Russia Analytical Report, Oct. 15-21, 2019

This Week’s Highlights:

  • The Open Skies Treaty is a great accomplishment of post-Cold War diplomacy that could soon be erased if, as has been widely reported, some Trump administration officials have their way and the U.S. unilaterally exits the treaty, warn former U.S. government officials George P. Shultz, William J. Perry and Sam Nunn. They argue that the U.S. should preserve this agreement, particularly in a time of renewed tensions with Russia.
  • Russia’s trade with sub-Saharan Africa ($3 billion per year) pales compared to China’s $56 billion and America’s $27 billion, writes Carnegie’s Paul Stronski. Moscow also  offers less aid to African states than China, the United States, Japan and the EU, according to Stronski. But, according to Tim Stanley and Barnaby Fletcher of Control Risks, where Russia beats other geopolitical players in Africa is in providing security cooperation and exploiting commercial opportunities arising from it: Over the past five years, Russia has signed 23 security cooperation deals with African governments and become the largest supplier of arms to the continent.
  • The departing Americans are not only leaving the Russians as the only non-regional power in Syria, but also handing them a number of problems that Moscow will have to tackle from now on, writes Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. To continue its successful run in Syria, he argues Russia must stay open to all partners and perfect its skills as a middleman.
  • Considering the prospects for trade, Washington shouldn’t yet be concerned by the growth of Russian influence in the Gulf, writes journalist Marianna Belenkaya. Arab countries are being increasingly proactive in diversifying their connections, and Moscow is simply making use of this to gain economic and political advantages, she writes.
  • Scholars of the Cold War have pointed out that, in the broad sweep of history, what happened in the 2016 U.S. elections was nothing new, writes Diana Lemberg, an associate professor of history at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. The novelty of 2016, she writes, was largely the fact that this challenge to sovereignty was taking place inside the United States. Lemberg claims that with the rise of technological competitors like China, the time has come to reconsider whether the free flow of information that has guided U.S. foreign policy since World War II can keep American democracy secure.
  • Hillary Clinton and her team have suggested recently that both Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential hopeful, and Tulsi Gabbard, perhaps the most unconventional candidate in the Democratic primaries, are being “groomed” by the Kremlin as spoiler candidates, writes Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. Galeotti argues that delegitimizing alternative perspectives as "Kremlin talking points" makes it harder to have the kind of serious, difficult conversations that are needed to address the serious challenges facing democracy and liberal capitalism.

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

  • No significant commentary.

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Arms control/non-proliferation:

“Open Skies Help Keep the Peace With Russia,” George P. Shultz, William J. Perry and Sam Nunn, Wall Street Journal, 10.20.19The authors, a former U.S. secretary of state, defense secretary and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, write:

  • “One of the pillars upholding international peace and security today is the 1992 Open Skies Treaty.”
  • “This great accomplishment of post-Cold War diplomacy could soon be erased if, as has been widely reported, some Trump administration officials have their way and the U.S. unilaterally exits the treaty. Such a withdrawal would be a grave mistake. It would undermine trust between the U.S. and Russia and endanger American allies.”
  • “Today, Republicans and Democrats agree that Vladimir Putin's Russia poses serious international-security challenges. Rather than walk away from security agreements that help the U.S. and its allies manage the risks posed by Moscow, Washington needs to redouble its longstanding commitment to proven risk-reduction strategies and arms-control treaties advanced by successive presidential administrations. Unilateral withdrawal from Open Skies would damage the security of the U.S. and its allies.”
  • “We respectfully urge President Trump to reject calls to abandon the treaty. Congress also needs to approve Pentagon requests for upgrades to U.S. observation aircraft, as other Open Skies countries, like Germany, are already doing. Open Skies has become what Eisenhower envisioned—a critical confidence-building treaty that improves Euro-Atlantic security with every flight. The U.S. should preserve this agreement, particularly in a time of renewed tensions with Russia.”

“Urgent: Move US Nuclear Weapons out of Turkey,” Hans M. Kristensen, Federation of American Scientists, 10.16.19The author, director of the Nuclear Information Project at FAS, writes:

  • “Should the U.S. Air Force withdraw the roughly 50 B61 nuclear bombs it stores at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey? … According to The New York Times, State and Energy Department officials last weekend quietly reviewed plans for evacuating the weapons from Incirlik. ‘Those weapons, one senior official said, were now essentially Erdogan’s hostages. To fly them out of Incirlik would be to mark the de facto end of the Turkish-American alliance. To keep them there, though, is to perpetuate a nuclear vulnerability that should have been eliminated years ago.’”
  • “Some of us have been calling for withdrawal for years. … By waiting so long to act, the United States has painted itself into a corner where the choice between nuclear security and abandoning Turkey has become unnecessarily stark and urgent.”
  • “Whatever one might think about U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, Turkey is no longer an acceptable location. Erdogan’s confrontational and authoritarian leadership is rapidly undermining Turkey’s status as a reliable NATO ally, and the deteriorating security situation in the region presents a real physical threat to the weapons at Incirlik. That threat is real and the U.S. military sees it as real.”
  • “The security threat to the weapons at Incirlik is urgent and the continued deployment of nuclear weapons at the location is unjustifiable and incompatible with U.S. nuclear security standards.”

“Emboldened Erdogan Seeks Nuclear Bomb,” David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, New York Times, 10.20.19The authors, senior writers at the news outlet, write:

  • “In the weeks leading up to his order to launch the military across the border to clear Kurdish areas, Mr. Erdogan made no secret of his larger ambition. 'Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads,' he told a meeting of his governing party in September. But the West insists 'we can't have them,' he said. 'This, I cannot accept.'”
  • “With Turkey now in open confrontation with its NATO allies, having gambled and won a bet that it could conduct a military incursion into Syria and get away with it, Mr. Erdogan's threat takes on new meaning. If the United States could not prevent the Turkish leader from routing its Kurdish allies, how can it stop him from building a nuclear weapon or following Iran in gathering the technology to do so?”


“ISIS Is Already Rising From the Ashes. Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Will Fuel a Jihadi Resurgence,” Brian Katz and Michael Carpenter, Foreign Affairs, 10.16.19The authors, a fellow in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the managing director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, write:

  • “A U.S.-led military coalition succeeded in toppling the self-declared caliphate of the Islamic State, known as ISIS, in Iraq and Syria just this past March. … The key to success in Syria was that the United States worked ‘by, with and through’ local militia forces, namely the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose backbone was the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG).”
  • “And yet, with a single call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly greenlit a Turkish assault on those same Kurdish partners, whose close ties to Kurdish militants in Turkey had long unnerved Ankara.”
  • “The reality is that ISIS and al Qaeda were enjoying a resurgence even before Trump’s withdrawal and the Turkish invasion—ISIS in eastern Syria and al Qaeda in the west of the country. Now, with the United States headed for the exits, the Kurds battling Turkey and the Assad regime and its backers focusing on other priorities, no force is left to counter an extremist revival.”
  • “Further conflict will only fuel radicalization, which will once again destabilize the region and pose threats to Israel, Europe and even the United States. Tragically, a few years from now, Syria will be right back where it was before the campaign against ISIS: suffering from chaos and conflict, with terrorism ascendant.”

Conflict in Syria:

“Donald Trump’s Syria Pullout Is a Serious Strategic Error,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 10.17.19The news outlet’s editorial board writes:

  • “Rarely has a decision by a U.S. president proved so rapidly disastrous on so many fronts as Donald Trump’s greenlighting of a Turkish offensive in north-eastern Syria.”
  • “It has betrayed U.S. allies, the Syrian Kurds, raising questions over American trustworthiness. It has opened the door to a resurgence of ISIS. It has boosted three U.S. adversaries: Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, his closest ally, Iran, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. … At home, it has roused even previously supine Republicans in Congress to criticize the president. Above all, it has done great harm to U.S. power—and with it, global security.”
  • “The Trump administration is not the first to stab a U.S. ally in the back. But the rise of China, the revival of Russia and the complex balance of global power today demand a thoughtful response from Washington, with due care paid to the value of alliances. … The consequences will be felt long after the man responsible departs the Oval Office.”

“Syria Is Lost. Let's Save Lebanon,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 10.16.19The author, a veteran foreign correspondent-turned-columnist, writes:

  • “The aftershocks of President Trump's abandonment of the Kurds in Syria are rumbling through the region, and a string of Lebanese officials told me last week that they fear they're the next to be discarded by the United States.”
  • “Lebanon survives by maintaining a balance between East and West, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Sunnis and Shiites, Christians and Muslims. What has helped keep this precarious structure alive for decades was the belief that the United States, in the end, wouldn't let the country be dominated entirely by enemies of the West. But any remaining faith in U.S. power was jolted last week.”
  • “Here's a suggestion for a Trump administration that needs to reassert its interests in the Middle East: Double down on Lebanon, a country where the United States already provides significant economic and military support. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who says he wants a stronger Lebanon, should condition this additional aid on specific economic reforms that can stem the corruption that's almost as serious a threat as Hezbollah.”

“A Grave Mistake on Syria,” Mitch McConnell, The Washington Post, 10.18.19The author, the U.S. Senate majority leader, writes:

  • “Withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria is a grave strategic mistake. It will leave the American people and homeland less safe, embolden our enemies and weaken important alliances. Sadly, the recently announced pullout risks repeating the Obama administration's reckless withdrawal from Iraq, which facilitated the rise of the Islamic State in the first place.”
  • “Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I have worked with three presidential administrations to fight radical Islamist terrorism. I have distilled three principal lessons about combating this complex threat. Lesson No. 1 is that the threat is real and cannot be wished away. … Second, there is no substitute for American leadership. … The third lesson is that we are not in this fight alone.”
  • “We need to use both sticks and carrots to bring Turkey back in line while respecting its own legitimate security concerns. … [W]e should create conditions for the reintroduction of U.S. troops and move Turkey away from Russia and back into the NATO fold.”
  • “We saw humanitarian disaster and a terrorist free-for-all after we abandoned Afghanistan in the 1990s, laying the groundwork for 9/11. We saw the Islamic State flourish in Iraq after President Barack Obama's retreat. We will see these things anew in Syria and Afghanistan if we abandon our partners and retreat from these conflicts before they are won.”

“The Syrian Crisis Is Now Russia’s to Resolve,” Dmitri Trenin, Financial Times, 10.20.19The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Russia owes its success in Syria so far to its ability to stay in touch with all relevant players in the region. This includes clear antagonists such as Israel and Iran, and Iran and Saudi Arabia.”
  • “Russia may not have applauded the Kurds’ reliance on U.S. support and assistance, but it advocated a measure of autonomy for them in postwar Syria, and did not back Damascus’s efforts to return to the situation before the war. Once the Kurds lost their American allies, Moscow helped them negotiate a deal with Damascus that allowed Syrian government troops to move into Kurdish-controlled territory to protect it from being overrun by Turkey.”
  • “The departing Americans are not only leaving the Russians as the only non-regional power in Syria, but also handing them a number of problems that Moscow will have to tackle from now on. The most pressing is the fate of the former ISIS fighters now being guarded by the Kurds.”
  • “To continue its successful run, Russia must stay open to all partners and perfect its skills as a middleman. It also needs to be aware of its financial and economic limitations. Finally, Russia should never seek to step into America’s shoes as the solver of the world’s problems. Moscow is learning that the reward for success is a whole new set of problems.”

“Kobani Today, Krakow Tomorrow. Washington has abandoned the Kurds. If Europe doesn’t bolster its defenses, the Poles, Lithuanians and Latvians could be next,” Garvan Walshe, Foreign Policy, 10.16.19The author, a former national and international security policy advisor to the British Conservative Party, writes:

  • “Syria’s Kurds, who fought heroically against the Islamic State for years—only to be abandoned following President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops—are now under attack from a Turkish invasion designed to carve out a 20-mile buffer zone in northern Syria.”
  • “Anyone who depends on the United States for its security has been put on notice: Serve Trump’s personal agenda (by fabricating corruption investigations into his rivals’ children, for example) or you’re on your own.”
  • “This should send a chill down the spines of Eastern Europe’s leaders. The Baltic states could easily be overrun by Russia. Without a shared defense policy, pooled military assets and common military doctrine, the continent’s eastern flank will be vulnerable.”

“The Unholy Mess of US Middle Eastern Strategy,” Anatol Lieven, Valdai Club, 10.14.19The author, a professor at Georgetown University in Qatar, writes:

  • “It is hard to exaggerate how utterly the USA has failed in the Middle East in the thirty years since the end of the Cold War. … Nor—as both Obama and Trump have found—can the USA simply withdraw from the Middle East without causing yet more disasters. The answer, if there is an answer, lies in a fourfold U.S. strategy.”
  • “Obama did try partially to achieve … two goals, through the nuclear deal with Iran and his public recognition that Iran and Saudi Arabia will have to share influence in the region. But … Obama was only able to achieve the nuclear agreement towards the very end of his presidency, after which it was promptly torn up by Trump; and no more than any other U.S. president was Obama able to achieve balance between Israelis and Palestinians or Turks and Kurds.”
  • “As for cooperation with Russia and China, this is ruled out both by wider hostility on the part of the USA and by the congenital incapacity of the U.S. establishment to treat any other state as an equal.”
  • “In Syria, the Obama administration’s decision … to treat Russia and Iran as enemies not allies against ISIS meant that the only possible U.S. allies on the ground against ISIS were the Kurds. The result was an expansion of Kurdish power which inevitably frightened and infuriated all sections of the Turkish establishment, effectively drove Turkey out of NATO and eventually led to the present Turkish invasion of the Kurdish-controlled Syria—accompanied by Turkish threats to destabilize NATO and the EU still further by sending new floods of Syrian refugees into Europe.”

“The Lost Art of Exiting a War,” Adam Wunische, War on the Rocks, 10.21.19The author, a researcher covering Afghanistan and Pakistan with the Quincy Institute, writes:

  • “With great power competition with China and Russia becoming more important, and counterinsurgencies becoming more difficult, the United States should plan exit strategies before war begins.”
  • “The recommendation of not planning for withdrawal invites with enthusiasm the exact mechanism that leads to indefinite military interventions, the meandering of political objectives from what they were when the war was initiated.”
  • “U.S. soldiers in Syria soon found themselves a tempting tool to be used by civilian and military leaders in search of new monsters to destroy. They were then intended to counter Iranian, Russian and Syrian regime influence in the region, objectives that most certainly could not be achieved within acceptable costs … Now as troops in Syria are being withdrawn, politicians and analysts are warning about the gains that will be made by Russia and Iran as the United States vacates. This was not the purpose of their involvement in the first place, and shouldn’t be their purpose now.”
  • “If America’s poorly executed pullout from northeastern Syria is any indication, having a plan at every stage of a conflict is preferable to not having a plan. The United States should accept the risks and consequences of withdrawing from wars that don’t serve vital interests, especially if Washington is serious about great power competition with China.

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“The United States Made Information Free and Foreign Manipulation Possible,” Diana Lemberg, Foreign Affairs, 10.18.19The author, an associate professor of history at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, writes:

  • “Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has forced Americans to grapple with the problem of information warfare, which not so long ago might have seemed like a relic of the Cold War era.”
  • “The United States first conceived of a policy supporting the free flow of information across international borders around the time of World War II. … The free-flow ideal has guided U.S. foreign policy ever since.”
  • “During the Cold War, Washington (and Moscow) often used media and communications to impinge on other states’ political sovereignty. In Italy’s 1948 national election, the Communist Party appeared to be running strong—until U.S. intelligence mounted a propaganda campaign to defeat it using film, radio and print media, among other means. Washington’s efforts to suppress the Latin American left dovetailed with a long-standing project of hemispheric hegemony.
  • “To observers outside the United States during the Cold War years, such incidents gave the lie to the U.S. pretense of spreading freedom and revealed the real motives behind U.S. foreign policy: dogmatic anticommunism and market access for U.S. corporations. … Scholars of the Cold War have pointed out that … what happened in the 2016 U.S. elections was nothing new. … The novelty of 2016, commentators have noted, was largely the fact that this challenge to sovereignty was taking place inside the United States.”
  • “The United States is still the global leader in technology, but countries like China are fast catching up. Moreover, in the decentralized landscape of contemporary social media, one doesn’t need a billion-dollar defense budget to influence public opinion. The time has come to reconsider whether the free flow of information can keep American democracy secure.”

“Putin’s ‘Useful Idiots’ Are Those Who Call Others ‘Useful Idiots’: Those accusing Tulsi Gabbard of being a Kremlin asset should take a long hard look in the mirror,” Mark Galeotti, The Moscow Times, 10.21.19The author, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, writes:

  • “Hillary Clinton and her team have suggested recently that both Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential hopeful, and Tulsi Gabbard … are being ‘groomed’ by the Kremlin as spoiler candidates. … This seems to be nothing but smear, and even Gabbard’s rivals in the race seem to be keeping away from this particular mud-bath. But it demonstrates a wider and worrying problem in Western and, above all, U.S. political discourse.”
  • “This is, in many ways, the whole Trump-as-Russian-agent business metastasized. There is no evidence that the Kremlin truly wanted Trump to be president, or even thought he could defeat Clinton. Rather, the Russians were terrified that Hillary Clinton, elected as president … would adopt a hostile policy against them and perhaps even commit to bringing about regime change in Moscow.”
  • “Putin can rejoice in the actions of the latter-day witch-hunters who are forever spying Russian influence … By turning political debate into a hunt for traitors, it generates the very kind of toxic, suspicious political culture that undermines the bonds of solidarity and civility that underpin democratic societies.”
  • “By delegitimizing alternative perspectives as ‘Kremlin talking points,’ it makes it harder to have the kind of serious, difficult conversations that are needed to address the serious challenges facing democracy and liberal capitalism. There are real reasons why people may be unhappy … Telling them that it is because they are foolishly allowing a foreign power to define them, and that their views have no intrinsic merit, is not going to win friends or influence people.”
  • “[W]ithout minimizing the impact of Russian efforts to poison Western debates, we need to recognize how our own toxic politics are often vastly more harmful and effective. The most ‘useful idiots’ often turn out to be those who don't realize how much they are empowering their enemies.”

Energy exports:

“With OPEC Powerless, the Market Dictates the Price of Oil,” Nick Butler, Financial Times, 10.21.19The author, an energy commentator for the news outlet, writes:

  • “After decades in which the OPEC cartel has controlled prices, the market now dictates the value of a barrel of oil. … Each time supplies are reduced by one problem or another, alternatives become available.”
  • “The end of the cartel’s control should bring prices down. But for the producing countries, international oil companies and investors, an open market is a recipe for even more volatility and uncertainty.”
  • “The sector may come to look back on OPEC’s half century in power as a golden age of stability.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Russia Reaps Windfalls of Trump’s Chaos,” Edward Luce, Financial Times, 10.17.19The author, the Washington columnist and commentator for the news outlet, writes:

  • “By Mr. Trump’s calculation … his presidency is the most successful in U.S. history. That is certainly true from Russia’s point of view. Mr. Trump’s two current crises—the fallout from withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria and his impeachment inquiry—are big windfalls for Russia.”
  • “It is hard to imagine a better public relations coup for Vladimir Putin than America’s whirlwind exit from northern Syria. … The Kurds, America’s most loyal regional ally, quickly switched their fealty to Russia. Bashar al-Assad can now cement his control over Syria, while Turkey is moving closer to Russia (and nearer to quitting NATO). In chess terms, Mr. Trump has just handed Mr. Putin a bishop. The Kurds are mere pawns.”
  • “Many Americans are convinced that Mr. Putin holds kompromat … over Mr. Trump. That is possible. … The alternative is the stuff of insomnia. Instead of suffering an aberration, which can be remedied with Mr. Trump’s removal, America is turning into a normal big power. Whichever explanation is true, Russia is happily benefiting.”

“Statecraft Overachievement: Sources of Scares in US-Russian Relations,” Mikhail Troitskiy, PONARS Eurasia, 10.21.19: The author, an associate professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), writes:

  • “The United States and Russia have a long history of concerns with surprise leaps in each other’s ability to exercise power. The current ‘scare’ phase of presumed ongoing mutual subversion has particularly dire consequences for the bilateral relationship. For example, most negotiations between Washington and Moscow, including those on arms control, are doomed to fail given increased fears of exploitation by an opponent who is believed to be in possession of superior statecraft.”
  • “Aside from creating a potential for conflict escalation, mutual U.S. and Russian beliefs in their own vulnerability to statecraft negatively affect almost all of their bilateral negotiations. Productive negotiation often requires a degree of ambiguity about the distant end result of a negotiated solution … If the sides are unable accurately to calculate the consequences of an agreement at the time of its signing, but they may not expect things to play out badly for them as the deals are being implemented, the sides feel more comfortable about making those deals.”
  • “However, leaving outcomes even partly to chance would be impossible amid beliefs in the effectiveness of the opponent’s subversive statecraft that is seen as unacceptably increasing the risk of surprise maneuvers. When the sides are determined to eliminate mutual vulnerability in order to achieve full control over outcomes, almost any productive negotiation becomes problematic because of strong fears of exploitation.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Late to the Party: Russia’s Return to Africa,” Paul Stronski, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 10.16.19:The author, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia program, writes:

  • “Advocates for a more forceful Western policy response point to high-visibility Russian military and security cooperation in the Central African Republic and the wide-ranging travels of Russian political consultants and disinformation specialists as confirmation that Russia, like China, represents a major challenge in Africa.”
  • “Yet is that really the case? … Hard information is difficult to come by, but any honest accounting of Russian successes will invariably point to a mere handful of client states with limited strategic significance that are isolated from the West and garner little attention from the international community.”
  • “Russia has arrived at the party quite late. It offers remarkably little that African states actually need. Its moves are far outmatched by those of China, the United States, Japan and the European Union, whose aid and investments in Africa count in the many tens of billions of dollars. … What it has been able to offer mostly comes in the form of debt relief, which Russian officials claim amounts to $20 billion over twenty years. However, even this figure pales in comparison to commercial loans that Chinese entities have extended.”
  • “It remains unclear whether Russia’s investments in Africa over the past decade are paying off in terms of creating a real power base in Africa, let alone putting it on a footing that will expand its influence in the years to come.”
  • “It is clear that Russian inroads there would be far more limited but for the power vacuums created by a lack of Western policy focus on Africa in recent years. That state of affairs gives Russia (and other outside powers) an opportunity to curry favor with the continent’s elites and populations. More than anything else, it is opportunism that propels Russia’s relatively low-cost and low-risk strategies to try to enhance its clout and unnerve the West in Africa, just as in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.”

“Russia Steps Up Its Game in Africa,” Tim Stanley and Barnaby Fletcher, The Moscow Times, 10.18.19The authors, a senior partner and an analyst at a global specialist risk consultancy, write:

  • “The past decade has seen a surge of Russian interest in Africa as the country's Foreign Ministry reported a 350 percent increase of trade with African countries over the past decade. Confirming this rapprochement, Russia is hosting next week in Sochi the first-ever Russia-Africa economic forum, followed by a summit that at least 47 heads of African states are expected to attend alongside Vladimir Putin.”
  • “The connection is still relatively modest: Russian trade with sub-Saharan Africa stood at $20 billion in 2018, compared with U.S.-Africa trade of $61 billion, China-Africa trade of roughly $200 billion and EU-Africa trade of more than $300 billion. A similar disparity exists in amounts of foreign direct investment or overseas development assistance.”
  • “But where Russia beats other geopolitical players in Africa is in providing security cooperation and exploiting commercial opportunities arising from it.  Over the past five years Russia has signed 23 security cooperation deals with African governments and become the largest supplier of arms to the continent, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).”
  • “Those that comprehend how growing flows or development finance are pushing African governments to open up previously closed economic sectors and weakening the stranglehold traditional development partners previously held are those that will be able to exploit the opportunities this opens.”

“Russia and the Afghan Peace Process,” Ekaterina Stepanova, PONARS Eurasia, October 2019The author, head of peace and conflict studies at the National Research Institute of the World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), writes:

  • “For historical and pragmatic reasons, Moscow is determined to keep a distance from having a military presence in Afghanistan, an option which it has described as ‘absolutely ruled out’ … Facing both security challenges from, and major policy constraints on, Afghanistan, Russia was left with little choice but to pursue two interrelated strategies.”
  • “The first strategy was a regionalization of Russia’s Afghan policy that implied stepped-up dialogue and cooperation with the main regional players on Afghanistan, both traditional partners (Iran, India, China) and former unlikely partners (Pakistan). … The second strategy was a turn to actively supporting a negotiated solution.”
  • “These two courses … came together in the form of the Moscow inter-governmental regional peace consultations, the first of the three tracks led or co-sponsored by Russia.”
  • “In the late 2010s, Russia … carved out a diplomatic niche for itself in international efforts to promote a negotiated solution in Afghanistan. … By retaining interest in but keeping a certain distance from Afghanistan, Russia became well suited to holding a rather neutral mediating role, making Moscow a comfortable venue for regional and inter-Afghan peace consultations.”

“What a Withdrawal From Afghanistan Would Look Like. Learning to Live With Taliban Rule,” Carter Malkasian, Foreign Affairs, 10.21.19The author, former senior advisor to Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from 2015 to 2019, writes:

  • “Over the past two years, a bipartisan consensus has emerged that the United States should leave Afghanistan. … But what will actually happen if the United States pulls out of Afghanistan without a peace deal? … U.S. policymakers should take the measure of the course of action now—lest they find themselves unwilling to bear the risks of withdrawal.”
  • “A Taliban advance would likely follow a U.S. withdrawal … But Kabul also stands a decent chance of surviving. Afghanistan’s army might concentrate on defending the capital, and Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara warlords—who once made up the Northern Alliance—could mobilize militias to help.”
  • “Outside powers could oppose the Taliban: Russia, in defense of long-standing Uzbek and Tajik friends; Iran, to protect the Shiite Hazaras; and India, in order to contain Pakistani influence. None of these countries can be assumed to step in fully behind the government, but a total Taliban victory would be in none of their interests. … Regardless … the Taliban would control at least half the country.”
  • “There is scant evidence that the Taliban intends to attack the United States … Some commentators argue that U.S. retaliation for 9/11 would compel the Taliban to break with al Qaeda. But many Taliban believe that they have defeated the United States. In their minds, they are the ones who taught us the lesson. … ISIS is a different matter, because the Taliban actively fights it.
  • “After a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan without a deal, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups could mount or inspire more attacks on the United States. But the exact nature and dimensions of a post-withdrawal threat are unknowable. … A U.S. withdrawal would not necessarily be disastrous for Afghanistan. It would, however, entail real risks that would require the United States to accept a degree of resiliency.”

“Should the United States Be Worried About Russian Activity in the Gulf?” Marianna Belenkaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.21.19The author, a journalist at the Kommersant publishing house, writes:

  • “In 2005, the trade turnover between Russia and Saudi Arabia was just $235 million. In 2012, it reached a billion and stayed at that level for two more years before halving when oil prices fell in 2015–2016. The billion mark was only passed again last year. Now the two countries plan to increase turnover to $5 billion by 2024, and reach double figures by 2030.”
  • “This doesn’t look particularly impressive compared with the nearly $50 billion turnover between the United States and Saudi Arabia, or the multi-billion turnovers between the kingdom and European and Asian countries, but Russia looks set to catch up with levels achieved by other countries in recent decades.”
  • “Considering the prospects for trade, Washington shouldn’t yet be concerned by the growth of Russian influence in the Gulf. It’s obvious, however, that Arab countries are being increasingly proactive in diversifying their connections. Moscow is simply making use of this to gain economic and political advantages.”
  • “Russia and Saudi Arabia’s differences over Iran are not preventing the two countries from building a pragmatic relationship, while the trust that grew out of cooperation over oil production enabled Moscow to work effectively with Riyadh on resolving the conflict in Syria. After all, without the help of the Saudis, Russia would not have been able to reach an agreement with the Syrian opposition, which is based in Riyadh.”

“This Case Makes It Difficult to Separate the Current Russian Regime From Soviet Dictatorship,” Natan Sharansky, The Washington Post, 10.16.19The author, chair of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, writes:

  • “The current case of Na'ama Issachar, a 26-year-old American Israeli who was detained for marijuana possession this past spring during a Moscow airport stopover and later charged with smuggling drugs, is a new and troubling step in Moscow's growing abuse of the judiciary for political ends.”
  • “Issachar's imprisonment represents a disturbing prospect: that anyone who holds a targeted citizenship—in this case, American and Israeli, a common combination—can be detained while merely transiting in Russia, convicted on trumped-up charges and then held as a hostage. … It is worth asking whether flying through Moscow to save money is worth the risk of becoming the Putin government's next unsuspecting victim.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

“The Authoritarian Entente: Sino-Russian Security Cooperation,” Gustav Gressel, European Council on Foreign Relations, 10.17.19The author, acting director and senior policy fellow with the Wider Europe Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, writes:

  • “The West poses an inherent threat to the Kremlin merely through its existence, as many Russians are drawn to Western ideas about human rights and the rule of law—and may want their government to adhere to these ideas. And there are Western leaders who promote these ideas. In contrast, nothing that Chinese leaders do or stand for would ever inspire Russians to topple the regime in Moscow. This is why the Kremlin believes that it must deter the West as a military opponent, but that China—despite its growing power—poses no such threat.”


“Ukraine Peace Talks Get Some Help From Putin,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 10.21.19The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes:

  • “Under constant pressure from protesters who fear a ‘surrender’ to Russia, the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is laying out what it calls its red lines in peace talks on eastern Ukraine. A number of these are hard for Russia to accept, but that doesn’t mean the peace process is doomed.”
  • “Zelenskiy and his foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, are trying to reassure both Ukrainians and allies in Europe that they’re not about to hand Putin a veto on Ukraine's future direction by letting him control the east.”
  • “Prystaiko …has named three distinct Ukrainian red lines: Eastern territories’ autonomy shouldn’t turn Ukraine, now a unitary state, into a federation; Ukraine won’t change its constitution to incorporate expanded rights for these territories; elections will be held only after all Russian troops are withdrawn, pro-Russian military units disbanded and control of the border handed back to Ukraine.”
  • “Putin is tired of the status quo and the European economic sanctions that come with it. It’s a good moment for moving forward. … Putin … also knows red lines can be fudged during actual talks. A formal federation isn’t necessary if some Ukrainian regions are run by Moscow-friendly administrations that Kyiv can’t remove. Other compromises also are possible.”
  • “What’s important for Putin is to make sure Kremlin-friendly forces prevail in the eastern Ukraine election. That would give him enough leverage in a reunited Ukraine to give up the people’s republics. That outcome can be assured by finding a balance between giving Zelenskiy enough control to pacify the domestic opposition but not enough to take the pro-Russian leaders out of the running.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Societal Change Afoot in Central Asia,” Paul Stronski and Russell Zanca, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 10.18.19The authors, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program and a professor of anthropology at Northeastern Illinois University, write:

  • “Central Asia is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Its governments face legitimacy crises at a time when long-standing leaders are being replaced by little-known, untested ones. … Social contracts, by which citizens traded political freedoms for improved economic conditions and stability, are collapsing under the weight of growing socioeconomic distress.”
  • “Almost thirty years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Central Asian states still struggle to provide basic services … The entrenched kleptocracies that sustained the region’s post-Soviet regimes for decades are proving unable to address the growing needs of rapidly expanding populations. Indifferent attitudes toward citizens and ham-fisted efforts to squelch dissent are widening the gap between governments and the governed. As a result, grassroots social activism is on the rise.”
  • “No country in Central Asia has advanced democratically as much as many Western officials hoped they would when the Soviet Union collapsed, but the region is changing fast. Despite the strong hold of authoritarianism, Central Asian societies gradually are becoming more pluralistic. New voices—nationalistic, Islamist, Western-friendly and simply angry ones—are proliferating as Central Asians seek greater accountability in governance.”
  • “Most people are not calling for full democracy. Instead, they want ruling regimes to live up to their promises of securing a better future. Surprised by growing social activism, Central Asian regimes appear paralyzed. Instead of seeing their mobilized citizens as partners to engage and support, the region’s governments see them as potential threats.”

“Why Are There Anti-China Protests in Central Asia?” Bradley Jardine, The Washington Post, 10.16.19The author, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the U.S., writes:

  • “Anti-Chinese sentiments are on the rise in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. … As China grows more powerful, some analysts are concerned that Beijing will revisit unpopular border agreements with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.”
  • “There’s a wariness in Central Asia about Chinese workers … In Kyrgyzstan, conflict between Kyrgyz and Chinese workers is commonplace. … Other sources of conflict are frequent claims that Chinese workers are marrying Kyrgyz women in large numbers, even though only 60 such marriages were recorded from 2010 to 2018. … Many critics of China in the region also fear an influx of Chinese immigrants, although the actual numbers seem low.”
  • “For now, Central Asian governments seem to be keeping local anti-China sentiments in check. But local pushback may well remain a threat to China's economic agenda and in the long run, and could undermine Beijing's security interests.”

“Belarus and the US Decided to Restore Ties After 11 years of ‘Frozen’ Relations. Here’s Why,” Tatsiana Kulakevich, NYU Jordan Center, 10.16.19The author, a visiting assistant professor at the University of South Florida, writes:

  • “The U.S., interested in containing Russia’s gradual advance in the buffer zone between the EU and Russia, has tried to encourage Belarus to improve its rights record. It has responded positively to the Belarusian president’s attempts to normalize the relationship between Belarus and the U.S.”
  • “For Lukashenka, diversifying the relationship with the West is a continuation of the strategy of fighting for the length of the leash on which he is being held by the Kremlin. He will try to make this leash longer, to allow him to remain independent. For his part, Putin is likely to shorten this leash.”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“The True Nature of Putinism,” Konstantin Gaaze, The Moscow Times, 10.21.19The author, a sociologist and guest expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Putinism is a doctrine of the erosion of statehood as an idea and the destruction of the state as a stable ensemble of people, practices and institutions. In some sense, Putinism is repeating the move the Bolsheviks made: having seized power, they ruled not from within this power, but from without, from a secretive headquarters called the Politburo.”
  • “It is precisely here that the answer to the question about the success of Putinism can be found. There, where the state says ‘no’ to politics, it finds its sovereignty and solvency. There, where the state's tongue has been pulled out and sent to the conveyor belt of endless rebuilding, it finds its end.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.