Russia Analytical Report, May 1-8, 2023

6 Things to Know

  1. Some commentators may dismiss Russian nuclear threats as "cheap talk," but research suggests they should be taken seriously, writes LSE's Lauren Sukin, who compares Moscow's rhetoric with Pyongyang's. In an analysis for CEIP, Sukin argues that states use nuclear threats to delineate boundaries around their most critical concerns and that the frequency of such threats is meaningful, possibly signaling impending action. “If the lessons from Pyongyang can travel to Moscow," the numerous nuclear threats emanating from Russia over the past year should be a source of major worry, suggesting not only that the regime sees "its current position as deeply precarious but also that the regime is willing to take severe risks to improve its security,” she writes.  
  2. Will the war in Ukraine determine the future of the democratic world? Or is that argument full of holes? Atlantic journalists Anne Applebaum and Jeffrey Goldberg argue that the West must help Ukraine to take back all Russian-occupied territory, including Crimea, and to achieve "a military success … with enough symbolic power to force change in Russia," gaining a win for freedom over dictatorship worldwide. The Quincy Institute's Anatol Lieven accuses the authors of misrepresenting the war as one between "absolute good against absolute evil," of speciously claiming that Moscow intends to take over the Baltics and of dismissing the dangers of nuclear war, while trying to pass off the goal of "U.S. global hegemony" as a victory in the fight for human rights and the rule of law.
  3. “The expectation from our counteroffensive campaign is overestimated in the world,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov tells WaPo. “Most people are … waiting for something huge,” he added, which he fears may lead to “emotional disappointment.” One key objective for Ukraine, and perhaps an early sign of success, would be to break the so-called land bridge between mainland Russia and occupied Crimea, severing crucial supply lines to Russian troops in the Zaporizhzhia region and isolating Russian bases on the peninsula, reporters Siobhán O'Grady, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Laris Karklis and Samuel Granados write.
  4. Anxiety about the safety of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is growing after the Moscow-installed governor of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia region, where it is located, ordered civilian evacuations, raising fears that fighting in the area would intensify, the AP's David Rising reports. FP columnist Anchal Vohra cites the head of Ukraine’s state nuclear plant operator as saying that Russian forces have stored ammunition inside the turbine halls with reactors, placed guns on the roofs of the plant and roam around with weaponry near the site where radioactive material is stored, all of which present an imminent danger.
  5. Multiple experts are echoing concerns voiced by NATO's intelligence chief that Russian ships are mapping out critical infrastructure ripe for sabotage on the sea floor—for example, data cables connecting Europe and the U.S., journalist Morten Soendergaard Larsen writes for FP. According to a new Scandinavian documentary series, dozens of Russian vessels have been traveling around the waters of Northern Europe with their positional transmitters turned off, turning them into “ghost ships”—a tactic used to hide illicit activity. The reason extensive surveying, like what Russia is apparently carrying out, is problematic is that it can offer a potential ill-doer the blueprint for a coordinated attack, Larsen reports.
  6. Helpful though it has been to Ukraine, U.S. assistance in the ongoing war effort has also revealed the depth of the Pentagon’s struggle to replace depleted military capabilities, writes Hal Brands of Johns Hopkins University. U.S. defense spending plummeted after the Cold War, paving the way to a system that prioritizes efficiency over resiliency, the author writes for Bloomberg. “The Pentagon needs more money, allocated over longer periods, to make it a more predictable purchaser of weapons—and to persuade defense firms to build larger workforces and new production lines,” he argues.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

"Ukraine’s Counteroffensive Has a Nuclear Complication," columnist Anchal Vohra, FP, 05.02.23.

  • “Zaporizhzhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, which fulfilled 20 percent of Ukraine’s electricity needs in peacetime, is on the front line of the war. A small action, deliberate or accidental, could trigger a meltdown at the site, with devastating impact on human life and the environment.”
  • “Russian forces have stored ammunition inside the turbine halls with reactors, placed guns on the roofs of the plant, and roam around with weaponry near the site where radioactive material is stored, all of which present an imminent danger to the safety of the plant, according to Petro Kotin, the president of Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear plant operator.”
  • “It is the first time in the history of modern warfare that a nuclear power plant has been weaponized by an invading force to gain an upper hand in the conflict. Steven Nesbit, a former president of the American Nuclear Society, said the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant by Russian forces was ‘clearly a gross violation of all norms of human behavior.’”
  • “There are other risks to the safety of the plant. The four main supply lines powering the plant were brought down in shelling from both sides in the war, cutting it off from Ukraine’s electricity grid. Now, separate power supply is needed to cool the reactors — but that is intermittently interrupted, increasing the risk of a meltdown. Moreover, there is a concern that not all the specialized staff needed to operate the plant are available any longer.”
  • “The IAEA has said Russia has violated each of the seven pillars of nuclear safety and warned that the plant’s safety was on ‘borrowed time.’”

"Worries Grow About Ukraine Nuke Plant Amid Evacuations," AP reporter David Rising, AP via WaPo, 05.07.23.

  • “Anxiety about the safety of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant grew on May 7 after the Moscow-installed governor of the Ukrainian region where it is located ordered civilian evacuations, including from the city where most plant workers live. … The evacuations ordered by the Russia-backed governor of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia province, Yegeny Balitsky, raised fears that fighting in the area would intensify.”
  • “International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi has spent months trying to persuade Russian and Ukrainian officials to establish a security zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant to prevent the war from causing a radiation leak.”
  • “’The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous,’ Grossi warned. ‘We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment. This major nuclear facility must be protected.’”

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • See section on "Nuclear arms" below.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

"Russia Ramps Up Pressure on Civilians in Occupied Ukraine," editor Marc Santora, NYT, 05.02.23.

  • “Russia is ramping up pressure on civilians in occupied parts of Ukraine, according to Ukrainian officials, whose forces have stepped up their assaults behind enemy lines ahead of a widely expected counteroffensive.”
  • “The Russian authorities in occupied territory, wary of strikes by Ukrainian partisans and special forces, have imposed strict new measures on civilians. Most recently, they have “reinforced” counterintelligence units and are restricting travel between towns and villages, Ukraine’s military high command said on May 2.”
  • “Last week, the Kremlin decreed that anyone in occupied territory who did not accept a Russian passport could be relocated from their homes, an edict that has sown confusion and fear among residents, according to the Ukrainian military and local officials.”
  • Serhii Khlan, a deputy administrator of the Kherson Regional Council, told Ukrainian television on May 1 that there was ‘enormous’ pressure on the local population. He said people were worried they would be considered ‘collaborators’ if they accepted passports.”
  • “Civilians in once-occupied areas have described torture and abuses by the Russian authorities, and an atmosphere of intense fear and paranoia about who may be working with the Russians and who may have ties to the Ukrainian military or special forces.”

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

"The Counteroffensive: The future of the democratic world will be determined by whether the Ukrainian military can break a stalemate with Russia and drive the country backwards—perhaps even out of Crimea for good," journalists Anne Applebaum and Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, 05.01.23NB: The piece includes reporting from the frontlines.

  • "Sometimes, the [Ukraine] war is described as a battle between autocracy and democracy, or between dictatorship and freedom. In truth, the differences between the two opponents are not merely ideological, but also sociological. Ukraine’s struggle against Russia pits a heterarchy against a hierarchy. An open, networked, flexible society—one that is both stronger at the grassroots level and more deeply integrated with Washington, Brussels, and Silicon Valley than anyone realized—is fighting a very large, very corrupt, top-down state."
  • "'The choice,' Zelensky told us, 'is between freedom and fear.' … Victory means
    • "[F]irst, that Ukraine retains sovereign control of all of the territory that lies within its internationally recognized borders, including land taken by Russia since 2014: Donetsk, Luhansk, Melitopol, Mariupol, Crimea."
    • "[S]econd, that Ukrainians are safe. Safe from terrorist attacks, safe from shelling, safe from missiles lobbed at supermarket parking lots."
    • "[T]hird, some kind of justice."
  • "In Russian history, military victory has often reinforced autocracy. Potemkin’s conquests reinforced Catherine the Great. Stalin’s defeat of Hitler reinforced his own regime. By contrast, military failure has often inspired political change. … Ukrainians need a military success like that, one with enough symbolic power to force change in Russia. This might not mean a revolution, or even a change of leadership. … Only one thing matters: Russia’s leaders must conclude that the war was a mistake, and Russia must acknowledge Ukraine as an independent country with the right to exist."
  • "[O]ver the next few months, as the Ukrainians take their best shot at winning the war, the democratic world will have to decide whether to help them do so. … America has not yet given Ukraine fighter jets or its most advanced long-range missiles. Nor is it clear that everyone in Washington, Brussels, or Paris believes it is either possible or desirable for Ukraine to take back all of the territory lost since February 2022, let alone territory taken in 2014."
  • "The fear that Putin will use nuclear weapons to defend Crimea lurks just under the surface—but we have told him that the response to this would have 'catastrophic consequences' for Russia; this is why deterrence is so important. The urge to preserve the status quo, and the fear of what could follow Putin, is just as strong. … Yet even the worst successor imaginable, even the bloodiest general or most rabid propagandist, will immediately be preferable to Putin, because he will be weaker than Putin."
  • "A Ukrainian victory would immediately inspire people fighting for human rights and the rule of law, wherever they are."

"Applebaum & Goldberg: Truth attended by a bodyguard of lies," Quincy Institute's Anatol Lieven, Responsible Statecraft, 05.05.23.

  • "The recent essay by Anne Applebaum and Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, calling for unlimited U.S. support for the reconquest of Crimea by Ukraine, merits a response; not for its intellectual quality, but because it presents in a conveniently distilled form most of the arguments that have been advanced in support of complete Ukrainian victory … as opposed to the search for a ceasefire and peace negotiations."
  • "Much of the essay is based on an interview by the authors with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Nobody should blame President Zelensky for exaggerations and evasions. … As Winston Churchill famously said, 'In wartime, the truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.' One can however blame U.S. journalists for publicizing such statements with no attempt at checking."
  • "Their argument comes in three parts. The first … is that this is not a war for territory or geopolitical power, but of absolute good against absolute evil." 
    • "Russia, by illegally annexing Ukrainian territory, has violated a critically important international law and norm. In this, Russia has … gone further than … Turkey in its invasion and partition of Cyprus in 1974… What also matters however is that Turkey was and remains a member of NATO, so clearly in this area the lines dividing 'civilization' from barbarism are rather more blurred than … [the authors] suggest."
    • "This is also true of atrocities. I can confirm from my own researches in Bucha and other towns north of Kyiv that extra-judicial killings and looting by Russian troops took place on a large scale, together with some individual rapes. I heard nothing however to confirm Ukrainian claims of massacres or organized campaigns of mass rape. Nor have international investigators found independent (i.e., not from Ukrainian official sources) evidence to support these claims."
  • "The second wearisomely familiar trope is the latest version of the Domino Theory, whereby a given conflict is not really about where it is happening, but is part of a much wider plan for conquest [namely, Zelensky's assertion that Russia will next try to occupy Moldova and the Baltics]. … This is wrong from start to finish. Both the Yeltsin and Putin regimes have been hostile to Baltic policies, but the only occasion when the Russian government hinted at invasion was when Lithuania threatened partially to cut off access to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Russia has shown no desire whatsoever to invade NATO, and in any case quite clearly does not have an army that could dream of doing so."
  • "All this is the build-up to the argument for the reconquest of Crimea. … [H]aving created an image of the Russian government as insanely reckless, brutal and megalomaniac, they [the authors] then display a charming insouciance about the danger that faced with the possible loss of Crimea and the fall of his regime, Putin would begin a spiral of escalation towards nuclear war."
  • "[The authors say:] 'A Ukrainian victory would immediately inspire people fighting for human rights and the rule of law, wherever they are.' Oh really? In Palestine, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Kashmir? The hypocrisy here is transparent. What Applebaum and Goldberg mean is that the overthrow of the Putin regime and the destruction of Russia as a great power (or even as a united state) will weaken opponents of the United States and Israel and strengthen U.S. global hegemony. Under their façade of commitment to global democracy, Applebaum and Goldberg display a typical contempt for the actual opinions of people across the non-Western world, including in democracies like Brazil, India and South Africa."

“Senior Ukrainian Officials Fear Counterattack May Not Live Up To Hype,” journalists Siobhán O'Grady, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Laris Karklis and Samuel Granados, WP, 05.06.23.

  • “The expectation from our counteroffensive campaign is overestimated in the world,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in an interview this past week. “Most people are … waiting for something huge,” he added, which he fears may lead to “emotional disappointment.”
  • “The planned counterattack — made possible by donated Western weapons and training — could mark the most consequential phase of the war, as Ukraine seeks to snatch back significant territory and prove it is worthy of continued support.”
  • “Some fear that if the Ukrainians fall short, Kyiv may lose international military assistance or face new pressure to engage with Moscow at a negotiating table — not on the battlefield. Such talks would almost certainly involve Russian demands for a negotiated surrender of sovereign territory, which Ukraine has called unacceptable. ‘I believe that the more victories we have on the battlefield, frankly, the more people will believe in us, which means we will get more help,’ President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview on May 1 with The Washington Post in his heavily fortified headquarters building.”
  • “A major success could rally more support for the Western arms and ammunition Ukraine needs to continue the fight and offer a much-needed morale boost for the civilian population, which relished Ukrainian forces’ resilience against Russia’s efforts to take Kyiv last spring and later their surprise autumn offensive in the Kharkiv region, which retook hundreds of miles of territory in a matter of days. … But in Kharkiv the Ukrainians had an advantage when they stormed Russian troops — who had lowered their defenses — by surprise. …  Now, Russia may have the geographic advantage and stronger numbers.”
  • “One key objective for Ukraine, and perhaps an early sign of success, would be to break the so-called land bridge between mainland Russia and occupied Crimea, severing crucial supply lines to Russian troops in the Zaporizhzhia region, and isolating Russian bases on the peninsula."

"It Is Now Battered Ukraine’s Turn for an Offensive," Lawrence Freedman of King's College London, FT, 05.05.23.

  • “After more than 14 months of grueling combat, Vladimir Putin has failed to achieve any of his war aims.”
  • “Absorbing the Russian offensive has not been easy for Ukraine. Casualties have been heavy and at times there have been questions about whether it would have made more sense to withdraw. Kyiv’s generals, however, feel these attritional battles have served their purpose, preventing Russia from taking much more territory while inflicting heavy losses.”
  • “Now it is their turn. Preparatory work has been under way for some time, knocking out command posts, artillery pieces, ammunition dumps and troop concentrations. Fresh brigades equipped with modern Western kit are almost ready to move. But the enemy has prepared elaborate defenses to block the most likely areas of Ukrainian advance and enjoys air superiority. There have been publicized concerns about gaps in Ukrainian air defenses and insufficient ammunition. Leaked (but now dated) assessments doubted whether Kyiv could make any real progress. Nonetheless, the US government insists it is now more optimistic.”
  • “Should the Ukrainian offensive follow the Russian one into failure, then the prospect will be of a continuing stalemate and another harsh winter of fighting and energy shortages. International calls for a ceasefire, preferably accompanied by a full peace settlement, will grow louder. The Ukrainians, however, are not playing for a draw. This is their best chance of a breakthrough, and their ambition is to reach the approaches to Crimea.”
  • “However much land is taken, the main objective must be to convince the Russian elite of the futility of this war and the fragility of its occupation. The war began with a decision in the Kremlin and that is where a decision must be taken to end it.”

"US Intel Leaks Highlight Russia's Limited Options in Face of Ukraine's Counteroffensive," Fletcher School's Pavel Luzin, RM, 05.05.23.

  • "The massive leaks of U.S. intelligence documents that came to light last month are no game-changer for the Kremlin's war in Ukraine. But they do help paint a picture of a Russian war machine that is weaker in manpower than previously estimated, struggling technologically, poorly coordinated and left without much flexibility in preparing for Ukraine's coming counteroffensive."
  • "Though Moscow showed a burst of frenetic war-related activity following the leaks—reshuffling senior commanders and publicizing a rare visit by President Vladimir Putin to the combat zone—its main bet militarily seems to be on reaction: Apart from the dreaded wild card of tactical nuclear weapons and the ongoing bombardment of Ukrainian targets, Russia will likely try to stop Kyiv's offensive once it starts, rather than show strategic initiative on the battlefield. Public statements made this week by the U.S. intelligence chief confirm this view."

"As Putin Bides His Time, Ukraine Faces a Ticking Clock," journalists Paul Sonne and Andrew E. Kramer, NYT, 05.06.23.

  • “Ukraine is feeling immense short-term pressures from its Western backers, as the United States and its allies treat the counteroffensive as a critical test of whether the weapons, training and ammunition they have rushed to the country in recent months can translate into significant gains.”
  • A presidential election in the United States looms next year, with the potential for a new, less supportive Republican administration. … In Washington, President Biden has pledged to support Kyiv for “as long as it takes,’ and could request an additional supplemental aid package for Ukraine later this year, regardless of the counteroffensive’s outcome. Administration officials expect to retain bipartisan congressional support.”
  • “But Mr. Biden is heading into a presidential election cycle that could upend U.S. backing for Ukraine, particularly if Americans elect former President Donald J. Trump, the Republican front-runner. Mr. Trump has criticized Mr. Biden’s support for Ukrainian forces.”
  • “In countries like Syria and Libya, Mr. Putin for years has exploited the tendency of Western governments to lose focus or shift priorities when it comes to foreign affairs. ‘Russia’s hope right now is that the peak of Western military support is going to be around the summer,’ and then will dissipate, said Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at CNA, a research institute in Virginia.”
  • “Already, the war has stretched for more than 14 months, making a yearslong protracted conflict more likely. Once wars have gone on for more than a year, they tend to last for more than a decade on average, the Center for Strategic and International Studies found in an analysis that used data on conflicts since 1946.”

"Why Does Ukraine Want Western Jets?", researcher John Hoehn and William Courtney, former ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia, RAND, 05.03.23.  

  • “Of what use could Western fighters be?”
    • “Russia has positioned advanced ground-based air defenses in parts of Ukraine it occupies. They increase risks to Ukrainian aircraft of flying over Russian-controlled territory. So, to support ground force operations Ukraine needs to suppress or destroy Russian air defenses.”
    • “Senior U.S. military officials say the current conflict is essentially an artillery duel. Both Russia and Ukraine may be running low on artillery ammunition—including shells for tubed artillery and rockets from the now-famous High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. Western fighters could target many Russian positions and help alleviate the ammunition shortage.”
  • “To bring in Western aircraft, Ukraine might need to repave and potentially extend a number of runways, a process which Russia would likely detect. If only a few airfields were suitable and in known locations, focused Russian attacks could impede Ukrainian F-16s from flying.”
  • “Western fighters are also expensive to buy and maintain, and new ones could take years to manufacture. In 2021 Ukraine spent about $1.1 billion (PDF) on its air force. A Western jet could cost as much as $100 million to buy and at least another (PDF) $5 million per year to operate. And this does not include the cost of missile and bomb armaments. Based on past budgets, Ukraine might fall into a trap akin to Iraq's struggle to find funding.”
  • For fighting this year, Ukraine may rely primarily on several dozen legacy MiG-29s and the transfer of some three dozen more from Poland and Slovakia. MiG-29s are armed with dated, former Soviet infrared- and radar-guided air-to-air missiles, although some of Ukraine's have been adapted to also carry modern U.S. anti-radiation missiles and precision-guided bombs.”
  • “In future years if the war continues, Western jets and armaments might prove pivotal. But Ukraine and Western nations will have to carefully weigh what they expect to gain from combat air options.”

"Spike in Russian Combat Deaths Fuels Fears of Worse Carnage To Come," journalists Dan Lamothe and Isabelle Khurshdyan, WP, 05.02.23.

  • “The rate at which Russian forces are being killed or wounded in Ukraine has spiked in recent months, according to estimates disclosed by the White House this week, underscoring how ferocious the combat has become and suggesting the carnage could get even worse with Kyiv’s long-planned counteroffensive to retake occupied territory.”
  • “Such a scenario could compound the already staggering number of military casualties suffered on both sides of the war, officials and analysts say, a figure that may be greater than 360,000 dead and injured combined since the war began, according to a tally of the most recent Western assessments to become public.”
  • “Assessing casualty counts remains difficult, as U.S. and other Western officials have acknowledged a limited ability to observe the battlefield, and efforts by Russian and Ukrainian commanders to protect operational security by obscuring the true scope of each side’s losses.”
  • “Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with Foreign Affairs magazine published on May 2 that Russia has suffered ‘maybe’ 200,000 or 250,000 dead and wounded overall in the war. Putin has replaced them, Milley said, with waves of reservists who are ‘poorly led, not well trained, poorly equipped, not well sustained.’ The leaked U.S. intelligence assessment from late February says that American officials believed with ‘low confidence that between 35,000 and 42,500 Russian soldiers had been killed at that stage of the war, with another 150,500 to 177,000 wounded. The same assessment listed Ukraine’s losses at between 15,500 and 17,000 dead after a year of war. Another 106,500 to 110,500 were believed to have been wounded.”
  • Despite the bloodshed, neither side seems inclined to end the war. The conflict, according to another leaked assessment, is expected to drag on into 2024, even if Ukraine inflicts ‘unsustainable losses’ on Russian forces. Negotiations to end the conflict,’ the document says, ‘are unlikely during 2023 in all considered scenarios.’”

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

"Can Ukraine Get Justice Without Thwarting Peace?", the International Crisis Group's Brian Finucane and Stephen Pomper, FA, 05.08.23.

  • “Because of a U.S.-backed loophole in the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the [International Criminal Court], the court cannot bring aggression prosecutions against nationals of Russia, China, the United States, and all other countries that are not parties to the treaty.”
  • “Proponents have pressed to create a new judicial body to fill this gap, although most proposals only apply to the war in Ukraine. … Making the case for urgent and dramatic action to hold Russian actors responsible for aggression, international lawyers and advocates have described this as a new ‘Nuremberg moment.’ … [Nuremburg references] are highly resonant but also misleading.”
    • “The Nuremberg trials… came at the end of a globe-spanning total war that finished with the Axis powers’ defeat, surrender, and occupation, as well as the capture of their leaders. … Because the Allies were able to impose terms on Germany or Japan, they were also in a position to try their leaders and enforce the sentences the war court passed down.”
  • “Russia’s unlawful war on Ukraine appears to be on a different trajectory. It is unclear how the conflict will end, but Russian surrender is not in the cards. One likely scenario is a negotiated deal; another is a frozen conflict. … Ukraine’s Western partners are trying to weaken Russia, but they are also trying to steer clear of a direct conflict, aware that any confrontation the Kremlin sees as posing an existential threat could bring the risk of escalation, including the use of nuclear weapons. Plans to stand up a new tribunal do not easily fit into this landscape.”
  • “If history takes an unexpected turn and Russian leaders wind up available to stand trial abroad, then it will be time to talk about a new judicial body. In the meantime, Ukraine’s Western partners should continue helping Ukraine frustrate Russia’s aggressive designs on the battlefield and gathering evidence of its crimes. They should hold back on bolder steps until the day when the ends of peace and justice are more clearly aligned, and Nuremberg’s legacy can be more fully honored.”

"Putin the Pariah How Sanctions and the Threat of Prosecution Have Imperiled Russia’s President," Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, FA, 05.03.23.

  • “International criminal justice, as represented by the [International Criminal Court (ICC)], aims at the very top [of the Russian power structure]. Putin is unlikely to be the only target … The ICC chief prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan has said that other warrants will follow. This top-down approach may be better in certain circumstances for drawing a line between Putin and the key figures in his administration.”
  • “Of course, Putin will go on trial at the ICC only if he is apprehended. But Russia does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, which means that Putin cannot be arrested unless he travels to a nation that does. Even if he were to visit a non-Western country — for example, Tajikistan or Armenia, a formal Russian ally — he will be certain to ensure that he is not arrested.”
  • “Although Putin may be beyond the ICC’s reach, at least so long as he remains in power, his associates may not be so safe. If the court decides to issue warrants against more of them, they would run a much higher risk of being detained.”
  • “The diplomatic consequences of the ICC’s decision to go after Putin are serious. Moscow—isolated by the West—is trying to build connections to the global South. The ICC warrant will complicate these efforts by making Putin an outcast. … Large states may be hostile or indifferent to the ICC, but small ones mostly see it as an instrument of justice for when they are wronged. In attacking the court, then, Russia risks undermining its claim to be fighting for a more just world order, under which the weak will be better protected from the excesses of the strong.”
  • “Authoritarian regimes derive much of their legitimacy from abroad. It is no coincidence that dictators have historically delighted in international visits, tours, and honors. The ICC warrant closes the door to any way back for Putin on the world stage. Closer to home, signs of the damage are already showing. In April, during a Kremlin credentials presentation ceremony for new ambassadors to Russia — most of them non-Western — a speech by Putin, to his evident surprise and for perhaps the first time ever, received no applause. It was an ominous sign.”

"South Africa Allowed Russian Plane Under U.S. Sanctions to Land at Base," journalists Lynsey Chutel and John Eligon, NYT, 05.04.23.

  • "South African officials allowed a cargo plane targeted by U.S. sanctions for supporting Russia’s military efforts to land at an air force base near the capital, Pretoria, last week, a move that could further increase tensions with the United States."
  • "U.S. officials previously said the plane has been known to ship weapons for Russia’s defense forces. South Africa’s Department of Defense said in a statement on May 3 that the plane had been delivering diplomatic mail for the Russian Embassy. South African officials have declined to say precisely what was loaded on to and taken off the plane."
  • "South Africa’s decision to let the aircraft land runs counter to American efforts to isolate Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine."
  • "Although South Africa is not bound by the U.S. sanctions, the landing will 'only serve to exacerbate the tense relations with the U.S.,' said Steven Gruzd, a researcher of Russia’s relationship with Africa at the South African Institute of International Affairs."
  • "The landing, reported on May 4 by Business Day, a South African news outlet, comes as the United States was already expressing concern about whether the government in Pretoria has been aiding Moscow during the war in Ukraine."

Ukraine-related negotiations:

"Brazil Is Ukraine’s Best Bet for Peace," Jorge Heine of Boston University and Thiago Rodrigues of Brazil’s Federal Fluminense University, FP, 05.02.23.

  • “[Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva] got to work on his [Ukraine] peace proposal quickly after his inauguration in January."
    • “During a February visit to Washington, Lula suggested to U.S. President Joe Biden that Brazil create a so-called ‘peace club’ — a group of countries that would facilitate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine and that might include rising powers such as China, India, Indonesia, and Turkey.”
    • “In March, a 30-minute video call between Lula and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky showed that Brazil means business.”
    • “Then, in April, Lula’s chief advisor Celso Amorim traveled to Moscow, where …was received by Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. … Amorim’s personal audience with Putin — and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent trip to Brazil — indicate how seriously Moscow is taking proposals from the government in Brasília.”
    • “Lula’s April visit to China allowed Brazil to continue to pursue its mediation effort. The two countries released a joint statement agreeing that “negotiation is the only viable way out of the crisis in Ukraine.”
  • “Far from reflecting ambiguity or indecisiveness, as it is sometimes portrayed, Brazil’s foreign policy embodies what we call active nonalignment. As Latin America is buffeted by pressures from the great powers to take sides in what is becoming a second Cold War between the United States and China, active nonalignment dictates that the region should focus on its own interests and not on those of others.”
  • “If there is a country in the global south that is ideally positioned to act as a broker among north, south, east, and west, it is Brazil, whose strong diplomatic traditions and coalition-building capabilities put it in an unrivaled position to press ahead with bringing peace to Ukraine. … A key next step should be to bring India (whose minister of external affairs, S. Jaishankar, has played a key role in keeping the G-20 in line this year) into the peace club.”
  • “A stalemated war—which is where Ukraine may be headed—is ultimately about economic resilience. There, Russia has the upper hand. The Brazilian mediation initiative to bring the conflict to an end soon may be an opportunity to save Ukraine—rather than the naive, misguided undertaking many in the West describe it to be.”

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

“How to Avoid a Great-Power War: A Conversation With General Mark Milley," executive editor Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, FA, 05.02.23.

  • "[T]he probability of either side [in Ukraine] achieving their political objectives … I think that’s going to be very difficult, very challenging. And frankly, I don’t think the probability of that is likely in this year." 
  • "[R]ational folks, as part of the Russian decision-making process, will conclude— … over either months or a year or two— … that the cost exceeds the benefit, and it’ll be time to do something … from a negotiating standpoint. … [A]t a certain point, [Putin,] if he’s rational, he needs to do that. … [B]ecause they’re not going to win." 
  • "[I]t’s in everyone’s interests not to escalate. Russia does not want a war with NATO or the United States, and NATO and the United States don’t want a war with Russia. … Having said that, the possibility of escalation is very real. Wars are highly emotional; there’s a tremendous amount of fear, there’s pride, there’s interest… Every single day, we are always … calculating the possibility of escalation. Why? Because … armed conflict between the United States and Russia … would be devastating for both sides."
  • "Unlike the Cold War, now, you’ve got three great powers in the world: the United States, China, and Russia. … And all three have substantial nuclear arsenals. … [T]he United States is the most powerful by any measure. But … Russia and China are quite powerful as well. So it is not in the U.S. interest to see Russia and China form a strategic military alliance, and we should do what we can to make sure that that doesn’t happen. … Today we’re in a tripolar world … and that relationship is very difficult to manage."
  • "[The Chinese are] very realist in the sense that they are keenly aware of cost, benefit, and risk, and they too do not want outright armed conflict with the United States. They recognize … how powerful the United States is. … They want to achieve their national objectives, but they want to actually do it without armed conflict." 
  • "We need to deter armed conflict. And … the way to deter is to have a very, very strong, capable, multi-domain military, and ensure that your opponent knows that you have that capability, that that capability is overwhelming, knows that you have the will to use it, and you’ve communicated that to them."

"How the American War Machine Ran Out of Gas," Johns Hopkins University's Hal Brands, Bloomberg, 05.03.23.

  • “American assistance to Ukraine has saved that country. It has also demonstrated how hard the United States finds it to replace depleted capabilities because of long-accumulating shortfalls such as a lack of trained manpower and logjams created by reliance on single providers for rocket engines or components of artillery shells.”
  • “So how did US wind up in its current predicament? … Part of the answer involves the changing structure of the U.S. economy. American economic leadership endures but now rests on primacy in the high-tech knowledge economy rather than primacy in manufacturing. That transition has allowed the US to develop the world’s most sophisticated weapons while also complicating its ability to produce them at scale.”
  • “After the [Cold War], US defense spending plummeted … The post-Cold War industrial base developed higher levels of efficiency, as a matter of survival, but boasted less resiliency and capacity to surge production in a crisis. … Today, the Pentagon thrives at procuring, over years or even decades, small numbers of exquisite capabilities — but not at quickly incorporating new technologies or replacing weapons and the platforms that deliver them.”
  • “A problem that develops over many years isn’t fixed immediately. The Pentagon needs more money, allocated over longer periods, to make it a more predictable purchaser of weapons — and to persuade defense firms to build larger workforces and new production lines. The US will have to invest in relatively cheap add-ons that can turn dumber bombs into smarter ones and in new capability development and acquisition processes that accept higher risk of failure in exchange for greater speed and flexibility.”
  • “The United States may also need to pursue deeper integration with the defense industrial bases among friendly democracies so they can collectively produce what they need in a conflict. Most of all, the United States must make an intellectual shift similar to what is happening in other key supply chains — deemphasizing pure efficiency for greater resiliency — and transition, quickly, from peacetime complacency to wartime urgency. Otherwise, the penalty for weakness in the defense industrial base won’t be a temporary slowdown in the air campaign against some terrorist group. It could be losing a great-power war against the country that is challenging American influence in the Western Pacific and around the globe.”

"Global Ammunition Race May Decide Ukraine War," columnist Peter Apps, Reuters, 05.04.23.

  • “What Britain’s Royal United Services Institute calls the ‘return of industrialized warfare’ is also now shaping global geopolitics. The million-dollar question is whether China will prove willing to throw its industry into the fight on Russia's side, a move the United States, Ukraine and NATO allies are all expending considerable diplomatic effort to prevent.”
  • “At the start of March, Ukraine was reportedly firing 110,000 artillery shells a month, and requested allies to supply enough to bring that number up to 250,000. According to British analysts, Ukraine’s artillery usage would exhaust the entire UK stockpile in eight days. The United States, the NATO nation with by far the largest stocks, has already sent a million shells and is looking to increase production capability to six times its current level. The European Union has pledged another million, a significant milestone in the bloc’s involvement in the conflict – but not enough for many Eastern European members.”
  • “‘After the last few months of reviewing the battlefield in Ukraine, we and our allies have almost full knowledge of how much ammunition is being used daily, weekly and monthly,"\’ said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in March. ‘These are quantities many times greater than those available to most NATO countries today.’ For the West, this is uncharted territory.”
  • “U.S. officials say they hope soon to be producing 20,000 shells per month from U.S. plants, rising to 40,000 within two years – a program that requires new factories, new machine tools and a desperate search for staff in an environment where arms firms find vacancies difficult to fill.”
  • “Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang pledged that China would not sell weapons to either side in Ukraine. Whether Beijing keeps that pledge in the coming year may decide not just the outcome in the current war, but the trajectory of much wider world events.”

"Poland and Germany: The Feud at the Heart of Europe," correspondents Raphael Minder and Laura Pitel, FT, 05.02.23.

  • "In eastern Poland, a contingent of German soldiers has been operating Patriot missile defense systems since January. It forms the most significant German military presence in Poland since the second world war. The Germans are part of NATO’s efforts to bolster its eastern flank and help Ukraine fight Russia, but their presence is also testing a German-Polish relationship that many consider to be at its worst since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
  • “From the tragically low point of the Nazi invasion of Poland that sparked the last world war in 1939 to the high of Germany’s drive for Poland and other former communist states to join the EU in 2004, the German-Polish relationship is crucial not only to the two nations but also to the continent as a whole. That is particularly true now that western powers want to display unity to thwart president Vladimir Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine also put eastern Europe at the heart of world geopolitics.”
  • “But in Berlin, there is deep disillusionment with the Polish government led by the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) and what is seen as its attempt to use Germany as a political punch bag ahead of Polish parliamentary elections in the autumn. Poland has condemned Germany for being slow to deliver military aid to Ukraine, and for dismissing earlier Polish concerns about Berlin’s economic ties with Moscow. … The Polish government has meanwhile launched a high-profile legal campaign against Germany for wartime reparations, and has accused Berlin of excessive control of the EU’s institutions.”
  • “Sanctions against Russia and Western concerns over relying on China as a supplier could also increase economic ties between the two European neighbors, according to economists. ‘I would expect that the process of reshaping global value chains is going to strengthen the trading relationship between Poland and Germany as the importance of Poland as an alternative supplier base for Germany goes up,’ says Beata Javorcik, chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, who is Polish.”
  • “Germany, whose depleted military is facing equipment shortfalls, is yet to decide whether to keep its Patriots in Poland beyond the initial deadline of June. But their security contribution so far is seen as a success at a time of political tensions.”

"Russian ‘Ghost Ships’ Are Turning the Seabed Into a Future Battlefield," journalist Morten Soendergaard Larsen, FP, 05.02.23.

  • “Dozens of Russian vessels are being used for nefarious purposes in waters around Northern Europe. … The Admiral Vladimirsky, a Russian research vessel … was caught traveling through Danish territorial waters last November with its positional transmitter turned off, turning it into what is known as a “ghost ship” — the same tactic that states such as North Korea use to hide illicit trading. Reporters who got too close to the so-called research vessel were greeted with masked gunmen on deck brandishing automatic weapons.”
  • “Multiple experts agree that this ship was engaging in a different illicit activity, as it was likely mapping out critical infrastructure ripe for sabotage — for example, the data cables in Danish waters that connect it and Europe to the United States and the United Kingdom; some of those very cables were the ones the U.S. National Security Agency tapped to listen in on then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”
  • “[A new Scandinavian] documentary series … alleges that the Admiral Vladimirsky and other Russian vessels spent time, with their transponders off, snooping around waters off the Netherlands and the U.K., including in areas near current and future wind farms. Danish waters are not as heavily loaded as the connection between the Netherlands and the U.K., but the Danish cables are important for European connection, a source in the sea cable industry said — certainly important enough to be of serious Russian interest.”
  • “The reason extensive surveying, like what Russia is apparently carrying out, is problematic is that it can offer a potential ill-doer the whole blueprint of undersea power and data cables. The grid is not vulnerable to a single point of failure—as could happen with an accidental trawling incident—but would buckle under a coordinated attack, said a representative of the Danish energy services.”
  • “The fear of Northern Europe’s seabed being mapped out is best exemplified by the Nord Stream pipelines episode last September. Though no group or state has been conclusively linked to the damage to both pipelines, which effectively put them both out of commission, both Danish and Swedish authorities say there were clear signs of sabotage. In order to carry out such a sophisticated attack on a pair of pipelines almost a day apart, one needs to know exactly how things look down in those murky depths. And Russian ships seem to be doing much of the looking, even if only on the sly.”

"The Ugly Case for Continuing to Support Ukraine," journalist Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg via WaPo, 05.04.23.

  • “Throughout the West, support for supplying Ukraine with weapons has been wavering. … When governments call on Western citizens to support Ukraine, their appeals rely heavily on morals and emotion: Most people will agree that it’s wrong to start wars of invasion, that torture is abhorrent and that peaceful people’s lives are to be protected. Yet such feelings of solidarity can be evanescent, especially in the face of rising global inflation spurred by the war and the sanctions imposed on Russia and growing fears of a nuclear confrontation with an adversary as seemingly deranged as Putin.”
  • “If governments want their pro-Ukraine policies to attract lasting public support, they need to build arguments that appeal to the self-interest of distracted and distrustful voters.”
    • “They should start by playing up the cost-effective benefits of the West’s military support. As the Ukrainian journalist Vitaliy Syzov has argued, the current level of support for Ukraine is a small price to pay for stopping an aggressive and unpredictable Russia without actually putting NATO boots on the ground.”
    • “Much of American military assistance to Ukraine comes from existing, in some cases antiquated, military stockpiles — which means that when Congress pays for military aid to Ukraine, it is functionally allowing the United States to replace its older weapons with new ones.”
    • “In Europe, too, the $23.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine has stimulated a defense industry that directly employs 3.8 million workers, pays more than 140 billion euros in annual salaries and accounts for 2.8 support jobs for each direct one. The militaries of the Soviet Union’s former satellites have been able to unload vast quantities of rusting Soviet-produced weapons and made deals with German, UK and French manufacturers to replace the stocks.”
    • “Another rational argument for siding with Ukraine has to do with Europe’s energy resiliency. Once reliant on Russia for their energy, European nations such as Germany did not give in to Putin’s attempt to use energy as a weapon, and have instead developed new supply channels, launched LNG terminal projects and encouraged consumers to switch to “greener” options such as heat pumps.”

"The War-Weary West: How Governments Can Keep Their Citizens Committed to Ukraine’s Defense," the Centre for Information Resilience's Nina Jankowicz and Tom Southern, FA, 05.04.23.  

  • “Since the beginning of its 2022 invasion, Russia has counted on the West to tire of aiding the Ukrainians in their fight. Whether they recognize it or not, members of the Republican Party’s anti-Ukraine faction are helping Russia realize its goals.”
  • “Not long after the invasion of Ukraine, some figures in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle admitted to The Washington Post that the Russian leader was simply biding his time, ‘digging in for a long war of attrition’ against Ukraine and, by proxy, the West. Russian officials have also laid the propaganda on thick: the Western sanctions on the Russian economy — not Putin’s decision to invade a sovereign country — will cause a global food and energy crisis, and Western populations will tire of their governments’ support for Kyiv, demanding a resolution of the conflict that spares them any further material suffering. That these narratives appeared so quickly was no accident. The Kremlin has a history of trying to generate and exploit real divisions within societies—in this case, fostering so-called compassion fatigue toward Ukraine — to achieve favorable policy outcomes.”
  • “Thanks to Kyiv’s savvy communications and the West’s natural affinity for Ukraine, Russia has not been all that successful in this effort. Western publics by and large have managed to stave off compassion fatigue and remain committed to helping Ukraine repulse the Russian invasion. But that commitment will not last forever and, indeed, may already be beginning to waver in several countries.”
  • “Americans must recognize that although Ukraine fatigue is understandable, the Kremlin and some reactionary Republicans and other homegrown purveyors of disinformation seek to exacerbate it for their own gain. Ukraine’s supporters must draw the connection between the effects of the war on inflation and the actions of one man—Putin. To endure rising food or gas prices is to express solidarity with the Ukrainian people and condemn a war criminal.”
  • “Without a concerted effort to push back against Russia’s online offensive, the West will allow the Kremlin to gain ground in an information war that supporters of Ukraine were initially winning. Russia knows the communications battlefield is as important as the kinetic one; the West would do well to remember that, too.”

"Will the (Russian) Empire Strike Back?", staff writer Susan B. Glasser, New Yorker, 05.05.23.

  • “Washington under President Joe Biden has done so much to aid Ukraine, but in such incremental steps that it can be easy to forget that the United States is now effectively fighting a proxy war against Russia there, with its weapons, targeting, intelligence, and other assistance providing crucial support to keep Ukraine in the fight.”
  • “The reality is that we have not yet seen major Russian retaliation against America and other allies for their part in insuring that Ukraine can keep fighting. What would that look like? If not drones flying over the U.S. Capitol, there are many chilling scenarios to consider, from explicit acts of terrorism to widespread cyberattacks and strikes on Western supply lines into Ukraine. … Russian-military doctrine specifically allows for the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in battlefield situations, and there has been endless debate about what actions might trigger such a response … Yet in a way those worries have overwhelmed discussion of other, more likely threats from Russia. Seeing the images of a fireball over the Kremlin this week brought that home to me, especially when the Kremlin quickly blamed the United States.”
  • “Consider the upcoming U.S. Presidential election, in 2024, which could decide not only the trajectory of democracy in America but the fate of Russia and Ukraine as well. Russia has not hesitated to intervene aggressively in American politics before; … With Russia now embroiled in an existential war against Ukraine, and the United States today firmly on Ukraine’s side, Putin has far more incentive this time.
  • “The current Republican front-runner for 2024 is the Putin-admiring Donald Trump, who has been outspoken in questioning U.S. support for Ukraine since last year’s Russian invasion. Were Trump to win, with or without Russia’s connivance, it would count as a dramatic win for Putin as well—a political concussion with far more boom to it than any number of drone attacks.”
  • “Republican support for Ukraine, though robust and bipartisan enough in the polls and congressional votes so far, is not to be taken for granted. Trump’s return is too real of a possibility. The U.S. course cannot be considered irreversibly set in favor of Ukraine. That question will not be settled until the next Presidential election. Period. The battlefields in this awful war unleashed by Russia are many.”

"Paths to a ‘Cold Peace’ After Russia’s War in Ukraine," Mary Elise Sarotte of Johns Hopkins SAIS, FT, 05.02.23.

  • "As a major land war in Europe continues into its second awful year, the pile of books on the consequences of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine continues to grow apace. Two of the newest titles [“Cold Peace” by Michael Doyle and “Russia’s War” by Jade McGlynn] make the compelling case that it is necessary, in order to manage expectations appropriately in this present era of conflict with Russia, to re-examine the dashed hopes of the country’s past."
  • "These findings, though depressing, clarify the challenge facing policymakers seeking a path beyond combat’s end in Ukraine to a sustainable future afterwards. Both authors suggest that we need to keep our expectations appropriately low for what will hopefully be a cold peace in place of unending war. Better to have realistic rather than unfulfilled hopes, now that great-power competition in Europe has reignited."

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

"China could play a crucial role in ending the war in Ukraine" chief foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman, FT, 05.01.23.

  • “On a recent visit to Kyiv, I was surprised by the eager anticipation — in both the president’s office and the foreign ministry — of that conversation with China’s leader. Now the Xi-Zelenskyy call has finally taken place and, according to the Ukrainian president, it was ‘long and meaningful.’ Beijing later announced that it would appoint an envoy to work towards a peace settlement.”
  • “There are obvious reasons to be wary of China’s diplomatic efforts. Xi has repeatedly emphasized his regard for his ‘dear friend,’ Vladimir Putin. China’s peace plan for Ukraine, released earlier this year, was vague and did not call for the withdrawal of Russian troops. There are clear propaganda benefits for Beijing to proclaim itself interested in ‘peace,’ while doing not terribly much. Even if China is in earnest, it will be fearsomely difficult to bridge the gap between Kyiv and Moscow.”
  • “And yet, it is wrong to dismiss the idea that China could play a big role in ending this brutal conflict. For different reasons, Ukraine, Russia, the US, Europe and China itself all have a potential interest in Beijing’s involvement.”
  • “The Americans understand the dangers of appearing to be “anti-peace”. But it is not just that. The US is also increasingly keen to find a way of ending the war in Ukraine. Washington knows that the longer the conflict goes on, the harder it will be to maintain a western consensus on pouring billions in military and economic aid into Ukraine.”
  • “There has been plenty of discussion of whether the Western alliance would ever put pressure on Ukraine to negotiate. Less discussed, but probably more important, is who could force Russia to make meaningful concessions — including withdrawing from occupied territory and abandoning the effort to wreck Ukraine. The only plausible answer to that question is China. Only Xi can offer a warm handshake to Putin in public — and a twisted arm in private. At some point, the Chinese leader could decide that it is in his country’s interests to do just that.”

"The U.S. warms to a role for China in resolving the Ukraine war," columnist David Ignatius, WP, 05.03.23.

  • “The Biden administration appears to be weighing whether to work with China to seek a negotiated settlement of the Ukraine war after what U.S. officials predict will be Ukrainian gains in their long-planned offensive.”
  • “Russia has been unhappy with the Chinese mediation effort, several administration officials told me. But Moscow, subordinate to Beijing economically and militarily, can’t easily resist China’s wishes. That’s one reason administration officials are intrigued by Chinese peace efforts; they believe they might prevent Russia from trying to renew the war later — after a pause. ‘The only stability is China as a guarantor,’ one official told me.”
  • “Discussing any durable peace effort, [U.S. Secretary of State Antony] Blinken said ‘it has to basically reflect the principles that are at the heart of the United Nations charter when it comes to territorial integrity, when it comes to sovereignty. It can’t ratify what Russia has done, which is the seizure of so much of Ukraine’s territory. And it needs to be durable in the sense that we don’t want this to land in a place where Russia can simply rest, refit and re-attack six months later or a year later.’ Blinken continued: ‘As a matter of principle, countries, particularly countries with significant influence like China, if they’re willing to play a positive role in trying to bring peace, that would be a good thing. But it starts fundamentally with Vladimir Putin actually making that fundamental decision. We’ve not seen that yet.’”
  • “Administration officials are still debating whether a parallel U.S.-China peace effort might validate a broader Chinese role in Europe at a time when the United States has been trying to keep European allies from making sweetheart deals with Beijing. But when even Zelensky — who depends on U.S. military aid for his country’s survival — is welcoming contact with Xi, excluding China might be unrealistic.”
  • “A better strategy, toward which the administration seems to be leaning, is to acknowledge Beijing’s role but insist it must act responsibly to be treated as a great power. China could start by encouraging a just peace in Ukraine.”

Missile defense:

“Ukraine Says It Shot Down Hypersonic Russian Missile With Patriot System,” reporter David L. Stern, WP, 05.06.23.

  • “Until now, the hypersonic missile, called Kinzhal, or “dagger” in Russian, had been unstoppable by Ukraine, and several had struck targets since the start of Russia’s war in February 2022. Traveling five times faster than the speed of sound, and at a lower elevation than traditional ballistic missiles, the Kinzhal was too fast for Ukraine’s air defenses to even react.”
  • “Reports had circulated in recent days that Ukraine had stopped a Kinzhal as part of a broader Russian air attack on Kyiv. … The destruction of the missile, reported to be a Kh-47 fired by a Russian MiG-31K fighter jet, demonstrated the potentially game-changing role of the Patriot system, which costs roughly $1 billion per installation.”
  • “That the Patriots are there and have this kind of a reach now would give any Russian pilot pause and would make him feel less than secure — even though he is not in Ukraine airspace proper,” Reuben Johnson, an expert on U.S. military hardware, said.
  • “Michael Kofman, a military expert at can, a U.S.-based policy institute, said that too much was being made of the Kinzhal and that it was not particularly different from other ballistic missiles. The Kinzhal is a variant of Russia’s Iskander-M. ‘Don’t understand the interest in Russian use of Kinzhal. There’s nothing special or particularly exciting about this system,’ Kofman tweeted. ‘Iskander-M is a long standing system. Hundreds have been fired. Kinzhal is an air launched variant of this system … It uses the aircraft for added range and initial velocity. Otherwise it seems unremarkable. It is ‘hypersonic’ in the same way as many other ballistic missiles.’”

Nuclear arms:

"Rattling the Nuclear Saber: What Russia’s Nuclear Threats Really Mean," LSE's Lauren Sukin, CEIP, 05.04.23. 

  • "Some commentators have suggested that Russian nuclear threats are little more than cheap talk. … [But] Russia is not alone in brandishing its nuclear saber—and … there are lessons to be learned from how nuclear threats are used elsewhere. In particular, North Korea, a frequent issuer of nuclear threats, bears key similarities to Russia today. … [I]t is precisely because of and not in spite of the fact that Moscow and Pyongyang have repeatedly held their nuclear arsenals over Western heads that leaders should take these threats seriously. … [E]ven when such pugnacious rhetoric is a constant, there are lessons to be learned if we examine this behavior more systematically."
  • "My research shows that nuclear threats … provide meaning in two essential ways. First, observers can examine patterns in the content of these threats in order to better understand the messenger’s international security concerns. Specifically, states use nuclear threats to draw boundaries around the issues that they care most deeply about. Second, the frequency of threats matters. Even with a noisy baseline, periods with high volumes of threats see their messengers taking accompanying aggressive actions."
  • "Russia’s nuclear threats seemingly reflect a few evolving priority objectives in the Russo-Ukrainian war. These include deterring NATO from implementing a 'no-fly zone' over Ukraine and preventing NATO and Ukraine from driving Russian forces out of disputed territory. These … constitute fairly bright lines. The threats do not compel a reversal of any existing policies but are designed primarily to prevent new actions that would be intolerable for Russia. … But there are limits to what Russia can achieve with nuclear threats. … For example, Moscow initially threatened nuclear consequences if NATO expanded—yet was unusually silent after Finland’s recent accession." 
  • "Instead of simply “crying wolf,” there is strong evidence that states make threats when they actually feel threatened, and the more threatened they feel, the more likely it is they will act on those threats. … Further, threats don’t just precede provocations, they seem to predict them."
  • "If the lessons from Pyongyang can travel to Moscow, the unfortunate conclusion may be that Russia’s nuclear threats should be a source of major worry. The numerous nuclear threats emanating from Russia over the past year may suggest that not only does the regime see its current position as deeply precarious but also that the regime is willing to take severe risks to improve its security."
  • "Some might argue that the best response … is to double down on the actions that provoked Russia’s nuclear threats, thereby showing leaders of nuclear states—and states that may want nuclear weapons—that this strategy does not achieve the desired results. My research, however, implies otherwise. Nuclear bombast often precedes provocative actions—but that chain reaction can be stopped if the threat that the messenger faces recedes. On the other hand, if the threatening rhetoric is ignored or even flouted, insecurity will stew until it bubbles over in some act of aggression."


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

"Washington Must Take Cybersecurity Efforts Serious”y," the Atlantic Council's Christopher Porter, NI, 05.06.23.  

  • “It is worth remembering, more than a year into Russia’s war in Ukraine, that the conflict was initiated not by an artillery shell or missile or any kinetic action, but with a cyberattack on the Ukrainian financial system with the deliberate aim of terrorizing Ukrainian citizens alongside more conventional cyberattacks on the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, according to Ukrainian intelligence services. As the world would later learn through more acute horrors in the physical world, such crimes were always the plan, not an accident of an army run amuck.”
  • “Although Russia has mostly used cyberattacks throughout the conflict for tactical support to its battlefield operations — including successful early efforts to knock out satellite communications — and not the more spectacular attacks on critical infrastructure we have become accustomed to seeing, it is noteworthy they began with an attack on the people of Ukraine themselves.”
  • “China is studying the progress of the war in Ukraine for lessons that might inform its own potential invasion of Taiwan, perhaps as early as 2027, according to CIA Director William Burns. But while Moscow has relied on nuclear weapons to deter decisive intervention by the Biden administration and NATO, Beijing is likely to wield a broader toolkit to keep Americans and our Indo-Pacific allies out of any future fight. … This includes the potential for ‘aggressive cyber attacks against the U.S. homeland’ with the goal of ‘inducing societal panic,’ according to the latest threat assessment from the U.S. intelligence community.”
  • “Whereas the Kremlin has used its cyber capabilities to raise the perceived cost of resistance among ordinary Ukrainians while eschewing potentially escalatory attacks on the U.S. that might draw us into the conflict, Zhongnanhai is preparing to gamble that a shocking cyberattack on the American people — not just its military networks — would make a nation already weary from decades at war reconsider the cost of standing up for Taiwan’s democracy.”
  • “America’s spies are telling us there is a direct, credible, foreseeable threat to U.S. citizens coming in only a few years; it’s past time to take them seriously and move beyond the standard toolkit for cybersecurity.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

"Russia’s Next Standoff With the West Lies In the Resource-Rich Arctic," journalists Danielle Bochove, Marie Patino and Hayley Warren, Bloomberg, 05.05.23.

  • "Stewardship of the Arctic is suddenly in question as a result of the isolation of Russia, the largest Arctic state, over its war on Ukraine. The Arctic Council — the main body for cooperation among the eight nations that share guardianship — is in limbo. Its meetings have been suspended since last year, and no one is quite sure what will happen after May 11, when Russia is due to hand over the rotating chair to Norway.”
  • “Who controls the top of the planet depends on where you draw the lines. Although no one “owns” the North Pole, countries with land ringing the Central Arctic Ocean already have rights extending some way beyond their coastlines, under international law. Now three of them — Russia, Canada and Denmark, on behalf of its autonomous dependent territory Greenland — are redrawing maps and arguing for more expansive sovereign rights to what’s beneath the ocean: a huge swath of the Arctic seabed, stretching across the North Pole.”
  • “How the boundaries end up being delineated, to use the diplomatic terminology, depends on how far the continental shelf extends beyond each country’s coast. All three countries claim their continental shelves stretch into an underwater mountain range called the Lomonosov Ridge.”
  • “All parties are well aware of the region’s strategic military importance as melting opens up new routes for ships and submarines over the top of the planet. That has only gained in significance as a result of Moscow’s aggression.”
  • “Back in 2007, when Putin was nearing the completion of his second term as president, Russia planted a flag in the seabed floor at the North Pole as a means of staking a symbolic, if legally unsupported, claim to the top of the planet. Sixteen years later, Putin is still in power and flexing his imperial muscle. For now, the North Pole — one of the most pristine places on Earth — belongs to everyone and no one. Once all the geological evidence is sifted through, there will be no going back for the Arctic.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

"Why Putin’s Repression Is Worse Than What I Endured Under the Soviets," human rights activist and former political prisoner Natan Sharansky, WP, 05.08.23.

  • “Now, nearly half a century later, with Moscow’s barbaric aggression against Ukraine, Russia has experienced a quick return to almost Stalinist-era levels of repression. New laws have made it impossible for the free press and human rights organizations to operate. Some outlets have closed voluntarily, while others, including the Helsinki Group and Memorial — which only last year was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize — have been forcibly shut down. Prison sentences for criticizing the regime are becoming increasingly common and harsh.”
  • “History shows that there are two necessary conditions for the fall of a tyrannical government such as Putin’s.”
    • “The first is the presence of dissidents who are willing to put the struggle for freedom above their own survival.”
    • “The second condition is leaders and citizens of the free world standing in solidarity with those struggling inside. Today, because of his unforgivable aggression in Ukraine, Putin has earned the opprobrium of the world. Yet much more can be done to stop him: by linking all economic and other contacts with his regime to the fate of these democratic dissidents.”
  • “It is in helping to forge such solidarity that dissident leaders truly have a historic role to play. During Brezhnev’s time, it was the work of the Helsinki Group and other opposition movements that stirred international awareness and action against the regime. Today, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Alexei Navalny and others are accomplishing that under even more terrifying and oppressive conditions.”

"The Great Patriotic Special Military Operation," Jade McGlynn of Department of War Studies at King's College London, MT, 05.08.23.

  • “The 78th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II will likely see some of the most modest celebrations of President Vladimir Putin’s two-decade rule.”
  • “The Kremlin has traditionally used Victory Day — a national holiday —  to project an image of military might and to fuel patriotic fervor. But a string of defeats in Ukraine and the expected counter-attack by Kyiv’s forces mean this year’s event — the second since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February 2022 — looks set to be marred by cancellations, enhanced security and little interest in attending from foreign leaders.”
  • “Military parades have been canceled in over 20 Russian cities, including several in Siberia, thousands of kilometers from the frontlines. And not a single Immortal Regiment march — held in memory of those killed in World War II and usually attended by millions — will take place.”
  • “’The concern in the Kremlin was not about enemy drones,’” Sergei Kiriyenko, Putin’s deputy chief of staff, a former Kremlin official said. “’They were alarmed that at a march with portraits and photographs … relatives would come with photographs of military personnel killed in the war in Ukraine and it would turn into a mass rally of [bereaved] relatives.’”
  • “The military parades that will take place — including the showpiece televised parade on Red Square — will likely include far fewer regular troops and modern equipment than they did before the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, according to analysts.”
  • “Whether the Kremlin’s Victory Day festivities will be marred by fresh Ukrainian attacks or not, the obvious changes to a cherished holiday are likely to be an uncomfortable reminder to ordinary Russians of the spreading fallout from the war in Ukraine.”

"Why Russian Élites Think Putin's War Is Doomed to Fail," New Yorker staff writer Isaac Chotiner interviews CEIP's Tatiana Stanovaya, New Yorker, 05.03.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “’Putin, who was once a strong leader with a clear plan, vision, and resources to secure the state’s stability, now appears misinformed, hesitant. He is failing to provide a reassuring strategy for how Russia will get out of this crisis. If Putin had conquered Ukraine in the first months of the war, there would be no questions. Not only did he fail but he created a crisis with no clear way out. I am not saying that he does not have a vision, but the way he interacts with the élites and deals with military defeats fuels uncertainty and anxiety about Russia’s future.” 
  • “This was particularly acute from September to February, when Ukraine conducted a successful counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region, and the West showed firm intentions to supply Ukraine with weapons. Putin responded with anti-Western invectives and threats, sometimes with nuclear hints, but without any explicit road map of practical steps. Today, uncertainty has decreased due to the protracted stabilization of the front line, and there is growing doubt about Ukraine’s capacity to strategically change the military situation and reclaim its invaded territories. However, the over-all feeling among Russian élites is that the attempts to win are doomed to fail. This sentiment is not just held by the élite, who view the war as a catastrophic mistake, but also those who believe that Ukraine does not exist as a state and must be “de-Nazified”—which, simply put, means become pro-Russian. 
  • “Putin is becoming too ‘insane’ for the progressive-minded groups that understand the restrictions Russia will face, due to sanctions, on its technological and scientific development and too soft for those who believe that Russia must opt for total mobilization (militarily and economically) and bring all its might down on Ukraine. Moreover, within the latter segment, there is a growing part of the élite who believe it is already too late, that Russia will have to pause the war to launch radical internal reforms with total élite purges, property redistribution, and the imposition of state ideology so that it can return to the war in better shape.” 

"For Ambitious Russian Officials, the War Has Failed to Become a Career Elevator," Andrey Pertsev, CEIP, 05.05.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • "At first glance, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has finally provided government officials with opportunities for career advancement. Russian President Vladimir Putin has started rewarding those who have worked in territories annexed by Russia with positions as governors of Russian regions.”
  • “The appointments are apparently designed to demonstrate that the Kremlin is willing to reward officials who have proven themselves at the front or close to the fighting. But a closer look shows that ambitious politicians shouldn’t get their hopes up. For all the talk within the Kremlin of a career elevator, in reality, the federal government has very little to offer to regional executives. Prestigious positions inside Russia are already occupied by people whom the Kremlin needs, and there is nothing to offer them instead. Career-minded politicians are therefore forced to content themselves with vying for third-rate jobs.”
  • “Without making serious changes to the system, the Kremlin can only offer politicians who have served in the newly annexed regions positions currently held by in-system opposition party members. But they are running out of those as well: if the fall elections go as planned, there will be just three such seats left.”
  • “Other governors’ seats are firmly held by the technocrats recruited before the war. It’s even harder to rotate people working in federal ministries, let alone those in the presidential administration or the Security Council. Russian stability has become too fragile to allow high-level personnel changes to be made.”
  • “As a result, even the ambitious officials prepared to go to the front line for the sake of career advancement simply have no room for growth. While their resumes are getting longer, there are hardly any jobs for them to fill. The system remains hermetically sealed and incapable of rewarding those who have put a lot on the line for it.”

"Things in Russia Aren’t as Bad as the Bad Old Soviet Days. ‘They’re Worse,'" NYT editorial board member Serge Schmemann, NYT, 05.08.23.

  • “Mr. Putin may not have quite the levers his Soviet predecessors had. The commercialized and globally connected society that has evolved in Russia over the three decades since the Soviet Union collapsed cannot be put back in the bottle. Nor does Mr. Putin have the Utopian ideology that enabled Soviet leaders to claim they were working for the betterment of humankind, though he has concocted a national narrative of sorts, based on Russian and Soviet history and mythology and his abhorrence of the West. What he has done instead is create a system in which everything — the government, the political police, the legislature, the military — depends personally on him.”
  • “If the most common charge used to imprison dissidents in the last decades of Soviet rule was “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda,” an omnibus law that at least made clear that the crime was in opposing Soviet rule, Mr. Putin lashes back at his opponents with random weapons, whether it’s his government’s apparent poisoning of Alexei Navalny or the condemnation of Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison for treason. Accusing Mr. Gershkovich of espionage may well have been motivated at least in part by fury that someone with a Russian background would dare report the truth about Russia.”
  • “[In Soviet times] non-Russian ethnic groups may have identified the Soviet yoke with Russia, but Communist ideology was universalist, and the Russians who opposed it saw themselves as allied with other oppressed nationalities, and with the West, in their struggle.”
  • “Mr. Putin’s rule and his invasion of Ukraine have changed that. This is a war waged by Russia against Ukraine in the name of a Russian imperial claim, and it is hard for anyone or anything Russian — language, culture, background — to fully escape the stigma. It is especially galling for Russians of conscience to hear Mr. Putin using the antifascist language of World War II — the one feat of Soviet history that all its people are proud of — in the effort to destroy Ukraine.”
  • It is too early to predict how the Ukraine war will end. What is clear is that Mr. Putin, in the name of an ephemeral Russian greatness, has done great and lasting harm to his people and their culture.”

"Russia Has a Vodka Addiction. So Does Vladimir Putin – But Not the Same Way.," Mark Lawrence Schrad of Villanova University, Politico, 05.05.23.

  • “As the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine grinds disastrously onward, Putin has suddenly grown concerned about the ‘high level of alcoholization of the population.’ According to reporting by independent journalists at Meduza, Putin is worried that Russian officials have started drinking significantly more since the war started, including ‘certain people from his inner circle.’”
  • In the end, the crowning irony of Putin’s reign in Russia — regardless of how it ultimately ends — is that Putin has become synonymous with the very thing he most abhors. From the beginning of his presidency, Putin framed himself as a fit, steady and stable leader, in marked contrast to the inebriate bumbling of his predecessor. Yeltsin may have been a drunk and Putin sober; true. But Yeltsin’s drunkenness was his own cross to bear, he never imposed his addiction on his fellow countrymen.
  • By contrast, Putin’s addiction is not to alcohol, but to his own greed, profit and hubris. The means to that end meant keeping Russian society shackled to the vodka bottle. In so doing, Putin has perpetuated and reinforced the historical hallmark of generations of Russian imperial autocracy, that it is not the autocrat who serves the interests of the people, but Russia’s people who serve the interests of the autocrat.”

Defense and aerospace:

"Russia’s Boom Business Goes Bust," Cullen Hendrix of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, FP, 05.03.23.

  • “After cresting in the early 2010s, Russian arms exports have fallen to levels not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Wall Street Journal referred to Russia’s precipitous decline in arms exports as among ‘the casualties of Russia’s war in Ukraine.’”
  • “With fewer arms flowing to traditional trading partners and fewer export destinations for its products, Russia is losing one of its best—and most targetable—sources of diplomatic leverage over other countries, especially those countries where it might otherwise compete for influence with the West.”
  • “The war in Ukraine makes a quick reversal of Russian fortunes extremely unlikely for several reasons.”
    • “First and most obviously, the Russian arms industry isn’t even keeping up with domestic demand as Russia burns through its stockpile of arms and drafts long-mothballed Khrushchev-era tanks back into service. The whole point of having a military-industrial complex is to be able to fuel the war machine from domestic production; arms exports are taking a back seat to supply the war effort.”
    • “Second, Western sanctions are constraining the supply chains on which the Russian arms industry depends. A recent report by the Center for International and Strategic Studies found that Western sanctions have created massive sourcing problems for Moscow, especially in the areas of semiconductors, night-vision technology, and avionics. Even if demand were to rebound, it is not clear Russia could meet it.”
  • “As the Ukraine war drags on, Russia is becoming—by some measures—less isolated than in the immediate aftermath of its invasion. In addition to trade relations with China and India, Russia’s trade with countries ranging from Costa Rica to Indonesia and Turkey has increased. But its arms exports, a core tool by which countries build coalitions and extend and protect their interests, have waned dramatically. The Ukraine war and subsequent sanctions have thrust Russia’s lagging arms exports into the spotlight, but the problems had been accumulating for almost a decade — and there isn’t a clear path toward reversing the trend.”

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

"Faced With Jail for Defending Kremlin Opponents, Russian Lawyers Are Leaving," reporter Matthew Luxmoore, WSJ, 05.04.23.

  • “Vadim Prokhorov, who has defended major Kremlin critics including slain politician Boris Nemtsov during a 30-year legal career, is part of a small but noticeable exodus from Russia of prominent lawyers who have represented opposition figures and activists protesting the war in Ukraine. In many instances, they served as a last line of defense for them against a legal system they and their colleagues say is being reshaped to punish dissent.”
  • “Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February last year, outspoken lawyers have been branded ‘foreign agents’ by the state and subjected to extra scrutiny and harassment. Dozens have been stripped of their license to practice law. Some are in jail facing criminal charges relating to their work or criticism of the war.”
  • “Lawyers and rights defenders say the departure of lawyers from Russia or the legal profession means there are fewer people able to chronicle the closed trials of President Vladimir Putin's most committed opponents, such as Mr. Kara-Murza or Alexei Navalny, who is in prison serving a sentence of 11½ years and says he faces new charges that could leave him behind bars for life.”
  • “Without them, activists or other defendants facing politically motivated charges have to rely on state-appointed public defenders who are often close to state prosecutors and accused of failing to adequately argue their clients' rights.”
  • “For those who remain, chances of victory in a Russian court are vanishingly small. An analysis of recent verdicts in Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper last week found that only one in 300 verdicts passed in Russian courts last year was an acquittal, a statistic that chimes with other studies.”


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

"Iran’s New Friends: Russia and China," reporter David S. Cloud, WSJ, 05.05.23. 

  • “Iran is forging closer ties with Russia and China, hoping to ease its economic woes and build a powerful new axis of revisionist powers capable of countering the U.S.-led West.”
    • Mr. Putin’s embrace of religiosity, his tolerance of Islam and his generally conservative values have smoothed his dealings with Tehran. He has aggressively wooed [Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khamenei … They have bonded over their mutual hostility to what they describe as U.S. hegemony.”
    • “Bolstering ties with Beijing is proving more difficult than with Moscow, but that goal is more critical for Tehran, analysts say. ‘While Russia is challenging the United States and some norms in the international order in its war of territorial aggression, China has the capability to directly attempt to alter the rules-based global order in every realm and across multiple regions,’ the U.S. intelligence community concluded in its 2023 Threat Assessment, an annual report released in February.”
  • “After years of shunning the Middle East’s messy disputes, Beijing is playing a more active diplomatic role in the region. It shares with Tehran a desire to counter U.S. power but fears that aligning too closely with the Islamic Republic could jeopardize its broader relations in the Persian Gulf, analysts say. Beijing is Saudi Arabia’s top trading partner and the biggest buyer of its oil, a trend that is only expected to accelerate. Riyadh has started importing sensitive missile technology from the Chinese military.”
  • “Though driven together by mutual resentment at what they describe as U.S. hegemony, their alignment has few trappings of a formal alliance. Tehran is in the final stages of joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a political and security bloc dominated by China and Russia. But their differing and at times conflicting aims will make deeper security cooperation difficult, says Nicole Grajewski, a fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.”
  • “Iran’s burgeoning ties with Moscow and Beijing won’t turn it into a colossus capable of driving the U.S. from the region or destroying Israel, as it has long vowed to do. But the new alliances may extend indefinitely the life of a regime that only months ago seemed to be running out of options.”

"Russia and Iran Have High Hopes for Each Other," Alex Vatanka of the Middle East Institute, FP, 05.02.23.

  • [The repeated visits of Igor Levitin, Putin’s advisor, to Iran in 2023] “are linked to negotiations between Tehran and Moscow to complete the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a new trading route connecting the Indian Ocean to Russia through Iran. Much hope is presently invested in Iranian-Russian economic relations as an emerging axis of sanction-busters.”
  • “The two countries’ economic ties have struggled to blossom, in part, because each depends on hydrocarbon export revenue. Reports on Iranian-Russian competition for oil markets surfaced as soon as Russia had to replace its European buyers after the West imposed sanctions. Tehran ground its teeth as it watched Russia sell oil to an investor Iran unsuccessfully courted for years: China. Iran’s long-time isolation in global markets is one of the main reasons China has invested far below Tehran’s expectations.”
  • “China has been reluctant to invest in Iran for two reasons. First … the United States remains China’s biggest trading partner, and Beijing needs to be careful not to undermine its economic interests by moving too close to Iran. Also notable … Iran just does not have serious economic plans for the future, which would bother any investor. … This sort of lackluster investment performance from Beijing is why Moscow became Tehran’s investor, as well as trading partner, after 2022.”
  • “Russia’s investments in Iran’s hydrocarbons are a net gain for Moscow. Given that sanctions heavily cap how much oil Iran can sell (and Iran can’t increase sales much more than their current levels), higher oil and gas production in Iran does not mean a market share loss for Russia. In addition, by investing in Iran’s infrastructure projects, Russia can then influence Iran’s oil and gas sectors and exports — significant since the two countries hold some of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world.”
  • “The two countries may compete on oil and gas, but Russia is winning, at least for now. And, given the anticipated win-win boost to trade provided by the INSTC, Moscow’s overall scorecard on Russia-Iran economic relations is higher than Tehran’s. Russians—with not much more left to fear from the United States given the all-time low in relations—are effectively gaining a free hand to integrate Iran into the Russian sphere of economic influence whatever way they see fit.”

"Make Russia’s Wagner Group a Pariah in Africa," Bloomberg opinion columnist Bobby Ghosh, WP, 05.05.23.

  • “The most pressing need of the moment is to head Prigozhin’s hired guns off at the pass. The US has designated Wagner as a transnational criminal enterprise, which allows the Biden administration to impose some costs on its clients. This deterrent is unlikely to be sufficient, however, and the White House may have to overcome its reluctance to designate it as a terrorist organization, and persuade European governments — which have deeper political and economic ties in the Sahel — to do likewise. Wagner’s appalling atrocities in Ukraine have earned it such a designation. Imposing it would undermine the argument of its African clients that Wagner is a counterterrorism force, and allow the imposition of stiff sanctions against those who engage its services.”

"The ‘Peace Dividend’ Is Over in Europe. Now Come the Hard Tradeoffs," reporters Patricia Cohen and Liz Alderman, NYT, 05.03.23.

  • “’The peace dividend is gone,’ Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the International Monetary Fund, recently declared, referring to the mountains of cash that were freed up when military budgets shrank. ‘Defense expenditures have to go up.’”
  • “The sudden security demands, which will last well beyond an end to the war in Ukraine, come at a moment when colossal outlays are also needed to care for rapidly aging populations, as well as to avoid potentially disastrous climate change. The European Union’s ambitious goal to be carbon neutral by 2050 alone is estimated to cost between $175 billion and $250 billion each year for the next 27 years.”
  • “Before war broke out in Ukraine, military spending by the European members of NATO was expected to reach nearly $1.8 trillion by 2026, a 14% increase over five years, according to research by McKinsey & Co. Now, spending is estimated to rise between 53% and 65%.”
  • “That means hundreds of billions of dollars that otherwise could have been used to, say, invest in bridge and highway repairs, child care, cancer research, refugee resettlement or public orchestras is expected to be redirected to the military.”
  • “Kenneth Rogoff, the Harvard economist, said that most Europeans have not yet absorbed how big the long-term effects of a fading peace dividend will be. This is a new reality, he said, ‘and governments are going to have to figure out how to rebalance things.’”


"The Trade-Offs of Ukraine's Recovery Fighting for the Future," analysts Khrystyna Holynska, Jay Balagna, Krystyna Marcinek, RAND, 05.02.23. Key findings below:

  • The Ukrainian people want the government to restore normal life quickly, but doing so while armed conflict is still active might drain resources with little improvement in people's lives.
  • If the sources of reconstruction funds dry out before frontline regions can be rebuilt, and there is a clear disparity between these regions and the rest of the country, national unity might crumble.
  • Sovereignty requires the Ukrainian government to take charge. However, the problem of corruption persists. Local communities enjoy the most trust and the best understanding of needs but lack the capacity to handle large projects.
  • Private capital can bring speed at the cost of sovereignty. International institutions bring oversight but operate slowly.

"Kremlin Blasts Were Real. The Rest Is Hazy, Maybe Intentionally.," investigative reporter Michael Schwirtz, NYT, 05.04.23.

  • “The only indisputable facts about the May 3 incident at the Kremlin are that there were two explosions around 2:30 a.m. above Russia’s most important political and cultural symbol, and that both Moscow and Ukraine reacted with outrage. But whose outrage was real and whose was feigned?”
  • “In this war, the battle over the narrative is as important as the battle in the field. While the Kremlin frequently lies and uses its powerful government-controlled media to craft alternative realities, Ukraine, too, has proved adept at bending the truth to serve its wartime agenda. Cutting through the competing narratives to get to the truth can prove to be a tricky thing, and that perhaps is the point. Both sides stand to gain when their intentions and methods remain obscured.”
    • “Russia angrily accused Ukraine of trying to assassinate Mr. Putin with a drone attack, and asserted its right to retaliate.”
    • “Ukraine also denied trying to strike the Kremlin and accused Moscow of essentially ginning up a provocative incident to rally domestic support and justify escalation.”
  • “In this case, Ukraine and Russia each had the means and the motive to carry out the attack.”
    • “In more than 14 months of war Ukraine has become adept at brazen actions heavy with symbolic significance. … Ukraine has spent the war developing lethal drones that have terrorized troops on the battlefield and struck far behind enemy lines. Last December, Ukraine sent modified explosive drones hundreds of miles into Russian territory for attacks on two military bases that damaged planes and killed several soldiers. In these cases and others, Ukrainian officials have not taken responsibility publicly, though they often have not denied outright their country’s involvement.”
    • “The Kremlin, of course, is adept at deception and has never shown reticence to promote outright lies. Mr. Putin’s stated justification for his invasion — that Ukraine was ruled by a Nazi junta committed to violence against Russia — was fabricated. Last week, a Russian state television report describing a Ukrainian attack on a Russian-controlled city used footage that was actually from a Russian attack on the Ukrainian city of Uman, which killed more than 20 people. Russia uses such distortion to promote an alternative reality that justifies its actions in the war, both to its own people and its allies, experts say.”

"Ukraine’s Friends Should Wake Up to Its Progress in Fighting Corruption," economics commentator Martin Sandbu, FT, 05.07.23.

  • “A specter haunts every discussion of Ukraine’s future among its partners: the specter of corruption.”
  • “The broader judicial sector still has to be cleaned up, but anti-corruption campaigner Daria Kaleniuk told me it is going in the right direction. ‘There’s a lot of corruption in Ukraine, but we admit this is a problem and we are working on solving it.’ The very fact that it’s being talked about, even in wartime, is a sign of health. ‘Nobody speaks of corruption in Belarus — or Russia.’”
  • “Huge popular support for EU and NATO integration helps those who want to clean things up. ‘The stricter and tougher are the conditions’ for EU entry, says Kaleniuk, ‘the lesser the risk’ of letting Ukraine in early. She wants outside pressure to restore as many of the pre-2022 transparency rules as possible. Novikov, too, wants his agency’s vetting to restart — he says police chiefs tell him they want this now to root out recruits who would take payments from Russia.”
  • “The worst that partners could do is to let suspicions about Ukraine’s bad legacy — and Kremlin narratives of a dysfunctional Ukrainian state — slow its transformation by foot-dragging on aid and accession. As Kaleniuk told me: ‘If Ukraine hadn’t changed since 2013, Russia wouldn’t have needed the full-scale invasion but would have taken over from the inside like in Belarus.’ The war is proof that Putin knows the Ukrainian state cannot be bought like before. Ukraine’s friends should understand the same.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

"Is Georgia’s Ruling Party Really Pro-Russian?", journalist Alexander Atasuntsev, CEIP, 05.02.23.

  • “The notion of Georgian Dream as a pro-Russian party has become a persistent stereotype pushed by the Georgian opposition, experts on the region, and global media. The party’s founder—the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia—is also plagued by accusations of holding pro-Kremlin views.”
  • “In a gut punch to the ruling party and a clear signal that the EU is dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the country, the European Commission granted candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, but not to Georgia. Instead, it issued Georgia with a list of twelve recommendations.”
  • “The European Commission’s decision provoked protests in the country among Georgians who felt that their government had cost them their chance at EU membership. Georgian Dream found itself facing the difficult question of how to secure a European future without angering Moscow and still remain in power: in 2024, the party will fight for a fourth term at the ballot box.”
  • “The opposition is not very popular in Georgia. It is fragmented, marginalized, and has been exploiting the same slogans for years. Constantly accusing the authorities of pro-Russian sentiment no longer gives the opposition political points.”
  • “The success of Georgian Dream in the 2024 elections, therefore, will depend more on what the European Commission says in a year’s time—and things are looking up. Almost as soon as Georgian Dream abandoned the foreign agents law, the crisis dissipated.”
  • “In March, the British and German foreign ministers visited Tbilisi one after the other. It then became known that the European Commission was inclined to give Georgia candidate status. The conditions for this are not too onerous, and could be summed up as: just don’t alienate the country from the EU in the coming months.”

"Tbilisi’s Transactional Foreign Policy Leads Georgians Astray," Kornely Kakachia of Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University and Bidzina Lebanidze of Friedrich Schiller University, PONARS Eurasia, 05.05.23

  • “... After Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, ... Tbilisi has kept an uneasy equidistance from both Moscow and the West. While the Georgian government has not formally joined Western sanctions against Russia, it highlights that it complies with them all and will not allow its territory to be used to circumvent them. At the same time, it has let thousands of Russian citizens and businesses relocate to Georgia and adopted controversial messaging about the war. All this, together with rising anti-Western narratives promulgated by the ruling Georgian Dream party, strengthens the lean of Georgia’s orbit into a Russia-first policy.”
  • “If Tbilisi receives EU candidate status at the end of this year, it will need to line up its policies with the EU Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).”
  • “The government’s present tactics contradict Georgia’s long-term strategic interests, create some alienation with the West, and damage Tbilisi’s ties to Kyiv—a potential major regional ally. The approach appears to be against public opinion. According to a recent 2023 survey and report by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), most Georgians support integration within the EU and NATO.”
  • “The key question is, however, whether by aligning with EU policies, Georgia could really sleepwalk into a more conflictual relationship with Russia or whether the Georgian leadership is overblowing these security risks to justify their transactional equidistance between Russia and the West.”
  • “The main dilemma currently is, both for Georgia as a country and its increasingly authoritarian leadership, whether a more value-based foreign policy aligned with the EU and a more pragmatic equidistant foreign policy aimed at appeasement of Russia are compatible in the long run.”