Russia Analytical Report, June 7-14, 2021

This Week’s Highlights

If the U.S.-Russian summit takes place, Biden’s goal should be to stabilize a relationship at risk of dangerous escalation, writes Matthew Rojansky, director of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute. The summit could be the first step in establishing a strategic-stability dialogue on nuclear, cyber and other threats, direct military-to-military crisis-management channels and restored on-the-ground embassy and consular capacities, he argues. Far from a reward to Putin for Russia’s destabilizing behavior, this kind of diplomacy will help to contain and deter future aggression, Rojansky writes. 

Expectations for the Putin-Biden summit are rightly low, but the stakes are high, writes Michael Kimmage, a history professor at the Catholic University of America. Russia and the West are sleepwalking toward the abyss, he argues, adding that Biden’s mandate in Geneva should be to begin the arduous journey toward predictability and stability.

It’s time for Americans to recover their critical faculties when they hear “NATO,” writes Stephen Wertheim, director of grand strategy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, saying that the military alliance cements European division, bombs the Middle East, burdens the United States and risks great-power war. America’s European allies can handle self-defense, he argues, adding that Russia lacks the capability to overrun Europe, supposing it had any reason to try.

Washington's underlying objective during Biden’s European visit should be to foster among Europeans a sense of ownership of their security challenges, write Pierre Morcos and Olivier Rémy-Bel, visiting fellows at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Atlantic Council, respectively.

In a first-of-its kind U.S.-Russian exploratory paper, the authors argue that, while a binding bilateral cyber agreement is not possible now, Moscow and Washington must engage in various dialogues and well thought-out confidence-building measures and should strive toward a much better understanding of one another’s red lines (i.e., what actions would trigger retaliation, especially kinetic retaliation, in response to cyber operations). The American perspective is described by Belfer Center Cyber Project director Lauren Zabierek and her coauthors, Christie Lawrence and Miles Neumann, and the Russian perspective by Pavel Sharikov of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies and Moscow State University.

The cyber-nuclear nexus is an enormously important issue but also an exceptionally difficult one to manage, writes James Acton, co-director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Nuclear Policy Program. Though subject matter is heavily classified, Russia and the United States should discuss how to manage the cyber-nuclear interaction, he writes. Presidents Biden and Putin should flag this as a topic to be covered in strategic stability talks, and should then have their own bureaucracies prepare for those talks and work out what they could actually say to make those talks productive, Acton argues.   

NATO and EU members should continue to support Georgia and Ukraine politically, financially and, to a limited extent, militarily, but they must also leverage the implementation of reforms that the countries have formally committed to but which remain long overdue, writes Henrik B. L. Larsen, a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia remains a distant aspiration, he writes, arguing that in the meantime, Ukraine and Georgia, with NATO’s help, need to focus on improving the resilience of their defense forces. 


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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

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

“The NATO communiqué describes the ‘threat’ of Russia and ‘challenges’ of China,” Steven Erlanger, The New York Times, 06.14.21. The author, the newspaper's chief diplomatic correspondent in Europe, writes:

  • “The NATO summit communiqué, a document of 45 pages and 79 complicated paragraphs that leaders will approve on Monday, deals explicitly with China’s military ambitions for the first time, according to a copy obtained by The New York Times. But while Russia is described as a “threat” to NATO, China is described as presenting ‘challenges.’”
  • “In a discussion of ‘multifaceted threats’ and ‘systemic competition from assertive and authoritarian powers’ early in the document, NATO says that ‘Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security.’ China is not called a threat, but NATO states that ‘China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an alliance.’”
  • “NATO promises to ‘engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the alliance.’ Separately, NATO officials have said that China is increasingly using Arctic routes, has exercised its military with Russia, sent ships into the Mediterranean Sea and has been active in Africa. China is also working on space-based weaponry as well as artificial intelligence and sophisticated hacking of Western institutions.”
  • “Much lower in the document, China comes up again, and is again described as presenting ‘systemic challenges,’ this time to the ‘rules-based international order.’ NATO also cites China’s expanding nuclear arsenal and more sophisticated delivery systems as well as its expanding navy and its military cooperation with Russia. In a gesture toward diplomacy and engagement, the alliance vows to maintain ‘a constructive dialogue with China where possible,’ including on the issue of climate change, and calls for China to become more transparent about its military and especially its ‘nuclear capabilities and doctrine.’”

“Sorry, Liberals. But You Really Shouldn’t Love NATO,” Stephen Wertheim, The New York Times, 06.14.21. The author, a historian of U.S. foreign policy and the director of grand strategy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, writes:

  • “Current progressive enthusiasm for NATO is anomalous. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, depriving NATO of its original reason for being, skeptics of the alliance included liberals as much as conservatives. … It’s time for Americans to recover their critical faculties when they hear “NATO,” a military alliance that cements European division, bombs the Middle East, burdens the United States and risks great-power war — of which Americans should want no part.”
  • “At first, the United States figured it could enlarge its defense obligations under NATO because doing so seemed cost-free. Throughout the 1990s, post-Soviet Russia lay prostrate. The United States, by contrast, could trim its military spending only to enjoy greater pre-eminence than ever. If the Soviet collapse made NATO seem less necessary, it also made NATO seem less risky.”
  • “The conflict in Ukraine continues, with no resolution near. Rather than use diplomacy to back an internationally negotiated settlement, the United States has preferred to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons. After decades of overreach, the Biden administration now faces a stark choice: commit to fight for Ukraine, creating a serious risk of war with Russia, or admit that NATO expansion has come to an overdue end.”
  • “Europe is stable and affluent, far removed from its warring past. America’s European allies provide their people with world-leading living standards. They can also perform the most basic task of government: self-defense. In any case, Russia, with an economy the size of Italy’s, lacks the capability to overrun Europe, supposing it had any reason to try. If American leaders cannot countenance pulling U.S. forces back from Europe, then from where would they be willing to pull back, ever?”
  • “The real question is what Americans want. They could continue to fetishize military alliances as a “sacred obligation,” as President Biden characterized NATO on Wednesday. Or they could treat them as means to ends—and coercive means that often corrupt worthy ends.”

President Biden in Europe: Avoiding the Déjà Vu?”, Pierre Morcos and Olivier Rémy-Bel, The National Interest, 06.07.21. The authors, visiting fellows at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Atlantic Council, respectively, write:

  • "Transatlantic cooperation could turn into a hollow shell if the United States and Europe do not genuinely consult and coordinate on shared security challenges. Joint communiqués or punctual coordinated sanctions fall short of a strategy. Adopting a large approach to transatlantic security is also key to grasp Europe’s full potential. As the strategic competition with Russia or China goes far beyond the defense realm, the European Union has a lot to offer in this respect…”
  • “Changing our approach is needed to overcome these misconceptions.”
    • “First, President Biden should take the opportunity of his trip to Europe to send a clear message that a strong European Union in the field of defense will make the transatlantic partnership stronger. In that regard, Europe’s desire to be more sovereign is actually similar to Biden’s ambition to ‘build back’ the United States at home to effectively compete with China or Russia.”
    • “Second, Washington and Europeans should engage in a substantive dialogue on security and defense issues at NATO but also through the European Union. An EU-U.S. dialogue could address critical issues from arms control and non-proliferation to crisis management, cyber defense, or maritime security.”
    • “Last…the United States and Europe should prioritize deeper cooperation between the EU and NATO, whose achievements remain modest despite promising steps since 2016. Harnessing the full potential of both organizations will be paramount to effectively address the multifaceted challenges posed by the rise of China and the aggressive posture of Russia.”
  • “Washington's underlying objective should be to foster among Europeans a sense of ownership of their security challenges. This would be the key to ensure the sustainability of European efforts, ensuring that the United States finds across the Atlantic stronger and more resilient partners, able to shoulder a greater share of the burden and join forces on common issues.”

“NATO Should Finally Take its Values Seriously,” Rachel Ellehuus and Pierre Morcos, War on the Rocks, 06.09.21. The authors, respectively a deputy director and a fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies,  write:

  • “In his first months in office, President Biden has already demonstrated a desire to defend trans-Atlantic values. Recognizing the Armenian genocide and adopting sanctions against Russia and China in coordination with Europe are only the most recent examples. But how Biden plans to translate this democratic agenda into concrete action in NATO remains unclear.”
  • “A first and most essential step would be the adoption by NATO leaders of a “political pledge” by which allies would recommit to abide by the principles of the North Atlantic Treaty.”
  • “Next, NATO should monitor individual allies’ compliance with these principles.”
  • “A last but challenging step would be to raise the political cost for allies breaking the rules.” 
  • “While confronting NATO’s internal challenges is not an easy task, it is an essential one. Left unaddressed, political cohesion will falter and inhibit NATO’s ability to act in the defense of its collective interests. To prevent this, NATO leaders should act now to tackle the alliance’s democratic deficit. In the long run, this is the only way to restore unity and reinforce European defense.”

“NATO allies need to speed up AI defense co-operation,” Helen Warrell, Financial Times, 06.08.21. The author, defense and security editor for the news outlet, writes:

  • “As Russia intensifies cyber hostilities and China weaponizes artificial intelligence, joining forces in the field of high-tech warfare will feature high on the list of topics discussed by NATO allies at a summit next week. But the transatlantic alliance’s 30 members will need to move fast if they aim to make up lost ground.”
  • “Ulrike Franke, an expert in military technology at the European Council on Foreign Relations, argues that NATO’s tech center will be most effective if it prioritizes systems designed to facilitate joint military operations. The alliance should look at areas such as AI-enabled command and control, she said, which could give members a unified picture of the battlefield across multiple regions, using intelligent data analysis to sift information.”
  • “Franke said that in the vast arena spanning drones to quantum computing, there was a temptation to cover too much. ‘It makes massive sense for NATO to look more at this [technology],’ she said. ‘The question is, what exactly are they focusing on? There’s a danger of NATO spreading itself too thin.’”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • No significant developments

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments

Arms control:

“How Will U.S.-Russia Arms Control Affect the Geneva Summit?” James M. Acton, Carnegie Endowement, 06.14.21. The author, co-director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Nuclear Policy Program, writes:

  • “What I think we're going to see coming out of the summit is a vague endorsement of the importance of avoiding nuclear war and the concept of strategic stability. Success, however, would require more specificity on arms control issues—clear goals articulated at the presidential level that negotiators could then try and reach.”
  • “A follow-on treaty to New START, which expires in five years, is one obvious goal—but that’s going to be a long hard slog. It's going to be challenging to manage all the issues that that treaty will need to encompass, let alone achieve Senate ratification in the United States. But a follow-on treaty is a good medium-term goal.”
  • “I would also like to see President Biden and President Putin direct their negotiators to work on near-term confidence-building and transparency measures—agreements that aren't treaties but help make us safer. These measures could at least start to address Russian concerns about ballistic missile defense, for example, and U.S. and NATO concerns about nonstrategic nuclear weapons.”
  • “The only way forward is to pair measures together into mutually beneficial packages. For example, the Obama administration invited Russia to use Russian equipment to measure the speed of interceptors being deployed in Poland so Russia could verify that they aren’t fast enough to catch Russian ICBMs. At the time Russia declined the offer, but this is a good idea that deserves to be revisited. … This measure could be packaged with another on non-strategic nuclear weapons—such as inspections of facilities that do not contain non-strategic nuclear warheads.”
  • “The cyber-nuclear nexus is an enormously important issue—but also an exceptionally difficult one to manage. … Russia and the United States should discuss how to manage the cyber-nuclear interaction—but such discussions would be very difficult because the subject matter is so heavily classified. … President Biden and President Putin should flag the cyber-nuclear interaction as a topic that should be covered in strategic stability talks.”

“Go Big or Go Home?” Michael Krepon, Arms Control Wonk, 06.13.21. The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes:

  • “The June 16th meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin has generated the expected raft of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts.’ There is a strange convergence on one agenda item. Both ardent supporters and skeptics of arms control are taking the position that Biden should and must pursue a very ambitious agenda.”
  • “Arms control has always been improbably ambitious.”
    • “John F. Kennedy wanted a Comprehensive Test Ban.”
    • “Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama talked openly about a world without nuclear weapons while seeking deep cuts. Usually, ambition concedes to ground realities.”
  • “To believe that momentous arms control achievements are possible in the absence of conditions that have led to success in the past is to believe in the transformative powers of arms control. In this realm of thinking, arms control can create the political and geopolitical conditions for success, rather than the other way around.”
  • “But this puts the cart before the horse. Outstanding successes in arms control have happened as a result of favorable domestic political and geopolitical conditions, not in spite of them. … It would be unwise for the Biden administration to seek agreements that are more ambitious than any negotiated previously as relations with Moscow and Beijing deteriorate.”
  • “Vision matters, and laying the groundwork for new construction takes time. Exploratory discussions can be worthwhile, but not if this becomes a diversion from seeking near-term success in reducing nuclear danger and excess.”

“Adios, Open Skies Treaty,” Michael Krepon, Arms Control Wonk, 06.07.21. The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes:

  • “The intelligence value of treaty overflights was always purposefully muted; more detailed information could be derived from national means of intelligence gathering and, for some, commercial observation satellites.”
  • “The real value of the treaty lay elsewhere—in forging and maintaining partnerships. Open skies overflights were a leadership tool, but barely recognized as such.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

“The world forgets Syria at its extreme peril. There is no chance of refloating shattered state with the Assad tyranny in place,” Financial Times editorial board, Financial Times, 06.08.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes"

  • "The Assads, backed by patrons such as Vladimir Putin’s Russia, have proliferated the fiction they are a secular bulwark against religious extremism. In fact, they are incubators of poisonous forces to which they offer themselves as the antidote. The regime emptied jails of jihadis in 2011, betting they would hijack the mainly Sunni rebellion; just as they had fomented sectarianism in Lebanon and funneled Sunni extremists into US-occupied Iraq — midwifing the precursor of Isis."
  • "The country is in ruins. Russian and Syrian bombardment has reduced cities including Aleppo and Homs to rubble. Most of the more than 500,000 dead were civilians."
  • "Such institutions as existed have collapsed. A rare functioning unit of the army, the Fourth Armoured Division led by Maher al-Assad, the president’s volatile younger brother, provides cover for the trade and exactions conducted by mafias and militias."
  • "Half the population has been displaced, many for good. The minority Alawite regime, short of manpower, likes the new demography, and licenses war profiteers to expropriate refugee property. Along with the Covid-19 emergency it cannot cope with, famine is stalking Syria."
  • "This is treacherous ground for Biden but it is time to insist the Assads are a locus of instability."

Cyber security:

“US-Russian Contention in Cyberspace: Are Rules of the Road Necessary or Possible?” Lauren Zabierek, Christie Lawrence, Miles Neumann and Pavel Sharikov, Belfer Center, 06.10.21, as summarized by the editors. The authors write:

Some of the points on which the Russian and U.S. authors agree:

  • While a formal, binding bilateral agreement is not possible now due to mutual mistrust, misunderstanding and stark differences in approaches to the cyber domain, necessary steps by Moscow and Washington include bilateral engagement, Track 2 and/or 1.5 dialogues and well thought-out confidence-building measures.
  • The U.S. and Russia should strive toward a much better understanding of one another’s red lines (i.e., what actions would trigger retaliation, especially kinetic retaliation) and cyber-mission priorities, intents, capabilities and organization.
  • The U.S. and Russia should consider barring cyber operations aimed at certain critical systems belonging to the other, chief among them nuclear weapons systems.
  • The distinction between cyber defense and cyber offense can be elusive.
  • There is a lack of consensus concerning the threshold of evidence required for definitive attribution of cyber operations..
  • Both the U.S. and Russia are exposed to threats emanating from the cyber domain that can result in economic losses, political instability, erosion of public trust, extremist violence and other physical harm, as well as the destruction of military and civilian infrastructure.
  • Both the U.S. and Russia view misinformation and disinformation disseminated by cyber means as highly problematic.
  • The Russian government tries to maintain greater control over domestic cyberspace than does the U.S., primarily to ensure political stability.
  • At some point the U.S. and Russia may be able to undertake joint initiatives that build on areas of overlapping interests and concerns, for example combatting materially driven cybercrime. 
  • If ever a cyber rules-of-the-road agreement is signed, the U.S. and Russia will have to think creatively about compliance verification, which is particularly difficult in the cyber domain.

Some of the points on which the Russian and U.S. authors disagree:

  • While the Russian author believes that a risk of cyber-related escalation to kinetic conflict between Russia and the U.S. does exist (for instance, in the event of a cyber breach of the other side’s weapons systems), the U.S. authors are hesitant to affirm the likelihood of such escalation.
  • While the Russian author believes the U.S. should “be more open to dialogue without preconditions,” the American authors call for “codified procedures for negotiations,” with a “clearly defined timeline and set list of topics,” as one of the conditions for moving toward a bilateral cyber agreement.
  • While the U.S. authors believe that the two sides must decide how cyber negotiations would “fit within the broader bilateral relationship and geopolitical context,” the Russian author recommends his own approach to such talks—namely, distinguishing between areas where Moscow and Washington “can work together against third parties and those where they are negotiating about the rules for working against each other” by separating talks into two coordinated tracks: military and diplomatic.
  • The U.S. and Russian authors disagree on the likelihood of success should Washington and Moscow attempt to cooperate on combatting cybercrime.

“Russia is Hammering the U.S. in Cyberspace, Why is Biden Meeting with Putin at All?” Clint Watts, Foreign Policy Research Institute, 06.14.21. The author, a distinguished research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, writes:

  • “President Joseph Biden should use the upcoming summit with Putin to establish boundaries in U.S.-Russia relations in cyberspace. After the meeting, however, the new administration must develop cyber deterrence and shake the constraints of assumptions that no longer make sense.”
  • “Deterrence strategies have many facets, and while we once hoped for plans of general deterrence against all cyber attacks originating in Russia, we currently have an immediate need for deterrence specifically against ransomware. The Kremlin does not fear sanctions, and in some ways additional sanctions help Putin tighten his group on his citizens’ assets.”
  • “The U.S. can develop proportionality and be specific in terms of its targeting, seeking to impose costs on Russia’s criminal underground first and, should that not slow cyber aggression, then on the Kremlin itself. The FBI’s recovery of Bitcoin from the Colonial Pipeline hackers offers a starting point, but the U.S. government could develop plans in many forms to impose costs on ransomware hackers.”
  • “If Russian cyber syndicates produce malware harming the U.S., there should be no stopping the U.S. government from destroying cyber criminal infrastructure, particularly if the Russian government will not police these actors. The U.S. could employ intermittent, limited distributed denial of service (DDoS) in areas where hacking collectives reside, or conduct open and covert campaigns online offering rewards for the identification and capture of syndicate hackers.”
  • “The U.S. cannot completely know the ultimate outcome of any offensive cyber operations to deter Russia until they are attempted. There’s not enough data to understand how this game might play out. In the meantime, the U.S. continues to be bullied by Putin, taking losses every day, and America will continue to lose until we impose costs and reduce the benefit of Russian malign cyber activity.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Depoliticizing Russian Gas in Europe,” William Courtney and Richard Kauzlarich, The Moscow Times, 06.11.21. The authors, Courtney—an adjunct senior fellow at the RAND Corporation, and a former U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Georgia and a U.S.-Soviet commission to implement the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, and Kauzlarich—co-director of the Center for Energy Science and Policy, write:

  • “On June 4, President Vladimir Putin announced completion of the first of two lines of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany and on June 7 Secretary of State Blinken called the project a ‘fait accompli.’ At their June 16 Summit in Geneva, Presidents Biden and Putin might consider how to reduce the sharp tensions over this project. Cooperation among governments and companies may offer potential.”
  • “Engaging all interested governments and companies at high levels is vital to shaping cooperative solutions. Western leadership may be required to encourage all key players to collaborate.”
  • “Together Europe, as a largely monopsonist purchaser of pipeline gas, and Russia, as its major gas supplier (one-third of European gas demand), have a stake in reliable and efficient gas transport.”
  • “Europe has enough leverage to insist that some gas flows through Ukraine. Russia has an interest in keeping this option as the most efficient route to Europe for West Siberian gas. Transport through Ukraine can help Kiev fund the modernization of its aged pipeline system. Facing greater competition for transit revenue, Ukraine may be spurred to do more to exploit its own gas resources and develop green hydrogen from renewable energy for the European market.”
  • “If Gazprom’s pipeline monopoly to Europe is a hindrance to finding cooperative solutions, the European Union may press for unbundling of production and transport. A single ‘grand bargain’ for Russian gas in Europe is unlikely to be achievable, but this might not impede step-by-step progress.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“The Biden-Putin Summit: Nothing to Reset but Expectations,” Matthew Rojansky, War on the Rocks, 06.10.21. The author, director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, writes:

  • “If the U.S.-Russian summit does take place, Biden’s goal should indeed be to seek to stabilize a relationship at risk of dangerous escalation. The summit can be the first step in establishing a strategic stability dialogue on nuclear, cyber, and other threats, direct military-to-military crisis management channels, and restored on-the-ground embassy and consular capacities. Far from a reward to Putin for Russia’s destabilizing behavior, this kind of diplomacy will actually help to contain and deter future aggression.”
  • “The open question for Geneva is whether the two leaders can identify sufficient common ground on a core set of bilateral and global security issues, such as nuclear weapons, regional conflicts, and the Arctic, to shift the relationship in a more constructive direction.”
  • “Biden appears to be approaching Russia with limited expectations and with eyes wide open. An Obama-style ‘reset’ with Moscow is off the table, but Biden should aim to revive the skillful diplomacy that actually worked during the Obama years to negotiate New START, secure Russian supply routes to Afghanistan, and address Iran’s nuclear program. The key is to do so without the misplaced expectations for political change within Russia or full partnership with the West that resulted in inevitable disappointment. Biden’s approach should eschew grand gestures and put national interests ahead of personalities and politics, which were major stumbling blocks in the recent past. The Biden-Putin summit will be an important early step in the U.S. administration’s Russia strategy, the point of which is to set the direction for hard work ahead, not to tie everything up with a handshake and a signing ceremony.”

“The High-Stakes, Low-Expectations Summit,” Michael Kimmage, FA, 06.09.21. The author, a history professor at the Catholic University of America, writes:

  • “Putin will likely frame the Geneva summit more around his own diplomatic skills than around any particular deliverables. He knows that Biden will not lift U.S. sanctions anytime soon.”
  • “Putin is also seeking the same things Biden wants: predictability and stability. A working relationship with Biden would cost him nothing, and it might well purchase him the geopolitical respite he needs to address the fraying tapestry of domestic Russian politics.”
  • “Biden’s long-term goal should be to normalize U.S.-Russian relations. Simply by taking place, a Putin-Biden summit would help on this front, by suggesting that it is normal for Russian and American presidents to meet and meet often.”
  • “Expectations for the Putin-Biden summit are rightly low. The stakes, however, are high. Russia and the West are currently sleepwalking toward the abyss. Neither side feels any pressure to compromise. Domestic politics in both countries rewards toughness. Each side is convinced that the other is in decline, making compromise that much less desirable, since one side’s collapse—and, by extension, the other’s victory—is only a matter of time.”
  • “[The U.S.-Russian] incompatibilities will persist for decades. They admit no clear solution and may never get solved. But they cannot be allowed to metastasize. That is Biden’s mandate in Geneva: to begin the arduous journey toward predictability and stability.”

“Geneva Meeting: A World in Waiting,” Igor Ivanov, The Moscow Times, 06.09.21. The author, president of the Russian International Affairs Council, and former foreign minister of Russia (1998-2004), writes:

  • “So, what can we realistically expect from the Geneva dialogue between the U.S. and the Russian leaders?”
    • “If the summit sees the political dialogue restored, this will open up practical interaction opportunities between the two countries on a number of international security issues that are high on the agenda.”
    • “Besides, the upcoming Geneva meeting could send a signal to the U.S. allies, primarily in Europe, which have thus far refrained from engaging in a more active dialogue with Moscow on Euro-Atlantic and global security issues out of fear how Washington would react.”
    • “It could also make life easier for countries in other regions that may be willing to foster relations with Washington while enjoying a privileged strategic partnership with Moscow.”
  • “It is unlikely that we will see any breakthrough agreements, and this is not so much a matter of persisting disagreements on particular, albeit important, issues….Agreement on gradually restoring the dialogue on modern security threats can thus be considered a success.”
    • “Strategic arms control remains a key topic on the U.S.-Russia agenda. … Together, the countries now have to develop a new arms control model that would better reflect the military-political and military-technical landscape of the 21st century.”
  • “Even a cursory list of the problems facing the U.S.-Russia relations reveals just how overwhelming and difficult the agenda of the upcoming summit is likely to be. The conversation in Geneva will inevitably be extremely specific. At times, it will be tough and not necessarily pleasant for either side.”
  • “Both Biden and Putin knew this coming in and agreed to the meeting anyway, hoping it would be a success—and the two sides need it to be a success, for many reasons. Therefore, despite all the difficulties, there is every reason to wait for news from Geneva with hope and reasonable optimism.”     

“Biden’s test in Europe: Drawing red lines with Putin and Erdogan,” The Washington Post Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 06.13.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “It will be no surprise if Mr. Biden's first presidential meeting with Mr. Putin in Geneva on Wednesday produces fireworks. Mr. Biden is under pressure to strike a contrast with the toadyism of Mr. Trump, who openly sided with the Russian leader against U.S. intelligence agencies after a 2018 summit. The new president also has cause for stridency: Russian cyberattacks on U.S. targets have been unrelenting; Russian regulators are moving toward shutting down the operations of U.S.-sponsored Radio Free Europe; and mysterious attacks on U.S. diplomats are continuing for which Moscow is the leading suspect. Deterring Mr. Putin from further aggressions won't be easy; Mr. Biden's strongest card might be a promise to reveal and pursue Mr. Putin's personal fortune, much of which is held outside Russia.”
  • “Administration officials have been talking about seeking a ‘more stable and predictable relationship’ with Russia, and Mr. Biden would be right to pursue modest steps in that direction, such as agreeing to talks on nuclear arms issues and the restoration of some diplomatic links. But despite his assertions to the contrary, Mr. Putin probably does not want a more stable relationship with Washington. If he reins in his aggressions, it will be because he is effectively deterred by a president more willing to act forcefully in defense of the United States' vital interests.”

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Four Unknowns Ahead of Russia’s 2021 Parliamentary Elections,” Andrei Kolesnikov and Boris Makarenko, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.10.21. The authors, respectively a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center and a professor at the social sciences faculty of the Higher School of Economics, write:

  • “The first unknown of the upcoming elections [to State Duma in September] is the degree to which they will be viewed as legitimate by elites and the public.”
  • “The question of whether United Russia will have a qualified majority (301 seats), which allows the party to make amendments to the constitution on its own, remains open. This is the second unknown of the elections.”
  • “The third unknown is: who will get second and third place in the elections based on party lists? All three parties of the parliamentary opposition currently have ratings that easily surpass the 5 percent threshold. Based on the results of past elections, this essentially guarantees them seats in the Duma.”
    • “The CPRF is traditionally considered the second strongest party in the Russian parliament.”
    • “A Just Russia, which has been in the Duma for three convocations in a row, now carries the above triple name, having merged with two other left-wing nationalist parties.”
  • “Fourth unknown: will new parties enter the Duma? Since 2003, all Duma convocations have had the same four parties, with the only change being that the Motherland bloc transformed into A Just Russia in 2006.” 
  • “If the party of power is able to win a constitutional majority … the inertia development scenario in parliamentary party life will continue. The regime will arrive at the 2024 presidential elections with a solid parliamentary majority. The second scenario, in which United Russia wins a majority but not two-thirds of the votes, does not differ greatly from the first … The third scenario—controversial elections—is the least likely. The Kremlin understands that such a situation would make a new wave of street protests … this wave could be more powerful and geographically widespread than the protests on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow after the 2011 elections.” 

“Purges and Professionals: The Transformed Russian Regime,” Tatiana Stanovaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.09.21. The author, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Few would contest that the Russian regime has taken on a new character. The resetting of the clock on presidential terms, the attempt on the life of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and the avalanche of new bans and repressive measures all show that the mechanisms of the political system in Russia have dramatically changed.”
  • “So far, the most obvious result of the regime’s transformation is the ramping up of repression and crackdown on the non-system opposition. But important changes are also taking place inside the power system, and their consequences will soon be felt.”
  • “One of the main new characteristics of the Russian regime is the lack of coordination among its key elements. The overall conservative trend has grown stronger, but political control from above has grown weaker, and the decision-making process has become fragmented.”
  • “This collective lack of responsibility means that the domestic policy overseers feel no responsibility for what is happening to Navalny because it’s the FSB that is behind it. And the FSB feels no responsibility for the political risks associated with going after the opposition leader because that’s not their responsibility: it’s a problem for the overseers from the presidential administration.”
  • “The changes of 2020–2021 have proven so sweeping and profound that the Russian regime is undergoing a renaissance. Questions of successors and change have become moot: the system is preparing for a long period of conservation and the introduction of strict regulations on political behavior. Everything is either pro-regime or anti-regime—i.e., criminal … At the same time, Putin himself will become increasingly vulnerable. He is turning into a symbol whose institutional value is growing, while his personal influence is waning. The Putin regime is no longer Putin’s regime: it is accelerating its expansion, transforming the president from the subject to the object of manipulation.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant developments. 

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:

“EU policy towards Russia is in disrepair,” Tony Barber, Financial Times, 06.09.21. The author, Europe editor of the Financial Times, writes:

  • “The show of unity that President Joe Biden and his European allies can be expected to put on at next week’s NATO summit will disguise the reality that EU policy towards Russia is in disrepair.”
  • “Put bluntly, the central and eastern Europeans place little faith in the EU’s stumbling efforts to forge a robust defense, foreign and security policy. For them, NATO and the US security umbrella over Europe are the only credible guarantees of their freedom.”
  • “Germany and France share these concerns about Russia’s truculence. But each believes its national interests sometimes justify departures from a common EU line.”
    • “For Germany, it is largely about business. Armin Laschet, the Christian Democratic party’s candidate for chancellor, points out that his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia contains 1,200 companies that have traded with or invested in Russia.”
    • “As for France, it is now two years since President Emmanuel Macron launched an effort at dialogue with Moscow, stating that “pushing Russia far from Europe is a profound mistake”. For the central and eastern Europeans, the mistake was to pursue an initiative that was not coordinated with France’s EU partners and risked legitimizing provocative Russian behavior in the EU’s eastern neighborhood.”
  • “Like new wine in old bottles, Macron’s reset with Russia reeks of the Gaullist yearning for an independent French role in the western alliance that includes a privileged relationship with Moscow. German policy is to separate, as far as possible, political from economic relations with Russia. Neither approach reassures the central and eastern Europeans. The chief casualty of these disagreements is the EU’s common foreign policy, which in respect of Russia remains a distant aspiration.”

“Japan’s Russia Policy Under Prime Minister Suga,” James Brown, RUSI, 06.10.21. The author, an associate professor at Temple University’s Japan campus, writes:

  • “After former Prime Minister Abe’s warm embrace of President Putin, Japan’s attitude towards Russia under his successor, Yoshihide Suga, has notably cooled.” 
  • “There are … specific reasons that account for Suga’s more distant attitude towards Russia.” 
    • “Firstly, Abe’s Russia policy was always closely associated with him as an individual, as well as with his executive secretary, Takaya Imai. It is often suggested that Abe viewed resolution of the territorial dispute with Russia, and the signing of an accompanying peace treaty, as the means of securing his legacy as prime minister. Abe was also seeking to fulfil the ambitions of his late father, Shintaro Abe, who … had devoted himself to normalizing relations with the Soviet Union.” 
    • “Russia’s actions have also been a factor in Japan’s course correction. The Kremlin could not have wished for a more pro-Russian Japanese prime minister than Abe. Yet, instead of rewarding him for his promotion of political and economic ties, as well as his offer of concessions on the territorial dispute, Moscow pocketed the gains and hardened its stance.” 
    • “Lastly, the change in the US from the administration of Donald Trump to that of Joe Biden makes a difference too. Japanese governments are always hypersensitive to any negative comments from their main ally. While a fellow admirer of Vladimir Putin was US president, Abe could pursue his bromance with the Russian leader without fear of criticism from the US.”
  • “For all these reasons, even if he is able to stay in office beyond the general election that is due by October 2021, Suga is unlikely to revive Abe’s controversial Russia policy. At the same time, we should not expect Japan to become actively hawkish on Russia.”

“Is Russia Right to Fear Creeping Militarization in Japan?” James Brown, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.08.21. The author writes:

  • “On May 24, a joint defense panel of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party approved a draft proposal to sharply increase military spending. This comes on top of nine consecutive years in which Japan’s defense budget has increased, reaching a record $52 billion in 2021. Japan is actively developing and buying new categories of military technology, while removing long-standing restrictions on the use of its Self-Defense Forces.”  
  • “The relative decrease in U.S. military strength in the region, especially compared with China’s burgeoning power, is forcing Japan to become a leading military power in the Asia-Pacific. This is inevitably causing alarm in Russia, which never signed a peace treaty with Japan at the end of World War II, and which has a long-running territorial dispute with its neighbor over the Kuril Islands.” 
  • “Regardless of the scale of the military reforms taking place in Japan, they are not an indicator that Tokyo has new ambitions in the region. The Japanese government, having perceived a threat from China and decreased U.S. involvement in its problems, has decided for the first time in modern history to significantly boost the capacity of its defense forces.” 
  • “Russia cannot, of course, ignore such a rapid development of military capabilities among its neighbors. But in Japan’s case, these changes do not target Russian interests in the region. The Japanese public and leadership are strongly against the use of military force to resolve conflicts with their neighbors, and have no immediate intention of eliminating Article 9 of the constitution.”


“Why NATO Should Not Offer Ukraine and Georgia Membership Action Plans,” Henrik B. L. Larsen, War on The Rocks, 06.08.21. The author, a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, writes:

  • “Preventing Ukraine — along with Georgia — from joining NATO is one of Russia’s key geopolitical objectives, and it is certainly one that it is willing to use military force to achieve.”
  • “The status quo is preferable to extending Membership Action Plans, which likely would lead Russia to escalate the hostilities in eastern Ukraine and perhaps its pressure against Georgia to prevent this from happening.”
  • “Ukraine and Georgia may again call for Membership Action Plans approaching the NATO summit on June 14. While they may realize this is unrealistic, they do so as part of a lobbying game to make NATO offer them additional support. Be that as it may, it puts NATO in an uncomfortable position because Russia constitutes a de facto veto on its post-Cold War mission to unite Europe under one security umbrella. At the same time, NATO has nothing to gain, and may in fact invite further Russian aggression, if it were to officially rescind its Bucharest declaration that Ukraine and Georgia will become members. Instead, NATO’s private message to the two countries should be an appeal not to publicly push for a plan for membership since that would force NATO to publicly state the brutal reasons why the alliance will not follow through on offering them membership any time soon.”
  • “NATO (and the European Union) members should continue to support Georgia and Ukraine politically, financially, and, to a limited extent, militarily. However, they must also leverage the implementation of defense, rule of law, and economic reform that the countries have formally committed to but which remain long overdue. NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia remains a distant aspiration. In the meantime, Ukraine and Georgia, with NATO’s help, need to focus on improving the resilience of their defense forces.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Post-war Prospects for Nagorno-Karabakh,” International Crisis Group, 06.09.21. The report states:

  • “More than half a year since Armenia and Azerbaijan halted their war over Nagorno-Karabakh, fundamental questions remain about who will provide security and services for the region’s residents, how to manage humanitarian aid and whether the ceasefire will hold.”
  • “Baku won the war, with the Armenian side losing significant territory …  over one third of the population was uprooted from areas formerly in de facto Nagorno-Karabakh authorities’ hands but now in Azerbaijan’s … Some 4,000 Russian soldiers and emergency services staff keep an uneasy peace.”
  • “To avert renewed conflict, the peacekeepers need a clear and detailed mandate … Moscow should consult with the conflict parties and then give its troops clear rules of engagement. The parties themselves should devise, potentially with Russian mediation, a formal mechanism for resolving urgent issues, be it residents’ detention or access to water.”
  • “Getting more aid into conflict-affected areas is critical … UN agencies, NGOs and foreign governments could help shoulder the burden of aiding the displaced – but, at present, most are blocked from doing so … Russia says it is ready to help facilitate such aid if and when outside agencies gain access. In the meantime, these organizations should find creative solutions to allow minimal support at least to their local counterparts on the ground.”
  • “If the local and international actors make no attempt to address the post-war issues – security, basic needs and displacement–Nagorno-Karabakh is likely to remain an area of low-intensity tensions for decades to come. Such strains will weigh not only on relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan but also on the South Caucasus as a whole, including plans as part of the ceasefire to rebuild interrupted trade and infrastructure links in the region.”