Russia Analytical Report, Nov. 6-13, 2023

3 Ideas to Explore

  1. In the end, Ukraine may face the reality that it needs to negotiate with a Russian foe willing to endlessly sacrifice treasure and lives on the battlefield,” according to WP editors. “That point has not been reached, but the West should give Ukraine the leverage to drive the best possible bargain if the time comes,” according to the WP’s editorial board. That leverage will increase if the U.S. Congress passes a large aid package for Ukraine soon and if the U.S. and its allies work to enforce the oil price cap, according to the board. “And that leverage means preserving Ukraine’s chance to survive and grow as a thriving European democracy, not a vassal of the Kremlin,” according to the board.
  2. The U.S. should keep providing military aid to Ukraine, but this aid should not be open-ended, according to Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings. Rather, “by the winter/spring of 2025, a newly elected American president should ask his or her national security team to conduct a thorough review of Ukraine policy,” O’Hanlon writes, “and if the war still remains largely stalemated at that point, the United States should seriously consider a Plan B.” “The Plan B would help ensure that Ukraine can defend the territory it controls, help it recover economically, and anchor it to the West in economic and security terms,” according to O’Hanlon. As part of such anchoring, Ukraine would become a member of an Atlantic-Asian Security Community, which O’Hanlon has co-proposed with Lise Howard, rather than a member of NATO.
  3. Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces Col. Roman Chervinsky coordinated the Sept. 26, 2022, bombing of the Nord Stream I and II pipelines, WP reports, citing officials in Ukraine and Europe. “The officer’s role provides the most direct evidence to date tying Ukraine’s military and security leadership” to the bombing, the newspaper reports, noting that Chervinsky didn’t plan the operation, but took orders from more senior Ukrainian officials, who ultimately reported to the country’s top military officer Gen. Valery Zaluzhny. The bombing plan, which some in the West initially suspected Russia to have been involved in,1 was designed to keep Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “out of the loop,” according to WP. Chervinsky denied any role in the 2022 sabotage of the gas pipelines, though he admitted to earlier special operations, including attempts to capture Wagner fighters in 2020 and to lure a Russian pilot to defect to Ukraine in 2022, with that second attempt landing him in a Ukrainian detention facility, according to WP.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military and security aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Ukrainian military officer coordinated Nord Stream pipeline attack,” Shane Harris and Isabelle Khurshudyan, WP, 11.11.23. 

  • A senior Ukrainian military officer with deep ties to the country’s intelligence services played a central role in the bombing of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline last year … The officer’s role provides the most direct evidence to date tying Ukraine’s military and security leadership to a controversial act of sabotage.
  • Roman Chervinsky, a decorated 48-year-old colonel who served in Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces, was the “coordinator” of the Nord Stream operation, people familiar with his role said … The officer took orders from more senior Ukrainian officials, who ultimately reported to Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, … The Nord Stream operation was designed to keep Zelensky out of the loop, people familiar with the operation said.
  • Through his attorney, Chervinsky denied any role in the sabotage of the pipelines. … Chervinsky’s role illustrates the complex dynamics and internal rivalries of the wartime government in Kyiv, where Ukraine’s intelligence and military establishment is often in tension with its political leadership.
  • Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Chervinsky had been serving in a unit of Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces … He reported to Maj. Gen. Viktor Hanushchak, a seasoned and respected officer, who communicated directly with Zaluzhny. 
  • In 2020, Chervinsky oversaw a complex plan to lure fighters for Russia’s Wagner mercenary group into Belarus, with the goal of capturing them and bringing them to Ukraine to face charges.
  • Chervinsky – who calls his arrest and prosecution political retribution for his criticism of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his administration -- is being held in a Kyiv jail on charges that he abused his power stemming from a plot to lure a Russian pilot to defect to Ukraine in July 2022. Authorities allege that Chervinsky, who was arrested in April, acted without permission and that the operation gave away the coordinates of a Ukrainian airfield, prompting a Russian rocket attack that killed a soldier and injured 17 others. 
    • The operation to recruit the Russian pilot involved units of the SBU, the Air Force, and the Special Operations Forces,” Chervinsky said. “The operation was approved by the commander in chief Valery Zaluzhny.”

“Strelkov’s letter from 10.26.2023,” Igor Strelkov’s Telegram channel, from Russian Views.

  • Russia’s military position vis-à-vis the war in Ukraine continues to deteriorate gradually. Despite largely successful efforts to thwart the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Russian armed forces continue to display a growing weakness in comparison to the capabilities of its foe. The Russian armed forces have not only been unable to shift to wide-scale offensive operations but have proven incapable of carrying out limited offensive operations, as the unsuccessful offensive operation in the Kupiansk and Avdiivka directions attest. 
  • VSU [the Ukrainian armed forces] has begun to utilize modern aviation and missile technology they are receiving from NATO countries, primarily the United States. The devastating attack at the Berdiansk airfield demonstrated the effectiveness of these weapons, which likely forebodes even larger attacks once the VSU receives air units outfitted with F-16 aircraft. This advantage in weapons could allow them to temporarily gain the upper hand on localized sections of the front to attempt a breakthrough.
  • That being said, in the near future, VSU command will be forced to rely on the simultaneous superiority in manpower and the number of military units and formations rather than military equipment, which Ukraine lacks. An advantage in terms of manpower will likely remain in the absence of mobilization activities in the Russian Federation. 
  • A "positional scenario" is by no means guaranteed. Information [provided to Strelkov] is reason for concern indicating that the VSU’s persistent attempts to push through the Russian forces, exhausted by months of fighting, may, unfortunately, be successful, if not strategically, then operationally. The area of greatest concern remains Kherson … The VSU’s objective is to create (which it seems like they have already done) and then expand a bridgehead on the left bank to threaten the Crimean isthmus. This will likely remain the VSU’s goal in the coming weeks and will be accompanied by divisionary maneuvers in other areas of the front. 
    • The operational goal of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for the autumn-winter campaign is unlikely to be a breakthrough to Perekop, but rather the capture of the Kinburn Spit.
  • All the above attests to the major flaw in retreating from the right bank of Kherson last fall, a decision that borders on treason. The Kremlin is determined to hold the current line while maintaining the appearance of peacetime, even at the expense of military expediency; the command of the Russian armed forces lacks a “counterplay.” While the Russian military will be forced to remain on the defensive during the winter and will be even less prepared to conduct offensive operations by spring, the Ukrainian armed forces will significantly strengthen its technical military advantage. 
  • The potential for recruiting contract soldiers and volunteers at the front is nearly depleted. Significant reinforcements can only be achieved through new mobilizations, which have been delayed at least until the presidential elections. 

“Ukraine is waking up to reality,” Yulia Latynina, The Hill, 11.23.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Ukraine won the war of 2022. That was the year of Ukraine’s victory. Putin’s troops had to withdraw from Kyiv and Kherson, and they ran from Kharkiv. But the year 2023 has not been so good. Russian generals have learned from their mistakes.
  • The war is a bloody stalemate that can hardly be budged. ... But it is not just the front lines. The situation is much more serious. Western sanctions did not destroy Russia’s economy — rather, they repositioned it.
    • Oil once sold to Europe now goes to China and India via a fleet of “ghost tankers.” In September, Russia got $18 billion in oil revenues. Putin is planning to spend around $110 billion on war in 2024, and that’s just the open part of the budget. Ukraine will be lucky if it gets $60 billion from all its allies combined.
    • What’s even more amazing, the Russian economy is rebounding. The Western-oriented creative class in big cities is hard up, but almost every other stratum of Russian society is better off. Poor people from destitute Russian regions are, for the first time ever, earning good money by enlisting to serve.
  • Meanwhile, in Ukraine itself, things are not so bright. The initial incredible enthusiasm has waned, superseded by the usual trench horrors. People are hiding from conscription, the U.S. insists on increasing the sheer size of Ukrainian army, and Kyiv counters by asking for modern weapons that permit to keep the military smaller. Soldiers on the ground are seeking whom to blame, and the usual scapegoat is corruption. 
    • President Zelensky is increasingly messianic. In his September United Nations speech, he criticized Ukraine’s staunchest European ally, Poland, even going so far as to suggest they “set the stage for the Moscow actor.”
    • Increasingly nationalist rhetoric is coming from Ukraine. “Russians are Asians,” Alexei Danilov, the head of Security Council of Ukraine, declared. “We are different from them. Our key difference is our humaneness.”
  • In Ukraine, the political reckoning for the failed summer offensive is coming.
  • While Ukrainian democracy, wounded and traumatized, is slowly waking to the unpalatable truth, the Russian dictator lives in an alternate reality in which he is fighting a world war against America — and winning.

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

“Economic sanctions risk losing their bite as a US policy weapon,” Elina Ribakova, FT, 11.07.23. 

  • The oil price cap has not been an indisputable success, with evidence of Russia selling above the cap using G-7 shipping and insurance services. Even when Russia appears to be selling oil below the cap, for instance, to India, inflated transport costs allow Russian-affiliated companies, including oil traders, to capture some of the market arbitrage. Moreover, Russia is reducing its reliance on G-7 companies. Shifting most of its exports to a shadow fleet will put them beyond the reach of the U.S. and its allies.
  • Despite being under severe U.S., EU and U.K. export restrictions, Russia continues to import critical components for its war on Ukraine. China, among others, aids in producing dual-use goods for the Russian military. 
  • America needs a doctrine of economic statecraft supported by a revamped and strengthened institutional infrastructure and private sector co-operation. Budget spending on the U.S. public sector responsible for economic statecraft must be compared to the costs of inaction or military intervention. 
  • The private sector, although reluctant to be the sharp end of U.S. foreign policy, also plays a crucial role in implementing and enforcing sanctions. … Enhanced sanctions implementation and enforcement in the private sector would discourage bad actors and level the playing field. In the worst-case scenario, hefty fines can be a powerful deterrent, much as with banks.
  • In the absence of stepped-up enforcement and improved private sector compliance efforts, the effectiveness of sanctions will inevitably be eroded—and with it the credibility of U.S. economic statecraft.

“Why Can't The West Stop Supplying Technology For Russian Weapons?” Maria Shagina, FP, 11.09.23. 

  • To be ahead in the constant cat-and-mouse game between export controls and evasion, G-7 countries need to tweak their approach. … Instead of governments passing the buck to the private sector, better coordination is urgently needed among customs, export control agencies, intelligence services and financial institutions to map out the entire supply chain and identify evasion tactics.
  • Secondly, the nexus between money laundering and export control evasion has become particularly strong. ... Public registries can tackle the issue of beneficial ownership, a common weak spot in sanctions and export controls. But to do so, the EU still needs to do its homework by improving the state of public registries, ensuring accurate and accessible data across EU member states, and harmonizing beneficial ownership rules. 
  • Finally, Western regulators need to understand that Russia has a comprehensive strategy of military-civil fusion, including the systematic exploitation of export control loopholes. 

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“How Ukraine can break the stalemate,” Editorial Board, WP, 11.12.23. 

  • Congress can boost Ukrainian morale and military performance by passing a large economic and military aid package in the coming weeks, sufficient to avoid stop-start disruptions in the year ahead. 
  • The United States and its allies should also work to frustrate the Kremlin's growing circumvention of the cap of $60 per barrel on Russian oil exports. 
  • Mr. Putin is clearly hoping to exhaust the West's patience and Ukraine's materiel and personnel reserves—perhaps also desiring to see former president Donald Trump elected and a weakening of U.S. willpower to keep supporting Ukraine.
  • In the end, Ukraine may face the reality that it needs to negotiate with a Russian foe willing to endlessly sacrifice treasure and lives on the battlefield. That point has not been reached, but the West should give Ukraine the leverage to drive the best possible bargain if the time comes. And that leverage means preserving Ukraine's chance to survive and grow as a thriving European democracy, not a vassal of the Kremlin.

“A possible compromise on Ukraine,” Michael E. O’Hanlon, Brookings, 11.09.23. 

  • Although compromise may be a dirty word in Washington these days, I would like to propose one for the question of how the United States should support Ukraine going forward. The essence of the compromise would not be simply to split the difference on funding for Kyiv — somewhere between the $60 billion that President Joe Biden wants and the zero preferred by much of the GOP in the House of Representatives. Rather, it would attempt to take the best idea from each side and build a new policy approach on top of that foundation.
    • Biden’s best idea … has been to generously help Ukraine by providing money, weaponry and intelligence support.
    • GOP opponents’ best idea … has been to question the open-ended U.S. commitment to a faraway war that appears mostly stalemated — as Ukraine’s top general himself has recently conceded.
  • The United States should fund the Ukraine effort at Biden’s requested level of just over $60 billion and provide virtually all the types of weaponry Ukraine may request over the next 18 months, in the hope that Ukraine can break the stalemate sometime in 2024 or early 2025. But by the winter/spring of 2025, a newly elected American president should ask his or her national security team to conduct a thorough review of Ukraine policy — and if the war still remains largely stalemated at that point, the United States should seriously consider a Plan B while encouraging its allies and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to do the same.
    • The Plan B would help ensure that Ukraine can defend the territory it controls, help it recover economically and anchor it to the West in economic and security terms. The plan would not seek to liberate militarily that part of Ukraine held by Russia. Rather, it would hope to regain much or all of that land someday through a long-term diplomatic process undergirded by strategic patience as well as international economic pressure on Russia.
      • To achieve that first goal, the policy would provide ample defensive weaponry as well as air and missile defense technology.
      • To achieve the second goal, the United States and its partners could develop a Marshall Plan concept for Ukraine.
      • To achieve the last goal, while some would favor NATO membership for Ukraine, that prospect seems unlikely. Georgetown Professor Lise Howard and I have proposed an Atlantic-Asian Security Community … that would deploy American and other Western trainers on Ukrainian soil in an official capacity, largely to create a tripwire of sorts against possible future Russian aggression.

“Ukraine's Next Steps Demand Talks to Go With More Arms,” Marc Champion, Bloomberg, 11.09.23.

  • Ukraine’s summer offensive has stalled in the autumn mud, reaching a stalemate that won’t easily be broken. ... So what next? The temptation will be to call for a cease-fire and launch peace talks, ending needless Ukrainian suffering and allowing allies to reduce the burdens of financial and military aid. Why, after all, continue with a war when victory no longer appears feasible? That, however, is a false choice. A new strategy for Ukraine built around achieving a settlement rather than victory is indeed needed. But to be successful it will have to run in parallel with continued pressure on the battlefield and an uninterrupted flow of financial and military aid to Kyiv.
  • It is now clear that Ukraine is unlikely to again secure the kind of front-line breakthroughs it achieved around Kyiv, Kharkiv and Kherson last year, each of which dramatically changed the terms of any eventual peace talks in its favor. Yet it is equally clear that to get a deal that Ukraine and its allies can accept — and just as important that Russia will respect — is going to require fighting, arming and talking at the same time.
  • If Putin’s goal is – like those of his role models Peter the Great and Catherine the Great – to expand Russian power, then getting to a durable settlement will be a lot harder. It is imperative for that great power project that, at a minimum, any settlement with Ukraine demonstrates the folly of resistance, while at the same time leaving open a path for Moscow to secure Ukrainian markets and resources in the future. For the same reason, it is imperative for Ukraine that the war’s end produces a framework that definitively ends the fighting, and allows it to ensure its own security and prosperity. These aims conflict.
  • Any eventual settlement will be much more than a cease-fire. It will represent the culmination of Ukraine’s multi-century struggle for nationhood and independence from a domineering eastern neighbor, an effort that spanned multiple wars and genocides long before NATO was even imagined. It must also achieve the first necessary step for Russia – like so many fallen empires before it – to come to terms with its loss. Getting there will be neither easy, cheap nor peaceful.

“Diplomacy in the Context of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine,” Sabine Fischer, ISW, November 2023. 

  • It will be the course of the war itself that determines whether ceasefire negotiations are likely or possible. Ukraine must be put in a military position that can serve as a favorable starting point for negotiations – in other words, Russia must suffer such massive defeats on the battlefield that the cost-benefit calculation of the Putin regime (or significant parts of the Russian elite) changes. Only then will international mediation efforts gain traction. If Germany and Ukraine’s other international partners want to ensure such an outcome, they must resolutely continue and step up their military support for Kyiv.
  • A favorable starting point for negotiations also entails guaranteeing Ukraine’s security beyond the current hot war. Western governments – including the Biden administration in Washington and the German government – are struggling with Kyiv’s calls for security guarantees and a clear timeline for Ukraine’s accession to NATO. Both issues should be much more closely linked, including in public debates, to a future negotiated settlement. … For the people of Ukraine, there can be no trust in any agreement with Moscow. And ceasefire negotiations will be extremely difficult to kick-start without reliable guarantees for Ukraine’s security.
  • Germany and Ukraine’s other partners should continue to support Kyiv in its efforts to isolate Russia internationally. 
  • Ukraine is facing a second winter of war. The Israel-Hamas conflict is currently diverting political attention from support for Ukraine and further escalation in the Middle East could lead to a shortage of Western military resources. Meanwhile, the basic parameters for a settlement to the Russian war against Ukraine remain the same: if ceasefire negotiations that will secure Ukraine’s existence as an independent and sovereign state are to get under way at some point, Ukraine must win on the battlefield and Russia must sustain losses to the extent that it is significantly weakened.   

“Negotiating Security with Autocracies: Implications for the Russo-Ukrainian War,” Mikhail Troitskiy, PONARS, 11.06.23. 

  • Political scientists have found that autocrats are no less likely than democratically elected leaders to face domestic repercussions if they back down during international crises or renege on agreements with international counterparts. Domestic audiences tend to punish democratic and authoritarian leaders alike for failing to deliver on their popularly supported commitments. In the context of the Russo-Ukrainian war, this means that the leadership on both sides will assess as high the risks of underachievement for their political standing. For that reason, reaching even a ceasefire agreement will be difficult should neither side gain the military momentum.
  • Making a negotiated end to the Russo-Ukrainian war even less likely, autocrats—as the above analysis has shown—are reluctant to enter into durable agreements based on broadly supported principles of fairness. While the durability of an agreement is not determined solely by its underlying principles, the ability of the sides to negotiate principles instead of proceeding from the situation on the ground is key to successful conflict resolution. The record of successful security negotiations involving the incumbent Russian government over the last two decades has been limited in no small part by Russia’s reluctance to bind itself by consensual formulas. Russia’s attack on Ukraine represents a culmination of this trend, suggesting that it may take a dramatic change in Russia’s approach to conflict resolution to stop the fighting.

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

“The Ukraine war has no end in sight,” Stephen Kinzer, BG, 11.06.23.

  • Both warring armies have goals they must achieve before laying down their weapons. The goals are fundamentally incompatible. Neither side is willing to accept even the other's minimum demands … “We don't need peace talks, we need victory,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi asserted a few months ago. Almost all Democrats and Republicans in Washington agree. So do our allies in Kyiv and our enemies in Moscow. Peace is not on or near the horizon — even though Ukraine's military chief, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, recently conceded that “just like in the First World War, we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate.”
  • For Ukraine, peace now would mean surrendering territory and submitting to at least a measure of Russian dominance. For Russia, it would mean accepting a heavily armed enemy on its border. Neither country is considering the adversary's terms. Both are confident in their military power. 
  • Even if an American president sought to end this conflict by reducing military aid to Ukraine or supporting territorial concessions — an almost unimaginable scenario — it's hard to see how he or she could succeed. Almost every influential politician and foreign policy opinion-maker in Washington supports Ukraine's position. So do key bureaucrats at the Pentagon, the State Department and other powerful agencies. Alongside them is the arms industry, which, according to Sen. Mitch McConnell, is producing so much weaponry for Ukraine that it now buoys the economy “in 38 different states . . . so we're rebuilding our industrial base.” Another oft-repeated argument is that, as Sen. Lindsey Graham has put it, “no Americans are dying.” This makes the war blood-free — as long as you're not Ukrainian. All sides in this war seem determined to fight, in Biden's words, “for as long as it takes.” That may be years.

“China, Russia, Iran and the prospect of American retreat,” Gideon Rachman, FT, 11.13.23. 

  • The prospect of the return of Trump to the White House next year raises a huge question mark over the future of America’s global leadership. In his first term, he flirted with pulling the U.S. out of NATO. In a second term, he might actually go through with it. Indeed, if he pursued the most radical version of his “America First” ideology, a second Trump administration could see a complete break with the idea that it is in America’s interests to underpin the security arrangements in three of the most strategic regions in the world — Europe, Northeast Asia and the Persian Gulf.
  • In each of these regions, America now faces an active challenger … In Europe, that challenger is Russia; in Asia it is China; in the Middle East it is Iran. Russia has invaded Ukraine. China has built military bases across the South China Sea and threatens Taiwan. Iran uses proxies such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthi rebels in Yemen to challenge America’s friends across the region.
  • If the U.S. seriously scaled back its military commitments around the world, China, Russia and Iran would all try to take advantage of the resulting power vacuum. In the meantime, the three countries are working together more closely. They all eagerly promote the idea of a “multipolar world” — code for an end to American hegemony.
  • There has long been a school of thought in academia that the U.S. should seriously cut back its military commitments overseas. Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have argued that when it comes to maintaining the balance of power in Europe, the Middle East and Asia — “Washington should pass the buck to regional powers.”
  • The difficulty is that the regional powers to whom America would pass the buck are ill-equipped to check the regional ambitions of Russia, China and Iran on their own. A NATO alliance without the U.S. would look ineffective at best — and might collapse at worst. Israel and Saudi Arabia would struggle to contain Iran, without U.S. power in the background. Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia would face similar problems with China in Asia.

“Is the Invasion of Ukraine a Strategic Failure for Russia?” An update on sessions of a study group led by Karen Donfried, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 11.09.23.

A Bleak Economic OutlookInvestigative journalists believe more than one million people have fled Russia following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The exodus of young, educated Russians has created a brain drain and damaged the economic future of the country. Moreover, Russia’s complete loss of the European energy market, despite claims that the European Union still tacitly purchases Russian oil and gas, is a massive hit to the Russian economy, both in the short-term and long-term. While many predictions painted a worrying picture for the Russian economy following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, most of those predictions did not prove to be true nor nearly as severe as predicted. The IMF raised Russia’s 2023 growth forecast to 2.2%, up from the 1.5% growth it predicted in July, due to fiscal stimulus, robust investment and resilient consumption. 
Russia’s Standing International Relations Have Been DamagedNot only is Europe more united than ever in reimagining its security architecture, but it is also taking concrete steps to realize a new security apparatus that includes, as its very first steps, the incorporation and full induction of Sweden and Finland into NATO. Russia’s invasion has galvanized the West and has disproved the notion that the West would simply sit by and watch as it previously did in 2008 and 2014.  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has opened new strategic partnerships and opportunities with China and countries in the Global South, where it has been able to secure new energy markets and political support. The European energy market was not viable in the long run given Europe’s green energy transition goals and therefore it makes perfect sense that Russia will continue to invest in its partnerships and alliances elsewhere. In particular, Russia has managed to avoid international isolation to some degree with much of the Global South continuing business as usual.
Political-Military Developments: Cause for Concern?The present military situation is the most glaring example of a Russian strategic defeat. The Russian military export market has all but been decimated with few international partners willing to purchase Russian military equipment. Furthermore, Russia’s military has been significantly degraded on its own with a concerning amount of its equipment damaged or destroyed in the war. Russian leadership understands strategic success differently from the West and is able to rationalize short-term setbacks for long-term strategic gains. Despite initial losses and failures on the battlefield, claims that Russia is outright losing this war are simply inaccurate as Russia continues to consolidate gains in some areas and is receiving operational experience from the invasion. 
Russian Domestic Opposition Remains ViableDue to the vertical structure of power within the Putin regime, much of the state is left in limbo in which police and security forces do not act unless given clear instructions. This is most recently evidenced by the events in Dagestan, where an airport was raided by an antisemitic mob in search of Jews from Israel. The delay in responses highlights that Putin has not entirely consolidated power across Russia as one may be led to believe.Most of the domestic opposition that once existed fled at the onset of the full-scale invasion, which has allowed Putin to further consolidate power within Russia. With Navalny in prison and major protests squashed for the foreseeable future, Putin will continue to maintain his hold on power and extinguish any potential domestic threats—such as in the case of Prigozhin who led an attempted coup.
Are Lessons Being Learned?The sheer fact that Russia keeps firing military generals demonstrates that Russia is not extracting any valuable strategic lessons from its operations on the battlefield or elsewhere. Rather, Russia is regularly failing, and it is therefore conceptually hard to believe that the regime is drawing any lessons from high levels of turnover that have become all too commonplace within the Russian military. We should not worry ourselves with questions around whether Russian soldiers are motivated to fight and instead should focus on the strategic point, which is that Russia is adapting its military doctrine, as is shown with its routine military leadership replacements, and extracting higher strategic outcomes from its invasion of Ukraine. Russia is now in a much stronger position to fight similar wars in the future thanks to the tactical and operational experience gained, whereas its Western counterparts might not be.

The ‘world war’ is now a chain of large but local confrontations,” Fyodor Lukyanov,, 11.08.23. Clues from Russian Views. (RG is funded and controlled by Russian authorities.)

  • The possession of nuclear weapons by the most important world players … exclude[s] … a head-on collision of the greatest powers or their blocs, as was the case in the last century. However, the changes taking place on the world stage and in the balance of forces are so serious that they ‘qualify’ as a confrontation on the scale of a world war. Such shifts previously led to grandiose military clashes. Now the “world war” … is a chain of large but local confrontations, each of which in one way or another involves the most important players.
  • The disappearance of the status quo means the world has entered a long period of fever, when new frameworks have not yet taken shape....and the old ones no longer work. … The current “Third World War” will most likely be extended in time and distributed in space. … 
  • But it will result in the emergence of a different structure of international organizations … This does not mean that the U.N., for example, will disappear, but a deep correction of the principles on which it operates will definitely occur.

“How the World Lost Faith in the UN: Regaining It Will Require Accepting a Diminished Role for an Age of Competition,” Richard Gowan, FA, 11.09.23. 

  • The crisis of confidence in the U.N. has been building since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. … If Russia is ruffling feathers at the U.N., the United States’ unconditional support for Israel has caused greater diplomatic damage. The effects are clearest in the General Assembly, where the coalition of states that previously backed Ukraine has splintered over Gaza. On October 27, the General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a “humanitarian truce” between Israel and Hamas, with 120 yeas, 14 nays, and 44 abstentions. The United States voted against the resolution, citing the text’s failure to condemn Hamas for its atrocities. European countries were divided, with some voting in favor, some against, and some abstaining. The fallout was predictable. Diplomats from developing countries privately indicated that they might reject future U.N. resolutions in support of Ukraine in response to the lack of Western solidarity with the Palestinians.  This latest divide is likely to undercut the United States’ recent push to improve its relations with the global South at the U.N.. 
  • No matter how the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine end, trends at the U.N. point to problems ahead. The diplomatic disunity and operational vulnerabilities that plague the organization now will likely persist or worsen as global divisions widen. The U.N. is not about to return to the dog days of the Cold War. … There may not be a clear path for the U.N. to reclaim its former role as an all-purpose platform to address the international crises of the day, but the organization can still make the best of a diminished role. 
  • The Security Council could yet settle into a new equilibrium. It can still serve as a venue for defusing conflicts among great powers and tackling a small but significant subset of crises in which those powers share an interest in cooperation… 
  • …The wider U.N. system can still play a substantial role in international conflict management. U.N. relief agencies have unique capacities to mitigate and contain the effects of violence, and they continue to operate despite their current budgetary headaches. U.N. officials are also looking for ways to work on conflict prevention that do not rely on Security Council oversight, such as harnessing funds from the World Bank to support basic services in weak states. In a period of geopolitical tension, the U.N. may not take the lead in resolving major crises, but it can do a lot on the margins to protect the vulnerable. 
  • …In recent weeks and months, many U.N. officials and diplomats have worried that the organization is in free fall. But if it updates its diplomatic and security roles to adapt to new global realities, the U.N. can still find its footing.

“The US could have ruled the world, but this one element ruined it all,” Dmitri Trenin, RT, 11.13.23. Clues from Russian Views. (RT is funded and controlled by Russian authorities.)

  • The ongoing conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East have the same root cause. Essentially, the self-proclaimed victors in the Cold War – above all, the United States of America – have singularly failed in creating a lasting international equilibrium to succeed the post-WWII bipolar setup.
  • The two wars have not only exposed the limits of U.S. power and influence in the world’s key regions, but the glaring deficit of statesmanship. They have also laid bare the hypocrisy of American and West European foreign policy and their mainstream media's propaganda. The vastly different treatment of the Russian and Israeli, Ukrainian and Hamas actions in the parallel running conflicts has not been lost on anyone following the news. The moral authority of the U.S.-led West is crumbling just as its power dominance is waning.
  • Thirty years ago, at the end of the Cold War, the U.S., as the world’s principal power, had an opportunity to begin building a multipolar world in which it would secure the role of a balancer and moderator. ... Sadly, America’s political class chose instead to celebrate its victory in the Cold War, and then indulge itself in unipolarity, indispensability and exclusivity. Our wars of today are the price people in various parts of the world have to pay for Washington’s dereliction of its duty as the architect of a world order. Never before in the history of the world has so much depended on a single power. But that power failed them all.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Joe Biden to press Xi Jinping on reopening military communications at San Francisco summit,” Ryan McMorrow, Demetri Sevastopulo, FT, 11.10.23.

  • Joe Biden will press Xi Jinping on the need to revive communications between the U.S. and Chinese militaries when the two presidents hold a summit ahead of next week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. The White House on Friday said Biden and Xi would meet in the San Francisco Bay area on Wednesday before they attend Apec. 
  • The official said Biden would raise concerns with Xi about “dangerous” and “provocative” Chinese military activity around Taiwan, which has soared since the U.S. president took office nearly three years ago.
  • Officials said Biden would also discuss the conflict in Ukraine with Xi. Treasury secretary Janet Yellen on Friday said she had told her counterpart He Lifeng in a two-day meeting in San Francisco that the U.S. wanted Beijing to crack down on private Chinese companies selling equipment to Russia to facilitate Moscow’s war with Kyiv.
  • Xie Feng, China’s ambassador to the U.S., said the two presidents would have “in-depth communication on issues of strategic, overarching and fundamental importance in shaping China-U.S. relations and major issues concerning world peace and development”.
  • Yellen said the U.S. and China had improved communications in recent months. She said she had held detailed discussions about the Chinese economy with He, China’s vice-premier, and that Beijing believed it was “forcefully addressing” its domestic economic issues, including the crisis in its property market. 

“A Trump win would change the world. Were he to return to the White House, the implications for the US, its allies and the global economy are sure to be profound,” Martin Wolf, FT, 11.07.23.

  • Recent polls suggest that almost 55 percent of U.S. voters disapprove of Joe Biden’s performance. They also suggest that Trump is slightly ahead of Biden in head-to-head polling before the election now a year away. Finally, they suggest that Trump is ahead of Biden in five of the six most important “battleground” states. In all, a Trump victory is clearly and disturbingly plausible. 
  • What would that mean? The most important answer is that the U.S., not just the world’s most powerful democracy, but its savior in the 20th century, is no longer committed to democratic norms. 
  • Trump might seek to turn Russia against China, as Nixon did China against the Soviet Union. Abandonment of Ukraine might be his bait.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Why a Russian nuclear expert thinks the Doomsday Clock should move away from midnight,” Pavel Podvig, BAS, 11.08.23.

  • There is a good reason why the Doomsday Clock stands at 90 seconds to midnight. Over the recent years, the hands of the Clock dutifully registered the steady deterioration of the international security environment, the erosion of arms control processes, and rising tensions in various regions of the world. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 brought the nuclear risk to an entirely new level. From the very first day of the war, Russia made no secret of counting on its nuclear weapons to ensure that nobody would come to Ukraine’s rescue. Western countries have offered massive help to Ukraine anyway, making the prospect of a direct confrontation with Russia more real than it has been for decades. The Clock had to reflect this development. And, surely, it did by moving 10 seconds forward in January 2023. But now, a year later, there is a good case for moving the hands of the Clock back.
  • Although the pushback against bringing nuclear weapons into the conflict took some time to arrive, in the weeks after the annexation it became clear that the opposition to their use is universal. In one remarkable episode, India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh told his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, in a very brief phone call, that “the prospect of the usage of nuclear or radiological weapons goes against the basic tenets of humanity.” Joint statements condemning nuclear threats were issued by China’s President Xi Jinping with German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz and then with U.S. President Joe Biden. By that time even the Russian Foreign Ministry felt compelled to publish an official statement confirming that Russian nuclear doctrine “pursue[s] solely defensive goals and do[es] not admit of expansive interpretation.”
  • Of course, one can express doubts that this unified position of many countries played a decisive role in stopping nuclear rhetoric. An alternative explanation suggests that it was the threat of some unspecified “catastrophic consequences” that the United States conveyed to Moscow, both publicly and privately. There are, however, many reasons to doubt that this threat was truly credible: If Western countries had been deterred from direct military intervention in Ukraine so far, why would they stop being deterred once Russia demonstrated its resolve to escalate the conflict by using a nuclear weapon? But even assuming these warnings played a role, they always emphasized the non-nuclear nature of a potential response. Although the United States would not make the non-nuclear commitment publicly, the option of using nuclear weapons, even in response, was understood to be inadmissible—just as the G20 stated.
  • The most important factor in mobilizing the opposition to nuclear weapons and in lowering the nuclear rhetoric was probably the understanding that nuclear weapons do not really have any other role than to kill a lot of people or, if used in demonstration or on a small scale, to demonstrate the resolve to do so. This means that the threshold for a decision to use (any) nuclear weapons is therefore quite high, and rightly so. It may not be high under all circumstances and some leaders may be more willing to cross the nuclear threshold than others. But it exists and we have seen that it can and should be made higher.
  • To ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again, world leaders and the public should first recognize the role of the consolidated, universal opposition to nuclear threats, acknowledge this opposition, and make sure it endures. The Doomsday Clock is well positioned to do so. By moving its hands backward the next time it is set, even if a little, this message can be sent clearly and forcefully.

“China’s Misunderstood Nuclear Expansion. How U.S. Strategy Is Fueling Beijing’s Growing Arsenal,” M. Taylor Fravel, Henrik Stålhane Hiim, and Magnus Langset Trøan, FA, 11.10.23.

  • China’s nuclear expansion has clearly been driven by its growing sense of vulnerability and insecurity in the face of evolving U.S. capabilities. But a larger and more diverse Chinese arsenal will also offer Beijing more options beyond a retaliatory strike. Suppose China develops low-yield nuclear weapons to deter U.S. limited use, for example. Chinese leaders might then have an irresistible temptation to use such weapons for coercion in a Taiwan crisis. The future trajectory of China’s nuclear strategy is uncertain, and it could shift in a more offensive direction.
  • Moreover, even if China’s overall strategy continues to focus on deterring a first strike instead of threatening one, several of its new systems will erode geopolitical stability. Perhaps most notably, if China adopts a launch-on-warning posture, the risks during a crisis would go up significantly. China’s limited experience operating nuclear forces that are on hair-trigger alert makes the potential for accidents or miscalculation even greater.
  • Although arms control breakthroughs between Washington and Beijing are highly unlikely, there are steps both could take to prevent greater escalation. 
    • For China, greater transparency about its nuclear posture and the rationale for its buildup could help alleviate some of the worst-case assumptions held by U.S. strategists. 
    • For defense strategists in Washington, understanding how the United States’ nuclear posture and missile-defense efforts shape Chinese threat perceptions may help them craft nuclear policies that Beijing would view as less provocative and hence less likely to require a response.
  • The U.S. response to China’s recent plans, which are themselves heavily influenced by shifts in U.S. nuclear strategy, could speed up what has become a dangerous action-reaction cycle and potentially set off a major nuclear arms race.

Arms control:

“Foreign Ministry statement on the completion of the procedure for the Russian Federation's withdrawal from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe,” Russian Foreign Ministry, 11.07.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Several conclusions can be derived from the long history of the CFE Treaty:
    • First, the attempts to ensure military security in Europe without considering Russia's interests will not lead to anything good for the people who initiated them.
    • Second, clinging to outdated agreements that are not in sync with the new circumstances is a practice that is also doomed to failure and may lead to a collapse of the arms control cooperation mechanisms.
    • Third, the authorities of NATO member states and client countries have clearly shown their inability to reach and honor agreements. At this point, it is impossible to reach an arms control agreement with them. Only when reality compels them to return to constructive and realistic positions, can a dialogue on these matters be revived as part of the efforts to establish a new European security system that serves the interests of Russia and all other countries that reject Western diktat.
  • Russia bids farewell to the CFE Treaty without regret and with full conviction that it is doing the right thing. The positive and negative experience gained during its creation and implementation will be taken into account.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“A Digital Iron Curtain?” Luke Rodeheffer, NI, 11.12.23. 

  • Russia will not successfully construct a true Digital Iron Curtain, but not for lack of effort. While increasingly aggressive tactics and sharing of “best practices” pursued by the Kremlin and other authoritarian states to target VPNs and internet encryption are not as headline-grabbing as their increasingly brazen state-sponsored hacking and espionage campaigns, they are just as crucial for all who are concerned about a free and open Internet. Cyber conflicts are no longer confined to states but increasingly impact citizens as well.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Could this man bring down Putin?”, David Ignatius, WP, 11.08.23.

  • Ilya Ponomarev, a renegade former member of Russia's parliament, has a provocative idea: He argues that the only way to end the Ukraine war on acceptable terms is through a coup that topples Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Personally, I think Ponomarev's plan is potentially dangerous for both the United States and Ukraine. 
  • But given the stalemate that has developed in Ukraine—bluntly described last week by Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Kyiv's commander in chief, in an essay in the Economist—unconventional ideas such as Ponomarev's will get attention. 
  • Ponomarev is deadly serious about his military plot: 
    • He described himself in an interview as the political head of a group called the Freedom of Russia Legion, which he claims has an army of four exile battalions—usually numbering about 1,600 people—based in Ukraine, as well as between 5,000 and 10,000 followers in Russia.
    • He helps run the Congress of People's Deputies, a shadow parliament based in Poland with about 100 members, 40 of them in Russia, he says, that oversees the legion. That group is developing new laws and a new constitution for a post-Putin Russia. It plans a large gathering in Warsaw this month to develop a transition to free elections in Russia.
    • Ponomarev described operations inside Russia: a drone attack on the Kremlin in May by an urban guerrilla group loosely affiliated with Ponomarev and the Congress of People's Deputies.
    • The Russian exile leader also linked his group to the August 2022 assassination of Darya Dugina.
    • Ponomarev also claimed unspecified roles in two attacks this year on pro-Kremlin figures: the April assassination of a pro-war blogger named Vladlen Tatarsky and the May attempted killing of pro-Kremlin writer Zakhar Prilepin.
  • As Ponomarev calmly laid out his coup plans in a Washington living room, he … likened himself to Charles de Gaulle, who organized a tiny French force to fight against the Nazi-backed French government in World War II.
  • Ponomarev said he has support for his coup-plotting from Ukraine's military intelligence service—and strong opposition from the United States. The message he has received from U.S. officials, he says, is: "We don't want to be part of it."
  • Russian history is a long story of coup plots and conspiracies, real and imagined. Regime change, he told me, requires three elements: a credible military force; domestic elites who are losing hope in the status quo; and an alternative government. Ponomarev said he is working on all three.

“Putin has decided it's okay to be antisemitic,” Leon Aron, WP, 11.10.23.

  • For years, Vladimir Putin worked hard to demonstrate his philosemitic credentials. …. Now, all that has changed. …The transition began with Putin's mentioning this past June, for the first time, the Jewishness of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. … Those proved to be just the first in an increasingly visible series of antisemitic gestures by the Russian leader, who now appears to be reverting to the ingrained habits of his predecessors. 
  • There are several reasons for Putin's turn to Judeophobia. A transactional relationship with Iran has evolved into an alliance cemented by the hatred of the United States, and Tehran's loathing of Jews was bound to seep into a Kremlin that is vitally dependent on Iranian suicide drones for its war in Ukraine.
  • Yet the main reason for Putin's turn toward antisemitic rhetoric is domestic. A presidential election is due in March. … he has decided to follow the path blazed by Stalin, whose official place in Russian history has undergone in the last few years a dramatic change from a careful creeping rehabilitation to an almost complete whitewashing in history textbooks: If you can't point to successes, point to enemies. Nor is there any need to reinvent the wheel. As Russia sees it, its external foes are the Western imperialists—the United States and NATO—plus the Ukrainian Nazis. Its domestic enemies are the wreckers, the saboteurs—and the Jews.
  • Russia's transition to a neo-Stalinist state is bad news for the world. It is much worse for the estimated 150,000 Russian Jews. "Here we are," Lev Rubenstein, a popular Russian poet and a Jew, wrote a day after the pogrom. "Watching a crazy and crazed Nazi bacchanal in Makhachkala. So far in Makhachkala. The key words are 'so far …'"

“Vladimir Putin cannot keep funding his war forever,” Arkady Ostrovsky, Economist, 11.13.23.

  • In March Vladimir Putin will hold a presidential election designed to demonstrate support for his regime’s invasion of Ukraine two years earlier. … Mr. Putin will not have a problem declaring himself winner of the election. His problems may start afterwards, as the futility of his war exposes the hollowness of his triumph. 
  • That is by no means a given. But if Mr. Putin’s hopes are dashed, Donald Trump does not return to the White House, and Ukraine continues to receive support, his problems will only mount. In the past Mr. Putin dealt with any decline in his approval rating by starting a war. That option has already been used.

Defense and aerospace:

“Russia’s Military Restructuring and Expansion Hindered by the Ukraine War,” Karolina Hird, ISW, 11.12.23.

  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) is pursuing three simultaneous and overlapping force generation efforts as it seeks to manage short- to medium-term requirements in Ukraine while also pursuing long-term restructuring to prepare for a potential future large-scale conventional war against NATO. 
  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu first proposed a series of force structure changes and intended military reforms in December 2022, and Russian President Vladimir Putin approved select changes in January 2023.These changes include
    • re-dividing the Western Military District into the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts; 
    • the creation of "self-sufficient groupings of troops" in occupied Ukraine; 
    • the formation of a new army corps, three new motorized rifle divisions, and two new air assault divisions; and 
    • the reorganization of seven existing separate motorized rifle brigades into motorized rifle divisions. 
      • The Russian military is already in the process of implementing these changes at the military district level, is standing up several of these new formations from the army to brigade level, and has already deployed several of these formations to Ukraine.
  • The MoD appears to be undermining its long-term restructuring effort, however, by rushing some new formations—which were likely intended to form a strategic reserve or be the basis of long-term force restructuring – as rapid reinforcements to Russian forces in Ukraine. The Russian MoD’s use of ongoing force structure changes to rush newly created and understrength formations to Ukraine will likely impede the accomplishment of the parallel objective of restructuring Russian ground forces to orient on conventional warfare with NATO as the main adversary.
  • 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:

“Russian Strategic Culture: The Experience of Historical Retrospective. The challenge to Russia's strategic culture lies in the elites' desire to simplify it.” Alexander Vershinin and Alexey Krivopalov, Russia in Global Affairs, 11.01.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Russia's tradition of centralizing political decisions has repeatedly hindered unbiased analysis, resulting in severe crises that sometimes have posed an existential threat to the country.
    • …The Achilles' heel of [the Russian] strategy is the desire to simplify it [and] the subordination of the strategic goal setting to the one of politics.
  • The collapse of the Soviet Union opened up a wide range of opportunities to rethink Russia's place in the world.
    • Yeltsin quickly felt himself to be the new [leader] of the country, on friendly terms with the U.S. president and the German chancellor.
    • …The rejection of the "authoritative discourse" [and the Soviet system] unexpectedly contributed to the elimination of … feelings of self-doubt [and] non-obviousness of fundamental dogmas.
    • Yeltsin was confident that history was on his side.
  • The Russian leadership inherited … a traditional vision of national security based on the principles of spheres of influence and the balance of power.
    • [Moscow believed it] would solve all security problems in a dialogue with its new partners based on shared values, provided Russia's decisive contribution to overcoming the bloc confrontation was recognized. There were probably no alternatives [to these calculations by the Russians].
    • Moscow saw itself in the club of world leaders in full confidence that it had the right to be there.
    • The worldview of the [Russian] elite, however bizarre it may have seemed to outside observers, had become a factor in international politics.
  • The discrepancy between [Western] policies and Russia's expectations was interpreted as a sign of [Western]…hypocrisy, although from the Western point of view, there was hardly any reason for this [perception].
    • The framework of spheres of influence…forced to be adopted in the West due to the…USSR’s victory in World War II [was abandoned] as soon as the opportunity arose
    • Russia's commitment to the traditional concept of security, which Moscow saw as the core of the entire architecture of international institutions, could be seen in the West only as a relic or…political cynicism that destroys the possibility of a trust-based dialogue.
    • As on the eve of World War II, growing mutual suspicions of hypocrisy and cynicism have brought Russian-Western relations to a standstill.

“U.S. is warned about its global standing as Gaza suffering persists,” Michael Birnbaum, WP, 11.11.23.

  • Anger over the [Israeli] campaign's enormous civilian collateral is increasingly directed at the United States, not just at Israel, and has been a constant source of friction throughout Secretary of State Antony Blinken's travels in the Middle East and Asia over the past week. Prime ministers and diplomats have admonished him over Israeli actions, with many charging that the attacks are facilitated by U.S. weaponry and that efforts to push for "humanitarian pauses" rather than an enduring cease-fire is a formula for continued violence against noncombatants.
  • The anger toward Washington has given Russia and China an opening to portray themselves as defenders of Palestinians, boosting their image in the developing world and using their propaganda outlets to amplify the connection between the United States and Israeli actions in Gaza. Moscow hosted senior Hamas leaders last month, earning praise from the organization and condemnation from Israel.
  • For a world already split over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Gaza crisis is offering fodder, for those who want to seize it, that Western nations care more about the deaths of White Christian Ukrainians than non-White Muslims in the Middle East.
  • "There's a sense" in the developing world that there is a "double standard in terms of victims," said Suzanne Maloney, director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution—an unfair perception, she added, given that Russia invaded a weaker neighboring country that did not pose a security threat, leading to the deaths of Ukrainian civilians, while Israel is responding

“Putin’s New Story About the War in Ukraine: How Russian Propaganda Went From ‘Denazification’ to Fighting the West,” Mikhail Zygar, FA, 11.10.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Since invading Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has changed the story it tells itself about the war. In the beginning, Russian President Vladimir Putin explained to the Russian public and the world that he considered an invasion of Ukraine justified because there was a need to “denazify” the country. Putin claimed that a Nazi junta had seized power in Kyiv and was terrorizing the people, especially those who spoke Russian. To rescue Ukraine, Putin argued, Russian troops had once again been dispatched to save the world from Nazis. 
  • But today you don’t hear much talk about Nazis. After the Russian military suffered a series of defeats at the outset of the war, the Kremlin quickly adjusted its propaganda. It was no longer helpful to assert that Moscow was fighting Ukrainian Nazis after the Russian military failed to take Kyiv. Being defeated by Ukrainians was too humiliating for Putin’s propagandists. Therefore, Russia changed the enemy it was fighting: the Kremlin began to say that Russia was at war with NATO and even the United States. In this telling, the war in Ukraine was a proxy war, and the Ukrainians were in the hands of “overseas puppet masters.” For Russians, this was a familiar story, reawakening the Cold War mindset of us versus them. 
  • For a long time, Putin himself held Israel in high esteem and enjoyed a close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two leaders have similar worldviews and similar political methods: neither of them cares much about democracy. That no longer matters. Putin, despite his personal feelings toward Netanyahu, has criticized Israeli airstrikes on civilian targets and has voiced sympathy for the population of Gaza. 
  • German chancellor Olaf Scholz has called Putin’s position on Gaza cynical. But it is the Kremlin’s accusations of Western hypocrisy that are having a potent effect around the world. 

“The war in Gaza is aligning Russia against Israel,” James Nixey and Nikolay Kozhanov, Chatham House, 11.09.23.

  • [It is] likely that the Hamas–Israel war means the end of Russia’s decades-long policy of balancing between different players in the Middle East. … in October, its refusal to condemn the initial Hamas attack, and its close alliance with Iran, Tel Aviv no longer considers Russia an ally and would probably reject it as a mediator. Instead, Israeli experts speak openly of Russia’s possible advance knowledge of Hamas’s attack and even indirect involvement in its preparation. 
  • That leaves Russia gradually winning hearts and minds in the Arab part of the Middle East, where its strong ties with Hamas have not gone unnoticed.  In turn the Global South, and particularly the Middle East, is helping Russia ease the economic fallout from its conflict with the West and drawing Moscow to stand closer to Hamas than Israel. This also means a useful alignment with China, whose position is also widely regarded as pro-Palestinian and a counterbalance to the ‘pro-Zionist stance’ of the West.
  • Thee Hamas–Israel war is a ‘wicked’ problem for Ukraine because of where its allies stand. Doing the right thing is no longer obvious and the moral high ground is shrouded in fog.
  • Ukraine still has a long war to fight. Its rhetorical support for and self-declared comparison with Israel masks its clear competition with it for resources. But it also endangers the support Kyiv has been given by the West. It’s an unwelcome new element for Ukraine and Volodymyr Zelenskyy will need to tread carefully.

"Russia’s Second Front in Europe. The West Must Stop Putin From Provoking Conflict in the Balkans,” David Shedd and Ivana Stradner, FA,11.07.23.

  • Western leaders understand that [Serbian president] Vucic is motivated at least in large measure by a desire to stay in power. As a result, they have been trying to appease Serbia’s president by giving Belgrade incentives, including economic initiatives and investments, designed to stop his escalations. 
  • [But] If the West continues to enable Vucic, it will simply embolden him. He will keep testing NATO and trying to prove that the alliance is toothless. 
  •  NATO must create a coalition of the willing, headed by the United States, that can send successfully pressure Belgrade and Moscow to stop promoting political instability. That means making it clear to Vucic that, if he continues to take escalatory measures, he will face an escalating series of tangible consequences—including, possibly, sanctions.
  • On the ground, NATO should deploy teams in Kosovo that counter Russia’s and Serbia’s propaganda machine. These teams should target far-right Serbian groups and remind them that Russian messaging about a “Slavic brotherhood”—to which Serbia ostensibly belongs—is a myth and that if conflict does erupt, Putin will not help them. 
  • The  West must realize that, if left to fester, tensions in these states could become far more difficult—and expensive—to address. What happens in Kosovo and Serbia rarely stays in those countries, and this crisis could easily spill over to other Balkan states. Nearby North Macedonia, which belongs to NATO, might get dragged in. Further escalations in Kosovo will also invite chaos in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik—who has close ties to Putin—has threatened to have Bosnia’s Serbian territories secede. In October, Dodik even emphasized that Serbs should “form a single state,” consisting of Serbia, Republika Srpska, and Montenegro. 
  • A widening conflict would be an even bigger gift for Putin, who wants the West to train its attention away from Kyiv as he fights to seize more of that country. To protect Europe and stop the Kremlin, it is therefore essential that NATO fortify its Balkans flank right now, while the costs of doing so are still cheap.

“Tracing the Strategic Dimensions of India-Russia Relations,” Nandan Unnikrishnan and Ankita Dutta, Observer Research Foundation, 11.06.23.

  • India and Russia may share a long history of diplomatic, military, economic and cultural ties, but the partnership is under duress due to multiple global stressors. Both will keep looking for partners who can help them navigate the global geopolitical churn. In the next decade, India’s priority is economic growth with the government’s declared target of making India a $5-trillion economy by 2025. This goal includes plans to diversify and indigenize its defense and tech sector and to achieve this, India will gravitate to the West.
  • Although this will dilute the salience of the relationship with Russia, Moscow will remain an important partner in the context of strategic issues, defense supplies, energy cooperation and in the Eurasian region. For example, one area where India and Russia could collaborate is in Russia’s Far East, with India providing finance and personnel to develop this resource-rich but demographically-challenged area bordering China.
  • In a geopolitical sense, given that India’s primary adversary is its Asian neighbor to the north, China, India sees sense in engaging both with China’s primary geopolitical adversary, the U.S. and also its closest partner, Russia. While this may dictate some changes in their foreign policy orientations, India and Russia will try to maintain their partnership, which both view, at least for the time being, as beneficial in an emerging global order.


“Ukraine Corruption Worries Cloud Its Push to Join EU; Brussels recommends membership talks start soon, but many European leaders share U.S. concerns over rule of law,” Laurence Norman and Matthew Luxmoore, WSJ, 11.08.23.

  • The European Union recommended Wednesday that the bloc begins membership talks with Ukraine soon, boosting President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has made EU accession a central goal. … Unanimous approval is needed from all 27 EU countries to open negotiations and set a date to begin talks. Diplomats say some EU leaders still need convincing. … At the heart of European concerns about Ukraine—echoed by Washington—is whether the country can overhaul its governance and political culture to rein in the power of big tycoons and eradicate endemic corruption that has impeded economic growth and social cohesion. To open the way for EU accession talks, the bloc set Ukraine seven reform tests.
  • In Wednesday's report, the commission said Kyiv had completed four of the seven reforms and would need to complete the other three before membership negotiations begin. Over 90% of the work is done, von der Leyen said. If EU governments agree, preparations for the accession talks could start before year end but actual negotiations would only take place in March, when Brussels will report on Ukraine's progress on the remaining reform tasks.
  • The Biden administration has also warned Kyiv it must do more to ensure U.S. aid to the country is handled correctly and transparently amid fading U.S. public support for financing Ukraine in its war with Russia. Leading Republican presidential candidates have cited Ukraine's corruption record as one reason to stop supporting Kyiv, although there has been no significant evidence of misappropriation of arms supplies.
  • Daria Kaleniuk, director of the Kyiv-based Anticorruption Action Center, a group campaigning to root out graft, said the urgency of combating corruption has grown because so many people have relatives injured or fighting on the front lines and there is an understanding that stolen funds could be used to save the lives of Ukrainian troops. "War is creating a situation where we can't afford to not tackle corruption," she said. "I wish that leaders in the country would feel this urgency as well."
  • Surveys indicate that Ukrainian society supports the government's anticorruption campaign, and more than 80% of the population supports joining the EU. The government is also responding to public pressure to show clear results and not revert to old ways. In September, Zelensky rejected legislation that would ban the public from viewing asset disclosures by Ukrainian officials for one year.
  • Ukraine has transformed its corruption record in the decade since the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was forced from office by protests, according to Oleksandr Yabchanka, a wounded Ukrainian serviceman. When it comes to perceptions of corruption, as measured by Transparency International, the change has not been exactly transformative. In 2013 (last full year of Yanukovych’s presidency) Ukraine was ranked 144 out of 175th countries, scoring 25 out of 100. In 2022, it was ranked 116th out of 180, scoring 33 out of 100.*

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“EU and Russia square up over Georgia,” Tony Barber, FT, 11.11.23.

  • Let there be no doubt: Wednesday was a proud day for Georgia—perhaps the proudest since the mountainous south Caucasus state emerged as an independent state in 1991 out of the ashes of the Soviet Union. In Brussels, the European Commission announced its recommendation that EU national leaders should grant Georgia candidate status, an essential step to future membership of the club. The key condition is that Georgia must pass the reforms needed to qualify for entry.
  • A Russian invasion in 2008 effectively dismembered the Georgian state by enforcing the secession of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, which account for about 20 per cent of Georgia’s territory. The consequences of that Russian attack persist to this day and, in terms of Georgia’s EU membership bid, could be far-reaching. Can or should the EU incorporate a country that is partly occupied by a hostile neighbor? The same question looms over the EU candidacies of Ukraine and Moldova.

The crisis in the Middle East and Russia’s Eurasian agenda,” Timofey Bordachev, Valdai Club, 11.09.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • In the coming years, Russia’s policy in the Eurasian space will most likely be aimed at refraining from assuming excessive obligations, strengthening relations with countries that are really interested in cooperation with Moscow, and also strengthening the influence of broad international formats, primarily of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This strategy meets the most important goals of Russia, which are internal in nature and consist in maintaining social stability, social harmony and economic growth.
  • So far, Moscow's policy towards its immediate surroundings is showing signs of adaptability to inevitably changing conditions. But for this policy not to become … a form of retreat, we have to solve several important problems.
    • Firstly, Russia will be faced with the question of how to find the optimal combination of adaptability to changes that occur against its will, and of consistent firmness where the problem is truly of fundamental importance [to Russia].
    •  Secondly, the general crisis of international institutions will inevitably force us to answer difficult questions about [such] organizations [as] … SCO, the Eurasian Economic Union, the CSTO.
    • Finally, we do not yet know very well how to interact with medium- and small-sized neighbors when they themselves find themselves in a crisis.



  1. See, for instance, “Europe increases defence of energy assets after Baltic Sea ‘sabotage,’” FT, 09.30.22
    Nord Stream Explosions: Russian Sabotage in the Baltic?” Jamestown Foundation, 10.04.22“Five reasons why Russia is likely behind the Nord Stream industrial sabotage,” Fox News, 10.01.22.
  2. The second half of the post can be found here.


The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 12:00 pm Eastern time on the day this digest 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 Pedant01 via Wikimedia Commons under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.