Russia Analytical Report, Nov. 20-27, 2023

4 Ideas to Explore

  1. There is no “durable stalemate on the ground” in the Russian-Ukrainian war as there is “no clear-cut parity,” CEIP’s Michael Kofman said in a War on the Rocks podcast shortly after returning from Ukraine. Looking back, Kofman advised that “the sooner we can say” Ukraine’s counteroffensive has not been successful, “the sooner we can learn from it.” Looking forward, Kofman predicts that Russia will have the material advantage in 2024 in artillery munition and the production of long-range drones and cruise missiles, but insisted that this advantage will not be decisive. Kofman also predicts that Russian attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure will be worse this winter than last.
  2. Some European officials “fear Ukraine's position on the battlefield could unravel this winter,” even though the Ukrainian military plans to build new defensive fortifications, according to WSJ reporter Marcus Walker. The West has come to see Volodymyr Zelensky's war aim of fully restoring Ukraine's international borders as “unrealistic,” reinforcing the view in Germany that a “cease-fire and negotiations with Moscow would be in Ukraine's interests,” according to Walker’s analysis. In another recent WSJ article, Walker predicts that “many months on the defensive” could be awaiting Ukraine.
  3. In March 2022, Ukrainian and Russian negotiators produced an agreement to bring the fighting in Ukraine to an end, according to the leader of the parliamentary faction of Volodymyr Zelensky’s “Servant of the People” party, David Arakhamia. During the March 29-30, 2022, talks in Istanbul, the Russians “were ready to end the war if we accepted neutrality like Finland once did. And we would make a commitment that we would not join NATO,” Arakhamia recalled in an interview to Ukraine’s 1+1 TV channel. However, shortly after Arakhamia had returned to Kyiv from Istanbul, then-U.K. premier Boris Johnson arrived in the Ukrainian capital to tell the Ukrainian leadership that no agreement should be signed with Russia, according to Arakhamia. ''We will not sign anything at all with them, let's just fight!'' Arakhamia recalled Johnson as saying at the time, according to BNE’s transcription of parts of Arakhamia’s interview to 1+1. Arakhamia’s revelations have served as yet another confirmation that “a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine was agreed in principle in March 2022,” according to Ben Aris of BNE’s analysis of the 1+1 interview. The Russian negotiators’ perceived focus on attaining guarantees of Ukraine’s neutrality during the Spring 2022 talks indicates that Vladimir Putin’s prime goal at the time was that neutrality of Ukraine rather than the expansion of Russia’s territory, according to John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago.
  4. Putin’s reelection plan for March 2024 puts him on the horns of a dilemma: “re-shuffle personnel, making the ‘vertical’ [of power] more efficient and dynamic in order to face existential challenges, or to continue with the status quo, relying on a more familiar conservative approach run by well-known loyalists,” according to R. Politik’s Tatiana Stanovaya. Whatever option Putin chooses, his reelection campaign “will lead to increased prosecutions of any anti-war statements and other signs of open dissent,” Stanovaya predicts. In his commentary for CEIP, Mikhail Vinogradov foresees a dilemma for Putin’s team, too. “Not changing anything means preserving the existing state of affairs and blocking the promotion of effective officials, leaving young regional governors dreaming of plum jobs in Moscow. Opting for change, meanwhile, means putting the system under additional stress,” according to Vinogradov of the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation.

 

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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“The Fruits of Kim-Putin Summitry: North Korea’s Military Satellite Launch,” Critical Questions by Victor Cha and Ellen Kim, CSIS, 11.21.23.

  • This is the direct result of assistance from Russia. Kim Jong-un’s visit to the Vostochny Cosmodrome spaceport in September (his first stop on the Russia trip) evinced a clear priority in what he wanted from Putin in terms of military satellite technology and a space program. The failure of North Korea’s two previous attempts signifies a strong causal connection between Russian support and the pre-summit and post-summit launch results.
  • North Korea is profiting handsomely from Russia’s war in Ukraine. By giving weapons and ammunition to Russia, North Korea is receiving not just food and fuel assistance but also military satellite technology and possibly other advanced technology, such as nuclear-powered submarines and ballistic missiles. Recent CSIS Beyond Parallel satellite imagery reveals an unprecedented number of arms transfers and other trade activities taking place at the Najin port and the Khansan-Tsumangang border between the two countries that started around the time of the Kim-Putin summit.
  • The launch will reveal the inability of the United Nations Security Council to enforce the 10 United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) now levied against North Korea. China and Russia will not support any punitive actions by the UNSC to punish North Korea. For Russia, even though the country has supported these UNSCRs before, its own action to assist North Korea in violating these resolutions would be a major blow to the international nonproliferation regime and rules-based international order.
  • A fully functional military satellite capability will give North Korea real-time information about U.S. and South Korean military activities on the peninsula. This could also afford North Korea progress in fielding a survivable nuclear deterrent. At the same time, this could also show North Korea that its professed claim of an imminent attack by the United States and South Korea is not a reality, and this could help stabilize the peninsula.

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:

“Adaptation at the Front and the Big Picture in Ukraine,” Ryan Evans and Michael Kofman, War on the Rocks, 11.21.23.

  • Kofman: The summer and fall offensives were not particularly successful. 
  • Evans: [The failure of the counteroffensive is in part the fault of] U.S. and Britain…foisting…operational concepts that Ukraine could not…execute on. 
  • Kofman: The sooner we can say [the counteroffensive was not successful], the sooner we can learn from it.
    • You can see…an attempt to establish a significant lodging across the Dnipro and Kherson…to show some kind of gains before the year is out. 
  • Kofman: I do not see a durable…stalemate on the ground. All the evidence shows that the war is…not stalemated. I do not see a clear-cut parity. 
    • If the West assumes it’s a stalemate, Russian advantages will compound. 
    • I think [Russian attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure] will be worse this winter than [last year].
  • Kofman: [The West] is clear-eyed that this is going to be a long war. Tactical gains are not the things that people in the West are looking for at this stage.
  • Kofman: The Russian military, since October, has been trying to seize the initiative. 
    • [In] Avdiivka…they are making incremental progress to close that salient. There are increasing murmurs whether… [the Ukrainians] will withdraw from Avdiivka. 
    • [Russian mobilization] issues are…structural. They are holding off another…mobilization until the March presidential election. To go on the offensive, they need to…form more units in significant numbers and rotate the forces they have.
  • Kofman: The availability of artillery ammunition [for Ukraine] to prosecute offensive operations has been significantly curtailed. There is a degree of shell hunger. 
    • The Ukrainian forces…have lost a lot of units of action…a lot of assault-capable troops. The Ukrainian military needs to regenerate combat effectiveness.
  • Kofman: Russia now has more of [first person view (FPV) drones] and has an advantage in them. Ukraine has done well in adaptation and innovation, but [FPV drones] are built in small workshops. It is competing with a statist system that can scale much faster.
  • Kofman: What we saw was the integration of intelligence surveillance reconnaissance and coordination of fire support. When an attack is detected…it is only 4-6 minutes before the fire is already coming down. It is a big evolution in command and control.
  • Kofman: [The U.S. approach] has led to an unworkable theory of our role in this war. We are involved in…everything, but not going to do the task of understanding the operating environment. The biggest mistake is that we were not there [to learn lessons and understand how the Ukrainians fight].
  • Kofman: Russia will be materially advantaged in 2024 in artillery munition and the production of long-range drones and cruise missiles. Russia has gotten more artillery munition from North Korea than Ukraine…from Europe. But this is not a decisive advantage. 
    • Russia will try to go on the offensive…while the troops are not ready. 
  • Kofman: In Ukraine, mobilization of young people…is a thorny subject and [politically difficult]. If there was a frustration on the frontline…it was the perception that this is going to be a long war and society does not look mobilized…to prosecute it. 

“Putin Has Staked Russia's Resources on Victory in Ukraine. Can the West Match Him?”, Marcus Walker, WSJ, 11.27.23. 

  • Western disarray and Russia's growing commitment of its human and industrial resources to the war point to a bitter year on the defensive for Ukraine. 
  • "The material advantages in 2024 are principally on Russia's side, but they don't appear decisive enough that Russia will be able to achieve its political aims," said Michael Kofman, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment … "It's inaccurate to suggest that Russia is winning the war," Kofman said. "However, if the right choices are not made next year on Ukraine's approach and Western resourcing, then Ukraine's prospects for success look dim." 
  • On paper, Ukraine's backers are much stronger than its attacker. But Russia is making far more effort.
  • European countries are running out of stockpiled arms and ammunition they can give Ukraine. Political divisions in Washington have already slowed U.S. deliveries. Shells from South Korea helped Ukrainian artillery to achieve parity with Russian forces for a part of this year. Now Ukrainian troops say they are at a disadvantage again.
    • Shortages of ammunition also mean Ukraine is unlikely to be able to mount another major offensive for some time. 
  • In Kyiv, the failure of this summer's counteroffensive to retake Russian-occupied regions has exacerbated frictions between military and political leaders. Armed-forces chief Valery Zaluzhny's assessment that the war is going through a phase of stalemate drew a rebuke from President Volodymyr Zelensky … Zelensky's war aim of fully restoring Ukraine's international borders is seen as unrealistic by the West.
  • The military deadlock is reinforcing the view in Germany, Kyiv's most important European backer, that a cease-fire and negotiations with Moscow would be in Ukraine's interests. Berlin doesn't want to pressure Zelensky, however.
  • Some European officials even fear Ukraine's position on the battlefield could unravel this winter. The Ukrainian army is short of infantry after suffering heavy casualties in its summer counteroffensive and in the bloody defense of the city of Bakhmut last winter. Thanks to a dysfunctional draft system plagued by corruption, many of the replacements are men in their 40s and are often sent to the trenches with too little training.
  • The defense ministry in Kyiv is planning to build new defensive fortifications, having seen how effective Russia's entrenched defenses in southern Ukraine were this summer.

“Tired Ukrainian Troops Fight to Hold Back Russian Soldiers: ‘They Come Like Zombies,’” Marcus Walker, WSJ, 11.21.23. 

  • Russian troops have surrounded Avdiivka on three sides and have taken the only high ground in the area, a broad slag heap to the northeast, using it to keep Ukrainian armor at bay with antitank missiles. Waves of Russian infantry are trying to assault Avdiivka’s sprawling coke plant and have entered the city’s southeastern outskirts. 
    • “They come like zombies. Some wear headlamps—a happy moment for any machine-gunner,” said Pvt. Bohdan Lysenko.
  • Capturing Avdiivka could open up further local advances for Russia in Donetsk. It would also be a propaganda win for Putin, allowing him to claim that momentum in the war is back with Moscow. ... The battle for Avdiivka could mark the beginning of many months on the defensive for Ukraine. With the U.S. in the grip of partisan paralysis and Europe struggling to boost military production, the uncertain supply of Western ammunition limits what Kyiv’s army can now attempt. 
  • Both armies are struggling to maneuver on open, mined terrain beneath skies buzzing with drones. The difference: Russia, with a population nearly four times Ukraine’s, can afford to lose untold thousands of soldiers for small gains. 
    • Ukrainian front-line units are commonly 20% to 40% below full strength, said Ihor Romanenko, a military analyst and retired Ukrainian lieutenant general. “Because of the shortage of infantry, those remaining are tired,” he said. 
  • The 47th Brigade, formed to take part in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, was trained by U.S. troops in Germany, armed with Bradleys and German-made Leopard 2 tanks, and thrown at Russia’s densely mined lines in the southern Zaporizhzhia region this summer. ... In October, the 47th was sent to shore up the defense of Avdiivka. 
  • The battalion of Lt. Oleksandr Shyrshyn, deputy commander of an understrength battalion of Ukraine’s 47th Mechanized Brigade, was once made up of highly motivated volunteers, but now relies mostly on briefly trained conscripts. 
  • The 47th Brigade’s company … began the summer with 120 men. It’s now down to around 20, including replacements. The rest are dead, wounded or have been transferred away from assault duties. The new faces are mostly over 40 years old, some in poor health. Many veterans of the 47th blame Ukraine’s struggles this year on Soviet-style commanders whose rigid tactics have thinned their Western-trained ranks. “We don’t have a chance playing war-of-exhaustion with Russia,” said Lysenko. “We need a fundamental change in our army.” 

“Manpower becomes Ukraine’s latest challenge as it digs in for a long war,” Roman Olearchyk, FT, 11.27.23. 

  • Of the four men who lined up at an army recruitment center in Kyiv one morning this month, only one was there voluntarily.
  • Selective conscription has continued since February 2022 but has lost steam as the grim reality of a long, grueling war sets in. According to a BBC investigation, nearly 20,000 Ukrainian men evaded call-up notices either by slipping out of the country in defiance of an exit ban or fraudulently acquiring permission to leave. In August, President Volodymyr Zelensky fired all the country’s regional army recruitment chiefs over the issuance of medical exemptions in return for bribes.
  • Ukrainian officials and western analysts say it is not just a question of numbers but of fitness, capability and skills. The average age of Ukrainians at the front and those trained by western allies has been 30-40, rather than more usual 18-24, said Jack Watling, senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a U.K. think-tank.1
  • Ukraine keeps its troop and casualty numbers secret. Experts and local officials have suggested it had 1mn men and women under arms last year, including territorial defense, secret services and border guards — double the pre-February 2022 number. U.S. officials estimate that about 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and up to 120,000 injured, compared with about 200,000 Russian dead. Kyiv has put Russia’s death toll at more than 300,000.
  • To help fill the ranks, Ukrainian officials have set up roadside checkpoints to seek men evading the draft. If they are deemed fit, they are whisked off to draft offices. Online videos of recruitment officers picking men off the streets and forcing them into minivans have gone viral.
  • Soldiers who spend a full month on the front lines are being paid more than $3,000 a month — a high salary in Ukraine, where average pay is less than $500 a month, and much more than the $650 paid for troops in support roles in the rear.
  • Vitaly Markiv, a frontline commanding officer, said: “We need to move away from the Soviet system of forced conscription where people are driven into roles where they can’t realise their potential.” He added: “We should put emphasis not on quantity, but on quality and brains in what is . . . like the battle of David vs Goliath.”

“Gender Norms Keep Russian, Ukrainian Servicewomen From Combat,” Jessica Trisko Darden, RM, 11.22.23.

  • Women are playing essential, though not decisive, roles in the Russia-Ukraine war on both sides. Their involvement as combatants largely echoes a global pattern where women are increasingly accepted into national militaries, but relegated to roles that distance them from frontline combat. While some of Ukraine’s 50,000-60,000 female military personnel are being deployed to combat zones, the exact degree to which they are engaged in direct combat with Russian forces is not easy to determine. The role of Russia’s 39,000-41,000 servicewomen is even more opaque.
  • One way to try to assess whether these women are engaged in combat is to look at military casualties. … The limited number of female casualties reported for both the Russian and Ukrainian forces suggests that the operational scope of servicewomen remains limited.
  • Keeping most servicewomen away from the frontlines mitigates the risk of highly politicized casualties and is consistent with how women are used in other national militaries. … Ukraine … has multiple programs training women as drone operators. In October 2023, Newsweek reported on Russian military recruitment ads targeting women on the Russian social network VKontakte for participation in a female sniper unit and a female UAV squad. 
  • As more men are conscripted into both the Ukrainian and the Russian militaries, the ability to recruit more women will become constrained. Women will need to take on a greater share of the non-military labor force, as they have in every major war. Similarly, the role that women play as caregivers in these countries and the lack of a strong public infrastructure mean that women with dependents will continue to be exempted from mobilization efforts.
  • In spite of continuing personnel shortages for both the Russian and the Ukrainian armed forces, women’s mobilization is unlikely to expand much further.
  • Traditional gender norms in both countries continue to limit public acceptance of women’s participation in armed conflict despite a century-long history of women’s involvement in the region’s wars. Policy changes that reflect the need for additional (wo)manpower conflict with gender norms that position women as guardians of the home and therefore as civilians. Ukraine has been far more hesitant in conscripting women than men, despite the fact that formal equality between men and women is enshrined in law. The same holds true for Russia, which has chosen to focus on hyper-masculine recruitment drives, recruitment from ethnic minority populations and contracting with foreign fighters, rather than mobilizing women.

“Revisiting RAND's Russia Wargames After the Invasion of Ukraine. Summary and Implications,” Gian Gentile, John C. Jackson, Karl P. Mueller, D. Sean Barnett, Mark Hvizda, Bradley Martin, David A. Ochmanek, Clint Reach and Barry Wilson, RAND, November 2023. 

  • The differences and the similarities between the post-2014 Russia wargames and actual events in Ukraine are striking
  • In real life, Russian forces did not follow their planning principles, although they did achieve overwhelming superiority in some battles.
  • In the Baltic wargames, Russian ground forces greatly outnumbered the defenders and were consistently on the favorable side of even larger imbalances of heavy armor and artillery firepower.
  • Having expected Ukrainian resistance to collapse quickly, the Russian offensive was neither organized nor prepared to deal with staunch opposition; the Baltic games assumed that Moscow would prepare more seriously for a war against NATO.
  • In contrast, NATO countries were conspicuously united and energetic in helping Ukraine even though it was not an Alliance member.
  • The review revealed deficiencies in Russian performance to inform future wargames
  • Sustainment problems affected the Russian army in Ukraine from very early in the war. This aspect raises questions about the feasibility of sustaining a blitzkrieg advance to the Baltic capitals.
  • Fighting in Ukraine revealed a Russian force that was more poorly equipped and less well trained than expected and that could not employ capabilities at a large scale that it had demonstrated in miniature in Syria and the Donbas.
  • With regard to duration, the war in Ukraine has turned out to be far removed from the short, decisive military action that the Kremlin intended, or even the harder-fought Russian battlefield successes that often played out in the Baltic defense wargames.

“The Russian Way of War. Moscow Wants to Weaken NATO in Ukraine, Not Just Win Battles,” Bob Seely, FA, 11.24.23. 

  • To assume a cease-fire would hold, or that Russia would ever stop trying to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, misunderstands Moscow’s objectives and, with it, Russia’s way of war. … [F]or Moscow, conflict is a much more flexible term. It is a spectrum of activity that includes many tools of state power—including religion, disinformation campaigns, energy supplies, assassinations and grain exports—along with standard tools like artillery barrages.
  • For Russia, the goal of conflicts is not always to defeat an enemy army. It may also be to give Russia more power over its neighbors, or to weaken states or alliances it opposes, such as NATO. In the case of this conflict, Putin is trying not only to stifle Ukraine’s independence but also, he claims, to weaken NATO in a generational struggle to save Russia. This conflict that has been ongoing for nearly 20 years.
  • So, what should the Western alliance be doing?
    • Its first task is to clearly understand Russia’s strategy and see that Moscow’s aims extend beyond the ground war and toward damaging U.S. and European support for Ukraine. Indeed, reducing this support may be Russia’s primary goal. Western support to Kyiv is what soldiers would call the conflict’s center of gravity: the one thing, that if successfully attacked by Russia, would cause all others to fail.
    • Once Western officials recognize this fact, they must recommit to supporting Kyiv. 
    • Western officials must recognize that supporting Ukraine’s fight for independence is overwhelmingly in their interests. 
    • The West needs to be war-gaming scenarios to avoid future conflicts and seeking out measures to blunt Russia’s attempts to weaken its societies and the international order.
    •  The West needs to be mindful of global tactics that Putin could unleash, such as cyberattacks on a scale never before seen, fomenting violence in the Balkans, or cutting Internet cables and energy pipelines in Europe’s seas.
  • These countries’ [Russia’s, China’s, Iran’s] styles of fighting show that conflict is rarely a binary—either war or peace. It is, instead, a continuum that involves multiple aspects of state power. In reality, Russia’s military doctrine is not so much a doctrine for war as it is a doctrine for statecraft, one that it and other states will use to undermine the Western alliance and the international order. Stopping these revisionist powers is essential to protecting democracies from authoritarian countries. 

“General James L. Jones: West 'Too Cautious About Giving Ukraine Weapons That Could Strike Into Russia',” Vazha Tavberidze, RFE/RL, 11.26.23. 

  • [Russia’s invasion is] probably one of the biggest historical blunders that any leader has made... And we might never know what prompted the decision, but I think he [Vladimir Putin] -- like all dictators -- he listens to people who echo his own views. But I think that he saw the unfortunate [U.S.-led international] withdrawal from Afghanistan as an indication that the United States probably would not be happy about an invasion, but they would believe that the war would be over very quickly and eventually, like the annexation of Crimea, that this would become a fait accompli very quickly. Unfortunately, for him, he was sadly mistaken.
  • The Ukraine spring offensive [launched in June] was unfortunately lacking in one key element, and that's air power, and the Russians had plenty of time to mine the areas where they thought the Ukrainian [ground forces] would advance. And it just caused everything to slow down. But I think one thing is clear: Mr. Putin's ambition to take over Ukraine in its entirety is not going to happen.
  • I think it's extremely important -- on almost a global basis -- that how this ends has to be seen as a victory for Ukraine and a defeat for Russia. … Because if it doesn't, the autocrats of the world will be emboldened. I would think that the president of China would rethink his position with regard to Taiwan, perhaps.
  • The needed air power is on the way, but it's not going to be ready to go for quite a while. Once they get that, they can really complete that combined arms capability for which they do have great comprehension.
  • Generally speaking, all along, it would have been better for the allies to provide the needed equipment that Ukraine wanted and should have had in order to prosecute a more effective campaign, especially when they tried to go on the [offensive]. And I think the United States was complicit in not providing the weapons rapidly enough -- particularly the air side. We were too cautious about not giving the Ukrainians weapons that could strike into Russia. 
  • [There is a] fear in [NATO] capitals that if you give the Ukrainians the weapons that can strike into Russia, they will do that and it might cause a wider war. ... The fear, obviously, is that Vladimir Putin would escalate to a nuclear conflict, and everybody's concerned about that. 
  • At the end of the day, Russia has to be convinced that this was a mistake, what they did, and secondly that NATO is going to be many times stronger and more capable than it was before the invasion. 

“Russia is starting to make its superiority in electronic warfare count. There may not be much the West either can or will do to help Ukraine,” The Economist, 11.23.23. 

  • Most of the attention to what Ukraine needs in its protracted struggle to free its territory from the invading Russian forces has focused on hardware: tanks, fighter jets, missiles, air-defense batteries, artillery and vast quantities of munitions. But a less discussed weakness lies in electronic warfare (EW); something that Ukraine’s Western supporters have so far shown little interest in tackling.
    • Russia, says Seth Jones of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank in Washington, has for many years placed a “huge focus” on using its military-industrial complex to produce and develop an impressive range of EW capabilities to counter NATO’s highly networked systems. But Ukraine, according to its commander-in-chief, General Valery Zaluzhny, found itself at the beginning of the war with mainly Soviet-era EW systems. 
  • Ukraine discovered in March that its Excalibur gps-guided shells suddenly started going off-target, thanks to Russian jamming.
  • Even more worrying has been the increasing ability of Russian EW to counter the multitudes of cheap unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
    • Losses to Russian EW, which either scrambles their guidance systems or jams their radio-control links with their operators, have at times been running at over 2,000 a week. 
      • Growing Russian success in the drone war is partly explained by the density of EW systems it is able to field, thanks to those years of investment. 
    • Ukraine is struggling to develop home-grown EW capabilities to match those of the Russians. Some progress is being made. 
  • Where the West could help directly, says Nico Lange, an expert on Ukraine with the Munich Security Conference, is to use its long-range surveillance drones for more systematic collection of data on Russian jamming and spoofing techniques and to work with the Ukrainians on developing counters to them. Otherwise, it looks as though Ukraine is fated to have to meet its urgent EW challenge largely on its own. 

“Ukraine: the new fissures in a society under strain,” Alec Russel, FT, 11.23.23. 

  • Stalemate is still all but a banned word. “Basically our girls and boys are crawling on their stomachs to try to demine by hand these expansive minefields,” Denys Shmyhal, prime minister since 2020, said of the counteroffensive launched this spring. “We shall just continue to grind through, gaining 100, 300, 800 meters a day.”
  • Kyiv’s prescription is simple. Ukraine needs more of the west’s promised long-range missiles to push back Russia’s behind-the-lines secondary defenses and F16 jets to counter Russian dominance of the air. Then Ukrainians would be able to make advances if or when they break through. But, as Shmyhal concedes, Russia has also been preparing — with all the focus and force that an autocratic system can bring to bear.

“Russia’s plan B is working. The West must not give up on Ukraine now,” James Nixey, Independent/Chatham House, 11.23.23.

  • This is not to say the war is at a “stalemate” and that it can’t be won. Such was a misreported quote from the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Valery Zaluzhny, which again has served the Russian narrative. In fact, Mr. Zaluzhny was referring to a ‘deadlock’. This is not pedantry – there is a way out of a deadlock which is not true of a stalemate. The general outlined a path to victory and what would be needed to secure it. This, of course, amounted to more military aid and developing and acquiring new technologies.
  • Calling it a stalemate is an obvious example of self-defeat: if it is believed that Ukraine cannot win the war, then Ukraine will not be given weapons to win the war which, in turn, means… they will not win the war. It takes rare political courage to imagine Ukraine’s victory, although EU officials Ursula von der Leyen and Josep Borrell have managed this.
  • Western politicians should understand that he [Putin] is unlikely to wish to negotiate except over the terms of Ukraine’s surrender. Ukraine is committed and “all in” too, of course, and better prepared for the long winter than much commentary suggests. Its city air defense is better than ever. It has not taken the ground it might have hoped it would or, more pointedly, would have done had it been given air cover. Therein lies the deadlock.
  • But it also remains the case that a Ukrainian victory is possible – more than possible. In fact, it is all but certain; but only if Western countries do not ‘get tired’ or look for a way out – and if Ukraine is given the tools to finish the job.

“Ukraine’s long war — and how to win it,” Alec Russell, FT, 11.27.23. 

  • Of course, the situation is nightmarish. Kyiv is under strain from within and without. While funding Ukraine is less contested in the EU — and in the U.K. — than in America, the politics around it in Brussels are becoming more complicated. EU ministers warn that a corruption scandal could dent popular support. Back home Zelensky’s boosterism is wearing thin with some on the ground. 
  • In every fateful war, however, there have been moments of defeatism. For all the gloom, the geopolitical landscape may be shifting. The west did not argue its case well to the “global south” last year. But Beijing is signaling that fostering an axis of autocracies does not trump the need to keep its economy on track. India cites history rather than interests to defend a non-aligned stance.
  • Ukraine’s allies have been too slow to ramp up procurement. But it is not too late and is ultimately affordable. One of Zelensky’s ministers, the pony-tailed Oleksandr Kamyshin, who was plucked this year from running Ukraine’s super-efficient railways to overseeing logistics, likes to say that all that matters in leading is picking “iron people.” Zelensky has appointed his. They just need our help and for us to keep the faith. I repeat, wars take time.

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

“Western Sanctions on Russia and the Global South’s Stance,” Chandana Seshadri, RUSI, 11.23.23. 

  • The West should generate solutions beyond sanctions. This could start with heightened collaboration, both bilaterally and multilaterally. Data shows that the original BRICS members have so far contributed 26.3% of global GDP in 2023, amounting to around $27.6 trillion. With the new members that have been invited to join the grouping, its total global share would increase to 29.3%. Therefore, BRICS countries with their fast-growing economies offer opportunities to engage, discuss and negotiate on trade and cooperation on the economic, political and cultural front – something that would benefit both the West and the rest.
  • Engagement can also extend via the G-20 to the public sector, the private sector and civil society in the Global South. This could include a continued effort to boost investment in the private sector including power, water, sanitation and transport to not just mobilize but also finance the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • The way forward for the West is thus not to focus on garnering support for the sanctions regime but to bolster relationships with the Global South. This could be accomplished by capitalizing on the disparity among these countries and incentivizing them to work more collaboratively with the West through consistent engagement on issues that are important for them. This is more likely to result in the kind of engagement the West is looking for if the Global South’s unique and distinctive connections are acknowledged and maximized as part of efforts to end the war.

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“Ukraine War: Selling Stalemate and Prolonging Pain,” Matthew Blackburn, NI, 11.21.23.2

  • A few months back, Chatham House issued a report underlining the hawkish consensus on the Russo-Ukrainian War: no compromise with Moscow; it must be soundly defeated and punished. Now, the war optimism that swept Western media across 2022 appears to have vanished. … Now, the claim is that the war is a stalemate that neither side can win. Given this, it is time to freeze the conflict akin to the negotiated end of the Korean War. 
  • The freezing of the Korean War was based on three factors. 
    • The first was the military stalemate of positional and attrition warfare along the thirty-eighth parallel, the original borders between North and South before the war.
    • The second factor was the agreement of the great powers (China, the USSR and the United States) that ending the war was in their interests. 
    • The third was ideological. 
      • These three preconditions do not currently apply to the war in Ukraine. 
        • First, it is an error to characterize the war as a stalemate based purely on the observation that little territory is changing hands. In a war of attrition, the aim is to exhaust the enemy and force them to agree to terms 
        • Another missing precondition is the agreement of the great powers. 
        • The third precondition—dialing down ideology to make a deal—also looks uncertain. 
  • A further cycle of military escalation is likely. 
  • Ukraine’s top general, Valery Zaluzhny, has admitted the longer the war goes on, the better it is for Russia. Putin is pragmatic, but he will not betray his fundamental interests when the military dynamics are in Russia’s favor. … Any settlement in Ukraine that ends with it integrated and armed by NATO is utterly unacceptable for the Russian security state and military—as well as the tens of millions who strongly support the war inside Russia.
  • The lesson of the Korean War suggests starting talks now is beneficial even if there is little likelihood of a deal in immediate terms—the “fight-and-talk” approach that took two years to freeze the conflict in Korea. … A fragile and flawed ceasefire—especially one like Korea that has held for 70 years—is preferable to increased destabilization of Eastern Europe and further destruction and death in Ukraine. 

“Top Ukrainian politician David Arakhamia gives ... confirmation of Russia-Ukraine peace deal agreed in March 2022,” Ben Aris, BNE, 11.26.23. 

  • Top Ukrainian politician and presidential advisor David Arakhamia added a ... confirmation that a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine was agreed in principle in March 2022. The parliamentary leader of Zelensky’s ''Servant of the People'' confirmed on Nov. 24 in an interview3 that internationally mediated negotiations in Istanbul [in March 2022] had produced an agreement to bring the fighting in Ukraine to an end. “[The Russians] were ready to end the war if we accepted neutrality like Finland once did. And we would make a commitment that we would not join NATO,” Arakhamia said.
  • Arakhamia was a member of the Ukrainian delegation in Turkey. When he returned to Kyiv from the 29-30 March peace negotiations in Istanbul Boris Johnson arrived in Ukraine a few days later and said: ''We will not sign anything at all with them, let's just fight!'' according to Arakhamia. Arakhamia's account is now the sixth confirmation a deal was done – a claim that remains highly controversial.
    • As part of the earlier tentative peace negotiations earlier in March 2022 that had begun in the Belarusian town of Brest and were the precursor to the Istanbul meeting, Kyiv had already proposed that it would abandon its NATO ambitions. The decision to abandon its NATO ambitions came days after Zelensky lambasted the alliance for failing to come to Ukraine’s aid by closing the skies to Russian aviation, something he had been calling for since the first weeks of the war.
    • Arakhamia comments [that a peace deal was considered]  back up comments from former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who was also in Istanbul, who also confirmed that a Russia-Ukraine peace deal was nearly reached in the spring of 2022, he said in an interview with Berliner Zeitung on Oct. 21.
    • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed a peace deal was reached with Ukraine last April and all the points were initialed before the deal was abandoned under Western pressure in his “Empire of Lies” speech at the U.N. on Sept. 23, although he didn't name Johnson, saying only "the West" had scuppered the agreement.
    • Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also confirmed that the West had blocked a potential peace deal in an interview posted to his YouTube channel in February this year. Bennett, who was participating in the talks between Ukraine and Russia, said of the U.S. and its European allies: “Basically, yes. They blocked it, and I thought they were wrong,” speaking of the efforts to end the war in March and April.
    • Another participant in the talks was Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who also confirmed a deal was close in comments to the Turkish press on March 20. “We see that the parties are close to an agreement,” he said in a live stream at the time, Al Jazeera reported. “Of course, it is not an easy thing to come to terms with while the war is going on, while civilians are killed, but we would like to say that momentum is still gained." 
    • U.S. foreign policy adviser Fiona Hill added credence to the original report in an article she wrote for Foreign Affairs saying that a deal was indeed agreed.4

“The Myth that Putin Was Bent on Conquering Ukraine and Creating a Greater Russia,” John J. Mearsheimer, Substack, 11.26.23. 

  • There is a growing body of compelling evidence showing that Russia and Ukraine were involved in serious negotiations to end the war in Ukraine right after it started on Feb. 24 2022 ... By all accounts, these negotiations, which took place in March-April 2022, were making real progress when Britain and the U.S. told Ukrainian President Zelensky to abandon them, which he did. 
  • Coverage of these events has focused on how foolish and irresponsible it was for President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to put an end to these negotiations, given all the death and destruction that Ukraine has suffered since then – in a war that Kyiv is likely to lose.  Yet an especially important aspect of this story regarding the causes of the Ukraine war has received little attention. 
  • The well-entrenched conventional wisdom in the West is that President Putin invaded Ukraine to conquer that country and make it part of a Greater Russia. Then, he would move on and conquer other countries in eastern Europe. The counter-argument, which enjoys little support in the West, is that Putin was mainly motivated to invade by the threat of Ukraine joining NATO and becoming a Western bulwark on Russia’s border. For him and other Russian elites, Ukraine in NATO was an existential threat.
  • The negotiations in March-April 2022 make it clear that the conventional wisdom on the war’s causes is wrong, and the counter-argument is right, for two main reasons. 
    • First, the talks were directly focused on satisfying Russia’s demand that Ukraine not become part of NATO and instead become a neutral state. Everyone involved in the negotiations understood that Ukraine’s relationship with NATO was Russia’s core concern. 
    • Second, if Putin was bent on conquering all of Ukraine, he would not have agreed to these talks, as their very essence contradicted any possibility of Russia conquering all of Ukraine. 
  • Putin launched a limited attack into Ukraine for the purpose of coercing Zelensky into abandoning Kyiv’s policy of aligning with the West and eventually bringing Ukraine into NATO. Had Britain and the West not intervened to scotch the negotiations, there is good reason to think Putin would have achieved this limited objective and agreed to end the war.

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

“'A perfect storm is brewing for Ukraine and its allies. Negative developments everywhere are converging,’” Sylvie Kauffmann, Le Monde, 11.17.23.

  • If it can't triumph in Ukraine, what war can the West win? It's a fair question, raised by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, on Friday, Nov. 10. Indeed, the significance of the query lies not so much in the response it might generate as in the fact that it is being asked today, after 20 months of war. It implies that, in spite of Western support, the likelihood of a Ukrainian defeat is not only possible but plausible.
    • Negative developments everywhere are converging for Ukraine and its allies. On the military side, the front is not budging. 
    •  On the diplomatic front, the eruption of war between Israel and Hamas has monopolized the attention of the United States, which has been forced to reinvest in the Middle East after having been compelled to reinvest in Europe in response to Russia's aggression. 
    • Finally, the decision taken almost a year ago by the G-7 and EU to cap the price of a barrel of Russian sea-borne oil at $60 (€55) in order to reduce Russia's revenue has now been demonstrated as ineffective. 
  • Russian propagandists have been pushing a triumphant narrative, claiming that, far from collapsing, their economy is perfectly healthy. They have played up disagreements between Ukrainian President Zelensky and his general staff. The challenge to Putin's power from Wagner's late leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has become but a bad memory, buried in the smoking ruins of his plane. Could there be any doubt that a victorious Putin will be re-elected in March 2024?
  • The perfect storm would be complete if Donald Trump returned to the White House. Instead of despairing at the thought, it's time for Europeans to seal the drafts and seriously reinforce their house, which they have been preparing to open up to Ukraine and Moldova. A few extra solid beams won't be wasted.

“US and Germany risk owning Ukraine’s stalling war effort,” Constanze Stelzenmüller, FT, 11.21.23. 

  • The problem is that the strategy is not working. Ukraine is failing to prevail, as Valery Zaluzhny, chief of staff of its armed forces, recently admitted. Its allies are struggling to provide the ammunition and missiles Kyiv needs. Russia, meanwhile, is preparing for another winter of bombarding Ukrainian cities and power plants, building a war economy and weaponizing political divisions between the west and the rest of the world. The rise of the hard right across the transatlantic space and the Israel-Hamas war are perilously limiting policymakers’ bandwidth. A recent visit to Berlin and to EU and NATO headquarters in Brussels found seasoned diplomats united in gloom.
  • Unsurprisingly, this is energizing advocates for “negotiations”. It is the alliance’s worst-kept secret that some of the most emphatic supporters of a territorial settlement sit in the German chancellery. But the idea has friends elsewhere, including some in Washington. .. This plan fails to acknowledge that Russia has zero intention of negotiating on conditions other than its own (the subjugation of Ukraine) except for the sole purpose of gaining time to regroup. 
  • What is needed instead is a strategy of resilience, deterrence and defense for Europe for the long haul that shifts the burden from a domestically embattled America to where it belongs: Europe. Ukraine needs more weapons and ammunition. Above all, it needs an irreversible commitment from Europe that its security is our security. The EU wants to open membership negotiations with Kyiv in December. Europeans should also resolve to create a parallel track to bring Ukraine closer to NATO at the alliance’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington next July.
  • Biden and Scholz, together with their key advisers, will have a crucial role to play in this shift. For now, they own the strategy for one of the most consequential security challenges to the transatlantic alliance since the second world war. They risk also owning its failure.

“Ukraine needs reassurance from its allies,” Editorial Board, FT, 11.22.23. 

  • The EU must quickly find a way to agree its €50bn Ukraine Facility, which entails funding over four years — providing some guarantee of future western help — though a German constitutional court ruling has complicated Brussels’ plans for a budgetary top-up from member states. 
  • Brussels is now debating a 12th round of sanctions, including a ban on Russian diamond imports. But the EU and U.S. need to do more to close loopholes and tighten existing measures — including the key oil price cap which, as the Financial Times has reported, is being almost entirely circumvented. 
  • On the military front, allies need to speed up the supply of fighter jets, and training of Ukrainian pilots, to provide vital air cover to ground forces. They need a more systematic approach to the supply of arms — rather than simply donating stocks of surplus and outdated weapons. 
  • Finally, EU leaders must invite Ukraine to start membership talks, despite troublemaking by Hungary, at a summit next month.

“The World Again Needs American Leadership,” Liz Truss, WSJ, 11.27.23.

  • To tilt the balance in favor of Ukraine, we must ensure that Ukraine has a quantitative military advantage when it is facing off against a Russian military backed by Iranian weapons and diplomatic support from the Chinese. Today, Ukraine most urgently needs to establish air superiority either through stealth jets or advanced drones that can support front-line troops. We should also be fast-tracking its membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Moscow has been lulled into a delusion that its military can stand up to Washington's might. But the West must ensure Ukraine has the weapons it needs to deliver a knockout blow to Russia. This would send a blunt message to Russia's authoritarian benefactors in China and Iran.
  • On China, we must provide weapons and defense capability to Taiwan, which we know Beijing has in its sights. Western business leaders should stop ingratiating themselves with President Xi, who needs to be called out for the totalitarian dictator he is.
  • And on Iran, the nuclear deal should be abandoned and tougher sanctions imposed on Tehran. No more cash should be funneled to a regime that has been funding terrorists and their murderous exploits.
  • During the Cold War, the U.S. led an alliance of the free world, including the U.K. and Japan, in controlling exports to China and the communist countries of Eastern Europe. The U.S. should lead the free world again in ensuring we aren't exporting technology or goods that could be used against us -- an economic NATO.
  • Finally, all of us in the West must halt the rot we have allowed to develop within our own societies that attacks the Anglo-American values of patriotism, freedom and family. Whether it be the anticapitalist excesses of extreme environmentalists or the radical woke agenda being promoted in our schools and on our campuses, we urgently need to counter ideologies that undermine our way of life and give succor to our enemies. The future of the West depends on it.

“The West’s False Choice in Ukraine. The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat,” Nona Mikhelidze, FP, 11.27.23.

  • At the current crossroads, Ukraine’s Western supporters should ask themselves: What are the costs of a step change to enable Ukraine’s victory relative to the costs of maintaining the status quo or scaling back support leading to Ukraine’s defeat? Such a defeat, to be clear, would not be limited to Ukraine. A victorious Russia would not limit itself to occupying the five annexed regions and, through them, politically influencing or controlling Kyiv. While some may think that a militarily and economically degraded Russia no longer poses an existential threat to Poland or the Baltic states, a victorious Russia would certainly pose such threat to Moldova. No one can know what could happen next—or after a vindicated Russia rearms. No reasonable European country can afford to take that bet, and no reasonable U.S. administration should take that bet either.
  • Of course, ensuring Ukraine’s victory comes with costs, too. The economic cost of sustaining Ukraine to victory—involving not only weapons but also many other forms of aid—is significant, especially in the context of other challenges faced by the West in the Middle East and elsewhere. A victorious Ukraine emerging from years of war would pose significant challenges, and its integration in Euro-Atlantic structures would not be smooth. But surely the West would much rather deal with these problems than the much more existential ones that would result from Ukraine’s defeat.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Putin Rewrites History to Justify His Dependence on China,” Michael Khodarkovsky, WSJ, 11.25.23.

  • Mr. Putin's latest hero is Alexander Nevsky, a prince from the city of Novgorod, who accepted humiliation and servitude to the [Mongol] khans to remain in power. Now that Moscow has become increasingly subservient to China, the Kremlin's spinmasters seem to be portraying Mr. Putin's kowtowing to Beijing as an inevitable but necessary duty to save Russia from corrosive Western influences. It may also be a nod to the millions of non-Russians of Turkic and Mongol origin, who have been disproportionately recruited to fight for Russia in Ukraine.
  • At the time when Moscow sought to project its imperial ambitions in both Europe and Asia, the idea of Russia's Eurasianism conveniently served the Kremlin and its expansionist ideology. Now, in a major shift, Mr. Putin has jettisoned Europe for the sake of Asia. Historically, this returns Russia to the realm of what in 19th-century Europe were known as "Asiatic despotisms" -- the empires of the Russians, Ottomans, Persians and Chinese. It is no coincidence that the current heirs to these empires, Russia, Turkey, Iran and China, are authoritarian regimes ruled with various degrees of repression. Mr. Putin's attempt to present Alexander Nevsky's collaboration with the Golden Horde as an act of Russian patriotism can't hide his desperate search for support from other dictators.5

“Central Asia Could Be the Graveyard of the Russia-China Alliance,” David A. Merkel, NI, 11.23.23. 

  • Efforts to build partnerships in Europe and Asia to counter Russia, China and Iran’s malign influence are required to compete in today’s era of great power competition. We should also seek opportunities where divisions between Moscow and Beijing exist and can be exploited.
  • Russia and China compete in Central Asia, where Washington is trying to seek influence after wasting thirty years not doing so during more advantageous times. This has resulted in Putin and Xi aligning their interests. Alternatively, we could recognize that our absence advanced our interests, thereby illuminating Moscow and Beijing’s policy divergence. The seeds of division between Moscow and Beijing may be found in Central Asia. We should give them some sun.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

  • No significant developments.

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“The President took part in the plenary session of the Artificial Intelligence Journey 2023 international conference on AI and machine learning titled The Generative AI Revolution: New Opportunities,” Kremlin.ru, 11.24.23.

  • Experts describe these ongoing [AI-related] processes as a revolution, a technological leap, a real breakthrough in the development of artificial intelligence. I have already said this is altogether a new chapter in the history of humanity. 
  • I am convinced that bans on technological development are not the way of the future, because it is simply impossible. Banning it is not an option, because AI will continue to develop no matter what. Even if we ban it, others will keep working on it, and we will fall behind. Everyone who has the capability to advance artificial intelligence thinks about it in this way.
  • However, it is crucial to ensure the safety and rational use of such technologies, and we should rely on traditional culture, among other things, because it is the most natural ethical regulator of technological progress, just like the ideals of goodness and human respect, as articulated by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov, and outstanding science fiction writers like Belyaev and Yefremov. By the way, artificial intelligence can be asked to ponder ways to limit its scope of activity in order to avoid exceeding certain boundaries which could be harmful to humans.
    • The works of our outstanding writers have served as a moral compass for many generations of researchers, enabling our country to achieve scientific triumphs and to use these achievements for the benefit of people. This includes the peaceful use of nuclear energy, in which our country remains an undisputed leader.
    • Many modern systems based on Western data are designed for the Western market. .... Naturally, our innovations should rest on our traditional values, the wealth and beauty of the Russian language and languages of other peoples in Russia.
    • Russia’s experience can be instrumental in shaping international ethical standards in the field of artificial intelligence. 
    • Our plans include creating a repository for the code of the domestic platform and services that are indispensable for interaction of Russian and international software engineers.
  • [When commenting on German Gref’s observation that, as Putin mentioned in his speech, AI should be used, among other things, to limit AI] You know, this idea occurred to me just now during my speech. But I would like to express one more idea. It is obvious, there is nothing difficult in this. After all, humanity has drafted certain rules on the use of nuclear technology, including military use. It invented the rules for the non-proliferation of the carriers of this nuclear technology. Humanity managed to come up with these rules, so we can certainly find common solutions that would be acceptable for all and required by all.
    • When they [people] sense a threat in uncontrolled proliferation and uncontrolled work in this area, they will immediately want to come to terms. Of course, it would be best to do so without understanding what can be used in regard of other countries. If simply the awareness of common threats could evoke a desire to come to terms. 

“Struggling, Not Crumbling: Russian Defense AI in a Time of War,” Katarzyna Zysk, RUSI, 11.20.23. 

  • The overall deployment of Russian AI-enabled systems indicates that Russian AI appears to be in the early stages of maturity. The primary focus is on incremental evolution: upgrading legacy systems – nuclear, strategic non-nuclear, and non-military methods and means of warfare – with new technologies. Russia is combining conventional warfare and platforms with innovative technological solutions, including AI in data analysis and decision support, loitering munitions, electronic warfare and communication analysis, and as a component in cyber warfare and information confrontation – to name but a few examples. Simultaneously, Russia is experimenting with selected ‘risky projects’ and novel systems, materials and approaches to warfare that can potentially yield battlefield advantages – if not superiority – in selected areas.
  • One of the challenges in assessing Russian – and other countries’ – AI-enabled weapon systems is the difficulty of determining when full autonomy has actually been used in a lethal context, as opposed to declarations by authorities or producers that may have agendas other than speaking the truth (such as advertising systems to potential buyers, or portraying the army as ultramodern to impress domestic and international audiences). 
  • .The extensive Russian failures during the 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine are likely to prompt major reassessment and reforms in the Russian armed forces. It remains to be seen whether the experience will also result in a major push to accelerate defense innovation. 
  • General Vladimir Zarudnitskii, Head of the Russian Military Academy of the General Staff, is right in saying that the ability to adapt AI-enabled systems will have a major impact on the Russian armed forces and warfare in general. However, developing the technology is only the first of many hurdles that Russia has to surmount before it can claim success. To take advantage of AI and other EDTs, Russia has to not only harness technology itself, but also adapt concepts, doctrines, forces structures and recruitment patterns accordingly. The conflict in Ukraine, meanwhile, has exposed a high degree of institutional conservatism in the Russian military. There are indications, nonetheless, that the Russians are adapting, however slowly. To what extent the leadership will be able to draw the right conclusions and increase responsiveness to change across the military organization under the conditions of an ongoing war remains to be seen. Russia’s symmetric and asymmetric responses will shed more light on the ability of its military to learn and apply lessons – or lack thereof.

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:

“Exceptionalism against Leadership,” Andrei Kortunov, Izvestia, 11.27.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • The upcoming [U.S. presidential] elections … will not lead to overcoming the deep split in American society ... Fundamental changes in U.S. foreign policy are likely postponed at least until the end of this decade. 
    • The next five years will undoubtedly be a period of heightened risk for the United States and the rest of the world.
    • The [new president] will have to pay off the numerous debts and liabilities that Washington has accumulated in recent years. This means that in 2025-2028, America will inevitably remain a difficult partner for its allies and adversaries.
  • Republicans…understand that it would be suicidal…to directly oppose the continuation of assistance to Kyiv in the current…atmosphere.
    • [However], foreign aid programs are traditionally not popular with voters, and in a difficult economic situation, these programs are [even more] unpopular.
    • Biden will be reproached…for the low efficiency of the supply of American weapons to Kyiv, the lack of proper control over this supply and the possible corruption associated with it. And for the inability of the White House to achieve a "fair distribution" of military support for Ukraine between the United States and its European allies.
  • U.S. foreign policy is bipartisan, much of which is determined by the so-called deep state, i.e., irremovable officials who guarantee the continuity of the common foreign policy.
    • [Nevertheless] next November's election is…a choice between "American leadership" (Biden) and "American exceptionalism" (Trump). The former approach is more ideological, the latter is more cynical.
    • [Biden’s approach] claims to have a long-term strategy…[and] relies on the preservation or, rather, on the restoration of the unipolar world led by the United States.
    • [Trump’s approach] amounts to political opportunism. [It bids on] protecting U.S. immediate interests, even if such protection threatens to disintegrate the existing international system completely. If Biden appeals to the…reason, Trump appeals to…instincts.
  • Trump’s new term contains…risks associated with the peculiarities of the managerial style of the eccentric and narcissistic [president]. Biden's new term also carries with it special risks stemming from [his] age and health.
    • No one knows what to expect from…Kamala Harris, who [may] replace Biden at the helm of American politics.

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Presidential Elections: Key Factors,” Tatiana Stanovaya, R.Politik, 11.27.23. Clues from Russian Views  

  • The [2024 Russian presidential] election, despite its predictability and control, remains a source of concern for Vladimir Putin, who believes that nothing can be considered 100 percent secure. His concerns are all somehow connected to fears of anticipated Western interference.
  • The campaign will be centered around traditional values and other conservative narratives, with a focus on Putin's achievements and a cautious approach to avoid irritating the public. The social agenda, military resilience against external threats, and patriotic pride will be the main drivers of Putin’s support.
  • The “correct” results will be secured through administrative tools under the condition of de facto martial law, with no competition or anything approaching genuine debate. It will effectively be a plebiscite with the outcome well-known in advance.
  • The current situation presents a dilemma for Putin: whether to re-shuffle personnel, making the “vertical” more efficient and dynamic in order to face existential challenges, or to continue with the status quo, relying on a more familiar conservative approach run by well-known loyalists.
  • The systemic opposition will play an exclusively decorative role. The only possible intrigue concerns the path that the Communist Party will take, although this is more relevant to its own future and leadership transition than to the upcoming election.
  • The non-systemic opposition will not be a significant factor and will not impact the course of the campaign or the election results in any significant way. However, the campaign period will lead to increased prosecutions of any anti-war statements and other signs of open dissent.

"Russia’s Predetermined Elections Are Still Enough to Rattle the Elites," Mikhail Vinogradov, CEIP, 11.22.23. Clues from Russian Views 

  • There are plenty of good reasons for a political reshuffle after Putin’s reelection in March, though the Kremlin is likely to be cautious about shaking things up in wartime.
  • Confounding expectations, Russia’s Unity Day public holiday on Nov. 4 did not see the official start of campaigning in the presidential election scheduled for March 2024. 
  • Either way, the campaign must start soon. It won’t attract a lot of interest, and probably won’t even be the most important political event of the year: after all, as with previous presidential elections, there will be no suspense, and the result is entirely predictable
  • Nevertheless, political life in Russia is more dynamic during an election, which tends to trigger jockeying in the corridors of power. 
  • The start of a presidential term is traditionally a time for political reshuffles or major reforms. … But it’s a difficult decision for the Kremlin. Not changing anything means preserving the existing state of affairs and blocking the promotion of effective officials, leaving young regional governors dreaming of plum jobs in Moscow. Opting for change, meanwhile, means putting the system under additional stress.
  • Russia’s leaders also have a lot of decisions to make after the vote.
    • Should they pursue a more radical domestic policy, including by ramping up repression? 
    • Should they continue to put off a political reshuffle and the rejuvenation of the elites? 
    •  Should they switch to a more public focus on the war? 
    • Finally, how could elements of modernization be introduced, at least in some sectors, while continuing down the path to a retro-utopia and “sovereignization”?
      • There is no certainty over any of those questions. While the presidential elections may offer the Kremlin an opportunity to provide some answers, there’s no guarantee it will make use of that opportunity. 

“The Witch Hunt Underway in Russia,” Vasilisa Kirilochkina, NYT, 11.27.23. Clues from Russian Views 

  • It has been more than six months since the Russian playwright Svetlana Petriychuk and the theater director Zhenya Berkovich were arrested and jailed for their work on “Finist, the Bright Falcon,” an acclaimed play sympathetic to women recruited by ISIS. The charge? “Justifying terrorism.” ... As President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on civil society continues, this case has sent a fresh warning — both to artists, who could be persecuted directly for their art, and to women. Expressing feminist views in Russia has become an increasingly dangerous thing to do.
  • Despite growing government suppression, Russian women persevere in their fight. Ms. Lola Tagaeva of Moscow FemFest has since started Verstka, a media outlet that is gaining attention for its investigative work. Ms. Anna Rivina, the nasiliu.net founder, countered receiving foreign agent status by starting a new national help line for domestic violence victims. Behind bars, Ms. Skochilenko has defiantly declared her own freedom. “I am freer than you,” she said in court on Nov. 11. “I can make my own decisions and speak my mind.”
  • As for Ms. Berkovich and Ms. Petriychuk, their trial is now set for Jan. 10. Regardless of whether it is postponed again, their defense lawyers say they are confident they will win. “We will prove to them that we are in the right,” Ms. Berkovich’s attorney, Ksenia Karpinskaya, told me. “Even if not right away, we will prove it.”

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:

“Israel and Russia: The End of a Friendship?” Milàn Czerny, CEIP, 11.21.22. 

  • The abrupt cooling in relations between Russia and Israel could quickly have unintended consequences. Israel has already stopped giving advance warning to Moscow ahead of airstrikes it carries out in Syria, raising the risk of an inadvertent confrontation between the two powers.
  • Moscow’s rapprochement with Hamas and the subsequent deterioration in ties with Israel also signals the failure of Russia’s long-standing goal of appearing as a great power by acting as a mediator in the Middle East. Since the start of the war in Gaza, Netanyahu has held just one phone call with Putin, which is testament to the fact that Moscow is not seen as a significant actor in the conflict. 
  • Indeed, having already limited its military presence in the region, Moscow has not increased the number of its troops in Syria since the outbreak of the latest hostilities. The United States, meanwhile, has dispatched two aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean coastline.
  • The war in Ukraine has also pushed Russia closer to Iran. That rapprochement is driven by Moscow’s broader confrontation with the West and its need to ensure weapons supplies for its own war, such as Iranian drones. These ties strengthen Israel’s perception of Moscow’s proximity to Tehran and its allies. 
  • Of course, Russia’s influence in the region isn’t limited to its ties with Israel, but the tensions in that relationship underline the fact that Moscow, busy fighting its own war in Ukraine and having lost its leverage by abandoning its former neutrality, is increasingly being marginalized in the Middle East. 

“Russia Is the Loser in the Israel-Hamas War,” Peter Schroeder, FP, 11.21.23. 

  • Hamas’s vicious attack against Israeli civilians and Israeli’s sharp response are likely to mark a point of no return for Russia’s waning influence in the Middle East. 
    • Russia-Israel ties had already been strained by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but Putin’s response to the crisis in Gaza has likely made things worse.  
    • Moscow’s past importance as a mediator among Palestinian groups is also likely to dissipate. 
  • The Israel-Hamas war is also likely to make it more difficult for Russia to navigate regional rivalries, particularly given its warming ties with Tehran. 
    • An escalation of the crisis to a broader regional fight directly involving Iran—which seems unlikely now but remains possible—would make Russia’s impotence obvious to all. 
  • Ultimately, the crisis precipitated by Hamas’s large-scale attack on Israel could help determine the future of the Middle East. Moscow, however, is unlikely to have much of a role in shaping it—if it has any at all. There is not likely to be another Madrid Conference. Whereas Russia was central to the discussions around the Syrian civil war a decade ago, the future trajectory of the Middle East is likely to emerge from the Gaza crisis without any significant input from Moscow.

“Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation S.V. Lavrov’s speech and answers to questions at the Primakov Readings international forum,” Russian Foreign Ministry website, 11.27.23.6Clues from Russian Views

  • Multipolar systems… are not a new phenomenon. In one form or another, they have existed before - for example, during the “concert of European powers” of the 19th century or between the two world wars of the 20th century.
  • The fundamental difference between the current “edition” of multipolarity is that it has a chance to acquire a truly planetary scale, based on the basic principle of the U.N. Charter on the sovereign equality of states.
  • In general ... the consensus in favor of the formula: “regional problems - regional solutions” is increasingly taking root. External players are expected to provide all possible assistance to the countries of the relevant regions, and not to impose recipes from the outside.
  • The geopolitical ambitions of new global players are backed by their economic capabilities. … despite sanctions (or maybe thanks to them) Russia rose to fifth place in the world, ahead of Germany, in terms of GDP PPP at the end of 2022.7
  • Unfortunately, I cannot be optimistic about the fate of associations dominated by the United States and its allies: NATO, the EU, the Group of Seventy-Seven and now the Council of Europe and the OSCE. ... One can still try to save the OSCE, but I’ll be honest - the chances are slim.
  • The country [the U.S.] is focused on inflicting a “strategic defeat” on us [Russia].
  • When and if “sobering up” comes to them [the EU], and they offer us something, we will think 10 times, we will weigh whether all the proposals meet our interests and how reliable our European colleagues are.

“Dutch Far-Right Victory Shows Time On Putin’s Side In Ukraine,” Pieter Garicano, MT, 11.27.23. 

  • This Sunday, viewers across Russia saw state television celebrate the “stunning” victory of far-right populist Geert Wilders in last week’s Dutch elections. With his party winning 37 out of 150 parliamentary seats — 12 more than the center-left GL/PVDA in second place — the news came as a shock for Europe and good news for the Kremlin. 
  • Wilders, who rose to notoriety with proposals to ban the Quran and close mosques, has shown an affinity for President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In 2018, four years after 193 Dutch nationals were killed in the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, he traveled to Moscow and met with senior Russian politicians, “proudly” wearing a pin heralding Dutch-Russian friendship. 
  • Today, Wilders believes that the Netherlands must end its military support for Ukraine. His Party for Freedom (PVV) — of which he is the only member — declares in its manifesto that the Netherlands should “not send our money and defense equipment such as F16s to Ukraine.” Instead, it says, the Dutch should “keep it for our own armed forces.”
  • Even if he [Wilders]  doesn’t succeed, the Kremlin has reason to celebrate. By showing the strength of a populist right running on an own-citizens-first message when EU support to Ukraine is most needed, he is undermining the common front European leaders have tried desperately to show. Putin believes that time is on his side. The slow decline of Europe’s support for Ukraine shows he may be proven right.

Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Central Asia Faces Challenges and Sees Opportunities Amid Complex Geopolitical Outlook: A conversation with Temur Umarov about Russia, China and Central Asia amid the war in Ukraine," Catherine Putz, 11.21.23.

  • The war in Ukraine has certainly impacted Russia’s relations with Central Asian states.
    • Firstly, the invasion of Ukraine has created geopolitical turbulence and problems in the global economy, leading to rising prices for energy and agricultural products. 
    • Secondly, the war in Ukraine has presented a political dilemma for Central Asian countries. … [T]he region’s leadership had to rethink and design a balanced diplomatic strategy that would allow them to pursue contradictory goals simultaneously: a) distance themselves from Moscow to the extent that the international community would not associate Central Asian states with Russia’s aggression, and b) ensure that the Kremlin doesn’t perceive that the region’s countries are turning their backs on Moscow.
    • At the same time, the war in Ukraine has opened up some opportunities for Central Asian states. Russia is diplomatically isolated, so it has more diplomatic resources to spend on the Central Asian region, which was never a real priority for Russia’s foreign policy. 
    • On the economic front, there is also an opening for countries like Kyrgyzstan to become the main intermediary between Russia and the unsanctioned world.
  • Russia is becoming an increasingly unpopular partner from the perspective of Central Asian societies: the number of people who disapprove of Russian leadership grew unprecedentedly last year in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, according to a Gallup report.
  • [Meanwhile there is] China’s growth in Central Asia, which can be substantiated by trade, investment and debt statistics. The intensification of ties that we are observing these days, especially considering the number of meetings between Beijing and Central Asian capitals, is more a part of long-existing processes than a result of Russia’s weakness. 
  • [However] it is not in the interests of Central Asian states to replace one dependency with another. 
  • It’s too soon to fully understand what lessons China might be learning from the war in Ukraine as it is still ongoing. However, there are some that are already visible.
    • Firstly, there are “military lessons” from the war. 
    • Secondly, there is an economic component to the current situation. What is happening right now with Russia’s economy being under an unprecedented amount of global sanctions is something that China might be preparing for. 
    • Thirdly, I believe that China is learning from the current situation about the importance of alliances and the stability of the political regime. 

“The South Caucasus between Putin and Erdoğan: Is Russia on Its Way Out?”, Alexander Iskandaryan, PONARS, 11.22.23. 

  • The South Caucasus is ... no longer an exclusively post-Soviet region. If “post-Soviet” describes zones of Russian influence, in the South Caucasus, this influence has decreased to an extent that may be irreversible. Of course, whatever happens, Russia will remain a major regional player. A nuclear power that borders the region and is the former parent state of the empire that included all the region’s countries will play a role in any event, even if it does not consciously seek it. However, Russia is no longer the hegemon, the main external player and arbiter.
  • Of course, this change of “mental geography” will not happen overnight. The withdrawal of Russia’s peacekeeping force from Azerbaijan, changes to the institutional format for Armenia-Russia ties, Georgia’s further integration into the EU, the creation of new regional formats—all of this will take time. However, we are past the turning point: the Nagorno-Karabakh problem has all but disappeared with the elimination of it autonomous entity. Russia can no longer play the role in efforts to settle Armenian-Azerbaijani relations that it played until 2020, or even 2022.
  • This does not mean that the risks of turbulence in the region will go away. Indeed, the opposite might well be true. With little attention from global players, the region will turn into an arena for rivalry between regional powers: Turkey, Iran, and Russia. The view that a strong Russia is more dangerous than a weakened one seems controversial, to say the least. Future changes anywhere—from Palestine to, say, Syria or Central Asia—may have unpredictable consequences. Given the specifics of decision-making in Erdoğan’s Turkey and Putin’s Russia, further violent steps are a possibility.
  • What is already clear is that the South Caucasus will no longer be the same region. Over the past three years, the region has transformed from Russia’s backyard into a zone of competition among regional powers, and regional conflicts have been geopoliticized. Unless global players step into the role of a force creating rules for regional interaction, the South Caucasus may well turn into a full-fledged part of the New Middle East, with all the negative connotations that this carries.

     

    “Defeated Armenia Looks to a New, Post-Russia Foreign Policy,” Mikael Zolyan, CEIP, 11.27.23. 

  • Armenian officials have ramped up contact with their Western counterparts, and Yerevan insists it wants to discuss a peace agreement with Baku somewhere in the West—not in Russia. In October, Armenia even signed an agreement with France for the delivery of military equipment. Still, Yerevan does not want to repeat its past mistakes by relying too much on a single ally. As a result, it is unlikely to limit its search for new partners to the West alone.
  • The most obvious choice for Armenia when it comes to a non-Western ally is Iran, which has said repeatedly that it supports the territorial integrity of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Iran has also expressed opposition to an extraterritorial corridor through southern Armenia that would link Azerbaijan with its exclave of Nakhichevan.
  • The other partner from the Global South that Yerevan is hoping to recruit is India. New Delhi took note of Armenia after the 2020 war, when Azerbaijan was also backed by Pakistan. Ties have grown ever since, up to and including arms deliveries.
  • None of Armenia’s theoretical new partners can replace Russia as a security guarantor, however. Armenia also remains dependent on Russia when it comes to other issues like energy and transport. It would be naïve to think that the West can simply be a substitute for Russia in all these areas—particularly while wars are raging in Ukraine and the Middle East. 
  • Unfortunately, any Armenian steps toward the West tend to be perceived as a hostile act in Moscow. And the Kremlin still has plenty of ways to exert influence over Yerevan: it could give the green light to Baku to launch another military operation, halt natural gas exports, or deport ethnic Armenians from Russia, for example. While such radical measures would harm Armenia, they would not return the country to the Russian fold. Instead, they would only strengthen anti-Russian feeling and intensify Yerevan’s search for new partners.
  • There are, therefore, considerable grounds to hope that Moscow and Yerevan can overcome their current difficulties and build a new relationship—or at the very least have a civilized divorce. But the history of Russia’s relations with other post-Soviet countries shows that Moscow does not always behave rationally in such matters.

 

Footnotes

  1. For RM’s comparative analysis of the age of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers, see https://www.russiamatters.org/blog/average-age-ukrainian-soldiers-past-40-and-could-be-problem
  2. Matthew Blackburn is a Senior Researcher at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs’ Research Group on Russia, Asia, and International Trade.
  3. You can watch the Ukrainian-language interview with Ukraine’s 1+1 TV channel at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?si=EuuU9_ISDVRUoZp5&t=1478&v=6lt4E0DiJts&feature=youtu.be
  4. In the FA piece that she co-wrote with Angela Stent, Hill wrote: “According to multiple former senior U.S. officials we spoke with, in April 2022, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators appeared to have tentatively agreed on the outlines of a negotiated interim settlement: Russia would withdraw to its position on Feb. 23, when it controlled part of the Donbas region and all of Crimea, and in exchange, Ukraine would promise not to seek NATO membership and instead receive security guarantees from a number of countries.” However, while Aris wrote that Hill “suggested the deal was only dropped after Johnson’s visit to Kyiv,” no such language can be found in the Hill and Stent FA piece.
  5. The author also writes: “Mr. Putin's administration recently commissioned a report to point out historical mistakes in Russia's foreign policies and offer new objectives. In September, the report was leaked and so were the names of its authors. … One was Sergei Karaganov ... Another was Dmitri Trenin.” We chose to omit this passage because we could not confirm that the report was, indeed, authored by these individuals, as claimed by the outlet in which the purported report was first published, Newsland.
  6. Translated with the help of machine translation.
  7. For RM’s fact-check of this claim, see https://www.russiamatters.org/blog/russia-worlds-5th-largest-economy-gdp-ppp

 

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 12:00pm Eastern time on Nov. 27, 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 by www.mil.gov.ua shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.