Russia Analytical Report, March 11-18, 2024

5 Ideas to Explore

  1. Vladimir Putin returned to the possibility of an existential war with NATO during his very first press conference after Russian electoral authorities announced his reelection for another six-year term. I think anything is possible in the modern world. But what I’m saying, and this is clear to everyone, that this will be one step away from full-scale World War III,” he told reporters when commenting on what a full-fledged conflict between Russia and NATO would entail.1 “We are forced to literally defend [our] interests ... with arms in our hands ... the [electoral] results ... show that ordinary people ... understand that,” Putin declared at his electoral HQ after winning 87% of the vote.2 When asked to comment on his main post-electoral tasks, Putin said, “First of all, we need to solve problems within the framework of the special military operation, ... strengthen the Armed Forces.” Putin’s warning of a WWIII came less than a week after he resumed sending mixed nuclear messages to the U.S. and its allies. On one hand, Putin sought to assure audiences in a March 13 interview that he doesn’t think a nuclear war is imminent. On the other hand, in the course of that interview, Putin went beyond the description of conditions under which Russia would initiate the use of nuclear weapons that can be found in the 2020 Basic Principles of State Policy on Nuclear Deterrence and 2014 Military Doctrine. In particular, he implied that Russia could have used nuclear weapons if the Russian front in southeastern Ukraine had collapsed in the Kherson area. He also claimed that the 2020 principles allow for the use of nuclear weapons when Russia’s sovereignty and independence are “harmed.”
  2. Neil MacFarquhar has inferred five takeaways from Putin’s orchestrated victory in the March 15-17 presidential election. First, though the victory was a “foregone conclusion,” Putin’s numbers exceeded expectations as the incumbent received closer to 90% of the votes, the NYT journalist wrote. Second, the Kremlin “did not entirely achieve the image of national unity that it sought,” failing to fully suppress opposition actions prior and during the elections. Third and fourth, Putin will now “claim a popular mandate to pursue the war in Ukraine,” and that war “will continue to be an organizing principle for the Kremlin,” according to MacFarquhar’s analysis. Finally, common Russians are right to be “uneasy about what happens next,” given that the Kremlin had introduced unpopular policies after previous presidential elections, the veteran American journalist reminds us. For RM’s survey of American experts on Russia regarding whether and how the presidential election matters to the U.S. and its allies, see the section on U.S.-Russian relations below or click here.*
  3. Zhao Huasheng of China’s Fudan University and Andrey Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council granted a dual interview to Guancha to call for reducing the risk of a nuclear war. When asked “Is the risk of nuclear war real?” Zhao Huasheng told this Shanghai-based news site that “as long as the military conflict in Ukraine continues, the nuclear risk will not be eliminated and may become more and more serious.” “Although nuclear war is a low-probability risk, its prevention cannot be overemphasized, given its unforeseeable and serious consequences,” Zhao said. Kortunov concurred that the risk of a nuclear war was real. “To make things even worse, we now hear a lot of statements from experts and even some politicians suggesting that a nuclear exchange can be somehow controlled or limited. In my view, this is a highly questionable and dangerous assumption that should not be put to test under any circumstances,” Kortunov. Perhaps, Kortunov was implicitly referring to the calls for limited nuclear strikes made by some of his fellow Russian experts.
  4. One of the primary lessons of Russia’s war on Ukraine is that even “middling global powers have both the geography and the population and industrial resources needed to conduct an attritional war,” retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alex Vershinin writes in a commentary for RUSI. Thus, those in the West who think future conflicts will be short and decisive should think again, according to Vershinin. “If the West is serious about a possible great power conflict, it needs to take a hard look at its industrial capacity, mobilization doctrine and means of waging a protracted war, rather than conducting wargames covering a single month of conflict and hoping that the war will end afterwards,” according to Vershinin.
  5. Part of a “revolution in American foreign policy” proposed by Bernie Sanders in FA is to “cut excess military spending,” and that applies to U.S.-made arms supplied to Ukraine. “Like a majority of Americans, I believe it is in the vital interest of the United States and the international community to fight off Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. But many defense contractors see the war primarily as a way to line their own pockets,” the veteran senator wrote. For instance, “it costs the United States $400,000 to replace each Stinger sent to Ukraine,” according to Sanders.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“The China-Russia-North Korea Partnership: A Triple Threat That Can't Be Ignored,” Bruce Klingner, NI, 03.15.24. 

  • China, North Korea, and Russia each pose a significant threat to regional stability, cybersecurity, and the international financial system. For that reason alone, Indo-Pacific and European nations should enhance their own defenses and coalesce with other like-minded democracies to develop more effective multilateral responses. The growing solidarity among the three rogue nations only adds impetus to the need for a rapid and coordinated counter-strategy.
  • While a firm military and security response is the most immediate need, Indo-Pacific and European nations should also accelerate efforts to reduce their energy and financial reliance on Russia and China to minimize either nation’s ability to coerce and intimidate its trading partners. This requires dedicated multilateral efforts to develop alternative raw material suppliers and manufactured goods producers.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Pope Francis Waves a White Flag at Vladimir Putin,” George Weigel, WSJ, 03.14.24.

  • The Ukrainian Greek Catholic stood in a line of theological continuity with St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, Bonhoeffer and other Christian realists when, in a March 10 response to the papal call to raise the white flag, they declared that "Ukrainians cannot surrender because surrender means death." 
  • "Ukrainians will continue to defend themselves," they wrote, because "recent history has demonstrated that with Putin there will be no true negotiations." Any agreement with a dictator who has denied Ukraine's nationhood wouldn't be "worth the paper on which it is written." Russia's goal, as Mr. Putin has stated, is the eradication of Ukraine. Ukraine's aim, the bishops declared, is the defense of "freedom and dignity to achieve a peace that is just.
  • That is the appropriate Christian moral response to lethal aggression. Waving the white flag in the face of evil not only begets more

"Russia May Have Targeted Ukrainian Civilians. And That's a Crime," James Stavridis, Bloomberg, 03.12.24.

  • Two Russian flag officers --General Sergey Kobylash and Admiral Viktor Sokolov-- — were accused last week of war crimes and had warrants issued for their arrests by the International Criminal Court. The warrants made a strong case, pointing out the indiscriminate use of weapons. In particular, the prosecutor’s case rests on the willful use of aerial bombardment, both air-dropped bombs and long-range cruise missiles, to attack civilian infrastructure.
  • This may leave a lot of people scratching their heads: Isn’t this simply what happens in war? The answer is no — what Russia is doing in Ukraine falls outside the rules of warfare and someone needs to be held responsible.
  • The warrants should also serve as warnings to Ukrainian, Israeli and US commanders now involved in combat that they, too, need to do their utmost to protect civilians.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“The Attritional Art of War: Lessons from the Russian War on Ukraine,” Alex Vershinin, RUSI, 03.18.14. 

  • The conduct of attritional wars is vastly different from wars of maneuver. They last longer and end up testing a country’s industrial capacity. Victory is assured by careful planning, industrial base development and development of mobilization infrastructure in times of peace, and even more careful management of resources in wartime.
  • Victory is attainable by carefully analyzing one’s own and the enemy’s political objectives. The key is recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of competing economic models and identifying the economic strategies that are most likely to generate maximum resources. These resources can then be utilized to build a massive army using the high/low force and weapons mixture. The military conduct of war is driven by overall political strategic objectives, military realities and economic limitations. Combat operations are shallow and focus on destroying enemy resources, not on gaining terrain. Propaganda is used to support military operations, not the other way around. With patience and careful planning, a war can be won.
  • Unfortunately, many in the West have a very cavalier attitude that future conflicts will be short and decisive. This is not true for the very reasons outlined above. Even middling global powers have both the geography and the population and industrial resources needed to conduct an attritional war. The thought that any major power would back down in the case of an initial military defeat is wishful thinking at its best. Any conflict between great powers would be viewed by adversary elites as existential and pursued with the full resources available to the state. The resulting war will become attritional and will favor the state which has the economy, doctrine and military structure that is better suited towards this form of conflict.
  • If the West is serious about a possible great power conflict, it needs to take a hard look at its industrial capacity, mobilization doctrine and means of waging a protracted war, rather than conducting wargames covering a single month of conflict and hoping that the war will end afterwards. As the Iraq War taught us, hope is not a method.

“What Russia’s momentum in Ukraine means for the war in 2024,” Ben Barry, 03.13.24. 

  • The months-long battle for Avdiivka likely sets the tone for Russia’s 2024 ground campaign. For Moscow, winning control of the city is a key piece of the puzzle for its ambition to take control of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and to underpin its illegal, verbal annexation of the territories with actual territorial control. Russia also appears to be undertaking synchronized attacks in northeast Ukraine to support that objective.
  • Heavy Russian casualties may mean Moscow will not mount a major offensive until after the pro forma, mid-March re-election of President Vladimir Putin. Over the spring and summer, Russia is likely to mount a series of major attacks designed to inflict Ukrainian casualties, push defenders westward and expand its control of occupied territories.
  • Unless the West restores aid to Kyiv to previously provided levels, including sufficient artillery for Ukraine to achieve the superiority it enjoyed at the height of last year’s counter-offensive, Russia will retain the battlefield initiative. That could spell, in the worst-case scenario, a series of tactical defeats for Ukraine that could lead to a collapse of parts of its front line.
  • As the conflict evolves throughout 2024, a key element could well be a contest between Russian attritional tactics and efforts by Ukraine to gain an asymmetric advantage through advanced Western technology, providing this arrives in sufficient time and volume. If that happens, the war momentum could swing again, benefitting Kyiv. But for now, the land war looks bloody and favors Moscow.

“Why the ‘pre-election’ Ukrainian offensive on the territory of Russia failed,” Nikolai Mitrokhin,, 03.18.24.^ Clues from Russian Views.

  • The most striking event of the past week was the large-scale Ukrainian offensive from the Kharkiv region into the territory of the Russian Federation (primarily at the junction of the borders of the Kursk and Belgorod regions).
  • Formally it was conducted by the Russian Volunteer Corps, the Legion "Freedom Russia" and the battalion "Siberia.” In reality, these units consist of fighters of the Foreign Legion of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Since the Russian far-right community is saturated with agents of Russian law enforcement agencies, it is not surprising that [units on the Russian side of the border] expected a breakthrough and prepared for it. As a result [the offensive] failed to achieve any noticeable successes, with the exception of a few cases of crossings into [Russian] border settlements. 
  • Obviously, the goal of the attacks was not “liberation of Russia,” as it had been declared ... rather the goal was ... to create a wave of panic in [Russia’s] Belgorod region [during the elections].
  • Having seen the disappointing result, the Ukrainian authorities, represented by the head of the Main Intelligence Directorate Kyrylo Budanov, again declared Russia to be a “country of slaves.” [Rather than make such statements] it would be more useful for the Ukrainian Armed Forces to analyze their miscalculations. 

Military aid to Ukraine:

“Senate Select Intelligence Committee Hearing on Global Threats,” Testimony of William Burns, C-SPAN, 03.11.24.

  • We are at a profoundly important crossroads [in Ukraine]. With supplemental assistance…lies a real possibility of cementing a strategic success for Ukraine. With assistance Ukraine can hold its own on the frontlines through 2024 and early 2025. 
    • [Ukraine’s strikes against the Black Sea Fleet] resulted in 15 Russian ships sunk [between Sep. 2023 and March 2024].
    • [In 2025] Ukraine can regain the offensive initiative and also put itself in a position to negotiate…and achieve an outcome in which Putin’s goal to subjugate Ukraine…would be denied. 
    • Without supplemental assistance…Ukraine will likely lose significant ground in 2024. [This will be] a massive and historic mistake for the United States. 
  • The consequence [of not providing supplemental aid to Ukraine] would not just be for Ukraine or European security but across the Indo-Pacific. Not only will that seed doubts among our allies and partners…it’s going to stoke the ambitions of the Chinese leadership. 
  • The Ukrainians are not running out of courage and tenacity; they are running out of ammunition, and we are running out of time to help them. 
  • Russia is not serious about negotiations today. They may be interested in the theatre of negotiations, but they are not interested in negotiating in the sense of compromise. Putin believes that time is on his side. 
  • [Russia has] already suffered enormously ... 315,000+ dead and wounded…the destruction of… two-thirds of the pre-war tank inventory and long-term economic consequences, which are making Russia an economic vassal of China; not to mention a much stronger and bigger NATO. 
  • We are entirely capable [of continuing the support for Ukraine and deterring China at the same time]. We still have a stronger hand to play than any of our adversaries or rivals. [Ukraine conflict] has consequences well beyond the European security. 
    • Sustaining the support for Ukraine…actually helps to deter China. [China’s President] Xi Jinping was sobered, especially in the first year of the war. He did not expect that Ukraine would resist…and that the United States…would step up.

“Senate Select Intelligence Committee Hearing on Global Threats,” Testimony of Avril Haines, C-SPAN, 03.11.24.

  • The United States faces a complex…threat environment characterized by three categories of challenges. The first is the accelerating strategic competition with…authoritarian powers actively working to undermine the rules-based order and the international system… The second category is a set of more intense and unpredictable international challenges, such as climate change, corruption and narcotics trafficking…that often interact with traditional state-based…challenges. The third category is regional and localized conflicts that…have far-reaching… implications…for the world. 
    • [China] is pursuing a strategy to boost…indigenous innovation and technological self-reliance.
    • We expect the [People’s Liberation Army] PLA will field more advanced platforms, deploy new technologies and grow more competent in joint operations with a particular focus on Taiwan and the Western Pacific. 
  • Ukraine’s retreat from Avdiivka…has exposed the erosion of Ukraine’s military capabilities with the declining availability of external military aid. 
    • Without that assistance, it is hard to imagine how Ukraine will be able to maintain the extremely hard-fought advances it has made against the Russians…with the sustained surge in Russian ammunition production and purchases from North Korea and Iran. 
    • [President Vladimir] Putin’s goals remain unchanged. He continues to see NATO enlargement and Western support to Ukraine as reinforcing his long-held belief that the United States and Europe seek to restrict Russian power. 
    • Russia continues to modernize and fortify its nuclear weapons capabilities. 
  • The relationship between…Russia, North Korea and Iran… enhances their individual capabilities, enables them to cooperate on competitive actions, assists them to further undermine the rules-based order and gives them some insulation from external international pressure. These relationships will remain far short of formal alliances. 
  • Russia’s need for support in the context of Ukraine has forced it to grant…concessions to China, North Korea and Iran with the potential to undermine…long-held non-proliferation norms. 

“The Dire Cost of 'Peace' in Ukraine,” William A. Galston, WSJ, 03.13.24.

  • I recently participated in a background briefing on the situation from some leading politico-military experts, who agreed that Ukraine faces three principal problems.
    •  First, it is running short on manpower, not because it has reached the bottom of the demographic barrel but because its mobilization policy is too narrow. 
    • Ukraine's second problem is its lack of strong fortifications where it most needs them. In part this is an issue of resources. With Ukraine's forces holding the line along an extended front and Ukrainians working continuously to keep the country's infrastructure functioning, building strong defensive positions behind the front line hasn't been the highest priority. The government's strategy of defending current positions at all costs while preparing to retake the offensive has also contributed to the inadequacy of its rearguard defenses.
    • Ukraine's much-discussed ammunition shortage is the third major problem. According to numerous reports, including from front-line commanders, Russian forces have enjoyed a 5-to-1 advantage in these essential supplies for several months, and the imbalance may be growing. Russia also enjoys air superiority because Ukraine lacks adequate supplies of antiaircraft missiles. Our allies are helping to fill these gaps, but without the U.S. in the lead, the shortfall will continue.
  • We know is that if the U.S. fails to act, Ukraine's resistance to Russian aggression will weaken and ultimately fail. This would bring Mr. Putin closer to his long-term goals -- obliterating Ukraine's sovereignty, weakening the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and restoring Russian control over the peoples and territories of the former Soviet bloc. After his Mar-a-Lago visit, Mr. Orban called Donald Trump a "man of peace." So, I suppose, was Neville Chamberlain. The problem, as Chamberlain discovered, is that your own pacific intentions don't matter much if the other side doesn't share them.

“Trump and Ukraine,” Holman W. Jenkins Jr., WSJ, 03.12.24.

  • By any realistic political logic, either [Biden and Trump] would welcome a settlement to stop the fighting that Ukraine would agree to. Mr. Trump has said little (and Mr. Biden less) except that he would end the war "in 24 hours," using U.S. military supplies as leverage -- leverage, he specified, on Russia, not on Ukraine.
  • The constantly repeated refrain that he [Trump]  would sell out Ukraine is reflected in nothing he ever said or did, including his famous 2019 phone call to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
  • For Ukraine's friends, the real worry should be U.S. drift, already seen under Mr. Biden, as the war outruns a limited bipartisan appetite to invest or court risk. Consider the global fainting after France's Emmanuel Macron mentioned the possibility of NATO troops. How can anyone have paid attention and not recognized that such an upping of the ante might be needed before Mr. Putin calls it quits?
  • The really glaring signal on Ukraine is that neither party's coalition is all that committed to its cause. Mr. Trump, typically, says nothing intelligible about the $60 billion hung up in Congress, not that Mr. Putin was ever going to give us a cheap win.
  • The $1 trillion-plus Mr. Biden wants to spend forgiving student loans and subsidizing electric vehicles, if budgeted for Ukraine, really might end the war in 24 hours. Mr. Putin would cut the best deal he could, seeing himself outbid. But notice only one candidate has even breathed a word suggesting he might consider upping the stakes, and it's Mr. Trump.
  • Who wins in November may matter less than how much mandate he brings with him. Resources available, rather than who's president, will define the options and drive U.S. policy in Ukraine after 2024, as it does now.

“The West can still save Ukraine,” Simon Kuper, FT, 03.14.24. 

  • I left my meeting with a senior French officer feeling that the West is so weak it scarcely exists any more. “The West,” a longtime object of obsession for anti-westerners from Egypt’s President Nasser to Vladimir Putin, has shriveled to a small rump of countries squabbling with each other. At times they seem willing to let Ukraine lose its war. 
  • I met the officer days after Emmanuel Macron suggested that NATO troops could be sent to Ukraine. ... The officer thought Macron had spoken in desperation, compelled by French pessimism about Ukraine. Westerners have grown used to the war as a background rumble that never seems to change. One day, this could stop being true. Russian troops have a firepower advantage of perhaps five-to-one over Ukrainians.
  • If he [Putin] wins, that wouldn’t mean a new Iron Curtain descending across Europe. It would be more like a portable cotton curtain, blown around by Russia’s will. “The West” could shrink to a thin line stretching from Britain to (if we’re lucky) Poland.
  • Happily, we can change course. Russia has a poorly trained army and a Canada-sized economy. “This should be feasible, easily,” says Steven Everts of the EU Institute for Security Studies. Victory would require western countries to send non-combat troops such as de-miners, trainers and vehicle engineers. Countries would need to follow Denmark in giving every shell in their cupboards to Ukraine. Germany would have to send Taurus missiles. Replacing American support for Ukraine would cost the other NATO states about €65 per citizen per year. We could choose to let Ukraine win.

“How the House could save Ukraine, with or without Speaker Johnson's help,” Editorial Board, WP, 03.15.24.

  • Fourteen House members — eight Republicans and six Democrats — have signed a petition that would force a floor vote on military support for Ukraine and enhanced southern border security. They need 204 more signatures to make it happen. Even if organizers don't get the 218 members necessary to move forward, this bipartisan endeavor might pressure Mr. Johnson, at last, to cut a deal.
  • The parliamentary maneuver, known as a discharge petition, rarely succeeds because of arduous procedural requirements and the risks of defying party chiefs. The most recent successful one came in 2015, when 42 Republicans joined Democrats to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. Before that, a 2002 discharge petition enabled the House to pass the McCain-Feingold campaign finance overhaul.
  • Senate leaders understandably see no need for such unconventional tactics: They want the House to take up their $95 billion aid bill. House Democrats are trying to force this bill to the floor. Unfortunately, their maneuvering is unlikely to work, because not enough House members support the Senate bill. So Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) — a former FBI agent who worked against Russian spies in Ukraine — and Don Bacon (R-Neb.) recruited Reps. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) and Jared Golden (D-Maine) for the bipartisan discharge petition. Its more modest foreign-assistance provisions — $48 billion in military, but not economic, assistance plus money for Israel and Indo-Pacific operations — come attached to legal tools, good for one year, that would help the president stem migration across the southern border. The idea is that a consensus could form for a "skinny" bill that meets each side's core needs. Republicans involved in the discharge effort say GOP House members, including some in leadership, have privately urged them on.
  • Mr. Johnson faces the threat of ouster from the far right of his conference if he brings the Senate bill to the floor, yet has been sounding a more hopeful tone in recent days. He says he's determined to help   the idea, is at least potentially workable, but only if the loans are 100 percent forgivable and not overly burdensome. Seizing Russia's Central Bank assets, about $300 billion currently frozen by Western banks, could create a dangerous precedent and undermine American leadership of the global financial system. It would also be logistically challenging and might further delay getting help to the battlefield.

“Russia Is Betting on Battlefield Gains,” Doug Klain, FP, 03.15.24. 

  • If Russian forces exploit the West’s failure to resupply Ukrainian forces, Russian forces may soon be back on the march, reconquering cities liberated by Ukraine in 2022.
  • Ukrainian troops have shown that they can win when they have the tools to do so. But if Ukraine is kept on a starvation diet as support falters in the West, Russian forces may soon see their best gains in the conflict since 2022. Ukraine’s victory is in the strategic and moral interests of the United States and Europe, and it’s time for policymakers to treat it that way.

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

“Putin is in it to win it in Ukraine. Are we?”, Fareed Zakaria, WP, 03.15.24.

  • In a recent interview with Russian state TV, Vladimir Putin said something that was, in his words, "important for us ourselves, and even more so for our listeners and viewers abroad, to understand our way of thinking." The war in Ukraine, the Russian president explained, is for the West a way of improving its tactical position vis-à-vis Russia. "But for us it is our fate, it is a matter of life and death," he said. The fundamental mistake in Western strategy against Russia has been to ignore this reality.
  • New data confirms that the Russian economy has withstood Western sanctions far better than most predicted. Its gross domestic product grew at over 3 percent last year, and now inflation, which reached around 18 percent in early 2022, seems to be steadying at about 7.5 percent. Russia's largest bank, state-owned Sberbank, recently announced that profits last year, fueled by a mortgage boom, surged more than fivefold to their highest ever levels.
  • The largest lesson is surely that economic pressure alone rarely causes countries to capitulate. 
  • The Russian economy has survived because Putin has done whatever it takes. 
  • President Biden has done many big things right in this war. He has rallied the West and many non-Western allies such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore. He has provided moral and material support on a vast scale to Kyiv. Republican opponents of aid to Ukraine are embracing a policy that is deeply irresponsible and unsafe, one that if it succeeds would make America weak and the world far more dangerous. And yet Biden and other Western leaders must demonstrate that they, too, will do what it takes — and that time is not on Putin's side. That means using Russia's Central Bank reserves, now frozen, to help Ukraine. It means accelerating delivery of every kind of weapon that Kyiv needs. The pressure that Putin needs to feel is not long-term economic decline but short-term military setbacks, loss of conquered territory, higher casualty rates and a collapse in morale.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron is surely right that the central fact that must guide Western strategy is that Putin cannot win. If that means greater Western involvement, even military forces of some kind on the ground, that's better than watching Russian aggression succeed. Macron gave a speech this week in which he said that conflict was "existential" for France and Europe. The West can only gain the upper hand in this war if it truly believes this — and acts on that belief.

“Putin isn't a politician, he's a gangster,” Yulia Navalnaya, WP, 03.13.24.

  • Deprive gangsters of their wealth, and they will lose their loyalty to their leader. This is why I call for the maximum expansion and careful enforcement of sanctions against all more or less prominent Putin-allied politicians, so-called businessmen, civil servants and law enforcement officials. By depriving thousands of influential figures of their capital and assets, you lay the groundwork for internal divisions — and ultimately the collapse of the regime.
  • Do not believe that everyone in Russia supports Putin and his war. Russia is under a harsh dictatorship. The number of political prisoners in Russia is three times higher than it was during the Soviet system's struggle with dissidents. Human rights are being trampled, and there is no freedom of speech or protest. But even in such difficult conditions, the people of Russia find ways to demonstrate against the repressive regime. Any opportunity to legally express discontent becomes a mass protest. Hundreds of thousands of people stood in line hoping to register candidates expressing antiwar views in the presidential elections. And my husband's funeral in Moscow also became a multiday protest. Despite all the authorities' efforts, thousands of people visited his grave, covering it with flowers. 
  • My husband's most recent appeal to Russians was to participate in the "Noon Against Putin" campaign. He asked all Putin's opponents to come to polling stations at noon on March 17, election day. The goal is not to influence the voting results, which will be falsified anyway, and it is not to support any of Putin's puppets allowed on the ballot. Alexei wanted this to be a nationwide protest, emphasizing the illegitimacy of Putin's election and the resistance of Russian civil society.
  • I call on political leaders of the West to help all Russian citizens who stand up against Putin's gang. I urge you to finally hear the voice of free Russia and take a principled stand against him — to not recognize the results of the falsified elections, to not recognize Putin as the legitimate president of Russia. The world must finally realize that Putin is not who he wants to appear to be. He is a usurper, a tyrant, a war criminal — and a murderer.

“Taking but not confiscating: getting creative with Russian state assets. How Moscow can be made to compensate Ukraine without confiscation,” Martin Sandbu, FT, 03.14.24.

  • The proposal [by Hugo Dixon, Lee Buchheit and Daleep Singh (let’s call them DBS) ] has similarities with my suggestion a few months ago of a special-purpose vehicle funding Ukraine against those claims, or just purchasing the claims outright. (The differences matter for recorded public debt in Ukraine and its friends, and the DBS approach usefully highlights that syndication can be done on a “sharing” basis that takes care of possible complications around which country lends how much.)
  • The crucial contribution DBS make to the debate is to explore the legal possibility to “set off” — which I understand as simply the notion that if I owe you $100 and you owe me $100 that is due now but you have refused to pay, I can set off my debt to you against yours to me and be free of my obligation (as well as my claim on you).

For more commentaries on the punitive measures, see: 

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Excerpt from an interview with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the Evening with Vladimir Solovyov program on Rossiya 1 TV channel, Moscow, March 14, 2024,” Russian Foreign Ministry, 03.14.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • [When asked “With whom should we talk? US Secretary of State Antony Blinken? President of France Emmanuel Macron? US President Joseph Biden?”] No. But there was a delegation that came from the African Union. ... They brought a proposal to exchange prisoners. It was backed. We issued a statement. It exerted influence on the resolution of humanitarian issues.
  • There is a Chinese proposal. China’s Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui made a second visit. The main difference of his proposal from all others is that he insists on the need to admit the real reasons behind this situation and settle it by removing the causes that had led to the current crisis by ensuring the lawful security interests of all parties. This is exactly what we suggested many times.
  • As for Zelenskyy’s ultimatum, I won’t even discuss it. I find it strange that Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis has swallowed the bait. Now he is trying to push through Zelenskyy’s formula. Meanwhile, I explained to him in New York last January (when we attended UN Security Council meetings on Palestine, he asked me to meet and we talked face-to-face) that this was a non-starter and he would only be wasting his time on it. Now they plan to hold one more meeting in Switzerland without inviting us. They want to complete the editing of Zelenskyy’s formula and make its final, irreversible and unchangeable version. Then they would call us and hand it to us as Zelenskyy said later. He meant to hand it to us but not for talks. They are “serious fellas.”

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

“The West urgently needs a strategy for dealing with Russia,” The Economist, 03.14.24. 

  • What should the West do? America and Europe have bet on two strategies: defending Ukraine and sanctions. 
    • Arming and financing Ukraine’s defenders remains the most cost-effective way to thwart Russian aggression, yet the West’s resolve to keep doing so is scandalously wavering.
    • Sanctions, meanwhile, have been less effective than hoped. They can be counter-productive, and an excuse to avoid hard choices. Over 80% of the world, measured by population, and 40% by GDP, is not enforcing them, letting Russia trade freely and undermining the sanctions’ perceived legitimacy. If the West tried to use secondary sanctions to force the world to comply, it would backfire, leading some countries to abandon the American-led financial system. In the long run the most plausible path is more modest: maintaining targeted sanctions on Kremlin-linked individuals and ensuring that advanced tech, which still tends to be Western, is expensive or impossible for Russia to obtain.
  • That means an effective Russia strategy needs to put more weight on two other pillars. 
    • The first is a military build-up to deter further Russian aggression. In Europe the weakness is glaring. Annual defense spending is less than 2% of GDP, and if Donald Trump wins back the White House, America’s commitment to NATO may wither. Europe needs to spend at least 3% of its GDP on defense and prepare for a more isolationist Uncle Sam.
    • The West also needs to deploy one of its most powerful weapons: universal liberal values. It was these, as well as Star Wars and dollars, that helped bring down the Soviet regime by exposing the inhumanity of its totalitarian system. 
  • In the short term there is little chance that Russia’s elite or its ordinary citizens will boot out Mr. Putin’s regime. But in the long run Russia will stop being a rogue nation only if its people want it to.

“Russia Is Rebuilding Its Military in Anticipation of Possible Future NATO War,” Amy Mackinnon, FP, 03.14.24. 

  • Two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin is restructuring and expanding the country’s military in anticipation of a conflict with NATO within the next 10 years, Estonia’s foreign and military intelligence chiefs said in an interview on Wednesday.
  • “Everything is more or less going to the plan again” for Russia, said Kaupo Rosin, the director-general of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (EFIS), during a meeting with a small group of journalists in Washington.
  • Russian military leaders have learned from the mistakes of the opening phases of the war and are adapting with uncharacteristic speed. “It seems that the Russians are, in principle, turning into a learning organization in the military,” said Rosin, who added that they were now resolving problems encountered on the battlefield within a matter of months.
  • A war between Russia and NATO is not inevitable, said Rosin, who noted that much could still be done to deter Moscow. “A lot of the future scenarios depend on our activities in the West,” he said. “The concrete task at hand,” he added, “is to make Ukraine successful in this war because the future in Europe depends heavily on the outcome of this war.”

"Putin Eyes New World Order After Crushing Opposition in Russia," Bloomberg News, Bloomberg, 03.14.24.

  • The Russian leader is now preparing for a long confrontation with the West, five people with knowledge of the situation said. And even if the war in Ukraine is brought to an end, relations between Moscow and western capitals have been severed and won’t be easily restored, they said.
    • “Russia needs to establish a parallel globalization, to build a new world,” said Sergei Markov, a political consultant close to the presidential administration. “That is what Putin is going to focus on.”
  • Putin sees an opportunity to further reshape global relations in Russia’s favor and he intends to seize it in his next term, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
  • Putin looks set to start another six-year term with his forces on the offensive for the first time in months as Ukraine’s allies struggle to keep it supplied with ammunition and officials in Kyiv worry about a Russian breakthrough.
  • Elsewhere, the Kremlin is putting the squeeze on countries such as Moldova, the Baltic States and in the Caucasus region in the name of protecting Russian minorities. European leaders warn openly about the prospect of a Russian attack on a NATO member state and wonder whether the US will abandon them if Donald Trump regains the presidency in November.
  • At home, the former KGB agent is making the war the defining factor in the formation of a new Russian political and business elite, one forged by nationalism to replace what emerged from the wild capitalism of the 1990s following the Soviet Union’s collapse.

“A Revolution in American Foreign Policy. Replacing Greed, Militarism, and Hypocrisy With Solidarity, Diplomacy, and Human Rights,” Bernie Sanders, FA, 03.18.24.

  • For many decades, there has been a “bipartisan consensus” on foreign affairs. Tragically, that consensus has almost always been wrong. Whether it has been the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the overthrow of democratic governments throughout the world, or disastrous moves on trade, such as entering the North American Free Trade Agreement and establishing permanent normal trade relations with China, the results have often damaged the United States’ standing in the world, undermined the country’s professed values, and been disastrous for the American working class. This pattern continues today. 
  • If the goal of foreign policy is to help create a peaceful and prosperous world, the foreign policy establishment needs to fundamentally rethink its assumptions. Spending trillions of dollars on endless wars and defense contracts is not going to address the existential threat of climate change or the likelihood of future pandemics. It is not going to feed hungry children, reduce hatred, educate the illiterate, or cure diseases. It is not going to help create a shared global community and diminish the likelihood of war. In this pivotal moment in human history, the United States must lead a new global movement based on human solidarity and the needs of struggling people. 
  • Economic policy is foreign policy. As long as wealthy corporations and billionaires have a stranglehold on our economic and political systems, foreign policy decisions will be guided by their material interests, not those of the vast majority of the world’s population. That is why the United States must address the moral and economic outrage of unprecedented income and wealth inequality, in which the richest one percent of the planet owns more wealth than the bottom 99 percent—an inequality that allows some people to own dozens of homes, private airplanes, and even entire islands, while millions of children go hungry or die of easily prevented diseases. 
  • Washington should develop fair trade agreements that benefit workers and the poor of all countries, not just Wall Street investors. 
  • The United States must also cut excess military spending and demand that other countries do the same. ... Like a majority of Americans, I believe it is in the vital interest of the United States and the international community to fight off Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. But many defense contractors see the war primarily as a way to line their own pockets. The RTX Corporation, formerly Raytheon, has increased prices for its Stinger missiles sevenfold since 1991. Today, it costs the United States $400,000 to replace each Stinger sent to Ukraine—an outrageous price increase that cannot even remotely be explained by inflation, increased costs, or advances in quality. Such greed doesn’t just cost American taxpayers; it costs Ukrainian lives. When contractors pad their profits, fewer weapons reach Ukrainians on the frontlines. Congress must rein in this kind of war profiteering by more closely examining contracts, taking back payments that turn out to be excessive, and creating a tax on windfall profits.
  • TheUnited States must recognize that our greatest strength as a nation comes not from our wealth or our military might but from our values of freedom and democracy. The biggest challenges of our times, from climate change to global pandemics, will require cooperation, solidarity, and collective action, not militarism.

"It's Looking a Lot Like World War II Out There," Hal Brands, Bloomberg, 03.17.24.

  • Defending the liberal order the US created after World War II thus requires learning the lessons of an earlier, darker era in which such complacency exacted an awful cost.
    • The first lesson [of the pre-World War II era] is that international order can collapse with devastating thoroughness and speed. … Some experts underestimated the totalizing ambitions of the fascist powers; others misjudged the military strength of the opposing sides. The larger intellectual failing was simply an inability to imagine how catastrophically the world could buckle when assaulted by determined aggressors — and how steep the resulting descent could be.
    • A second lesson is that even an ambivalent alliance of totalitarian states can set the world aflame.
    • US officials should heed a third lesson: Use other countries’ wars to get ready for one’s own. … President Joe Biden has said that America must be the “arsenal of democracy” for Israel and Ukraine. But America’s defense industrial base is now faulty and fragile, which is why the US is struggling to produce the artillery and other weapons Ukraine needs to fend off Russia — let alone the long-range missiles, ships, and submarines it would need in a great-power war of its own. 

“We All Fall Down: The Dismantling of the Warsaw Pact and the End of the Cold War in Eastern Europe,” Simon Miles, International Security, 01.01.24.

  • The Eastern Europeans’ perspective is largely missing from debates over the end of the Cold War and the roots of NATO’s expansion. 
    • The non-Soviet members of the Warsaw Pact…had agency. New archival evidence…[shows] how policymakers east of the Iron Curtain navigated and shaped the end of the Cold War and why they made the choices they did.
    • This evidence challenges long-standing imperial tropes about the Warsaw Pact in the alliance politics literature.
  • Four principal themes shaped the foreign policy choices of the non-Soviet members of the Pact. 
    • First, Eastern European policymakers resolved to destroy the Warsaw Pact. Second, they also decided early on to cast their lot in with Western Europe. 
    • Third, Eastern Europe took a dim view of the ideas which abounded…new European security architecture on institutions that included the Soviet Union, such as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE).
      • At [Western multilateral institutions], Hungarian diplomats used early observer-status invitations to make it clear that they belonged in these Western institutions on a permanent basis.
    • Fourth, events and preferences changed at a breakneck pace… key leaders changed their views on the future in mere months, often coaxed by (usually more junior) policymakers.
  • For the Eastern Europeans, [looking to the West] was ideological.
  • When NATO members met in Paris in May 1990, they heard from former enemies now seeking to become allies. Hungary’s delegates saw no need for restraint. Budapest concluded Hungary’s departure from the Pact should be as destructive as possible and bring down the whole house of cards. 
  • [Non-Soviet Warsaw Pact members’] eventual NATO membership was not inevitable, but it was the culmination of their own efforts, since 1989, to break out of the Pact and cement their ties with the West.

“Great-Power Competition Comes to Antarctica. China’s Scientific Push Tests the Continent’s Stability,” Elizabeth Buchanan, FA, 03.18.24. 

  • The crux of the challenge with Antarctica is enforcement: What is stopping countries from engaging in subversive activities? Although China’s cunning plans for Dome Argus were blocked, the issue will likely come up again. Dome Argus falls in the territory claimed by Australia. Given the country’s vital interest in the area, Australia must invest in adequate inland capabilities to reach the isolated area—including by ski, tractor, and helicopter. Presence is power in the barren wasteland that is Antarctica.
  • Consensus among all 29 parties—what is needed to open a review conference into the Antarctic Treaty—would be practically impossible. In theory, the review conference mechanism, available to parties since 1991 yet never utilized, could be used to build in enforcement mechanisms, such as fines and bans. But for the foreseeable future, it is hard to imagine the United States and its allies achieving consensus with China and Russia to agree to discuss revisions to the treaty.
  • That said, there are policies the West can implement on its own to keep more corrosive activities in check. A good place to start would be to hold China to account by highlighting its activities in Antarctica. States should also audit their polar research sectors to ascertain whether they are funding or supporting Chinese state research endeavors. According to the military-civil fusion law, the Chinese government deems any research activity to have military-strategic application potential. Just how much of Beijing’s Antarctic endeavor are Western states naively underwriting? International inspections should be ramped up. Too few inspections occur under the treaty auspices, largely because of a lack of capabilities. States should therefore pool their funding more purposefully and much more regularly to ensure China’s stations are well monitored.
  • Where cooperation is working, the United States and others should lean into it. The parts of the Antarctic Treaty System that work well include scientific data sharing among parties and emergency-response collaboration. ..China, Russia, and the United States should acknowledge they have a common Antarctic threat: a failed treaty system. Today, the treaties in place are facilitating strategic competition in Antarctica by allowing states to execute broad agendas on the continent with little real constraint. China has positioned itself to take advantage of today’s status quo, ready to pounce if the treaty system fails. The rest of the world cannot afford to fall further behind.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“What should we expect from BRICS and what should we not?” Timofey Bordachev, Valdai Club, 03.14.24.^ Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • The BRICS group is an association of states that share a strategic vision of a fair world order but pursue their national interests in practical issues of global economics and politics.
    • Therefore, firstly, we cannot count on the BRICS group to create international financial institutions and instruments comparable in scale of influence to those controlled by the West - the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. 
    • Secondly, one can hardly expect BRICS to make decisions of a confrontational or repressive nature in relation to other participants in the international community.
    •  Thirdly, BRICS is unlikely to be ready to solve .... problems of a global nature that the West cannot solve. 
    • And finally, one should not expect achievements from the BRICS countries in those issues where their national interests. 

For more commentary on “China-Russia: Allied or aligned?”, see:

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Prepare for the Worst and Strive for the Best. Russia’s and China’s Perceptions of Developments in International Security,” Zhao Huasheng and Andrey Kortunov, Guancha/RIAC, Clues from Russian and Chinese Views. (RIAC is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • How is the current security situation different compared to the crisis before?
    • Zhao Huasheng: The continuation and escalation of the conflict can only lead to deeper disasters for the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, and therefore the cessation of the armed conflict and the prevention of escalation are the most desirable path for both Russia and Ukraine to minimize losses and suffering. 
    • Andrey Kortunov: During previous disasters there has always been a strong chance that great powers could quickly get together, put aside their disagreements and work hand in hand with each other in handling common threats and challenges. This is no longer the case. 
  •  Is the risk of nuclear war real? 
    • Zhao Huasheng: It is not an exaggeration to say that the current situation is comparable to, or even more dangerous than, that of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. ... I believe that neither Russia nor NATO wants a nuclear war, the problem is that war may not depend on the subjective desire to push the situation toward a nuclear war. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine, involving the world's two largest nuclear-armed states, has been shadowed by nuclear specter since its outbreak. The course of the war is unpredictable and contains the possibility of various accidents, and as long as the military conflict in Ukraine continues, the nuclear risk will not be eliminated and may become more and more serious. It should also be noted that this conflict is no ordinary event for Russia and the United States, but a strategic gamble with stakes so high that even the use of nuclear weapons cannot be completely off the table. With the miniaturization and precision of nuclear weapons, the idea that tactical nuclear weapons can be used on the battlefield has become more acceptable, according to which the use of tactical nuclear weapons will not lead to nuclear war or the destruction of humankind. Such thinking also increases the risk of nuclear war. ... Although nuclear war is a low-probability risk, its prevention cannot be overemphasized, given its unforeseeable and serious consequences. Nuclear war cannot be tested, it is tantamount to opening Pandora's box, which can no longer be closed, the moral taboo formed by the international community for 80 years will be broken, the most powerful deterrent tool relied on by major powers to prevent world war will no longer exist, and there would be nothing to prevent mankind from going further and further down the road of war. 
    • Andrey Kortunov: I am afraid that it is. We often take it for granted that since a global nuclear war is likely to destroy the human civilization, nobody is going to launch it. However, history teaches us that a war can start even if neither side wants to launch it. For example, no nation in Europe was ready or willing to engage in the first world war that literally devasted the whole continent and put an end to four great empires. A war can start due to a technical or a human error, as a result of an inadvertent escalation or because of a wrong assessment of the other side intentions. The situation today is particularly dangerous since most of communication lines between Russia and the West are completely broken or frozen and the two sides cannot even discuss basic confidence building measures. To make things even worse, we now hear a lot of statements from experts and even some politicians suggesting that a nuclear exchange can be somehow controlled or limited. In my view, this is a highly questionable and dangerous assumption that should not be put to test under any circumstances. 
  • What are the worst prospects and how to prevent it from happening?
    • Andrei Kortunov: My worst-case scenario is that we are going to see more and more Western engagement into the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which will ultimately turn NATO into a direct party to the conflict. ... If there is no way to stop the bloodshed, there should be a way to prevent a further escalation. In particular, one might get back to the P5 statement of January 2022 on nuclear war that nobody can win and, therefore, nobody should launch. Any further P5 steps on strategic stability enhancing would by highly appropriate. Right now, there is no hope in restoring the traditional US-Russian strategic dialogue as it existed over the last half a century, so we have to consider even the very limited opportunities that might remain still open on the multilateral track. 
    • Zhao Huasheng: The collapse of the world order, the fierce confrontation between major countries, the failure of international institutions and the inefficiency of global governance make it easy for existing security issues to develop and for new regional conflicts to occur. In the worst case, it could lead to a "chaotic" world. There is also a worst-case scenario, namely, the outbreak of hot spots in North-East Asia, the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. If these hotspots break out, it will bring a huge impact to the whole world. The Chinese also often say, "Prepare for the worst and strive for the best." Although the situation is not optimistic, we should still make our best efforts to strive for the best possible outcome. 
  • What will the future international order look like in your eyes?
    • Zhao Huasheng: A just and fair international order will not come naturally; it requires cooperation and joint efforts by the international community. China and Russia have similarities and differences in the ways and means of building the future international order, but the important thing is that the two countries have the same views on what the future international order should be, that is, a multipolar world, political equality, no unipolar hegemony, safeguarding the international system with the United Nations as the core and international order based in international laws.
    • Andrey Kortunov: The new world order is unlikely to become a product of another Big Deal of Grand Bargain between major players, it is more likely to emerge as a combination of specific incremental multilateral arrangements. In this sense, institutions like BRICS or SCO, attempts to regulate AI and GMOs, efforts at preserving WTO or at democratizing the global financial system deserve careful attention. 
  •  How to develop Sino-Russian relations under new circumstances?
    • Andrey Kortunov: An ambitious, but not unattainable goal would be to move from more or less basic cooperation to more advanced collaboration. 
    • Zhao Huasheng: In the current situation of rapid changes and volatility in the international situation, it is particularly important for China-Russia relations to maintain stability, avoid drastic changes and prevent sharp ups and downs. 

“2024 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 03.11.24.

  • Russia almost certainly does not want a direct military conflict with U.S. and NATO forces and will continue asymmetric activity below what it calculates to be the threshold of military conflict globally.  President Vladimir Putin probably believes that Russia has blunted Ukrainian efforts to retake significant territory, that his approach to winning the war is paying off, and that Western and U.S. support to Ukraine is finite, particularly in light of the Israel–HAMAS war.
  • This deadlock [in the war with Ukraine]  plays to Russia’s strategic military advantages and is increasingly shifting the momentum in Moscow’s favor.  Russia’s defense industry is significantly ramping up production of a panoply of long-range strike weapons, artillery munitions, and other capabilities that will allow it to sustain a long high-intensity war if necessary. Meanwhile, Moscow has made continual incremental battlefield gains since late 2023, and is benefitting from uncertainties about the future of Western military assistance.
  • Moscow’s military forces will face a multi-year recovery after suffering extensive equipment and personnel losses during the Ukraine conflict.  Moscow will be more reliant on nuclear and counterspace capabilities for strategic deterrence as it works to rebuild its ground force. Regardless, Russia’s air and naval forces will continue to provide Moscow with some global power projection capabilities.   
  • Russia will continue to modernize its nuclear weapons capabilities and maintains the largest and most diverse nuclear weapons stockpile.  Moscow views its nuclear capabilities as necessary for maintaining deterrence and achieving its goals in a potential conflict against the United States and NATO, and it sees this as the ultimate guarantor of the Russian Federation. within Russia, continues to drive concerns that Putin might use nuclear weapons. 
  • Moscow will continue to develop long-range nuclear-capable missiles and underwater delivery systems meant to penetrate or bypass U.S. missile defenses.  Russia is expanding and modernizing its large and diverse set of nonstrategic systems, which are capable of delivering nuclear or conventional warheads, because Moscow believes such systems offer options to deter adversaries, control the escalation of potential hostilities, and counter U.S. and Allied conventional forces.
  • Russia continues to train its military space elements and field new antisatellite weapons to disrupt and degrade U.S. and allied space capabilities.  It is expanding its arsenal of jamming systems, directed energy weapons, on-orbit counterspace capabilities, and ground-based ASAT missiles that are designed to target U.S. and allied satellites.
  • Russia will pose an enduring global cyber threat even as it prioritizes cyber operations for the Ukrainian war.  Moscow views cyber disruptions as a foreign policy lever to shape other countries’ decisions and continuously refines and employs its espionage, influence, and attack capabilities against a variety of targets.

“Russia Has Moved Tactical Nuclear Weapons to Belarus, Western Officials Confirm,” Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, FP, 03.14.24. 

  • Russia has moved tactical nuclear weapons from its own borders into neighboring Belarus, several hundred miles closer to NATO territory, Western officials confirmed to Foreign Policy, as Russian President Vladimir Putin threatens a wider military showdown with the alliance over its continued support for Ukraine. The move, which Putin first announced in June of last year, is likely aimed at ramping up pressure on NATO’s eastern flank. It follows years of nuclear saber-rattling intended to scare the West into paring back its support for Ukraine, now in its third year of war against Russia’s invasion, though top NATO officials insist that the move doesn’t drastically change the nature of Russia’s military threats to NATO.
  • Arvydas Anusauskas, Lithuania’s defense minister, was the first top official within the NATO alliance to confirm the news of the deployment. He warned that the risks of Western inaction were high, citing the lackluster response in the West to Russia moving more nuclear weapons to the Kaliningrad Peninsula, which is bounded by Poland and Lithuania on either side. “We would like to see a harder response on that,” Anusauskas said. “If [the] Russians move nuclear weapons closer to us, we need to move as well.”
  • The movement of its nuclear weapons has clear political signaling, but some experts downplayed the military significance of the move—arguing that the weapons don’t pose a higher or lower threat to the alliance simply by being moved several hundred miles closer to NATO territory. “The Russians can reach any place in NATO with nuclear missiles with what they have on their own territory,” said Rose Gottemoeller, a former top U.S. arms control envoy and deputy secretary-general of NATO. “It does not change the threat environment at all. So it is purely a political message.”
  • Others went further, arguing that publicly responding to the movement of nuclear weapons in Belarus simply plays into Russia’s hands. “What difference does it make, really?” Hanno Pevkur, Estonia’s defense minister, told Foreign Policy. “So this is why every discussion about ‘Jesus, we have a nuclear weapon in Belarus, look what happens.’ Come on. This is just a Russian plan to take away focus from Ukraine and to have extra topics on our agenda. But in reality, it doesn’t make any difference [to] how Russia behaves.”
  • Still, Putin may play up the nuclear threat against NATO in the near future, particularly as Russia struggles to reconstitute its decimated military forces in Ukraine and it sees Western military support for Ukraine starting to waver. But on the flip side, the West’s resolve against nuclear blackmail is growing.

Interview to Dmitry Kiselev. Vladimir Putin answered questions from Dmitry Kiselev,”, 03.13.24. 

  • [When asked “How we can advance with minimal losses [in Ukraine]?”] The question is clear and fair. The answer is also quite simple: we need to increase our weapons in terms of its number and power, while also improving the effectiveness of the forces and means used. This includes both tactical and army air force, as well as strategic aviation. By this I mean, of course, within those aspects that are acceptable for armed conflicts of this kind. Here, I refer to ground weapons, including high-precision ones, also artillery and armored vehicles. It is no exaggeration to say that we are developing by leaps and bounds.
  • But what is the key point here? The point is to make clear what we are doing. And what are we doing? We met today and, as you have noticed, one of the participants in the conversation said: we were surprised to find out that there are Russians there just like us. So we came to the rescue of these people. Basically, this is the answer to your question If we leave these people today, tomorrow our losses may increase many times over. Our children will have no future, because we will feel insecure, we will be a third- or fourth-class country. No one will factor us in if we cannot defend ourselves, so the consequences could be catastrophic for the Russian statehood. That is the answer. 
  •  In fact, the Western countries' military personnel have been present in Ukraine for a long time. They had been there before the coup d'état, and after the coup their number has grown several times. Today they are involved both directly as military advisers and as foreign mercenaries, and they suffer casualties. Yet I am certain that even if foreign countries are to send their troops officially, it will not change the situation on the ground – and this is the most important thing because arms supplies change nothing. Second, it can lead to serious geopolitical consequences. If, say, Polish troops enter Ukrainian territory, allegedly for the protection of, say, the border between Belarus and Ukraine, or some other parts, to release Ukrainian troops and enable them to fight along the contact line, I think, Polish troops will stay there.
  • In principle, based on what we see on the battlefield, we are coping with the tasks we set ourselves. As for the states saying that they have no “red lines” with Russia, they should realize that Russia will have no “red lines” with them either. 
  • They [the Ukrainian armed forces] achieved none of the goals they had set last year. What is more, our Armed Forces have fully regained the initiative now. ... If we leave these people4 today, tomorrow our losses may increase many times over. Our children will have no future, because we will feel insecure, we will be a third- or fourth-class country. No one will factor us in if we cannot defend ourselves, so the consequences could be catastrophic for the Russian statehood.
  • We know what American troops in the Russian territory are. These are invaders. That is how we will treat them even if they appear in the territory of Ukraine, and they understand it. ... I have said many times that it is a matter of life and death for us, while for them it is a matter of improving their tactical position in the world on the whole as well as maintaining their status among their allies in Europe in particular. This is also important, but not as much as it is for us.
  • [When asked “Are we really ready for a nuclear war?”] From a military-technical point of view, we are certainly ready. They [the troops] are constantly on alert. This is the first thing. Secondly. Our nuclear triad is more advanced than any other one, and this is also a universally recognized fact. We and the Americans are the only ones who have such a triad, actually. Here, we have made a lot more progress. We have a more advanced nuclear component. On the whole, as for carriers and warheads, we have a rough parity, yet, the nuclear component we have is more sophisticated. Everyone knows it, all experts do. However, it does not mean that we should compete by the number of carriers or warheads, but we should know about it. And I repeat that those who need it – experts, specialists, the military – are well aware of it. Now they are setting the task to increase this modernity, novelty, they have relevant plans. We also know about them. They are developing all their components, so do we. But, in my view, this does not mean that they are ready to wage this nuclear war tomorrow. If they want to, what is there to do? We are ready
  •  [When asked “Perhaps, to make it more compelling, we should conduct nuclear tests at some stage?”] There is a treaty which bans such kind of tests, however, the United States has not ratified it, unfortunately. ... We are aware that the possibility of conducting such tests is being considered in the United States. This is due to the fact that, when new warheads appear, as some specialists believe, it is not enough to test them on computer which means that they should be tested for real as well. Such ideas are in the air in some US circles, they exist, and we are aware of them. And we are also watching. If they conduct such tests, we will not necessarily do it, we should think whether we need it or not, however, I do not rule out that we can do the same.. ..... We are always ready. I want to make it clear that these are not conventional weapons, this is the kind of troops which are always on alert.
  • [When asked “last year, when there were tough moments at the front in connection with Kharkov or Kherson, were you thinking of tactical nuclear weapons?”] What for? The decision to withdraw troops from Kherson was taken at the suggestion of the then command of the grouping. But it did not mean at all that our front was falling apart there. Nothing like that ever happened. It was just done to avoid unnecessary casualties among the personnel. That is all. This was the main motive, as under the conditions of warfare when it was impossible to fully supply the grouping located on the right bank, we would simply suffer unnecessary losses of personnel. Because of this, it was decided to redeploy them to the left bank.
  • [When asked: “That is to say such idea [using nuclear weapons] did not even occur to you?”] No. What for? Weapons exist to be used. We have our own principles; what do they say? That we are ready to use weapons, including the ones you have just mentioned, when it is about the existence of the Russian state, about harming our sovereignty and independence. We have everything spelled out in our Strategy. We have not changed it.

“Ladder of Escalation: It Takes Two to Tango,” Fyodor Lukyanov interviews Igor Istomin, Russia in Global Affairs, 03.13.24. Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.) 

  • When Soviet archives were opened in the 1990s, then it became clear what ideas the Soviet military had [about the use of nuclear weapons]. It turned out that the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the USSR did not consider games of controlled escalation and limited war at all. The [Soviet] doctrinal documents clearly stated: if there were a clash with NATO, then nuclear weapons would be used massively from the first stage of the conflict. Naturally, this is a situation where “it takes two to tango”: if the other side is guided by a different concept of rationality, if he expects things to be completely different, then, of course, it is very difficult for you to construct the same logic that applies to everyone.
  • As for the use of nuclear weapons, then, yes, currently the intensity of discussion of this issue has increased, including in the public sphere. But there are serious doubts about the popular belief that the likelihood of use of nuclear weapons decreased in the 1970s and 1980s after parity was achieved. ... Therefore, I think we are slightly overestimating the degree of stability and reliability of mutually assured destruction in the era of mature bipolarity. 

“Putin's Ukraine Nuclear War Threats Must Be Taken Seriously,” Stavros Atlamazoglou, NI, 03.14.24. 

  • The escalating nuclear threat from Russia, accentuated by its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, puts a spotlight on President Vladimir Putin's unpredictable demeanor and alarming rhetoric on nuclear weaponry. With election season underway in Russia, Putin's assured re-election is being promoted through a media blitz, despite the nation's corrupt political landscape rendering it almost unnecessary. Putin's boast about Russia's superior nuclear triad, capable of launching nuclear weapons from ground, air, and sea, underscores a formidable deterrence strategy. These assertions are not taken lightly, as the Kremlin has issued credible nuclear threats against Ukraine and the West since the conflict's inception on Feb. 24, 2022.

“To enhance national security, the Biden administration will have to trim an exorbitant defense wish list,” David Kearn, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 03.13.24.

  • If forced to choose one word to describe the…tone of the recent commission report on America’s Strategic Posture, “panic” would certainly be appropriate.
  • The United States is in the process of implementing a decades-long nuclear modernization program initiated under the Obama administration.
    • [The commission] embraces a worst-case analysis: “US defense strategy to address the two-power threat requires a US nuclear force that is larger in size, different in composition or both.” What’s most concerning is that the commission then sets an extremely…high threshold for such needs… of fighting and winning two wars against peer competitors.
  • According to the commission, the United States should take several measures to quickly expand deployed nuclear forces should Russia attempt to break out of New START limitations.
    • Arms control and risk reduction…received less consideration. The commission report sees arms control as complementary to the deployment of adequate strategic forces.
  • The report failed to clearly prioritize among the dozens of recommendations and to consider and assess critical trade-offs. 
    • The development of a new generation of non-strategic (“tactical”) nuclear weapons is unwarranted. 
    • Similarly, an expansion of homeland ballistic missile defenses is unwarranted. The quantitative expansion of Chinese strategic missile forces only underscores the long-understood notion that strategic defenses are of minimal value.
    • The resurrection of the concept of moving a portion of the land-based ICBM force to a road- or rail-mobile-basing mode—something that was assessed, analyzed and rejected multiple times.
  • Spending on weapons or systems that do not directly contribute to deterring adversaries is not only wasteful but it leaves the United States worse off in material terms.
  • Positing that the United States should rely more heavily on nuclear weapons… is only a viable policy insofar as the underlying political and diplomatic relationships make a nuclear deterrent threat credible. 
    • That threat is credible in the NATO case, but it simply does not hold for the Taiwan scenario.
  • Executing the ongoing nuclear modernization program, which is predicated upon a robust and adaptive nuclear enterprise, should be the primary focus of the US strategic posture.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

"Don’t Fear AI in War, Fear Autonomous Weapons," Andreas Kluth, Bloomberg, 03.12.24.

  • Technological innovation has always changed warcraft. It’s been that way since the arrival of chariots, stirrups, gunpowder, nukes and nowadays drones, as Ukrainians and Russians are demonstrating every day.
  • As a military technology, though, AI looks less like breech-loading rifles and more like the telegraph, internet or even electricity. That is, it’s less a weapon than an infrastructure that will gradually transform everything, including fighting.
  • It’s already doing that. America’s satellites and reconnaissance drones now capture so much information that no army of humans could analyze all of it fast enough to give the Ukrainians, say, useful tips about Russian troop movements in actionable time. … The next step is to put AI into all sorts of bots that will function, for example, as automated wingmen for fighter pilots. 
  • The existential question is therefore not about AI as such. Paul Scharre at the Center for a New American Security, an author on the subject, argues that it’s instead mostly about the degree of autonomy we humans grant our machines. Will the algorithm assist soldiers, officers and commanders, or replace them?
  • This, too, isn’t a wholly new problem. Long before AI, during the Cold War, Moscow built “dead-hand” systems, including one called Perimeter. It’s a fully automated procedure to launch nuclear strikes after the Kremlin’s human leadership dies in an attack. The purpose is obviously to convince the enemy that even a successful first strike would lead to Mutual Assured Destruction. But one wonders what would happen if Perimeter, which the Russians are upgrading, malfunctions and launches in error.
  • The US, as the furthest along technologically, has in some ways led by good example, and in some ways not. In its Nuclear Posture Review in 2022, it said that it will always “maintain a human ‘in the loop’” when making launch decisions. Neither Russia nor China has made a similar declaration. Last year, the US also issued a “Political Declaration on the Responsible Military Use of Artificial Intelligence and Autonomy.” Endorsed by 52 countries and counting, it calls for all sorts of “safeguards” on LAWS [lethal autonomous weapons systems aka “killer robots”].
  • The UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which seeks to restrict pernicious killing techniques such as landmines, has been trying to prohibit autonomous killer robots outright. But the US is among those opposing a ban. It should instead support one and get China, and then others, to do the same.
  • Even if the world says no to LAWS, of course, AI will still create new risks. It will accelerate military decisions so much that humans may have no time to evaluate a situation, and in the extreme stress either make fatal mistakes or surrender to the algorithm. … Provided we humans, and not our bots, remain the ones to make the final and most existential calls, there’s still hope that we’ll evolve alongside AI, rather than perish with it.

Energy exports from CIS:

“Drone Attacks on Oil Refineries” in Presidential Election in Tatiana Stanovaya’s R.Politik Weekly Digest No. 11 (25) 2024, 11 March – 18 March 2024. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Russia's oil refining sector has increasingly been targeted by drone attacks in recent times. In March, an attack on LUKOIL's Nizhny Novgorod refinery resulted in the shutdown of its largest primary refining unit, cutting the refinery's overall capacity in half. While this loss might be partially offset by increasing the load on other units, the market could face a reduction in gasoline and diesel fuel volumes amounting to approximately 2.5 percent of domestic Russian consumption. Additionally, the Tuapse (Rosneft), Ilsk, and NOVATEK's Ust-Luga refineries have also been attacked this year, with the first yet to resume operations. Drone attacks targeted the Syzran and Novokuibyshevsk refineries in the Samara region (Rosneft), leading to a fire at an oil product refining facility. 
  • On 1 March, the government imposed a ban on petrol exports. However, according to Kommersant, this action did not result in a sustained decrease in exchange prices, even though oil companies substantially increased petrol deliveries to the domestic market.
  • Oil product exports are not exactly pivotal for the Russia, but refineries are essential both for the economy and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
  • Talking to R.Politik, Sergey Vakulenko, an energy expert at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre,  noted that what was once a manageable nuisance now has the potential to disrupt the Russian fuel supply chain, although it is unlikely to lead to acute shortages just yet. There is no compelling reason why Ukraine would stop these attacks given their effectiveness. Observation suggests that while Russia is able to intercept a proportion of the drones, it cannot shoot down all of them. If each wave of kamikaze drones is large enough, all Russian refineries within 1000 km of Ukrainian-controlled territory will be vulnerable.

“The myth of cheap Russian gas in Europe. There never was such a thing and to base policy on it would be a serious mistake,” Michael Stoppard, WP, 03.15.24. 

  • The constant refrain is: surely Europe will be enticed to return to cheap Russian gas? “Europe’s industrial powerhouse Germany is dependent on it,” some say. “Europe can’t be competitive without it.” And a “temporary pause” to the authorization of new US LNG exports announced in January only bolsters the idea that Europe cannot abandon a relationship with Russia — however troubled the marriage — for a possibly “unreliable” US.
  • These views fail to appreciate the prevailing strength of feeling in much of Europe against the Russian regime. And given the idea of cheap Russian gas in Europe was always a myth, to base policy on it would be a serious mistake. For certain, Russia enjoys abundant low-cost gas that can theoretically be delivered cheaply to Europe. But it never sold its gas at cost — any more than Mideast oil is sold at cost. Russia sold its gas competitively but not cheaply.
  • From the 1970s until the 2000s, the Soviet Union and then Russia priced natural gas to displace the competitor — fuel oil in industry and heating oil in domestic heating. So the price was set as a percentage of these oil product prices. If their prices were high, the gas price moved up and Moscow would reap a windfall. If oil prices were low, prices would fall to keep gas in the mix, but sales could still be made well above cost. The other supplies selling within Europe — whether Algeria, the Netherlands or Norway — all used the same mechanism.
  • The Chinese are holding out for a lower price [on Russian gas]. And given that China has several alternative options and Russia has no alternatives of a similar scale, Beijing appears to hold the upper hand in the negotiations. As a result, Russia will end up paying a cost for the loss of the European market. For when we talk of cheap Russian gas, it will be China in the future that will benefit. It was not Europe in the past.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Expert Survey: Does Russia’s Presidential Election Matter to US and Its Allies?” Russia Matters, 03.15.24. 

  • Russia’s presidential election, whose outcome is near certain to grant Vladimir Putin a fifth term, got underway on March 15. Given the inevitability of Putin’s victory in what one Kremlin-connected insider has described as a “well-designed simulation,” one might wonder what impact the Russian election has on the U.S. and its allies. We asked some leading Western experts on Russia whether the election matters to the U.S. and its allies and, if so, how. 
    • Angela Stent: The Russian presidential election matters to the United States and its allies for two reasons: 
      • What happens during the voting period: What percentage of the population voted? Did a significant percentage of people under 30 vote? How many votes did the other candidates receive, particularly Vladislav Davankov, age 40, from the New People’s Party, who claims to represent a more forward-looking generation? And how successful was the call by Navalny supporters and other opposition groups for people to show up at polling stations at noon in March 17 and either vote against Putin or spoil their ballots? The answers to these questions—if official figures can be believed—will provide some clues about how the Russian public really feels about its leadership.
      • The second reason why the election matters is what comes after Putin’s victory. Will there be a new mobilization, which could improve Russia’s battlefield performance in the war with Ukraine, especially if assistance and weapons from the United States dry up? Will there be a new Russian offensive against Ukraine in the spring or summer? If Russia does better on the battlefield, this could have major implications for Europe’s ability to continue supporting Ukraine, especially as tensions among major European partners on this issue grow, as do questions about future U.S. support. 
    • Nikolas K. Gvosdev: Yes, the March 2024 Russian presidential election matters to the U.S. and its allies, not because its outcome is in any doubt, but because this stage-managed constitutional formality serves as the starting bell for what may well end up being Vladimir Putin’s most consequential term in office....Putin’s task is now to imprint his worldview indelibly into the minds of the Russian political establishment—so that his “children” (in an ideological, if not a biological sense) will inherit the leadership.
    • Putin has sought electoral “anointing” as a war leader for his next term. Ukraine is the central front of this struggle, but one he expects will last in various cold and hot formats for years to come. For a U.S. administration that hoped Putin’s Ukraine adventure would be wrapped up by now with a decisive setback to Moscow’s interests, the election is a reminder that Putin expects that there will be many more rounds in the geopolitical boxing ring. The U.S. and its allies have been put on notice.
  • Thomas Graham: The presidential elections per se do not matter to the United States and its allies. ... If past elections are any indication, these elections will not cause him to change course, although changes might eventually occur for other reasons (e.g., shifting fortunes on the battlefield in Ukraine, emerging domestic socio-economic challenges).  This does not, however, mean that the West should not pay attention to the elections. 
    • They will offer clues to the challenges the Kremlin faces, for example, in consolidating control over the Ukrainian territory it has illegally annexed. To what extent do the local authorities have to falsify the results to be able to report the large turnout and healthy vote for Putin that the Kremlin expects? Will pro-Ukrainian forces be able to disrupt the elections or suppress turnout? Either eventuality would suggest significant dissatisfaction with the Kremlin.   
    • In addition, the vote totals for the other three candidates will reveal something about attitudes toward the war against Ukraine. Vladislav Davankov of the New People Party, reputed to be the most “liberal” of the three, has called for peace and negotiations with Ukraine and normalizing relations with the West. His vote could serve as a proxy for anti-war sentiment. 
    • Like it or not, the West will have no choice but to deal with him as the ruler of Russia. 

For more commentaries on the Russian presidential elections, see the domestic politics, economy and energy section below. 


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

Vladimir Putin’s Post-Election Remarks at a Press Conference at His Electoral Headquarters, TASS, RIA, Meduza, 03.18.24.^ 

  • [When commenting on what would a full-fledged conflict between Russia and NATO would entail] I think anything is possible in the modern world. But what I’m saying, and this is clear to everyone, that this will be one step away from full-scale World War III.
  • Military personnel from NATO countries are present there in Ukraine, we do know that. We hear both French speech there and English speech. There is nothing good in this, first of all for them, because they die there and in large numbers.
  • [When commenting on French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent statements that NATO countries could send ground troops to Ukraine, Putin said that Macron had adjusted his initial position to claim that:] [T]his contingent will have secondary functions, that it will be engaged in training military personnel in Ukraine ... it is not much different from what mercenaries already do.
  • I would very much like France to play a role that does not lead to aggravation of the conflict, ... and that does not provoke … we are talking about possible ways of a peaceful settlement. In this sense, France could play its role; all is not lost.
  • [When commenting on with whom Russia could be negotiating on Ukraine:] This is a question that waits to be answered by a researcher. We'll think about it.
  • We are forced to literally defend the interests of our citizens, our people, with arms in our hands, and to create a future for fully-fledged sovereign and safe development of the Russian Federation, our Motherland. And ... the [electoral] results ... the turnout, show that ordinary people feel this and understand that.
  • [When commenting on the main post-election tasks:] First of all, we need to solve problems within the framework of the special military operation, strengthen defense capabilities, strengthen the Armed Forces [and] this is happening ... at a very good pace and with excellent quality.
  • As for the reaction from some foreign countries [to the elections], it is expected. Did you want them to applaud? They are fighting us, and are doing so by armed means. ... They have  set themselves the goal of holding back our development.
  • Our relations (with China) ... are very stable, they complement each other. And I am sure that this interaction will continue, not least, probably, thanks to our personal friendly relations with the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China. ... The most important thing is the coincidence of state interests, this creates a very good tone for solving common problems both in the field of international relations, where relations between Russia and China are aa stabilizing factor, and from the point of view of developing our activity in the Eurasian space.
  • As for Mr. Navalny. Yes, he passed away. This is always a sad event ... a few days before Navalny passed away, some colleagues (not administration employees) told me that there was an idea to exchange Mr. Navalny for some people in prison in Western countries. You can believe me or not, [but] the person who was a speaking to me hadn’t finished their sentence [before] I said, “I agree.” But, unfortunately, what happened happened.
  • [When commenting on Russians volunteering to fight on the Ukrainian side:] We do not have the death penalty, but we will always treat these people—both now and in the future—the same way we treat those who are in a combat zone.

Presidential Election section in Tatiana Stanovaya’s R.Politik Weekly Digest No. 11 (25) 2024, 11 March – 18 March 2024. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Voting for the presidential election was held from 15-17 March in Russia, with very predictable results: Vladimir Putin won approximately 87.3 percent of the vote. The runner-up was Communist candidate Nikolay Kharitonov with 4.3 percent. They were followed by Vladislav Davankov in third place and Leonid Slutsky in fourth, with 3.8 and 3.2 percent respectively. This result has fully met the Kremlin's key objective: to create an overwhelming, unprecedented show of public support for Putin.
  • The election is a stark illustration of Russia's updated semi-totalitarian regime, with its legitimacy renewed and the systemic opposition fading away as a significant political force. 
  • the non-systemic opposition's protest action against Putin (whereby Russians would express their opposition by coming to vote exactly at midday, causing visible queues) passed without much incident... The authorities even believe that it helped them achieve an unprecedentedly high turnout for modern Russia, getting 74 percent of the electorate out to vote (the only year where it was higher was 1991, with 77 percent). However, outside Russia, the initiative generated a sizeable expression of anti-war sentiment, with thousands of Russians assembling at noon to express their political discontent in various global cities (although Putin's overseas vote share was also substantial, with exit polls, officially showing that he received 70 percent support there). 
  • One notable aspect of voting was that there were numerous cases of individuals attempting to spoil entire ballot boxes by pouring in colored liquids or even trying to set election stations on fire. … Most of the people who undertook these actions were victims of telephone fraud rather than political activists. ... As such, rather than activism by the Russian opposition, this bears the hallmarks of a potential Ukrainian disruption operation.

“Five Takeaways From Putin’s Orchestrated Win in Russia,” Neil MacFarquhar, NYT, 03.17.24. 

  1. While the victory was a foregone conclusion, Putin’s numbers exceeded expectations: Pundits were expecting the Kremlin to peg the result at around 80 percent this time, but Mr. Putin received an even higher percentage, closer to 90 percent, although the count wasn’t yet final.
  2. The Kremlin did not entirely achieve the image of national unity that it sought. Mr. Putin always seeks to project an image of political stability and control... But there were three events linked to opposition politics that marred that image this time around
    • The first was in January, when thousands of Russians across the country lined up to sign the petitions needed to place Boris Nadezhdin, a previously low-profile politician who opposed the war in Ukraine, on the ballot.
    • Then Alexei A. Navalny, Mr. Putin’s staunchest political opponent, died suddenly in an Arctic prison in February. Thousands of mourners who showed up at his funeral
    • The Navalny organization had endorsed the plan for voters to turn up in large numbers at noon, in a silent protest against Mr. Putin and the war
  3. Mr. Putin will claim a popular mandate to pursue the war in Ukraine.
  4. The war will continue to be an organizing principle for the Kremlin.
  5. Russians are uneasy about what happens next. The period after any presidential election is when the Kremlin habitually introduces unpopular policies
    • Mr. Putin has repeatedly denied that another mobilization is needed, but recent small territorial gains in eastern Ukraine are believed to have cost tens of thousands of casualties... Any new Russian offensive is expected to take place during the warm, dry summer months. “The decisions will be more likely about war than about peace, more likely military than social or even economic,” said Ekaterina Schulmann, a Russian political scientist in exile in Berlin.

“What Another Six Years of Putin May Bring for Russia and the World; Vladimir Putin's fifth term in office will likely be dominated by the war in Ukraine and making sure Russians support it,” Ann M. Simmons, WSJ, 03.17.24. 

  • Putin has already signaled some of his post-election plans in speeches and interviews. Chief among them is his insistence on carrying on the war in Ukraine as the U.S.'s support for Kyiv shows signs of wavering.
  • Observers predict the Russian leader could soon launch another wave of arrests and detentions at home, new laws to stifle dissent and increased taxes on the rich. Analysts said there could also be a new wave of mobilizations to reinforce Russia's growing advantage on the battlefield in Ukraine.
  • Andrei Soldatov, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for European Policy Analysis, predicted the clampdown on criticism evident in the run-up to the election will continue once the vote is done, following a familiar pattern in Russia. 
  • Putin may face a more delicate balancing act in keeping Russia's economy ticking. It has fared relatively well despite Western sanctions, with trade with China and buoyant oil prices helping to insulate the country's political and business elite from any real hardship. Analysts said he would likely focus on making sure Russians continue living life as normal, while also announcing plans to spend billions of dollars to tackle poverty and to rebuild much of the country's aging infrastructure as more of the economy goes into a war footing.
    • To pay for it, Putin has proposed a more progressive taxation system that some analysts suggested was aimed at appeasing poorer Russians who are making more sacrifices, both financially and in terms of family members being drafted to fight in the war.
  • The more significant election could be the presidential vote in the U.S. in November. Angela Stent, author of the book "Putin's World: Russia Against the West and With the Rest" and a senior adviser at the Washington, D.C. -based United States Institute of Peace said Putin was likely waiting for the outcome along with other elections in Europe, where support for Ukraine is also showing cracks. "He's awaiting what will happen if Western support for Ukraine erodes, and there are already clearly differences in the alliance about that," she said. "I think he's going to continue the war for as long as he needs to. At this point, he feels that time is on his side."

“Behind Putin’s Potemkin Vote, Real Support. But No Other Choices,” Paul Sonne, NYT, 03.18.24. 

  • The Kremlin stage-managed Russia’s presidential vote over the weekend to send a singular message at home and abroad: that President Vladimir V. Putin’s support is overwhelming and unshakable, despite or even because of his war against Ukraine. From the moment the preliminary results first flashed across state television late Sunday, the authorities left no room for misinterpretation. Mr. Putin, they said, won more than 87 percent of the vote, his closest competitor just 4 percent. It had all the hallmarks of an authoritarian Potemkin plebiscite.
  • The Kremlin may have felt more comfortable orchestrating such a large margin of victory because Mr. Putin’s approval rating has climbed during the war in independent polls, owing to a rally-around-the-flag effect and optimism about the Russian economy. The Levada Center, an independent pollster, reported last month that 86 percent of Russians approved of Mr. Putin, his highest rating in more than seven years.
  • But while the figures may suggest unabiding support for Mr. Putin and his agenda across Russia, the situation is more complex than the numbers convey. The leader of one opposition research group in Moscow has argued that backing for Mr. Putin is actually far more brittle than simple approval numbers suggest. “The numbers we get on polls from Russia don’t mean what people think they mean,” said Aleksei Minyailo, a Moscow-based opposition activist and co-founder of a research project called Chronicles, which has been polling Russians in recent months. “Because Russia is not an electoral democracy but a wartime dictatorship.”
  • Russian opinion polling regularly shows that a relatively small segment of the Russian population are die-hard supporters of Mr. Putin and a similarly sized group are aggressive opponents, many of them now abroad. The majority, pollsters have found, are relatively apathetic, supporting Mr. Putin passively, with no other alternative coming onto their radar. They are particularly influenced by the narrative on television, which is controlled by the state. “Deep wells of social inertia, apathy and atomization are the real source of Putin’s power,” Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said.

“Forever Putinism. The Russian Autocrat’s Answer to the Problem of Succession,” Michael Kimmage and Maria Lipman, FA, 03.13.24. 

  • To borrow a phrase from Karl Marx, forever Putinism may contain the seeds of its own destruction. In an unapologetic dictatorship, there is much that can go wrong. The war in Ukraine oscillates every few months, and Russia’s fortunes there could well deteriorate. Wartime societies have breaking points that become visible only when they are reached, and Putin’s war has already brought staggering levels of human loss to Russia.
  • Russia’s economy also remains subject to upheaval and vulnerable to Western sanctions. Forever Putinism could slide into overreach. Autocratic governments can enrich themselves unwisely. They can lose contact with those they govern, becoming progressively less secretive about the coercion and repression that is the foundation of their rule.
  • Allowing for the vicissitudes of war, markets, and politics, the depth and scope of forever Putinism is striking. So far, the war has made Putinism stronger. Should the Russian military start to achieve something closer to victory in Ukraine, the Putinist system will become more assertive at home and abroad. Even if Putin were to pass suddenly from the scene, the instruments of coercion will likely remain where he has planted them: in the Kremlin, in the security services, and in the military. Whether anyone other than Putin can capably manage these instruments is unknowable, but with or without Putin, these instruments align with many vested interests and many past precedents. They will not be handed over peacefully to the stewards of some other system.
  • When Joseph Stalin died in 1953, after decades of tyranny, the battle for succession was chaotic and bloody. His eventual successor, Nikita Khrushchev, superseded his rivals and had the most formidable of them, Lavrentiy Beria, executed. Khrushchev was later toppled by his own elite. He was succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev, who embraced the principle of collective leadership. What survived, as leadership changed, was the Communist Party, the pillar of the Soviet Union. So, too, did the Soviet ideology, the Soviet army, and the many administrative institutions that existed within the Soviet government. The Soviet Union of the 1950s and 1960s did not descend into civil war. It did not opt out of the Cold War, and it did not disappear from the map.
  • This is a pattern that forever Putinism might replicate. Because Putin has anointed no successor, a struggle for power could well follow Putin’s exit from the scene. Those within this struggle, if they can prevent a bloodbath, would have many incentives to perpetuate the existing system. They would keep their grip on the powers lodged in the military and the security services. They would not want to see internal strife imperil Russia’s geopolitical position, and they would not want to give up the ideological constructs Putin has assembled. This raises the sobering possibility that forever Putinism, which now revolves around a single man, could outlast the tenure of Putin himself. Putin has done enough to ensure that whoever follows him is likely to be his heir.

“Has Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine Improved His Standing in Russia?” Joshua Yaffa, New Yorker, 03.16.24. 

  • One should not confuse the absence of dissent with heartfelt support. The Kremlin cannot fill stadiums with rabid, committed supporters. (It can bus them in or otherwise twist the arms of state employees, but genuine passion is exceedingly hard to muster.) 
    • Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, referenced Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation address from late February, during which he spoke of people who “send letters and parcels, warm clothes, and camouflage nets to the front; they donate money from their savings.” Putin, she said, needs to see the war not as something he alone launched—as is the case—but as an endeavor supported and demanded by the people. Stanovaya quoted the Soviet battle hymn, “Sacred War,” known for its opening line: “Arise great country!” But now, Stanovaya said, “The country doesn’t feel like rising.”
    • Last fall, in a moment of rare candor, Valery Fedorov, the head of a state-run polling agency, admitted that the so-called party of war—hawks who advocate for victory at any price—represents only ten to fifteen per cent of society. “The majority of Russians do not demand to take Kyiv or Odesa,” he said. “They don’t enjoy the fighting. If it were up to them, they would not have started a military operation, but since the situation has already developed this way, then we must win.” This is not quite opposition to the war, but it’s certainly something far less than enthusiasm for it.
  • The situation on the battlefield in Ukraine has greatly improved for Russia. Putin now believes that Ukraine’s leaders—or, really, its Western backers—should have come to their senses and effectively capitulated long ago. But that’s not happening, and  likely won’t, regardless of the exact composition of future aid packages from the U.S. and Europe. “Putin believes that Russia outplayed the West in Ukraine,” Stanovaya said. “And now there should be a threshold after which they begin to act sensibly.” Instead, as Putin sees it, Western capitals are choosing escalation. “This is an escalation he doesn’t want but one he feels he has to respond to,” Stanovaya said. For an autocratic regime such as Putin’s, the President’s strength depends on everyone’s belief in that strength. In the absence of strong public opinion, elections—even those of a thoroughly undemocratic nature—provide an image of cohesion and unquestioned power. “He needs a certification of this world view,” Stanovaya told me. “Proof he can hold up and say, yet again, ‘The country is behind me.’”

"5 Scenarios for Russia After Putin’s Next Term," Casey Michel, Politico, 03.16.24.

  1. Democracy flowers (likelihood: 5-10%)
  2. Russia disintegrates (likelihood: 10-15%)
  3. Nationalists rising (likelihood: 15-20%)
  4. A technocratic reset (likelihood: 20-25%)
  5. Long live President Putin (likelihood:45-50%)

“Putin's next term is illegal. The world should call him out on it,” Vladimir Kara-Murza, WP, 03.12.24. 

  • It's not only the absence of opposition candidates, media censorship and large-scale repression that make Russia's upcoming election illegitimate. One other reason is that Putin has no right to be on the ballot at all. Russia's 1993 constitution limited the president to two consecutive four-year terms. 
  • The only logical, and the only honest, political response to this from the world's democracies would be to deny recognition of Vladimir Putin as the legitimate leader of Russia after May 7 — in the same way they have refused to recognize the legitimacy of, for example, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela or Lukashenko in Belarus.
  • Western leaders often speak of their determination to stand up to the Kremlin. Sometimes the most powerful tool of all is simply telling the truth. Putin is not a legitimately elected president. He is a dictator and a usurper. It’s time the free world finally said so.

"Generation Putin: Proud Russians but Disengaged,” public opinion survey by Dina Smeltz, Lama El Baz, Denis Volkov and Stepan Goncharov, Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Levada Center, 03.18.24. 

  • Eight in 10 young Russians (82%) say they are very (65%) or somewhat (17%) proud to be Russian citizens, while few say they are not very (3%) or not at all proud (4%).
  • A majority say their political views are the same (25%) or somewhat similar (32%) to those of their parents; a third say their political views are somewhat different (20%) or very different (13%) from their parents’ views.
  • Just under half of Russian youths say democracy is preferable to any other kind of government (48%), while roughly equal amounts are amenable to authoritarian governments (20%) or do not think it matters for people like them (21%).
  • Asked before this past weekend’s presidential vote, just 30 percent say they have voted in an election in the past two years, and even fewer say they have signed a petition (21%), filed a complaint (21%), participated in public hearings and committees (15%), or participated in a protest (2%).
  • When thinking about their lives in 10 years, three in 10 young Russians say they feel optimistic and two in 10 say they feel excited.
  • These positive attitudes may be attributed to their optimism about career prospects. Young Russians are more likely to say that career opportunities are increasing (47%) than decreasing (22%) or stagnant (24%).

“What’s going on in Putin’s head?” Roman Anin, Istories, 03.14.24. Clues from Russian Views

  • If we ask Ukrainians on the frontline what they are giving their lives for, the majority will answer without hesitation: for freedom. Today, it is their basic and existential value.
    • If we asked the same question to the Russians…many would…answer that they went to war to earn money. Even those who joined the Russian army for ideological reasons…would hardly be able to unanimously list the specific values for which they are fighting.
  • Unlike the Ukrainian ideology of freedom, the ideology of Russkiy Mir is extremely abstract.
    • This ideology is based on the image of the enemy, the collective West. Secondly, [it] is based on the idea of the exceptionalism and messianism of the Russian people. The third distinctive feature…is its aggressive character. It does not recognize state borders and denies national identity to other peoples.
  • [President Vladimir] Putin’s myth about Russkiy Mir is…a mystical version of the ideology of Chekism - the system of views and beliefs of a narrow group of people from the KGB.
    • Putin and his circle were brought up in the traditions of one of the most cruel and inhumane special services in the history of the 20th century. Their view of the world is profoundly distorted by what psychology calls hostile attribution bias.
    • [The inability of Russian secret services to subdue the West] developed resentment…a sense of resentment, humiliation and a thirst for revenge on their enemy.
    • [Another feature is] a state policy based on cynicism, the cult of brute force, the desire to use others for one’s own ends, disregard for morality and the belief that the ends justify any means. Sadism is another system-forming “bond” of the ideology of Russkiy Mir and Chekism.
    • Putin and his circle believe…that they were the salvation of Russia, its new nobility, sent to the country by God himself. They believe in the most incredible conspiracy theories, occultism and secret rites.

“The Russian Economy’s Rainy Day Has Come, But Maybe It’s Not So Bad,” Vladislav Inozemtsev, Russia.Post/The Moscow Times, 03.14.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • From the moment Vladimir Putin stepped foot in the Kremlin, the government’s most important goal was to reduce public debt ... A budget deficit was viewed as something terrible... The logic of the government was that a rainy day was ahead... Apparently, the rainy day has come: the rate at which the liquid part of the National Wealth Fund (NWF) is being spent indicates that it will be depleted next year, while the ceiling for government borrowing in the market penciled in to the 2024-26 budget is RUB 3.5 trillion a year.
  • The budget deficit does not yet look catastrophic at just under 2% of 2023 nominal GDP, but hardly anyone is serious about returning to a balanced budget in the foreseeable future. Experts have been reluctant to treat this shift as fundamental, but I would.  Implemented after almost 10 years of zero growth (Russia’s GDP grew by only 8.56% in 2013-22), it speaks of a decision to prioritize economic growth over financial discipline.
  • By removing fiscal restrictions, the government is now also able to finance the Russian army ... The first results of the new policy are already evident: 3.6% GDP growth in 2023 and a 5.4% increase in real household income. Meanwhile, the IMF recently upgraded its Russian GDP growth estimate for 2024 from 1.1% to 2.6%. The government’s prioritization of economic growth over balanced budgets means that the population’s financial situation should not worsen in the near future.
  • If budget deficits remain within 2-3% of GDP over the next decade, public debt will still be far from dangerous levels, while borrowing will be done in the local market and in rubles, which implies a low probability of default.
  • The new doctrine of Russian economic growth possibly came about because of the emerging understanding that Putin is unlikely to have to reap what he sows.

For more commentaries on Putin’s reelection/Russian domestic politics, see:

Defense and aerospace:

  •  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:

  • No significant developments.


“How Deep Does Corruption Run in Ukraine? Ukraine has made significant progress fighting graft, but its record continues to haunt it,” Adrian Karatnycky, FP, 03.06.24.

  • How... should Ukraine’s corruption problems be understood? ...First, it’s necessary to be precise about the scale of the problem. Because corruption is hidden, estimating its scale is always problematic. According to the most widely cited source—the annual ranking of corruption by Transparency International (TI)—Ukraine has scored poorly for decades. ...The most recent TI index suggests that Ukraine has made some strides since then, but it still ranks 104th among 180 countries. 
  • There is no question that Ukraine has made great strides combating corruption, with 11 consecutive years of improving its ranking in the TI Corruption Perception Index. This leads us to the most recent arena of corruption—and, in the context of Ukraine’s need for Western support, the most sensitive one: the defense and national security sector. Since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion, scandals related to the military have included price gouging on foodstuffs for the armed forces, overpriced (and possibly flimsy) winter gear, and an unfulfilled contract for mortar shells. All of these are serious and deserve prosecution, especially when they carry a cost in lives in the ongoing war. It’s important, however, to set the scale of these cases in relation to the war. The abuses involved amount to millions or tens of millions of dollars—and while these are large numbers, they are an exceedingly miniscule percentage of Ukraine’s vast military expenditures. 
  • As Ukraine’s war against Russia proceeds, policymakers and the public should expect further corruption scandals. These must be addressed, and their perpetrators punished, but they must also be seen in the proper context. Occasional lurid headlines notwithstanding, Ukraine has made major progress in tackling grand corruption, reducing the power of oligarchs, and managing a vast increase in defense spending without scandals on a massive scale. That in itself is testament to how much has changed in Ukraine since a decade ago. Shining a light on corruption while being honest about its scale is not merely a matter of accuracy—it is a matter of Ukraine’s survival.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Armenians Wonder Who to Trust After Lost Wars. With Nagorno-Karabakh lost, Armenia is looking for allies beyond Moscow,” Ani Chkhikvadze, FP, 03.16.24. 

  • “Georgia and Ukraine changed their foreign policy after the [Rose and Maidan] revolutions, and they faced repercussions. We didn’t make any changes, but we were still punished,” said Armen Grigoryan, the head of Armenia’s National Security Council, during a trip I made to the country back in March 2023.
  • As the second war between Baku and Yerevan erupted in 2020, Moscow chose to look the other way. Armenian authorities viewed Russian reluctance as tacit approval for Baku’s actions. Russian inaction, as [political scientist Richard] Grigoryan insinuated, was partly intended to punish Pashinyan. “I can assure you that without Russia, Azerbaijan would never have undertaken such significant moves against Nagorno-Karabakh,” Grigoryan said, using blunter language than when he speaks to Russian media.. “Following the 2020 war, we had to reevaluate our security situation,” he added. “The tail doesn’t wag the dog anymore,” Giragosian said. “Armenia has mortgaged its independence in exchange for security guarantees,” Giragosian told me. Yerevan kept its head down throughout the Ukraine war, remaining silent on the matter. “We are hiding in the bathrooms of the U.N. and New York traffic,” he said.
  • But Yerevan’s quest for new partners may merely be an attempt to make Moscow jealous. Although the government decided to miss the last gathering of the Russia-led Commonwealth of Independent States, the prime minister attended the Eurasian Economic Union summit in December in Saint Petersburg. “What has really changed? Did we leave the Eurasian Economic Union or CSTO? No. The Eurasian Economic Union isn’t a union, and it’s not economic. Both are forms of loyalty to Russia,” said Alexander Iskandaryan, a Yerevan-based political scientist. None of this worked. Diplomatic rhetoric and appeals from the United States and Europe did nothing to deter Azerbaijan. Baku, tired of years spent in meeting rooms at peacebuilding conferences, swapped diplomacy for drones. And Moscow, claiming that its security agreement didn’t cover the disputed territory, refused to act. Yerevan, heavily reliant on Russian arms, had lost its military edge to Azerbaijan, which garnered support from Turkey and procured weapons from Israel. It will take decades to rebuild a military that can face Azerbaijan—and Yerevan may not have that much time.
  • “For Armenia, much of the desire to normalize relations with Turkey isn’t about Turkey; it’s about a Western shift,” Giragosian said, maintaining that Yerevan acknowledges that closer ties with the West hinge on the restoration of diplomatic relations with Ankara. But is the West prepared to embrace this shift? U.S. engagement in the South Caucasus significantly weakened over the years leading up to the war in Ukraine because of shifting international priorities and the general decline of U.S. engagement abroad under the administrations of former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, a trend that has continued through the administration of President Joe Biden. The inability to deter Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has left populations in the region wary of Western promises and afraid for their security. Armenians may not trust Russia—but they don’t place much more faith in the West.

“Russia’s Remaining Leverage Over Armenia Is Dwindling Fast, Kirill Krivosheev, CEIP, 03.13.24.

  • Under Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia has regularly discussed scaling back its traditionally close ties with Russia. Each time, Moscow could have pointed out that trade volumes were stable, military cooperation continued, and the Kremlin remained an arbiter in Armenia’s dispute with Azerbaijan over the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh. These arguments became meaningless when Azerbaijan seized Nagorno-Karabakh following a one-day war in 2023. Now Armenians are no longer interested in whether Russia is a reliable partner or not: they know the answer to that question. Instead, they’re asking what the Kremlin could do if they began seriously looking westward.
  • For all the problems, it’s hard to imagine the Russian-Armenian relationship deteriorating to rock bottom. There are no territorial conflicts between the two nations; there are plenty of Armenians with pro-Russian views; the Russian language is widely used in Armenia; and Russian media outlets are freely available.
  • The most likely scenario is that trade volumes will remain at current levels, or perhaps even grow. Armenians will continue traveling to Russian cities for work: at least as long as the ruble remains strong enough for it to be worth their while. The Russian military base in Gyumri can sit there as a reminder of a bygone era—until its lease expires in 2044. But the priority global partner for Yerevan will be the West.
  • Unlike many other post-Soviet countries, where Russia is the biggest threat to their sovereignty, in Armenia that role is taken by Azerbaijan. More than anything, Yerevan needs allies to keep Baku in check. Russia has already proved itself useless in this respect, and now it is time for Armenia to check the reliability of its new security partners: above all, France and Greece (Turkey’s historic rivals).
  • While these new partners are ready to supply arms to Armenia, if there is another war with Azerbaijan, they will likely only agree to play the role of international advocates for Armenia, not full military allies. This is significantly less than Turkey does for Baku, or NATO for Ukraine. But it is more than Russia did for Armenia after the Karabakh war in 2020.



  1. Interestingly, while accounts of later events with Putin’s participation were posted on the Kremlin’s website, as of 10:22 pm Moscow time on March 18, the account of this press conference was yet to be posted on that site.
  2. Vladimir Putin won approximately 87.3% of the vote. The runner-up was Communist candidate Nikolay Kharitonov with 4.3%. They were followed by Vladislav Davankov in third place and Leonid Slutsky in fourth, with 3.8% and 3.2%, respectively, according to R.Politik Weekly Digest No. 11 (25) 2024, 11 March – 18 March 2024.  For foreign leaders’ reactions to the outcome of the presidential election in Russia, see “West condemns Putin re-election as violating ‘civil and political rights,’” Henry Foy, Leila Abboud and Max Seddon, FT, 03.18.24.
  3. First published in Chinese in the Guancha.
  4. Putin was referring to “Russians there just like us” in Ukraine.


The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 11:00 am Eastern time on the day this digest was distributed. Unless otherwise indicated, all summaries above are direct quotations. 

*Here and elsewhere, the italicized text indicates comments by RM staff and associates. These comments do not constitute a RM editorial policy.

^ Translated with the help of machine translation.

Slider photo by shared under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.