimes as it seeks to rebuild its society and defend its democracy against future threats. There are various forms this process could take. Many countries have used truth commissions: the world has seen more than 40 since 1983. Kyiv and its international partners may also be able to establish a special tribunal such as a new international court for the crime of aggression, a concept that has now been endorsed by many international lawyers and prosecutors. It would be the first of its kind since the 1945 Nuremberg trials. And the government can also pursue accountability in national and regional courts in Ukraine, as well as through the International Criminal Court.”
  • “Yet if these efforts are to be successful and reach timely outcomes, having hard evidence already gathered, organized, and vetted in advance will be essential.”
  • “The road to bringing Russian perpetrators to justice is still a long one, and there remain significant challenges to setting up an international tribunal for Ukraine. Nonetheless, by changing the way that evidence is gathered and vetted, researchers have already established a new approach that can be used for other conflicts. With adequate international support, such real-time documenting of human rights violations could have a more direct and consequential dimension in wars that are still unfolding. As the ICC warrant has made clear, Putin could yet end up in court, and when he does, prosecutors will be ready.”

“Hold Russia Accountable For its War Crimes,” Editorial Board, WP, 07.02.23.

  • “A warrant for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been issued by the International Criminal Court, on charges of issuing orders for the abduction of hundreds of Ukrainian children who have been brought to Russia, a war crime. ….In fact, Mr. Putin and a coterie of his top advisers have committed a broader offense by unleashing the war in the first place — the crime from which all the subsequent atrocities arose. They should face prosecution for waging a crime of aggression — the very charge used against Nazi war criminals in the Nuremberg trials after World War II. True accountability would not be achieved by prosecuting individual Russian soldiers or officers while leaving the Kremlin’s cabal untouched.”
  • “It is true they are unlikely to be hauled into court anytime soon. Yet the prospect of doing so looks less remote today than it did before the recent mutiny by the mercenary Wagner Group, which briefly appeared to threaten Mr. Putin’s hold on power. Other strongmen and dictators responsible for atrocities also looked untouchable until they wound up in the dock. It is time to hold the Russian leader accountable for his ultimate crime — launching an illegal war that has devastated so many towns and villages and ruined so many lives.”

“Prigozhin Can't Escape Justice for Wagner's War Crimes,” columnist Josh Rogin, WP, 06.30.23.

  • “The Biden administration this week announced new sanctions on Wagner targeting its operations in Africa and the Middle East. The U.S. government should also fund and support all international accountability and justice efforts to ensure Prigozhin faces prison for the war crimes he has overseen.”
  • “This would also send a signal to any other ‘private’ military corporation honchos who may think their non-government status protects them from facing international justice. Putin isn't the first dictator to outsource his atrocities, and he won't be the last.”

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“A Slow Ukrainian Counteroffensive Can’t Prompt a Western Retreat,” Editorial Board, WP, 06.30.23.

  • “Hand-wringing over Ukraine’s stuttering advance, which began in early June, is premature. It ignores not just the gains that have been made — more than 100 square miles of territory liberated, according to the British Defense Ministry — but also the fact that the real fight has not begun. When it does, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the Financial Times, ‘everyone will see everything.’”
  • “Strategic patience is the wisest course for the Biden administration and its European allies. No matter what the outcome of the next several months’ fighting, their interests lie in continuing to arm, train and help defend Ukraine in the face of an ongoing threat from Russia — and to its aspirations to become a full-fledged Western country.”

“Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 4, 2023,” analysts Karolina Hird, Grace Mappes, Nicole Wolkov, Angelica Evans, and Frederick W. Kagan, ISW, 07.04.23.

  • “Ukrainian forces appear to be focusing on creating an asymmetrical attrition gradient that conserves Ukrainian manpower at the cost of a slower rate of territorial gains, while gradually wearing down Russian manpower and equipment.”
    • “Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov reported on July 4 that Ukrainian forces are performing their main task of destroying Russian manpower, equipment, fuel depots, artillery, and air defenses and that a ‘war of destruction is equal to a war of kilometers.’ Danilov’s assessment underlines the prioritization of Ukraine’s ongoing campaign to attrit Russian manpower and assets over attempting to conduct massive sweeping mechanized maneuvers to regain large swaths of territory rapidly.”
    • “NATO Military Committee Chair Admiral Bob Bauer reported on July 3 that Ukrainian forces are correct to proceed cautiously and avoid high casualties in the counteroffensive and acknowledged that the counteroffensive is difficult due to landmines and other obstacles up to 30km deep into Russian-occupied territory. Bauer stated that Ukrainian forces should not face criticism or pressure for moving slowly.”
    • “Ukrainian forces have liberated territory in multiple areas of the front since the start of the counteroffensive in early June. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar reported on July 3 that Ukrainian forces have liberated a total of 37.4 square kilometers in eastern and southern Ukraine in the past week.”
  • “Ukrainian forces are continuing to make steady, gradual advances. The current pace of Ukrainian operations is not indicative of a stalemate or evidence that Ukraine cannot retake large areas…  Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least four sectors of the front… The current Ukrainian counter-offensive is less dramatic and rapid than the one that liberated much of Kharkiv Oblast, more successful than the failed Russian winter offensive, and generally most like the slower but ultimately successful Kherson counteroffensive in its pace and initial progress.”  

"Russia Isn’t Going to Run Out of Missiles,” security and arms analyst Ian Williams, CSIS, 06.28.23.

  • “The decline in the quality of Russian long-range strike salvos is unlikely to continue. Rather, the overall composition of Russian strike packages will likely level off as Russian missile use becomes fully tethered to how many missiles it can produce. But it is improbable that Russian production of higher-end cruise and ballistic missiles will ever fall to zero. Despite Western sanctions and export controls of key microelectronic components, Russia has been able to find workarounds to continue producing missiles. In May, Ukrainian intelligence estimated that Russia currently manufactures around 60 cruise missiles, five Iskander ballistic missiles, and two Kinzhals monthly. In June, President Zelensky noted that Ukraine continues to find Western-made microelectronic components amongst the wrecks of Russian missiles. These components are likely finding their way into Russia via friendly third parties such as China.”
  • “Looking ahead, there is no simple solution to the Russian missile problem. Russia will continue to produce and acquire missiles and one-way attack munitions and use them to target Ukraine. Sanctions and export control can make this harder and costlier for the Russians, but they will not stop them. As long as the war continues, Ukraine must maintain a robust air and missile defense, which will require steady support from the United States and its many other international partners.”
  • “To this end, Western defense industrial capacity for everything from air defense interceptors to precision-guided munitions needs to be scaled up and new supply chains built. This process will not only help the United States maintain the steady support that Ukraine needs to win the war as quickly as possible, but it will also leave the United States and its allies in a stronger position to deter and defeat future threats.”  

“Lessons From Ukraine. The War in Ukraine Shows How Technology is Changing the Battlefield,” The Economist, 07.04.23.

  • “In Ukraine, some 350,000 Russian troops are arrayed on a front line stretching 1,200km (750 miles) — around 300 men per km and, at times last year, less than half that. That is around a tenth of the average for the same area in the second world war, notes Christopher Lawrence, head of the Dupuy Institute, which collects such data. Battalions of several hundred men fill areas that would once have been covered by brigades of a few thousand.”
  • “In theory, says Mr Lawrence, this seems a ripe environment for attackers. Thin front lines are easier to break through. And new sensors, more accurate munitions and better digital networks make it easier to find and strike targets. The catch is that attackers must concentrate their forces to pierce well-defended front lines, as Ukraine is now trying to do with its counter-offensive. And such concentrations can be detected and struck — not always, but more often than in the past. ‘At this time,’ concludes Frank Hoffman of the National Defence University in Washington, ‘a shift in favor of the defender is evident in ground warfare just as it was in the days of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, when the firepower revolution of the late 19th century made massed formations and maneuver prohibitively difficult.’”
  • “The result is a paradox. Precision warfare can counter some advantages of mass: Ukraine was outnumbered 12 to one north of Kyiv. It can also complement mass. Software-based targeting saves around 15-30% in shells, according to sources familiar with the data. But what precision cannot do, says Michael Kofman of the Centre for Naval Analyses (CNA), a think-tank, is substitute for mass. The idea behind the Soviet reconnaissance-strike complex or America’s RMA was to win by paralyzing the enemy, not wearing him down. But there seems to be no escape from attrition. War on the cheap is an illusion. Many people expected Russia’s invasion to be ‘a second Desert Storm’, says Andrew Krepinevich, an American defense official who pioneered the idea of the RMA in the 1990s. ‘What we got was a second Iran-Iraq war.’”

“Ukraine Doesn’t Need U.S. Contractors,” U.S. Army Special Forces officer Rudy Weisz, War on the Rocks, 07.03.23.

  • “As an aspiring Green Beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces Qualification Course, I was taught how to prepare a program of instruction for an indigenous partner force. I learned to assess which aspects of our partner’s organization and tactics are working and retain them, even if they differ from our own. .. As a result, I was perplexed to see Erik Kramer and Paul Schneider — both Green Berets with deployments to Afghanistan like me — advocate a training approach for Ukrainian forces that forgets this lesson. In ‘What the Ukrainian Armed Forces Need to Do to Win,’ Kramer and Schneider recommend that Western contractors provide thirty-day training sessions to Ukrainian forces.”
  • “Today, Ukraine is performing admirably in a tough fight for its very survival, far beyond many commentators’ expectations. To get here, the Ukrainian Armed Forces undertook significant reforms and made tremendous strides in modernization. Though it surely is imperfect, the existing training model with NATO ought to continue as it has demonstrated efficacy, even if the Ukrainian Armed Forces don’t fully resemble a Western-style military.”  

“Against the Odds: Lessons from the Ukrainian Resistance Movement,” fellow Oleksandr V Danylyuk, RUSI, 07.04.23.  Clues from Ukranian views.

  • “Summarizing the experience of the Ukrainian resistance movement, the following elements stand out.”
    • “First of all, for the effective formation and application of a resistance movement, it is necessary to involve experienced human intelligence specialists.”
    • “Secondly, the involvement of members of the resistance movement in direct actions in the conditions of a modern military conflict is limited due to the high threat of network disclosure, as well as the possibility of using artillery and missile systems to destroy targets in the occupied territories, together with UAVs, which are significantly more effective compared to ambushes and raids by small groups.”
    • “Thirdly, especially in conditions where the theatre of conventional military operations is mostly limited to the territory of Ukraine, the deployment of the resistance movement (as a movement of citizens against the regime) on Russian territory is a necessary and practically unavoidable step.”

Punitive measures related to Russia’s war against Ukraine and their impact globally:

"Lessons in Sanctions-Proofing From Russia." MIT’s Caileigh Glenn, Washington Quarterly, June 2023.

  • “Overall, multilateral coordination on sanctions imposition can limit some sanctions-proofing efforts, including de-dollarization and pursuing new partnerships.”
  • “The power of the US dollar in international markets and the stability of US domestic markets contribute to extensive third-party compliance with US sanctions by companies not bound by sanction rules.” 
  • “Sanctions-proofing tactics adapt, and so must strategy.”

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • No significant developments.

Great Power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:

“59th Ditchley Annual Lecture,” CIA Director William Burns, Ditchley Foundation, 07.01.23.

  • “We are, as President Biden reminds us, at an inflection point. The post-Cold War era is definitely over. Our task is to shape what comes next ….  Our success will depend on our ability to navigate a world with three distinctive features.”
    • “First is the challenge of strategic competition from a rising and ambitious China, and from a Russia which constantly reminds us that declining powers can be at least as disruptive as rising ones.”
    • “Second are the problems without passports, like the climate crisis and global pandemics, which are beyond the reach of any one country to address, and are growing more extreme and existential.”
    • “And third is the revolution in technology, which is transforming how we live, work, fight and compete, with possibilities and risks we can't yet fully grasp.”
  • “The most immediate and acute geopolitical challenge to international order today is Vladimir Putin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”
  • “I've spent much of the past two decades trying to understand and counter the combustible combination of grievance, ambition and insecurity that Putin embodies. That experience has not only contributed to all this gray hair; it has also given me a healthy dose of humility about pontificating about Putin and Russia.”
    • “One thing I have learned is that it is always a mistake to underestimate Putin's fixation on controlling Ukraine and its choices, without which he believes it is impossible for Russia to be a major power or him to be a great Russian leader.”
    • “Putin’s war has already been a strategic failure for Russia – its military weaknesses laid bare; its economy badly damaged for years to come; its future as a junior partner and economic colony of China being shaped by Putin’s mistakes; its revanchist ambitions blunted by a NATO which has only grown bigger and stronger.”
    • “It is striking that Prigozhin preceded his actions with a scathing indictment of the Kremlin’s mendacious rationale for its invasion of Ukraine, and of the Russian military leadership’s conduct of the war. The impact of those words and those actions will play out for some time, a vivid reminder of the corrosive effect of Putin’s war on his own society and his own regime.”
    • “Disaffection with the war will continue to gnaw away at the Russian leadership, beneath the steady diet of state propaganda and practiced repression. That disaffection creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us at CIA, at our core a human intelligence service. We're not letting it go to waste.” 

“The Darkness Ahead: Where The Ukraine War Is Headed,” the University of Chicago’s John J. Mearsheimer, John’s Substack, 06.23.23.

  • “It is often forgotten that numerous American and European policymakers and strategists opposed NATO expansion from the start because they understood that the Russians would see it as a threat, and that the policy would eventually lead to disaster. … Of course, the opponents of NATO expansion were correct, but they lost the fight and NATO marched eastward, which eventually provoked the Russians to launch a preventive war. Had the United States and its allies not moved to bring Ukraine into NATO in April 2008, or had they been willing to accommodate Moscow’s security concerns after the Ukraine crisis broke out in February 2014, there probably would be no war in Ukraine today and its borders would look like they did when it gained its independence in 1991. The West made a colossal blunder, which it and many others are not done paying for.” 
  • “Is a meaningful peace agreement possible? My answer is no. We are now in a war where both sides – Ukraine and the West on one side and Russia on the other – see each other as an existential threat that must be defeated. Given maximalist objectives all around, it is almost impossible to reach a workable peace treaty. Moreover, the two sides have irreconcilable differences regarding territory and Ukraine’s relationship with the West. The best possible outcome is a frozen conflict that could easily turn back into a hot war. The worst possible outcome is a nuclear war, which is unlikely but cannot be ruled out.”   
  • “Second, which side is likely to win the war? Russia will ultimately win the war, although it will not decisively defeat Ukraine. In other words, it is not going to conquer all of Ukraine, which is necessary to achieve three of Moscow’s goals: overthrowing the regime, demilitarizing the country, and severing Kyiv’s security ties with the West. But it will end up annexing a large swath of Ukrainian territory, while turning Ukraine into a dysfunctional rump state. In other words, Russia will win an ugly victory.”

“The Art of Vassalization: How Russia’s War on Ukraine Has Transformed Transatlantic Relations,” Jeremy Shapiro and Jana Puglierin of the European Council on Foreign Relations, War on the Rocks, 06.29.23.

  • “Why do they  [Europeans] remain so incapable of formulating their own response to crises in their neighborhood?”
    • “First, all the focus on America’s decline relative to China and the recent upheavals in U.S. domestic politics have obscured a key trend in the transatlantic alliance over the last 15 years. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the US has become ever more powerful relative to its European allies. The transatlantic relationship has not become more balanced, but more dominated by the United States.”
      • “On the crudest GDP measure, the United States has dramatically outgrown the European Union and the United Kingdom combined over the last 15 years. In 2008 the E.U.’s economy was somewhat larger than America’s: $16.2 trillion versus $14.7 trillion. By 2022, the U.S. economy had grown to $25 trillion, whereas the European Union and the United Kingdom together had only reached $19.8 trillion. America’s economy is now nearly one-third bigger than both, and more than 50 percent larger than the European Union without the United Kingdom.”
    • “The second cause is that European governments have failed to reach a consensus on what greater strategic sovereignty should even look like, how to organize themselves for it, who their decision-makers would be in a crisis, and how to distribute the costs. More profoundly, the nations of Europe do not agree on what to do and do not trust each other enough to reach compromises on these questions. American leadership remains necessary in Europe because Europeans remain incapable of leading themselves.”
  • “Vassalization is not a smart policy for the coming era of geopolitical competition — either for the United States or for Europe.”
    • “From a European perspective, while the alliance with the United States will remain crucial for European security, relying fully on a distracted and inward-looking America for the most essential element of sovereignty will condemn the nations of Europe to become, at best, geopolitically irrelevant and, at worst, a plaything of superpowers.”
    • “For the United States, a vassalized Europe will forever lack the capacity to defend itself and will always rely on U.S. protection and U.S. military assets that are already in short supply. Most U.S. policymakers, in the authors’ experience, know they need a strong European partner for the geopolitical competition to come. Such a partner would be more independent, but that independence, while not always welcome by the United States on specific issues, is much less of a threat to a functional partnership than increasingly weak and irrelevant European partners. American policy needs to nurture that independence, not strangle it in its crib.”
  • “Ultimately, the transatlantic alliance will persist only if the leadership on both sides of the Atlantic believes they have something to gain from its partners. That sense requires a more balanced partnership, not vassalization.”

"There’s No Such Thing as a Great Power: How a Dated Concept Distorts Geopolitics,” Phillips P. O’Brien of the University of St. Andrews, FA, 06.30.23.

  • “The stunning revelation of Russian weakness calls into question not just Moscow’s status as a great power but also the very concept of a great power. Even realists who frequently use the term have never provided a clear and convincing definition of what makes a power great. Rather, they tend to use the term to describe everything from true superpowers such as the United States and China, which wield the full spectrum of economic, technological, and military might, to better-than-average military powers such as Russia, which have nuclear weapons but little else that would be considered indicators of great power.”
  • “More useful than the concept of a great power is that of a full-spectrum power, which takes into account the diverse factors that create military might, not just its outward manifestation in weapons. Few countries have ever achieved all the fundamentals on which superior military power is built and sustained; most that have been described as great powers were in fact midranking Potemkin states whose militaries served as façades for otherwise weak power bases. This was true of Benito Mussolini’s Italy, and it is true of Putin’s Russia.”
  • “China is certainly a full-spectrum power, with the ability to create and re-create powerful modern weapons and forces that far exceed Russian capabilities. That said, China would not fare well against a coalition of the United States, Japan, and Taiwan, perhaps supported by South Korea and Australia (with tacit or even overt backing from India and the EU).”
  • “A proper understanding of power would achieve two vital ends: it would make China seem less threatening to the West and puncture the illusion that power can be used decisively in war. The United States has no need to behave aggressively toward China. It leads a coalition that is in a superior position, one that China would take an enormous (and almost certainly self-destructive) risk by challenging. Far better to try to solidify the status quo with a nonconfrontational approach. For that reason, the concept of a full-spectrum power is not just helpful for understanding how states behave in the international realm; it can guard against the kind of analytical mistakes that led to the current catastrophe in Ukraine.”

“Putin’s Fragility Is a Moment for Western Resolve,” FT Editorial Board, FT, 06.30.23.

  • “Western leaders must prepare for the possibility of further instability in Moscow, whatever action they take now. But Putin’s apparent fragility is a moment to display greater resolve. The more support Ukraine receives today, the better its chance of making substantive progress before the next US election cycle. The more chance it then has of strengthening its own negotiating hand and of bringing the Kremlin to the table on Kyiv’s terms, especially if Russia’s leader begins to doubt his ability to withstand a long war.”
  • “Ukraine’s allies should speed up supplies of ammunition and of long-range missiles, now that the UK has begun deliveries. With seven EU members of NATO committed to providing western fighter planes and to training Ukrainian pilots, preparations should be accelerated to plug what is a key gap in Ukraine’s counteroffensive.”
  • “Western leaders also need to send the right message at next month’s NATO summit in Vilnius, particularly the wavering Biden administration. They should show they are ready to provide future security guarantees to Kyiv against aggression by Moscow, and put it on a credible road to NATO membership once the war is over and it meets requirements. Doing less would be a boost for Putin, just when he is down.”

“Happy Birthday, America,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, The Wall Street Journal, 07.02.23. Clues from Ukranian views.

  • “To Russian tyranny I say the world needs more, not less, American exceptionalism.”
  • “When Russia fully invaded Ukraine in 2022, it was an attempt not only to bring the Ukrainian people under Vladimir Putin's dictatorial rule, but also to extinguish the ideals that inspire people to be free. Since Ukraine gained independence, Ukrainians have always supported democracy, defended the dignity of every person, and strived to live in a free world together with other European nations.”
  • “Ukraine integrated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the West is a guarantee that freedom will continue to win and peace will triumph.”
  • “If — God forbid — Russia were to succeed in Ukraine, it would further embolden countries like Iran to take up arms against free peoples elsewhere in the world. It would encourage Russia to invade deeper into Europe, bringing it into direct confrontation with NATO. All such scenarios can be stopped only by the steadfast defense of freedom, those who aspire to freedom, and the alliances created to protect freedom. We Ukrainians and you Americans will never give up on freedom.”

“Western Europe Is Still Falling Short in NATO’s East. Deterring Russia Requires More Than Just Promises,”  A. Wess Mitchell of the Marathon Initiative, and formerly assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia at the U.S. State Department, FA, 07.05.23.

  • “The war in Ukraine presents a rare and perishable window for addressing the geographic imbalance of risk in NATO. Washington and like-minded allies should use this moment to maximum effect, to make the case for NATO to undo the self-imposed restraints that accompanied the post–Cold War enlargements.” 
    • “First, it is high time to rescind the NATO-Russia Founding Act.”
    • “In addition, the United States should encourage the European Union to devote more resources to improving eastern European infrastructure.”
    • “Washington should push western European allies to commit to strengthen their bilateral and multilateral deployments on the eastern flank, facilitating NATO’s policy of deterrence by denial.”
  • “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should finally shatter the fiction that keeping substantial NATO forces west of Germany will lead to anything other than military opportunism from Russia. Meanwhile, the United States’ ability to deal with the Indo-Pacific depends on strong defenses in eastern Europe. Unless Europe’s wealthiest and most populous states are doing everything to help the United States make NATO territory defensible in places that lie outside their normal comfort zones, they are underperforming their duty in ways that could come back to haunt the entire alliance long after the war in Ukraine is over.”

“Ukraine Will Get Meaningful Commitments at the Upcoming NATO Summit,” the Carnegie Endowment’s Eric Ciaramella, WP, 07.05.23.

  • “At next week's summit of NATO leaders in Vilnius, Lithuania, … Ukraine is unlikely to receive the clarity it seeks about when it will join NATO.”
  • “Western leaders are drafting a set of formal commitments to Ukraine's self-defense, modeled after what the United States has done for Israel since the 1970s. These pledges would ensure the Ukrainian armed forces' ability to defend their country and rearm after high-intensity combat ends… The Biden administration should be ambitious with this plan. Together with key European nations, the United States should broker an agreement that would provide the strategic framework for concrete multiyear funding pledges by each signatory. The arrangement should formalize a mechanism through which the signatories can develop joint threat assessments, coordinate policies and prepare contingency plans to surge additional aid to Kyiv if it were attacked in the future. The plan should also help Ukraine rebuild its once-flourishing defense manufacturing sector, which is key to sustaining its military over the long term.”
  • “A formal Western commitment to Ukraine's long-term capabilities could help shorten the war and bring about a just and lasting peace more quickly. With the Russian military unable to subordinate Ukraine, Putin's current strategy rests on his hope that the West will grow tired of supporting Kyiv. Only by signaling its intention to continue arming Ukraine for the long haul can the West convince Putin that his forces' advantages will erode, and that he cannot win the war.”
  • “This arrangement need not — and should not — be an alternative to eventual NATO membership. Rather, its goals ought to be boosting Ukraine's security while helping the country move toward interoperability with the alliance until its path to membership becomes clear, deferring tricky territorial issues for another day.”

“The American Empire in the Fog of Ukraine,” columnist Ross Douthat, NYT, 06.30.23.

  • “Vladimir Putin’s revanchist rule in Russia is itself an example of the global retreat of liberalism. His decision to invade was probably encouraged by the failure of U.S. arms in Afghanistan. Russia’s relative resilience against the U.S.-led embargo depends on both China’s strength and the rest of the world’s unwillingness to join fully with an American and European design.”
  • “Ukraine’s dependence on American aid, specifically, reflects the continuing weakness of our European partners relative to our own strength. But that strength still casts its shadow as well: We’re fighting Russia via proxy, using a fraction of our strength, and it’s Russian troops that are stuck advancing by inches or facing counterattacks, the Russian regime that’s under massive strain.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“China’s Military Set-Up Is Designed To Foil Any Would-Be Prigozhin,” Charles Parton of the Council on Geostrategy, FT, 06.30.23.

  • “Whatever Yevgeny Prigozhin was plotting in Russia last week — mutiny, insurrection, civil war — this level of military insurrection would never have been possible in China. The Chinese Communist party exerts tight control over its military forces. The People’s Liberation Army is the party’s army and not a national army. The idea that anyone outside the PLA and the People’s Armed Police might have the right to bear arms is anathema.”
  • “Even at times of chaos, such as during the Cultural Revolution, the PLA, while restoring order, has never acted against the party. It acquiesced as Mao removed its leader Lin Biao, just as it did when Deng Xiaoping and Xi removed top generals. If there were to be a severe leadership split which led to economic meltdown, the PLA might align with one or other political faction. But at present there is only one faction in China and it is Xi’s.”

“Xi’s Schadenfreude Over Moscow’s Mutiny,” Craig Singleton of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, FP, 06.29.23.

  • “However vindicated Xi may feel today about Putin’s style of governance, his schadenfreude may not see too many tomorrows. Sure, Xi’s years-long anti-corruption campaign, one that targeted both prominent ‘tigers’ and small-time ‘flies,’ rooted out political disloyalty within the party and sidelined potential rivals. Xi similarly enhanced his direct control over China’s armed forces, for instance by reforming China’s military reserve command structure to reduce the number of bureaucratic layers between himself and the individual soldier. Xi, too, maintains a very watchful eye on paramilitaries, which are prohibited from using force.”
  • “But Xi’s geopolitical and economic mismanagement has contributed to a genuine crisis of confidence about the party’s legitimacy, including its ability to achieve economic growth, social stability, and national unity.”

“Is Russia Losing Its Grip on Central Asia. What China’s Growing Regional Ambitions Mean for Moscow,” Temur Umarov and Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, FA, 06.30.23.

  • “Since the start of the war, Moscow has taken care to occasionally remind its neighbors of their place in the regional pecking order. On numerous occasions starting last summer, for example, it has temporarily shut down the Caspian oil pipeline, which runs through Russian territory and serves as a vital conduit for Kazakh oil exports to Europe.”
  • “Moscow has plenty more levers of influence. It is a crucial source of basic goods for Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, its fellow members in the Eurasian Economic Union.”
  • “Undergirding these economic ties is the deep trust that binds political elites across the region. In Central Asia, just as in Putin’s Russia, power is mostly in the hands of gray-haired men who grew up in the Soviet Union.”
  • “No less persistent is Russia’s role as a model of authoritarian stability.”
  • “Like claims of waning Russian influence in Central Asia, the notion that China is angling to replace Russia as the region’s hegemonic power is inaccurate. Where the two sides disagree, Moscow has little choice but to back down and adapt. But on many issues, Chinese and Russian interests do not compete. The war in Ukraine and the deepening rift between China and the United States have brought Moscow and Beijing closer together. That interdependence extends to their relations in Central Asia.”
  • “Central Asia has emerged as a testing ground for security instruments that Beijing has yet to use elsewhere. In Kyrgyzstan, for instance, it has pioneered the practice of deploying private security companies to guard Chinese investment projects. Another such experiment has been to dispatch Chinese paramilitary police units to patrol and police foreign borders: Since 2018, China has set up two such bases on the Tajik-Afghan border, acting as a force multiplier for Tajik authorities. Although the first of these bases came as a surprise and an irritant to the Kremlin, the second one, built in 2021, drew no such objections. It seems that Moscow has come to view China’s gradually growing security presence not as a competitive challenge but as an opportunity for burden sharing.”
  • “Russia’s change of heart about the Chinese bases in Tajikistan points to a broader shift: China’s rise as a dominant player in countries along its border — at this point an inevitable outcome — is happening not against Russia’s will but at a time when ties between the two countries are deepening, albeit asymmetrically and in China’s favor. Even if there is cause for competition in Central Asia, both Moscow and Beijing see friendly bilateral relations as a priority, especially amid their increasing confrontation with the West.”
  • “Down the line, the Sino-Russian power asymmetry could of course grow lopsided enough for Chinese leaders to interfere in Central Asian politics with little need for the Kremlin’s consent or aid. But it is unlikely that this would diminish their shared interests and their mutual support for authoritarian regimes in the region. The potential for cooperation remains far greater than the risk of conflict — and Central Asia a place where the Chinese-Russian axis strengthens rather than weakens.”

“Can Taiwan Resist a Large-Scale Military Attack by China? Assessing Strengths and Vulnerabilities in a Potential Conflict,” analysts Timothy R. Heath, Sale Lilly and Eugeniu Han, RAND, June 2023.

  • "Taiwan is vulnerable to defeat by China within 90 days. … The authors identify four key variables for evaluating a country's capacity to resist a high-end attack: political leadership and social cohesion, military effectiveness, durability (i.e., the ability to manage and sustain the economic and human costs of conflict), and military intervention by an ally.”
  • “For insight into Taiwan's capacity, analysts should pay close attention to the quality and strength of Taiwan's political leadership and the degree of social cohesion in the lead-up to a crisis or conflict. The other variables should be regarded as of secondary importance.”
  • “Even though Taiwan has fewer armaments and troops than China does, that does not doom the island to defeat. However, even if Taiwan's military dramatically improves its combat-effectiveness, China's military advantage will likely continue to grow because of China's enormous resource advantage.”
  • “The impact of severe casualties and economic loss likely would cut two ways in a major war. Initially, Taiwan's public probably would rally around the national leadership and favor resisting an aggressive China. However, over the long term, heavy costs of conflict likely would erode public support for continuing the war.”
  • “Because of Taiwan's military disadvantages and low durability, successfully withstanding a large-scale Chinese attack would require military intervention by the United States. A well-led and socially cohesive Taiwan might be able to mount a determined resistance for a long time, but, without a robust U.S. military intervention, China's enormous advantage in military resources likely would allow it to eventually subjugate the island.”

“China’s Ideological Affinity With Russia Is Over,” columnist Howard French, FP, 06.30.23.

  • “There is no doubting that China once strongly modeled itself after the Soviet Union. Even Mao’s personalized rule and many attempts by Russia to define and police political orthodoxy have not changed that. What is gone, though, at least as long as Putin remains in power, is any thought that the two countries still share any substantive ideology. Even from Beijing, the criminalized authoritarianism of Putin must look cringeworthy. Distrust the smiles. Far from an ally, Russia increasingly stands out as a problem.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Xi Jinping Warned Vladimir Putin Against Nuclear Attack in Ukraine,” journalists Max Seddon, James Kynge, John Paul Rathbone, and Felicia Schwartz, FT, 07.04.23.

  • “Xi Jinping personally warned Vladimir Putin against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, indicating Beijing harbours concerns about Russia’s war even as it offers tacit backing to Moscow, according to western and Chinese officials. The face-to-face message was delivered during the Chinese president’s state visit to Moscow in March, the people added, one of Xi’s first trips outside China after years of isolation under his zero-Covid policy. Since then, Chinese officials have privately taken credit for convincing the Russian president to back down from his veiled threats of using a nuclear weapon against Ukraine, the people said.”
  • “Putin was left disappointed after Xi’s visit failed to yield any tangible wins for Russia, such as approval for the long-awaited Power of Siberia-2 pipeline, western security officials said. The condemnation of the use of nuclear weapons in their joint communiqué was almost certainly added at China’s behest, the officials added.”
  • “The war is threatening to scupper China’s efforts to drive a wedge between Europe and the US, according to the senior Chinese government adviser. A Russian nuclear strike on Ukraine or one of its European allies would risk turning the continent against China, the adviser said, while sustained pressure from Beijing to prevent such an act might help improve relations with the continent.”
  • “Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said that ‘Russia has never and will never have China’s approval for using nuclear weapons’. If Russia used nuclear weapons against Ukraine, ‘China will further distance itself from Russia’, he added.”
  • “People close to the Kremlin say the Russian leader independently decided that tactical nuclear weapons would not give Russia an advantage after projecting scenarios resulting from their use. A nuclear strike was likely to turn areas that Putin has claimed for Russia into an irradiated wasteland while doing little to help his forces advance, the people said.”

“The Era of Confrontation,” former Russian president and current deputy chair of the country’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, 07.02.23.[1] Clues from Russian views.

  • “I will name three things that the Anglo-Saxon world needs to finally realize.”
  • “First, opposition to the collective West has become global.”
  • “Second, this confrontation will be very long, and it is too late to tame the obstinate (that is, us).”
    • “One of the ways to resolve it [this confrontation] is the third world war. But it is obviously a bad way, because the victors are not at all guaranteed further prosperity, ... Most likely, there will simply be no winners. After all, one cannot consider as a victory the world in which nuclear winter has come ... And here I will note one thing that politicians of all stripes do not like to admit: such an Apocalypse is not only possible, but also quite probable. Why? There are at least two reasons:”
      • “First. The world is in a confrontation that is much worse than during the Caribbean [Cuban Missile] crisis, because our opponents have really decided to defeat the largest nuclear power - Russia. … And the second reason is quite prosaic - nuclear weapons have already been used by whom and where, which means that there is no taboo!”
      • “The second way to resolve this total contradiction is to search for the most difficult compromises over a long period of time …  But it's definitely better than croaking all together on the day of the Apocalypse.”
  • “And therefore - the third [point is to ask:] What are we ready to do to get out of this phase of total confrontation. Compromises ... are possible, but with an understanding of several fundamental points.”
    • “First, our interests should be taken into account to the maximum extent: …  The Kyiv ... regime must be annihilated.”
    • “Secondly, all the hard-won results of the total confrontation need to be fixed in a new document like the Helsinki Act.”
    • “Third, it is likely that a careful restructuring of the UN and other international organizations will be required.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

Is Revolt in Russia Good for America?”, FP columnists Emma Ashford and Matthew Kroenig, FP, 06.30.23.


  • “I have been frankly shocked by the folks in Washington celebrating Prigozhin’s actions, rather than worrying about the potential consequences. I think U.S. interests are better served by a Russia that is too weak than one that is too strong.”
  • “Let me give you some reasons why we should be worried.”
    • “First, whoever replaces Putin, particularly in the context of this war, is likely to be worse. The liberal opposition has been neutered, and the most powerful remaining political force in Russia is the pro-war right. Putin, strange though it sounds, is not as extreme as many of them. Prigozhin wasn’t really a viable candidate to replace Putin anyway, as he has no power base of his own in Russian politics aside from his mercenaries. But could you imagine someone more politically connected and with his views in the Kremlin? It would be disastrous.”
    • “Second, during the 1991 coup attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, then-U.S. President George H. W. Bush’s administration worried about one thing. It was the same thing that the Clinton administration worried about during the 1993 coup attempt against Russia’s president, Boris Yeltsin: loose nukes. I think you’re underplaying it. No one wants to mess around with civil unrest in a nuclear power. The last time a Russian government collapsed under pressure of war and revolution, it gave the world a chaotic civil war and the rise of the Soviet Union. You really want to repeat that with nuclear weapons?”
    • “And finally, Putin has been weakened politically by this stunt. There’s a lot of good research on authoritarian leaders — particularly those dependent on a cult of personality — who face challenges to their rule or who risk losing in war. Those challenges don’t typically make them more likely to compromise. They make them more likely to double down, doing what scholars call ‘gambling for resurrection.’ In short: If a leader expects that losing a war will hurt them politically, they have every incentive to keep fighting in the hope, however slim, that they can turn things around.”

“Is Washington Prepared For a post-Putin Russia?” U.S. managing editor Peter Spiegel, FT, 07.03.23.

  • “Is the West prepared to reintegrate a post-Putin Russia into the family of civilised nations? I see few signs of it. Indeed, just the opposite: the EU is currently debating using frozen Russian assets to pay for Ukrainian reconstruction — an initiative opposed by Germany, which (as previously noted) has a rather tortured history with demands on defeated powers to pay postwar reparations. The most high-profile effort to address a postwar Russia appears to have been last month’s gathering of a ragtag collection of opposition groups in Brussels, which broke up with even more divisions than when it started.”
  • “The post-Putin Russia we are to inherit will probably be led by a man more Yevgeny Prigozhin than Alexei Navalny. It could even be more thuggish, more corrupt, more chauvinistic. What it cannot be is more destabilizing. We must be ready for a peace that sees Russia leave Ukraine completely, disavow further regional adventurism — but is led by a regime we find odious. And we must be prepared to welcome that regime back to the top table of international affairs — complete with sanctions lifted and assets unfrozen. Along with Western security guarantees for Ukraine, it is an endgame that Washington should be planning for and articulating publicly, so that the next Prigozhin knows that a free Ukraine and a stable Europe are the finite price of a post-Putin world. Making the case out loud may well hasten the day.”

“Washington Needs to Get Ready for Russian Chaos,” Luke Coffey of the Hudson Institute, FP, 06.26.23.

  • “Russians know from their family histories that instability is a terrifying phenomenon. But like Kerensky after the Kornilov debacle, Putin is no longer an unchallengeable titan. Putin has always insisted, like the more effective tsars he so admires (and perhaps also like Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin), that only he could guarantee the prevention of instability. Even after Prigozhin’s exile to Belarus, that guarantee is now in question.”
  • “In 1917, Kerensky was so popular that he was known as the first love of the revolution. Similarly, opinion polls for most of the decades of Putin’s rule put him unnervingly high in the affections of the Russian people. But those same polls always drew a distinction between Putin as a political leader and the ineffectiveness of his government in rooting out corruption and criminality. Russians endorsed his military campaigns when they were successful in Syria and Crimea. But as Kerensky found in 1917, the Russian public is likely to withdraw its support from Putin when wars go badly. Indeed, social media in Russia has become awash with disturbing messages for Putin after Prigozhin daringly sounded his bell of alarm.”
  • “Russians are not living through another 1917, when the powers of state control were negligible and Russia was a free but chaotic country. Putin retains immense capacity to intensify repression. But the ruling elite and its agencies have suddenly displayed an extraordinary divisiveness, which no appeal to the nation by its president can any longer disguise.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“The Prigozhin Affair Is Much Less than Meets the Eye. The short-lived mutiny by the Wagner Group rebounded to help solidify Putin’s control,” Eugene Rumer, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Russia and Eurasia Program, Politico, 07.03.23. 

  • “The brief but spectacular rebellion late last month by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the infamous Russian mercenary company Wagner, produced an avalanche of commentary and speculation about the “beginning of the end” of the Putin regime, the capabilities of the Russian military, the stability of the Russian state and what it all means for the war in Ukraine.” 
  • “Is Putin about to be replaced now that members of the elite have discovered that they can challenge the boss? There is no evidence to support any of this. Not a single member of the elite — the security services, the military, the so-called oligarchs — endorsed Prigozhin’s actions, let alone moved to support him in a visible, tangible manner. The one general — Sergey Surovikin — who is rumored to have ties to Prigozhin and possibly somehow involved in the mutiny has not been seen since recording a video pleading with Prigozhin to surrender on June 24. According to some reports, Surovikin has been detained by Russian security services for his alleged role in the mutiny.” 
  • “Did the rebellion reveal that there is a lot of rot inside the regime? Maybe. But did anyone not know there was at least some level of corrosive corruption inside the Putin regime? Isn’t the whole system built on patronage and kickbacks that in a normal country would be considered “rot” but in Russia are integral to the functioning of the state?” 
  • “Is the Russian state in danger of fracturing? There’s scant evidence to back up that proposition. Russian provincial governors serve at Putin’s pleasure. He has been hiring, firing and sending them to prison for corruption or other misdeeds, real or otherwise. They are scared of Putin.” 
  • “Prigozhin’s mutiny triggered speculation about its effect on Putin’s ability to continue waging his war against Ukraine, prompting hopes that the crisis would weaken the Russian army and create an opening for Ukraine to make headway in its counteroffensive. Unfortunately, these hopes appear to have been misplaced. If Wagner is indeed absorbed into the Ministry of Defense, there is likely to be little or no negative effect on the numerical strength of the Russian military.” 
  • “The Prigozhin rebellion was the biggest stress test for the Putin regime since its inception. The Kremlin passed, not with flying colors, but well enough. Those wishing for the demise of Putin’s regime might think about what could have happened had it not passed the test. Would they rather see the man who takes pride in the brutality of his troops in control of Russia’s nuclear codes? Is that better than Putin?” 

“The Failed Wagner Coup Shows Vladimir Putin’s Regime Remains Stubbornly Strong,” the Quincy Institute’s Anatol Lieven, The Guardian, 06.29.23.

  • “The events this weekend confirmed that the fate of the Putin regime will be decided in the first instance not by conspiracies within the Russian elite, but by what happens on the battlefield in Ukraine. If the Russian army can hold its existing line, Putin will claim victory against what he has successfully portrayed to the Russian people as a united western attempt to destroy Russia.
  • If the Ukrainians breakthrough, then Putin may be forced to resign, but he may also escalate towards nuclear war. Perhaps the most dangerous effect of the blow to Putin’s prestige from the Wagner revolt may be that even without a Ukrainian victory, he will feel compelled to restore his image of strength by retaliating directly against the west for its support of Ukraine. In that case, the dangers to Putin’s regime will be eclipsed by those to humanity in general.”

“The Mutiny Could Be A Gift To Putin,” Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, Atlantic, 06.29.23. Clues from Russian views.

  • “After 16 painful months of national humiliation, Putin is still in charge, and his regime has even fewer checks on it than before the invasion. The secrets of his success are the atomization of the Russian population and the elite through repression, and adaptation to the challenges the regime faces. Nothing indicates that the Kremlin’s reaction to the armed mutiny led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the notorious Wagner mercenary-army boss, will be any different. Ample evidence suggests that Putin will be able to muddle through as usual.”
  • “The steps the Kremlin is taking in reaction to the mutiny may fortify the regime’s foundations. The Kremlin is already dismembering Prigozhin’s fiefdom. The FSB, the domestic-security service and the main successor to the KGB, immediately went after Wagner’s money, confiscating stockpiles of cash that Prigozhin was using to pay his fighters’ salaries. FSB operatives also started to intimidate the families of Wagner fighters, forcing relatives to call their sons, husbands, and fathers and dissuade them from following Prigozhin.”
  • “In taking down Wagner, Putin will have removed one of the most potent threats to his rule: an amalgam of battle-hardened professional soldiers and poorly trained criminals who were not fully integrated into the official power structure.”
  • “Furthermore, conspiracy among Putin’s top lieutenants remains unlikely, because all of them were handpicked by Putin and owe their careers to him, distrust one another, and are implicated in a criminal war against Ukraine. If anything, the president is likely to respond to the mutiny with more repression against the elite and the furtherinjection of resources into the FSB and the National Guard, a parallel internal military force run by his former bodyguard Viktor Zolotov.”
  • “The extent of the regime’s decay is staggering. But what keeps Putin’s system going is a combination of public apathy, inertia, fear, and, of course, petrodollars. As long as these elements are in place and the Russian president is still active and healthy, no one should be staking their hopes on a magical fix for the world’s problem with Putin.”

“What Does a Humiliated Putin Mean for Russia?”, Harvard professor Timothy J. Colton, Journal of Democracy, June 2023.

  • “Although a bloodbath has been averted, the wreckage left behind by the affair cannot easily be cleared away. Putin’s instinct will be to tighten the political screws further than ever. But he must attempt this in full light of the fact that Prigozhin and his crew got away with their mutiny unscathed and Prigozhin found refuge with his junior partner in Minsk. The affair is a humiliation for Putin, no doubt about it, and it raises the question of how many more missteps of this magnitude he can get away with.”
  • “It is an open secret in Moscow that, whatever the complexities of public opinion at the mass level, many members of the Russian elite harbor deep misgivings about the war. This time, once it was clear which way the wind was blowing, they lined up with their absentee boss. How they will make future choices may be another matter. No more than ten or twelve members of Putin’s inner circle, if they could agree among themselves, demonstrate Prigozhin’s appetite for risk, and contrive an institutional formula for a national-unity government, could bring an end to the Putin era. The Russian precedent is the ouster of Nikita Khrushchev by the Soviet leadership in October 1964 and the initiation of a generation of oligarchic rule.”
  • “It will be some time before the full consequences of Prigozhin’s rebellion become clear. What we see now is a tableau of ambiguities and contradictions, with a democratic outcome for Russia seemingly as far away as ever.”  

“Beware a Weakened Putin,” the Quincy Institute’s George Beebe, Compact, 06.28.23.

  • “To judge from the headlines, Americans seem to regard this wounding as an unalloyed good. But a wounded Putin is quite likely to be a more dangerous Putin. He has already accused the United States of backing Prigozhin, conflating media sympathy for the rebellion with operational government support. He will not only be more likely to crack down on dissent at home, but also less likely to show patience in the war in Ukraine. Russian nationalists have complained that Putin has tolerated US and NATO supplies of ever more threatening weapons systems to Ukraine, such as Leopard and Abrams tanks, longer-range artillery and missile systems, and F-16 fighter aircraft, arguing that his restraint has only encouraged bolder American support and put the Russian homeland at risk. He is far less likely to show such restraint now.”
  • “All this points to a mounting crisis between the United States and Russia. America has grown more confident that it can safely challenge Russia’s red lines at the very time that Putin is under immense pressure to show he is willing and able to defend them. And the depth of animosity and mistrust between the two governments means it will be enormously difficult to contain the aftermath of any direct clashes between our respective militaries.”
  • “It was only two summers ago that Biden’s newly appointed foreign-policy team was proclaiming its intentions to pursue a ‘foreign policy for the middle class’ in which relations with Russia would be ‘stable and predictable.’ What a different reality we now face.”

“Putin Thinks He's Still in Control. He's Not,” journalist Mikhail Zygar, NYT, 06.30.23. Clues from Russian views.

  • “Despite the shock of the rebellion, which saw Wagner forces march to within 125 miles of Moscow unimpeded, Mr. Putin flew to St. Petersburg. Nothing, not even armed revolt, would deter him from his favorite party [the Scarlet Sails festival] In the opinion of my sources close to Mr. Putin's inner circle — officials, administrators, journalists, businessmen and more — this is the clearest evidence yet that the president is divorced from reality. He still believes that he has everything under control and that Mr. Prigozhin's rebellion has not changed the political situation in any way. But he is mistaken. Not only is the atmosphere around Mr. Putin fundamentally different, but there is also a growing appetite for change — even among those close to the president. For many I spoke to, Mr. Putin's system of rule simply can't go on much longer.”
  • “The situation for Mr. Putin is … serious. In comments this week, he has sought to project control. But there's no doubt much more will be needed to flush away the memory of the revolt. Despite Mr. Putin's promises to pardon those involved in the rebellion, repression of the so-called patriotic camp is surely to come. Until now, such figures — hard-liners operating largely on the Telegram social messaging app, who generally support Mr. Prigozhin — could criticize the authorities with some impunity. Now it has become obvious that this hard-right, fascist wing is no less dangerous than the liberals persecuted by the Kremlin — not least because it includes many armed supporters. A purge is to be expected, starting with Gen. Sergei Surovikin, a former commander of Russian forces in Ukraine who allegedly knew of the mutiny in advance.”
  • “But the damage is done. The rebellion has desacralized Mr. Putin, substantially weakening his authority. Before this weekend, much of Russian society, and especially state bureaucrats, believed that he always made the right decisions, that he was much more cunning, wise and better informed than anyone else. But the events of the weekend have shown Mr. Putin in the worst possible light: weak, vacillating, incapable of exerting control. He alone is to blame for what happened, something that is obvious to everyone except him. For many members of the ruling elite, it is now clear that Mr. Putin has ceased to be the guarantor of stability he was for so long. A new situation is quickly emerging and what happens next is impossible to know. But it would be prudent, and not just for Russians, to start preparing for what will come after him.”

Russia’s New Time of Troubles. It’s Not 1917 in Moscow — It’s 1604,” Vladislav Zubok of LSE, FA, 06.28.23.

  • “Some Western analysts compared Prigozhin to Lavr Kornilov, the imperial Russian general who, in August 1917, sent his troops from the frontline to Petrograd, then Russia’s capital, to clear it of revolutionaries — only to be accused of attempting a coup and imprisoned.”
  • “What is clear, however, is that in harking back to 1917, Putin and his critics and adversaries alike were reaching for the wrong historical analogy. What is taking place in Russia right now bears less resemblance to the events of 1917 than to those of an earlier era: the so-called Time of Troubles, or Smuta, which lasted from 1604 to 1613. During this period, the Russian dynasty of the Rurikids came to a violent end, and it took a decade of war and civil upheaval before the Romanov dynasty consolidated monarchical authority. In the meantime, Russia almost ceased to exist as a sovereign entity — a fate that could befall Russia again today because Putin’s personalized autocratic rule has made it hard to imagine an orderly succession.”
  • “The longer the war in Ukraine lasts, the greater the risk of another Smuta in Russia. Russian elites are once again divided from the masses, just as they were on the eve of the Time of Troubles. The figure of the tsar is the only thing that unites them and allows the state to function. But if Putin suddenly disappears from the picture, his courtiers will face a stark choice: go down the road of Godunov and plunge the country into chaos or circle the wagons, avoid an internecine struggle, and enable all groups to elect a new president in emergency national elections.”

“What Happened in Russia — And What Happens Next? Our Columnists Weigh In,” WP, 06.27.23.

  • David Von Drehle:  “Putin evidently had no more confidence than Prigozhin as to the outcome of the clash. Rather than test the loyalty and strength of government forces to crush the uprising, the Russian leader grabbed the first exit he was offered — a sign of weakness that might invite another attempt. There's good news and bad news in this. The good news is that Russia's reckless leaders are not suicidal, which is a welcome quality in a nuclear power. The bad news: A weakened Russia has weakened leaders and is spinning out of control. Putin has taken his country into a disaster, and there is no one in sight to save it.”
  • Max Boot: “Prigozhin has made Putin's weakness clear ... Putin could ultimately emerge at the head of an even stronger dictatorship that launches a Stalinist mobilization to fight Ukraine. Alternatively, his display of weakness might embolden other challengers to the throne from his own inner circle because his mystique of control has been shattered.”
  • David Ignatius: “Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA station chief in Moscow, argues that Prigozhin ‘surrendered when he realized that the cavalry wasn't going to arrive.’ Prigozhin's forces were cheered when they seized Russian command headquarters in Rostov-on-Don early Saturday — not surprisingly, as they have been the bravest and most successful Russian fighters in Ukraine.  Putin will need to show that he's in command now, after this near-death experience. That's the bad news for Ukraine and Russia both.”
  • Jason Willick: “I would also expect Russia to double down on its commitment to the war. ... It's going to be a long war.”
  • Megan McArdle:  “Illiberal regimes are not merely unpleasantly oppressive; they are at constant risk of catastrophic failure… The inherent fragility of authoritarianism does not mean liberalism is destined to always win out; this is a dangerous delusion that, in the years after the Berlin Wall fell, helped lay the groundwork for Putin and his ilk.” 

“Band-Aid Politics. How the Kremlin is Dealing With the Fallout from Prigozhin’s Mutiny,” nonresident scholar Alexandra  Prokopenko, Carnegie Endowment, 07.04.23. Clues from Russian views.

  • “The uprising has highlighted a crisis of management in Russia’s political system and the huge contradiction within the Russian armed forces. But it looks like the Kremlin is not intending to take any measures in response, apart from dictating how state propaganda should frame the event.”
  • “The regime may have survived, but the damage caused will be long-lasting. While it might look like Putin has successfully dealt with the uprising’s fallout by ignoring the problem and handing out awards, in actual fact the strain on the system remains. The repressions and purges that many are now expecting will only make this strain worse.”
  • “Russia’s system of political management is in a profound crisis because it ignores real problems and just concerns itself with Putin’s perception of reality. And this crisis has only been deepened by the war and shrinking resources. Trying to fix the problems with PR and heightened fear of the security services is like trying to fix a hole in the wall with ordinary adhesive: it may be glue, but it won’t hold.”

“The Beginning of the End for Putin? Prigozhin’s Rebellion Ended Quickly, but It Spells Trouble for the Kremlin,” CFR’s Liana Fix and Michael Kimmage of the Catholic University of America, FA, 06.27.23.

  • “Putin’s near-death experience amounts to a paradox for the United States and its allies. His regime represents an immense security problem for Europe, and his exit from the international stage, whenever it comes, will not be mourned. Yet a post-Putin Russia, which could come much sooner than had commonly been expected just a week ago, would call for great caution and careful planning.”
  • “While hoping for the best, which would be an end to the war in Ukraine and a less authoritarian Russia, it makes sense to plan for the worst: a Russian leader more radical than Putin and more overtly right-wing and reactionary, someone perhaps with more military experience than Putin ever had, someone who has been shaped by the brutality of war.”
  • “The United States and its allies will have to manage and mitigate the consequences of instability in Russia. In all scenarios, the West will need to seek transparency about the control of Russian nuclear weapons and the potential proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, signaling that it has no intention and no desire to threaten the existence of the Russian state. At the same time, the West must send a strong message of deterrence, focusing on the protection of NATO and its partners. Instability in Russia is unlikely to stay in Russia. It could spread across the region, from Armenia to Belarus.”
  • “For Russia’s autocrats, … [the] clear lesson [is]: even an unsuccessful rebellion plants the seed for future attempts.”

“War and Peace After Prigozhin,” Mikhail Vinogradov of the Petersburg Politics Foundation, Russia.Post, 07.03.23.

  • “The 2024 [presidential] campaign will have to take one of the positions that [political scientist Alexei] Chesnakov laid out [with regards to Prigozhin’s mutiny: either ‘forget’ about what happened, act like nothing happened, or take into account what happened and show that lessons have been learned. So far, no decision has been made.”

“A New Road for Russia?” Oxford’s Robert Service, FT, 07.01.23.

  • “Ultimate power in Russia..., lies with the Russian army and the FSB. All the ministries and big business are infiltrated by secret policemen. Corruption and malfeasance pervades every regional and city administration. Liberal politicians are hardly known outside educated circles, and the extra-parliamentary far-right groupings have never been more brazen. As the great poet Boris Pasternak wrote: ‘Getting through life is not a stroll across a field.’ For nearly 24 years under Putin, Russia has been hauled back into a barbed-wire condominium from which reformers such as Gorbachev and Yeltsin struggled to liberate it. We may well discover that a coup brings an era to its end without solving its problems — and without the televised spectacle of a race of rebel military trucks along the Russian M4 highway.”

“Russia’s Biggest Problem Isn’t the War. It’s Losing the 21st Century” journalist Fareed Zakaria, WP, 06.30.23.

  • “A new book by scholar Alexander Etkind, ‘Russia Against Modernity,’ makes the case that Putin has created a parasitic state that gets revenue by extracting natural resources rather than any creative production and that fulfills none of the functions of a modern state in terms of providing welfare for its people.”
  • “For Putin’s regime, the West now represents forces of social, economic and political modernization that could infect Russia. In his speech as he launched the invasion of Ukraine, Putin accused the United States of seeking to destroy Russia’s traditional values and impose new ones on it which directly lead ‘to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature.’ For Putin, modernizing Russia would create a more active civil society, greater demands for better health care, more opportunities for ordinary citizens and a less kleptocratic state. And so he advocates a traditional Russia, which celebrates religion, traditional morality, xenophobia and strict gender conformity.”
  • “What does this all add up to? I am not sure. But it’s fair to say that Russia’s biggest problem is not that it is losing the Ukraine war but rather that it is losing the 21st century.”

Defense and aerospace:

 “Wagner Cost Russia Suspiciously Little Money. If Putin’s defense spending numbers are correct, it’s likely that Prigozhin overstated the size of his army,” journalist Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 07.04.23.

  • “At a meeting with service members last week, Putin said Wagner’s participation in the Ukraine invasion was fully financed by the Russian government. From May 2022 through April 2023, it was funded to the tune of 70.4 billion rubles ($786 million) for regular pay, 15.9 billion rubles for bonuses and 100.2 billion rubles for ‘insurance payments,’ meaning compensation for deaths and injuries. Putin didn’t say how much was spent on Wagner’s equipment and ammunition, but the numbers he gave are revealing.”
  • “Prigozhin’s estimates suggest that, on average, some 20,000 mercenaries and some 30,000 convicts were fighting for Wagner at any given moment. If Putin’s figures are correct, each of the 50,000 fighters received about 144,000 rubles ($1,608) a month. That’s less than even the 200,000 rubles that convicts were promised by Wagner, not to mention the minimum salaries of 240,000 rubles and monthly bonuses of 150,000 rubles offered to volunteers at the private military company’s recruitment offices throughout Russia.”
  • “Meanwhile, the ‘insurance’ payments are closer to Prigozhin’s assessment of about 20,000 dead and 17,000 badly wounded. Wagner paid between 1.1 million rubles and 5.1 million rubles to the family of a fallen mercenary or convict and between 500,000 rubles and 2 million rubles for a severe injury. Putin’s 100.2 billion rubles for ‘insurance’ would have meant an average of 2.7 million rubles per casualty.”
  • “In other words, if Putin’s spending numbers are correct, it’s likely that Prigozhin overstated the size of his army.” 

See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

"SCO Heads of State Council Meeting The President Took Part in a Videoconference Meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Heads of State Council.," Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin press service, 07.04.23. Clues from Russian views.

  • “For a long time, external forces have been implementing a project near our borders to create from our neighbor, Ukraine, a de facto hostile state, an ‘anti-Russia.’ They funneled weapons into it for eight years, condoned aggression against the peaceful population of Donbas and indulged in every way in planting neo-Nazi ideology. And all this was done in order to jeopardize Russia's security and stifle our country's development. We are now, in fact, being subjected to a hybrid war, with illegitimate anti-Russian sanctions that are unprecedented in scale. I would like to stress that Russia is confidently resisting and will continue to resist external pressure, sanctions and provocations.”
  • “I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states who have expressed their support for the Russian leadership in defending the constitutional order, lives and security of its citizens. We greatly appreciate this.”
  • “Of course, maintaining security in the member states and along the perimeter of the SCO external borders is a key task of our joint activities.” 
  • “The Islamic Republic of Iran is now a full member of our organization, and I want to offer my sincere congratulations … Russia is also in favor of early completion of the SCO membership procedures for the Republic of Belarus. We are confident that the membership of Belarus, which is Russia’s strategic partner and closest ally, will have a positive impact on the association’s activity.”

“Why Markets Have Ignored Russia,” financial commentator Robert Armstrong, FT, 06.28.23.

  • “It is striking that global markets were more or less unmoved by what happened. Is it because the events of the weekend, while geopolitically momentous, were financially irrelevant? Or is it because the market implications of the events are simply impossible to estimate?”
  • “Joachim Klement, Strategist at Liberum, argues that the weekend’s events are ‘obviously inconsequential to financial markets.’”
  • “The risk of bad news out of Russia is underpriced.”
  • “The implications are too complex for there to be consensus trades to make — yet. All the same, a more unstable Russia is a huge markets story in the short and in the long term. It may be the biggest markets story going, after global inflation. Investors must not be lulled into looking past the uprising because it didn’t move prices immediately.”


“Zelensky’s Fight After the War. What Peace Will Mean for Ukraine’s Democracy,”  George Washington University’s Henry E. Hale and the University of Manchester’s Olga Onuch, FA, 06.04.23.

  • “The rise of civic national identity in Ukraine, an identity that places civic duty and attachment to the country above all else, is one of the great achievements of Ukrainian independence. This identity has been elevated and nurtured by Zelensky and consolidated by the war. Nevertheless, it has been consistently challenged by other visions of what it means to be a Ukrainian. One extreme alternative vision connects national identity solely to ethnocultural identity, according to which the concept of being a good and reliable citizen depends on speaking the right language, holding the right view of the country’s history, and revering the right cultural figures.”
  • “There are many historical examples of countries that have been traumatized by brutal wars resorting to more exclusive definitions of the nation in an effort to wall off foreign influence. This happened among some of Ukraine’s western neighbors following World War II and the fall of communism. Such moves can lead to division, oppression, and internal conflict, weakening the country and opening up opportunities for exploitation. In Ukraine’s case, the risk, albeit very small, is that an illiberal nationalist movement can gain renewed support and push for the hardening of more extreme views of Ukrainian identity, according to which true national security and prosperity can only be achieved through some kind of ethnic purification.” 
  • “Fortunately, there is no indication so far that such exclusivist forms of nationalism are gathering force.”
  • “It will be essential for the Ukrainian government to sustain broad national unity as it pursues reform efforts.”
  • “[At] The end of the war... the president will need to find a way to translate the population’s will to fight into an equally strong conviction that the old approach to running the country is no longer possible. And he must then follow through on his promises. The moment will come, and it must be hoped that he lives up to it.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Alexander Lukashenko Is Trying to Get Our Attention,” Thomas E. Graham of the CFR, NYT, 06.29.23.

  • “Mr. Lukashenko won’t benefit in any way from Mr. Prigozhin’s demise on his territory and probably hopes his sojourn is brief. Despite this uneasy arrangement, Mr. Lukashenko will likely not be able to resist the temptation to embellish his role; he’s already claimed to have offered Mr. Putin advice on how to handle the situation. He will endeavor to play the great statesman for as long as he can.”
  • “Nothing, however, will change the reality. Even in his fleeting moment of glory, Mr. Lukashenko cuts a pathetic figure as a Russian pawn. Perhaps the one worthy service he has performed for his country over the years is to briefly show how Belarus could position itself as a respectable player in European affairs, as a venue for constructive East-West dialogue with a dynamic tech sector. But Minsk can revive and sustain that role only under the leadership of a president who accepts European values. Mr. Lukashenko will never be that person No significant developments.”

“Putin Just Gave Belarus a 'Gift' It Didn't Want,” Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, WP, 06.29.23.

  • “Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has announced that Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the leader of the attempted mutiny against the Kremlin, has arrived in Belarus. It was Lukashenko who mediated the deal between Prigozhin and Russian President Vladimir Putin that brought an end to the march on Moscow by Wagner Group mercenaries. The agreement included a promise of asylum for the deposed Wagner leader — in Belarus.”
  • “I feel compelled to point out that no one ever asked the citizens of Belarus for their opinion on this arrangement. … It's high time to discuss Belarus at this month's NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, just about 20 miles from the Belarusian border. It's high time to raise the issue of Belarus with the U.N. Security Council. Lukashenko's irresponsible leadership is no longer an internal question for Belarus. His erratic decisions now threaten the civilized world. All nations that believe in democracy and the rule of law should immediately impose sanctions on those involved in the deployment of Russian mercenaries and nuclear weapons in Belarus.”

“Why Azerbaijan May Find Itself a Victim of Its Own Success,” journalist Kirill  Krivosheev, Carnegie Endowment, 07.05.23.

  • “Baku’s biggest triumph in recent years has undoubtedly been almost complete resolving the complicated and long-running territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh in its favor. … Azerbaijan’s other foreign policy successes only add to the sense of optimism. The country looks set to make big profits on the European energy.” 
  • “The Azerbaijani regime is lucky to have reached this stage of its development at a comparatively favorable moment in time. It is not threatened by the senility of an eternal leader (Aliyev is only sixty-one years old) or external pressure. Europe is more dependent than ever on new gas supplies, and that means Western politicians will not pay too much attention to the fate of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
  • “On the other hand, this sort of halcyon era has already been experienced by other post-Soviet countries — for example, Russia and Belarus — and it ended without achieving sustainable prosperity. Plentiful resources contribute to long-term success if channeled to the development of institutions, but Azerbaijan, like other autocracies, is instead using them to burnish its image abroad and cement the status quo… Inevitably, such a system is vulnerable. A good example is Kazakhstan.”

“The ABC of alphabet reform in Kazakhstan,” editor Tony Barber, FT, 07.03.23.

  • “How to spell the country’s name, and which alphabet to use for the Kazakh language, are questions of the highest political sensitivity. Cautiously, the government is preparing to replace the Cyrillic-based alphabet used for Kazakh since Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship with a modified Latin alphabet. Some Kazakhs already spell their country’s name as they would like it in Latin script — Qazaqstan.”
  • “The Latin script will place Kazakhstan alongside western countries, not to mention other Turkic-language states that have adopted that alphabet.”
  • “There are good reasons for the government to handle the matter with care. In a 1989 census, two years before the Soviet Union’s demise, Kazakhs and Russians each accounted for just under 40 per cent of the republic’s population. In a census two years ago, Kazakhs had risen to 70 per cent and Russians had declined to almost 15 per cent.”
  • “As Kazakhstan consolidates its independence, it would be nice to think that integrity in government will be as much part of the fabric of national life as a new alphabet.”


*Here and elsewhere, italicized text indicates insights from RM staff.

[1] Translated with the help of machine translation.

Photo shared by the Ukrainian presidential press service, under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 12pm ET on the day it was distributed.