Russia Analytical Report, May 22-30, 2023

4 Ideas to Explore

Henry Kissinger believes the 2008 “offer to put Ukraine into NATO was a grave mistake and led to this war,” but the U.S. and its allies “were absolutely right to resist” Russia’s 2022 decision to go to war against Ukraine. The statesman – who turned 100 this month – believes that Ukraine now does belong to NATO, according to WSJ. “I’m in the ironical position that I was alone when I opposed membership, and I’m nearly alone when I advocate NATO membership,” he told the newspaper. Kissinger believes the terms for the end of the war should include the return to Ukraine of all of its territory with the exception of Crimea.

While it is “impossible to precisely assess the odds that Putin will use nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” the risk that such use may occur is “high enough” to warrant response planning by Western leaders, according to Brown University’s Rose McDermott and Reid Pauly, and the University of Oregon’s Paul Slovic. The use of nuclear weapons by the Russian leader “would come as a shock but should not come as a surprise,” they argue in FA. Putin “may wager that time is still on his side and that even a drawn-out, nonnuclear war of attrition will wear out the Ukrainian war machine and its backers, [but] his narcissistic focus, concentrated around maintaining his hold on power, could drastically shrink the time horizon” for his use of nuclear weapons, the experts argue.

Recep Erdogan’s reelection means that “he will continue to favor Moscow internationally, keeping strong economic ties with Russia and providing Putin and his oligarchs with vital ways to bypass sanctions,” according a commentary in FA by the Washington Institute’s Soner Captay. The victory will also enable him  to continue his efforts to try to turn Turkey into a global power, but his aspirations will likely be hobbled by his country’s financial and economic troubles, according to WSJ’s Jared Malsin. Leading Russian analyst Fyodor Lukyanov agrees with Malsin. Turkey’s economic situation is bleak, and “Erdogan won’t be able to accomplish anything without ensuring economic growth,” Lukyanov writes in RG. Russia’s interaction with Turkey “is not one of a cordial agreement, but [it is based on the] realization that we have nowhere to go from each other,” Lukyanov writes.

Ukraine’s donors should make their aid conditional on Ukraine elevating “transparency and accountability reform as a strategic imperative,” according to a commentary in Politico by the German Marshall Fund’s Josh Rudolph and Brookings Institution’s Norman Eisen. The duo calls for “a counteroffensive against old and new oligarchy and grand corruption in the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine.” While the war against corruption in Ukraine is imperative, it is highly important to distinguish “anti-corruption campaigns from political persecution,” according to CEIP’s Konstantin Skorkin. “The government can always justify waging a war against regional grandees [such as popularly elected mayors] as part of the fight against corruption and the desire to prevent Western aid from ending up in the pockets of local clans, ” according to Skorkin.


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:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

"A European People’s Bond Could Support Ukraine’s Reconstruction," Jacob Kirkegaard of the German Marshall Fund, FT, 05.27.23.

  • “A peace agreement will take time... and Ukraine needs funds now. Fortunately, history shows ingenious ways in which an engaged public can be tapped to support a just cause. It is time for a European People’s Bond.”
  • “Last year the Canadian government showed the way. It issued a five-year C$500mn Ukraine Sovereignty Bond, in denominations as small as C$100, targeted to retail investors through a network of 10 Canadian financial institutions. The proceeds from the bond go directly, via the IMF, to supporting Ukraine. But investors purchase the equivalent of a normal Canadian government bond, backed by Ottawa’s AAA rating and upon maturity to be repaid by the Canadian government.”
  • “As the [European] commission already issues green bonds, there is no technical obstacle to Brussels arranging with its primary dealers — many of which have large retail bank operations in Europe — to market an EU-backed European People’s Bond to individual European investors.” 

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Moscow Drone Strikes a Psychological Blow, Russian Nationalists Say,” correspondent Anatoly Kurmanaev, NYT, 05.30.23.

  • “The flurry of drones that targeted the Russian capital on Tuesday morning caused minimal damage, shattering some windows in three residential buildings and lightly injuring two residents, according to local officials. The attack’s biggest impact, however, is likely to be psychological, forcing Muscovites to confront the reality of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which many have worked hard to block from their daily lives.”
    • “‘If the goal was to stress the population, then the very fact that drones have appeared in the skies over Moscow has contributed to that,’ wrote Mikhail Zvinchuk, a pro-war Russian military blogger who posts under the moniker Rybar and has more than a million followers on the Telegram messaging app.”
    • “The head of the country’s Wagner paramilitary group, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, said the attack highlighted Russia’s technological lag in drone warfare, which he has previously said is shaping the conflict in Ukraine. He also used it to step up his attacks on Russian defense officials, whom he has long accused of incompetence.”
    • “‘The strength of the psychological blow caused by the drone attack on Moscow is not in the scale of destruction, but in the fact that the nation’s leadership has promised us not a war, but a special military operation,’ wrote Igor Girkin, a former paramilitary leader who had long called for an escalation of the war in Ukraine.”

“Bakhmut Falls But Is It Really a Russian Victory?”, journalist Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 05.23.23.

  • “Lacking the stomach for more battles like the Bakhmut one, Russian generals will be hard put to use the meager military advantages they have extracted from taking the town, such as straighter supply lines and a shorter distance between the Russian artillery and Ukraine’s next echelon of defense. With Prigozhin’s self-serving passion dampened by the need to reconstitute his tattered force, the Russian troops will be squarely on the defensive, apart from sporadic attempts to push forward on the outskirts of Donetsk.”
  • “The invading army is left to wonder what will happen next. When will the Ukrainian counteroffensive materialize? Why does Zelensky feel secure enough to take much-publicized overseas trips? Russian soldiers in the trenches must deal with rumors that Ukrainian forces are massing against Donetsk, or even the Russian city of Belgorod.”
  • “This is not a great position to be in a year and three months into what was supposed to be a blitzkrieg. In that sense, Bakhmut, turned into a desert by the fighting, has served and is still serving its purpose for Ukraine.”

“Americans Support Exporting Drones to Ukraine — With a Caveat,” Paul Lushenko, a lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army and Ph.D. candidate at Cornell, and Brookings fellow Sarah Kreps, Brookings, 05.25.23.

  • “Contrary to policymakers’ frequent references to the constraints imposed by export governance measures, we find that public support for drone exports is not conditioned by a consideration of domestic policy or even international norms.”
  • “Rather, we find that public support for drone exports is shaped by two considerations. First, Americans care most about the recipient country. If the country is perceived to be an ally, whether the respondent was correct or not, the respondent’s willingness to support drone exports rises. Americans are most supportive of drone exports to Ukraine (62%), for example, in comparison to Germany (59%) or Japan (57%). Interestingly, over 56% of respondents identified Ukraine as an ally, which is comparable to respondents’ perceptions of allies who have formal defense treaties with the United States, including Germany (52%) and Japan (50%). Americans were least supportive of drone exports to Saudi Arabia (46%) despite 28% of Americans believing that Saudi Arabia is an ally of the United States.”
  • “As the conflict in Ukraine drags on, policymakers have much to consider. They are already opening the door to providing F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine after months of denied requests. Even if the public endorses this move, signaling support to the transfer of more advanced weaponry to Ukraine, only policymakers can decide whether sending armed drones should follow.”

"Ukraine and the Kinzhal: Don’t Believe the Hypersonic Hype,” Reed College's Alexander H. Montgomery and Brookings fellow Amy J. Nelson, Brookings, 05.23.23.

  • “Initially, in touting the Kinzhal as a hypersonic missile and then using it against Ukraine, Russia set off a misplaced alarm regarding both Ukraine’s air defenses and its own lead over the United States in the hypersonic weapons arms race. When similar alarm bells about related capabilities were sounded during the Cold War, it rang in the myth of a missile gap, amplifying the missile arms race. Today, however, these Ukrainian interceptions have helped to further dismantle the tattered reputation of advanced Russian weapons and their ability to evade defenses. Ukraine’s defense success here may also help to correct perceptions regarding the necessity and value of hypersonic weapons, which have been touted by some as essential at any price. To aid in this, we disentangle five hypersonic myths.”
    1. “Russian hypersonics are already here;”
    2. “Hypersonics cannot be intercepted;”
    3. “The United States is behind on hypersonics development;”
    4. “Hypersonics threaten strategic stability;”
    5. “Arms control for hypersonics is useless.”
  • “Russian hypersonic missiles do not yet pose the dire threat to Western interests that has been so breathlessly reported in the media. This makes it an opportune time to invest in defenses and allocate resources to arms control — before the real Russian hypersonic threat emerges.”

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

“No, Russia Is Not Massively Skirting Sanctions,” Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director at the Economist Intelligence Unit, FP, 05.25.23.

  • “Russia is certainly managing to evade some sanctions, but on a scale that is probably more limited than media reports and Kremlin statements claim. Here are eight key takeaways from what we really know about Moscow’s sanctions-dodging.”
    1. “Not all Russian trade is sanctions evasion.”
    2. “Evasion is as old as sanctions.”
    3. “Evading sanctions is hard for a big country like Russia.”
    4. “China is not a major enabler.”
    5. “Russia is not swamped with smuggled high-tech goods.”
    6. “Oil exports remain an area of concern. ... The data is stark: In the first quarter of 2023, 96 percent of the oil shipped from the huge Russian Pacific Ocean port of Kozmino was sold above the price cap, for an average price of $73 per barrel."
    7. “Tackling sanctions evasion is hard.”
    8. “Sanctions evasion does not mean sanctions do not work. In the first quarter of 2023, Moscow’s receipts from oil exports fell by $15.6 billion compared the same quarter in 2022, a drop of 29 percent.”

“How Putin Has Blunted the Impact of Sanctions and Consolidated His Regime,” Mariya Y. Omelicheva of the U.S. National Defense University’s National War College, and Alexander Sukharenko of the New Challenges & Threat Study Center in Vladivostok, Russia, NI, 05.23.23.

  • “A critical vulnerability of the opaque web of trusts, off-shore companies, and subsidiaries owned by Russian billionaires is a small and secretive network of financial experts who manage the tycoons’ wealth. Identifying and sanctioning these wealth managers, who have previously escaped scrutiny, would likewise have debilitating consequences for the Russian oligarchs.”
  • “The United States, the UK, and other Western countries need to garner the political will to close loopholes for tax evasion and anti-money laundering mechanisms. In the United States, for example, the richest 1 percent of Americans have been able to hide more than 20 percent of their income using opaque ownership structures and complex trusts, especially in the real estate sector and offshore businesses. These are the same loopholes that once made Western real estate markets and tax haven jurisdictions hospitable to Russian oligarchs’ investments.”
  • “Increasing the transparency of assets’ ownership and financial transactions and spreading the application of the anti-money-laundering rules to the real estate and offshore sectors will likely meet domestic resistance. Indeed, these same rules, which attracted Russian ‘dirty money,’ are benefiting wealthy business people, celebrities, and politicians in the West.”

"Now the UK Is Finally Tackling ‘Londongrad’, It’s Time the US Upped Its Game," the Human Rights Foundation's Casey Michel, FT, 05.28.23.

  • “Spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the [British] government finally brought in regulations so that even if ‘Londongrad’ is not, as the Conservatives claim, fully closed, the days of illicit Russian wealth flooding into the UK are finally coming to an end.”
  • “The most notable of these new developments targets owners of British property hidden behind foreign shell companies. Thanks to last year’s Economic Crime Act, the offshore companies masking real estate ownership will now need to disclose their real, beneficial owners. Most remarkably, the regulations appear to be working.”
  • “Even though the current [Biden] administration is a clear step up from a Trumpian alternative, it is not living up to its early promise. Over two years into President Joe Biden’s tenure, the U.S. has hardly improved transparency for real estate or private investment — two well-known sanctuaries for illicit, kleptocratic wealth.”
  • “Last year the U.S. challenged Britain to step up its fight. Now, the tables have turned. It’s time American partners followed the UK’s lead.”

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“Interview With Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Mikhail Galuzin,” TASS, 05.30.23. Clues from Russian views. [1]

  • “As for Russia's approaches to resolving the conflict around Ukraine, they remain unchanged....These are the protection of the inhabitants of Donbass, the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, the elimination of threats to the security of Russia emanating from its [Ukraine’s] territory.”
  • “At the same time, we are convinced that a settlement is possible only if the hostilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the supply of Western weapons [to Ukraine] cease. In order to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace, Ukraine must return to a neutral non-aligned status, established in the 1990 Declaration of State Sovereignty, and refuse to join NATO and the EU.”
  • “The new territorial realities ...must be recognized... At the legislative level, the state status of the Russian language should be fixed. It is necessary to achieve observance in Ukraine of fundamental human rights, incl. the right to freedom of religion.”

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

“Henry Kissinger Surveys the World as He Turns 100,” Tunku Varadarajan  of AEI, WSJ, 05.26.23.

  • “What Mr. Kissinger sees when he looks at the world today is ‘disorder.’ Almost all ‘major countries,’ he says, ‘are asking themselves about their basic orientation.”... Big countries such as India, and also a lot of ‘subordinate’ ones, ‘do not have a dominant view of what they want to achieve in the world.’ They wonder if they should ‘modify’ the actions of the superpowers (a word Mr. Kissinger says he hates), or strive for ‘a degree of autonomy.’”
  • “To prevent war with China, then, the U.S. needs to refrain from being heedlessly adversarial and pursue dialogue instead.’” ... Asked to size up China’s ambitions, he deadpans: ‘I don’t think they desire to spread Chinese culture around the world.’ They seek ‘security,’ not world domination, but they do expect to be the dominant power in Asia. Would India and Japan be expected to accept that? ‘The ideal position,’ Mr. Kissinger says, ‘is a China so visibly strong that that will occur through the logic of events.’
  • “The free world depends on U.S. leadership—as it has since the end of World War II. But Mr. Kissinger is worried. ‘We have no grand strategic view,’ he says of the U.S. ‘So every strategic decision has to be wrested out of a body politic that does not organically think in these categories.’”   
  • “Mr. Kissinger does believe, however, that the Biden administration has done ‘many things’ right. ‘I support them on Ukraine,’ he says. ‘From my perspective, the Ukraine war is won, in terms of precluding a Russian attack on allied nations in Europe. It is highly unlikely to occur again.’ But there are ‘other dangers that can rise out of Russia. As we are ending the war, we should keep in mind that Russia was a major influence on the region for hundreds of years, caught in its own ambivalence between admiration and feelings of inferiority or of danger coming from Europe.’ That ambivalence, he suggests, was behind this war: ‘I think the offer to put Ukraine into NATO was a grave mistake and led to this war. But its scale, and its nature, is a Russian peculiarity, and we were absolutely right to resist it.’”
  • “He now believes that Ukraine—'now the best-armed country in Europe’ —  belongs in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. ‘I’m in the ironical position that I was alone when I opposed membership, and I’m nearly alone when I advocate NATO membership.’ He would like the terms of the war’s end to include the return to Ukraine of all territory with the controversial exception of Crimea. ‘For Russia, the loss of Sevastopol, which was always not Ukrainian in history, would be such a comedown that the cohesion of the state would be in danger. And I think that’s not desirable for the world after Ukraine.’”

“The G7 Must Accept That It Cannot Run the World. American Hegemony and the Group’s Economic Dominance Are Now History,” chief economics commentator Martin Wolf, FT, 05.25.23.

  • “Both the ‘unipolar’ moment of the U.S. and the economic dominance of the G7 are history.”
    • “Between 2000 and 2023, its (G7’s) share in global output (at purchasing power) will have fallen from 44 to 30 percent, while that of all high-income countries will have fallen from 57 to 41 percent.  Meanwhile, China’s share will have risen from 7 to 19 percent.”  
  • “Sometimes, one simply has to adjust to reality. Leave aside for the moment the political goals of G7 members, which rightly include the need to preserve democracy at home and defend its frontiers — today, above all, in Ukraine. This is indeed the West’s fight. But it is unlikely ever to be that of the world.”
  • “We must recognize that any talk of ‘de-risking’ that does not focus on the two biggest threats we face — those of war and climate — is to strain at gnats, while swallowing camels. Yes, the G7 must defend its values and its interests. But it cannot run the world, even though the world’s fate will also be that of its members. A path to cooperation must be found, once again.”

"There Are Only Two Global Superpowers Left,” columnist Simon Kuper, FT, 05.25.23.

  • “Southern powers start from an understanding of Western hypocrisy. They know our habit of casting our own problems as the world’s — for instance, calling Ukraine ‘a war for global democracy.’ They are equally clear-eyed about Russia.”
  • “Russia aspires to be the West’s bogeyman, which is like a second-division team imagining it’s Manchester City’s rival.”
  • “There is Global China and Global U.S. (for now), but not Global anything else.”
  • “I’m delighted we’re backing Ukraine. It’s the right thing to do. Secondarily, it helps the west: having a common enemy creates unity, reduces silliness, and reminds us that we actually have some values. But we are only doing it because Putin is killing white people in our neighborhood. We care as much about Yemen as South Africa does about Ukraine.”

This Is the 'America First' Case for Supporting Ukraine,” columnist Marc A. Thiessen, WP, 05.30.23.

  • “Altruistic arguments of solidarity with the Ukrainian people are not enough; they demand an ‘America First’ case for supporting Ukraine. Here it is, in 10 clear points.”
    1. “A Russian victory would reinforce a narrative of American weakness and embolden our enemies.”
    2. “A Ukrainian victory will help deter China.”
    3. “Defeating Putin would weaken the Sino-Russian partnership.”
    4. “Support for Ukraine will restore the Reagan Doctrine.”
    5. “Victory in Ukraine will save the United States billions of dollars.” 
    6. “Support for Ukraine allows us to test new weapons and defense concepts that will increase U.S. military preparedness.”
    7. “Arming Ukraine is revitalizing our defense industrial base.”
    8. “The Russian invasion has strengthened U.S. alliances.”
    9. “A Russian victory could spark new wars of aggression and a global nuclear arms race.”
    10. “Victory in Ukraine is achievable.”

“Putin's War Is America's Opportunity,” opinion columnist Walter Russell Mead, WSJ, 05.30.23.

  • “To understand today's Ukraine, think of Israel. After centuries of oppression culminating in the unspeakable violence of the 20th century, Israelis are determined to take their fate into their own hands and are willing to make the economic and personal sacrifices necessary to defend their independence. Ukrainians seem to have reached a similar place.”
  • “The Ukraine that emerges from this baptism by fire will be a formidable country with a battle-tested army, and it is going to transform the strategic landscape. It will join Poland, the Baltic republics and the Scandinavian countries in a defense-minded bloc against Russian expansion.”
  • “Any end to the war widely perceived as a defeat for Mr. Putin will do more than create a powerful new ally for the U.S. It will also underline the value of an American alliance.”
  • “Helping Ukraine is not a charity project to be undertaken out of sentiment. Nor is it a strategic distraction that weakens our hand in the Indo-Pacific. In his blindness and folly, Vladimir Putin has handed the U.S. a golden opportunity. We should seize it with both hands.”

“If a Divided Germany Could Enter NATO, Why Not Ukraine?”, reporter Steven Erlanger, NYT, 05.26.23.

  • “Though peace seems distant, the United States and Europe are debating how to guarantee Ukraine’s security once the fighting with Russia stops, even without a total victory by either side. West Germany may provide a model, a precedent for admitting a divided country into NATO. … Despite its division and unhappy role as the border between nuclear armed rivals during the Cold War, West Germany became a NATO member in 1955, benefiting from the alliance’s protection, without ever giving up its commitment to unification, finally realized in 1989.”
  • “As NATO’s yearly summit approaches in July, its members are discussing what they can offer Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who wants more concrete assurances that his country will join the alliance. The West German model is gaining traction in some European capitals as a way to provide Ukraine real security, even if it does not immediately regain all its territory.”
  • “Germany is an example of NATO accepting a country with ‘significant and unresolved territorial issues’ and a form of enemy occupation, said Angela E. Stent, an expert on Russia and Germany and author of ‘Putin’s World.’ ‘When West Germany joined NATO, there was what you could call a monumental frozen conflict,’ she said. ‘And yet it was felt very important to anchor West Germany in the Western alliance, and so West Germany joined. The Russians complained about it and said it was very dangerous, but they were powerless to prevent it.’”
  • “There have been various proposals for making Ukraine an indigestible hedgehog for Russia, so stuffed with sophisticated Western weaponry that, even if not a member of NATO, it could deter Moscow. That is the core of an idea first proposed by a former NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and a top Zelensky aide, Andriy Yermak.”
  • “The Rasmussen idea, which many in NATO favor for now, suggests Israel as a model, where Washington’s commitment to its ongoing security is clear even without a specific mutual-defense treaty. But the problems are clear: Israel has nuclear weapons, while Ukraine does not. And even bilateral defense commitments from NATO members for Ukraine could still end up dragging the whole alliance into a future Russia-Ukraine war. … So many officials and analysts believe, as Kaja Kallas, the prime minister of Estonia, said in a recent interview, that the only real security for Ukraine is NATO membership, ‘when conditions allow.’”

“Russia’s War Upends German Foreign Policy,” Carnegie Europe Chief Editor Judy Dempsey, CEIP, 05.30.23.

  • “When Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine gained their independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Berlin, consciously or not, looked at these newly independent and sovereign countries through the prism of Russia... This blinkered view of post–1989 shaped Germany’s policy toward NATO, toward the EU, and toward Russia — all at the expense of Eastern Europe. The NATO Bucharest summit reflected this German outlook. Berlin bowed to Moscow.”
  • “This triangle of interests is changing. The war in Ukraine shows just how NATO has adapted and how Berlin recognizes that it has to pay for its security, through NATO and at home by modernizing its depleted armed forces. This is about taking hard power and security seriously.”
  • “The EU is changing, too. It’s not going to be a defense player or a hard-power organization. The structures and different interests of the member states prevent this. What it can do — and Germany must intellectually help achieve this — is take steps toward making the continent ‘whole and free.’ There is still too much unfinished business from the immediate post–1989 era. Completing it means completing Eastern Europe’s transformation, however difficult that may be. That brings us to the third element of the triangle — Russia. With its war changing Germany’s perception of Moscow, the triangle in its old form is redundant.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

Stress-Testing Chinese-Russian Relations,” head of research Rob Hamilton, FPRI, 05.25.23.

  • “The relationship between China and Russia is neither a strategic partnership nor an axis of convenience. It is complex, dynamic, and contingent upon the environment in which the two interact. And contingency happens on the ground, not in summits and bilateral visits. In other words, in the regions of the world where China and Russia are both actively pursuing their national interests through political, military, and economic activities, interactions between them are less scripted and therefore more likely to reveal truths about the nature of their relationship.”
  • “Rather than trying to reduce their relationship to a bumper sticker, analysts should identify areas where their interests in key regions converge and diverge. This could allow for pragmatic, evidence-based predictions about the future trajectory of the relationship in those regions.”
  • “Central Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and East Asia are the key regions to watch going forward. In these regions, the role of the United States and the intensity of Chinese and Russian interests vary, allowing for tests of the relationship under different conditions. Beijing and Moscow are both expanding into domains where the other has long been dominant — China’s security presence in Central Asia and Africa is expanding, while Russia is making forays into economic investment in East Asia. To this point, the two have been able to compartmentalize their differences and maintain their cooperation against what they label ‘U.S. hegemony.’ But that is not a given in the future.”
  • “What the United States should not do is explicitly try to ‘drive a wedge’ between Beijing and Moscow. Their differences in key regions of the world may drive them apart or at a minimum limit their cooperation. If that happens, Washington should be prepared to adjust to the new normal. But by inserting itself into the equation, American policymakers will only serve to remind Chinese and Russian leaders of their shared animosity toward the United States, binding them closer together.”

“The Art of Tasseography: China–Russia Relations as Viewed from China,” founder and editor of Sinification Thomas des Garets Geddes, RUSI, 05.30.23.

  • “The war in Ukraine has been a defining moment in China–Russia relations, and Beijing has shown that it is willing to put up with relatively high costs in order to preserve its ties with the Kremlin. Beijing says that its relationship with Moscow has a ‘bottom line’, but how far Putin could still go before breaching it is rarely addressed in China.”
  • “So far, few Chinese scholars have hinted at a significant shift in Beijing’s current policy towards Moscow. The war has certainly presented the China–Russia relationship with ‘challenges’ that are yet to be addressed, but Russia appears to be too strategically important for China to risk losing it right now.”
  • “A toppling of Putin by a pro-Western force or a crippling of the Kremlin would in all likelihood be a disaster for Beijing. Nevertheless, suspicion of and – for some – even deep-seated antipathy towards this important partner is also evident in these discussions. That is one reason why so many Chinese experts continue to argue against forging a formal alliance with Russia. Distrust (on both sides) points once again to the underlying fragility of China–Russia ties and is perhaps one of the reasons why Beijing has been quite so afraid of offending its partner.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

"Putin and the Psychology of Nuclear Brinksmanship: The War in Ukraine Hinges on One Man’s Thoughts and Feelings," Brown University's Rose McDermott and Reid Pauly, and the University of Oregon's Paul Slovic, FA, 05.30.23.

  • “It remains impossible to assign a precise probability to a potential nuclear escalation by Russia in Ukraine. It might be easier to predict, however, what one might observe if a Russian nuclear strike in Ukraine is imminent. The nuclear weapons expert Pavel Podvig, for instance, has cited four signs to watch for: more specific nuclear threats from the Kremlin, a rout of Russian forces for which Putin is personally blamed at home, the movement of tactical nuclear weapons from storage into the field, and intercepted Russian communications suggesting possible intent to use nuclear weapons.  But signs that Russia is gearing up for a strike could also be a bluff intended to frighten Ukraine’s allies into standing down.”
  • “Factors such as the prominence effect, psychic numbing, and the concept of purportedly ‘virtuous violence’ can help reveal how a leader such as Putin assesses risk — and therefore offer a sense, earlier on, of the relative likelihood that he will go nuclear. … Judging by many of his past statements, Putin’s wish to securely maintain power and his ambition to lead a modern Russian empire into a new golden era are among his most prominent objectives. … Putin’s cruelty is legendary and has served him well in acquiring and maintaining power. … Biographers trace this disposition — the belief that brutality is a survival skill — to Putin’s youth. … As a leader, Putin has scaled up his siege mentality into what the journalist Michel Eltchaninoff has described as a perpetual sense of victimhood, a fixation on apparent humiliations and insults directed against Russia. … Neither heavy losses on the battlefield nor crippling economic sanctions have led Putin to waver. He appears singularly preoccupied with national security and with his own need for control.”
  • “Of course, it is impossible to precisely assess the odds that Putin will use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. But uncertainty and imprecision are not the same as ignorance. Psychological theory and evidence, backed by the history of warfare, point to a high enough risk that Western governments must plan ahead. They should weigh now their possible responses to an escalation that would come as a shock but should not come as a surprise.”
  • “Unlike opinion surveys that posit a hypothetical risk to U.S. soldiers, Putin’s vulnerability is real and considerable. Russia’s losses have been staggering, far more than the 20,000-soldier threshold that many members of the American public would say warrants the use of nuclear weapons.
  • “That Putin has not yet taken that step, even in the face of huge casualties, is cold comfort. He may wager that time is still on his side and that even a drawn-out, nonnuclear war of attrition will wear out the Ukrainian war machine and its backers. But his narcissistic focus, concentrated around maintaining his hold on power, could drastically shrink the time horizon.” 

“Don’t Buy Putin’s Hypersonic Missile Hype,” Andrew Reddie, founder and faculty director of the Risk and Security Lab at the University of California at Berkeley, interviewed by Tobin Harshaw, Bloomberg, 05.27.23.

  • “Fortunately or unfortunately, the U.S. (and Russia and China) can hold one another at risk with their existing nuclear capabilities. And while it makes sense for Moscow and Beijing to pursue hypersonic capability as a hedge against U.S. ballistic-missile defenses, we don’t have the same pressure. Moreover, the conversation concerning who is ‘ahead or behind’ in a hypersonic arms race is misguided.”
    • “First, Russia and China are both pursuing nuclear-tipped systems, while the U.S. is pursuing a conventional capability. This means that the accuracy requirements of the two systems are vastly different. We should not be surprised that achieving precision hypersonic systems for the U.S., intended to hit within tens of meters of the target, should take longer than the Russian and Chinese nuclear-tipped systems that can miss their target by a considerable margin and still meet their objectives.”
    • “Second, the U.S. has not and does not seek parity in terms of capability. Rather, we have historically sought to ‘offset’ our adversaries’ advantages by using better technology — shaping the competition to our own benefit.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

Addressing Russian and Chinese Cyber Threats: A Transatlantic Perspective on Threats to Ukraine and Beyond.” Svenja Kirsch, and Bethan Saunders of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, May 2023.

  • “Due to the transnational nature of cyberattacks, international cooperation is key to address the arising challenges to the information landscape, critical infrastructure, the economy, and overall security. In the context of the war in Ukraine and of China’s increasingly advanced cyber capabilities, deeper transatlantic cooperation is important to curtail Russia’s war ambitions and to defend economic, technological, political, and military infrastructure against adversarial attacks.”
  • “EU and the U.S. should embark on a path of greater social media regulation related to disinformation, institutionalization of big tech support in cyber defense, intelligence sharing, standardization of cyber governance guidelines, embrace of transatlantic public-private partnerships, and international funding for related endeavors. The transatlantic partners cannot afford to waste this moment in history; for the sake of the Ukrainian people and all those that believe in a democratically governed cyberspace. Amid the war in Ukraine, it is of urgent importance that cyber defenses are lastingly bolstered through continued transatlantic support. Stronger resiliency and cybersecurity measures can reduce human suffering, and allow for resources to be focused on Ukraine’s kinetic defense.”
  • “Considering the potentially increased role cyberwarfare will play in future conflicts, and given predictions that Chinese cyber capabilities will pose more far-reaching challenges than those of the Russians, the EU and the U.S. need to meaningfully increase their cyber cooperation now.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“The Plot Against Russia. How Putin Revived Stalinist Anti-Americanism to Justify a Botched War,” Andrei Kolesnikov, FA, 05.25.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “As Moscow’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine turns into a long and difficult war, the old ideology of Russian messianism, which had already become the Kremlin’s preferred tool for manipulating public opinion, has been stirred into a sort of defining rationale for the regime. No longer is Russia simply bringing to heel a weak and feckless Ukraine that has fallen under the spell of ‘neo-Nazis.’ According to the new framing, Russia’s real fight is against the mighty United States, which wants to destroy it, while Ukraine — just like the European Union and NATO — is merely an obedient U.S. satellite.”
  • “For the Kremlin, a sinister U.S. plot offers a convenient explanation for why the war has dragged on for so long and why Putin has proved to be not such a great military strategist after all. It also helps explain to average Russians why the war was started in the first place.”
  • “By conjuring a nefarious, all-powerful adversary, the Putin regime can create a new justification for a hugely costly war that has already lasted well over a year and seems unlikely to end anytime soon.” 
  • “Putin’s embrace of conspiratorial anti-Americanism is especially dangerous because of his regime’s growing disregard for the old red lines. During the Cold War, at least, both sides agreed that the consequences of inflicting damage on each other would be unacceptable. Putin’s problem — in fact, the whole world’s problem right now — is that the Russian government lacks the one instinct that since the late 1960s has consistently led to détente with the West: the willingness to negotiate. Instead, Putin has suspended cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation, discussed the possibility of a nuclear strike with infantile levity, expressed teenage grievances, and shown an unwillingness to maintain even a minimal level of dialogue. All of these actions unfavorably distinguish Putin’s anti-Americanism from that of his late Soviet predecessors.”
  • “This resurrected ideology also reflects the disappearance of the bipolar Cold War order and the loss of Russian greatness and power that have come with it. Thus, when Putin and members of his team talk about a new multipolar world, they are simply trying to reassert Moscow’s lost superpower status and portray themselves as a guiding light for the former Soviet republics and the countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. All of this is a consequence of the psychological trauma of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which the elite who came to power in 2000 carried with them. Twenty-two years later, that trauma has resulted in a global catastrophe.”

“Putin Wants You to Think He’s an Anti-Woke Crusader,” Harvard Business School’s Jeremy S. Friedman, FP, 05.29.23.

  • “The Trump years … saw the crescendo of a right-wing obsession with so-called wokeness, prompting attempts to reaffirm traditional conceptions of gender, growing assertions that the United States was a Christian nation — or, at least, a Judeo-Christian one — and to reestablish a celebratory account of U.S. history epitomized by Trump’s 1776 Commission. Key to this effort was the idea that wokeness had captured the heights of American cultural power — Hollywood, the mainstream media, and higher education — in the belief that, as Andrew Breitbart has famously pronounced, ‘politics is downstream from culture.’”
  • “Sensing an opportunity to undermine his adversaries, Putin has embraced this dynamic and now poses as the avatar of the conservative critique of Western society. Where once the North Vietnamese claimed to embody the anti-imperialist cause, Putin now claims to embody anti-wokeness, positioning Russia — most famously though crackdowns on LGBTQ+ rights — as a bastion of traditional Christian values. In public speeches, he has decried ‘cancel culture,’ ‘reverse racism,’ and gender ideology that he calls a ‘crime against humanity.’ He has married these criticisms to attacks on globalization, asserting that it has led to an ‘uneven distribution of wealth’ and ‘exacerbated inequality’ as some have ‘attempted to open up other countries’ borders for the sake of their own competitive advantages.’ He has portrayed these policies as serving the interests of a decadent, cosmopolitan elite — a rhetorical move that parallels Trump’s political synthesis of social conservatism and populist economics.”
  • “So far, this tactic seems to have achieved some success. New research indicates that support for Putin is higher among U.S. Christian nationalists, who feel that ‘liberal democracy is infringing on their religious beliefs,’ Northeastern University religion and anthropology professor Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, part of the research team, said.”
  • “Today, Putin does not actually seek to restore American democracy, but to undermine it. A victory for him will not help the causes of traditional morality, or free speech, or whatever else he claims to represent. His pose is tactical, and those who imagine that a foreign adversary will help bring the changes they want to see in the United States will ultimately be disappointed. Republican candidates who seek to cater to this sort of opposition are not helping restore America’s greatness; they are betraying it.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Putin’s Potemkin economy,” editor Tony Barber, FT, 05.27.23.

  • In a convincing article for The Insider, Vladimir Milov, an economist and former Russian government minister now living in exile in the west, refers to a set of ‘Potemkin indicators’ that offer a masterclass in distorting the truth about Russia’s economy. These include gross domestic product, unemployment, inflation, domestic investment and the ruble’s exchange rate.”
    • “If we take just one of these indicators — unemployment — we see that Milov certainly has a point. According to the chart below, based on FT investigative reporting, Russian government data and the estimates of consulting network FinExpertiza, hidden unemployment is at a record high and way above the official jobless rate of less than four percent.”
  • “One Russia-born economist whose analyses are invariably worth reading is Sergei Guriev, now at Sciences Po in Paris. In this interview, he observes that one statistic the government is still publishing is that for retail sales. This indicates that, towards the end of last year, sales were almost 10 percent lower in comparable prices than in the same period of 2021.So the war appears to be squeezing Russian households quite a bit. This can also be deduced from data on Russian car sales, which in the first four months of this year were down almost 40 percent from January-April 2022.”
    • “But the larger point Guriev makes is that GDP figures in wartime, even if not manipulated by pro-government statisticians, are hardly a reliable indicator of the health of an economy. Extra spending on missiles, guns, boots and helmets — and, by the way, on the state security apparatus, police and prosecutor’s office — boosts nominal GDP growth. But it leaves less for non-military sectors such as healthcare, education, infrastructure and civilian industry, as suggested by this Reuters analysis of Russia’s 2023 budget.”
  • “Energy revenues collapsed by about 50 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period of 2022, as western price caps have caused Russian oil to trade at a discount to global benchmarks. This leads Kirill Rogov, another respected Russian economist, to the conclusion:   As revenues decline, the economy will face the same set of problems that characterize a standard economic crisis — a chronic budget deficit, devaluation, investment hunger and demand contraction.”
  • “To sanctions and the distortions of a wartime economy, we can add the impact of large-scale emigration since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In the chart below, accompanying her article for the Brussels-based Bruegel think-tank, Elina Ribakova shows that emigration soared last year to record post-2008 highs — involving as many as 1.3mn people.”
  • “Does all this mean that Putin won’t be able to sustain his war effort? In the short term — by which I mean, between now and the middle of next year — I think the answer is, no. Assuming that there is no ceasefire or settlement by May 2024, I think that Russia has the capacity to fight on.”

“Putin’s Tactic of Inaction Could Backfire at Home,” senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center Tatiana Stanovaya, CEIP, 05.24.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “On some level, the president has been extremely active, secretly micromanaging the war effort and publicly pretending to be dealing with routine matters from meetings on the economy to the launch of a tram line in the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Yet there are no presidential initiatives in the works for adapting the country to the new wartime reality and all that it involves.”
  • “This doesn’t mean, of course, that there really is nothing happening in Russia: quite the contrary. But what is happening has far less to do with the president’s plans or strategic interests than it does with the corporate interests of individual departments and figures. What is happening is largely a response to the worsening conditions facing Russia.”
  • “The regime is not under threat so long as Putin’s ratings remain stable, and besides, the mechanism of power is still completely under his control. Yet his public paralysis and refusal to assume responsibility for the resolution of the most pressing problems facing Russia cannot but render him and his courtiers politically irrelevant and create a vacuum to be filled by the ultra-patriots. The day may come when Putin finds himself dependent on a once harmless bunch made dangerous by his opacity and inaction.”

“Injustice for Mr. Kara-Murza,” editorial board, WP, 05.23.23.

  • “A month ago, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a columnist for Post Opinions, was sentenced to 25 years in a Russian prison for speaking out against the murderous war in Ukraine. At the time, the State Department expressed support for Mr. Kara-Murza and other political prisoners in Russia who are ‘held unjustly.’ Eighty-one members of Congress have urged the Biden administration to formally designate Mr. Kara-Murza, a permanent U.S. resident, as illegally and wrongfully detained, which would place resources behind winning his freedom under the purview of Roger D. Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.”
  • “Although this would not immediately relieve Mr. Kara-Murza's serious plight, it is a first step that would allow the United States to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Moscow. But the administration has not made the designation and seems to be having doubts. They should not — and ought to explain their thinking.”
  • “The charges against him - treason, belonging to an undesirable organization and dissemination of false information about the Russian military - are based on five speeches in which he spoke nothing but truth. The motivation of the arrest was to silence him. Sure, Russian President Vladimir Putin's government has made it illegal to criticize the military, including the use of the word ‘war.’ But the United States should not be endorsing this absurdity. Mr. Putin is a perpetrator of war crimes against Ukraine; that is the real criminality. Mr. Kara-Murza stands for unshakable principles. The United States should stand with him.”


Defense and aerospace:

“Stalking the Seabed: How Russia Targets Critical Undersea Infrastructure,” research fellow Sidharth Kaushal, RUSI, 05.25.23.

  • “The recent disclosure of Russian naval activity in the vicinity of key maritime infrastructure in the North Sea including cables, windfarms and pipelines should not necessarily come as a surprise. Russia has spent a considerable amount of effort investing in capabilities that would allow it to pose a threat to European critical infrastructure, and has viewed this as an imperative since the Soviet era.”
  • “In a conflict with NATO, damage to infrastructure at sea along with the targeting of infrastructure ashore would be a key part of Russia’s overall war effort, aimed at gradually eroding popular support in the West.”  
  • “The different components of Russia’s overall maritime sabotage capability pose different challenges to the critical infrastructure of European countries, which encompasses undersea cables, gas pipelines and windfarms, among other things.”
    • “Deep-diving submarines can sever cables at depths which make repairs extremely difficult. They can also tap sensitive undersea cables. However, these capabilities are limited in number and operated by only a few very specialized individuals.”
    • “The challenge posed by a combination of auxiliaries and surface vessels operated by the Russian Navy is a somewhat different one. These vessels cannot necessarily damage infrastructure such as undersea cables at depths that would make repairs especially difficult, but by virtue of being inconspicuous they are harder to track and identify.”
    • “The challenge with regard to auxiliary ships is primarily one of classification. This challenge is in some ways not dissimilar to constabulary activities such as counter-smuggling or counterpiracy: it requires a suspect vessel to be identified in the midst of a large number of ships conducting normal economic activity.”
  • “While naval assets will remain crucial for tasks from surveillance to interdiction, navies will likely need to have the organisational structures to coordinate with a broader range of actors in order to meet the challenge of maritime sabotage.”
  • 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:

“Erdogan’s Russian Victory. Turkey Is Shifting From Illiberal Democracy to Putin-Style,” the Washington Institute's Soner Cagaptay, FA, 05.29.23.

  • “On May 28, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish leader ‘who never loses elections,’ won the runoff of Turkey’s presidential poll against his opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.”
  • “The outcome of the May elections suggests that Turkey has now shifted closer to a Eurasian autocracy than an illiberal European democracy. One reason is that Erdogan’s approach to electoral power has increasingly come to resemble that of a different kind of leader altogether: Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
  • “Although Erdogan’s turn toward Putin has developed incrementally, its origins can be traced to the 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey. This was one of the most critical moments of Erdogan’s time in office, a point of dramatic uncertainty that Putin used to draw Turkey’s leader closer to him.” 
  • “Erdogan’s election victory means that he will continue to favor Moscow internationally, keeping strong economic ties with Russia and providing Putin and his oligarchs with vital ways to bypass sanctions. Putin exploited Erdogan’s key insecurity in 2016 — Erdogan still feels that his hold on power is tenuous, even if he has become Turkey’s new sultan — and to this day, the Kremlin continues to benefit from it. Erdogan sits anxiously on the throne. Putin knows this, and he is using it to pull Erdogan closer to his orbit and Ankara closer to Moscow’s.”

”What does Erdogan's election victory mean for Russian-Turkish relations,” chief editor of Russia in Global Affairs Fyodor Lukyanov, Rossiiskaya Gazeta/Russia in Global Affairs, 05.30.23. Clues from Russian Views. [2]

  • “Erdogan's victory in the presidential elections in Turkey, in theory, means the continuity of foreign policy. However, the very concept of ‘continuity’ in this case is applicable not so much to the foreign policy content as to the approach – constant maneuvering in search of opportunities. … Over the twenty years in power, the goal-setting of the current Turkish president has changed many times, sometimes quite diametrically - from Europeanization to Ottoman ideals, from promoting revolutions in the Middle East to actively restoring relations with the objects [of these revolutions].”
  • “Turkey is a key player [in the region], ...., of course, it wants to [be that player], there is no doubt about it. The question is whether it has capacities [to play that role]. Not everything is clear about these. The first and most important thing that Erdogan will have to deal with now is the economy. The rather bleak economic situation did not prevent him from being re-elected, but he won’t be able to accomplish anything without ensuring economic growth …"
  • “Our interaction [with Turkey] is not one of a cordial agreement, but [it is based on] realization that we have nowhere to go from each other. It's a healthy realization. And the forms of its implementation have already been worked out.”

"Erdogan’s Next Focus: Turkey’s Place on the World Stage," Middle East correspondent Jared Malsin, WSJ, 05.30.23.

  • “President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, fresh from fending off his biggest election challenge, is turning his attention to cementing his country's place as an aspiring global power.”
  • “Western capitals also fear he is sowing disunity in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Turkey has been a member since the 1950s. Erdogan is blocking Sweden's accession to the alliance over concerns about alleged Kurdish militants living in the country. … The dispute over NATO's expansion might be difficult to resolve.”
  • “Erdogan's biggest challenge is squaring his global ambitions with his country's financial troubles. The country's foreign assets are in the red after years in which the country has spent tens of billions of dollars to prop up the Turkish lira. The local currency has lost nearly 80% of its value against the dollar in the past five years as Erdogan has pressured the central bank into cutting interest rates despite high inflation -- the opposite of what central banks throughout the world do.” 

“Hizbullah and Russia’s Nascent Alliance,” Ph.D. candidate at George Mason University Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, RUSI, 05.23.23.

  • “Russia’s encroachment into Lebanon has been overshadowed by the conflict in Ukraine, and its growing alliance with Hizbullah has likewise received scant attention. And yet, a close read of U.S. government designations related to Iranian and Hizbullah illicit financing schemes reveals a distinct trend in Russian cooperation with and support for such activities.”
  • “Russia’s alliance with Hizbullah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizbullah forces fought side-by-side in alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizbullah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions evasion activities.”
  • “While there are still many unknowns about the extent of Hizbullah and Russia’s collaboration or how much they each benefit, it’s undoubtedly clear that their relationship has grown over time and is now multifaceted, mutually beneficial, and includes what appears to be an especially lucrative economic component. Russia’s activities in Lebanon are not all related to Hizbullah, to be sure. But its alliance with Hizbullah provides Russia with access and powerful top-cover to expand its overall footprint in Lebanon, while benefitting the terrorist group as well.”
  • “In the case of Russia and Hizbullah there is a clear overlap – the two are mutually reinforcing, not mutually exclusive. Competition, particularly when it involves expanding influence via soft power, can be easy to underestimate or overlook. In the case of Lebanon, not only is Russia poised to benefit, but so is a significant terrorist group. In terms of Russia’s current threat, the world is focused on the conflict in Ukraine. While this is indeed the greater and more immediate threat, it is also diverting attention away from Russia’s encroachment in the Middle East and its strengthening of a significant terrorist organization.”
  • “In this era of strategic competition, the U.S. faces a multipolar threat – with various adversaries in various locations worldwide, who are using various domains and tradecraft – and no one government or private sector entity has full visibility. This is why the U.S. government must remain agile and leverage its partnerships to maintain insight into the changing threat landscape, so that the U.S. and its allies do not lose out in competition in one region of the world while focused on conflict in another.”


“Time for Ukraine to launch an anti-corruption counteroffensive," Josh Rudolph of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund and Norman Eisen of Brookings, Politico, May 22, 2023.

  • “As Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces gets underway, the country’s allies must now help plot a separate counteroffensive — one that will be needed to beat another longtime nemesis of the Ukrainian people: oligarchs and grand corruption.”
  • “When Ukraine’s international donors gather in London next month for the sixth annual Ukraine Recovery Conference, they need to show Western taxpayers and businesses how exactly they plan to ensure transparency and accountability in the reconstruction process — otherwise, it won’t be funded on a scale worthy of the country’s war sacrifices.”
  • “Our new research recommends concrete commitments that donors could pledge to elevate transparency and accountability reform as a strategic imperative: prioritizing anti-corruption conditions, using Ukraine’s new transparency tools, forming a Ukrainian civil society board to advise donors, empowering local governments and creating a fusion cell of auditors in Kyiv.”
  • “This is the battle plan — the attack vectors and foot soldiers of a counteroffensive against old and new oligarchy and grand corruption in the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine. And all of it will be needed to secure the freedom, independence and prosperity for which Ukrainians are fighting.”

“Ukraine’s Other Battle: Zelensky vs. the Mayors,” independent researcher Konstantin Skorkin, CEIP, 05.25.23.

  • “Distinguishing anti-corruption campaigns from political persecution in Ukraine has always been difficult, and even Russia’s invasion has not changed that. The recent arrest of one of the country’s most influential regional politicians, Odesa Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov, is the latest episode in a high-profile series of legal proceedings brought against Ukrainian mayors that continues despite the military freeze on political life.”
  • “For Zelensky’s administration, putting pressure on powerful mayors is part of the same strategy as deoligarchization and purging the remnants of the country’s pro-Russian political forces. It is simultaneously a fight against the negative legacy of the past, the desire to improve the country’s manageability while it is at war, and preparation for its post-war development.”
  • “By getting rid of managers who may not be perfect but were elected by local residents, the government is setting a dangerous precedent, reinforcing authoritarian tendencies within a political system that is already in stasis. Once the war is over and competitive politics returns, the contradictions between the center and the regions will likely again be at the forefront of Ukrainian politics.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“What I Learned From Henry Kissinger; At 100, the former secretary of state remains the great teacher of statesmen, including the recent president of a small post-Soviet country,” Armen Sarkissian, who served as the fifth prime minister and fourth president of Armenia, WSJ, 05.25.23.

  • “My own career, like that of so many statesmen around the world, was often guided by Kissinger. As a scientist-turned-politician, tasked with opening Armenia's first international mission in London after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, I apprenticed myself to Kissinger's work. I first met him in the late 1990s, after serving as my country's prime minister. Kissinger was 75 at the time, but the generosity and suppleness of his intellect were still enviable.”
  • “When I was later elected president of Armenia, in 2018, I frequently turned to his writings to help steer my small post-Soviet country out of the intractable challenges imposed by war in a volatile neighborhood. Over the last quarter-century I have gotten to know Kissinger very well personally, and I've learned that his critics' hostile caricature is seriously misleading…”
  • “Today we are seeing a resurgence of toxic populism around the world and the emergence of a new Cold War between the U.S. and China. The geopolitics of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, characterized by deadly but relatively predictable players and venerable institutions, has given way to what can be called a ‘quantum era,’ defined by unpredictability.”
  • “This makes it easy to dismiss Kissingerism as an obsolete school of thought, but that would be a grave mistake. His diplomacy, rooted in an unrelentingly realistic assessment of the world and all its unbeautiful complexities, isn't just applicable to the challenges we face today. It may well save us from the kind of calamitous conflict he devoted himself to fending off as secretary of state. As Henry Kissinger turns 100, it is time for the world, for its own sake, to rediscover him.”

“Ukraine War Opens Door for Moldova To End Its Frozen Conflict,” editor Alec Russell, FT. 05.29.23.

  • “The economy of this strip of land [Moldova’s separatist republic of Transdniestria] ...relies on the supply of free gas from Gazprom, the Russian state energy company. This allows Transnistrian authorities to keep utility bills low and to pay better pensions than in the rest of Moldova as well as fueling the power station that supplies electricity to all of Moldova.”
  • “A critical shift, [Alexandru Flenchea, a former Moldovan deputy prime minister], noted, came last year when Ukraine closed its border with Transnistria. This not only halted trade but also choked off smuggling — long a lucrative revenue stream — and accentuated the enclave’s reliance on exports to the EU.”
  • “There is a general sense that this conflict should not survive the war in Ukraine,’ said Valeriu Pașa, the chair of the Moldovan think-tank”
  • “But Moldovan officials are wary of pushing too fast, arguing that the country’s fragile economy and under-resourced government would right now struggle to cope with the absorption of Transnistria.”

“A Cold War Weapon Whose Time Has Gone,” Thomas Emanuel Dans, former counselor to the U.S. Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, WSJ, 05.25.23.

  • “Kazakhstan has been a free country for more than 30 years. A culturally Muslim former Soviet republic with a population of 19 million, modern Kazakhstan is a secular country with a reputation for religious tolerance. Yet it is unable to have an open trading relationship with the U.S. because of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, a 1974 law aimed at protecting Soviet Jews. This Cold War relic has outlived its usefulness and should be changed.”
  • “Economic sanctions, when correctly applied, can change a country's behavior. But once those sanctions achieve their purposes and are no longer relevant, they should go. Trust and partnership must take the place of leverage and disincentive. In the case of Kazakhstan, it's time for the U.S. to put the past to bed.”


[1] Translated with the help of machine translation.

[2] Translated with the help of machine translation.

Slider image created by Wilfried Pohnke, shared via Pixabay content license