Russia Analytical Report, Nov. 8-15, 2021
This Week’s Highlights
- “Although Beijing continues to insist that China and Russia are ‘not allies,’ it has begun to assert in the same breath that there are ‘no restricted areas’ and ‘no upper limit’ to their partnership,” writes Brookings’ Patricia M. Kim. Igor Denisov of Russia’s MGIMO University and Alexander Lukin of the Higher School of Economics in Moscow also note that “In [a] January 2021 interview China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi proposed three new principles to replace China’s traditional ‘three don’ts’ (don’t form alliances, don’t enter confrontations and don’t target third countries). In China’s relations with Russia the ‘three don’ts’ would be replaced by ‘three no’s’: no end lines, no forbidden areas and no upper limits. … Beijing will continue to try and test Moscow’s willingness to shift to something more than a strategic partnership. Moscow, however, is unlikely to yield to these advances.”
- “At present, there are two broad scenarios for the development of Russia’s foreign policy [the Stagnation Scenario and the Development Scenario],” writes Sergei Karaganov, dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. “Both scenarios envisage foreign policy continuing to move closer to the East and to the South. ... Both scenarios include an emphasis on reducing Russia’s dependence on the outside world. There is also likely to be a partial reduction of Russia’s commitments to the former Soviet states.” The Stagnation Scenario, Karaganov warns, makes greater dependence on China inevitable, right down to the conclusion of a military alliance.
- “Putin’s rhetoric in recent months has begun portraying the exploitation or absorption (in Russian, освоение) of Ukraine’s territory by hostile foreign powers as an unacceptable threat to Russian security,” write Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “If there is any lesson that Putin and his Kremlin cohort should have learned in the course of the seven years since Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, it’s that the annexation of Crimea and the undeclared war in eastern Ukraine have only reinforced the Ukrainian people’s resolve to leave Russia’s orbit and to seek closer ties to the West. Clearly, that lesson has not been learned in the Kremlin, which means that it is guided by a different logic and that its current bout of saber-rattling has to be taken seriously.”
- “Only the most insane of U.S. politicians and commentators actually want to go to war with Russia in Ukraine. But as the outbreak of World War I demonstrated, leaders who do not intend to go to war may stumble into a situation in which they are unable to stop or turn back,” writes Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “Perhaps the most tragic aspect of the seemingly unending Donbass dispute is that, while it may be one of the most dangerous crises in the world today, it is also in principle the most easily solved.”
- “In the current situation, the main objective for the Kremlin is to maintain a controlled, pro-Russian transition of power [in Belarus]. It wants to prevent Lukashenko and the Belarusian elite from casting around in search of new allies and hatching harebrained schemes,” writes Carnegie Moscow Center’s Maxim Samorukov. “Such behavior might escalate the domestic situation and prompt the EU and the United States to look for new approaches, which might again steer Belarus toward the West.”
- “Russia has undergone a real green revolution in 2020–2021. Long-held skepticism with regard to global warming has been dropped: there is too much evidence of it uncomfortably close to home,” argues Anastasia Likhacheva, a director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Relations.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- No significant developments.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- No significant developments.
Iran and its nuclear program:
- No significant developments.
Great Power rivalry/New Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:
- “The authors of this report describe strategic global trends related to Russian global influence and behavior and provide an overview and assessment of hostile activities—including information warfare, political subversion, and the use of violence or the threat of violence through proxies to undermine political order and influence vulnerable governments—that Russia has undertaken in the face of these trends.”
- “The authors find that Russia continues to engage in a wide range of hostile measures globally, but the intensity of its behavior varies in different regions and for different types of activities. The threat posed by Russia is greatest in the former Soviet states and in more fragile states afflicted by civil conflicts; with some notable exceptions, in more stable countries, Russian actions are typically limited to influence operations. The authors conclude that, overall, the West has maintained considerable pressure on Russia.”
“Countering Russia. The Role of Special Operations Forces in Strategic Competition,” Stephen Watts, Sean M. Zeigler, Kimberly Jackson, Caitlin McCulloch, Joseph Cheravitch and Marta Kepe, RAND Corporation, November 2021. The authors of the report write:
- “The authors of this report assess the role of U.S. Army special operations forces (ARSOF) in great-power competition, focusing on the types of activities the United States will need to conduct in competition with Russia and ARSOF's effectiveness in conducting them, as well as ARSOF's advantages and disadvantages relative to conventional military forces and the efforts of nonmilitary agencies.”
- “To successfully compete with Russia and other great powers, the United States requires the ability to mitigate adversarial messaging efforts, engage key populations, support decisionmakers against influence efforts by malign actors, improve the resilience of partner institutions, assure foreign partners of U.S. resolve, deter adversaries and illuminate and disrupt adversary networks. ARSOF can make important contributions in all these areas.”
- “Under steady-state conditions, ARSOF can help to strengthen the resilience of allies and partners while improving the United States' situational awareness. … When the risk of armed conflict is high, ARSOF can help to defend against proxy forces used by U.S. adversaries and can be used to disrupt adversary operations in denied environments or to impose costs on adversaries. However, unconventional warfare intended to overthrow adversary governments has historically had low rates of success.”
- “ARSOF can be used to better target U.S. operations in the information environment and work with local surrogates to strengthen the impact of such efforts.”
“How NATO Can Avoid the Death Spiral on Europe’s Frontier,” James Jay Carafano, The National Interest, 11.08.21. The author, a Heritage Foundation vice president, writes:
- “Instead of looking for political formulas to unfreeze the frozen conflicts, the focus ought to be on helping these three resilient states [in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine] that have the capacity to resist Russian influence. Combatting corruption, promoting good governance, and upholding the rule of law are important qualities in an ally. But so too are economic prosperity, political stability and security assets—and not just physical security assets, but energy and infrastructure resources as well.”
- “There are applicable lessons here, learned the hard way in Afghanistan. First, external nation-building is near impossible. Nations must rebuild themselves. Second, trying to rebuild your nation while under occupation and constantly threatened by enemies is no mean feat. Third, determined enemies can swiftly wipe away all progress made if the builders’ supporters simply walk off the job. We also learned that, when the United States walks away from foreign challenges that significantly impact our interests, the price is pretty steep.”
- “There are no easy answers in the fight for freedom, security and prosperity in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, but supporting these efforts with a complement of suitable, feasible, and acceptable programs is the best way to break the death spiral and show Russia and China that our determination to win the long-haul struggle for freedom is just as strong as their determination to oppress.”
“A rising nuclear power,” Editorial Board, The Washington Post, 11.08.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:
- “After many years of relatively modest ambitions, China apparently intends to join the United States and Russia as a strategic nuclear power.”
- “China's quest for a stronger nuclear force could be intended to deter the United States from coercion if a conventional or nonnuclear conflict breaks out in the South China Sea—say, over Taiwan. China's leaders also no doubt are taking note of the intensifying cooperation among the United States, Japan, Australia and India. President Xi Jinping seems determined to demonstrate China's great power status, and that includes a great-power-sized nuclear arsenal.”
- “During their antagonism during the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union managed to negotiate limits and even elimination of fast-flying missiles and the nuclear warheads they carried. As China scales up its ambitions, it should be willing to join a renewed arms-control process, with Russia also reengaged. Great powers also have great responsibilities—first and foremost to avert the catastrophe of nuclear war.”
“China’s nuclear build-up: ‘one of the largest shifts in geostrategic power ever,’” Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times, 11.15.21. The author, U.S.-China correspondent for the news outlet, writes:
- “On July 27, China became the first nation to fly a hypersonic glide vehicle—a maneuverable craft that travels at more than five times the speed of sound—around the earth … This test was the latest in a series of revelations about China’s growing nuclear capabilities that have set off multiple alarm bells in Washington. Earlier this month, the Pentagon said it believes China has accelerated its nuclear plans and will quadruple its arsenal to at least 1,000 warheads by 2030.”
- “Over the last two decades, China has stunned Washington with the relentless pace of its conventional military build-up, ranging from fighter jets and bombers to submarines and warships. Its navy is now by far the largest in the world. But the combination of the hypersonic test and the warhead warning has now focused attention on a potentially dramatic shift taking place in Beijing’s nuclear posture.”
- “‘A bigger, more accurate and diverse Chinese arsenal kept on higher alert would be consistent with a retaliatory-only strategy, but it also gives China options to use nuclear weapons first that it has not previously had,’ Fiona Cunningham, a nuclear expert at the University of Pennsylvania, says, adding that this and dismal U.S.-China ties mean ‘China’s nuclear modernization has gutted U.S. confidence in Beijing’s nuclear restraint.’”
China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?
“China’s Search for Allies. Is Beijing Building a Rival Alliance System?” Patricia M. Kim, Foreign Affairs, 11.15.21. The author, the David M. Rubenstein Fellow with the John L. Thornton China Center and the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, writes:
- “China … has shied away from formal alliances, based on its supposedly distinct view of international relations and a pragmatic desire to avoid the risks of entanglement. But there are signs that Beijing’s resistance is starting to erode. In more recent years, it has upgraded its strategic partnerships and expanded military exchanges and joint exercises with countries including Russia, Pakistan and Iran. These partnerships .... could in time form the basis of China’s own alliance network if Chinese leaders come to believe that one is necessary … Such a development would mark a true turning point in this era of U.S.-Chinese competition and pave the way to an alarming new world with lower thresholds for regional and great power conflict.”
- “There are two possible scenarios that could drive it to build a bona fide network of allies: if Beijing perceives a sharp enough deterioration in its security environment that overturns its cost-benefit analysis on pursuing formal military pacts; or if it decides to displace the United States as the predominant military power … globally. (These two scenarios are not, of course, mutually exclusive.)”
- “Although Beijing continues to insist that China and Russia are ‘not allies,’ it has begun to assert in the same breath that there are ‘no restricted areas’ and ‘no upper limit’ to their partnership.”
- “The Biden administration would do well to consider how its successes in rallying friends could impact Beijing’s threat perceptions and unwittingly spur the creation of a rival Chinese-led alliance network. Serious thought should be given now on how to live with, and better yet prevent, such an outcome. Efforts along these lines should include considering ways to keep China invested in stable relations with the United States and its allies and making sure to engage with a broad array of states, not just like-minded democracies … Strategic foresight and planning will be essential to prevent the drift toward a truly divided world, with an opposing bloc helmed by a more entangled and interventionist China.”
“Russia’s China Policy: Growing Asymmetries and Hedging Options,” Igor Denisov and Alexander Lukin, Russian Politics, October 2021. The authors, a senior research fellow at MGIMO University and the head of the department of international relations and International Laboratory on World Order Studies and the New Regionalism at HSE University, write:
- “Our assessment of the future of Sino-Russian relations must necessarily take the relative strengths of the two states and the new elements of Beijing’s foreign policy into account. Realist IR theorists have formulated three possible responses to another party strengthening or stepping up its foreign policy: balancing, bandwagoning and hedging. The first two approaches are clearly not suitable for Russia’s policy towards a rising China … hedging appears to be the most rational option for Russia. This policy … means combining both ‘balancing’ and ‘bandwagoning’ approaches: developing close relations with the strong partner while respecting one’s own interests and diversifying ties with other partners to avoid overdependence and subordination.”
- “Currently Russia’s biggest challenge is presented by the policies adopted by the West. It thus needs China as both a political and an economic partner. However, one should not forget that Russia is becoming increasingly important for China too, given the latter’s confrontation with the West. … The shift in Beijing’s sentiments can be seen … in a January 2021 interview given by Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, where he proposed three new principles to replace China’s traditional ‘three don’ts’ (don’t form alliances, don’t enter confrontations and don’t target third countries). In China’s relations with Russia … [they] would be replaced by ‘three no’s’: no end lines, no forbidden areas and no upper limits.”
- “Beijing will continue to try and test Moscow’s willingness to shift to something more than a strategic partnership. Moscow, however, is unlikely to yield to these advances. … First, Moscow is well aware that, in reality, China’s development and modernization is much less dependent on the Russian economy than on the Western economy, and China will seek to restore its partner relations with the United States and Europe at the earliest possible opportunity. … Secondly, a shift towards full alliance with China would not be in line with Russian self-identity as an independent sovereign great power.”
“Prospects for Sino-Russian Coordination in Afghanistan,” Elizabeth Wishnick, War on the Rocks, 11.08.21. The author, a professor of political science at Montclair State University, writes:
- “Putin and Xi view Afghanistan from different vantage points, making their coordination improbable. In Afghanistan, there are three areas that will provide indications of the depth of Sino-Russian coordination.”
- “First, Russia’s reaction to the expansion of China’s unofficial base in Tajikistan will indicate its tolerance of a greater role for China in Central Asian security. … If Russia seeks to deepen its military cooperation with China in Tajikistan, this would be an indication of greater security coordination. Conversely, a Russian effort to expand its own bilateral military cooperation with Tajikistan, or to expand multilateral cooperation … would show Russia’s determination to stay in charge of the regional security portfolio.”
- “Next, Russian engagement with India in Central Asia and Afghanistan will show which partnership … takes pride of place and how Russia copes with their [China’s and India’s] competing demands.”
- “Third, it will be a promising development for Sino-Russian ties if they jointly recognize the Taliban. Thus far, Russia appears to be following Tajikistan’s lead and slow-walking the prospect of international recognition for the Taliban. A joint initiative by Russia and China at the United Nations or within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to recognize the Taliban simultaneously would show a degree of policy coordination, though even there the two countries might take this step for different reasons.”
- “Recently Alexander Lukin, a longtime scholar of the Sino-Russian relationship, argued that the partnership between China and Russia may have reached its peak. The changing circumstances in Afghanistan certainly will provide a new stress test for the partnership. How Russia and China address India’s role—and their own—in regional security and navigate the recognition of the Taliban as they each pursue their own regional agendas will provide key indicators of the parameters of future Sino-Russian coordination.”
- No significant developments.
Nuclear arms control:
“The rise and demise of arms control,” Michael Krepon, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, 11.15.21. The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes:
- “Nuclear arms control was an integral part of the Cold War. Ironically, the conditions for its demise were in place when the Cold War ended. In particular, four building blocks for constructing the edifice of arms control started to erode badly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.”
- “The first building block was bipartisanship. … A second building block … was the nominal acceptance of a rough balance of strategic offensive forces. … A third …was the acceptance of mutual vulnerability. … A fourth … was the acceptance of the inviolability of borders and national sovereignty, codified in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act recognizing a divided Europe.”
- “Bush [Jr.], unlike his father, had little interest in arms control, which he viewed as a relic of the Cold War. ... Putin, too, wanted freedom of action and chafed at treaty constraints. ... Thus, Bush and Putin began unraveling the fabric of arms control woven during the Cold War.”
- “It’s easy now to forget how successful arms control was, despite painful setbacks along the way. So please remember this: It took just three decades after the enterprise of arms control, which was built from scratch in the Kennedy administration, to establish conditions for lasting nuclear peace. Deterrence alone, with all of its inherent dangers, accounts for no more than half of this success. Arms control was the greatest unacknowledged diplomatic accomplishment of the Cold War.”
- “The rebuild will require another multi-generational effort, just like the original construction project. … Reconstruction will begin once U.S., Chinese and Russian leaders reach the same conclusion as leaders in Washington and Moscow during the Cold War—that nuclear deterrence is too dangerous to be left unattended by diplomacy. The revival of arms control is again needed to prevent mushroom clouds.”
“How to Avoid Nuclear War,” Michael Krepon, War on the Rocks, 11.08.21. The author, co-founder of the Stimson Center, writes:
- “The greatest nuclear dangers reside in the increase in dangerous military practices between the United States and China, Russia and the United States, India and China and Pakistan and India. … But we’ve been here before … and because of diplomacy, the norm of no battlefield use has held, at least so far.”
- “What, then, to do about treaties and numbers? President Joe Biden and Putin quickly agreed to extend verifiable limits in the 2010 Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty for another five years. Negotiating next steps will be challenging. … Washington’s most challenging and urgent agenda items relate to codes of conduct rather than numerical arms control. This agenda belongs at the top of Washington’s conversations with Beijing as well as Moscow.”
- “Norm strengthening is needed well before counting is completed and reductions can begin. Where can this most usefully be done? ... A seven-nation forum consisting of the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Britain and France would be hard to steer, but the nuclear dangers we now face are interconnected and unwieldy.”
- “The ground rules for seven-nation talks seem most likely to avoid traps if the agreed focus of conversation is nuclear risk reduction and norm building. … Over time, if this forum proves its worth, topics could evolve from norm building to the consideration of guardrails, limits and reductions for nuclear modernization programs.”
- “As if the agenda outlined here isn’t ambitious enough, a new negotiating forum to address trilateral nuclear arms control and reductions seems inescapable. The more China builds up, the harder it becomes to succeed at bilateral controls. … If and when norm-strengthening negotiations evolve into numerical accords, the fluidity of trilateral relations and opposition on Capitol Hill will preclude treaty making. If trilateral accords can somehow be reached, they would likely take the form of executive agreements and be term limited.”
“US nuclear arms shift could raise risk of inadvertent conflict,” George Robertson, Financial Times, 11.14.21. The author, a former British defense secretary and the 10th secretary-general of NATO, writes:
- “‘No first use’ sounds appealing, and its advocates argue that the U.S. can set an example to other nuclear powers that would, in time, reduce the threat of nuclear conflict. They are wrong. There are three reasons why both this and ‘sole purpose’ would undermine deterrence, divide NATO and increase the risk of conflict.”
- “First, a US declaration would be treated with skepticism by potential adversaries — because authoritarian regimes are likely to judge others by their own standards — and could even encourage them towards military aggression if the threat of nuclear reprisals is lifted.”
- “Second, NATO as a nuclear alliance is deliberately ambiguous about the circumstances in which it might authorize the deployment of nuclear weapons to deter attacks on the territory or interests of its members.”
- “Third, at a time of heightened tension due to Russia and China’s growing military power and threatening behavior, a U.S. declaration of ‘sole purpose’ or ‘no first use’ would unsettle Washington’s allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific.”
- “Advocates of change are right to say that progress on nuclear disarmament is painfully slow. But it will be achieved only by skillful diplomatic management of the conflicting ambitions and interests of the major powers. Painstaking efforts are needed to revive bilateral and, in time, multilateral steps towards verifiable nuclear disarmament and the prevention of proliferation. Eye-catching gestures from the U.S. such as declarations of ‘sole purpose’ or ‘no first use’ would undermine the NATO alliance and lead only to greater instability and insecurity.”
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- No significant developments.
“Make Russia Take Responsibility for Its Cybercriminals,” Michael John Williams, Foreign Policy, 11.09.21. The author, an associate professor of international affairs at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, writes:
- “U.S. President Joe Biden telling Putin that 16 areas of critical infrastructure are off limits from Russian government attacks is ... [a] futile trip ... Action, not words, is required to create effective cyberdeterrence against nonstate entities shielded by the Russian government. The situation will become only more dire as countries such as China begin to employ similar tactics.”
- “Washington needs to unequivocally state that public and private entities of the United States and its NATO allies are off limits and that it will hold all governments that foster cybercriminals responsible for their actions, thereby shifting the burden of proof to Russia, rather than to targets of the attack. Including NATO allies in this declaration is extremely important, as it relies on the same logic as extended nuclear deterrence. To just protect U.S. entities would shift the focus of attacks to allies—only an alliance-led guarantee would prevent any and all Russian meddling. The United States and its allies should support the creation of an agency along the lines of the International Atomic Energy Agency to determine attribution and monitor compliance.”
- “The Biden White House should lead the way. But given that several successive administrations have been unwilling to take the necessary steps, the burden may fall on Congress to craft laws to protect the U.S. national interest. NATO allies should follow suit at home and present a united front against Russia and other states that foster cybercriminals to advance their own nefarious aims at the expense of open, democratic societies.”
Energy exports from CIS:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
“FP: You say that Russia is America’s Ghost of Christmas Future. Like a harbinger of things to come if we can’t get our act together.
FH: Yeah, but this is a specter of a ghost, right? It doesn’t have to happen. It’s a warning of what might happen—if. But that’s an ‘if’; we don’t have to go down this path.
FP: It’s less about Trump and more about us.
FH: It’s more about us. Yeah, we can basically choose not to go along this path. We can restore our checks and balances. We can reinvigorate and renew our democracy. If we get serious about it.
FP: So we can’t blame Trump or even Putin.
FH: No, of course not. I mean, Trump is a product and a symptom of this...”
“FP: How do you view Biden’s diplomacy with Russia? Is there a way to walk that high wire with cooperation on arms control and cyberterrorism, and still be wary of Russia’s efforts?
FH: Yes, absolutely. You do it with your eyes wide open … and push back whenever they hit us. You kind of keep it no drama behind the scenes. I mean, behind all of the bluster that everybody saw under the Trump administration, we were doing the same thing. This is not appeasement, because you are actually telling them, ‘Hey guys, you know, knock it off. If you do something on X or Y, or look, if we find out that they are behind the Havana syndrome, there will be consequences.’”
“FP: We talk so much about Russia, but how big of a threat is China to our democracy?
FH: Look, I mean, the big problem for us is that we have no collective action, so we can’t be competitive. … They no longer see us as a model or anything to emulate. I mean, I think the Chinese and the Russians couldn’t believe what a disaster the financial crisis was in 2008-2009. They thought that we knew what we were doing, and now they know we don’t know what we’re doing. We have to show them again that we do, because otherwise we’re going to get eclipsed here. It’s all on us. It’s on us to basically fix ourselves, all the chaos and confusion, polarization, partisan infighting, you name it. It is a national security crisis, because we can’t get our act together domestically to get anything done, and we can’t push back and we’re incredibly vulnerable.”
“We must protect our elections now. National security is at stake,” James R. Clapper and Michael Hayden, The Washington Post, 10.10.21. The authors, a former director of national intelligence and a former principal deputy director of national intelligence, write:
- “We have personally seen the lengths to which our foreign adversaries will go to take advantage of any cracks in the foundation of our democracy. One of us was director of national intelligence during the period leading up to the 2016 presidential vote and saw firsthand how Russia used social media to exploit disinformation, polarization and divisiveness. The Russians' objective was to breed discord, and they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. Now others have gone to school on the Russian example and will seek to prey on our country's state of affairs in just the same way.”
- “There are clear and simple steps the Biden administration and Congress must take now to harden our defenses against the risk posed by election destabilization.”
- “For its part, the Justice Department should continue to seek accountability for the Jan. 6 attack, and must do more to prosecute those who unlawfully intimidate election officials. If we fail to hold these people accountable in the present, we invite similar efforts in the future.”
- “Meanwhile, Congress must provide adequate funding to state and local governments to help them secure their election infrastructure against malicious foreign and domestic actors. Legislators should also immediately enact safeguards we know will make our federal elections more resilient, such as paper ballots to facilitate result verification in the event of a dispute or attempted sabotage.”
- “Other necessary measures include requirements for protecting ballots and election equipment, as well as election workers, and meaningful penalties for attempts to violate such laws or manipulate an election. Some of these proposals have already been introduced in Congress; there is no excuse to delay.”
“Indictment of Steele dossier source is more bad news for multiple media outlets,” Erik Wemple, The Washington Post, 11.08.21. The author, a media critic, writes:
- “MSNBC host Rachel Maddow in December 2017 aired a special report on the Trump-Russia dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. That document, claimed Maddow, relied on information coming from Steele's ‘deep cover sources inside Russia.’”
- “A federal indictment unsealed Thursday [Nov. 4] has something to say about the quality of those ‘sources.’ It charges Igor Danchenko, the dossier's primary intelligence collector, with making false statements to the FBI about his interactions with sources consulted for the dossier. Danchenko isn't a deep-cover type; he's a Russian national living in the United States and a former Brookings Institution analyst who ‘focused on analyzing business and political risks in Russia,’ as the New York Times put it.”
- “The Danchenko indictment doubles as a critique of several media outlets that covered Steele's reports in 2016 and after its publication by BuzzFeed in January 2017. As discussed in this series, CNN, MSNBC, Mother Jones, the McClatchy newspaper chain and various pundits showered credibility upon the dossier without corroboration — and found other topics to cover when a forceful debunking arrived in December 2019 via a report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.”
- “Just as Durham can't use the dossier to deflect from the larger Trump-Russia tableau, … people such as Maddow and others can't use the larger Trump-Russia tableau to deflect from their coverage of the dossier. A reckoning is years overdue.”
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
“A Greener Russia? Moscow’s Agenda at the COP26 Climate Summit,” Anastasia Likhacheva, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.09.21. The author, a director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Relations and a deputy dean for research at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics, writes:
- “The leaders of China, Russia, Brazil, India and other countries unveiled their plans for adapting to climate change but decided not to attend the [COP26 U.N. climate change] summit. Their rationale is clear: They acknowledge the problem and are ready to address it seriously, but they will not commit to obligations to the developed West.”
- “Russia has undergone a real green revolution in 2020–2021. Long-held skepticism with regard to global warming has been dropped: There is too much evidence of it uncomfortably close to home. … [I]n less than two years Russia has clearly formulated its climate priorities, including … in its National Defense Strategy for the first time, … planning on achieving the goals set out in its low-carbon strategy and initiating its first projects for the transition … to green energy.”
- Russia’s delegation at COP26 promoted three climate principles:
- “The first is technological neutrality, which involves recognizing atomic energy as green… Since it became apparent that Nord Stream 2 could give Germany a key role in EU energy, however, France has become a lot more open to the idea of classifying nuclear power as a green energy source.”
- “Secondly, Moscow proposes focusing less on cutting emissions than on their absorption. This is not just about Russia’s vast carbon-absorbing forests but about new climate risks, too. The gas hydrates released by the melting of the permafrost are concentrated primarily in the East Siberian Sea and could severely damage Russia’s energy mix.”
- “The third … principle is unifying both the international system of calculating carbon units and approaches to establishing a market for them. Russia proposes creating a system similar to zip codes: They differ greatly from country to country, but that doesn’t prevent letters from being sent. … [W]hy can’t a similar system be devised for calculating carbon units, since they are such a concern today for all of mankind?”
“For Whom the Windfalls? Oil Tax Revenues and Inequality in Russia,” Michael Alexeev and Nikita Zakharov, Jordan Center, November 2021. The authors, economics professors at Indiana University and University of Freiburg, respectively, write:
- “We find that changes in regional income inequality were not associated with changes in oil prices, either during the period of oil-tax sharing or afterward. That outcome reveals a foregone opportunity to improve the living conditions of the less wealthy. However, when we zoom in, we notice that inequality actually did decrease in oil-producing regions where corruption, measured as bribe-taking by public officials, was less intense.”
- “Our research shows that once oil windfalls in Russia are taxed and transferred to state budgets, they easily fall prey to the corrupt, politically connected elite—a development that the population certainly notices, contributing to rising political instability. Of course, the central government has put an end to oil windfalls at the regional level by channeling them into the federal budget, but this change by no means guarantees a fairer distribution of the natural resource rent and raises even more serious concerns about potential political capture.”
- “One tactic for protecting oil windfalls from being pocketed by elites is to redistribute them directly to the population, as is the case in the U.S. state of Alaska and the province of Alberta, Canada. However, implementing such a policy would require strong political will from the very same politicians engaged in siphoning off oil wealth to their offshore accounts (as leaked financial papers suggest). Hence, this solution remains as unrealistic as the larger goal of ending corruption in Russia.”
“Last Man Standing: What the Latest Dispute Over Tatarstan’s Presidency Tells Us About the Enduring Ethnic Factor in Russian Politics,” Adam Lenton, PONARS Eurasia, 11.05.21. The author, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at George Washington University, writes:
- “In 2010, 13 of Russia’s ethnic republics had their own presidencies. Today, the Republic of Tatarstan is the only region to retain the institution, despite a federal law that requires that regional leaders not contain the word ‘president’ in their titles.”
- “The Kremlin and Tatarstan’s authorities were able to skillfully depoliticize the thorny, legal, political and even cultural issue of Russia’s last remaining regional president for quite some time. Nevertheless, the recent introduction of a bill on the ‘unified system of public power’ in the parliament seems to herald the end chapter to Russia’s regional presidencies. [Rustam] Minnikhanov might be able to remain in power indefinitely but no longer as the ‘president of Tatarstan.’”
- “As the last remaining symbol of Tatarstan’s claim to statehood, the abolition of the presidency highlights the increasing tension between mobilizing pro-government votes on the one hand, and defending ethnic group rights on the other. Centralization—especially since 2017—has, however, rendered regional leaders’ claims as defenders of ethnic group rights increasingly hollow. Returning to the logic of bargaining, central to the regions’ role in contemporary Russian politics is their ability to pursue local legitimation strategies and engage in symbolic politics to shore up support. Analysts should pay close attention to how leaders in Russia’s ethnic republics navigate this amidst conditions of centralization.”
“Self-Selection into the Public Sector When Corruption is Widespread: The Paradoxical Case of Contemporary Russia,” Jordan Gans-Morse, PONARS Eurasia, 11.10.21. The author, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University, writes:
- “Recent studies using innovative laboratory experiments have found that in countries where corruption is widespread, university students aspiring to the civil service display a greater propensity for dishonesty and corrupt behavior than students pursuing private-sector careers. The opposite holds true in countries with low levels of corruption, where students aspiring to public service are less prone to unethical behavior. Paradoxically, Russia does not fit this trend. In a recent study conducted together with Alexander Kalgin, Andrei Klimenko, Dmitriy Vorobyev and Andrei Yakovlev, we found that despite Russia’s high levels of corruption, Russian university students with a propensity to act dishonestly or corruptly self-select out of public sector employment and into the private sector, particularly into sectors such as finance.”
- “Our study shows that even in countries with widespread corruption, there may exist significant pockets of aspiring civil servants motivated by public service ideals rather than self-enrichment. To understand why corruption persists and how to effectively fight it, much more attention needs to be paid to who chooses to become a public official, not just the incentives public officials face once in office.”
Defense and aerospace:
- No significant developments.
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 Foreign Policy: Three Historical Stages and Two Future Scenarios,” Sergei Karaganov, Russian Politics, 10.29.21. The author, dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, writes:
- “There have been several stages in Russia’s foreign policy since 1991. From a naive and idealistic pro-Western course, to ‘getting up from its knees,’ to asserting itself as an independent great power. Around 2018, this trajectory reached a plateau, with the potential for decline.”
- “[T]he future development of Russia’s foreign policy shall depend critically on whether the country will be able to strengthen its economic foundation and … imbu[e] national life with meaning, i.e., … a viable new ideology, at least for the majority of the population. This ideology should … appeal to most of the outside world (but not to the West, what [sic] the Russian élite has been trying to do for most of the last 300 years).”
- “[T]here are two broad scenarios for the development of Russia’s foreign policy. Both … envisage foreign policy continuing to move closer to the East and to the South. Both … envisage an inevitable continuation of reliance on military power… Both scenarios shall presumably include an emphasis on reducing Russia’s dependence on the outside world. There is also likely to be a partial reduction of Russia’s commitments to the former Soviet states, most of which have declined … over the last 10 years, and may become an increasing encumbrance. The Russian elite is gradually developing a less nostalgic and more practical approach toward these countries, though this has not yet risen to the official surface.”
- “The Stagnation Scenario is a continuation of the current internal and economic policy course, which makes greater dependence on China inevitable, right down to the conclusion of a military alliance … although the [Russian leadership] is not seeking such an alliance at all. Stagnation requires significant reliance on propagating the specter of an external enemy…”
- “The Development Scenario involves a much more active and forward-looking ideological policy for Russia toward the world… Such an ideological revitalization would be directed not only inwards or at an information contest with the West, but also at the non-West, the importance of which shall inevitably increase in the future. It would even include friendly competition with China in proposing new paths and models of development, which, among other things, would partially offset China’s economic advantage. Authoritarian trends in domestic policy would grow more slowly; however, such growth seems almost universally inevitable… Such a scenario involves a greater emphasis on multi-vector politics, as well as a quest in the medium to long term for opportunities to normalize relations with Europe and, even, with the U.S., albeit on different terms from those that existed previously.”
- “Russia should and, hopefully, will focus primarily on its internal development, whilst relying on the strategic reserves it has gained through its foreign policy, military and political successes during the 2010s.”
“Peacekeepers, Negotiators, Contractors: Russia's Eye on Conflict Zones,” edited by Eleonora Tafuro, ISPI, 11.10.21. This dossier provides a multi-faceted view on Russia’s peacekeeping activities, with contributions featuring a number of case studies.
- “Starting with the post-Soviet space, Adriana Cuppuleri argues that, while Russia has always claimed to be a mere mediator in peace processes there, its military presence reflects broader geopolitical goals rather than the simple desire to curb violence. … [S]he gives an overview of international and domestic factors behind Russia’s choice to militarily intervene in the region, calling for a broader analysis that embraces complexity and considers the different variables on the table.”
- “Last September marked one year since the start of the latest conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh in Armenian). The war was ended in November by a Moscow-brokered truce, which established the presence of roughly 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in the area. Olesya Vartanyan dives into the Russian peacekeeping mission, listing several delicate and positive talks performed by the peacekeepers whilst also pointing to one major problem: the mission lacks a detailed mandate. This uncertainty, together with Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s refusal to return to the negotiating table, may create problems for Moscow in the future. Carlo Frappi looks at the same topic through Baku’s lens. He argues that Russia’s peacekeeping mission and, more broadly, its strengthened role in the Karabakh issue constitutes the main compensation for the Kremlin’s neutral stance during the 2020 war and the biggest diplomatic price Baku had to pay for its military victory.”
- “Tetyana A. Malyarenko deals with the U.N. peacekeeping mission that was proposed in 2018 and that many … consider the most preferable way to resolve the [Ukraine] conflict.”
- “The Taliban’s return after the U.S.’ withdrawal from Afghanistan poses risks of instability and uncertainty, especially for Central Asian (CA) states … Elena Zhirukhina looks at Russia’s role in mitigating … hazards through an enhanced role as a security provider for the CA region and beyond. She argues that the Afghan crisis provides Russia-led international regional organizations such as the … CSTO and the Russia- and China-led … SCO with the opportunity to prove their practical relevance to CA.”
- “Emmanuel Dreyfus describes how the Russian Military Police (MP) … became the Kremlin’s major tool to protect Russian military assets and checkpoints across the Syrian territory, but also—after 2016—to carry out the bulk of humanitarian and peacekeeping operations set up by the Russian military command.”
- “Sergey Sukhankin’s piece tackles Russia’s ‘security export’ model in Sub-Saharan Africa. Russia’s strategy involves the use of military-technical cooperation as a tool of building ties and proliferating its influence on the continent, similar to what the USSR did during the Cold War. However, Sukhankin claims … todays’ Russia has neither ‘soft power’ nor enough economic resources and innovative potential to pose a serious challenge to other powerful bidders for African markets and resources.”
- “‘To be quite honest, I don’t see any grounds to expect an invasion,’ said Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a Kremlin-aligned think tank. ‘I don’t know what it would achieve. The losses would be huge, and the potential gains very limited.’”
- “Rob Lee, a Eurasia fellow at U.S. think tank the Foreign Policy Research Institute said he doubts … Putin wants to conduct a large-scale invasion of Ukraine. ‘He wants to use force, or the threat of force, to get Ukraine and NATO to make concessions.’ … [T]he Kremlin warned in September that expanding the alliance’s presence in Ukraine would still constitute a crossing of Russia’s so-called ‘red lines.’ In particular, the issue of drones—which were used to shell Donbass separatist positions for the first time last month—is an emotive one.”
- “‘Zelenskiy might try to become a Ukrainian Aliev,’ said … Kortunov, referring to the Azerbaijani president who led his country to victory in Nagorno-Karabakh. … With Zelenskiy’s approval ratings falling to record lows, some imagine that he might attempt to rally his base by fulfilling pre-election promises to resolve the Donbass conflict ahead of presidential polls scheduled for 2024. Moreover, with a fresh summit between the Russian and American presidents in the works, the Kremlin reportedly worries that Ukraine, if undeterred, may scupper the modest thaw in U.S.-Russia relations since June’s Biden-Putin summit in Geneva.”
- “In any case, experts stress that the 114,000 Russian personnel allegedly on the border would not be sufficient to defeat Ukraine’s armed forces, estimated at around 255,000. ‘We shouldn’t overestimate the scale of what’s going on at the border,’ said … Kortunov. ‘There aren’t enough forces there right now to undertake a serious operation. Right now, this looks like deterrence more than anything.’”
“Ukraine Warned of ‘High Probability’ of Russian military Escalation This Winter." Roman Olearchyk, Max Seddon, and Katrina Manson, The Financial Times, 11.14.21. The authors, correspondents for the Financial Times, write:
- “Western intelligence suggests a ‘high probability of destabilization’ of Ukraine by Russia as soon as this winter after Moscow massed more than 90,000 troops at its border, according to Kyiv’s deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar.”
- “Maliar added that allies’ conclusions were ‘based not only on information about the number of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border,’ suggesting Washington had additional intelligence about Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s intentions.”
- “Kyiv estimates Russia has deployed as many as 114,000 forces to the north, east, and south of Ukraine — including about 92,000 ground soldiers and the rest in air and sea military forces, Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine’s military intelligence, told the FT.”
- “Washington had yet to form a view of Putin’s intentions with the troop surge, based on differing assessments of the Russian threat to Ukraine, said people briefed on the discussions. But the US fears the latest movements are more serious than similar movements in the spring when Moscow massed similar numbers on the border as part of what it said was an unplanned exercise.”
- “Even if Russia does not invade, border troop movements are destabilizing, according to a European official. ‘The constant pressure by Russia is making it as difficult as possible for Ukraine to develop and strengthen as a country,’ the official said.”
“Ukraine: Putin’s Unfinished Business,” Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 11.12.21. The authors, a senior fellow and vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment respectively, write:
- "[T]here is one major piece of unfinished business that is still missing from Putin’s roster of accomplishments if he is to consolidate his reputation as the leader who returned Russia to its former greatness. … No item on that agenda is more important—or more pivotal—than the return of Ukraine to the fold."
- "There are four potential broad areas where the Kremlin could push to break the status quo … and try to achieve its goal of a more compliant Ukraine. They are listed below in order of probability and the weight of the associated costs.”
- “Limits on Foreign Military Activities in and Around Ukraine: Putin’s rhetoric in recent months has begun portraying the exploitation or absorption … of Ukraine’s territory by hostile foreign powers as an unacceptable threat to Russian security.”
- “Forcible Implementation of the Minsk Accords.”
- “Bridging the Gap … During earlier phases of the conflict, there was speculation that Moscow might try to expand the territory it controls. Discussion centered on possible seizure of the Soviet-era canal that supplies crucial water resources to the Crimean Peninsula, the port city of Mariupol or the remaining Ukrainian-controlled territory along the Sea of Azov coastline all the way to Crimea that could create a land bridge to the peninsula.”
- “Full-Scale Onslaught: Publicly available assessments suggest that the Ukrainian military would find it very difficult to defend against any large-scale Russian military operation.”
- "If there is any lesson that Putin and his Kremlin cohort should have learned … it’s that the annexation of Crimea and the undeclared war in eastern Ukraine have only reinforced the Ukrainian people’s resolve to leave Russia’s orbit and to seek closer ties to the West. Clearly, that lesson has not been learned in the Kremlin, which means that it is guided by a different logic and that its current bout of saber-rattling has to be taken seriously."
“Ukraine: The Most Dangerous Problem in the World. But there’s already a solution,” Anatol Lieven, The Nation, 11.15.21. The author, a senior research fellow of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, writes:
- “Only the most insane of U.S. politicians and commentators actually want to go to war with Russia in Ukraine. But as the outbreak of World War I demonstrated, leaders who do not intend to go to war may stumble into a situation in which they are unable to stop or turn back.”
- “The consequences of a direct U.S.-Russian clash in Ukraine would be catastrophic. A full-scale conventional war would have the strong potential to escalate into nuclear war and the annihilation of most of humanity. Even a limited war would cause a ruinous global economic crisis, necessitate the dispatch of huge U.S. armed forces to Europe and destroy for the foreseeable future any chance of serious action against climate change.”
- “Perhaps the most tragic aspect of the seemingly unending Donbas dispute is that, while it may be one of the most dangerous crises in the world today, it is also in principle the most easily solved. … This solution … lies in the ‘Minsk II’ agreement.”
- “A new US approach to peace in Ukraine should begin with a public restatement by the Biden administration of America’s commitment to the principles of Minsk II in particular, and to the idea of a pluralist, multi-ethnic and federal Ukrainian republic in general. … If the United States drops the hopeless goal of NATO membership for Ukraine, it will be in a position to pressure the Ukrainian government and parliament to agree to a ‘Minsk III’ by the credible threat of a withdrawal of U.S. aid and political support.”
- “The United States ought to promote the following main terms for a settlement: A Ukrainian constitutional amendment establishing the Donbass region as an autonomous republic within Ukraine … and [a] constitution for the Donbas Autonomous Republic … to be submitted to the people of Donetsk and Luhansk in a referendum supervised and monitored by the U.N. and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.”
“NATO Arms Sales to Ukraine: The Spark That Starts a War with Russia?” Ted Galen Carpenter, The National Interest, 11.11.21. The author, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, writes:
- “The United States is not the only NATO member that has made destabilizing arms sales to Ukraine. Turkey is equipping the Ukrainian military with drones, and in late October, Kyiv’s forces launched a drone attack that destroyed rebel artillery batteries in the Donbass.”
- “Arms sales are only one component of the growing support for Kyiv on the part of the United States and some of its NATO allies. President Joe Biden has repeatedly expressed Washington’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against ‘Russian aggression.’ ... In response to Washington’s pressure, Ukraine is being treated as a NATO member in all but name.”
- “The United States, Turkey and Kyiv’s other enablers need to change course before they turn the simmering Ukraine conflict into a conflagration.”
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
“Russia-Belarus Integration: Why Moscow Gained So Little,” Maxim Samorukov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.10.21. The author, a fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:
- “Back in 2019, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko fiercely resisted Russia’s demands to create an entity that would be more integrated than the European Union, with joint political institutions, a single currency, and supranational regulatory bodies. In 2021, weakened by the mass protests that followed his contested reelection in August 2020 and increasingly isolated from the West, he seemed cornered and doomed to bow to Moscow’s pressure for closer integration.”
- “Yet the Kremlin has now removed any hint of radical changes in the two countries’ relations, turning the notorious integration programs into a vague declaration of intentions for the distant future: something Belarus and Russia have seen more than enough of already. … Rather than taking advantage of Minsk’s isolation, therefore, Moscow has backtracked. This begs the question of how accurately we understand the opaque saga of closer integration, and where the true priorities for Russia and Belarus lie.”
- “It wasn’t flirting with the West ... that hindered Russia’s advances on the Belarusian front. A greater problem for Moscow was the Belarusian leader’s total control over the country.”
- “Lukashenko understands that he should not run again, and that it’s time for him to go. But he has yet to come up with a safe exit strategy, hence his vacillating between finished and unfinished drafts, the new status for the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly, and so on.”
- “In the current situation, the main objective for the Kremlin is to maintain a controlled, pro-Russian transition of power. It wants to prevent Lukashenko and the Belarusian elite from casting around in search of new allies and hatching harebrained schemes. Such behavior might escalate the domestic situation and prompt the EU and the United States to look for new approaches, which might again steer Belarus toward the West.”
“The EU’s Latest Migrant Crisis: Will Belarus Get Its Way?” Maxim Samorukov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.12.21. The author, a fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:
- “The fact is that any spike in tensions in Eastern Europe automatically leads to a deterioration in relations between Russia and the West, even if Moscow has played no direct part in it. No one understands that better than Minsk. Before the fateful 2020 election, Lukashenko believed that stability in the region was a boost to his power, and so positioned himself as a guarantor of that stability by calling on all sides to engage in dialogue. Now the political crisis at home has reversed that logic. The greater the tension in the region, the more active Moscow has to be in supporting Lukashenko, and the more the confrontation with the West obscures the differences between the Kremlin and the Belarusian leader.”
- “Unlike the migration crisis, this tactic by the Belarusian leadership works every time. Moscow has stepped up to support Minsk, without passing up the opportunity to take a jab at the West for its hypocrisy and unilateral interventions in the Middle East. The Kremlin has also condoned Lukashenko’s attempt to portray a training mission of Russian strategic bombers over Belarus as the two countries’ joint response to the refugee crisis.”
- “There are no signs that anyone in the EU is ready to bow to Lukashenko’s pressure. There’s no reason to do so. In the worst-case scenario, the EU will end up with a few thousand extra refugees: a drop in the ocean.”
- “It’s unlikely that the crisis could escalate into an armed confrontation: the stakes are too low for anyone to take that risk. What’s more likely is that the EU will respond with new sanctions against Belarus, security will be tightened at the Polish border and efforts will be made to engage the countries of origin of the migrants. It probably won’t force Lukashenko to relent, but it will limit the number of new refugees arriving, and turn the crisis into a simmering problem that could go on for years, just as it has in the Balkans, Italy and around the Spanish enclaves in Morocco.”
“Poland and the EU must resist the blackmail of Belarus,” Magdalena Miecznicka, Financial Times, 11.11.21. The author, a Polish novelist and playwright, writes:
- “The Polish government is on the horns of a dilemma. Let the refugees in and Lukashenko will be more than happy to send more. Push them back and Poland violates international laws. … Though Lukashenko has scored some victories, his policy may yet backfire. Refugees flown to Belarus are sleeping on the streets of Minsk. He must be made to pay in other ways.”
- “Lukashenko hopes to blackmail Europe into stopping sanctions. The EU should ratchet them up instead. Diplomatic and economic pressure should be put on states and companies, including airlines, that have become accessories to trafficking. Other Belarusian officials responsible should be identified.”
- “As for the migrants, those who make it through to Poland should be processed according to international law and humanitarian principles. Those with no right to stay should be swiftly repatriated, those who qualify given asylum.”
- “Poland should work more closely with its EU partners, including the Frontex border control agency. It should lift an exclusion zone so international personnel and journalists can operate near the border. Such actions will not show weakness. They will demonstrate that Poland and the EU will have no truck with Lukashenko’s methods.”
- “The Polish government claims to be on top of things. It clearly is not. It should stop posing as the lone savior of Poland and Europe from an alien horde. Only by acting legally, humanely and firmly can it call the gangster’s bluff.”
“Putin’s Belarus Offensive,” Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal, 11.11.21. The news outlet’s editorial board writes:
- “The best near-term approach is to impose harsher sanctions on items like potash exports and to pressure Middle Eastern countries to halt flights into Minsk. In the long run, Europe will have to lessen its dependence on Russian energy. Killing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would be an important start, if anyone has the nerve.”