Russia Analytical Report, Nov. 13-20, 2023

6 Ideas to Explore

  1. The apparently stalled Ukrainian counteroffensive necessitates a reappraisal of Ukraine’s and its allies’ current strategy, which would “reveal an uncomfortable truth: namely, that Ukraine and the West are on an unsustainable trajectory,” according to Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations. In their view, the U.S. should begin consultations on a new strategy that would be “centered on Ukraine’s readiness to negotiate a cease-fire with Russia and to simultaneously switch its military emphasis from offense to defense,” they write in FA. The duo argues that “over the longer term, this strategic pivot would make it clear to Russia that it cannot simply hope to outlast Ukraine and the West.” “That realization may eventually convince Moscow to move from the battlefield to the negotiating table—a move that would be to Ukraine’s ultimate advantage, since diplomacy offers the most realistic path for ending not only the war but also, over the long term, Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian territory,” they argue.
  2. The Ukrainian counteroffensive has stalled for a number of reasons, including the lack of a clear plan and underestimating the Russian public’s tolerance of casualties, according to Alexander Golts. “The planners of the Ukrainian offensive did not consider the decisive factor that Russia had spent the entire winter creating fortifications along the front line,” this Russian military analyst writes in his commentary, “Where The ‘Stalemated’ Ukraine-Russia War Goes From Here.” Furthermore, the Ukrainian command launched the offensive “without a clear plan, intending to first discover ‘weak spots’ in the Russian defense and only then transfer reserves,” Golts writes in his critique of the Ukrainian offensive for Russia.Post. Finally, the Ukrainian military-political leadership overestimated the backlash that Russian casualties, estimated at 150,000 KIAs, would cause in Russian society. “In any other country, such casualties would have stopped the war,” but not in Russia, Golts quotes Ukrainian commander-in-chief Valery Zaluzhny as saying in the Economist
  3. It’s time to end magical thinking about Russia’s defeat,” Eugene Rumer and Andrew Weiss write in WSJ. There are multiple reasons why Vladimir Putin thinks time is on his side, according to these two Carnegie Endowment scholars. “Putin expects that U.S. and European support for Ukraine will dissipate, that Ukrainians will tire … and that a combination of the two will enable him to dictate the terms for a deal to end the war and claim victory,” they explain in their commentary. Thus, the time has come for the West to adopt a policy of long-term containment toward Russia, they write. “The U.S. and its allies need to be clear about the long-term nature of this undertaking” because the “war’s unlikely to quell the confrontation between Russia and the rest of Europe,” according to Rumer and Weiss. Majorities in Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey believe it is likely that Russia will win its war in Ukraine within the next five years, according to a recent ECFR poll, as analyzed by Timothy Garton Ash, Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard. 
  4. Middle powers, such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey, are reluctant to take sides in the Russian-Ukrainian war, which they see as a strictly European conflict, according to Daniel Hamilton and Angela Stent of Brookings. The authors’ conversations with scholars, private sector experts and policymakers in these countries have revealed that Moscow has generally increased its influence and leverage there. “This does not mean the United States and its allies have lost the battle for influence with Russia, but they cannot expect these countries’ full support”; however, “neither can Moscow.” Rather, “In a world of renewed great-power rivalry, middle powers are seeking opportunities, not alignment,” Stent and Hamilton conclude in their commentary for FA.
  5. U.S. President Joe Biden draws parallels between challenges posed by Vladimir Putin and Hamas, arguing that both “are fighting to wipe a neighboring democracy off the map,” in his commentary for WP.Were the U.S. to disengage from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, “a broader conflict” would erupt that would draw America in directly, according to Biden. “We are keeping American troops out of this war by supporting the brave Ukrainians defending their freedom and homeland,” writes the U.S. president, who has found it increasingly challenging to secure Congressional support for more aid for Ukraine. In the commentary, entitled “The U.S. won’t back down from the challenge of Putin and Hamas,” Biden also calls for a “two-state solution is the only way to ensure the long-term security of both the Israeli and Palestinian people.”
  6. “What could cause China to have some reservations about what Putin is doing? If Putin really has an agenda of trying to restore the Russian Empire ... at the expense of his neighbors,” Stephen Hadley argued in an interview with fellow senior Belfer Center fellow Karen Donfried. So far, however, “China has joined most of the rest of the world in advocating for an end to the bloodshed and calling for negotiations,” according to the Belfer Center’s Graham Allison. Allison writes in his commentary for NI that Biden’s objective should be to “shape the conditions in which this rivalry between America ... and ... China can play out peacefully ... without falling into the trap that has so often ensnared Thucydidean rivals in unintended war.” Allison’s colleague Joe Nye, concurs. “Washington’s strategy toward Beijing should be to avoid either a hot or cold war, cooperate when possible and marshal its assets to shape China’s external behavior,” according to Nye’s commentary in FT.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“What Russia’s Embrace of North Korea Means for America. Diplomacy With Pyongyang Might Still Work Better Than Coercion,” Jamie Kwong and Ankit Panda, FA, 11.15.23. 

  • Kim’s meeting with Putin, set against the backdrop of North Korea’s ongoing nuclear modernization, indicates a stark shift in Pyongyang’s progress toward bolstering its strategic interests. 
  • Washington’s muted reactions to Pyongyang’s unprecedented flurry of missile activity in 2022 and 2023 indicates a general normalization of the North Korean nuclear program. This situation is untenable, as unconstrained Russian–North Korean rapprochement—especially with unprecedented levels of technical cooperation—could supercharge the threat that North Korea poses to the United States and its allies. To effectively reduce this threat, Washington can no longer proceed with its status quo approach to North Korea. 
    • The United States should start by prioritizing risk reduction over denuclearization as a more practical means to averting nuclear war. 
      • Proactive risk reduction proposals could involve transparency measures such as missile launch notifications; exchanges on nuclear doctrines between U.S. and North Korean officials; and open-ended discussions on strategic stability between North Korea and the United States and its regional allies. For such risk reduction proposals to work, Washington would have to enter talks with North Korea premised on interim outcomes far short of denuclearization. 
        • A policy prioritizing risk reduction would not condone Pyongyang’s nuclear program nor preclude denuclearization as a long-term aspiration. 
    • To complement proactive risk reduction efforts, the United States should also put greater emphasis on the conventional—rather than nuclear—aspects of its extended deterrence relationship with Seoul. 
  • Kim’s rapprochement with Russia may make it tempting to entirely write off U.S. engagement with a nuclear-armed North Korea. Washington should recall, however, that Pyongyang has traditionally been willing to seek benefit where it can. Indeed, the United States has long been the grand prize of North Korean foreign policy. … This would not be a capitulation but a recognition of the reality that the United States and its allies will coexist with a nuclear-armed North Korea for years—likely decades—to come. Given that reality, the foremost objective must be keeping nuclear risk as low as possible.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“America should look to its own past in supporting Ukraine’s naval battle,” Rose Gottemoeller, FT, 11.13.23. 

  • [Russia has] destroyed the Ukrainian navy... ensuring Russian control of the Black Sea. And now the Russians have lost that control, thanks to a scrappy naval force that draws on Ukrainian technical prowess. In the Soviet era, the Ukrainians built fearsome intercontinental ballistic missiles. Now, they’re putting that knowledge to use with shorter range missiles and drones that they’re using to target the Russian navy.
  • The Ukrainians have succeeded in hampering not only Russian naval operations out of Crimea, but also threatened military logistics. Sevastopol’s role as a giant warehouse hub that supplies Russian invaders has been weakened. The Ukrainians have used this to their advantage, opening a shipping corridor after the Russians suspended the U.N.-sponsored grain deal in July. 
    • Since August, they reported, 91 vessels have shipped 3.3mn tons of agricultural and metal products from Ukrainian ports. This volume is significant, given Russian attacks on Ukrainian port infrastructure. These food exports help sustain Ukraine’s economy but they also help hungry people across the globe.  Ukraine’s “mosquito navy” is owed a debt of gratitude for making this happen.
  • But they cannot do it all on their own. ... To sustain that control, they need our continuing help. 

“Where The ‘Stalemated’ Ukraine-Russia War Goes From Here,” Alexander Golts, Russia.Post,11.18.23. Clues from Russian Views.  

  • [T]he planners of the Ukrainian offensive did not consider the decisive factor that Russia had spent the entire winter creating fortifications along the front line. Thus, Russian military planners were finally able to do exactly what they had been preparing for over decades – they created a line of strategic defense based entirely on Soviet models. ... Moreover, the Ukrainian command seems to have launched the offensive without a clear plan, intending to first discover “weak spots” in the Russian defense and only then transfer reserves … to the areas where a breakthrough might happen.
  • In addition, as Zaluzhny honestly admits, the socio-political situation in Russia was misjudged: “Russia has lost at least 150,000 dead. In any other country, such casualties would have stopped the war.” … As long as the Kremlin can pay about RUB 12.5 million ($140,000) for each soldier killed – more than the average Russian man will earn in his lifetime – public pressure on the authorities looks unlikely.
  • It was exactly this kind of conventional war that the USSR was preparing to wage against NATO over months, hoping that the West, fearing losses, would not risk a nuclear war. Well aware of their technological backwardness, Soviet military leaders relied on their superiority in numbers: within this concept, both soldiers and tanks were considered expendable, with a soldier penciled in to fight at least one battle and a tank to fire at least one shot. With this policy, Russia has a clear advantage in its war against Ukraine. Its population is triple that of Ukraine – 25 million men can be drafted into the active army, giving Russia superiority on the battlefield.
  • Still, Russia is yet unable to increase its current quantitative advantage in manpower and equipment to the level of complete superiority that would allow it to win. It seems that the defense industry is unable to reach a level of weapons production (or modernization of weapons that have been in storage for decades) needed for a general mobilization. This is what, apparently, keeps Putin from taking that step. Let us again agree with Zaluzhny: this is a strategic deadlock.
  • Essentially, there are three possible ways out of this situation.
    • First: start negotiations with the aim of concluding a truce. This seems highly unlikely.
    • The second way out: accept the current situation and move to a positional war, a war of attrition.
    • Finally, there is a third option, which Zaluzhny himself proposes: “to break this deadlock we need something new, like the gunpowder which the Chinese invented” … In other words, the task is to change the nature of war, to make it high-tech, “digital.”
      • Changing the nature of the war is only possible if the West radically changes its policies and approaches – namely, if the U.S. and Western European countries launch mass military production. ... It remains to be seen whether the West is ready for such a pivot.

“Why Europe is rearming: It isn’t just about Russia,” Lee Hockstader, WP, 11.20.23.

  • An enduring defense buildup in Europe depends partly on robust economies and healthy demographics. Both look anemic these days.
    • Poland’s population is projected to shrink by a tenth by 2050 — and Europe’s post-pandemic economic rebound trails the United States’.
  • Poland is building one of the West’s most muscle-bound militaries, on course to deploy more battle tanks than Britain, France, Germany and Italy – combined.
    • Almost no other NATO country, including the United States, spends as much on defense as a percentage of gross domestic product.
  • Poland’s spending binge…is impelled by the rising threat from Russia… [but it is] also a hedge against Trump’s return to the White House and the chance that he will set NATO adrift.
  • In Germany…Scholz…committed the government to a long-term military expansion, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars annually through the 2030s.
    • But the German economy is limping through a recession, the budget is constrained by a constitutional debt limit and the hollowed-out army has struggled to fill its ranks with recruits.
  • Macron has embarked on France’s biggest military spending increase in a half-century, earmarking nearly $450 billion to boost outlays through the end of the decade by a third.
    • His…effort…springs from a clear-eyed assessment: The United States, distracted by China and entertaining the possibility of Trump’s return, is an unpredictable ally.
    • But Macron’s vision of European “strategic autonomy” has borne little fruit.
  • [Britain’s army has been] shrinking for decades… but…Sunak omitted the military from his list of top priorities this year.

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

“Russia Is Shrugging Off Sanctions,” John V.C. Nye and Maria Snegovaya, FP, 11.13.23.

  • The U.S. government has so far not focused on the one thing in its power to hurt the Russian economy—that is, increasing the supply of oil to the world.. ... Lowering oil prices of worldwide is the only way to hurt Russian revenues whether or not the Kremlin manages to skirt the embargo, and it has consistently been the one thing that has caused crises in both the former Soviet Union and Putin’s Russia.
  • Similarly, a more sensible approach to export sanctions would focus on targeted and more easily enforceable areas, such as Western-made tools and components with no identifiable non-Western substitutes.
  • Unless there is a coordinated, well thought-out, and long-term-oriented effort, sporadic solutions dominated by partisan considerations are unlikely to deliver. Since no economy of Russia’s size has ever been sanctioned so comprehensively, much of the sanctions design is understandably still in the making. Yet Russia is likely to remain one of the major challenges for the West for years to come. Poking the bear with a feeble stick is unlikely to contain him.

“Should we seize Russian funds to pay for the war in Ukraine? Commentators weigh in,” Michael McFaul, Oona A. Hathaway, Maggie Mills and Thomas Poston, WP, 11.16.23.

  • Michael McFaul: Congressional Republicans are increasingly skeptical of continuing U.S. aid to Ukraine. But a partial solution to the problem is at hand: It is time for the West to consider using confiscated Russian assets to help foot the bill for assistance to Kyiv, sparing taxpayers and governments from paying the full cost of the war. 
  • Oona Hathaway, Maggie Mills and Thomas Poston: Policymakers in Washington are increasingly floating a seemingly irresistible idea: They want to seize tens of billions of dollars in frozen Russian central-bank reserves and give them to Ukraine. Yet the plan has a major flaw: It responds to one clearly illegal act — the Russian invasion of Ukraine — with another: the seizure of sovereign assets in violation of an international principle known as sovereign immunity.

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Should the Biden Administration Pressure the Ukrainians to Go to the Negotiating Table and Resolve the Dispute With Russia Diplomatically?” An update on sessions of a study group led by Karen Donfried, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 11.16.23. 

The U.S. Must Play an Integral Role.The U.S. government is a critical actor that can guarantee Ukraine and Russia come to the negotiating table in an effective manner. Pressuring Ukraine to undertake a successful negotiation and diplomatic conflict resolution would require the Biden administration to continue providing military support to Kyiv. Such support would allow for Ukraine to advance in its counter-offensive and regain part of the occupied territory, which would in turn add pressure on Russia to come to the negotiating table.Any attempt at pressuring the Ukrainian government to the peace negotiating table should first and foremost come from Ukrainians themselves. According to polls, 84% of Ukrainians support continuation of fighting to protect their country’s sovereignty; thus the U.S. is in no position to undermine such a sovereign decision. 
No Good Faith by Russia in NegotiationsA diplomatic agreement achieved through good faith negotiations is possible, and this is testified to by evidence that Russia and Ukraine seemed to be close to such an agreement at least three times in the past. This first happened in Belarus, was then followed with talks mediated by then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and most promisingly, in a last attempt in Istanbul. Additionally, the Black Sea Grain Initiative and sporadic prisoner swaps demonstrate that there is room to negotiate and believe that successes can be achieved through these avenues.History shows that it is unlikely that Russia will adhere to any negotiated settlement. Attempts to appease Moscow through dialogue and diplomacy have failed time and time again in the past, as seen following the invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014. Foreign Minister Lavrov has explicitly stated that Russia is willing to continue their invasion of Ukraine until the end. In light of this, a utilitarian case can be made that peace brought by a negotiated settlement - as opposed to Russia’s absolute defeat - will be used by Moscow to rearm and reposition itself to further advance its military interests in Ukraine.

Moral Imperative Remains Central

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have already died (if not more), 6 million are displaced abroad and 5 million within Ukraine—with 18 million in dire need of humanitarian aid. Negotiations can very well end this decimation, at the right time—and the U.S. should push Ukraine to those negotiations by ensuring they will matter and lead to genuine, sustainable peace, not future conflict. Such a strategy necessitates a steadfast push to help Ukraine continue to weaken Russia’s unfettered, imperialist, and dangerous power. 

84% of Ukrainians want to keep fighting for their sovereignty. The U.S. is not in a position to overrule Ukraine’s democratic decision. Furthermore, domestic public support in the U.S. for Ukraine in the war remains strong. Ukraine is fighting for its sovereignty and autonomy. Pressuring it could mean inadvertently harming it under the guise of good intentions—intent does not equate to impact. If Russia is positioned, as a result of a temporary agreement, to conduct a future attack or reinitiate the invasion, more innocent civilians will be harmed - underscoring the moral imperative to not push Ukraine to the negotiating table.



Temporal Considerations Matter

It is important to define a concrete timeline for any proposed negotiations and under what conditions they would take place. In the current timeframe, the conditions are simply not right to push Ukraine to the negotiations table; however, once correct conditions are established, the United States should almost certainly encourage Ukraine to move to the diplomatic table with Russia to obtain a sustainable peace agreement. While it is difficult to say when negotiations should take place, if at all, it is almost certain that negotiations should not happen within the next 12 months or against the terms of Ukraine. Negotiations at this present moment, and potentially future ones, could simply provide Russia with a window of opportunity to restore its military capacities and restart attacks later. Negotiations would also merely strip Ukraine of the agency it has to decide for itself what is best. 

“For Victory in Freedom: Why Ukrainian Resilience to Russian Aggression Endures,” Mikhail Alexseev and Serhii Dembitskyi, PONARS, 11.14.23.

  • [Ukrainians’] suffering has engendered a clearer understanding of the importance of continued fighting by building a sense of shared sacrifice and raising the value of political freedom.
    • Over 80 percent…said that democracy was very or mostly important to them personally.
  • [The Ukrainian resolve comes from] a determination to be a healthy, thriving democracy and to honor and avenge their devastating shared losses and sacrifices.
    • About 97 percent of people…said they believed in victory. Belief in victory was practically uniform across Ukraine’s four macro-regions.
  • About 80 percent…are determined to restore their country’s sovereignty within the internationally recognized 1991 borders.
    • 16 percent want a return of at least some of the territories…occupied by Russia since 2014 and 2022. 
    • Only…four percent…would be satisfied with keeping solely the territory Ukraine currently controls.
  • Survey data show deep, widespread and growing personal loss and trauma [among Ukrainians].
    • The number of Ukrainians reporting family members and friends killed or wounded, having lost jobs, homes or other property, or having to flee the war zone rose from 20 percent to 80 percent.
    • [There is] a stunning rise in the number of Ukrainians reporting typical symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • [These findings show] how hard it would be for Ukrainians to accept any ceasefire or peace agreement that would entail the loss of territory to Russia. 

“More Russians Advocate for Peace Talks With Ukraine, But Devil Is in Details,” Simon Saradzhyan and Angelina Flood, RM, 11.16.23.

  • The share of Russians who advocate for peace talks with Ukraine has overtaken the share of those who favor continuing the war for the first time since the Russian Field (RF) pollster began taking stock of Russians’ attitudes toward their country’s so-called special military operation (SVO) in Ukraine in April 2022. … RF’s findings that the share of doves among common Russians is growing are concurrent with recent measurements of public opinion on the SVO conducted by Russia’s leading independent pollster, the Levada Center. 
  • However, that more of RF’s and Levada’s respondents choose peace talks over continued hostilities against Ukraine doesn’t mean more Russians view the SVO as a failure than as a success. RF’s Oct. 21-29 poll found that when asked whether the SVO was going successfully, 56% answered in the affirmative.
  • Moreover, while recent polls by both Levada and Russian Field do show that the share of Russians who want to give peace a chance is growing, the devil is in details when it comes to RF’s polls. … in our estimate, about 31% of Russians who advocate a peace deal on Ukraine do so on conditions that Ukrainians would find unacceptable, such as the annexations of parts of Ukraine (beyond Crimea), or the full capitulation of Ukraine. 
  • That Ukrainians oppose any peace deal that would provide for ceding land to Russia follows from recent polls. For instance, an October 2023 poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) shows that 80% of those surveyed are against giving up Ukrainian territory for the sake of peace.
  • That a clear majority of Ukrainians reject peace talks with Russia contrasts with public opinion not only in Russia, but also in the U.S. and EU. In October 2023, 43% of Americans polled by Gallup said they favored the U.S. trying to help end the war quickly, even if that means Ukraine cedes territory to Russia, a continued rise from 36% in June 2023 … European polls conducted from April to June 2023 across multiple European countries showed that 48% support a swift resolution to the conflict, even if it means Ukraine ceding territory … according to European Parliament’s Eurobarometer. Meanwhile, in the multi-country ECFR poll conducted in September and October 2023, nearly half of respondents in non-Western countries said the war should end as soon as possible, even if Ukraine has to give up territory.

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

“Redefining Success in Ukraine. A New Strategy Must Balance Means and Ends,” Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan, FA, 11.17.23.

  • Ukraine’s counteroffensive appears to have stalled. ... These circumstances necessitate a comprehensive reappraisal of the current strategy that Ukraine and its partners are pursuing. Such a reassessment reveals an uncomfortable truth: namely, that Ukraine and the West are on an unsustainable trajectory, one characterized by a glaring mismatch between ends and the available means. Kyiv’s war aims—the expulsion of Russian forces from Ukrainian land and the full restoration of its territorial integrity, including Crimea—remain legally and politically unassailable. But strategically they are out of reach, certainly for the near future and quite possibly beyond.
  • The time has come for Washington to lead efforts to forge a new policy that sets attainable goals and brings means and ends into alignment. The United States should begin consultations with Ukraine and its European partners on a strategy centered on Ukraine’s readiness to negotiate a cease-fire with Russia and to simultaneously switch its military emphasis from offense to defense. 
  • Russia may well reject Ukraine’s offer of a cease-fire. But even if the Kremlin proves intransigent, Ukraine’s shift from offense to defense would limit the continuing loss of its soldiers, enable it to direct more resources to long-term defense and reconstruction, and shore up Western support by demonstrating that Kyiv has a workable strategy aimed at attainable goals. 
    • Whether or not a cease-fire takes hold, Ukraine needs to pivot to a defensive strategy.
    • And should clear evidence emerge that Russia’s military capability or will is faltering, Ukraine would retain the option of returning to a more offensive-oriented strategy. 
  • Over the longer term, this strategic pivot would make it clear to Russia that it cannot simply hope to outlast Ukraine and the West’s willingness to support it. That realization may eventually convince Moscow to move from the battlefield to the negotiating table—a move that would be to Ukraine’s ultimate advantage, since diplomacy offers the most realistic path for ending not only the war but also, over the long term, Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian territory.
  • The United States and select NATO members … should commit not just to long-term economic and military help but also to guaranteeing Ukraine’s independence. This undertaking would be modeled on Article 4 of the NATO Treaty, which provides for immediate consultations whenever “the territorial integrity, political independence or security” of a member is threatened. 

“It’s Time to End Magical Thinking About Russia’s Defeat,” Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, WSJ, 11.16.23. 

  • Putin has reason to believe that time is on his side. ... Putin does not feel any pressure to end the war or worry about his ability to sustain it more or less indefinitely. … At a minimum, Putin expects that U.S. and European support for Ukraine will dissipate, that Ukrainians will tire of the endless terror and destruction inflicted on them, and that a combination of the two will enable him to dictate the terms for a deal to end the war and claim victory. From his perspective, the ideal person to put such a deal together is Donald Trump, if he returns to the White House in January 2025.
  • The Russian leader is prepared to weaponize everything at his disposal to win the war in Ukraine. Nuclear arms control and European security are now hostage to Russia’s insistence on the West ending its support for Ukraine. What remains of the Cold War-era arms control framework will be completely gone in 2026, and there is a growing risk of an unpredictable three-way nuclear arms race among the U.S., Russia and China. Putin will use every global and regional issue … as leverage to win the war against Ukraine and the West.
  • Now is the time to transition to a long-term strategy that increases and sustains the pressure on the rogue regime in the Kremlin. There should be no illusions that any possible combination of short-term steps will be sufficient to force Putin to abandon his war.
  • A policy of containment today would mean continuing Western sanctions, isolating Russia diplomatically, preventing the Kremlin from interfering in our own domestic politics and strengthening NATO deterrence and defense capabilities, including sustained U.S.-European reinvestment in our defense-industrial base. 
    • That is not to say that we should fight the Cold War all over again. ... The proverbial correlation of forces has tilted decidedly against Russia.
  • The war’s end, whenever that happens, is unlikely to quell the confrontation between Russia and the rest of Europe. Ukrainians and their friends rightfully want to see the rise of a prosperous, independent Ukraine that is secure and fully integrated into the political and economic life of the continent. Putin and his successors would see that as Russia’s ultimate defeat. They will do everything in their power to prevent it.

“Can America Win Over the World’s Middle Powers? How to Push Back Against Russia’s Persistent Influence,” Daniel S. Hamilton and Angela Stent, FA, 11.14.23. 

  • The widening gulf between Russia and the West is undeniable. But elsewhere in the world, another trend has become clear: Moscow has increased its influence and leverage in many important countries, including ones that matter a great deal to Washington. These countries, in turn, have taken advantage of new global divisions to raise their regional and international profiles.
  • Over the course of this year, we held conversations with scholars, private sector experts, and policymakers from seven important U.S. partners—Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey—to discuss the core issues in these countries’ relationships with Russia, how their governments engage with Moscow, and how they view Russia’s war in Ukraine.
    •  Across the board, we encountered a reluctance to take sides in what is largely seen as a strictly European conflict. Our interlocutors made clear that publics in their countries were receptive to Russian narratives blaming the West for the war, a reflection of the persuasive power of Russian disinformation. Finally, we found a broad recognition that the choice to remain neutral is partly driven by incentives created by Russian influence and coercion. In certain countries, dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, fertilizer, grain, or weapons has helped shape the response to the war. And in India and Indonesia in particular, the Kremlin has capitalized on concerns about Chinese regional ambitions to present itself as a counterweight to Beijing. 
  • This does not mean the United States and its allies have lost the battle for influence with Russia, but they cannot expect these countries’ full support. Then again, neither can Moscow.  In a world of renewed great-power rivalry, middle powers are seeking opportunities, not alignment. 
  •  The United States and its allies should vigorously counter Russian narratives that misrepresent the current conflict and damage their standing in key countries around the world, and they must show the countries on the fence the benefits their partnership can offer.

“The U.S. won’t back down from the challenge of Putin and Hamas,” Joe Biden, WP, 11.18.23. 

  • Both Putin and Hamas are fighting to wipe a neighboring democracy off the map. And both Putin and Hamas hope to collapse broader regional stability and integration and take advantage of the ensuing disorder. America cannot, and will not, let that happen. For our own national security interests — and for the good of the entire world.
  • If  we walk away from the challenges of today, the risk of conflict could spread, and the costs to address them will only rise. We will not let that happen. That conviction is at the root of my approach to supporting the people of Ukraine as they continue to defend their freedom against Putin’s brutal war. We know from two world wars in the past century that when aggression in Europe goes unanswered, the crisis does not burn itself out. It draws America in directly. That’s why our commitment to Ukraine today is an investment in our own security. It prevents a broader conflict tomorrow.
  • We are keeping American troops out of this war by supporting the brave Ukrainians defending their freedom and homeland. We are providing them with weapons and economic assistance … More than 50 nations have joined us.
  • We have also seen throughout history how conflicts in the Middle East can unleash consequences around the globe. ... Our goal should not be simply to stop the war for today — it should be to end the war forever … and build something stronger in Gaza and across the Middle East.
  • This much is clear: A two-state solution is the only way to ensure the long-term security of both the Israeli and Palestinian people. 
  • Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited under a single governance structure, ultimately under a revitalized Palestinian Authority.
  • More hope. More freedom. Less rage. Less grievance. Less war. We must not lose our resolve to pursue those goals, because now is when clear vision, big ideas and political courage are needed most. … Every step we take toward that future is progress that makes the world safer and the United States of America more secure.

“Donald Trump poses the biggest danger to the world in 2024,” The Economist, 11.16.23.

  • This is a perilous moment for a man like Mr. Trump to be back knocking on the door of the Oval Office. Democracy is in trouble at home. Mr. Trump’s claim to have won the election in 2020 was more than a lie: it was a cynical bet that he could manipulate and intimidate his compatriots, and it has worked. America also faces growing hostility abroad, challenged by Russia in Ukraine, by Iran and its allied militias in the Middle East and by China across the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea. Those three countries loosely coordinate their efforts and share a vision of a new international order in which might is right and autocrats are secure.
  • Mr. Trump judges that for America to spend blood and treasure in Europe is a bad deal. He has therefore threatened to end the Ukraine war in a day and to wreck NATO, perhaps by reneging on America’s commitment to treat an attack on one country as an attack on all. In the Middle East Mr. Trump is likely to back Israel without reserve, however much that stirs up conflict in the region. In Asia he may be open to doing a deal with China’s president, Xi Jinping, to abandon Taiwan because he cannot see why America would go to war with a nuclear-armed superpower to benefit a tiny island.
  • But knowing that America would abandon Europe, Mr. Putin would have an incentive to fight on in Ukraine and to pick off former Soviet countries such as Moldova or the Baltic states. Without American pressure, Israel is unlikely to generate an internal consensus for peace talks with the Palestinians. Calculating that Mr. Trump does not stand by his allies, Japan and South Korea could acquire nuclear weapons. By asserting that America has no global responsibility to help deal with climate change, Mr. Trump would crush efforts to slow it. And he is surrounded by China hawks who believe confrontation is the only way to preserve American dominance. Caught between a dealmaking president and his warmongering officials, China could easily miscalculate over Taiwan, with catastrophic consequences.

“Note to Congress: The National Security Case for Ukraine Is Crystal Clear,” Michael McFaul, FP, 11.16.23. 

  • By delaying further assistance to Ukraine, House Speaker Mike Johnson and his supporters are acting against the United States’ own interests. Congress should approve new aid to Ukraine as fast as possible—not as a gesture of charity for Ukraine but as a hard-nosed and clear-headed investment in U.S. security objectives.
  • The moral argument for supporting Ukraine is clear. Despite the United States’ numerous past mistakes and current flaws, I still believe that it should be a force for good in the world. 
  • But if moral arguments are not enough to sway members of Congress and their constituents, there are also some compelling realpolitik arguments for providing more aid to Ukraine. U.S. military assistance to Ukraine directly serves U.S. national security far beyond Ukraine. There are four ways a Ukrainian victory advances core U.S. interests.
    • 1. A Ukrainian victory will dramatically diminish the threat from Russia. 
    • 2. The war’s outcome has clear implications for U.S. security interests in Asia. 
    • 3. The war’s outcome will affect global U.S. interests
    • 4. The outcome of the war will have major implications for the contest between democracies and autocracies. 
  • It is time for Congress to vote on a new assistance package for Ukraine. A yea vote is not only good for Ukraine but also a prudent investment in the national security of the United States.

“Living in an à la carte world: What European policymakers should learn from global public opinion,” Timothy Garton Ash, Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard, ECFR, 11.15.23.

  • A poll conducted for ECFR and Oxford University this autumn in 21 countries, including the CITRUS countries (China, India, Turkey, Russia, and the US) and 11 European countries (Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland) revealed that
    • There remains a clear preference in China, India, and Turkey (and obviously Russia) that the war in Ukraine should end as soon as possible, even if Ukraine has to relinquish control of some of its territory. Our new poll shows that this is also the prevailing view in Brazil, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa
    • If they were forced to choose, people in almost all of the countries we polled would prefer to be part of an American bloc rather than a Chinese bloc. This is the prevailing view among the people we polled in Brazil, India, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey. Russia is the only outlier, with a majority of 56 per cent choosing the Chinese bloc. 
    • When it comes to a potential conflict with China over Taiwan, not even Europeans are ready to commit to their transatlantic ally. In fact, previous ECFR polling, conducted earlier this year, showed that an average of 62 per cent of people across 11 EU member states would prefer to remain neutral in such a conflict—while only 23 per cent would be ready to support the US. In the latest poll, just 8 per cent of Europeans said they would support troops from their country fighting in a future war over Taiwan, compared to 32 per cent of Americans, although in both places a majority opposed such a scenario.
    • Majorities in China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey believe the US and Russia are at war. People in the US and Europe are joined only by those in India and Brazil in having a prevailing view that the US is not at war with Russia (though there are countries in Europe where the opposite view prevails).
    • Majorities in Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey believe it is likely that Russia will win its war in Ukraine within the next five years. Only in the US does a view clearly prevail that Ukraine will win this war. Even in Europe, 30 per cent of respondents expressed a view that Russia is likely to win the war within five years, while only 38 per cent say that Ukraine is likely to win.
    • Majorities in China, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and the US believe that their own country should have access to nuclear weapons. Only in Brazil, Europe, and Indonesia does a clear majority oppose gaining nuclear weapons.
    • A remarkably large number of people outside Europe believe the EU will fall apart within the next 20 years. This is a majority view in China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia—but elsewhere many people believe this too, including no less than a third of Americans. Shockingly, a third of the Europeans we polled also believe this—although 50 per cent disagree. Outside Europe, 73 per cent of those seeing EU collapse as likely also expect a Russian victory, compared to 53 per cent of those who see EU collapse as unlikely. Many people across the world—including majorities in China and Saudi Arabia, and over 40 per cent in Russia and Turkey—also believe that the US could stop being a democracy within the next two decades.

“With all eyes on the Middle East, does the west have a viable strategy for Ukraine?” Ivan Krastev, FT, 11.16.23.

  • Who realistically believes that Kyiv can regain territory annexed by Russia in the coming year — or two — when even General Valery Zaluzhny, the popular chief of staff of the Ukrainian armed forces, has made it clear that “there will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough”? And who but the most Panglossian among us think that President Vladimir Putin is open to any meaningful negotiations a year out from an American presidential election, when his favored candidate, Donald Trump, is leading in the polls? Indeed, both hawks and doves on Ukraine have started to appear dangerously divorced from reality.
  • A recent study of the “geopolitics of emotions” conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations just prior to the war in Gaza reveals a disturbing, if unsurprising, trend. Public opinion in large non-Western countries is more interested in when the war will end than in how it will end.
  • The challenge the West faces is strikingly similar to that which the U.S. once faced in West Germany (especially West Berlin) in the early years of the Cold War. The West needs to prove that Ukraine is a place into which investors are ready to put their money — protected, naturally, by batteries of Patriot missiles — before the war is over. It must also be a country to which the large numbers of Ukrainians currently living outside their homeland are ready to return. And finally Ukraine’s accession negotiations with the EU must be able to start even as the war continues to rage.
  • The most striking finding of the ECFR survey, however, is that many in non-Western countries who believe that Russia will prevail in Ukraine also believe that the EU will not exist in 20 years’ time. This should make European leaders wake up to the fact that what is at stake here is not Ukrainian sovereignty alone.

“U.S. Needs to Be Ready for War.” Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., WSJ, 11.14.23.

  • Americans have been blessed to find humane men who…recognize what must be done and are willing to do it. Too often…we find them in time to fight wars that might have been deterred [such as World War II and the Korean War].
    • Had the domestically possible included a bit more stomach for risk-taking by our leaders and electorate [many wars could have been avoided].
    • A group of nuclear-capable states today assesses the U.S. to be a declining power. Russia and Iran have placed their bets. These bets would be stronger if China did the same. That’s why all eyes are on Taiwan.
  • The U.S. can be expected to serve its own interests…
    • The U.S. has moved a sizable force to the eastern Mediterranean. If sustained, it will allow Israel to complete the neutralization of Hamas.
  • The Ukraine policy of Joe Biden has included whiffs of impatience with Ukraine for continuing to fight. 
    • An implicit shot clock was all but placed on its current offensive… Weapons have been held back, it sometimes seemed, because of White House fear of what might happen from too much Ukrainian success.
    • Last week came a confession from…Zaluzhny, using the word…stalemate.
  • …Putin…[is] is also burbling about a “stalemate.”
    • Unlike Stalin (with vast material help from the Roosevelt administration), Putin isn’t building a massive army for the offensive.
  • If the U.S. isn’t committed to Ukraine regaining all its territory, it’s now fully committed to Ukraine’s independence and deterrence of Russia.
    • …Zelensky should ask not just for F-16s but, by a date certain, F-35s. Mr. Biden should supply them.

“Break Point: Scenarios and Regional Implications of the Russo-Ukrainian War,” Balázs Jarábik, IWM, 10.23.23. 

  • As of mid-October, Ukraine’s counter-offensive has not fulfilled the (perceived) objective of cutting Russia’s land-bridge; the minimalist goal is to create a forward position to create fire control over supply routes in the land-bridge (M-14 and railway) and prepare for 2024. As of now, the following scenarios could be possible:
    • Fortress Ukraine (longer war)
    • Freezing (Minsk 3)
    • Expansion (Breaking East)
    • Ukraine victory (Putin’s regime collapse)
    • Russian victory (Encircling Kyiv)
  • There are several key factors determining what scenario will develop in the end.
    •  One of those is the state of the Russian economy and society
    • Another one is Ukraine’s cohesion
    • Finally, Western unity is the most complex issue of all. 
  • U.S. Sen. Graham’s open “encouragement” about elections despite the war is a signal of the return to the consistent US policy since Kuchma’s times – power sharing. The fight against corruption, and corresponding corruption scandals, is back in the limelight. Ukraine is back on track with its dual fight: the war against Russia and the internal one about its own governance system, at a time when circumstances are getting more and more fragile. 
  • The whispering in Kyiv’s political circles is that “winning the peace” might be harder than fighting the war, as reconstruction requires more than resilience. Ukraine needs a vision beyond fighting, one that would be inclusive enough – yet also secure enough – for the post-Russia world it will live from now on.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Avoiding World War III: What the Joe Biden-Xi Jinping Summit Is Really About,” Graham Allison, NI, 11.14.23.

  • Absent a sharp divergence from current trends, when 2023 ends in two months, the facts will show that China’s economy grew twice as fast as the US. Similarly, as the US has become more entangled in supporting Ukraine’s war against Putin’s aggression and Israel’s response to Hamas’ terrorist attack on October 7, China has joined most of the rest of the world in advocating for an end to the bloodshed and calling for negotiations. As China’s state-run People’s Daily put it recently: “the balance of global power is trending towards a rising east and a falling west; a rising south and a falling north.” In Xi Jinping’s words, “the more difficult the moment, the more confident we must be.”
  • As surely as Teddy Roosevelt led the United States into what he was certain would become an “American century,” Xi is similarly confident that the 21st century will belong to China. He is determined to lead China past its “century of humiliation” at the hands of Western powers into a new era of Chinese greatness. Long before President Trump raised the MAGA banner, Xi had proclaimed that the time had come to make China great again: in his words, the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” He foresees China displacing the US as the predominant power in the Asia-Pacific during his reign (which he expects to last until at least 2035), and, in time, perhaps, the world.
  • Biden and his national security team know that the US has been the world’s leading power for the decades since World War II—and are determined that it remain so. They are proud of the international order the US has built that has allowed the world to experience an unprecedented “long peace” of 78 years and has enabled citizens in both the US and the world to enjoy greater increases in their incomes, health, and standard of living than in any similar period in recorded history. And they are determined to do all they can to ensure this continues. Thus, in relations with China, Biden’s objective is to shape the conditions in which this rivalry between America’s democracy and China’s Party-led autocracy can play out peacefully over the decades to come—without falling into the trap that has so often ensnared Thucydidean rivals in unintended war.

“America should aim for competitive coexistence with China,” Joseph Nye, FT, 11.16.23.

  • Despite the meeting between presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in California this week, at which the two leaders agreed to resume military communications, relations between the US and China remain fraught. Some Americans refer to a new cold war, but China is not like the USSR. The US had no economic interdependence with the Soviets, whereas it has half a trillion dollars in trade with China.
  • While partial decoupling (or “de-risking”) on security issues is useful, total economic decoupling would be extremely costly and few allies would follow suit. More countries count China than the US as their leading trade partner. Meeting the China challenge will thus require a more complex strategy. Other aspects of interdependence, such as climate change and pandemics, obey the laws of physics and biology, which also make decoupling impossible. 
  • No country can solve these transnational problems alone. For better or worse, the US is locked in a “cooperative rivalry” with China. This is not like Cold War containment. Allies and partners such as India are assets that China lacks, and the combined wealth of the democratic allies will far exceed that of China (plus Russia) well into this century.
  • If the US expects to transform China in a way similar to the collapse of the Soviet regime at the end of the Cold War, it is likely to be disappointed. China is too big for America to invade or for it to coerce domestic change—and the reverse is true, too. Neither China nor the US poses an existential threat to each other unless we blunder into a major war. 
  • America’s strategic objective should be to avoid escalation. … A second American advantage is energy: the shale oil and gas revolution has transformed the US from an importer to an exporter. … Washington’s strategy towards Beijing should be to avoid either a hot or cold war, cooperate when possible and marshal its assets to shape China’s external behavior. This can be done through deterrence and a strengthening of both alliances and international institutions. … America should focus on a strategy that holds more promise for us than a replay of the Cold War.

“Stephen Hadley on the Major Challenges Facing the United States Today,” Hadley Interviewed by Karen Donfried, Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School, 11.14.23.

  • KD: We find ourselves at an inflection point, as many have noted, given all of the turmoil in our world, whether it's Russia's unjustified invasion of Ukraine or whether it is Hamas' horrific attack on Israel. And we also see this shift of the world's autocracies seeming to deepen their ties. China and Russia might be one example of that.
  • SH: We saw Russia and China offering the world much more of an authoritative state capitalism mode and method of organizing society. We've seen, basically, a breakdown of the order that was established after the end of World War II and a challenge to that order both from Russia and China. Russia, I think, favors chaos and China favors building an alternative 
    So, where are we now? The United States, I think, now faces probably the greatest set of challenges we’ve faced in our history. If you think about it, we face a great power challenger with China, which is an economic and diplomatic and soon to be military powerhouse. We have Russia that is seeking to reestablish a Russian Empire, not a Soviet empire, but a Russian Empire in Europe at the expense of Ukraine, Belarus, and maybe the Baltic states and Poland as it tries to regain control over traditional Russian lands. 
  • KD: You said many things that caught my attention, but your comment about China perhaps at this moment preferring calm and Russia preferring chaos, really caught my attention. could be a significant difference between China and Russia over time?
  • SH: I think in the short run, however, Putin and Xi are brought together because they both feel that their regimes and their control are threatened by the United States. We don't accept the legitimacy of their regimes… I do think, and Russia experts may call me up on this, but I do think Russia thinks that it benefits by discrediting the United States, undermining our institutions, and in some sense sowing chaos—that Russia will be able to vindicate its own national interests and its vision of the role it should play in the world in the midst of that chaos. 
  • What could cause China to have some reservations about what Putin is doing? If Putin really has an agenda of trying to restore the Russian Empire in Europe at the expense of his neighbors and puts, in some sense, prosperity in Europe at risk, that's a problem for China, because Europe still is an important market for China. There is a point at which, I hope, Putin will have gone too far even for China. There’s a question of whether China at that point would use its influence on Putin to dial him back a bit. We’ll have to see.

“Xi and Biden in the Soviet-American mirror,” Fyodor Lukyanov, RG, 11.16.23. Clues from Russian Views.1 

  • US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in San Francisco ahead of the APEC summit. Experienced observers will remember an analogue—the detente of international tension in the first half of the 1970s. Then, against the backdrop of problems in the opposing blocs, the two superpowers moved towards rapprochement. 
  • All historical analogies are dangerous, especially in this case—the international structure today is completely different from what it was in 1973. 
    • At that time, the interaction between the two superpowers was the core of everything else in world politics. Now it is not exhausted by them at all, despite the importance of Washington and Beijing. The PRC and the USA are the largest trade and economic partners, the gap is extremely unprofitable and even dangerous for both sides.
    • The Soviet-American agenda was driven by nuclear deterrence and arms limitation. The Chinese-American one is being built primarily for commercial interests. 
  • If we continue the line of analogies, we can turn to more recent events—the Russian-American “reset” of the late 2000s and early 1900s 
    • Firstly, there was little that firmly connected Russia and the United States. Secondly, the United States has always adhered to the concept of “selective interaction”—we agree where we need it, but where you need it, it is not necessary to agree, we will fix disagreements
      • On the first point, the Chinese-American case is different—already mentioned above the importance of the joint mercantile factor. Secondly, the situation is complicated. The United States is not ready to comprehensively account for mutual interests.

“‘Biden cannot refuse to supply weapons to Taiwan - it will be torn apart!’” Andrei Kortunov, Business Online, 11.19.23. Clues From Russian Views

  • There were no surprises or sensations at the Biden-Xi meeting. But this meeting cannot be called a failure either.
    • [The meeting] may reduce the risk of uncontrollable unintended escalation. [However] it is impossible to say that there may be a détente or a reset in US-China relations.
  • The first and most obvious thing they talked about and apparently agreed on was the restoration of normal intergovernmental contacts.
  • We can assume that if the topic of Ukraine came up at the American side’s initiative, the Chinese side confirmed its stable position on this issue. This is Beijing’s so-called 12-point peace plan.
    • For Xi, the main thing is not so much Ukraine as NATO. China is concerned that NATO is turning into a de facto global bloc, integrating Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
  • [Through sanctions] Washington wants to weaken Moscow to subordinate it to its strategic objectives. But not to destroy it completely because the destruction of Russia…would create another zone of instability…
  • I get the impression that Russia and China have different views of Europe.
    • Few people in Russia believe in European “strategic autonomy.” In China, such hopes still persist.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“A new nuclear arms race is here: How to slow it down,” Editorial Board, WP, 11.19.23. 

  • The world is entering a dangerous nuclear arms race unlike anything since the first atomic bomb, but it does not have to end in catastrophe. The new factor is China, which aspires to roughly match the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia over the next decade or so. If the first arms race led to two-way bargaining—often with the strategic maneuvering of chess—the new one will be three-way and excruciatingly difficult. The concept of cocked-pistols deterrence—maintaining a credible nuclear threat to keep others from attacking—will be even more unpredictable and scary than during the Cold War.
  • There's not much to slow down a new arms race. Previous arms control treaties have lapsed or been weakened, except for New START, and it is questionable whether a successor can be negotiated when it expires in 2026. As the State Department's International Security Advisory Board recently pointed out, the deep uncertainty about China's intentions and timeline scrambles any attempt to reach numerical agreement with Russia. This is just a glimpse of the three-way headaches.
  • After long refusing to even discuss nuclear arms limits, China sent an arms control official to Washington for talks on Nov. 6. This is a crack in the door, and the United States ought to make a concerted effort to enlarge it. The path to progress may be baby steps, at first, emphasizing risk reduction and transparency. Rose Gottemoeller, who was chief U.S. negotiator with Russia for New START, has suggested the United States could begin by seeking talks with both China and Russia on limiting intermediate-range missiles, since the Chinese have equality of capability with both the United States and Russia and thus might be interested in mutual restraint.
  • Diplomacy halted a nuclear arms race in the 1980s, largely because two political leaders, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, had the vision to do so. Right now, such will power is in short supply. But it would be wise to look for modest opportunities to prepare for treaties later on. An unbridled arms race will be costly, risky and even more mind-bending than three-way negotiations to stop it.

“Misleading Metaphor: The Nuclear ‘Arms Race,’” Matthew Costlow, Robert Peters and Kyle Balzer, War on the Rocks, 11.20.23.

  • There is an emerging threat to the United States that will “endanger everyone,” one that can cause “escalation and misunderstandings” and even increase “the risk of a crisis or conflict that might turn nuclear.” No, these descriptors are not about Russia’s latest doomsday nuclear weapon or China’s provocative military behavior toward its neighbors. Instead, these are the purported consequences of a three-way nuclear “arms race” that some analysts believe the United States is about to ignite. 
  • This “arms race” metaphor, however, does far more harm than good in explaining a poorly understood dynamic. It is a simplistic disfigurement of a complicated reality. If policymakers are led to believe that the United States is creating an endless action-reaction loop between itself and China and Russia, not only will members of Congress be unable to see the threat environment as it actually is, but they also may be afraid to make any necessary adjustments to U.S. forces to reinforce deterrence. 
  • We believe that the debate about an arms race can be improved by recognizing four key realities. 
    • First, scholars cannot agree to a common definition of an “arms race,” and they acknowledge the metaphor is a poor descriptor. 
    • Second, the most informed Cold War studies on the U.S.-Soviet arms competition failed to find a tight action-reaction linkage. 
    • Third, there is abundant evidence today that the United States is not the primary driver of China’s and Russia’s nuclear buildups.
    •  Fourth, U.S. officials should do a better job of explaining the internal drivers for China’s and Russia’s nuclear procurement decisions. 
  • The concept of an “arms race” has no common definition and misleads as a metaphor meant to describe state behavior. Those who have studied the U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms competition during the Cold War, what proponents of the action-reaction theory hold up as the ultimate example of a senseless arms race, found little evidence of a tight linkage between the two defense establishments. 
  • The “arms race” is a simplistic metaphor that leads to an ahistorical conclusion: U.S. restraint can stop China’s and Russia’s nuclear expansion. This was true neither during the Cold War nor after. The United States should instead recognize that China and Russia may indeed react to U.S. actions, but not in the mechanical “action-reaction” way generally predicted by those who fear an “arms race.” Instead, each state has its own reasons for building its arsenal, and limiting U.S. programs based on the specter of an “arms race” is unwise at best and dangerous at worst. 


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“Putin Wants Russia to Win the Artificial Intelligence Race. Here’s Why it Won’t,” Ben Dubow, MT, 11.14.23.

  • “Whoever leads in AI will rule the world,” President Vladimir Putin declared at an address commencing the 2017 Russian school year. Six years later, despite intense focus from senior leadership and heavy investment from the federal budget and state-owned enterprises, Russia remains a laggard in this field, hobbled by international isolation and structural challenges. 
  • Although Russian is the second or third-most common language of online data, it still only accounts for 5% of the total. The difference between a model trained on a scale of data the size of the Russian internet and the size of the whole internet is the same as the difference between ChatGPT-3 and the state-of-art models of 2019, when large language models were still an obscure oddity for computational linguists. This gulf will only widen.
  • The government has made the problem worse still with draconian laws to curtail information unfavorable to the state. Most large language models are probabilistic rather than deterministic, meaning the same input won’t necessarily produce the same result. That means anything that could produce a politically sensitive answer must be scrubbed. 
  • The overall outlook for Russia’s AI sector is bleak. Stanford’s ranking of the world’s centers of AI development places the country beneath Norway and just above Denmark, whose combined populations are smaller than that of Moscow. Having launched a war that drove out much of the country’s tech talent, provoked sanctions that led to a shortage of necessary hardware, and passed laws that handicap any generative AI offering, Russia finds itself hopelessly behind in the race to develop this critical technology.
  • The war in Ukraine has backfired on Russia in almost every conceivable way, from kickstarting NATO expansion to affirming the Ukrainian national consciousness. If Putin truly believes the future masters of AI will be masters of the universe, the war’s closing of Russia’s narrow window to catch up in the field may be the most devastating consequence of all.

“Why Great Powers Launch Destructive Cyber Operations and What to Do About It,” Valentin Weber, DGAP, 11.14.23.

  • Iran, North Korea, South Korea, Ukraine and Taiwan have been the main targets of destructive great power cyber operations.
  • For the US, future targets will possibly be limited to countries that aim to acquire nuclear weapons—Iran and North Korea.
  • Given ongoing border disputes, China and Russia will likely target neighboring countries with such destructive campaigns—for China those are Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan, and for Russia they are Georgia, Moldova, and Japan.
  • To prevent destructive cyber operations, Germany and other EU states have been engaged in cyber capacity building and threat-intelligence sharing across continents. But Berlin needs to set priorities.
  • When it comes to combatting state-sponsored cyber campaigns, Germany should deepen ties with non-EU countries that have been or likely will be targets of damaging rather than merely disruptive operations, i.e., in Southeast Asia, East Asia, the Caucasus, and Southeast Europe.

“AI and nuclear command, control and communications: P5 perspectives,” Alice Saltini, ELN, 11.13.23. 

  • The nuclear-weapons states China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States are increasingly recognizing the implications of integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into nuclear weapons command, control, and communication (NC3) systems. Although the risks and pitfalls are widely acknowledged, the allure of gaining a strategic edge in a rapidly changing nuclear landscape, combined with fears of lagging behind competitors’ AI innovations, might push these states in a race to integrate AI technologies into NC3 systems whose reliability is yet to be verified.
  • The project … established how nuclear-weapon states are using and seeking to use AI technologies in their NC3 systems and addressed the repercussions of such integration … Core findings of the project include:
    • The way in which nuclear-weapons states integrate AI into NC3 systems are different, reflecting specific nuclear doctrines, military cultures, civil-military relations, and ethical considerations. However, they all see the value in AI for improved situational awareness, early threat detection, and decision-support.
    • All nuclear-weapon states emphasize the importance of human oversight in nuclear decisions. They agree with the concept of keeping “humans-in-the-loop”, although it is unclear to what degree their interpretations overlap.
    • Integration of cutting-edge AI models, such as large language models, poses exceptional risks to strategic and crisis stability because of their opacity and unreliability.
    • Nuclear-weapon states should agree to swiftly impose a moratorium on the integration of high-risk AI models. The moratorium can be elaborated on the risk profiling system introduced in this report to provide a scoring system that enables the classification of high-risk AI systems.
    • For AI models that do not carry the same high-level risks, bilateral initiatives at the track-1 level should revolve around the retention of human control over nuclear systems. Concurrently, track-2 dialogue should delve into technical subjects, such as practical ways to assure human oversight.

“Nuclear weapons, AI and the June 1980 US false alarms,” Pavel Podvig, Russian strategic nuclear forces blog, 11.19.23. Clues From Russian Views

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its potentially dangerous link to nuclear weapons is a quite popular topic.
    • Since we don't (normally) know how an AI system arrives to its conclusions, we cannot be certain that its assessment of a situation or its recommendations are correct (whatever that means).
  • The issue seems…more complex than just keeping a human in the loop (or AI out, for that matter).
    • People make their decisions regarding nuclear weapons based on information that is processed by computers one way or another. In the case of AI, the difference is just a matter of degree.
  • [The sophistication of] AI does not matter that much. The basic design of the command-and-control network and the underlying assumptions that you made are more important.
    • Faith in the balance between checklists and "sound judgement" is not quite straightforward. …Assumptions…affect your presumably "sound judgement."
    • Having a human in the loop does not really guarantee anything. If your human operator cannot conclude that nobody starts a nuclear war with five missiles [referring to a false alarm incident in 1983], then having them there won't really help you.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“The crumbling of the world order and the vision of multipolarity: the position of Russia and the West,” Andrey Sushentsov, Valdai Club, 11.20.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • As major trends toward the formation of multipolarity take shape, the United States will understand that there is no need to enlarge the zone of its responsibility for international affairs, and it [America] will feel quite harmoniously as one of the leading states, but no longer a hegemon. 
  • In the near future, this goal cannot be called relevant since the West is implementing a strategy of defeating our country. Our relations are one of confrontation, of intense rivalry, in which the West uses all measures against Russia. Of course, in the current conditions we do not plan to build anything jointly. However, when the West understands what the balance of power in Europe looks like, a sobering will occur, which should bring new political forces to power in the West, capable of realizing that the course for dominance leads to a dead end. If this comes to fruition, it will be possible to return to an equal dialogue on how we can cooperate to ensure global stability and security.


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Putin the Ideologue/The Kremlin’s Potent Mix of Nationalism, Grievance, and Mythmaking,” Maria Snegovaya, Michael Kimmage and Jade McGlynn, FA, 11.16.23.

  • The core elements of Putin’s ideology are internally consistent, even if they are not codified in any one text. 
    • The first tenet is the imperative of a strong, stable Russian state. 
    • Statism connects to another component of Putin’s ideology: the safeguarding of Russian exceptionalism and the cultural conservatism that preserves it. 
    • Worries about the possible collapse of Russian civilization are another pillar of the regime’s ideology. 
    • Fundamental to the Kremlin’s ideology building is the weaponization of memory and mythmaking around World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War. 
  • Several factors are helping the Kremlin consolidate and intensify its ideological campaign.
    • First, many of the narratives spread by the regime draw on attitudes that are already deeply entrenched in Russian society.
    • Second, the malleability of Putin’s ideology helps the regime accommodate change, smooth over discrepancies, and appeal to different constituencies without undermining its core message. 
    • Third, although observers often claim that this ideology lacks a forward-looking vision for Russia, the Kremlin does in fact provide such a vision, fueled by a potent and effective combination of nationalism, resentment, and nostalgia. 
    • Fourth, the share of the Russian population willing and able to counter these ideological trends is shrinking rapidly. 
  • U.S. policy should reflect the existence of a Russian ideology. Russia’s Kremlin-inspired worldview is not something that can be eroded or overturned from Washington. Policymakers can, however, use it as a window into the Putinist regime and into the relationship between state and society in contemporary Russia. 
  • The United States also should not confuse Russia writ large with the Kremlin’s ideology. Throughout World War II, the United States maintained a distinction between Nazi Germany and German culture—giving safe haven and citizenship, for example, to critics of Hitler’s regime, including the German writer Thomas Mann. Today, the United States should fund diaspora communities and institutions that harbor different views of Russia’s past and of Russia’s future, and it should do what it can to project the journalism, the debates, the books, and the culture of this “other Russia” back into Putin’s Russia. These efforts would constitute a longer-term investment in an ideologically diverse Russia and would help remind Russians that there are alternatives to the reigning ideology—that, in other words, another Russia is not impossible.

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:

“Middle Eastern Influence Is Growing Fast in Russia,” Nikita Smagin, Carnegie Endowment, 11.16.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • The latest conflict between Israel and Hamas has shown that Moscow can no longer afford to sit on the fence, and the Kremlin is increasingly aligning itself with the Islamic countries of the Middle East. That’s no coincidence, given their growing importance for Russia. 
  • Although the rhetoric of the Russian authorities is not yet openly anti-Israeli, the consequences of this alignment have already shocked the world, with mobs of aggressive demonstrators storming hotels and airports under anti-Israeli slogans in Russia’s North Caucasus. 
  • The proliferation of connections at various levels, the large diaspora of Russians, and the increased role of the region for Russia all mean that Middle Eastern culture will inevitably penetrate Russia more than ever before, including in business and finance.
  • After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia actively borrowed Western—primarily European—legal and bureaucratic practices. Now that the European path appears to be closed off entirely, other alternatives are emerging in its place. Authoritarian modernization in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar may well be perceived in Russia as experience worthy of imitation, not to mention Iran’s experience in circumventing sanctions
  • Given the Putin regime’s drastic turn toward traditional values, Moscow may also believe it has something to learn from the Middle East on attitudes toward family, religion, and the role of women in society; Finally, for Russians who live there, the Middle East is becoming something of a social elevator.

“War in the Middle East Is Boosting Russia-Turkey Ties,” Ruslan Suleymanov, Carnegie Endowment, 11.15.23.

  • By accusing the United States of fueling chaos in the Middle East, Putin is shoring up his narrative that the West is the source of all misfortune in Russia and the wider world. In the same way, Erdogan’s criticism of the West for attempting to start a war between Christianity and Islam appeals to strong anti-NATO feeling in Turkey.
  • Still, such rhetoric from Erdogan does not mean he wants to destroy his relationship with NATO—far from it. It was no coincidence that just two days before he gave an angry speech in support of Hamas, Erdogan submitted a bill to parliament that would approve Sweden’s membership of the Western military alliance: something Turkey had previously resisted.
  • The Kremlin is therefore unlikely to be able to recruit Turkey to its anti-West campaign on behalf of the Global South. If Erdogan needs to show loyalty to his NATO partners (as with the Swedish membership vote), he will do so without even a backward glance at Moscow.
  • Agreement over the Israel-Hamas conflict means diplomatic cooperation between Russia and Turkey—for example, over the South Caucasus and Syria—will grow. But any warming of ties will be situational, and absolutely no guarantee against future disputes.

“2023 APEC Leaders’ Golden Gate Declaration Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Future for All,” posted on the official website of the Russian president, 11.18.23.

  • We reaffirm our determination to deliver a free, open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, inclusive, and predictable trade and investment environment. We also reaffirm the importance of the rules-based multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organization (WTO) at its core, which continues to catalyze our region’s extraordinary growth.
  • We are committed to necessary reform of the WTO to improve all of its functions, including conducting discussions with a view to having a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all members by 2024; We underscore our commitment to advance economic integration in the region in a manner that is market-driven, including through the work on the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific agenda; We will continue to work to ensure a level playing field to foster a favorable trade and investment environment.
  • The world continues to confront profound challenges posed by the impacts of climate change. We recognize that more intensive efforts are needed for economies to accelerate their clean, sustainable, just, affordable, and inclusive energy transitions through various pathways, consistent with global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions /carbon neutrality by or around mid-century, while taking into account the latest scientific developments and different domestic circumstances; We will pursue and encourage efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally through existing targets and policies as well as demonstrate similar ambition with respect to other zero and low emissions technologies including abatement and removal technologies in line with domestic circumstances by 2030.
  • We commit to fully implement the Food Security Roadmap Towards 2030 as a pathway to make our agri-food systems more resilient, productive, innovative, and sustainable, while recognizing there is “no-one-size-fits-all” approach to agricultural sustainability.
  • We reaffirmed our commitment to promote economic growth including by fostering the full and equal participation and leadership of women in the economy; We reaffirm our commitment to create an enabling, inclusive, open, fair and non-discriminatory digital ecosystem for business and consumers; [We support] an united approach, to jointly fight cross-border corruption and deny safe haven to corruption offenders and their illicit assets.


  • No significant developments.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Belarus Gears Up for Elections and Powerful New People’s Assembly,” Artyom Shraibman, Carnegie Endowment, 11.14.23.

  • The Belarusian authorities are preparing for [the local and parliamentary elections scheduled for February 25]: the first since a disputed presidential vote triggered huge opposition demonstrations and a brutal crackdown three years ago … In accordance with a new section of the constitution added last year, the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly will become an official organ with immense powers. It’s a step on the path to a Belarus without its contested leader Alexander Lukashenko, even if it’s impossible to say how long that path will be.
  • The Belarusian opposition will ignore the elections, a tactic they are likely to replicate in the 2025 presidential vote (if nothing changes). The opposition in exile views the elections as illegitimate because since 2020 they have deemed Lukashenko a usurper.
  • Immediately after the elections, Belarus will activate a section of the constitution added in 2022 that mandates the creation of an All-Belarusian People’s Assembly (ABPA). In total, about 1,200 people will be appointed by regional and national authorities to this pro-regime organ, which is supposed to represent “civil society,” local bureaucracy, and central government bodies … No one is hiding the point of the new body: to prepare the system for Lukashenko stepping down as president.
  • The ABPA’s fifteen-person presidium will become a sort of equivalent of the Soviet Union’s Politburo. While Lukashenko is alive, its influence will be limited. But its makeup will be closely studied—like the Politburo’s—as a guide to whose political star is on the rise, and whose is waning.
  • At the end of the day, it’s likely to be someone from Lukashenko’s inner circle who becomes the next leader of Belarus. Given the regional instability and the advanced age of both Lukashenko and his Russian sponsor, President Vladimir Putin, there are any number of possible triggers for change. Just the appearance of a body like the ABPA will legitimize conversations within the ruling elite about the succession. This means the word “afterward” will be on the lips of even those who prefer not to think about such things.

“Georgia’s EU Candidate Status Will Test Its Relations With Russia,” Emil Avdaliani, Carnegie Endowment, 11.17.23. 

  • So far, it is not clear how the Georgian government will be able to balance EU integration against relations with Russia.
  • On paper, Russia could seek a military solution in Georgia. But Russia is already bogged down in Ukraine and suffering from Western sanctions. Opening a second front in the South Caucasus would only lead to further isolation, and perhaps reduce the chances of success in Ukraine.
  • A more realistic strategy would be for Moscow to pressure Tbilisi via sanctions that could hurt the Georgian economy. But even that would not be enough to force Tbilisi into a foreign policy U-turn
  • EU expansion in the South Caucasus fits into a broader trend of what could be termed Russia’s managed decline in the region. Signs of Moscow’s dwindling prestige were on show well before 2022, but the war in Ukraine has accelerated this process. Events leading up to Azerbaijan’s seizure of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region this year were a particularly vivid illustration of the shift in Russia’s position. In the congested geopolitical space of the South Caucasus, 



  1. is the website of the Russian government’s daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta. This summary has been translated with the help of machine translation.


The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 12:00pm Eastern time on Nov. 20, 2023. 

Unless otherwise indicated, all summaries above are direct quotations. 

Italicized text indicates comments by RM staff and associates. These comments do not constitute RM editorial policy.

Photo shared by Oles_Navrotskyi under Deposit Photos' standard licensing agreement.