Russia Analytical Report, Oct. 2-10, 2023

6 Ideas to Consider

  1. An existential threat to Israel could draw American attention away from the Ukrainian cause, possibly smoothing a path toward a Russian triumph in Europe,” CFR’s Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware write in War on the Rocks. NYT editors raise a related concern, warning that “the violence in Israel may also strengthen calls to cut military aid to Ukraine.” The conflict can also push the Kremlin even closer to Iran, European officials told FP. However, R.Politik’s Tatiana Stanovaya is skeptical. Moscow is more likely to keep its position as a mediator, aiming to counter Western influence and interact as a constructive peace broker,” she writes in the latest issue of her bulletin.  When seen from inside the Kremlin walls, the Hamas attacks and Israel’s response to them represent an opportunity to accuse the U.S. of failing to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestinians. Vladimir Putin made such an accusation on Oct. 10, calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict that would pave the way for an independent Palestinian state.
  2. The U.S. should not be “lulled into any kind of false complacency” over Putin’s recent public rejection of the proposal to lower the threshold for use of nuclear weapons use in Russia’s doctrinal documents, according to Fiona Hill of the UK’s Durham University and Harvard’s board of overseers. “I don’t rule out that he would decide to use a nuclear weapon,” she is quoted in NYT as saying.  Authors of this NYT article Paul Sonne and David Sanger note that: “Though U.S. officials still believe Mr. Putin could turn to nuclear weapons in Ukraine ... those worries are no longer front of mind.” America’s current nuclear can deter not only Russia, but also China, according to Carnegie Endowment’s James M. Acton and King’s College London’s Steve Fetter. “Even if Russia and China launched simultaneous large-scale nuclear strikes on U.S. nuclear forces, the United States would be able to use its surviving nuclear weapons to inflict massive damage on both countries; each would suffer essentially as much damage as if it had been the United States’ only adversary,” they write in FA.
  3. “The only genuine option” for Russia to “avoid strategic subordination to China” is to reengage the West and such reengagement would be in U.S. interests too, according to CFR’s Thomas Graham. Putin is too anti-American to “acknowledge this reality,” but a future Russian leader might see such a re-engagement as a path towards preserving Russia’s strategic autonomy, according to Graham. Once and if such a leader finds himself in the Kremlin, the White House “should offer to restore normal diplomatic contacts and reopen Western markets to Russian trade and investment” while also creating a “respectable place for Russia in Europe’s security architecture—all on the condition that Moscow end its aggression against Ukraine,” according to Graham.
  4. Energy independence is a “chimera,” Columbia University’s Jason Bordoff and Harvard University’s Meghan L. O’Sullivan write in WSJ, noting how “in a deeply integrated and interconnected global market, even the shift to being a net oil exporter has not protected the U.S. from the vagaries of the oil market.” The scholarly duo reminds us that “the specter of petrostates using oil as a geopolitical weapon has haunted politicians and led to an obsessive quest for ‘energy independence,’” noting that “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and coercive energy tactics against Europe” has revived fears of the weaponization of oil supplies. To achieve “true energy security” the U.S. needs to consume less oil rather than producing more and importing less, according to Sullivan and Bordoff who direct the Belfer Center and the Center on Global Energy, respectively.
  5. President Biden is “facing mounting pressure, particularly from Republicans in Congress who support aid to Ukraine, to deliver a … definitive explanation of the U.S. strategy” in the Ukraine war, according to FT journalist James Politi. “A pledge to support Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’ is not a strategy,” Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, and Michael McCaul, the GOP chair of the House foreign affairs committee, have written in a letter to President Biden, according to Politi’s FT.[1] Americans’ support for military assistance to Ukraine has declined from 79% in March 2022 to 63% in September 2023, according to polls conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and cited by RM. The decline in support among Republicans was especially pronounced, falling from 80% in March 2022 to 50% in September 2023.
  6. Robert David English dissects some of the propositions with regard to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, which have frequently appeared in statements and commentaries originating in Western capitals and which have come to look as untenable in the light of what he sees as the underwhelming results of Ukraine’s counteroffensive.[2] Among them are the claims of the Russian army’s technological inferiority to Western-armed Ukrainian forces, of Russia running out of precision munitions,[3] of “clumsy, cowardly” Russians “perpetually on the brink of desertion,” and the “ever-imminent collapse of the Putin regime,[4] according to this University of Southern California researcher’s commentary in NI.


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

Hamas attacks on Israel and Israel’s response

“Israel’s 9/11? How Hamas Terrorist Attacks Will Change the Middle East,” Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware, War on the Rocks, 10.10.23. 

  • Saturday’s attacks should offer a stark reminder of terrorism’s unique ability to drive geopolitical agendas and completely upend status quos.  Moreover, the conflict will also have ramifications far beyond the Middle East. Already, reports have emerged of non-Israeli citizens—including U.S. citizens—being killed or captured by the dozens. Pressure is sure to increase on the world’s governments to respond, perhaps with force, particularly if foreign nationals are among the hostages held in Gaza. 
  • But the implications go even further. At a time when a war for the future of democracy rages in Eastern Europe, perhaps only an existential threat to Israel could draw American attention away from the Ukrainian cause, possibly smoothing a path toward a Russian triumph in Europe. Refugee flows from several countries and regions would further destabilize surrounding states as well as the European continent, encouraging the same backlashes seen after the Arab Spring. … Jewish communities in Europe, the United States, and beyond will also pay a dear price—doubtless finding themselves in the crosshairs of anti-Semitic terrorists driven by the same hatred that drove the Hamas militants across the Gazan border. 
  • The big question at the moment is whether the fighting will remain confined to Gaza and restricted to Israel and Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad, the terrorists directly responsible for Saturday’s attacks. …In other words, if anything approaching the worst-case scenario—a full-scale, full-theater, total war in the Middle East, involving Israel defending itself against Iran and its proxies—comes to fruition, the security and stability of the world will be affected in ways that would eclipse the impact of the 9/11 attacks 22 years ago.

“Hamas's strike on Israel created a challenging task for the U.S,” Editorial Board, WP, 10.09.23.

  • The sheer criminality of the largest act of terrorism ever against the Jewish state becomes more appalling as new details emerge. 
  • Also evident, as the initial shock abates, is the degree to which this audacious attack, enthusiastically praised and possibly orchestrated by the Islamic Republic of Iran, has upended a global political situation already destabilized by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 
  • Mr. Biden and his foreign policy team had nurtured the belief that they could reset U.S. strategy based on great-power competition with Russia and, above all, China. The Middle East, meanwhile, could be safely de-emphasized.
  • Mr. Biden's challenge now is to support Israel, and help it vanquish Hamas, while somehow preserving talks on peace and normalization among Israel, the Arab states and — inescapably — those Palestinian parties that are willing to engage. 

“The Attack on Israel Demands Unity and Resolve,” Editorial Board, NYT, 10.09.23.

  • The brutal terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas is a tragedy, one that may change the course of the nation and the entire region.
  • The violence in Israel may also strengthen calls to cut military aid to Ukraine. That is a false choice; America's duty as Israel's friend is to stand firm in its support, to join the Israeli people in their grief and to continue to work toward an end to the cycle of violence.

“Russia-Iraq talks. Vladimir Putin met with Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, currently on an official visit to Russia,”, 10.10.23. Clues from Russian Views*

  • Unfortunately, we are seeing a sharp deterioration of the situation in the Middle East. I think that many will agree with me that this is a clear example of the failure of the policy of the United States in the Middle East, which tried to monopolize the resolution [of the conflict], but, unfortunately, was not concerned with finding compromises acceptable to both sides. 
  • Rather [the U.S. has been] putting forward their own ideas about how this should be done, putting pressure on both sides… but each time it did so without taking into account the fundamental interests of the Palestinian people… [failing to factor in]…the need to implement the decision of the UN Security Council on the creation of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state.

“Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey V. Lavrov’s speech and answers during a joint press conference with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul Gheit,”, 10.09.23. Clues from Russian Views*

  • We are deeply concerned that hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians have died. … We call on everyone to firmly advocate cessation of any hostilities.
  • Necessary efforts have not been made to eliminate the main reason undermining stability in the Middle East. I am referring to settlement of the Palestinian problem on the basis of the two-state formula in accordance with the decisions of the UN Security Council, the agreements of the parties in Oslo and Madrid, as well as with the Arab Peace Initiative. All these agreements and decisions provide for the creation of a Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in peace, security and cooperation.
  •  We have repeatedly confirmed … our interest in ensuring the security of Palestine and Israel. …[but] we cannot agree with those who say that security must be ensured solely by the fight against extremism and terrorism.
  •  I cannot help but mention the destructive policy of the United States, which is frustrating collective efforts within the quartet of international mediators.
  • As for mediation efforts, first of all, the parties themselves must stop the hostilities.

“War in the Middle East and Russia,” Tatiana Stanovaya et al, R.Politik–weekly digest of 2-8 Oct. 2023, 10.09.23. 

  • On 7 October, the Palestinian militant organization Hamas initiated an unprecedented multi-front attack on Israel. The operation, which completely took Israeli forces by surprise, was marked by its scale and audacity. 
  •  Fyodor Lukyanov, an expert on foreign affairs with close ties to the Russian establishment, has said (Rus) that what happens next depends on Iran, Hamas's main backer. He warned that Hamas's surprise attack may instigate a direct confrontation between Iran and Israel. Any such conflict would decisively and permanently alter the geopolitical landscape of Western Asia.
  • Russia's stance on the conflict is complex. 
    • On the one hand, Moscow might draw on its history of intra-Palestinian mediation and its ties with Hamas to gain a foothold in any peace process. It also sees the importance of its growing relationships with Iran and Arab states. 
    • On the other hand, despite recent tensions, Russia's relationship with Israel remains strong and pragmatic, hallmarked by open lines of communication, a degree of practical coordination in Syria and shared views on the historical significance of the Second World War. 
  • While some believe this war might push Russia closer to Iran, Moscow is more likely to keep its position as a mediator, aiming to counter Western influence and interact as a constructive peace broker. 
  • In the information sphere, though, the narratives that are promoted are much less impartial. The authorities and the media frequently attribute the situation to the failure of the West, notably the consistent disregard for UN resolutions and the decisions of the Security Council. Media outlets close to the Kremlin have also primarily focused on the Western fault of the massacre. 
  • Speculation is rising among some in Moscow that the unrest may dampen the Democratic Party's prospects in the 2024 U.S. presidential elections, helping their favored Republican candidates (CNN explains why Israel-Gaza conflict is so complicated for Biden); the turmoil could hamper any Israeli plans to help Ukraine; and finally, the crisis may divert the West's attention away from Ukraine. However, as mentioned earlier, for pragmatic reasons apart from anything else, Moscow does not want a large-scale escalation.

“Fyodor Lukyanov on the erosion of the international hierarchy,”, 10.09.23. Clues from Russian Views*

  • A frontal attack by Hamas on Israel was not expected as it was believed to have been suicidal … But in an “extremely diversified world,” “independent capabilities” do not equal the amount of material assets.
  •  The breakdown of [the global] hierarchy is a product of accumulated imbalances in the world system. It opens the way for the most daring, decisive and tough (or cruel). And, on the contrary, it takes those who are accustomed to established rules and a priori balance of power by surprise.
  • The breakdown of the hierarchy is not a landslide-like this time, but rather a creeping one. And the weaker provoke the stronger to actions that further push [the stronger ones] towards decline. In this sense, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 is a perfect example. It was not the attack itself that shook the U.S. positions in the world, but rather the long-term consequences of Washington’s erroneous reaction to it.
  • Israel's permanent representative to the UN has announced that what was happening was “Israeli September 11.” The analogy is dangerous if you think about how that event [9/11] ultimately turned out for the United States.

“What Will Russia Do With Gaza Chaos?" Jack Detsch, FP, 10.09.23.

  • European officials and experts are concerned that Russia could exploit the chaos surrounding the Hamas attack on Israel, pushing the Kremlin even closer to Iran, which is allied with the Palestinian militant group. 
  • There is no sign that Russia provided material support—or even had advance notice—prior to the surprise attack on Saturday, which has left at least 900 Israelis dead and scores more kidnapped and taken into the Gaza Strip, where Israel has begun retaliatory strikes. 
  • The attack on Israel, one of America’s closest allies, not only has created the possibility of a two-front war in the Middle East but has also stretched U.S. and European armories and political willpower. The crisis comes at a time when the West was already having trouble summoning more ammunition and money to support Ukraine’s counteroffensive. 
  • The “Russians would be interested in fragmenting the West and creating additional problems,” former Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said. “It all has to be done simultaneously. [The] Russians hope somebody will say it’s too hard.”

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Dramatic Increase in DPRK-Russia Border Rail Traffic After Kim-Putin Summit,” Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Victor Cha and Jennifer Jun, CSIS, 10.06.23, 

  • Satellite imagery of North Korea’s Tumangang Rail Facility at the border with Russia captured on October 5, 2023, shows an unprecedented number of freight railcars, totaling approximately 73 railcars.
  • The level of rail traffic is far greater than what Beyond Parallel has observed at the facility during the past five years, even compared to pre-Covid-19 levels. Given that Kim and Putin discussed some military exchanges and cooperation at their recent summit, the dramatic increase in rail traffic likely indicates North Korea’s supply of arms and munitions to Russia. However, the extensive use of tarps to cover the shipping crates/containers and equipment makes it impossible to conclusively identify what is seen at the Tumangang Rail Facility.
  • Developments elsewhere at the Tumangang Rail Facility indicate that North Korea is not simply planning to resume border traffic to pre-Covid-19 levels, but further expand the facility’s capacity at this border crossing. 
  • Military transfers between the two countries would violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions and be subject to additional sanctions by the United States and its allies. 

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Hubris’ Downfall: The Hard Road Ahead for the Russia-Ukraine War,” Robert David English, NI, 10.05.23.

  • The wages of hubris are dear. Four months into Ukraine’s vaunted counteroffensive—which, at a massive cost in men and materiel, has made minimal territorial gain—support for Kyiv is openly eroding. Frustration flows from the growing economic burden of war and continuing corruption scandals in Ukraine. But it is aggravated by the backlash against the overconfidence and arrogance of the Western, especially American, foreign-policy establishment. For months, skeptical voices were sidelined while the media contrasted Western military-technological prowess with Russian backwardness and disarray. NATO brains would defeat Russian brawn, experts confidently predicted in June, thus making the disillusion and distrust of October all the greater.
  • Who isn’t aghast at over 20,000 casualties for a gain of 100 sq. miles[5], evoking the carnage of WWI? Since Russia occupies 40,000 sq. miles of Ukrainian land, the unsustainability of such a campaign is evident. Yet officials in Brussels and Washington insist that Kyiv’s counteroffensive is succeeding, cheering minor advances and illusory breakthroughs. At the same time, a chorus of retired military officers exaggerate Russian weakness and see victory as just one more “game-changing” weapons transfer away. Why haven’t NATO-supplied armaments, including hundreds of modern tanks, worked as expected? Because of minefields and trenches, they lament, neglecting to admit that Russia is fighting fiercely with both tactical and technological prowess—from devious electronic warfare to devastating anti-tank drones. But weren’t we told that Russian technology lagged far behind the West’s? And that Ukraine had an army of drones while Russia’s demoralized draftees were poorly armed, poorly led, and perpetually on the brink of desertion? 
  • Russia is running out of ammunition/.//A Google search of this phrase yields almost ten million hits, as versions of it appeared in Western headlines for a year. CNN, Newsweek, The Economist, Forbes, and Foreign Policy all joined the chorus, echoing assessments from U.S. and UK defense officials. … Meanwhile, Russia is still outproducing the West despite “crippling” sanctions that were supposed to strangle its war effort. 
  •   Clumsy, Cowardly Russians?…. After numerous stories about disarray in command and desertion in the ranks, the fact that the Russians are fighting with discipline and cohesion has left those who predicted otherwise silent. The first direct acknowledgment of dogged Russian resistance in major U.S. media came only recently from CNN. This admission did not come from Western experts but from Ukrainian soldiers themselves. 
  • The Ever-Imminent “Collapse” of Russia Many analysts remain bullish on Ukraine’s eventual victory, yet now see it resulting from a Russian collapse—whether of the Russian army or the entire Putin regime.  …Wishful thinking is no basis for policy, nor is there reason to hope that a Ukrainian reconquest of Bakhmut would deliver a “devastating psychological blow” sufficient to cause a Russian collapse. 
  • Cheerleading that “Ukraine must win decisively, and with superior NATO armaments, it surely will” supports neither sensible military strategy nor responsible policy debate. Those who argue thus recall Britain’s WWII leader, Winston Churchill, who stiffened a nation’s resolve through its darkest hour and led it to triumph. Rarely do they recall Britain’s WWI commander Douglas Haig, whose insistence that Germany would collapse if only the Allies mounted just one more offensive ultimately prolonged a grueling war of attrition at the cost of a million lives. Hubris is not only our enemy but Ukraine’s too.

“Alarm grows in Washington over future of U.S. military aid to Ukraine,” James Politi, FT, 10.07.23.

  • The White House and pro-Ukraine lawmakers are growing increasingly alarmed about the future of U.S. funding for Kyiv in the wake of Kevin McCarthy’s ousting as speaker of the House of Representatives, which has left military aid in limbo. … The risk of a lapse in American aid to Ukraine within a few months … has risen in the past few days as chaos has enveloped the Republican party in Congress.
  • Concerns have been compounded by the fact that Jim Jordan—one of the two leading candidates to replace McCarthy as speaker … has been openly skeptical of Ukraine aid, if not hostile towards it. Steve Scalise, the other top contender … has backed Ukraine funding in the past. But if he prevails it is unclear whether he would defy the right flank of the party with a vote to bolster aid to Kyiv.
  • Biden has noted that a majority of members of the House and Senate in both parties say they back continued funding for Ukraine. But he conceded that he needs to make a more concerted defense of U.S. support to the American public. “I’m going to be announcing very shortly a major speech I’m going to make on this issue and why it’s critically important for the United States and our allies that we keep our commitment,” he said.
  • Biden is facing mounting pressure, particularly from Republicans in Congress who support aid to Ukraine, to deliver a much more definitive explanation of the U.S. strategy in the war to help sustain public support. “Your administration has failed to articulate a strategy outlining how U.S. assistance to Ukraine will help them achieve victory over Russia, while also prioritizing and advancing American interests,” Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, and Michael McCaul, the chair of the House foreign affairs committee, wrote in a letter to Biden on Friday. “A pledge to support Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’ is not a strategy,” they added. Here's a link to RM’s effort to drill down what the "whatever it takes” & for “as long as it takes'" vows meant
  • Raphael Cohen of the Rand Corporation said this could be a watershed moment in the historical debate about whether the U.S. did or did not “play this war correctly,” and whether it should have delivered more aid more rapidly than it did. “There will be an argument if aid peters out that [the U.S. strategy] contributed to slower battlefield results” and failed to take into account “a diminishing window of public support,” Cohen said.

“Republicans Against U.S. Weapons,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board, WSJ, 10.04.23.

  • The ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was a spectacular exercise in Republican masochism, and some in the party are increasingly confused about national defense too. To wit, since when do Republicans oppose shoring up U.S. weapons stocks?
    • GOP critics frequently complain that support for Ukraine is putting another country's problems over our own. Yet now this crowd is stonewalling money to refill U.S. military cupboards.
    • The Ukraine skeptics fret that the U.S. is expending too much ammunition in Europe, a distraction from the larger threat from China. Yet that is an argument for forcing Mr. Biden to move faster to expand U.S. weapons production. 
  • Money marked for Ukraine is tied up with America's ability to defend itself, even if Mr. Biden has failed to explain this to the public. 
  • Arms production isn't an American jobs program or economic stimulus, a fallacy that Republicans should reject. But it is nonetheless puzzling to see conservatives who complain about "hollowed out" U.S. manufacturing oppose money for producing missiles in Alabama or tanks in Ohio.

“Ukraine Needs Arms, Not Debates Over Which Ones,” Frederick W. Kagan, WSJ, 10.05.23.

  • The debate in Washington among those who favor continued support for Ukraine has focused too much on individual weapons systems. Skeptics and military professionals rightly point out that there are no "magic bullets" in warfare. But that misses the point. 
    • F-16s, on which Ukrainians have started to train in anticipation of receiving some from U.S. allies, may not be magical, but air superiority would be a game-changer.
    • M1 tanks, a small group of which have reportedly arrived in Ukraine, won't by themselves transform the war, but Ukraine's ability to field a large armored force could be decisive.
      •  Ukraine needs these and other systems urgently so that it can obtain the capabilities they bring. It's time to end the argument about specific weapons platforms and get Ukraine what it needs.

“As partners in Ukraine's fight for survival, two generals forged a bond,” Isabelle Khurshudyan and Missy Ryan, WP, 10.08.23.

  • Shortly after Russia invaded, Ukraine's top military officer addressed his country's struggle for survival with Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Ukraine had only a handful of functional aircraft, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny said, and urgently needed Western help. By the end of the conversation, Zaluzhny said, he felt "like I was talking to myself." He cut off communication entirely with Milley for a week. Chats with his most important international counterpart had been happening every other day.
    • "Frankly speaking, due to my youth and stupidity, I admit that it was my mistake," Zaluzhny, who is 50, said … "It was actually a disaster."
    • The moment was a setback in the crucial—and complicated—relationship between the two military commanders, who ultimately grew personally close as they worked together in Ukraine's existential fight. 
  • As Russian troops surrounded Kyiv early in the invasion, and Zaluzhny appealed for help with air power, the tension was intense. Milley, facing mounting pressure to send fighter jets, requested an intelligence rundown of Ukraine's fleet, down to the location and maintenance status of each plane, a U.S. official said. The Pentagon did not believe the jets would help, and feared Russia's reaction. When Milley pushed back by reading the inventory aloud, there was a long silence. Zaluzhny insisted the numbers were wrong. He stewed for a week but said he ultimately realized that his country's future deeply depended on close communication. 
  • Over 19 months, Zaluzhny and Milley spent hours discussing battlefield developments in regular calls. So far, the United States has funneled more than $40 billion in equipment to Kyiv, becoming the largest donor of military aid. And Milley, in his role as gatekeeper to America's vast arsenal, represented a lifeline… They would speak through an interpreter on a secure line, generally with each call structured in the same way. Zaluzhny gave Milley his assessment of what was happening on the battlefield. Milley answered with U.S. intelligence on the same. Then, they would shift to resources. 
  • At times, some U.S. officials have objected to Kyiv's decisions, including its reluctance to employ mechanized units and its allocation of forces across a long front line. The two countries' cooperation was strained when a major leak of U.S. intelligence material spilled sensitive information about Ukraine's defenses and its counteroffensive.
  • Milley's Sept. 30 retirement marked the end of a working relationship that Zaluzhny has described as critical to Ukraine's battlefield successes. He must now build a rapport with Milley's successor, Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. The two men have not spoken since Brown took over last week. Zaluzhny's personal bond with the outgoing U.S. chief, however, is something he said he expects will endure. 

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

“It’s Time to Scrap the Russian Oil Price Cap,” Julian Lee, Bloomberg, 10.01.23.

  • It gives me no pleasure to say this, but it’s time to scrap the Russian oil price cap. The truth is, it isn’t working, and, worse, by forcing ever more Russian oil onto rusting old tankers that are engaging in inherently risky operations like ship-to-ship transfers, it raises the likelihood of an environmental disaster.
  • For a while… [Russia’s] main Urals export grade traded below the threshold for most of the first eight months that the cap was in existence.  But that had more to do with broader oil market dynamics than with the cap mechanism. As global oil prices have risen in recent months, so has the value of Russian crude. Urals is now closer to $100 a barrel than it is to $60, with most of it carried on ships whose owners are prepared to ignore the cap.
  • If we look at the discount to Brent instead of absolute prices, we see a rather different picture. The discount continued to widen after the price cap came into effect, but it never exceeded the levels it reached in the first months after Russia’s attack and it wasn’t long before it began to narrow again.
  • The widest discounts correspond with periods when there weren’t enough ships whose owners were prepared to carry Russian crude. But since the invasion, a host of new tanker operators have amassed a fleet of aging vessels, many of which would previously have been sold for scrap, to transport Russian oil.
    • Shipowners merely need an affidavit from the cargo owner that the consignment was purchased at a price below the cap. But there has been no appetite to check, and there’s no way of telling if what’s written in the affidavit is true. … The result is that there is no enforcement of the cap. About 40% of vessels lifting crude from Russia’s Baltic and Black Sea ports were owned by companies based in countries signed up to the cap. A large number also still have insurance routed through London.
  • Revising the price cap to a level closer to market prices might leave some cargoes trading below the new limit, but it would do nothing to restrict the Kremlin’s income. Improving enforcement and banning rusty old ships would alleviate the risk of an oil spill, but there seems to be no appetite for anything that might hamper Russian oil flow. With crude trading near $95 a barrel, up about 27% since the end of June, that’s no surprise.
  • Scrapping the cap would make no difference to the amount of Russian crude on the market—it would flow just as it has done throughout the war in Ukraine. With sufficient ships already available to carry all that oil, it’s unlikely it would make any difference to the price either. What it would affect is the quality of the vessels being used to haul the oil and who’s earning the fees for doing it.

“The Russian Oil Price Cap Can Work Again. With global prices on the rise, here are some ways to fix the system,” Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld and Steven Tian, FP, 10.06.23. 

  • Over the past several weeks, a flood of media and expert commentators have argued that the Russian oil price cap is effectively dead. One opinion piece in Bloomberg was unambiguous, titled: “It’s Time to Scrap the Russian Oil Price Cap.” 
  • There is no question there has been some reduction in the efficacy of the price cap from when it worked so well at the start of this year, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently acknowledged and as leading economists from the Kyiv School of Economics helped expose. The reasons why are hardly a secret. With global oil prices on the rise, and as U.S. policymakers have long expected, Russian President Vladimir Putin is becoming increasingly creative in devising ways to get around the price cap, including by building a Russian “shadow fleet” of ocean tankers that fall outside G-7 jurisdiction. 
  • The price cap worked very well for the first eight months of its implementation but now requires some rapid adjustments to enter a second phase. Here’s how it can still be made to work.
    1. Focus on enforcement.
    2. Continue leveraging the price cap to drive up Putin’s costs.
    3. Impose novel sanctions and measures to plug regulatory gaps.
    4. Continue driving down global oil prices.

“To tackle Putin’s dark oil fleet, enforcement needs to be stepped up,” Michelle Wiese Bockmann, FT, 10.04.23.

  • The effectiveness of the G7 price cap on Russian oil stumbled at the first hurdle when prices rallied from July. That is because the principle of keeping oil flowing while limiting revenue to the Kremlin is flawed as the cap is currently enforced.
  • The cap’s design was always compromised. The evidence so far shows it “works” only when prices are at, or below, the levels set by Europe and the G7. Now those thresholds have been breached for every grade of crude, the cap’s shortcomings have been exposed by the export by Russia of refined products and evasive shipping practices in the absence of enforcement and oversight.
  • More Russian oil than ever before is being transported on sanctions-circumventing tankers that exploit loopholes in international maritime regulations. The great majority of tankers sailing from key Russian ports since August did not have any known insurance, an indicator that they do not comply with the cap. That compared with one in every three ships when oil prices remained under the cap threshold of $60/bbl for crude and $100/bbl for gasoline and diesel.
  • Yet governments still have levers to pull to make the best of a faltering experiment.
    • First, they need to identify the owners behind the so-called dark fleet of elderly tankers used by Russia and an opaque network of oil traders to ship oil, and determine where these profits are directed. Over September, our analysis indicates some 120 non-cap compliant dark fleet tankers … were among about 300 ships tracked loading oil from eight Russian export ports. They were supported by Russia’s national fleet—also outside the cap’s scope—as well as a further 80 Greek-owned tankers considered to fall under the jurisdiction of the cap.
    • It’s likely that the headline price for crude shipped by them stayed at $60 a barrel cap but freight rates were inflated to bridge the gap to the current market price. Authorities could impose a second cap that incorporates a delivered cost, including freight rates, to shut down this practice. This would be implemented alongside closer scrutiny of the attestations provided by oil traders and suppliers in Russia to Western shipowners and their marine insurers that serve as “proof” they are complying with sanctions. 
    • Classification societies that issue quality assurance certificates to indicate a ship’s compliance with regulations and safety standards are exempted from the cap, but this could be removed to ratchet up pressure. 
    • Nearly 40 percent of some 535 dark fleet tankers have registered ownership via shelf companies incorporated in the Marshall Islands. Many of the registries of these countries have offices or representatives in Europe, the UK and the U.S. The G7 needs to send a message that it means business by putting the people and companies behind the registries under greater scrutiny. 
    • Finally, insurance syndicates in London that provide hull and cargo cover to the global fleet aren’t doing enough to identify whether any of the vessels they cover are involved in Russian trades. … Regulators can insist reinsurers and brokers ask and note vessel ownership, and penalize those who provide tacit support to breaches by failing to ask the right questions. To deal with the dark fleet, the enforcement of the price cap needs more teeth.

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“An expert's point of view on a current event. Negotiating With Russia Is Still a Bad Idea,” Raphael S. Cohen and Gian Gentile, FP, 10.09.23. 

  • The latest version of the argument that Washington should negotiate an end to the war—or, more precisely, pressure Ukraine to capitulate—goes something like this: Americans, particularly those leaning toward the Republican Party, are growing wary of sending aid to Ukraine… In the meantime, casualties have, by some counts, surpassed half a million killed and injured soldiers. Given these darkening clouds on both the political and military fronts, why not try to cut some sort of deal, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives and many billions of dollars?
  • Once you scratch below the surface, however, the case for negotiating with Russia quickly falls apart.
    • Let’s start with the supposed shift in U.S. public opinion. Yes, some polls show declining support for Ukraine. The real question, though, concerns the reasons why some Americans appear to have changed their mind. Some may indeed be concerned about the cost, but analyses also suggest that the decline, particularly among Republicans, reflects general misgivings about U.S. President Joe Biden and his policies as an election season gets under way, rather than Ukraine’s cause on its own merits.
    • Support for Ukraine on Capitol Hill tells a similarly nuanced story. ,,, even if there are divisions among legislators, it is not at all clear whether Congress would support negotiating with Russia. 
    • The military rationale for negotiations is no more compelling. … the counteroffensive—in the assessment of former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, as well as outside analyses—is making progress, albeit slowly.
    • Moreover, there are signs that Russia is fraying on the domestic front. After the Russian ruble temporarily stabilized following its post-invasion collapse, the currency has continued its long slide. 
    • Finally, let’s turn to the supposed moral impetus for negotiations. … Washington must remember that it’s the Ukrainians who are fighting and dying. Most Ukrainians have friends or relatives who have been injured and killed in the war, and they are not giving in. 
    • There is also no indication that Russia’s appetites will be sated with control over Ukraine.
  • The United States cannot unilaterally end a war that it is only indirectly involved in just because it seems politically convenient to do so. That may be a bitter pill for some to swallow, but pressuring Ukraine to capitulate would be far worse.

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

“Rightsizing the Russia Threat. Whatever Putin’s Intentions Are, He Is Hemmed In by Limited Capabilities,” Samuel Charap and Kaspar Pucek, FA, 10.03.23. 

  • Some prominent Russia analysts have claimed that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is merely the first step in a much larger attempt at domination that will extend beyond Ukraine. … The trouble with seeing Putin as a maximalist or a génocidaire is that it ignores his inability to be. 
  • A smaller but vocal group of analysts takes a markedly different view of Putin’s intentions, claiming that he is a fundamentally defensive actor who seeks (like all leaders of major powers, this group alleges) to prevent threats to his homeland from materializing. … He seeks nothing more than security for his country. But this portrayal of Putin clashes with the reality of Russia’s actions. It now seems patently obvious that Putin’s motives went far beyond defense. 
  • An understanding of Putin as a tactician is not necessarily reassuring. His ambitions may well expand in the future just as they have contracted in the past—and if Russia’s power can enable that expansion, then threat assessments should change. Moreover, even with his current limited capabilities, Putin can still inflict major damage on Ukraine and its people. 
  • Analysis of the Russia threat should focus less on what he might aspire to and more on what he plausibly can get with the power he has.
  • Even with his current capabilities and a tactician’s mindset, Putin could pose an insurmountable threat to Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and other former Soviet republics. U.S. allies in NATO might be safe, but that’s cold comfort to people in those countries.
  • For governments, rightsizing the Russia threat—that is, adopting an understanding of Putin as a tactician operating under significant constraints—should form the basis for determining appropriate policy responses to his actions. Policymakers should recognize that Putin’s goals might well be a moving target and avoid static assessments. Regularly testing the proposition that he might have adjusted to new circumstances would be a sensible approach.  
  • Regardless, a proper understanding of the threat Russia poses must begin with an accurate appraisal of Russian power. Putin might harbor fantasies of world conquest. But at the moment, his military cannot even fully conquer any of the four Ukrainian provinces he claims to have annexed last year. Ultimately, those are the constraints that should bound the debate about the extent of the threat.

“Vladimir Putin took part in the plenary session of the 20th anniversary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club,” web site of the Russian president, 10.05.23. As of Oct. 9, the website had yet to complete an official translation of Putin’s remarks. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Regrettably, our [post-Soviet Russia’s] interest in constructive interaction was misunderstood, was seen as obedience, as an agreement that the new world order would be created by those who declared themselves the winners in the Cold War. … Over these years, we warned more than once that this approach would not only lead to a dead-end but that it was fraught with the increasing threat of a military conflict. But nobody listened to us or wanted to listen to us.  ,,,The United States and its satellites have taken a steady course towards hegemony in military affairs, politics, the economy, culture and even morals and values. 
  • I have said this publicly to both our allies and partners. There was a moment when I simply suggested: perhaps we should also join NATO? But no, NATO does not need a country like ours. No. I want to know, what else do they need? We thought we became part of the crowd, got a foot in the door. What else were we supposed to do? There was no more ideological confrontation. What was the problem? I guess the problem was their geopolitical interests and arrogance towards others. 
  • We are compelled to respond to ever-increasing military and political pressure. I have said many times that it was not us who started the so-called “war in Ukraine.” On the contrary, we are trying to end it. 
  • The Ukraine crisis is not a territorial conflict, and I want to make that clear. Russia is the world’s largest country in terms of land area, and we have no interest in conquering additional territory. … The issue is much broader and more fundamental and is about the principles underlying the new international order..
  • The Russian civilization cannot be reduced to a single common denominator, but it cannot be divided, either, because it thrives as a single spiritually and culturally rich entity. Maintaining the cohesive unity of such a nation is a formidable challenge…nobody should betray their civilization. This is the path towards universal chaos. … As a civilization, Russia has no borders, just like other civilizations have no borders either..
  • [When asked by Sergei Karaganov whether Russia should “modify the doctrine on using nuclear weapons, lowering the nuclear threshold] There are two reasons stipulated in the Russian Military Doctrine for the possible use of nuclear weapons by Russia. The first is the use of nuclear weapons against us, which would entail a so-called retaliatory strike. … The second reason for the potential use of these weapons is an existential threat to the Russian state—even if conventional weapons are used against Russia, but the very existence of Russia as a state is threatened. These are the two possible reasons for the use of the weapons you mentioned. Do we need to change this? Why would we? Everything can be changed, but I just don't see that we need to.
    • The latest test launch of Burevestnik was a success. This is a nuclear-powered cruise missile with a basically unlimited range. By and large, Sarmat, the super heavy missile, is also ready. All we have left is to complete all the administrative and bureaucratic procedures and paperwork so that we can move to mass production and deploy it in combat standby mode. We will do this soon.
    • I am already hearing calls, for example, to start or in fact to resume nuclear tests… Specialists tend to argue that these are new kinds of weapons and we need to make sure that their special warheads are fail-free, so we need to test them. I am not ready to tell you right now whether we need or do not need to carry out these tests. What we can do is act just as the United States does… the United States signed the [CTBT] treaty without ratifying it, while we both signed and ratified it. As a matter of principle, we can offer a tit-for-tat response in our relations with the United States. But this falls within the purview of State Duma MPs.[6] In theory, we can withdraw the ratification, and if we do, this would be enough.

“The return of American isolationism. Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as Republican speaker is bad news for Ukraine,” Edward Luce, FT, 10.04.23.

  • Volodymyr Zelensky says there is no “expiration date” on Ukraine’s willingness to fight Russia. But it is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the potential shelf life of America’s support for his cause.
  • Matt Gaetz, the ultra-Maga lawmaker who led the move on Tuesday to eject Kevin McCarthy as Republican Speaker, cited an alleged secret side deal McCarthy made with Joe Biden to keep funding Ukraine. This was in spite of the fact that McCarthy had struck $6bn in Ukrainian aid from last weekend’s deal to keep the U.S. government open. It capped a bleak few days for Zelensky. Even assuming the next Speaker is sympathetic to Ukraine, they would be in an even weaker position than McCarthy.
  • The Republican party has been moving in Russia’s direction for a while. More than eight in 10 Republican voters now support candidates—Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy—who would sever aid to Ukraine. Roughly half of Americans likewise want to pull the plug. For the first time since the 1920s, Americans are likely to be given the option next year of putting an isolationist in the White House. That would be a fateful choice.
  • Today’s rising isolationism is not about even-handedness between Russia and Ukraine; its driving force comes from Republicans in sympathy with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. 
  • To keep the U.S. in the game, Biden must somehow wangle enough Republican votes in the coming weeks to replenish Ukrainian funding. The absence of a big Ukrainian military breakthrough makes his job that much harder. So does the fact that the Maga base nowadays demonizes Zelensky almost as much as it does George Soros. Then there is next year’s presidential election. An America Firster in the White House could sink Ukraine’s prospects. Trump, as ever, is the Hail Mary that Putin is seeking.

“Why MAGA Wants to Betray Ukraine,” Paul Krugman, NYT, 10.04.23.

  • How much are we actually spending supporting Ukraine? In the 18 months after the Russian invasion, U.S. aid totaled $77 billion. That may sound like a lot. It is a lot compared with the tiny sums we usually allocate to foreign aid. But total federal outlays are currently running at more than $6 trillion a year, or more than $9 trillion every 18 months, so Ukraine aid accounts for less than 1 percent of federal spending (and less than 0.3 percent of G.D.P.). The military portion of that spending is equal to less than 5 percent of America's defense budget.
  • Given how small a budget item that aid is, claims that aid to Ukraine somehow makes it impossible to do other necessary things, such as securing the border, are nonsense. MAGA types aren't known for getting their numbers right or, for that matter, caring whether they get their numbers right, but I doubt that even they really believe that the monetary costs of helping Ukraine are insupportable.
  • And the benefits of aiding a beleaguered democracy are huge. 
    • Remember, before the war, Russia was widely viewed as a major military power, which a majority of Americans saw as a critical threat (and whose nonwoke military some Republicans exalted). That power has now been humbled.
    • Ukraine's unexpectedly successful resistance to Russian aggression has also put other autocratic regimes that might have been tempted to engage in wars of conquest on notice that democracies aren't that easy to overrun. 
    • Finally, what even Republicans used to call the free world has clearly been strengthened. NATO has risen to the occasion, confounding the cynics, and is adding members. Western weapons have proved their effectiveness.

“Russia’s Axis of the Sanctioned. Moscow Is Bringing Washington’s Enemies Together,” Hanna Notte, FA, 10.06.23. 

  • In fact, for Russia, there’s an upside to newfound isolation: stronger, deeper defense cooperation with the many countries that are also hostile to the United States and Europe. This collection of countries—which stretches from Venezuela to North Korea—may not have much in common beyond shared enemies, and individually, none of them is especially powerful. But together, they can help the Kremlin sustain its war against Ukraine. They can also help other members further their own regional ambitions, increasing the odds of military conflict across the world. 
  • Given these dangers, the United States can no longer afford to dismiss any of these countries as minor antagonists or bit players. Washington also cannot count on sanctions alone, no matter how comprehensive, to sap the influence of these states. Instead, the United States will have to reinvest in its own partnerships and alliances in order to balance against Russia’s axis. Otherwise, Washington will not be able to constrain these countries as they try to sow chaos in multiple parts of the world. 

“The Ukraine Diaries: Is Ukraine a Vital U.S. National Security Interest?”, Paul Kolbe. Cipher Brief, 09.26.23.

  • Western…media had raised expectations for dramatic Ukrainian breakthroughs. Ukrainian military and civilian leaders were confident of success but more muted in expectations.
    • They saw this as one phase of a long campaign.
  • NATO doctrine for offensive operations has not yet caught up with the type of warfare…in Ukraine.
    • World War I trench systems…and lethal drone coverage… make a conflict never before fought by the U.S. or its allies.
    • Russian air superiority…complicates Ukraine’s effort to break through Russian lines.
  • Ukraine’s counteroffensive is making deliberate and deliberately slow progress.
    • UAF [will] stay on the move…into the winter, pushing…on Russian forces…at a reduced pace and without any big breakthroughs.
    • Ukraine needs…only another 15-20 km…before Russian land bridge lines of communication to Crimea come within range of Ukrainian artillery fire.
    • [UAF] do not need to reach the sea to…interdict Crimean supply lines, a key strategic goal of this counteroffensive.
  • Ukraine has turned to small unit assaults…minefield clearance, inadequate counterbattery fire and follow-on armor…to push back Russian forces 300-500 meters at a time.
    • UAF infantry assaults a trench or tree line and holds it.
    • The units are then reinforced and rotated; more mines are cleared. 
  • Russia still has a manpower advantage with…450,000 troops in occupied area.
    • Russia has air superiority, more artillery and can…match losses with conscription and stealth mobilization of 20-25 thousand new troops a month.
    • A larger mobilization campaign is likely this fall or winter.
  • Russia’s northern offensive operations are looking more and more like a diversion… and are failing to draw off Ukrainian forces from the south.
  • Ukrainian commanders believe…defending Bakhmut…has paid off in enormous Russian casualty counts and decimated, demoralized units. 
    • Russia…must [use] reserves to hold the line.
    • Delays in…Ukrainian counteroffensive gave Russia time to build…defenses [in the south].
  • Russia…will renew [attacks] on energy infrastructure once the weather starts to turn colder.
    • Ukraine will step up the pace of drone attacks on military, infrastructure and political targets inside Russia.
  • Ukraine must win friends and influence beyond Europe and the United States.
    • [New UKR Defense Minister] Umerov will help with outreach…with Turkey, the Middle East and…counter Russia’s attempt to coopt nations in Africa, Latin America and Asia, which have…avoided taking sides.
    • Zelensky spoke with…Mohamad bin Salman just after Umerov’s appointment.
  • The U.S. has committed…to Ukraine’s victory. Anything short of this will be a win for Russia.
    • A Russian victory would send a signal…to China, that…aggression pays. 
    • [It would cement the narrative] of democratic and rules-based states on decline and on the authoritarian model of restored empire on the rise.
    • [It would show] that mass murder, child abductions, attacks on global food supplies and nuclear intimidation work.
  • Ukraine’s single point of failure right now is…the U.S. going wobbly in its support. U.S. fears that…deep strike weapons would [cause] Russian escalation have proven unfounded.
    • [Continued delays and restrictions mean] Ukraine’s combat power is limited in crucial ways.
    • [Ukraine] needs…heavy munitions, long-range weapons, air defense, drones, intelligence systems, mine-clearing capabilities and armor.

“How to lock in support for Ukraine for the long haul,” FT, 10.03.23. 

  • Support for Kyiv … must be future proofed as far as possible. The EU is wisely seeking to pass a four-year, €50bn “Ukraine Facility”, though the deal is not yet formally done. 
  • Efforts also need to be redoubled to enable Ukraine to become more economically self-reliant. War risk insurance to cover losses for domestic and foreign investors would help to create confidence to invest in urgent rebuilding projects and in boosting Ukraine’s defense production capacity. So would providing more air defense systems to cities beyond Kyiv—which could also potentially encourage more refugees to return from abroad. Supplying Ukraine with more anti-ship missiles would help it secure vital Black Sea export routes for its grain and steel.
  • If it is to break through heavily fortified Russian lines and retake territory, Ukraine must be given vital tools—including F16 fighter jets and long-range missiles. Its military needs to be modernized and shifted more on to NATO-standard weaponry. Western training of its troops should be more rigorous and comprehensive, but tailored more to Ukrainians’ preferred way of fighting.
  • Ukrainians need more reassurance, too, that their country has an assured future in Euro-Atlantic institutions. NATO’s July summit ended in an awkward fudge. But an EU summit in December should commit to opening accession talks with Kyiv—provided Ukraine, too, has met agreed targets on reforms and fighting corruption.
  • In a cost-of-living squeeze, it is easy for populist parties to insist spending should be funneled to domestic priorities. But Kyiv’s supporters have a powerful message they should shout from the rooftops: the costs of supporting Ukraine’s fight are tiny compared with those of allowing Putin’s Russia to prevail.

“The Plan to Avert a New Cold War. Michael Doyle’s new book lays out how to avoid conflict with China and Russia,” Blaise Malley, The New Republic, 10.05.23.

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought relations with Moscow to a new low, made clear that Moscow was intent on reasserting itself as a great power, and solidified Biden’s position that this is a world marked by division rather than cooperation: pitting, in Biden’s words, democracies against autocracies. 
  • Columbia University professor Michael Doyle tackles these global shifts in his new book, Cold Peace: Avoiding the New Cold War. He traces the domestic and international roots of these tensions, analyzes the most combustible points of potential conflict in the relationships, from economic warfare to territorial disputes in Ukraine and Taiwan, and offers thoughts on how to maintain relations and avoid the worst downsides of conflict. Like the first Cold War, a second would have disastrous consequences for the world: arms races, proxy wars, an inability to address pressing global concerns of security and inequality, and a looming risk of deterioration into a hot war.
  • In Doyle’s telling, the way to defend liberalism and democracy is not to directly confront autocratic regimes elsewhere in the world but rather to focus inward. “Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense,” he argues. “But today, in response to the threats from a new cold war, the best defense is a good defense.” Lessons from the first Cold War indicate that arguing that everyone must be on one side or the other can have devastating consequences for our society, from McCarthyism to the persecution of already marginalized groups. 
  • But that solution is not enough to avoid great power conflict. So long as Washington is convinced that its task is to uphold an ill-defined international order, rather than to navigate an increasingly multipolar world, then rivalry, as opposed to cooperation, will continue to define its strategy. Unless we are willing to directly confront the root causes of democratic decay at home and hegemony abroad, we are bound to repeat the mistakes of the Cold War. 

“Why Russian and Chinese spy scandals are a threat to us all,” Elisabeth Braw, FT, 10.05.23. 

  • Russian and Chinese espionage against the west has entered a hyperactive mode. In the past few months, several suspected intelligence officers and agents have been uncovered by police in Britain, Norway and the U.S. In return, Russia and China have begun seizing random westerners on flimsy espionage charges. A dangerous cycle is unfolding.
  • While there are no statistics on the number of Russian and Chinese intelligence officers and agents operating in the west, arrests over the past couple of years give a good indication of the rise in activity.
  • This deluge of activity represents a marked change in tactics on both sides. Major General Gunnar Karlson, a former Must chief, tells me that Russian and Chinese espionage is increasing “because they feel they need more results, and they’re willing to take more risks”. 
  • The response [by China and Russia to arrests of their spies] has been to detain random westerners as pawns in their negotiations.   This is probably because even if Moscow and Beijing do not appear to be deterred by seeing their spies arrested or tried, they are still determined to get their agents back. And if they can’t identify and arrest equivalent western spies, any westerner will do.
  • The result is that the more Russian and Chinese spies are arrested, the higher the threat to westerners travelling in those countries. The threat is not only to those with a security service or government background—and this is something that tourists and business travelers would do well to understand. 

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“What Russia Really Wants. How Moscow’s Desire for Autonomy Could Give America an Edge Over China,” Thomas Graham, FA, 10.09.23.

  • Isolated from the West, Moscow has fallen ever deeper into Beijing’s embrace. Although the Kremlin touts its close strategic alignment and “no limits” friendship with China, the reality is not so rosy. Beijing has offered Moscow diplomatic support but so far has refrained from providing lethal military aid. Although China has increased trade with Russia, replacing the supply of consumer goods from departing Western companies, it has hesitated to make major investments in Russia, out of fear of Western sanctions. At the same time, Beijing has exploited Moscow’s isolation from the West to cut commercial deals on terms that inordinately favor its interests. China has also expanded its commercial ties in Central Asia at Russia’s expense.
  • If Russia wants to avoid strategic subordination to China, it cannot rely on inchoate multilateral groupings that have little chance of rivaling Western-dominated global institutions. Nor can Russia count on highly transactional bilateral relations with countries weaker than itself. The only genuine option, then, is the West—principally, the United States. Only Washington and its partners can provide Russia with the commercial opportunities, technological cooperation, and geopolitical options that it needs to preserve its strategic autonomy and avoid becoming a permanent junior partner to China. 
  • Putin will never acknowledge this reality. His anti-Americanism is too deeply entrenched, and he has lashed his fate to Chinese President Xi Jinping too tightly, to seek an opening with the United States, even if it is strategically beneficial. But future Russian leaders will not be burdened by the same psychological and political constraints. The challenge for the United States is to persuade these leaders that the West can assist the Kremlin’s effort to preserve its strategic autonomy. 
    • Washington should offer to restore normal diplomatic contacts and reopen Western markets to Russian trade and investment.
    • At the same time, it should adopt a constructive approach to Russian security concerns and create a respectable place for Russia in Europe’s security architecture—all on the condition that Moscow end its aggression against Ukraine by, at a minimum, stopping its bombardment of towns and cities, agreeing to a cease-fire, and helping to prepare negotiations for an enduring settlement. 
  • The conundrum that Washington faces is how to make the Western option attractive to Moscow without rewarding its aggression or jeopardizing U.S. interests in Europe. … That would be possible only if the West remains united behind Ukraine and Kyiv’s forces make progress on the battlefield. In that situation, instead of pressing for a total, humiliating defeat of Russia, the United States should make clear to the Kremlin that it is prepared to deal constructively with its security concerns, to lift sanctions, and to promote the restoration of Russia’s commercial relations with the West. 
  • The United States cannot afford to look at Russia solely through the European prism. It needs to appreciate the varying roles Russia plays across Eurasia. Total victory in Ukraine through Russia’s crushing defeat would create strategic problems for the United States elsewhere. Despite its revulsion at Moscow’s conduct, Washington will still need a Russia strong enough to effectively control its own territory and to create regional balances of power in Asia that favor Washington. The United States need not fear Russian power. Rather, it needs to think creatively about how it can harness Russian strengths, interests, and ambitions to advance its own. As the superior power, the United States should not find that to be an impossible task.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“On Russian Nuclear Threat, Putin Lets Others Rattle the Saber,” Paul Sonne and David E. Sanger, NYT, 10.07.23.

  • Russia’s hard-liners are rattling the nuclear saber vigorously these days, on television and in academic journals, arguing that an atomic blast—in Ukraine, in Europe, or maybe in a test over Siberia—is the only way to restore the West’s fear of Russian might.  But so far President Vladimir V. Putin is not joining the chorus. He’s not exactly shedding his bellicose approach to the West, but these days, when it comes to nuclear weapons, he seems to relish the role of the coolheaded decider, even as he keeps the threat of a nuclear strike alive.
  • Discerning Mr. Putin’s motives is always a perilous undertaking, but American and European officials say there are several possible explanations for Mr. Putin’s more nuanced approach to nuclear weapons.
    • He may have been chastened by the backlash a year ago, when American officials were deeply worried about a potential nuclear detonation, and China and India, among others, warned that there was no justification for using nuclear weapons.
    • He is also feeling more confident on the battlefield in Ukraine, regularly bragging about Ukraine’s stalled counteroffensive, lessening the need to rely on nuclear threats. Polls show that despite support for the war in Ukraine, Russians broadly disapprove of the possible use of nuclear weapons. 
    • And he may be holding off, some intelligence officials say, so that if he decides to issue new threats in the future, he is taken seriously. 
  • Whatever the reasons, Mr. Putin refused to take the bait on Thursday when a prominent Russian political scientist rose from the front row of a conference in Sochi and lamented to Mr. Putin that “deterrence isn’t working anymore.” ....The United States and its allies were no longer sufficiently afraid of Russia’s nuclear might, said Sergei A. Karaganov, whose commentary is often influential in the Kremlin. Isn’t it time, he asked the Russian leader, “to lower the threshold and go firmly but quickly up the escalation ladder to deter and sober up our partners?”
  • Mr. Putin, who a year ago was issuing nuclear threats of his own, said he was familiar with Mr. Karaganov’s proposals, which include hitting “a bunch of targets,” with nuclear strikes, but the Russian leader said he saw no need to alter the country’s current nuclear doctrine. At the same time, Mr. Putin casually mentioned that Moscow had successfully tested a menacing new nuclear-powered cruise missile with a global range, one that Russia has advertised as part of a newly invigorated arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons. “No one in their sound mind will use a nuclear weapon against Russia,” Mr. Putin said.
  • “I don’t think we should be lulled into any kind of false complacency,’’ said Fiona Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the former top Russia official at the National Security Council during the Trump administration. “I don’t rule out that he would decide to use a nuclear weapon.” Ms. Hill, in an interview, said that because Mr. Putin is cautious about crossing China’s leader, Xi Jinping, “he has to be extraordinarily careful about the circumstances.” Still, even if he never uses the weapons, said Ms. Hill, who wrote a biography of Mr. Putin, “he wants the psychological impact” of their potential use to affect every decision about the Ukraine war. 
  • Even as he presents himself as a purported voice of reason, Mr. Putin has been turning up the temperature in his own way. On Thursday, in addition to saying Russia had successfully tested the nuclear-powered cruise missile, Mr. Putin dangled the prospect that Russia may revoke its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and noted that he had not yet decided whether Russia should test or not. (The United States has never ratified the decades-old treaty, but has observed its provisions.)
  • Though U.S. officials still believe Mr. Putin could turn to nuclear weapons in Ukraine under certain circumstances, especially if territory in Crimea were to be retaken, those worries are no longer front of mind.  

“The U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Can Deter Both China and Russia. Why America Doesn’t Need More Missiles,” Charles L. Glaser, James M. Acton and Steve Fetter, FA, 10.05.23.

  • The dangers posed by the existence of two nuclear peers [Russia and China to U.S.] are being greatly exaggerated. Although the United States’ efforts to modernize its nuclear forces are a sensible investment, augmenting the total size of its nuclear arsenal or developing new nuclear capabilities would not be. Such moves would not enhance the country’s ability to deter both Russia and China under even the most demanding scenarios. Even if Russia and China launched simultaneous large-scale nuclear strikes on U.S. nuclear forces, the United States would be able to use its surviving nuclear weapons to inflict massive damage on both countries; each would suffer essentially as much damage as if it had been the United States’ only adversary. China’s acquisition of a large, highly capable nuclear force could create new geopolitical dangers, but none of these will be ameliorated by expanding the U.S. nuclear force. 
  • The fundamental problem with a counterforce strategy is feasibility: preemptive U.S. attacks on an adversary’s nuclear forces would likely not be effective enough to meaningfully limit the damage that could be inflicted by a nuclear peer. 
  • Given the infeasibility of a counterforce approach, the logical alternative is a deterrence strategy designed to convince adversaries not to attack the United States or its allies by threatening to damage or totally destroy an adversary’s society and infrastructure. ... According to this alternative logic, the relative size of countries’ nuclear forces is irrelevant; all that matters for deterrence is the absolute size of their retaliatory capabilities and their ability to inflict damage. 
    • Proponents of counterforce strategies offer a host of responses to this argument. Today, the most common critique is that infrastructure targeting, in contrast to counterforce targeting, is immoral and violates the law of armed conflict, which aims to minimize human suffering and the loss of civilian life. This argument fails for two reasons.
      • First, in practice, counterforce strikes would likewise lead to massive civilian casualties, not only because the fallout from nuclear attacks against missile silos and command bunkers would spread widely but also because some bases for nuclear forces sit near large population centers. 
      • Second, allowing international humanitarian law to guide U.S. nuclear strategy could in fact make a nuclear war more likely. 
  • The logic underpinning an infrastructure-targeting doctrine is far stronger than the logic underpinning a counterforce approach. Consequently, the emergence of two nuclear peers should not require the United States to deploy larger or more sophisticated forces, which in turn reduces pressure for an intensified nuclear arms race. This is the good news. The bad news is that the United States is committed to a counterforce doctrine and shows no inclination to change.
  • The widespread concern generated by the arrival of two nuclear peers provides a window for this reevaluation. If past debates are any guide, the prospects for significant change are poor. But now, maybe more than ever, the United States needs to change its nuclear doctrine by abandoning counterforce targeting in favor of infrastructure targeting. Doing so will enable the United States to avoid overreacting to the arrival of China as a second nuclear peer, generating an unnecessary and futile arms race, and increasing the probability of nuclear war. 

“Karaganov, the author of the idea to hit NATO with nuclear weapons: ‘The president hears me’,” Sergei Karaganov, MK, 10.09.23. Clues from Russian Views. Translated by Mikael Pir-Budagyan

  • My position is that we have a careless or perhaps even reckless nuclear doctrine. It provides for the use of nuclear weapons only in the most impossible cases. Thus, we are giving the Americans a "green light" to use conventional forces against us.
  • [When asked how many people would die if Russia attacked [using nuclear weapons] some countries in Eastern Europe], I believe that this is the most extreme scenario. God forbid that it will be implemented! This is a terrible moral choice; this is a sin! Nuclear weapons should be used as a last resort - to prevent a really big war. Indeed, a really big thermonuclear war is coming - not only and even not so much because of the situation in Ukraine.
    • It [a new world war] is approaching, primarily because the West has gone into a desperate counteroffensive, realizing that now it is losing its five-hundred-year dominance based on military superiority. Now, it is necessary to stop the fierce counterattack in the West.
    • My proposal is not to launch a nuclear attack on NATO countries. My proposal is to force NATO to withdraw. NATO countries need to take care of their own affairs and their own problems and not try to solve external conflicts in order to divert attention from their internal failures.
  • [When asked about the potential U.S. response to a Russian nuclear attack against NATO countries] I do not know. And I don't even want to speculate on this account. The only thing I know and even wrote about in my article: some American - and then with their input and Russian - officials talked about the fact that there will be a non-nuclear attack on the Russian armed forces on our territory. 
    • Then, there will be another wave of Russian nuclear strikes on Europe. And if the Americans persist, they will attack the American military base. Tens of thousands of American servicemen would die.
    • It is necessary that people wake up, move away from strategic parasitism, and get out of the state of lethargic sleep, in which we stay for thirty to forty years. We have forgotten what peace is and what war is.
  • Russia is capable of coping with the Kiev regime without the use of nuclear weapons. But … It is necessary to force the West to retreat radically, agree on a new status quo, sign a peace treaty, create a demilitarized zone from the remnants of Ukraine, reduce the level of military confrontation in the center of Europe and thus solve its problem. Europe is the origin of all major evils of mankind. 
  • [When asked how comfortable it would be for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live in a world where Russia uses nuclear weapons?] No. I am saying that this is a terrible moral choice, a terrible moral damage that Russia would inflict on itself. But if it is unable to reliably threaten those who have lost their minds, we will act carelessly and inhumanely towards ourselves and the rest of the world.
    • It is necessary to force people to be much more careful. People, as I already said, fell into strategic parasitism and lost their fear of war. This paves the way for new world wars that can destroy humanity in the current circumstances.
  • Nuclear deterrence has many functions. One, even the main one of these functions is to prevent a nuclear attack. 
    • The second function is to prevent a direct non-nuclear attack. But it is already happening. NATO … throws our Ukrainian neighbors - and our brothers in the past and in the future - into a meat grinder, destroying them like cheap cannon meat. The war, of course, is already underway. Earlier, to repeat, this was considered absolutely unthinkable. But the boundaries of the unimaginable will have to be pressed further.
  • I believe that we should not use nuclear weapons. We must force the West to retreat. A nuclear war can be won. But it will be a monstrous moral loss.
  • [When asked if Russia uses nuclear weapons, what will its military victory consist of?] I think that NATO will collapse and they will all run in different directions.
  • [When asked what follows from Putin's answer to his question at the Valdai forum, that he believes the current nuclear doctrine of Russia is completely adequate?] I am a scientist and not a politician. My duty is to tell the truth. And, as far as I understand, the president hears me. He said that.

“Putin Raising The Risk Of Nuclear Conflict By Deliberately Increasing Uncertainty,” Aleksander Golts, Russia.Post, 10.10.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • For many years now, Russia’s nuclear potential, capable of wiping out humanity, has had a special place in Vladimir Putin’s annual speeches at the Valdai Discussion Club. … The conversation with experts that took place on October 5 was also not without sensational nuclear rhetoric. Sergei Karaganov, one of the founders of Valdai, asked whether Moscow should lower the standard for the use of nuclear weapons in its military doctrine to “sober up” Western countries.
  • While noting that he understands Karaganov’s “patriotic feelings,” Putin said that he does not consider it necessary to update Russia’s nuclear doctrine. However, before foreign experts could breathe a sigh of relief, the president stated that he regularly hears expert opinions that Russia should resume nuclear tests. At that point, he made a sensational announcement: “the latest test launch of Burevestnik was a success. It is a nuclear-powered cruise missile with a basically unlimited range. By and large, Sarmat, a super heavy missile, is also ready. All we have left is to complete all the administrative and bureaucratic procedures and paperwork so that we can move to mass production and deploy it in combat standby mode.” 
  • After February 2022, the constant reminders of Russia’s massive nuclear potential and hints of its possible use reached a crescendo. … However, these threats no longer delivered the results the Kremlin had hoped for. 
  • The Kremlin, hoping to reduce Western support for Ukraine, is quite diligently working to plunge the situation with nuclear weapons into a state of maximum uncertainty. This is extremely dangerous in the current context. Without information about the state of the other side’s nuclear forces and intentions, the military will assume worst-case scenarios. And this means that the risk of a nuclear confrontation is rising.

“Russia’s Crimean Red Line Has Been Erased,” Casey Michel, FP, 10.04.23. 

  • Instead of spiraling into nuclear exchanges, any likelihood of Moscow resorting to nuclear response has dissipated—undone both by pressure from Moscow’s allies (especially Beijing) but also by Kyiv calling Moscow’s bluff.
  • Thankfully, it does appear that Western policymakers are finally starting to digest this new reality. Whereas Western officials, such as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, previously warned that Crimea presented a “red line” for Putin, concerns out of Washington, London, and Brussels to the latest attacks in recent weeks have been largely nonexistent. If anything, Kyiv’s successful bombings have convinced Western partners to increase support; amid Ukraine’s escalating bombardment, the United States signaled that it would finally supply Ukraine with long-range missiles—so-called ATACMS—that would allow Kyiv to expand its array of targets in Crimea.
  • More broadly, the disintegration of the notion that Crimea presents any kind of red line for Putin is of a piece with supposed Russian red lines elsewhere, all of which have likewise crumbled. And with the disappearance of this Crimean “red line”—as well the dismantling of the idea that Crimea is some kind of holy land for Russians—there is no reason remaining for Western governments not to do everything in their power to back Ukrainian efforts at retaking every inch of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea.
  • After all, it was in the Crimean Peninsula that Moscow’s irredentist invasion first began in 2014. Given that Putin’s promises that Russians would rally to the peninsula’s defense have proved hollow, undone by Putin’s own hubris, it is only fitting that Crimea is where Russia’s revanchist efforts should end.

“Can America Survive a Two-Front Nuclear War with China and Russia?”, John R. Harvey , NI, 10.04.23.

  • The Biden team, if it is not already doing so, should, with urgency over coming months, establish a DoD-led process to review the Russian and Chinese nuclear programs, their potential for acceleration, the implications of Sino-Russia condominium in the nuclear arena and the status of U.S. force upload capabilities, and develop a set of response options for Presidential decision. At minimum, a decision is warranted to ensure a viable, executable option to field a few hundred additional ICBM warheads to meet emerging deterrence needs in the 2030 timeframe.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

“Lessons from the 1970s Energy Crisis Can Help Prevent the Next One The gas shortage of a half-century ago still has U.S. politicians chasing the chimera of energy independence. A better solution: integrated, transparent global markets,” Jason Bordoff and Meghan L. O’Sullivan , WSJ, 10.06.23. 

  • Fifty years ago this month, Arab members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cut off oil shipments to the U.S. in retaliation for American support of Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. … The shock of the Arab oil embargo has shaped nearly every aspect of American energy and foreign policy for the last half-century. The specter of petrostates using oil as a geopolitical weapon has haunted politicians and led to an obsessive quest for “energy independence.” Such fears were allayed during the recent shale boom, which turned the U.S. into a net energy exporter for the first time since 1952, but they have been revived by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and coercive energy tactics against Europe. The need for the world economy to make a transition to clean energy has further complicated the 
  • “Energy independence” is a chimera. The U.S. has long sought energy independence, but in a deeply integrated and interconnected global market, even the shift to being a net oil exporter has not protected the U.S. from the vagaries of the oil market. A disruption in oil supply in any country affects global oil prices for all countries where markets set the price of fuel. 
  • True energy security thus comes from using less oil, not just from importing less or producing more oil domestically. Indeed, the U.S. and others responded to the oil shock of the 1970s by taking steps to cut oil use, such as imposing fuel-economy standards and developing alternative forms of electricity generation.
  • Today, the world’s three largest crude oil producers each produce around 10% of supply. If one of them, say Russia, were to cut off exports, it would lose a great deal of revenue, while the pain of higher prices would be spread among all countries, not borne only by the target of an embargo. By contrast, Russia supplied more than 40% of Europe’s natural gas before the war in Ukraine. Since most of Europe’s natural gas imports moved by pipeline, there was less ability to shift flows around in the global market when supply disruptions occurred. Gas also provides much less revenue to Russia than oil does. Cutting natural gas exports imposed only modest pain on Russia but significant pain on its European target. This may explain why Russia has sharply cut gas supply to Europe but has barely cut its oil exports.
  • The coming transition to clean energy risks more volatility, at least until the world achieves its climate goals. … The lesson of 1973 is that we need more tools to deal with this volatility. Rather than selling off existing strategic stockpiles, as Congress and the White House have done with the nation’s oil reserves in recent years, governments should be expanding these buffers.
  • Sharing more and higher quality data will help to foster deeper futures markets and safeguard against price shocks. The IEA’s first-ever ministerial-level summit on critical minerals last month is an example of how existing forums and tools can be modernized for today’s new energy landscape.

“Architect of Russia Oil-Price Cap Says There’s a Fix for Weakening Program,” Christopher Condon, Bloomberg, 10.09.23. 

  • Ben Harris, a former senior official at the U.S. Treasury who helped design the oil-price cap, said the Group of Seven nations and European Union need to crack down on Russia’s evasion of the limit and raise the price level, making it a painful but tolerable-enough option for Moscow.
  • “If you’re going to commit to at least a moderate level of enforcement, then you have to commit to a high enough level of the price so that Russia doesn’t shut in the oil or look for alternative avenues for shipment,” Harris, now director of economic studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said in an interview.
    • “The first thing you could do is simply begin more aggressive investigation into the attestation regime,” Harris said, referring to the pricing documents that service providers must collect for any shipment of Russian oil they back. “Put companies on notice that the attestation system will be taken seriously.”
    • Harris said that as a second step, the coalition should pressure countries that control key passage points — like Denmark, Turkey and Egypt — to turn back Russian vessels that represent an environmental threat because of their age or lack of reliable insurance.
    • Finally, Harris said, countries need to raise the cap’s price level and then adjust it, up or down, more frequently in response to moves in global prices.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“How Firm Is Vladimir Putin’s Grip on Power?” Thomas Graham, CFR, 10.02.23. 

  • As president, he sits at the center of a vast web of patronage links that define the ruling elite: senior government officials and special services officers, the military brass, oligarchs and heads of major corporations, regional bosses, and leading academics and media representatives. Abruptly removing him risks collapsing the entire web, threatening the status and livelihood of each member of the Russian elite. Self-preservation thus provides a powerful incentive to remain loyal to Putin.
  • In addition, as president, Putin has broad authority to appoint loyalists to control the levers of power—the military and special services, key economic and financial institutions, the national media, and major corporations that manage the country’s immense natural resources. He also effectively handpicks regional leaders.
  • Putin is not invulnerable by any means. However, removing him without bringing down the whole system could require a finely tuned conspiracy among those that control real levers of power—a daunting task in a low-trust society such as Russia’s at a time of mounting political repression.
  • But it is not impossible. Pressure to remove him will grow if he proves to be incapable of effectively performing the leader’s three primary functions in Russia’s elite-based political system: to protect the elites from external foes, from the Russian people, and from one another. That is, Putin will have to manage the bitter struggle for property and power among Kremlin factions so that it does not spin out of control and jeopardize the existence of the system as a whole. Putin will be tested in the coming months on all three fronts. 
  • Putin appears to be in a strong political position, but Russian elite politics is opaque. There is little insight into what is happening behind the scenes, especially within the military and the special services, whose support is critical to Putin’s power and to any plotters seeking to remove him. If Putin is ousted, it will likely come as a surprise to the rest of the world, as it almost certainly will to Putin himself.

“Oligarchs are losing out as Putin courts a new class of loyal asset owners,” Alexandra Prokopenko, FT. 10.04.23.

  • Russian president Vladimir Putin’s recent assurances that “there will be no de-privatization” are as mendacious as his repeated promises not to invade Ukraine. The authorities have moved to seize control of 17 large enterprises this year alone, according to Ilya Shumanov, the former head of Transparency International Russia.
  • This is not an attempt by some brazen individuals in Russia to line their pockets. It is part of Putin’s effort to redistribute property from people seen as insufficiently loyal to the Kremlin and create a new class of asset owners who owe their fortunes to the president and his inner circle. Members of this new elite, mostly the siloviki (security services) and their business partners, will be the true winners of the Ukraine war—and a bedrock of the regime’s stability. Putin is not getting any younger, and this group will allow his system to reinvent itself even after he departs the political scene.
  • Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has completely redrawn the deal with the oligarchs. The August lawsuit of a Russian court to nationalize a company owned by Andrey Melnichenko, one of Russia’s richest men, is the most illustrative case. Melnichenko is under EU sanctions and doesn’t unequivocally condemn the war. Still, even this may be seen as disloyalty in the current environment, and claims by the exiled Russian banker Oleg Tinkov that Melnichenko “hates Putin” (denied by Melnichenko) may have triggered retribution.
  • Melnichenko is not alone. Last month, a court in Russia nationalized Metafrax Chemical, a large methanol producer. Prosecutors claimed that the 1992 privatization deal had “undermined Russia’s economic sovereignty and defense capacity”—words increasingly used in Russia to attack opponents. For some, the war ravaging Ukraine is a convenient pretext to nullify prewar agreements and go after lucrative assets. The de-privatization campaign obviously includes plenty of opportunism, but the Kremlin’s guiding hand is also visible. 
  • As early as January, Putin had identified the reassertion of state control over strategic enterprises as a priority for the prosecutor-general’s office.
  • Previously, Russian oligarchs believed that being under western sanctions offered a form of protection from extortion at home. The Melnichenko case shows that is no longer true. In fact, international sanctions make the oligarchs increasingly useless for the Kremlin as tools for business abroad. Still, there is little to suggest that any of them will turn soon against Putin. Their ability to influence power struggles has diminished.
  • The foundations of property rights in Russia, which were fragile long before the war, will become even shakier with the questionable new court rulings.

“Putin is using de-privatization to create a new generation of loyal oligarchs,” Nikolai Petrov, Chatham House, 10.04.23. 

  • De-privatization is definitely taking place… The project is intended to redistribute wealth to a new generation of less powerful individuals – and shore up the president’s own position after the shock of the Prigozhin mutiny and the failure to prevail in the country’s war on Ukraine.
  • A new group of quasi-owner state oligarchs is being created, with wealth and control redistributed from the ‘old nobles’ to the new. Although many individuals were coming up to retirement, the Kremlin intends to decide who should succeed them.
  • But the Kremlin is not simply installing a new cadre of owners and company heads. Oligarchs and other members of the economic elite are being reduced to roles equivalent to that of ‘red directors’ during the Soviet Union – that is, managers rather than owners of property, and without independent political power.
  • De-privatization is not only affecting Russian companies. This year, the Kremlin has seized the assets of four of the largest foreign companies in Russia. The assets of the German company Uniper and the Finnish company Fortum in the electric power industry were transferred to the external management of the Federal Property Management Agency.
  • This all amounts to a significant restructuring of the politico-economic system in Russia. De-privatization is a basic declaration that private property rights in the country are null and void – and that all property is contingent on an individual’s relationship with Putin. De-privatization represents yet another example of the continuing dismantling of rules and institutions in Russia This fits with evidence of how authoritarian political systems generally function: the leader uses the distribution of resources to establish ties of patronage and loyalty.
  • De-privatization may make economic assets more manageable by the Kremlin, but this comes at the expense of efficiency. And that means that a policy aimed at short-term control might become a long-term liability.

“Why the world has been footing the bill for Putin’s war,” Kirill Rogov, FT, 10.09.23.

  • The Kremlin is at a tipping point in the economics of this war. This week the finance ministry disclosed that it aims to spend Rbs10.8tn ($108bn) on defense next year, three times the amount allocated in 2021, and equivalent to 6 per cent of Russia’s GDP. … However, this has not significantly impacted the economy—at least, not yet. Because it is the buyers of Russian oil, rather than the Russian state, who have been paying for the conflict. 
    • An abnormal price increase in 2022 driven by the Ukraine invasion and the resulting sanctions pushed [Russia’s] exports up to $590bn and this year the figure is estimated to be around $460bn. The additional income of $200bn above the decade average roughly covers the costs of the war so far.
  • However, at a time of conflict, returning to average export revenues—while spending $120bn to $150bn on the war—will pose significant challenges for the regime. If export revenues were to dip to $350bn, Putin would be unlikely to continue the war given the dual burden of military expenditure and high social spending to maintain domestic stability.
  • Our current energy transition scenarios were mostly developed in the late 2010s. However, we are in a new era of heightened geopolitical tensions and risks. Therefore, the emerging “chokepoints” and deficits of the transition must now be viewed through a new lens: they provide dictatorships with a disproportionate lever of influence. Unless we rethink these transition arrangements, with some urgency, democracies will continue to foot the bill for the wars that autocracies wage against them.

Defense and aerospace:

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

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

Maturity Certificate, or The Order That Never Was. Fantasy of a Hierarchy-Free Future, Oleg Barabanov, Timofei Bordachev, Fyodor Lukyanov, Andrey Sushentsov, Ivan Timofeev, Valdai, 10.02.2023. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Over the past 200 years, the [international order] hierarchy has been consistently becoming less complicated. 
    • The “end of history” announced in 1989 was indeed a final milestone.
    • It envisaged that, as states integrated into the global liberal-democratic paradigm, the nature of their behavior would change as well. 
  • Hierarchy ended… with the exhaustion of the possibilities that it offered.
    • Different cultures…emphasize their identity and distinctiveness even more.
    • Attempts…to maintain the dominance of a single set of norms and rules in the spirit of the post-Cold War period…. [are] imposed coercively. [This] push…is an important cause of the current confrontations. 
    • All of that is unfolding against the backdrop of the limits [of] globalization in ensuring an acceptable division of benefits. 
  • The…convergence of forward-looking states [plays] an important role. If…successful, the new international arrangement…may emerge as a result of the natural process. 
    • This may happen without winners or losers…[and] would mark the beginning of a new non-hierarchal era and the emergence of constraints on the worst aspects of previous systems, such as…hegemony. 
  • Since the mid-1990s, the concept of multipolarity has become central to Russia’s foreign policy doctrine. Transitioning from Washington-enforced unipolarity…was the way forward. 
    • The fundamental norms of the new order include “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, peaceful coexistence and other universally recognized principles of international law.”
    • Each state is entitled…to choose its development path. 
  • Russia’s vision of the future multipolar world order was based on…the “strategic patience” postulate. 
    • Multipolarity would eventually prevail because…the world system tends towards a balance of power. 
  • February 24, 2022, marked a turning point where the structure… changed completely. 
    • Multipolarity has … become irreversible. 
    • Multipolar world has garnered support from … India and China, and a large part of the non-Western world.
  • The multipolarity we are dealing with today…can be called asynchronous multipolarity. 
    • Some elements of the order take shape more rapidly than others.
    • Varying rates of change [generate] friction and resistance.
    • The asynchronous distribution of power is a crucial feature of the contemporary…order which has no simple patterns or development scenarios to offer.

“Compliance with the principles of the UN Charter in their entirety and interconnection is the key to international peace and stability,” Sergei Lavrov, Russia in Global Affairs, 10.10.2023.

 Clues from Russian Views*

  • The general political discussion at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly has convincingly confirmed that the world is experiencing cardinal, tectonic changes. A new, more just multipolar world order is being forged before our eyes.
  • The task of speedily reforming the mechanisms of global governance is coming to the fore. The United States and its allies must abandon artificial restraint on the redistribution of voting quotas in the IMF and the World Bank…There is also an increasing demand for expansion of the Security Council .
  •  If members of the world community find the determination to return to their roots and translate their obligations under the UN Charter into practical actions, then humanity will have a chance to overcome the harmful legacy of the unipolar era.
  • It is in the search for consensus, and not in dividing the world into “democracies” and “autocracies”, that the mission of the United Nations lies. 


“Politics on Pause in Ukraine,” Jillian Kay Melchior, WSJ, 10.04.23.

  • Opponents of aid to Ukraine, and even some supporters, have criticized the country for postponing elections. Parliamentary and presidential votes were originally scheduled for this month and next year, respectively. "So to recap," Tucker Carlson said in June, "we are currently fighting a war for democracy on behalf of a leader who just casually announced he's happy to end democracy." After a visit here in August, Sen. Lindsey Graham said: "We need an election in Ukraine next year."
  • The man who lost the 2019 election to Volodymr Zelensky disagrees. Former President Petro Poroshenko, who remains an influential opposition figure, says in an interview that holding elections during the war would be "a catastrophe for Ukraine." He adds that wartime elections would be "unconstitutional" and "definitely not" democratic.
  • Mr. Poroshenko isn't alone in this view. In September 100 Ukrainian organizations signed a letter claiming "elections and full-scale war are incompatible." They warned that a vote could lead to "the loss of legitimacy of both the process and the elected bodies" and "significant destabilization of the state in general." Signatories include many of the nation's most respected civil institutions, including Transparency International Ukraine, the Anti-Corruption Action Center and the Kyiv School of Economics.
  • Postponing the election for a year or so seems prudent given the legal complications and practical concerns. But delaying the vote indefinitely could put wind in the sails of Russian propaganda about Ukrainian democracy. All the more reason for the West to give Kyiv what it needs to hasten victory.

“Calling the war in Ukraine a ‘tragedy’ shelters its perpetrators from blame and responsibility,” Mariana Budjeryn, The Conversation, 10.05.23.

  • The word “tragedy” has become ingrained in how people talk about the war in Ukraine, not only among empathizers who are discussing the horrors of the war but also the autocrats who are committing these acts.
  • When autocrats such as Putin invoke the word “tragedy,” this allows them to move away from words such as “crime” and instead minimize the human responsibility involved in these acts. 
  • In general, words lead people to think about events in specific ways. In this case, the word “tragedy” implies inadvertence and inevitability, providing a connotation that the events are beyond anyone’s control.
  • As such, the use of the word “tragedy” in discussing Russia’s war on Ukraine masks the responsibility of the perpetrator. The actions of Russia are a crime and not inevitable, and hence the vocabulary used to describe these actions should be precise in this way too. 

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Nagorno-Karabakh shows that Russia has lost control of its near-abroad,” Alexander Gabuev, FT, 10.04.23. Clues from Russian views.

  • The tragic exodus [of Karabakh Armenians] … reveals another truth: as a result of its brutal invasion of Ukraine, Russia can no longer protect the interests of even its closest partners. 
    • First, Russia’s armed forces have no spare capacity for another regional war with a sophisticated adversary backed by Turkey, a leading member of NATO. Moscow cannot support Armenia should it decide to go to war with Azerbaijan. Russia’s military weakness in the region was exposed for all to see last year when Azerbaijan launched a brief military assault on Armenia and the Kremlin stood by. 
    • Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has become more and more dependent on Azerbaijan and Turkey, which both play a vital role in shadowy financial and logistical schemes that help the Kremlin evade western sanctions.
    • Finally, Russia is no longer capable of working with the west. Instead of uneasy diplomatic co-operation with Paris and Washington over Nagorno-Karabakh, Moscow is now in outright competition for influence in the South Caucasus. This duel creates space for Baku to use its military without fear of a coordinated pushback from three UN Security Council permanent members. 
  • It will not be easy for Armenia to find a way forward. It has few options: ties with Turkey are poisoned by history, Iran does not have the wherewithal to provide meaningful assistance, and the west’s resources are stretched thin given commitments in Ukraine and elsewhere around the world.

“Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict: Last Chapter or More to Come?” Sergei Markedonov, RIAC, 10.09.23.Clues from Russian Views.

  • Russia is extremely interested in unblocking transport communications and a peace treaty through its decisive mediation. But Turkey (which today feels itself a beneficiary in the Caucasus) benefits from the “corridor logic”, which will connect not only Nakhichevan with the regions of western Azerbaijan, but also the two Turkic allied countries. Of course, Ankara and Baku would prefer a corridor that would pass through today’s Armenian territory, but without Yerevan’s effective control (the question of formulas is secondary here).  Not only the Armenian leadership but Iran, too, do not agree with this approach, because Iran fears robust pan-Turkism along its own borders. 
  • The agenda of the peace treaty is not so simple either. Formally, Russia and the West have no fundamental disagreements on this issue as Moscow, Brussels and Washington support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. However, after the SMO in Ukraine, the OSCE Minsk Group stopped operations and the unique interaction on the Karabakh track ceased. Now, Russia and the West see each other as rivals, while the peace treaty between Baku and Yerevan is looked upon as a means to minimize each other’s influence in the Caucasus region. 
  • And last but not least, Azerbaijan solved the Karabakh problem by force, not at the negotiating table. One can find thousands of arguments in favor of the premise that the Armenian side had been shirking concessions, merely imitating the negotiation process for many years. But the fact remains that brute force prevailed. This opens horizons for new demands on Baku’s part, whereas Yerevan suffered dangerous traumas and their treatment is accompanied by high risks and unpredictability. Thus, in case of any change in the military and political balance, there is a risk of revision or even breaking of the new status quo, if not by the parties to the conflict directly, then by some external actors. 

“We Just Saw What the World Is About to Become,” Georgi Derluguian, NYT, 10.09.23.

  • The history of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh was ended in the old manner of conflict resolution: siege, conquest, expulsion. After a 10-month blockade, Azerbaijan launched an attack on Sept. 19, claiming the enclave in a day and causing nearly the entire ethnic Armenian population to flee. Give war a chance, as the saying goes.
  • For Armenians, a classic relic ethnic minority whose Christianity and peculiar alphabet date to the epic struggles between the Romans and the Parthians, it was another genocide. For the Azerbaijanis, Turkic in language and historically Shia Muslim, a great triumph. Yet despite appearances, the conflict is not a Samuel Huntington-style clash of civilizations. Instead, in its emboldening of traditional regional powers like Turkey, scrambling for geopolitical spoils after the retreat of superpowers, it’s a harbinger of the coming world disorder.
  • History has a habit of serving the same lessons with changed variables. In 1988, it was the dreamer Gorbachev stumbling over Nagorno-Karabakh that unwittingly shattered the world order. Today, Mr. Putin could become the second, much darker incarnation of the Kremlin aggrandizer going awry on all fronts. The consequences—from emboldening international aggression to reanimating the West under the banner of NATO—will be profound. As events in Nagorno-Karabakh show, the fragile post-Cold War order is giving way to something else entirely.
  • The Caucasus might seem strange and distant. Yet it might prove the wedge that turns the fortunes of world order. Trieste, Smyrna, Sarajevo, Danzig and Crimea were all such places. Let us not have to relearn history at the cost of yet another ethnic cleansing.

 “Tragedy and Opportunity in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Daniel Sneider, NI, 10.04.23. 

  • For the Armenian government, the clearest signal of Moscow’s abandonment came a year ago when Azerbaijani attacks along the border with Armenia itself—beyond the Karabakh region—failed to trigger a Russian response. This was a violation of commitments that should have been the result of Armenia’s participation in CSTO.
  • Many Armenian analysts believe the Azerbaijani attack is only a first step aimed at a Russian-sponsored overthrow of the Pashinyan government in street protests fed by the anger of displaced Karabakh Armenians.
  • A far more massive U.S.-led relief effort for the tens of thousands of Karabakh Armenians is an immediate need. But also crucial is to replace the Russians as guarantors of Armenia’s established boundaries, including resistance to the forced creation of an Azerbaijani corridor that would seal off Armenia’s border with Iran. Normalization of relations with Turkey, opening that border to trade and transport, is long overdue, but it can only happen with Americans providing border security forces.

“Armenian Exodus Marks a New Front in East-West Power Tussle,” Anthony Halpin, Bloomberg, 10.03.23. 

  • Decades of enmity since fuels the distrust among Karabakh Armenians that they can live peacefully under Azerbaijani rule. The arrests of high-profile Armenian leaders such as former Moscow investment banker Ruben Vardanyan and Baku’s announcement that more than 300 are on a wanted list hasn’t eased anxieties.
  • Few Armenians believe they’ll ever return to Nagorno-Karabakh. The question is whether the powers jockeying for control in the Caucasus will just move the conflict elsewhere. 

 “The things they could not carry,” Arto Vaun, The Boston Globe, 10.08,23.

  • Azerbaijan has wreaked intense trauma on the Artsakh Armenians who had to frantically pack what they could and leave the only land they'd ever known. This after most of them had already lost loved ones in the previous wars and tragedies.
  • Azerbaijan, abetted by Turkey, will seek to demolish or repurpose ancient churches and other historic sites, because it is cultural evidence that subverts historical revisionism and denial. This is why both countries have pursued a systematic and terrifying state policy of inculcating hate, erasing cultural traces of Armenians' presence, and rewriting history.



[1] For RM’s attempt to catalogue and analyze Western leaders’ pledges to do “whatever it takes” and for “as long as it takes” to support Ukraine, see RM’s blog.

[2] For the Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force’s estimate of changes in control of territory see RM’s blog. 

[3] For RM’s attempt to catalogue and analyze the claim that Russia is running out missiles see RM’s blog.

[4] For RM’s attempt to catalogue and analyze predictions of Putin’s end, see RM’s blog.

[5] For Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force’s estimate of changes in control of territory see RM’s blog. 

[6] Amid international concerns over Russia's intention to de-ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on October 10 that Moscow would resume nuclear tests "only after the United States carries out similar testing. Russian lawmakers and the Foreign Ministry are expected to set a schedule for debate by October 18 on the de-ratifying of the CTBT, according to RFE/RL.


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

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

*Text designated with an asterisk has been translated with the assistance of machine translation.

Slider photo obtained from U.S. Department of Defense photo archives and used in accordance with relevant usage standards