Russia Analytical Report, Nov. 14-21, 2022
7 Ideas to Explore
- A Russian peace lobby? There is growing demand among “realists” in Russia to “‘rethink’ the war and focus on internal problems,” according to Tatiana Stanovaya of R.Politik, but these voices will not support peace unless the West somehow assures Moscow that “peace would not lead to a Russian strategic disaster or state collapse.” Such assurances will be “dramatically challenging” to provide, Stanovaya writes for FA, but without them “no one [in Moscow] will suggest peace out of fear of being purged, even if Russia continues to lose” in Ukraine. “Instead, Moscow will become more unhinged,” she warns.
- Western support for Ukraine has been a cost-effective investment “if viewed from a bang-per-buck perspective,” according to Timothy Ash of CEPA. This follows from Ash’s comparison of the amount of aid the U.S. and its allies have provided to the Ukrainian military with the various costs the latter has imposed on Russia’s war machine. NB: One potential limitation of Ash’s comparison is that he measures Russia’s GDP at market exchange rates.1
- There are four reasons why Ukraine matters to the U.S. and its allies, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. “First, Putin’s war of choice is a direct threat to European security,” Austin told the Halifax International Security Forum. “Second, Russian aggression is a clear challenge to our NATO allies. Third, Russia’s deliberate cruelty is an attack on our shared values—and on the rule of law. And finally, Russia’s invasion tears at the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure,” according to Lloyd. An earlier discussion of Ukraine’s impact on U.S. national interests is available on RM’s website.
- Impacts of the Kherson advance for Crimea and eastern Ukraine: Ukrainian forces’ recent advances in the Kherson region enable them to target Russian supply lines running from Russia proper to Crimea and potentially to block the flow of fresh water to the peninsula from the so-called North Crimean Canal, according to a WSJ analysis. The Russian command can, however, redeploy the troops withdrawn from Kherson to try to revive its stalled offensive in Donbas; this could divert the Ukrainian military’s attention away from the south, according to the analysis.
- Initial reactions to Poland explosion highlight risk of escalation: When media first reported that a missile from Ukraine had flown into Poland, killing two, on Nov. 15, Zelensky did not hesitate to call it a Russian “escalation” and Polish officials floated the idea of invoking Articles 4 and 5 of the NATO treaty, according to Stephen Walt's analysis in FP. Subsequent investigation of the incident by Polish authorities revealed the missile was likely to have strayed after being fired by Ukrainian air defenses. “Although cooler heads soon prevailed in this incident, it still illustrates the potential for accidental or inadvertent escalation” in Walt’s view.
- Putin’s staying power: Compared to a democratically elected leader, a personalist dictator like Putin who initiated and lost a war is four times less likely to lose power, according to research conducted by Ivan Gomza of the Kyiv School of Economics and Graeme Robertson of the University of North Carolina and summarized for WP’s Monkey Cage.
- Russia’s prosperity forestalled: Even if Putin loses power and a successor ushers in significant reforms, it will take at least a decade for Russia to return to the levels of private-sector production and quality of life the country experienced just a year ago, according to University of Chicago professor Konstantin Sonin’s commentary in FA.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
Nuclear security and non-proliferation:
“Ukraine Won’t Ignite a Nuclear Scramble,” NTI’s Eric Brewer, Nicholas L. Miller of Dartmouth and Tristan Volpe of the Naval Postgraduate School, FA, 11.17.22.
- “There are four reasons to doubt that Russia’s war in Ukraine will lead to an uptick in proliferation.”
- “First, although Russia’s nuclear threats have been unusually explicit, this is not the first time a nuclear power has threatened a relatively weak state. During the Cold War, West Germany feared a Soviet invasion and Taiwan feared an attack from communist China. Both nonnuclear powers considered acquiring deterrents of their own but ultimately abandoned their efforts. Nor is it the first time that a country has faced an existential attack after giving up its nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Muammar al-Qaddafi’s Libya abandoned their weapons ambitions and both [leaders] were later deposed following Western military action. There is no evidence that either experience prompted other countries to seek nuclear weapons.”
- “Second, history suggests that getting the bomb is easier said than done. Washington went to great lengths to prevent West Germany, Taiwan and other countries from going nuclear, using a mix of assurances and threats of abandonment if they persisted on the nuclear path.”
- “Third, countries with allied protection are less vulnerable to external aggression than Ukraine and therefore less likely to feel compelled to seek a nuclear deterrent.”
- “Finally, although Russia’s violation of its security assurances to Ukraine and threats to use nuclear weapons have undermined the already strained Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, these actions are unlikely to prompt an exodus from the agreement. Partly for the reasons outlined above, most countries see little value in exiting the treaty and producing nuclear weapons of their own.”
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- No significant developments.
Iran and its nuclear program:
- No significant developments.
Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:
“Ukraine Is Advancing, and Russia Is Retreating, but President Zelensky Has a Big Problem,” Columbia University’s Rajan Menon, NYT, 11.18.22.
- “Ukraine’s biggest problem may not be the military threat posed by Mr. Putin’s army … but rather coping with the destruction Russia’s attacks wreak on its economy—and at a time when the prospects for the large and continuing flow of aid Kyiv desperately needs could diminish because of deteriorating economic conditions in the West.”
- “Russia retains immense destructive power. Just within recent weeks, its missiles and drones have struck 40% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, triggering rolling blackouts… Missile barrages left about 4.5 million Ukrainians without electricity. Eighty percent of Kyiv’s denizens were deprived of water; 350,000 homes lost power.”
- “The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported this month that 6 million Ukrainians are now ‘internally displaced.’ (An additional 7 million have sought refuge abroad.) Unemployment had reached 35% by the second quarter of this year, according to the National Bank of Ukraine. The poverty rate, 2.5% in 2020, may approach 25% by December and twice that by the end of next year. … [N]early half a million more [children] in Ukraine have been pushed into poverty, the second-largest share in the region.”
- “The World Bank projects that Ukraine’s GDP will shrink by 35% this year… Ukraine’s monthly budget deficit totals $5 billion, and the government has been forced to seek emergency assistance from the West… Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said recently that … his country will need $42 billion in aid for 2023. … The war has also caused Ukraine’s trade to plummet. By the end of September, the trade deficit had more than doubled to reach $6.1 billion.”
- “The West has vowed to support Ukraine until Russian troops leave its territory … but achieving that outcome could take a long time and soak up far more resources than anticipated in the early months of this war. Ukrainians, for their part, have resisted the Russian invasion with remarkable tenacity and ingenuity. But they may find that the economic problems produced by the war prove far more intractable.”
Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:
“Ukraine's Kherson Win Shifts Dynamics Across Whole Front With Russia; Recapturing southern city puts Kyiv's forces in range to endanger Crimea's supplies,” WSJ’s Brussels bureau chief Daniel Michaels, WSJ, 11.20.22.
- “Even if Kyiv's forces don't quickly gain more ground near Kherson, their recent advance there enables them to target Russian supply lines running to the Crimean Peninsula… Russian military bases and civilians in Crimea rely on supplies and fresh water from the Ukrainian mainland running through territory now controlled by either Moscow or Kyiv.”
- “Ukraine last month degraded Moscow's ability to supply the peninsula when its forces damaged the Kerch Bridge … [built] in 2016 to connect Crimea directly to Russia. Now, most supplies must be delivered slowly by ship or via a single rail line snaking through southeast Ukraine, in Russian-controlled territory that could be in range of Kyiv's artillery and drones.”
- “One region Kyiv might target, say military analysts, is the land bridge along southern Ukraine, stretching west from Russia to the Dnipro. Ukrainian forces could try to sever this vital Russian link by driving south around the embattled city of Zaporizhzhia, they say. Such a move would strand Russian troops to the west and isolate forces in Crimea.”
- “The canal supplying water to Crimea could become a Ukrainian target, but Kyiv might refrain from hitting it, said [RUSI’s Ed] Arnold, because doing so would hurt the area's civilian population in a way that Ukraine and the West have criticized Russia for doing with … attacks on Ukrainian civilian targets. An outright invasion of Crimea is also more challenging than slowly choking it off.”
- “The situation in Donbas might shift as Russia moves more of its recently mobilized troops to the area or brings in soldiers from Kherson. … Increasing numbers of Russian troops in Donbas could force Ukraine to deploy more of its own soldiers and weapons there, limiting its ability to attack elsewhere. Whether an expanded Russian presence can tip the balance back in Moscow's favor remains unclear.”
“New military tech is the surprise twist in Ukraine’s gutsy defense,” FT editorial board chair Gillian Tett, FT, 11.18.22.
- “The collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX empire this month has visibly damaged other crypto players. But it has also had another, less obvious, impact: on a network of Ukraine-linked technologists. The philanthropic FTX Future Fund had recently been providing discreet support to entrepreneurs developing innovative military tools for Ukraine. These technologists are now, they tell me, scrambling to find alternative donors after the ‘painful’ shock of the exchange’s downfall.”
- “This latest crisis underscores a wider point: The nine-months-long war in Ukraine has unleashed some unorthodox grassroots innovation that investors and policymakers would do well to watch. Most notably, a global network of tech talent has emerged that is sympathetic to Ukraine’s cause, partly because the country hosted numerous information technology services for companies across the world before the war.”
- “This new wave of technology has already changed the trajectory of the war. And for those military strategists outside Ukraine, it will provide study materials for years to come. If and when the war ends, it may even offer a way for Kyiv to create a cutting-edge civilian tech sector.”
“Ukraine shows how space is now central to warfare,” former NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen (also a member of the European Space Agency’s advisory group on human and robotic space exploration), FT, 11.21.22.
- “Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has made clear how vital space is to our security. In January, GPS images of Russian troops massing at Ukraine’s borders signaled an imminent invasion. Throughout the war, satellite links have kept frontline troops connected with their commanders. Meanwhile, GPS-guided HIMAR rocket launchers have helped shift the balance of the war in Ukraine’s favor, allowing them to pinpoint and destroy Russian ammunition dumps and artillery well behind enemy lines. This is the first major conflict where both sides have been heavily reliant on space-based capabilities. It will not be the last.”
- “This week European ministers meet in Paris to discuss the future of Europe’s space program. One conclusion is already clear—our continent’s security and prosperity will increasingly rely on our ability to act in space. For this we need secure infrastructure, open and safe access and sustainable human activity.”
- “Just like air, land and water resources, near-Earth space is fragile. New rules are badly needed to govern human activity there. Unfortunately, global consensus is impossible in the current climate. It is time for Europe to step up.”
- “Our academics and companies must work with allies to understand what activity Earth’s orbits can sustain, as we did for sea lanes and civilian airspace. Regulators should then set clear conditions when granting market access to satellite companies, which lower the risk of collisions.”
“War Can Both Help and Hurt Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Efforts,” Alexander Kupatadze of King's College London, RM, 11.17.22.
- “Given the strong public support President Zelensky and his team enjoy post-March 2022 and the need to plan for the country’s reconstruction in a transparent and accountable institutional setting, Ukraine may now have a historic chance to break out of a vicious circle of corruption.”
- “With billions of dollars in Western aid pouring into Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February, corruption there has raised new questions [among U.S. and European officials and experts].”
- “Thus far, two opposing hypotheses have emerged about corruption trends in wartime Ukraine: One posits that the war has stoked corruption by reducing transparency and oversight while opening new doors for illicit activities like bribery and smuggling; the other contends that corruption has declined thanks to patriotic fervor and fears of undermining the war effort, as well as shrunken coffers and government efforts. For now, the evidence has been mixed, hard to gather and full of conflicting accounts that are often difficult to verify.”
- “Whichever assessment turns out to be closer to the truth, two things are clear: first, that, for now, unusually high public trust in the government (e.g., 94% of Ukrainians … approve of Zelensky’s performance) gives Kyiv a chance to implement far-reaching reforms; and second, that oversight of reconstruction funds will pose a major challenge.”
Punitive measures related to Ukraine and their impact globally:
“Russia’s Road to Economic Ruin. The Long-Term Costs of the Ukraine War Will Be Staggering,” University of Chicago’s Konstantin Sonin, FA, 11.15.22. Clues from Russian Views
- “Some data suggest … the Russian economy is doing fine. The ruble has strengthened against the dollar, and although Russian GDP has shrunk, the contraction may well be limited to less than 3% in 2022. Look behind the moderate GDP contraction and inflation figures, however, and it becomes evident that the damage is in fact severe: The Russian economy is destined for a long period of stagnation.”
- “Russia could still eke out a victory in Ukraine. It’s unclear what winning would look like; perhaps permanent occupation of a few ruined Ukrainian cities would be packaged as a triumph. Alternatively, Russia could lose the war, an outcome that would make it more likely that Putin would lose power. A new reformist government could take over and withdraw troops, consider reparations and negotiate a lifting of trade sanctions.”
- “No matter the outcome, however, Russia will emerge from the war with its government exercising authority over the private sector to an extent that is unprecedented anywhere in the world aside from Cuba and North Korea. The Russian government will be omnipresent yet simultaneously not strong enough to protect businesses from mafia groups consisting of demobilized soldiers armed with weapons they acquired during the war. Particularly at first, they will target the most profitable enterprises, both at the national and local level.”
- “For the Russian economy to grow, it will need not only major institutional reforms but also the kind of clean slate that Russia was left with in 1991. The collapse of the Soviet state made institutions of that era irrelevant. A long and painful process of building new institutions, increasing state capacity and reducing corruption followed—until Putin came to power and eventually dismantled market institutions and built his own system of patronage.”
- “The lesson is grim: Even if Putin loses power and a successor ushers in significant reforms, it will take at least a decade for Russia to return to the levels of private-sector production and quality of life the country experienced just a year ago. Such are the consequences of a disastrous, misguided war.”
“Russia’s Missing Peacemakers. Why the Country’s Elites Are Struggling to Break With Putin,” Carnegie’s Tatiana Stanovaya, FA, 11.18.22. Clues from Russian Views
- “Even in a war that has gone poorly for Russia, the Russian Defense Ministry’s Nov. 9 announcement of a full retreat from the city of Kherson marked a special kind of disaster.”
- “People from Russia’s prominent ‘patriotic,’ pro-war political forces, who recently called on Moscow to fight until it reaches Kyiv, have now started to sound much more realistic.”
- “On the popular pro-military Telegram channel Obraz Buduschego (Image of the Future), an anonymous correspondent wrote that Moscow should try to freeze the conflict and carry out domestic reforms.”
- “Yury Baranchik, a prominent Russian patriot on Telegram, argued that Moscow’s blitzkrieg had failed and that Russia should stop trying to push forward, and that it should instead entrench its existing positions and focus on domestic issues.”
- “Even aggressive nationalists, such as Aleksei Zhivov, have argued that the war shows that Russia’s political system has failed. Many of these analysts insist that Russia, instead of fighting in Ukraine, should do some housekeeping to deal with domestic issues—including corruption.”
- “But even if there is growing domestic demand to ‘rethink’ the war and focus on internal problems, there are serious complications that make it hard for these realists to turn into peacemakers. Russia’s realists are wary of any negotiations that might lead to a humiliating resolution, which could threaten their political future—or even their physical safety.”
- “If the West wants these realists to transform into a party of peace, it should make it extremely clear to Moscow that peace would not lead to a Russian strategic disaster or state collapse. Otherwise, domestic politics will continue to favor war. No one will suggest peace out of fear of being purged, even if Russia continues to lose. Instead, as the defeats pile up, Moscow will become more unhinged.”
- “Signaling to the realists that peace with Ukraine will not inevitably cause Russia to collapse is a dramatically challenging task. But it may be the only way to get the Kremlin to end its catastrophic invasion. Until then, even the realist elites have no choice but to bet on the strong state and the strongman.”
“Peace Talks—A Deceptive Mirage,” Carnegie’s Tatiana Stanovaya, R.Politik, 11.21.22. Clues from Russian Views
- “Putin is not ready to talk to Zelensky—either directly or through mediators.”
- “In showing Russia's readiness to talk, Putin is hoping to provoke splits in Ukraine's leadership, fuel disputes in the West and, above all, to coerce Ukraine into stopping the counteroffensive, as further retreats may become too politically costly to the Putin regime.”
- “In the (exceedingly unlikely) event that a window opens and both sides start talks, the Kremlin will push forward a two-fold agenda.”
- “The ﬁrst part will be practical: ceaseﬁre discussions, the security of the line of contact and prisoner swaps. They would like guarantees that Kyiv will not continue the counteroffensive. Russia, in return, may stop bombing Ukrainian energy infrastructure (although the threat will be there every time Ukraine 'violates' the ceaseﬁre).”
- “The second would push through Russia's strategic aims, namely an attempt to coerce Kyiv into capitulating. This basically means forcing Kyiv to recognize all of the territories that Russia has 'annexed' as Russian.”
- “However, a lot would depend on what Kyiv is ready to accept at the national level. Russia would push for 'de-naziﬁcation' (in practice, blocking anyone with Ukrainian patriotic sympathies from running for ofﬁce or being given key appointments—only 'constructive' pro-Russian players would be allowed in the political system), as well as guarantees for ethnic Russians, constitutional protected status for the Russian language, the end of any substantive relationships with NATO and its members in the military sphere, etc. The more ﬂexible Kyiv is taking these latter demands into account, the more ﬂexible Putin is willing to be on the territorial issue—and vice versa.”
- “In any case, it seems unimaginable that Putin would agree to meet Zelensky. Any talks that occur will be between subordinates—at best, Lavrov or, otherwise, marginalized political players like Vladimir Medinsky and Leonid Slutsky. In other words, a return to the pointless spring format.”
“How to end the war in Ukraine? Sit down and talk. It’s time,” columnist and Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, WP, 11.15.22.
- “‘When there’s an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, seize the moment.’ The author of that statement wasn’t a peace activist or a squishy liberal. It was Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has reportedly been pushing the Biden administration to press Ukraine to seek a diplomatic end to the war.”
- “When members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus released a letter in late October urging diplomacy, the fierce blowback panicked members into withdrawing it overnight. In fact, however, Milley and the caucus had it right.”
- “Exercising diplomacy is just common sense—and there are signs that the White House might be slowly coming around to the possibility.”
- “Russia has in effect already lost the war. President Vladimir Putin’s dreams of annexing Ukraine are shattered. His military weakness has been exposed, his economy damaged, his country isolated, his support weakened. His troops have suffered horrendous casualties; their morale is broken, their ammunition short. Ukraine’s advances on the battlefield have likewise come at a horrible cost. Milley estimates that each side has suffered at least 100,000 casualties… Meanwhile, though the United States and NATO have rallied to Ukraine’s side, continued support is not unlimited.”
- “With an estimated price tag of $1 trillion to rebuild Ukraine, the imperative to bring the war to an end is apparent… The Russian invasion outraged opinion worldwide, even if much of the world chose not to take sides in the battle. In the United States, it stoked a patriotic fever. As the progressive caucus debacle showed, the bellicose will seek to squelch the calls for peace or negotiation. But the stakes are too high for us to sit idly by as the catastrophe spreads and the costs—and the risks—keep growing.”
Great Power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:
“It’s Costing Peanuts for the US to Defeat Russia,” Timothy Ashof RBC BlueBay Asset Management, CEPA, 11.18.22.
- “[W]hen viewed from a bang-per-buck perspective, U.S. and Western support for Ukraine is an incredibly cost-effective investment.”
- “Altogether, the Biden administration received Congressional approval for $40 billion in aid for Ukraine for 2022 and has requested an additional $37.7 billion for 2022. More than half … has been earmarked for defense.”
- “The Ukrainian armed forces have already killed or wounded upwards of 100,000 Russian troops, half its original fighting force; there have been almost 8,000 confirmed losses of armored vehicles… U.S. spending of 5.6% of its defense budget to destroy nearly half of Russia’s conventional military capability seems like an absolutely incredible investment. If we divide out the U.S. defense budget to the threats it faces, Russia would perhaps be of the order of $100 billion-$150 billion in spend-to-threat. So spending just $40 billion a year … [gives] a two-to-three time return.”
- “Meanwhile, replacing destroyed kit, and keeping up with the new arms race that it has now triggered with the West, will surely end up bankrupting the Russian economy, especially an economy subject to aggressive Western sanctions. How can Russia possibly hope to win an arms race when the combined GDP of the West is $40 trillion, and its defense spending amounting to 2% of GDP totals well in excess of $1 trillion…? Russia’s total GDP is only $1.8 trillion.” NB: That’s at the market exchange rate; in PPP, constant $, it is more than $4 trillion. Same goes for defense expenditure; the sum at market exchange rates should be multiplied by 3.2 to accurately reflect Russia’s defense budget in constant dollars, PPP, according to this study.
- “The war has served to destroy the myth that Russian military technology is somehow comparable to that of the U.S. and West. … The revelation that Russia’s defense industry is something of a Potemkin village also generates other strategic and diplomatic wins for the U.S. Countries eager to secure defense capability to meet their own threats—think of Turkey, India, Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia—might have opted for cheaper … Russian defense offerings. However, with the quality/capability of this equipment now being questioned because of poor battlefield performance, they will likely be vying to acquire a better U.S. kit.”
- “Helping Ukraine beat Russia surely also sends a powerful signal to China that the U.S. and its allies are strong and determined when challenged on issues of core importance.”
- “The war in Ukraine is encouraging and accelerating the energy transition in Europe, but also Europe’s diversification away from Russian energy.”
“Putin’s Fear of Retreat. How the Cuban Missile Crisis Haunts the Kremlin,” NYU’s Timothy Naftali, FA, 11.16.22.
- “[Biden and Putin] appear to have different understandings of the lessons of the Cuban missile crisis.”
- “In Biden’s view, and that of many American scholars, the crisis was largely solved through mutual respect, a shared desire in avoiding war and smart and empathetic negotiation that allowed both sides to save face.”
- “Russian leaders then, as now, understood the humiliation that backing down before the United States signified… Whereas Biden sees the importance and promise of statesmanship in the resolution of the Cuban missile crisis, Putin unsurprisingly sees only weakness.”
- “It is no wonder that Russians, especially Putin, might see the Cuban missile crisis as a failure for the Kremlin. Khrushchev upended his entire plan to create a Soviet missile base in Cuba in return for very little: a verbal promise from a U.S. president not to invade the island and the removal of soon-to-be obsolete U.S. missiles that the Soviets were not allowed to discuss publicly. Equally telling for an autocrat like Putin was the fact that the debacle in Cuba would later be cited as a reason for Khrushchev’s dismissal in 1964.”
- “Putin has raised the stakes of confrontation as his gambit began to unravel. It will be harder for him to fall back—and save face. He also doesn’t seem to want an off-ramp, at least for now. Biden and those calling on the White House to pressure Kyiv to negotiate with Moscow ought to keep this difference in mind. The war in Ukraine is not like the Cuban missile crisis, and Putin, as he’ll gladly tell you, is no Khrushchev.”
“Deaths in Poland Are a Warning for Everyone,” Harvard’s Stephen M. Walt, FP, 11.18.22.
- “If you think the risks of escalation in the Ukraine war are trivial, the tragic deaths of two Polish citizens from an errant Ukrainian air defense missile on Tuesday [Nov. 15] should give you some pause. … Although cooler heads soon prevailed in this incident, it still illustrates the potential for accidental or inadvertent escalation. When reports that a missile had hit Polish territory were first announced, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called it an ‘escalation’ by Russia while Polish officials spoke of invoking Articles 4 and 5 of the NATO treaty, framing the event as a threat to the security of the alliance.”
- “U.S. and Polish officials deserve credit for quickly identifying the true nature of this unfortunate event and acting to damp down pressures to escalate, but that is hardly grounds for complacency. Imagine what might have happened had it been a Russian missile that had gone off course and struck Polish territory, killing two people.”
- “The incident—especially Zelensky’s reflexive response—also shows that Ukraine will try to use events of this sort to assign more blame to Russia and garner greater sympathy and support from the outside world.”
- “Nor should we forget that ‘accidental’ or ‘inadvertent’ escalation is neither the only nor the most likely way this war could expand and get more deadly. States at war typically escalate not because some critical threshold is breached by the other side or because they misread something the other side has done, but because they are losing.”
- “If the war goes on, the danger of more dangerous incidents and the danger of a deliberate decision to escalate will remain uncomfortably high. Furthermore, we cannot be confident that future incidents will be properly interpreted or that the temptations to raise the stakes will always be resisted. Those who have called for greater attention to diplomacy and more serious efforts to reach a settlement are correct to emphasize the perils that remain so long as the bullets and missiles are flying.”
“Why Ukraine Matters” remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Halifax International Security Forum, Defense.gov, 11.19.22.
- “The outcome of the war in Ukraine will help determine the course of global security in this young century. And those of us in North America don’t have the option of sitting this one out. Stability and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic are at stake.”
- “I’d like to talk about four reasons why Ukraine matters to all of us.”
- “First, Putin’s war of choice is a direct threat to European security.”
- “Second, Russian aggression is a clear challenge to our NATO allies.”
- “Third, Russia’s deliberate cruelty is an attack on our shared values—and on the rule of law.”
- “And finally, Russia’s invasion tears at the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure.”
“The U.S. seeks to support Ukraine, but contain the war,” columnist David Ignatius, WP, 11.18.22.
- “Take a look at recent U.S. crisis management efforts, to get a sense of how the Biden administration is playing this game of measured confrontation. They have the common theme of helping Ukraine while also containing the conflict.”
- “Let's review first this week's travels by CIA Director William J. Burns. He met Monday [Nov. 14] in Ankara, Turkey, with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia's foreign intelligence service, the SVR. Burns was ‘conveying a message on the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons by Russia, and the risks of escalation to strategic stability,’ said a spokesman for the National Security Council. U.S. officials believe that Russia took Burns's message quite seriously. Burns then traveled to Kyiv for a Wednesday meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. … This meeting seemed partly an effort to reassure Zelensky that the United States wasn't operating behind his back with Moscow.”
- “Second, let's look at the U.S. response to the missile that struck Poland on Tuesday, near its border with Ukraine. This was the kind of scenario that U.S. commanders have feared could lead to nuclear war… The Biden administration instead did what generations of crisis managers have recommended. In a hot moment, it cooled down. Despite pressure for action, the administration realized it lacked reliable information. It waited to gather facts. Poland, too, resisted the urge to immediately blame its historic adversary, Russia. And it turned out that initial assumptions that Russia fired the missile were probably wrong.”
- “The administration has been careful not to jam Zelensky and his generals, even as it tried to contain the conflict. The latest example was the statement last week from Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that Russia's withdrawal this month from Kherson might provide an opening for diplomacy. ‘When there's an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, seize it,’ he said. Milley, who has argued that more diplomacy is needed to find a settlement, didn't retreat. But other administration officials repeated their no-pressure litany: ‘Nothing about Kyiv without Kyiv.’”
- “Biden's ultimate responsibility is to protect the United States, and that means avoiding any drift toward a nuclear conflict with Russia. The past few weeks have been a case study in how to support a war and prevent one at the same time.”
“John Mearsheimer on Putin’s Ambitions After Nine Months of War,” interviewed by Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, 11.17.22.
- “I think their [Russia’s] goal is to conquer and control those four oblasts that they have annexed, and to make sure that the Ukrainian rump state that is left is neutral and is not associated with NATO in any formal or informal way.”
- “I don’t think he [Putin] had or has imperial ambitions. What motivates him is fear of Ukraine becoming a part of NATO.”
- “The Russians did not have the military capability to conquer all of Ukraine. At most, a hundred and ninety thousand Russian troops went into Ukraine. There is no way a hundred and ninety thousand Russian troops could come close to conquering and occupying all of Ukraine.”
- “I’m very concerned about the possibility of a nuclear war. It’s impossible to say how likely it is that nuclear weapons will be used in this conflict, but there is a non-trivial chance. … I can think of two scenarios where that’s possible.”
- “One is where they’re facing defeat at the hands of the Ukrainian Army inside of Ukraine.”
- “The other scenario is if the United States comes in. If you’re losing a war and losing is viewed as a threat to your survival, you are likely to think about using nuclear weapons, and maybe even use them.”
“US national interests are best served by stopping Vladimir Putin in Ukraine,” Stanford’s Steven Pifer, Atlantic Council, 11.10.22.
- “Supporting Ukraine until its military drives Russian forces out of Ukrainian territory or, at a minimum, reaches a point where a negotiated settlement becomes possible on terms that Kyiv can accept, is not only morally the right thing to do. It is also very much in the U.S. national interest.”
- “First, the United States has had a vital national interest in a stable and secure Europe going back more than 70 years.”
- “Second, other countries are watching how Washington responds to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.”
- “Third, the United States has a strong interest in preserving international norms and a rules-based international order.”
- “Fourth, it is not clear that Putin’s ambitions end with Ukraine.”
“Taking on China and Russia: To Compete, the United States Will Have to Pick Its Battles,” Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security, FA, 11.18.22.
- “Actions by Moscow or Beijing that would contest key principles of international order, constrict the United States’ freedom to act or undermine the domestic functioning of foreign countries should broadly define what’s most important. More specifically, policymakers should focus most on actions in the places and on the issues where the potential damage to key U.S. interests is large and the potential utility to the challenger is significant.”
- “The large remainder of Russian and Chinese activities around the world that are undesirable, offensive and even contrary to U.S. interests should be relegated to a lower tier of priority. These would receive a significantly smaller share of American national security resources and attention.”
- “This necessary task of prioritization would move beyond the broad strokes that have characterized recent U.S. foreign policy. Frequently heard observations—that great-power competition has returned, that the Indo-Pacific has emerged as a region of vital importance or that a revanchist Russia and a determined China have global ambitions—are of limited utility. What’s needed today is a far more subtle prioritization of regions and issues, and a policy process that considers the relative importance of multiple crises and opportunities rather than evaluating each on its own.”
- “The alternative, in this new era, would require the United States to resist undesirable Chinese and Russian influence wherever it exists—which is to say, every region of the world and across a wide spectrum of issues. To attempt this, even while working with allies and taking every other prudent step to augment American power, courts failure. Trying to do it all, everywhere, will produce exhaustion and undermine U.S. capacity to address what matters most.”
- “If it wants to succeed, the United States is going to have to pick its battles carefully.”
“Deciphering Russia’s Playbook: Lessons From the Lead-Up to Putin’s War in Ukraine,” Georgia Institute of Technology’s Adam Stulberg and Dennis Murphy, PONARS, 11.14.22.
- “Do we really understand Russia’s coercive playbook? Fusing events data with qualitative analyses reveals that the coercive postures adopted by Russia and the United States were out of sync preceding the Kremlin’s fateful decision to launch a decapitation strike on Ukraine.”
- “The strategic discourse surrounding Russia’s military build-up and threats were neither uniform nor transparent. The escalation of Russian belligerence was episodic, varied across domains, did not reciprocate respective counter moves and was conveyed differently in the Russian and non-Russian press.”
- “Although U.S. intelligence ultimately detected the operational signs of an imminent invasion, Russian discourse and practice defied traditional Western assumptions about effective coercive diplomacy, raising questions about the ‘ways’ of Moscow’s strategy.”
- “Russia’s 2022 war in Ukraine serves as a wake-up call to unpack the logic and practice of coercion that failed in the preceding years. Traditional models of bilateral strategic interaction feature reciprocal behavior along a single dimension that does not fully comport with the cross-domain features of contemporary great power confrontation.”
- “Moreover, the divergent ways of Western and Russian coercion warrant reconsideration of how decisionmakers tailor effects and signal intentions. Here, the preliminary evidence suggests that while Russia’s approach to reflexive control may purposefully obfuscate the assessment of credibility and resolve, consistency in the messaging to foreign and domestic audiences may signal the escalation from coercion to the use of large-scale force.”
- “A clearer understanding of the differences between Western and Russian statecraft will enable future efforts to discern and foster the mutual restraint necessary to put guard rails onto the long-term competition that will continue long after the conclusion of this brutal war.”
China-Russia: Allied or aligned?
“The Big 2, Again”2 (in Russian), Fyodor Lukyanov, Russia in Global Affairs, 11.16.22. Clues from Russian Views
- “Approximately 13 years ago, the concept of a G2 of the U.S. and China appeared … [but] soon faded away. Obama, Trump and Biden already considered China a rival… [nevertheless] the meeting of Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in Indonesia was reminiscent of the G2 spirit, though conditions are now completely different. If at the end of the 2000s, it [G2 discussion] was about cementing symbiosis, now the agenda is separation, about avoidance of mutual dependence.”
- “The present G20 is more reminiscent of Soviet-American relations in the 1950s, with a significant correction for the fact that there was no such economic interdependence between the USSR and the USA.”
- “The Chinese are closely watching the actions of the United States against Russia, and they do not like it. … The PRC will not imitate Russia in its actions toward Ukraine; if such intentions were [ever] considered, they are now postponed.”
- “Washington has a more complex calculation. It considers getting involved in a full-fledged conflict with Beijing short-sighted as long as the outcome of the Ukrainian battle is still unclear.”
- No significant developments.
Nuclear arms control:
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Energy exports from CIS:
“The energy apocalypse that wasn’t. Where the Kremlin miscalculated,” RFE/RL economics columnist Maxim Blant, Russia Post, 11.18.22. Clues from Russian Views
- “By the beginning of November, EU countries had accumulated more than 100 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas. Underground storage across Europe was filled at an average of 94.68%. … At the same time, the spot price on the Dutch exchange was fluctuating around $1,200 per 1,000 cubic meters (tcm), half the peaks of December 2021 and a third of the record level from March.”
- “Bloomberg estimates that even if Russia completely cut off gas supplies in November, European countries would emerge from the winter heating season with underground gas storage filled at a rather comfortable 38%. That is despite the fact that Gazprom exports to non-CIS countries … tumbled 42.6% in the first 10 months of 2022. Meanwhile, the share of Russian gas in the European market, according to the International Energy Agency, fell from last year's 45% to 6.7%. … This suggests the Europeans have basically succeeded in doing what seemed improbable even just back in the summer: replacing the lion's share of Russian gas … and plugging fuel shortages, at least for the coming winter.”
- “Having resolved the problem of gas stocks, European countries set about addressing the price problem. On Nov. 2, the German government began discussing proposals … to introduce a gas-price ceiling for German consumers, which is likely to be put in place … from March 2023 to April 2024. The government will subsidize both industrial consumers and the population … [at a cost of] about €91 billion … expected to be funded through government borrowing… The figure is big, but by no means shocking. … There is no doubt that other European countries will follow Germany’s lead.”
- “It would be foolish to deny that Europe—along with the rest of the world—is going through an energy crisis. However, the thesis actively pushed by the Russian government that ‘Europe got what was coming’—…[suffering for its] unprecedented actions against Russia after the start of the war … [while Russia] only benefits from high commodity prices—isn’t in great shape.”
- “In the end, the upcoming winter may not be dramatic for the Europeans at all.”
“Climate talks fall short on the most crucial test,” FT editorial board, FT, 11.20.22.
- “[T]he two-week Egyptian COP [U.N. Climate Change Conference held Nov. 6-18] managed to sink below even the meager expectations held for it on the most crucial test.”
- “Many nations wanted to build on an agreement reached after much wrangling a year ago at COP26 in Glasgow to phase down unchecked coal use. Yet a proposal led by India to agree to wind down consumption of all fossil fuels, not just coal, foundered after opposition from oil and gas producers such as Saudi Arabia and Russia.”
- “These nations undoubtedly feel emboldened to resist international pressure to cut the global use of fuels that underpin their economies. The loss of fossil fuel supplies from Russia following the invasion of Ukraine has led a series of Western leaders to seek new energy deals with Riyadh.”
- “On the central challenge of reducing fossil fuel use and carbon emissions, COP27 has left an alarming hole that future gatherings will have to work even harder to fill.”
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- No significant developments.
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
“Scientific Putinism: Shaping Official Ideology in Russia,” Carnegie’s Andrei Kolesnikov, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 11.21.22.
- “The war in Ukraine has necessitated a more articulated ideology [for Putin’s Russia]. The initiative to systematize and codify Putinism has led to a presidential decree listing ‘traditional spiritual and moral values,’ as well as the development of a new ideological curriculum for colleges. It is no longer enough to indoctrinate children in kindergartens and schools. It is now time to unify the worldviews of college students (and, by extension, those of their professors, whose ranks will inevitably be purged). This type of course was taught during the Soviet era, and was known as ‘Scientific Communism.’ The name for the new curriculum could be even more absurd and oxymoronic: ‘Scientific Putinism.’ (Its official title is ‘Fundamentals of Russian Statehood.’)”
- “Scientific Putinism lacks key components: development goals and a corresponding vision for the future. … The division into ‘us’ and ‘them’ doesn’t just provide a marker for self-identification and an opportunity to dissolve and hide within the group and to function in society without problems. … In the past, the only requirement for being part of the ‘us’ was passive, silent, conformist support. Today, however, this is not enough: Russians must surrender their very bodies to be cannon fodder in the supreme leader’s holy war against the ‘satanist’ forces of the West. This is no longer authoritarianism; it is totalitarianism.”
- “In just a few years, the regime has evolved from a cult of the victory of 1945 to a cult of war itself, and Putin has managed to persuade a large section of Russians that the ‘special operation’ of 2022 is a natural continuation of the Great Patriotic War (as World War II is called in Russia). In essence, it is an existential war between the Russian civilization and the West. Putin has started to refer to Russia as an entire civilization. The state is not just sacred and worthy of the ultimate sacrifice; it is also a separate and superior civilization. This state-civilization has a special path and a ‘thousand-year history.’”
- “In that context, one important concept is sovereignty interpreted as autarky and as boundless political and repressive rule within the country; sovereignty as a target for adversaries who want to weaken, dismember and destroy Russia; sovereignty that is under hybrid attacks from without and sabotaged by the ‘fifth column’ from within.”
- “The ideology has become corporeal, bolstered by political and military acts, such as the annexation of Crimea and the ‘special military operation.’ In short, the special ideological operation is ongoing, and it seems to be faring better than the special military one.”
“Russians struggle to make sense of Ukraine war after Kherson retreat,” reporters Polina Ivanova in Moscow and Max Seddon in Riga, FT, 11.20.22.
- “Between pictures of bombed-out Ukrainian cities and the bloodied corpses of civilians presented as heroic victims of the conflict, visitors [of a Moscow photo exhibit] are shown a triumphant video about Russia’s recent annexation of four Ukrainian regions. Except, since the show opened earlier this month, Russia has withdrawn from the capital of one of them, Kherson, leaving behind billboards proclaiming ‘Russia is here forever.’”
- “The propaganda display left Katya, a middle-aged Moscow schoolteacher, who had brought along a group of 11-year-old pupils, with more questions than answers. She said she wondered what all the casualties were for. ‘No one understands anything… First we came up to Kyiv, and then we left—and how many people were killed? Then we took Kherson, and then we left it again. And how many people were killed? Even military men,’ she said, referring to veterans of earlier Russian wars in her family, ‘…even they don’t understand this strategy.’”
- “‘[I]t’s pretty amazing how easily the Russian authorities said goodbye to Kherson,’ Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of political consultancy R. Politik, wrote… She pointed to a recent Levada poll that asked Russians to name major events they remembered from the news. Just 9% recalled the referendums and annexation—in which their country claimed to have expanded by over 135,000 square kilometers—even though the event occurred as the survey was being conducted.”
- “A former senior official said losing Kherson only six weeks after Putin declared it part of Russia indicated the Kremlin’s lack of strategic planning. ‘They are just completely mishandling this. They can’t think two steps ahead. It’s completely reactive… [and] completely humiliating.”
- “The Kherson retreat will not affect Putin’s ratings, … [Levada’s] Lev Gudkov told the Russian-language RTVi broadcaster. Over time, it may erode faith in the president as a leader, he said, but for now, ‘censorship and propaganda will work to soften the meaning of this event and the severity of this local defeat.’ The vast majority of Russians would only truly care if Ukraine attempted to regain control of Crimea, which … has developed an almost mythical status [according to Alexei Venediktov, chief editor at Echo of Moscow radio].”
“Can Putin survive Russia's losses in Ukraine? Russia’s defeat is starting to look inevitable. Here’s what that means for Putin and his inner circle,” Ivan Gomza of the Kyiv School of Economics and UNC’s Graeme Robertson, WP/Monkey Cage, 11.18.22.
- “Russia's losses put further pressure on Putin to convince the Russian people that defeat in Ukraine is part of a broader civilizational struggle against the onslaught from an aggressive West.”
- “By some measures, Russia has already lost this war militarily and politically… Strategists think Russia may try to escalate—but the strategic situation is unlikely to change. The best Putin can hope for, some point out, is to hold today's frontlines in a protracted war.”
- “The research suggests [that,] … [c]ompared to a democratically elected leader, a personalist dictator like Putin who initiated and lost a war is four times less likely to lose office. This is precisely because of the narrow base of power in such regimes.”
- “The research suggests military defeat alone is unlikely to unseat Putin. But a military defeat would be accompanied by returning body bags, stories of conscripts being abandoned and a deepening economic crisis and stagnation. This broader crisis might encourage challengers to mobilize public discontent against Putin.”
“Lord of the Masses: How Russia’s Fringe Elements Went Mainstream,” Meduza journalist Andrey Pertsev, 11.15.22, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Clues from Russian Views
- “The kind of people being invited to the Kremlin these days have long since felt involved, and are actively demonstrating that: both to Putin and to everyone else. And in all likelihood, the president truly believes that the population of these Potemkin villages constructed by those around him are ‘the people.’”
- “Now the head of state has started borrowing certain traits from those whom he considers to represent the people. In his public speeches, he increasingly imitates the cocky manner of Prigozhin, for example, combining it with cliches about the decaying West. The president’s immersion in the ‘masses’ is becoming dangerous.”
- “His vocabulary and behavior are growing marginalized, and the communication style of other high-ranking officials will inevitably become marginalized too. After all, they had no qualms about repeating Putin’s less-than-intelligible word ‘denazification’ or discussing the fight against fascism. They will have no problem adopting his vulgar tone.”
Defense and aerospace:
- See section on “Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts” above.
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- No significant developments.
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
“The Growing Divide Between Lukashenko and the Belarusian Elite,” Ryhor Nizhnikau of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 11.18.22.
- “Lukashenko himself is clearly not ready to take into account the growing ambitions of the elites. The constitutional reform that was supposed to redistribute power in the country as a reward for the elites’ loyalty has proved to be hollow. Lukashenko is refusing to make even the smallest of cosmetic changes, such as the transformation of the Belaya Rus association into a political party.”
- “As a result, internal elite infighting is picking up pace. Since the beginning of the war, the Belarusian security services have carried out mass arrests of senior managers at the biggest banks and state enterprises. At Gazprom Transgaz Belarus alone, about one hundred former and current employees were arrested. Lukashenko has had to get personally involved in order to resolve conflicts and return people to their posts.”
- “The schism in the Belarusian elites that many expected in 2020 is now becoming more likely due to the war. Lukashenko is no longer capable of guaranteeing their former benefits, nor can he keep them in check now that Russia is replacing him in his role as the guarantor of their future.”
- “In addition, Lukashenko’s toxicity and helplessness in resolving both internal and external crises make it all the more pressing to explore ways out of the current dead end: both for Moscow and the elites. Uncertainty about the future and being drawn further into the war could take the crisis in Belarus to a new level, in which the nomenklatura’s position will be far less clear-cut than it was in 2020.”
1Here and elsewhere italicized text represents contextual commentary by RM staff.
2The title plays on the Russian grading system and can also be read approximately as “Poor Marks Again, Big-Time.”
Photo used on website homepage is by rajatonvimma, shared via Flickr under a CC BY 2.0 license.