Russia Analytical Report, March 4-11, 2024

7 Ideas to Explore

  1. U.S. intercepts of Russian military communications in fall 2022 revealed conversations among commanders about reaching into the country’s arsenal of battlefield nukes, according to David Sanger of NYT. Some of these communications involved the units that would be responsible for moving or deploying the weapons, Sanger writes. “The most alarming of the intercepts revealed that one of the most senior Russian military commanders was explicitly discussing the logistics of detonating a weapon on the battlefield,” according to Sanger. Writing on the same day as Sanger, Jim Sciutto of CNN offered a similar account of the 2022 nuclear scare. The scare was so real that the U.S. began “preparing rigorously” for Russia potentially striking Ukraine with a nuclear weapon after a “devastating period for Russian forces in Ukraine,” Sciutto writes. Joe Biden also had senior members of his cabinet contact their Russian counterparts on the issue. In the end, it was director of Russia’s Intelligence Service Sergei Naryshkin who offered assurances to his visiting U.S. counterpart in November 2022 that “Putin did not intend to use a nuclear weapon,” according to William Burns’ account of the meeting as reported by NYT. 
  2. The West should pursue a new containment strategy regarding Russia, with Europe assuming a larger share of directing this containment, as the U.S. will need to commit resources to the Indo-Pacific, argue Max Bergmann, Michael Kimmage, Jeffrey Mankoff and Maria Snegovaya in FA. “A new containment strategy does not depend on Ukrainian victory. Still, that strategy should retain Ukrainian victory as a long-term goal,” the attainment of which requires “larger and more sustained Western military assistance,” according to this quartet of authors. That said, “any U.S. strategy toward Russia must recognize the peril of direct military confrontation. Washington must remain open to negotiating with Russia on arms control, cyberwarfare and regional conflicts between each side’s allies,” according to them.
  3. It is too early to begin real talks with Moscow,” and Kyiv would have to play the lead role in those, but “even today, the West can use signals to convey its intent to enable an eventual negotiated end to the war,” according to Samuel Charap of RAND and Jeremy Shapiro of ECFR. Such signals could include restating the West’s openness to conditional sanctions relief, as well as appointing special representatives for conflict diplomacy, the two experts write in a commentary for FA.
  4. Stephen Walt sees five reasons why Ukraine should not join NATO. First, “it doesn’t meet the membership criteria,” Walt of Harvard’s Belfer Center argues in FP. Second, “it is not clear that NATO would honor its Article V commitments,” and, third, NATO membership is “not a magic shield.” Fourth, granting Ukraine membership now will only prolong the war, according to Walt. Last but not least, “neutrality may not be that bad,” he writes. 
  5. Historian Emmanuel Todd in 1976 and ecologist Peter Turchin in 2010 correctly forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union and the surge of growing instability in the West, respectively. Today, Todd criticizes American involvement in Ukraine and “foresees the West’s defeat,” according to a summary of this historian’s views in NYT. In his new book, Todd argues that American leadership is failing, according to this newspaper. For his part, Turchin tells FT that it is “almost a mathematical certainty” that Russia will win in Ukraine. He also claims that the U.S. is closer to a “macro-breakdown” than Russia.
  6. “Russia’s economy once again defies the doomsayers” is the headline The Economist’s editors have put on this week’s story about, well, Russian economic performance. “Consensus forecasts for GDP growth this year of 1.7% look too pessimistic” and “data to be published on March 13 are expected to show that prices in Russia rose by 0.6% month-on-month in February, down from 1.1% at the end of last year,” according to The Economist, which credits Russia’s Central Bank for much of the resilience of the country’s economy. Stimulus and sanctions-busting have also helped, according to The Economist.
  7. Vladimir Putin has an electoral problem: “People don’t want to vote” in the March 15-17 presidential elections, according to Andrei Pertsev of Meduza. The Putin administration’s political team is aware of the problem, but, nonetheless, intends to produce the president’s desired voter turnout rate of 70–80% by promoting the use of electronic voting terminals and QR codes to pressure government-dependent voters to go to the polls and bring their friends and relatives with them, according to this well-connected Russian journalist. In addition to the 80% turnout, the Putin administration aims to have Putin win by more than 80% of the vote, according to Pertsev who predicts that Putin will appoint a deputy prime minister with expanded powers over social policies after the election. The candidate—who may come a distant second after Putin in this election—is Vladislav Davankov of the pro-Putin, but quasi-liberal New People party, according to Tatiana Stanovaya’s R.Politik digest. He is projected to gain 6-8% of the vote, surpassing Nikolay Kharitonov of the Communist Party and Leonid Slutsky of the Liberal Democrats, according to R.Politik. Regardless of the exact results, “Putin’s “re-election” will come as a result of an “authoritarian plebiscite without democratic legitimacy,” according to Sabine Fischer of SWP. 


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

Nuclear security and safety:

“Is Nuclear Proliferation Back?” Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Project Syndicate, 03.05.24.

  • Preparations are already underway at the United Nations for the 2026 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which was originally signed in 1968. Many expect a contentious event. Some countries are having second thoughts about the principle of non-proliferation, because they wonder if Russia would have invaded Ukraine in 2022 if the latter had kept the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union. Such counterfactuals, in turn, have renewed others’ fears of nuclear proliferation. 
  • The good news is that there are only nine countries with nuclear weapons, compared to the two dozen that [John F] Kennedy predicted by the 1970s. Moreover, the NPT has 189 parties and is one of the few arms-control agreements that the major powers still observe. The Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines still hold, and while a few countries engage in reprocessing, the world is not hurtling toward a fragile plutonium economy. The bad news is that North Korea has abandoned its commitments under the NPT. It has achieved six nuclear explosions since 2006, and Kim Jong-un frequently rattles his nuclear saber in a destabilizing manner. In the Middle East, Iran has developed facilities for enriching weapons-grade uranium, and it is fast approaching the threshold of becoming the tenth nuclear-weapons state. Many observers fear that if it does so, it may precipitate a proliferation cascade across the region, with Saudi Arabia quickly following suit. These are worrying developments. As my experience in the 1970s shows, it is when conditions seem especially dire that efforts to slow the spread of nuclear weapons must be maintained. Otherwise, the world will become a far more dangerous place. 

“A Looming Disaster at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant,” Nataliya Gumenyuk, The Atlantic, 03.06.24.

  • [The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP)] is a Soviet-built facility, but it had been reconfigured and modernized…Rosatom [that took over the operations] could not fully substitute its own technicians and staff. 
    • The plant is severely understaffed: Whereas 11,000 employees once ran the facility, only about 3,000 people were working there.
  • ZNPP is located in the watershed of the Dnipro River, which flows through southern Ukraine and into the Black Sea. If a meltdown occurs…and affects the waterways…all of southern Ukraine might be at risk for contamination.
  • [Edwin Lyman, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists] says that the biggest threat to the ZNPP… “is either deliberate sabotage or the plant being caught in an all-out battle,” which could cause substantial damage to multiple reactors and safety systems.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“New nuances and accents on the Korean Peninsula,” Gleb Ivashentsov, RIAC, 03.04.24.^

Clues from Russian Views.

  • What might be the consequences of Pyongyang's refusal to reunite the Koreas for the balance of power in the political arena of Northeast Asia? Korean reunification was not considered a top priority on the agenda by any of the partners of the two Korean states.
    • Russia proceeded from the fact that the interests of regional and global peace and security would be met by the establishment of Korea as a single independent neutral and nuclear-free state, but the solution to this problem, like the Middle East settlement, was seen as a distant long-term perspective.
      • Russia's approach to the Korean affairs cannot be divorced from its relations with each of the two Korean states. The special military operation in Ukraine has made significant adjustments to this issue. In particular, South Korea responded to the SVO [Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine] in the same vein as the United States. ... At the same time, the DPRK is one of the few countries that clearly supported Russia in its actions in Ukraine.
    • As for the United States, maintaining the status quo on the Korean Peninsula would serve its interests, since this is the most convenient way to maintain and, if necessary, strengthen the American military-political presence in Northeast Asia.
    • China would support Korean reunification if it was confident that a unified Korea would be pro-Chinese. There is no certainty about this.
    • As for the Japanese, Pyongyang’s refusal to reunite with Seoul frankly suits them. Tokyo fears the emergence of a unified Korea as a powerful competitor.
  • Perhaps, after some time, the United States, the DPRK's neighbors and the entire international community as a whole will come to terms with a nuclear Pyongyang, just as the world came to terms sixty years ago with a nuclear China, and then with a nuclear New Delhi and a nuclear Islamabad, and a new, albeit illusory, stability will come to the Korean Peninsula, just as it, for example, came to the Hindustan Peninsula.

“The quick transformation of Russia-North Korea ties,” Harsh V. Pant, ORFO/The Hindu, 03.05.24. Clues from Indian Views.

  • In the middle of a series of actions that are fueling tensions in the Korean peninsula, including the abandoning of the decades-long unification goal with Seoul, Pyongyang is quickly deepening its ties with Russia. The pace and the depth appear to have gained momentum since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 which led to a strain in most of Moscow’s international ties. 
  • The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is expected to visit Pyongyang once again in 2024, with both countries preparing for a summit between the two leaders where “very good” deals are expected to be signed. With 2023 having been a year in which bilateral ties were fast-tracked, Russia’s Ambassador to North Korea, Alexander Matsegora, anticipates 2024 to be a breakthrough year for the two countries. Just last month, Mr. Putin gifted the North Korean leader a luxury Russian-made car, a type that is used by Mr. Putin himself.
  • Developments in 2023, and indications thus far in 2024, point to the ‘solidification’ of bilateral ties between Russia and North Korea, with both countries having found instinctive collaborators in each other. This partnership, forged amid common challenges and shared strategic objectives, has far-reaching implications for regional stability and global geopolitics. As both nations deepen their engagement and cooperation across various sectors, their relationship is likely to exert a significant influence on the dynamics of the Korean Peninsula and the broader Northeast Asian region. As such, Russia-North Korea ties represent a notable development in the geopolitical landscape, with ramifications that extend beyond the immediate bilateral relationship.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Mutual Frustrations Arise in U.S.-Ukraine Alliance,” Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, NYT, 03.07.24. 

  • More than two years into their wartime alliance, the bond between the United States and Ukraine is showing signs of wear and tear, giving way to mutual frustration and a feeling that the relationship might be stuck in a bit of a rut. It is the stuff that often strains relationships — finances, different priorities and complaints about not being heard.
    • For the Pentagon, the exasperation comes down to a single, recurring issue: American military strategists, including Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, believe that Ukraine needs to concentrate its forces on one big fight at a time. Instead, President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has vowed to drive Russia out of every inch of Ukraine, expends his forces in battles for towns that U.S. officials say lack strategic value.
      • At the Pentagon, some officials say they do not consider last summer’s efforts to have been a counteroffensive at all.
      • The most recent example involved the battle for the eastern city of Avdiivka, which fell to Russia last month. U.S. officials say Ukraine defended Avdiivka too long and at too great a cost.... Even after it became clear that Russian forces, with larger reinforcements, would prevail, Ukraine held out, rather than conduct a strategic withdrawal, U.S. officials said... Ultimately, Ukraine’s chaotic retreat was a mistake, a former U.S. commander said. Hundreds of Ukrainian troops may have disappeared or been captured by the advancing Russian units, according to Western officials.
      • Even now, months after a counteroffensive that failed because Ukraine, in the eyes of the Pentagon, did not take its advice, Kyiv is still too often unwilling to listen.
    • For its part, Ukraine is increasingly disheartened that American political paralysis has resulted in shortages of ammunition for troops on the front. As each day goes by without a fresh supply of munitions and artillery, and Ukrainian crews ration the shells they have, morale is suffering.
      • [The Ukrainians] have frequently complained that the Biden administration has been slow to approve advanced weapons systems that could cross perceived Russian red lines, from fighter jets to long-range missiles.
  • Some officials say [ZSU commander-in-chief] Oleksandr Syrsky may be more in sync with Mr. Zelensky than his predecessor. “Zelensky has made a much more unified chain of command responsive to his leadership as well as advice from outside,” said Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee and recently visited Ukraine.

“Ukraine Enters New Phase of War With Russia: Dig, Dig, Dig,” Matthew Luxmoore and Daniel Michaels, WSJ, 03.07.24. 

  • Russia is attacking Ukrainian forces at several points along the 600-mile front line as it seeks to capitalize on its recent capture of the eastern city of Avdiivka, its first major battlefield victory in months. In recent days Russia  has pushed Ukrainian forces out of a string of villages west of Avdiivka, although hills and bodies of water a little further west can serve as natural obstacles for Kyiv that are easier to defend. 
  • Ukraine has few remaining military strongholds in Donbas that could rival Avdiivka or Bakhmut during periods when these cities served as major hubs for Ukraine's resistance, said Dara Massicot, an expert on the Russian military at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. That means that with each Russian advance, Ukraine must retreat to often underprepared positions. 
  • Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Monday that almost 31 billion hryvnia, or around $800 million, had been allocated for the construction of fortifications. Building physical defenses is now vital for Ukraine, not least because it is also struggling to mobilize troops.)
  • Ukraine's military command is scouring brigades that were created for last year's counteroffensive, seeking to bring into combat the thousands of troops currently fulfilling support roles, said Mykola Bielieskov, a research fellow at Ukraine's government-linked National Institute for Strategic Studies. 
  • While Ukraine grapples with manpower problems, Russia is adding around 30,000 men to its armed forces each month, according to Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence.
  • But Russia is also losing men at a rapid pace. Ukrainian soldiers who have recently engaged Russian forces in battle say they are astonished by the Russians' apparent disregard for the value of human life. Russia paid an enormous price for the capture of Avdiivka, with one Russian military blogger saying 16,000 men died. 

“Zelensky in bind over how to draft more troops as Russian forces advance,” Siobhán O'Grady and Serhii Korolchuk, WP, 03.04.24. 

  • Even as he promises international partners that Ukraine will handle the fighting if given needed weapons and other support, President Volodymyr Zelensky and his top military commanders have failed so far to come up with a clear plan to conscript or recruit many thousands of new soldiers critically needed to defend against Russia's continuing attacks.
  • Zelensky's inability to forge a political consensus on a mobilization strategy — despite months of warnings about a severe shortage of qualified troops on the front — has fueled deep divisions in Ukraine's parliament and more broadly in Ukrainian society. It has left the military relying on a hodgepodge of recruiting efforts and sown panic among fighting-age men, some of whom have gone into hiding, worried that they will be drafted into an ill-equipped army and sent to certain death given that aid for Ukraine remains stalled in Washington.
  • The quandary over how to fill the ranks has confronted Zelensky with perhaps the greatest challenge to his leadership since the start of the February 2022 invasion. The lack of a clear mobilization strategy — or even agreement on how many more troops Ukraine needs — factored into Zelensky's dismissal of his top general in February, but the new commander in chief, Oleksandr Syrsky, so far has brought no new clarity. Syrsky has been tasked with auditing the existing armed forces to find more combat-eligible troops, after Zelensky's office recently announced that of the 1 million people who have been mobilized, only about 300,000 have fought at the front lines. But nearly a month after his promotion, no one in the military leadership or the presidential administration has explained where those 700,000 are — or what they have been doing.
  • After two years of all-out war, the sense of public urgency that spurred new troops to the battlefield and fueled Ukraine's early successes has faded. Many soldiers are wounded or exhausted. For all this time, men between the ages of 18 and 60 have been banned from leaving the country, and men 27 and older have been eligible to be drafted, with some exceptions. Civilians between 18 and 27 can sign up on their own. Parliament has now spent months heatedly debating a bill that would change the mobilization process and widen the scope of the draft, in part by lowering the eligibility age to 25. More than 4,000 amendments have been made to the mobilization bill, and some lawmakers see the measure as an attempt by Zelensky to pass off responsibility to parliament for inevitably unpopular decisions.

“Drones are Transforming the Battlefield in Ukraine But in an Evolutionary Fashion,” Stacie Pettyjohn, War on the Rocks, 03.05.24.

  • Throughout the war, there have been rapid cycles of adaptation as both sides have learned from each other, adopting tactics and technologies that have been used successfully and developing counters to improve their defenses. This pattern is likely to continue as the war drags on, but there are steps that can be taken to bolster Ukraine’s drone capabilities and harness its people’s technical ingenuity. 
    • First, the United States and Europe should help Ukraine to develop software that would enable semi-autonomous first-person-view drones. Because Russia has been less adept at incorporating commercially derived software into its weapons and operations, do-it-yourself kamikaze drones with autonomous terminal guidance could provide Ukrainian forces with a more durable advantage. 
    • Second, the United States and Europe need to help Ukraine to evolve from an artisanal start-up model of production to industrial-scale drone manufacturing, especially for larger kamikaze drones and first-person-view drones. Russia has surpassed Ukraine in the drone fight because of its ability to scale production of small military drones. On a one-for-one basis, Russia’s drones are often inferior to Ukrainian drones, but Russian forces simply have deeper inventories of these critical weapons. Ukraine can and should expand its capacity to produce drones, which will necessitate picking winners and losers and scaling production of the best systems.
  • Over time, as drones become more autonomous and are more broadly connected with other weapons, they may fundamentally reshape military doctrine and organizations and truly revolutionize warfare. But thus far in Ukraine, drone warfare has been an evolution, not a revolution. It is clear that drones alone will not determine who prevails in this conflict, but they will certainly play a prominent role in the ongoing war in Ukraine and in other battlefields in the future.

“Time Is Running Out in Ukraine. Kyiv Cannot Capitalize on Russian Military Weakness Without U.S. Aid,” Dara Massicot, FA, 03.08.24. 

  • To create an effective strategy that capitalizes on Russia’s weaknesses, Western policymakers and observers need to see the Russian military for what it is now: not the hapless, broken, depleted force that many wished it would be by now but a still dangerous organization advancing in Ukraine. ... Perhaps the clearest and most practical view of the Russian military is an anecdote told by Ukrainian soldiers and recently shared with The New York Times: the Russian army is neither good nor bad, just long.
  • Russia’s current objectives appear to be advancing to the boundaries of Donetsk and rolling back the results of Ukraine’s 2023 counteroffensive in Zaporizhzhia. In Donetsk, they may be trying to reach the city of Pokrovsk in order to secure key road and rail networks and seize the remainder of the Donetsk oblast, or province, from which they could eventually attack the remaining Ukrainian strongholds near Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. Russian forces will likely try to make headway in the Zaporizhzhia oblast as well, particularly around Orikhiv, where the terrain is open and fewer Ukrainian defensive positions have been prepared. In the north, Russian forces are trying to approach Kupiansk, which could act as a toehold in the Kharkiv region. A full reoccupation of western Kherson seems unlikely given the difficulty of the terrain there, Russian manpower and force availability notwithstanding; furthermore, the destruction last year of the Kakhovka Dam now limits paved routes over the Dnieper River in Kherson. 
  • To hold their positions in 2024, Ukrainian forces need urgent replenishment of ammunition and manpower. If reinforcements are coming, Ukraine can defend the frontline this year and regenerate combat strength while the West’s industrial base ramps up for 2025 and beyond. Western military assistance—specifically American aid—must be approved quickly to sustain critical ammunition supplies and to maintain existing combat systems. Next, Kyiv must generate and train personnel to replenish frontline units. Unfortunately, finding more soldiers will most likely require an unpopular mobilization. Aid delays make Kyiv’s dilemma even worse. Finally, Ukraine must accelerate the construction of prepared defensive positions.
  • Without these urgent steps, Ukraine’s rationing of ammunition will continue through the spring and summer. Facing continual Russian attacks, undermanned units could become increasingly hollowed out and lose the ability to defend themselves. Unless immediate changes are made, this is the path that Ukraine and the West are on.
  • The Russian military’s long-term weaknesses will not matter if Ukraine is not supported this year. Ukrainian frontline soldiers are in mounting jeopardy—not because they lack the will to fight or do not know their enemy’s weaknesses, but because of shortfalls in ammunition and manpower. If the West, specifically the United States, does not want to see the frontline in Ukraine continue to bend or—even worse—break, it must urgently approve aid. And if Kyiv wants to sustain its efforts, it has to make difficult choices about how to generate more manpower. Time is running out.

“What It Takes to Fly the F-16: Challenges for Ukraine,” Kristen D. Thompson, CFR, 03.05.24. 

  • The more F-16s that Ukraine has, the greater the likelihood that commanders can employ these aircraft in higher-impact missions against Russian forces. Depending on the course of the conflict, F-16s could have an immediate and enduring impact on Russia’s operational use of air assets in Ukraine, potentially by disrupting Russian fighter and attack aircraft operations near the battle front. This would complicate any type of air support for future ground offensives.
  • But more F-16s for Ukraine means it will need more spare parts, more training, more munitions, and more infrastructure—all of which require additional time and precious resources. Infrastructure for complex weapons systems takes multiple years to develop and cohere, which would be difficult for any command to establish amid an ongoing conflict, but will be particularly challenging for a country fighting a large-scale war against one of the world’s largest militaries. The impact that Ukraine’s F-16s will have on the war should therefore be measured over years, not months. But having a Western fighter in its fleet will certainly enable Ukraine to become a more viable air threat over the long term.

For more commentaries on the military aspects of the conflict, see:

Military aid to Ukraine:

“Remarks of President Joe Biden — State of the Union Address As Prepared for Delivery,”, 03.07.24.

  • Overseas, Putin of Russia is on the march, invading Ukraine and sowing chaos throughout Europe and beyond. If anybody in this room thinks Putin will stop at Ukraine, I assure you, he will not. But Ukraine can stop Putin if we stand with Ukraine and provide the weapons it needs to defend itself. That is all Ukraine is asking. They are not asking for American soldiers. In fact, there are no American soldiers at war in Ukraine. And I am determined to keep it that way ... I say this to Congress: we must stand up to Putin. Send me the Bipartisan National Security Bill. History is watching. If the United States walks away now, it will put Ukraine at risk.
  • My message to President Putin is simple. We will not walk away. We will not bow down. I will not bow down ... It wasn’t that long ago when a Republican president, Ronald Reagan, thundered, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Now, my predecessor, a former Republican president, tells Putin, “Do whatever the hell you want.” A former American president actually said that, bowing down to a Russian leader. It’s outrageous. It’s dangerous. It’s unacceptable. Europe at risk. The free world at risk, emboldening others who wish to do us harm. Biden’s SOTU-2024 contained two mentions of Russia compared to none in SOTU-2023, six mentions of Putin compared to four in 2023, eight mentions of Ukraine compared to three in SOTU-2023 and no mentions of Zelenskyy.*
  • We want competition with China, but not conflict. And we’re in a stronger position to win the competition for the 21st century against China or anyone else for that matter. 

“Ukraine will lose only if MAGA Republicans cut off U.S. aid,” Max Boot, WP, 03.04.24.

  • If U.S. aid resumes, Ukraine could continue to hold out indefinitely, and Russia will find it extremely difficult to advance. 
  • Jack Watling of the Royal United Services Institute in London, writing for Time magazine, notes that "Russia's firepower dominance will potentially diminish" in 2025 as it runs low on ammunition stockpiles. In a similar vein, a senior Biden administration official told the New Yorker that "Russia can continue its current level of war expenditures into the spring of 2025, at which point it will run into trouble." Meanwhile, the United States and Europe are expanding their defense production; next year, they might be able to produce twice as many artillery shells as Russia.
  • If those estimates are accurate, then Ukraine just has to survive this year before the tide might start to turn again. "Ukraine's prospects are grim but hardly fatal," retired Australian major general Mick Ryan told me. "There were multiple occasions when the allies faced such terrible prospects in World War II. They won not just through perseverance and production, but with an alliance strategy to defeat their enemy, not just defend against them. Such is Ukraine's pathway to victory. Russia is a relatively weak bully — and very beatable. We just have to decide to do it."
  • Whether Ukraine wins or loses will be decided not on the battlefield but in the House of Representatives, where a Senate-approved $60 billion aid bill continues to languish. There is nothing inevitable about Ukraine's defeat, any more than there was anything inevitable about Britain's defeat in World War II. But, despite Ukraine's impressive and inspirational record of resistance thus far, it can still lose this war if MAGA Republicans succeed in cutting off U.S. aid.

“Europe’s damaging divisions over military aid to Ukraine,” Editorial Board, FT, 03.05.24.

  • With U.S. arms deliveries held up by political blocks, and continuing shortfalls in European production, the priority must be to ensure Ukraine receives the weaponry it needs this year. This covers everything from scarce artillery shells to cruise missiles, fighters and air defense. Recent mutual accusations by France and Germany that the other is not doing enough have some substance, but are a fruitless distraction.
  • Perhaps Macron’s most striking statement was that the “defeat” of Russia in Ukraine was now “indispensable to security and stability in Europe.” From a leader who called in 2022 for the west to avoid “humiliating” Moscow — and who has gone out of his way to understand and reason with Putin — this is a salutary message. Kyiv’s allies need a strategy to achieve this goal, without leading to escalation that spirals out of control.

“Ukraine needs more than bangers and mash: Envisioning a strategic goal for NATO,” Leon Hartwell, ELN, 03.07.24.

  • As NATO readies to celebrate another milestone birthday, questions about the alliance’s efficacy in addressing global crises loom large. Amidst geopolitical tensions, particularly concerning Ukraine’s sovereignty, the discussion around NATO’s commitment to collective defense takes center stage. NATO’s strategic objective with regard to Ukraine becomes more crucial in light of Putin’s decision to escalate the Russia-Ukraine war once more by bolstering the country’s defense budget by a staggering 25 per cent to approximately $415 billion for 2024. This figure dwarfs Ukraine’s defense budget of $40 billion for 2024, highlighting the vast disparity in military capabilities between the two adversaries.
  • The 31 NATO member states, plus impending member Sweden, boast a formidable combined GDP of approximately $45.93319 trillion (nominal, 2022), representing nearly half – 45.69 percent – of the world’s GDP, and more than 20.5 times the size of Russia’s $2.240 trillion economy. Yet, the effectiveness of this collective power hinges on articulating a strategic goal, backed by resource allocation and unwavering commitment.
  • Despite lofty speeches in Western capitals about the urgent need to back Ukraine, the gap between pledged commitments and actual disbursement remains glaring. Leon Hartwell As such, while Russia’s military budget and capabilities are surging in order to satiate Putin’s imperialistic appetite, the West seems content on handing out bangers and mash to Ukrainians at the gates of the Gulags, rather than supporting the country to defeat an invading genocidal adversary.
  • As Ukraine battles for its sovereignty, NATO grapples with its role as a collective security apparatus. While its economic might is undeniable, the willingness to mobilize resources for strategic imperatives remains uncertain. In reimagining NATO’s purpose, a clear commitment to Ukraine to defeat Russia represents not only a test of solidarity but also a reaffirmation of the alliance’s core values in the face of geopolitical upheaval.

“How Much Would 0.25% of Ramstein Group Members’ GDP Really Raise for Ukraine?”, Conor Cunningham and RM Staff, RM, 03.07.24.

  • Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas was quoted on Jan. 17, 2024, as saying that every member of the so-called Ramstein group should channel the equivalent of 0.25% of their gross domestic product to Kyiv annually, which “would raise at least €120 billion ($131 billion) and swing the conflict in Ukraine’s favor,” according to Bloomberg.
  • In her claim, Kallas did not list members of this group, which is officially known as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG), only noting that the group comprised more than 50 countries, including all 31 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. … In response to the RM inquiry, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Charlie Dietz identified 43 countries (44 including Ukraine) as members of UDCG.
  • Having ascertained the number of group members, as calculated by the Pentagon, we then totaled 0.25% of their GDP for 2022, as measured by the World Bank in constant (and, thus, inflation-adjusted) dollars. The resultant sum equaled €117.87 billion ($128.3 billion) (see Table 1). That comes close to Kallas’ estimate, even though she stated that the group includes more than 50 countries, while Pentagon spokesman Dietz identified only 43 members of the group. For our calculation, we rely upon the number supplied by the Pentagon, as the UDCG is led by the U.S. Given the discrepancy between the Pentagon spokesman’s number and the prime minister’s number, we can posit that 0.25% of the approximately 10 remaining countries’ GDP likely satisfies the gap between $128.3 and $131 billion.

For more commentary on military aid to Ukraine, see:

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

“Ukraine war facilitates Kremlin ‘deoffshorization’ dream,” Alexander Kolyandr and Alexandra Prokopenko, The Bell, 03.08.24.

  • It emerged this week that the government has begun drawing up a list of “economically significant organizations” as part of its campaign to bring big companies fully under Russian jurisdiction. Those on the list will have the right to ditch any foreign holdings through which they hold assets. 
  • To be on the list, companies must meet two criteria: they must be large (defined as having annual revenue over 75 billion rubles ($820 million), assets of more than 150 billion rubles, or more than 4,000 employees); and they must be more than 50% owned by Russian beneficiaries via holding companies registered in so-called “unfriendly” countries (these are nations – mostly in the West – that have been deemed hostile by the Kremlin). There are estimated to be more than 100 companies in Russia that meet these criteria.
  • So far, there are six companies on the list. Three of them – Alfa Bank, insurance company Alfastrakhovaniye, and retailer X5 Group – own or manage assets on behalf of investment conglomerate Alfa Group. Billionaire Mikhail Fridman, one of Alfa Group’s main shareholders, spent years gradually transferring his Russian assets to the West. However, after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he was hit with Western sanctions. The other three companies are high-end supermarket chain Azbuka Vkusa (41.1% owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich and his partners), fertilizer manufacturer Akron (owned by billionaire Vyacheslav Kantor) and mining company Razrez Arshanovsky. 
  • This is likely just the start. ... Being designated an ESO means that, under a law passed in August, the Russian government can bring a case to the Moscow Arbitration Court to suspend the rights of the foreign owners in that company. Officially, these restrictions can be kept in force until Dec. 31, 2024. In reality, it’s clear that they will continue to operate until 
  • The main aim of the law and the ESO list appear to be to ensure that major Russian businesses are brought entirely under Russian jurisdiction. At the same time, they enable companies to resume dividend payments to Russian shareholders that were interrupted by sanctions. It also reduces the sanctions risks for Russian shareholders, and protects Russian assets from being seized by Western countries.

“The enforcement challenge of Russia sanctions will see pressure on business grow,” Nabi Abdullaev, Adam Smith, Control Risks, March 2024. 

  • As the conflict in Ukraine continues and two years after imposing some of the most aggressive sanctions, many policymakers and experts are reconsidering the effectiveness of the current strategy. Despite recent improvements in enforcing the cap on Russian oil prices, it is evident that these sanctions have not compelled President Putin to change his stance on the war.
  • In considering how to increase pressure on Putin, one option explores the possibility of demanding more from global corporates and financial institutions. This increased pressure on global corporations if likely to be a key element of sanctions in 2024-25. 
  • The challenge of sanctions enforcement is significant given the increasing sophistication of evasion techniques. Global regulators have worked hard to target intermediaries who facilitate sanction evasion, but this implementation has not kept up with evasion. Hence, while Putin’s mockery of the impotence of Western sanctions is overstated, restrictions have undoubtedly fallen short of their stated goals.
  • The infrastructure used by sanctions evaders does have some nodes vulnerable to enforcement. For instance, financial institutions outside of Russia remain attractive targets for regulators, and new strategies are being developed to put pressure on these institutions. Ocean-going vessels are also nodes that are vulnerable to enforcement, and OFAC has sanctioned dozens of vessels that it alleges to have been involved in evasion schemes.
  • The other challenge comes from the hesitancy of some countries to impose G7 measures. To increase leverage, sanctions regulators may target established companies that fail to comply with G7 sanctions or provide access to their products/services to restricted Russian entities. With the U.S. elections approaching and pressure on the Biden Administration to show progress against Russia, global corporations are expected to face increasing scrutiny and risks.

“Sanctions considerations in cross-border transactions,” Henry Smith, written in conjunction with Sean Seelinger, Control Risks, 2024. 

  • We use an alternative case study this year to show how some of these considerations have changed over the past two years, most notably due to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
  • Russia: The target’s continued business in Russia stands out as a sanctions and reputational risk. However, as a Europe headquartered business the extent to which this is in violation of sanctions and export control regulations will depend on two things – the specific nature of the products; and their end uses and users in Russia, and the intermediary banks used for transactions.
  • Nonetheless, even if diligence does not indicate any historical or ongoing violations of applicable sanctions, we would anticipate the buyer may want to consider divestment or mothballing in Russia.
  • Given the potential termination of the business in Russia (either by choice or due to the imposition of additional sanctions or export controls), it would be important to understand if the target’s business in Russia was responsible for sales in other markets in Central Asia or the Caucuses.
  • Circumvention risks in the Middle East: Revenue data shows a sudden increase in sales in Turkey over the past two years, which on closer inspection is largely through one of the company’s four Turkey-based distributors.
  • Notably, the buyer is concerned that the hacker may be Russia-based or -backed and the payment may flow to a sanctioned entity, or to support the war in Ukraine.

“Bankers Must Stand Up in the Fight for Ukraine’s Victory,” Tom Keatinge, RUSI, 03.11.24.

  • When it comes to Russia’s ongoing war of choice in Ukraine, the debate on the future of Russia’s immobilized central bank assets has become increasingly self-defeating as political leaders and bankers conspire to construct roadblocks and excuses for inaction. .... But is this uncharacteristically timid tone warranted? I would argue not, and it is time for this to change.
    • First, we should challenge the notion that there would be a loss of trust in the euro and other reserve currencies issued by Ukraine’s allies. 
    • Second, there is no doubt that bankers will point out that they are already on the frontline of the economic war against Russia. 
    • Lastly, there is a wider issue. While it may not have deterred Vladimir Putin from launching his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, others might think twice in the future before embarking on an unprovoked invasion of a neighboring country if they realize that a considerable portion of their national wealth is at risk.
  • So rather than decrying the risks that such a seizure might conceivably crystallize, bankers should stand up for Ukraine and commit to doing whatever it takes to ensure that the challenges they foresee do not materialize. They have the balance sheets, the skills and the experience; all they need to add now is their infamous “master of the universe” attitude that they seem to have forgotten.

“A swing worth a ruble - a blow worth a copeck? New sanctions against Russia,” Ivan Timofeev, RIAC/Valdai, 03.11.24.^ Clues from Russian Views. (These organizations are affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • The second anniversary of the start of the special military operation (SVO) in Ukraine was expectedly marked by new sanctions from a number of Western countries and associations against Russia.
  • Will the impact of the new sanctions on the Russian economy be fundamental? Hardly. 
    • Yes, the number of blocked individuals is relatively high. But financial, industrial, defense and technology companies have long been living under a regime of sanctions against Russia as a whole, as well as individual sectors of its economy. 
    •  New blocking sanctions do not have a shock effect on the economy. Secondary sanctions are also unlikely to have a shock effect. Large companies have long been cautious in dealing with Russia, and smaller companies with a high risk appetite will continue to seek high returns. Third-country governments can crack down on firms in their jurisdictions that violate U.S., EU, and other Western jurisdictions' export controls. At least, such signals are coming to them from Washington and Brussels. But such “twisting” is still of a moderate nature. 
  • Of course, sanctions continue to distort normal market relations. They increase costs and force businesses to switch to “gray” schemes. However, the political goals of the sanctions remain unrealized: they do not affect the Russian course in foreign and domestic policy.

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“How to Pave the Way for Diplomacy to End the War in Ukraine. No Negotiations Yet—but It’s Time to Talk About Talking,” Samuel Charap and Jeremy Shapiro, FA, 03.05.24.

  • It is too early to begin real talks with Moscow. And Kyiv would have to be in the lead when they begin. But even today, the West can use signals to convey its intent to enable an eventual negotiated end to the war. Signals are unilateral actions, such as military deployments, public statements, sanctions, or diplomatic gestures, to convey a state’s intentions. 
  • Adjusting Western officials’ rhetorical emphasis in public statements would be a modest but important signal. For example, officials could restate their openness to conditional sanctions relief as part of a negotiated outcome to the war. But talk is cheap, and Moscow will likely not believe it. Therefore, the United States and the European Union should also consider appointing special representatives for conflict diplomacy. Even though these officials would spend months engaging with allies and Kyiv before talks with Moscow are even considered, the appointments themselves would signal to Russia that the United States and Europe are prepared to engage in eventual negotiations.
  • Kyiv and Moscow have more opportunities for signaling, because they are the belligerents.
    • Moscow, especially, needs to find ways to signal; Russia should indicate that its war aims are limited, that it is prepared to negotiate an end to the war, and that it will abide by the terms of a settlement. In addition to appointing a diplomatic point person to serve as a counterpart to the new U.S. and EU representatives, Moscow could suspend strikes on Ukrainian cities, indicate a willingness to enact an all-for-all prisoner-of-war swap, and cease its inflammatory rhetoric about the Ukrainian leadership.
    • Kyiv, in turn, could soften the September 2022 presidential decree that established “the impossibility of conducting negotiations with the President of the Russian Federation, V. Putin.” Kyiv could clarify that the decree applies only to the Russian president and not to other representatives of the Russian government. And if Moscow stopped striking nonmilitary targets in Ukraine, Kyiv could reciprocate by ceasing strikes it has been conducting in Russia.
  • Getting to the table will not be easy, but the alternative is an endless, grinding war that no side claims to want and both sides lose by continuing to fight.

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

"US Is Turning Its Back on the World With or Without Trump," Hal Brands, Bloomberg, 03.06.24.

  • The great crisis of U.S. foreign policy isn’t something that will materialize only if Trump wins in November. It’s happening right now as America struggles to provide the aid an embattled Ukraine needs to survive.
  • On Capitol Hill, there doesn’t seem any great urgency. A vital funding resolution has been postponed.
  • The eastern city of Avdiivka fell late last month because Ukrainian forces lacked the shells and bullets needed to stop unending Russian attacks.
  • For Ukraine, the costs of a shortfall in U.S. aid aren’t prospective or hypothetical. They are real, and they are mounting by the day, in lives and territory lost. Put bluntly, we are seeing how Ukraine loses this war — not because of some brilliant Russian blitzkrieg, but because of the incremental accumulation of setbacks that deprive the country of any hope of victory, and thereby force it to accept a peace that is effectively a strategic defeat.
  • The current debate demonstrates that the U.S. political system can be paralyzed on critical strategic issues even when America’s president has described Ukraine as the central front in a great struggle between autocracy and democracy, and when even a solid majority of House and Senate legislators favor giving that country support. If this is the best the U.S. can do under Joe Biden, it won’t take a second Trump presidency to cast America’s global role into doubt.
  • Whatever happens in November, the Ukraine aid stalemate is sobering because it gives America’s friends, and its enemies, a preview of what the world will look when that’s no longer the case. It could be a very long way down.

“America’s New Twilight Struggle With Russia. To Prevail, Washington Must Revive Containment,” Max Bergmann, Michael Kimmage, Jeffrey Mankoff and Maria Snegovaya, FA, 03.06.24. 

  • A new containment strategy must account for the novelty of the present moment. It must lean on U.S. allies more than its twentieth-century antecedent did. And it must be sustained for the long haul—a task that will be harder without the bipartisan consensus that marked the Cold War fight against communism. The geography of containment will also differ. Kennan’s vision of containment focused primarily on Europe. Today, post-Soviet Eurasia and the rest of the world will be more central. 
  • In the twenty-first century, the United States will not be able to orient its foreign and security policy solely around the struggle with Moscow. Any strategy for containing Russia must account for resource commitments to the Indo-Pacific and for the impact of U.S. policy on the Chinese-Russian relationship. That complicated reality requires U.S. allies, especially in Europe, to take on a larger share of directing the containment of Russia.
  • A new containment strategy does not depend on Ukrainian victory. Still, that strategy should retain Ukrainian victory as a long-term goal. Forcing Russia to abandon all or most of the territory it has occupied there will push the Russian threat farther from Europe’s borders, leaving the Kremlin to grapple with the consequences of a failed war of aggression—much as the Soviet Union did in the 1980s after its Afghanistan debacle. Ukrainian victory would embolden other countries to push back against Russian malign influence.
  • A Ukrainian military victory will require larger and more sustained Western military assistance, including weapons with long-range strike capabilities. The EU recently stepped up with a $50 billion military assistance package. The United States needs to follow suit and pass the $60 billion in supplemental funding stalled in Congress.
  • A strategy of containment should prioritize defending Russia’s threatened neighbors, especially those that do not have a clear and immediate path to NATO membership. Apart from Ukraine, Russia’s most vulnerable neighbors include Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova—all of which remain outside the alliance. The United States should offer these countries training and weapons. It should also bolster these states’ resilience against Russian gray-zone threats, ranging from cyberattacks to election meddling. It should share intelligence with them and invest in critical infrastructure, such as power grids and data storage.
  • Any U.S. strategy toward Russia must recognize the peril of direct military confrontation. Washington must remain open to negotiating with Russia on arms control, cyberwarfare, and regional conflicts between each side’s allies. 
  • Kennan acknowledged that Washington had to commit to containment for as long as necessary—until Soviet power had “mellowed” and no longer threatened global stability. Containing Russia today will require a similar commitment of time and resources. It will be another twilight struggle, although it will unfold in a world vastly different from that of the late 1940s.

“Forecaster Peter Turchin: ‘The US is in a much more perilous state than Russia,’” interview conducted by Henry Mance, FT, 03.11.24. 

  • In 2010, the journal Nature asked experts to predict their fields a decade in the future. ... Peter Turchin came forward. Originally an ecologist, he made perhaps the boldest prediction: the next decade was “likely to be a period of growing instability in the United States and western Europe.” His models showed instability could spike “around 2020.”
  • Which society is closer to macro-breakdown: Russia or the U.S.? “Definitely not Russia.” External pressures have unified the country, he argues. Doesn’t Russia suffer even worse economic inequalities than the U.S.? No, says Turchin. The ratio of workers to vacancies is “very favorable to workers” since the invasion of Ukraine, after people fled the country or were drafted into the army, fewer immigrants arrived and industrial production increased.
    • Yevgeny Prigozhin’s failed uprising was “a good stress test. Everybody was against him. Without doubt, the United States is in a much more perilous state right now.” There is something disconcerting in Turchin’s willingness to discuss the fate of societies in coldly amoral terms. 
  • “I am convinced that we overestimate the importance of individuals. [Vladimir] Putin is highly circumscribed . . . Let’s forget about great men. Let’s talk about geopolitical factors.” The war in Ukraine would have happened without Putin, Turchin argues, because the Russian elite felt threatened by NATO. Moreover, it is “almost a mathematical certainty” that Russia will win, because it has more capacity to produce the 152mm and 155mm artillery shells that break open trenches. 
  • Turchin’s next project is to build a model for 10 countries “like China, U.K., Russia, Germany. Then we run the model for 10 years. We publish the scripts on which the model is based. And we see what happens.” Yet, if crises come on 50- and 200-year cycles, Turchin may never have to predict another one in his lifetime. In his line of work, maybe you only need to be lucky once.

“This Prophetic Academic Now Foresees the West’s Defeat,” Christopher Caldwell, NYT, 03.09.24. 

  • American leadership is failing: That is the argument of an eccentric new book that since January has stood near the top of France’s best-seller lists. It is called “La Défaite de l’Occident” (“The Defeat of the West”). Its author, Emmanuel Todd, is a celebrated historian and anthropologist who in 1976, in a book called “The Final Fall,” used infant-mortality statistics to predict that the Soviet Union was headed for collapse.
  • Mr. Todd is a critic of American involvement in Ukraine, but his argument is not the now-familiar historical one made by the dissident political scientist John Mearsheimer. Like Mr. Mearsheimer, Mr. Todd questions the zealous expansion of NATO under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the neoconservative ideology of democracy promotion and the official demonization of Russia. But his skepticism of U.S. involvement in Ukraine goes deeper. He believes American imperialism has not only endangered the rest of the world but also corroded American character.
  • In interviews over the past year, Mr. Todd has argued that Westerners focus too much on one surprise of the war: Ukraine’s ability to defy Russia’s far larger army. But there is a second surprise that has been underappreciated: Russia’s ability to defy the sanctions and seizures through which the United States sought to destroy the Russian economy. Even with its Western European allies in tow, the United States lacked the leverage to keep the world’s big, new economic actors in line. India took advantage of fire-sale prices for Russian energy. China provided Russia with sanctioned goods and electronic components.
  • Mr. Todd calculates that the United States produces fewer engineers than Russia does, not just per capita but in absolute numbers. It is experiencing an “internal brain drain,” as its young people drift from demanding, high-skill, high-value-added occupations to law, finance and various occupations that merely transfer value around the economy and in some cases may even destroy it. 
  • Mr. Todd does believe that certain of our values are “deeply negative.” He presents evidence that the West does not value the lives of its young. Infant mortality, the telltale metric that led him to predict the Soviet collapse half a century ago, is higher in Mr. Biden’s America (5.4 per thousand) than in Mr. Putin’s Russia — and three times higher than in the Japan of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
  • While Mr. Todd is, again, not judgmental on sexual matters, he is judgmental on intellectual ones. The inability to distinguish facts from wishes astounds him at every turn of the Ukraine war. The American hope early in the war that China might cooperate in a sanctions regime against Russia, thereby helping the United States refine a weapon that would one day be aimed at China itself, is, for Mr. Todd, a “delirium.”
  • One is constantly reading in the papers that Vladimir Putin is a threat to the Western order. Maybe. But the larger threat to the Western order is the hubris of those who run it. Fighting a war based on values requires good values. At a bare minimum it requires an agreement on the values being spread, and the United States is further from such agreement than it has ever been in its history — further, even, than it was on the eve of the Civil War. At times it seems there are no national principles, only partisan ones, with each side convinced that the other is trying not just to run the government but also to capture the state. Until some new consensus emerges, President Biden is misrepresenting his country in presenting it as stable and unified enough to commit to anything. Ukrainians are learning this at a steep cost 

“NATO Should Not Accept Ukraine—for Ukraine’s Sake,” Stephen M. Walt, FP, 03.05.24.

  • Here are the top five reasons why Ukraine should not join NATO.
  1. It doesn’t meet the membership criteria. Ukraine is still a fragile democracy at best. Corruption is still endemic, elections have been suspended since the beginning of the war, and there are still influential elements in Ukrainian society whose commitment to democratic norms is questionable. 
  2. It is not clear that NATO would honor its Article V commitments. As I’ve noted before, Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty is not a tripwire that commits members to fight in the event another member is attacked. At U.S. insistence, Article V only commits a member state to regard an attack on one as an attack on all, and then to take “such actions as it deems necessary.”
  3. NATO membership may deter attack in many circumstances, but it is not a magic shield. Indeed, a growing chorus of voices have recently issued alarming warnings about a possible Russian challenge to NATO in the next few years. 
  4. Membership now will only prolong the war. If I’m correct that Moscow attacked in good part to prevent Kyiv from joining NATO, then bringing Ukraine in now will simply prolong a war that the country is presently losing. If that’s why Putin launched his “special military operation,” he’s not likely to end it if his forces are doing decently well and Ukrainian accession to NATO is still on the table. 
  5. Neutrality may not be that bad. Finland fought a costly and ultimately unsuccessful war against the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1940, and eventually had to cede about nine percent of its prewar territory. But like Ukraine today, the Finns had fought heroically and made the much larger Soviet Union pay a large price for its victory. The result was that then-Soviet leader Joseph Stalin did not incorporate Finland into the USSR or force it to join the Warsaw Pact after World War II. 
  • For all these reasons, therefore, fast-tracking Ukraine into NATO is not a good idea. Instead, Ukraine’s supporters in the West need to think creatively about alternative security arrangements that can reassure Ukraine in the context of a postwar armistice or peace agreement. 

“Should NATO Invite Ukraine to Join the Alliance at Its 75th Anniversary Summit in Washington this July?” Dr. Karen Donfried and Vladyslav Wallace, Belfer Center, 03.04.24.

Over the course of six sessions, this study group, led by Dr. Karen Donfried, is examining key foreign policy debates flowing from Russia’s war against Ukraine.  The objective is to provide a deeper understanding of the geopolitics of the war in Ukraine and the implications for U.S. interests. Students discuss and debate the weekly topic with guest speakers. 


  • Strong Deterrent Against Russia:
  • Political Signaling: A formal invitation to Ukraine at the 75th anniversary summit would serve as a powerful geopolitical message.
  • Moral Considerations: There is a strong moral imperative to further support Ukraine in its fight against unjust Russian aggression.
  • Economic Motivations: As sanctions against Russia continue to show limited results and an emerging shift towards a global economic order less centered on the US takes shape, there is an increasingly important need to demonstrate the relevance and influence of the West.
  • Ultimate Tool to End War: The argument for Ukraine’s accession to NATO is framed as potentially the most effective means to deter further Russian aggression and, ultimately, to bring an end to the conflict.


  • Lack of Bipartisan Support.
  • Questionable Effectiveness: There are serious doubts about Ukraine’s ability to change the course of the conflict with Russia, even with greater military support.
  • NATO Admission Requirements: Ukraine’s candidacy for NATO membership is complicated by its failure to meet all the Alliance’s entry criteria, especially concerning military standards.
  • Article 5 Commitments: The commitment to collective defense under NATO’s Article 5 is a cornerstone of the Alliance. However, there is uncertainty regarding the willingness of NATO members to extend this commitment to Ukraine.
  • Escalation Risk: Ukrainian admission into NATO carries the risk of escalating the conflict with Russia, potentially leading to a wider confrontation that could draw NATO allies in. The direct implication of NATO in Ukraine’s defense might provoke an even stronger response from Russia and increase the likelihood of a broader conflict that could have significant human and economic costs. Even more, it could inch the conflict closer to a nuclear war.

“Moving weapons around Europe fast is crucial for deterring Russia,” Economist, 03.07.24.

  • The biggest exercise NATO has held since the end of the cold war, Steadfast Defender 24, began on Jan. 24 and will run to the end of May. … A key finding of the exercise will be what more needs to be done to enable frictionless movement of much larger forces across national boundaries in the event of a real crisis or pre-crisis. The answer is likely to be quite a lot. Since the cold war, moving forces across Europe has become entangled in a web of national regulations and customs requirements, while the physical infrastructure needed, such as resilient rail systems and bridges strong enough to bear the weight of tank transporters, has been neglected.
  • [The EU has gone on to] create an action plan for military mobility, dubbed the “Military Schengen”, and a Dutch-led project, PESCO (Permanent Structured Co-operation) was set up to make it happen. So far PESCO has been a disappointment. Ben Hodges, who was the commander of American forces in Europe until 2017 and now advises NATO on logistics, says PESCO is broken “because they took the money away”. 
  • After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the EU injected greater urgency by announcing a fresh plan covering four main pillars: so-called “multimodal corridors”; regulatory reform; resilience and preparedness (particularly focused on security threats to transport systems); and “dedicated partnerships”, which essentially means close co-operation between the EU and NATO, to which end America, Canada, Norway and Britain have all joined PESCO. In January the EU declared that the €1.69bn had been spent, and it was now allocating a further €807m for 38 additional projects aimed at improving the transport of troops and equipment.
  • General Hodges says that the alliance must, for example, be able to move forces from Rotterdam to the Polish border in no more than 90 hours. For deterrence to be serious, he says, you need to show you can shift forces faster from A to B than the Russians can. But he warns that apart from reforming the legal and regulatory framework, you have to have enough rail cars to transport heavy military equipment. Ukraine has demonstrated just how vital trains are in getting tanks, other fighting vehicles and munitions to the front line. But in discussions with the German rail network operator Deutsche Bahn, General Hodges found that it may have less than 10% of the rail cars that would be needed in a crisis.
  • NATO’s concerns also include a shortage of military bridging equipment and inadequate “host nation support” for arriving forces. A single armored brigade with at least 50 tanks must have 15km2 of space to meet all its requirements. General Hodges says NATO should do much more forward warehousing of parts and munitions. Both assembly points and logistics hubs will also have to be protected from attack. Referring to the experience of Ukrainian forces, a senior NATO official says: “We have a requirement for a lot more air and missile defense. We are about to give allies the biggest demand signal for the next decade.” 

“Trump Should Lay Off NATO, Target the U.N,” John Bolton, WSJ, 03.09.24.

  • One MAGA-world alternative to complete withdrawal [of the U.S. from NATO]  is creating a "two-tier NATO," in which any member not meeting the 2014 Cardiff summit commitment to spend 2% of gross domestic product on defense wouldn't receive alliance protection. This notion is toxic to alliance solidarity and impractical. 
  • Another Trump World proposal is to impose tariffs on NATO member countries that don't reach the 2% spending level. ...[but] Penalizing the economies of U.S. allies to encourage them to increase defense spending sounds like "the beatings will continue until morale improves." More practically, on what authority could Mr. Trump draw to impose such tariffs? 
  • There are better targets for MAGA ire. Mr. Trump could usefully wreak havoc on the U.N. As I said 30 years ago, you could lose the top 10 floors of the U.N. Secretariat building and it wouldn't make a bit of difference. Things have only gotten worse.
  • In 2022, Washington spent about $18.1 billion across the U.N. system, far more than any other contributor. ... Instead, a President Trump could simply say we are moving to voluntary contributions whether anyone else does or not. 
  • As Washington implemented a switch to voluntary contributions, it would face important decisions on continuing membership in several U.N. entities, decisions which would involve not merely defunding, but withdrawing from them completely. The U.S. has been in and out of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for decades, withdrawing first under Ronald Reagan, inexplicably rejoining under George W. Bush. Mr. Trump took us out again, and Mr. Biden again returned. A Trump win should guarantee a third withdrawal, hopefully for good. 
  • Beyond massive changes in U.N. funding and membership, Mr. Trump should insist that an American become U.N. secretary-general when Antonio Guterres's term expires in December 2026. 
  • Nobody is going to defend us or maintain an international system favoring America if we don't. That requires spending the necessary resources and extending our reach through alliances like NATO. If we reduce our defense capabilities or retreat from positions of strength, others will fill the vacuum, invariably to our disadvantage.

“Sweden and Finland Add Both Muscle and Risk to NATO,” Sten Rynning, CEIP, 03.07.24.

  • [The NATO] allies are in doubt once again. And worryingly, unlike in past crises, time is not on NATO’s side. China and the Global South are growing, and Russia is on a war footing. The United States is wavering; Germany lacks a geopolitical compass; France talks of Europe but delivers more words than action; and Eastern European allies know that “Europe” cannot extend deterrence to protect them.
  • Under these conditions, it is not a given that NATO will remain committed to an aspirational and exacting “defense first” policy. Sooner or later, some allies will be tempted to open a dialogue with Russia—to take the pressure off and buy Europe time, and to bow to the reality that without the United States, Europe must recognize limits to its community. Such a dash for dialogue would be both a reversal of NATO’s Harmel legacy and a dire sign of waning political will.
  • The question is whether these new allies, for all their political commitment and defense capabilities, carry luggage that could corrode NATO’s legacy of “defense first.” Is there in their political makeup an inner drive, perhaps contested but visibly there, to go for a “dialogue first” policy in the name of a framework of continental stability and solidarity?
  • Sweden and Finland should be welcomed into NATO for many reasons, and they can both be expected to work hard to fit the bill. However, they carry distinct political traditions that highlight the fragility of NATO’s vision of a transatlantic community. This vision presupposes political solidarity and a “defense first” policy. Diversity and waning leadership could instead foster well-intended but ill-fated thinking on “dialogue first,” meaning Russia first. Were this to happen, seventy-five years of transatlantic peace will have become a parenthesis.

“NATO Enlargement Amidst Russia's War in Ukraine. How Finland and Sweden Bolster the Transatlantic Alliance,” James Black, Charlotte Kleberg and Erik Silfversten, RAND, March 2024. 

  • Finland’s accession – and with Sweden soon to follow [already occurred] – brings both opportunities and benefits to the Alliance.
    • With the addition of Finland, NATO effectively doubles its land border with Russia, while also offering Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) the potential to hold key Russian bases and forces in the Kola Peninsula (part of Russia’s so-called ‘bastion’) at risk, using long-range precision fires as a means of bolstering conventional defense and deterrence posture. 
    • With Sweden’s membership, meanwhile, the entire Baltic coastline would become ‘NATO territory’, save the Russian coast and the exclave of Kaliningrad.80 The addition of Sweden would also bring new strategic and operational depth to NATO’s position in Scandinavia, aiding with the defense in depth of Finland if needed and, through provision of host nation support, with the reception, staging, onward movement and integration of NATO reinforcements arriving in a crisis (e.g. from the UK, in a JEF guise, or US and Canadian forces from across the Atlantic)
  • As robust democracies leading the way when it comes to societal resilience, cross-government coordination and an overall comprehensive approach to security, NATO will benefit long-term from including Finland and Sweden in its ranks. Having both long been active members of EU defense initiatives (as non-NATO members) and other EU efforts, their inclusion could also lead to the promotion of stronger NATO-EU collaboration on a range of issues.
  • On land, Finland has one of the strongest artillery forces in Europe and maintains a large conscript and reserve force, capable of mustering 280,000 troops within 30 days.  Sweden has advanced capabilities that include sizeable numbers of armored, mechanized, artillery and air defense systems, including Patriot units.
  • By pushing Finland and Sweden to join NATO, the Kremlin’s plans for its ‘special military operation’ have ultimately backfired – as they have too on the battlefields of Ukraine. Where Russia had hoped to undermine NATO’s cohesion and credibility, and to further fragment Europe, instead it has achieved the opposite: directly bolstering the Alliance’s capabilities and presence in the Nordic-Baltic region and the High North.

“The West Is Still Oblivious to Russia’s Information War,” Ian Garner, FP, 03.09.24.

  • Any Western vision for future peace in Ukraine—and any discussion of a return to business as usual with Russia—must be paired with restrictions on Russian interference and influence in Western daily life. Ukraine, which has been actively battling Russian influence as part of its war against Moscow since 2014, has already developed approaches from which the West could learn.
    • First, Ukraine has taken to heart that “information is a weapon that Russia is using against the West,” as Ihor Solovey, head of Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security, put it to Foreign Policy. 
    • Second, Western policymakers must act in concert—forming a coalition analogous to the Ramstein group that coordinates military aid to Ukraine—to pass laws and take other measures to ensure that Russia is not able to feed its information directly to Western citizens through social media. 
    • Finally, Western governments must move beyond ineffective fact-checking to embark on a mass program of civic education through schools, universities, and public advertising. Such a program should relentlessly emphasize the threat that Russia’s influence poses, clearly label it as an ongoing war, and give the public tools for understanding and countering Russian attacks in their varied forms. 
  • As artificial intelligence and other technologies make the dissemination of messaging to Western audiences ever easier—and as the tide appears to be turning in Moscow’s favor on the battlefield in Ukraine—it is time for Western governments to act. Otherwise, Moscow will win not only a military war in Ukraine but a hybrid one all across the West.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear and space-based arms:

“Biden’s Armageddon Moment: When Nuclear Detonation Seemed Possible in Ukraine,” David E. Sanger, NYT, 03.09.24. 

  • [What Joe Biden said at fund-raising event meeting of New York Democrats on Oct. 6, 2022,] came straight from highly classified intercepted communications, suggesting that President Vladimir V. Putin’s threats to use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine might be turning into an operational plan ... in the next few weeks... 
  • The intercepts revealed that for the first time since the war in Ukraine had broken out, there were frequent conversations within the Russian military about reaching into the nuclear arsenal. Some ... involved the units that would be responsible for moving or deploying the weapons. The most alarming of the intercepts revealed that one of the most senior Russian military commanders was explicitly discussing the logistics of detonating a weapon on the battlefield.
  • Soon the CIA was warning that, under a singular scenario in which Ukrainian forces decimated Russian defensive lines and looked as if they might try to retake Crimea — a possibility that seemed imaginable that fall — the likelihood of nuclear use might rise to 50 percent or even higher. That “got everyone’s attention fast,” said an official involved in the discussions ... almost all of the officials described those weeks as a glimpse of a terrifying new era in which nuclear weapons were back at the center of superpower competition.
  • The scare in 2022 involved so-called battlefield nukes ... the White House concern ran so deep that task forces met to map out a response. Administration officials said that the United States’ countermove would have to be nonnuclear. But they quickly added that there would have to be some kind of dramatic reaction — perhaps even a conventional attack on the units that had launched the nuclear weapons — or they would risk emboldening not only Mr. Putin but every other authoritarian with a nuclear arsenal, large or small ...Yet ... no one knew what kind of nuclear demonstration Mr. Putin had in mind. 
  • To forestall nuclear use, in the days around Mr. Biden’s fund-raiser appearance Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken called his Russian counterpart, as did Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, was going on a planned visit to Beijing; he was prepped to brief Xi Jinping, China’s president, about the intelligence and urge him to make both public and private statements to Russia warning that there was no place in the Ukraine conflict for the use of nuclear weapons. Mr. Xi made the public statement; it is unclear what, if anything, he signaled in private. Mr. Biden, meanwhile, sent a message to Mr. Putin that they had to set up an urgent meeting of emissaries. Mr. Putin sent Sergei Naryshkin, head of the SVR, the Russian foreign intelligence service ... Mr. Biden chose William J. Burns, the CIA director and former U.S. ambassador to Russia. 
    • Mr. Burns told me that the two men saw each other on a mid-November day in 2022. But while Mr. Burns arrived to warn what would befall Russia if it used a nuclear weapon, Mr. Naryshkin apparently thought the CIA director had been sent to negotiate an armistice agreement that would end the war. He told Mr. Burns that any such negotiation had to begin with an understanding that Russia would get to keep any land that was currently under its control. It took some time for Mr. Burns to disabuse Mr. Naryshkin of the idea that the United States was ready to trade away Ukrainian territory for peace. Finally, they turned to the topic Mr. Burns had traveled around the world to discuss: what the United States and its allies were prepared to do to Russia if Mr. Putin made good on his nuclear threats. “I made it clear,” Mr. Burns later recalled, that “there would be clear consequences for Russia.” ... He wanted to be detailed enough to deter a Russian attack, but avoid telegraphing Mr. Biden’s exact reaction. “Naryshkin swore that he understood and that Putin did not intend to use a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Burns said.
  • Since then, the battlefield advantage has changed dramatically, and October 2022 now looks like the high-water mark of Ukraine’s military performance over the past two years. Yet Mr. Putin has now made a new set of nuclear threats, during his equivalent of the State of the Union address in Moscow in late February. 

“US prepared ‘rigorously’ for potential Russian nuclear strike in Ukraine in late 2022, officials say,” Jim Sciutto, CNN, 03.09.24. [1] 

  • In late 2022, the U.S. began “preparing rigorously” for Russia potentially striking Ukraine with a nuclear weapon, in what would have been the first nuclear attack in war since the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki nearly eighty years before, two senior administration officials told CNN.  The Biden administration was specifically concerned Russia might use a tactical or battlefield nuclear weapon, the officials said. 
    • “That’s what the conflict presented us, and so we believed and I think it’s our right to prepare rigorously and do everything possible to avoid that happening,” the first senior member of the Biden administration told me. 
    • What led the Biden administration to reach such a startling assessment was not one indicator, but a collection of developments, analysis, and – crucially - highly sensitive new intelligence.  The administration’s fear, a second senior administration official told me, “was not just -hypothetical — it was also based on some information that we picked up.” “We had to plan so that we were in the best possible position in case this no longer unthinkable event actually took place,” the same senior administration official told me. 
  • During this period from late summer to fall 2022, the National Security Council convened a series of meetings to put contingency plans in place “in the event of either a very clear indication that they were about to do something, attack with a nuclear weapon, or if they just did, how we would respond, how we would try to preempt it, or deter it,” the first senior administration official told me....”If significant numbers of Russian forces were overrun — if their lives were shattered as such — that was a sort of precursor to a potential threat directly to Russian territory or the Russian state,” the first senior administration official said. 
  • “Our assessment had been for some time that one of the scenarios in which they would contemplate using nuclear weapons [included] things like existential threats to the Russian state, direct threats to Russian territory,” the first senior administration official said. In such an assessment, Russia could view a tactical nuclear strike as a deterrent against further losses of Russian-held territory in Ukraine as well as any potential attack on Russia itself. 
  • Western intelligence agencies had received information that there were now communications among Russian officials explicitly discussing a nuclear strike. As the first senior administration official described it to me, there were “indications that we were picking up through other means that this was at least something that lower levels of the Russian system were discussing.” 
  • US officials were not certain they would know if Russia was moving tactical nuclear weapons into place. Unlike strategic nuclear weapons, capable of destroying entire cities, tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons are small enough to be moved quietly and could be fired from conventional systems already deployed to the Ukrainian battlefield. ...Multiple senior administration officials took part in an urgent outreach.   
  • In the time since the nuclear scare of late 2022, I have asked US and European officials if they have identified any similar threats. The danger diminished as the war entered a period of relative stalemate in the east.  

“Russian nuclear weapons, 2024,” Hans M. Kristensen, Matt Korda, Eliana Johns and Mackenzie Knight, BAS, 03.07.24. 

  • We estimate that Russia now possesses approximately 4,380 nuclear warheads for its strategic and non-strategic nuclear forces—a net reduction of approximately 109 from last year’s estimate. Although the number of Russian strategic launchers is not expected to change significantly in the foreseeable future, the number of warheads assigned to them might increase. 
  • Despite prior US assumptions of a potential shift toward a reliance on first use of nuclear weapons surrounding a potential low-yield “escalate-to-deescalate” policy, Russia’s official policy is largely consistent with previous public iterations of its nuclear strategy and has remained largely unchanged since President Putin came to power in 2000.
  • It is believed that only three people possess so-called nuclear briefcases that can authorize a Russian nuclear launch—Putin, Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov—and an order from Putin must be countersigned by one of these two officials before any nuclear weapons can be launched. It is possible that Putin himself sees strategic utility in remaining ambiguous about his own views—which, under the current Russian political regime, essentially form the state’s official posture—regarding the conditions under which Russia would use nuclear weapons. At the very least, Russia’s nuclear signaling appears primarily designed to deter the United States and NATO from interfering militarily in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

“A ‘Nuclear Umbrella’ for Ukraine? Precedents and Possibilities for Postwar European Security,” Matthew Evangelista, International Security, Winter 2024.

  • [Expanding NATO, making members pay more and continued commitment to support Ukraine] is a policy of more of the same: more money and more members without resolving the security dilemma in which Russia and NATO are locked.
    • A stable security arrangement would need to provide confidence to both Russia and Ukraine.
  • Nuclear deterrence was not tested in Cold War Europe because the Soviet Union did not intend any of the aggressive actions that NATO feared. So, it is wrong to claim that deterrence worked then and will work to defend NATO countries and even Ukraine after the current war.
    • That [President Vladimir] Putin or anyone else might call NATO’s bluff and expose the fragility of nuclear deterrence should lead to a rethinking of reliance on such strategies.
  • Ukraine’s insistence on keeping the Soviet nuclear weapons would not have magically produced an instant deterrent. It would more likely have led to prolonged instability and conflict with Russia.
  • The most reliable way to prevent the Ukrainian war, or any future European war, from escalating to a nuclear holocaust is for the states armed with nuclear weapons to commit not to use them and to keep that commitment.
    • As Ukraine demonstrates, non-nuclear alternatives for defense against even a nuclear-armed aggressor are possible.
  • Extended nuclear deterrence… stakes too much on the hope that Putin (or his successors) would refrain from actions that could provoke nuclear retaliation…
    • [Other options include] to adopt a non-offensive strategy of territorial defense—what has become known as “confidence-building defense,” in combination with civilian-based nonviolent resistance.
  • Confidence-building defense fosters stability in two ways. It “embodies little or no capacity for large-scale or surprise cross-border attacks.” Second, it “provides few high-value and vulnerable targets inviting an aggressor’s attack.”
  • Non-nuclear Ukrainian security strategy could also include nonmilitary means of defense, what the Baltic authors call “political and societal readiness and resilience.” … [This strategy requires] a high level of societal commitment and solidarity
    • If…the scale of resources for military spending were redirected to fostering self-reliance and social trust…even authoritarian figures like Putin might pause before undertaking aggressive military action.
  • First, a decentralized infantry network called the commitment force provides “a static area defense that uses reactive ‘wait and see’ tactics.”
    • Second, a rapid commitment force comprises “mechanized troops with a certain degree of operational mobility that conduct reactive and active missions.” Third, a rear protection force includes “light infantry for object defense and motorized/light armor units to deal with airborne assaults and large-scale diversion.”
  • Confidence-building defense allows Ukraine to depend on its own resources and to integrate whatever support other states are willing to provide.
    • The main point is to sever the connection between Ukraine’s defense and the potential escalation to nuclear war.

“‘Nuclear spring is coming’: examining French nuclear deterrence in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine,” Polina Sinovets and Adérito Vicente, The Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (Foundation for Strategic Research, FRS), March 2024.

  • Most French experts contend that the war between Russia and Ukraine has not fundamentally altered Paris’s deterrence posture, as it has consistently factored in considerations related to Moscow.
  • However, the conflict has brought to light certain aspects previously concealed. Notably, the European dimension of French deterrence was vividly demonstrated through the collective decision, alongside the United States and the United Kingdom, to respond with conventional operations to counter any potential use of nuclear weapons by Russia against Ukraine.
  • While some argue this is more about preserving the longstanding norm of non-use of nuclear weapons since 1945, there is merit in acknowledging both dimensions, as it provides a clearer understanding of France’s current deterrence posture compared to the early stages of the war.
  • Therefore, we contend that while Russia’s war on Ukraine may not have directly influenced the substance of French nuclear deterrence, it has indirectly compelled Paris to unveil certain facets of its vital interests, taking a step toward enhancing the credibility of its deterrence posture. This represents an initial response, and France may find itself increasingly occupied with broadening its deterrence posture in response to evolving challenges. In particular, the potential return of President Trump to power in Washington raises the imperative to bolster European nuclear deterrence. This urgency arises from the growing concerns surrounding the United States’ commitment to European security, fueled by the unpredictability of US politics. While US troop deployments remain a valuable contribution, Europe’s reliance on American intelligence and air capabilities has been exposed by its limited production capacity, as seen in aiding Ukraine and replenishing its own stocks.
  • This reality demands a reevaluation of European defense investments, moving beyond Cold War assumptions and embracing a more comprehensive approach to ensure its own security in an evolving geopolitical landscape.
  • Furthermore, the dramatic expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal, now characterized by a full-fledged triad and a burgeoning industrial base, elevates it to the world’s third nuclear superpower This development strains the US nuclear arsenal, crucial for European security, as it must now deter two peer competitors simultaneously. This intensifies the growing concern regarding the credibility of the US extended deterrence in the Indo-Pacific, potentially destabilizing the European security equation by enabling China to exert pressure on strategic partners like South Korea and Japan.
  • This could not only undermine the United States’ European security guarantees but also exacerbate calls for French leadership and increased reliance on its nuclear deterrent. All these scenarios would likely necessitate certain modifications to fundamental principles, including, at the very least, reevaluating the scope of French vital interests and the strategies employed to ensure them.

“Preserving the nuclear test ban after Russia revoked its CTBT ratification,” Pavel Podvig, BAS, 03.07.24. 

  • In [a] disturbing development that year, Russia officially withdrew its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in November, prompting concerns that this was a step toward the resumption of full-scale nuclear tests.
  • The history of the issue, in fact, predated the war in Ukraine, and some signs suggested that the resumption of tests was not just a theoretical possibility. Russia has long maintained activity at its nuclear test site at Novaya Zemlya, as have the United States and China at their respective sites in Nevada and Lop Nur. 
  • The concern has been that a nuclear test in Russia could prompt others to follow suit, ending the moratorium that has been in place for almost three decades. Russia has emphasized its reliance on nuclear weapons to keep the West out of the full-scale war that it started in February 2022. It has succeeded in preventing a direct intervention, but was unable to stem the 􀀃ow of military assistance to Ukraine. It also discovered that its nuclear rhetoric was met with very strong pushback from the international community 
  • According to reporting from Russia, by the summer of 2023, discussions of various options related to nuclear testing were well underway in Moscow’s policy circles. These discussions, however, were constrained by one major factor. While the CTBT has not yet entered into force, it has established a fairly strong norm against nuclear testing
  •  This shows the power of institutions. It is very important that the norm against nuclear tests is institutionalized through the work of the CTBT Preparatory Committee and the operation of the International Monitoring System. Without these institutional structures, as well as those that were created in Russia to interact with them, Russia’s withdrawal from the treaty could have put its signatory status in question.
  • this suggests that the moratorium on full-scale nuclear tests will continue to hold.
  • Russia is on the record saying that it will not start the tests unless the United States starts first. And the United States is on record that it has no intention—or need—to do so.
  • This does not mean that the moratorium is completely safe, though. The activity at the test sites creates considerable room for suspicion and misunderstanding. Russia, for example, may use the activity at the US test site in Nevada as a pretext for breaking the moratorium, claiming that these experiments cross the nuclear test threshold.

“Statement of the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva Ambassador Gennady Gatilov at the Conference on Disarmament,” Russian Foreign Ministry, 03.06.24.Clues from Russian Views.

  • We are firmly committed to the postulate that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. That is why it is necessary to prevent any armed conflicts between the nuclear Powers, and thus in effect demonstrate readiness to mutually respect the security concerns of other parties, as stipulated in the Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear-Weapon States signed on Jan. 3, 2022.
  • We are convinced that to prevent further degradation of the situation in the world and to maintain long-term stability it is necessary to make a collective efforts to build a renewed international security architecture based on the universal principles of multilateralism and genuine equality. We entrust the UN disarmament machinery, including the CD, as ever with a decisive role in finding ways to bring the arms control system out of crisis.
  • Nuclear disarmament cannot be considered in isolation from the current international situation which is characterized by increasing unpredictability, worsening crises and deepening divisions among States. Neutralizing these negative manifestations requires collective efforts. Nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon States should equally contribute to the overall reduction of international tensions, the strengthening of stability and the establishment of a realistic global disarmament agenda.
  • The situation around the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) leaves much to be desired. Since 1999, the US, which was the main initiator of this Treaty, has not made a single significant step towards its ratification, limiting itself, and in fact, only declaring a certain "good intention" with regard to this instrument that has crucial importance for international security. At the same time, the US continues to maintain the Nevada Test Site on high alert without abandoning the idea of conducting a full-scale nuclear test as part of the modernization of the relevant arsenal.

“Why Russia Might Put a Nuclear Weapon in Space. The New Threat Behind an Old Idea,” Aaron Bateman, FA, 03.07.24. 

  • If Russia does decide to deploy a nuclear antisatellite weapon, there is very little that can be done to change its course. Taking unprecedented measures to deploy a space-based nuclear capability would signal that the Kremlin views proliferated constellations as such a clear and present danger to its national security that Moscow is willing to ignore the interests of other spacefaring states. Once the Kremlin has made up its mind, it is hard to imagine that even China, Russia’s “no limits” partner, could talk it down.
  • Thankfully, it appears that Moscow has not yet made a firm decision, giving other governments an opportunity to try to dissuade it. The United States’ best option is to persuade China, India, and other spacefaring countries into collectively warding off the Kremlin for the welfare of their own satellites. But Washington, alone, will struggle to have an influence. With the U.S.-Russian arms control dialogue now frozen, bilateral calls for space arms control measures will likely fall on deaf ears in the Kremlin. And if the Kremlin has decided to deploy weapons designed to destroy large-scale satellite constellations, it will be very difficult to get Moscow to change its mind.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“A World Divided Over Artificial Intelligence,” Aziz Huq, FA, 03.11.24.

  • In November 2023, a number of countries issued a joint communiqué promising strong   In an era of faltering global resolve on other challenges, great powers had initially struck an optimistic note in grappling with AI. In Beijing, Brussels, and Washington, there seemed to be broad agreement that AI can cause potentially grave harms and that concerted transnational action was needed.
  • Countries are not, however, taking this path. Rather than encouraging a collective effort to establish a clear legal framework to manage AI, states are already engaged in subtle, shadowy conflicts over AI’s material and intangible foundations. The resulting legal order will be characterized by fracture and distance, not entanglement. It will leave countries suspicious of one another, sapping goodwill. And it will be hard to advance proposals for better global governance of AI. At a minimum, the emerging regime will make it more difficult to gather information and assess the risks of the new technology. More dangerously, the technical obstacles raised by the growing legal Balkanization of AI regulation may make certain global solutions, such as the establishment of an intergovernmental panel on AI, impossible.
  • A fragmented legal order is one in which deeply dangerous AI models can be developed and disseminated as instruments of geopolitical conflict. A country’s efforts to manage AI could easily be undermined by those outside its borders. And autocracies may be free to both manipulate their own publics using AI and exploit democracies’ free flow of information to weaken them from within. There is much to be lost, then, if a global effort to regulate AI never truly materializes.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“The Carlson-Putin Interview, or the Limits of Dialogue between the Western Far Right and Russia,” Marlene Laruelle and John Chrobak, PONARS, 03.04.24.

  • The far right’s reaction to the [Tucker Carlson’s] interview [with Russian President Vladimir Putin] was, with some exceptions, decidedly muted and, in some instances, even critical. … Carlson’s interview with Putin was overshadowed by the regular U.S. news cycle.
    • The interview demonstrated that…shared values are not enough to produce explicit political and policy cooperation based on well-articulated ideological arguments that might challenge liberal democracy.
  • Some [Western media] decided to ignore the story completely… others deployed the usual rhetorical tools, presenting Carlson as Putin’s “useful idiot.” 
    • Ignoring and denouncing…miss the big picture: the interview was an attempt by a key figure of the MAGA culture to enter into dialogue with the leader of the Russian state and achieved only mixed results. 
  • For the Kremlin, the interview was a success in the sense that it enabled Putin to appear in the Western public domain… as Russian voices are largely denied access to mainstream U.S. media. 
  • The interview also shows the limits of… the partnership between U.S. conservatives and Russia.
    • Putin did not conduct a charm offensive toward the Republican electorate and conservative audiences more globally… he preferred to lecture his host at length on Russia’s and Ukraine’s one-thousand-year shared history.
    • [Putin and Carlson] were also at odds when it came to their vision of China: the U.S. anchor repeated the…narrative of China as the new global enemy…while Putin…put China’s rise and the West’s decline in global context.
  • While the Kremlin…believes in the existence of a “good” West—a conservative one that is ready to reconcile in the name of well-understood national interests—this does not make Trump a natural and easy partner for Russia.


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russia’s economy once again defies the doomsayers,” Economist, 03.10.24.

  • Last year prices accelerated rapidly; economists believed they could spiral out of control. ... Once again, however, the Russian economy appears to be proving the pessimists wrong. Data to be published on March 13 are expected to show that prices rose by 0.6% month-on-month in February, down from 1.1% at the end of last year. On a year-on-year basis inflation is probably no longer rising, having hit 7.5% in November. 
  • The result of Russia’s presidential election, which begins on March 15th, is a foregone conclusion. If it was competitive, these figures would do Mr. Putin no harm.
  • Central-bank officials ... believe that their policy—of more than doubling interest rates since July 2023—should take the credit for the inflation slowdown, and they are probably right. Russia ... seems to be heading for a “soft landing,” in which inflation slows without crushing the economy. ... Consensus forecasts for GDP growth this year of 1.7% look too pessimistic.
  • Russia’s economic resilience is in part the consequence of past stimulus. 
  • Sanctions-busting has also juiced the economy. ... Well over half of goods imports come from China, twice the share from before the invasion ... The discount on oil Russia offers to Chinese customers, for instance, has fallen from more than 10% in early 2022 to about 5% today. 

“‘Defense is Still not as All-Encompassing as it was in the Soviet Union,’” Oleg Buklemishev interviewed by Tatiana Rybakova, Russia.Post/, 03.08.24.

  • These are the limits to growth not only of the defense industry, but of the economy as a whole. Everyone correctly notes that our economy is now running at its potential or even slightly above that. We have reached our capacity limit. Expanded economic reproduction is possible, but only to the extent that new capacities are introduced, quality and productivity increase, export niches open up, and so on. So, this is natural; there is nothing surprising about it. It is impossible to supercharge capacity, and again, there are not enough people – this is the labor shortage that everyone is talking about now. And the fact that the economy is running with massive budget flows so close to its potential is fine. But it is not possible to go far beyond that – this is also quite natural.
  • [When asked whether “the Russian economy is going down the Soviet path] First of all, the Soviet economy was structured differently: it was not guided by demand, it was guided by a plan. And as part of that plan a fairly large component was defense and security. It is difficult to compare the Soviet economy with others, but if we look at the relative indicators of that period, then in terms of the share of both budget expenditures and gross income, until its end the Soviet economy spent approximately twice as much on the defense sector as the leading countries of NATO. Accordingly, and this is the general view, military production played a much larger role in the Soviet Union than it does now.  ... the current system is invisibly supported by the market basis of the economy, where supply and demand signals are at work and price signals are at work. All this is going on in the system. And that’s exactly why it’s more flexible and more adaptable. Plus, defense is still not as all-encompassing as it was in the Soviet Union.

“Russia Is Burning Up Its Future. How Putin’s Pursuit of Power Has Hollowed Out the Country and Its People,” Andrei Kolesnikov, FA, 03.07.24. 

  • Building the economy around goals other than improving the quality of human life makes the economy unproductive. In 2022, labor productivity decreased by 3.6 percent over the previous year, according to government statistics. (Data for 2023 is not yet available.) Funded largely at taxpayer expense and by commodities revenues, the intensifying output of “metal goods”—the government’s euphemism for weapons—is making the economy more primitive. By now, a large share of Russia’s GDP growth—one-third, by some estimates—can be attributed to the military-industrial complex and related industries. Putin hopes that military industries will stimulate the development of civilian technologies. But this so-called conversion scheme already failed during the Soviet years and the early post-Soviet reform era.
  • Putin started his war to change the world order and force everyone else to live by his rules. For that, he needed to position his country and its zone of geopolitical influence against the West and the modernizing project it represents. These goals account for Putin’s readiness to embark on territorial expansion: many other countries are moving forward, transitioning to other types of energy precisely so that there will be resources left for the future. But Russia is defending a dying model of development, one that requires a totalitarian and imperial ideology—and that necessitates using up resources now, including the same old oil and gas.
  • For Putin, it appears to be a wager worth making: his costly project in Ukraine has laid a minefield under the country’s economic and demographic future, but it is entirely possible that these mines will explode only after he has left the scene. Call it the King Louis XV model of governance: Après moi, le déluge. (“After me, the flood.”) Putin’s war is a fight against the future.

“The women who could save Russia,” Mikhail Komin and Ksenia Luchenko, ECFR, 03.08.24. 

  • Women may just be the biggest threat to Putin’s regime as he begins his fifth term as president.
    • The leaders of the “Way Home” movement are creating a horizontal and potentially massive political force, one that any Russian woman who has a son or husband can align with. [Yulia] Navalnaya instils hope in democratically oriented Russians whom the Kremlin has intimidated, repressed, and forced into exile – despite her challenges to gain legitimacy at home. Duntsova, meanwhile, is quietly and determinedly establishing a base in Russia’s provinces, and with her persistence expanding the possibilities for legal yet oppositional political action with an anti-war message. Effectively, she is continuing to engage with the voter group that supported another banned anti-war presidential candidate, Boris Nadezhdin.
    • And these are just the three most significant examples. Russia has a large feminist community that has now split into two parts: activists in exile who are playing an increasingly prominent role in the Russian political opposition, and those who have remained in Russia and continue to support women’s solidarity at the risk of their lives. The Kremlin will find it difficult to deal with all these threats simultaneously without undermining Putin’s hypermasculine image and the ultraconservative, patriarchal values he and his entourage promote.

“Navalny’s Heirs Seek a Political Future in Russia,” Anatoly Kurmanaev, NYT, 03.09.24.

  • Aleksei Navalny’s team has found a new leader in the opposition leader’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya. But Navalny’s death has so far brought little change to their insular tactics.
  • Maintaining political momentum will be a challenge. Few dissident movements in modern history have managed to stay relevant, let alone take power, after the death of a leader who personified it. And so far, Mr. Navalny’s team has made little attempt to unite Russia’s fractured opposition groups and win new allies by adjusting its insular, tightly controlled ways.
  • In their public statements, Mr. Navalny’s top aides have said their movement will have to change to continue confronting Mr. Putin without its leader, though it is unclear what the new strategy might be. Even from prison, Mr. Navalny had “managed to support us, to infect us with optimism, to come up with projects, come up with cool political ideas,” Leonid Volkov, Mr. Navalny’s chief political organizer, said in a video published on social media last month. “Without Aleksei, things will not be as before.” But, Mr. Volkov added, he did “not have a concrete plan of action.”
  • An outpouring of condolences for Mr. Navalny from across the Russian opposition had raised hope that his successors would try a more inclusive approach. Yet, the Navalny team quickly resumed bickering with its critics. “Just scuttle off,” a director of Mr. Navalny’s investigative team, Ivan Zhdanov, wrote to a prominent opposition blogger, Maxim Katz, last week, in a heated exchange of messages on social media over Mr. Navalny’s burial. Ms. Navalnaya attacked an opposition politician, Boris B. Nadezhdin, after he suggested that people could have different, even negative views of Mr. Navalny, but still support his right to a dignified burial. “Aleksei was a hero,” Ms. Navalnaya wrote in reply to Mr. Nadezhdin, who was barred from running against Mr. Putin in the March elections. “I will not allow you to ‘have diverse opinions about him.’”

“What Russia’s Reaction to Navalny’s Death Reveals,” Mikhail Vinogradov, CEIP, 03.06.24. 

  • In the aftermath of Navalny’s shock death, both sides can claim mixed success. Opponents of the regime have seen they are far from alone after all, or helpless in the face of the “majority”: in the first three days after Navalny’s funeral in Moscow, tens of thousands of people lined up to pay their respects, covering his grave in a mountain of flowers—even though the potential risks for doing so are far greater than when comparable numbers took part in the massive street protests against electoral fraud and Putin’s return to the presidency in 2011–2013.
  • It’s less clear, however, what to do with this newly discovered solidarity. The only figure who knew how to bring together such a diverse crowd was Navalny himself, which is why he paid the ultimate price. 
  • The authorities, meanwhile, can congratulate themselves on remaining in overall control of the situation and maintaining the “festive” atmosphere created for themselves and their supporters ahead of the presidential election on March 15–17. It cannot be said that the election campaign is going entirely to plan, but details such as low interest in the campaign amid pressure for an extremely high voter turnout are mere trifles.
  • Still, one thing that both Navalny’s funeral, at which those gathered chanted anti-war slogans, and the thwarted presidential bid of Boris Nadezhdin—who ran on an anti-war platform—have shown is that Russia’s anti-war movement is alive and well, if only occasionally visible. With Navalny dead and buried, the Kremlin is counting on his death being quickly forgotten, just like so many other recent events, from Prigozhin’s mutiny to the storming of Makhachkala airport by an anti-Semitic mob. It’s true that Russian society’s capacity for forgetting and turning its attention elsewhere remains extremely high, and that this does give the regime something of a tactical advantage. But it doesn’t eradicate all of its problems.

“‘People don’t want to vote’: How the Kremlin plans to compensate for Russians’ record-low interest in the country’s upcoming election,” Andrei Pertsev, Meduza, 03.04.24. 

  • According to Meduza’s sources, the Putin administration’s political team is well aware that Russia’s upcoming elections hold little interest for voters. To ensure they nonetheless produce the president’s desired voter turnout rate of 70–80 percent, Kremlin officials plan to use electronic voting terminals and QR codes to pressure government-dependent voters such as civil servants, state corporation employees, and workers at government-loyal private companies to go to the polls and bring their friends and relatives with them.
  • The group with the highest quota for enlisting others to vote are members and supporters of the country’s ruling United Russia party: each of these people will be tasked with getting 10 other people to the polls. 
  • Expectations for public sector employees and workers at government-aligned businesses are more lenient: the former are expected to bring three additional voters, and the latter are tasked with bringing two. A source close to the Putin administration told Meduza that because civil servants and non-party officials receive paychecks from the state, their assignment is larger than that of businessmen. 
  • A source close to the Putin administration said that before the authorities implemented electronic voting systems in 2019, monitoring public employees’ efforts to bring friends and relatives to the polls was significantly harder.... In regions where electronic voting hasn’t been implemented, the authorities plan to monitor corporate mobilization efforts by using QR codes, among other tools. 
  • Two sources close to the Putin administration added that all United Russia members and followers, as well as civil servants and employees at major corporations, have been “digitized” and “entered into databases.” “All regional governments have this data — it’s what they base their voter turnout predictions on,” said one source.
  • Meduza has previously reported that the Putin administration’s political team wants to ensure Putin wins the election by his highest official margin yet. Their target for voter turnout is 70–80 percent, and they intend for Putin to win the election by more than 80 percent. 
  • A political strategist who works with the Kremlin said: “People don’t want [to vote]. The [corporate mobilization] scheme used to work — a lot of people were eager to keep their jobs and were afraid to lose them. Now the workers understand: we have a labor shortage, so nobody’s going to fire them for refusing to go vote. A common response is: “Why don’t you go fuck yourself? I don’t want to [vote], and what are you going to do about it? Work in my place?”
  • The Kremlin is aware of these risks, according to a source close to the Putin administration, and in response, it’s issued strong recommendations for parties participating in the elections to “significantly roll back monitoring measures.” The election monitoring group Golos, for example, has reported that the New People party’s Perm branch will not be sending observers to this year’s elections. ....A political strategist who works with Russian regional authorities said that the goal of these changes is to ensure that the official election results show a voter turnout “higher than 70 percent or at least 70 percent”: “For this, extra sets of eyes from observers are not necessary. And [Kremlin domestic policy czar] Sergey Kiriyenko will personally incinerate any [official] who fails to deliver the requested turnout numbers.”

“The Election: One Week To Go,” Weekly Digest No. 10 (24) 2024, R.Politik, 03.10.24.

  • From 15-17 March, Russia will conduct a presidential election, widely seen as a vote of confidence in the only real candidate, Vladimir Putin. Putin could achieve a record result of around 85 percent. Despite widespread skepticism about their reliability, polls indicate that 66 percent of Russians believe the elections will be fair and trust the outcomes, while 23 percent do not. Three main points remain to be decided:
    • Davankov’s results. Polls have shown a sustained increase in the approval rating of Vladislav Davankov of the New People party. He is projected to gain 6-8 percent of the vote, surpassing Nikolay Kharitonov of the Communist Party and Leonid Slutsky of the Liberal Democrats. This will be a mixed result for the domestic policy strategists at the Kremlin. On the one hand, Davankov's potential to replace the “old guard” aligns with the Presidential Administration's long-standing desire for the “modernization” of the old parties (meaning increased control and dependency on the authorities). Davankov securing second place would therefore be seen positively. However, Davankov's agenda of “normalization” (a step away from the militarization of society back to “normal”) is seen by patriotic and pro-war factions as a thinly veiled anti-war stance, which they view as a threat. 
    • Turnout. The authorities have employed their conventional strategy to suppress the turnout among certain demographics, aiming to discourage opposition-minded individuals from participating while ensuring that loyal and dependent voters are brought to the polling stations. Polls anticipate a high turnout: Russian Field predicts 85 percent of those intending to vote will do so, while VTsIOM estimates 80 percent. Historically, turnout has been lower—67 percent in 2018, 65 percent in 2012 and almost 70 percent in 2008. Turnout is seen as crucial for the legitimacy of the election results. 
    • Noon for Navalny and against Putin. Yulia Navalnaya has urged all Russians to visit the voting stations at noon on 17 March to support Alexey Navalny, a strategy endorsed by Navalny himself. However, this tactic faces a challenge: it risks shifting the focus from broader opposition to Putin (“Noon against Putin”) to a narrower support base in favor of Navalny (“Noon for Navalny”). Russian liberals are divided between those advocating for the “Noon against Putin” initiative, which could involve either ‘voting for Navalny’ (meaning to write in his name) or spoiling ballot papers, and those who support voting for Davankov as a step towards normalization and an anti-war measure. 

“Will Russian Voters Abroad Support Putin in the Upcoming Presidential Election? Lessons from the 2018 Russian Presidential Election,” Eugene Huskey, PONARS, 03.04.24.

  • With the large-scale exodus of Russians following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the diaspora is becoming a significant voting bloc [during elections in Russia].
    • Whereas support for [President Vladimir] Putin was much lower in the UK and the Netherlands…Russian citizens in a number of European democracies—among them Germany, Greece and Estonia—were significantly more likely than their fellow citizens in Russia to vote for Putin.
  • [According to the literature on voting behavior], significant exposure to an open society, with its competitive elections and freer media, should produce a Russian electorate in democratic states that differs…from voters in Russia itself.
    • The results from the 2018 Russian presidential election would not appear to confirm this hypothesis…all democratic environments are not alike in their impact on voting from abroad in Russian elections.
  • How does one explain these wide variations by country in the voting behavior of Russians living in Western Europe? … [F]avorability of the population of the host country toward Russia…is shaped by the local media landscape.
  • A second factor…is the level of integration of the Russian population into the host country.
  • [In 2018] Russian voters in…Eastern Europe…showed little sign of dissatisfaction with [Putin]. … If this pattern is repeated in the March 2024 presidential election, it would legitimate the continued use in this region of aggressive soft power tactics associated with Russkii mir and related initiatives.

“Putin’s ‘re-election’: Authoritarian plebiscite without democratic legitimacy,” Sabine Fischer, SWP, March 2024.^

  • In the 2010s, Russia was seen as an electoral autocracy with competitive niches in which the political opposition could achieve at least small successes. These were mostly limited to the local level. But in the 2018 presidential election, two more or less extra-systemic candidates ran: Grigory Yavlinsky from the liberal Yabloko party and Ksenia Sobchak. In 2024 there will be nothing left of this controlled competition. The “election” is an authoritarian plebiscite to confirm Vladimir Putin’s rule. The result is clear: Putin will be confirmed in office - probably with a result that is higher than in 2018 (77 percent).
  • This plebiscite is being held against the backdrop of the war of aggression against Ukraine, which violates international law. ... [T]he “vote” will also take place in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories. 
  • So there are a variety of reasons to dispute the legitimacy of the 2024 Russian presidential election. 
  • Germany and the EU should take a clear stance on the authoritarian and illegitimate nature of the plebiscite in mid-March 2024. This is an important signal to Russians in the country and outside who are critical of the war and regime. The EU should add other actors to its sanctions list who are involved in the implementation of the “election”. However, this will not change the relationship with the Russian ruler or how we deal with him in the short term, nor will the domestic political situation in Russia begin to change. It therefore seems more important to respond to the anti-war and democratic sentiments in the run-up to the elections. This means supporting the democratic Russian opposition, independent civil society and independent media (as far as possible) in the country and especially in exile as much as possible and ensuring that they continue to reach people who think differently in Russia.
  • However, political change in Russia remains highly unlikely as long as the Putin regime can continue its war of aggression against Ukraine with any prospect of success. This will not change after the authoritarian plebiscite on March 17, 2024.

“Putin’s Social Promises Look Set to Create New Center of Power,” Andrey Pertsev, CEIP, 03.11.24.Clues from Russian Views.

  • The social spending commitments made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his February state of the nation address indicate that at least one Russian official will get an influential new job. The lucky person will likely be either a deputy prime minister with expanded powers, or a special coordinator. Either way, they’ll get regular access to the president, the opportunity to disburse large sums, and the tools to shape their public image. That will automatically create an alternative center of power within the government.
  • Sergei Kiriyenko, the Kremlin deputy chief of staff in charge of domestic politics, .. is undoubtedly the frontrunner for the post of deputy prime minister overseeing the socially focused national projects. Of course, there are other possible candidates. Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, who is also the presidential envoy to the Far East, has long overseen social and infrastructure projects in that part of the country. Marat Khusnullin, one of Putin’s favorites, regularly reports to the president on the success of ambitious infrastructure ventures. There’s also Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, who oversees digitization and sport, and enjoys Putin’s favor. However, none of them are as well suited as Kiriyenko.
  • Either way, the creation of a new deputy prime minister post will cause a major shift in the balance of power within Russia’s bureaucracy. Considering Medevdev’s rise from national projects to the presidency, the appointment will mean the elite starts thinking about a possible successor to Putin. The person who gets the job will inevitably be seen in a new light. In addition, the emergence of a new center of influence in the government will likely generate conflicts with the prime minister, who will be required to find the money.

“The Anti-War Faction in the Russian Orthodox Church Has Yet to Find Its Voice,” Ksenia Luchenko, CEIP, 03.04.24. 

  • Until President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill leave the scene, the anti-war faction within the church will likely be limited to small acts of resistance. But religion can also influence public attitudes toward the war: after all, Christianity is part of a person’s identity, a basis for empathy, and a moral compass for decisionmaking. Russian Orthodoxy as a social and cultural phenomenon is not going anywhere.
  • For the moment, however, there is no meaningful discussion of religion in Russian opposition circles, and Russian priests abroad have not banded together, either for short-term lobbying or to advance a longer-term vision.
  • Russian priests and parishioners in exile face a choice. They can do nothing, and gradually assimilate. They can remain chained to traditions of prostration before power and money, and carry out the role of ideological servant to one or more opposition groups. Or they can become part of a broader anti-war, pro-democracy movement and ensure religious Russians get a say in their country’s future.

For more commentaries on Russian 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 external policies and relations with “far abroad” countries:

“Europe kicked out Vladimir Putin’s spies. Now they’re back,” John Paul Rathbone, Sam Jones and Courtney Weaver, FT, 03.06.24.

  • The apparent step-up in Kremlin-led intelligence operations marks a new confidence among Russia’s spymasters after the humiliating setbacks they faced in early 2022, intelligence officials and analysts said. Most of the interviews took place before the German missile talks were leaked.
  • The [Russian espionage] priorities remain the same as before the war: to steal Western secrets, widen divisions within NATO and undermine support for Ukraine. But the methods have become more ingenious to compensate for their disrupted espionage networks in Europe and to circumvent restrictions on Russians working in the continent. 
  • One of the Kremlin’s biggest changes seems to be the increased use of “proxy” intelligence actors.  Russian covert operations now use a range of foreign nationals drawn from politics, business and organized crime — such as the Serbian gang that organized last year’s escape of Artem Uss, a Kremlin-linked businessman arrested in Italy under suspicion of selling U.S. military technology to Moscow. “[Proxies] may not know that they work for the Russians, they could be criminals or other persons who are paid,” the second intelligence officer said.
  • The Kremlin has also applied pressure on Russian exiles to co-opt them and other opponents of the regime who fled abroad after the war started. “We know of cases where Moscow has leaned on émigrés’ relatives who stayed in Russia,” said Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia’s security services.
  • To some extent, the old model of “legal” Russian spies working out of embassies still holds in traditionally neutral countries such as Austria and Switzerland. Security officials from both countries said there were around 150 known Russian agents still operating there under diplomatic cover. Another intelligence official from a different country estimated that nearly a third of Russia’s intelligence operations across the continent were now run from “the safe hubs” of Vienna and Geneva.
  • In addition, Russian spymasters have strengthened their bases outside the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone. Turkey and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East have become important staging posts for Russian intelligence operations in Europe, according to the official.
  • Russia’s intelligence machine will sometimes succeed spectacularly — as it did in the 2021 SolarWinds cyber attack that hacked the Pentagon, or with the recent German leak. “The Russians are such klutzes,” the same intelligence officer said. “But,” the official conceded, “they can also do some very sophisticated operations that, in intelligence terms, are stupendously cool.”


“Trump isn't just pro-Russia. He's also anti-Ukraine,” Max Boot, WP, 03.11.24.

  • Less well-known than Trump's affection for Russia is his disdain for Ukraine — but that also has been evident for at least a decade. Trump has a long and troubling record of regurgitating Russian propaganda and airing deranged conspiracy theories about Ukraine — a country that Putin, like many Russians, views as a wayward province of Mother Russia.
    •  Marie Yovanovitch, then the U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, recounts in her memoir how reluctant Trump was to meet with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. After Trump finally sat down with Poroshenko in June 2017, he stressed two points, Yovanovitch wrote: "The first was that Ukraine was a corrupt country, which he knew because a Ukrainian friend at Mar-a-Lago had told him. Trump's second point was that Crimea was Russian, as the locals spoke Russian." 
    • In 2018, Trump became convinced by his conspiracy-theory-mongering attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and two of his shady, Soviet-born associates — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — that Ukraine was plotting against him. 
    • Trump's national security adviser John Bolton recounted in his own memoir that during a May 23, 2019, White House meeting with his senior advisers, Trump railed against Ukraine: "I don't want any f---ing thing to do with Ukraine. They f---ing attacked me. … They're corrupt." In his fury, Trump ordered Yovanovitch's recall from Kyiv; Giuliani and his pals had convinced him that she was part of the supposed Ukrainian cabal against him. 
    • During Trump's notorious July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump demanded that Ukraine turn over the DNC server and provide dirt on the Bidens. To encourage Zelensky to comply, Trump halted weapons deliveries to Ukraine. That led to his first impeachment.
    • Trump has also been demanding that Congress impeach President Biden based, in part, on allegations that he and Hunter Biden profited from corrupt connections in Ukraine. 
      • Fiona Hill, who was the top Russia expert on Trump's National Security Council, told me that Trump has long been marinating in a "primordial soup of Russian propaganda." She said Trump knew a lot of wealthy Russians in South Florida (some of them did very profitable business with him), and they convinced him that "Ukraine isn't a real country. They're corrupt, they're poor, they're weak."

“Ukraine’s EU Membership Prospects: Taking on Europe’s Budgetary and Institutional Hurdles,” Hilary Appel and Madeline Dornfeld, PONARS, 03.07.24. 

  • A particularly large barrier to enlargement is the EU’s current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a ...If Ukraine were to join the EU, it would become the bloc’s largest recipient of CAP funding ....  Unless Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy is reformed, Ukraine’s membership would not only trigger a massive reallocation of funds, but would also likely depress prices. Given that European farmers have experienced high and stable prices for decades, the lower prices on agricultural products that Ukraine could bring to the European market would likely require side compensation to European farmers. This would further strain the EU budget and potentially the willingness of politicians in key member states to support Ukrainian membership when the farmers ratchet up the pressure on their leaders. 
  • Given that enlargement would lead to the reallocation of the EU’s Structural and Cohesion Funds and CAP funds, which together account for around 60% of the EU’s total budget, major budgetary reform must occur to smooth over anticipated political hurdles in recipient states. Indeed, it is unclear at present how the EU could accommodate the new costs of Ukraine’s membership in the current budget cycle (2021-2027) without a radical overhaul of these two programs. 
  • The greatest non-budgetary challenge to enlargement relates to the formal voting and ratification procedures. Past EU enlargement required unanimous support from all existing members along with national-level referenda. While national leaders have expressed strong support for Ukrainian membership, this may change if domestic political costs become too high for elected leaders to bear. According to a Flash Eurobarometer survey conducted in November 2023, 61% of EU citizens approve of the EU granting candidate status to Ukraine, but this support is not evenly distributed across the Union. Indeed, support for further EU enlargement in France and Germany polled at 37% and 38%, respectively.
  • While EU rhetoric and support for Ukraine present an optimistic view of Ukraine’s future in Europe, difficult reforms—to the Common Agricultural Policy, to the reallocation of money from the Structural and Cohesion Funds, and to the unanimity requirement for EU enlargement—are essential. If EU leaders want their words of optimism to ring true rather than hollow, they should commence the serious work necessary to reform these key budgetary and institutional arrangements before they derail progress toward future phases of enlargement.

“Five-year period without re-election. Is Zelensky in danger of losing his legitimacy?” Konstantin Skorkin, CEIP, 03.11.24.^ Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • The topic of the expiration of Zelensky’s powers [this May] is being most actively promoted by the [Ukrainian] opposition, which has undergone a revival in recent months. Of course, accusations of illegitimacy on their own are unlikely to shake up Ukrainian society, but when combined with serious military and social problems they may look more significant.
  • The narrative of Zelensky’s shaky legitimacy will also be widely used by both Kremlin propagandists and various authoritarian evangelists like Tucker Carlson. The scheme of this narrative is clear: [claim that] President Putin was re-elected with great success, and Zelensky canceled the elections in his country.
  • The main problem is that Zelensky himself and his team are beginning to react nervously and excessively to accusations of illegitimacy.
  • In general, the situation is full of … irony. The regular change of power was one of the undoubted achievements of the Ukrainian democracy, which distinguished it favorably from most other former Soviet republics – primarily from Russia and Belarus. Therefore, it is not surprising that now even the slightest hint of a threat to this achievement electrifies both the elite and society in Ukraine.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Post-Soviet neighbors navigate the orbit of Russian power,” Tony Barber, FT, 03.05.24.

  • After the USSR’s collapse in 1991, the Kremlin made it a priority to retain a pre-eminent position in the newly independent former Soviet republics on Russia’s western and southern borders. ...Now Russia’s influence in its neighborhood is under pressure. The invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 made Moscow look at best like an unreliable guarantor of regional security, and at worst like a threat to the territorial integrity and independence of some post-Soviet states. Ukraine’s military successes in the second half of 2022 created the impression that Russia might suffer an irreversible loss of power in the region. However, the picture is not so clear-cut.
  • Five countries illustrate the point: Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In each case, the fighting in Ukraine will weigh heavily on future developments. Russia’s regional influence will wax or wane to the extent that it achieves or falls short of its ambition to permanently dismember Ukraine and keep it out of western alliance systems. As things stand today, Russia’s presence remains strong in some of the five states, while in others it has receded without entirely disappearing.
  • Across the region, Russia’s prestige and power are not what they were even three years ago. However, the region is not integrated with western democracies, either. The contest between Moscow and the west appears set to continue, with Ukraine its main focus.



  1. The author writes: “I first reported U.S. officials were worried about Russia using a tactical nuclear weapon in 2022, but in my new book, ‘The Return of Great Powers’ publishing on March 12, [2024] I reveal exclusive details on the unprecedented level of contingency planning carried out as senior members of the Biden administration became increasingly alarmed by the situation.”

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. 

Photo by Stolbovsky shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED license.