Russia Analytical Report, Oct. 19-26, 2020

This Week’s Highlights

  • New START must be extended without delay, but it is now threatened by a risky game of chicken being played by Presidents Trump and Putin, write former top-level U.S. officials George P. Shultz, William J. Perry and Sam Nunn. The United States, Russia, China and other nuclear powers need time to address the range of destabilizing factors that threaten to turn a conditional peace into an irreparable catastrophe, they write. As a first significant step China could be invited to join the United States and Russia in restating the Reagan-Gorbachev principle: "A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." 
  • If U.S. President Donald Trump does get reelected, Russia will continue to gloat, take advantage of the fragility of American politics and capitalize on the lack of Western unity, writes Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Moscow Center. But there is also a feeling of Trump fatigue, she writes, from the destruction of the strategic relationship, the threat to Nord Stream 2 and Russia’s status as a hostage of U.S. politics. All of this means that, moving forward, Joe Biden’s victory wouldn’t be the worst thing for Russia. 
  • The only countries that can prevent a war without end or a latter-day Russian-Turkish great-power deal—while reaching a fair settlement—are Armenia and Azerbaijan themselves, writes Carnegie Europe’s Thomas de Waal. But doing that would require them to conclude that resolving their conflict is more in their common interest than persisting with military force or allowing others to resolve it for them. The current bitterness and bloodshed sadly suggest that such a decision is not close at hand, according to de Waal. Even if this round of fighting ends in Azerbaijan’s favor, Armenians will not give up. The dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh will likely remain unresolved for another generation to come. 
  • Turkey’s willingness to take a major military role in support of Azerbaijan in the fighting that began Sept. 27 shows that Russian power no longer has the deterrent effect it once did against intervention by outside powers, writes Philip Remler, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Russian interests themselves are not yet seriously threatened, but expansion of those interests has been blunted. One can say, then, Remler argues, that Russia’s policies in the South Caucasus and in the wider post-Soviet space have forced it back on the stony path it had been treading for a generation and will probably tread for some time to come. 
  • The creation of the Special Operation Command (SOC) and the Military Police (MP) and the development of private military companies (PMCs) in Russia are partly inspired by Western models through extensive studies of foreign practices and military cooperation, and partly stem from centuries-old Russian military traditions, writes Emmanuel Dreyfus, a doctoral candidate at the Université Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas.


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

Nuclear security:

“US Nonproliferation Cooperation With Russia and China: A Call for Finding Common Ground With Great Power Rivals” Robert Einhorn, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 10.19.20: The author, a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, writes:

  • “The United States has at times worked cooperatively with Russia and China to promote shared nonproliferation objectives. But with no end in sight to the current precipitous decline in Washington’s bilateral relations with Moscow and Beijing, constructive engagement on today’s nonproliferation challenges has become increasingly problematic. Unless the United States and its two great power competitors can find a way to carve out areas of cooperation in otherwise highly adversarial relationships, the remarkably positive record of international efforts to prevent additional countries from acquiring weapons will be difficult to sustain.”
  • “From sometimes partners to frequent foes, this Occasional Paper examines the history of U.S. cooperation with Russia and China on key issues including Iran, North Korea, Syria, international nonproliferation mechanisms and nuclear security. It also outlines the obstacles to future nonproliferation cooperation, as well as the growing proliferation threats that require such cooperation. Most importantly, it identifies several possible areas where the United States can hope to find common ground with both countries.”
  • “With relationships with Russia and China reaching new lows and unlikely to improve for the foreseeable future, finding a way to for the United States to work cooperatively with both countries will not be easy. Bridges to constructive engagement have been burned and will be difficult to rebuild. However, the author points out that constituencies for cooperation remain in all three countries, including in government bureaucracies.”

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

“‘Maximum Pressure Brought Down the Soviet Union’ and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves,” Philip H. Gordon, War on the Rocks, 10.22.20: The author, the Mary and David Boies Senior Fellow in U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes:

  • “As the Donald Trump administration prosecutes its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran, proponents of that policy regularly invoke the Cold War as a model for how the policy is supposed to work. In this version of history, President Ronald Reagan allegedly … brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union through a policy of massive defense spending, economic warfare, support for proxies and an ideological offensive. Curiously—and problematically—one of the key sources for this line of thinking appears to be a 26-year-old book by the conservative activist Peter Schweizer on what he calls Reagan’s ‘secret strategy’ that is newly popular among administration officials and their supporters.”
  • “The obvious implication of the Cold War analogy is that a similar approach is what is required to bring down the Iranian regime, as well as the hostile regimes in Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba and potentially even China. It was not a coincidence that shortly after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018—Pompeo chose the Ronald Reagan Library … as the venue for a speech to the Iranian diaspora. If the United States just keeps up the pressure, the logic goes, these regimes will end up, like the communists in Moscow, on the ash heap of history.”
  • “[The demise of the Soviet empire] was not the result of a U.S. policy of regime change. If U.S. policy in the Cold War is going to inform policy choices today, it is important to understand what that policy actually was.”
  • “The Soviet Union’s positive evolution, whose timing could not be controlled nor predicted, took place not as a result of a U.S. policy of total confrontation, let alone military intervention, but at the end of a long, patient, process of deterrence, diplomacy, arms control, soft power and alliances. As they formulate policy today, current leaders would do well to keep this actual history in mind—rather than the dangerous caricature embraced by Trump and his supporters.”

“The Era of Full-Spectrum War Is Here. China won round one, and round two went to Russia. Can the United States and its allies take the third?” Jeffrey A. Stacey, Foreign Policy, 10.23.20: The author, a former official in the U.S. State Department, writes:

  • “Foreign-policy experts have spilled much ink in the debate over whether the United States is, or is not, in a new cold war—whether with China, or Russia, or perhaps both. Whatever observers call it, it should be abundantly clear that Russia and China have more severely harmed the core national security interests of the United States and its allies than either ever did on a battlefield or during the entirety of the classic Cold War. … Rather, what China and Russia have pulled off might be more usefully thought of as ‘full-spectrum warfare,’ which comprises full-bore geopolitical challenges by traditional military and nonmilitary means.”
  • “In round one of the era of full-spectrum warfare, China won. For the past decade and a half, Chinese government hackers stole unimaginable amounts of intellectual property from the United States … and others.”
  • “In Europe, Russia meddled in elections across the continent on behalf of populists. … And further afield, Russia allegedly paid the Taliban bounties for killing U.S. and British soldiers, has largely displaced the United States in Syria after Trump’s ill-advised abandonment of the Kurds, has intervened in Libya and has sold Turkey, a NATO ally, its S-400 anti-aircraft missile system. More recently, Russia has gained momentum in the Balkans and Central Europe, with pro-Western governments getting the boot from office in Kosovo and Montenegro. And in the last few weeks, Russia has been helping Armenia in its war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.”
  • “And that brings us to round three. … Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a truce with the United States concerning election interference and has begun to hedge Russia’s bets by praising Democratic candidate Joe Biden. China is likely to follow suit. But the next U.S. administration cannot forget the severe damage both countries have done to the United States and its friends.”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“The Extension of a Nuclear Treaty Between the US and Russia Would Be a Crucial, Responsible Step,” George P. Shultz, William J. Perry and Sam Nunn, The Washington Post, 10.22.20: The authors, a former U.S. secretary of state, a former defense secretary and former Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, write:

  • “The United States and Russia should seal the deal now to extend New START … Despite the significant progress of reducing total nuclear stockpiles by 75 percent since their Cold War heights, the danger of nuclear weapon use is growing.”
  • “New START must be extended without delay, but it is now threatened by a risky game of chicken being played by Presidents Trump and Putin. Skillful diplomacy between the United States and Russia could extend the life of the agreement by up to five years, as provided for in the treaty, and as Russia offered last year. This would allow precious time for negotiating deeper reductions in the world's two biggest nuclear arsenals. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has insisted on the inclusion of China … in future nuclear negotiations. The goal is laudable, but China must be persuaded to join, not bullied by diplomatic stunts and threats.”
  • “The Trump administration's pursuit of a freeze on all U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads is also an important goal, but it will take time to develop an agreement with meaningful constraints and verification provisions. Russia has its own list of issues to be addressed in the next treaty.”
  • “With the foundation of New START in place, all of the two countries' nuclear weapons … should be subject to limits. But the United States and Russia will have to invest the time and effort necessary to establish new verification methods. Other long-standing issues will need to be discussed in parallel, including ballistic-missile defense; weapons in space; precision-guided, long-range conventional arms; and emerging technologies, including cyber.”
  • “Is there reason for hope? Can the world get onto a less dangerous path? We believe the answer is yes, but the United States and Russia must extend New START to preserve what is already working and to gain time for discussions about what can be done next.”

“Russia Is Hedging Its Arms Control Bets on Next US Administration,’ George Beebe, The National Interest, 10.20.20The author, vice president and director of studies at the Center for the National Interest, writes:

  • “[Russians] cannot have failed to note that the Biden campaign has underscored the importance of ‘maintaining strategic stability’ with Russia through arms control, even though Biden has also called for ‘confronting Russian aggression.’”
  • “Moreover, Russian officials know and respect several people expected to play senior national security roles in a Biden administration. These include former Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, who earned a reputation in Moscow for tough but fair pragmatism during his time as U.S. ambassador to Russia, and Rose Gottemoeller, who was Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov’s American counterpart in negotiating the New START treaty, and one of the authors of an open letter calling for a more balanced and pragmatic approach to dealing with Russia. Biden’s tough talk about standing up to Putin aside, the Kremlin probably expects it could do business with his team on strategic issues.”
  • “These factors explain Russia’s caution in considering Trump’s proposal on New START extension. Should he pull off an upset reelection victory, Moscow would remain positioned to move quickly on a formal agreement to extend the treaty and proceed with negotiations on its successor. Should Biden win, the Russians would have done little to alienate the new administration by providing Trump with a pre-election foreign policy win. In an American election in which neither contender wants the taint of Russian support, keeping these options open is no easy task.” 

“US Officials Give Confusing Comparisons of US and Russian Nuclear Forces,” Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, Federation of American Scientists, 10.22.20The authors, the director and a research associate of the Nuclear Information Project at FAS, write:

  • “There is nothing wrong with trying to broaden arms control to other weapons categories and countries. We strongly support that. But the last-minute flurry and attempts to shorten extension strongly suggest that the Trump administration has been more focused on creating chaos and to appear tough on Moscow and Beijing than to create nuclear arms control progress. The one-year timeline unnecessarily constrains both countries and could well mean that they would be in pretty much the same situation one year from now.”
  • “The inconvenient fact is that New START is working as designed and keeps the vast majority of Russian and U.S. strategic arsenals in check, prevents either country from uploading thousands of extra warheads onto their deployed missiles and offers a modicum of predictability in an otherwise unpredictable world.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

Airstrikes on Camp for Turkish-Backed Rebels in Syria Kill Dozens,” Sarah Dadouch and Kareem Fahim, The Washington Post, 10.26.20: The authors, a correspondent and the Istanbul bureau chief for the news outlet, write:

  • “Airstrikes against a training camp for Turkish-backed rebels in northwest Syria killed dozens of fighters on Monday [Oct. 26], according to a rebel spokesman, who estimated that more than 170 people had been either killed or wounded. The strikes killed at least 75 soldiers from the Sham Legion, a rebel group that falls under the Turkey-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL), an umbrella rebel group in northwest Syria. Russia accuses Sham Legion of sending some of its troops to Libya and Azerbaijan to fight as mercenaries on behalf of Turkey against forces aligned with Russia.” 
  • “The attack was one of the most serious breaches of a cease-fire deal struck between Turkey and Russia in April, said Maj. Yousef Hamoud, the spokesman for the rebel Turkey-backed National Army, which falls under the NFL. Hamoud said the attack was carried out by a Russian aircraft that had taken off from Russia’s large Hmeimim air base in Latakia province in northwest Syria. The Russian state-owned Sputnik news agency, however, said the raid was conducted by Syrian warplanes.”
  • “A rivalry between Russia and Turkey has heated up as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expands his military reach abroad, including into areas where Moscow is also pursuing its own interests.”  
  • “Russian officials have criticized Turkey for sending … Syrian mercenaries to fight on behalf of Azerbaijan, saying this could allow hard-line Islamist fighters to enter Russia. Turkey has repeatedly denied dispatching mercenaries.” 

“The United States Can Counter Putin and Assad With a Light Footprint in Syria,” Amy Austin Holmes, Foreign Policy, 10.21.20: The author, an associate professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo, writes:

  • “For more than eight years, the leaders of North and East Syria have pursued their project of self-rule in defiance of the Assad regime in Damascus. The Kurdish-led region has withstood the Islamic State, multiple Turkish interventions, a partial U.S. withdrawal and the deployment of Russian troops.”
  • “Perhaps disappointingly for Putin, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have maintained their unified command structure. Instead of suffering defections in the face of the Turkish onslaught and deployment of Russian and regime troops, the SDF stood their ground. The SDF now has an estimated 100,000 fighters and includes internal security forces. It is the second-largest armed force in all of Syria, second only to Assad’s army.”
  • “Both Putin and Assad want the SDF to surrender to the Syrian Arab Army. This is key to reasserting regime control over the semi-autonomous region. But the commander-in-chief of the SDF, Gen. Mazloum Abdi, has no plans to do so.”
  • “It’s time that Washington stop treating the SDF as just a tool to defeat the Islamic State. The SDF and autonomous administration have also held territory after liberating it from the Caliphate, made the Northeast the most stable region of Syria, and have refused—for more than eight years—to surrender to Assad. An alternative to the Assad regime is already on the horizon; the U.S. government just needs to acknowledge it.”

Cyber security:

“The Past, Present and Future of Russia’s Cyber Strategy and Forces,” Bilyana Lilly and Joe Cheravitch, International Conference on Cyber Conflict, October 2020: The authors, affiliates of the RAND corporation, write:

  • “Russian cyberattacks against military and civilian infrastructure in the West have become a persistent challenge. Despite the importance of this topic and the excellent scholarship already published on these issues, there is a need for more detailed data and analysis on the role of cyberattacks in Russia's security strategy and its reflection in the evolution of Russia's cyber forces.”
  • “A better understanding of Russia's strategy and cyber actors, particularly the growing role of the military in these issues, can facilitate an improvement in Western governments' policies to defend against future Russian activity. To address this issue, this article will outline the role of information and cyber operations in Russia's information warfare doctrine and will analyze the recruitment efforts and modus operandi of Russia's cyber departments, particularly psychological and cyber operations units within military intelligence. The paper will conclude by examining the likely future of Russia's behavior in cyberspace and how various state-sponsored actors might influence it.”
  • “Although Russia's doctrine suggests a defensive and cooperative posture in response to threats in the information space, officials' promulgations and military literature reveal a predilection for the development of offensive cyber capabilities and operations, which are shaped by Russia's threat perceptions and doctrine, and the institutional cultures of the departments within the military conducting them.”

Elections interference:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“A Farewell to Trump? Russia’s Elite Braces for US Elections,” Tatiana Stanovaya, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.21.20: The author, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Biden’s positions on specific issues, such as his readiness to extend … New START, are of secondary importance. In first place is Trump’s propensity for isolationism: he doesn’t intervene in Russia’s internal affairs, or in conflicts in the post-Soviet space, or even in Syria. This thinking is popular among the Russian siloviki (security services), who would like to come to an agreement with Washington on specific practical matters, while staying out of each other’s way in areas over which they disagree. This school of thought does not include any expectation of a breakthrough in relations.”
  • “Then there are those in the Russian elite who see more problems from Trump’s presidency than advantages. These people include a sizeable proportion of the diplomatic service and other experts who advise the authorities on foreign policy issues, but who don’t take part in the decision-making process. As far as they are concerned, the increased unpredictability and reduced professionalism of U.S. politics under Trump is a threat not only to the U.S. state, but to the entire global community, including Russia.  Many of those people believe that a Clinton presidency would actually have been less harmful for Russia.”
  • “The final school of thought is a very simple one: the worse relations with Washington are, the more grounds there are for pursuing a conservative and repressive agenda at home, which boosts the position of some within the elite. … The voice of this last group is for now on the periphery of foreign policy discussions within the Kremlin, but is getting louder and more frequently heard.”
  • “Of course, if Trump does get reelected, Russia will continue to gloat, take advantage of the fragility of American politics and capitalize on the lack of Western unity. But there is also a feeling of Trump fatigue … All of this means that, moving forward, Biden’s victory wouldn’t be the worst thing for Russia.”

“Make Russia Sanctions Effective Again,” Edward Fishman, War on the Rocks, 10.23.20: The author, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, writes:

  • "Effective sanctions programs seek to achieve clearly articulated aims through a combination of economic pressure and a credible offer of relief. Ineffective sanctions suffer from a boundless range of maladies, from convoluted goals to overpoliticization. Their only commonality is that they satisfy U.S. officials’ urge to do something without necessarily advancing American interests.”
  • “Today, U.S. sanctions against Russia are ineffective. The sanctions created by the administration of President Barack Obama … remain on the books. But Russia’s economy has adapted, and the Kremlin now subscribes to a narrative that the United States will ‘never’ lift sanctions, reducing its incentive to satisfy U.S. demands. The result is a feckless sanctions program that no longer exerts meaningful pressure on Moscow.”
  • “The next U.S. administration, working in concert with the European Union, should thus be precise in what it aims to achieve with the existing sanctions: Russia’s full implementation of the Minsk agreements and restoration of Ukraine’s control over the Donbas."
  • "The goal of these sanctions isn’t to persuade Moscow to relinquish its claims on Crimea … The goal is to make it harder and costlier for the Kremlin to integrate the territory into the Russian Federation, adding teeth to a long-term policy of diplomatic non-recognition and demonstrating the pitfalls of annexing territory.”
  • "In the economic domain ... the United States holds a massive asymmetric advantage. It is thus essential to use that advantage to good effect. This exercise should be a top U.S. priority: For the foreseeable future, there can be no effective Russia policy without an effective Russia sanctions policy."

“Russia and the Soviet Union: Solzhenitsyn Knew the Difference,” Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Wall Street Journal, 10.24.20: The author, a conductor, pianist and editor of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's memoirs, writes:

  • “'The insane difficulty of the situation is that I can't ally myself with the Communists, our country's butchers—but I can't ally myself with our country's enemies either,’ my father, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, wrote in 1982. … The great author, through his book ‘The Gulag Archipelago’ (1973) and fiery speeches in the West, earned his reputation as communism's most implacable foe. Yet, as evident in the quote above from his memoirs … during the Cold War he was already discerning a new and unforeseen peril: that Russian-Western mistrust might endure long past the fall of communism.”
  • “Fast-forward to 2020. Grievances between Russia and the West have been amply cataloged … So could a relationship really be reforged if these proximate offenses were mitigated? The two major U.S. political parties could never unite around a principled anticommunism during the Cold War but now sing from the same hymnal about the menace of an ever-rising Russian nationalism. This peculiar circumstance … exposes a deeper cleft and demands an examination of historical roots.”
  • “The West has blurred any meaningful distinction between the totalitarian jackboot of the USSR and the soft authoritarianism of a comparatively free Russia, and confused ‘Russian’ and ‘Soviet’ … “‘Russian' is to 'Soviet' as 'man' is to 'disease,'" wrote Solzhenitsyn. An unintended consequence: the unprecedented Russian consensus of liberal society and illiberal government, who agree on little, except that the West won't like Russia no matter what she does.”
  • “If Western policy makers' objective remains to bring Russia into the community of free nations, they might heed Solzhenitsyn's plea and engage with Russia equitably, according to the virtues or failings of current policy, rather than judge her reflexively by a fictitious, maleficent historical narrative that bars any path forward.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • No significant developments.

Defense and aerospace:

“Emulation and Military Change in Russia,” Emmanuel Dreyfus, Russia Matters, 10.23.20: The author, a doctoral candidate at the Université Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas, writes:

  • “Launched in 2008 in the wake of the Five-Day War with Georgia, Russia’s “Novyy Oblik” military reform has been extensively studied and analyzed. … Numerous changes and innovations were brought to the Russian armed forces since the launch of the so-called “Novyy Oblik” reform in 2008, including the Special Operation Command (SOC), developed between 2009 and 2013, the Military Police (MP), created in 2012, and so-called private military companies (PMCs). While PMCs are not part of the Russian armed forces per se, including them in the broad field of military change makes sense, considering their growing role in Moscow’s military interventions. These structures possess three common features.”
  • “First, their extended use both in Ukraine (SOC and PMCs) and in Syria (SOC, PMCs and MP) confirms their operational value.”
  • “Second, officials from the Russian defense establishment describe them, particularly the SOC and the MP, as ‘innovative.’”
  • “However—and this is the third feature—a closer look reveals that these structures were in fact not created from scratch and all exemplify military emulation.”
  • “The creation of the SOC, the MP and the development of PMCs are partly inspired by Western models through extensive studies of foreign practices and military cooperation, and partly stem from centuries-old Russian military traditions. Underlining the search for greater effectiveness, identified as a driving factor of military emulation by Kenneth Waltz in his ‘Theory of International Politics,’ is paramount. It is equally important to distinguish characteristics generated by the observation of Western models from specific Russian domestic practices. Academic considerations set aside, such distinctions are essential to better grasp what’s actually happening in the various conflicts where Moscow is involved.”

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:

  • No significant developments.

China-Russia: Allied or Aligned?

  • No significant developments.

War in Karabakh:

“No Compromise in Sight for Armenia and Azerbaijan. A Century-Long Search for an Impossible Victory in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Thomas de Waal, Foreign Affairs, 10.26.20: The author, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, writes:

  • “The conflict comes at an especially bad international moment—which may be why Azerbaijan chose this time to act. The United States has been largely disengaged for years. … Russia’s strategy of equivocation and balancing has been exposed: if Moscow openly supports its military ally, Armenia, it will instantly lose its other valued partner, Azerbaijan.”
  • “Turkey, a player that had not intervened in the region in exactly 100 years, has again weighed in: Ankara may have initiated the new conflict by giving direct military assistance to Azerbaijan—and in so doing, raising old, existential fears among the Armenians. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aid to Baku may be guided more by domestic politics and solidarity with a Turkic nation than a genuine strategic interest in the Caucasus, but his supply of lethal military drones to Azerbaijan has thus far been the decisive factor in the war.”
  • “If the Azerbaijani advance is slowed by winter or highland geography, the conflict could turn into a slow war of attrition around Nagorno-Karabakh itself, where Armenian forces are still dug in. If Azerbaijani forces succeed in encircling Nagorno-Karabakh, cutting its supply lines to Armenia, a humanitarian catastrophe could ensue.”
  • “The only countries that can prevent a war without end or a latter-day Russian-Turkish great-power deal—while reaching a fair settlement—are Armenia and Azerbaijan themselves. But doing that would require them to conclude that resolving their conflict is more in their common interest than persisting with military force or allowing others to resolve it for them. The current bitterness and bloodshed sadly suggest that such a decision is not close at hand. Even if this round of fighting ends in Azerbaijan’s favor, Armenians will not give up. The dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh will likely remain unresolved for another generation to come.”

“Russia’s Reach Exceeds Its Grasp Over the Karabakh Conflict,” Neil Melvin, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), 10.22.20: The author, the director of international security studies at RUSI, writes:

  • “While there has been considerable focus on Turkey’s role in deploying foreign fighters, notably from Syria, to the Karabakh conflict, Turkey appears to be playing a larger strategic role. As European and Eurasian integration has faltered, it has extended its influence via a regional agenda stretching from Libya and the East Mediterranean through Syria and now to the Black Sea and South Caucasus.”
  • “While stressing their own special relationship (‘two states, one nation’), Azerbaijan and Turkey have sought to highlight Russia’s role as patron and protector of Armenia as a means to weaken Moscow’s claim to have a balanced approach to the conflict.”
  • “While the current ceasefire has faltered, the end of the present round of fighting may nevertheless be nearing. With winter approaching and with Azerbaijan having made enough territorial gains to claim battlefield success and to allow those displaced by the 1991–94 war to return to their former homes, Baku may be ready to call a halt to its offensive.”
  • “In this situation, Russia faces a difficult choice. Moscow can continue to pursue a mediator role, but this has already publicly failed. Russia’s carefully crafted balancing position increasingly rings hollow, especially in Azerbaijan. Further, this approach risks Turkey emerging as a regional kingmaker if Azerbaijan achieves its goals through military force. Alternatively, Russia can intervene militarily to deter or even counter Azerbaijan, but that would finally shatter Moscow’s position as a balancing power and lead to the regionalization of the conflict, with Turkey and possibly Iran becoming more involved.”

“The Democratization of Precision Strike in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict,” Jack Watling and Sidharth Kaushal, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), 10.22.20: Watling, a research fellow for land warfare, and Kaushal, a research fellow for sea power, both at RUSI, write:

  • “When Azerbaijan started its offensive on 27 September, its initial thrusts to seize villages overlooking key road links were fiercely resisted by Armenian forces. Both sides took casualties, but with an important difference. Azeri casualties were concentrated in the frontline maneuver elements conducting the attacks, and Azeri tanks were knocked out by anti-tank guided missiles. This is what one would expect, with the Azeris taking more losses when attacking.”
  • “By contrast, Armenian casualties were distributed throughout the depth of the battlespace. The Azeris used long-range fires and UAVs to strike assembly areas, command posts, logistics and maneuver elements as they approached the combat area. The effect of this approach has been that while Armenian forces have fought well in the close battle, they have become less effective as the conflict continued and reinforcements and resupply faltered. Azerbaijan has subsequently made significant territorial gains.”
  • “Azerbaijan’s concept of operations is far from revolutionary, resembling the US Air/Land Battle doctrine. But Azerbaijan has a defense budget of under $2 billion. That a country such as Azerbaijan was able to effect precision strikes at operational depth—once thought to be the sole preserve of great powers—by using a range of relatively cheap tools to substitute for its lack of a robust air force is strategically noteworthy. In the future, Western forces should anticipate a robust, layered threat to the safety of their rear areas, even when facing sub-peer opponents.”

“Turkey Is Prolonging the Bloodshed in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Maya Carlin, The National Interest, 10.22.20: The author, an analyst at the Center for Security Policy, writes:

  • “Turkey used its state media apparatus to produce false reports of “threats” from Armenia prior to the flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh. Mainstream media sources in Ankara touted headlines claiming Armenia had aided the transfer of PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) terrorists from Syria and Iraq to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, a narrative that plays off Turkey’s long use of the “threat of PKK” to justify its militant operations around the globe.”
  • “Ankara’s contribution to the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict is not limited to its weapons sales and military coordination with Baku. Evidence that Turkey is using Syrian rebels to fight its proxy wars is mounting.”
  • “As the violence continues to escalate, prospects for a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are dim. As long as Turkey continues its malign involvement in the struggle, cease-fires will be impossible to maintain and the death toll will only rise.”


“Ukrainian Local Elections: Zelenskyy Fairytale Is Over,” Anders Åslund, Atlantic Council, 10.26.20: The author, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, writes:

  • “On October 25, Ukraine held nationwide local elections. The vote was important as an indication of the political climate in the country just over a year since President Zelenskyy acquired unprecedented power via landslide victories in Ukraine’s presidential and parliamentary elections. It also had considerable practical significance in terms of the enhanced power bestowed on local authorities thanks to a decentralization process.”
  • “First, this was a vote in favor of local strongmen. Incumbent mayors look to have won virtually everywhere. … Second, participation was very low, with an estimated turnout of only 37 percent. … Third, all of the national parties received a big vote of no confidence from the Ukrainian electorate. The pro-Kremlin Opposition Platform–For Life party did comparatively well, while President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party performed particularly poorly. However, none of the country’s national parties proved themselves capable of overcoming the local parties of individual city mayors. … The fourth key conclusion from Ukraine’s local elections is that Ukrainian democracy remains vibrant. At this stage, it appears that only the mayors of Kharkiv and Vinnytsia gained absolute majorities in the first round and will avoid head-to-head runoffs.”
  • “A substantial section numbering 40-45 MPs have already aligned themselves with oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskiy, who also controls the For the Future party with 24 MPs. Will Kolomoiskiy now seek to break up the president’s ruling majority and acquire additional MPs?”
  • “More recently, Zelenskyy’s party has voted against reforms together with the pro-Kremlin Opposition Platform-For Life party led by Putin’s unofficial representative in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk. This alliance with Medvedchuk has coincided with a sharp drop in public support for Zelenskyy and his party. The obvious conclusion is that Ukrainians don’t approve of the president’s pro-Russian, anti-reform course. Are Zelenskyy and his inner circle listening?”


  • No significant developments.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Russia’s Stony Path in the South Caucasus,” Philip Remler, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 10.20.20: The author, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes:

  • “Moscow’s stifling embrace of rulers such as Sargsyan and Khajimba led to popular discontent and their forcible ousters. The precedents set on Ukrainian territory led Azerbaijan to proceed with extreme caution in its relations with Russia. And Russia’s expansionist policies with regard to Abkhazia and South Ossetia have guaranteed the hostility of the Georgian populace and repudiation by what might have been a friendlier government.”
  • “As observers have noted, major outside powers such as China, Turkey, and the EU have capitalized on local suspicions of Russia.  They have developed strong interests in all three South Caucasus countries and have the wherewithal to defend those interests against Russian maneuvering, while also providing the locals with greater room for maneuver.”
  • “Turkey’s willingness to take a major military role in support of Azerbaijan in the fighting that began September 27 shows that Russian power no longer has the deterrent effect it once did against intervention by outside powers. Russian interests themselves are not yet seriously threatened, but expansion of those interests has been blunted. One can say, then, that Russia’s policies in the South Caucasus and in the wider post-Soviet space have forced it back on the stony path it had been treading for a generation and will probably tread for some time to come.”

“A Realpolitik Appraisal of Russia’s Motivations and Goals in Ukraine,” Sumantra Maitra, The National Interest, 10.19.20: The author, a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, writes:

  • “Russia clearly considers NATO enlargement in Ukraine and Georgia as a threat, and does not differentiate between EU, NATO and the United States. Russian rhetoric about EU interference in Belarus is similar. It is perpetually worried about NATO troops and armor being placed close to Russian borders. Moscow’s intention of safeguarding its own sphere of influence naturally leads to a clash of interests in countries like Georgia and Ukraine, which have repeatedly expressed a desire to join Euro-Atlantic institutions. With Russia’s rearmament, EU expansion and NATO enlargement, and the erosion of buffer zones, the opportunities for a conflict breaking out have increased, even though there’s no evidence of active American support coming to the defense of Ukraine and Georgia.”
  • “Recent experiences have demonstrated that Moscow can easily salami-slice regions and enclaves of countries which are still not part of NATO, creating new instances of fait-accompli and strengthening its regional strategic position.”
  • “Both NATO and the United States are helpless in preventing these sorts of changes. For one, there is no evidence that either Europeans or Americans are willing to confront Russia militarily over its sphere of influence. This was evident by the lack of direct action undertaken during both Bush and Obama administrations in regards to the Georgian war in 2008 and the war in Ukraine from 2014 onwards. That is a prudent policy, as great powers should be wary of being drawn in a conflict with peer powers, dragged by smaller states. It is a policy that is unlikely to change, even with events in Belarus, regardless of which party is in power in Washington.”

“Who’s in Charge Following Revolution in Kyrgyzstan?” Temur Umarov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.26.20: The author, a consultant at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes:

  • “Despite his current reputation as a protester against the regime he has just toppled,  Japarov is no stranger to the Kyrgyz ruling elite. Until 2005, he was the head of the Nurneftegaz oil refinery, which was accused of corporate tax evasion on his watch. He rode into politics atop the wave of the first Kyrgyz revolution in 2005, which brought President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to power.”
  • “Today, Japarov talks a lot about patriotism and fighting corruption, but his opponents insist that as an adviser responsible for tackling graft under Bakiyev, he was in fact tasked with concealing corrupt schemes within the president’s inner circle.”
  • “When the second Kyrgyz revolution of 2010 toppled Bakiyev, Japarov disappeared for a couple of months, before resurfacing in the country’s south, where together with his friend Kamchybek Tashiev, he took part in the interethnic strife between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks there. While Japarov claims he and Tashiev “prevented the further mutual destruction of two peoples,” witnesses say they helped the Kyrgyz nationalists. Japarov’s involvement in the bloody clashes secured him a reputation as Kyrgyzstan’s chief patriot.”
  • “Now, without alienating his own supporters, Japarov must persuade Kyrgyzstan’s main partners—Moscow and Beijing—that they can deal with him, despite his alarming nationalist rhetoric. Back when Bakiyev was president, he tried to play the anti-Russian card, and it ended in disaster for him. Meanwhile, anti-Chinese protests that have occurred, together with vandalism and attacks on Chinese workers, have frightened China, which could further toughen its position on collecting the debt it is owed at any time.”
  • “Japarov’s meteoric rise was fueled by a fortunate combination of two political assets: popular radical rhetoric, and connections with influential people. But it’s unlikely they can both be juggled for long.”

“Kyrgyzstan’s Descent Into Mob Rule Bodes Ill for Its Future,” Paul Stronski, World Politics Review, 10.23.20: The author, a senior fellow with Carnegie's Russia and Eurasia Program, writes:

  • “Kyrgyzstan is in the midst of historic political upheaval, spurred on by nearly three decades of government misrule, a frustrated civil society and the rise of unsavory criminal groups to positions of power. With the resignation last week of President Sooronbai Jeenbekov amid mass protests, and his shocking replacement by a convicted felon freshly sprung from jail, the Central Asian nation looks set for more volatility—and the Kyrgyz people will pay the price.”