Russia Analytical Report, May 30-June 5, 2023

3 Ideas to Explore

  1. Ukraine’s counter-offensive appears to have begun, according to Western officials interviewed by The Economist. Some of the several axes, along which the Ukrainian forces are reportedly attacking in the south-east, may threaten the land bridge between Russia and Crimea, the British outlet reports. Ukraine’s main effort is probably still to come and will involve finding the best places to break Russian lines along a narrow segment of the front, according to The Economist.
  2. When it comes to Russia’s war in Ukraine, “the most plausible ending is an armistice agreement,” given that neither Kyiv nor Moscow has the capacity to achieve a “decisive victory,” according to Samuel Charap of RAND. “An endgame premised on an armistice would leave Ukraine — at least temporarily — without all its territory. But the country would have the opportunity to recover economically, and the death and destruction would end,” Charap argues in a commentary for FA. According to Emmanuel Macron, however,  “peace in Ukraine and on our continent cannot mean a ceasefire that enshrines the current situation.” For now, “the most prudent course of action is to maintain strategic ambiguity by deferring to Ukraine on when and how any putative negotiations may be conducted and what conditions for war settlement may be advanced,” according to a recent PONARS report.
  3. The Ukraine war may become a proving ground for AI, according to retired U.S. Navy admiral James Stavridis who sees multiple benefits from embracing AI, including its capacity to serve as a “powerful tool” for decision-makers and its potential to reduce collateral damage. “The ability to use AI to conduct cyberattacks may prove to be  “its most dangerous attribute,” the ex-SACEUR argues in a Bloomberg column. 


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:

"The Three Keys to Ukraine’s Recovery," Mustafa Nayyem, head of the State Agency for the Restoration of Ukraine, Chatham House, 06.02.23.

  • “To make Ukraine an attractive option for displaced people, the nation must invest in its infrastructure, educational institutions and labor market. By addressing the needs outlined in Maslow’s hierarchy – psychological needs, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization needs – Ukraine can create an environment that encourages its citizens to return.”
  • “This includes improving transportation systems, upgrading educational facilities and expanding job opportunities. Building factories not only creates employment but stimulates the economy. Furthermore, promoting entrepreneurship will help the growth of new businesses and small enterprises.”
  • “Corruption has long plagued Ukraine. To secure the country’s recovery, combating corruption must be a top priority. Donors should implement robust measures such as audits, compliance mechanisms and external controls to openly and honestly confront corruption. It is imperative to increase the salaries of public employees who currently receive inadequate pay. This deters corruption while enhancing the government’s overall capacity and accountability.”

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Ukraine’s Counter-Offensive Appears To Have Begun. Its Armor Strikes in the South-East; but There Is More To Come,” The Economist, 06.05.23. [1]

  • “On June 4th … Ukrainian forces launched what Russia’s defense ministry called a “large-scale” assault on five axes in the south-east of Donetsk province, in eastern Ukraine. Some of them may indeed threaten the land bridge; others were further to the north. Western officials tell The Economist that this does in fact mark the start of the offensive, with attacks also under way on other parts of the front. Yet the cream of Ukraine’s forces has not yet appeared on the battlefield.”
  • “American and European military officials advising Ukraine say that Russia’s defensive lines could be more fragile than thought, and that a fast, violent assault is the best way to minimize casualties on the Ukrainian sides and deny Russian forces the opportunity to reinforce the site of any breakthrough. They suspect that Ukraine has been too cautious in the past, notably during last year’s offensive in Kherson province, where its troops, despite the eventual liberation of Kherson city, allowed thousands of Russian forces to escape with their equipment.”
  • “Ukraine’s main effort is probably still to come. With the total length of the front around 900km and 12 offensive brigades at its disposal, Ukraine cannot afford to spread itself too thin. It will have to find the best places to break Russian lines along a narrow segment of the front. The task, some Western advisers say, is to force Russia to defend a number of areas at once, stretching its units thin. Russia cannot defend the entire length of the front equally. At this stage Ukraine is still probing Russian forces, looking for vulnerabilities — or creating them — before committing its strongest units.”

“Ukraine’s Zelensky: We Are Ready for Counteroffensive. Ukrainian president also discusses U.S. elections, NATO and China in wide-ranging interview,” Ukraine’s president speaks with correspondent James Marson and chief editor Emma Tucker, WSJ, 06.03.23. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • “‘We strongly believe that we will succeed,’ Zelensky said [in reference to an Ukrainian counteroffensive] … as  his country's military girded for what could be one of the war's most consequential phases as it aims to retake territory occupied by Russia. ‘I don't know how long it will take,’ he told The Wall Street Journal. ‘To be honest, it can go a variety of ways, completely different. But we are going to do it, and we are ready.’”
  • “Zelensky, 45 years old, said he feared U.S. elections next year could bring a less-supportive administration to power and called on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to offer a clear path to membership for Kyiv.”
    • “‘In a situation like this, when there is support, you are afraid of changes,’ he said. ‘And to be honest, when you mention a change of administration, I feel the same way as any other person — you want changes for the better, but it can also be the other way around.’ … Biden has an emotional attachment to Ukraine that has underpinned his administration's support for the country, Zelensky said. Trump's presidency came before the full-scale invasion, and ‘I'm not sure how Trump would have acted,’ he said.”
    • “Zelensky said he didn't expect Ukraine to join NATO while fighting continued, but wanted a pledge that it would be admitted after the war. ‘If we are not given a signal in Vilnius, I believe there is no point for Ukraine to be at this summit,’ he said. Asked whether he thought he would get such a signal, he replied: ‘I don't know. I honestly don't know.’”
  • “He also urged China to try to restrain Russia and said Ukraine urgently needed more U.S.-made Patriot missile-defense systems to protect citizens from aerial bombardments and to shield front-line troops.”
    • “‘I would not want such a country to stand by and watch people die,’ he said [of China]. ‘If you are big, this is what national greatness means. This is not a painting or a museum; it is a real, bloody war.’”

“Biden shows growing appetite to cross Putin's red lines,” journalists John Hudson and Dan Lamothe, WP, 06.01.23.

  • “Despite the Russian leader's apocalyptic warnings, the United States has gradually agreed to expand Ukraine's arsenal with Javelin and Stinger missiles, HIMARS rocket launchers, advanced missile defense systems, drones, helicopters, M1 Abrams tanks and, soon, fourth-generation fighter jets.”
  • “A key reason for brushing aside Putin's threats, U.S. officials say, is a dynamic that has held since the opening days of the war: Russia's president has not followed through on promises to punish the West for providing weapons to Ukraine. His bluffing has given U.S. and European leaders some confidence they can continue doing so without severe consequences — but to what extent remains one of the conflict's most dangerous uncertainties. ‘Russia has devalued its red lines so many times by saying certain things would be unacceptable and then doing nothing when they happen,’ said Maxim Samorukov, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ‘The problem is that we don't know the actual red line. It's in one person's head, and it can change from one day to the next.’”
  • “U.S. officials say managing the risk of escalation remains one of the most difficult aspects of the war for Biden and his foreign policy advisers. When deciding what new weapons systems to provide Ukraine, they focus on four key factors, officials said. ‘Do they need it? Can they use it? Do we have it? What is the Russian response going to be?’ said a senior State Department official. Like others interviewed for this report, this person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations.”
  • “The official said Russia's reluctance to retaliate has influenced the risk calculus of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a key Biden confidant who has been an influential voice encouraging the administration and U.S. allies to do more to support Ukraine. … Inside the Biden administration, the Pentagon is considered more cautious than the White House or State Department about sending more sophisticated weaponry to Ukraine, but officials there deny that fear of escalation plays any role in their calculations.”
  • “As the war has dragged on, the warnings from Putin and his subordinates have only become more bombastic, threatening a nuclear holocaust if Russia faced setbacks on the battlefield. … A possible explanation for Putin's reluctance to hit the West is the diminished state of Russia's military, according to U.S. officials. ‘It would not seem to be in their interest to get into a direct confrontation with NATO right now,’ said the senior U.S. official. ‘They are not well positioned to do so.’”

“What the Ukrainian Armed Forces Need to Do to Win,” the Ukraine Defense Support Group's Erik Kramer and Paul Schneider, War on the Rocks, 06.02.23.

  • “Based on our nine months of training with all services of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, to include the Ground Forces (Army), Border Guard Service, National Guard, Naval Infantry (Marines), Special Operations Forces, and Territorial Defense Forces, we have observed a series of common trends: lack of mission command, effective training, and combined arms operations; ad hoc logistics and maintenance; and improper use of special operations forces. These trends have undermined Ukraine’s resistance and could hinder the success of the ongoing offensive.”
  • “The Ukrainian Armed Forces have performed admirably but need to refocus their training and operations on combined arms operations and to become adept at operating at night.   Western support to Ukraine has an expiration date that is fast approaching. Also, the will of the Ukrainian people to support high casualty rates is very high but is not infinite. The Russian military has plenty of people and time on their side.  The way to change the equation in Ukraine’s favor is through combined arms operations and training.  History has repeatedly shown how a well-trained and properly led military can beat a poorly trained army.  The challenging part is changing the mentality of senior leaders who have spent decades in the Soviet system to a mission command philosophy that allows for flexibility and initiative with the understanding that it will not result in a disaster or a prison sentence but rather battlefield victory.”

“The Key to Victory in Ukraine? Taking the Long View,” Editorial Board, WP, 05.31.23.

  • “Among major recent Western moves to boost Ukraine's military, three were critical.”
    • “One was Mr. Biden's sharp reversal in allowing Ukrainian pilots to be trained on F-16 fighter jets and to permit other countries to prepare to send such planes to Ukraine.”
    • “A second was Germany's announcement of a $3 billion package of weapons, including 30 Leopard battle tanks, 20 infantry fighting vehicles, 18 self-propelled howitzers, four Iris-T air-defense missile systems and 200 reconnaissance drones, in addition to artillery munition.”
    • “The third was Britain's decision to supply Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles.”
      • “The central importance of those steps is that they are not short-term commitments.”
  • “The burden is on the West to formulate plans for a long-term struggle. Arms supplies, procurement systems and defense budgets will need to reflect that commitment. Kyiv's forces will need more cruise missiles from its Western allies, more ammunition, more air defense systems, more tanks, more armored vehicles. Ukraine's fight is for core Western values - the right to join the family of democratic, pluralistic and tolerant nations, no matter how anathema that is to a retrograde dictator bent on conquest.”

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

“Backlash Against Weaponized Dollar Is Growing Across the World,” reporters Michelle Jamrisko and Ruth Carson, Bloomberg, 06.02.23.

  • “All around the world, a backlash is brewing against the hegemony of the U.S. dollar. Brazil and China recently struck a deal to settle trade in their local currencies, seeking to bypass the greenback in the process. India and Malaysia in April signed an accord to ramp up usage of the rupee in cross-border business. Even perennial U.S. ally France is starting to complete transactions in yuan.”
  • “The Biden administration has imposed sanctions, frozen hundreds of billions of dollars of Moscow’s foreign reserves, and, in concert with Western allies, all but ousted the country from the global banking system. For much of the world, it’s been a stark reminder of their own dependency on the dollar, regardless of what they think of the war.”
  • “And that’s the dilemma Washington officials face: By increasingly relying on the greenback to fight their geopolitical battles, not only do they risk denting the dollar’s preeminent place in world markets, but they could ultimately undermine their ability to exert influence on the global stage. To ensure long-term efficacy, sanctions are often better left as a threat and not actually carried out, according to Daniel McDowell, author of Bucking the Buck: U.S. Financial Sanctions and the International Backlash Against the Dollar.”
  • “About 88% of all global foreign-exchange transactions, even those not involving the U.S. or U.S. companies, are in dollars, according to the most recent data from the Bank for International Settlements. Because banks handling cross-border dollar flows maintain accounts at the Federal Reserve, they’re susceptible to U.S. sanctions.”
  • “‘Without a doubt, de-dollarization is accelerating and will continue for years to come,’ said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Singapore. ‘The U.S. made a calculated decision to use the dollar to inflict pain, and there’s likely to be long-term consequences.’”

“Tech Sanctions Against Russia: Turning the West’s Assumptions Into Lessons,” research fellow Alena Epifanova, DGAP, 06.05.23.

  • “Assessment of the dynamics unleashed by the restrictive measures shows discrepancies between assumptions and real developments that must be considered by the international sanctions coalition in their implementation efforts.”
    • “First, the comprehensive set of sanctions and export controls has not prevented most Western tech companies from continuing their business with Russia. Only a minor part of them have completely exited the Russian market. While numerous ICT companies have scaled down their activities or stopped new investments in Russia, their services and products remain available there.”
    • “Second, Russia has come to rely on China’s support in evading export controls and filling its most urgent tech gaps. On the one hand, China has emerged as a beneficiary of Russia’s predicament, and Chinese companies with limited international exposure are actively exploiting its IT market. However, Sino-Russian cooperation has significant limits related to the risk of secondary sanctions for China’s big tech and to mutual distrust on issues related to security.”
    • “Third, the restrictive measures have become a reality check for Russia’s IT – a sector that the government sought to make independent from foreign vendors due to security concerns. The imposed sanctions and export controls have led to more vulnerability in terms of information security and Russia’s growing dependence on third countries and unproven tech. The insufficient development of key domestic technologies has forced the state to rely on grey imports of hardware and unlicensed software.”
  • “Given the increasing reliance of Russia on grey imports from third countries to mitigate shortages caused by sanctions, the EU and its partners should closely monitor trade activities and impose restrictions on intermediaries and third countries that violate sanctions. International cooperation among governments, tech companies, investigative journalists, and the expert community is crucial for swiftly uncovering and preventing shipments of sanctioned goods to Russia via third countries.”

“Washington Is Sanctioning 12,000 Entities. It’s Backfiring,” columnist Max Boot, WP, 06.05.23.

  • “Washington's addiction to sanctions has gotten out of control — and is hurting the United States. The Treasury Department estimated in late 2021 that it had sanctions on 9,421 organizations and individuals, a roughly 900 percent increase over the past 20 years. In 2022, the Treasury Department added 2,549 new designations while delisting only 225. That means nearly 12,000 entities were under U.S. sanctions as of the beginning of this year.”
  • “Most of the recent designations relate to Russia, but U.S. sanctions cover countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Every week seems to bring a fresh slew of designations.”
  • “The sanctions on Russia, massively (and rightly) expanded last year following the invasion of Ukraine, have inflicted damage but not as much as hoped: The Russian economy contracted by 3 percent last year, but the International Monetary Fund expects a slight recovery this year. More important, sanctions have not deterred Russian President Vladimir Putin from continuing his evil war of aggression. The sanctions might eventually constrain Russia's war-making ability, but that will take a long time. For now, Putin is still able to procure Western microchips for his weapons.”
  • “That's not an argument for forgoing sanctions altogether — sometimes there is no better alternative — but Washington should be much more cautious and strategic in their application. In her 2022 book ‘Backfire: How Sanctions Reshape the World Against U.S. Interests,’ Agathe Demarais of the Economist Intelligence Unit concluded that effective sanctions are typically temporary.”
  • “The Biden administration needs to rethink U.S. sanctions policy after decades of exponential growth.”

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“An Unwinnable War. Washington Needs an Endgame in Ukraine,” Rand’s Samuel Charap, FA, 06.05.23.

  • “It is now time that the United States develop a vision for how the war ends. … The optimistic expectation for the coming months [in the West]  is that the Ukrainians will make some gains in the south, perhaps retaking parts of the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, or push back the Russian assault in the east … The hope in Western capitals is that Kyiv’s gains on the battlefield will then force Putin to the negotiating table. … It is possible that another tactical setback would diminish Moscow’s optimism about continued fighting. But just as losing territorial control does not equate to losing a war, neither does it necessarily induce political concessions.”
  • “No matter where the frontline is, Russia and Ukraine will have the capabilities to pose a permanent threat to each other. But the evidence of the past year suggests that neither has or will have the capacity to achieve a decisive victory. … [The] limitations on both sides strongly suggest that neither one will achieve its stated territorial objectives by military means in the coming months or even years.”
  • “History suggests that [a drawn-out hot war between Russia and Ukraine] is the most likely outcome.”
  • “While Western governments should continue to do all they can to help Ukraine prepare for the counteroffensive, they also need to adopt a strategy for war termination — a vision for an endgame that is plausible under these far-from-ideal circumstances. … the most plausible ending is an armistice agreement.”
  • “An endgame premised on an armistice would leave Ukraine — at least temporarily — without all its territory. But the country would have the opportunity to recover economically, and the death and destruction would end. It would remain locked in a conflict with Russia over the areas occupied by Moscow, but that conflict would play out in the political, cultural, and economic domains, where, with Western support, Ukraine would have advantages. The successful reunification of Germany, in 1990, another country divided by terms of peace, demonstrates that focusing on nonmilitary elements of the contestation can produce results. Meanwhile, a Russian-Ukrainian armistice would also not end the West’s confrontation with Russia, but the risks of a direct military clash would decrease dramatically, and the global consequences of the war would be mitigated.”
  • “Many commentators will continue to insist that this war must be decided only on the battlefield. But that view discounts how the war’s structural realities are unlikely to change even if the frontline shifts, an outcome that itself is far from guaranteed. The United States and its allies should be capable of helping Ukraine simultaneously on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Now is the time to start.”

“Getting Ukraine Right: From Negotiations Trap to Victory,” Ukraine Task Force, PONARS, May 2023.

  • The current Western strategy needs to commit to long-term support for Ukraine regardless of the outcome of the anticipated counter-offensive. It will require abandoning wishful thinking that Putin could end his war of conquest without decisive military defeats — of the kind that would put Ukraine’s forces in a position to de-occupy Crimea, end Russia’s blockade of the Black and Azov Seas, and force Russian troops out of Southeastern Ukraine.”
  • The risks of setting deadlines for negotiations indicate that the most prudent course of action is to maintain strategic ambiguity by deferring to Ukraine on when and how any putative negotiations may be conducted and what conditions for war settlement may be advanced. If anything, Ukraine will need to gain a significant position of strength for any talks to be viable — one example being a comprehensive Crimea blockade, including breaking up Russia’s “land bridge” to the peninsula and a significant deployment of uncrewed surface vessels in the Black Sea, as recently recommended by William Courtney and Scott Savitz of the RAND Corporation. Working with Ukraine to achieve such a position will  be the best path to peace.”

"The Cigar-Chomping ‘Kissinger’ Behind Africa’s Mission To End Ukraine War," journalists Joseph Cotterill and David Pilling, FT, 05.26.23.

  • “French dealmaker Jean-Yves Ollivier who is brokering an improbable African diplomatic mission to help end the war in Ukraine is a veteran commodities trader with homes in several continents and close friends in as many presidential palaces.”
  • “His record as a broker in the oil-rich Republic of Congo, and links to its longtime president stretching back almost half a century, have made him a controversial figure. Other hats he has worn during his long career include advising Russia’s nuclear power group Rosatom.”
  • “Now, at 78, Ollivier has set his sights on what would be his most striking deal yet: getting Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy to start talking.”
  • “Ollivier said all negotiations started somewhere, and he had chosen grain, fertilizer and prisoner exchanges as the basis to open discussions between Moscow and Kyiv.”
    • “Any push to release the Russian fertilizer exports that Africa needs in return for a better deal to export Ukrainian grain would need to be squared with Russia’s severed access to the global Swift system for banking payments. While no western sanctions target Russian food or fertilizer exports directly, Moscow has blamed restrictions on financing and shipping for stranding its products.”
  • “‘I will play [Henry] Kissinger,’ he said of his role… ‘The only continent that’s really suffering is Africa. I don’t think the U.S. is suffering, I don’t think Europe is suffering, except for a little bit of inflation,’ said Ollivier. ‘But in Africa, if there’s no crop next year because there’s no fertilizer, millions of people are going to die.’”

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

"Why Washington Underwrites Violence in Ukraine,” the Quincy Institute’s Andrew Bacevich, TomDispatch, 06.01.23.

  • “For [WP columnist Max] Boot, the operational imperative appears obvious. With the Russian army currently defending a 600-mile front, he writes, ‘they cannot be strong everywhere.’ As a consequence, ‘the Ukrainians just have to find a weak spot and punch through it.’ However unintentionally, Boot thereby recalls the infamous theory of warfare devised by German General Erich Ludendorff to break the deadlock on the Western Front in 1918: ‘Punch a hole and let the rest follow.’ In their spring offensive that year, German armies under Ludendorff’s command did indeed punch a gaping hole in the Allied trench lines. Yet that tactical success yielded not a favorable operational result but exhaustion and ultimate German defeat.”
  • “Western support, especially the more than $75 billion in assistance the U.S. has so far committed, has certainly kept Ukraine in the fight. The West’s implicit game plan is one of mutual attrition — bleeding Ukraine as a way to bleed Russia — with the apparent expectation that the Kremlin will eventually say uncle.”
  • “Prospects of success depend on either of two factors: a change in leadership in the Kremlin or a change of heart on the part of President Putin. Neither of those, however, appears imminent. In the meantime, the bloodletting continues, a depressing reality that at least some in the U.S. national security apparatus actually find agreeable. Put simply, a war of attrition in which the U.S. suffers no casualties while plenty of Russians die suits some key players in Washington. In such circles, whether it comports with the well-being of the Ukrainian people receives no more than lip service.”
  • “American enthusiasm for punishing Russia might actually have made strategic sense if the zero-sum logic of the Cold War still pertained... however, Russia is anything but America’s principal global adversary; nor is it obvious, given the pressing problems facing the United States domestically and in our own near abroad, why baiting Ivan should figure as a strategic priority. Beating up on the Russian army on battlefields several thousand miles away won’t, for example, provide an antidote to Trumpism or solve the problem of this country’s porous borders. Nor will it alleviate the climate crisis.”
  • “If anything, in fact, Washington’s preoccupation with Ukraine only testifies to the impoverished state of American strategic thinking.”

“The Battle for Eurasia,” Hal Brands of Johns Hopkins’ SAIS, FP, 06.04.23.

  • “The war in Ukraine may have many positive outcomes: A Russia bled white by its own aggression, a United States that has rediscovered the centrality of its power and leadership, a democratic community that has been unified and energized for the dangerous years ahead. There will also be one very ominous outcome: the rise of a coalition of Eurasian autocracies linked by geographic proximity to one another and geopolitical hostility to the West. As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s folly rallies the advanced democracies, it hastens the construction of a Fortress Eurasia, manned by the free world’s enemies.”
  • “Revisionist autocracies — China, Russia, Iran, and, to a lesser degree, North Korea — aren’t simply pushing for power in their respective regions. They are forming interlocking strategic partnerships across the world’s largest landmass, and they are fostering trade and transportation networks beyond the reach of the U.S. dollar and the U.S. Navy. This isn’t, yet, a full-blown alliance of autocracies. It is, however, a bloc of adversaries more cohesive and dangerous than anything the United States has faced in decades.”
  • “It wouldn’t take a formal Sino-Russian alliance to upend the military balance. If Russia provides China with sensitive submarine-quieting technology or surface-to-air missiles, it could profoundly change the complexion of a Sino-American war in the Western Pacific. In today’s Eurasia, well-armed revisionists are making common cause.”
  • “The more secure these countries feel in their Eurasian stronghold, the more support they have from one another, the more emboldened they will be to project power into peripheral regions — the Western Pacific, Europe, the Middle East — and beyond.”

“Closing speech by the President of the French Republic” Emmanuel Macron speaking at GLOBSEC, Elysee, 05.31.23.

  • “In the times we are living in, we must not let the West be kidnapped a second time. We will not let Europe be kidnapped a second time.”
  • “The challenges we face are considerable, with war at our borders. The war of aggression against Ukraine is ultimately an extreme manifestation of a challenge to our European unity that has played out in the last fifteen years, and a show of fragility. Fifteen years of Russian attempts to overturn the whole European security architecture, to reshape it in its own terms.”
  • “We failed to provide a European response, or to organize an architecture to protect ourselves, via the OSCE or the other projects envisaged at the time, against these attacks. As for NATO’s response, it was too much or too little: perspectives offered to Ukraine and Georgia, exposing the two countries to Russia’s wrath, but which did not protect them, and which came with guarantees that were far too feeble.”
  • “What the war in Ukraine shows is not merely that these attempts to subjugate part of Europe are illegal and unacceptable, but also that, in the harsh light of power balances, they are now unrealistic.”
  • “The war is far from over, but I believe I can say today that one thing is clear: Ukraine will not be conquered.”
  • “In December 2019, I made a severe comment about NATO, highlighting the divisions that, at the time, as you will recall, were present within it between Turkey and several other powers, describing it as ‘brain dead.’ I dare say today that Vladimir Putin has jolted it back with the worst of electroshock.”
  • “Today, we need to help Ukraine, by every means, to conduct an effective counteroffensive. That is essential.”
  • “Peace in Ukraine and on our continent cannot mean a ceasefire that enshrines the current situation, re-creating a frozen conflict and, if you will, accepting the seizure of territory in violation of all the principles of international law. Because ultimately, such a frozen conflict would definitely be the war of tomorrow or the day after, and would weaken us all. Only one peace is possible: a peace that respects international law and is chosen by the victims of the aggression: the Ukrainian people.”
  • “We should be grateful and thankful to the United States of America. Will that Administration always be the same? Nobody can tell, and we cannot delegate our collective security and our stability to the choices of American voters in the coming years.... a Europe of Defence, a European pillar within NATO, is essential.”
  • “Russia will remain Russia, with the same borders and the same geography. We need to build a space that, tomorrow, must be this space of lasting peace, because the rights of the Ukrainian people will have been respected and international law will have been restored. That space must allow us to cohabit as peacefully as possible with Russia – but with no naivety.”
  • “I was reading something Henry Kissinger said recently, who we all know is not the least experienced diplomat. He was right when he said: In a year, all those who, with good reason, have helped Ukraine, have made it such a powerful player that it would be best to bring it back into these existing security architectures. I tend to share this vision. Therefore, if we want credible lasting peace, if we want to have influence with respect to Russia, and if we want to be credible vis-à-vis Ukrainians, we must give Ukraine the means to prevent any additional aggression and we must include Ukraine, in a structure, in a credible security architecture, including for ourselves. That is why I am in favour – and this will be the subject of collective discussions in the coming weeks ahead of the Vilnius Summit – of providing tangible security guarantees to Ukraine, for two reasons: Ukraine today is protecting Europe and provides security guarantees to Europe.”

“To Counter Russia, Germany Promised a Strong Military. What happened?”, Editorial Board, WP, 06.05.23.

  • “To reach NATO's — and Germany's own — target for ongoing defense outlays, equivalent to 2 percent of total economic output, Berlin would need to add some $28 billion to its current annual spending of about $55 billion., roughly a 50 percent increase. That looks unlikely. Data shows that, in May, Germany tipped into inflation-fueled recession, and officials say the defense ministry's request for an additional $11 billion for next year is a nonstarter. This even as a poll showed 62 percent of Germans support more defense spending.”
  • “Rather than forging ahead to give Germany the muscular defense Mr. Scholz outlined, Berlin is now seized by a traditional guns-and-butter debate. And there have been only halting moves to expedite the modernization of the country's armed forces. For example, no effort is underway to scrap a law requiring approval from parliament's budget committee for any defense expenditure exceeding $28 million — more than the price of two Leopard 2 battle tanks, depending on their specific features.”
  • “That is a recipe for inertia. Germany needs to move swiftly and boldly in the face of Russia's neo-imperial aggression, which is unlikely to ebb whether Mr. Putin or a successor sits in the Kremlin.”

“To Protect Europe, Let Ukraine Join NATO — Right Now. No Country Is Better at Stopping Russia,” former defense minister of Ukraine and current chair of the Center for Defense Strategies, Andriy Zagorodnyuk, FA, 06.01.23. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • “In Vilnius, NATO should at least move beyond vague promises about Ukraine’s future and get down to the specifics of helping Kyiv join the organization. It is time for Western states to stand firm against bullies and stop giving Russia (or any other outside state) a voice in the security architecture of an organization that considers it an adversary. Instead, now is the time for NATO to start strengthening itself, and bringing in Ukraine is essential to accomplishing this task. No state, after all, knows more about how to fight back against the Kremlin. In fact, no country has more current experience fighting large-scale wars anywhere. Ukraine’s only peer is Russia itself.”
  • “And fundamentally, the West needs to accept that the threat from Russia is not going away. Russia’s imperial ambitions extend beyond just Ukraine. They go deeper than just Putin. Russia’s entire top leadership is steeped in hatred toward the West and oriented around recreating an empire. It will menace eastern Europe even if Kyiv attains a complete victory, and even if Putin is kicked out of office.”
  • “To hold off Russia, the democratic world needs an integrated military to stop and deter the Kremlin’s aggression. NATO can be that force. But in order to do so, it needs to stop seeing Ukraine as a harassed neighbor that is trying to enter its safe house. It needs to instead recognize Ukraine for what it is: the world’s best enforcer and a state that can do much to ensure Europe’s safety. NATO, then, needs to admit Ukraine.”

"Ukraine Needs Long-Term Security Guarantees," Editorial Board, FT, 06.05.23.

  • “Immediate entry into NATO when Ukraine is still at war with Russia is unrealistic. Ideally, the alliance at Vilnius would grant Kyiv a concrete timetable, or “membership action plan”, leading to accession when the conflict is over. But, at the very least, the summit should demonstrate a conviction and commitment that Ukraine belongs in NATO, and unambiguously place it on a path of preparation for accession. The large NATO -supplied Ukrainian army that is taking shape is an additional argument for eventual membership.”
  • “Ukrainians have displayed extraordinary fortitude in defense of their homeland. They deserve to know that after hostilities are over they will be fully embraced into the European “family” — and that allies will do what is necessary to deter Moscow from again threatening their borders. The EU has made Kyiv an official candidate for membership, and is working on a four-year financing plan worth tens of billions of euros that would put its support for Ukraine on a more predictable long-term footing. Parallel moves are now needed on the military and security front.”

“The United States Can No Longer Assume That the Rest of the World Is on Its Side,” Fareed Zakaria, WP, 06.02.23.

  • “Why is the United States having so much trouble with so many of the world's largest developing nations? These attitudes are rooted in a phenomenon that I described in 2008 as the ‘rise of the rest.’ Over the past two decades, a huge shift in the international system has taken place. Countries that were once populous but poor have moved from the margins to center stage. Once representing a negligible share of the global economy, the ‘emerging markets’ now make up fully half of it. It would be fair to say they have emerged.”
  • “As these countries have become economically strong, politically stable and culturally proud, they have also become more nationalist, and their nationalism is often defined in opposition to the countries that dominate the international system — meaning the West. Many of these nations were once colonized by Western nations, and so they retain an instinctive aversion to Western efforts to corral them into an alliance or grouping.”
  • “Reflecting on this phenomenon in the context of the Ukraine war, Russia expert Fiona Hill notes that the other factor in this distrust is that these countries don't believe the United States when they hear it speak in favor of a rules-based international order. They see Washington, says Hill, as full of ‘hubris and hypocrisy.’ America applies rules to others but breaks them itself in its many military interventions and unilateral sanctions. It urges countries to open up to trade and commerce yet violates those principles when it chooses.”
  • “This is the new world. It is not characterized by the decline of America "but rather the rise of everyone else" (as I wrote in 2008). Vast parts of the globe that were once pawns on the chessboard are now players and intend to choose their own, often proudly self-interested, moves. They will not be easily cowed or cajoled. They have to be persuaded — with policies that are practiced at home and not just preached abroad. Navigating this international arena is the great challenge of U.S. diplomacy. Is Washington up to the task?”

“How America is Reshaping the Global Economy,” commentator Gideon Rachman, FT, 06.05.23.

  • “An unheralded revolution has taken place in America’s approach to international economics. As the new thinking emerges, it is reshaping the global economy and the western alliance. The approach was set out most clearly in a speech by Jake Sullivan on April 27. ... China is central to the new thinking.”
  • “Sullivan’s speech ranged well beyond geopolitics. It was a highly ambitious effort to pull together the domestic and international goals of the Biden administration — and turn them into a coherent whole. The U.S. intends to use a new strategic industrial policy to simultaneously revitalize the American middle-class and U.S. democracy, while combating climate change and establishing a lasting technological lead over China.”
  • “America’s allies … have their reservations about the Sullivan doctrine. But this is no time to get into an argument with the U.S..”

"The Legacy of the War in Ukraine: Will a ‘Silk Curtain’ Fall?”, geopolitical due diligence advisor John Raine, IISS, 05.31.23.

  • After the Second World War, a robust international order emerged and was managed through skillful U.S. engagement and generous financing. Yet even that was not enough to prevent the Iron Curtain from falling. Another war is now challenging this order. The geopolitical and economic framework that emerges after the war in Ukraine will surely by different, but it will likely depend less on dominant actors than on the choices that are made by middle powers, in particular those in Asia. Although they may seek to be neutral, their policies and alignments will decide whether a Silk Curtain falls and again divides East from West.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“Prove It Before You Use It: Nuclear Retaliation Under Uncertainty,” U.S. Navy officer Johnathan Falcone, Preamble Inc.’s Jonathan Rodriguez Cefalu, and quantitative behavioral researcher Maarten Bos, War on the Rocks, 06.01.23.  

  • “This [‘launch-under-attack’] approach is a remnant of the Cold War. We argue it is inadequate in today’s strategic landscape, given the proliferation of nuclear weapons and cyber capabilities, as well as the technical limitations and human biases associated with the use of automated and machine learning systems.”
  • “The current retaliatory posture must consider two factors: first, the inherent and increasing vulnerability of systems that inform decision-making, and second, the fundamental importance of presidential control in U.S. nuclear policy. It is crucial for a retaliatory posture to ensure the availability of weapons and command and control from the use decision to execution.”
  • “Retired Adm. James Winnefeld, former commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command, proposed an approach that better balances deterrence and safety. This posture, called ‘decide-under-attack,’ introduces a delayed response option to reduce the time pressure inflicted by launch-under-attack.”
  • “Decide-under-attack improves upon launch-under-attack by allowing the president to opt for a delayed response. This option extends the reach of command and control and reduces the pressure caused by uncertainty and time constraints. Upon receiving a warning, the president can choose to order specific or all components of the nuclear triad to execute a delayed attack. For example, the president may decide to ready the submarine- and land-launched components while keeping the long-range bombers grounded to minimize the potential for escalation if the warning proves false.”
  • “In a scenario where the president has a higher degree of confidence that the warning is real and is concerned about the survivability of the land and sea components, they may also order the strategic aircraft to take flight. Even if it is a real warning and the president becomes incapacitated (or communications are lost), weapons would be available and the command and control concept would be intact, enabling a retaliatory strike.”
  • “However, if the warning proves false, the president can cancel the strike. The risk of a premature decision is reduced because the president knows that the order could still be carried out even in the event of their death or disrupted communications. Decide-under-attack effectively addresses the risk of mistaken launch in today’s posture by pivoting the retaliation decision from time-constrained to proof-based.”

"New START: To Succeed, Plan for Failure," John Erath of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, BAS, 06.01.2023.

  • “The more it seems that preserving New START is important to the United States and NATO, the greater the likelihood that Russia will seek to leverage it, or at least test to see if Washington wants it badly enough to throw some concessions Moscow’s way. Therefore, there are two questions to be answered.”
    • “First, is the treaty, or at least its numerical limits, worth keeping? For now, it is, although China’s apparent efforts to increase its nuclear force without any transparency could eventually change the calculus. New START’s limits are sufficient for deterrence against any nuclear power in the near term, and no country — least of all Russia — needs the costly burden of building and maintaining hundreds of additional nuclear weapons. Of course, Russia cheats on arms control agreements when it feels it in its interests to do so — as it did with the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. But the level of non-compliance with New START limits necessary to change strategic calculations would be impossible to conceal, even without the treaty’s verification system.”
    • “The second question, then, is how to design a diplomatic approach to prevent a situation in which the United States is asked to pay a price for the status quo. The key is patience and avoiding giving any perception of desperation. After all, Russia may also correctly realize that observing New START limits is in its interest. It could then propose doing so on its own or may respond positively to signals that the United States will continue to abide by said limits as long as Russia does. In the end, however, the best way to preserve the stability of New START may be to be prepared to let it go.”

“Nuclear Dangers Are Rising Once More. Here’s How the U.S. Should Respond,” Washington Post Editorial Board, WP, 05.31.23.

  • “Nuclear dangers have seemed remote since the Cold War ended. But with international tensions rising along with nuclear arsenals, the corresponding risk that mistakes or misunderstandings lead to disaster are increasing. The United States needs to continue trying to minimize the likelihood of such outcomes. The West should plan now for a renewed negotiation push with Russia, if possible, after the Ukraine war and to find ways to entice China to the table. And it is essential that everyone, including Russia and the United States, avoid complacency and carelessness.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

“Ukraine War May Become a Proving Ground for AI,” columnist James Stavridis, Bloomberg, 05.31.23.

  • “How will artificial intelligence completely change warfare?”
    • “First and foremost, AI will be a powerful tool for decision makers on the battlefield at every level.”
    • “AI could dramatically reduce ‘collateral damage’ killings.”
    • “AI could also instantly provide highly detailed strategic targeting information, giving a decision maker a road map to use precision weapons at the most vulnerable points of an enemy’s logistics chain.”
    • “Another crucial capability of AI is the ability to control massive swarms of drones in synchronized attack formations, much as birds flock together to scare away predators.”
    • “AI could also be a powerful tool in psychological and information warfare.”
    • “AI will be very helpful in defensive and back office activities in war.”
    • “Finally, the ability to use AI to conduct cyberattacks may be its most dangerous attribute.”
  • “Even as we consider the immense benefits of AI to our societies, we need to have a clear-eyed understanding of just how deep the impact will be on the conduct of war. All the more reason for the Pentagon to continue to refine its understanding and implementation of AI in the Ukrainian campaign, which will have benefits for decades to come.”

“All Quiet on the Cyber Front? Explaining Russia’s Limited Cyber Effects,” Pia Hüsch and Joseph Jarnecki, RUSI, 06.01.23.

  • “Speaking at RUSI, Victor Zhora, Deputy Chairman and Chief Digital Transformation Officer of the SSSCIP (the State Special Communications Service of Ukraine), provided his perspective on the lack of Russian success in the cyber domain.”
    • “Zhora suggested that some key Russian accesses to Ukrainian networks were compromised before the February 2022 invasion. This denied Russia the ability to leverage these to deliver cyber operations. Attempts to secure new accesses are time-consuming and complicated, thereby delaying any potential impact operations.  Further, Zhora identified several resource challenges to Russian operations that he argued have limited their effectiveness.”
    • “He argued that the emigration of Russian tech professionals has seen a ‘brain drain’ of vital skills from Russia, which has constrained its ability to deploy sophisticated hacking capabilities against Ukraine as the war has unfolded.”
    • “Zhora also asserted that Western sanctions have played a part in limiting Russia’s cyber effectiveness.”
    • “Alongside Russia’s issues, Zhora highlighted the strength of Ukrainian cyber defence as a decisive factor limiting Russian successes in cyberspace.”
  • “The absence of a strategically significant destructive cyber campaign targeting Ukraine does not mean that the role of cyber operations in interstate relations should be underestimated.”
  • “While there have been no overwhelmingly destructive cyber attacks in Ukraine so far, the cyber front is far from ‘quiet’. Cyber remains a key domain across which Russia seeks operational effects to impact and disrupt Ukraine, as well as to influence and undermine its position. As such, continued efforts towards cyber defence must remain crucial for Ukraine, its supporters and its allies – be they in the public or private sector.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Can China Compensate Russia’s Losses on the European Gas Market?,” nonresident scholar Sergei Vakulenko, CEIP, 06.01.23.

  • “Before its invasion of Ukraine, Russia sold over 150 billion cubic meters of gas to the West per year, earning on average $20–30 billion in resource rent on top of the normal rate of return from gas production. Gazprom wasn’t just an important source of budget revenue; it also provided the Kremlin with leverage over the EU. Since the start of the war, however, exports to Europe have dwindled to virtually nothing, and Russia needs to find a venue for monetization of the huge production-ready gas reserves in its Yamalo-Nenets region.”
  • “It was Russia that made the first move in the gas war: after sending troops into Ukraine, it began to drastically reduce gas supplies to Europe on a number of thinly veiled technical and commercial pretenses in an attempt to force EU countries to withdraw their support for Kyiv. But the EU had already been preparing to reduce its dependence on gas: in the summer of 2021, Brussels unveiled its Fit for 55 plan, which envisaged a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and, accordingly, a decrease in the use of fossil fuels, including Russian gas. Even before Russian troops entered Ukraine, therefore, it was clear that new markets had to be found for Yamal gas, and China was the obvious candidate. A memorandum on the construction of a pipeline from Yamal to China was signed back in 2006 during Putin’s visit to China, but little progress was made on agreeing the project’s parameters until 2022, when it went from being an opportunity for business expansion to a necessity.”
  • “Even if Power of Siberia 2 is successfully implemented, it will not be able to compensate fully for the loss of the European market. In 2019, Russia sold 165 billion cubic meters (bcm) of pipeline gas to Europe and Turkey. Power of Siberia 2’s potential capacity is far smaller, at just 50 bcm. … the project will never be able to replace Russia’s decimated gas trade with Europe.”

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

“Who’s Actually Running Russia?,” journalist Anna Arutunyan, The Spectator, 06.04.23.

  • “While Putin is focusing all of his attention on the front — but without actually deciding much — the business of actually running the country has fallen to his prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin. The resilience of Russia’s economy and its day-to-day functioning is owed to Mishustin and his team of technocrats in the cabinet, as well as the fiscal miracles being worked by Central Bank chief Elvira Nabiullina. The prime minister has done a great deal to reorient Russia’s economy towards the global southeast, and has acted with a considerable degree of autonomy in dealing with foreign heads of state.”
  • “What is interesting, though, is that evidence suggests Mishustin does not support the war. At the fateful Security Council meeting on February 21, 2022, when Putin essentially asked each of his officials to approve a decision to recognize the secession of a good chunk of Ukrainian territory, Mishustin was one of only three officials who instead favored continuing talks with the West. Insiders say Mishustin was not even informed of the plans to invade until the night before. Moreover, in his public statements, Mishustin, unlike the majority of officials eager to stoke patriotic fervor, avoids talking about the “special military operation” when he can. True, he was responsible for implementing Putin’s orders on economic and social mobilization to support the war effort, but it is believed that even in private he doesn’t like talking about the war.”
  • “Right now, keeping quiet and doing their job is the only option for these silent, pragmatic technocrats, and we shouldn’t expect them to be in a position to sway Putin towards peace anytime soon. But a time will come when these forces may well be deciding Russia’s future. It is a giant stretch to call them the “good guys”: mired in corruption and complicit in the war, they will inevitably face a reckoning. But beyond the magical thinking about Russia’s disintegration, or conversely its overnight transformation into a peaceful democracy, western policymakers need to start thinking about a realistic future for Russia if they are serious about sustainable security in Europe. These technocrats will not have the answers anytime soon, but alienating them wholesale is not in anyone’s interests.”

“Red Belt of the Special Operation. Why the Inhabitants of the Frontline Regions Support the Authorities,” Aleksey Gusev of Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance, Carnegie Politika, 05.06.23.

  • When it comes to the public sentiment over the past year, the proximity of the [Russian-Ukranian] front to these regions did not weaken, but, on the contrary, increased support for the actions of the [Russian] authorities.”
  • “According to polls conducted by the Khronika project,  the share of those declaring support for the “special operation” in the Belgorod region is 69%, in the Kursk region - 77%, in the Bryansk region - 66%, which is noticeably higher than the average Russian 60%. The obvious reason for [such a level of support]  is the psychology of the civilian population during the conflict: they take the side of the one who is stronger and who is nearby. In addition, the more victims are caused by shellings, the stronger the ...  of hatred for the “enemy”, that is, for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
  • “[In the view of Ukraine] military pressure on the Belgorod and neighboring regions [of Russia] may have its own military logic, but politically it has so far resulted in these regions becoming the most militaristic and ultra-patriotic [in Russia].”  

Defense and aerospace:

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“The Rise and Sudden Fall of the Arctic Council,” Brett Simpson, a Fulbright Fellow, FP, 05.31.23.

  • “On May 11, 2023 the Artic council — suspended since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year — resurrected only to witness Russia hand the chairmanship to its Norwegian successor. And a peaceful transfer was far from a foregone conclusion.”
  • “Today, with a NATO state back at its helm, the Arctic Council will officially resume its work. But it’s still unwilling to include Russia, raising practical questions about what this forum can actually achieve without its largest geographical stakeholder. Russia makes up 45 percent of the geographical Arctic; shipping routes depend on its waters, and climate research depends on its data. Norway is now facing hard questions about the relevance of a “circumpolar” forum that ignores half of the High North.”
  • “‘Technically speaking, there’s no ‘Arctic Council’ without Russia,’ said Svein Vigeland Rottem, senior research fellow at the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen Institute and author of the 2020 book The Arctic Council: Between Environmental Protection and Geopolitics. ‘So one could ask: What, exactly, is this group now?’”
  • “A declaration of life seems all the council can currently muster. Volker Rachold, director of the German Arctic Office, called this year’s joint declaration ‘highly unusual.’ Typically, after the standard affirmation of the council’s purpose, the declaration outlines goals and new projects for the next two years. This year, he said, the statement was notably sparse. ‘After the usual opening remarks, it just seemed to stop,’ Rachold said. ‘I thought I was missing pages.’”

"Uptick in Russian-African Diplomacy Moscow’s Evolving Geopolitical Plans," RM Staff, RM, 06.02.23.

  • “[The] spate of high-level [Russian-African] diplomatic gatherings demonstrates that the Russian leadership remains keen to implement a strategy of expansion, rather than merely sustainment, of its relations with the rising Africa....Africa’s GDP (measured in PPP) is predicted to surge from less than $5 trillion circa 2023 to almost $15 trillion circa 2050, while the population of sub-Saharan Africa alone is expected to double by 2050.”
  • “In addition to hopes of reaping the economic and industrial benefits of Africa’s projected growth, Russia is seeking geopolitical rewards on the continent... As the United States and its allies scramble to isolate Russia over its ongoing war against Ukraine, Moscow has tried to counter those efforts through burgeoning alliances in Africa. The success of this diplomatic push isn't yet entirely clear, but Moscow certainly has room for maneuver as demonstrated by African nations’ voting patterns at the U.N. For instance, when the U.N. General Assembly voted on Nov. 15, 2022, on a resolution “related to remedies/reparations for Russian aggression against Ukraine,” 15 African nations cast votes in favor, but 38 did not.”
  • “Russia is also busy developing military and security ties throughout the continent. Moscow’s efforts in that domain have paid off, literally: Russia’s defense industry, which is one of few high-tech sectors in Russia’s energy-dominated economy, was Africa’s main arms supplier between 2018 and 2022, accounting for 40% of African imports of major arms during that period, according to SIPRI.”
  • “The Russian-African relationship is not a one-way street, of course: African leaders are seeking opportunities to advance their own economic, defense and security interests as well. One such project is an African peace initiative that aims to bring an end to the Russian-Ukrainian war, in a move that at least some of its African participants hope will ease or end Western constraints on Russia’s ability to export fertilizers and staple food products to Africa while also expanding Ukraine’s grain exports via the Black Sea. (Russia and Ukraine jointly accounted for 44% of Africa’s wheat imports in 2018-2020.)”


“Nazi Symbols on Ukraine’s Front Lines Highlight Thorny Issues of History,” correspondent Thomas Gibbons-Neff, NYT, 06.05.23.

  • “Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine last year, the Ukrainian government and NATO allies have posted, then quietly deleted, three seemingly innocuous photographs from their social media feeds: a soldier standing in a group, another resting in a trench and an emergency worker posing in front of a truck.”
  • “In each photograph, Ukrainians in uniform wore patches featuring symbols that were made notorious by Nazi Germany and have since become part of the iconography of far-right hate groups.”
  • “The photographs, and their deletions, highlight the Ukrainian military’s complicated relationship with Nazi imagery, a relationship forged under both Soviet and German occupation during World War II.”
  • “Ukraine has worked for years through legislation and military restructuring to contain a fringe far-right movement .. but some members of these groups have been fighting Russia.... The iconography of these groups, including a skull-and-crossbones patch worn by concentration camp guards and a symbol known as the Black Sun, now appears with some regularity on the uniforms of soldiers fighting on the front line, including soldiers who say the imagery symbolizes Ukrainian sovereignty and pride, not Nazism.”
  • “In the short term, that threatens to reinforce Mr. Putin’s propaganda and giving fuel to his false claims that Ukraine must be “de-Nazified.”.“What worries me, in the Ukrainian context, is that people in Ukraine who are in leadership positions, either they don’t or they’re not willing to acknowledge and understand how these symbols are viewed outside of Ukraine,” said Michael Colborne, a researcher at the investigative group Bellingcat who studies the international far right. ‘I think Ukrainians need to increasingly realize that these images undermine support for the country.’”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

"Peace Edges Closer in the Troubled South Caucasus," editor Tony Barber, FT, 05.30.23.

  • In the 35-year-long conflict between the south Caucasus states of Armenia and Azerbaijan, a settlement … is starting to appear possible. On May 22, Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia’s prime minister, stated that he was ready to recognize Azerbaijani sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated enclave in Azerbaijan. His chief condition was that the government in Baku should protect the rights and security of the roughly 120,000 Karabakh Armenians. Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. For his part, Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, said last week that he saw ‘a possibility of coming to a peace agreement, considering that Armenia has formally recognized Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.’”
  • “A deal would send four messages to the world.”
    • “First, it would end the oldest unresolved territorial dispute in the former Soviet Union, a sometimes ferociously fought conflict that began in 1988.”
    • “Second, it would contribute stability to the south Caucasus, a fragile meeting point of civilizations where the EU, US, Russia, Turkey, Iran and China brush up uneasily against each other.”
    • “Third, a deal would suggest that, despite the war in Ukraine and notwithstanding that their diplomatic efforts in the south Caucasus are not exactly coordinated, western governments and Russia may find it in their separate interests to settle a notoriously intractable conflict.”
    • “The fourth lesson is more revealing about the harsh realities of geopolitics. For one reason why a settlement is within sight is that Azerbaijan has gained the upper hand in its military struggle with Armenia.”
  •  “A peace settlement is by no means certain. … Still, if the west and Russia can keep their antagonism over Ukraine from spilling into the south Caucasus, and if Azerbaijan calms the fears of the Karabakh Armenians, peace may be possible. It would be quite an achievement in a troubled world.”

"The Stans Can’t Play Both Sides Anymore," Raffaello Pantucci of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute and Alessandro Arduino of the Lau China Institute and King's College London, FP, 05.31.23.

  • “Buried toward the bottom of the joint statement that was put out after Xi and Putin met in Moscow earlier this year was a declaration: ‘The two sides are willing to strengthen cooperation, support Central Asian countries in safeguarding their national sovereignty, guarantee national development, and oppose external forces’ promotion of ‘color revolutions’ and interference in regional affairs.’”
  • “China and Russia are eager to coordinate in Central Asia and their basic aims in the region are the same. This highlights both the fact that China and Russia are eager to coordinate in Central Asia and that their basic aims in the region are the same. This complicates diplomacy for the Central Asian governments that have long sought to play the two countries off each other. And it is a perfect articulation of the shrinking geopolitical space that Central Asia increasingly finds itself within.”
  • “Entirely surrounded by powers in some level of conflict with the West, Central Asia finds its options are increasingly limited. This is not to say other options are not available — simultaneous to the Xian summit, Kazakhstan hosted a high-level economic forum with the European Union; the United States is a constant presence; and Turkey has made a great deal of noise about Turkic influence in the region over the past year via the Organization of Turkic States. But as the ties that bind China and Russia thicken, Central Asia will struggle to really balance against them.”

"America Cannot Compete with Russia and China for the Entirety of the Global South," the Quincy Institute’s Suzanne Loftus, NI, 06.02.23.

  • “Central Asia is one region where the United States should not try to compete for primacy. Russia and China have far more economic, political, and military investment than the United States does in that region and always will have.”
  • “If Washington starts to compete with them in Central Asia, it will only turn the region into a zero-sum game between great powers where the United States would be unlikely to gain more influence than Russia and China due to their geographic proximity. Spending valuable resources just to create a constant competition that Washington will inevitably lose is a very poor investment — especially as, following its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States has no vital or even significant interests in this region. Such competition would also put the region's stability at risk.”


[1] U.S. officials told NYT on Monday that there were signs that Ukraine may have begun its expected counteroffensive. However, Ukrainian officials refuted Russian claims that Ukrainian troops had launched a major counteroffensive on multiple fronts, FT reported on Monday.

Slider photo by Artem_Apukhtin, shared via Pixabay