Russia Analytical Report, Nov. 6-13, 2017

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

Nuclear security:

“Production of New Highly Enriched Uranium in Russia for the FRM-II in Germany,” Alexander Glaser and Pavel Podvig, IPFM Blog, 11.08.17: The authors, experts on nuclear security, argue that use of Russian-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) by the German nuclear research reactor Forschungsreaktor München II (FRM-II) has allowed Russia to justify the production of fresh weapon-grade HEU, potentially violating German and international nuclear nonproliferation policy. While the German government and FRM-II operators have argued that its HEU comes existing Cold-War era stocks, Russia has in fact resumed production of HEU in 2012—and FRM-II played an important role in that decision. The authors point to several motives for Russia to renew production of HEU, despite its enormous stockpile. It may be logistically more feasible to make new HEU instead of processing existing stocks given that Russia has so much extra enrichment capacity. Russia may recognize that, since the United States is pushing to limit the use of HEU in civilian applications, there is an opportunity to establish itself as a new international supplier of research reactor fuel. “Once Russia built the capability to produce this kind of material, it can cover all markets, potentially replacing the United States, which is currently supplying fuel for older HEU-fueled reactors in Europe and elsewhere. FRM-II created an opportunity to build that capability,” the authors write. It could also be that Russia’s existing HEU stocks simply do not meet the preferred or required isotopic requirements for uranium.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

“Trump, Xi, Putin, and the Axis of Disorder,” Thomas Wright, Brookings Institution, 11.08.17: The author, the director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, offers a dire warning: the world order as we’ve known it “hangs by a thread”—and the leaders of the United States, China and Russia could cut it. In the case of Donald Trump, America has “a rogue president who has a 30-year track record of opposing key elements of the order, including free trade and alliances,” the author writes. Vladimir Putin, in turn, wants to overthrow the order because he believes it poses a direct threat to his regime. And Xi Jinping of China benefits from the open global economy but would like to replace the U.S. as the preeminent power in East Asia. For all of Trump’s unpredictability, the author singles out Putin as “the real wildcard.” The Russian president “knows he can interfere in U.S. elections on behalf of the Republicans without sanction or response from Trump.” And Putin will “continue to wage his political war against the European Union, seeing it as part of that U.S. led international order that poses so many dangers to him.” For Putin, NGOs, support for human rights and democracy, and the free press are all part of a Western strategy to orchestrate color revolutions to topple his regime. More than NATO troops or military interventions, Putin believes this is the real threat against him. Rather than risk a real war by invading the Baltic states, Putin is waging a covert war under the radar. Especially since it is already producing results. The author warns the policies being pursued by these three idiosyncratic leaders could fundamentally undermine the global economy and international cooperation. “In retrospect, we may look back on 2017 as the phony war when the three major protagonists—a modern axis of disorder— readied themselves to act in a radically changed world.”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Entanglement: Chinese and Russian Perspectives on Non-Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Risks,” James M. Acton, Alexey Arbatov, Vladimir Dvorkin, Petr Topychkanov, Tong Zhao, Li Bin, Carnegie Endowment, 11.08.17: The authors, nuclear nonproliferation experts based in the United States, China and Russia, assess the growing entanglement of non-nuclear weapons with nuclear weapons and the risk this poses for the inadvertent escalation of military conflict. As the authors note, entanglement has many dimensions: “dual-use delivery systems that can be armed with nuclear and non-nuclear warheads; the commingling of nuclear and non-nuclear forces and their support structures; and non-nuclear threats to nuclear weapons and their associated command, control, communication, and information (C3I) systems.” This risk is assessed from the perspectives of the three major powers. The Russian authors note that he concept of an “air-space war” is at the center of contemporary Russian strategic thought, but is ill-defined and would “create a breeding ground for entanglement.” Russian strategists seem to imagine a relatively prolonged conflict in which NATO launches non-nuclear air and missile strikes against Russia. “Because of the inevitable limitations in Russia’s ability to defend against these attacks, it might have to resort to the limited use of nuclear weapons in order to compel the United States and its allies into backing down,” the authors write. Russia might even “preempt the United States with selective strategic nuclear strikes to thwart U.S. naval and air forces that were perceived to be deploying for the purpose of initiating, or actually initiating a massive air-space attack.” The Chinese experts note that some military planners view the “thickened fog of war” that would result from the use of anti-satellite weapons in a limited regional war against the U.S. would confer a tactical military advantage for China. But the U.S. might then misinterpret Chinese military moves “as preparations for actually using nuclear weapons and, as a result, might initiate preemptive strikes against Chinese nuclear forces or facilities.” The U.S. expert warns that the assumption that inadvertent escalation is improbable “actually makes it more likely because political and military leaders are left less inclined, in peacetime, to take steps that could mitigate the risks, and more inclined, in wartime, to interpret ambiguous events in the worst possible light.” The author recommends that inadvertent escalation risks be incorporated into strategic-level decision-making. “Ideally, China, Russia, and the United States would all embark on this process, and each should do so irrespective of whether the others do.”


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

“Only the UN Can Hold a Real Syrian Election,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 11.03.17: The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes that the recent U.S.-Russian joint statement on Syria, calling for "free and fair elections under U.N. supervision,” could bolster the credibility of international organization and possibly help it resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine. To be sure, the U.S. and Russia may be turning to the U.N. in Syria because no other entity else could organize a meaningful election with so much of country’s prewar population of 22 million scattered throughout the world by the conflict. The Assad regime, the author notes, would “risk losing the last shreds of its international support if it refused to go along with a U.N.-supervised vote, backed even by his ally Putin.” And it would be a timely intervention for the U.N., “whose influence has been on the wane lately as the Trump administration has voiced skepticism about its usefulness. Arranging a Syria settlement could reverse the U.N.'s decline.” Good will between the parties could carry over to Ukraine, where Russia and Kiev and its Western allies have all agreed that a U.N.-peacekeeping mission could be helpful, but have disagreed about how it could work.

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“Russia Didn't Decide the 2016 Election. Facebook Did,” Niall Ferguson, The Boston Globe, 11.07.17: The writer, the author of “The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power,” argues that the real significance of Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 election is not the role of the Kremlin but Facebook. “The wrong conclusion is that the Russians decided last year’s election,” the author writes. “In the ocean of Facebook content, the Russian ads were mere drops. The correct conclusion is that Facebook decided last year's election.” The author points to the singular influence Facebook now has: Around 45 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook’s News Feed. And the effects are “radically different” from the early days of radio or television, for three reasons: the content on Facebook is mostly user-generated; the content is sorted and ranked not by human editors, but by algorithms; and Facebook monetizes its users' data by selling ads that can be targeted with “staggering precision.” The author also notes Facebook sent employees to “work with both the Trump and Clinton campaigns to maximize the effectiveness of their advertising.” And the results of the election showed which campaign better mastered the new media realm. “Trump dominated Clinton on both Facebook and Twitter,” the author writes, pointing out that Clinton campaign “wasted millions of dollars on the old public sphere, and wholly failed to grasp what the populist right was doing in the new one.”

“These Are the Questions to Ask About the Trump-Russia Connection,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 11.07.17The Washington Post’s editorial board argues that there is no doubt that Moscow tried to aid the Trump campaign, and that some campaign officials were ready to take advantage of this help. The questions that remain are the extent of the cooperation and who was aware of it. “The president’s tweeted declarations of ‘NO COLLUSION!’ are not sufficient.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“US-Russia Policy 1 Year On: Experts Weigh In on Successes, Failures, Where to Go from Here,” RM Experts, Russia Matters, 11.08.17: We asked five experts to weigh in on the state of U.S.-Russia policy one year since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. In reflecting on this milestone, we asked some of America’s top experts on Russia two questions: What have been the biggest failures and successes of the new administration’s Russia policy? What would be your top five recommendations for the coming year? Our respondents agree, for the most part, that there have been few successes in the new administration’s dealings with Moscow. Their recommendations for moving forward, however, are as varied as their backgrounds.

“Trump and Putin: What Comes Next?” Nikolas K. Gvosdev, The National Interest, 11.13.17The author, chair of economic geography and national security at the Naval War College, looks at the recent meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump at the APEC summit in Vietnam. Russia made it clear as the summit approached that it was not planning to reverse course or offer major concessions on Ukraine, Syria, North Korea or Iran. The effort to keep encounters between Putin and Trump casual at the summit “precluded the chance of any intense bargaining sessions on the sidelines.” At the same time, this effort makes the Kremlin wonder if Trump wants to or is even capable of making any deals with Russia “in the face of stiff domestic opposition.” Trump has no support for comprising with Russia on Ukraine or allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power, partly because there remains a sense that a strong U.S. push could change the course of these issues. While much press attention has been devoted to Trump’s acceptance of Putin’s denial of Russian election meddling, the author argues that two other items deserve more attention: Trump appears to be “committing to a full-fledged summit meeting of the two presidents and their respective ‘teams’ at some indefinite point in the future” and that the question of Trump’s intended role in Russia policy remains unclear.

“When Russian Meddling in the US Got So Bad the Ambassador Got the Boot,” Will Englund, The Washington Post, 11.12.17The author, the foreign assignment editor for the Washington Post, writes that today’s Russiagate has resonant parallels with a scandal in the fall of 1871, featuring Russian meddling in American politics, fake news, surreptitious financial dealings and stolen correspondence made public. In the end, the Russian ambassador at the time, “Konstantin Catacazy, was declared persona non grata for attempting to sway the policies of the U.S. government under President Ulysses S. Grant.” Catacazy was told to leave, but Moscow insisted that he stay to accompany the czar’s son on a tour of America. Instead of kicking Catacazy out of the country, Grant had to receive him and Grand Duke Alexis in the White House, if only for fifteen minutes. At the time, Washington considered Russia one of its closest friends. Russia had been the only major European power to openly support the Union during the Civil War, and the U.S. had sold arms to Russia during the Crimean War of 1853-1856 against the British, Turks and French. In 1871, the U.S. was set to being talks with Great Britain “to settle claims arising from the Civil War.” Catacazy, fearful of the improving ties between Washington and London and firm in the belief that strife between the two was in Russia’s interest, sought to sabotage the talks. Catacazy’s attempts, including a press campaign and importuning Congressmen, was far from subtle. Catacazy was sent back to Europe in December, having failed in his mission to sow discord between the U.S. and Britain.

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Russia's Role in Securing Asia's Prosperity. The APEC Forum Presents an Opportunity for Greater Economic Integration,” Vladimir Putin, Bloomberg, 11.08.17The Russian president writes that Russia, “a major Eurasian power,” has a significant stake in the future, growth and success of the Asia-Pacific region. The means of achieving these goals is through effective economic integration based on “openness, mutual benefit and the universal rules of the World Trade Organization.” Moscow is in a favor of establishing free trade in the Asia-Pacific, which would help strengthen Russia’s position in the region’s growing markets. In the last five years, Russia’s trade with APEC countries has grown from 23 to 31 percent, while exports have risen from 17 to 24 percent. Putin also suggests creating a Greater Eurasian Partnership on the basis of the existing Eurasian Economic Union and China’s One Belt, One Road project. Moscow would focus on integrating Russia’s Far East into this broader network, as the development of this region is a key priority for the modern age. Moscow also suggests “starting consultations within APEC on international information security and protection of computer software.” Other areas for cooperation include disaster prevention and response, as well as food security issues.  


  • No significant commentary. 


  • No significant commentary.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant commentary.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“What Russian Revolution?” Serge Schmemann, New York Times, 11.07.17The author, a veteran journalist with international expertise, writes that Russia’s
“unpredictable past” has been of note this year as Moscow looks for an appropriate way to mark the Russian Revolution’s centennial. Today, Lenin is blamed for losing Russian territory to Germany, while Stalin is credited for getting it back. Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, is seen as a weak leader who either let the autocracy collapse or who resisted the “democratizing tide.” Russia’s population is divided on the legacy of the Soviet Union; for some its dissolution meant freedom, for others it was “the collapse of empire,” while for Russians under 35, largely ignorant of the events of 1917, it doesn’t mean much at all. Revolution was a glorified part of Soviet mythology. However, the chaos of the 1990s gave the idea a far darker cast, leaving Russians today with a staunch aversion to the concept, a sentiment the Russian president shares, albeit for different reasons. The Russia of President Vladimir Putin’s mythology is one that spans centuries under both czars and Bolsheviks, in which “revolution is a foreign-instigated setback.” Unable to ignore the revolution’s centenary, the Kremlin has commemorated it simply. It is “‘the revolution of 1917 in Russia'—not Great, or Russian, or Socialist, or October or any other adjective that would imply glorification or disparagement.”

“The Russian Revolution: What Economic Lessons Does It Reveal?” Sergei Guriev, Financial Times, 11.06.17The author, chief economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, looks back on the main economic lessons from the Great Soviet Experiment. They are: “industrialization through terror is inefficient”; “without terror the command economy eventually flags and goes bankrupt”; and “lack of political competition creates a rigid governance system unable to make necessary reforms.” He argues that the greatest lesson the Soviet Union has taught is the instability and deficiency of a non-market economy. Although proposals for new forms of socialism reemerge every so often, none have worked, and that is the main takeaway to remember.

“Why the Kremlin Needs Sobchak,” Konstantin Gaaze, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.13.17The author, a political commentator, writes that the Kremlin needs Ksenia Sobchak’s bid for the Russian presidency to make the upcoming election “more dynamic and engaging for voters.” Sobchak, a celebrity with wide name recognition in Russia and a long-standing connection to Vladimir Putin, fits neatly into the Kremlin’s strategy of creating “a pseudo-opposition, which will channel the discontents of the liberal urban electorate.” Sobchak’s candidacy gives Russia’s “establishment liberals” a voice, hopefully keeping them content enough to not sabotage valued reformist projects, and appeals to younger generations.

“State Revolution in Russia: A Century-Long Tragedy,” Grigory Yavlinsky, Novaya Gazeta, 11.06.17: The author, a Russian politician, argues that Russia’s greatest tragedy in the 20th century was the rise of the Bolsheviks, not the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks, having lost the November 1917 election, created a totalitarian system instead, giving rise to a new privileged ruling class. As a result, the moves the Russian state had been making toward democratization and European law, which the revolution had sought to accelerate, disappeared altogether. Bolshevism appeared to be a short cut to answering the problems caused by scientific advancement and the spread of capitalism. During the Great Terror, the Bolsheviks stamped out dissent, resulting in the deaths of millions. The author argues that the Bolsheviks’ heirs are Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government, who dream of a Russia with the geopolitical power of the Soviet Union at its height. They fear revolution and rely increasingly on the state. However, today’s Kremlin does not have a clear vision of a future to move towards, nor does it have answers to existing problems. Modern Russia has the potential to be a major player in today’s world, but will need to distance itself from Bolshevism to do so. The author argues that Russia must reconnect with its history and its European ties to continue on the course that was disrupted by the Russian Revolution.

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.