Russia Analytical Report, March 27-April 3, 2017

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

Nuclear security:

“The US and Russia Should Never Have Stopped Cooperating to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism,” Byron Dorgan, DefenseOne, 03.28.17: The author, a former U.S. Senator from North Dakota, writes that disputes over a variety of issues have halted nearly all U.S.-Russian cooperation “that could thwart a nuclear terror attack.” Terrorist groups are actively trying to acquire materials that would give them nuclear capabilities: “Just 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium could fuel a crude, 15-kiloton nuclear weapon.” While the U.S.-Russia relationship is strained by many complex issues, the two do still cooperate on some issues, such as space travel and the Iran nuclear deal. Thwarting nuclear terrorism should be an additional point of cooperation, as the global risk it poses is greater than the disagreements between the two countries.

“Russia’s Nuclear Diplomacy: How Washington Should Respond,” Sagatom Saha, Foreign Affairs, 04.02.17: The author, a research associate for energy and U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes that the growing global desire for nuclear power is helping Russia’s “geopolitical resurgence.” By utilizing its nuclear market power—such as the Kremlin’s ten billion euro loan to Hungary for Russian state firm Rosatom to expand Hungary’s Paks Nuclear Power Plant—Moscow is able “to influence and bind countries around the world to its irredentist and revanchist aims.” While Russia will benefit greatly from the increased appetite for nuclear power, the U.S. does not stand to gain as much, and could even lose allies while Russia gains them. To avoid this future, the U.S. needs to “invest heavily in revitalizing its own nuclear industry.”

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

  • No significant commentary.

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Slingshot Redux: Russia's Alleged Ground-Launched Cruise Missile,” Douglas Barrie and Henry Boyd, International Institute for Strategic Studies, 03.27.17: The authors, a senior fellow for military aerospace and a research associate for defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, discuss Russia’s alleged new ground-launched cruise missile. The missile, which violates the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, has been identified as the SSC-8. “The absence of the ‘X’ in the designator indicates the system now has entered service.” The system might “be associated with the Russian designation 9M729” and may be part of the Novator 3M14 (SS-N-30) family of cruise missiles. The maximum range of the SSC-8 is likely over 2,000km, thus violating the INF Treaty’s ban on ground-launched cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges of 500-5,500km. It will likely have a TEL (transporter erector launcher) similar to the standard Iskander-M, but the missile container will likely be large due to the new missile’s dimensions. The 119th brigade at Elanskiy in the Central Military District has possibly taken delivery of the missile; however, this has not been confirmed.


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant commentary.

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Russia’s alleged interference in U.S. elections:

“America Is Ill-Prepared to Counter Russia's Information Warfare; Propaganda Is Nothing New. But Moscow Is Frighteningly Effective—and Worse Is on the Way,” Mike Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 03.27.17: The author, former chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, writes that while propaganda may not be new, today’s technology makes it a more dangerous tool than ever before. He argues that from a historical standpoint, the 2016 U.S. election will be “one of the most successful information operation campaigns ever conducted.” Whether or not the Trump campaign was complicit in the Russian interference, the way Americans view the peaceful transition of power has been altered. The Kremlin “has developed a high-volume, multichannel propaganda machine aimed at advancing its foreign and security policy,” and the future of this machine will likely include “automated propaganda, rapid spamming and more.” Rather than sinking deeper into partisanship, Congress “should be figuring out how to reduce the influence of foreign trolls, and teaching Americans about Moscow's capabilities. That would go a long way to save the republic.”

“Here’s What We’ve Learned From the Senate Hearing on Russia So Far,” Peter W. Stevenson, The Washington Post, 03.30.17: The author, who covers national politics for the Washington Post, writes that “Russia has a history of meddling in other countries' affairs.” Eugene Rumer, an academic expert present at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing on Russia, stressed that the overt, not the covert, techniques Russia uses to influence other countries needs to be focused on. Meddling with the U.S. has allowed Russia to distract the U.S. from its own internal affairs and damaged the global perception of U.S. leadership. Rumer noted, “The Kremlin can do this to the world’s sole remaining global superpower. Imagine how other countries see it.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Trump's Rapid Rapprochement Plans With Russia Fade; Investigations Into Russia's Alleged Interference in US Presidential Election Complicates Relationship,” Carol E. Lee, Paul Sonne and Thomas Grove, Wall Street Journal, 03.30.17: The authors, reporters for the Wall Street Journal, write that the likelihood of a grand bargain between Moscow and the Trump administration is growing fainter. In preparation for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow in mid-April, high-level officials “discussed possible approaches to Russia” at the White House. While areas of possible cooperation remain the focus, “top administration officials now see major impediments to a broad deal on an array of policies.” Investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia are further complicating any attempts at rapprochement. Although Russian officials tried to coordinate an early meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, it is unlikely that the two will meet before the Group of 20 summit in July. Officials from the Trump administration have also discussed easing the sanctions former U.S. President Barack Obama imposed in December 2016, but only if Moscow “reciprocated with ‘some gesture that you can take seriously.’” “Mr. Trump will make some final decisions on Russia in the coming days at a so-called principals' committee meeting, which is to include Mr. Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, the official said.”

“How the Sanctions Are Helping Putin,” Andrey Movchan, Politico, 03.28.17: The author, a senior associate and director of the economic policy program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes that Western sanctions have not been nearly as damaging to Russia as they could have been. While Russia’s economy is in recession, “this decline has had very little to do with Western sanctions,” which target a small number of well-known Russian businesses but still allow Russia to be “an active global economic actor.” Russian and oil and gas production continues to increase at a rapid rate, and with $14 billion of weapons exports, Russia is “the third-biggest arms exporter in the world after the United States and China.” Tougher sanctions with “targeted measures, such as a ban on the sale and service of passenger or cargo aircraft, could have brought Russia to its knees in months.” However, Russia’s domestic politics have been seriously impacted by sanctions. They have allowed state-owned media to blame the West for Russia’s economic decline, given Putin “tremendous leverage in controlling his team” and provided an opportunity for some Russian oligarchs to exploit sanctions and gain “control over new monopolies for domestic products.” Easing sanctions on Russia would likely spell even more trouble for the Trump administration, already under fire for close ties to Moscow. “Having found itself in a lose-lose situation, the West will most probably do nothing—keeping sanctions in place and freezing the situation. The Kremlin will be happy.”

“Recalibrating US Strategy Toward Russia,”  Kathleen H. Hicks, Lisa Sawyer Samp, Lisa Sawyer Samp, Kathleen H. Hicks, Olga Oliker, Jeffrey Rathke, Jeffrey Mankoff, Anthony Bell and Heather Conley, CSIS, March 2017: The authors, scholars across several disciplines, discuss Russia’s objectives and provide a strategy for taking on the challenge posed to U.S. and Western interests by Russia. They write that the Trump administration can either defend the U.S.-led international order or work to dismantle it and start fresh, a choice that will reverberate around the globe. Moscow views “its options through the lens of a security dilemma that defines U.S. strength as its own weakness, and vice versa.” Russia does not want a war, and is finding that its powers of coercion are themselves sufficient to achieve many of its goals. Going along with Russia’s choice would require a reorganization of the world order in place since the end of World War II. “It would mean a world in which political decisions are made by great powers for smaller powers; where borders can be redrawn by force; where liberal democratic values fall victim to autocratic whims; and where existing international obligations are no longer valid.” To defend the international order against Russian attempts to compromise it requires strengthening Western institutions against Russian opportunism and aggression. Unlike during the Cold War, the challenge posed by Russia is not enough to unite the Western world, which faces myriad other threats. “U.S. strategy should aim to defend the current global order, protect the transatlantic relationship and manage the Russia challenge in a way that avoids direct hostilities, discourages the sowing of global instability and builds ties with the Russian people.”

“The Trump Effect and Russians’ Attitudes Toward the United States,” Denis Volkov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 03.28.17: The author, a sociologist and an expert at the Levada Center in Moscow, writes that Russian sentiment towards the U.S. has warmed since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump’s stated desire to improve U.S.-Russia relations have Russians feeling “cautiously optimistic.” According to Levada Center data, “immediately after the election, 54% of Russians hoped that a Trump presidency would lead to improved Russian-U.S. relations,” but that number fell to 46% by the inauguration. However, the number of Russian who feel “negatively” about the U.S. has dropped, while the number of those feel “positively” has risen between November 2016 and February 2017. It is important to note that “the first signs of warming sentiments could be seen a year and a half before the presidential election.” If Russia and the West can reach a compromise, criticism of the West on Russian television will lessen and public opinion will continue to improve. However, “Russians developed a negative attitude toward the United States over the course of the 1990s, coming to see America as hostile and condescending to Russia, and this attitude has remained effectively unchanged since.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Russia’s Charm Offensive in North Africa: Its Growing Economic and Military Influence in the Region,” Oren Kessler and Boris Zilberman, Foreign Affairs, 04.03.17: The authors, the deputy director for research and the deputy director for congressional relations at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, write that Russia has been “quietly making inroads” in North Africa, “another region critical to” the West. Russian influence in North Africa in recent years has taken various forms: Russian-built submarines for the Algerian navy, special forces from Russia deployed to support a Libyan militia leader, increased diplomatic ties with Morocco, a deal to build a nuclear power plant in Tunisia and Egypt’s systemic expansion of its Russia ties. Like the U.S., Moscow is looking “to exert its diplomatic, economic, and security influence wherever it can.” However, instability and a variety of threats make North Africa “a region of utmost consequence to Washington and its European allies. For the new U.S. administration, a comprehensive Russia policy will have to grapple with a Kremlin flexing its muscles not just in the United States and Europe but increasingly on the Mediterranean’s southern shore.”


“A New Chinese Interest in Central Asian Security,” Bruce Pannier, RFE/RL, 03.30.17: The author, a Central Asia specialist for RFE/RL, writes that “Beijing's security cooperation with the Central Asian states is likely to grow significantly stronger in the coming months.” A recent video showed Uyghurs, “a Turkic Muslim group living for centuries in an area that is now the western part of China,” in training in the Middle East and verbally threatening China. The video caught the attention of the Chinese government. In response, Chinese President Xi Jinping called “for a ‘great wall of iron’” to protect the Chinese city of Xinjiang on the Chinese-Central Asian border. The author compares China’s and Russia’s roles in Central Asia to that of the banker and “the regional policeman,” respectively. The Central Asian states have also been receiving Chinese military assistance for two decades, and while China is unlikely to take on Russia’s policeman role, it could take on the U.S. role of providing nonlethal aid to the region.


  • No significant commentary.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Belarus: Between Russia and the West,” Kenneth Yalowitz amd William Courtney, The National Interest, 03.29.17: The authors, the former U.S. ambassador to Belarus and Georgia and the former U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia, write that Belarussian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has sought closer ties to Russia while keeping “channels open to the West.” Despite some unrest, Lukashenka’s hold on power remains strong due to control of the security forces and a “weak and divided” opposition. While there are some tensions between Minsk and Moscow, Lukashenka is largely seen an ally. “Public demonstrations in Minsk and across Russia in recent weeks hint that winds of political change and disillusionment with stagnation and corruption may be reaching both countries.” Putin and Lukashenka will use similar tactics to “try to ride out protests and, despite differences, will likely stick together.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“The Storm Clouds of 2017: Russia’s New Protests,” Alexander Baunov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 03.31.17: The author, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center and editor in chief of, writes that the protests across Russia on March 26, 2017 were remarkable in a variety of ways. The protests were not sparked by an event as most protests are, but by charges of high-level corruption against Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. This is surprising because “it has long been accepted wisdom that Russians, in contrast to people of other nations, are indifferent to the material wealth of their leaders.” The geographic scope of the protests was also larger than the last mass protests in Russia in the winter of 2011-2012, and the participants appear to be younger. “While seeking to discourage protests, the Russian regime will have to respond in a way that won’t actually encourage them.”

“Medvedev Is Out: Anti-Corruption Protests Cost Russia's Prime Minister his Future: The Race for the Premiership During Putin's 4th Term Has Just Begun,” Mikhail Fishman, The Moscow Times, 03.29.17: The author, editor of the Moscow Times, writes that the March 26 protests have made Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev the new “face of state corruption.” This will have major impacts for Medvedev’s long term political goals and for the future of Russian domestic politics. Medvedev will likely lose his position as prime minister and “his shot at a future presidency.” The vacant premiership, “historically viewed in Russia as a springboard to the presidency,” will let loose a race for Putin’s successor.

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.