Russia Analytical Report, Oct. 16-23, 2023

6 Ideas to Explore

  1. It is highly unlikely that there will be a breakthrough toward [Ukraine’s southern town of] Tokmak this year unless Russian forces decide to withdraw,” according to RUSI’s Jack Watling. The slow pace of the Ukrainian advance is “thwarting hopes that armored vehicles could smash southward,” according to WSJ’ James Marson and Ievgeniia Sivorka. "We are exhausted," one Ukrainian officer in southeastern Ukraine told WSJ. The lack of a major Ukrainian land advance should not obscure its successes on the sea, including strikes against Russian Black Sea Fleet warships, which forced Russia to move multiple warships from the fleet’s main base in Crimea to Novorossiysk in southern Russia, British-Lebanese journalist Oz Katerji argues in FP.
  2. Russia and China have successfully courted the Muslim world by laying “the blame for Hamas’s horrific attack on Israeli civilians at the door of the U.S.” and “criticizing Israel for its collective punishment of Palestinians,” respectively, according to Bloomberg columnist Marc Champion. By doing so, “Putin and Xi are doubling down on their success in persuading the so-called Global South that the problem isn’t Russian aggression in Ukraine or Hamas’ grotesque terrorist acts in Israel, but rather the continued colonialism of the U.S. and Europe,” Champion writes. “We have definitely lost the battle in the Global South,” a senior G-7 diplomat was quoted as telling FT last week in an article entitled “Rush by west to back Israel erodes developing countries’ support for Ukraine.”
  3. Since 2015, the CIA has spent tens of millions of dollars to transform Ukraine's security and intelligence services into potent allies against Moscow, officials told WP. The agency has provided Ukraine with advanced surveillance systems, trained recruits at sites in Ukraine as well as in the United States, built new headquarters for departments in Ukraine's military intelligence agency and shared intelligence, WP reported. The CIA maintains a significant presence in Kyiv, officials said. U.S. intelligence officials stressed that the agency has had no involvement in targeted killing operations by Ukrainian agencies. Officials acknowledged that these killings included the August 2022 assassination of Russian ultranationalist Daria Dugina, who had called for killing Ukrainians.
  4. War crimes are part of the Russian playbook,” ex-CIA director David Petraeus and U.K. House of Lords member Andrew Roberts argue in a commentary for WP. “The viciousness undoubtedly reflects frustration at the failure of the Russian offensives to achieve a speedy victory,” according to the two authors. Nevertheless, it is “important to differentiate between the Russian people and the Russian armed forces when apportioning blame for ‘the Russian way of war,’” they write.
  5. Despite expectations to the contrary, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not splintered the country’s leadership or given rise to either a revived opposition or a party of peace, according to Tatiana Stanovaya of R.Politik and Carnegie Endowment. “The only divisions in Russia’s corridors of power today are tactical differences, such as between realists [administrators], who have soberly assessed Russia’s military and economic prospects, and those pushing for escalation at all costs [revisionists],” she writes in a commentary for Carnegie Endowment. Stanovaya predicts that if the administrators come to power, then “the authorities’ grip on power will weaken.” “If, however, the revisionists take full control of the levers of power, a Stalinist turn awaits the country,” Stanovaya warns.
  6. Having expelled Armenians from Karabakh, Azerbaijan may launch another full-fledged offensive to capture Armenia’s Zangezur region to establish a land bridge to Turkey via Nakhichevan, and Yerevan should not count on Moscow to intervene, according to IFRI. This French think-tanks predicts that “[i]n case of a large-scale offensive by Azerbaijan, the Russian 102nd military base in Gyumri would probably remain ‘neutral,’ so that in the post-conflict phase, it would be conveniently positioned to provide ‘peacekeepers.’” Azerbaijani officials deny plans to establish the land bridge by force, but they have lied before. Two diplomats told FT they had received assurances [from Baku] right up to the start of the blitzkrieg war by the Azerbaijani armed forces against the Karabakh Armenian military in September that no military action would be taken in Karabakh.

 

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

Consequences of Israel-Hamas war: 

“Where Does Russia Stand on the Israel-Hamas War?”, Hanna Notte, FP, 10.19.23. 

  • Russia … needs to be careful what it wishes for. While it might temporarily profit from a renewed Western focus on the Middle East and the scuttling of Arab-Israeli normalization, Moscow most likely does not want to see Iran and Israel drift into full-scale war. Broader conflict would surely engulf not just Lebanon but also Syria, where Russian-controlled air and naval bases underpin Moscow’s power projection into the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa. With most of its active-duty military and hardware committed to Ukraine, Russia would not have the bandwidth to get involved in a bigger Middle Eastern conflagration.
  • For all its catering to pro-Palestinian sentiments, Russia does not want a break with Israel. And for all its professed common cause with Iran in challenging U.S. primacy, Russia does not seek to go all in with Tehran, either. Russian diplomacy under Putin has always tried—and continues to try—to balance between mutually antagonistic players in the Middle East, since this maximizes Russian gains. Navigating small fires, rather than a big regional war, while dealing with all sides is the playbook that suits Moscow best.
  • But Putin won’t be the one to set the future course of events. The United States has sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean and vowed unequivocal support for Israel. Should the fighting escalate and expand, with Washington coming down hard on Israel’s side, Russia would likely drift yet further into Iran’s orbit given the broader geopolitical backdrop of this new Middle Eastern war.

“Rush by West to back Israel erodes developing countries’ support for Ukraine,” Henry Foy, 10.17.23.

  • Western support for Israel’s assault on Gaza has poisoned efforts to build consensus with significant developing countries on condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine, officials and diplomats have warned. 
    •  “We have definitely lost the battle in the Global South,” said one senior G7 diplomat. “All the work we have done with the Global South [over Ukraine] has been lost . . . Forget about rules, forget about world order. They won’t ever listen to us again.” 
    • “What we said about Ukraine has to apply to Gaza. Otherwise we lose all our credibility,” the senior G7 diplomat added. “The Brazilians, the South Africans, the Indonesians: why should they ever believe what we say about human rights?” 
    • “I mean, let’s be frank. This is a gift from heaven for Russia,” said a senior EU official. “I think it’s damaging what’s happening . . . because Russia is exploiting the crisis and saying, ‘Look, the global order that has been built after the second world war is not working for you,’ and addressing 1 billion inhabitants in the Middle East or in the Arab world.” 

“Investing in Ukraine and Israel is in our cold, hard national interest,” WP Editorial Board, WP, 10.21.23. 

  • It behooved the president to make the links between the two conflicts, as he did in Thursday's somber address to the nation, and to convince Americans that continued support, for both Ukraine and Israel, is not just a principled stand in defense of democracies under attack—but in the United States' self-interest. At stake is not only the survival of democracies abroad, however imperfect, but the United States' long-standing interest in preventing two major regions, Europe and the Middle East, from falling under the sway of hostile hegemons (Russia and Iran, respectively), with the inevitable damage to U.S. security and economic prosperity that would imply. 
  • Against Mr. Trump and the isolationist wing of the GOP—as well as a smaller group of critics in the president's own party—Mr. Biden has better arguments to make, both morally and practically. He will have to state them forcefully again and again as this dangerous year ends and the even more momentous election year of 2024 begins.

“Ukrainians fear loss of support as global gaze shifts to Israel-Hamas war,” Christopher Miller, FT, 10.22.23.

  • Ukrainians are now wondering if the world has the attention span and courage to focus on two major wars.
  • [Ukrainians’] fears are not unfounded: the world has forgotten Russia’s war against Ukraine before. … For Kyiv, the conflict began on February 20 2014, when President Vladimir Putin sent troops in unmarked uniforms to Crimea and from there into Ukraine’s eastern regions known as the Donbas. And Ukrainians remember how the world largely ignored them after Minsk 2, a controversial accord aimed at providing a road map to peace, was signed in 2015. 
  • Serhiy Nykyforov, [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelensky’s spokesperson, was unequivocal when asked how concerned the president’s office was about global focus shifting to the Middle East: “Our main goal is to draw attention to Ukraine.”
  • Mick Ryan, a retired Australian army major-general and military strategist who visited Kyiv recently, said the West would do well to heed their calls. “Despite the appalling tragedy of 7 October, we cannot afford to take our eye off supporting Ukraine,” he said. “Not only does Russia pose an existential threat to Ukraine, but Russian success there would radically reset the norms of international behavior to a far grimmer future where large authoritarians are more likely to prey upon their neighbors.”

“Only the U.S. can be an effective broker in the Gaza conflict,” Fareed Zakaria, WP, 10.20.23.

  • The crisis in the Middle East has revealed an important reality about the world. Although American influence may not be what it once was, it is still true that no other country can replace the United States as the pivotal player on the global stage. But to retain that influence, it will need to act wisely and go further than it has yet done.
  • Consider how absent Russia and China have been from this crisis. Over the past few years, both powers have tried in various ways to inject themselves into the region. Russia built up its links with Israel. China helped facilitate the resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And yet, since the Gaza crisis broke, neither has been able to play any role in defusing tensions or providing solutions. The United States, by contrast, has been actively engaged from the start. 
  • Palestinian leadership proved feckless and Israel has been ruled by a series of right-wing governments that do not believe in a two-state solution, have increased settlements and turned a blind eye to the condition of Palestinians. These are ideal conditions for Hamas, which argues that there is no nonviolent, negotiated solution and that acts of terrorism are the only option. This is a tall order for American diplomacy. But the alternative is to let this crisis fester, which could easily result in violence that is even worse than what we are seeing now.

“Israel Is About to Make a Terrible Mistake,” Thomas L. Friedman, NYT, 10.22.23.

  • I believe that if Israel rushes headlong into Gaza now to destroy Hamas—and does so without expressing a clear commitment to seek a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority and end Jewish settlements deep in the West Bank—it will be making a grave mistake that will be devastating for Israeli interests and American interests.
    • It could trigger a global conflagration and explode the entire pro-American alliance structure that the United States has built in the region since Henry Kissinger engineered the end of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
    • This is not about whether Israel has the right to retaliate against Hamas for the savage barbarism it inflicted on Israeli men, women, babies and grandparents. It surely does. This is about doing it the right way—the way that does not play into the hands of Hamas, Iran and Russia.
  • If Israel goes into Gaza and takes months to kill or capture every Hamas leader and soldier but does so while expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank—thereby making any two-state solution there with the more moderate Palestinian Authority impossible—there will be no legitimate Palestinian or Arab League or European or U.N. or NATO coalition that will ever be prepared to go into Gaza and take it off Israel's hands.
  • So many rockets are now coming from the pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia in South Lebanon that we are one degree away from a full-scale missile war between Israel and Iran's proxies—and very possibly directly between Israel and Iran. Israel is not likely to let Iran use its proxies to hit Israel without eventually firing a missile directly at Tehran. Israel has missile-armed submarines that are probably in the Persian Gulf as we speak. If that gets going, it's Katie, bar the door. The United States, Russia and China could all be drawn in directly or indirectly.
  • I believe that Israel would be much better off framing any Gaza operation as “Operation Save Our Hostages”—rather than “Operation End Hamas Once and for All”—and carrying it out, if possible, with repeated surgical strikes and special forces that can still get the Hamas leadership but also draw the brightest possible line between Gazan civilians and the Hamas dictatorship.
  • The hour is late. I have never written a column this urgent before because I have never been more worried about how this situation could spin out of control in ways that could damage Israel irreparably, damage U.S. interests irreparably, damage Palestinians irreparably, threaten Jews everywhere and destabilize the whole world. I beg Biden to tell Israelis this immediately—for their sake, for America's sake, for the sake of Palestinians, for the sake of the world.

“We Must Not Kill Gazan Children to Try to Protect Israel’s Children,” Nicholas Kristof, NYT, 10.21.23. 

  • In his speech on Thursday, Biden called for America to stand firmly behind Ukraine and Israel, two nations attacked by forces aiming to destroy them. Fair enough. But suppose Ukraine responded to Russian war crimes by laying siege to a Russian city, bombing it into dust and cutting off water and electricity while killing thousands and obliging doctors to operate on patients without anesthetic. I doubt we Americans would shrug and say: Well, Putin started it. Too bad about those Russian children, but they should have chosen somewhere else to be born.
  • A prolonged ground invasion seems to me a particularly risky course, likely to kill large numbers of Israeli soldiers, hostages and especially Gazan civilians. We are better than that, and Israel is better than that. Leveling cities is what the Syrian government did in Aleppo or Russia did in Grozny; it should not be an American-backed undertaking by Israel in Gaza.
  • The best answer to this test is to try even in the face of provocation to cling to our values. That means that despite our biases, we try to uphold all lives as having equal value. If your ethics see some children as invaluable and others as disposable, that’s not moral clarity but moral myopia. We must not kill Gazan children to try to protect Israeli children.

“EU Backs Ukraine But Has Qualms About Israel. That Won’t Work,” Niall Ferguson, Bloomberg, 10.22.23.

  • just as Harvard’s key constituency expected stronger condemnation of Hamas than they initially heard, so too does Europe’s key constituency: voters… Why is the European elite so much at odds with voters?
  • Part of the explanation is that the Brahmins of Brussels sincerely believe that there is a difference between the war in Ukraine—a moral struggle for democracy between the heroes of Kyiv and the monsters of Moscow—and the war in Israel, which, thanks to sustained left-wing attacks on “Zionist settler colonialism” and defenses of Islamism in the name of multiculturalism, requires maximum verbal seesawing.
  • EU leaders fear that a regional war would lead to a new wave of refugees seeking asylum in Europe, at a time when illegal crossings are at their highest level since the 2015 Syrian exodus.
  • EU member states, especially countries with large Muslim populations, fear that terrorism, after a few quiet years, could now make a bloody comeback.
  • there is the persistent problem of Europe’s reliance on imported energy
  • EU leaders do not want the U.S. (much less themselves) to be distracted from Ukraine’s war against Russia.

“A World Without American Deterrence,” Walter Russell Mead, WSJ, 10.20.23.

  • Why are so many actors challenging American power in so many parts of the world? Because the U.S. is losing its power to deter. Like Mike Campbell's bankruptcy, the erosion of deterrence usually begins gradually and ends suddenly. Emboldened by American failures to respond effectively (as when Mr. Putin invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, when President Obama failed to enforce his "red line" in Syria, or when China built and militarized artificial islands in the South China Sea), our adversaries gradually lost their inhibitions and dared to challenge us more directly in more damaging ways.
  • Mr. Putin's 2022 invasion of Ukraine in defiance of direct American warnings was a major step. Iran's support for Hamas's strike on Israel is an even bolder attack on the American order. If President Biden's response to Hamas and its patron Iran fails to restore respect for American power, wisdom and will, our enemies everywhere will draw conclusions and take steps that we and our allies won't like. 

“Dostoevsky Knew: It Can Happen Here; Some people who cheer Hamas's atrocities would surely be capable of committing similar acts if given an opportunity,” Gary Saul Morson, WSJ, 10.18.23.

  • As I read about Harvard students demonstrating in favor of Hamas and educated people proclaiming that "decolonization" should be pursued "by any means necessary," I thought of Dostoevsky's reaction, a century and a half ago, to atrocities committed by the Ottomans as they suppressed uprisings among their Slavic subjects. 
  • If it seems that only uncivilized people could be such sadists, Dostoevsky cautions, know that the same thing could happen among civilized Europeans as well. "For the moment it is still against the law," he writes, "but were it to depend on us, perhaps, nothing would stop us despite all our civilization."
  • After 9/11, it turned out that terrorists were often well-off and well-educated. Cruelty often thrives among the sophisticated. Dostoevsky recalls the French terror, when people were humiliated and murdered in the name of the highest principles—"and this after Rousseau and Voltaire!" We know, as Dostoevsky could only suppose that during the Stalinist terrors millions were routinely tortured in the most degrading way possible; and that during the collectivization of agriculture, millions more were deliberately starved to death, with young Bolshevik idealists brought in to enforce the famine and take bits of food away from bloated children. In the West, intellectuals justified such behavior because it was done in the name of socialism and anti-imperialism.
  • It is a terrible mistake to imagine that thuggish deeds are performed only by thugs. 
  • We need to recognize that some of those who justify Hamas's atrocities would be ready to perform them against their designated enemies. And unlike Dostoevsky's Turks or today's Hamas, they would have high-tech means at their disposal to extend their reach. I fear that the horrors of the 20th century may prove only a foretaste of much worse in the near future.

“News conference following the visit to China. Concluding his working visit to the People's Republic of China, Vladimir Putin answered questions from Russian journalists,” Kremlin.ru, 10.18.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • As for the Palestinian statehood, we believe—and this is our principled position which has nothing to do with the ongoing crisis even though it did push this issue to the surface—nevertheless we have always advocated the creation of a Palestinian state that would be independent, sovereign and with a capital in East Jerusalem. We have been talking about this for a long time, the international community has been talking about for a long time, since 1948, in fact, when the objective to create two independent sovereign states was put forward. I do not know whether today’s crisis can help deliver on this task. If this were the case, it would be a step in the right direction since it would create conditions for achieving lasting peace down the road. … We need to address fundamental political issues.
  • As for my meeting with Prime Minister Orban… he asked me about the possibility of a peaceful settlement, I said what I have said many times before, that if the Ukrainian side really wants to negotiate, it should not make any theatrical gestures but instead start by cancelling the presidential executive order prohibiting talks [with Russia]. It is rumored that they are presumably ready for negotiations now. Several high-ranking officials in charge of foreign policy, who only recently spoke about inflicting strategic defeat on Russia on the battlefield, have changed their tune and say that such issues should be decided through peaceful negotiations. It is a reasonable change, a shift in the right direction, which Mr. Borrell is talking about as well. I can commend him for that, but it is not enough. Practical steps must be taken if there is a real desire to hold negotiations.

“Speech by Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs M.L. Bogdanov at the Cairo Peace Summit,” Russian Foreign Ministry, 10.21.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • The current crisis has once again proven that regional stabilization will remain an unattainable goal unless there is a just settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in accordance with the resolutions of the Security Council and the UN General Assembly on the basis of the “two-state” formula approved by international decisions
  • Russia’s position was and remains principled and consistent: …. a sovereign Palestinian state must be created within the 1967 borders with its capital in East Jerusalem, coexisting in peace and security with Israel. Such a strategic goal is an imperative. After all, it is obvious that it is impossible to solve the Palestinian problem with palliative measures, material incentives, and ideas of economic peace. It is equally impossible to freeze a conflict at low intensity level. The parties must break the vicious circle of violence and abandon unilateral steps, including the settlement takeover of Palestinian territories, as well as undermining the status of Jerusalem shrines.
  •  On the agenda is the formation of a collective mediation mechanism with an active role for regional states…when the countries of the region take the situation into their own hands and are not subject to external pressure, they achieve a lot towards stabilizing the Middle East.

“Russia’s Middle East Interests,” Tatiana Stanovaya, Bulletin No. 18, R. Politik, 10.23.23. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • Almost two weeks after Hamas's attack on Israel, Moscow is following a relatively restrained approach — an outcome of Russia's limited leverage in the region and a large-scale diplomatic effort by the U.S. Moscow continues to advocate for a two-state solution, along with China, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
  • The key to Moscow’s approach is its links with the regional allies rather than any direct involvement in mediation between Israel and Hamas. However, Russia is constrained by a lack of leverage with which to influence Iran and Hamas.
  • Despite cautious attempts to maintain ties with Israel, Moscow is gradually sliding into an essentially anti-Western policy, undermining its relationship with Tel-Aviv (which in turn is getting closer to the U.S. and could at the end of the day become more open to the idea of military aid to Ukraine).
  • While Russia may be eager to use the conflict in the Middle East to divert Western attention away from Ukraine, it is not accurate to assume that Moscow desires escalation. Moscow will try to hold back on any actions that might inspire further violence from Hamas (although its leverage is weak) and will get closer to Iran to mitigate its policy. 

“The tragedy of October 7 will divide the history of Israel into before and after,” Ruslan Pukhov, interviewed by Fyodor Lukyanov, Russia in Global Affairs, 10.20.23.Clues from Russian Views.

  • Israelis have been very fixated on Hezbollah, the West Bank and Iran. It seemed to them that Hamas was the weak link, that they knew everything in Gaza.
  • What was surprising was not that Hamas’…ingenuity and resourcefulness, but rather how weak the Israelis turned out to be. … the first signs of their weakness sounded back in 2006, when the operation against Lebanon took place not according to the scenario that was drawn in Tel Aviv.
  • I think the main weakness was that [Israelis] failed to appreciate that the Arabs they defeated from 1948 to 1982 are not the same Arabs they are fighting now. 
  • The whole world saw not only the weakness of the Israeli intelligence services and the Israeli army, but also that the State of Israel cannot protect its own citizens. I think this Saturday tragedy will divide the history of Israel into a before and an after.

“From the Middle East to Ukraine. A Milestone,” Ivan Timofeev, RIAC, 10.23.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • The aggravation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is an indicator of the growing imbalance in the existing system of international relations. This imbalance is characterized by the emergence of new conflicts and resumption of old ones, with large-scale human casualties and risks of further escalation. While laying claim to international leadership and the role of guarantor of the existing international order, the United States has been unable to prevent the growth of yet another hotbed of conflict. For now, there remains a possibility that the new crisis will be isolated without allowing it to escalate into a conflict between major regional players. However, the very fact of the crisis suggests that the fabric of the order that emerged after the Cold War on the ruins of the bipolar system is tearing at the seams more and more frequently. It is becoming more and more difficult to mend such developments. 
  • The Ukrainian conflict seems to be key for the post-bipolar order. The launch of the Special Military Operation in 2022 provided the United States with a number of tactical advantages. Washington now has powerful leverage over its allies in Europe. NATO has received a new lease of life, and the process of alliance expansion is underway. However, strategically, the Ukrainian conflict has presented the United States with serious problems. The main one is the loss of Russia as a possible ally, or at least as a power that does not interfere with the United States’ interests. 
  • The cost of a conflict with Russia for the United States will be measured not only and not so much by support for Ukraine, but also by the enormous cost of containing the Russian-Chinese tandem, as well as the costs of those problems in which Russia will, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, harm the United States. The fact that Russia itself bears costs and losses does not in any way improve the position of the United States itself. It cannot be ruled out that in such conditions the United States and its allies will reconsider their ideas about defeating Russia in the Ukrainian conflict at any cost. The big question is how Moscow will reconsider its approaches? 

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“The Third Russia-North Korea Summit: Symbolic or Substantive?”, Minseon Ku, NI, 10.22.23.

  • Last month’s meeting between North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un and Russian president Vladimir Putin demonstrated that Russia and North Korea have always maintained a stable and positive relationship, which could most likely evolve into a tighter one. 
  • At times, it matters that leaders meet at all, as face-to-face diplomacy offers a productive channel for leaders to share their views frankly. Under the right political circumstances and willingness, momentum can set in for subsequent meetings at either the highest or working levels, culminating in significant agreements or deeper relations. In this sense, the September summit was productive, as Putin accepted Kim’s invitation to Pyongyang. Putin’s reciprocal visit could be taking place in the near future, as suggested by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s meeting with Kim yesterday in Pyongyang, likely following up on last month’s summit. 
  • From North Korea’s and Russia’s perspectives, the summit was meaningful and even successful. Despite the absence of a joint statement, it caught the world’s attention and left a strong impression that their relationship could transform into something more substantial than symbolic bonding for the time being. 

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“War crimes are part of the Russian playbook,” David Petraeus and Andrew Roberts, WP, 10.17.23.

  • Is there a specifically Russian way of war? The manner in which the Russian army has systematically flouted the Geneva Conventions in its brutal, unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine inevitably prompts the question.
  • The mass rapes, torture and targeting of residential areas for shelling are too widespread to be anything other than the result of Russia's high command turning a blind eye to abuses. Indeed, the Russian officer corps seems to view civilian terror and death as inherent to its campaign plan.
  • The viciousness undoubtedly reflects frustration at the failure of the Russian offensives to achieve a speedy victory. Taking out such frustration and anger on unarmed civilians through torture and rape is a response that is tragically as old as war itself. … the Russians have demonstrated a capacity for absorbing extraordinarily high casualty rates, ones that in Western armies would be politically unacceptable. … There is plenty of precedent for both the high casualties and the mistreatment of civilians.
  • It is, of course, important to differentiate between the Russian people and the Russian armed forces when apportioning blame for "the Russian way of war." 
  • In the unlikely event that Putin ever has to face justice at the International Criminal Court, there ought to be a large number of his high command and henchmen standing in the dock beside him.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Ukraine Must Prepare for a Hard Winter,” Jack Watling, RUSI, 10.19.23. 

  • Ukraine retains some options to make Russian dispositions uncomfortable, but it is highly unlikely that there will be a breakthrough towards Tokmak this year unless Russian forces decide to withdraw. The Ukrainians now face a difficult set of competing imperatives: to maintain pressure on the Russians while reconstituting their units for future offensive operations.
  • During the winter of 2022–3, much of the front saw intense skirmishing, but only limited Ukrainian attempts to significantly alter the line of control. The lack of a threat of offensive action by the AFU allowed Russia to build three extensive defense lines with mines, trenches and obstacles, which made Ukraine’s offensive operations this summer an order of magnitude more difficult. If Ukraine does not continue to pressure the Russian line in the winter, the risk is that these defense lines are expanded. Thus, Kyiv must balance reconstitution with a need to keep up pressure on Russian forces.
  • Bottlenecks in spare barrels and other critical parts will prevent Russia from establishing fires dominance for the next quarter, while NATO production should increase later in 2024, but for a while Ukraine faces the challenge of maintaining Russian attrition without an abundance of artillery.
  • Another challenge lies in air defense. … If Russia can destroy the ability to pump water in Ukraine’s cities during periods of cold temperature, pipes will burst, potentially rendering urban areas uninhabitable. Thus, the missiles must be intercepted—but interceptors are a scarce commodity.
  • For Russia, the supply of strike munitions is increasing. In October 2022 Russia was producing approximately 40 long-range missiles a month. Now it is producing over 100 a month, and this is supplemented by large numbers of Geran-2 UAVs. Furthermore, on 18 October, U.N. Security Council restrictions on Iran’s missile program lapsed. Russia has been pushing for Iran to supply it with missiles after that date, with an expectation that this will provide a large supply of missiles in the winter. NATO’s ability to expand the production of interceptors and radar for air defenses is therefore critical.
  • Despite these threats, Ukraine has options for continuing to cause Russia’s position in southern Ukraine to deteriorate.
    • Long-range strikes using ATACMS destroyed Electronic Warfare helicopters that had been important for protecting Russian forces from a range of effects.
    • Carefully orchestrated attacks on Russian air defenses are also making a range of softer targets more vulnerable. 
    • Ukraine can exploit the width of the front to keep Russian forces in the field as the weather deteriorates. 
    • The winter once again poses an opportunity to maximize Russian losses. 
    • Further activity in the Black Sea is also important. Firstly, expanding the threat to the Crimean Peninsula spreads out increasingly threatened and scarce defensive systems like the S-400. Secondly, the progressive erosion of the Black Sea Fleet’s freedom of maneuver helps to set the conditions for the isolation of Crimea in 2024. 

“Ukraine’s Slow Advance Challenges Kyiv, Allies,” James Marson and Ievgeniia Sivorka, WSJ, 10.22.23. 

  • When Ukrainian armored vehicles breached the main Russian defensive line in southeastern Ukraine last month, it raised hopes for a decisive breakthrough. It hasn't happened. Instead, nearly five months into the counteroffensive, Ukrainian infantry are still toiling forward in small groups along tree lines packed with Russian trench systems and mines while under fire from artillery and explosive aerial drones.
    • "We are advancing," said one officer serving in southeastern Ukraine, "but it doesn't look like a breakthrough."
  • Russia, meanwhile, launched an offensive of its own this month to try to seize the eastern city of Avdiivka, suggesting Moscow thinks the Ukrainian counteroffensive is running out of steam. Russian forces gained very little ground at the cost of dozens of armored vehicles and hundreds of troops, according to Ukraine's military.
  • Ukraine and its backers had hoped that thousands of troops equipped by the West with armored vehicles could make a significant advance in the southeast that would cut Russian occupying forces in two and turn the war decisively in Kyiv's favor. But attempts at lightning thrusts were thwarted by fortified Russian defenses, including dense minefields, south of the Ukrainian city of Orikhiv. Ukrainian forces pressed forward slowly in small infantry groups, piercing the main defensive line of antitank barriers, including a ditch and concrete obstacles known as dragon's teeth. But progress has been slow, thwarting hopes that armored vehicles could smash southward. "We are exhausted," said the Ukrainian officer in the area. "There were big losses."
  • There have been positive signs for Ukraine in recent weeks. Ukraine for the first time used long-range[ATACMS] missiles provided by the U.S. to strike two Russian airfields, demonstrating how they can be used to damage Russian military equipment and logistical hubs well behind the front line. And in the east, Ukraine's repelling of the offensive against Avdiivka demonstrated Moscow's own difficulties to achieve even small gains.
  • A Ukrainian advance around the occupied eastern city of Bakhmut in September has gained the high ground over the city and its surroundings and pinned down Russian forces there. At the same time, Ukraine has so far thwarted Russian attempts to advance in the northeast toward Kupyansk, which Ukraine retook last fall, and the eastern city of Avdiivka.

“We must ditch the ‘stalemate’ metaphor in Ukraine’s war,” Timothy Snyder, FT, 10.20.23.

  • Invoking a “stalemate,” we content ourselves with the mistaken estimation that the war has run its course and reached some neutral conclusion. But this depends upon Russian purposes. If Russia intends to eliminate Ukrainian society, as its politicians and propagandists keep telling us, then a given battlefield situation cannot be the end. If we stop thinking about how to get to victory, we implicitly join with Russia.
  • “Stalemate” distances us, makes us neutral judges of a game, allows us to be people without purposes and without a plan. We turn to the next crisis, the war in Gaza, without having drawn conclusions from this one. The most important must be this: our own metaphors have slowed Ukrainian victory, making lawless violence elsewhere more likely and harder to deal with. 

“Inside Biden’s decision to secretly send longer-range U.S. missiles to Ukraine,” Lara Seligman, Paul McLeary and Alexander Ward, Politico, 10.17.23.

  • The administration’s move to send the Anti-Personnel/Anti-Materiel, or APAM, an older version of the ATACMS that Ukraine had long sought, was kept secret for weeks after President Joe Biden made the final call, according to two U.S officials familiar with the discussions.
  • Their delivery and use marks a major escalation in the administration’s defense of Ukraine, providing Kyiv’s forces with a new and destructive ability to strike Russian targets well behind the front lines. That’s exactly what happened early Tuesday, with Ukrainian outlets reporting that Kyiv had destroyed nine Russian helicopters in the eastern cities of Berdyansk and Luhansk.
  • Biden decided to send the missiles to Ukraine after months of debate among his top national security aides. Perhaps tipping his hand that he was pushing for the weapons to be sent, Sullivan in July told an audience in Aspen that the administration was willing to take risks in support of Ukraine’s defense.
  • While Biden administration officials do not think Ukraine can achieve its goal of cutting off the Russian land bridge to Crimea before winter sets in and stalls the counteroffensive, they hope providing APAM can help mitigate any Russian advantage and buy Kyiv’s forces some time to recapture additional territory.

“The Nightingale Versus the Bear. What Persuasion Research Reveals About Ukraine's and Russia's Messaging on the War,” Alyssa Demus, Khrystyna Holynska, Krystyna Marcinek, RAND, October 2023.

  • Persuasion research suggests that the popular discourse, which professes that Russia has lost the information war while Ukraine has prevailed, oversimplifies the issue
    • The dynamics underpinning persuasion are highly nuanced and context dependent. Thus, the answer to the question of whether Ukraine's information campaigns have been more persuasive than Russia's is also nuanced: It depends on the target audiences and the broader context in which they have been steeped.
  • Russia and Ukraine have taken divergent approaches to their respective influence campaigns
    • Generally, Ukrainian leaders have been vocal, communicating frequently with their intended audiences using all available instruments, from social media to radio, and relying on informal and colloquial communications.
    • Russian officials have been more buttoned up. State-run TV has been the central conduit for Russia's influence campaigns, particularly targeting Russia's own public and military personnel.
  • Both Ukraine's and Russia's influence campaigns may have struggled to overcome the deeply held beliefs of their adversary's audiences, which research indicates are resilient and often immune to new, contradictory information
    • Early in the war, Russian leaders fundamentally misunderstood their Ukrainian audience.
    • The Ukrainian public's deep-seated negative perceptions of the Kremlin were likely challenging for Russia's messaging to overcome.
    • Of Ukraine's campaigns that targeted Russian audiences, the messaging tailored to certain marginalized groups may have been the most persuasive. Still, these audiences likely possessed little agency to change their behavior.
  • Much of the Russian public had long been steeped in the Kremlin's representation of events. These preexisting beliefs would have been difficult to overcome.

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

  • No significant developments.

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

  • No significant developments.

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

“Putin, flexing veto at the U.N., takes aim at global rules,” Catherine Belton, Robyn Dixon, WP, 10.21.23. 

  • A Russian victory in Ukraine would be a major defeat for an international order—evidence that territory can be seized by force, and smaller nations are subject to the whims of larger powers.
  • The U.N. Security Council has failed for decades to prevent conflicts, due largely to the veto power of the five permanent members. But Russia could sow more chaos if it chooses, said a senior member of Russia's diplomatic circles. "Russia has a lot of opportunities to complicate the position of the West in many different parts of the world," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. "There are possibilities in Africa, in the Middle East, in East Asia and Latin America."
  • Since the founding of the United Nations after World War II, Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union, have used the veto 154 times, more than any other state, including 26 times since Putin returned to the Russian presidency in 2012. The United States has done so 88 times, including 19 times since the fall of the Soviet Union and just four times since 2012. In September 2022, Washington vowed to refrain from using the veto "except in rare and extraordinary circumstances." Britain and France have not used their vetoes since 1989.
  • The member of Russian diplomatic circles said Russia and China were increasingly distancing themselves from the West's positions on North Korea, creating a divide between the United States and its allies on one side, and Russia, China and North Korea on the other. "The risks and dangers will probably grow," he said.
  • A former U.S. diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive international relations, said Russia's objective is to narrow the interpretation of global rules and treaties, some signed by the Soviet Union, especially its past commitments to rights and democracy. "They're trying to sell a narrative in which the rules-based international order is some artificial creation of the United States and its allies, imposed on the rest of the world," the former diplomat said. "That's garbage. The rules-based international order is rules that were drawn up by multilateral negotiation of all those people who were going to be living by those rules, and that includes Russia, and that includes the Soviet Union."

 Should the U.S. Continue To Provide the Substantial Level of Military Assistance to Ukraine That It Has Over the Past 18 Months?” An update on sessions of a study group led by Karen Donfried, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 10.18.23.1

IssueAgreeDisagree

Geostrategic Case: Pax Americana

 

The United States needs to uphold international law and continue to support Ukraine at a substantive level as it aligns with the historical success of Pax Americana, which helped to usher in peace and security for much of the world since 1945 through the creation of strategic alliances for both trade and international development. 

 

Pax Americana requires the United States to be able to concentrate on the entire world, not just on one single country like Ukraine. … The United States cannot fiscally afford to pursue a policy of Pax Americana, whose strategic aims are too vague, in the long-term, particularly with gross U.S. federal debt currently standing at more than $33 trillion.

 

European Defense is American Defense

 

U.S. assistance to Ukraine is critical because helping to defend Ukraine allows the U.S. to, in turn, defend Europe and NATO, which is in the interest of U.S. national security. 

 

European countries have developed powerful mechanisms including the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), to empower themselves to take charge of their own defense and are, therefore, well positioned to boost their support for Ukraine in the process. 

 

Moral Obligations

The protection of individual freedoms is a core tenet of Pax Americana, and the U.S. should remain steadfast in its opposition to authoritarianism worldwide and help to maintain global trust in international systems. 

 

It is incumbent upon the U.S. to realize that it cannot maintain the current levels of funding fiscally as the current levels have been sufficient to force a stalemate in the fighting between Russia and Ukraine; however, as the U.S. knows from its own experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, bankrolling stalemates can lead to open-ended commitments with no expiration date and can eventually do more harm than good as was seen in the case of the U.S.’ departure from Afghanistan. 

Need for Means-Tested Assistance and Burden-Sharing

 

The amount of aid provided to Ukraine is relatively small compared to the overall U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), indicating that the current levels of assistance to Ukraine are not a strain on the U.S. budget.

With the clarification that the discussion focuses on military assistance and not humanitarian assistance, the U.S. should emphasize the importance of burden-sharing with European allies who need to continue to increase their support to Ukraine. 

 

Domestic Political Divisions

 

There is strong U.S. public support for aid to Ukraine, and it is important that U.S. government actions represent these opinions as well. 

The United States must be aware of the relatively volatile nature of its domestic politics and the impact it has on sustained assistance to Ukraine. 

 

“Conflict is a cost of holding on to history too tightly,” Stephen Kinzer, The Boston Globe, 10.22.23.

  • Why is so much of the world engulfed in war? Typical explanations seem wrong. We often presume that wars are launched to grab valuable territory, seize resources, or protect economic interests. That doesn't fit in Gaza, a barren strip with no tangible value to anyone. Nor does it fit in Ukraine, which has lost much of its population in recent years and will likely be an environmentally devastated pit of hatred for generations. Serbian troops are massed on the border of Kosovo, and Azerbaijan is set to grab another piece of land from Armenians, but there is little of material value in any of the disputed territory. China has its eyes on Taiwan, but not for anything it desperately needs there.
  • Today's wars are often motivated not by the search for riches, but by something far more potent: history. Lines on maps send nations into violent conflict. Decisions made by one generation's statesmen bathe another generation in blood.
  • Nations should logically do whatever is in their best interest. When they don't, it's often because of mistrust or hatred that is rooted in their past. History keeps logical partners apart. It can make neighbors hate each other with a passion they never generate for more distant enemies.
  • The United States is hardly immune from this syndrome. Our current overwhelmingly negative view of Russia is shaped most acutely by its invasion of Ukraine, but hating Russia has been a reflex for Americans over more than a century. We have also been on the receiving end of historical resentments. In Latin American countries as different as Mexico, Cuba, and Chile, nationalism is heavily tinged with resentment over violent American interventions.

“Ukrainian spies with deep ties to CIA wage shadow war against Russia,” Greg Miller and Isabelle Khurshudyan, WP, 10.23.23. 

  • [The August 2022 operation to kill Russian ultranationalist Daria Dugina, who had called for killing Ukrainians] was orchestrated by Ukraine's domestic security service, the SBU, according to officials ... Over the past 20 months, the SBU and its military counterpart, the GUR, have carried out dozens of assassinations against Russian officials in occupied territories, alleged Ukrainian collaborators, military officers behind the front lines and prominent war supporters deep inside Russia. Those killed include a former Russian submarine commander jogging in a park in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar and a militant blogger at a cafe in St. Petersburg, according to Ukrainian and Western officials.
    • Officials acknowledged in recent interviews in Kyiv, however, that [earlier] denials were false. They confirmed that the SBU planned and executed the operation, and said that while Dugin may have been the principal target, his daughter—also a vocal supporter of the invasion—was no innocent victim.
  • Security officials said that no major operation by the SBU or GUR proceeds without clearance—tacit or otherwise—from Zelensky
  • Such missions have involved elite teams of Ukrainian operatives drawn from directorates that were formed, trained and equipped in close partnership with the CIA, according to current and former Ukrainian and U.S. officials. Since 2015, the CIA has spent tens of millions of dollars to transform Ukraine's Soviet-formed services into potent allies against Moscow, officials said.
  • The agency [CIA] has provided Ukraine with advanced surveillance systems, trained recruits at sites in Ukraine as well as the United States, built new headquarters for departments in Ukraine's military intelligence agency, and shared intelligence on a scale that would have been unimaginable before Russia illegally annexed Crimea and fomented a separatist war in eastern Ukraine. The CIA maintains a significant presence in Kyiv, officials said.
    • The new capabilities were transformative, officials said. "In one day we could intercept 250,000 to 300,000 separate communications" from Russian military and FSB units, said a former senior GUR [Ukrainian military intelligence] official. "There was so much information that we couldn't manage it ourselves." Troves of data were relayed through the new CIA-built facility back to Washington, where they were scrutinized by CIA and NSA analysts, officials said.
  • U.S. intelligence officials stressed that the agency has had no involvement in targeted killing operations by Ukrainian agencies, and that its work has focused on bolstering those services' abilities to gather intelligence on a dangerous adversary. A senior intelligence official said that "any potential operational concerns have been conveyed clearly to the Ukrainian services."
  • "We are seeing the birth of a set of intelligence services that are like Mossad in the 1970s," said a former senior CIA official ... "If Ukraine's intelligence operations become even bolder—targeting Russians in third countries, for example—you could imagine how that might cause rifts with partners and come into serious tension with Ukraine's broader strategic goals," the official said. Among those goals is membership in NATO and the European Union.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

Russia-related aspects of “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” Annual Report to U.S. Congress by U.S. Department of Defense, 10.19.23.

  • [The] war [in] Ukraine represented a major, unexpected challenge for the PRC.
    • Beijing has…refrained from directly criticizing or condemning Russia. 
    • [PRC seeks] …to balance its strategic partnership with Russia while avoiding reputational or economic costs that could result from its assistance. 
    • Beijing…has taken a discreet, flexible and cautious approach to providing material support to Russia…to maintain plausible deniability, control material transfers, create off-ramps to renege on agreements and maximize the…options to aid Russia. 
  • Beijing…continues to be surprised by the scope, scale, duration and cohesion of the international response to…war on Ukraine.
  • [For PRC], the war provides unique opportunities…to evaluate how countries use diplomatic, informational, military and economic measures to advance their interests before, during and after a major conflict.
    • Sanctions against Russia…have amplified the PRC’s push for defense and technological self-sufficiency and financial resilience. 
    • [People’s Liberation Army] PLA…is observing how Russia and Ukraine are employing CDO [Cognitive Domain Operations] during the…war and…will seek to incorporate lessons learned from this conflict into its own doctrine for future conflicts.
  • Sino-Russian military cooperation occurs…through exchanges of training, equipment, technology, high-level visits and other coordination mechanisms. 
    • Chinese companies Spacety and China HEAD Aerospace [provided] imagery of Ukraine to Russian private military company Wagner.
    • Chinese companies, including state-owned enterprises…have sold civilian, dual-use and…minor military items to [Russia], such as small arms, spare parts, navigation equipment and protective gear.
    • Chinese firms exported more than $12 million…of drones and drone components to Russia. Chinese…drones have been employed by Russian forces for targeting, surveillance and strike missions in Ukraine.

“Xi and Putin Think They’re Winning—and Maybe They Are,” Marc Champion, Bloomberg, 10.17.23. 

  • Whether or not Putin gave Xi details of his imminent plans to invade Ukraine at their 2022 meeting, the common goal outlined in their joint statement was clear: the “redistribution of power in the world,” an end to U.S. dominance and the redefinition of democracy and human rights as whatever a given government says they are.
  • For sure, Xi didn’t anticipate any more than Putin that Russia’s war machine would be humiliated in Ukraine or that the West would respond not by imploding but also uniting and expanding. In the same way, it’s doubtful that when the two leaders met in February 2022, Xi expected the current conflagration in the Middle East. But in terms of a zero-sum geopolitical confrontation with the U.S., trouble in Ukraine or the Middle East is a win for China. Both draw on U.S. resources and attention. 
  • As Putin immediately laid the blame for Hamas’s horrific attack on Israeli civilians at the door of the U.S., China has avoided any public condemnation of Hamas, while criticizing Israel for its collective punishment of Palestinians in response. By courting the Muslim world in this way, Putin and Xi are doubling down on their success in persuading the so-called Global South that the problem isn’t Russian aggression in Ukraine or Hamas’ grotesque terrorist acts in Israel, but rather the continued colonialism of the U.S. and Europe. Never mind Russian suppression of Muslim Tatars in occupied Crimea or Chinese internment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. 
  • So get ready for more tenacious anti-Western messaging from Xi and Putin. They may have suffered some economic setbacks, and in Russia’s case, military, but when it comes to rallying other nations to their cause, they’re making good progress.

“Russian-Chinese talks: Vladimir Putin and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping held talks in Beijing,” official website of the Russian President, 10.18.23. Clues from Russian (and Chinese) Views.

  • Xi to Putin:
    • Mr. Putin, my dear friend, welcome to China for the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. 
    • Mutual trust in our political relations is steadily growing. Close and effective strategic collaboration is being maintained. Bilateral trade has achieved historic records and is approaching the target of $200 billion we have set.
    • Mr. President, during the ten years since 2013, the two of us have held 42 meetings and established good business-like relations and a strong personal friendship. Next year marks the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Russia.
    • The Chinese side is ready, together with Russia, with keen understanding of the trajectory of history and following the currents of world development, to invariably rely on the fundamental interests of the people of the two countries, to continuously enrich bilateral cooperation with the content necessary for the sake of the two countries’ development and prosperity in this new era; exercise a sense of responsibility as great powers, contribute to international justice and impartiality, and promote the common development of the whole world.
  • Putin to Xi: 
    • Your idea of promoting wide-ranging cooperation between the countries of the historical Silk Road, which was put forward ten years ago, has gained momentum.
    • Our Chinese friends, China under your leadership, and you personally are highly successful in your endeavors. We are very glad for you and for all those involved in this wide-ranging collaboration, because everyone gains advantages from it.
    • Under the difficult present-day conditions, it is particularly relevant to maintain close foreign policy coordination, something we are doing now. Today, we will discuss all of this, including, and primarily, our bilateral relations.
    • You have just mentioned our bar—our objective of reaching $200 billion in trade this year. If we look at the year-on-year figures—we analyzed this yesterday evening—the 200-billion target was reached between this day a year ago and today, and this bar will certainly be exceeded by the end of the calendar year. Therefore, we are advancing very confidently on the bilateral plane as well

“Past the Point of No Return,” Andrei Kortunov, RIAC, 10.20.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • The agenda of Xi-Putin discussions in Beijing was different from the agenda in Moscow. In March the two leaders could have still approached international developments in terms of damage limitation. In October, it is hard to deny that the damage to the old international system is already beyond repair. The post-Cold War world order that lasted for more than thirty years is unraveling with an accelerating speed. The remaining elements of this order are still with us, but not so much due to the resilience of the system, as to its accumulated inertia. Still, this inertia cannot last for too long. 
  • [In Beijing the] two leaders … focused on more strategic issues related to the disintegration of the old international system and on what should replace it. The core of the new system is going to emerge in Eurasia, which remains not only the most populous, but also the most dynamic and economically potent continent of our planet. 
  • The Belt and Road Forum, which attracted dozens of leaders from all the corners of our shared continent, was a perfect location to compare notes on the future destiny of Eurasia. BRI, SCO, ASEAN, RCEP, CPTPP, CSTO, EAEU, CICA and may other multilateral Eurasian projects can be looked at as sprouts of the new international system germinating through the debris of the old one. These sprouts have to be properly watered, fertilized, pruned and groomed. Not all of them are likely to prosper or even to survive over long term, but each deserves a chance to make its unique contribution to the emerging Greater Eurasia’s security and development ecosystems.

“Putin's visit to China: from ceremony to specifics,” Alexander Lukin, NG.ru, 10.19.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Despite the fact that Moscow, in Beijing's opinion, sometimes behaves too harshly …on the international arena [Russia is an] extremely important and valuable partner, deserving special honor and respect. The fact that the leader of such a powerful country came to Beijing and was received at the highest level is a signal to the West, it is China’s response to the demands of the United States and Europe to put pressure on Russia …, an expression of the desire to balance Western hostility.
  • Equally important for Russia today is the development of cooperation with China both in the in the security and economic domains. That is why the highlight of Putin’s visit was his more than three-hour conversation with Xi… According to Putin, the conversation, the North-South corridor, the transport meridian from North to South through the Ural region and Siberia, the modernization of the central section of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the construction of the Northern Latitudinal Railway and other transport projects were discussed along with investments in the Russian North, in the Arctic zone. Let us note that all these projects are internal for Russia. Transit routes from China to Europe will probably not go through its territory for now. But such are the times today.

“Belt And Road Comrades,” Tatiana Stanovaya, Bulletin No. 18, R. Politik, 10.23.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Typically, meetings between Putin and Xi end with the endorsement of a range of agreements and memorandums. However, this time, no official documents were inked. The business itinerary didn't feature any major contracts either, with the exception of Gazprom. The Russian gas giant formalized an additional pact with CNPC for gas supplies via the eastern route from the Russian Far East (the Power of Siberia pipeline). 
  • Nevertheless, the lack of public documents does not mean that no agreements were reached. Currently, China prefers to keep agreements with Russia under wraps. After all, any significant initiative that funnels resources or technology to Russia may be interpreted as Beijing's endorsement of Russian aggression against Ukraine and could potentially trigger further sanctions from the U.S. and EU. 
  • Despite its rising influence, Beijing remains dependent on Western technologies and markets. Even though it seems inevitable to China's leadership that the West will increasingly attempt to isolate it, Beijing can still influence the pace of the decoupling and they are cautious not to provide the West with any excuses to speed up the process. Plus, Xi Jinping is gearing up for the APEC summit in San Francisco in November. There, he is expected to meet President Biden for the first time in more than a year. There is presently no strong desire to rock the boat.

Missile defense:

“The Right and Wrong Lessons to Learn from Missile Defense in Ukraine,” Shawn Rostker, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, 10.19.23. 

  • The success of missile defenses in Ukraine can inform U.S. investments into its own missile defenses but should not be seen as an indicator that missile defense capabilities can negate all missile threats nor provide more than one tool against a limited set of threats—threats that would present differently if the United States were under attack instead of Ukraine.
  • The most important platform being used to defend Ukrainian civilians and troops is undoubtedly the Patriot missile system. It is the most agile of the various air defenses and the only system designed specifically to counter the faster moving ballistic missile threat. Ukraine has only two of these systems, with one reportedly stationed around Kyiv. Depending on the interceptors it’s stocked with, it is capable of defending up to 100 miles out. Since delivery of the Patriot batteries, Ukraine has had greater success in neutralizing the more challenging ballistic missile threat to civilian centers. The Ukrainians have also been provided the Spanish-donated Homing All the Way Killer, or HAWK, a ground-based medium-range air defense system. Although antiquated, it’s proven capable of defending against aircraft, cruise missiles and the short-range tactical ballistic missiles that Russia has lobbed continuously. These all constitute what are known as theater defense capabilities. When used together, they have had relative success in limiting the damage from Russian strikes. 
  • There is, however, a clear distinction to be made. The missile threats in Ukraine are of an entirely different category from the intercontinental ballistic missiles that Russia and China employ. Strategic defense against more than a stray missile or two is not possible, nor is it even in development. It seems unlikely that the obstacles to complete defense of North America can be overcome, whatever Ukraine’s success at defending against smaller and slower threats. In the event of anything short of a limited nuclear attack, strategic systems such as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense program would be easy to overwhelm with volume. Missile defenses, particularly in the theater context, can save the lives of soldiers and civilians, as the fighting in Ukraine has demonstrated, but the lesson should be that future investments in missile defense would be better made in an area that has proven to be effective.

Nuclear arms:

“Warfare in a New Epoch: The Return of Big Armies,” Vasily Kashin, Andrey Sushentsov, Valdai Club, 10.18.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • The high-intensity warfare in Ukraine represents the largest military conflict in terms of forces involved, casualties, and duration since the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. But it is only the scale of the fighting that warrants comparison. Politically, the current events are unique in recent history.
  • The Iran-Iraq war was a clash of two regional powers, caused by differences between them… The conflict in Ukraine is the result of differences between two great powers, the United States and Russia. Therefore, the nearest historical precedent for the Ukraine conflict is the Korean War that ended almost seventy years ago. … In both cases [Korea and Ukraine], the conflict is about the future of the world order, not the fate of the country hosting the theatre of operations.
  • The redistribution of power and influence in the world, along with the shifting power dynamics among major nations, has become the catalyst for extremely acute differences between them. As these differences intensify, they engulf ideology, the economy, and scientific-technical and humanitarian ties. Factors that used to prevent major powers from escalation in the past are weakening. These countries are now facing a real threat of large-scale non-nuclear conflicts against comparable adversaries, for the first time since the 1960s.
  • Such conflicts may lead to the escalation of the threat of a nuclear conflict, although they don’t necessarily have to culminate in the use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons rather establish the geographic and political framework within which major powers wage such wars, and also impose limitations on the use of some non-nuclear armaments.
  • The armed forces that emerged in the post-Cold War period do not respond adequately to this new level of military threats. Significant quantitative growth of modern armies is required. Furthermore, conflicts like the one in Ukraine cannot be fully fought by military formations constituted on a voluntary basis, as demonstrated by the experiences of both Russia and Ukraine. Mobilizing the population into the armed forces becomes inevitable, as does the preservation and expansion of conscription practices.
  • The prevailing form of conflict between great powers will be proxy wars of a new type, namely, large conflicts in which a major nuclear power grants its client access to its information capabilities (satellite reconnaissance and targeting, communication infrastructure, etc.), as well as military technology and expertise, and, if necessary, carries out limited direct intervention in the conflict where it will not provoke nuclear escalation.
  • However, the threat of a direct military clash between great powers and nuclear war will persist and, perhaps, become even more acute than during the Cold War. The key goal of diplomacy in this new world will be to develop a toolkit that will make it possible to endure decades of turbulence without nuclear bombardment. This can only be achieved within the framework of rigorous foreign policy realism and the gradual development of rules and restrictions on competition.

“Reciprocal Course,” Elena Chernenko and Leonid Gankin, Kommersant, 10.21.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • The U.S. Embassy in Moscow told Kommersant that the U.S. has… indicated its readiness to begin negotiations with Russia to reduce nuclear risks and develop new agreements in the field of arms control. 
  • The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed to Kommersant that American ideas [on nuclear arms control] are being conveyed to Moscow “through various channels.” The ministry said, “the form and content of a potential response” [by Moscow] to Washington’s proposals will be determined by Russia “over time.”
  • The prospects for progress in this area [arms control], as stated in the Foreign Ministry's commentary, directly depend on the situation in the field of international security and strategic stability. “In this regard, the calls coming from Washington for the immediate launch of negotiations on nuclear arms control with their isolation” from contemporary realities and the general state of relations between our countries… are completely unrealistic,” the ministry told Kommersant.
  • Previously, the Russian Foreign Ministry has said that Russia is not interested in compartmentalization … and that it does not consider it advisable to discuss issues of reducing nuclear risks and arms control in isolation from the conflict around Ukraine and the general security situation in Europe and the degradation of Russian-American relations.

“Russia’s Sarmat Missile Saga Reflects an Industry in Crisis,” Maxim Starchak, Carnegie Endowment, 10.18.23. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • Russia has completed work on the Sarmat, its new super-heavy intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). According to President Vladimir Putin, the country now just needs to “begin mass production” and put the missiles into service… Kremlin decided it could wait no longer, and the missile was put into service despite having been tested successfully only once. Even now, much remains unknown about the missile. Can Sarmat carry a hypersonic glide vehicle or multiple warheads able to separate? Can it evade missile defenses and hit its target at a distance of 18,000 kilometers? There are no answers to these questions: Russia appears to have put a missile into service without knowing its full capabilities.
    • That step is unique in missile production history. The Voevoda R-36M [which Sarmat replaces], for example, underwent thirty-six successful tests before being put into service, while the Voevoda R-36M2 was successfully tested twenty times.
  • One often-used way of measuring how successful nations are in space is by counting the number of objects they send into orbit. In the last eight years, Russia has carried out between fifteen and twenty-six launches every year: far behind both the United States and China. When the same methodology is applied to missile launches, the picture looks far from rosy for Russia. The number of ground launches of ICBMs has plummeted from between six and ten in 2013–2017 to between two and five in 2018–2022. In these desperate times, it appears that the Kremlin has decided to prioritize its nuclear deterrent over the need to establish the Sarmat’s exact in-flight capabilities.

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

“Forgotten Front: Why Syria Is Becoming a Headache for Russia,” Nikita Smagin, Carnegie Endowment, 10.17.23. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • For several years, Russia has set itself the joint mission with Iran of pushing the United States out of Syria—and ideally out of the entire Middle East. Yet Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and subsequent growing alignment with Tehran have actually had the opposite effect: the U.S. presence in the region is growing.
    • Indeed, Washington finally has a clear justification for continuing its campaign in Syria. The more Russia gets entangled in the Middle East, the more challenging it becomes for Moscow to handle Ukraine.
  • Russia’s goal of maintaining a relatively low-key presence in Syria that would not require excessive financial resources or be a distraction from the Ukrainian fronts is becoming increasingly unrealistic, not least because of the greater U.S. presence prompted by Moscow’s own provocative actions there. There are, however, other problems not directly related to Russia. 
    • Bashar al-Assad’s government has regained control over most of Syria, but that has not necessarily meant a return to normal life. Hunger and corruption have become integral parts of the local socioeconomic landscape… The situation is so serious that the authorities have partially lost control over the Suwayda province.
    • This year, the vestiges of the Islamic State group have even reanimated in the country, seeking to exploit the new surge of dissatisfaction.
  • All of this comes at a time when Russia needs to figure out what to do with the remnants of the Wagner mercenary army. 
  • Syria has not only failed to become a secure base for Russian troops, but is increasingly generating its own crises, albeit localized—for now.

Cyber security/AI: 

“AI Godfather’ Yoshua Bengio: We need a humanity defense organization,” Susan D’Agostino, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 10.17.23.

  • [In the long run] We’ll need a humanity defense organization…to organize internationally a way to protect ourselves against events that could otherwise destroy us.
    • We could…contain the risks [that AI poses] with national regulation and international treaties. [They are] not perfect, but…might slow things down.
  • [AI still needs] a functioning human society right now. But that could change within a decade.
  • The harm that AI could do is not bounded by national borders.
    • A lot of our economic infrastructure rides on computers—our communications, supply chains, energy, electricity and transportation. [AI] might not destroy [everything], but it might bring society to such chaos that the amount of suffering could be huge.
    • AI…in a few years…could influence humans. [It] could talk us into doing things for them. It could start playing with people on social media to try to see what dialogue would succeed in changing people’s minds about something.
    • AI systems could buy off people to do a job. It’s…easy even now for a person or a machine to have boots on the ground through computers and access the Dark Web.
    • Even if we find ways to build [safe] AI, they might not be safe from the point of view of preserving democracy. We need to prepare for the day when there’s going to be an abuse of [AI] power by people or by an AI system if we lose control and it has its own goals.
  • [We need to avoid] an AI system [controlling]…nuclear weapons. AI in the military is super dangerous, even existential. We need to accelerate the international effort to ban lethal autonomous weapons.
  • Biosecurity is probably even more dangerous than the nuclear danger associated with AI.
    • We need experts in AI and biotechnology to work out this regulation to minimize those risks.

Energy exports from CIS:

“The West Paid for Putin’s Huge New Gas Project. Despite sanctions, the United States and Europe continue to cooperate on Russia's lucrative fossil fuel ventures,” Zoe Reiter, FP, 10.20.23.

  • The Kremlin wants Russia to export 100 million metric tons of LNG by 2030. The invasion of Ukraine and the emergence of the United States as a major LNG exporter have made this target much harder to reach. But [Russia’s] Arctic LNG 2 [project] moves the needle closer. As soon as 2024, it is expected to generate revenue for Putin and his cronies, helping Russia wage war against its neighbors, interfere in democracies, and expand its influence around the world. Arctic LNG 2 is also on the list of so-called “carbon bombs”—projects that will emit more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide over their lifetimes.
  • [It is] all the more urgent that the EU target Russia’s strategic energy projects in its next round of sanctions. The EU should follow Washington’s lead by designating entities directly responsible for building and operating Arctic LNG 2 and other gas projects. Europe can and should also go further by broadening the list of items banned for export to Russia. This will help stop the development of new upstream gas projects and hinder Putin’s ability to build infrastructure along the Northern Sea Route. At a minimum, EU member states should ban the transshipment and reexport of Russian LNG in their ports.
  • And to get to the root of the problem, the West must accelerate its transition to renewable sources of energy and help others do the same. Western companies have helped Putin to build a carbon bomb, but there is still time to defuse it.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russia’s Other War: The Administrators Versus the Revisionists,” Tatiana Stanovaya, Carnegie Endowment, 10.20.23. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • Despite expectations to the contrary, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not splintered the country’s leadership or given rise to either a revived opposition or a party of peace. Granted, some in the elite secretly favor an end to hostilities, but they keep their feelings to themselves. The result is that the only divisions in Russia’s corridors of power today are tactical differences, such as between realists [administrators], who have soberly assessed Russia’s military and economic prospects, and those pushing for escalation at all costs [revisionists].
  • It’s worth noting how the siloviki, or security services, fit into all this. On the one hand, their ranks include technocrats such as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov, whose approaches closely resemble that of the administrators. On the other, there are also frustrated secret revisionists among the siloviki. People like Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin and Foreign Intelligence Service head Sergei Naryshkin operate within the system, influencing the official agenda and advancing their own ideology and vision of the future.
  • A fork in the road lies ahead for Russia. If, in the event of internal turmoil, the regime falls into the hands of the administrators, the authorities’ grip on power will weaken. If, however, the revisionists take full control of the levers of power, a Stalinist turn awaits the country.

“Russia’s Capital Controls Are Designed to Aid Putin’s 2024 Re-Election,” Alexandra Prokopenko, Carnegie Endowment, 10.19.23. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian exporters working in sectors including energy, metals, agriculture, chemicals and timber to convert most of their foreign currency earnings into rubles. The Kremlin appears to think that capital controls will help strengthen the Russian currency ahead of the expected start of Putin’s re-election campaign.
  • Officials prefer not to think about how this sort of measure will also distort market principles shaping the exchange rate, destroy the ruble’s reputation, jeopardize the independence of the central bank and threaten Russia’s financial system. Along with the recent imposition of export tariffs on oil, such capital controls show that Russia is moving away from a market-based system of state capitalism toward a mobilized wartime economy.
  • Putin will clearly deploy rhetoric about a resilient economy in his campaign ahead of presidential elections expected next year. That wouldn’t be very convincing if it were coupled with a weak ruble and runaway inflation. Accordingly, the Kremlin calculated that capital controls were needed to rapidly curb price rises while avoiding interest rate hikes.
  • At the same time, capital controls are a double-edged sword. Their imposition shows that trust in the ruble has collapsed, which will ultimately fuel further currency devaluation and raise inflation expectations. The destruction of the ruble’s reputation will lead to greater capital outflows. For these reasons, it cannot be excluded that the Kremlin will impose even stricter capital controls, inflicting yet more long-term harm. The authorities are no doubt hoping they can forget about these damaging consequences until after Putin’s re-election.

“Anti-war or single candidate, boycott, protest on election day. Strategies proposed by the opposition in connection with the upcoming presidential elections in the Russian Federation,” Ignat Bakin, Republic, 10.23.23. Clues from Russian Views.2

  • Discussions continue in the Russian democratic opposition around strategies for action in connection with the upcoming presidential elections in the Russian Federation. ... Republic decided to record proposals regarding the presidential elections from the opposition that have formed to date.
    • Anti-war candidate: On Oct. 19, human rights activist Lev Ponomarev launched a petition in support of the nomination of an anti-war candidate for president.
    • All-Russia protest action on voting day: Former State Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov and former deputy of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg Maxim Reznik proposed that citizens go out and line up in huge lines at polling stations at the same time—for example, at noon, on the voting day.
    • Building a Broad Coalition: Another prominent oppositionist, Maxim Kats, calls for the creation of a coalition of Putin’s opponents, the unification of all existing opposition forces. In this he was supported by politician Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
    • Navalny's plan is to collect more information, then develop a plan.

Defense and aerospace:

  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.

 

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Climate Science in Arctic ‘Broken’ as US and Europe Isolate Russia,” Danielle Bochove, Bloomberg, 10.19.23. 

  • Collaboration between Western and Russian scientists stopped after the invasion of Ukraine and is still nearly impossible, putting vital research in jeopardy. 
  • Studying the fast-warming top of the planet is crucial to efforts to mitigate global warming and understand its dynamics at lower latitudes. Arctic climate scientists tend to be a close-knit community, as normal professional rivalries are flattened by the borderless, existential threat of climate change. But the war upended that status quo: Now geopolitics are a main determinant of whether scientific projects can move forward.
  • Most EU and NATO member countries have suspended or sharply limited funding for scholarly work involving Russia, a country that holds roughly half of the world’s Arctic territory. Sharing data is largely banned and the limited communication that’s still possible is nerve-wracking, as former scientific colleagues worry about jeopardizing each others’ careers or safety. 
  • Finding ways to restart stalled science [was to be] a recurring topic of conversation at a major Arctic conference in Iceland … where for the second year in a row, Russian scientists [were] not … present. 
  • A fundamental question for delegates to consider is whether “meaningful Arctic science” and “meaningful global climate science” can be done at all without access to data from Russia’s Arctic, said Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, former president of Iceland and the conference’s chairperson

Ukraine:

"Rural (khutorskoi) Putinism is Ukraine’s chief temptation: An interview with Oleksiy Arestovych [former Adviser to the Office of the President of Ukraine] about the political stalemate in the second year of the war and the search for a new strategy for his country,” Yulia Latynina, Novaya Gazeta, 10.22.23. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • We don't know the extent of the reserves and Western military assistance, but based on what we can see, we need to take Tokmak and adjust to a strategic defense so that all of this doesn't turn into the Debaltseve operation. Next, advancing slowly with maneuverable defense, we destroy the enemy. Not at any cost, but slowly, where favorable conditions have been created. Our task now is to physically destroy and grind the Russian army down. Because everyone is now convinced that if the enemy has no army, any area can be captured, no matter how many minefields there are, even if it's thousands of kilometers. 
  • Thus, they [the Russians] are doing their job. Now, the question is posed to us. Are we doing our job as we should? Are we looking for cheap solutions? Many are being offered to us, but these are all from groups of enthusiasts, and for example, private business is largely isolated from defense contracts because everything there is divided, and everyone is milking money, using a monopoly during the war, which brings super profits. Therefore, Putin can order, and in this case, of course, 85% will be embezzled, but we embezzle 80%, and yet no one does anything. We just tell our allies: “Give, give, give.”
  • We are in for a very "fun" 2024 when we can't fully rely on Western support due to our habit of quarreling with everyone. Only a radical review of [our] strategy and extraordinary actions can save us now.
  • The scary tales that we are here protecting Europe from Russia no longer convince anyone for a simple reason: they are convinced that Russia is not particularly threatening to Europe because it [Russia] is weak. Therefore, we collectively look very bad.
  • Ukrainian soldiers are going into battle for light and freedom, but what have we made for them on the home front, [something] beginning with ideology and ending with corruption?

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“The Next Surge of Conflict in the South Caucasus Is Still Preventable,” Éditoriaux de l'Ifri, Ifri, 10.17.23. 

  • The tragic exodus of the Armenian population from the Nagorno Karabakh region has closed a chapter in the long saga of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. 
  • Many international stakeholders tend to assume that the removal of the long-festering core of the conflict opens opportunities for a peace process, but the Russian leadership believes that its ability to keep Armenia anchored to its security structures, ensured by the continuation of Russia’s military presence on its territory, depends on the unfolding of a new phase of the old conflict. The focal point has shifted to the Zangezur region, where Armenia borders Iran.
  • The geopolitical issue with this region is that it separates the main territory of Azerbaijan from the Nakhichevan enclave, which has a small (just 17 kilometers long) but crucially important border with Turkey. 
  • Preventing this transformation of conflict … to an inter-state war over territory is a difficult and urgent task, and Yerevan cannot count on support from Moscow in working on it. Russia will be interested primarily in ensuring its control over the as of now hypothetic “extraterritorial corridor” across the Zangezur region by deploying a grouping of military and border guard forces. In case of a large-scale offensive by Azerbaijan, the Russian 102nd military base in Gyimri would probably remain “neutral,” so that in the post-conflict phase, it would be conveniently positioned to provide “peacekeepers.”
  • A new impact that may resonate in the South Caucasus is the war in the Gaza Strip caused by the massive attack by the Hamas terrorists on Israel. … Baku may assume its invasion to be barely noticed. Such calculations may be underpinned by the fact that the exodus of Armenians from Nagorno Karabakh has not produced a lasting impression on Western policymaking nor on public opinion.
  • Dissuasion – if applied convincingly and consistently by a broad coalition of external actors (including even Iran) – can work for deterring this escalation. Conflict prevention is a political endeavor that the European Union is supposed to be good at, and its closer engagement with the fledgling democracy in Armenia combined with its cultivation of energy ties with Azerbaijan might make a difference in keeping the geopolitical rivalries in check.

“Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenian enclave raises fears of another war,” Polina Ivanova, FT, 10.23.23. 

  • In its blitz offensive, Azerbaijan took complete control over [Karabakh] lands that lie within its internationally recognized borders, but which had been de facto independent since the ethnic Armenian population fought and won a secession war in the 1990s. Now, silence hangs over the villages and valleys of mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh, deserted within days by more than 100,000 Armenians..
  • “We have been saying over and over to Azerbaijan: you are the victor, you can afford to be magnanimous,” one Western diplomat said. But no “rhetorical ceasefire” has followed Baku’s military triumph, observers say, and no meaningful steps have been taken to reconcile two societies bitterly divided by decades of war.
  • Southern Armenia ... is a narrow strip squeezed on two sides by Azerbaijan. Residents there fear they could be next, pointing to incidents in recent years where Baku has used force, inching into sovereign Armenian land. Azerbaijani officials strongly deny having such plans. ... But such promises to respect Armenia’s territorial integrity have been made in the past, only to be undermined—most recently by Aliyev’s last-minute decision to skip peace talks mediated by the EU.
    • Two diplomats said they had received assurances right up to the start of the one-day war that no military action would be taken in Karabakh. “We felt betrayed and bitter,” one of the people said. When it comes to the risk of further hostilities, “the prudent attitude is to trust, but verify,” the second person said.
  • Fears about a potential invasion of southern Armenia run deep, especially since Baku has previously demanded a corridor connecting to its exclave on the other side of Armenia, the so-called “Zangezur corridor.”

“Is Russia Expanding its Battlefront to Georgia?” Natia Seskuria, RUSI, 10.23.23.

  • Following a number of successful Ukrainian missile and drone attacks on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, Moscow is looking to establish a permanent naval base in the Russian-occupied Abkhazia region. According to satellite imagery, Russia has already been relocating its ships out of the port of Sevastopol in occupied Crimea. Reportedly, several vessels including three diesel submarines, two guided missile frigates and five landing ships have been relocated to Novorossiysk on the eastern Black Sea coast. The Kremlin’s decision indicates that Russia sees Sevastopol as highly vulnerable to Ukrainian strikes amid Kyiv’s growing naval capabilities.
  • If Russia decides to go ahead with its plans to establish a naval base in Abkhazia, this would be the single biggest test of Tbilisi’s current policy of not provoking Russia so as to avoid a spillover of the war into Georgia. In fact, it would prove that it is the Kremlin that is creating a second front on Georgian soil, since Ukraine will have a legitimate right to attack Russian military targets at their base in Abkhazia. Under such a scenario, Georgia will face its worst security threat since the August war of 2008.

“Georgian Dream or Georgian Nightmare?” Mark Temnycky, NI, 10.17.23. 

  • Over the past few years under Georgian Dream, the ruling political party in Georgia, the country has started to regress in its democratization efforts. 
  • Most precariously, the ruling Georgian party has opted to strengthen its relationship with Russia despite Russia having occupied parts of Georgia since 2008.
  • Georgian Dream [has also] attacked European officials. Earlier this year, the party withdrew its observer membership with the Party of European Socialists (PES), a progressive pan-European group. 
  • Similarly, Georgian Dream has targeted pro-European politicians in Georgia. 
  • Finally, and most recently, Georgian Dream made baseless claims against the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It claimed that the American organization was working with the opposition movement in Georgia to start a revolution. 
  • Georgian Dream is concerned about its position in the upcoming 2024 parliamentary election. Seeing that the Georgian Dream has deviated from the people’s desire to strengthen relations with the West, it can be hypothesized that Georgian citizens will vote in favor of candidates who support anti-corruption reforms, democratization efforts, and transparency in Georgia. Voters will also support parliamentarians who want to strengthen Georgia’s relationship with the EU and other Western organizations.

 

Footnotes

  1. Over the course of six sessions, this study group, led by Dr. Karen Donfried, is examining key foreign policy debates flowing from Russia’s war against Ukraine. The objective is to provide a deeper understanding of the geopolitics of the war in Ukraine and the implications for U.S. interests. Two teams of four students each debate the weekly topic as the rest of the study group observes
  2. Translated with the help of machine translation.

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

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

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