Russia Analytical Report, Oct. 18-25, 2021

 This Week’s Highlights

  • “The problem is that the case for Russian decline is overstated,” argue Michael Kofman and Andrea Kendall-Taylor, director of the Russia Studies Program at CNA and director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, respectively. “Much of the evidence for it, such as Russia’s shrinking population and its resource-dependent economy, is not as consequential for the Kremlin as many in Washington assume. Nor should the United States expect that Russia will automatically abandon its course of confrontation once President Vladimir Putin leaves office.”
  • “In truth, most American policymakers simply wish that Russia would just go away so they can refocus their attention on what really matters. For their Russian counterparts, however, the United States still represents the main opponent,” argues the Brookings Institution’s Fiona Hill.  “For the United States, China, not Russia, poses the greatest foreign policy challenge of the twenty-first century, along with the urgent existential threats of climate change and global pandemics,” she writes.
  • “A modest thaw appears to have begun in the Biden administration's relationship with Russia—including agreement on a little-noticed joint effort at the United Nations on the contentious issue of cybersecurity,” writes The Washington Post’s David Ignatius. “Russia and the United States, in essence, have agreed to seek a common set of ‘rules of the road’ to prevent malicious cyberattacks. The two nations differ sharply about what those standards should be … [b]ut in principle, there's now a shared commitment to cybersecurity.” Meanwhile, David E. Sanger of the New York Times writes that “Russia’s premier intelligence agency has launched another campaign to pierce thousands of U.S. government, corporate and think-tank computer networks, Microsoft officials and cybersecurity experts warned on Sunday.” However, “[a] senior administration official called the latest attacks ‘unsophisticated, run-of-the mill operations that could have been prevented if the cloud service providers had implemented baseline cybersecurity practices.’”
  • “Russia’s harsh diplomatic response to the alliance’s move [expelling Russian military officers serving at Moscow’s mission to NATO and cutting the size of the mission by half] highlights a growing conviction among policymakers and their advisers in Moscow that, in a hardening confrontational environment, it does not make much sense to talk to proxies,” writes Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov may stop meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, but the line between the CGS and SACEUR, who is a U.S. general, will not be severed by either side. If there is confrontation, it has to be well managed.”
  • “Ever since the United States and Russia began to question the original concept of strategic stability, a paradox transpired. While vocalizing a commitment to strategic stability, the sides eagerly engaged in activities that would be considered destabilizing under almost any definition of the term,” writes Mikhail Troitskiy, dean of and associate professor at the School of Government and International Affairs at MGIMO University in Moscow. “Such activities included developing new weapons, exploring and testing new conflict domains, or ruthlessly competing for allies. While doing that, the sides kept demanding that the concept of strategic stability be revised to accommodate the new reality that purportedly came into being irrespective of their will.”
  • “Which is the more radical prediction—that Putinism will survive another two decades or that a new system, possibly a democratic one, will replace it? The former seems much more unlikely than the latter,” writes former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.


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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

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

“The Myth of Russian Decline. Why Moscow Will Be a Persistent Power,” Michael Kofman and Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2021. The authors, director of the Russia Studies Program at CNA and director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, write:

  • “The problem is that the case for Russian decline is overstated. Much of the evidence for it … is not as consequential for the Kremlin as many in Washington assume. Nor should the United States expect that Russia will automatically abandon its course of confrontation once President Vladimir Putin leaves office. Putin’s foreign policy enjoys widespread support among the country’s ruling elite … Any disagreements with the United States are here to stay.”
  • “Washington cannot afford to fixate on China while hoping to simply wait Russia out. Rather than viewing Russia as a declining power, U.S. leaders should see it as a persistent one—and have a frank conversation about the country’s true capabilities and vulnerabilities. … Tied up in the narrative of Russian decline is the notion that the United States primarily has a Putin problem—that once the Russian president leaves office, his country’s foreign policy will grow less assertive. Yet that is unlikely to be the case.”
  • “The United States should think of Russia not as a declining power but as a persistent one, willing and able to threaten U.S. national security interests for at least the next ten to 20 years. … It is perhaps in these domains—cyberwarfare and attacks on liberal democracy—where Russia is likely to pose the most sustained threat.”
  • “Moving forward Washington must resist overly focusing on China to the point of neglecting other important issues, such as Russia. … Now is the time, through careful transatlantic coordination, for real steps toward strengthening the European pillar within NATO. … Finally, Washington must be bolder still in its efforts to defend democracy against outside subversion.”
  • “The gravitational pull of the threat posed by a rising and revisionist China is understandably strong, but the United States is capable of dealing with two powers at once: China, a pacing threat, and Russia, a persistent one.”

“Why Russia Officially Broke With NATO,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.20.21. The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Responding to NATO’s decision to expel a number of Russian military officers serving at Moscow’s mission to the Atlantic alliance and to cut the size of the mission by half, Russia upped the ante. It suspended relations with NATO, recalled the staff of its mission from Brussels, ordered NATO liaison officers stationed in Moscow to leave and required the NATO information office to close. It would have sounded alarming, except that the relationship had been de facto broken off seven years ago in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. Since then, NATO has fully reverted to its initial mission of deterring Russia.”
  • “For Moscow, NATO traditionally meant, above all, a platform for the U.S. military presence in Europe. In the post–Cold War period of the NATO-Russia partnership and related cooperation, this vision was broadened to include the U.S. European allies who had also become Russian partners. But the situation has changed again with the return of U.S.-Russia confrontation. Russia’s harsh diplomatic response to the alliance’s move highlights a growing conviction among policymakers and their advisers in Moscow that, in a hardening confrontational environment, it does not make much sense to talk to proxies.”
  • “Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov may stop meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, but the line between the CGS and SACEUR, who is a U.S. general, will not be severed by either side. If there is confrontation, it has to be well managed. … Lavrov recently revealed that a few years ago Moscow offered, through then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, to invite Washington to join the Normandy Format … to implement the Minsk agreement on Donbass. The Russian rationale was that the United States, rather than the European partners, wielded the most influence in Kyiv.”
  • “Biden’s administration currently has a policy of consolidating U.S. alliances, and the allies are willing to follow the leader after four years in the wilderness under former president Donald Trump. In this context, the case for Moscow’s diplomatic streamlining is compelling.”

“Containment Beyond the Cold War. How Washington Lost the Post-Soviet Peace,” M. E. Sarotte, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2021. The author, Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Distinguished Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, writes:

  • “The world created in the 1990s never fulfilled the hopes that arose after the collapse of both the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. Initially, there was a widespread belief that the tenets of liberal international order had succeeded and that residents of all the states between the Atlantic and the Pacific, not just the Western ones, could now cooperate within that order. But both U.S. and Russian leaders repeatedly made choices at odds with their stated intentions to promote that outcome.”
  • “NATO expansion was not the sole source of these problems. But the manner of the alliance’s enlargement—in interaction with tragic Russian choices—contributed to their extent and impact. Put differently, it is not possible to separate a serious assessment of enlargement’s role in eroding U.S.-Russian relations from how it happened. Washington’s error was not to expand the alliance but to do so in a way that maximized friction with Moscow. That error resulted from the United States misjudging both the permanence of cooperative relations with Moscow and the extent of Putin’s willingness to damage those relations.”
  • “The all-or-nothing expansion strategy also incurred those costs without locking in democratization. Former Warsaw Pact states succeeded in joining NATO … only to find that membership did not automatically guarantee their democratic transformations. Subsequent research has shown that the prospect of incrementally gaining membership in international organizations … would likely have more effectively solidified political and institutional reforms.”
  • “Even with Trump gone … critics continue to question the alliance’s worth. … There is also a larger takeaway from this history of NATO expansion, one relevant not just to U.S. relations with Russia but also to ties with China and other competitors. A flawed execution, both in terms of timing and in terms of process, can undermine even a reasonable strategy—as the withdrawal from Afghanistan has shown. Even worse, mistakes can yield cumulative damage and scar tissue when a strategy’s implementation is measured in years rather than months. Success in long-term strategic competition requires getting the details right.”

“The Inevitable Rivalry. America, China, and the Tragedy of Great-Power Politics,” John J. Mearsheimer, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2021. The author, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, writes:

  • “At best, this rivalry can be managed in the hope of avoiding a war. That would require Washington to maintain formidable conventional forces in East Asia to persuade Beijing that a clash of arms would at best yield a Pyrrhic victory. Convincing adversaries that they cannot achieve quick and decisive wins deters wars. Furthermore, U.S. policymakers must constantly remind themselves—and Chinese leaders—about the ever-present possibility of nuclear escalation in wartime. Nuclear weapons, after all, are the ultimate deterrent. Washington can also work to establish clear rules of the road for waging this security competition—for example, agreements to avoid incidents at sea or other accidental military clashes. If each side understands what crossing the other side’s redlines would mean, war becomes less likely.”
  • “These measures can only do so much to minimize the dangers inherent in the growing U.S.-Chinese rivalry. But that is the price the United States must pay for ignoring realist logic and turning China into a powerful state that is determined to challenge it on every front.”

“The case for ‘Havana Syndrome’ skepticism,” Philip Bump, The Washington Post, 10.21.21. The author, National correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The theory is that some foreign actor or actors managed to move a device or devices to positions around the world and strike government officials without detection. They managed to do so within a few hundred yards of the White House, in fact, as described in a report by the New Yorker’s Adam Entous. The purported target was a National Security Council (NSC) staffer last winter. ‘As he walked, he began to hear a ringing in his ears. His body went numb, and he had trouble controlling the movement of his legs and his fingers. Trying to speak to a passerby, he had difficulty forming words.’”
  • “This … sounds familiar, as journalist Tom McKay pointed out. Were you to describe this to me outside of the context of Havana Syndrome, I would tell you that this sounds like a panic attack. That the NSC staffer then went to the hospital (as I did on at least one occasion when having such an attack) and no physical cause was identified certainly would not make me less confident of my diagnosis.”
  • “The alternative, again, is that someone—the generally agreed-upon culprit is Russia—is driving around with some sort of device of some sort of size that can direct these attacks at particular people.”
  • “There are other areas where the narrative is shaky. Scientists who worked on the government report that identified the possibility of a directed-energy attack have made clear that this was not a slam-dunk conclusion. Other scientists have been less generous in their assessments. Experts have also rejected the feasibility of a device that causes tissue damage remotely.”
  • “The difference is that anxiety attacks are known to exist, while easily hidden, extremely precise radiation devices carried around the world by foreign agents are not.”

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“What strategic stability? How to fix the concept for US-Russia relations,” Mikhail Troitskiy, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 10.21.21. The author, dean of and associate professor at the School of Government and International Affairs at MGIMO University in Moscow, writes:

  • “Unfortunately, the simple and powerful definition of strategic stability—reducing incentives to conduct the first strike—fell out of grace soon after it was coined. As a consequence, arms control negotiations based on that rationale collapsed.”
  • “Over the subsequent decades, three groups of arguments against the classical definition of strategic stability were put forward by one or both main stakeholders. … First, military planners and policymakers in the United States and Russia have complained about the emergence of advanced non-nuclear weapon systems and means of statecraft. … Second, new geopolitical contradictions among major nuclear-armed states supposedly disadvantage those who sign up to the classical definition of strategic stability …  And finally, the emergence and self-assertion of smaller nuclear-armed powers might make any bilateral U.S.-Russian definition of strategic stability outdated and useless.”
  • “Ever since the United States and Russia began to question the original concept of strategic stability, a paradox transpired. While vocalizing a commitment to strategic stability, the sides eagerly engaged in activities that would be considered destabilizing under almost any definition of the term.”
  • “That said, the U.S.-Russia relationship is unique for many reasons and therefore warrants a separate stability concept commitment to alleviate mutual fears between Moscow and Washington. The bilateral concept can focus on providing two-way reassurance of the absence of plans for a surprise turn-of-tables maneuver—economic, military, cyber, cross-domain, regime-change or any other. … Such approach to stability discussions seems to be in line with U.S.-China negotiations in which the sides explore opportunities for a concept of stability that would be tailored to their specific mutual security concerns.”
  • “The term strategic stability should be reserved for the promise of all relevant parties not to engage in nuclear brinkmanship and to do what it takes to minimize the chances of an outbreak of nuclear war.”

“A Note of Caution on the U.S.-Russia Dialogue,” John Erath, Nukes of Hazard, 10.22.21. The author, senior policy director for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, writes:

  • “It is certainly good news that the United States and Russia are talking about arms control again. Although some might argue that it would be better if China were participating as well, the convening of a dialogue to follow up on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is overdue. Amid the general relief, however, a note of caution would be appropriate. Both sides are calling the process a ‘Strategic Stability Dialogue.’ This should raise concerns over its ultimate conclusion for two main reasons.”
  • “First, the term ‘strategic stability’ has been construed by Putin’s government to have too limited a scope. In Moscow, it is understood clearly to mean that the balance of forces between Russia and the United States (with its NATO Allies included) should be adjusted to compensate for Russia’s perceived military inferiority.”
  • “The second problem with defining arms control with Russia as strategic stability is the lack of ambition. The word stability connotes the absence of change, including change for the better. Whatever their national origin or political affiliation, most would prefer a world with fewer nuclear weapons. By setting ‘stability,’ rather than fewer weapons, as the goal for the dialogue, Moscow is deliberately aiming low.”
  • “As a candidate, President Biden said he wanted to de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons. Doing so will require upsetting the stability that Putin cares about and forcing a real dialogue focused on eventually reducing numbers of nuclear weapons. That might not be stable, but would make the world safer.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

“The ice between the U.S. and Russia may be thawing,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 10.19.21. The author, a columnist for the news outlet, writes:

  • “The joint cybersecurity initiative was packaged in a resolution submitted to the U.N. General Assembly last Friday [Oct. 15]. The language is mostly diplomatic boilerplate, but it commits the two countries to support two U.N. cyber efforts, one Russian-backed and the other American, that a year ago were on a collision course. The resolution has been co-sponsored by 55 countries and will likely pass overwhelmingly before year-end. … Russia and the United States, in essence, have agreed to seek a common set of ‘rules of the road’ to prevent malicious cyberattacks.”
  • “‘What we are doing is to lean into setting norms, standards and rules of the road for cyberspace through the U.N. and other international bodies,’ said the senior State official. A year ago, Washington had been pressing its cybersecurity agenda through a report by the U.N.'s Group of Governmental Experts, while Russia had backed recommendations of a rival forum known as the ‘Open-ended Working Group.’ The joint resolution embraces both.”
  • “A Biden-Putin initiative at Geneva for new talks on strategic stability is also moving forward, but slowly. ... At a time when technology is transforming the future of warfare, the two sides are commendably groping for language with which to discuss arms control efforts in an age with new arsenals of weapons.”
  • Russia has also been helpful on some other issues, officials say. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to press Iran to return to nuclear talks, and Lavrov did so promptly, the State official said. … And though Moscow is aggressively pursuing its own interests in Afghanistan, it has also worked with the United States on some issues after the withdrawal of American troops.”
  • “The most ominous issue ahead is the still mysterious question of the ‘Havana syndrome’ affecting U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers abroad. ... U.S. officials need stronger evidence than they've gathered so far. … If Russia is found to be deliberately targeting U.S. officials, a severe crisis lies ahead, recent cooperation notwithstanding.”

“Ignoring Sanctions, Russia Renews Broad Cybersurveillance Operation,” David E. Sanger, New York Times, 10.25.21. The author, a White House and national security correspondent for the news outlet, writes:

  • “Russia’s premier intelligence agency has launched another campaign to pierce thousands of U.S. government, corporate and think-tank computer networks, Microsoft officials and cybersecurity experts warned on Sunday [Oct. 24], only months after President Biden imposed sanctions on Moscow in response to a series of sophisticated spy operations it had conducted around the world. … Government officials confirmed that the operation, apparently aimed at acquiring data stored in the cloud, seemed to come out of the SVR.”
  • “While Microsoft insisted that the percentage of successful breaches was small, it did not provide enough information to accurately measure the severity of the theft. Earlier this year, the White House blamed the SVR for the so-called SolarWinds hacking … Biden said the attack undercut trust in the government’s basic systems and vowed retaliation for both the intrusion and election interference. But when he announced sanctions against Russian financial institutions and technology companies in April, he pared back the penalties.”
  • “‘Spies are going to spy,’ John Hultquist, the vice president for intelligence analysis at Mandiant, the company that first detected the SolarWinds attack, said … ‘But what we’ve learned from this is that the SVR, which is very good, isn’t slowing down.’”
  • “It is not clear how successful the latest campaign has been. Microsoft said it recently notified more than 600 organizations that they had been the target of about 23,000 attempts to enter their systems. By comparison, the company said it had detected only 20,500 targeted attacks from ‘all nation-state actors’ over the past three years. Microsoft said a small percentage of the latest attempts succeeded but did not provide details or indicate how many of the organizations were compromised.”
  • “A senior administration official called the latest attacks ‘unsophisticated, run-of-the mill operations that could have been prevented if the cloud service providers had implemented baseline cybersecurity practices.’”

Energy exports from CIS:

“How Will Moscow Use Its Energy Leverage Over Europe?,” Alexander Gabuev, Foreign Policy, 10.19.21. The author, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Europe is in the throes of an energy crisis. Supplies of natural gas are so tight that prices are up by almost 400 percent since the start of the year. Utilities are switching to power generated from coal and even fuel oil, two of the world’s dirtiest fuels.” 
  • “The start of additional Gazprom shipments in November is when politics kick in. … Moscow doesn’t want Kyiv to reap extra profits. The Kremlin is very consistent in its attempts to make life difficult for Kyiv and increase Russia’s leverage over Ukraine. Withholding income from gas transit is one tool for achieving that.”
  • “At the same time, Russia is trying to push Germany to give final approval for the start of Nord Stream 2 operations more quickly.”
  • “Russia is also trying to push Europe to move part of its spot market purchases—that is, gas purchased in addition to the fixed volumes secured with long-term contracts—to a new online gas-trading platform in St. Petersburg. The move to St. Petersburg from European gas trading hubs like Rotterdam would give Gazprom and other Russian companies more market power, and they could reap the profits from operating the gas trading hub itself.”
  • “Whether or not Russia will be able to achieve all of these goals at the same time will depend on market conditions, European politics, and, of course, the weather—the stronger wind and more sun Europe needs to produce more energy, and the coming winter in both Europe and Russia. While Gazprom alone does not have the power to restore balance in the European market, the vulnerabilities exposed by the energy crunch have shown that Russia will remain a powerful player in the EU’s energy landscape for a long time to come.”

“Can Russia Really Solve Europe’s Gas Woes on Its Own?” Marcel Salikhov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.22.21. The author, president of the Institute for Energy and Finance think tank, writes:

  • “Europe doesn’t have many options for increasing its gas supplies in the near future. It’s obvious that the main source of additional gas will be Russia. Yet Gazprom’s current output is already close to full capacity, and on balance, it’s unlikely that the company is capable of plugging the deficit in Europe single-handedly. Since independent producers can’t increase production that quickly either, European gas prices will remain high this winter.”

“Letter to the FT editor: An oddity exists in the media’s approach to Russia,” Anthony Brenton, Financial Times, 10.19.21. The author of the letter writes:

  • “It is interesting to see how rapidly ‘false news,’ when it fits the prejudices of the commentariat, can turn into accepted fact. This seems to apply particularly to Russia. Thus the Russo-Georgian war of 2008 has everywhere become ‘Russia’s invasion of Georgia’ even though it was the Georgians who started the fighting. And today Dominique Moïsi (‘France and the UK should be ashamed of their immature squabbles,’ Opinion, Oct. 18) refers to Putin ‘blackmailing’ Europe over gas exports as if it is an obvious truth.”
  • “It isn’t. Russia is fulfilling all its contracts (as confirmed by Angela Merkel) and indeed is currently supplying gas to Europe at near record levels. What is left over they are of course free to auction to the highest bidder (probably China), as we would do if positions were reversed.”
  • “The oddity in our approach is we seem to expect Russia to give us beneficial access to their excess gas while remaining firmly opposed to the new pipeline, Nord Stream 2, which would help them deliver it.”

“Europe’s Gas Crunch Isn’t All Good News For Producers,” Meghan L. O'Sullivan, Bloomberg, 10.09.21. The author, the Jeane Kirkpatrick Professor of the Practice of International Affairs and director of the Geopolitics of Energy Project at Harvard Kennedy School, writes:

  • “The opportunities for enhancing Russia’s ‘great power status’ … are coming faster than he [Putin] can take advantage of them. … As if the calamitous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan wasn’t enough to make Putin smile, the energy crisis unfolding in Europe has put him in the catbird seat. … But Russia is not the original culprit for the crisis as it has unfolded. Instead, the rise in price of natural gas … is the result of a complex set of factors.”
  • “Growing accusations that Russia has been withholding more natural gas from Europe in order to expedite the complex and slow approval process for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany have reached a crescendo in recent days. On Wednesday, Putin finally indicated Europe might look to Russia for help. … The advantages here for Russia go beyond putting Putin in a strong position in dealing with Europe. A similar crisis brewing in Asia also creates opportunities for Moscow to strengthen its ties to Beijing.”
  • “More generally, the crisis is likely to generate a renewed interest in long-term contracts (which afford Russia more influence over the terms) … The fuel crunch could also advance another sort of objective held by Putin: sowing polarization in American domestic politics. … Policy makers should anticipate ways in which Putin will try to use his new leverage. The focus thus far has largely been on Nord Stream 2, but there are other, less-direct places where Russia might try to turn this moment to its advantage.”
  • “Two additional takeaways deserve consideration. First, policy makers—particularly those in Congress—who were placated by the July agreement between the U.S. and Germany over Nord Stream 2 should be on alert not to fall for such vague pledges again. … Second, this energy crisis highlights the vagaries of—and even dangers to—the transition to alternatives. … Equally important, one should not dismiss this energy crunch as a once-off— as it likely will be a repeated feature of the energy transition.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“The Kremlin’s Strange Victory. How Putin Exploits American Dysfunction and Fuels American Decline,” Fiona Hill, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2021. The author, Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, writes:

  • “There is something confounding about the ongoing confrontation between the two counties [the U.S. and Russia], which seems like an artifact from another era. During the Cold War, the stakes of the conflict were undeniable. The Soviet Union posed an existential threat to the United States and its allies, and vice versa. The two superpowers faced off in an ideological clash between capitalism and communism and a geopolitical tussle over spheres of influence in Europe.”
  • “Today, Russia maintains the capacity to obliterate the United States, but the Soviet Union and the communist system are gone. And even though foreign policy circles in Washington and Moscow still view U.S.-Russian relations through the lens of great-power competition, the struggle for Europe is over. For the United States, China, not Russia, poses the greatest foreign policy challenge of the twenty-first century, along with the urgent existential threats of climate change and global pandemics.”
  • “In truth, most American policymakers simply wish that Russia would just go away so they can refocus their attention on what really matters. For their Russian counterparts, however, the United States still represents the main opponent.”
  • “The primary problem for the Biden administration in dealing with Russia is rooted in the domestic politics of the United States and Russia rather than their foreign policies. The two countries have been heading in the same political direction for some of the same reasons over the last several years. They have similar political susceptibilities. The United States will never change Putin and his threat perceptions, because they are deeply personal. Americans will have to change themselves to blunt the effects of Russian political interference campaigns for the foreseeable future. Achieving that goal will require Biden and his team to integrate their approach to Russia with their efforts to shore up American democracy, tackle inequality and racism, and lead the country out of a period of intense division.”

“The Coming Democratic Revival. America’s Opportunity to Lead the Fight Against Authoritarianism,” Madeleine K. Albright, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2021. The author, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former U.S. Secretary of State, writes:

  • “The next 20 years can hardly be less conducive to liberty’s growth than the last. This is the case in part because the world’s two most prominent authoritarian states, China and Russia, have squandered their best chance to offer an appealing alternative to liberal democracy.”
  • “Because people today are more connected and demanding than ever before, governing is harder than it has ever been. Compared to in the past, younger generations have easier access to education, more awareness of one another, less respect for traditional hierarchies and an ingrained belief in their own autonomy. People of all ages observe what others have—and want more. Technology has created in many a thirst for speed and a dearth of patience. Citizens increasingly question what leaders say and are drawn to voices that reject present conditions and promise something better.”
  • “These factors have fueled the rise of demagogues, but they can also undermine the staying power of authoritarian regimes old enough to embody the status quo. There is a limit to how long an autocrat can sustain popularity simply by comparing himself to a despised predecessor. In Russia, Putin is rarely contrasted anymore with the hapless Boris Yeltsin.”
  • “Some of the more vulnerable heavy-handed governments are already facing intensifying pressure from below. In Belarus, a major protest movement has emerged because a growing number of citizens consider President Alexander Lukashenko to be a Russian puppet and want him to leave.”
  • “After too many years of handwringing, the time is right for democratic forces to regain the initiative. Democracy is fragile, but it is also resilient. In every region, the generation coming of age is smart, outspoken and fearless. Worldwide, people are demanding more, while authoritarian leaders are tiring and running out of answers. The Biden administration has before it an opportunity it must seize. Although tattered and torn, freedom’s flag is ready to rise.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Russia’s Road to Autocracy,” Michael McFaul, Journal of Democracy, October 2021. The author, former U.S. ambassador to Russia and a professor of political science at Stanford University, writes:

  • “Brezhnev’s [stagnation] ... is a cautionary tale for those hoping that the current malaise and growing frustration in Russian society will crystallize to produce regime change. It did not under Brezhnev.”
  • “Putin is set in his authoritarian ways … We will never know if Putin could win a free and fair election again, because there will never be such an election while he remains in power. Successful revolution against Putin’s dictatorship seems unlikely … What happens to Russian autocracy after Putin, however, is more uncertain. The current regime is deeply tied to Putin personally. Strikingly, Putin has failed at building an effective political party … Those leading the ‘power’ ministries—the so-called siloviki—will try to sustain Putinism after Putin. But we should not overestimate their capacities.
  • “Russian economic elites are divided ... Amazingly, new political movements offering an alternative future have survived the truly treacherous late Putin years, demonstrating the appeal of their ideas, the resilience of their convictions and the strength of their political, organizational and media skills ... Those empowered or enriched by Putin will fear Navalny and others like him even more in a world without Putin.”
  • “Finally, Russian society is one of the world’s richest and most highly educated that is still ruled by dictatorship. How long will Russia buck the centuries-long trend of modernization fostering democratization? … Modernization theories, however, are bad at point predictions … Both structural and agency theoretical traditions shed only faint light on current regime stability or guidance about future change.”
  • “But which is the more radical prediction—that Putinism will survive another two decades or that a new system, possibly a democratic one, will replace it? The former seems much more unlikely than the latter.”

“Putin’s Labyrinth: Career Stagnation in Russia’s Corridors of Power,” Andrey Pertsev, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.20.21. The author, a journalist with Meduza, writes:

  • “Enough time has passed since September’s State Duma elections to be able to say with confidence that unlike previous elections, they have not led to any noticeable reshuffles within the Russian regime. … The Kremlin’s new staffing policy appears to be: the fewer replacements and reshuffles, the better.”
  • “Just five years ago, it was all change within the system. Putin’s bodyguards were being made regional governors, with the apparent aim of them gaining managerial experience to enable them to go on to ministerial offices … At some point, however, personnel decisions began to stall.”
  • “This year, officials who were expected to move posts but ended up running for second terms include Tver Governor Igor Rudenya and Tula Governor Alexei Dyumin, one of Putin’s former bodyguards. Meanwhile, Anton Vaino, Putin’s chief of staff, holds the record for the longest time spent in the position. It was expected that the State Duma elections would restart the stalled process of career progression, but so far, the trend of conservation remains.”
  • “The path of career progression within the power vertical has stopped being predictable, and has turned into a labyrinth with no windows of opportunity offered by reshuffles. Putin has built this labyrinth to ensure that those members of the elite—and observers—casting around for a successor get lost in the intricate layout of its corridors. But the longer the backlog of appointments and the more decisions are put off, the more obvious the head of state’s efforts to cover up any signs of the power transition. After all, if the president is doing everything he can to demonstrate his antipathy for the transition, that means he must be planning something. The labyrinth is starting to close in on its own architect.”

“How the Arms Control Approach Could Help Russia Tackle Climate Change,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.19.21. The author, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “What is needed today is for various parts of the Russian government to pool their resources. The offices of the president’s special representative for climate issues and the special representative for liaison with international organizations on reaching sustainable development goals are evidently too small to take control. The ministries of foreign affairs, economic development, and finance; the Russian Academy of Sciences; and the Security Council all have an interest and possess valuable expertise on the issues, but none of them can actually be charged with taking the lead on their own.”
  • “The right approach would probably be to create a special unit under a senior official reporting directly to the head of state. That unit would become an interagency coordinator among the many ministries that have interest and expertise on the relevant issues. Also, to borrow a page from the history books on Soviet arms control, a permanent mechanism could be organized of principals and deputies from various parts of the government to discuss and prepare decisions on these matters. This would be an analogue of the Big Five on strategic arms negotiations (the Party Central Committee, the Defense Ministry, the KGB, the Military Industrial Commission of the Council of Ministers and the Foreign Affairs Ministry).”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant developments.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Europe after Merkel: will Germany take a tougher approach?” Guy Chazan and Sam Fleming, Financial Times, 10.21.21. The authors, FT’s Berlin and Brussels bureau chiefs respectively, write:

  • “A paper released last Friday, which will serve as a basis for the three parties’ formal coalition negotiations, was careful to promise continuity. It said Germany would remain committed to NATO and the transatlantic relationship, and to the ‘rules-based international order’ which Merkel came to embody.”
  • “The SPD, Greens and FDP, the paper said, would seek to ‘strengthen the EU,’ ‘increase Europe’s sovereignty’ and pursue a ‘values-based’ foreign policy that could herald a tougher line on China and Russia. ‘We are determined to make the EU more effective and democratic, and will press for an EU that protects its values and rule of law both at home and abroad,’ it said.”
  • “Some senior officials in Brussels play down the idea that Merkel’s departure will leave a vacuum in EU leadership. ‘Germany will always be Germany,’ says a senior EU official, referring to Berlin’s intrinsic heft in the European Council. ‘And don’t underestimate the influence exerted by the [EU] institutions.’ ‘Rumors about the imminent death of the union have been exaggerated before,’ the official says. ‘It’s the same on this occasion.’”


“U.S. Foreign Policy: What Wins Hearts and Minds in Ukraine?” Mikhail Alekseev, PONARS Eurasia, 10.25.21.The author, professor of political science at San Diego State University, writes:

  • “Survey data from Ukraine indicate that Washington has considerable leverage in Ukraine’s society and a substantial reservoir of public goodwill. … To begin with, the overwhelming majority of adult Ukrainians express positive views of their country’s relations with the United States.”
  • “This is according to the annual nationwide survey conducted by the Institute of Sociology of Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences (UNASIS) exactly one year ago in October-November 2020 (N=1,800). A striking 83 percent of respondents said cooperation with the United States was a priority for Ukraine, with close to half of all respondents considering it strategically vital. Nearly 70 percent of respondents believed the United States policies were partly or mostly compatible with Ukraine’s national interest.”
  • “And when asked about U.S. influence on Ukraine’s domestic politics, only 25 percent of respondents felt such influence would harm Ukraine, while 33 percent said it would benefit Ukraine. Another 42 percent were ambivalent, saying U.S. influence is sometimes beneficial. … Support for relations with the United States progressively declines from western to eastern Ukraine ... Assessments of priority, compatibility, and benefits of cooperation with the United States are leaning positive in the West and Center and negative in the South and East (including the government-controlled Donbass areas).”
  • “Standing by Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is pivotal. UNASIS respondents who saw ‘aggression by external enemy’ (implying Russia) as the biggest threat to Ukraine (43 percent) were significantly more likely to see cooperation with the United States as strategically important. … Support of 67 percent of Ukrainians for military cooperation with NATO is another mainstay of public goodwill toward the United States.”
  • “Ukrainians who viewed Russia as Ukraine’s main enemy in the Donbass war rated the U.S. presidents significantly higher than did those who viewed other actors as the main enemy … Surveys indicate that the best way for the United States to win friends and influence people in Ukraine is to help Ukraine develop as a territorially secure, militarily strong, and technologically advanced ally.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Russia’s Neighbors Have More Leverage Than They Think,” Kenneth Yalowitz and William Courtney, The National Interest, 10.23.21. The authors, former U.S. Ambassador to Belarus and Georgia and the former U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia, respectively, write:

  • “While Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia may be top priorities for Russia, Moscow has less room for maneuver than its power might suggest. Ukrainians and Georgians favor closer ties with Europe and Belarusians want free and fair elections and an end to dictatorship. Russia lacks the political and social appeal to dissuade them, or the financial capital to stem China’s economic encroachment to the South.”
  • “Where does this leave the West? Options are limited but not without utility. The West may continue to back the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all former Soviet states, including Russia. This support has built a reservoir of goodwill among many in the region, although not all.”
  • “Encouragement of democratic development and respect for human rights remains a bedrock Western priority, as President Joe Biden emphasizes. Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine may deserve priority for Western democratic energies. Beyond the democratic Baltic states, these countries have made the most progress.”
  • “On the security side, the provision of U.S. military training and equipment to Ukraine and Georgia could strengthen deterrence against further aggression. Previous U.S. attempts to cooperate with Russia on counterterrorism have been frustrating, but there are some common interests in the area around Russia.”
  • “There are few easy solutions to endemic challenges in a post-Soviet region, which Russia so heavily influences. Some of Moscow’s difficulties with neighbors could leave openings for the West. Opportunities to advance democracy and security might not be overlooked. The West has every interest in pursuing a strategy in the post-Soviet sphere that encourages cooperation among neighbors and discourages imperialistic behavior.”

“Azerbaijan’s Aliyev is a Strategic Liability, Not an Asset,” Michael Rubin, The National Interest, 10.22.21 The author, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writes:

  • “Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan for nearly eighteen years, sits atop a mirage. Azerbaijan’s capital Baku exudes wealth.”
  • “Western states have ignored Aliyev’s corruption and repression for a variety of reasons:”
    • “The United Kingdom shields Azerbaijan at international forums because of British Petroleum’s interest in the country’s energy market.”
    • “Beijing’s ambitions in Azerbaijan are quickly growing, which ironically makes China and the United Kingdom allies in the United Nations Security Council offering blind support to Azerbaijan.”
    • “Israel, meanwhile, has long-standing ties with Azerbaijan that are rooted in the arms-for-energy trade.”
    • “Traditionally, both Israel and the United States also value Azerbaijan for its strategic location … against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
    • “Azerbaijan’s reputation for religious tolerance and secularism also attracts many Western supporters.”
  • “While Azerbaijan has generally protected its Jewish community, Aliyev’s government has long targeted Azerbaijan’s Christians, in some cases by erasing centuries-old cultural property like the graveyard in Julfa that Azerbaijani troops systematically destroyed. More recently, Aliyev’s cooperation with and tolerance for Syrian jihadi mercenaries … raise questions about his outlook.”
  • “[W]hat really makes Azerbaijan a strategic liability, is Aliyev’s increasing unwillingness to live within Azerbaijan’s borders.”
  • “As Aliyev seeks to promote his wife and son to succeed him, ordinary Azerbaijanis grow increasingly frustrated with their plight. They also see the cost of Aliyev’s Nagorno-Karabakh victory: infringement on Azerbaijani sovereignty by Russian and Turkish troops. [F]ew Azeris who originate from [Nagorno-Karabakh] are prepared to return permanently, given the region’s lack of jobs and their new roots in and around Baku. In effect, Aliyev wants to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure and Potemkin ghost towns that few Azeris want to reside in permanently during a shaky time for Azerbaijan’s economy, the rise in oil prices notwithstanding.”