Russia Analytical Report, May 20-28, 2024

5 Ideas to Explore

  1. The most dire forecasts for the Russian economy following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine did not transpire for four reasons, according to Peter Rutland. “First, Russian energy exports are still reaching global markets. Second, Russia is successfully evading Western sanctions on technology imports. Third, Russia’s capitalist economy is more adaptable than many had anticipated. Finally, there is no sign that the sanctions are prompting the Russian business elite or general public to challenge Vladimir Putin’s continuation of the war,” this Wesleyan University professor writes in a memo for PONARS.
  2. Graham Allison reminds us that “we are living through the longest period without great power war, which has no precedent in history.” “It is not natural, not permanent, and not to be taken for granted,” this Harvard professor warns in a commentary for NI. “It is the ‘unnecessary wars’ we should do our most and best to avoid,” Allison advises, offering his take on how both of the past world wars could have been avoided, as well as on how WWIII must be avoided. In his commentary Allison challenges statesmen and the analytic community to ascertain: Can lessons from this history be adapted and applied today as the U.S. faces in China the fiercest Thucydidean rival history has ever seen, and in Putin’s resurgent Russia a deeply wounded bear?”
  3. By making explicit nuclear threats at lower levels of the Ukraine conflict, “Russia is on a dangerous path,” Indian experts Harsh V. Pant and Ankit K warn in The Hindu.  “By raising the risk by lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, Russia has changed the understanding of how nuclear deterrence works and redrawn the lines of nuclear deterrence,” the two experts write. “If the cloud of nuclear war floats above the battlefield, war could take precedence over deterrence, and proliferation over disarmament leading to further nuclear instability,” they warn.
  4. While hoping that the Armed Forces of Ukraine will hold their ground, RUSI’s Jack Watling does not rule out that their defenses may collapse if the Russian military’s pressure builds to a point where the “Ukrainians do not have enough troops.” “The most likely mechanism by which that [collapse] occurs is that the Russian air force are essentially able to destroy Ukrainian defensive positions ahead of Russian forces advancing,” Watling told FT
  5. Real incomes in Russia rose 5.8% in 2023 and at the same rate in the first quarter of 2024 with millions of Russians in blue-collar and gray-collar jobs benefitting from these increases, Ekaterina Kurbangaleeva of CEIP writes. “More money in their pockets makes these people—who are not accustomed to self-reflection and who do not have easy access to independent sources of information—even more susceptible to [pro-Putin] propaganda,” she writes. Thus, it should not be surprising that the level of support for the Russian regime among blue- and gray-collar workers is growing, she writes.

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

“The Iran-Russia Friendship Won’t Wither Under Raisi’s Successor,” Nicole Grajewski, CEIP, 05.21.24. 

  • On Sunday at 10 p.m. in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin convened an emergency meeting with Iran’s envoy to Russia, Kazem Jalali. … The underlying message of the uncharacteristically high-level gathering was unequivocal: Russia’s commitment to Iran would not be tied to a single president. Within hours of the meeting’s conclusion, two planes and about fifty special rescue forces were dispatched from Moscow to the Iranian city of Tabriz. Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations released multiple videos of the preparations. Although Iran had already officially announced the deaths of both Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian by the time the Russian planes landed, Tehran’s faith in its partnership with Russia must have been reinforced by this display of solidarity.
  • Russia’s outreach in the initial stages of the search and rescue operations reflected the importance Russia has placed on its ties to Iran since the onset of its 2022 war in Ukraine. Moscow has relied on Iranian drones and munitions to support its war machine. Facing Western sanctions, Russia has looked to Iran for tactics and access to black market networks to weather the economic storm. Aside from the immediate exigencies of the war in Ukraine, Russia and Iran have found common ground in their efforts to repress internal dissent—a hallmark of Raisi’s tenure as president. 
  • The improvement in Russia-Iran ties under Raisi’s tenure was memorialized in the letter Putin sent to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei after the crash. Putin described Raisi as “a true friend to Russia who made an invaluable personal contribution to the establishing of neighborly relations” alongside “great efforts to elevate them to the level of strategic partnership.” Putin concluded by declaring he “will forever remember [Raisi] as the most wonderful person.” However, for many Iranians, Raisi was anything but. His reputation as a hardline conservative and his role in the 1988 mass executions of political prisoners, known as the “death commissions,” earned him the moniker “the butcher” among opposition groups and human rights activists. 
  • The death of Raisi, a longtime proponent of Russia-Iran relations, comes amid recent changes in Russia, including the installation of a new defense minister. But Moscow’s swift and coordinated support seems to indicate its effort to show that Russia-Iran relations will not be impacted by internal changes in either country. Whoever Raisi’s successor may be, Russia will seek to occupy an important role in Iranian foreign policy as a partner to belie its sense of isolation and as a bulwark against Western pressure.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Post-war problems: Journalist Konstantin Skorkin on the key stumbling blocks for rebuilding Ukraine — and why money isn’t the biggest one,” Meduza, 05.24.24.

  • Even if Russia’s invasion ended today, according to the most conservative estimates, Ukraine’s reconstruction and recovery would cost around $500 billion and take at least 10 years. Kyiv has already taken the first steps on this long road, establishing a dedicated office for assessing the full extent of the damage, laying out a recovery plan, and securing tens of billions of dollars in international support for reconstruction.  According to Bloomberg, Ukraine’s reconstruction could be “the biggest investment opportunity since at least World War II.” And companies worldwide are already jockeying for their piece of the pie. 
  • Russia’s aggression has caused more than $150 billion in direct damage to Ukraine. The country’s GDP fell by 30 percent in 2022 and grew only 5 percent in 2023. The World Bank estimates the cost of reconstruction and recovery at $486 billion, while European Investment Bank chief Werner Hoyer predicts that Ukraine may require as much as $1.1 trillion in outside assistance to rebuild. Ukraine’s main export sectors, agriculture and metallurgy, have been hit especially hard. 
  • But rebuilding Ukraine will take more than cash. The war has dealt a terrible blow to the country’s human capital, from lives lost on the battlefield to civilians forced to flee abroad, many never to return. And bringing large numbers of people back to Ukraine is much harder than securing large amounts of funding. 
  • The war has dealt perhaps the most terrible blow of all to Ukraine’s human potential. On top of causing tens of thousands of military and civilian losses, Russia’s invasion prompted one of the 21st century’s largest refugee waves. According to the United Nations, more than 6.4 million people have left Ukraine since February 2022. Some were forced to flee to Russia, but most found refuge in Europe. More than two years on, many of these refugees have adapted to life in another country, and a significant proportion don’t plan to return home. 
  • When it comes to restoring any country, the most crucial factor isn’t money or the size of the population; the attitude of those living there and those who will return is far more important. Without their faith in the future, no amount of investment will work.  And in this sense, things look optimistic for Ukraine. According to the Rating Group’s polls, despite all the hardships of wartime life and the setbacks at the front, 80 percent of Ukrainians believe their country’s future looks “rather promising.”

For more analysis on this subject, see:

Military and security aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Ukraine war at a tipping point. Gideon Rachman talks to Jack Watling, senior fellow for land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute,” FT, 05.23.24. 

  • I would say, around the country, we’re in this quite important tipping point where, you know, it’s not that Ukrainian soldiers are not willing to fight or, you know, you’re suffering morale issues in that sense. It’s simply that as a society, there is a desire to understand what the path forward is. And when we start looking at recruitment in Ukraine, people don’t necessarily like the idea of indefinite mobilization with no rotation, you know, being fixed in this fight. They want to understand what they’re fighting towards, and that hasn’t yet manifested as a serious problem. But it is a serious question that needs an answer.   
  • The question really is whether they are able to inflict a sufficient rate of casualties on the Ukrainians in any given area that the Ukrainians keep having to fall back. There is the danger, if the pressure builds and builds and builds, that they will get to a point where the Ukrainians do not have enough troops on a given access to hold them, and then they will be pushed back much more rapidly. That would be described as a collapse. That’s the most dangerous scenario.
  • The Russians have solved their short-term or medium-term ammunition problems by increasing production, and also by taking a huge amount of material from storage and refurbishing it. But 85 per cent of the equipment they’re currently pushing in is old equipment that they’re taking out of stockpiles, repairing and then pushing forward in various states of repair. At some point late next year, they will run out of things in storage. And at that point, because they haven’t stepped up manufacture of all of the components necessary to make new systems, suddenly the rate at which they are losing equipment would be much higher than the rate at which they can replace it. 
  • I think what the Russians are endeavoring to do is to firstly convince the west that we need to prioritize our own rearmament over supplies to Ukraine and therefore transition a lot of the new manufacture that’s coming online away from going into the Ukrainian armed forces. Secondly, to continue to seize territory and then to use the fact that that is accelerating to pressure Kyiv into agreeing a ceasefire with very, very unfavorable terms and conditions, which they can then use to reset.
  • The Russians, while at the moment time is working in their favor, they have made some trade-off decisions that mean that the longer this goes beyond ‘25, the less comfortable it becomes. 
  • The most significant extent risk to the Ukrainians on the battlefield throughout the entire war has been that the Russian air force makes its presence felt over the front line. ... And if we were talking about a Russian breakthrough and a Ukrainian collapse, then the most likely mechanism by which that occurs is that the Russian air force are essentially able to destroy Ukrainian defensive positions ahead of Russian forces advancing. 

“Ukraine Needs More Than Crisis Management. Its Security Depends on Long-Term Commitments From the West,” Eric Ciaramella, FA, 05.22.24. 

  • Critical as they are, additional U.S. weapons and Ukrainian personnel will only serve as a bandage to stop the bleeding. A deeper problem remains: the lack of a coherent strategy to confront the long-term threat that Russia poses to Ukraine—and to European security. 
  • Last July, the G-7 powers and Ukraine declared their intent to forge a latticework of bilateral security commitments designed to lock in Western support for the long haul. ...There are four key ways that Kyiv and its partners can turn these agreements into a coherent long-term security arrangement. 
    • First, Ukraine and the signatories of the agreements should develop a shared concept of Ukraine’s future force. 
    • Second, Ukraine’s partners should announce a dedicated fund for the future force that is cabined off from current operations. 
    • Third, it is not too early for Ukraine’s partners to start discussing what they would do in case the country is attacked again—after a hypothetical cease-fire, armistice, or settlement. 
    • Finally, the United States should lead its allies in codifying these long-term commitments in a way that is credible and will weather electoral cycles. 
  • It could be a long time—years, maybe even decades—before Ukraine has a realistic shot at regaining all of the territory Russia occupies, whether by military means or through diplomacy. But Putin is not immortal, his regime is not eternal, and his war has created internal pressures that could manifest in destabilizing ways. For centuries, the Russian state has undergone cycles of external expansion and chaotic retrenchment. The last time Moscow was on its back foot, in 1991, Ukrainians played their hand brilliantly and won their independence. When the window opens again, Ukraine should be ready to use it for maximum advantage.
  • In the meantime, Ukraine needs strong Western security commitments. Ukrainians must have the confidence that they will have their partners’ support no matter what course the war takes—even if they decide one day that pursuing a cease-fire is in their interest. And the Russian leadership must understand that its leverage over Kyiv will continue to shrink as Ukraine’s capabilities grow, backed by an unshakeable Western commitment to the country’s long-term security. Whether one believes the war will end on the battlefield or at the negotiating table, a strategy to build Ukraine’s defense and deterrence capacity while signaling the West’s staying power is the best way to create a durable peace in Europe.

“A Theory of Victory for Ukraine. With the Right Support and Approach, Kyiv Can Still Win,” Andriy Zagorodnyuk and Eliot A. Cohen, FA, 05.21.24. 

  • Washington’s only real long-term statement—that it will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes”—is, by itself, meaningless. To this point, Ukraine has been clear about its objectives. They include the liberation of all territory within its internationally recognized borders; the return of prisoners of war, deported citizens, and kidnapped children; justice through war crimes prosecution and compensation; and the establishment of long-term security arrangements. But Kyiv and its partners are not yet on the same page regarding how these might be achieved. No one, it seems, has come up with a theory for how Kyiv can win.
  • It is time for that to change. The West must explicitly state that its goal is a decisive Ukrainian victory and Russian defeat, and it must commit to supplying Kyiv with direct military aid and to supporting the country’s burgeoning defense industry. Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, must work to advance until they can expel Russian forces from all occupied territory, including Crimea. As Ukraine makes progress toward this goal, it will eventually become clear to Russian citizens that they will continue to lose not only ground in Ukraine but also vast human and economic resources—and their future prospects for prosperity and stability. At that point, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime could come under substantial pressure, from both within and without, to end the war on terms favorable to Ukraine.
  • Threatening Russia’s control of Crimea—and inflicting grave damage to its economy and society—will, of course, be difficult. But it is a more realistic strategy than the proposed alternative: a negotiated settlement while Putin is in office. 
  • In this war, resources, funds, and technology all overwhelmingly favor the West. If they are channeled to Ukraine in sufficient amounts, including to the country’s defense industry, Kyiv can win. Russia simply lacks the military power to defeat a Western-backed Ukraine, and so its only hope lies in manipulating Western concerns. It is therefore well past time for NATO governments to stop falling into Putin’s trap. For the West to achieve a victory, it must stop fearing it. In doing so, it can attain security for itself and Ukraine—which has sacrificed so much, both for its own cause and for the larger cause of freedom

“Russian jamming leaves some high-tech U.S. weapons ineffective in Ukraine,” Isabelle Khurshudyan and Alex Horton, WP, 05.24.24.1

  • Many U.S.-made satellite-guided munitions in Ukraine have failed to withstand Russian jamming technology, prompting Kyiv to stop using certain types of Western-provided armaments after effectiveness rates plummeted, according to senior Ukrainian military officials and confidential internal Ukrainian assessments obtained by The Washington Post. Russia's jamming of the guidance systems of modern Western weapons, including Excalibur GPS-guided artillery shells and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, which can fire some U.S.-made rockets with a range of up to 50 miles, has eroded Ukraine's ability to defend its territory and has left officials in Kyiv urgently seeking help from the Pentagon to obtain upgrades from arms manufacturers. The success rate for the U.S.-designed Excalibur shells, for example, fell sharply over a period of months - to less than 10 percent hitting their targets - before Ukraine's military abandoned them last year, according to the confidential Ukrainian assessments. While other news accounts have described Russia's superior electronic warfare capabilities, the documents obtained by The Post include previously unreported details on the extent to which Russian jamming has thwarted Western weaponry.
  • "The Excalibur technology in existing versions has lost its potential," the assessments found, adding that battlefield experience in Ukraine had disproved its reputation as a "one shot, one target" weapon - at least until the Pentagon and U.S. manufacturers address the issue.
  • Six months ago, after Ukrainians reported the problem, Washington simply stopped providing Excalibur shells because of the high failure rate, the Ukrainian officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive security matter. In other cases, such as aircraft-dropped bombs called JDAMs, the manufacturer provided a patch and Ukraine continues to use them. Ukraine's military command prepared the reports between fall 2023 and April 2024 and shared them with the United States and other supporters, hoping to develop solutions and open up direct contact with weapons manufacturers. In interviews, Ukrainian officials described an overly bureaucratic process that they said had complicated a path toward urgently needed adjustments to improve the failing weaponry. But even before the United States ceased deliveries, Ukrainian artillerymen had largely stopped using Excalibur, the assessments said, because the shells are harder to use compared with standard howitzer rounds, requiring time-consuming special calculations and programming. Now they are shunned altogether, military personnel in the field said.
  • A web of Russian electronic warfare systems and air defenses menace Ukrainian pilots, the documents said, adding that some Russian jammers also scramble the navigation system of planes. The Russian defense is so dense, the assessment found, that there are "no open windows for the Ukrainian pilots where they feel that they are not at gunpoint."
  • The aircraft-dropped JDAMs provide another example of declining effectiveness of weaponry.
  • Their introduction, in February 2023, was a surprise to Russia. But within weeks, success rates dropped after "non resistance" to jamming was revealed, according to the assessment. In that period, bombs missed their targets from as little as 65 feet to about three-quarters of a mile.
  • Kyiv still considers its HIMARS rockets effective, but Russian jamming can cause them to miss a target by 50 feet or more. "When it's, for example, a pontoon bridge … but there's a 10-meter deviation, it ends up in the water," the first Ukrainian official said. 

“Ukraine Faces a Crucial Moment in the War. Two years after Russia launched its invasion, the fighting is shifting in its favor,” Joshua Yaffa, New Yorker, 05.26.24.

  • Ukraine is facing perhaps its toughest moment yet in the war. For months, recalcitrant Republicans in Congress blocked the passage of a new aid package, and Ukrainian stocks of everything from anti-aircraft missiles to artillery shells grew scarce. Ukrainian commanders estimate that Russian forces now have a ten-to-one advantage in artillery rounds. With air defenses depleted, Ukrainian cities—Kharkiv most of all—endured the most sustained assaults since the war began. Missile strikes knocked out power grids across the country. In late April, Congress finally approved a sixty-one-billion-dollar arms package, but the war’s momentum had already turned, and, in any case, heavy-weapons systems and armaments can’t reach the battlefield overnight. Last week, for the first time, the government in Kyiv ordered nationwide blackouts.
  • But a lack of arms is only one of Ukraine’s problems; the military is also short on soldiers. In the early days of the war, there was no shortage of people looking to sign up to fight, but finding eager recruits has become far more difficult. Discontent is rising as the draft affects mostly those who tend to bear the brunt of fighting in any war: people from more rural regions, the less educated, the relatively less well off. President Volodymyr Zelensky had no ready solution to this dilemma, and the parliament failed to pass a mobilization law for more than a year. Last month, Zelensky finally signed a series of laws expanding the draft and, his administration argues, making it more transparent and efficient. But there is still no process for demobilizing troops, so those who are called up fear that they are being handed a one-way ticket—not an attractive prospect in a grinding war of attrition that, according to U.S. intelligence, has killed seventy thousand Ukrainian soldiers. And, as with the long-delayed influx of U.S. arms, the new laws will take time to change the reality on the battlefield.
  • If Vovchansk falls, Russian artillery will again be within firing distance of Kharkiv. The campaign to render Ukraine’s second-largest city—with a prewar population of 1.5 million people, the size of Amsterdam—functionally uninhabitable would gain force. Putin has indicated he believes that if Russia applies enough pressure, destruction, and misery, the West will end its support of Ukraine, which would lead to political change in Kyiv, with Zelensky replaced by figures sympathetic to Moscow. But that outcome is not inevitable. As the story of Vovchansk shows, the trajectories of wars can change many times. 

“Russia Steps Up Sabotage In Europe to Sap Support For Ukrainian War Effort,” Julian E. Barnes, NYT, 05.26.24.

  • U.S. and allied intelligence officials are tracking an increase in low-level sabotage operations in Europe that they say are part of a Russian campaign to undermine support for Ukraine's war effort. The covert operations have mostly been arsons or attempted arsons targeting a wide range of sites, including a warehouse in England, a paint factory in Poland, homes in Latvia and, most oddly, an Ikea store in Lithuania. But people accused of being Russian operatives have also been arrested on charges of plotting attacks on U.S. military bases.
  • While the acts might appear random, American and European security officials say they are part of a concerted effort by Russia to slow arms transfers to Kyiv and create the appearance of growing European opposition to support for Ukraine. And the officials say Russia's military intelligence arm, the G.R.U., is leading the campaign.
  • The attacks, at least so far, have not interrupted the weapons flow to Ukraine, and indeed many of the targets are not directly related to the war. But some security officials say Russia is trying to sow fear and force European nations to add security throughout the weapons supply chain, adding costs and slowing the pace of transfers.
  • Despite the risk-taking reputation of the G.R.U., U.S. and European security officials said Russia was treading somewhat carefully with its sabotage. It wants to draw attention to the mysterious fires, but not so much attention that it would be directly blamed.
  • One of the first of the recent sabotage acts attributed to Russia was a March fire at a warehouse in London. Authorities say the warehouse was connected with the effort to supply Ukraine but have provided few details. Security officials briefed on the incident said G.R.U. operatives used a Russian diplomatic building in Sussex, England, to recruit locals to carry out the arson. Four British men have been charged with arson in the attack, and one of them has been charged with assisting a foreign intelligence service. In response, Britain expelled a Russian military officer working for intelligence services and closed several Russian diplomatic buildings, including the G.R.U. operations center in Sussex.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

Military aid to Ukraine:

“Let Ukraine Defend Itself Properly,” Phillips P. O’Brien, WSJ, 05.23.24.

  • The U.S. is essentially dictating a battlefield strategy to Ukraine: You must fight the Russians only in your own cities and villages. The Russians, meanwhile, are free to attack Ukraine at range. This strategy is foolish. Time and again, Russian escalation threats have been shown to be false. The pattern goes something like this:
  • The U.S. decides that crossing a certain line will lead to Russian escalation and maybe even the use of a Russian nuclear weapon. So Ukraine is deprived of certain weapons systems, first Himars, then the M1 Abrams tank, then ATACMS and F-16s. But then the Biden administration reconsiders, either because a European state has delivered something similar, or because Ukraine appears to be losing. The U.S. changes its mind and delivers the system, which is often used to great effect -- and without escalation on the Russian end. At that point the Russians pick a new system they don't want Ukraine to have and the cycle starts again.
  • Something similar happens when Ukraine attacks in places that were thought to be off limits. For the first two years of the war, the U.S. provided Ukraine with nothing that could reach Crimea, on the assumption that any attack on the peninsula with American weapons would be escalatory. Then, a few weeks ago, the administration reversed itself and provided Ukraine ATACMS missiles capable of reaching Crimea. On May 17 the Ukrainians seem to have used ATACMS to destroy a Russian warship in Sevastopol. The Russians haven't escalated.
  • Considering how talismanic Crimea was thought to be for Mr. Putin, it is hard to see anything but a similar reaction if Ukraine were to attack military targets inside Russia. The alternative is to force Ukraine to fight a war of perverse limits, a type the U.S. would never countenance for itself. Better instead to give Ukraine the best chance to fight the war and win. Sooner would be better than later.

“A Transcript of Volodymyr Zelensky’s Interview With The Times,” NYT, 05.21.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views

  • It’s like a fence, a fence before they cross our border. But it’s a fence of fire. Because this is a different war — modern, hybrid — and you can’t say that only a real physical fence, a trench, or minefields will work. No. It’s a complex action — if you have weapons that can at least reach the border with Russia. And if we cannot reach those areas, what can we say about the places where their equipment masses on Russian territory? This is their huge advantage. The shelling of Kharkiv, all the deaths of people, children — this is their huge advantage. The daily use of bombs — this is their huge advantage. The use of S-300 systems — they have accumulated 10,000 S-300 missiles. Ten thousand — this is their advantage again. Are there suitable weapons in the world to counter this? Yes. Are there suitable weapons better than what Russia has in its arsenal? Yes. Does Ukraine have both of these elements — sufficient quantity and permission? No.
  • So, when it comes to escalation and nuclear weapons, and all these narratives that Russia speaks of — you know, he’s an irrational person. Because a rational person cannot unleash a full-scale war against another state. He’s irrational, or he knew that there would be no consequences for him, which means there was discussion with other countries. And I don’t even want to think about it because then it’s not partnership, it’s playing behind each other’s backs, and it’s betrayal, complete betrayal. So let’s say that he didn’t have any agreements, and he’s just an irrational person who decided that nobody would defend Ukraine and he could invade and destroy us. So then he could have used nuclear weapons. When he failed to capture us in the first year of the war, he didn’t use them — because he may be irrational, but he loves his own life very much and understands that the doors will be completely closed, completely, if he uses nuclear weapons. Because the use of nuclear weapons is not a red line. It’s a different level. So that’s it. This is World War III. So, tell me, what could be a greater escalation than mass killings of people in Ukraine?
  • Who knows what is really happening at the nuclear power plant in the city of Enerhodar? Who really knows the details? But we know. The IAEA knows.  It is mined. There is weaponry there. There are armed individuals from the Russian Federation, mercenaries or military. There are Ukrainian citizens working at the plant who, for the first year, constantly sent us information about the situation there. There has never been danger like this before. If we remove them from there tomorrow, that station will definitely collapse. It will be a risk for everyone. Six reactors. It’s like six Chernobyls. How can there be military forces there? They don’t want to leave, they won’t give it up voluntarily. They don’t want to. But they’re afraid that the station will explode, so our people work there.
  • I asked, can we first shoot down — from the territory of a NATO country, from the territory of our neighbors — the missiles flying towards our energy facilities, without crossing into Ukraine’s airspace? Technically, all of this is possible. Shooting down Russian missiles already in Ukrainian territory, from their planes. This is what we saw in Israel. Not even on such a large scale. If you’re shooting down missiles targeting our energy facilities, you can deploy your planes. You already do. You should know that NATO countries are already deploying them because the missiles are heading towards our Western partners. For example, the gas network in western Ukraine, and missiles heading in that direction. Our neighbors are already deploying planes anyway. So my question is, what’s the problem? Why can’t we shoot them down? Is it defense? Yes. Is it an attack on Russia? No. Are you shooting down Russian planes and killing Russian pilots? No. So what’s the issue with involving NATO countries in the war? There is no such issue. It’s defense.
  • If Ukraine doesn’t receive such a quantity of aircraft for various reasons, why can’t a smaller number of aircraft located in NATO countries close our airspace? This is a reasonable option for today until we have F-16s. Not just that, I would say, until we have a number of F-16s adequate to the Russian fleet. Because when you only have a small number of F-16s, it’s undoubtedly insufficient to counter significant, serious attacks in many cases.
  • I think Ukraine doesn’t need to prove anything about democracy to anyone. Because Ukraine and its people are proving it through their war. Without words, without unnecessary rhetoric, without just rhetorical messages floating in the air. They prove it with their lives. By choosing how to protect Ukraine, how to defend it, because we are defending, first and foremost, values, principles, the way of life we live.
  • [When asked about his plans for after the war] I would like to … after the war, after the victory, these are different things. After the war, it could be different. I think my plans depend on that. So, I would like to believe that there will be a victory for Ukraine. Not an easy one, very difficult. It is absolutely clear that it will be very difficult. And I would just like to have a bit of time with my family and with my dogs. We have two dogs. One dog passed away, and now we have two dogs.

“NATO’s boss wants to free Ukraine to strike hard inside Russia,” The Economist, 05.24.24. 

  • NATO SECRETARIES-GENERAL do not normally attack the policies of the alliance’s biggest and most important member country. But Jens Stoltenberg, whose ten-year stint in charge is coming to an end, has done just that. In an interview with The Economist on May 24th, he called on NATO allies supplying weapons to Ukraine to end their prohibition on using them to strike military targets in Russia. Mr. Stoltenberg’s clear, if unnamed, target was the policy maintained by Joe Biden, America’s president, of controlling what Ukraine can and cannot attack with American-supplied systems.
  • Mr. Stoltenberg does not expect this action to lead to a Russian breakthrough [and] acknowledged the risk of escalation. The task, he said, is “to prevent this war becoming a full-fledged war between Russia and NATO in Europe.” But he drew a distinction between the supply of weapons and training and military engagement. “We provide training, we provide weapons, ammunition to Ukraine, but we will not be directly involved from NATO territory in combat operations over or in Ukraine. So that’s a different thing.” Mr. Stoltenberg drew a similar line on the suggestion of stationing troops in Ukraine if its government requested them, an idea championed by Emmanuel Macron, France’s president. “That’s not the plan…We don’t have any intention to send NATO ground troops into Ukraine because our purpose…has been two-fold, to support Ukraine as we do, but also to ensure that we don’t escalate this into a full scale conflict.”
  • The interview made clear that the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO remains distant. … Even if the war goes well for Ukraine, it may not become a member of NATO for many years. The alliance works by unanimity. For Ukraine to satisfy every member’s political demands will be hard: the alliance’s other members would be obliged under its Article 5 to come to Ukraine’s defense if it were attacked. In the interview Mr. Stoltenberg warned Russia that cyber-attacks could rise to the threshold of Article 5 if they were serious. “If there’s a magnitude…then we can trigger Article 5 and respond in cyber, but also in other domains to protect the NATO allies.”
  • Mr. Stoltenberg warns against expecting any significant long-term issues in Ukraine’s favor at NATO’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington later this summer. 

“There is an explosive flaw in the plan to rearm Ukraine. Europe lacks TNT and other propellants for shells and missiles,” The Economist, 05.26.24.

  • Europe needs bushels of combustibles to reach its target of producing 2m shells a year by the end of 2025. Each artillery shell is crammed with 10.8kg of a high-explosive such as TNT, HMX or RDX. Additional propellant charges are also needed to hurl the rounds over tens of kilometers. Other munitions require even larger amounts: the high-explosive warhead on a Storm Shadow missile, for example, weighs around 450kg. The trouble is that explosive makers are unsure that production can be cranked up and fear that the quirks of the industry will hamper the surge that Ukraine needs to remain competitive on the battlefield.
  • Amid difficulties, some ammunition providers are looking further afield for their explosives. Reports indicate that Indian and Japanese explosive makers are filling some of the gap. Some experts worry that explosives from abroad are of lesser quality and could therefore damage equipment. 
  • The rhetoric from European governments is bullish and it is true that some progress is being made: EU-wide annual shell production is projected to reach at least 1.4m by the end of 2024, up from around 500,000 a year ago. When he laid the first brick for EURENCO’s  propellant factory in Bergerac on April 11th French President Emmanuel Macron defended the performance of France’s “war economy”. The plant, he said, would open, in record time, by 2025. Yet as Russia’s summer offensive gets under way, that is not quick enough to help shell-starved Ukrainians. 

For more analysis on this subject, see:

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

“Are the Sanctions Working,” Peter Rutland, PONARS, 05.21.24. 

  • The most dire forecasts for the Russian economy did not transpire for four reasons. First, Russian energy exports are still reaching global markets. Second, Russia is successfully evading Western sanctions on technology imports. Third, Russia’s capitalist economy is more adaptable than many had anticipated. Finally, there is no sign that the sanctions are prompting the Russian business elite or general public to challenge Vladimir Putin’s continuation of the war.
  • The sanctions have not forced Russia to abandon its war of aggression against Ukraine. David O’Sullivan, EU Special Envoy for the Implementation of Sanctions, and James O’Brien, US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, said on an October 2023 panel that the sanctions will last five to 10 years, and that Russia’s GDP will be 20 percent smaller in a few years than it would have otherwise been due to the sanctions. Assuming this to be true, what difference do the sanctions make to Putin’s determination and capacity to destroy Ukraine?
  • While assessing the costs to the Russian economy, we should also factor in the costs to the European economies. The 2022 energy price shock forced European governments to spend over €800 billion on subsidies for households and businesses facing unsustainable energy bills—more than five times the total amount of Western aid provided to Ukraine. This energy shock pushed the European economy into recession. The EU GDP grew by an anemic 0.4 percent in 2023, with German GDP shrinking by 0.3 percent. Vladimir Inozemtsev concludes that “many policies promoted by Western authorities appeared to be more painful to their own economies than to Russia’s—while not benefiting Ukraine.”
  • As an energy exporter, the US has been insulated from the economic impact of the war. Even so, Republicans in Congress held up passage of a $60 billion aid package for Ukraine for six months before it was ultimately approved in April 2024. It is not at all clear that Western politicians and publics will be prepared or willing to sustain economic support for Ukraine at the current level of seven to eight billion USD per month for the next five to 10 years.

“A long shadow: How Russia uses a covert fleet of ships to ferry oil around the globe and what the West is doing to stop it,” Meduza, 05.22.24.

  • Seeking to evade sanctions and circumvent the G7’s oil price cap, Russia has begun using a shadow fleet of decrepit second-hand tankers to covertly move oil around the world. These ships, registered to overseas shell companies, ferry oil to buyers willing to flout the G7 cap. While this scheme has allowed the Kremlin to continue selling oil at higher prices, the choice might be more political than financial. The independent news outlet iStories dug into Russia’s reasons for creating its own shadow fleet and found out how the network works and what the West is doing to stop it.
  • According to the commodities trader Trafigura, by February 2023, about 600 tankers were transporting Russian oil and oil products under the radar. By December, that number had grown to 1,089, according to the analytics firm Vortexa. At that time, 75 percent of the world’s shadow fleet was exporting Russian oil, with 66 percent solely dedicated to deliveries from Russia. Analysts from the maritime AI company Windward estimate that shadow vessels account for 18 percent of all shipments worldwide.
  • Winward analysts divide the shadow fleet into “dark” and “gray” vessels. Ships in the dark fleet often disable their identification system while transporting illegal cargo, and hide or falsify their location. They frequently change names, flags, and nominal owners and have insurance from non-Western companies or sail without insurance at all. By the end of last year, the dark fleet numbered about 1,100 vessels worldwide. The gray fleet is a new phenomenon, emerging shortly after Russia’s full-scale war with Ukraine began. The approximately 900 ships in this fleet are registered to shell companies created to conceal the true owners and to appear law-abiding. Many tankers in the gray fleet also “flag hop.”
  • Tankers load Russian oil at three locations: Russian ports in the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, and the Far East. According to Winward, by the end of last year, the primary buyers were China, India, and (in much smaller quantities) Turkey. … Some of the Russian oil purchased this way may be sold on the buyers’ domestic markets, but it’s mainly either resold or refined and then sold as petroleum products to other countries, including those in Europe.
  • Craig Kennedy believes that economically speaking, it would make more sense for Russia to transport its oil on standard tankers, even if it had to sell at a price below $60 per barrel. Doing so would eliminate the expenses associated with purchasing and maintaining shadow fleet vessels. However, from a political perspective, selling oil under conditions dictated by the West is most likely out of the question.
  • It’s likely that the U.S. will continue to identify individual companies and ships that are violating the price cap and impose sanctions on them. However, more extreme measures, such as seizing tankers in the territorial waters of Western countries, are unlikely as this could lead to serious escalation. Banning the sale of used tankers to Russia would also be ineffective, as Russia could easily circumvent this using shell companies.
  • Currently, the fate of the shadow fleet largely depends on whether the U.S. will continue to impose sanctions, and if so, to what extent.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Putin wants Ukraine ceasefire on current frontlines,” Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Osborn, Reuters, 05.24.24. 

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready to halt the war in Ukraine with a negotiated ceasefire that recognizes the current battlefield lines, four Russian sources told Reuters, saying he is prepared to fight on if Kyiv and the West do not respond. Three of the sources, familiar with discussions in Putin's entourage, said Putin had expressed frustration to a small group of advisers about what he views as Western-backed attempts to stymie negotiations. Putin's insistence on locking in any battlefield gains in a deal is non-negotiable, all of the sources suggested. Two of the sources said Putin was of the view that gains in the war so far were enough to sell a victory to the Russian people. Three sources said Putin understood any dramatic new advances would require another nationwide mobilization, which he didn't want. Putin will slowly conquer territories until Zelenskyy comes up with an offer to stop, one of the four persons said. All five sources said Putin had told advisers he had no designs on NATO territory, reflecting his public comments on the matter
  • A U.S. State Department spokesperson said any initiative for peace must respect Ukraine’s “territorial integrity, within its internationally recognized borders” and described Russia as the sole obstacle to peace in Ukraine. “The Kremlin has yet to demonstrate any meaningful interest in ending its war, quite the opposite,” the spokesperson said.

“Can Emmanuel Macron End the Russia-Ukraine War?” Andrew Day, NI, 05.27.24. 

  • French President Emmanuel Macron is laying out his vision of “a Europe that commands respect and ensures its own security.” He maintains Ukraine is part of this “European family” and “destined to join the Union when the time comes.” These goals—European “strategic autonomy” and an entirely European Ukraine—could be more connected than even Macron realizes. As Ukraine struggles on the battlefield to overcome Russia’s advantages in manpower and materiel, Macron may have the chance to 1) end a war that has devastated Ukraine, 2) bring Ukraine into the European Union, and 3) help transform the continent into the “Power Europe” that he envisions.
    • A recent article in Foreign Affairs confirms that Russian negotiators agreed, during failed negotiations early in the war, that Ukraine could join the EU as part of a peace deal. Gaining EU membership would fulfill Ukraine’s longstanding goal of becoming more integrated into a free and prosperous Europe. It could also give Kyiv the security guarantees that it understandably desires in case Moscow attacks again in the future. Less well known than NATO’s collective self-defense policy, the EU’s common security policy obligates members to aid a member state that has suffered “armed aggression on its territory.”
  • Since Ukraine is a peripheral security interest for the United States, Washington should make absolutely clear that it would not be pulled into war with Moscow if Europe’s NATO nations, should they come to Ukraine’s defense in the future, are attacked by Russia in response. And European capitals should make clear—to Moscow, Washington, and Kyiv—that America’s NATO obligations wouldn’t cover such a scenario.
  • Of course, the United States wouldn’t take kindly to a European vassal asserting control over the Ukraine crisis, but breaking the vassalage would be precisely the point for Macron. And if Europe, Ukraine, and Russia all agreed to end the fighting and pursue the modus vivendi described above, there would be overwhelming pressure on Washington to step aside and give peace a chance. The brutal, destructive war would finally end, and the sovereign Europe that Macron dreams about would be a few steps closer to reality.

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

“Remembering Memorial Day: We Must Avoid World War III,” Graham Allison, NI, 05.27.24.

  • As we wind down for a relaxed Memorial Day weekend, I urge us all to pause, reflect, and give thanks for the fact that most of us have lived their entire lives in a world without great power war. Just last month we entered the 79th year since Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. This longest peace—that is longest period without great power war—has no precedent in history. It is not natural, not permanent, and not to be taken for granted.
  • Instead, it is the amazing result of great statecraft and sticktuitiveness by those who built the post-World War II order—and by successive Democratic and Republican administrations over the decades since. And the foundation on which that peace has been sustained is the most powerful military force in the world that has made possible “peace through strength.”
  • Seven years ago, I published in Politico an article titled, “On Memorial Day, What do the Living Owe the Dead?” My answer: “We owe them the courage and wisdom to prevent the next war.” As the article argues, the “unnecessary wars” we should do our most and best to avoid are not just the tragic sideshows like Iraq in 2003 or America’s failed occupation of Afghanistan. Instead, we must avoid the successor to the grand reapers of the past century: World War I and World War II. We must avoid World War III.
  • The claim that either or both of the previous world wars were unnecessary may be surprising. But a careful examination of the road that led from the conditions statesmen faced at the beginning of the 20th century to the conflagration that essentially destroyed Europe finds many paths untaken that could have led to resolutions of differences without war. 
    • For example, British Foreign Minister Edward Grey had outlined a proposal to punish the Serbs that the major parties would have accepted without war. But he and the leaders in other capitals spent more days on vacation in the July and August following the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian archduke than they did attempting to resolve the crisis.
    • The proposition that World War II was “unnecessary” may seem even more extreme. But the source for this claim is none other than the greatest statesman of the past century who valiantly led not only Great Britain but the world to the defeat of Hitler’s Naziism: Winston Churchill. As Churchill wrote subsequently in his history The Gathering Storm, “One day, President Roosevelt told me he was asking publicly for the suggestions about what the war should be called. I said it was ‘the Unnecessary War.’” Churchill then goes on to explain that “There never was a war more easy to stop than that which just wrecked what was left of the world form the previous struggle.” Had they only listened: when Hitler violated the terms of the Versailles Peace Treaty and remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936, Churchill called for Britain and France to send troops to enforce the peace. Had they done so, the German general staff would very likely have ousted Hitler, and World War II would never have happened.
  • Can lessons from this history can be adapted and applied today as the US faces in China the fiercest Thucydidean rival history has ever seen, and in Putin’s resurgent Russia a deeply wounded bear? That is the challenge for statesmen and the analytic community today. As we attempt to rise to this challenge, we should try to do so with gratitude for the courage and blood so many have shed and risked on our behalf, humility as we identify errors made in the past, and determination to avoid the next unnecessary war.

“Olaf Scholz on why Vladimir Putin’s brutal imperialism will fail. Germany’s chancellor says Europe needs more military muscle,” The Economist, 05.23.24.

  • Mr. Putin’s brutal imperialism will not succeed. Today, the European Union and its members are by far Ukraine’s biggest financial and economic supporters. Germany alone has already committed €28bn ($30bn) in military assistance, second only to the United States. But we must not forget that Mr. Putin is in this for the long haul. He believes that democracies like ours will not be able to sustain supporting Ukraine for what might be years to come.
  • Proving Mr. Putin wrong starts at home—by maintaining broad public support for Ukraine. This means explaining, again and again, that assisting Ukraine is an indispensable investment into our own security. It also means addressing the concerns of those who are afraid that the war might spread. That is why it is important to be crystal clear that NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia—and that we will not do anything that could turn us into a direct party to this conflict. So far, this strategy has kept support in Germany high; in fact, it keeps increasing. So Mr. Putin should take it seriously when we tell him that Germany will support Ukraine for as long as it takes.
  • The most fundamental promise any government owes its citizens is to provide for their safety and security, in all of its dimensions. Without security, everything else is nothing. In Germany, we changed our constitution to establish a €100bn fund in order to rebuild and modernize our army. 
  • And we are not alone. Sweden and Finland joined NATO, making the alliance even stronger. Many allies now honor NATO’s 2% pledge on defense spending. What I witnessed in Pabradė holds true across all of Europe: NATO allies and European partners are standing together, closer than ever before.
  • For decades, NATO has been the ultimate guarantor of peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic area. It still is and must continue to be so in the future.
  • Europeans can and will have to contribute more to the transatlantic burden-sharing. This is true regardless of the outcome of the US presidential elections in November. I therefore support President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to have a conversation about the future defense of Europe. I said earlier this year that we must strengthen the European pillar of NATO—and we must strengthen the European pillar of our deterrence. To be clear, there will not be any “EU nuclear weapons”—that is simply unrealistic. There is also no intention to question the sovereignty of the French dissuasion nucléaire. At the same time, I welcome the fact that the French president emphasized the European dimension of the French force de frappe.
  • Given how close our countries in Europe are, given the values and interests we all share, I cannot think of any possible scenario in which the vital interests of one of us are threatened without the vital interest of Germany being threatened as well. This is the strongest foundation that NATO’s European pillar could possibly have. It reinforces the message shared by all allies, on both sides of the Atlantic: an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. Nobody should ever dare to attack a single inch of the alliance, as we will defend it together. Whoever dismisses this as lip service should look at what we are doing on the ground. Pabradė might be a good place to start looking.

“America Hits the Global Snooze Button,” Walter Russell Mead, WSJ, 05.20.24.

  • Many Americans still don't fully grasp how serious the international situation has become. Iran has set the Middle East ablaze, Russia is advancing in Ukraine, and China is pursuing pressure campaigns against Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. … The revisionists have either developed or stumbled onto a coherent and, so far, successful strategy. The economic and potentially the military might of America and its allies far surpasses what the revisionists can bring to the table. Yet the U.S. and its allies are politically and militarily unprepared for war in the short to medium term. The revisionists therefore want to escalate crises around the globe without triggering an overwhelming response as, for example, Japan did by bombing Pearl Harbor in 1941. Against this pressure, they reason, the disorganized allies will retreat, conciliate and appease.
    • So far, that bet has paid off. Russia is winning its uneven contest with the West. Iran, despite the sudden death of President Ebrahim Raisi, is on a roll in the Middle East. China's relentless campaign of small-scale menacing acts, known as "gray-zone aggression," is eroding America's power in the Far East. The goal is to trap America between two losing choices. We can focus all our efforts and energies on one theater -- China, Ukraine or the Middle East -- or we can attempt to stop everything everywhere. Neither approach solves our problems. 
  • This can't last. Our adversaries have ambitious goals. We face an increasingly successful and ambitious assault on the U.S.'s international position. Either we and our allies recover our military might and political will, or our foes will fatally undermine the edifice of American power and the international order that depends on it.

“To be in order means to be in world order,” interview with Fyodor Lukyanov, Russia in Global Affairs, 05.28.24.^ Clues from Russian Views (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • No matter how much we repeat that we are “Eurasia,” we will not become Eurasians until the angle of our view shifts. Again, this is not about a ... need to close the “window to Europe” and open something else instead, but about correcting the imbalance.
  • China, of course, is at an early stage of not quite forming its view of the world order, but of framing it in such a way that it is understandable not just to specialists. ... We need to learn to understand them [the Chinese], and they need to learn to express themselves in such a way that they are understood. ... Meanwhile the feeling is that we are waiting for specifics, and China is offering something vague, [and that] leads to the suspicion that they are fooling us. In this sense, a comparative analysis of Western and non-Western views on international relations will be decisive for the next decade.
  • In Russia there is now a lot of debate about ideology. There is a point of view that without ideology, especially in conditions of an acute political crisis, nothing will work out. I am sure that if ideology is needed, it is needed for the internal development of Russia: for the consolidation of society, for understanding the hierarchy of tasks. It does not and should not have any relation to the outside world ... Accordingly, the task of exporting ideology simply should not be an issue.
  • After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the balance of power changed, but the system of international institutions led by the U.N. has remained. Today it is crumbling, too. ... Internal contradictions in existing institutions and international regimes are insurmountable. Accordingly, the old system cannot be revived in its previous form. Traditionally, we think there will be something different. But for there to be something different, it is necessary that a new hierarchy, new institutions or a system of relations based on it be established. How will it be established? Through war, like before? But under current conditions it will be a nuclear war. If it isn’t, how else? ... The most popular idea is multipolarity. But multipolarity is not order. Multipolarity is a certain reality.
  • The formula that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping again announced, that relations between the two countries are deeper and closer than an alliance, may have been artificially invented, but it is very fitting. It shows that there will be no alliance, since this presupposes self-restraint for the sake of the other side, but the understanding of the importance of bilateral communication will not go away. Relations can change, transform, no one is destined to a bright future, but, in my opinion, we can expect with a high degree of confidence that a major conflict between Russia and China will not happen. The current contradictions associated with the incomplete coincidence of interests are natural, but this is how it should be.

“What will the foreign policy conditions of Putin's new term be?”, Fyodor Lukyanov, Profil/Russia in Global Affairs, 05.27.24.^ Clues from Russian Views (The Russia in Global Affairs journal is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • First, foreign policy is closely linked to domestic development. ... In the hierarchy of state activities, defense policy becomes more important than foreign policy, and internal policy becomes more important than defense policy. But the line between them almost disappears.
  • Second, Russia is a country interested in preserving and strengthening the connectedness of the world. The reason is simple—with the natural development of the world system (without destructive political interference), it is almost impossible to bypass Russia—in the resource, logistics and transport sense. Using Russia's capabilities will automatically mean developing its potential and strengthening its positions.
  • Related to this is the third point—initiatives regarding world problems that require a truly common solution. These include problems of ecology, space and limiting technological interference in public and personal life (as part of the larger topic of the future of artificial intelligence). So far, the discussion of these problems is taking place purely in the Western ideological paradigm, but its exhaustion is already noticeable. Russia, thanks to its combined natural, intellectual and technological background, has the prerequisites to offer new approaches.
  • Fourth, it is possible to gather groups of like-minded people (international coalitions) for clear goals that specific countries are interested in achieving. General institutions lose effectiveness due to their participants’ diversity of interests. This applies not only to the structures on which the previous world order was based, but also to new ones, like BRICS or the SCO. They need an actionable agenda that all members recognize as important. One thing suggests itself: overcoming Western hegemony in the monetary and financial sphere and promoting development not through Western institutions. Moving away from the monopoly benefits everyone, even those who are on good terms with the West.
  • Fifth, neighboring space multiplies its value. Moreover, the previous methods of influence associated with the legacy of the past (the inertia of unconditional Russian dominance) are irreversibly disappearing. How to maintain influence within the framework of reasonable sufficiency (to be able to pursue one’s interests, but not get involved in fruitless competition with other powers) is the main question in the coming years.
    • Persuasive deterrence is necessary, which sometimes requires the use of force, but above all to maintain balance. The Ukrainian crisis is the result of a glaring imbalance that arose after the end of the Cold War. Thanks to its scale and potential, Russia has maximum opportunities for independent development. This is real in conditions of lasting peace. And the fight for it, no matter how pathetic it may sound, is the main task of all state policy.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Two Years Into the Russia-Ukraine Conflict: 10 Lessons We Can Learn,” Wang Yiwei , Duan Minnong, Valdai Club, 05.24.24. Clues from Chinese Views (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

1. Forms of warfare and national development may not evolve linearly, and the combination of old and new forms of war adds uncertainties to regional security. ... While claiming themselves to be the most advanced, the Western countries have yet failed to defeat Russia (the so-called “authoritarian country”) in a short period of time. 

2. A Cold War mind-set is at the root of a hot war, and the pursuit of “absolute security” has led to a security dilemma. 

3. Ethnic tensions are intertwined with state tensions, and there is a gap between the sovereignty doctrine and a lack of autonomy in reality. 

4. The à la carte (picking and choosing) diplomatic approach the West takes is based on realist power politics. The West has orchestrated color revolutions against other countries, including Ukraine, in the name of freedom and equality to export its values, only to harm European security in the end. 

5. Despite the importance of wartime narratives, the narratives of Western countries seem untenable. 

6. The phenomenon of “industrial hollowing-out” damages the foundations for defense; “decoupling” and “de-risking” pose more threats to peace and stability. 

7. The expansion of a military and political alliance may bring risks to regional security. 

8. The global strategic imbalance which emerged after the Cold War is a crucial reason why the Russia-Ukraine conflict is still going on today. Globally, the US became the only superpower in the world; regionally, most European countries joined NATO, and the balance in Europe was broken following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The conflict should be regarded as a consequence of a global and regional strategic political imbalance. Active efforts should be made to rectify such an imbalance. To do so, developing countries should work together to make a contribution to building a new global balance. 

9. The binary thinking and double standards practiced by some countries are worth attention. 

10. Countries throughout the world should promote the building of a community with a shared future for mankind, which represents the fundamental path to long-lasting peace. The Russia-Ukraine conflict is a multi-lose situation for Russia, Ukraine and Europe. 

“India Can't Wish Away The Growing Russia-China Bonhomie,” Harsh V. Pant, ORFO/NDTV, May 2024. Clues from Indian Views

  • Despite challenges, the relationship between Russia and China has undergone significant evolution in terms of cooperation and strategic alignment since the onset of the Ukraine war. ... In the wake of the war, despite China claiming neutrality, trade between the two countries has surged, with the country becoming a crucial market for Russian energy exports amidst Western sanctions. Military and defense ties have continued to grow as well. ... But this is a relationship now in which China is in the driving seat. 
  • For New Delhi, managing this Russia-China axis will be the most significant foreign policy challenge in the coming years. It alters India's strategic outlook in fundamental ways. Given India's continuing reliance on Russian military hardware, closer Sino-Russian ties might influence the terms and conditions of these transactions, potentially limiting India's access to advanced technologies or altering the balance of military support. Also, as Russia pivots towards China for energy exports, India might face increased competition for Russian oil and gas, affecting prices and supply stability.
  • Given India's continuing reliance on Russian military hardware, closer Sino-Russian ties might influence the terms and conditions of these transactions, potentially limiting India's access to advanced technologies or altering the balance of military support. Additionally, a strengthened Sino-Russian economic collaboration might sideline India in regional infrastructure projects and trade routes. Closer China-Russia collaboration on the global stage also reduces Indian influence in regional fora like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and BRICS. New Delhi's ability to navigate a seemingly multipolar world will be tested as a result of this emerging configuration, necessitating a careful recalibration of its foreign policy to maintain a balance between major powers while simultaneously safeguarding its national interests.

“Moscow’s Road to Economic Dependence,” Janis Kluge, SWP, May 2024.

  • Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the economic sanctions imposed have triggered a far-reaching decoupling of the Russian economy from the West. Russia is at the beginning of another economic transition, the consequences of which will only become clear in the long run. Although the sanctions regime itself has changed little since the second year of the full-scale invasion, the gulf between the West and the Russian economy is widening with each passing year, as many of the measures take a while to have an effect. It is very unlikely, even in the longer term, that Russia and the West will again move closer together economically, since sanctions are likely to remain in place for an extended period of time. This means that the prospects for a further deepening of Sino-Russian cooperation are good. The gradual re-orientation of the Russian economy towards China will also take time. Both sides need to gain more experience with each other, and new infrastructure must be built. Perhaps the most visible progress can be seen in the Russian car market, which is already largely in Chinese hands. In other areas of the Russian economy, the same transition could take until the end of the 2020s.
  • The longer-term prospects of the Russian economy depend on what kind of economic partner China can and is willing to become in the future. So far, Russian economic relations with China have intensified mainly on the trade front, but Chinese companies have avoided making lasting commitments to the Russian market. For China, Russia is interesting as an export destination and as a source of natural resources, rather than as an intermediate link in Chinese value chains. For Russia, this means that it could be degraded to a supplier of resources and a buyer of Chinese finished goods, which means less value added in Russia. The result would be lower living standards for Russians and less industrial potential in the future. This kind of cooperation with China would make Russia more like a real petrostate, while Russian manufacturing would be eroded.
  • Russia’s economic dependence on China could also affect the political dynamic between Beijing and Moscow. However, it is not yet clear how and when China would use its economic leverage for political goals. So far, the Chinese leadership does not appear to be exploiting its dominant position vis-à-vis Moscow. It is unclear what kind of demands the People’s Republic might formulate. Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to compromise in his war against Ukraine. The Kremlin would probably tolerate even greater economic isolation rather than change course. At the same time, Beijing wants Putin to survive politically. In the eyes of the Chinese leadership, Putin is still the guarantor of the Sino-Russian partnership. Any political instability within China’s closest geopolitical partner could even damage the reputation of Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Therefore, Beijing is unlikely to use its leverage to push Putin into a corner in a situation that is already challenging him and his grip on power. At least in the short term, it is unclear what political dividend China could draw from its economic dominance.
  • For the EU, the most important issue in Sino-Russian economic cooperation is the effectiveness of Western sanctions. China’s help has been crucial in cushioning the impact of sanctions on the Russian economy. Depending on the course of the war in Ukraine and Beijing’s attitude toward Moscow, Sino-Russian economic cooperation could lead to more conflict between the West and China. Russia has significantly expanded its arms production, and is facilitated by the parts and machinery it imports from China. If the situation in Ukraine again becomes more threatening to Kyiv, China’s role as Russia’s economic enabler will rise high on the Western agenda. More Chinese companies will find themselves in the crosshairs of Western sanctions. If the war goes the other way, with Ukraine becoming increasingly successful and Russian military losses eventually threatening Putin’s political survival in Moscow, China may opt for more open and direct support for Russia, including the supply of weapons. If this were to happen, relations between the EU and the People’s Republic would certainly be plunged into a deep crisis.

“The time has come to look for new ‘breakthrough’ areas of Russian-Chinese economic cooperation,” Andrei Kortunov, RIAC/The Paper, 05.20.24.^ Clues from Russian Views2 (RIAC is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • We should not forget that, despite all its achievements, in terms of total trade volumes with China and the degree of diversification of this trade, Russia still lags significantly behind the group of ASEAN countries, the United States or the European Union. Apparently, the time has come to look for new “breakthrough” areas of Russian-Chinese economic cooperation. It is unlikely that this cooperation can forever be based on the export of Russian gas and oil to China, especially given the undoubted success of the PRC in implementing the national strategy for the transition to carbon-free energy.
  • Chinese proposals to resolve the Ukrainian crisis are well known. This is not some detailed road map or detailed settlement plan; rather, it is a set of fundamental principles that should guide the parties as they move towards peace. It is clear that some of these principles are more in line with the interests of Russia, while others are more in line with the interests of Ukraine. Therefore, in Moscow and Kyiv they tend to emphasize different points of the Chinese proposals. In my opinion, the most important thing about the Chinese proposals is their comprehensive and balanced approach to assessing both the fundamental causes of the European crisis and possible ways to resolve it. Beijing understands that the ongoing conflict in Europe is not limited to a military confrontation between Moscow and Kyiv, but includes a broader and more fundamental confrontation between Russia and the West.
  • Some Western leaders today are even talking about the possibility of sending the armed forces of their countries to the territory of Ukraine. Therefore, overcoming the crisis must be comprehensive and include the creation of a new system of European and even global security that takes into account the legitimate interests and concerns of all states. In this sense, Chinese proposals regarding Ukraine are the practical implementation of the principles laid down in the Global Security Initiative, which was set out by the Chairman of the PRC in his speech at the Boao Forum in April 2022. At the moment, the prerequisites for such a comprehensive solution, unfortunately, have not yet developed, but sooner or later, as it seems to me, Chinese proposals will be in demand. 

“RIC Trilateral Cooperation Needs Enhancement,” Andrei Kortunov, RIAC/Valdai Discussion Club, 05.22.24. Clues from Russian Views (These organizations are affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • Can Moscow make a meaningful contribution to an improvement in China-India relations? The trilateral Russia-India-China (RIC) format has existed for more than 20 years, but it has been gradually overshadowed by BRICS and the SCO. However, maybe the time has come to put more emphasis on RIC. 
    • For instance, Moscow could offer Beijing and New Delhi joint trilateral development, transportation and research projects in the Russian sector of the Arctic region.
    • Trilateral cooperation would also make a lot of sense in the Russian Far East. The current Moscow-Beijing plans imply that the Chinese northeast province of Jilin will use the Russian seaport of Vladivostok as a domestic transit point. Reaching this seaport via rail, products from Northern China will be further shipped to Southern China by ship. Nothing should prevent businesses in Jilin, and also in adjacent Heilongjiang, from having use of Vladivostok to get convenient access to sea routes leading to South Asia, and India in particular. 
    • Russia is a major supplier of hydrocarbons to Eurasian markets, and China and India are one of the largest consumers in these markets. The three parties should coordinate their respective energy transition strategies in a more practical and comprehensive way. 
    • Trilateral cooperation would make sense in agriculture as well—Russia continuously boosts its food exports, while both China and India are likely to face growing food stock demands from their rapidly growing middle class with changing food consumption patterns. 
  • Trilateral consultations on strategic stability would not only contribute to world peace and security, but also build trust and mutual confidence between Beijing and New Delhi. Other security related problems to be discussed in the trilateral format could include the challenge of international terrorism rooted in religious fundamentalism. Needless to say, Russia is not the only country that would gain a lot from an improved China-India relationship. Therefore, the geometry of multilateralism involving Beijing and New Delhi should vary depending on specific issues to be addressed.

“Oleg Barabanov: Will Russia turn back to the West after the Russian-Ukrainian conflict ends? ‘Absolutely not,’” Guancha3, 05.25.24. Clues from Russian Views 

  • The Chinese people, Chinese society and Chinese media have understood that China will definitely be the next target of the United States. Russia is now the main adversary of the United States, but all the actions and policies of the United States, as well as the policies of Europe, show us that China will definitely be their next target. Therefore, this means that Russia and China should be friends.
  • I think that in the current situation where open war is still going on and relations between Russia and the West are completely broken, it is impossible to restore past relations. At least the Russian Foreign Ministry has officially stated on many occasions that Russian-EU relations will not be restored in the future, because Russia will remember the attitude of the West. Therefore, I hope that we will not turn to the West again, and we must fulfill our commitments and obligations to our Chinese friends.
  • [Whan asked if there is any talk or consideration of a post-Putin future:] For the moment, I think no, because he was reelected with a very high result. Now he will have six years more. And at least within Russia, sure, we have the opposition circles and many of them have immigrated from Russia after the start of the war, and sure they have quite divergent views on Putin, but within the country, at least in the public sphere, at least the mainstream media mainstream Telegram channels, other spheres of social media, we can’t see any alternative for the moment, at least, nobody was proposed as an alternative. So for the moment, I don't see that there will be some new event.
  • Russia is really grateful to China, to Chinese society, for your position now in the current geopolitical situation. Nobody expects China to join Russia at the barricade in direct fighting with the West. But we appreciate the balanced Chinese approach to the peace initiatives and also promoting the general new vision for making the new world order, because the new world order is a very bad phrase, we’ve used it for 20 or 30 years. But we, what we really need is the real common vision of how the better world could be structured, how it could be built and organized. And China already has that very deeply elaborated foreign policy strategy. 

“Meet the CRANKs: How China, Russia, Iran and North Korea Align Against America,” Paul Saunders, NI, 05.28.24. 

  • A deepening alignment among China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea is drawing considerable attention as the United States and its allies confront new challenges from these four nations, both individually and in various assortments. 
  • Setting aside “Axis of Evil,” or its calibrated stepchild “Axis of Upheaval,” what might be a better name for the China-Russia-Iran-North Korea cluster? Consider an acronym—"CRANK,” representing China-Russia-Iran-North Korea. CRANK captures three essential components of the alignment among these four nations.
    • First, the four CRANKs are cranky about America and especially U.S. foreign policy. They reject the idea that America should have a special role in international affairs and dismiss U.S. interpretations of international law, including the notion of a U.S.-defined “rules-based order.”
    • Second, to American ears, their officials often sound like cranks, that is, like eccentric conspiracy theorists who live in and describe an alternate reality in their public comments. This is especially evident in how the four governments often characterize U.S. behavior and goals.
    • Third, their leaders aspire for their countries to become cranks in the mechanical sense, that is, levers to turn the great mass of the international system in their favor. Chinese and Russian officials often express this view and appear to see their governments as the instruments that will bring about a post-American age.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“The risks of Russia’s nuclear posturing,” Harsh V. Pant and Ankit K, The Hindu, 05.22.24. Clues from Indian Views

  • The war between Russia and Ukraine has entered its second year and there is no end in sight. Earlier this month, in a concerning escalation, Russia announced that it plans to hold drills simulating the use of tactical nuclear weapons along the border with Ukraine. Earlier in March, Russia had said that it would station nuclear weapons in Belarus. Such nuclear posturing in the middle of a war is worrying.
  • By making explicit nuclear threats at lower levels of conflict, Russia is on a dangerous path. If nuclear powers routinely threaten to use nuclear weapons as a coercive tactic when pushed into a corner during a conventional conflict, it may encourage other states to follow suit. This may lead to smaller nuclear-armed nations wondering whether openly brandishing their nuclear might will be enough to undermine the resolve of stronger conventional military opponents. Countries like Iran and North Korea may feel emboldened to cross the nuclear weapons threshold, confident that flaunting their nuclear deterrent will make adversaries back down out of fear of escalation.
  • Thus, while the odds of any tactical nuclear strike by Russia remain low at present, Moscow’s nuclear signaling sets a dangerous precedent. Nuclear weapons may no longer be weapons of last resort. The clear distinction between nuclear and conventional warfare is gradually being undermined in this war.
  • By raising the risk by lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, Russia has changed the understanding of how nuclear deterrence works and redrawn the lines of nuclear deterrence. Simultaneously, its actions illustrate how nuclear weapons provide asymmetric advantages in case of conventional war-fighting. This has thus increased proliferation anxieties for smaller states across the world, especially in regions where there are long-standing tensions between states. If the cloud of nuclear war floats above the battlefield, war could take precedence over deterrence and proliferation over disarmament leading to further nuclear instability. 

“Russian Wargame Practicing Tactical Nukes Use Is Warning to West,” Simon Saradzhyan, RM, 05.22.24.

  • In addition to the obvious purpose of training its troops to use NSNWs, the Russian leadership means to use this exercise to signal to the West that it should refrain from escalating assistance to Ukraine following France’s (and some other NATO members’) warnings that they may send troops to Ukraine, as well as Britain’s decision to allow Ukraine to use U.K.-supplied weapons for strikes inside Russia. 
  • The wargame also appears to serve as a broader warning to the West that, if the high-intensity militarized stand-off between West and Russia continues over Ukraine and other issues, Russia may liberalize its conditions for use of nuclear weapons in its doctrinal documents. 
  • Finally, the exercise may be evidence that Putin intends to stick to his post-reshuffle intention to keep chief of the General Staff and first deputy defense minister Valery Gerasimov in his posts, at least for now, in spite of replacing Sergei Shoigu with Anatoly Belousov as the country’s defense minister. The NSNW wargame is being conducted under the “leadership of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces,” according to the MoD’s May 21 statement. If that language means Gerasimov is commanding the current wargame, then that indicates Putin meant it when he said upon firing Shoigu earlier this month that he has no plans to oust Gerasimov as well. After all, Gerasimov probably would not have been picked by Putin to command such an important wargame if Putin meant to fire him soon.

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“The Case for a Prospective U.S. Cyber Force,” Erica Lonergan, Todd Arnold and Nick Starck, War on the Rocks, 05.22.24. 

  • The establishment of a U.S. Cyber Force is not a foregone conclusion. However, given the broad consensus that the current model for cyber force generation is not optimized to meet current and future strategic challenges, a significant change from the status quo is necessary. Looking ahead, Congress has an opportunity in the next National Defense Authorization Act to direct an independent evaluation or assessment that articulates a clear path forward for cyber force generation. Such an assessment will need to address the full range of necessary decisions about and changes to the full complement of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities, and policy. Improving cyber force generation is essential now, before the United States finds itself in a potential crisis or contingency with a near-peer rival.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

“Constructing Climate Change: Exploring How Cities Frame Climate Change in the Arctic,” Nadezhda Filimonova, Journal of Urban Affairs, 05.23.24.

  • Framing climate policy actions to be acceptable by various stakeholders in cities poses a critical task for urban governance. Despite the proliferation of studies on urban climate change governance in the past decades, framing as a mechanism for agenda-setting in local policymaking has received little attention. This paper draws on the literature on climate change discourse to analyze the content of framing and its reasoning in the two municipalities located in the Arctic: Murmansk (Russia) and Tromsø (Norway). 
  • Using qualitative research methods, including semi-structured interviews, document reviews, and discourse analysis, the paper finds that climate change is absent in the political discourse in Murmansk. At the same time, Tromsø authorities recognize climate change as a global and a local problem and incorporate it into local policies. It also identifies three factors that explain the (non)framing of climate change by the municipal authorities: (1) local authority to frame climate issues, (2) local political party branches’ climate preferences, and (3) prior experiences with weather extremes and scientific knowledge. Given that cities in the Arctic are on the front lines of climate change, learning from their framing experiences, other cities across the globe can seize the opportunities for their efforts to address climatic impacts.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Russia is flooding Europe with disinformation. The U.S. elections are next,” Lee Hockstader, WP, 05.27.24.

  • In 2022, European monitors who track Russian disinformation spotted an ambitious online influence operation they called Doppelganger. The Moscow-run effort cloned the websites of legitimate newspapers, magazines and news services, including Britain's Guardian and Germany's Bild, posted replicas under similar domain names and filled them with Kremlin propaganda.
  • The sites' persistence reflects the flood of Russian interference — and the near-impossibility of monitoring it, let alone stopping it — ahead of elections next month for the European Parliament. They're also a foretaste of what Americans can expect in the fall's presidential contest, in which Moscow will try to amplify the venomous clamor of U.S. politics.
  • Alexandre Alaphilippe, executive director of the EU DisinfoLab, the civil society group that revealed the Doppelganger operation's existence, told me its resilience and persistence, even after being exposed, is a worrying sign. The question, Alaphilippe said, isn't whether Russia is winning the propaganda war in Europe. "It's whether democracy is up to the challenge of holding everyone accountable. Do we have the democratic safeguards?" If the answer in Europe is no — which looks increasingly likely — then the picture will look even grimmer elsewhere. Especially in the United States, where dysfunctional politics and First Amendment safeguards make monitoring Russian mischief even harder.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russia's Soaring Wartime Salaries Are Bolstering Working-Class Support for Putin,” Ekaterina Kurbangaleeva, CEIP, 05.28.24.

  • The reasons for rising incomes in Russia have been well documented: a labor shortage, hefty payments to soldiers and their families, and an unprecedented level of state spending that has obliged defense sector factories to work around the clock. However, whether standards of living have actually improved is open to debate, given the record military spending, high inflation, Western sanctions, and limits on hydrocarbon exports.
  • The data that are available show that real incomes rose 5.8 percent in 2023 and at the same rate in the first quarter of 2024, according to Russia’s State Statistics Service (Rosstat). On top of that, figures from the Federal Tax Service show that the Russian state’s income tax revenues in 2023 were 40 percent higher than in 2021 (the lion’s share of this increase took place in 2023).
  • The fifteen fastest growing regions in terms of income tax contribution (excluding the regions Russia claims it has annexed in Ukraine) include hardly any of the traditionally big donors. Instead, the top spots are occupied by regions that before the war were traditionally net recipients from the federal budget. They include the republic of Chuvashia (a rise of 56 percent over two years), Bryansk region (54 percent), Kostroma region (52 percent), Kurgan region (50 percent), Smolensk region (49 percent), and Zabaikalsky region (47 percent). There were only three regions where income tax contribution growth was under 20 percent.
  • There are two spending trends that suggest at least some consumers have money to burn.
    • Firstly, demand continues to grow for mortgages (the total value of mortgages held in Russia grew 34.5 percent in 2023). This growth has mostly been driven by state-subsidized mortgage programs. And demand showed no sign of slacking in the first four months of 2024. Many Russians have enough savings to put down a 30 percent deposit on a property (the average initial deposit), and are happy to take on twenty-year mortgages, suggesting they are counting on continued state support.
    • The second trend is the booming gambling market. The income of legal bookmakers rose 40 percent in 2023, and active gamblers (those who bet at least once a week) numbered some 6.6 million people. In total, more than 15 million people gambled (about one in seven Russians over the age of 18) over the course of the year. At the same time, inflation means the size of the average bet is growing. Current trends have even led to calls to raise the legal limit on a single bet from 600,000 rubles to 1.4 million rubles.
  • Among those who are “winning” from the current situation are the millions of Russians in blue-collar and gray-collar jobs. Some of the most in-demand wartime professions are: milling machine operator, machinist, welder, weaver, and garment worker. While there are some regional differences, the wages of the men and women working in these professions have more than tripled and in some cases quintupled. ... [I]t’s clear that the main financial beneficiaries of the war in Ukraine (excluding security officials and soldiers) are those whose professions were long considered low paid and low status. Now they enjoy high salaries and a surfeit of attention from both employers struggling to fill job vacancies, and the state as a whole. More money in their pockets makes these people—who are not accustomed to self-reflection and who do not have easy access to independent sources of information—even more susceptible to propaganda. Putin’s public image provides them with a comforting feeling of stability, and a sense that their leaders are making the right decisions. It’s unsurprising that the level of support for the Russian regime among these groups is only growing.

“Putin’s Ultraconservative Personnel Policy Is Hamstringing the Power Vertical,” Andrey Pertsev, CEIP, 05.23.24.

  • Putin’s latest government reshuffle following his inauguration for a fifth presidential term is yet another illustration of his ultraconservatism. Most key officials retained their posts, and influential groups kept control over the ministries they wanted, even if that involved some members within those groups changing roles. 
  • Ultimately, ... the system did not dare to retire any of its participants completely, and the Defense Ministry shakeup was the only notable one. Putin has lost the ability to get rid of people who are either unable to work efficiently due to their age or have become toxic.
  • Putin’s conservatism in his personnel decisions is leading to three obvious problems for the power vertical.
    • The first is intense disappointment for the ambitious bureaucrats who are working diligently for the system but are left on the bench. 
    • Secondly, the abundance of potential candidates for a given position makes the president’s personnel decisions increasingly arbitrary, which undermines the effectiveness of the system as a whole. 
    • Thirdly, with the system even refusing to accept people’s resignations, there is a growing cancerous tumor in personnel appointments that is now impacting the functioning of the state. 
  • All of this is negatively impacting the work of the power vertical and minimizing opportunities for its renewal. The state of Putin’s system is increasingly accurately characterized by one word: “stagnation.”

“In a remarkable letter, Vladimir Kara-Murza explains why he has hope,” Mary Hockaday, WP, 05.28.24.

  • A few weeks ago, I received a remarkable letter from Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition leader, historian and writer now in detention in Siberia. Sentenced last year to 25 years in prison on charges of treason for criticizing Russia's war against Ukraine, he has nonetheless managed to keep writing, and this month was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his columns for this newspaper. As a young man, Kara-Murza studied history at Cambridge. Last year, his college, Trinity Hall, which I lead, awarded him an honorary fellowship in absentia. Months later, his letter reached us. In it, he takes the long view:
  • "It is often said that every historian subconsciously wishes to personally experience the period of his or her study - and, given that among my main topics at Cambridge was the history of the Soviet dissident movement, I suppose I really cannot complain. But being a historian also gives the advantage of having a larger perspective - and of being able to see beyond the next turn. If the dissident movement in the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries has taught us anything, it is that, however unpromising the odds may appear, the truth, in the end, does come out stronger." His message brings to mind the many examples of men and women who fought and endured for years under oppressive governments, and who eventually prevailed. 
  • For Kara-Murza, whose appeal was rejected last week by Russia's Supreme Court, the long view is essential, and his faith that "however unpromising the odds may appear, the truth, in the end, does come out stronger," is a mark of great courage. For the rest of us, in the meantime, our task is also to help truth keep breathing, and to defend the journalists alongside the historians and - of course - the dissidents.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

Defense and aerospace:

  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.

 

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • No significant developments.

Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“The End of the Near Abroad,” Thomas de Waal, CEIP, 05.16.24. 

  • Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 made all of its other neighbors feel deeply insecure. The decision to attack a sovereign state, accompanied by a menacing neo-imperialist discourse from Russian officials and commentators, sent the other post-Soviet states the message that they also belonged to a sphere of Russian influence and had no right to determine their own futures.
  • The war has simultaneously made Russia more threatening, weaker, and more unpredictable. In 2022, Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine yet also declined to do so in two disputes in Central Asia and the South Caucasus. Pressed by a host of day-to-day preoccupations, the Putin regime no longer pretends to have an overarching regional security strategy. Instead, with multilateral organizations such as the UN and the OSCE also weaker, the trend is toward an ad hoc regionalization of security arrangements as other regional powers, such as China, Iran, and Turkey, assert their interests and may seek to cut deals with Russia over the heads of the countries concerned. It is more a gangland environment than a post-Russia 
  • For the foreseeable future, Russia’s neighbors can only expect the unexpected. This is especially true as all consequential decisions are being made by one man—Putin—and any checks and balances have been removed. If the Russian leader decides to take action in the near abroad, however unwise other state actors in Russia deem it to be, there is very little to stop him. Dealing with the threats and uncertainties that the new Russia presents requires from others both short-term agility and a long-term investment of resources.

“Eurasia: Between Russia and Turkey,” Johan Engvall, NI, 05.27.24. 

  • Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and Western sanctions have reinforced economic relations between an increasingly isolated Russia and an opportunistic Turkey. ... But cooperation co-exists with geopolitical competition, as an increasingly self-assured Turkey is challenging Russia in the South Caucasus and Central Asia—two regions that Moscow staunchly considers as parts of its exclusive sphere of influence, essential to its perceived status as a great power. Using Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus as a gateway, Turkey is expanding its influence to the Turkic-speaking states in Central Asia on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea.
  • In the current era of geopolitical rivalries, Turkey, a well-established regional power, can be characterized as a “swing state,” as a recent Foreign Affairs article put it.  Although a NATO “ally,” it squarely belongs, ideologically, to neither the West nor the Beijing-Moscow-Teheran axis. Like many other regional and middle powers, Ankara is hedging its bets, pursuing “economic, diplomatic, military, and technological ties with members of both orders.” 
  • However, Turkey has its own agenda, which does not include subordination to either Russia or China. It is, therefore, a Western interest to encourage Turkey’s emergence as a partial counterweight to this axis. Part and parcel of such policy would be to support and nurture the growing alignment of the Turkic world and tie this group of states, strategically located east and west of the Caspian Sea, closer to the European security architecture. To this effect, Western powers should also increase their support for the burgeoning regional cooperation in Central Asia. This would increase their collective weight and reduce their vulnerability to manipulation from revisionist powers. 

“Georgia Dreaming: Is Another Color Revolution About to Kick Off?”, Vadim Nikitin, The Nation, 05.20.24. [4]

  • The catalyst for the current unrest was a proposed law requiring nongovernmental organizations and civil society groups that receive at least 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as “organizations carrying out the interests of a foreign power.” It was dubbed the “Russian Law” by the opposition, after similar legislation passed by Vladimir Putin in 2012. 
  • Domestic critics, as well as the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and other Western countries, accuse the governing Georgian Dream party of backsliding on its commitment to EU accession. 
  • Yet despite the pressure, on May 14 Georgia’s parliament passed the law with 84 votes in favor and 30 against. Since then, the crowds have only swelled, with protests spreading across the country amid increasingly vocal demands for the government to resign. 
  • Over the past week, senior protest figures have invoked Ukraine’s “Euromaidan” protests from 2014 and begun to call for the government’s ouster. “Believe me, there will be a color revolution in Georgia,” declared the opposition MP Tako Charkviani immediately after the law passed in parliament.
  • One of the biggest differences between what is happening now in Georgia and the events in Ukraine in 2014 is that then-President Yanukovich had formally rescinded Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU in favor of a last-minute deal with Russia. By contrast, despite its being routinely described as anti-European, it was the Georgian Dream–led government that pushed for, and ultimately secured, Georgia’s coveted EU candidate status just six months ago.
  • “Civil society in Georgia cannot survive, essentially, without Western support,” said Professor Stephen Jones, director of the Program on Georgian Studies at Harvard University. “In part, that’s because Georgian civil society organizations are not very well connected with ordinary people’s needs in Georgia. They are somewhat isolated from Georgian society.” Unlike their Western equivalents, Georgian NGOs are widely seen as a vehicle for social advancement.
  • Despite popular associations with repressive regimes, numerous democracies have or are considering similar foreign agent laws designed to increase the transparency of civil society groups and reduce meddling from countries such as Russia and China.
  • In the tense aftermath of the law’s passage, veto, and expected revote in the coming days, opponents refuse to give up the streets. Emboldened by the support of Western politicians, foreign-funded NGOs and Georgian Dream’s political enemies, they may find a Ukrainian scenario irresistible. “The opposition knows that they can’t win an election,” says Rochowanski, “so they want to do regime change instead.”

“Armenia Should Use This Window of Opportunity to Leave Russia’s Orbit,” Areg Kochinyan, CEIP, 05.21.24.

  • For the first time in its modern history, Yerevan is pursuing a process of foreign policy diversification and developing political, military, and technological partnerships that have nothing to do with Russia.
  • To put it bluntly, Moscow failed to underwrite Armenia’s security—the reason Armenia was in thrall to Russia in the first place. This was not so much about the 2020 war (in which Russia did not have any legal obligations), but because Moscow reneged on its formal obligations when Azerbaijan violated Armenia’s internationally recognized borders in 2021 and 2022, and because of the failure of Russia’s peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2023.
  • Moscow has many ways of influencing life in Armenia, even outside the realm of security. … None of these factors, however, is an insurmountable obstacle to Armenia seeking to break out of Russia’s orbit—at least in the short and medium term.
  • Yerevan should use the window of opportunity that is open right now. While Armenian integration with Western institutions will be a step-by-step process, a slow disengagement from Russia-led institutions is difficult to imagine. Yerevan needs a one-off solution to leave Moscow’s orbit, and right now it has that chance thanks to a confluence of circumstances both in the region (the security situation and democratic governance in Armenia) and internationally (Russia’s war against Ukraine and Russian exhaustion in that war), which will not last forever.
  • Armenia will likely need to placate Russia as it pivots toward the West by articulating a new model for bilateral relations with its larger neighbor.
  • Armenia’s relations with Russia will also be influenced by the ongoing peace process with Azerbaijan and political normalization with Turkey. The decades-old security paradigm in which Armenia required a third party to provide it with security guarantees is no longer relevant. Russia is unwilling—or unable—to be that guarantor, while Western countries do not have a large enough presence in the region to play such a role. 
  • Of course, like any transition process, the current situation is extremely fragile, and nothing should be taken for granted. But there is no doubt that things are moving forward. Armenia has a historic opportunity to develop a new, more balanced and more diversified foreign policy.

“Belarus and the War: Gradual De-Sovereignization of the Country,” Ryhor Nizhnikau, PONARS, 05.23.24. 

  • Gradual de-sovereignization of Belarus to guarantee his political survival is the new modus operandi of the Lukashenka regime. The Lukashenka-Putin tandem’s control over Belarus will largely remain intact until the end of the war. Meanwhile, Western ability to influence developments in Belarus remains limited. Nevertheless, the West has a strong potential ally in Belarusian society. The latter does not support the regime, opposes the war, and is largely European in its values and attitudes. Western policy should therefore aim at allying with Belarusian society and increasing society’s resilience. The West should enhance pressure on the regime and, specifically, create new means of counteracting Russian information dominance inside the country. Finding ways to engage Belarusian society and offering an alternative to Moscow should be the backbone of Western policy.

“Kazakhstan’s New Push to the West,” Nargis Kassenova, PONARS, 05.23.24.

  • If successful, Kazakhstan’s new push to the west will have substantial implications both for its national security and for Eurasian geopolitics more broadly. A well-functioning Middle Corridor would reduce Astana’s dependence on Russia; help Kazakhstan realize its potential as a trans-continental transport hub; and make it possible to strengthen cooperation with the countries of the South Caucasus, Turkey, and Europe. The consolidation of the Turkic “belt” around the Ankara-Baku-Astana-Tashkent axis will enhance Kazakhstan’s ability to withstand Russian pressure, which is likely to grow in intensity and toughness.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

 

Footnotes

  1. Also see: “Russia Counters Some U.S. Weapons in Ukraine,” Vladyslav Golovin and Carlotta Gall, NYT, 05.27.24. 
  2. This interview was originally published in Chinese, then translated into Russian by RIAC and then machine-translated from Russian into English.
  3. Recently, during the dialogue on "Monetary and Financial System Reform of BRICS Countries" jointly organized by the Beijing Dialogue and the United Nations South Center, Beijing Dialogue Secretary-General Han Hua had a conversation with Oleg Barabanov, project director of the Russian Valdai Club and professor at the Russian Higher School of Economics.
  4. May 28: Georgia's MPs have voted to overturn a presidential veto on a contentious “transparency on foreign influence” bill - often dubbed “foreign agents law” - which has sparked several weeks of protests in the capital Tbilisi, according to the BBC.

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 11:00 am Eastern time on the day this digest was distributed. Unless otherwise indicated, all summaries above are direct quotations. 

*Here and elsewhere, the italicized text indicates comments by RM staff and associates. These comments do not constitute a RM editorial policy.

^Machine-translated.

Pixabay photo available in the public domain.