Russia Analytical Report, May 28-June 3, 2024

4 Ideas to Explore

  1. Ukrainian military authorities are “in a difficult spot” when it comes to recruiting badly needed soldiers for the front because “the initial fervor, which did drive people to sign up in the beginning, has been replaced by worry—where is this all going, and what’s the strategy?” Dara Massicot of CEIP told The New Yorker. “The manpower issue can’t be sidestepped for much longer,” she warned in a Q&A for the magazine, gloomily entitled “Why the Summer Could Be Disastrous for Ukraine.” Ukrainian commanders’ efforts to address this “critical shortage of soldiers” is hindered not only by the lack of enthusiasm among potential recruits, but also by the poor training and health problems of those that are called up and sent to combat, according to WP’s dispatch from the frontline this week.
  2. Hampered by weapon and personnel shortages, Ukraine will not be able to reclaim territory,” Keith L. Carter of the U.S. Naval War College, Jennifer Spindel of the University of New Hampshire and Matthew McClary of the U.S. Army argue in a FA commentary, entitled “How Ukraine Can Do More With Less. A Military Strategy to Outlast Russia.” Thus, “Ukraine must now find a way to do more with less,” avoiding “attritional battles, conserving manpower and material,” according to this trio, which calls for Ukrainian forces to abandon their current strategy in favor of “a longer war of exhaustion using asymmetric guerrilla tactics.” “Ukraine would have to embrace a different concept of victory—one based on staying in the fight and resisting Russian aggression, instead of routing all Russian forces from Ukrainian territory,” they claim. According to Rajan Menon of CUNY’s commentary in FP, however, Ukraine won’t be able to negotiate an acceptable political settlement unless it “boost[s] its bargaining power by ending Russia’s momentum, mounting its own counteroffensive and retaking more territory.”
  3. Russia’s leading scholar of nuclear arms Alexey Arbatov has crossed swords with one of the most renowned pro-Kremlin experts on geopolitics, Dmitri Trenin, on whether and how nuclear arms control can be revived, while also debating whether the tenets of Russia’s nuclear deterrence should evolve. In a commentary for Interfax, Arbatov describes Russia's current approach as defensive deterrence, but also acknowledges the calls for a transition to offensive deterrence made by what he has described, tongue-in-cheek, perhaps, as “independent strategists,” and which would be employed to support the country’s military offensives. In his commentary, Arbatov also calls for “restoring arms control, renovating the negotiation process and expanding them from bilateral to various multilateral formats and new weapons systems.” In his turn, Trenin writes in his commentary for Interfax that “arms control is dead and will not be revived.” Moreover, Trenin calls for “an active strategy of nuclear deterrence that would lower the threshold for use of nuclear weapons that is too high today.” Instead of authorizing use of nuclear weapons over “a threat to the very existence of the state,” Russian strategic documents should authorize such use over “a threat to the vital interests of the country,” according to Trenin. Implementing Trenin’s suggestion would require revising not only the language on the use of nuclear weapons in the 2014 Military Doctrine and 2020 Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence, but also the language on national interests in, for instance, Russia’s 2021 National Security Strategy, which describes national interests such as "maintaining... harmony" and in "conservation of natural resources."* 
  4. Russia should not count on improved relations with the U.S. if Donald Trump wins the November 2024 U.S. presidential election, according to Ivan Timofeev, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council. “Every four years we have the illusion that elections will take place and something will change,” Timofeev told TASS. “Even during the period of George Bush [Jr], everyone said that a new president would come and everything would be better, and we would live better. But no, that didn't happen.”


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:

“You Should Be Alarmed by the War Wounds I Treated In Ukraine,” Jeff Colyer, WSJ, 05.31.24. 

  • I just returned from eastern Ukraine as one of the few volunteer surgeons to spend several weeks on call in the war zone, observing and training doctors. The Ukrainian medics I met there are extraordinary, but I return with a cautionary tale. I've never seen the sheer number of complex and horrifying injuries Ukrainians are suffering
  • It isn't that I doubt the U.S. military would prevail. America would win. The problem is that the U.S. healthcare system -- including the Health and Human Services Department, the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department -- isn't ready to handle large numbers of catastrophically wounded civilians and soldiers injured by artillery, drones, hypersonics and glide bombs.
  • The wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq were largely caused by standard rifle rounds or improvised explosive devices -- sometimes a Claymore mine strapped to a paint can full of bolts. The wounds in Ukraine are worse for several reasons.
    • First, military-grade rifles use bullets that yaw when they hit a body, often in clusters of two or three rounds. The yaw blows out bone and soft tissue in clumps the size of your fist.
    • Second, Russian artillery has fired more than six million shells, each with a fatal radius of 40 yards. Ukraine has fired only two million back. The U.S. hasn't been involved in artillery duels like this since the Korean War, when modern medical techniques were nascent. Injuries suffered during an artillery barrage require multiple operations, complex wound care and significant rehabilitation for years.
    • Third, drones are revolutionizing the battlefield in Ukraine, much as the machine gun did during World War I. Small drones, such as a modified quadcopter with explosives attached, create wounds that cascade from head to toe. The U.S. military has never had to deal with this before.
    • Finally, glide bombs and hypersonics have replaced the dumb bomb. These munitions plow through trenches and sophisticated concrete structures, leaving a trail of devastation in the blink of an eye. The Russian Kinzhal missile, a hypersonic launched from the air, can wipe out an entire city block.

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

“Why the Summer Could Be Disastrous for Ukraine,” Q&A with CEIP’s Dara Massicot by Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, 05.28.24.

  • [Discussing the current military situation] It’s trending poorly for the Ukrainian forces. And I think it’s going to get worse before it improves. The Russians are clearly prioritizing Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. They’re putting in a lot of effort on the ground, and with the heavy use of glide bombs. … The Russian Air Force is now able to launch these so far behind the front lines that the Ukrainian air-defense systems don’t really have a good way to engage them.
    • If Ukraine had more Army Tactical Missile Systems and, specifically, more long-range ATACMS, there’s any number of military targets inside occupied Ukraine that they could try to go for, by saturating the area with enough missiles to cut through the Russian air-defense system. Ukraine has shown that they have this capacity. … The problem is that Russia is getting very, very good at detecting and then quickly launching missiles on ATACMS positions at increasing depth from the front line.
  • The Zelenskyy government is under some pressure on this point [manpower]. There is a military need to replenish these units, and men are tired. They’re not being rotated out very often. … The initial fervor, which did drive people to sign up in the beginning, has been replaced by worry—where is this all going, and what’s the strategy? Kyiv is in a difficult spot on this. … To the extent that there was hesitation about whether there would be enough weaponry to support mobilization, that is off the table now. So the manpower issue can’t be sidestepped for much longer.
  • [Discussing the delay in U.S. aid and its impact on the war:] Let’s talk about Kharkiv here. There are plenty of images online showing that defenses were not constructed on the border … The Ukrainians have said that they had plans in place to do this, but they were being shelled every single time they would go to the front to try to build them. That’s the result of not having enough shells to conduct counter-battery fire on Russians who are shooting at you.
  • [Discussing the recent opinion piece in the NYT by Michael Kofman and Rob Lee which argues “if Ukraine can limit Russia to modest gains this year, then Moscow’s window of opportunity is likely to close and its relative advantage may begin to diminish in 2025”:] Well, they have a finite level of armored vehicles, in particular. Right now, most of the vehicles that you see in Ukraine—somewhere upward of seventy, eighty percent of the total—have been pulled from reserves inside Russia, inside Siberia and areas like that, and the rest are newly built. They are not replenishing it at the same rate at all. So they will burn through the functioning part of their stockpiles in the next two years if they keep going at this rate.
  • The Russian defense-industrial base cannot rapidly ramp up … But, if they wanted to build new factories and temporarily stop production to retool them to make them more efficient, that’s a real, big problem if we look three or four years out. … The Russian leadership … have come to terms with the fact that this is a long-term, protracted, high-intensity event, and they’re thinking, We have to make decisions accordingly for our defense-industrial base, and how we’re going to prosecute this.

“Basic training in Ukraine is barely covering the basics, commanders say,” Isabelle Khurshudyan and Serhii Korolchuk, WP, 06.02.24.

  • As Ukraine prepares to mobilize tens of thousands of men to address a critical shortage of soldiers amid intensified Russian attacks, Ukrainian commanders in the field say they are bracing for most of the new troops to arrive with poor training.
  • Ukrainian commanders have long griped about lackluster preparation for recruits at training centers. But with Russia on the offensive, the persistent complaints are a reminder that a newly adopted mobilization law intended to widen the pool of draft-eligible men is just one step in solving the military's personnel problems.
  • Wherever the new soldiers come from, Ukrainian field commanders said that because training is so deficient, they must often devote weeks to teaching them basic skills, such as how to shoot. "We had guys that didn't even know how to disassemble and assemble a gun," said a 28-year-old deputy battalion commander from the 93d Mechanized Brigade, whom The Washington Post agreed to identify by his call sign, Schmidt, according to Ukrainian military protocol.
  • What is taught in Ukrainian training centers "is complete nonsense," said a 32-year-old soldier in the unit with the call sign Chirva. "Everything is learned on the spot." An officer who has spent more than a year instructing new soldiers at one of Ukraine's facilities said the training centers are low on Soviet-caliber ammunition because it is being saved for troops on the battlefield. That means recruits get little experience firing live rounds. The officer said the training center received just 20 bullets per person.
  • Some recruits, the sergeant said, are deemed physically fit despite being over age 50 with knee and back issues, meaning they will struggle to walk miles with a pack of gear and weapons, as is often required. Some brigades are ordered to take those men anyway. "There are guys whom you just look in the eye and understand he's hesitating," the sergeant said. "He needs a push. He needs confidence in his weapon, confidence that we won't abandon him, and he will fight." "And there are those who immediately say, 'I won't fight,'" he added. "Of course, you try not to take them. But again, in our army, it's set up so that the personnel department tells you, 'No way, you have to take him, he's healthy.'"

“The New Theory of Ukrainian Victory Is the Same as the Old,” Mark Episkopos, The American Conservative, 05.29.24. 

  • Andriy Zagorodnyuk, Ukraine’s former defense minister, and Eliot Cohen, Arleigh Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, accurately diagnose a central ailment of the West’s Ukraine policy in a new Foreign Affairs op-ed: The Biden administration and its European counterparts have failed to articulate their endgame for this war. 
  • But the “theory of victory” presented by Zagorodnyuk and Cohen to replace the strategic malaise in which the west finds itself is, remarkably, even more dangerous and ill-conceived than the status quo. The authors call on the White House to come out in full-throated support of Kiev’s war aims: namely, ejecting all Russian forces from Ukraine’s 1991 borders including Crimea, subjecting Russian officials to war crimes tribunals, extracting reparations from Moscow, and providing Ukraine with “long-term security arrangements.” Put differently, the West must commit itself to nothing short of Russia’s total and unconditional battlefield defeat. 
  • How is Ukraine, with its battered military, collapsing demography, and an economy entirely reliant on Western cash infusions, to accomplish this lofty task? By doing more of the same, but on a larger scale. Zagorodnyuk and Cohen prescribe more conscription even as polling shows a plurality of Ukrainian men say they are not prepared to fight; more strikes on infrastructure inside Russian territory despite no indication that such attacks have made a dent in Russia’s energy production or military output; renewed counter-offensives despite the abysmal and horribly costly failure of last year’s attempt; new sanctions notwithstanding Russia’s continued economic growth despite being the world’s most sanctioned country; and threatening Russia’s control over Crimea with ideas about “air superiority” that bear no semblance to the war’s current dynamics and likely trajectory. 
  • Here it is revealed that the authors’ “theory of victory” is really just a rehash of older policy ideas that are already being pursued by the West, even if not with the intensity that Zagorodnyuk and Cohen would prefer. This is the medieval leech doctor’s theory of victory. The problem is not that the underlying treatment doesn’t work, proclaims the physician as his patient wheezes and gasps, barely clinging on to life, but that he hasn’t used enough leeches. Naturally, all of his colleagues—working, as they are, under the same wrongheaded assumptions—agree. 
  • Western leaders are long overdue in articulating a coherent theory of victory—one that grapples with the trade-offs and limitations confronting Kiev and its backers rather than sweeping them aside in pursuit of maximalist battlefield objectives that are increasingly detached from realities on the ground. This does not mean resigning oneself to Ukraine’s unconditional surrender. Yet it will require policymakers to acknowledge that there is no viable pathway to Russia’s unconditional defeat and to shape their thinking around war termination accordingly. It is not too late to end the war on terms that guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty while advancing U.S. interests. The West still has substantial leverage on and off the battlefield, but the key to wielding this influence effectively is to finally abandon a zero-sum framing of victory that has prevented leaders from repairing to a more pragmatic, strategically nimble approach.

“How Ukraine Can Do More With Less. A Military Strategy to Outlast Russia,” Keith L. Carter, Jennifer Spindel and Matthew McClary, FA, 05.29.24. 

  • Kyiv does not need to give up; instead, it needs a new approach. 
  • There is little Ukraine can do to match Russia’s material and personnel advantages. Russia simply has a bigger economy and, critically, a larger population. 
  • Although the recent U.S. aid package will alleviate Ukraine’s immediate weapons shortfall, tit-for-tat artillery duels and attempts to retake ground where the Russian army has built defensive fortifications will quickly deplete Ukraine’s still limited supplies. 
  • Ukraine must now find a way to do more with less. It must avoid attritional battles, conserving manpower and material to be able to respond to changing conditions. Defeating Russia will require organizing Ukrainian forces to fight a longer war of exhaustion using asymmetric guerrilla tactics.
  • The aim is not to defend every piece of ground to the last man. Instead, as Russian troops take and occupy territory, Ukrainian fighters would use hit-and-run tactics to target their supply lines and poorly held positions
  • Ukraine will also need to bring the fight to Russia. After training special operations forces—perhaps with U.S. and NATO support—Ukraine can send small units on cross-border raids to destroy logistics hubs, training areas, and infrastructure that support Russia’s war effort. 
  • To complement cross-border raids, Ukrainian cyber forces should continue to engage in the digital information war. 
  • Russia is sure to attempt further incursions, and Ukraine will need to prepare its defense. In a war of exhaustion, Ukraine would need to be willing to temporarily cede some territory in order to preserve its forces and buy time. But as Russian troops advance, Ukrainian forces should focus on inflicting casualties and destroying equipment. 
  • To adopt this strategy, Ukraine would have to embrace a different concept of victory—one based on staying in the fight and resisting Russian aggression, instead of routing all Russian forces from Ukrainian territory. 
  • Ukraine’s partners, in turn, have an obligation to keep helping the country; this change in strategy does not let them off the hook. In addition to training, the United States and other countries would need to continue providing arms to Ukraine, although the tactical shift should mean that Ukrainian troops go through weapons more slowly. Ukraine’s international partners must also help wear down Russia by enforcing economic sanctions and communicating clearly that these measures would be lifted if Russia were to retreat. Most important, Kyiv must have support after the eventual end of the fighting. Waging a war of exhaustion will decimate Ukraine, and its people need to know that they will not be left on their own to rebuild. Ukraine’s partners owe the country that assurance for its sacrifice.

“Many Ukrainian drones have been disabled by Russian jamming,” The Economist, 05.29.24. 

  • As Ukraine’s stocks of artillery shells have dwindled, its army’s reliance on drones has grown. These are able to deliver ammunition with great precision over long distances—provided they can maintain connections with GPS satellites (so they know where they are) and their operators (so they know what to do). Such communication signals can be jammed, however, and Russia’s electronic warfare, as signals scrambling is known, is fearsomely effective. With large numbers of its drones in effect blinded, Ukraine’s drone technologists have been forced to get creative.
  • Enter Eagle Eyes is a remarkable software package for drones. Developed by Ukraine’s special forces, it allows drones to navigate by machine sight alone, with no need for outside input. Using artificial-intelligence (AI) algorithms, the software compares live video of the terrain below with an on-board map stitched together from photographs and video previously collected by reconnaissance aircraft. This allows for drones to continue with their missions even after being jammed.  Eagle Eyes has also been trained to recognize specific ground-based targets, including tanks, troop carriers, missile launchers and attack helicopters. The software can then release bombs, or crash-dive, without a human operator’s command. “Bingo for us,” says a captain in White Eagle, a special-forces corps that is using and further developing the technology. The software has been programmed to target jamming stations as a priority, says the captain, who requested anonymity. Russia’s vaunted S-400 air-defense batteries are priority number two.
  • Optical navigation works best near distinctive features such as crossroads, power lines, isolated trees, big buildings and nearby bodies of water. For small drones with inexpensive optical navigation, the ideal cruising altitude is about 500 meters, says Andy Bosyi, a co-founder of, a developer of optical-navigation prototypes with workplaces at undisclosed locations in and near Lviv. That altitude is low enough for the software to work out terrain details, and yet high enough for a sufficient field of view. The height is also beyond the range of small-arms fire.
  • Might optical navigation help Ukrainian forces get off their back foot? Perhaps, says Kurt Volker, a former American ambassador to NATO and, until 2019, Donald Trump’s special representative for Ukraine negotiations. He reckons it could prove to be one of the “technological step changes” that some Ukrainian military leaders have said will be needed to turn the tide. It will take time, however, for the actual effectiveness against Russian jamming to become clearer. Ukraine’s military leadership, Mr. Rasmussen says, is rightly keeping tight-lipped about the technology. 

“Military review of the week: Russian planes are better than Ukrainian missiles, so what?” Xi Yazhou, Quancha, 06.02.24.^ Clues from Chinese Views.

  • This week, the Russian army continued to advance on the eastern front at a rate of one or two kilometers a day. Ukraine transferred a large number of its troops to the northern front to prepare for a counterattack in Kharkiv, making it more difficult for them to resist the advance of the Russian army in Donetsk and Luhansk.
  • At present, the overall situation between Russia and Ukraine is that both sides are fighting to the death along a long front line with almost equal forces. The Russian army's offensive in Donetsk and Luhansk regions is still continuing, but the target of each attack is only to seize a small area on the front line.
  • After two years of war, the Russian army has indeed made great progress, but asking it to restore its ability to penetrate, break through and conduct mobile operations overnight may be considered too optimistic by the Russian General Staff.
  • As for the Ukrainian army, there is still hope for victory. Not to mention regaining lost territory, as long as their dozens of battalions can exert enough pressure on the Russian army and force the Russian army to mobilize the battle reserve, it can be considered a victory. Because this is enough to force the Russian army to postpone its large-scale offensive until the next season.

“America’s Electronic Warriors Need a Boost,” Editorial Board, Bloomberg, 06.03.24. 

  • Russia’s success in Ukraine should underscore the dangers. The US needs to move faster to deploy promising new technologies, using off-the-shelf equipment where possible. Software upgrades and additional sensors could enable munitions to stay on course despite interference. Commercial space companies could help provide alternate positioning data for weapons and soldiers, thereby reducing dependence on GPS satellites. Any solutions should be easy to update, given the speed at which countermeasures can blunt their effectiveness. All troops should be trained to fight through intense jamming efforts.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

Military aid to Ukraine:

“Russian gains push White House to revisit some red lines,” David Ignatius, WP, 05.28.24. 

  • To combat Russia’s advances in Ukraine, President Biden is considering two tough new countermeasures: punishing China for supplying key technology to Moscow and lifting limits on Ukrainian use of U.S. short-range weapons to attack inside Russia. 
  • Xi has maintained his own balancing act since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, less than three weeks after he and Putin had declared a “no limits” partnership. China publicly called for a cease-fire, but Putin pleaded for weapons. They were ready for delivery when Biden called Xi to warn him that the United States would respond — drawing what officials told me was an angry riposte from Xi asking whether Biden was threatening him.
  • Since that showdown, Xi has refrained from direct weapons shipments. But U.S. officials said the Chinese leader directed Liu He, former vice premier and one of Xi’s most trusted negotiators with the West, to oversee quiet help for Russia’s war effort. At the same time, China has sent peace feelers to Ukraine and its European backers about an eventual settlement.
  • U.S. officials worry that Russia is massing troops and equipment just across the border inside Russia for its assault on Kharkiv and other cities in eastern Ukraine. U.S. artillery and short-range missiles could strike these targets without threatening deep strikes into Russia. But, for now, the United States restricts their use to inside Ukraine, so they aren’t able to strike the big Russian logistical and troop-marshalling centers just over the border. But that may be changing, as other NATO countries press Biden to loosen controls. The loudest call for strikes inside Russia came this week from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “
  • We might be nearing another inflection point in Ukraine. As China leans harder into its partnership with a newly dominant Russia, Biden is weighing whether to deepen his alliance with Kyiv. This would bring new risks, but it would make sense if it could bolster a wobbly Ukraine and rebalance the negotiating table, which is where this war must eventually be settled.

“U.S. escalation in Ukraine needs a plan,” Samuel Charap and Jeremy Shapiro, WP, 06.03.24. 

  • The Biden administration's decision to approve Ukraine's use of U.S. weapons to attack targets inside Russia is, as President Biden might say, a big deal. Ukrainians argue that this change will derail the Kremlin's offensive in the Kharkiv region and perhaps even turn the tide of the war. Russian officials and propagandists claim it is a major escalation and have threatened to strike back directly at the United States or its allies.
    • Both claims are likely to prove hollow. But this decision is nevertheless consequential, if for a different reason: It marks another turn of a tit-for-tat spiral that has continuously raised the risks of a broader war without offering a path to ending this one.
    • This spiral dynamic — of unrelenting Russian aggression and ever-increasing Western military support for Ukraine to counter Moscow's momentum — has been ratcheting up nearly 21/2 years. Without a bargaining process, it might continue for years to come. And someday, one side or the other might finally stumble over an actual red line, which could lead to exactly the major escalation the Biden administration has been trying to avoid.
    • In the meantime, Ukraine will continue to suffer and the costs of the war to the West will continue to mount. There has to be a better way to manage the most consequential military conflict in a generation.

“What is behind the discussion in the European Union regarding the use of Western weapons on Russian territory,” Fyodor Lukyanov, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, 05.29.24.^ Clues from Russian Views. (This media outlet is owned by the Russian government.)

  • The chronicle of the acute phase of the military conflict in Ukraine is a chain of constantly raising the ceiling of what is possible and the West lowering the risk threshold. If Western strategists had been told in the spring of 2022 the extent to which their involvement would reach by the spring of 2024, they might not have believed it. But the course is linear, which means that there is no reason to expect any other dynamics. In other words, everything that is discussed as a hypothetical exacerbation will become real over time. Both on the use of weapons and on sending troops.
  • What [should Russia] do in such a situation? The time for strategic ambiguity is over, as is the talk of “red lines,” which is becoming increasingly ritualistic. At the very least, Russia needs to be very clear about the steps that will be taken in response to the alliance's actions.

“Macron is considering a risky plan in Ukraine. What if Putin calls his bluff?” Lee Hockstader, WP, 06.03.24. 

  • A few Western allies have undertaken small training missions inside Ukraine over the past two years. What French President Emmanuel Macron is now contemplating seems more ambitious, more public and more risky — even if the trainers he might deploy would be far from the front lines.
  • The trouble is: What if Putin calls Macron's bluff? Especially given that the French leader has done almost nothing to prepare domestic public opinion for body bags coming back from Ukraine. Not to mention the fact that most of France's major NATO allies, which remain adamantly opposed to troop deployments themselves, would be unlikely to seize on French casualties to seek a more direct confrontation with Russia. In fact, Putin might see hitting French troops, if Russian forces can locate them, not only as a way to expose Western divisions but also as a chance to humiliate Macron, now among the most hawkishly anti-Russian Western leaders.
  • Reports suggest Macron could announce his plan to send military trainers on the 80th anniversary of D-Day, on Thursday, when Biden and other Western leaders will join him to commemorate the landings in Normandy. In a ceremony marking Allied unity, the French leader risks highlighting his isolation — and with the prospect of precious little benefit.

“Removing Constraints on Support to Ukraine: No Silver Bullets,” Matthew Savill, RUSI, 06.03.24. 

  • It is worth concluding with an acknowledgement of the military benefits of ambiguity and what a change in policy would not achieve. The public Western position around the use of such weapons has been hugely variable; UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, for example, did not explicitly say UK-supplied weapons could be used in Russia, and many of the recent statements of support have been generic. Beyond the question of escalation management, it would be prudent to keep Russia guessing about what sophisticated weapons may or may not be used against its forces, because this poses dilemmas about what mix of air defense systems to deploy and what level of dispersal or early-warning systems may be necessary. 
  • At the same time, caution should be taken not to see a change in policy as a panacea for Ukraine’s current challenges. The successful campaign against Russian energy infrastructure has not forced Russia to reassess its campaign overall. The long-range bomber force has had to disperse and has reduced its strike capabilities, but has not ended attacks on civilian infrastructure. The decimation of the Black Sea Fleet has reopened exports from Odesa, but made little contribution to the ability of 2023’s counteroffensive to retake lost territory. And strikes on arms dumps behind the front lines and sabotage within Russia have reduced the flow of materiel going to the Russian army, but not to the extent that it has had to fall back.
  • The lesson of the past 18 months is that the deep battle complements fighting close-in and along the front line, but is not a substitute for it. Striking forces across the border from Kharkiv will provide some immediate relief to Ukrainian forces and be of significant tactical benefit; in doctrinal terms, this is a ‘close battle’ that happens to straddle the border with Russia. Overall, the challenges for Ukraine in 2024 and potential answers remain the same as before this decision: resupply of equipment and ammunition, recruitment and training of personnel, and effective defenses to prevent or slow down Russian ground advances. Deep strike is not a silver bullet.

“The Military Aid Dilemma,” Ivan Eland, NI, 06.01.24.

  • The United States, after months of delay, sent $95 billion in military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Much of the holdup, apparently, was to virtue signal about U.S. border issues. Any Republicans who truly wished to scrutinize the aid package should have better examined the recent behavior of the recipients and then questioned whether it might be contrary to U.S. security interests.
  • Contrary to U.S. wishes, Ukraine is now using drones to attack oil facilities deep in Russia. … Now, it was reported that Biden permitted Ukraine to strike targets inside of Russian territory with U.S. weapons.
  • Who knows what’s next? Can we rule out a Ukrainian escalation leading to conflict with a nuclear-armed power? Russia already looks ready to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus and has threatened to use nuclear weapons before in the conflict. Ukraine wasted much of its weaponry, ammunition, and lives on a failed offensive. As a result of shortages of such critical items, it finds itself in a precarious defense against a resurgent Russia.
  • These examples show how making allies happy does not always coincide with U.S. security. If the United States insists on slathering its allies with billions in military aid, the Biden administration needs to make sure it comes with more strings attached.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

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

“We need to put sand in the gears of the Russian war machine,” Wally Adeyemo, FT, 06.02.24. 

  • Vladimir Putin’s appointment of an economist to head Russia’s defense ministry is about one thing: focusing the country’s economy on the production of military equipment. This is a direct result of the US and our partners’ deliberate efforts to use our sanctions and export controls to target Russia’s military industrial complex. Our collective effort is aimed at constraining the Kremlin’s ability to build the weapons it needs for the war in Ukraine.
  • It is important to recognize that the success of our sanctions and export controls is only possible because of a partnership with the private sector. ... It is critical that our manufacturers take every step within their power to scrutinize their supply chains and prevent western-made equipment ending up in the weapons being deployed by the Kremlin. ...We also need financial institutions in our countries to examine their correspondent relationships in the nations that are providing the Russian military industrial base with material support. 
  • We recognize that doing this work is not easy and it takes time. 
  • The top strategic questions for Russia today revolve around military central planning, procurement and production. It’s why Putin gave his new defense minister the mandate “to open the defense ministry to innovation”. To be clear, the innovation he seeks is newfound efficiency in destroying Ukraine’s communities, infrastructure and people. Together we can and must do all we can to stop Russia’s war machine.

“To restrain Putin in Ukraine, tighten sanctions,” Benjamin Harris and David Wessel, WP, 05.30.24. 

  • We asked several experts how the United States might tighten the sanctions noose around Putin's neck. The advice they offered boils down to these five strategies. 
    • Limit Russia's earnings from natural gas. 
    • Allow Russians to send money out of the country.
    • Monitor the shadow oil fleet. 
    • Confiscate assets
    • End all business with Russia. 
  • Ideally, Russia will soon be forced to retreat from Ukraine and these actions will prove unnecessary. Sadly, it's far more likely that sanctions on Russian will need to be intensified.

“Sanctions Only Helping Russia to Wage War,” Andrei Movchan, Russia Post/Movchan’s Facebook Account, 06.03.24. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • Recently, the Brookings Institution held a conference called Sanctions on Russia: What’s Working? What’s Not? As is increasingly the case in democracies, there was clearly a lack of representatives from government agencies that actually impose and lift sanctions, yet there were many reputable experts and journalists – in this sense, the conference was informative and interesting, but hardly useful.
  • Of the nine reports presented, only one, by Sergei Aleksashenko, looked at whether easing sanctions could help the West to achieve its goals. His report began with a rhetorical question – what goals does the West want to achieve with sanctions? – and the statement of a long-obvious fact – economic sanctions almost never stop wars and never ever lead to regime change.
  • The most interesting report, considering the incredible people who gave it, was that of Berkeley professor Yuriy Gorodnichenko and Torbjörn Becker, who heads the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics.....without thinking twice, they proposed moving from targeted sanctioning to total sanctioning – in other words, introducing a global ban on all relations with Russia and Russians, and then (if necessary) making exceptions for someone or something.
  • Do not get me wrong – I am not at all advocating business as usual with Russia. If the West sees Russia as an aggressor and wants the aggression to stop, it must act to reduce the Kremlin’s capacity to wage war. But what is being proposed, it turns out, only helps Russia to wage war, while “reputable economists,” like those who spoke at the Brookings conference, it turns out, do not seem to understand the basics of their field.
  • Yet the “sanctions” discourse effectively shields Western officials and experts from the only real question: what should be done to help Ukraine and stop Russian aggression if sanctions do not work? And Western officials and the economic experts who serve them need to avoid this question, because if it is asked loudly, it will turn out that the West is not at all eager to stop the war, even though it has all the capabilities to do so. Why? is a question that remained unanswered at the recent conference.

“How will the US ban on Russian enriched uranium impact both countries?,” Charles Digges,, May 2024. 

  • Earlier this month, Joe Biden signed a law banning the import of Russian enriched uranium into the United States.  ... the restrictions could lead to an increase in the cost of uranium enrichment services in both the US and Europe. In 2023, according to Comtrade, the US purchased EUP from Russia at prices on average 20% higher than in 2022. Analysts predict that after the ban is introduced in the US, prices could rise by another 20%, especially if Russia decides to introduce its own restrictions and halt supplies unilaterally.
  • In 2023, Rosatom’s international revenue exceeded $16 billion. Of this, according to Rosatom’s head Alexei Likhachev, more than $12 billion comes from so-called friendly countries. However, unlike uranium and fuel exports, some of these projects, especially nuclear power plant construction, are financed by Russian loans. Nonetheless, the current situation is radically different from a decade ago when uranium supplies to the US were one of the largest components of Rosatom’s exports. Therefore, it is not expected that Rosatom’s international activities will sharply decrease after the restrictions imposed by the US. Overall, the situation for Rosatom is not critical but still extremely unpleasant and significant, as it breaks cooperation with its largest and most long-standing partner in the fuel sector — which was also the most profitable and beneficial. The restrictions will have a much greater impact on the Western nuclear industry, providing a significant impetus for strengthening and development.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Now Is Not the Time to Negotiate With Putin,” Rajan Menon, FP, 06.03.24.

  • One can envision this war ending in at least one of three ways.

1. The Russian military takes even more land, the West succumbs to Ukraine fatigue, and Putin imposes a punitive peace on Kyiv: Parts of Ukraine become Russian territory, and the remainder, while retaining independence, reenters Moscow’s orbit.

2. Despite intense efforts, Russia controls less Ukrainian territory than it does now, Putin recognizes that his army cannot do any better and may lose more land, a political settlement follows, and Ukraine eventually joins the EU and NATO, with the proviso that Kyiv will not permit NATO bases or the permanent presence of foreign troops on its soil.

3. The war becomes a stalemate, which both adversaries conclude cannot be broken, but Putin has enough leverage to ensure Ukraine’s neutrality. Kyiv uses its own bargaining power to insist on armed neutrality, which would give it the freedom to train its armed forces in Western countries, equip its army with Western weaponry, and thus remain outside Russia’s sphere of influence.

  • While other scenarios are certainly possible, these, save the first, share a commonality: They require that Ukraine boost its bargaining power by ending Russia’s momentum, mounting its own counteroffensive, and retaking more territory. This will require time, which Ukraine now has: Western arms have just started reaching the front, and their volume will increase in the coming months. Russia and Ukraine may eventually hold talks on a political settlement. 

“Vladimir Putin increasingly talks about his readiness for negotiations with Ukraine. Why now?” Important Stories, 05.31.24.^

  • Despite the fact that the Russian army has failed to capture the [full territory of the] Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Putin is talking about negotiations more and more often. Since May 15, he has done this four times. [Why?]
    • A ceasefire and a freeze in the war would be a partial victory for Putin, says retired U.S. Navy Colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Mark Cancian.
    • “It is important to understand that Russia does not need peace, it does not abandon the original goals of the war. Russia just needs a respite,” says Russian military expert Pavel Luzin. 

“Putin, the West and the rest. Yuval Noah Harari on how to prevent a new age of imperialism,” The Economist, 06.03.24.

  • To prevent a new age of imperialism, leadership is needed from many directions. The upcoming Ukraine peace summit can provide the stage for two particularly important steps.
    • First, European countries, some of which could be the next targets of Russian imperialism, should make a firm commitment to support Ukraine no matter how long the war lasts. 
    • The second important step is greater leadership from non-European countries. Rising powers like Brazil, India, Indonesia and Kenya often criticize Western powers for past imperialist crimes and for present incompetence and favoritism. There is indeed much to criticize. But it is better to take center-stage and lead than to stand on the sidelines and play the game of whataboutism. 
  • Leaders from around the world should therefore attend the forthcoming [Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland], and work together to bring a just and enduring end to the war. Securing peace in Ukraine would position these leaders as global pathfinders who can be trusted to resolve other conflicts, tackle climate change and runaway AI, and guide humanity in the troubled 21st century.

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

“As Challenges Pile Up, a Spate of Summitry Spotlights Western Resolve,” Mark Landler, NYT, 06.02.24.

  • Wars in Ukraine and Gaza, along with Donald J. Trump's candidacy, are testing the Western alliance. But starting with the 80th anniversary of D-Day this week, leaders have a rare opportunity to showcase unity. ... Yet beneath the pride and pomp, there will be nagging doubts, not least about the direction of American politics. President Biden will travel to France and Italy (he is expected to skip the Switzerland forum), but he is squeezing in the diplomacy amid an election-year battle against former President Donald J. Trump, whose victory in November would call into question the very survival of the alliance that Western leaders are spending so much time celebrating.
  • ''There's a split screen,'' said Charles A. Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University. ''We're experiencing an era of revival and renewal in the Western alliance, and these various summits will capture that.'' ''But we're going to be celebrating at the very moment that everybody is worried about the next American election,'' said Professor Kupchan, who worked on European affairs in the Obama administration. ''For the first time since World War II, the internal threat to the West is more acute than the external threat.''
  • For all his diplomatic efforts, some experts say, Mr. Biden's emphasis on alliances has planted the seeds for future problems. It has made the allies overly dependent on the United States, which is why the specter of Mr. Trump will haunt the meetings in France, Switzerland, Italy and the United States. ''The centerpiece of the Biden strategy is alliances and allies; they're incredibly proud of that,'' said Jeremy Shapiro, the research director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. ''Trump basically thinks allies are relatives who come to your house, borrow your money and use your pool.'' ''But the Biden administration has made the problem worse,'' Mr. Shapiro said, ''because they've created so much reliance on the U.S. at the very moment that the world shouldn't be relying on it, because of Trump.''

“'The New Convergence in the Indo-Pacific': Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the 2024 Shangri-La Dialogue,” Lloyd J. Austin, U.S. Department of Defense, 06.01.24.

  • In February of 2022, Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine shocked the world—and this region. And since then, Putin's war of aggression has provided us all with a preview of a world that none of us would want. It's a glimpse of a world where tyrants trample sovereign borders, a world where peaceful states live in fear of their neighbors, and a world where chaos and conquest replace rules and rights.
    • But Russia's lawless invasion also reminds us that free countries can rally together to help the victims of aggression. You know, we've all been inspired by the courage of Ukraine's troops and the resilience of Ukraine's people. Governments and people around the world have rushed to help Ukraine defend itself—including countries across the Indo-Pacific.
  • The United States will continue to stand strong for a free and secure Ukraine—and for an open world of rules, rights, and responsibilities. As Prime Minister Kishida said at the White House just a few weeks ago, 'We must resolutely defend and further solidify a free and open international order based on the rule of law.'

“Head of the Russian International Affairs Council: the confrontation with the West will continue for at least 10 years,” Interview with Ivan Timofeev, TASS, 05.30.24.Clues from Russian Views. 

  • The West will continue to work towards containing and isolating Russia. And these dividing lines between us may persist for decades. That is, we will live in conditions of cold, and in some places even hot confrontation, taking into account the fact that the conflict in Ukraine continues.
  • [When asked if Russia takes into account NATO's nuclear potentials as a whole, is it possible that the West will have to take into account the joint nuclear potentials of the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China? Or are they already looking at this as related elements?] Until that happens, it's a long way off. China is positioning itself as an independent nuclear power and has so far avoided strict agreements on nuclear issues and arms control. Therefore, it is, of course, too early to say that there are any prerequisites for combining this potential.
  • The scenario of a full-scale war [of Russia and West] is not yet a baseline, although, unfortunately, its likelihood is growing. There are a number of warning signs. One of them is, of course, a radical deepening of our confrontation. Its nerve is the Ukrainian issue, where we see large-scale military assistance to Kyiv from the West. Possible options for escalating this conflict in the form of a direct clash between Russia and the West are outlined. A number of officials, in particular in France and Great Britain, stated that separate military contingents of NATO countries could be stationed in Ukraine. If they take part in hostilities against Russian troops, they will become a legitimate target for our army. And it would be good if there was an escalation using conventional weapons rather than nuclear weapons. After all, NATO’s defense spending is 10 times more than Russia’s, if not more. This, of course, is a dangerous scenario. ... On the Russian side, we are obliged to take into account all possible scenarios. We have the capacity to contain these threats. But such a scenario will cause irreparable damage to everyone; there will be no winners.
  • I believe that the elections in the United States will not fundamentally affect Russian-American relations. They will have a negative—either more negative or less negative—impact. But I don’t see any prospects for improving relations because of the elections. Every four years we have the illusion that elections will take place and something will change. This was the case long before our relationship deteriorated. Even during the period of George Bush, everyone said that a new president would come and everything would be better, and we would live better. But no, that didn't happen. There is a rut in American foreign policy that is difficult for presidents to break out of. There are legislative frameworks that are also difficult for leaders to change. 
  • It seems to me that the change of power in Washington is more important in the issue of the USA and Ukraine. Most likely, Joe Biden will continue his line of military and financial support for Ukraine. And the new president may, if not radically, then at least try to reconsider certain aspects. After all, Ukraine is an expensive project, currently $60 billion is being allocated. But the United States has its own problems: the taxpayer may ask why Ukraine, and not roads or bridges, not social insurance or job creation, and so on. What is the point of these expenses?

“Ukraine’s Perilous Path to EU Membership. How to Expand Europe Without Destabilizing It,” Laszlo Bruszt and Erik Jones, FA, 05.30.24.

  • During the previous wave of enlargement, the EU experimented on a small scale with various strategies for managing such problems, letting some of the inefficient sectors and firms fail and implementing programs for upgrading others. Although these experiments have helped keep these economies afloat up until accession, the fact that domestic political actors have played only a marginal role in these programs creates openings for populist political forces to politicize the negative social and economic consequences of integration. Ask Czech citizens why their country is prosperous, they will point to their own hard work and determination; ask them what is holding them back, they point to the European Union.
  • If the EU does not want to see the rise of illiberal demagogues in Ukraine, it will have to find ways to help create broad-based domestic coalitions in support of the adjustments necessary to join the European Union and the democratic institutions that will be in place once Ukraine becomes a member state. Not doing so would give Moscow the opportunity to promote those groups that lose out from the adjustment process to destabilize Ukraine. This has been a clear part of Russia’s playbook in supporting right-wing extremist parties across the EU; they can only be expected to redouble their efforts in new candidate countries. Spending postwar reconstruction funds in a way that ensures a wide distribution of winners would be the best investment the EU could make for European security.
  • The simultaneous challenges of security and democratic safeguarding have never been more difficult in Europe than they will be in the next round of enlargement. Nevertheless, a quick enlargement to create security and a slower pace of adjustment to ensure broad-based pro-democracy coalitions are in place must go together. Strategies of deterrence on their own might be useless if they are not combined with strong domestic alliances in the new member states supporting EU political and economic institutions. The alternative is to lose the peace and waste years of effort in Ukraine and elsewhere that, in the end, will merely give Moscow time to prepare for the next round of war.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“What Are the Limits to Russia’s ‘Yuanization’?” Alexandra Prokopenko, CEIP, 05.27.24. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • Beijing’s decision to keep doing business with Moscow after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, along with the nature of Western sanctions, has saved the Kremlin from economic and political disaster. China has not only opened up its market for Russian energy exports, but also become a crucial source of imports for Russia. As a result, economic integration between the two countries has accelerated dramatically: in 2023, the yuan became the most popular currency on the Moscow Exchange, beating even the U.S. dollar.
  • China tells Western countries it respects their sanctions on Russia, but it operates on the principle of “everything that is not banned is allowed.” The real beneficiaries of Moscow’s “pivot to the East” have been second- and third-tier Chinese companies, particularly banks. At the level of cross-border transactions, payment systems for Russian rubles and Chinese yuan have replaced the SWIFT global bank messaging network and other traditional financial structures.
  • These payment systems are now capable of processing sizable transactions that include third parties. The nature of Western sanctions on Russia is pushing Beijing toward further increasing the number of yuan payments that go via this route. This system is here to stay now, even if the war in Ukraine were to end tomorrow and Russia were to rebuild ties with the West.
  • Russia and China like to call their relationship a “no limits” partnership. But the reality is very different. Despite the record trade figures, the balance of power is tipped toward China. By observing Western sanctions, Beijing is supplying not what Russia needs, but what it can make money on. The value of dual-use civilian and military goods sold to Russia by China in 2023 only increased by $1 billion (total exports to Russia rose 47 percent to $111 billion in the same period).
  • It’s obvious that most Chinese companies prefer not to risk losing access to Western markets for the sake of access to the Russian market. Moscow has become dependent on Chinese supplies, and it would now be extremely difficult to find a replacement. Diversifying its international trading partners is all but impossible for Russia because of Western sanctions: not just because of the restrictions, but because often those countries that have not imposed sanctions do not have the goods that Moscow wants.
  • There are also limits to cross-border payments. China is not seeking to help Russia by increasing the role of the ruble in transactions between the two countries, and Chinese banks have been tightening compliance requirements for many Russian companies.
  • At the same time, Beijing of course welcomes the increased use of Chinese payment systems.
  • In many ways, the war in Ukraine amounts to an enormous present from Russia to China, and it has strengthened China’s geopolitical ambitions to become an alternative center of global influence. Beijing has been able to thoroughly test financial systems that offer an alternative to the West, while second- and third-tier Chinese companies have acquired access to a large new market.

“How China uses Russia as a wrecking ball,” The Economist, 05.28.24. 

  • That [UN/UNSA] system is breaking down. Liberal democracies, notably, accuse Russia of playing wrecker at the UN. The country was always truculent and self-serving in the Security Council. Now diplomats worry that Russia is an “existential” threat to it. Irresponsible acts are stacking up. 
    • In July last year Russia killed off a UN mission that delivered humanitarian aid to rebel-held areas of Syria, calling it an affront to the sovereignty of the Syrian government, its ally. 
    • A month later Russia’s veto ended a sanctions regime in the west African country of Mali.
    • In March this year Russia closed down a UN panel of experts that monitored compliance with sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic-missile programs (and had reported on sanctions-busting arms deals between North Korea and Russia).
  • After Russia cast its three vetoes, China joined it in criticizing UN sanctions for ignoring the sovereign rights of Syria, Mali and North Korea. ... By letting Russia dismantle the old order, with its sanctions and monitoring of rights abusers, China can reshape what comes next.

“Theses of Andrey Kortunov’s speech at the IX international conference ‘Russia and China: cooperation in a new era,’” RIAC, 05.30.24.^ Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • Last year, the most popular publication among Russian readers was the work of the Chinese writer Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, “Heaven Official's Blessing.” Mo Xiang Tong Xiu is, of course, a literary pseudonym ... and the work, so popular in Russia, is a powerful five-volume fantasy based on ancient Chinese mythology.
  • Which Russian book is the most read in China? This is by no means “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy, not “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and not “Eugene Onegin” by Alexander Pushkin. The most popular Russian work in China has long been Nikolai Ostrovsky’s novel “How the Steel Was Tempered.”
  • This short literary excursion helps to understand what Russia and China are trying to find by peering closely at each other. Russians are looking in China for that “unchangeable serenity of a noble man” in the face of difficult trials and vicissitudes of fate, which Confucius noted. The Chinese are looking in Russia for the high tragedy of the revolutionary hero, for that “eschatological optimism” that remains one of the characteristic features of the Russian cultural tradition.
  • If we remain committed to the value equality and complementarity of human civilizations, rather than Western “civilizational determinism,” then we must perceive differences as a source of strength, not as a source of weakness. Provided, of course, that there is unity of positions between Russia and China on all the main parameters of restructuring the system of international relations. And today such unity is not questioned; the differences between us are matters of tactics, not strategy.
  •  Our task is to look for options for combining the interests of Russia and China where such integration requires additional efforts. This concerns, for example, the future institutional development of BRICS and the SCO, increasing the efficiency of the UN system, developing fundamental norms of international law, ensuring global and regional security, building mechanisms for managing vital resources, promptly responding to crisis situations arising in various regions of the world.

“Theses of Kostantin Kosachev’s speech at the IX international conference ‘Russia and China: cooperation in a new era,’” RIAC, 05.30.24.^ Clues from Russian Views. (This organization is affiliated with the Russian authorities.)

  • Russia and China have today reached an unprecedented level of mutual understanding in their history. This was facilitated by many factors - consistent resolution of controversial issues, common challenges and threats, a solid economic foundation, excellent personal relationships between leaders. This is not just a coincidence, but 1) a consistent line of leadership of both states and 2) absolute support of the two peoples.
  • At about the same time, Moscow and Beijing came to the conclusion that the world needs a more balanced, harmonious, democratic world order, which would ensure greater participation of the world majority in managing the global system.
  • We firmly adhere to the line that our friendship is not an alliance “against,” but a partnership “for.” In the world we strive for, there will be a place for both America and Europe, but, of course, not in the role of the “chosen ones.” One Chinese expression says: “Just one type of flower does not create spring. Spring will be in full swing when all the flowers bloom.” 

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Quieting the nuclear rattle: Responding to Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons exercises,” Pavel Podvig, ELN, 05.29.24. Clues from Russian Views

  • On 6 May 2024, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the president directed the military to conduct an exercise to test “practical aspects of the preparation and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons.” What was particularly notable in this announcement was that it was described as a response to “certain provocative statements and threats made by some Western officials.” 
  • Nothing indicated that the exercise involved anything other than training replicas of weapons or that actual nuclear weapons were indeed removed from the storage sites. The structure of the exercise also explains Belarus’s role. Belarus announced—apparently to the great surprise of its Russian partners—that it had also taken part in the training. The Belarusian military appears to have tested its part of the procedure—the dispersal of aircraft and missile launchers, activities that can be conducted without the involvement of the Russian army units that handle nuclear weapons.
  • The exercise was intended to work as a political signal and likely achieved this purpose. A more difficult question is: What is the appropriate response to this kind of signaling? Nobody seriously expects Western officials to walk back the statements that provoked Russia’s move. Indeed, discussions of more direct Western involvement in the conflict continue and may have even intensified. At the same time, it would be wrong to ignore Russia’s actions completely, if only to prevent it from moving to more provocative actions. The Kremlin appears to be following the signaling path charted by a number of hawkish Russian experts, and it cannot be ruled out that it is prepared to take more steps up the escalation ladder.
  • To prevent this from happening, the international community must double down on its message that nuclear threats are inadmissible. .... Opposition to nuclear use is a powerful unifying message that can bring together states that may have diverging views on the war in Ukraine. Such a coalition can render nuclear threats politically untenable, opening more options for supporting Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself.

“Russia’s nuclear threats are losing their power,” Gideon Rachman, FT, 06.03.24.

  • Russia is once again waving around its nuclear weapons. Last week, Vladimir Putin warned NATO countries against allowing Ukraine to use western munitions to strike Russia. The Russian leader warned of “serious consequences” and said that Ukraine’s allies should be aware of the “small territory” and “dense population” of many European countries.  In case this was too vague, Dmitry Medvedev followed up with a more blood-curdling threat. Russia’s former president cited Putin’s words and added: “The use of tactical nuclear weapons can also be miscalculated. This would be a fatal mistake.”
  • These moves have not deterred several NATO nations, including the US, from taking the latest step up the escalation ladder by approving the use of their weapons inside Russian borders.
  • The closest that the world has come to a real nuclear crisis over Ukraine, so far, was in October 2022 — when Russia suffered a series of catastrophic setbacks in the war, including the loss of Kherson. There was one weekend when western officials became seriously concerned that Russia might be on the point of going nuclear. But that crisis also created a new playbook for how to deal with Russian nuclear threats, when they look really serious. Step one is to talk to Russian counterparts and to threaten direct and massive western involvement in the conflict. Step two is to talk to other major powers — in particular, China and India — and to get them to warn Russia off, preferably in public. For the moment, this playbook is back in the desk drawer. But it may have to be brought into operation once again before the Ukraine war comes to an end — one way or another.

“Academic Alexey Arbatov: we need to talk not about disarmament, but about restoring control. Nuclear deterrence is the most important factor in international life,” Interfax, 06.01.24.^ Clues from Russian Views.

  • Despite all the dangers of this [Ukraine-Russia] conflict, nuclear deterrence still works. I think that if it weren’t for this deterrence, NATO would have been in Ukraine a long time ago and would have been directly at war with Russia.
  • When theorists conventionally divide deterrence into “offensive” and “defensive,” then, in the absence of effective missile defense systems, “defensive” nuclear deterrence is can be exercised in limited range of scenarios.
    •  A “retaliation strike” in response to an enemy’s nuclear attack is ... the first deterrence plan. 
    • Another option is the threat of using nuclear weapons against aggression using conventional weapons, which threatens the very existence of the state. Such deterrence can be classified as secondary and also considered “defensive,” although it involves the first use of nuclear weapons. It is formulated that way in the Russian Military Doctrine and other doctrinal documents. 
    • But a third plan is also possible ... the threat of using nuclear weapons to support one’s own offensive military operations in order to break the enemy’s resistance and stop outside assistance. Here we are no longer talking about a threat to the very existence of the state, but about enemy actions that damage the external interests of the state. This type of deterrence can be considered “offensive.” This option is not currently provided for in Russian nuclear doctrine, but is being vigorously promoted by a number of “independent strategists.”
  • At the same time, the new stage of relations between nuclear powers is determined not by new weapons systems, but, first of all, by national interests that come into conflict with each other, as now over Ukraine and potentially over Taiwan. New military technologies and weapons systems only determine the course and outcome of these conflicts. Moreover, we are not necessarily talking only about non-nuclear strike systems, but also about possible cyber attacks, directed energy transfer systems, and the latest information systems that are revolutionizing the role of strike systems.
  • There has come a realization that in order to reduce the likelihood of war with the use of nuclear weapons, or even to bring such a possibility to zero, it is necessary to effectively control nuclear weapons, as was the case in the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s.
    • In the current situation, we need to talk more about restoring arms control, renovating the negotiation process and expanding it from bilateral to various multilateral formats and new weapons systems.
    • Tactical nuclear weapons are a legitimate subject for future arms control negotiations, but ... provided that, firstly, there are no such acute conflicts as there are now around Ukraine, when tactical nuclear weapons appear almost every day - in discussions, declarations, during military exercises. 
  • It is clear that we are going through a very difficult period of international relations, when the question is not disarmament, but to avoid nuclear war, and only then can we think about further disarmament measures. But I believe that this moment will come, and we will continue this path.

“HSE Professor Dmitry Trenin: To avoid a world war, we need fear of nuclear weapons,” Interfax, 06.02.24.^ Clues from Russian Views.

  • Nuclear deterrence is not a myth. It provided security for us and for the entire world during the Cold War.
  • Non-nuclear weapons certainly influence the policy of nuclear deterrence. It is a fact. Many tasks that in the past could be solved only through nuclear strikes are now being solved with use of non-nuclear systems. ... In the current conditions, Washington is demanding more and more real returns from its allies ... As a result, the idea arose a nuclear power can be defeated as long as it  does not resort to nuclear weapons. All that would need to be done is to convince that nuclear power not to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances, and to allow oneself to be defeated - in the name of saving all humanity, etc. This is an extremely dangerous illusion, which can and should be dispelled by an active strategy of nuclear deterrence that would lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons that is too high today. Instead of “a threat to the very existence of the state”, it would be worth writing “a threat to the vital interests of the country” as one of the conditions for the use of nuclear weapons! [in Russia’s strategic documents] 
  • Today we have to proceed from the fact that we have a long period of confrontation ahead, about a generation long, with the West, led by the United States. The future of our country, its position and role in the world, and also - in many ways - the state of the world system as a whole will depend on the outcome of this confrontation, the main front of which is not in Ukraine, but inside Russia. It is inside Russia because the enemy understands the impossibility of defeating Russia on the battlefield, but remembers that the Russian state has collapsed more than once as a result of internal turmoil.
  • The classic Cold War-era content of the concept of strategic stability, i.e. the lack of incentives for the parties to launch a first nuclear strike, is not only not sufficient any longer, but sometimes it is even inapplicable to characterize the relationship between great powers. Look at Ukraine: Washington is increasing arms supplies to Kyiv, encouraging and ensuring its provocative attacks on strategic infrastructure of the Russian Federation (missile attack early warning system stations, strategic aviation airfield) and at the same time inviting Moscow to resume dialogue on strategic stability!
    • In the emerging world order, strategic stability will have to mean the absence of reasons for any military conflict (including indirect) between nuclear powers. This, in turn, will be possible subject to mutual respect by the powers of each other's interests and their willingness to solve problems on the basis of equality and indivisibility of security.
  • As for arms control, in the classic form of Soviet/Russian-American agreements or multilateral agreements in Europe...arms control is dead and will not be revived. ... In the future, not only new treaties will be needed, but also a new basis for negotiations and agreements. 
  • The world order is experiencing an acute systemic crisis. In former times, crises of this kind inevitably led to wars. Now nuclear deterrence, although with glitches, is working. To prevent things from leading to a world war, it is necessary to strengthen deterrence by activating the nuclear factor in foreign policy, returning saving fear, building a ladder of escalation - not in order to go through it to the very abyss and then fall into it, but to prevent a catastrophic development of events. Nuclear weapons have already saved the world once - by the threat of its destruction. This mission continues.

“It’s time to think about a demonstrative nuclear explosion,” Dmitry Suslov, Profil, 05.29.24.Clues from Russian Views.

  • Everything is leading to the fact that the United States and several allied countries may in the near future allow Kyiv to use Western weapons, including long-range missiles, to attack targets located, so to speak, within the internationally recognized borders of Russia.
  • This will take the conflict to a fundamentally different level, it will mean the erasing of one of the brightest “red lines” that has existed since Feb. 24, 2022, and the direct entry of the United States and NATO into the war against Russia.
  • There are at least two reasons why the West is now discussing abandoning this principle [not allowing Ukraine to strike inside Russian with Western weapons].
    • The first and main thing is the increasingly difficult situation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the battlefield.
    • The second reason is Russia’s reluctance to aggravate relations with the West whenever it crossed one or another “red line” and became increasingly involved in the conflict (providing Kyiv with tanks, planes and, finally, long-range missiles). As a result, as Western publications constantly emphasize, the fear of escalation, which was relatively high at the beginning of the SVO, gradually decreased.
  • Thus, the West has formed an opinion: the costs of Kyiv’s defeat are much greater than the risks of a direct military clash with Russia as a result of allowing the use of Western weapons to strike deep into [Russia’s] “old” territory. The voices of those claiming that Moscow will again not inflict military damage directly on Western countries are becoming louder. This logic inevitably leads to a third world war. And if the further involvement of the West in the conflict in Ukraine is not stopped right now, then a full-fledged, “hot” war between Russia and NATO will become inevitable.
  • Over the past two-plus years, the Kyiv regime has repeatedly carried out drone strikes on the infrastructure of Russian strategic nuclear forces. Now imagine that attacks on the airfields of Russian strategic aviation and/or on Russian radars included in the missile attack warning system will be carried out by Western missiles based on the coordinates received by Western satellites, and, probably, the Western military will press the launch buttons. In accordance even with the current Russian nuclear doctrine (certainly a “peacetime” doctrine that needs to be tightened), namely the “Fundamentals of Russian State Policy in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence” of 2020, such strikes are the official basis for the use of nuclear weapons.
  • There is only one way to prevent such a catastrophic development of events: a sharp strengthening of the Russian policy of containment - intimidation. The option of “freezing” military operations along the current demarcation line without any political conditions for Kyiv and the modalities of its security relations with the West is completely unacceptable.
  • It is worth, first, declaring to the United States and NATO approximately the same thing that Moscow has already declared to London after David Cameron’s words about Ukraine’s right to fire British Storm Shadow missiles anywhere. Namely: in the event of attacks by their weapons on the “old” territory of Russia, Moscow reserves the right to strike at any targets of the relevant countries, including the United States, anywhere in the world. There are many American military bases around the world.
  • Second, it is important to officially declare that if, in response to such Russian strikes, the U.S./NATO launches a non-nuclear strike on Russian territory, then Moscow, in turn, can use nuclear weapons - in full accordance with the “Fundamentals of Russian State Policy in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence.”
  • Third, since we are talking about possible attacks not only on British, but also on American targets (and about a possible military response directly from the United States), it is desirable, in addition to the current exercises on the use of tactical nuclear weapons, to conduct exercises on the use of strategic nuclear weapons strength.
  • Finally, fourth, to confirm the seriousness of Russia’s intentions and convince our opponents of Moscow’s readiness to escalate, it is worth considering conducting a demonstration (that is, not a combat) nuclear explosion.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

Political violence, including terrorism:

“Anti-Kremlin Militant Activities in and Around the Russian Federation: What to Expect after the Crocus City Hall Terrorist Attack,” Jean-François Ratelle, PONARS, 06.03.24.

  • The war in Ukraine and Russia’s intervention in Syria have significantly altered the landscape of external and internal threats faced by the Kremlin. While past threats were largely concentrated in the North Caucasus region, Moscow now contends with a more diffuse and multi-faceted militant threat spanning various organizations.
  • Despite facing a heightened threat from a combination of multiple organizations, Russia benefits from dealing with a highly fragmented opposition. Although tactical collaborations do occur (e.g., transborder raids involving far-right and Chechen groups), a unified ideology among groups in opposition to Russia remains elusive. The only common thread binding these anti-Kremlin groups is a shared enemy and a readiness to temporarily set aside ideological differences to target that enemy. Even groups with ideological similarities, such as ISKP and ISCP, tend to compete for resources and recruits rather than forming stronger networks. While they don’t openly confront one another, they largely coexist parallel to one another.
  • Given that many of these groups have foreign ties, Russia is compelled to strengthen its collaboration with Turkey and countries in Central Asia. This collaboration is crucial for sharing intelligence, coordinating operations, and addressing the transnational nature of these militant groups. However, navigating these partnerships while managing international political complexities and countries’ differing agendas presents additional challenges for Russia’s counterterrorism strategy.
  • The sheer scale of the March 2024 terrorist attack highlights the concerning ease of access to weapons and explosives within Russia. In recent months, there has been a steady flow of weapons being smuggled back into Russia for personal use or trafficking purposes by soldiers and private military contractors. Just as the two wars in Chechnya supplied North Caucasus militants with weapons and established routes through the South Caucasus, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has presented a unique opportunity for insurgent cells to secure a steady supply of weapons with which to confront Russian security forces. In addition to weapons sourced from Russian soldiers, one must consider the arms used and smuggled by these units during their recurrent transborder raids. The example of the Pankisi Gorge between 2000 and 2012 illustrates how the proximity of militant safe havens significantly bolsters the resilience of insurgent and foreign fighter groups as well as smuggling operations. 
  • The evolving landscape of anti-Kremlin militant threats will inevitably compel Moscow to allocate more resources toward counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism efforts within Russia. This includes adapting intelligence-gathering methods to evolving conditions, especially within Central Asian migrant communities and countries across Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Conflict in Syria:

“How the Wagner Group Lost Syria,” Antonio Giustozzi, RUSI, 05.31.24. 

  • Despite the death of its former leader, the Wagner Group continues to operate in some parts of the world. In Syria, however, its presence has long since evaporated. What went wrong? 
  • Syrian sources all agree that they never had the impression that the Russian authorities were involved in Wagner’s expansion beyond the private military business and into oil and gas and related industries [in Syria]. The sources might, of course, have been unaware of Wagner’s arrangements with the Russian authorities, but it seems clear that Prigozhin was not sharing the bulk of his profits with the Kremlin authorities, other than paying some taxes in Russia. 
  • According to senior staff of both Russian and Syrian companies previously operating under Wagner, once the Russian MoD took control of Wagner’s operations in the oil and gas sector, the profitability collapsed. This is not a matter of technical or managerial competence, because the staff have changed little, but of the shadowy business skills that were Prigozhin’s own turf. The Syrian authorities are now demanding that Russian companies in Syria pay taxes and customs.
  • In Syria, the Prigozhin model was acceptable as long as the situation of extreme crisis allowed for little or no alternatives. Such a situation cannot last forever – it must evolve in one direction or another. Even if the model appears to be still viable for now in Mali and Central Africa, it is clear that by and large Russia was never in a position to offer full, pervasive and long-term protection for Wagner across the geographic range of its operations. Indeed, beyond Syria, the presence of the Russian state alongside Wagner deployments was always much thinner, and typically limited to diplomatic and technical support. This is a key difference between Prigozhin’s business model and that of, say, the British East India Company. Both models are/were driven by extreme rapaciousness, but the East India Company relied on a comparatively much greater ability of the British state to back up the Company’s ‘investments’.
  • As a result, Prigozhin’s model was only really viable for relatively short burst of very intensive profit making. It might well have been designed with that in mind: in Syria, according to sources within Wagner’s financial operation, the organization earned a war chest that continues to fund Wagner adventures elsewhere. As a venture capitalist, Prigozhin appears to have assumed that several of his operations would result in losses, but expected a few immensely successful ones to cover that and still leave a hefty profit, which might well have been the case.

Cyber security/AI: 

“Digital deceptions: How a European Democracy Shield can help tackle Russian disinformation,” Irene Sanchez and Giorgos Verdi, ECFR, 05.28.24.

  • Less than two weeks ahead of the European Parliament election, AI-powered deepfakes aimed at swaying voters are circulating on social media and on online news outlets. In particular, the Kremlin has launched targeted disinformation campaigns via a scattered network of proxies – well-rooted across the EU – aimed at disrupting the democratic process and weakening European support for Ukraine.
  • The European Parliament has passed landmark legislation such as platform accountability measures and AI transparency requirements to upgrade Europe’s response to harmful online content, but the European Union is failing to keep up with Russia’s disinformation efforts.
  • If re-elected, von der Leyen has promised to set up a “European Democracy Shield” to detect, track, and delete deceitful online content in coordination with national agencies. … The European Democracy Shield could bring about a coordinated and assertive response to individuals and media outlets that funnel disinformation efforts – regardless of whether von der Leyen leads the next commission. To achieve this, the EU should use the European Democracy Shield to:
    • Break down the existing silos in the EU’s approach.
    • Work with like-minded third-country partners through the European External Action Service’s Digital Diplomacy efforts by sharing relevant insights and exchanging best practices.

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:

  • No significant developments.


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Is Russia Shifting Toward Mobilization Economy or Forming New, Loyal Business Elite?” Andrei Yakovlev, RM, 05.30.24.

  • The events of recent months clearly show that, contrary to all previous statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has set a course for reviewing privatization deals and, more broadly, for the redistribution of property in the Russian economy.
  • There are three plausible explanations for what is driving this process, which rather complement each other:
    • It is traditional for Putin’s Russia to use “power resources” to redistribute private property.
    • An overall shift to the “mobilization economy” model (like in Josef Stalin’s time).
    • Changes in the composition of the business elite (with the exclusion of not-quite-loyal-enough entrepreneurs and the provision of their assets to a “new generation of businessmen” who are fully loyal to the Kremlin).
  • The cases of Danone, chemical industry enterprises or the Rolf company allow us to see that the interests of very specific private actors are often behind the "de-privatization" process. Possessing a “power resource,” these actors gain control of the assets of nationalized enterprises. This practice has been widely known in Russia since the 2000s, although previously it was mainly expressed in the use of fictitious criminal cases against existing owners of assets to transfer them to other private owners.
  • Nationalization or the threat of nationalization is used to squeeze out of the economy entrepreneurs who do not demonstrate sufficient loyalty to the Kremlin. Signs of this can be considered the lack of direct public support for the war in Ukraine or the owners’ residing abroad (the nationalization of Russia’s biggest pasta producer Makfa in April 2024 is one example). At the same time, using their assets, the Kremlin wants to form a completely loyal and dependent business elite. Personally, this line seems to me the dominant one in the Kremlin’s policy.
  • The economic and political consequences of this process may be different. The redistribution of property will most likely lead to a decrease in the stability of the Russian economy. With high probability the new owners, who obtained their assets virtually through robbery, will not have sufficient competencies to effectively manage these assets. At the same time, the Kremlin’s blatant disregard for property rights will create barriers to investment in business development. However, it is important to recognize that companies that are now targets for takeovers typically have fairly well-established current business processes. At the same time, international financial sanctions prevent capital flight and, in a sense, force businesses to invest in Russia.

“Russia’s first major tax overhaul in 20 years,” Alexander Kolyandr and Alexandra Prokopenko, The Bell, 06.01.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Russian officials this week announced a long-expected tax reform plan, which puts an emphatic end to a status quo that has lasted two decades. ...What are the changes?
    • Russia’s flat income tax rate of 13% (the only exception, introduced in 2020, was a 15% rate on salaries over 5 million rubles ($55,300) a year) will be replaced by a progressive system. For salaries up to 2.4 million rubles, income tax will remain at 13%. All earnings above that threshold will be taxed at incrementally higher rates, ranging from 15% to 22%.
    • Income from dividends, deposits, or transactions involving securities and real estate will not be affected by the new rules (the maximum tax on them remains at 15%).
    • Corporate income tax will increase from 20% to 25%. From a revenue point of view, this is the most important change (it is predicted to generate 1.6 trillion rubles next year).
    • Small and medium-sized businesses will be able to access tax breaks, but will also have to pay VAT on revenues over 60 million rubles ($670,000). 
  • State spending is the basis of Russia’s current economic growth. And the new tax system is designed to allow the Kremlin to continue spending for longer. However, this is not the only goal. It looks like the government hopes the tax changes will tilt the economy’s focus toward the development of domestic manufacturing – in particular military production – at the expense of trade, services and other bourgeois pleasures.

For more analysis on this subject, see:

Defense and aerospace:

"Such comfortable conditions for theft in the military department [Russian defense ministry] have not existed for a long time." Ilya Shumanov,, 05.31.24. Clues from Russian Views.

  • The Ministry of Defense was quite prone to corruption in the Soviet Union, in Russia in the 1990s, and during the tenure of Minister Serdyukov. And we see that under Shoigu, nothing has actually changed. The number of criminal cases that have been initiated now is enough to say that there is widespread corruption in the Ministry of Defense. But this is undoubtedly just the tip of the iceberg.
    • If you look at how many deputy ministers for logistics have changed since February 2022, we are now on the third logistics deputy who took office this spring. Isn't this a clear characteristic that the most corrupt niche in the Ministry of Defense is logistics?
  • The Ministry's budget was quite large even before the war, but now it has ballooned and reached 10.8 trillion rubles. And obviously, with such a budget, three times higher than the pre-war one, the team that existed under Shoigu could not physically handle it in a short period of time.
  • The growth of corruption was facilitated by the lack of transparency because by the beginning of the war, the Ministry of Defense had closed information on 95% of its state purchases. The combination of these factors led to a very fertile ground for corruption in the Ministry of Defense, which even during Serdyukov's time did not even exist.
    • First of all, one of the main beneficiaries of the war was Sergei Chemezov and his state corporation Rostec. Why? Because the share of military products in the total volume of Rostec's production increased by 15%.
    • He and Chemezov and Rostec are allies and partners because Rostec actually controls all industries within the Russian Federation — from the extractive industry to conditional rocket engines.
  • I think that all these arrests in the Ministry of Defense happened because the security forces, namely the Department of Military Counterintelligence, were given the green light: to work on the Ministry of Defense, to implement all the materials available in their files.
  • Since the beginning of the war, outrageous facts about the poor equipment of the Russian army have repeatedly surfaced in the media. For example, many mobilized soldiers were outfitted for the front by their families, who spent exorbitant amounts on their gear.
    • Logistical support for the troops has always been the main problem, which simply collapsed against the backdrop of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
  • It is clear that this set of circumstances does not allow us to speak about efficiency in the Ministry of Defense. Just consider the statement published on the website of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine: they cited facts of corruption in the Russian Ministry of Defense and expressed gratitude to Sergei Shoigu for it.
  •  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:

“Russia’s Spiritual Expansion in the Global South,” Ivan U. Kłyszcz, Russia Post, 05.27.24.

  • At first glance, it seems that religion cannot play a role in Russia’s profoundly immoral foreign policy, especially in the context of the aggression against Ukraine. Yet, the Moscow Patriarchate – headed by Patriarch Kirill – is profoundly enmeshed with the Kremlin and has openly embraced the war.
    • While deeply chauvinistic and xenophobic in its rhetoric, the Moscow Patriarchate has an expansive role internationally, as the ROC is a global religion. The Moscow Patriarchate has an external relations department, headed by Metropolitan Anthony since 2022, and special missions abroad covering Africa, South-East Asia, and Western Europe.
  • In the context of Moscow’s search for partners internationally, the ROC’s role in the so-called 'Global South' deserves scrutiny. There is collaboration between the Moscow Patriarchate and Russia’s commercial, diplomatic, and military presence worldwide.
    • Leading with its exarchates, the Moscow Patriarchate has been expanding its influence in Africa and Asia. This expansion is a response to the 2019 decision to recognize the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the Patriarch of Alexandria and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
  • The Moscow Patriarchate has gained two main benefits from this expansion: cooperation with Russian diplomacy and better resources. Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria has accused Russia of wanting to expand in Africa, describing his own patriarchate as a 'poor missionary.'
  • Conventional religious diplomacy and inter-faith dialogue are also recurrent instruments used by the Moscow Patriarch to articulate his foreign policy. In the context of Russia’s militarized foreign policy, Patriarch Kirill has embraced some of Moscow’s campaigns internationally, framing them as a way to 'protect Christians abroad.’
  • The ROC’s incursions into the jurisdictions of the other patriarchies risks entrenching the conflict in Eastern Orthodoxy even further. Those communities switching allegiances to alleviate their urgent needs might find themselves inadvertently caught in larger religious and secular conflicts.
  • Moreover, the Moscow Patriarchate and its exarchates actively launder Russia’s image abroad, presenting the country as benevolent and not as an aggressor state, thus adding to Russian state propaganda and wartime diplomacy.


“Speech by Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Plenary Session ‘Re-Imagining Solutions for Global Peace and Regional Stability’ Held in Singapore,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, 06.02.24. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • In the 1990s, Ukraine suffered one of the greatest deceptions in modern history when the security assurances from nuclear powers – in exchange for the nuclear arsenal located in Ukraine, did not translate into real security. It was exactly 28 years ago these days, when Ukraine handed over its last nuclear warheads to Russia, in line with a multilateral international agreement. And it is Russia that has tried to erase Ukraine from the political map of the world.
  • In the 2000s, Ukraine faced the first obvious violations by Russia on our territory and sovereignty, revealing that there was no element of the world’s security architecture capable of restraining Russia and forcing it to stick to the principles and purposes of the UN Charter. So, Putin believes he is allowed to do anything.
  • By the mid-2010s, Russia brought a war to our land – a war that we in Ukraine never, never, never wanted, did not provoke, and which expanded into the most treacherous invasion Europe has experienced since World War II.
  • All of this was a series of diplomatic failures and constant attempts to keep the world divided into spheres of influence – which disrupts nations’ lives and corrupts global powers.
  • Together with partners, we are defending life and rules-based world order. We are working to obtain air defense systems, and co-produce weaponry and drones. We train our soldiers together. We counter cyber threats together. We restore energy infrastructure damaged by Russian terror together.
  • Initially, this was achieved through international mediation – together with Türkiye and the UN. Later, when Russia left the Grain Initiative, we resumed our contribution to global food security thanks to our soldiers who defeated Russia at sea.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Between Russia and the EU: Europe’s Arc of Instability,” Thomas de Waal, Dimitar Bechev, and Maksim Samorukov, CEIP, 05.30.24.

  • The war in Ukraine has left a group of “in-between” European countries more vulnerable and insecure than ever before. These countries—Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Moldova, and Serbia—find themselves in what we have termed an “arc of instability” between Russia and the European Union.
  • All of these in-between states are outside of the European Union and NATO, but are building stronger ties with the EU: several are prospective members of the union. They also maintain many connections with Russia, and are home to pro-Russian political forces and business interests. Many still buy Russian gas. Armenia is a member of two Russian-led institutions—the Eurasian Economic Union and (for now, at least) the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)—but is in the process of reevaluating the utility of membership in these organizations. 
  • Since 2022, the EU and the United States have deployed substantial new political and economic resources to support these in-between states. The EU has relaunched its enlargement process, which had been stalled since 2013, and given candidate status to Moldova, Ukraine, and (more conditionally) Georgia—something that would have been unthinkable a little more than two years ago. It has set up the European Union Mission in Armenia (EUMA) to monitor the border, the first such mission in a country that is a member of the Russia-led CSTO. Moldova is being weaned off of its dependence on Russian gas.
  • Still, it would be complacent to assume that the European trajectory of these in-between countries is a given. The enlargement process still has a long way to go before the candidate countries achieve actual membership, leaving skeptical EU governments with many opportunities to exercise vetoes. Public opinion in the in-between countries is growing more pro-European, but societies are still divided
  • What path these countries take will be largely determined by developments beyond their control—in particular, the course of the war in Ukraine and complex intra-EU discussions about the future of the European project. If Russia is even partly successful in its war of aggression in Ukraine, destabilization or military action against its other neighbors cannot be ruled out. Conversely, Ukrainian military success against Russia and an accelerated path toward EU accession for Ukraine increases the European prospects of other states.

“Putin’s Hidden Game in the South Caucasus. Azerbaijan’s Rise, Georgia’s Drift, and Russia’s Quest for a Gateway to Iran and the Middle East,” Thomas de Waal, FA, 06.03.24. 

  • Putin recognizes the value of the South Caucasus to Russia, but since 2022, he has had little time for it. Moscow has no discernable institutional policy toward the region as a whole—or for other regions beyond Ukraine. The war has accentuated the habit of highly personalized decision-making by a leader in the Kremlin who seems uninterested in consultation or detailed analysis. This has left the region’s three countries with strikingly different approaches. 
    • Azerbaijan’s Aliyev, with his two-decade relationship with the Russian president, seems most comfortable with Putin’s way of doing business. 
    • In the case of Georgia, with which Russia has no diplomatic relations, there are no face-to-face meetings or structured talks. 
    • Paradoxically, the one country in the region that has long-standing formal and institutional links to Russia—Armenia—is also keenest to break off the relationship.
  • Not everything is going Putin’s way. Russia’s military withdrawal from Azerbaijan is a sign of weakness. So, too, arguably, is Armenia’s pivot to the West and the Georgian public’s mass resistance to what the opposition labels the “Russian law.” But if Russia looks weaker in the region, the West does not look stronger. There are significant pro-European social dynamics at work, but they face strong competition from political and economic forces that are pulling the South Caucasus in very different directions.
  • Last month, the Georgian government awarded the tender to develop a new deep-water port on the Black Sea at Anaklia to a controversial Chinese company. That project used to be managed by a U.S.-led consortium. In other words, Europe and the United States is competing for influence not just with Russia but also with other powers, as well. Nothing can be taken for granted in a region that is as volatile as it has ever been.

“Countering Russian Influence in the Caucasus,” Anna Ohanyan, NI, 05.31.24.

  • The West’s ongoing efforts to achieve a full peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan is unrealistic. Establishing basic security is necessary before progress can be made towards a durable peace agreement. Attempting to seek peace under the barrel of a gun without pre-established, credible security guarantees will only serve to embolden Russia in the South Caucasus.
  • The West’s diplomatic endeavors in the South Caucasus aim both too low and too high. They are too low because Washington and the European capitals see talks primarily as a tool to manage a conflict between two small states, underrating the potential of this case as a model for broader order-building in Eurasia and its centrality to the geopolitical clash between liberal democracy and authoritarianism. They are too high because the West also underrates the Azerbaijani habit of accompanying the talks with a drumbeat of aggression.
  • At the core of this intractable, decades-long dispute is the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh … After Azerbaijan attacked and compelled the flight of all 120,000 people in September 2023, some commentators thought that negotiations between the two states might somehow be easier with the thorniest issue gone. Instead, we see Baku’s growing discomfort with third-party mediators—and especially Euro-Atlantic involvement—as it increasingly coordinates with Moscow. At the same time, Armenia loses faith in Russia as a mediator vis-a-vis Azerbaijan.
  • Stable security in a post-war environment is the sine qua non for achieving lasting peace agreements. Aliyev’s insistence on keeping the war on the table serves one player. Historically, unresolved conflicts have been an instrument for Russian control over its post-Soviet peripheries. 
  • Despite its failures, the Western engagement has achieved two things.
    • First, it reinforced international norms against territorial conquest via frequent references to global treaties supporting the non-use of force.
    • Second, Western diplomacy helped manage a declining Russia. Around its former imperial peripheries, Moscow advances its interests when rules are fuzzy and stability fragile. However, Western diplomacy in Armenia-Azerbaijani relations has helped avoid such direct skullduggery.
  • Due to the region’s complexity and the continuing bad faith between parties, before a “yes” can be reached on a peace treaty, it is probably essential that the Western powers cement their own “no” to the Russian-Azerbaijani assault on regional stability.
    • It will require a more robust push against aggression and threats of aggression and much stronger administrative and political support on border delineation between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
    • The West should aim for such a nonaggression pact between Armenia and Azerbaijan first and a complete peace agreement only after the foundations for trust can be established. If diplomacy is the art of the possible, then this, indeed, is what’s possible.

“The War in Ukraine and Changing Perceptions of Russia in Azerbaijan,” Fidan Nazamova, PONARS, 06.03.24. 

  • Overall, Azerbaijani public opinion is ambivalent in its assessment of the war in Ukraine. To be sure, the public, elites, and youth do not support—and even condemn—the Russian invasion. Nevertheless, growing anti-Russian sentiment has not resulted in a rise in support for the U.S. or the EU. Indeed, Western countries have come in for criticism from the Azerbaijani public due to what the latter perceives as their insufficient military support for Ukraine and lack of a unified front against Russia. Moreover, the public is infuriated by the seeming hypocrisy of the EU and the U.S. in condemning Russian separatism in eastern Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea, even as they gave little support to the Azerbaijani cause in the face of Armenian separatism in Karabakh. With support for the West limited, Azerbaijan’s position on Russia remains necessarily equivocal.

“Escaping Russia’s Death Grip: How Has Putin’s Aggression in Ukraine Affected Security in Armenia and Karabakh,” Nona Shahnazarian, PONARS, 05.29.24. 

  • The conflicts in Karabakh and Armenia must be understood within the context of Russia’s broader geopolitical strategy. By instigating proxy wars and exploiting regional tensions, Putin’s Russia aims to maintain regional control and externalize the “enemy” by undermining democratic movements in neighboring countries. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for effectively navigating the complexities of the South Caucasus region and promoting stability and democracy in Armenia and beyond. The Velvet Revolution in Armenia (akin to the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003) and the subsequent flare-up in Armenian-Azerbaijani relations underscore the complex interplay of domestic politics, regional dynamics, and external influences in the South Caucasus. 
  • As Armenia navigates these challenges, Russia and other international actors will continue to shape the region’s geopolitical landscape with significant implications for security and sustainable stability. Pragmatic geopolitical realities and the collapse of historical narratives have reshaped Armenia’s relationship with Russia, signaling a new chapter in their centuries-old alliance. Understanding the reasons behind this shift is necessary to properly assess Armenia’s future foreign policy trajectory and regional dynamics.

“Georgia’s government cosies up to Russia,” The Economist, 05.30.24.

  • Georgia is ... in mortal peril. 
  • Once considered a beacon of democracy and a staunch Western ally, Georgia is being pushed into Russia’s sphere of influence and away from the West, not by Russian soldiers but by its own ruler, a reclusive businessman named Bidzina Ivanishvili. He made his billions in Russia in the 1990s and has ruled Georgia since 2012, largely from behind the scenes through the party he founded, Georgian Dream.
  • For ten years, Mr. Ivanishvili kept up a pretense of democracy and trod a careful line between Russia and the West. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, though, he has thrown in his lot with Russia and has openly turned against the West, which he calls a “party of global war.” Georgia has reopened direct flights to Russia and helps it evade sanctions, as shown by increased trade flows. At the same time its helmeted police and vigilante thugs assault the young Westernized Georgians who have taken to the streets in protest. So far, the government has had the upper hand.
  • The trigger for the current crisis was a menacing law, nicknamed the “Russia law” by its critics, copied from Mr. Putin’s lexicon. It requires any organization that gets more than 20% of its funding from Western sources to register as an “agent of foreign influence.” On May 18th, the law, which had easily passed through parliament, was vetoed by Salome Zourabichvili, Georgia’s president, for “contradicting our constitutions and all European standards.” But on May 28th Georgia’s parliament voted to override that veto, in good time for parliamentary elections in October.
  • Turning Georgia decisively against the West would be a victory for Mr. Putin and a humiliation for NATO as it celebrates its 75th anniversary later this year. But Mr. Putin’s plans for Georgia extend beyond symbolism. He has designated the Russian-controlled breakaway region of Abkhazia as a new naval base for its Black Sea fleet that has been pushed out of Crimea by Ukrainian forces.
  • Mr. Putin may be aiming to create a form of confederation between Georgia and its two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which he also controls. The idea was tested (unsuccessfully) when the Kremlin first fomented conflict in Donbas in 2014, then tried to push it back into Ukraine as a way to secure a veto over its European trajectory. Speaking on Georgia’s independence day on May 26th, Irakly Kobakhidze, the Georgian Dream prime minister who is driving his country towards the Kremlin, promised that by 2030 “Georgians should be living alongside their Abkhazian and Ossetian brothers and sisters.” Pledging to defend Georgia’s sovereignty, Georgian Dream is making great strides to achieve the opposite. 

“The Impact of Russia’s War on Moldova’s Domestic and Foreign Policies,” Igor Zaharov and Carolina Bogatiuc, PONARS, 05.29.24. 

  • In navigating the multifaceted domestic and international challenges posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moldova has demonstrated resilience and determination. While the conflict has underscored Moldova’s vulnerabilities and the complexities of its security landscape, it has also served as a catalyst for profound changes, pushing the nation toward deeper integration with Western democracies and reinforcing its commitment to EU accession. Moldova’s response to these crises reflects its unwavering dedication to democratic principles, economic modernization, and regional stability: EU membership is understood not just as a strategic choice, but as a vital step toward securing the country’s future. 
  • Keeping a close eye on Moldova’s political scene will be instructive, especially as the country gears up for two significant democratic events—the presidential elections and an EU integration referendum, both slated for the latter part of October—that will present Moldovans with the opportunity to clearly express their aspirations regarding EU membership. Meanwhile, Russia’s attempts to sway Moldova from this course underscore the critical need for vigilance among the Moldovan public and authorities alike.

For more analysis on this subject, see:


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.
Slider photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin shared under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.