Russia Analytical Report, Nov. 27-Dec. 4, 2023

4 Ideas to Explore

  1. Miscalculations and divisions marked the efforts of Kyiv and its allies to plan the Ukrainian military’s summer offensive, according to the results of extensive research by Washington Post staff into the lead-up to the largely unsuccessful operation. “The year began with Western resolve at its peak, Ukrainian forces highly confident and ... Zelensky predicting a decisive victory,” WP staff writes. “But now, there is uncertainty on all fronts. Morale in Ukraine is waning. International attention has been diverted to the Middle East. Even among Ukraine’s supporters, there is growing political reluctance to contribute more. ... Ukraine has shifted to a slow-moving dismounted slog that has retaken only slivers of territory.” “Together, all these factors make victory for Ukrainefar less likely than years of war and destruction,” WP staff write. “The year now stands to end with ... Putin more certain than ever that he can wait out a fickle West and fully absorb the Ukrainian territory already seized by his troops,” according to WP. In their analysis of the war, the Economist staff comes to a conclusion not much different from WP’s. “For the first time since … Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24th, 2022, he looks as if he could win,” the Economist writes.
  2. With the failure of the Ukrainian offensive, the Biden administration now seems to realize that Ukrainian victory is highly unlikely, and that at some point there will need to be negotiations,” according to Anatol Lieven’s commentary, entitled "What Would a Trump Administration Mean for the War in Ukraine?" He writes: “For a hypothetical future Trump administration to achieve a peace agreement minimally acceptable to both Kyiv and Moscow, it would take exceptionally skillful diplomacy, as well as a U.S. readiness to accept China as an equal partner in the peace process.” Lieven—who directs the Eurasia Program at of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft—argues in RM: “For Ukraine, the most likely result of a Trump administration may simply be radically diminished U.S. support, causing Russia to make new gains on the battlefield and, perhaps, leading to an imposed peace.”
  3. “Twenty months ago ... the Putin regime was on the brink of collapse,” but “the mood has changed dramatically” since then,with Russian “business leaders, officials and ordinary people” believing that “Putin’s regime ... looks more stable than at any other time in the past two years,” according to ex-Kremlin beat journalist Mikhail Zygar. “The Russian president, as they see it, has shown that he’s here to stay,” this vocal exiled critic of Putin acknowledges in a commentary for WP. The Levada Center’s Denis Volkov and CEIP’s Andrei Kolesnikov see a similar trend in Russians’ attitudes toward the country’s leadership, noting that many Russians equate their country with the political regime that rules it. Many Russians are now “living in an artificial world in which the Russian nation is carrying out a messianic mission and defending itself from the West that seeks to destroy it,” they explain in a CEIP paper entitled, “Alternate Reality: How Russian Society Learned to Stop Worrying About the War.”
  4. While panegyrics mixed with occasional philippics in Western foreign policy experts’ reactions to the passing of Dr. Henry Kissinger, their Russian counterparts mostly praised the late intellectualfor his realist approach. “It is too early to make a museum piece of Henry Kissinger’s rich and diverse Realpolitik. It might do us great service in the 21st century, since humanity has not yet come up with another reliable basis for building a sustainable international system in an increasingly diverse world,” writes director general of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrei Kortunov. In his turn, chairman of Russia’s Council for Foreign and Defense Policy Fyodor Lukyanov notes that “Kissinger treated Russia with the dispassion of a natural scientist—treating it as an important element of balance.” “Kissinger’s worldview is the antithesis of the ‘end of history,’” and “he did not consider her [Russia] to be an enemy after the collapse of the USSR,” Lukyanov writes. Kissinger himself, in what may have been his last interview, appeared worried about a lack of communication with Russia. “Right now, the greatest difficulty with respect to Russia is that we have not heard what their thinking is, because there is no dialogue with Russia at all,” he told Politico in an interview conducted on Oct. 18 and published on Dec. 2.


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 Bipolarity Paradox: A Preliminary Assessment of the Implications of the Strengthening China-Russia ‘Quasi-Alliance’ for the Korean Peninsula,” Lyle Goldstein and Vitaly Kozyrev, North Korea Review, Fall 2023.

  • Pyongyang has clearly benefited from the Ukraine War—not least by the distraction of the major world powers, including the U.S. Russia has long been sympathetic to North Korea, a fact demonstrated powerfully by Putin’s July 2000 trip to Pyongyang shortly after he became Russia’s president. 
  • Today, the Kremlin’s isolation is undoubtedly a deep impetus for rapidly warming North Korea–Russia ties that precipitated the recent landmark Kim-Putin summit. That is indeed a major development, but Beijing’s influence is significantly more important, of course. Chinese leaders remain cautious about embracing any kind of troika encompassing Beijing, Moscow and Pyongyang, since it views solidifying bipolarity in Northeast Asia as counter to its conception of regional security and development. 
  • The West and its close allies in East Asia should recognize that the situation is delicate and could suddenly become much more fraught, for example if major quantities of North Korean military equipment or even DPRK “volunteers” were to appear in Donbas. Understanding such major risks of an escalation spiral that a return to the hard bipolarity of the 1950s would entail for the Korean Peninsula, decision-makers on both sides of this divide are urged to act with due caution and restraint.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“The evangelical case for U.S. military aid to Ukraine,” Jim Geraghty, WP, 11.28.23.

  • Ukrainians aren't asking Americans to charge into battle and save them. They're asking for continued access to weapons and ammunition that the United States can readily supply.
  • Help the Ukrainians, and they have a fighting chance. Abandon them, and Putin and his thugs will probably eventually grind them down in a war of attrition. It's something that every American, evangelical or not, should keep in mind.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Miscalculations, divisions marked offensive planning by U.S., Ukraine,” Washington Post Staff, WP, 12.04.23.

  • Key elements that shaped the counteroffensive and the initial outcome include:
    • Ukrainian, U.S. and British military officers held eight major tabletop war games to build a campaign plan. But Washington miscalculated the extent to which Ukraine's forces could be transformed into a Western-style fighting force in a short period — especially without giving Kyiv air power integral to modern militaries.
    • U.S. and Ukrainian officials sharply disagreed at times over strategy, tactics and timing. The Pentagon wanted the assault to begin in mid-April to prevent Russia from continuing to strengthen its lines. The Ukrainians hesitated, insisting they weren't ready without additional weapons and training.
    • U.S. military officials were confident that a mechanized frontal attack on Russian lines was feasible with the troops and weapons that Ukraine had. The simulations concluded that Kyiv's forces, in the best case, could reach the Sea of Azov and cut off Russian troops in the south in 60 to 90 days.
    • The United States advocated a focused assault along that southern axis, but Ukraine's leadership believed its forces had to attack at three distinct points along the 600-mile front, southward toward both Melitopol and Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov and east toward the embattled city of Bakhmut.
    • The U.S. intelligence community had a more downbeat view than the U.S. military, assessing that the offensive had only a 50-50 chance of success given the stout, multilayered defenses Russia had built up over the winter and spring.
    • Many in Ukraine and the West underestimated Russia's ability to rebound from battlefield disasters and exploit its perennial strengths: manpower, mines and a willingness to sacrifice lives on a scale that few other countries can countenance.
    • As the expected launch of the offensive approached, Ukrainian military officials feared they would suffer catastrophic losses—while American officials believed the toll would ultimately be higher without a decisive assault.
  • The counteroffensive finally lurched into motion in early June. Some Ukrainian units quickly notched small gains, recapturing Zaporizhzhia-region villages south of Velyka Novosilka, 80 miles from the Azov coast. But elsewhere, not even Western arms and training could fully shield Ukrainian forces from the punishing Russian firepower.
  • The year began with Western resolve at its peak, Ukrainian forces highly confident and President Volodymyr Zelensky predicting a decisive victory. But now, there is uncertainty on all fronts. Morale in Ukraine is waning. International attention has been diverted to the Middle East. Even among Ukraine’s supporters, there is growing political reluctance to contribute more to a precarious cause. At almost every point along the front, expectations and results have diverged as Ukraine has shifted to a slow-moving dismounted slog that has retaken only slivers of territory. … Together, all these factors make victory for Ukraine far less likely than years of war and destruction.
  • The year now stands to end with Russian President Vladimir Putin more certain than ever that he can wait out a fickle West and fully absorb the Ukrainian territory already seized by his troops.

“Putin seems to be winning the war in Ukraine—for now. His biggest asset is Europe’s lack of strategic vision,” The Economist, 11.30.23. 

  • For the first time since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, he looks as if he could win. Russia’s president has put his country on a war footing and strengthened his grip on power. He has procured military supplies abroad and is helping turn the global south against America. Crucially, he is undermining the conviction in the West that Ukraine can—and must—emerge from the war as a thriving European democracy.
  • The West could do a lot more to frustrate Mr. Putin. If it chose, it could deploy industrial and financial resources that dwarf Russia’s. However, fatalism, complacency and a shocking lack of strategic vision are getting in the way, especially in Europe. 
  • The reason a Putin victory is possible is that winning is about endurance rather than capturing territory. Neither army is in a position to drive out the other from the land they currently control. … This is a defenders’ war, and it could last many years.
  • In 2024 at least, Russia will be in a stronger position to fight, because it will have more drones and artillery shells, because its army has developed successful electronic-warfare tactics against some Ukrainian weapons and because Mr. Putin will tolerate horrific casualties among his own men.
  • [N]o wonder the mood in Kyiv is darker. Politics has returned, as people jostle for influence. Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, and Valery Zaluzhny, its most senior general, have fallen out. 
  • Western governments insist they are as committed to Ukraine as ever. But polls around the world suggest that many doubt it. ... If Donald Trump is elected president, having promised peace in short order, America could suddenly stop supplying weapons altogether.
  • Europe must ... plan for Mr. Putin as the main long-term threat to its security. Russia will rearm. It will have combat experience. Planning for Europe’s defense should be designed to prevent Mr. Putin from sensing weakness on its flank—especially if he doubts a President Trump’s willingness to fight should a NATO country be attacked.
  • The best way to deter Mr. Putin would be for Europe to demonstrate its resolve by showing right now that it is fully committed to a thriving, democratic, westward-looking Ukraine. 

“Kyiv’s Harsh Winter Deepens Gloom Over Battlefield Failures,” Olesia Safronova, Kateryna Chursina and Volodymyr Verbianyi, Bloomberg, 11.28.23. 

  • A sense of gloom is settling over Ukraine as the failure of a months-long counteroffensive gives way to the second winter since the Russian invasion. A fierce snowstorm cut power to thousands across southern Ukraine over the weekend, while temperatures in the east, where fighting is fierce, have plunged well below freezing. 
  • The longer nights coincide with mounting frustration over the stalled advance and tension among government and military leaders spilling into the open. As NATO ministers meet in Brussels, there are signs that help from the military alliance is wavering. Once-confident predictions of victory over Kremlin troops are being replaced by a grim awareness that the war is most likely to grind on. 
  • The mood has seeped into Zelensky’s support. Still lofty at 76%, his approval rating has dropped from a wartime high of 91%, according to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology. ... “The rally-around-the-flag effect is ending,” Volodymyr Paniotto, the head of KIIS said in an interview. 
  • The sobering outlook contrasts with a far more optimistic view a year ago. By December 2022, Ukrainian forces, partly spurred on as Russian troops withdrew and redeployed, had seized back territory around Kyiv, in the Kharkiv region in the northeast and Kherson in the south to the Dnipro River — and generated the sense that this year’s counteroffensive could do more. ... The 260 square kilometers (100 square miles) of territory reclaimed in the counteroffensive in 2023 amounts to less than 1% of land that was retaken last year. 
  • On the world stage, Ukraine’s plight has gotten more complicated. Zelensky’s efforts to win allies outside the Western fold as a way to corner Vladimir Putin into talks has been upended by the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. 

“Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine,” David H. Petraeus and Andrew Roberts, HarperCollins, 2023.1

  • Putin had failed to grasp how warfare had evolved since the days of Blitzkrieg, and how the advantage in recent years had shifted decisively from the offense to the defense.
  • The first principle of strategic leadership is to get the overall strategy right, yet [Vladimir] Putin, [Valery] Gerasimov, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and their staffs all failed miserably in this when they approved the plans to attack Ukraine on no fewer than seven different axes, rather than to launch a diversionary attack but then concentrate on taking Kyiv, the decisive and main effort.

  • Russia has not been particularly successful when fighting beyond Russian-speaking borders over the past 120 years, something that has transcended politics because it has been true in its Tsarist, Bolshevik and post-Soviet iterations. 
  • Yet history does not tend to favor aggressors, for as the historian Adam Tooze has pointed out, “Other than wars of national liberation, one is hard pressed to name a single war of aggression since 1914 that has yielded clearly positive results for the first mover.” 
  • Despite the sanctions being the strongest imposed since the Second World War, nations comprising 76 percent of the world’s population, such as China and India, did not join them. 
  • Over time, it would become increasingly obvious that in setting out to make Russia great again, Putin was actually making NATO great again, fostering the most comprehensive unity there since the end of the Cold War and prompting historically neutral Finland and Sweden to seek membership.
  • This may well be history’s first full-scale drone war.
  • Swift and polished videos posted by Ukrainian units and citizens and Kyiv’s Ministry of Defense to a relatively nascent TikTok enabled effective engagement of an entirely new generation.
  • Unity of command is an essential principle of war ... but Putin and his war minister Sergei Shoigu had not grasped it. The Russian leadership not only failed to design a proper campaign to achieve its objectives in Ukraine, it also failed to establish the proper organizational architecture and authorities, not unlike some of the coalition shortcomings of the early months - and years - in Afghanistan after the Taliban were toppled.
  • His Blitzkrieg might have faltered, but Putin probably assumed (and still seems to believe) that Russia could simply “out-suffer” the Ukrainians, Europeans and Americans, in the same way that Russians had out-suffered Napoleon’s and Hitler’s invasions.
  • The Russian stance was particularly worrying because there is a qualitative difference between the way the Russians regard tactical nuclear weapons and the way the West does, with the former concentrating on the word “tactical,” while the latter tends to focus on the word “nuclear.” Russian wargames routinely envisage the use of tactical nuclear weapons, whereas ever since Douglas MacArthur, Western leaders have reacted with horror to the idea that a conflict might ever “go nuclear.” … [W]ith both China’s and India’s leaders warning Putin as well, it appears that the Kremlin has been dissuaded from employing them.
  • Although, Vladimir Putin has had thousands of accomplices, he alone is ultimately to blame for launching the most consequential war of recent times, the first year of which will be taught in staff colleges around the world for decades to come as providing a masterclass in how not to fight a war.

“America’s political paralysis is complicating its support for Ukraine,” The Economist, 12.02.23. 

  • The Pentagon says it has about $5 billion left in the PDA [Presidential Drawdown Authority] account [for aid to Ukraine], and only $1 billion to replenish it. The PDA accounts for $25 billion of the $44 billion-worth of military aid supplied by America to Ukraine since the start of the war. Drawdowns peaked at more than $5 billion in January, when America was arming Ukraine for a summer counter-offensive. The latest PDA packages were $350 million in October and only $225 million in November. The three-month average is at its lowest since February 2022.
  • The impact is being felt at the front. During the summer Ukrainian forces fired about 220,000-240,000 larger caliber shells (152mm and 155mm) per month and will soon reach 80,000-90,000, says Michael Kofman of the Carnegie Endowment … Russia is outproducing the West in artillery shells, and has been boosted by ammunition from North Korea. Ukraine will have to dig in to defend. The question is not whether it can mount large new offensives, but whether it can hold its current lines.
  • Much depends on what happens in Congress in the coming weeks, as well as whether Ukraine’s allies in Europe can take up the slack. President Joe Biden has wrapped the new request for $61 billion for Ukraine-related expenditure, including replenishing American stocks, in a bigger supplemental budget of $106 billion. But Republican leaders … want to tie it to tougher measures to curb migration at America’s border with Mexico. What should be a bipartisan bill has thus become hostage to a deeply partisan issue. 
  • America still provides the largest share of military assistance, and Europeans will fall short of their promise to supply 1 million shells by March. There are growing doubts about their ability to meet commitments of financial aid. Ukraine was already facing a grim 2024. It is becoming grimmer with every week of American paralysis. 

“Ukraine aid's best-kept secret: Most of the money stays in the U.S.,” Marc A. Thiessen, WP, 12.01.23. 

  • Here is the best-kept secret about U.S. military aid to Ukraine: Most of the money is being spent here in the United States. That's right: Funds that lawmakers approve to arm Ukraine are not going directly to Ukraine but are being used stateside to build new weapons or to replace weapons sent to Kyiv from U.S. stockpiles. Of the $68 billion in military and related assistance Congress has approved since Russia invaded Ukraine, almost 90 percent is going to Americans, one analysis found.
  • In all, 31 senators and House members whose states or districts benefit from funding for Ukraine have voted to oppose or restrict that aid. They include some of the most prominent anti-Ukraine voices in Congress.
  • Until now, no one had mapped out precisely where these U.S. military aid funds are going. My American Enterprise Institute colleagues Clara Keuss, Noah Burke and I have catalogued the weapons systems being produced in the United States for Ukraine. We have identified 117 production lines in at least 31 states and 71 cities where American workers are producing major weapons systems for Ukraine.
  • It is in the United States' vital interests to arm Ukraine in its fight to defeat Russian aggression. Our support for Ukraine is decimating the Russian military threat to NATO, restoring deterrence with China, dissuading other nuclear powers from launching wars of aggression and improving American military preparedness for other adversaries. The "America First" case for helping Ukraine is clear. But if those arguments are not persuasive, then this should be: Our military aid to Ukraine is revitalizing manufacturing communities across the United States, creating good jobs here at home and restoring the United States' capacity to produce weapons for our national defense. Helping Ukraine is the right thing to do for U.S. national security. It is also the right thing to do for American workers.

“Europe Is Short of Ammunition at a Bad Time,” Editorial Board, WSJ, 11.27.23.

  • The [EU] vowed it would provide Ukraine with one million artillery rounds by March of next year. 
    • But deliveries are lagging, and German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said this month that “we have to assume” this target “will not be achieved.” 
    • Josep Borrell said…that the EU had reached only “30% of the overall objective” for ammo deliveries. …Even if the EU’s defense industry “has the capacity to produce 1 million shots a year” that “does not mean that we [will] have 1 million shots ready by March.”
    • Even that capacity would still be too low, given that EU countries need to replenish their own stocks after giving ammunition to Ukraine. 
  • Ukraine fires…6,000 to 8,000 shells a day… [and needs] large quantities of the 155mm artillery shells.
    • As of mid-November [2023], the EU had provided Ukraine with…300,000 rounds of ammunition, but that supply came from existing stocks.
    • The European Defense Agency has also signed at least eight contracts with defense firms to procure an additional 180,000 155mm rounds, but these haven’t yet been delivered.
  • Regardless of political will, Europe’s ammunition promise is “unlikely to be fulfilled” because of the “lamentable state of the defense industry,” Dmytro Kuleba said.
  • Rebuilding [European] capacity will require investment in new facilities, machines and worker recruitment and training … Chemring, a supplier of explosive materials for ammunition producers, said some of its customers “have asked for output increases of 100%-200%.”
    • Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said that since February [2023] the EU’s ammunition production capacity has increased 20% to 30%,
  • These shortages are especially dangerous as Russia moves to a wartime production pace of arms.
    • [According to the European Parliament’s Research Service] Russia produced some 1.7 million rounds in 2022 and seeks to produce some three million rounds annually by 2025.
    • Tehran supplied Moscow with more than 300,000 shells between November 2022 and April 2023. 
    • Pyongyang provided the Kremlin with more than a million artillery shells since early August [2023, according to South Korean lawmakers.]

“War has spread to a sixth domain: the private sector,” John Thornhill, FT, 11.30.23.

  • NATO doctrine now recognizes five domains of warfare, including space and cyber space. The Russian assault on Ukraine, ranging from a land invasion to a cyber attack on the Viasat satellite network, has spanned all five. But one military commentator argues that the experience of Ukraine suggests warfare now extends to a sixth domain: the private sector.
  •  It has certainly been striking to see the vital role that Ukrainian start-ups and big US tech firms, such as Microsoft, Palantir and Starlink, have played in resisting Russian aggression. Whether it has been repurposing civilian drones to drop bombs, securing sensitive government data on the cloud, using machine-learning systems to process battlefield data or providing satellite communications to frontline troops, private sector companies have been central to Ukraine’s defense. 
  • Such is their importance that these spheres of activity should now be formally considered a sixth domain and included “as part of the warfighting constructs, plans, preparations, and actions if the United States and its allies are to prevail in future conflicts”, writes Franklin Kramer in a recent paper for the Atlantic Council. 
    • The war in Ukraine has been a “watershed in many ways,” Kramer tells me, highlighting the need for war planners and private companies to collaborate before any conflict erupts and figure out appropriate ways to pay for national security-related work. .... “Resilience is extremely important and making resilience operational will require the engagement of the private sector,” Kramer says.
  • There is an overwhelming logic for the private sector to engage more closely with national security priorities within the NATO bloc. The war in Ukraine has transformed attitudes, in Europe in particular. Faced with a revanchist Russia, defense has re-emerged as a democratic imperative
  • The shifting nature of conflict in our digital world means that even if you want to stay away from the frontline, the frontline may find you. Far better to prepare for that cold reality than retreat into the more comforting, but delusional, world of yesteryear.

“Moscow’s Search for Foreign Recruits Reveals Its Growing Desperation,” Elizabeth M.F. Grasmeder, War on the Rocks, 11.30.23.

  • Moscow’s search for foreign recruits [for its war against Ukraine] provides useful clues about the health of Vladimir Putin’s regime, his confidence and his views on Russia’s war effort—all suggesting the strongman’s fortunes are looking more and more desperate.
  • The good news is that the history of foreign recruitment indicates Putin is feeling the heat and does not expect conditions to improve any time soon. For a Ukrainian government seeking to sustain its counteroffensive and keep Western allies engaged supplying necessary military aid, these developments are a positive indicator.
  • But there is also cause for caution. Cornered creatures can easily turn nasty. We know that leaders feeling under the gun at home and abroad will sometimes prolong even a losing or costly war in hopes of staying in office—a ploy known as gambling for resurrection. In such a context, migrants and other foreigners in Russia could easily become cannon fodder for a government that is beyond all care of international cost or censure.

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

“The Unintended Consequences of Seizing Russian Assets,” Agathe Demarais, FP, 11.27.23. 

  • Seizing Russian central bank reserves comes with economic, financial, and geopolitical implications that need to be taken into account to reach a balanced decision on this tricky debate.
  1. Definitions matter: Seizing Russia’s central bank reserves would not be a sanction. 
  2. Confiscating Moscow’s assets would not make a big financial difference for the Kremlin. 
  3.  Seizing Russia’s assets is unlikely to fuel global de-dollarization efforts. 
  4. Transferring Russia’s reserves would require cooperation from Euroclear. 
  5. Weaponizing Western financial channels like Euroclear fuels financial fragmentation. 
  6. Financial fragmentation undermines the long-term effectiveness of sanctions
  7. Getting Russia’s reserves could be a double-edged sword for Kyiv. 
  8. Seizing Russia’s reserves risks fueling resentment against Western states
  9. Seizing Russia’s assets could fuel the perception of double standards.
  10.  Confiscating Moscow’s reserves could set a precedent that Beijing or others could use.
  • Would the debate around Russia’s reserves be as intense if the amount at stake were smaller? It is probably the massive number that makes a seizure so tempting. However, confiscating the Russian central bank’s foreign-exchange reserves would come with huge economic, financial, and geopolitical unintended consequences. Perhaps the moral arguments in favor of seizing these assets outweigh the consequences. Acknowledging these impacts, however, is the first step towards reaching a balanced conclusion in this thorny debate.

“Can financial engineering solve the dilemma over Russia’s blocked reserves?” Martin Sandbu, FT, 11.30.23. 

  • It has been 19 months since Ukraine’s Western friends blocked the Russian central bank’s access to foreign exchange reserves in their jurisdictions. In that time, they have not managed to get close to seizing those reserves for Ukraine’s benefit. 
  • I think there is a way we can make use of financial markets to advance ... compensation payments. 
    • First, the sanctioning coalition would set up a special purpose financial entity, through which the international funding of Ukraine’s reconstruction would be organized. 
    • Second, a legally binding agreement—presumably an international treaty—would be set up between Ukraine and the sanctioning coalition. This would commit Ukraine to granting the special purpose entity the right to collect all compensation ensuing from Russia’s attack on it (this would obviously have to be very precisely defined) up to the amount that Ukraine had previously received. 
    • Third, the funding entity would start issuing bonds today, and pass the proceeds to Ukraine according to rules set by the governing body. 

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“What Would a Trump Administration Mean for the War in Ukraine?”, Anatol Lieven, RM, 11.30.23.

  • With the failure of the Ukrainian offensive, the Biden administration now seems to realize that Ukrainian victory is highly unlikely, and that at some point there will need to be negotiations. However, it hopes to defer this problem until after the next elections, when it can no longer harm Biden at the polls—or it becomes a Republican administration’s worry, which, at present, most likely means a Trump administration.
  • A second Trump presidency seems likely to mean greatly reduced support for Ukraine, possibly combined with a U.S. push for a peace settlement. Without very high levels of U.S. military aid ($61.4 billion to date), it will be impossible for Ukraine to continue the fight. 
  • Meanwhile, the Ukrainian establishment is in a state of great confusion and division. Awareness is dawning that the chances of complete victory are slight, and time is not on Ukraine’s side; but the government has declared so often and so publicly that a compromise peace is unacceptable … that it will be extremely difficult for them to agree to talks, unless they come under massive public pressure from Washington or suffer a severe military defeat.
  • As for the Russian government, it senses that time is on its side, and also appears willing to wait in the hope that Russia’s far greater reserves of manpower and ammunition combined with Western and Ukrainian war weariness will eventually force Ukraine to accept Russian terms … Russian hopes are, however, qualified by the previous Trump administration’s actual record in office. 
  • U.S. problems elsewhere may also increase the view presently held by a Realist section of the Republican Party that the United States is dangerously over-extended, and that it is necessary to seek compromise with Russia in order to concentrate on the greater threat from China, and on support for Israel. 
  • For a hypothetical future Trump administration to achieve a peace agreement minimally acceptable to both Kyiv and Moscow, it would take exceptionally skillful diplomacy, as well as a U.S. readiness to accept China as an equal partner in the peace process, and to reach out to India and other countries of the “Global South” for help. These are not features that have been characteristic of U.S. policy in recent years—least of all the last Trump administration. Therefore, for Ukraine, the most likely result of a Trump administration may simply be radically diminished U.S. support, causing Russia to make new gains on the battlefield and, perhaps, leading to an imposed peace.     

“Putin is counting on the U.S. to cave on Ukraine,” Josh Rogin, WP, 11.29.23. 

  • Two top "realist" think tankers—former Obama administration official Charles Kupchan and former Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass—wrote in Foreign Affairs this month that Ukraine's objectives are "out of reach." "Washington needs to take the lead in launching consultations with Ukraine and Western allies aimed at persuading Kyiv to offer a cease-fire in place while pivoting from an offensive to a defensive strategy," they wrote. There are several fundamental problems with this argument. 
    • First of all, there's no indication Moscow has any intention to seriously negotiate. 
    • Also, Ukraine's energy minister, German Galushchenko noted, the vast majority of his compatriots oppose a cease-fire and want to keep fighting. 
    • Finally, pushing Ukraine to change its strategy at this moment would betray the United States' European allies. 
  • Pressuring Ukraine to stop fighting simply won't work. Ukrainians aren't going to give up, so the United States must not give up on them. The war will end only when Putin has finally learned aggression doesn't pay.

“Post-war Ukraine: Budapest Memorandum 2.0 will not do,” Denys Karlovskyi, ELN, 12.04.23.

  • Ukraine’s government should leverage high levels of pro-Euro-Atlantic sentiments to execute reforms and tie Ukraine’s security to the Alliance before the country formally joins. To that end, these policy recommendations are designed for NATO policymakers and heads of state:

    • Negotiations on security guarantees must be finalized before elections take place and martial law is revoked. Ukraine will face a contentious process of presidential and parliamentary elections once martial law is revoked. Zelensky’s competitors may not resist the opportunity to use perceived underwhelming security guarantees from the West as a lightning rod. Alternatively, Zelensky’s team may pressure their electoral opponents by framing the security guarantees as hard-won accomplishments earned by Zelensky’s regime, not his successor’s.

    • Assist the Ukrainian government in maintaining public support for Euro-Atlantic integration. NATO communications teams and Western media should reach out to Ukrainians, engage in public deliberations and talks, hold conferences with young leaders and, most importantly, seek partnerships with the non-commissioned officers and file-and-rank of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to show that NATO is genuinely committed to Ukraine’s future in the Alliance. 

    • Design, invest and implement programs for mental health support, reintegration and education for veterans, frontline workers, journalists and civil servants who bore the heaviest toll of the war. 

  • Long-term security on the European continent is not tenable if Ukraine is exposed to the relentless terror of missile attacks by Russia and held in limbo of an imminent invasion. This will undoubtedly perpetuate current crises and shocks in European markets and society. To avoid another Budapest Memorandum, NATO must consider political sensitivities and public opinion in Ukraine to maintain governability and social cohesion in a country badly wounded by trauma, bloodshed and historical neglect.

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

“'A Time for American Leadership': Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Reagan National Defense Forum,” Pentagon, 12.02.23. 

  • We’re living through challenging times. That includes the major conflicts facing our fellow democracies, Israel and Ukraine; bullying and coercion from an increasingly assertive China; and a worldwide battle between democracy and autocracy.
  • From Russia to China, from Hamas to Iran, our rivals and foes want to divide and weaken the United States—and to split us off from our allies and partners. So at this hinge in history, America must not waver.
  • And America will only become less secure if dictators believe that they can wipe a democracy off the map. And the United States will only pay a higher price if autocrats and zealots believe that they can force free people to live in fear. And so you can see that core insight at work in our approach to three quite different challenges: in the Middle East crisis, in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the strategic challenge from the People’s Republic of China.
  • We will not let Hamas or Putin win. And we will not let our enemies divide or weaken us. So as we surge support into Israel, we remain focused on Ukraine.
  • Twenty-one months into Putin’s failed campaign of conquest, the Russian military has been badly weakened.  Above all, that’s because of Ukraine’s incredibly brave troops. But Ukraine’s achievements also flow from bipartisan U.S. leadership—and from the coalition of some 50 countries that we’ve forged.
  • We still urgently need bipartisan support in Congress to pass the supplemental to rush security assistance to our partners in Ukraine, Israel, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, as we rally the world to defend Ukraine, Putin has been forced to scrounge for support from the likes of Iran and North Korea.
  • Now, despite his isolation, Putin believes that he can outlast the Ukrainians. But he is wrong. The Kremlin is waging an unjust war of imperial aggression—but Ukraine is fighting a defensive war for national survival. And you can feel that urgency on the ground. And that gives Ukraine the huge strategic advantage of a just cause.
  • Now, Putin also thinks that he can outlast us. He believes that our coalition will splinter, that our willpower will fade, and that our democracy will just get distracted. But once again, Putin is wrong. And we must continue to be clear to the American people about the stakes in Ukraine.
  • Ukraine matters profoundly to America and to the entire world. And it matters for four key reasons.
    • First, Putin’s war poses a stark and direct threat to security in Europe and beyond.
    • Second, Putin’s aggression is a clear challenge to our NATO allies.
    • Third, the Kremlin’s deliberate cruelty is an attack on our shared values of democracy and decency.
    • And finally, Putin’s war is a frontal assault on the international rules-based order.
  • So the outcome of this struggle will define global security for decades to come. And we don’t have the option of sitting it out. So President Biden has laid down a clear objective: The United States seeks a free and sovereign Ukraine that can defend itself today—and deter more Russian aggression in the future.
  • If we do not stand up to the Kremlin’s naked aggression today, if we do not deter other would-be aggressors, we will only embolden them—and we will invite even more bloodshed and chaos. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine offers a grim preview of a world of tyranny and turmoil that should make us all shudder.
  • Ukraine’s high burn rate for artillery has hammered home the need to invest even more in munitions. So compared to the defense budget from just five years ago, we’re putting nearly 50 percent more money into munitions.

“RNDF 2023 Fireside Chat,” remarks by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Charles Q. Brown Jr. at the 2023 Reagan National Defense Forum, Reagan Foundation, 12.03.23.

  • [Discussing the Russian-Ukraine war:] Well, I would just tell you with any military conflict, you don’t solve it completely by military means it ends up with a diplomatic solution, and uh, you know, I can’t predict the future on how it is going to end, but I think we can help shape it is the work that we have been continue to do in support of Ukraine providing them capability. In the time that I’ve been in this position, I’ve had a chance to participate in the Ukraine defense contact group a couple of times, and the number of nations that are contributing to Ukraine’s support is important. I talked to General Zaluzhny on a fairly regular basis matter of fact, I talked to him earlier this week on you know the approach that they’re taking, and so Secretary Holly was in Kyiv just before Thanksgiving, and our continued engagement with uh with Ukraine and our convenient support are important partly because Russia is one of our challenges. It is laid out in the National Security, National Defense strategies and the work we have to do there is important to get to a better place in the long run. 
  • [In response to a question about the likelihood of Russia directly attacking a NATO country and therefore pulling the United States into direct conflict with Russia, a prospect that 70% of Americans had real concerns about:] What I see right now is, you know, if you think about what Putin intended to do from the very start and the territory gained and territory lost, things have not gone according to his plan. One of the key areas that I think because of what happened in Ukraine, NATO is stronger than it’s ever been, a matter of fact it’s larger now with Finland and Sweden soon to follow, and because of that strength in the dialogue with many of our NATO Partners we’re all committed to ensure this does not expand into NATO and go broader.
  • [Discussing Americans concerns with the depletion of U.S. stockpiles given mounting challenges and global conflicts:] We’ve supported both Ukraine and uh and Israel and we go through our analysis have our you know what we required in order to execute our operational plans and we go through that level of uh analysis as we make decisions of the support, we security system we provide for both Nations. At the same time, there’s an opportunity with that supplemental, as Secretary Austin highlighted, it goes back into our defense industrial base to build out our capability not only for our allies and partners but also for us… being able to get the funding and supplementals in place to continue to provide support for both Ukraine and Israel also supports us in our defense industrial base as well.

“Transcript: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Charles Q. Brown Jr. Speaks with CNBC’s Morgan Brennan Live During CNBC’s CFO Council Summit Today,” CNBC. 11.29.23. 

[When asked: the head of Ukraine’s military recently used the term stalemate ... Is that the current reality in that country right now? In that conflict?] 

  • We do see as you go into the winter months, there is movement back and forth and what we are looking at is continuing to support Ukraine. ... I’m going to talk to General Zaluzhnyi again this week on, you know, their plan for the future at the same time, what we’re doing with General Cavoli at the European Command to lay out the path forward. 
  • We continue to have dialogue with them  [Ukrainians] and on the resourcing but also the strategy to move forward. 
  • I don’t think we could actually measure that but the things they [Ukrainians]’ve been able to do over the course of the nearly 600 days has been quite impressive. 
  • In order for us to continue to support not just Ukraine but ourselves is to get the budget on time. And it continuing resolutions did not help us actually provide predictability not only for us, but also for the defense industrial base.  

“A Containment Strategy for Ukraine. How the West Can Help Kyiv Endure a Long War,” Liana Fix and Michael Kimmage, FA, 11.28.23.

  • To make progress now, Western and Ukrainian leaders need to rally around achievable strategic goals. The most pressing is the containment of Russian forces—not only to protect all that Ukraine has already accomplished but also to render Russia’s presence on Ukrainian territory as insecure as possible. Russian positions must be continuously pressured in a forward-leaning approach. This will not be doable without U.S. military support, justified not by the claim that victory is around the corner but by the argument that containing Russia is a core European and U.S. interest. Containment is a policy that is already succeeding in Ukraine. Failure would be giving up on it.
  • Aid to Ukraine is not philanthropy. For Europe, the success or failure of containing Russia will shape the whole continent’s security. For the United States, the success or failure of containing Russia in Europe will define the future of the international order it leads.
  • Containing Russia should be conceptualized—and celebrated—as a steady continuum of action that started before February 2022 and came into its own with the Ukrainian defense of Kyiv and battlefield advances in the fall of 2022. Containment, by definition, can deliver only a partial victory, and for this reason, ups and downs in public sentiment in countries allied with Ukraine are to be expected. These ups and downs make it all the more worthwhile for Western leaders, who are sensitive to surges of optimism and disappointment, to adopt containment as their unchanging compass. Doing so will help both Ukraine’s war efforts and morale in Ukraine’s allies. Sticking to a consistent, realistic strategy amid the ebbs and flows of sentiment in a major war is its own source of self-confidence.

“America and a crumbling global order,” Gideon Rachman, FT, 12.04.23. 

  • The foreign crises could come to a head quite fast. “The next three months could determine the next few years,” is how one senior US official puts it. A prominent Democrat worries that “by January, we could be talking about how Joe Biden lost Ukraine”.
  • New funding for the Ukrainian military and its civilian institutions is stuck in Congress. The Biden administration seems confident that money for Kyiv will ultimately be agreed. But if financial assistance is not passed before the end of the year, Ukraine could feel the effects on the battlefield within weeks.... Attempts to agree a fresh package of EU money for Ukraine are also stalled by wrangling in Brussels. 
  • In the coming weeks, Russia is expected to launch an intense bout of attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure in the hope of crippling the country’s power supply and winter heating. Moscow tried the same thing last winter and failed. But the Russians now have many more drones and missiles, thanks to Iran, North Korea and ramped-up domestic production. Ukrainian air defenses are looking threadbare in places and could be overwhelmed.
  • The precariousness of Ukraine’s situation is getting less attention than it should because of the Middle East. 
  • The fact that China will be closely watching Ukraine and Gaza illustrates the linked nature of all these crises. Western officials believe Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are working together much more closely than before. The Russians are now dependent on Chinese economic support and are almost unrestrained in military collaboration with North Korea and Iran.
  • With the US presidential election less than a year away, all these international crises feed into American politics. Trump will take every opportunity to accuse Biden of presiding over an era of weakness and retreat, citing Afghanistan, Ukraine, Gaza and the Taiwan Strait.

“How to Avoid Defeat in Ukraine,” Walter Russell Mead, WSJ, 11.28.23. 

  • The German tabloid "Bild" said the quiet part out loud. President Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the well-sourced newspaper reported, plan to force Ukraine into peace talks next year by denying it the weapons needed to win. This creates a dilemma for those who know that Ukraine's fate matters deeply to the U.S., but who can also see that Team Biden is more interested in avoiding confrontation with Russia than in defeating it. To oppose aid to Ukraine is to ensure a Russian victory, but funding Mr. Biden's approach will do little to prevent one -- and will further erode public support for America's global engagement.
  • Let's say that six months from now the Biden strategy brings Ukraine to the bargaining table. At that point, support for more war funding would be even lower in the U.S. and Europe than it is now. Ukraine would be even more divided and war-weary than it is now. President Volodymyr Zelensky's political position at home would grow weaker. Under those circumstances, why would Mr. Putin give President Biden a face-saving exit from a war Mr. Biden doesn't think he can win?
  • There still are ways for the West to prevail. Mr. Putin's global networks of influence can be destroyed. We can break Wagner's power in Africa, disrupt Russia's activities in Syria, and squeeze Iran to block its cooperation with Moscow. We can step up our military aid to tip the balance against Russia in Ukraine. Funding failure isn't a plan. Congress should continue to fund Ukraine, but it must also insist on the policy changes that would make American strategy coherent again.

“Tactically, autocrats win astonishingly, but strategically they lose,” Vladislav Inozemtsev’s interview with Yulia Latynina of Novaya Gazeta Europe, 11.29.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • The problem of the West is that it saw the [war in Ukraine] as a time-limited operation. If you look at all the military conflicts in the West since the Cold War, they have been quite limited if they have been successful. As soon as the war dragged on, it was actually a clear sign that it would not end successfully. … The West is not ready to fight [the war], especially on such a scale and with such intensity, for many years.
  • Zaluzhny's [article] and Arestovych's demarche show that there is a feeling within the Ukrainian elite that [they] need to win this war [in a defined time period]. If it doesn't work out, it means that [their] plans turned out to be wrong … and [they] need to deal with those who brought [them] here. This is a very dangerous trend. 
  • The leadership of Ukraine behaves absolutely rationally. It has adopted a Western approach. Zelensky repeatedly says that he does not want to go forward through minefields … because he cares about the future of Ukrainian society [and soldiers]. He is … right.
  • Putin … is even surprised at how well the economy is doing. The reports he received in the first days of the war were catastrophic. Nothing like this … is in the air now. Russia has great internal financial resources to finance the war for at least two to three years … Russia … can tactically outplay the West for a year, two, three but not 15 years.
  • The sanctions policy [is] a classic example of setting a benchmark that cannot be achieved. If the West had openly announced that we were imposing sanctions to strike at certain industries, assessing their effectiveness would have been possible. If you want Putin to get out of Ukraine with his tail between his legs, I don't know who you have to be to think that's possible.
  • The Russian political model and the Chinese economic model are bursting at the seams. If this happens, we will see that tactically these autocrats have been winning in jaw-dropping ways, but strategically they have lost. I cannot imagine that strategically, Putin, having destroyed Russia, can win over the West.

“Don’t stop now. US aid to Ukraine continues to be a wise investment,” Michael John Williams, Atlantic Council, 12.01.23.

  • Cutting off aid to Ukraine, as some in Congress propose, would undermine the immediate war effort in Europe and diminish the deterrent power of US military force globally. A solid 61 percent of Americans support assistance to Ukraine, according to a September 2023 poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Nor is the United States alone in its support. European countries and European Union (EU) institutions have collectively pledged more than $145 billion in aid since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In the coming year the United States should work closely with European allies and the EU to set up a longer-term plan for Ukrainian economic development, with Europeans shouldering a large part of that effort. 
  • But such a process must be planned, and abruptly cutting Kyiv off at the knees right now is not the answer. Doing so would incentivize Russia to stay the course and invite future trouble. If Russian President Vladimir Putin is not defeated on the battlefield now, it will cost the United States far more to deter and defend against future Russian aggression. While fiscal responsibility is commendable, the failure to provide Kyiv with an additional $61.4 billion to uphold the liberal world order and significantly degrade the Russian military is a short-sighted decision with far-reaching consequences for national security.

“Can Washington Still Do Anything?” Review and Outlook, WSJ, 12.03.23. 

  • Both President Biden and Republicans have a chance to claim a substantive and political victory ... Mr. Biden would somewhat reduce his immigration problem and avoid the humiliation of losing aid that could hand Vladimir Putin a victory in Ukraine in 2024. Republicans would rightly claim the accomplishment of forcing Mr. Biden to shore up border security.
  • Gridlock in Washington is often a virtue. But every so often Congress needs to act in the national interest. This is one of those times. Failure to strike a deal would signal that the U.S. system really is as dysfunctional as its critics claim.

“The West’s False Choice in Ukraine,” 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?

“The US retains the economic advantage in its rivalry with China,” Martin Wolf, FT, 11.29.23. 

  • London-based Capital Economics introduces an intriguing analysis of “the shape of the fractured world economy in 2024” [which divides countries into] ... five groups: the U.S. and its close allies; countries that lean toward the U.S.; the unaligned; those that lean toward China; and China and its close allies. The first group consists of the U.S. and Canada, Europe (except Hungary), Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The second group includes, above all, India, but also Colombia, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey and South Korea. The unaligned group includes, significantly, Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria. The group of countries leaning toward China includes Argentina (true, until a few days ago!), much of Africa (including South Africa), Iraq, Kazakhstan and, suggests Capital Economics, Saudi Arabia. Finally, China’s strong allies include Russia, Iran and Pakistan.
  • A fundamental distinction exists between the first group and all others. The high-income democracies share core values … The other groupings are defined far more by what they are against than what they are for. Russia and Iran are allies of convenience for China, and vice versa. 
  • The China bloc accounts for half of the world’s (non-Antarctic) land mass, compared with 35 percent for the U.S. bloc. It is also home to slightly more of the world’s people (46 percent, against 43 percent). But it still generates only 27 percent of the world’s GDP, nearly all of that in China itself, compared with 67 percent in the U.S. bloc. This is because, crucially, most of the world’s high-income countries are in the latter.
  • Many countries wish to see the U.S. and its allies … taken down more than just a peg or two. … The event likely to change this balance quickly would be a U.S. decision to tear its alliances to pieces. That would be one of the most dramatically self-harming acts in global history. It would take far longer for the China bloc to surpass the U.S. bloc on all relevant aspects of economic weight. It may never do so.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

  • No significant developments.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

“Russia’s Energy Clout in the Balkans Is On Borrowed Time,” Dimitar Bechev, CEIP, 12.01.23. 

  • Russia may have largely lost its sway over Europe’s oil and gas market, but its position in the Balkans remains strong. The continued presence of Russian energy companies such as Gazprom and Lukoil in Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, North Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina gives Moscow influence over the region’s politics and economy. 
  • While Russia’s near monopoly on the oil and gas market in Southeast Europe looks secure for now, therefore, there will be less and less Russian gas and oil sold on the local market going forward, as Balkan governments and companies look elsewhere for supplies.

Climate change:

“Mischief, Malevolence or Indifference? How Competitors and Adversaries Could Exploit Climate-Related Conflict in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility,” Howard J. Shatz, Karen M. Sudkamp, Jeffrey Martini, Mohammad Ahmadi, Derek Grossman and Kotryna Jukneviciute, RAND, November 2023. 

  • China, Russia and Iran would approach climate-related conflicts in much the same way that they approach other conflicts. China and Russia generally attempt to seek diplomatic solutions, whereas Iran uses its unconventional capabilities in conflicts.
  • The regional experts from the workshop did not engage with climate-specific policy tools in their proposed responses, regardless of whether those tools could be used as sticks or carrots. However, the workshop scenarios illustrated that China and Russia have a set of new climate-related tools to use in relationships with regional countries.
  • China and Russia continue to view the region as a priority, with stability the element of utmost importance. The regional experts noted that while Beijing and Moscow were unlikely to directly challenge Washington, they would take advantage of any absence of the United States in the region. Beijing and Moscow will also continue to make concerted efforts to avoid choosing sides among different countries involved in conflicts.
  • Given the United States' extensive security commitments and agreements, the potential for climate-related interstate conflicts across the seams of U.S. geographic combatant commands may force the United States to make difficult policy decisions on how to support long-standing partners and allies.
  • Climate literacy among regional experts would benefit from improvement. Further education related to climate change and its projected effects on the physical and security environment is necessary for military planners, operators and intelligence professionals.

“A regional platform for climate action: The case of CAREC for the greater Central Asia region,” Kenzhekhan Abuov, Johannes F. Linn and Lyaziza Sabyrova, Brookings, 11.30.23.

  • The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program (CAREC) is a potential model for regional climate action that could guide similar efforts in other developing regions of the world. CAREC’s membership includes eleven countries (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, the People’s Republic of China, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), with the secretariat provided by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).1 On November 30, 2023, the CAREC Ministerial Conference approved the CAREC Climate Change Vision document, which sets the direction for regional cooperation on climate action among CAREC member countries through 2050.
  • CAREC has a longstanding track record as a unique platform for regional cooperation in the region, bringing together member countries and international partners. … In 2017, member states approved the CAREC 2030 Strategy, which expanded CAREC’s mandate to include water, agriculture, tourism, health, and education, without an explicit focus on climate change. They subsequently invited the engagement of an expanded range of development partners, including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, UN agencies, and bilateral official development partners. From 2001 through June 2023, investments with regional significance under the CAREC umbrella amounted to USD 47.3 billion.
  • In recognition of the growing importance and urgency of the climate change agenda, CAREC ministers on Nov. 30, 2023, approved the CAREC Climate Change Vision document and with it elevated climate change as a cross-cutting priority in the CAREC 2030 Strategy. After noting that the region has been and will be severely affected by climate change, the document posits a vision statement (“A Region of Sustainable Development, Shared Prosperity and Climate Resilience”) and lays out five priority areas for regional action: (i) develop a climate-smart agriculture system, (ii) support transition to a low-carbon energy system, (iii) reduce the carbon footprint in transport, (iv) promote green trade, and (v) strengthen disaster risk management.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

"The Impact of Henry Kissinger," Meghan L. O'Sullivan, Graham Allison, Rana Mitter, Fredrik Logevall and Joseph S. Nye, HKS Belfer Center, 11.30.23.

  • Henry Kissinger – longtime scholar and diplomat – died on Wednesday, Nov. 29. Several Belfer Center foreign policy and security experts share their thoughts on the impact Kissinger has had on the U.S., the world, and on themselves.
    • Graham Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government: 
      • “Henry Kissinger was America’s greatest living statesman, Harvard’s most accomplished living graduate, and the model practitioner of statecraft as Applied History. 
      • Many commentators have celebrated—and criticized—Kissinger as a master practitioner of realpolitik, which of course he was. But for Henry, the much more important lesson he attempted to teach successive generations of those seeking to follow in his footsteps was the moral idealism of realism. 
      • For him, realism was not just about raw politics advancing the interest of a single state. The larger purpose was the construction of a viable order to prevent catastrophic war. 
    • Fredrik Logevall, Laurence D. Belfer Professor of International Affairs and Professor of History
      • It’s a mixed legacy in policy terms. On the one hand, Kissinger understood the vital importance of negotiating with adversaries, something that U.S. policymakers historically have often been reluctant to acknowledge, much less undertake. ....On the other side of the ledger, Kissinger’s absolute emphasis on great-power politics and tendency to see smaller countries as mere pawns led him to espouse policies with often disastrous consequences. 
    • Meghan O’Sullivan, Director, Belfer Center
      • Henry Kissinger shaped, informed, and animated American foreign policy for decades. His influence was as significant outside government as it was inside, and his ability to impact events was as astonishing in his 100th year as it was in earlier decades, when he sat in both the White House and the State Department. I feel privileged to have gotten to know this extraordinary statesman, scholar, and strategist since we first met during the time of the Iraq war nearly twenty years ago.
      • Today, ... [the] geopolitical landscape seems to beg for the best of Kissinger’s scholarship and practice. Few better understood the dynamics and dangers of great power politics than Kissinger. He used this knowledge to produce outcomes that changed the course of history, both in the U.S. recognition of China and in détente between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the Middle East, fifty years ago, Kissinger’s vigorous and creative diplomacy helped allow peace to emerge from violence.  As we face current challenges that have more than echoes of the past, we will be able to draw on the lessons—both positive and negative—from Kissinger’s career and scholarship.
    • Rana Mitter, S.T. Lee Professor of U.S.-Asia Relations 
      • There are few events that  change the trajectory of history completely.  The U.S. opening to China in 1971-72 was one of those events. Henry Kissinger not only shaped that event through his secret diplomacy, but also used his historian’s skills to inform our understanding of why it mattered for a half-century after the original impact. He will remain a central figure in the story we tell about the turbulent relationship between China and the U.S. in the last century and our present one.
    • Joseph S. Nye, Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor
      • Henry Kissinger’s greatest successes as a statesman were the opening to China, détente with Russia, and management of the crises of the Middle East. He would add ending the Vietnam War which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, but that is contested. On China, Kissinger and Nixon had the vision and temerity to guide world politics away from Cold War bipolarity and reintegrate China into the international system. 
      • On the other side of the ledger, Kissinger’s failures of moral statesmanship include Chile, the India-Pakistan war of 1971, and the bombing of Cambodia that led to the accession of the genocidal Khmer Rouge. For a man who extolled the importance to a long-term vision of protecting freedom, these were three failures, but not enough to match the three successes.

“Graham Allison: How Henry Kissinger Shaped My Life,” Graham Allison, NI, 12.01.23.

  • In one of the highlights of this past January’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, I was asked to interview Henry about his historical perspective on the current war in Ukraine and the risks of war between the US and China. In noting that he was rapidly approaching the 100th year of his birth, I thanked him for enlarging our conception of a meaningful life. He was a living demonstration that it is possible for a human being to remain intellectually engaged and productive well beyond the conventional Biblical “three score and ten.” He gave the rest of us hope. When someone in the audience observed that the century of Henry’s life covers 40% of the history of the United States of America, I reminded them that this was less a reflection of how old Henry was than of how young the United States is.
  • Henry Kissinger was America’s greatest living statesman, Harvard’s most accomplished living graduate, and the model practitioner of statecraft as Applied History.

“Henry Kissinger, Statesman and Friend,” Eric Schmidt, WSJ, 12.02.23. 

  • He [Kissinger] believed that the U.S. could coexist with China through mutual understanding, that Russia could eventually rejoin the community of nations, and that Arab-Israeli tensions could be reduced.

“Lessons From Kissinger’s Triumphs and Catastrophes,” Nicholas Kristof, NYT, 12.02.23.

  • China early in the Nixon administration was isolated and chaotic, with Red Guards rampaging through the country. But Kissinger saw opportunity and nurtured it in ways that led to the unimaginable: a presidential visit and eventually normalization of relations and an explosion of trade. Russia felt sufficiently outmaneuvered that it then invited Nixon to Moscow and signed a landmark arms control agreement.

“Kissinger’s Contradictions: How Strategic Insight and Moral Myopia Shaped America’s Greatest Statesman.” Timothy Naftali, FA, 12.01.23.

  • Although committed to peace and fluent in the language of diplomacy, [Kissinger] was a risk-taker who believed in not only in threatening violence but in applying it, as well.
  • The elaborate “triangular diplomacy” that became the hallmark of Kissinger’s career-- détente with Moscow, including the first nuclear arms limitation agreement in history, coupled with the opening of relations with Beijing.
    • …No U.S. diplomat before or since has engaged in the kind of high-wire act that Kissinger pulled off during his many secret meetings in 1971, which paved the way for Nixon’s triumphal visits to China and the Soviet Union…

“A Short Postscript to Henry Kissinger’s Long Century,” Andrei Kortunov, RIAC, 12.02.23. Clues from Russian Views  

  • The sheer magnitude of Kissinger’s personality cannot but command respect. 
    • Above all, he fully possessed a quality that is traditionally defined in the world of politics as the ability to “think strategically.” 
    • Second, as a convinced political realist, Kissinger never allowed his ideological preferences (which he certainly had) to determine practical decisions and foreign policy priorities. 
    • Third, Kissinger had a huge respect for his opponents. Not only did he abstain from any insulting or disparaging remarks about Leonid Brezhnev, Andrey Gromyko, or Anatoly Dobrynin; on the contrary, he always emphasized the strengths of his Soviet opponents. 
    • But perhaps the most important characteristic of Henry Kissinger was that he understood the limitations of America’s resources and capabilities.
      •  He therefore tried to set only achievable goals for the U.S. foreign policy, those not fraught with the risk of a dangerous imperial overstretch. Like Otto von Bismarck a century earlier, Kissinger firmly believed in the multilateral balance of power as a reliable basis for international stability, and so he was always willing to seek mutually acceptable compromises with his geopolitical adversaries.  He consistently avoided excessive risks, advocating stability and predictability in the U.S.-Soviet relations and preventing a repetition of the acute crises between the two superpowers that characterized the turbulent era of the 1950s and 1960s. 
  • It is too early to make a museum piece of Henry Kissinger’s rich and diverse Realpolitik. It might do us great service in the 21st century since humanity has not yet come up with another reliable basis for building a sustainable international system in an increasingly diverse world. 

“The last one from the Congress of Vienna,” Fyodor Lukyanov, Kommersant/Russia in Global Affairs, 12.01.23. Clues from Russian Views2

  • Kissinger’s worldview is the antithesis of the “end of history.” International relations have no beginning and cannot have an end. They constitute a process of constantly searching for balance, breaking it and recreating it. There is no such thing as an unconditional victory - the loser recovers and demands his rights, upsetting the balance. Therefore, it is advisable to respect it [the loser] preventively, integrating it into the overall system on acceptable grounds.
  • Kissinger treated Russia with the dispassion of a natural scientist – treating it as an important element of balance, no more, but no less. He did not consider her [Russia] to be an enemy after the collapse of the USSR. [Such an attitude] was enough to constantly generate heaps of reproaches for Putinism in the modern environment.


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russian Military Keynesianism: Who Benefits from the War in Ukraine?” Volodymyr Ishchenko, Ilya Matveev and Oleg Zhuravlev, PONARS, 11.27.23.

  • Looking at the development of the Russian war economy through the prism of the state-led macroeconomic policies known as “military Keynesianism,” we find that support for the war among at least part of Russian society may be rooted in material factors. The intensification of military production; the significant increase in payments to Russian soldiers, their relatives, and the police; the increase in military contracts; and import substitution in response to sanctions have all contributed to creating a conscious base of support among those groups benefiting materially from the war. 
    • If sustained over time, these effects could have significant consequences not only for the sustainability of support for a war of attrition and for Russia’s long-term confrontation with the West, but also for the transformation of the Russian economy and political regime, creating a positive feedback loop. However, the current economic and social effects of Russian military Keynesianism are contradictory—and some Russians who have seen their living standards decline due to its undesirable effects (like inflation) have become more critical of the war.
      • Military Keynesianism is state-led macroeconomic policy that aims to increase aggregate demand by increasing military spending. Nazi Germany and the United States during the Cold War are considered to be the prime examples of military Keynesianism. 
  • [Russia’s] spending on “national defense” stood at 4.7 trillion rubles (about $50 billion at current rates) in 2022, a 30% increase from the pre-war plan. The projected figures for 2023 and 2024 are 6.4 trillion rubles ($69 billion) and a staggering 10.8 trillion rubles ($116 billion), nearly triple the pre-war level. In 2022-2023, the war was financed by deficit spending: last year, the federal budget deficit stood at 2.3% of GDP, and the projected figure for 2023 is 2%. High military spending certainly contributes to economic growth. The industrial recovery has been led by such sectors as “finished metal products” and “computers, electronics, and optical products,” which are largely made up of military production.
  • In addition, the high salaries paid to soldiers participating in the war, as well as the monetary transfers made to the families of those soldiers injured or killed, have almost certainly affected income and poverty levels nationally: the bulk of war-related transfers have been made to the poorest segments of society, from which soldiers are overwhelmingly recruited. According to Rosstat, real incomes fell modestly (by 1.5%) in 2022 and recovered quickly in 2023, while the poverty rate fell slightly in the first year of the war compared to the pre-war period (from 11.0% in 2021 to 9.8% in 2022).
  • Russian military Keynesianism has been relatively successful in the short term. Along with the increase in military spending and social payments, the country has seen the explosive growth of the military-industrial complex and related sectors, such as microelectronics and electrical equipment. Another potential driver of growth is the reconstruction of destroyed cities in the annexed Ukrainian territories. The deficit-financed militarization of the economy certainly contributed to the country’s economic recovery in 2022-2023.
  • However, there are reasons to question the sustainability of military Keynesianism and the extent to which it can have a positive impact on the country’s economic growth in the medium and long term. These are related to Russia’s technology gap with the West, which has been exacerbated by sanctions, and especially to the current labor shortage. It is not clear whether the Russian government will be able to address these issues and mitigate the negative effects on the civilian sectors of the economy, as well as combat accelerating inflation. Indeed, the Ministry of Finance’s current plan to return to the policy of balanced budgets as soon as possible raises the question of whether Keynesian policies are even considered a long-term strategy.

“Putin’s Favorite “Project Managers” Could Become a Risk to the Regime,” Andrey  Pertsev, CEIP, 11.30.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • Autocratic regimes breed nepotism and, in Putin’s case, this has been true from the very start. Two of his St. Petersburg friends, Alexei Miller and Igor Sechin, were made the respective heads of state-owned energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft. Tycoons close to Putin, like the Kovalchuk brothers, the Rotenberg brothers, and oil trader Gennady Timchenko, acquired major assets. And Nikolai Patrushev, an old KGB colleague, succeeded Putin as head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in 1999.
  • The list of Putin’s St. Petersburg favorites is a long one. But the idea was always simple: give power and resources to those you trust. Experience and expertise were of secondary importance.  ...All of these favorites are best characterized as “guardians”: they control given resources, or certain sectors, for the president. 
  • However, Putin’s favorites are changing. His St. Petersburg friends continue to control resources and hold key positions, but a new group is snapping at their heels. Typically, these men—they are mostly men—are professionals who devise projects that tickle Putin’s fancy.
    • The first such favorite was Sergei Sobyanin, who made his name as governor of Tyumen region. Since becoming mayor of Moscow in 2010, Sobyanin has sought to transform the capital into an Asian-style metropolis: modern, but devoid of civil society and local community. 
    • Sobyanin’s rise has provided others with an example to follow. One of these is Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, who oversees the construction sector. Another is Kremlin deputy chief of staff Sergei Kiriyenko, who presides over a vast machine for entertaining Putin.
    • This cohort also includes Yuri Trutnev, presidential envoy to Russia’s Far East, and Putin aide Maxim Oreshkin. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin pulls in Putin with the promise of a modern, highly digitized form of government. And Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko is attracting attention with his sporting events and IT projects.
      • If the St. Petersburg favorites are the regime’s “guardians,” these men are its “builders.” Admittedly, their constructions are largely cosmetic.
  • There are two main reasons why Putin’s favorites have changed. 
    • Firstly, a restless and aging autocrat needs to be entertained. 
    • Secondly, as the years go by, Putin is increasingly preoccupied with his legacy: he wants objects, events, and structures to outlast him. In both cases, ambitious officials can sense an opportunity for career advancement.
  • Be that as it may, a court filled with project managers is not necessarily a boon to the regime. Unlike the “guardians,” the “builders” owe their rise as much to their own merits as to the Russian president. … If we end up in a situation in which Putin and his St. Petersburg friends are unwilling to meet the demands of the new favorites, we could see sabotage, or even open discontent. … Enterprising and competent officials know full well they can survive without Putin. Whether the regime can survive without them, though, is another matter. Either way, their project management skills have helped them enter the president’s inner sanctum—and will come in handy in a Russia without Putin.

“How Putin is reshaping Russia to keep his war-machine running. He is creating a class of wealthy bureaucrats, who are the war’s biggest supporters,” The Economist, 11.30.23. 

  • On the face of things, most Russians have meekly accepted the war in Ukraine, which will soon be two years old. Two-thirds tell Russian Field, a pollster, that the country is moving in the right direction and over half say the war in Ukraine is going well. ....But just because the majority of Russians have accepted the war does not mean that they are enthusiastic about it. .... Fully 74% say they would be happy for Mr. Putin to sign a peace deal right away. Some 31% of the poll’s respondents who advocate a peace deal on Ukraine do so on conditions that Ukrainians would find unacceptable, such as the annexations of parts of Ukraine (beyond Crimea), or the full capitulation of Ukraine, according to RM’s analysis of the Russian Field’s poll.*
  • Strikingly...the richer and more educated people are, the more supportive they are. As an anonymous Russian academic explains in a recent article in Meduza, an online publication, there is a big class of bureaucrats and businessmen who have attained their status through patronage and who will uphold the regime to protect it. “
  • Russian businesses have helped stabilize the economy not out of any affection for the state, but because they excel at coping with big, unexpected and often arbitrary shifts in their circumstances. Andrei Yakovlev of Harvard University, who has conducted a survey of Russian entrepreneurs, says that having lived through several financial crises and done constant battle with predatory bureaucrats, they put a premium on preparing for the worst. 
  • It helps, of course, that vast quantities of petrodollars have been sloshing around the economy. In the first year of the war Russia earned $590bn in export revenues—most of it from oil and gas. According to calculations by Re: Russia..., that is $160bn more than the annual average over the prior decade. In the second year, revenues should still be some $60bn above the average. Re: Russia believes that the war costs at least $100bn a year—so the extra income from oil covers most of the expense of waging it.
  • The government’s budget increased by 26% last year and will rise by another 16% next year. Defense spending will almost double next year, to 6% of GDP—the highest it has been since the collapse of the Soviet Union. 
  • Some 43% of Russians expect their economic situation to worsen in the next year or two, while only 21% expect it to improve, according to Russian Field.
  • Moscow and St Petersburg do not benefit much from the new order, but depressed industrial regions—Mr. Putin’s heartland—are living better than they have for years. In Izhevsk, a poor city close to the Ural mountains which produces guns, missiles and equipment for electronic warfare, the average salary has gone up by 25% since the start of the war. 
  • Russia’s vast and poor hinterland has also benefited from the cash the authorities are dangling in order to secure more recruits to the army. Those who volunteer are paid around 195,000 rubles a month, four times the newly increased average salary in Izhevsk, and a one-off bonus on enlistment of 195,000 rubles. ....Vladislav Inozemtsev, a Russian economist ... estimates that the family of a soldier who gets killed after five months’ service would receive about 15m rubles in total. It would take an average Russian man 30 years to earn as much. Life expectancy for a Russian man is only 65. Mr. Putin’s regime is trying to turn getting killed into an economically rational choice, argues Mr. Inozemtsev.
  • [There is a]contradiction at the heart of Mr. Putin’s approach to the war. He wants both to mobilize ever more manpower and money for the fight and at the same time to secure Russians’ acquiescence by disrupting their lives as little as possible.

“In Russia, the shift in public opinion is unmistakable,” Mikhail Zygar, WP, 11.29.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • Twenty months ago, after Vladimir Putin had launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many high-ranking Russians believed that the end was near. The economy faced disaster, as they saw it, and the Putin regime was on the brink of collapse. Today, the mood has changed dramatically. Business leaders, officials and ordinary people tell me that the economy has stabilized, defying the Western sanctions that were once expected to have a devastating effect. Putin's regime, they say, looks more stable than at any other time in the past two years.
    • Restaurants in Moscow are packed.
    • Real estate prices are rising, and construction is booming. 
    • Before the war, Russian business executives generally kept their savings in the West. ... [now] the only option left is for tycoons to put their money into domestic investments. 
    • The sanctions have left Russian business leaders with no option but to stay at home. 
    • Russian industry is booming. Defense companies are leading the way, of course, with some expected to show growth of more than 30 percent this year. 
    • The Soviet Union's Cold War isolation has not repeated itself. 
    • [IMF is predicting a GDP growth of] 2.2 percent [in 2023.]
  • It is the war in the Middle East... that has convinced Russian business leaders that Putin is winning. In their view, public opinion in the West is shifting away from Ukraine. Putin, meanwhile, will strengthen his standing in the eyes of the Global South. His claims that the United States is to blame for the crisis in Gaza resonate with millions of people around the world.
  • As for the war, the authorities are finding recruits by focusing their efforts on the poorest, most depressed regions of Russia and promising salaries 10 times the average. Putin still has money in his coffers, meaning that he is not going to run out of cannon fodder anytime soon.
  • The shift in public opinion is unmistakable. Twenty months ago, Russian elites were convinced that the long-unassailable Putin had finally overplayed his hand, and that he would likely have to pay a harsh price for his miscalculation. Now, most of them seem to have changed their minds. The Russian president, as they see it, has shown that he's here to stay.

“Alternate Reality: How Russian Society Learned to Stop Worrying About the War,” Denis Volkov and Andrei Kolesnikov, CEIP, 11.28.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • Russian mass consciousness is stuck between two contradictory views: “we need to finish what we started, we have already lost too much to stop now, only victory will suffice” (about a third of those in favor of continuing to fight express this view) versus “too many of our boys are dying, there are too many casualties on both sides” (a view shared by about half of those in favor of peace talks).
  • While the public is tired of the “special military operation,” there are different views on how the fighting should end. The problem is that the average Russian believes it is their duty to endorse what the state deems to be moral and right. This explains the increase in support for repressive and restrictive laws. Moreover, two-thirds of respondents said they would support to a greater or lesser extent a friend or family member who decided to go and fight, according to a May 2023 poll. Fifty-three percent disapprove of those leaving the country to avoid being drafted: another reflection of the sense of duty.
  • Some data, however, do point to doubts the respondents might have. If they could go back in time, 48 percent of them would still support the “special military operation,” but 39 percent would not: a significant number that correlates to the 41 percent of Russians who believe the “special operation” has done more harm than good (38 percent believe the opposite).In other words, many people back government initiatives while recognizing the harm they are doing. This tells us something about the mechanism behind people’s decision-making: they will submit to anything the government has decided. Many Russians equate their country with the political regime that rules it. To quote focus group participants: “The country’s destiny is hanging in the balance.” In fact, it’s the regime’s destiny that is at stake, and its interests are not necessarily synonymous with those of the country. Not many people share this outlook, however.
  • Even as the years have passed, Russian society still hasn’t been able to emancipate itself from the state. For most people, the interest of the state, especially on a symbolic level (for example, the Russian national anthem, the flag of the Russian Federation, the president, and the armed forces), is equated with the national interest. The “special military operation” has laid this phenomenon bare. While there is little trust for the authorities on everyday matters, the state is still sacralized as waging a “defensive” and “liberational” battle against an imaginary enemy “attack” on the homeland.
  • The state continues to create the prevailing public opinion through propaganda. That success artificially generates demand for the country’s false imperial grandeur. Russian society has yet to develop immunity against such moves by the state. Of course, the Russian public is not some kind of collective Dr. Strangelove that has “learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.” But the processes by which society has absorbed ideas and events over the past twenty months of the protracted “special military operation” have tarnished people’s morals and distorted their sense of reality. A year ago, this segment of society might have chosen to hide from reality. Today it is living in an artificial world in which the Russian nation is carrying out a messianic mission and defending itself from the West that seeks to destroy it.

“Putin’s War Party. How Russia’s Election Will Validate Autocracy—and Permanent Conflict With the West,” Andrei Kolesnikov, FA, 12.01.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • Putin really needs elections, at least in theory. In addition to refreshing his legitimacy, they serve as a way to show that the opposition—through the predictable landslide outcome—remains a tiny minority and cannot go against the overwhelming will of the Russian people. Moreover, by voting for Putin in 2024, Russians will legitimize his war. 
  • Rather than elections, then, the March vote should be thought of as a kind of acclamation for the leader: they are simply voting yes to the only real choice available. … During the “special operation,” an unwritten agreement has been established between the people and their leader. The gist of this special relationship is that as long as the state refrains from dragging (most) people into battle, Russians will not question Putin’s authority. 
  • To make his worldview stick, Putin needs a viable economic model to sustain the mythmaking... [but the economic] growth is coming at the expense of the state, and it is unclear how long its resources will last. ....A larger problem is the lack of an economic vision for the future. As the historian Alexander Etkind notes, “A resource-dependent state is always afraid of the raw materials running out, but the biggest threat of all comes from new technology that makes those materials unnecessary.” 
  • So what will Putin’s election campaign look like? Given the current situation, Putin can only offer the public the same model of survival that has become standard since the “special operation” began: to live against the backdrop of war without paying attention to it and wait for “victory” in whatever form the president someday chooses. … The Kremlin’s other option would be to ramp up hostilities, including a new mobilization, whether partial or general, combined with further distancing from the West and more repression at home. But such changes could rock the Kremlin
  • When Russians go to the polls in March, Putin can count on high voter turnout and continued passive support for the war..... [but] Russians are not ready to die for Putin. In 2018 and 2020, Putin’s ratings fell because of an unpopular decision to increase the retirement age, and then because of the effects of the pandemic; it is possible that his base of support will take other hits in the coming months. Indeed, in the mood of both the public and the elites, there is an invisible yet discernible expectation of such events. For most, however, the yearning is more basic. They desire to end “all this”—meaning get rid of war—as quickly as possible and begin to live better, more safely, and more peacefully. But it is unlikely that this will happen without regime change. 

“Mobilized Soldiers’ Wives Against Putin,” Nikolai Petrov, Russia.Post, 12.01.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • Until recently, the “purchase” of cannon fodder – with generous compensation for going to Ukraine and big payments to the families of victims – allowed the authorities to ensure relative social stability, despite the massive losses, though this deal has gradually broken down. In their manifesto, the mobilized soldiers’ wives declare: “they are trying to shut us up with payments and benefits... But when it comes to putting a price on the life of a loved one, I want to tear apart anyone who dares to make such a disgusting offer.”
  • The characteristics of the protests – women-led, widespread, spontaneous, without a hierarchical organization but with numerous horizontal structures – puts the Kremlin in zugzwang. Any move will lead to a bad outcome for the authorities, and it is impossible to play for time because of the elections.
  • We will see whether the Kremlin can find the least bad way out of this situation during Putin’s yearly call-in show on December 14.

“Russia struggles with a demographic crunch,” Tony Barber, FT, 12.02.23.

  • Raising Russia’s birth rates and reversing population decline have been goals close to Putin’s heart throughout his 23-year rule, but never more so than in the past three or four years. During this period, the Covid pandemic and the war against Ukraine have taken a heavy toll of Russia’s population, now about 145mn.
  • Just before the pandemic broke out in 2020, Putin proclaimed: “Russia’s fate and its historical prospects depend on one thing: how many of us there are and how many of us there will be.” … As the French demographer Laurent Chalard puts it: “Putin is obsessed with this demographic issue. In his mind, the power of a country is linked to the size of its population. The larger the population, the more powerful the state.”
  • Apart from Soviet-style fertility awards, territorial annexations and abductions of children, what measures has Putin put in place to encourage larger families and boost Russia’s population? One initiative is a crackdown on abortion, launched in close co-operation with the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church. ... [but] Russian demographers see little statistical correlation in the nation’s modern history between abortion rates and birth rates.
  • Putin has also experimented with allocating cash grants and mortgage credits to families that have several children. These payments temporarily lifted birth rates but, since the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine, the effect has worn off. Under Putin, Russia has also taken in millions of migrant workers, mainly from predominantly Muslim, former Soviet republics familiar with the Russian language and culture. To what extent this may stoke social tensions in Russia remains to be seen.
  • As far as Russians themselves are concerned, the mistrust between state and society is so great that one rumor doing the rounds is that the Kremlin, desperate to lift birth rates, plans to replace foreign condoms that work with Russian ones that don’t.

“Vladimir Putin addressed, via videoconference, the plenary session of the World Russian People’s Council,”, 11.28.23. Clues from Russian Views  

  • Friends, our fight for sovereignty and justice is, without exaggeration, one of national liberation. … We are now fighting not just for Russia's freedom but for the freedom of the whole world. 
  • We know the threat we are opposing. Russophobia and other forms of racism and neo-Nazism have almost become the official ideology of Western ruling elites. They are directed not only against ethnic Russians, but against all groups living in Russia: Tatars, Chechens, Avars, Tuvinians, Bashkirs, Buryats, Yakuts, Ossetians, Jews, Ingush, Mari and Altai. … The West has no need for such a large and multi-ethnic country as Russia as a matter of principle. … I would like to emphasize that we view any outside interference or provocations to incite ethnic or religious conflict as acts of aggression against our country, and an attempt to once again wield terrorism and extremism as a weapon against us, and we will respond accordingly.
  • I believe we all remember, and must remember, the lessons of the 1917 revolution, the subsequent Civil War, and the disintegration of the USSR in 1991. It may seem like many years have passed since then, but people of all ethnicities living today, even those born in the 21st century are still paying now, decades later, for the miscalculations made at that time – indulgences in separatist illusions, the weakness of the central authority, and a policy of artificial, forced division in this large Russian nation, a triune of Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians. The bloody conflicts that emerged after the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union not only continue to smolder but sometimes flare up with renewed energy. These wounds will not be healed for a long time. We will never forget these mistakes and should not repeat them. 
  • Being Russian is more than a nationality. By the way, this has always been the case throughout our country’s history. Among other things, it includes cultural, spiritual, and historical identity. Being Russian is, above all, a responsibility. … The West is now pursuing a “cancel culture” policy, but this is, in fact, a renunciation of humanitarian education. … We need an integral holistic approach to education with family, education, national culture, children’s, youth, sports and military-patriotic organizations, large-scale mentoring movements; and let me add, the wise word of our spiritual clergy harmoniously supplement each other. 
  • We will not overcome the daunting demographic challenges facing us solely with money, social benefits, allowances, privileges, or dedicated programs. ... Let us remember that Russian families, many of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had seven, eight, or even more children. Let us preserve and revive these excellent traditions. Large families must become the norm, a way of life for all Russia’s peoples.

Defense and aerospace:

“Russian Military Drones: Past, Present, and Future of the UAV Industry,” Pavel Luzin, FPRI, 11.30.23. Clues from Russian Views

  • Relying on global supply chains, Russia was able to develop its own UAV industrial base in the late 2000s and early 2010s. For UAV production, Russia imported electronics, engines, and industrial equipment (which is more important than electronic components) from Europe, the United States, Israel, and Japan, among other places.
  • The fundamental problem of integrating UAVs into the different branches of the Russian armed forces and Russian military doctrine was not solved by 2022. The full-scale aggression against Ukraine challenged Russia’s approaches towards UAVs and the UAV industrial base. Significant parts of the drone supply chains that Russia purchased before 2022 have been lost. Western sanctions and Russia’s decreasing financial, technological, and human capabilities undermine sophisticated UAV projects started in the 2010s, as well as the Strategy of Development of Unmanned Aviation for 2030–2035 issued in 2023.
  • The Russian military recognized that Ukraine processed and exchanged information between drones and artillery much faster, and this processing—together with general compatibility of different systems in the Russian armed forces—needed crucial improvements. … The lack of command, control, and communication systems—together with an over-centralized decision-making process and the huge Ukrainian theater—made smaller tactical units in the Russian military dependent on imported small commercial and agricultural drones like those produced by the Chinese company DJI. … Unlike Ukraine, Russia cannot rely on the wide civic movement that systemically provides the armed forces with commercial drones and other equipment.
  • Based on the experience of using Iran-made “Shahed-136” and “Shahed-131” loitering munitions, the Russian military started efforts towards better tactics of using drone swarms as well as developing an efficient command and control system. … At the same time, the Russian military focused on further developing and improving counter-UAV capabilities in the face of swarms of small, cheap Ukrainian drones.
  • Uncertainty in the Russian UAV industry—and in the whole aerospace industry—will persist, if not increase, in coming years. … Given Russia’s long-term dependence on imported components and industrial equipment, together with a limited workforce and massive losses of UAVs during the ongoing war, Russia’s capabilities in reconnaissance and targeting, as well as in high-precision weapons, will stagnate, if not decrease, in the foreseeable future. Considering that Ukraine is making significant advances in using drones with assistance of its Western allies, Russia will not be able to restore its superiority in this aspect of military power.
  •  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:3

"Henry Kissinger’s (Maybe) Last Interview: Drop the 2-State Solution," Rolf Dobelli interviews Henry Kissinger, Politico, 12.02.23. 

  • The difficulty of the two-state solution is shown by the experience of Hamas. ... the two-state solution doesn’t guarantee that what we saw in the last weeks won’t happen again. 
  • [Asked: Is there the possibility for Russia to show greater involvement in the Middle East, partly as an attempt to divert attention from their problems in Ukraine?] Before the Ukrainian war, Russia was generally in favor of Israel in the confrontation with Arabs. If Russia now would intervene, it has two options: to engage on the side of the Arabs or to appear as a mediator in the crisis — which would be strange in light of the Ukrainian war. 
  • [Asked: Do we need to squeeze Russia and or China out of the Middle East today?] The ability to squeeze these powers out of the Middle East, or to encourage them to play a positive role depends fundamentally on China-American relationships. And those are not improving. Right now, the greatest difficulty with respect to Russia is that we have not heard what their thinking is, because there is no dialogue with Russia at all. 
  • [Asked: There is a crisis of leadership in our world, a crisis of leadership in the United States, in Israel, in Russia. When you think about the leaders of the future, what are some of the qualities they should possess?] The leaders of the world have failed. They have failed to master the overriding concepts, the fundamentals and the day-to-day tactics. Societies have to find a way to solve their problems without continuously having a series of conflicts. That is the challenge. We have been facing a period of constant conflict resulting in a major wars destroying much of the civilization that has been built. 

“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions following the 30th OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting,”, 12.01.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • We have become convinced that our Western colleagues have not learned any lessons from their disastrous policy line towards destroying the OSCE. They continue to finish it off with a zeal worthy of better use. Yesterday, 95 percent of remarks by our Western colleagues were aimed at this. Only a few “sober” voices recalled that the OSCE was created for the purpose of cooperation and ensuring mutual security. Much was done to this end.
  • But everything has been destroyed in the military-political area. They refused to ratify the Adapted CFE Treaty and many other agreements that helped maintain a security balance, ensured real arms control and arms reductions in the European “theatre.” Everything has been destroyed in the economic area as well. This second “basket” was demolished by the unprecedented sanctions that the EU and the US have imposed on the Russia Federation.
  • I do not care about the outcome of this get-together and the attempts to bargain for an extra day or week to continue the crude violation of all OSCE principles. I am referring to the heads of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the media managers and the people dealing with rights of national minorities. I am finishing my remarks on a not very  


“President versus general. What will the conflict between Zelensky and Zaluzhny lead to?” Konstantin Skorkin, CEIP, 12.03.23. 4

  •  By the end of the second year of the war, not a trace of the former unity can be found in the Ukrainian elite. The more the fighting drags on, the more active is the search in Kyiv for those to blame. The most dangerous line of division is .... between the civilian and military authorities, personified in the figures of President Vladimir Zelensky and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhny.
  • In war conditions  conflicts with the army is the last thing Zelensky needs, so they have tried to mitigate the disagreements. But the contours of a potential rift are obvious. On the one hand, some of the generals and the national-patriotic opposition want to earn political capital by contrasting the heroic Armed Forces of Ukraine with the incompetent civil authorities. On the other hand, the President’s Office fears that as the fighting subsided, former front-line soldiers would want to see a person from among themselves at the head of the country, and Commander-in-Chief Zaluzhny was an ideal candidate for that.
  • When, by the fall of 2023, it had become clear that the Ukrainian offensive had not lived up to expectations, these contradictions became much more difficult to contain. … It has predictably transpired that having two at the top is too much of a crowd and the lack of success at the front only exacerbated the contradictions. The dispute was not about who did more for the victory, but about who bears greater responsibility for the fact that the turning point in favor of Ukraine has never occurred.
  • The inevitable involvement of the army in politics, which is increasing every month, increases the risks of internal destabilization of Ukraine.

“The crackdown on Ukraine’s oligarchs.” Ben Hall, FT, 11.29.23.

  • The war has accelerated anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine on multiple fronts as the country tries to reassure its western backers and put itself on a path to EU membership. 
    • Ukraine still has to prove it can prosecute tycoons accused of corruption and legally recover stolen assets.
    • Ukraine needs to take a more systematic approach — with well-resourced and independent regulators and a clean and effective judiciary — to prevent any comeback or attempted state capture by new actors who might enrich themselves during the war or reconstruction.
  • Television was once the favorite tool of influence of Ukraine’s oligarchs looking to influence government decisions. 
    • [During the war] Some oligarchs like Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, have given up their TV licenses, while others have sold out.
    • “There will never be a critical mass of influence from TV channels in Ukraine again,” says Hlib Vyshlinsky, executive director of the Centre for Economic Strategy.
  • The biggest loser was Akhmetov, whose two vast steel plants in Mariupol were destroyed... Although still Ukraine’s richest man, his fortune was estimated to have shrunk from $13.7bn to $4.4bn.
    • The September arrest of Kolomoisky, a brash corporate raider, was hailed by campaigners as a milestone in the country’s efforts to tackle corruption….The swoop against Kolomoisky was one of several actions taken by the authorities in recent months to show they are serious about confronting alleged corruption.
  • [In 2021] Zelenskyy [pushed] an anti-oligarch law through parliament. A person meeting three out of four criteria — wealth of at least 2.7bn hryvnia ($74mn), ownership of a monopoly, participation in politics or significant media influence — would be registered and required to declare all assets. … The government has also come under fire for the way it has used the SBU state security service to pursue oligarchs and seize their assets. The intelligence agency — which answers to the president — has wide-ranging investigative powers.
    • A leaked US government list from [2023] of “priority reforms” for Ukraine said Kyiv should limit the SBU’s powers to counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism and cyber security.
  • Another concern is the vast power wielded by the team of unaccountable advisers around Zelenskyy, which creates a potential opportunity for influence peddling. … “There is a risk new oligarchs will emerge through connections to power and through embezzlement schemes,” says Kaleniuk, the activist. … Ukraine “may be free of the oligarchs,” says Vyshlinsky, but the underlying incentives for state capture may not have completely changed.

“The Limits of Russian Manipulation. National Identity and the Origins of the War in Ukraine,” Clint Reach, Ryan Bauer, Alyssa Demus, Khrystyna Holynska, RAND, November 2023.

  • In building policy toward such great powers as Russia (or China), officials should understand the origins of their political culture and national identity.
  • External factors, such as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) enlargement, were probably not the primary drivers of Russian behavior toward Ukraine.
  • Despite some cultural and historical similarities with Russia, post-Soviet Ukraine formed a national identity that was fundamentally at odds with Russia's self-image.
  • Despite attention in the West to Russian prowess in manipulation, Russia seems to have significantly misjudged the robustness of Ukrainian national identity.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Russia’s war on Ukraine has strengthened Lukashenka but undermined Belarus,” Ryhor Astapenia, Chatham House, 12.04.23.

  • However extensive the Kremlin’s control over Belarus may be now, in the coming years it will face pivotal tests.
    • The first test is Russia’s continued ability to prop up the Belarusian economy. This will be mainly determined by global energy resource prices and the outcome of the war against Ukraine. The Kremlin has penetrated the Belarusian state so profoundly that its control is likely to persist even after Lukashenka and Putin are gone.
    • The second test is the departure of Lukashenka and Putin, both of whom are very likely to leave their positions over the next decade. The next ruler of Russia will need to decide how important Belarus is to them and how much they are willing to invest. The next ruler of Belarus is unlikely to have the same toxic relationship with the West as Lukashenka, which could present a narrow opening for Belarus to rebuild its foreign policy.
    • However, the Kremlin has penetrated the Belarusian state so profoundly that its control is likely to persist even after Lukashenka and Putin are gone. Its position is currently unchallengeable with leaders of the Belarusian democratic opposition either incarcerated or in exile, and with few opportunities for the West to have any influence.             

“For democracy to return to Belarus, it will need U.S. help,” Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, WP, 12.04.23.

  • We will ask the United States to impose sanctions against Russia not only for its war crimes in Ukraine but also for undermining Belarusian sovereignty. Additionally, the United States should stress that all agreements between Lukashenko and Russia are illegal. He is a criminal, not a legitimate president.
  • We are also asking the United States to appoint a special envoy on Belarus to solidify our partnership. Congress should update the Belarus Democracy Act, which is a written commitment to a free and sovereign Belarus. Changes in Belarus can begin with the victory of Ukraine, or even before. We have to prepare for those changes now. When the window of opportunity opens, we must be ready to ensure that Belarus will not remain in Russian slavery.
  • We ask the United States and its people to support exiled nongovernmental organizations, human rights organizations and initiatives that promote democratic values and the rule of law. American tech companies can help exiled members of Belarus's media reach people behind Putin's Iron Curtain. It is also important to support initiatives promoting the Belarusian language, culture and history. A strong national identity will be the best antidote to the so-called Russian world.
  • As our Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski — now serving a 10-year prison sentence in Belarus — said: "What pushes us forward tirelessly is hope and a dream." I ask the United States to help us make this dream a reality.

“They reported the truth about corruption in Azerbaijan. Now they're in prison,” WP Editorial Board, WP, 12.02.23. 

  • In Azerbaijan, a country run by an authoritarian regime, it has taken gumption and daring for the independent journalists of Abzas Media to report. The headlines on their website list revelatory exposés about the foreign minister's family wealth; a village relocated because of the president's son-in-law; and companies with millions in unpaid taxes winning billions in new contracts.
  • This month, the journalists paid a price for their audacity. President Ilham Aliyev, who has been in office since the death of his father, Heydar, in 2003 and who has never shown tolerance for dissent or criticism, began a crackdown — hardly his first — against independent media, using spurious legal charges to silence them.
    • On Nov. 20, the government arrested Ulvi Hasanli, founder and director of Abzas Media, searching his apartment and raiding Abzas's offices. 
    • The next day, it arrested Sevinc Vagifgizi, the editor in chief, a well-known investigative journalist who has exposed high-level corruption, including allegations about the president, his family and members of his cabinet. A third person who has worked with Abzas, Mahammad Kekalov, has also been detained, according to Human Rights Watch.
    • Then, on Nov. 25, authorities arrested Aziz Orujov, director of the independent YouTube news channel Kanal 13. 
    • On Thursday, police seized another Abzas journalist, Nargiz Absalamova. 
  • "Why in fact they are arrested?" asked investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova on X. She said the smuggling charge is "false" and added that the "main focus" of Abzas "is investigative reporting. They authored [a] series of investigations … exposing corruption on the highest level. The latest story was about business of family members of the State Security service chief."
  • In July, Azeri authorities jailed prominent economist Gubad Ibadoghlu, who had called out corruption and kleptocracy under Mr. Aliyev. Mr. Ibadoghlu, who was a 2015 Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, remains imprisoned. 
  • Mr. Ibadoghlu and the journalists should be released immediately. Journalism and free expression are not crimes, as much as they discomfit the Azeri despot.



  1. Most of this summary has been researched and written by Belfer Center associate Kate Davidson.
  2. Translated with the help of machine translation.
  3. For the summary of the agenda of the Nov 27-28 Primakov Readings, which were entitled Horizons of Post-Globalization and co-organized by IMEMO follow this link.
  4. Translated with the help of machine translation.


The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 12:00 pm Eastern time on the day it was distributed. Unless otherwise indicated, all summaries above are direct quotations. 

*Here and elsewhere, the italicized text indicates comments by RM staff and associates. These comments do not constitute RM editorial policy.

Slider photo shared by the Ukrainian presidential press service via a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.