Russia Analytical Report, May 20-28, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • The EU remains unable to develop strategic muscle, writes Die Zeit editorial council member Josef Joffe in his take on the results of European Parliament elections. One reason why “the EU is a waif in a world dominated by Washington, Beijing and Moscow” is that the EU lacks global clout, according to Joffe.
  • In the Arctic, the U.S. faces an “icebreaker gap,” with Moscow’s icebreakers far outnumbering Washington’s, writes Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky. However, in their preview of the Russian military’s upcoming Tsentr wargame, research fellows Elizabeth Buchanan and Mathieu Boulègue caution against expectations that Russia will use the wargame for aggression in the Arctic.
  • The International Institute of Strategic Studies estimates that European NATO members would have to invest $288 billion-$357 billion to be able to conduct an operation to restore Polish and Lithuanian government control over territories taken by Russia in a hypothetical conflict after the U.S. has left NATO.
  • Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, calls for the U.S. to drop the idea of trying to forge a U.S.-Russian-Chinese nuclear arms control deal and focus on extending New START. Pavel Podvig, a leading expert on Russian nuclear forces, says extending New START is not simply a matter of the Trump administration moving to do so.
  • Prof. Stephen Kotkin notes in his analysis of the Mueller report that “[t]he phantasm of an all-powerful, all-controlling, irredeemably evil Kremlin has diverted too much attention from Americans’ own failings, and their duties to rectify them.”
  • In his preview of Ukraine’s early parliament elections this summer, journalist Konstantin Skorkin predicts that a pro-Russian bloc will finish second after Zelensky’s newly-born party.

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

“Moscow’s Options in The Wake of A US Military Confrontation with Iran,” Abdolrasool Divsallar and Pyotr Kortunov, Russian International Affairs Council, 05.27.19The authors, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran and a program assistant at the Russian International Affairs Council, write:

  • “As U.S.-Iran tensions are changing course beyond JCPOA and towards a possible military confrontation, the Russian factor is becoming more crucial. Russia's Middle East policy is marked with balancing acts that secure the country's role as an agile and effective balancing power.”
  • “The fall of the Islamic Republic could undermine Moscow's capacity for balancing in the Middle Eastern region. It has the potential to cripple Russia's policy in Syria … At the same time, Russia and Iran have created a major security convergence for responding to shared threats … [M]ost significantly, a U.S.-led attack on Iran would pave the way for U.S.-led security architecture in the Middle East … All these developments provide ground for speculation about the degree of Moscow’s involvement in a possible military confrontation between Iran and the United States.”
  • “Moscow clearly isn’t intending to get caught up in a military conflict between Iran and the US and thus will employ every measure possible to minimize the risks of a direct confrontation between the two powers. However, this does not mean that Russia has no other options but to remain inactive or limit her support to mere diplomatic assistance.”
  • “Moscow has no desire for a major power shift in the Middle East in favor of the U.S. Thus, opposite to what American administration wishes, it is not likely that Moscow takes a completely neutral stance on the looming crisis. … Russia still maintains quite a number of options … to influence the balance of military capabilities between Iran and the United States. They are far from being a game-changer … but they can certainly create sizable obstacles to Washington’s war efforts.”

New Cold War/saber rattling:

“Mike Pence Predicts War Everywhere in the Next Few Years,” Paul Waldman, The Washington Post, 05.27.19The author, an opinion writer for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Vice President Pence spoke to the West Point graduating class on Saturday [May 25], and amid the standard congratulations and tributes to the graduates, he said something truly shocking: ‘It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life. You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen.’”
  • “‘Some of you will join the fight against radical Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of you will join the fight on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific, where North Korea continues to threaten the peace, and an increasingly militarized China challenges our presence in the region. Some of you will join the fight in Europe, where an aggressive Russia seeks to redraw international boundaries by force. And some of you may even be called upon to serve in this hemisphere.”
  • “What's most troubling about Pence's statement is that it treats American invasions of other countries as simply a given, something out of our hands to decide whether or not we want to do. … This is a view of the world that leads to catastrophes like the Iraq War.”
  • “At the moment, the only thing keeping us back from launching another war or two is the hesitancy of President Trump, who is one of the few Republicans who seems to have learned anything from the debacle of Iraq. All around him, though, are people like Pence, who seem positively thrilled by the prospect of more wars.”
  • “But make no mistake: … It's because he [Trump] thinks it might be politically bad for him if he got us into yet another quagmire. If he could be convinced that it would lead to greater glory for himself, he'd happily send untold numbers to their deaths.”

“Is America Preparing for the Wrong War?” Evan Thomas, The Washington Post, 05.21.19The author, a journalist and historian, writes:

  • “Both China and Russia already have, or in China's case, soon will have, the capacity to create a fait accompli. By making it too costly for the United States to ‘take back’ Taiwan or Estonia, our rivals can go on to intimidate and coerce our allies in places such as Japan, the Philippines or Poland.”
  • “Preparedness for a conventional war against China and Russia actually makes an all-out nuclear war less likely. The autocrats who run Russia and China are opportunistic and increasingly aggressive. By tempting them, through our own inattention or complacency, to seize territory, we risk creating exactly the sort of conditions that can spin out of control into a greater conflagration. Sometimes the best way to achieve stability is to back assertion with strength, to draw a line in the sand and mean it.”

NATO-Russia relations:

“Defending Europe,” Douglas Barrie, Ben Barry, Dr. Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, Henry Boyd, Nick Childs and Dr. Bastian Giegerich, The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), May 2019The authors of the report write:

  • “The IISS has conducted an independent open-source high-level assessment of how the defense of Europe, and of European interests, would look if the United States had left NATO and did not contribute militarily. The study applies scenario analysis … set in the early 2020s … to generate force requirements, and assesses the ability of NATO’s European member states to meet these requirements.”
  • “The first scenario examined deals with the protection of the global sea lines of communication … In this scenario, the United States has withdrawn from NATO and has also abandoned its role of providing global maritime presence and protection … The IISS assesses that European NATO members would have to invest between $94 billion and $110 billion to fill the capability gaps generated by this scenario.”
  • “The second scenario deals with the defense of European NATO territory against a state-level military attack. In this scenario, tensions between Russia and NATO members Lithuania and Poland escalate into war after the U.S. has left NATO. … Invoking Article V, the European members of NATO direct the Supreme Allied Commander Europe … to plan Operation Eastern Shield … European NATO also prepares and assembles forces for Operation Eastern Storm … The IISS assesses that European NATO members would have to invest between $288 billion and $357 billion … The assessment does not cover a full-scale continental war in Europe.”
  • “Beyond identifying capability shortfalls, the study underlines the centrality of the NATO Command Structure. Without it, it does not seem feasible at this point for Europeans to attempt to run demanding operations of the kind considered in this paper. Another implication of this research is the enduring importance of the U.S. in military terms for the defense of Europe. This study provides a reality check for the ongoing debate on European strategic autonomy.”

“NATO at 70: Bigger, and Better, Than Ever,” Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe, 05.26.19The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “This season marks the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest feats of statesmanship since the end of the Cold War: the opening of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.”
  • “Critics routinely claim that Russia was bound to feel endangered by NATO's expansion, but that turns reality on its head. NATO never threatened Russia. It was the threat of Russia's aggression that led most of its former satrapies into the arms of the alliance. Moscow may bristle, but a bigger NATO has kept it at bay. Russia has not dared to attack or invade any NATO member. Contrast that with its violent assaults on Ukraine and Georgia, which are not NATO allies.”
  • “After winning the Cold War, America might have pulled out and gone home. But just as NATO expansion continued to ‘keep the Russians out,’ it continued to ‘keep the Americans in,’ deeply invested in maintaining European peace and stability.”
  • “Seventy years after its creation, the Atlantic alliance remains one of the towering achievements of modern statecraft, with a membership that is bigger, and therefore better, than ever.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Is New START Extension Really That Easy?,” Pavel Podvig, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, 05.20.19The author, an independent analyst, writes:

  • “February 2021 is much closer than it may appear. And with it the prospect of the New START expiration.”
  • “Advocates of New START extension in the United States … describe the issue as a matter of a simple move that the Trump administration is unwilling to take. … [I]n practice the decision to extend may not be that simple and the reason it is not taken cannot be attributed only to John Bolton's known dislike of arms control.”
  • “Russia has made it quite clear that it wants to discuss New START extension, but it also made it clear that … it wants the United States to discuss its concerns about conversion of New START accountable launchers. And this is where it gets complicated.”
  • “A careful reading of the treaty text … shows that the conversion procedures implemented by the United States are in perfect compliance with the letter of the agreement—nowhere in the treaty it is said that the conversion has to be irreversible. … However … that is not quite in line with the spirit of the treaty, since the idea of conversion is that it should allow to entirely exclude a launcher from the New START count. If the conversion procedure is reversible, it would be more accurate to classify that launcher as non-deployed.”
  • “Russia, in fact, showed that it could be fairly flexible about this … [T]he readiness to accept the ‘political commitments’ seems to indicate that Russia mostly wants its concerns to be taken seriously. If the United States admits that this is the matter that it is prepared to discussed, Russia would probably be ready to yield some ground. … And this is exactly what is missing from the current New START extension discussion. Even the New START advocates are reluctant to take Russia's concerns seriously.”

“New START Must Be Extended, Without or Without China,” Daryl Kimball, The National Interest, 05.27.19The author, executive director of the Arms Control Association, writes:

  • “On May 14, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Sochi, Russia to discuss what the State Department called a ‘new era’ in ‘arms control to address new and emerging threats’ with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin. The trip follows reports that Donald Trump has directed his administration to seek a new arms control agreement with Russia and China that should include: ‘all the weapons, all the warheads and all the missiles.’”
  • “At first glance, a broader nuclear arms control deal with Russia and China may sound promising. But the Trump administration does not appear to have the capacity to negotiate such a far-reaching agreement, which would be complex and would take years to conclude even if all sides were interested—and not all of them are. Agreement on the extension of New START, which will be difficult enough, should be the first step forward.”
  • “Without a decision to extend New START, there will be no legally-binding, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles for the first time since 1972. The risk of an unbridled arms race would grow. If President Trump can’t understand that, Congress must step in to prevent it.”


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant commentary.

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“American Hustle. What Mueller Found—and Didn’t Find—About Trump and Russia,” Stephen Kotkin, Foreign Affairs, 05.21.19The author, founding co-director of Princeton University’s Program in History and the Practice of Diplomacy and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, writes:

  • “[According to Mueller’s report,] Russian intelligence organizations had no need to collude with the omnishambolic Trump campaign. They could manage entirely on their own to hack e-mail accounts, line up cutouts such as WikiLeaks to disseminate damaging material, impersonate Americans on social media and study elementary research … about battleground states and swing voters.”
  • “As for obstruction of justice … the report states that ‘the president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons surrounding the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.’ … Mueller’s report is … also worryingly incomplete. … The report[’s] … primary focus is the criminal investigation into Russia’s interference, rather than the FBI’s parallel counterintelligence investigation—which is where the whole story began. … The phantasm of an all-powerful … irredeemably evil Kremlin has diverted too much attention from Americans’ own failings, and their duties to rectify them.”
  • “This is the report’s great revelation: Putin, supposedly, could help Trump get elected but could not talk to him, despite the publicly expressed eagerness of Trump and his people to enter into contact and make deals. … Putin and his operatives appear to have been no more prepared for Trump’s victory than Trump and his people were.”
  • “The American public needs to understand not only what the Russians did but also what they did not do. Russia did not choose the respective party’s presidential candidates, and it did not invent the Electoral College. … Whatever the marginal impact of Russia’s actions, it was made possible only by crucial actions and inactions in which Russia was never involved.”
  • “[D]espite his over-the-top expressions of admiration for Putin, his [Trump’s] administration went straight to the phase of sanctions and recriminations. In this light, the Russian attack on American democracy cannot be viewed as even a tactical success.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Putin’s Arctic Plans Are a Climate Change Bet,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg/The Moscow Times, 05.28.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “Last weekend, Russia launched the last of a new crew of atomic icebreakers meant to consolidate the country’s dominance of commercial traffic in the Arctic. As much of the rest of the world recognizes climate change as an emergency, Russia is working hard to capitalize on it—and the U.S. appears to be far behind.”
  • “The current nuclear icebreaker fleet is old, mostly built in the 1970s and 1980s, and much of it is no longer functional. The Russian government aims to replace it with the new giant ships in order to make what Russia calls the Northern Sea Route navigable year-round.”
  • “The Russian insistence that all Arctic traffic requires Moscow’s permission long has been an irritant to the U.S. Russia, meanwhile, has invested in opening and reopening military bases along its Arctic coast. Ten disused military airfields have been reopened, and 13 more are being built. By now, the bases cover almost the entire coastline and are, if required, ready to protect or disrupt any traffic along the North Sea Route. In a classic case of great power competition … the U.S. faces an ‘icebreaker gap’ compared with Russia.”
  • “All these ambitious plans are, in effect, a bet that by the time climate change helps make the Northern Sea Route navigable all year, Russia will have full control of any through traffic on the route—and will be actively exploiting it for its own commodity exports, shortening their path to Asia. The strategic bet isn’t easy for anyone, even the U.S. with its naval power, to counter without a direct military confrontation because Russia is already so far ahead.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“The Sick Man of Europe Is Europe,” Josef Joffe, Wall Street Journal, 05.28.19The author, an editorial council member at Die Zeit in Hamburg and a fellow of Stanford's Hoover Institution, writes:

  • “Two takeaways from Sunday's European Union elections: First, the centrists … were decimated. … Second, the far right … scored big, increasing their take to about 170 seats. In Britain, the Brexit Party trounced both Labor and the Tories. In France, Marine Le Pen's National Rally outpolled President Emmanuel Macron's party and its allies.”
  • “The numbers mirror the shifting tectonics of European politics, which are pushing against the ‘ever-closer union’ enshrined in the European Community's founding treaties. … Relentlessly expanding from the original six-member states to 28, the EU boasted everything that could go into the making of a superpower. … Yet in global clout, the EU is a waif in a world dominated by Washington, Beijing and Moscow. … For all its splendor, Europe has not been able to transmute its magnificent riches into strategic muscle.”
  • “As the rise of the nationalist right shows, the EU suffers from deepening ideological divisions. … The second ailment is the loss of leadership. … The third problem is Europe's pallid role on the global stage.”
  • “Given its fabulous wealth, Europe should be able to do without Big Brother from across the sea. But that requires e pluribus unum, which Europe cannot achieve with its 2,000-year national history. This benign past is being deconstructed by trade wars, ‘America first,’ Russia's neoimperialism and China's global ambitions. Rudderless and rent by internal divisions, the EU is a bystander. The better news is that Europe is at last rearming after cashing in its peace dividends since the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago. It may take another 30 years to turn … into a strategic player that gets some respect.”

“Europe’s Parliamentary Election: A New Stage in the History of Europe?,” Timofei Bordachev, Valdai Discussion Club, 05.27.19: The author, program director of the Valdai Discussion Club, writes:

  • “Europe is no longer the cradle of centrist and center-leftist anti-national forces that it has been for 75 years. On both sides of the Atlantic, fundamentally new political and ideological forces are gaining power … For these forces, national interests eclipse community interests, and sovereignty remains the highest value.”
  • “[T]he traditional European establishment … showed that it knows how to deliver very sensitive blows to its opponents. … This is especially important in the context of … the growing popularity of the Alternative for Germany party in the eastern lands of the former GDR … It is no coincidence that literally on the eve of voting in the key countries of the European Union … the leading media accused the European right of such ‘terrible’ sins as direct ties with ‘horrible’ Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.”
  • “[T]he new composition of the EP looks as follows: the leading coalition is the European People’s Party … social democrats hold second place … Both parties lost enough votes to end the era of their dominance … The main winners were the parties with clearly resolute positions—the radicals, both on the left … and on the right … This can be expected to lead to the polarization of the European Parliament.”
  • “What can Russia gain from all these changes? First, it cannot but rejoice, that some novel dynamics can appear, which can be influenced. Despite the fact that Moscow is really interested in preserving European integration and the European Union itself, from a diplomatic point of view, a diverse Europe would be a more convenient partner. At the same time, the likely return of a part of Europe to traditional values ​​will make it possible to remove some of the value-related ideological tensions.”
  • “[A] more fragmented Europe will need more protection from the United States with respect to key national security issues. Therefore, for Russia, such a Europe will be both a comfortable and a problematic partner.”

“Public Opinion Paradoxes? Russians Are Increasingly Dubious About the Costs of Putin’s Foreign Policies,” Harley Balzer, PONARS Eurasia, May 2019The author, Professor Emeritus of Government and International Affairs and founding director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University, writes:

  • “Recent survey and focus group data indicate that Russians increasingly are questioning whether some of President Vladimir Putin’s policies are worth the price in terms of threats to global peace and damage to Russia’s economy.”
  • “Rapid fluctuations in Russian public opinion suggest that some Kremlin projects and potential foreign initiatives, perhaps another ‘short victorious war,’ could undermine rather than enhance the regime’s legitimacy.”
  • “The Euro-Atlantic policy response should be to help promote awareness of these costs among a Russian populace that is expressing growing dissatisfaction with political leaders and government priorities when a wide range of domestic problems require attention.”


  • No significant commentary.


“Zelensky vs. the Parties: Ukraine Prepares for Parliamentary Elections,” Konstantin Skorkin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 05.24.19The author, an independent journalist, writes:

  • “New Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s first decree following his inauguration was to dissolve the current parliament and call early elections for the Verkhovna Rada, scheduled for July 21. … The favorite in the upcoming elections is the still semi-virtual party of Zelensky himself, Servant of the People. About 40 percent of Ukrainians are prepared to vote for the party.”
  • “The new president is clearly hoping for yet another round of voting against the current authorities, in which the party system of the last five years will be defeated. Even his inauguration speech made clear his dim view of the current makeup of the Rada. But could this dislike grow into enmity toward parliament and power-sharing in general?”
  • “[T]hough the current parliamentary majority was somewhat demoralized by Poroshenko’s defeat, there has been no mass jumping ship to the side of the victor. … By usurping the right end of the political spectrum, Poroshenko has probably limited the success of his party, the Petro Poroshenko Bloc (BPP), to three western regions and a politicized section of the Kiev intelligentsia.”
  • “Tymoshenko clearly has her sights on the familiar post of prime minister. Current polls, however, show that her Fatherland party can at best count on the role of a junior partner in a coalition with Servant of the People. Fatherland is currently polling at about 10 percent.”
  • “[F]ormer energy minister Yuriy Boyko’s Opposition Platform—For Life has won the battle to become that party’s [the Party of Regions] heir, making it the official pro-Russia party recognized by Moscow, meaning it can count on Moscow’s support. … The Opposition Platform has every chance of taking second place in the elections for parliament, though it will face competition from Oleksandr Vilkul’s Opposition Bloc—Party of Peace and Development.”

“A Chance for Change in Ukraine,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 05.21.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Zelensky's inaugural speech offered some encouraging signs. … [He] called on the parliament to quickly remove its members' immunity from prosecution and pass a law allowing the prosecution of officials for illegal enrichment.”
  • “He announced he was dissolving parliament early to allow for new elections, something that could allow him to leverage his popularity … into a pro-reform legislative majority. And he said that while his top priority would be ending Ukraine's war with Russian-backed forces in two eastern provinces, he would not give up Ukraine's territory—including Crimea.”
  • “Ukraine's new leader is trying to deliver desperately needed change in a country that, despite abundant resources, has been dragged down by endemic corruption as well as the conflict with Russia. … A crucial test for the new president will be his handling of oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky.”
  • “Mr. Zelensky may not have much political experience, but he appears to have enough common sense to resist allowing his new administration to be dragged into U.S. domestic politics. Mr. Giuliani and his boss ought to stop trying to make ill use of Ukraine's government and instead help its new president succeed.”

“Ukraine Must Confront Its Holocaust History,” Carl Gershman, The Washington Post, 05.27.19The author, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, writes:

  • “The May 20 inauguration of Volodymyr Zelensky … shows how far Ukraine has come in consolidating democracy since the Maidan revolution in 2014. … [T]his is a new and hopeful moment for Ukraine, and it may offer an opportunity to address another issue that, though less urgent, is nonetheless profoundly significant for Ukraine's future: the traumatic legacy of the Nazi Holocaust.”
  • “Ukraine is where the Holocaust began, well before the Nazis established mass extermination camps such as Auschwitz … As the German army moved east in the summer of 1941 … its mobile killing units, the Einsatzgruppen, began rounding up the Jewish men, women and children in every town and village, shooting them and burying them in mass graves. All told, some 1.5 million Jews were murdered in territories that are now part of Ukraine.”
  • “The new government in Ukraine should play a more expansive role in acknowledging the Holocaust as part of its national history. An important first step was the recent announcement by the Foreign Ministry that Ukraine intends to join the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. … The Culture Ministry also should take the gravesites under its active protection and regulate the juridical questions related to land use. This should be done as soon as possible, before the land is offered to private investors. … [C]riminal proceedings should be initiated against those who are destroying gravesites.”
  • “If Ukraine can take these steps toward properly memorializing victims of the Holocaust, it will become a stronger and more unified country, and it will contribute to the moral renewal of our troubled world.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“The Russian Ambassador Who Overreached: Why Russia’s Approach to Belarus Could Change,” Emily Ferris, RUSI, 05.22.19The author, a research fellow in the international security studies department at RUSI, writes:

  • “On 30 April, Russia recalled its ambassador to Belarus, Mikhail Babich, and replaced him with Dmitry Mezentsev … At first glance this decision may seem abrupt … but frictions between Babich and the Belarusian authorities had been growing for some time, and they largely centered around Babich’s frequently undiplomatic actions. More broadly, Moscow’s decision to recall Babich may signify a shift in its approach to engaging with Belarus, as President Alexander Lukashenko attempts to juggle all of his relationships with Russia, China and the West.”
  • “Russia is likely to remain Belarus’s main trade and security partner. Putin’s attempts to placate Lukashenko by replacing Babich may be a sign that Russia would like to preserve a semblance of the diplomatic relationship. Moscow and Mezentsev’s broader strategy towards Belarus may not fundamentally differ from Babich’s, but the method is likely to be softer.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“SuperJet Crash Highlights Russia’s Struggling Domestic Industry,” Max Seddon, Financial Times, 05.21.19The author, Moscow correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “[At] a recent policy session … a senior aide urged the Russian president to continue heavy subsidies intended to make domestic industry globally competitive. But the meeting had begun with a minute’s silence for a symbol one of the drive’s greatest failures: the death days earlier of 41 people in a fiery crash aboard Russia’s first commercial airliner, the Sukhoi SuperJet 100.”
  • “The crash was preliminarily blamed on pilot error, but it is the latest bad news for a plane that has failed to find serious buyers other than the Kremlin’s own Aeroflot, due to manufacturing and repair concerns.”
  • “Putin has tried to use Western sanctions as impetus to spend Russia’s oil revenues on creating ‘national champions’ in areas that had hitherto been reliant on foreign trading partners … By last year, however, … oil, gas and metal sales were actually taking up a larger share of total exports, due to Russians’ quality concerns about domestically manufactured consumer goods and machinery.”
  • “The Russian government has been ‘stimulating demand, but not competition,’ said Andrei Movchan, a scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center. ‘Quality falls and the price goes up. It’s a totally Soviet idea. Officials don’t want good, cheap producers—they want to drive the cost up to the maximum, so [people] buy bad goods at very high prices.’”
  • “‘Import components aren’t the problem,” said Alexander Knobel, head of the international economics and finance department of the Russian foreign trade academy. ‘The end-product isn’t competitive enough.’”

“Civil Unrest in Yeltsin’s City,” Andrei Kolesnikov, The Moscow Times, 05.16.19The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “The confrontation that broke out between opponents of the construction of an Orthodox church in Yekaterinburg's central park and the church’s supporters … is yet another episode of Russia’s growing civil tensions.”
  • “These battles—which pit a largely chaotic and informal civil society on one side and the authorities, as well as the businesses supporting them, on the other—have become widespread throughout Russia.”
  • “This unrest is provoked by a variety of issues: The demolition of private houses without the consent of citizens; landfills and waste disposal that are preventing people from living healthy lives; and the endless construction of Orthodox churches in public spaces.”
  • “While these protests are spontaneous, without leaders and often marked by desperation, they should still be taken very seriously. … If local authorities in the regions continue to suppress unrest with the use of force, the degree of not only social but also political tension in the country will only increase. The new social movement has no leaders, but it has a passion and sense of justice.”

“Every Man for Himself: The Russian Regime Turns on Itself,” Tatyana Stanovaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 05.22.19The author, founder and CEO of a political analysis firm, writes:

  • “The overall context of President Vladimir Putin’s current term has changed radically, especially compared to his first two presidential terms. Back then, the system focused on building and restoring the power vertical … [E]very institution and player of the political system became part of the overall mechanism, and lost its own agency. Now we are seeing the reverse.”
  • “For the past two years, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has been actively politicizing the work of the lower house of parliament. … Prosecutor General Yury Chaika is following the same logic. In a recent report prepared for the upper chamber of parliament, the Federation Council, Chaika unexpectedly drew attention to corruption in the Federal Security Service (FSB) and more than a billion dollars embezzled at … Rostec and … Roscosmos.”
  • “The undisputed leader in aspiring to political independence is the FSB itself … The Accounts Chamber is also becoming politicized under its new chairman, former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, a member of Putin’s inner circle. …  Major corporations have also been pushing their agendas in recent years.”
  • “Another notable newly politicized player is Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is showing an interest in youth politics. … Shoigu’s motivation, like that of many others, is understandable. He is seeking to cultivate his own political leverage and create a resource that will be taken into account when his future fate is decided.”
  • “Previously, the political system operated according to the principle that anything that Putin had not expressly allowed was forbidden. Now … anything that Putin has not expressly forbidden is allowed. The only essential criterion for initiatives is loyalty. … The Russian regime is less and less like a well-tuned orchestra with a confident conductor, and more and more like a cacophony in which every musician is trying to play louder and get more attention than everyone else.”

Defense and aerospace:

“Russia’s Military Exercises in the Arctic Have More Bark Than Bite. For Now, Cooperation Still Reigns,” Elizabeth Buchanan and Mathieu Boulègue, Foreign Policy, 05.20.19The authors, research fellows at the Australian National University Center for European Studies and at Chatham House, respectively, write:

  • “It is a good bet that, this summer, security pundits will be talking about a new Cold War in the Arctic. Year after year, Russia holds military exercises there. And every year, they break new post-Cold War records for size and complexity. … This year’s Tsentr 2019 is sure not to disappoint.”
  • “This year, Tsentr will be conducted at the northern end of the district in the Northern Sea Route (NSR), an emerging maritime corridor connecting Europe to Asia. … Tsentr 2019 will likely have three main goals.”
  • “First, Russia wants to demonstrate its area denial capabilities in the Arctic as well as its maneuverability in the NSR. Second, Tsentr 2019 will demonstrate Russia’s intentions to maintain a strong presence in the Arctic. … Finally, the exercise seeks to demonstrate that Russia can protect its energy investments in the Arctic.”
  • “The West will also have to watch to see whether China will take part in Tsentr 2019. … If China is not invited, it would be a loud signal that the country is an unwelcome presence in the Arctic.”
  • “No matter what happens, expect coverage of Tsentr 2019 to be overblown. The Russians aren’t coming. Their presence in the Arctic is legitimate, and Tsentr 2019 will ultimately showcase the country’s defensive capabilities there.”

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.