Russia Analytical Report, March 18-25, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • Analysts weigh the takeaways from this weekend’s Mueller report summary. Meanwhile, national security professor Nikolas Gvosdev notes that Russian election interference has barely touched non-Western democracies, arguing that the meddling is guided by Moscow’s national interests rather than a desire to undermine democracy per se.
  • The very definition of stability in Russian-U.S. strategic relations should be expanded to include eliminating not only “incentives for a nuclear first strike” but “incentives for any use of nuclear weapons,” writes Alexey Arbatov of the Center for International Security. The Carnegie Moscow Center’s Dmitri Trenin agrees.
  • As the U.S. withdraws from Syria, communications between Russia’s and America’s military establishments need to grow more intense, with more active dialogues, write Andrew Weiss and Nicole Ng of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Otherwise, lessons learned from the deconfliction effort could be lost.
  • Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election shows that Russia’s 2014 intervention has erased Moscow’s standing as the post-Soviet regional power center, arbiter and “older brother” to its neighbors, according to journalist Konstantin Skorkin.
  • While the Kremlin can be expected to closely watch and learn from Kazakhstan’s experiment with a strongman’s departure from power, the focus will be less on the ex-president and more on the behavior of the elites, argues political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya.

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • No significant commentary.

NATO-Russia relations:

“Responding to Turkey’s Purchase of Russia’s S-400 Missile System,” Max Hoffman, Center for American Progress, 03.21.19The author, associate director of National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress, writes:

  • “Washington’s attempts to manage the crises in bilateral relations with tactical adjustments have failed to stop Turkey’s domestic deterioration or more assertive line internationally. This accommodative approach was understandable given Turkey’s importance to NATO’s defense posture; to stabilization efforts in Iraq and Syria; to European integration and energy strategy; and to the refugee crisis. However, this approach is rooted in the belief that the current tumult is an aberration and that adjustments to address discrete bilateral issues could reset relations. That belief may be fundamentally flawed, as the S-400 decision is demonstrating.”
  • “Turkey is likely to continue to pursue a more assertive, independent foreign policy with less deference to its Western partners. The United States and its allies should face this unfortunate reality and prepare.”
  • “The S-400 decision should be one of those red lines. If Turkey is not a democracy and does not reliably defend the democratic bloc, it should not enjoy the benefits of membership … Indeed, the democratic security architecture should adapt so that it is not dependent on Ankara, and the United States should lead this effort. However, if Turkey opts to shift its strategic alignment, it should know what is at stake.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Nuclear Deterrence: A Guarantee or Threat to Strategic Stability?” Alexey Arbatov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 03.22.19The author, head of the Center for International Security at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, writes:

  • “Nuclear deterrence … can only work in conjunction with negotiations and agreements on the limitation, reduction and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. Without such checks, nuclear deterrence goes berserk … Only an understanding of strategic stability that is agreed upon by both sides and embodied in arms limitation and reduction agreements can put strict limits on destabilizing concepts, plans and arms of nuclear deterrence.”
  • “[T]he conditions of strategic stability can only be imagined between Russia and the United States if this concept is to have clear meaning [elimination of incentives for a nuclear first strike] rather than stand as wishful thinking for international peace and harmony. … [T]he very definition of stability in Russian-U.S. strategic relations should be expanded to include … ‘incentives for any use of nuclear weapons.’”
  • “[T]he meaning of the provision on ‘measures that reduce the concentration of warheads on strategic delivery vehicles’ and ‘giving priority to highly survivable systems’ should be expressed not indirectly but directly, and with mutual recognition that weapons systems threatening the survival of strategic forces and their command-and-control are destabilizing and should be limited and reduced.”
  • “In addition, weapons systems that blur the line between nuclear and conventional arms … should be recognized as destabilizing and should be subject to mutual restrictions and confidence-building measures. Missile defense systems intended to protect against third countries and non-state actors should once again be the subject of a mutually agreed ‘relationship between strategic offensive and defensive arms.’ Space weapons … should be acknowledged as destabilizing and be subject to a verifiable ban.”
  • “Cyber warfare against each other’s strategic command-and-control information systems … should be subject to prohibitions and confidence-building measures. Finally, the involvement of third states in the process of nuclear arms limitation should be based on an objective assessment of their forces and programs and on an agreement on the sequence, principles and objects of multilateral arms limitation agreements.”

“Strategic Stability in the Changing World,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 03.21.19The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “An updated definition of strategic stability needs to account for ways to bar military confrontation between any nuclear weapon states; successfully manage global competition among the United States, China and Russia, and regional rivalries involving India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea; exercise unilateral and parallel restraint in deployments and doctrines; and include the use of communications, confidence-building measures and other conflict-prevention mechanisms to bolster stability in the likely future absence of an arms control regime.”
  • “[I]t’s essential to prevent a direct military collision between the United States and Russia or the United States and China. … U.S., Russian and Chinese heads of national security, foreign affairs and defense should engage in regular dialogue on strategic stability issues.”
  • “One way to strengthen stability is for Russia to adopt a second-strike strategy as its main scenario for the use of nuclear weapons. … It will likely be impossible to incorporate China into existing U.S.-Russian agreements. It’s equally unrealistic to expect a tripartite nuclear agreement … any time soon.”
  • “The denuclearization of North Korea … is unrealistic. … Washington … [should] recognize this reality and refrain from attempts to resolve the North Korean problem by force … The mutual nuclear deterrence between New Delhi and Islamabad needs to be reinforced. … The ongoing development of political dialogue between Beijing and New Delhi offers hope that the two Asian powers will be able to reach a stable strategic equilibrium. … In the Middle East, it is imperative to keep Tehran within the framework of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.”
  • “[I]t is possible to ensure strategic stability, even under these increasingly complex geopolitical, technological and psychological conditions. Successful efforts require a new outlook, a new strategy and new instruments. It is time to start equipping the global security community accordingly.”

“Arms Control Is Dead. Long Live Arms Control,” Andrey Baklitskiy, Carnegie Moscow Center, 03.21.19The author, a consultant at the PIR Center, writes:

  • “It is increasingly common among the Russian expert community to hear the idea voiced that bilateral arms control has run its course and should be replaced with … ‘a dialogue among all the nuclear powers.’ … [I]t is obvious that it refers to a distant future, which doesn’t solve the very concrete problems that have arisen between Russia and the United States as a result of the disintegration of the existing arms control system.”
  • “[N]either Russia nor the United States appears ready to drastically increase its nuclear forces beyond the limits set by the New START, and it’s unlikely that such plans will appear immediately after the legal limitations … disappear. … [However,] there is a high risk of sides eventually embarking on the arms race either because they overestimate their counterpart’s capabilities … or because of purely internal reasons.”
  • “In the event that the New START is not renewed, Russia and the United States could issue joint or parallel declarations that they do not plan to increase their strategic weapons above the limits set by the treaty, and that if such plans arise, they will inform the other side of this.”
  • “Russia and the United States should also reaffirm their commitment to the Ballistic Missile Launch Notification Agreement and the Agreement on Reciprocal Advance Notification of Major Strategic Exercises. … As far as … the INF is concerned, the key challenge for Russia and the United States will be avoiding a repetition of the Euromissile Crisis … One possible solution could be an accord on not deploying intermediate-range land-based missiles in Europe.”
  • “Traditionally, Moscow has insisted on arms control agreements being enshrined in legally binding documents, while Washington has been more open to political deals. Nevertheless, a new, more flexible approach could find support with the Russian leadership.”

“The INF Treaty Crisis: Filling the Void With European Leadership,” Nikolai Sokov, Arms Control Today, March 2019The author, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, writes:    

  • “The pending demise of the … INF Treaty indicates the larger deterioration of the U.S.-Russian arms control relationship … The next likely victim is … New START. … [I]t will be vital to begin consultations on possible new arms control measures without delay.”
  • “The prospects for a renewed arms control effort will be defined by answers to two related questions: Question 1: Who will agree to talk to Russia? One alternative would be for Europe to take a larger role in engaging Russia on arms control issues. … Question 2: With whom will Russia agree to talk? There is little reason to believe that Russia will want to engage in an arms control dialogue with the United States, although it will declare its readiness to do so.”
  • “Whether Russia may be interested in a meaningful dialogue with Europe will be largely determined by Europe’s behavior during the remaining months of the INF Treaty and New START.”
  • “With today’s U.S.-Russian animosity … the only actor who can successfully talk to Russia and with whom Russia may talk is Europe or, more precisely, certain individual European countries. They have the capacity to play that role. They can translate capacity into real action on two conditions. First, they need the political will to emerge from their traditional place on the margins … Second, they need to start sending the correct signals now, without waiting for the end of the INF Treaty.”


“Islamic State’s Caliphate Is Gone, But Not Its Violent Extremism,” Sune Engel Rasmussen, Wall Street Journal, 03.24.19: The author, a correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The collapse of Islamic State’s caliphate has delivered a crushing blow to the extremist group, but the conditions that nourished that insurgency and others in war-shattered Syria and Iraq remain perilously in place.”
  • “In a sign of Islamic State’s capability even as its forces hunkered down in the last dying corner of the caliphate, its sleeper cells have stayed active … In January, a suicide bomber from one of those cells killed at least 19 people … Such attacks are likely to pose a growing threat as the U.S. pulls out of Syria and leaves the remaining powers—the Assad regime, Iran, Russia and Turkey—to take on multiple extremist insurgencies in the shattered country.”
  • “The U.S. strategy may have helped crush the caliphate but has done little to fortify Syria against an extremist revival, according to Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, largely because the state itself remains so weak. ... In northwestern Syria, thousands of militants from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly known as the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, have taken advantage of a cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey to seize most of Idlib province, where the group controls border revenue and administration.”
  • “Russia has pummeled Islamic State with airstrikes but also destroyed entire neighborhoods, creating devastation that could nurture extremism by displacing large populations and hindering any economic recovery. The Assad government’s brutal crackdown on rebels may have created some stability, but it has also pushed many Syrians in the country into an opposition that is now populated primarily by extremists.”
  • “Islamic State has repeatedly in its propaganda threatened Iran and Russia—in Persian and Russian—with attacks on their soil.”

Conflict in Syria:

“Collision Avoidance: The Lessons of US and Russian Operations in Syria,” Andrew S. Weiss and Nicole Ng, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 03.20.19The authors, vice president for studies and a research assistant at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, write:

  • “While the Russian intervention has not solved all of Syria’s myriad problems (far from it), there is no question that it allowed Putin to address many of Russia’s problems—namely its post-Ukraine political isolation and long-standing desire to force the United States to deal with Moscow largely on its own terms.”
  • “The war in Syria demonstrated that limited forms of U.S.-Russian cooperation, particularly to minimize the risk of inadvertent escalation or accidents, were possible since they required relatively little trust or political capital. … It is also worth posing the question whether Washington and Moscow missed an opportunity to forge a closer military-to-military relationship in Syria. Or was this always an illusory prospect? … [B]oth the Obama and Trump administrations have been deeply skeptical about the reputational risks of cooperation—let alone whether Russian counterparts could be trusted.”
  • “Common secondary interests were not sufficient to sustain complex military and diplomatic cooperation … Both Moscow and Washington may have wanted to target terrorists, but successful counterterrorism cooperation ultimately depends on an ability to share sensitive intelligence and targeting information.”
  • “[T]here is a strong case to be made for increasing the intensity of communication between military establishments going forward as well as the number of active dialogues. … Both sides, arguably, have an interest in making sure that the lessons learned from the deconfliction effort are not discarded.”
  • “By increasing the risk of military confrontation, Moscow believes that it can intimidate the West into simply backing off. The seemingly thankless task before Western policymakers remains to manage such provocations carefully and to prove them wrong.”

Cyber security:

“What a US Operation Against Russian Trolls Predicts About Escalation in Cyberspace,” Erica D. Borghard, War on the Rocks, 03.22.19The author, an assistant professor at the Army Cyber Institute at the United States Military Academy at West Point, writes:

  • “The Washington Post recently reported that U.S. Cyber Command conducted an offensive cyber operation in the fall to block the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm, from carrying out a cyber-enabled influence operation against the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. This appeared to build on a previous cyber operation in which Cyber Command directly targeted Russian operations to warn them against meddling in the upcoming midterms.”
  • “Notably, the United States does not appear to have targeted the much bigger fish here: the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU), Russia’s military intelligence agency. Instead, the operation targeted the IRA, a Kremlin-affiliated company that conducts social media-based influence campaigns to sow public distrust in U.S. institutions. Why was this?”
  • “First, the United States may have chosen to target the IRA because, from an operational perspective, it was easier to gain access to their networks. Second, U.S. decision-makers may have chosen to disrupt the operations of a less significant target out of the fear that an operation against an actor such as the GRU would trigger Russian retaliation.”
  • “On balance, this initial implementation of the defend forward strategy suggests the United States can be more proactive and engaged in cyberspace without provoking dangerous escalation dynamics. This does not mean adversaries will not react to a more forward-leaning U.S. posture in cyberspace; rather, it implies that the United States can reasonably assume some additional risks to confront undesirable adversary cyber behavior.” 

See also “Domestic politics, economy and energy” section below.

Elections interference:

“4 Key Takeaways From the Mueller Report Summary,” Aaron Blake, The Washington Post, 03.24.19The author, a senior political reporter for the news outlet, writes:

  • “1. No firm conclusion on obstruction of justice: It became pretty clear Friday [March 22] that Mueller would not be charging anyone on the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia during the 2016 election, given he opted for no more indictments. But that left completely unanswered the question of whether President Trump had committed obstruction of justice. Perhaps the biggest revelation from the report is that Mueller takes no firm position as to whether Trump committed a crime, instead opting to lay out the evidence and let others make that determination.”
  • “2. No collusion, officially: … [T]here wasn’t much doubt that Mueller had decided there wasn’t proof of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. But Barr’s summary makes it clear.”
  • “3. Barr personally doesn’t see obstruction: The lack of collusion proof appears to have spared Trump a potentially harsher finding on the obstruction-of-justice portion. And Barr personally concludes that the report doesn’t outline ‘obstructive conduct.’”
  • “4. There is more to come: Ever since his confirmation hearing, in which Barr indicated that he was restricted from releasing Mueller’s entire report, the question has been how much we would find out. Barr’s letter Sunday suggests there is more to come: ‘As I have previously stated ... I am mindful of the public interest in this matter. For that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations and Departmental policies.’”

“Trump Gets Vindication, but Don't Lose Sight of the Source,” Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann, NBC News, 03.25.19: The authors, the moderator of “Meet the Press” and editors for the news outlet, write:

  • “Politically and PR-wise, the Mueller probe is over, even if/when the full report comes out. It’s impossible to put this toothpaste—'Mueller finds no Trump-Russia conspiracy’—back in the tube. But the sourcing … matters. It was Attorney General William Barr who quoted special counsel Robert Mueller in a half sentence, saying: ‘[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.’”
  • “And the definition of coordination, Barr further quoted Mueller, was an ‘agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.’ But that specific definition excludes any coordination/conspiracy/communication with actors like WikiLeaks or Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. And it narrows the subject to election interference—not, say, sanctions.”
  • “It also was Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—not Mueller—who concluded that the evidence wasn’t sufficient to establish that Trump committed obstruction of justice. In fact, the half sentence that Barr quotes from Mueller reads: ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’”
  • “Barr and Rosenstein determined that, because there wasn’t evidence that Trump was involved ‘in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,’ it would be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump acted with ‘corrupt intent.’”
  • “Bottom line: The entire special counsel regulations were designed to take politics out of the investigation. But you had two political appointees make a determination about the investigation without consulting Congress. … Given all of President Trump’s tweets yesterday and this morning on Barr’s summary of the Mueller report … it’s notable the president hasn’t condemned Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.”
  • “Here’s what Barr wrote: ‘The Special Counsel’s investigation determined that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. The first involved attempts by a Russia organization … to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord … The second element involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election.”

“R.I.P. Russiagate. Here's What We Learned,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 03.25.19: The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “Russiagate … is dead. But it wasn’t completely pointless: We can learn important things about both Russia and the U.S. from it. … The millions of words written about the conspiracy that wasn’t will interfere with a meaningful post-mortem.”
  • “One thing that’s important to realize is that regional expertise matters. … That these signs [from the famous Trump Tower meeting] were largely ignored is evidence that the level of Russia expertise in the U.S. media and intelligence community is lower than it should be. Investing in raising it, both through educational programs and through making more knowledgeable voices heard, should prevent embarrassing mistakes in the future.”
  • “Another lesson here is that while spies, former and current, make titillating sources, their thinking can suffer from professional distortions; their training also makes them good at disinformation, so it may not be a great idea to trust them without fully understanding their agenda.”
  • “[T]he Mueller investigation has provided a valuable collection of facts on what Putin’s Russia can and cannot do against the U.S. It can, as Mueller’s indictments lay out in great detail, run a mean trolling operation on the social networks. … Putin’s Russia, apparently, can also hack U.S. political organizations. … The Kremlin, in other words, picked some low-hanging fruit.”
  • “But Mueller’s inability to find collusion … shows the limited reach of Kremlin networks in the U.S. Even with the Trump team, full of political novices and adventurers, even despite the Trump organization’s business ties with wealthy and shady Russians, Russian intelligence couldn’t get the kind of cooperation that would have led to pro-Russian policies after Trump’s victory—or to the giant embarrassment of having Trump revealed as a Russian asset. … Mueller’s failure to find collusion confirms an old rule of thumb known as Hanlon’s razor: Human bungling is usually a better explanation for anything than malice or conspiracy.
  • “But the most important learning I draw from Russiagate is about the search for external enemies as a political method beloved of both Russian and U.S. politicians. Russiagate fueled that love in both countries. … Both countries’ biggest enemies, of course, are inside, not outside: Corruption in various forms, and policy failures. Tackling them simultaneously would probably turn the U.S. and Russia from adversaries into allies. That, however, can only happen with different presidents.”

“An Insider's Guide to Russia's Political Interference Preferences,” Nikolas K. Gvosdev, The National Interest, 03.25.19: The author, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and a senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, writes:

  • “Over the past several years, it has been asserted that a key parameter of Russian global strategy is to undermine democracies. This narrative helps to define the strategic partnership between Russia and China as an ‘axis of autocracies.’ ... Yet the question needs to be probed more deeply. Does the Kremlin seek to undermine democracies because of an ideological dislike of that form of government, or have the Russians taken action against governments that happen to be democracies?”
  • “The pattern of Russian activity observed in Europe and North America does not appear to be replicated in other parts of the world. … [P]ublished reports do not suggest that Russian hackers and social-media engineers have interfered in elections in major non-Western democracies like Japan or South Korea. … [E]vidence [about Russian interference in Brazil and India] is contested and the incidents in which Russian actors have been alleged to interfere have been minor.”
  • “In contrast to very public denunciations of Russian actions by Western governments, non-Western democracies seem prepared to argue that the Kremlin appears to be uninterested in involving itself in their political affairs. Is there a reason we can discern for this distinction? … Russia may have less propensity to duplicate the tactics utilized during the Brexit referendum and the U.S., French and German elections in other parts of the world.”
  • “First, if Russian activity is driven less by ideology and more by state interest, then there is no benefit to overt interference in the major non-Western democracies. For the most part, these countries have reasonably stable relationships with Russia that are not impacted by electoral changes. ... Second, democracies in the non-Western world tend to see forms of government not as universal but sui generis to particular countries and civilizations. None of the major non-Western democracies view democracy promotion as an integral part of their foreign policy nor do they expect that their partners share similar forms of government.”
  • “What could change this state of affairs? One factor is whether, in the coming years, parties and politicians emerge in the non-Western democracies that are antagonistic to Russia or more inclined to embrace notions of democracy promotion. ... Conversely, if trends in places like Poland … produce more authoritarian governments that also tend to be more anti-Russian, Moscow could see how strengthening, rather than undermining, democratic norms might serve Russian interests. … Moscow has not resisted moves towards greater democratization in Armenia, in part because Yerevan’s overall orientation remains aligned with Russia.”
  • “Russia does not trust that democracies in the major Western countries will produce governments friendly to Russian interests—and so Moscow has chosen to meddle in their affairs to try and produce what are, from the Kremlin’s view, more acceptable outcomes. …  Russia may continue to do so unless the costs of such meddling are so counterproductive to Russian interests that interference loses its value—or when Western governments are less inclined to challenge core Russian interests.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“The United States and Russia in the Greater Middle East,” James Dobbins and Ivan Timofeev, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), March 2019The authors, a senior fellow and distinguished chair in diplomacy and security at the RAND Corporation and the director of programs at the Russian International Affairs Council, write:

  • “Though the Middle East has not been the trigger of the current U.S.-Russia crisis, it is an area of competition. … Still, U.S. and Russian interests in the Middle East and Afghanistan are not wholly incompatible. Despite the many disagreements, there is also space for common interests and joint action.”
  • “Washington and Moscow share an interest in preventing the renewal of the Iranian nuclear military program. However, disagreements on the means to achieve this goal as well as on other issues like Iran’s civil nuclear program, decrease their motivation to cooperate. Among other issues, Moscow will be critical of attempts by Washington to promote regime change in Iran.”
  • “It is a common interest of Russia and the United States to prevent Syria’s further descent into chaos and a revival of the Islamic State and other radical organizations. However, they see the paths to achieve this goal differently. … Afghanistan can be an area of cooperation between Russia and the United States. Both are interested in preventing the Islamic State from taking root in the country and would like to guard against the spread of instability to Central Asia. Both seek to reduce the trafficking of narcotics from Afghanistan, and both are also interested in some form of compromise between the Taliban and the government in Kabul.”

“How Russian State TV Has Changed Its Tune on Donald Trump,” Daria Litvinova, CBS News, 03.25.19: The author, a Moscow-based journalist, writes:

  • “When it comes to the U.S. government, Russian TV pulls no punches. ‘Failure,’ ‘not making any sense,’ ‘liar’—these are just a few of the labels that anchors on Russia's state-run TV have pinned on President Donald Trump in recent months.”
  • “Television remains the primary source of news for more than 80 percent of Russia's population, according to polls. … But Kremlin propagandists on the airwaves took a decidedly friendlier tone in their coverage of Mr. Trump during the 2016 U.S. election campaign. While the U.S., its politics and culture, was still bashed regularly, Mr. Trump received praise and support. That narrative has changed significantly over the past couple of years.”
  • “Cautious concern turned into blatant criticism as Mr. Trump ordered missile strikes on Syria and threatened North Korea with military intervention. Complimentary epithets, such as ‘brave’ and ‘determined’ were replaced with ‘brusque,’ ‘elephant in a china shop,’ and even ‘petty tyrant.’ By last year, Russian state TV channels had returned to their usual U.S.-bashing.”
  • “Mr. Trump, they said, treated trade agreements with other countries ‘as toilet paper, tearing pieces off when it suits him.’ He was a ‘hypocrite’ for sanctioning Russia over the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal in England, but going soft on Saudi Arabia after the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.” 
  • “This notion became the cornerstone of the Kremlin's disenchantment with Mr. Trump, Troitsky said: ‘Disappointments probably stemmed from Trump's inability to free himself from the ties and restrictions he's enmeshed in by his government and the Congress—especially now that the Democrats got the majority of seats in the House.’"
  • “Russia's initial reaction to the release of the Mueller report over the weekend appeared to suggest that hope was, in fact, still very much alive in Moscow.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Restoring the European Security Order,” Rachel Ellehuus and Andrei Zagorski, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), March 2019The authors, deputy director and senior fellow with the Europe Program at CSIS and the director of disarmament, arms control and conflict resolution studies at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, write:

  • “We concentrate on three questions which we believe are of crucial importance for any future discussions … Question 1: Reconciling Views of the European Order … If culture of mutual consultation is revived, all parties should commit themselves to a formal or informal mechanism of consultation in order to ‘ideally seek mutual agreement before pursuing any . . . unilateral changes to the status quo.’ In this case, it will be important to first agree on principles.”
  • “At a minimum, these would include: up front acknowledgement by all parties that membership can proceed even if consultations fail to produce an agreement, … the imposition of limits on which countries can take part in the consultations … and putting a time limit on discussions so they cannot be used as a stalling mechanism. … Additionally, a discussion of the Helsinki principle of ‘non-intervention in internal affairs’ should be considered.”
  • “Question 2: Preventing a New Arms Race in Europel … One way to move forward would be for NATO and Russia to agree in a joint statement that they: so far have remained within the reciprocal military restraint commitments of the late 1990s, including the Founding Act; will observe those commitments in the future; and will begin a dialogue on measures … that would make further deployments in the sensitive areas along the line of contact unnecessary by keeping their military activities unprovocative, transparent and predictable to each other.”
  • “Question 3: Addressing Concerns of Non-Aligned Status. … Strengthening the status of non-alignment in the context of the European security order would require a set of complex arrangements including: providing non-aligned states with credible security guarantees; designing a set of measures, including arms control measures to support such guarantees; and a mutual commitment to engage in political consultations should a country’s non-aligned status change in the future.”

“The Risks of Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Power Plans,” Nick Butler, Financial Times, 03.25.19: The author, an energy commentator for the FT and chair of the King’s Policy Institute at King’s College London, writes:

  • “Saudi Arabia is seeking to build one large [nuclear power] plant with capacity of 1200MW to 1600MW and a number of smaller reactors, mainly for use in desalination projects. … The Saudi plans for nuclear development are not new. Eight years ago a target of building 16 reactors over 20 years was announced. … Dialogues were established with a number of the countries and companies capable of supplying the necessary reactors—including South Korea, Russia, France and China, as well as the U.S.”
  • “[Russia’s] Rosatom is now one of the most successful nuclear businesses, with 36 projects under way across the world. A nuclear deal would confirm the improvement in relations between Riyadh and Moscow. Rosatom has already bid to supply nuclear fuel and develop a local supply chain and skills.”
  • “The economic case for investing in nuclear, as well as renewables, is strong. But the acquisition of civil nuclear reactors is complicated by politics and the fear that nuclear power and nuclear weapons are, as the Nobel Prize winner Hannes Alfvén once said, ‘Siamese twins.’ … This fear has been reinforced by comments made by the crown prince last March … [that] if Iran got a nuclear bomb, the kingdom would too.”
  • “[S]ome fear that once Saudi Arabia had developed its nuclear capabilities, in a moment of crisis the country could buy weapons technology, perhaps from Pakistan—a close ally.”

“Not All Is Quiet on the Arctic Front: Four key opportunities could spark instability in the Arctic in 2019,” Elizabeth Buchanan, The Moscow Times, 03.25.19: The author, a research fellow at The Australian National University, writes:

  • “An Arctic conflict agenda is fanned incessantly, which serves to cloud its relatively cooperative environment. However, 2019 will present four clear windows for the region to potentially backslide.”
  • “The first potential avenue for Arctic competition to intensify is related to control of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) … an attractive maritime route—namely for China—which slashes global transportation lead times and costs [and is] … within the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). … Largely due to the prolonged stagnation of the global oil price, the new priority for Russia appears to be control over global transportation through the Arctic. … Thanks to bolstered military capability along its Arctic coast, Russia now has plenty of bite to its bark over who can access the polar silk road.”
  • “A second opportunity for regional competition to increase is the implementation of a new U.S. Arctic Strategy. … Trump’s focus on Arctic affairs is confined to cutting Washington’s red tape—opening up the U.S. Arctic Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain for oil drilling.”
  • “The third area for competition to potentially spill over into conflict is the overlapping territorial claims to the North Pole—held by Russia, Denmark and Canada. Here, the central territorial challenge in the Arctic is over the continental shelf. … The wildcard will be Canada, who in 2019 is due to submit its formal Arctic claim for consideration to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. … Energy—specifically liquefied natural gas (LNG)—represents a final potential driver of Arctic competition. … The real economic gain, for now, is Arctic LNG on the Yamal Peninsula.”
  • “Heading into the 2020s, Russia’s Arctic strategy will be geared at bolstering their [sic] international standing and securing Moscow’s economic resource base well into the future. Given that Western sanctions will persist, this will be facilitated through continued foreign investment with China, who has demonstrated its ‘near-Arctic’ ambitions. … Crucially, the regions military installations … will be operationally challenged for all parties [due to climate change].”


"Russia and Iran Cannot Always Count on China,” Raffaello Pantucci, Financial Times, 03.25.19The author, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, writes:

  • “Beijing is seen by some as the financial backstop that countries can call on to bail them out when they fall foul of U.S. displeasure and face sanctions. Yet a close examination of the cases of Russia and Iran instead shows that China is reactive to U.S. sanctions policy, to the detriment of its supposed strategic allies.”
  • “This reflects the attractiveness of the U.S. market, the reach of extraterritorial sanctions and the independence of some Chinese institutions from Beijing’s geopolitical interests. It also highlights the existence of fissures between powers that are often painted as members of an anti-Western alliance. At a geostrategic level, China, Russia and Iran appear to be in lockstep. Yet … the reality is that there are deep tensions in Beijing’s bilateral relationships with Moscow and Tehran. Nowhere are these expressed more substantially than in the economic sphere.”
  • “Most recently, China has been hesitant in its support of Russia’s de-dollarization policy, through a cross-border system of bilateral settlements, for fear of angering the U.S. … This came after reports that Moscow was … diversifying its foreign reserves so that 15 percent ($67 billion) were held in renminbi, leaving the Russian central bank with a quarter of the world’s renminbi holdings … after it had sold about $100 billion of its U.S. dollar reserves.”
  • “The two countries already settle 14 percent of bilateral payments in renminbi and 7 to 8 percent in rubles, but were seeking to increase this, and to enshrine cross-border use of the Chinese Union Pay and Russian Mir credit card systems in each other’s countries.”
  • “If the aggression with which U.S. economic sanctions are employed continues, alternative global economic structures will develop. … Moscow is taking the firmest steps in this direction through its de-dollarization policy. … [While sanctions clearly may have an effect on Russia’s economy,] it is not clear that they are generating the change in behavior that Washington desires. In this context, Beijing will sense an opportunity.”


“Removed From Russian Influence, Ukraine Election Is Unpredictable on Its Own Terms. Russia’s role in its neighbor’s elections has changed for good,” Konstantin Skorkin, The Moscow Times, 03.20.19The author, a Russian journalist specializing in Ukraine politics, writes:

  • “Less than two weeks remain until Ukraine’s presidential elections. Opinion polls show the incumbent, President Petro Poroshenko, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko and Third Force Party candidate and actor Volodymyr Zelensky as the three front-runners … None commands a clear lead and all three have a chance of making it to a second round of voting and winning the election.”
  • “Relations with Russia are a key challenge for all the candidates. After the Kremlin took advantage of the confusion that followed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s hasty escape by annexing Crimea and supporting separatists in Donbass, there is almost no chance that a pro-Russian politician could become president.”
  • “The candidates’ key promises, on the one hand, is to firmly uphold Ukraine’s national interests regarding the military conflict in the east while at the same time return the lost territories through peaceful negotiations with Russia. In reality, few believe that is possible.”
  • “The Ukrainian elections show that the model of relations between the former Soviet republics has finally broken down. During the initial post-Soviet decades, Russia attempted to play the role of the regional power center in Eastern Europe … but the events of 2014 completely erased whatever standing it once had.”
  • “A successful transition of power in Kiev would prove that democratic transformations are possible in a former Soviet state. After all, Ukraine and Russia are very similar in many ways. A worsening situation in Ukraine after the elections would only strengthen the positions of those who consider Ukraine a ‘bad example’ for Russia.”

“The Oligarchs Are Suffocating What's Left of Democracy in Eastern Europe,” Mikheil Saakashvili, The Washington Post, 03.21.19The former president of Georgia writes:

  • “Days before the hotly contested Ukrainian presidential election on March 31, incumbent Petro Poroshenko's party faces credible allegations of voter bribery. It's not hard to guess what will happen next. The oligarchic clique will steal the election, and in response, international observers will accuse local authorities of vote-rigging. But instead of addressing the symptoms of democratic backsliding, it's time to treat the root cause: informal power.”
  • “Moldova offers a textbook example. Oil and banking tycoon Vladimir Plahotniuc bankrolls the country's second-largest political force and has forged alliances with other parties to consolidate power. Although Plahotniuc exerts total control over parliament, law enforcement and the courts, he has no interest in running for office. … Moldova has a per capita gross domestic product of just $3,226. Plahotniuc's wealth is estimated at $3 billion, making him a million times wealthier than the average constituent. Unsurprisingly, true power resides with him, not with elected officials. The same applies to two other countries bordering Russia: Georgia and Ukraine.”
  • “Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine share another challenge: They are partially occupied by Russia, and their aggressive neighbor is often blamed for their failures in democratic development. … But instead of fighting back, the Moldovan, Georgian and Ukrainian elites are doing Putin's work for him.”
  • “The United States must treat corruption as the national security threat it is, and uphold American values in countries that benefit from American support. In captured states with shadow rulers, corruption cannot be eradicated by targeting officials alone. Oligarchs must also be sanctioned. Plahotniuc, Ivanishvili and Akhmetov are not legitimate businessmen; they are subsidiaries and shareholders of their own governments.”

“US-Russia Engagement on the Ukraine Crisis: Is It Possible and Would It Matter?” Samuel Charap and Andrey Kortunov, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), March 2019The authors, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and the director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, write:       

  • “In the absence of broader security arrangements, Ukraine will always be fearful of Russian aggression—even if the Minsk Agreements are implemented. In its turn, Russia’s concern about Western military infrastructure deployed along its long border with Ukraine will not disappear with a Donbass settlement. Therefore, even if implemented, Minsk would at best represent a temporary and partial amelioration of the broader conflict over the regional order.” 
  • “Moscow and Washington need to remember that the fate of their relationship is tied to the Ukraine crisis. If negotiations on Ukraine remain stalled, we should expect the broader relationship to continue to deteriorate. … Therefore, it makes sense for both sides to pursue an intensified two-track effort on the crisis, featuring a quiet discussion on European security in parallel with a renewed effort at negotiations on the Donbass.”
  • “The current complacency masks what is a difficult choice for Moscow and Washington between the messy politics of compromise in the short term and the high likelihood of worsening security challenges in the long term.”

“Five Years After Crimea’s Illegal Annexation, the Issue Is No Closer to Resolution,” Steven Pifer, Brookings Institution, 03.18.19The author, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, writes:

  • “Finding a settlement in Donbass has taken higher priority over resolving the status of Crimea—understandable given that some 13,000 have died and two million been displaced in the fighting in eastern Ukraine.”
  • “Resolving the Donbas conflict will not prove easy. For example, the Kremlin may not be prepared to settle until it has some idea of where Ukraine fits in the broader European order, that is, its relationship with the European Union and NATO. But Russia has expressed no interest in annexing Donbass.” 
  • “While the seizure of Crimea proved very popular with the broader Russia public, the quagmire in Donbass has not. The most biting Western economic sanctions would come off of Russia if it left Donbass. At some point, the Kremlin may calculate that the costs outweigh the benefits and consent to a settlement that would allow restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty there.”
  • “Moscow will not, on the other hand, willingly give up Crimea. … Kiev at present lacks the political, economic and military leverage to force a return. Perhaps the most plausible route would require that Ukraine get its economic act together … and then let the people in Crimea—who have seen no dramatic economic boom after becoming part of Russia—conclude that their economic lot would be better off back as a part of Ukraine.”
  • “For the West, Russia’s seizure and annexation of Crimea pose a fundamental challenge to the European order and the norms established by the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. The United States and Europe should continue their policy of non-recognition of Crimea’s illegal incorporation. They should also maintain Crimea-related sanctions on Russia, if for no other reason than to signal that such land grabs have no place in 21st-century Europe.”

“Has Russia Finally Found its Niche in the World? Russian society's enduring support for the annexation of Crimea means that the country’s search for a place in the world is over,” Alexei Levinson, The Moscow Times, 03.16.19The author, director of the Socio-Cultural Research Department of the independent Levada Center pollster, writes:

  • “Since March 2014, when the takeover of Crimea was essentially completed, the Levada Center pollster has regularly posed Russians the question: ‘Do you support the accession of Crimea to Russia?’ The proportion of those who answer ‘yes’ has never sunk below 83 percent (and never risen above 88 percent). Over the last five years, there has been no other indicator of public opinion and mood that has shown this kind of consistency.”
  • “There is no question that approval of Putin’s actions as president, which for three years remained almost equally high at over 80 percent, was linked to the events of 2014. … But Putin’s approval rating fluctuated, then began to decline and in the summer of 2018, it fell sharply to around 65 percent … Attitudes toward the U.S. and the West also slightly improved. Meanwhile, support for the annexation of Crimea remained as high as ever. … [T]hese numbers are an indicator of a kind of deeper and more stable process in society.”
  • “The enduring support of Russian society for the annexation of Crimea now means that the country’s probing and searching for a place in the world is over. Russia has found its niche, and this suits Russians. If it is a position of ‘we stand alone, everyone opposes us,’ then we are a heroic minority. If it is a position of ‘we stand against the West, but China and India are with us,’ then we are in a victorious majority. In either case, it is cause for self-esteem. And for those who still pine for the great power of the Soviet Union, this is something of which they are in great need.”

“Ukrainian Workers, Seeing Little Hope at Home, Head Abroad,” The Associated Press, 03.25.19: The Associated Press writes:

  • “As Ukrainians get ready for a presidential election on Sunday, millions have already voted with their feet to leave a nation mired in corruption and inequality, a nation where the separatist war in the east has dragged on for five years, killing 13,000 people and showing no signs of ending.”
  • “Ordinary Ukrainians long for better wages but see them stuck at a monthly average of $350. Business owners crave transparent rules and predictability but often face being extorted for bribes by corrupt officials. … In a nation of 44 million people, about 5 million—more than one in 10 people—now work abroad.”
  • “[R]emittances reached $11.6 billion last year and are expected to rise to $12.2 billion this year, nearly 12 percent of Ukraine's gross domestic product. … For Ukraine's government, that still isn't enough. It is considering a new law to tax the income earned abroad.”
  • “Many Ukrainians work abroad for only a few months at a time, returning home often due to legal restrictions in EU countries. That has created a back-and-forth work migration that leaves open the possibility that many could return home for good if economic conditions in Ukraine ever improve.”
  • “‘Experienced professionals are leaving and their places are filled with inexperienced young people,’ [Dr. Oksana] Lozova said. Lozova was treating a 9-year-old girl for rheumatoid arthritis who had been brought 80 kilometers (50 miles) by her mother for treatment because there were no specialists nearer.”
  • “Ukrainians have been drawn to Western European countries like Italy and Germany, but also to neighboring ex-communist countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia … The country attracting the most Ukrainians has been Poland, population 38 million, where some 1.2 million Ukrainians now work, according to the central bank. There, average wages are about three times higher than in Ukraine, around $1,050, still low by Western standards but growing fast. The Ukrainians are replacing some of the 2 million Poles who left for Western Europe, especially Britain, after Poland joined the EU in 2004.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Why the Kazakh Experiment Won’t Work in Russia,” Tatyana Stanovaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 03.22.19The author, founder of the political analysis project R.Politik, writes:

  • “There is, of course, a certain similarity between what is happening in Kazakhstan and what could happen in Russia. Nazarbayev is no longer president, but he is not going anywhere. As head of the security council, his authority overshadows even the president and the government. He will also retain leadership of the ruling political party, and the lifelong status of Yelbasy: Leader of the Nation.”
  • “Nazarbayev can therefore step back from everyday affairs while guaranteeing his own safety and that of his family, and also shielding himself from potential mistakes by his successor. Even if the new president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, proves a failure, Nazarbayev has insurance in the form of his daughter Dariga, who is waiting in the wings, having recently been appointed speaker of the Senate, making her second-in-command.”
  • “Yet there are several aspects of the Kazakh experiment that make it less appealing to the Russian leader. Putin and Nazarbayev may have shared a job title, but their roles are very different. Putin is a manager, a geopolitical entrepreneur, an opportunist, but in no way is he the father of the nation. … Putin has not only distanced himself from human problems, he is visibly disconnected from his people and their needs. He has also become disengaged from the Russian elites.”
  • “Another important difference is that the Russian leader lacks a crucial attribute of the Kazakh model: family. … Putin is a lone wolf who divorced his wife several years ago. His daughters … are absent from Russian politics.”
  • “The Kremlin will … watch the Kazakh experiment with keen interest and learn from it. But the focus will be not so much on how successful the transition is for Nazarbayev himself, as on the elites’ behavior. … If Putin does decide to step down, there is a greater chance of a provisional new tandemocracy taking shape.”

“Kazakh Autocrat Shows Putin How to Keep Power,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 03.20.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “Nazarbayev’s chosen successor, Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev, an experienced diplomat and fluent Chinese and English speaker, will likely win the early presidential election after Nazarbayev’s resignation. But, as head of the security council and the ruling party, Nazarbayev will remain in charge of Kazakhstan’s direction with less pressure to micromanage.”
  • “A similar scenario has long been discussed for Putin, too. All it would take is some constitutional changes to empower Russia’s security council and give Putin lifelong tenure as its head. But Putin has always been hesitant to hold personal power as nakedly as Nazarbayev. Under Putin’s rule, the Russian constitution has only changed, or was interpreted, relatively subtly in his favor, when he was allowed to run for a third term after a four-year hiatus and when the presidential term was extended from four to six years.”
  • “But Putin, 66, isn’t getting any younger, and he would be required to take a six-year hiatus after he steps down in 2024 before he can run again. That doesn’t look like a viable option. Putin needs to ensure his family’s security as his current term ends, and he doesn’t appear ready to let go of the reins.”
  • “If he’s unable—as it currently appears—to force Belarus to rejoin Russia, creating a new nation where he would have a shot at being leader, the Nazarbayev option is one of very few left to him. He’ll watch the Kazakh transition with much interest. If it works, expect the Kremlin to develop a Russian version.”

“The president of almost 30 years has been a relatively enlightened authoritarian,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 03.24.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Ex-Soviet states divide broadly into two camps. Some have undergone revolutions pushing for western-style democracy … Kazakhstan is in the second camp, those pursuing a more “eastern” path, often with dynastic elements.”
  • “A dynastic succession in Kazakhstan would risk entrenching its clannish crony capitalism and moving it further from democracy and in the direction of repressive Azerbaijan. Yet neighboring Uzbekistan … has shown that a political loosening can follow the demise of even the most vicious central Asian dictator. If Mr. Nazarbayev and whoever succeeds him can over time shift Kazakhstan to a more open system, where succession occurs through real elections, his father-of-the-nation credentials will be further strengthened.”

“At Long Last, Peace Might Be Possible Between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Here's What's Needed,” Anna Ohanyan, The Washington Post, 03.20.19The author, a professor of political science and international relations at Stonehill College, writes:

  • “After decades of ethnic conflict, the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan are preparing to meet to try to resolve their long-term clash over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Observers have many reasons to be skeptical.”
  • “However, something significant has changed since the last such push. A year ago, Armenian protesters brought down a prime minister, leading to free elections last December. Some evidence suggests that democratic societies are more likely to seek peace with their neighbors—and are most likely to achieve it if civil society groups are allowed to reach out and form contacts across borders before the formal negotiations.”
  • “Such multilateral forums can dilute the rivalry between Armenia and Azerbaijan, helping various social groups build trust and connections across conflict lines—before international mediators and governing elites ask their people for concessions. It can clarify and affirm nonviolence as a foundational principle for the region, and create the political stability needed to enable deeper diplomacy around the conflict itself.”

“Azerbaijan’s Relations with Russia: Closer by Default?” Zaur Shiriyev, Chatham House, 03.14.19The author, a former Academy Robert Bosch Fellow at Chatham House, writes:

  • “Economic overdependence on the energy sector and a lack of economic and political reforms have made Azerbaijan’s leadership heavily dependent on the price of oil. Economic collapse, should it occur, has the potential to pitch the country into chaos, further boosting Russia’s influence.”
  • “The West can help Azerbaijan to strengthen its position—or, at least, preserve the traditional geopolitical balance with Russia—by supporting policy and institutional reforms, economic diversification and integration with the West and by adopting a more nuanced approach to diplomacy in the region.”
  • “Azerbaijan, too, will need to do its bit in the coming years to achieve domestic stability and reduce dependence on Russia. This will require genuine political and economic reforms--necessary not only to avoid a worst-case scenario of political chaos, mass public protests and/or economic collapse, but also for the country to regain international respect, which has been damaged in recent years.”

“Armenia’s Foreign Policy Balancing in an Age of Uncertainty,” Anahit Shirinyan, Chatham House, 03.14.19The author, a former Academy Robert Bosch Fellow at Chatham House, writes:     

  • “Although the [Pashinyan’s] government has pledged to make no critical changes in foreign policy, there is now an opportunity to live up to the country’s long-declared aspiration for a multi-vector foreign policy, now dubbed ‘Armenia-centric’ by the newly installed cohort of policymakers. Armenia seems determined to protect its sovereignty in relations with Russia, to further ties with the West and to re-energize cooperation with Georgia and Iran.”
  • “To overcome entrenched attitudes that Armenia has no foreign policy alternatives because of geopolitical constraints, Armenian politicians, diplomats and policymakers should keep an open mind about possible geopolitical bargains, rather than resigning themselves to geopolitical determinism. Decision-making needs reform both institutionally and in terms of strategic planning. Armenia’s security planning should change too, as democratic governance and smart foreign policymaking are now slowly being acknowledged as important components of security.”
  • “Addressing the asymmetry of relations with Russia is the first imperative, and will determine relations with other actors. If Western countries want to be of help, they need to become more engaged in reform of the state, and in the creation of a safer security environment in the region.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“The Brutal Leader of Chechnya Goes After Another Monitor of His Torture and Abuse,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 03.19.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov, the brutal ruler of the Russian republic of Chechnya, is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Two women who sought to chronicle the human rights abuses of Mr. Kadyrov's regime, Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova, were brutally murdered in 2006 and 2009, respectively. So were other Kadyrov opponents, including Russia's most prominent opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down four years ago.”
  • “On Monday, the courageous man who replaced Estemirova as the representative of the Memorial Human Rights Center in Chechnya, Oyub Titiev, was sentenced to four years in a penal colony on trumped-up drug charges. With luck, he will survive. But no one is left to monitor torture, disappearances and other abuses in Chechnya. Mr. Kadyrov has eliminated them all.”

“Russia Wants to Cut Itself Off From the Global Internet. Here’s What That Really Means,” Charlotte Jee, MIT Tech Review, 03.21.19: The author, a technology reviewer, writes:

  • “Russia is planning to attempt something no other country has tried before. It’s going to test whether it can disconnect from the rest of the world electronically while keeping the internet running for its citizens. This means it will have to reroute all its data internally, rather than relying on servers abroad.”
  • “Pulling an iron curtain down over the internet is a simple idea, but … it’s a fiendishly difficult technical challenge to get right. It is also going to be very expensive. The project’s initial cost has been set at $38 million by Russia’s financial watchdog … One of the authors of the plan has said it’ll be more like $304 million … but even that figure, industry experts say, won’t be enough to get the system up and running, let alone maintain it.”
  • “‘It is unclear what the ‘disconnect test’ might entail,’ says Andrew Sullivan, president and CEO of the Internet Society. All we know is that if it passes, the new law will require the nation’s internet service providers (ISPs) to use only exchange points inside the country that are approved by Russia’s telecoms regulator, Roskomnadzor.”
  • “These exchange points are where internet service providers connect with each other. It’s where their cabling meets at physical locations to exchange traffic. These locations are overseen by organizations known as internet exchange providers (IXPs). Russia’s largest IXP is in Moscow.”
  • “There are six other internet exchange points in Russia … Many ISPs also use exchanges that are physically located in neighboring countries or that are owned by foreign companies. These would now be off limits. Once this stage is completed, it would provide Russia with a literal, physical ‘on/off switch’ to decide whether its internet is shielded from the outside world or kept open.”
  • “As well as rerouting its ISPs, Russia will also have to unplug from the global domain name system (DNS) so traffic cannot be rerouted through any exchange points that are not inside Russia. … [A] majority of the [DNS] ‘root servers,’ which are its foundational layer, are run by groups in the U.S. Russia sees this as a strategic weakness and wants to create its own alternative, setting up an entire new network of its own root servers. ‘An alternate DNS can be used to create an alternate reality for the majority of Russian internet users,’ says Ameet Naik, an expert on internet monitoring.”
  • “China has been terrifically successful in shaping the online experience for its citizens to its advantage. However, China decided to exert a high degree of control over the development of the internet while it was at a nascent stage. … Trying to impose this architecture retrospectively is an awful lot harder.”
  • “Russian businesses and citizens are firmly enmeshed in the global internet and use a lot more foreign services, such as Microsoft cloud tools, than Chinese people do. … If the experiment goes wrong and large parts of the internet go down in Russia, it could cost the nation’s economy dearly … That doesn’t mean the Kremlin won’t go ahead with it anyway.”
  • “One recent event that may have given Russia more impetus to push forward with the plan is the hacking by the U.S. Cyber Command of the Internet Research Agency, the infamous Russian ‘troll factory’ that allegedly used social media to sow division in the U.S. during the 2016 election.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.