Russia Analytical Report, June 3-10, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • War with Iran would not only bog the U.S. down in another Middle East conflict for years, but it would also spell the end of America’s turn to great power competition with Russia and China, writes Ilan Goldenberg of the Center for a New American Security. While neither Russia nor China would fight for Iran in such a war, writes Belfer’s Hassan Ahmadian, keeping Tehran afloat is of strategic value to both.
  • For American policymakers, the relationship with Russia is shaped by Russian interference in the elections and domestic politics of the U.S., while Israelis feel they must engage Russia pragmatically as they contend with the threat that Iran’s position in Syria poses to Israel, according to a joint study by the Kennan Institute and the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel.
  • Ending the ceaseless war in Afghanistan could be a point of cooperation for the U.S. and Russia, argues Ambassador Charles Ray, a fellow at the American College of National Security Leaders.
  • The Primakov Doctrine is the real driver behind Russia’s foreign policy, argues Carnegie’s Eugene Rumer. The doctrine encourages Russia to strive toward a multipolar world managed by a concert of major powers to counterbalance the U.S.; to insist on primacy in the post-Soviet space; and to should oppose NATO expansion.
  • Russia and China are never against each other, but not necessarily always with each other, writes Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Economist Vladislav Inozemtsev argues that in 2030, Russia will continue to be dependent on China as its junior partner.
  • The targets of elite repression in Russia show that these people were chosen not for their corruption or violating some informal rules, but rather to send signals to certain groups within the elite, writes Nikolai Petrov of Chatham House. Russia’s power system needs to redistribute assets, Petrov writes, and if Russia’s economy does not improve, the conditions for political repression will remain.
  • “It’s a doomsday device—if you want to turn your country into North Korea, you can,” Sergey Sanovich, a political scientist at Stanford University, said regarding Putin’s plan to create a “sovereign internet” in Russia.

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:

“What a War With Iran Would Look Like. Neither Side Wants a Fight, but That Doesn’t Eliminate the Danger,” Ilan Goldenberg, Foreign Affairs, 06.04.19The author, director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, writes:

  • “Between the United States and Iran there is a distinct potential for misunderstanding, not least when both actors are making decisions under time pressure, on the basis of uncertain information and in a climate of deep mutual distrust … A conflict would most likely start with a small, deniable attack by Iran on a U.S.-related target.”
  • “Following the Iranian attack, the Trump administration decides to strike at several military sites in Iran, just as it hit Syrian targets in 2017 and 2018 … But what if Iran does not respond the way Assad did? … Iran’s leader has many more options than the beleaguered Syrian president did.”
  • “In one scenario, … the United States sinks several Iranian ships and attacks a port and military training facilities. Iran drops mines and attacks U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. Iranian proxies kill dozens of U.S. troops, aid workers and diplomats in the region, and Iranian missiles strike U.S. bases in Bahrain, Saudi Arabi, and the UAE, causing limited damage.”
  • “At this point, the United States faces a choice: continue the tit-for-tat escalation or overwhelm the enemy and destroy as much of its military capabilities as possible … The Pentagon recommends ‘going big’ so as not to leave U.S. forces vulnerable to further Iranian attacks. Bolton and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo support the plan. Trump agrees … Iran’s military is soon overwhelmed, but not before mounting a powerful, all-out counterattack.”
  • “Any war with Iran would tie down the United States in yet another Middle Eastern conflict for years to come. The war and its aftermath would likely cost hundreds of billions of dollars and hobble not just Trump but future U.S. presidents. Such a commitment would mean the end of the United States’ purported shift to great-power competition with Russia and China.”

“Why Trump's Strategy Against Iran Is Likely to Fail,” Hassan Ahmadian, Aljazeera/Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 06.05.19The author, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Belfer Center, writes:

  • “If Washington moves to wage war, it is hard to imagine how it would bring Iran to its knees. There are at least three major challenges the U.S. would face in such a scenario.”
  • “First, U.S. global rivals China and Russia would likely back the Iranian resistance, albeit unofficially. Both have been irritated by the U.S. pivot to Asia and the trade wars Trump has waged; a conflict with Iran would be an opportunity for these global powers to get back at the U.S. … Both have an interest in stopping Trump and exhausting him in a confrontation with Tehran so he would not wreak havoc closer to their borders. Besides military and financial support, the two could provide Iran with the political backing at the U.N. Security Council.”
  • “Second, if Trump starts a war, he would face far greater international isolation than what his abrasive policies have so far produced.”
  • “Third, a war with Iran would almost certainly be a greater disaster than the one in Iraq. The U.S. currently is not aware of the full Iranian military potential. Having been long isolated from Western arms markets, Iran has developed its own domestic weapons industry, the capabilities of which remain unknown to the outside world.”
  • “There are still quite a few parties willing to mediate between Tehran and Washington. The hope remains that they will succeed in de-escalating the situation and preclude a confrontation.”

New Cold War/saber rattling:

“Defending the Periphery of the West Without Going to War,” Michael O'Hanlon, Wall Street Journal, 06.03.19: The author, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes:

  • “Are the Senkaku islands worth a war? In 2014 a reporter put the question to Lt. Gen. John Wissler, the top U.S. Marine officer in the Pacific: What would the U.S. and Japan do if China seized one or more of the Senkakus? Gen. Wissler replied that military was prepared to retake the islands if so directed.”
  • “There could be similar scenarios involving Russia in Europe. Perhaps Vladimir Putin would have covert operatives foment a faux threat to Russian-speakers in a small town in eastern Estonia or Latvia … Exercising the right he claimed in 2014 to defend Russian speakers anywhere, Mr. Putin might then dust off his ‘little green men’ who seized Crimea … and conduct a lightning grab of the town, perhaps without firing a shot.”
  • “His true goal would not be to protect Russians, or to seize territory, but to provoke an existential crisis for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Some of the alliance's 29 members would likely waver in their willingness to respond militarily. NATO's Article V mutual-defense pledge could then appear to be a paper tiger. In Mr. Putin's wildest dreams, perhaps NATO would go into a funk of self-doubt and dissolve itself.”
  • “To avoid such conundrums and dangers, the U.S. and allies need resolute response options for such scenarios that do not unnecessarily risk great-power war. … The smart strategy would therefore center on punitive economic warfare.”
  • “A strategy for economic warfare can combine some or all of the following: Broad tariffs against the aggressor nation, or outright embargoes and boycotts. Asset seizures for individuals and companies most directly involved in the attack. Sanctions against high-tech sectors of the … economy. Broad-ranging financial sanctions … Secondary sanctions against countries that don't support the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies.”

NATO-Russia relations:

“Invitation to an Arms Race,” Stephen Kinzer, The Boston Globe, 06.09.19: The author, a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, writes:

  • “Intimidating weaker countries is normal behavior for great powers. For most of the 20th century, the United States was strong enough to keep allies in line and rivals at bay. Today, however, other countries are not so easily intimidated. … At the same time, competing powers have emerged. This volatile mix has led Turkey and the U.S. to the brink of a major confrontation. Russia is watching gleefully.”
  • “American concerns about the deal [Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems] are serious. The S-400 could allow Russia to tap into security features embedded in the F-35 and other NATO warplanes. More important, Turkey would be signaling that it is no longer willing to obey when NATO gives an order.”
  • “This looming crisis is not simply about Turkey, Russia and the United States. It is also about NATO. The alliance was created to resist the Soviet Union, but instead of dissolving itself at the end of the Cold War, it set off on promiscuous expansion. The United States uses NATO as the main instrument in its campaign against Russia. … [I]t was inevitable that members would begin to rebel and seek to make their own security policies—and that Russia would jump to take advantage.”
  • “Congress and the Pentagon, always eager to retaliate instead of conciliate, are in a mood to punish Turkey. This would be falling into Putin's trap. He is solidifying Russia's new role as a Middle East power broker by hooking a big Turkish fish. The U.S. … should recognize Turkey's unique strategic value and seek compromise rather than pushing it fully into the arms of the Russian bear.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Will Arms Control Foes Take Aim at Another Treaty?” Carol Giacomo, New York Times, 06.06.19: The author, a member of the news outlet’s editorial board, writes:

  • “Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, who heads the Defense Intelligence Agency, last week told the Hudson Institute that Russia ‘probably’ was not in compliance [with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty] and may be conducting very low-yield tests to develop new tactical nuclear weapons. If it resumed testing, other countries, including the United States and China, would have an excuse to do the same.”
  • “If the administration has evidence that Russia is testing weapons, it should share it with Congress and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization. The two sides could visit their respective test sites, as the treaty calls for, to verify what activities are taking place. Of course, if the administration is worried about testing, it could also reiterate American support for the test ban treaty, which President Bill Clinton signed in 1996, by sending it to the Senate for ratification.”
  • “As long as major powers invest in more advanced systems, there remains a compelling need for the transparency, accountability, deterrence and stability that arms control agreements can offer.”


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant commentary.

Cyber security:

“Russian Technology: Can the Kremlin Control the Internet? Moscow is developing a ‘sovereign’ web that critics say will enhance official power to silence dissent,” Max Seddon and Henry Foy, Financial Times, 06.05.19: The authors, Moscow correspondent for the news outlet and the Moscow bureau chief, write:

  • “A law signed by President Vladimir Putin in May … ostensibly aims to create a ‘sovereign internet’—effectively a parallel web run entirely on Russian servers—that would allow Moscow to keep the internet operating in the event of a foreign cyberattack aimed at disabling it.”
  • “To do so, internet providers will be required to install equipment which Russia could use to separate itself from the worldwide web at the flick of a ‘kill’ switch. The technology is meant to reroute all external traffic through Russian-controlled nodes while creating a back-up domain name system to help the country’s internet function independently.”
  • “Russia’s dependence on foreign systems would be vastly reduced, hastening a global Balkanization of the internet where the West’s influence is fragmented. It also uses a technique known as deep packet inspection, or DPI, to centralize filtration powers in the hands of Russian censors.”
  • “Centralizing control over Russia’s internet … could actually make it more vulnerable to foreign attacks, says Artem Kozlyuk, head of privacy rights group Roskomsvoboda.”
  • “‘It’s a doomsday device—if you want to turn your country into North Korea, you can,’ says Sergey Sanovich, a political scientist at Stanford University. But unlike China, which began censoring its internet decades ago, Russia’s internet is built into the global web—carrying a large risk of collateral damage. ‘It would be such a heavy blow to the [Russian] economy and the state: they all depend on IT services,’ says Mr. Sanovich.”

Elections interference:

  • No significant commentary.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Coping With the Russian Challenge in the Middle East: US-Israeli Perspectives and Opportunities for Cooperation,” The Kennan Institute and the Institute for Policy and Strategy of Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center, 06.03.19: The authors of the joint study write:

  • “Israel and the United States perceive Russia differently. For American policymakers, the relationship with Russia is greatly shaped by the ongoing impact of Russian interference in elections and politics in the United States and other democratic countries and Moscow’s broader global pattern of malign activity. Israelis, on the other hand, feel they must engage Russia pragmatically as they contend with the threat that Iran’s position in Syria poses to Israel. This drives Israel to engage Russia diplomatically.”
  • “Differences in perceptions can burden the U.S.-Israeli relationship. … The United States could benefit from greater awareness of Israel’s insights on Russia. … As Israel consults with Moscow, it bears repeating that Israel has no alternative to its strategic alliance with the United States.”
  • “The United States and Israel would benefit from adding consultation about Russia to the broad package of U.S.-Israeli joint activities. … One way to do this would be to incorporate Russia as a regular topic in official dialogue. … More broadly, the United States and Israel would benefit from establishing a policy-oriented, inter-agency, senior-level working group … to discuss Russian affairs.”
  • “Israel deals more effectively with Russia when its alliance with the United States is clear and at the forefront, and the United States benefits from the open channel between Israel and Russia.”
  • “Specific areas of cooperation might include the following: Coordinating strategic messaging vis-à-vis Russia, including on matters concerning Syria, but also on broader global and regional issues … Jointly structuring incentives for Russia to play a more productive role in settling the Syrian conflict … Coordinating engagement with Sunni Arab states in response to Russian aspirations in the region. … Developing a joint strategic approach between Washington and Jerusalem to contend with the political, military and information dimensions of potential Russian interference in case of escalation on Israel's northern border.”

“Getting Out of Afghanistan, With Russia’s Help,” Charles Ray, The National Interest, 06.09.19The author, a retired U.S. ambassador and a fellow at the American College of National Security Leaders, writes:

  • “To say that the United States and Russia find themselves on opposite sides of some of the world’s most significant disputes would be a vast understatement. … The endless war in Afghanistan, however, has the potential to bring the two rivals together.”
  • “While U.S. and Russian national security interests in the violence-plagued Central Asian state certainly aren’t identical, both countries share the objective of ensuring Afghanistan does not descend into a terrorist playground that presents a long-term threat to its own people. … Both appear to be cognizant that diplomacy amongst the Afghans themselves is the only way to achieve this goal.”
  • “During a meeting on April 25 in Moscow, the United States, Russia and China issued a trilateral communique expressing their intention to ‘support an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process.’ The Russians … have attempted to organize and facilitate some of these discussions. … [L]ast week, … delegates spent two days delivering speeches about the necessity of peace in Afghanistan and reportedly exploring ways to end the logjam that has slowed official peace talks to a crawl.”
  • “If the meetings organized by the Russians succeed in laying the groundwork for the comprehensive peace negotiations the Afghan people need and indeed deserve, Washington should let the process play out and see where it leads.”
  • “Peace remains a distant prospect. But when an opportunity comes along, the United States must seize it and nurture it—even if it isn’t in charge of the process and may have to share the limelight.”

“Trump's Case Against Europe,” Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal, 06.04.19: The author, a professor at Bard College and a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Mr. Trump's outreach to anti-Brussels figures such as Britain's Nigel Farage and Hungary's Viktor Orban gets a lot of attention, but the real danger is elsewhere. There's a world leader who dislikes the EU much more than Mr. Trump does: Vladimir Putin. The nightmare scenario for Europe isn't that Mr. Trump meets with Mr. Farage or Marine Le Pen in the White House; it is that he reaches an arrangement with Mr. Putin over Europe's head.”
  • “There are a few signs that something like this could be in the works. Mr. Putin recently denied an Iranian request for S-400 antiaircraft missiles, and Mr. Trump tweeted Tuesday [June 4] that Russian advisers have left Venezuela, suggesting Moscow is distancing itself from the disintegrating Maduro regime. Nervous European diplomats will be looking to see if the U.S. lines on Ukraine or Russia sanctions soften in response.”
  • “For Europe, the best answer to Mr. Trump isn't to argue with him but to succeed. An economically dynamic Europe—bearing its share of defense costs and pursuing strategic interests in an intelligent way—will command respect even if it doesn't always spark love.”

“Political Problems of a Coalition. Turning Points of the War,” William L. Langer, Foreign Affairs Anthology, 10.01.1947In this anthology piece, the author, the Coolidge Professor of Modern History at Harvard University at the time, writes:

  • “The relations between the United States and Russia had not improved after the recognition of the Soviet government in 1933. If anything, they had grown worse as a result of the failure of the USSR to live up to its obligations. By 1940 they were about as bad as they could be and the distrust in government circles was exceeded only by the intense aversion to the USSR of the American public.”
  • “In my opinion, the fact is that Russia is governed by a dictatorship, as rigid in its manner of being as is the dictatorship in Germany. … [T]his Russian dictatorship is less dangerous to the safety of other nations … The only weapon which the Russian dictatorship uses outside of its own borders is Communist propaganda … Germany, however, not only has utilized, but is utilizing, this kind of propaganda as well and has also undertaken the employment of every form of military aggression outside of its borders for the purpose of world conquest by force of arms and by force of propaganda.”
  • “[T]he President regarded the Communist dictatorship as the lesser of two evils.  But beyond that … he at once recognized that understanding and cooperation between Moscow and Washington was one of the indispensable foundations for American foreign policy, and was convinced that a firm agreement with the Soviet government was essential for future peace.”
  • “While the Russian and the American systems would probably never meet, they would approximate to the point where there would no longer be a serious problem of living together. … To what extent this line of reasoning was sound can be determined only after the lapse of years. For the short run, however, it soon proved to be mistaken.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“The Primakov (Not Gerasimov) Doctrine in Action,” Eugene Rumer, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 06.05.19The author, a senior fellow and the director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “Hybrid warfare has been associated with Russian Chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the author of the so-called Gerasimov doctrine … [It] is an effort to develop an operational concept for Russia’s confrontation with the West in support of the actual doctrine that has guided Russian policy for over two decades: the Primakov doctrine.”
  • “[T]he Primakov doctrine posits that a unipolar world dominated by the United States is unacceptable to Russia and offers the following principles for Russian foreign policy: Russia should strive toward a multipolar world managed by a concert of major powers that can counterbalance U.S. unilateral power. Russia should insist on its primacy in the post-Soviet space and lead integration in that region. Russia should oppose NATO expansion.”
  •  “The implementation of the Primakov doctrine has been anything but reckless. Russian uses of hybrid warfare and military power—against Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine since 2014, as well as in Syria since 2015—have been calibrated to avoid undue risks. Yet the intervention in Syria has also highlighted the limits of Russian hard power and hybrid warfare.”
  • “The key questions for the Kremlin now are whether to push for greater capabilities and a bigger role in the Middle East and on the world stage or to be content with remaining an ‘indispensable nation’; to take greater risks or to continue the practice of carefully calculating … to follow the Primakov doctrine or to pursue a more robust set of global ambitions.”
  • “The older generation of Russian leaders, like Putin, cannot help but be mindful of the experiences of the Soviet Union … But new generations of Russian leaders … may be more heavily influenced by the successes of Crimea and Syria, more inclined to take risks and more ambitious in their global vision. How they handle their ambitions and their challenges will have major consequences for the future of Russia, Eurasia and the world.”


“Russia, China Are Key and Close Partners,” Dmitri Trenin, China Daily, 06.05.19The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “As Beijing and Moscow look to the future, they understand not only the potential of their cooperation, but also its safe limits. Both countries insist on full sovereignty and freedom of maneuver[ability]. They see each other as a key and close partner. All this provides each party with a combination of reassurance and flexibility.”
  • “The essence of the Sino-Russian relationship can be summarized thus: Russia and China will never be against each other, but they will not necessarily always be with each other. In fact, Moscow and Beijing have designed a new model of ‘major country relationship.’ While China and Russia are very different in many measurements of power, they have managed to preserve an essential equality in their relationship. It is this equilibrium that is crucial for the continuation of the Sino-Russian partnership.”
  • “The strong bond between President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin acts both as the driver and—if need be—the shock absorber in the relationship. Many in the West have been waiting for decades for a Sino-Russian clash in Central Asia. Their wait will never end.”
  • “By pushing back against Moscow and Beijing simultaneously, the White House has broken with a longstanding strategic maxim of preventing Russia and China from forming a close relationship. This has probably resulted from many Americans' disdain for ‘declining’ Russia, their belief that this disdain is secretly shared by the Chinese and their wishful thinking about a coming Sino-Russian split.”
  • “And China and Russia have learned lessons from history: great powers lead or abstain, they don't jump on the bandwagons of others, and in bilateral relations, great powers seek to maintain equilibrium—they may come close to each other if interests or circumstances demand, but not so close as to become followers.”=

“Russia and China in 2030,” Vladislav Inozemtsev, Russia Scenarios 2030, Free Russia Foundation, May 2019The author, founder and director of the Center for Post-Industrial Studies in Moscow and a member of the scientific advisory board at the Russian International Affairs Council, writes:

  • “Looking forward … Russia and China will likely continue their policies of bilateral cooperation … The alliance between Russia and China looks natural in current circumstances, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it will evolve without any significant problems and difficulties.”
  • “The first scenario [of the future of Russia-China relations] may realize under the general conditions that I would call hostile for both Russia and China. For becoming closer allies … Moscow and Beijing … need to face common challenges and threats, both economic and political. Under the first scenario … the showdown in Eastern Ukraine goes on … and the Western sanctions against Moscow deepen. China at the same time continues its military build-up … while the West … tries to contain it by imposing various trade and investment restrictions.”
  • “The second scenario may realize if the global economy returns ‘to normal’ and the political tensions ease … In this case the different attitudes to the wider world will contribute to the downward trend in Russia-China cooperation. … I would expect [a] much less favorable environment not only for Russia-China relations, but … for [the] Russian economy and … prospects in general.”
  • “The third scenario may realize if China’s economic development goes bust and the country itself becomes a center of a global financial crisis. If this happens it might become a huge shock for the Russian leadership, forcing it to reconsider its attitude to both the Western and the ‘Asian’ paths of economic and social development.”
  • “If Moscow decides to form a genuine alliance with China … this will greatly increase the latter’s military outreach and form an alliance well comparable with NATO. Such an alliance could become a nightmare for the entire Western world, especially as Russia becomes less and less predictable polity.”


“NATO’s Ukraine Challenge: Ukrainians want membership, but obstacles abound,” Steven Pifer, Brookings Institution, 06.06.19: The author, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, writes:

  • “Ukraine still has much to do to meet the criteria for NATO membership. MAPs [NATO membership action plans] are intended to serve as guides for prospective members to fulfill those criteria. Objectively, Ukraine is as far along as countries that received MAPs in 1999.”
  • “What has blocked Ukraine’s MAP ambition is Russia and the deference that some NATO members give to Moscow’s views. … Another reason for the alliance’s reluctance to grant a MAP is that MAPs do not convey an Article 5 security guarantee. … NATO lacks a good response to the question: What does the alliance do if an aspirant receives a MAP and then—before it becomes a full member—comes under attack?”
  • “If the Kremlin cannot return Ukraine to its orbit, Plan B apparently is to break it. … The Kremlin’s backing away from … the Helsinki Final Act reflects a conclusion in Moscow that the post-Cold War European security order has evolved in ways that disadvantage Russia’s interests.”
  • “It may well be that Moscow requires some idea of what a future European security order might look like, including the relationship between Ukraine and NATO, before it moves to resolve the conflict in Donbass. At this point, however, it does not appear that any Track I channels are discussing that question. … In thinking about a European security order, how can one reconcile the view of Kiev—and of most of the West—that Ukraine, a sovereign and independent state, should have the right to choose its own foreign policy course, with Russia’s demand for a sphere of influence that includes Ukraine?”
  • “The best idea that I have been able to come up with is that Ukraine, Russia and NATO agree that Ukrainian membership in the alliance is a matter of not now, but not never. That would likely please neither Kiev nor Moscow, but it could offer a way to kick a difficult can down the road.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant commentary.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“What Russia After Vladimir Putin Might Look Like. The country's future might not be so dull as its present, according to the Free Russia Foundation,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg/The Moscow Times, 06.04.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has, outwardly at least, been one of the world’s most stable and predictable regimes—an assertive authoritarian government propped up by a mix of repression and acquiescence at home. So, it’s only natural that some of the country’s leading analytical minds are looking to life after Putin is scheduled to depart in 2024.”
  • “The Free Russia Foundation, a Washington-based think tank … has just published a 170-page report [on] what the country might look like in 2030. … While the report makes no attempt to mask the authors’ clear differences of opinion, there is some consensus about the key points of tension in Russia’s immediate future.”
  • “Russia will still depend on energy exports. … Russia will increasingly come under China’s sway. The alliance between the two countries will strengthen … In the most likely scenario discussed in the report, Russia will become a Chinese satellite, boosting its military power and gradually allowing its domestic market to be subsumed. Both Western sanctions and the U.S. confrontation with Beijing make this outcome likelier. … No high-cost military adventures, but watch Belarus and Kazakhstan. … No elite rebellion.”
  • “The picture that emerges from the report is one of a mature, stable system geared toward a relatively smooth succession when Putin moves on. For the West, the best outcome would be if a still authoritarian and highly centralized Russia decided, out of self-interest, to be less outwardly assertive, giving up on the eastern Ukraine project and abandoning attempts to sow discord in the West.”
  • “Rationally, I’m with the report’s authors on most of this … But on perhaps a less rational level, I don’t believe ordinary Russians should be discounted to quite such a degree. The current localized protests … hardly qualify as harbingers of a revolution. But to anyone who saw Russians rebel in the final years of the Soviet Union, the grim, fearless energy of these protests is instantly recognizable.”

“Understanding Methods of Elite Repression in Russia,” Nikolai Petrov, Chatham House, 06.04.19The author, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, says:

  • “Starting from 2014, what I would call political repression has become more common, and it has become a very important tool. There has been a stable, high level of arrests within certain groups of elites—or even in some cases, a spiral of repression where the number and intensity of the punishments continually increases.”
  • “If you look at the targets, you can see that these people are not the most corrupt, nor did they violate any informal ‘rules of the game’. They were chosen just to send signals to certain groups within the elite … [A]fter 2014 and his actions in Ukraine, Putin received a huge boost in popularity and became less dependent on these political elites, so that enabled him to deal with them in much harsher ways.”
  • “[M]ore and more new groups of elites—those who were until recently considered to be immune—are becoming targets. … There are two general ideas behind that. The first is to demonstrate that officials can be bad, but the president is good. … The second idea is to play on understandable public feelings against elites. … [T]hese arrests are used by Putin in order to try to demonstrate that he is on the side of people against bad elites.”
  • “There is another dimension to this repression which is economic, and I think that makes it unlikely that it will stop anytime in the near future. … A whole generation of oligarchs is coming to the end of its time, and this system of repression is … trying to strongarm them into keeping their assets within the system and to not try to pass them on to their children. That’s why recently, many of the richest people in Russia have made statements to the effect that ‘if the state needs it, I will leave my wealth to the Russian state eagerly.’”
  • “So, if the Russian economy does not improve and fundamentally change in the near future, the conditions for political repression will remain in place.”

“Russia’s Interior Ministry Has Dug Itself Into a Deep Hole: Whoever planted the drugs in Golunov’s arrest should face the consequence,” Evgeniy Roizman, The Moscow Times, 06.10.19The author, the former mayor of Yekaterinburg and vocal anti-drug activist, writes:

  • “I don’t know Ivan Golunov and I haven't read his investigations, but I’m well-informed when it comes to drugs. Going on what we know from what has been published … there’s absolutely no indication that Golunov was manufacturing drugs, even less so attempting to distribute them. Nobody believes this, especially since the Interior Ministry was caught lying right from the start.”
  • “In order to prove attempted distribution, you need a large number of correctly executed operational search procedures, which are signed by the head of the department or the chief of police … On top of that, these documents must be read out in court—that is, they must be made public. If they exist, then they will become public. If they don’t exist, then there’s absolutely nothing to go on and the prosecution will be forced to close the case and explain themselves.”
  • “And now the most important thing. Remember that the distribution of drugs is any transfer of ownership: it doesn’t matter whether they’ve been sold, gifted, given in lieu of debt or just handed out—there's no difference, it’s distribution. And planting drugs is cast-iron distribution.”
  • “It’s impossible to bury a drugs case, since the presence of drugs in itself is already material proof of a crime and must be investigated. And the whole country is now watching. It seems to me that they’ve driven themselves into a trap, and now they have no way out.”

“Russians' Trust in Putin Has Plummeted. But That's Not the Kremlin's Only Problem,” Samuel A. Greene, The Washington Post, 06.04.19. The author, director of the Russia Institute at King's College London, writes:

  • “There have, it seems, been better days to be Vladimir Putin. According to a new survey from WCIOM [VTsIOM], one of Russia's leading polling agencies, trust in the Russian president has fallen to an all-time low of 31.7 percent.” (RM editor’s note: “A state-funded survey published May 24 said that trust in Putin slipped to a 13-year low of 31.7 percent. The Kremlin asked the VTsIOM pollster to explain how that figure correlates with Putin’s approval rating of 65 percent in the same survey. VTsIOM [then] published new figures showing trust in Putin skyrocketing to 72.3 percent after the Kremlin’s criticism,” according to The Moscow Times.)
  • “The real bad news for Putin, however, is what the polls aren't showing: Russians are clamming up. … When pollsters ask people questions about trust or approval, respondents have a third option: decline to answer the question. The number of people who choose that option—who clam up when asked whether they trust Putin—declined dramatically after Crimea, but it has grown rapidly in recent months.”
  • “The number of people who simply look the other way when asked whether they trust the Russian president has never been higher—and the chasm between Russians' hearts and minds is growing ever deeper.”

“Changing the Guard: The End of Russia’s Bodyguards-Turned-Governors,” Andrey Pertsev, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.10.19: The author, a journalist with Kommersant, writes:

  • “We are unlikely to see any more Federal Protective Service officers as governors following the resignation of Astrakhan’s acting governor, Sergei Morozov. This doesn’t mean that security service officials will no longer hold high-ranking government positions, but they won’t have the special status afforded by proximity to the president. It no longer suits Putin to have regional leaders hinting at their closeness to him as a method of government: now they must do some work for themselves.”
  • “The attempt to set up President Vladimir Putin’s bodyguards as regional governors has ended in failure. Two of four Federal Protective Service (FSO) officers appointed as regional governors have left their positions … before the elections. Astrakhan region acting governor Sergei Morozov … had asked Putin for additional support for the region, but his request was rejected. The Kremlin no longer wants governors who take advantage of their special status as close associates of the president.”
  • “Morozov was not a typical Russian governor: he wasn’t a young technocrat, nor did he have a solid economic background. His appointment as acting governor of the Astrakhan region in September 2018 followed the appointment of three of his former colleagues to gubernatorial posts in 2016. … Yet [of those] only [Dmitry] Mironov ran the distance as a gubernatorial candidate, and was elected as governor in September 2017.”
  • “It seems that Putin doesn’t like the idea that good government is knowing how to ask for money. After all, as he told Morozov, the center has already allocated vast sums of money to the regions through the national projects. He is also unhappy when regional leaders use their closeness to him as a method of government. This is why the average governor, even a mid-ranking FSB official, seems a better choice.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.