Russia Analytical Report, Oct. 22-29, 2018

This Week’s Highlights:

  • Steven Pifer, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wonders if New START will be next to go after the INF Treaty’s demise. In contrast Michael Kofman, senior research scientist at CNA Corporation, believes that discarding the INF Treaty may even help secure the extension of New START.
  • Russian insiders think the U.S. move to withdraw from the INF Treaty is aimed primarily at China, according to CNA’s Dmitry Gorenburg. Russian leaders have grown so skeptical of the INF Treaty that it was not even mentioned in the country’s 2016 foreign policy concept, according to Alexey Arbatov, head of the Center for International Security at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations.
  • In Brookings fellow Frank Rose’s assessment, Russia and China have achieved conventional military parity or local superiority with the United States in certain regional contingencies in Eastern Europe and the Western Pacific. Rose outlines steps that he believes would enable the U.S. to maintain an effective extended deterrence against the two.
  • The U.S. has no plans in place in case Russia, China or another country manage to disrupt presidential elections, according to Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
  • Joanna Hosa, program manager for the ECFR Wider Europe program, claims it is not unimaginable that Russia may simply move in to begin exploiting the Lomonosov ridge in the Arctic, creating a fait accompli that only other major powers could undo.
  • Allen Lynch, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, examines alternative futures for Russia, concluding that “Putin in power may be the best that the United States can hope for.”

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

“Rising Nuclear Dangers: Diverging Views of Strategic Stability,” Robert E. Berls, Jr., Leon Ratz and Brian Rose, Nuclear Threat Initiative, 10.23.18The authors, experts at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, write that their organization “conducted an informal survey of leading security experts from the United States, Russia and Europe to assess their views on strategic stability and the factors that affect it. The survey responses led to the following conclusions: Russia’s interpretation of strategic stability remains broader than that of the United States and Europe. … Emerging technologies are complicating strategic stability calculations. … There is an emerging debate in some corners of Moscow and Washington about whether limited use of nuclear weapons may be viewed by leaders as feasible and less catastrophic, more controllable and more credible than the threat of massive retaliation. … Left unaddressed, differences in interpretations of what impacts stability and what triggers escalation bear heavily on the risk of miscalculation or accident between Russian and Western forces. … NTI’s survey results confirm what has become increasingly apparent in recent years: that all too often, what the West finds stabilizing, Russia finds destabilizing, and vice versa. Acknowledging this divergence is a critical step toward addressing the most serious crisis facing Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.”

NATO-Russia relations:

“America Doesn’t Need a 'Fort Trump' in Poland: Warsaw's offer is a bad idea for Washington and Europe,” Doug Bandow, The National Interest, 10.27.18The author, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writes: “The Poles want America to defend them. Warsaw put a couple of billion dollars on the table toward a permanent U.S. base. … Polish President Andrzej Duda … even offered to name the new facility Fort Trump. … [Trump] appeared to be impressed by the offer. … Overseas commitments and facilities made some sense during the Cold War. However, today’s Fort Trump would serve no useful military purpose. … Instead, NATO is defense welfare for Europe. … Washington already rotates forces through Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. … Nor does anyone expect a Russian invasion of Poland. … Granting Poland’s request would be expensive. … Increasing America’s commitment also undermines efforts to get Europe to do more. … Finally, creating Fort Trump would heighten the confrontation with Russia. The demonization of Moscow is both unprincipled and dangerous. Washington has valid complaints but should drop the sanctimony. … Instead of stoking bilateral conflict, Washington should seek peaceful compromise with Moscow. … Turning down the proposal for Fort Trump would be a first step toward finally establishing the president’s ‘America First’ foreign policy.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“After INF, Is New START Next to Go?” Steven Pifer, Brookings Institution, 10.29.18The author, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes: “The president’s decision on the INF Treaty is a mistake. Will he make an even bigger error by withdrawing from — or not extending — the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty? … New START is in the U.S. interest. It nonetheless has several strikes against it. … [National security adviser John] Bolton disdains arms control. He opposed New START, in part because the treaty entailed equal limits for the United States and Russia. … Russia has complied with New START’s limits. The U.S. military very much approves of the treaty. A decision to withdraw would provoke a political firestorm, including from Republican ranks. The more relevant question thus may be: Will Trump let New START lapse when its term expires in 2021, or will he agree with Putin to extend the treaty for five years? The treaty allows for the latter, and the Russians have indicated interest. … Extending New START offers the logical step. Doing so would continue to 2026 New START’s limits on the number of Russian strategic weapons, at a time when Russia has hot production lines churning out new strategic arms. Extension would not crimp U.S. plans. … Extension would also continue the flow of information and transparency … from the treaty’s verification measures. … New START extension would [also] provide an important measure of stability to the troubled U.S.-Russia relationship.”

“Back to Pershings: What the US Withdrawal From the 1987 INF Treaty Means,” Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.24.18The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes: “Trump’s coup de theatre on the eve of U.S. congressional elections deals a blow to his critics, who constantly rebuke the president for appeasing the Kremlin. … [S]crapping the INF Treaty [also] gives Washington free rein to threaten North Korea while also pressuring China … U.S. intermediate-range missiles can also return to Europe … Should this happen … it would lead to a steep escalation of the U.S.-Russian confrontation. In and of itself, the U.S. withdrawal … doesn’t create any immediate problems for Russia. … [Moscow] needs to focus on working with European governments and publics to prevent growing likelihood of a military conflict in Europe in case U.S. intermediate-range missiles are deployed in NATO countries. In the event of a significant increase in the military threat for Russia, Moscow should proportionally increase the threat for the U.S. territory. It’s not in Russia’s best interest to respond to the United States by punishing its allies. … Moscow doesn’t have to blindly follow the United States. Getting involved in another U.S.-imposed arms race and undermining its relations with third countries is not in Russia’s best interests. Moscow needs to remain calm and hold back emotions. U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty won’t compromise Russia’s security.”

“The Danger of Withdrawing From the INF Treaty,” Alexey Arbatov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.26.18The author, head of the Center for International Security at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, writes: “The U.S. does not question the treaty’s value … but neither does it consider the treaty a priority … By contrast, Russia’s leadership, along with most of the country’s political elites and strategic studies experts, during the last decade have regularly expressed skepticism about the INF Treaty’s value. Russia’s most recent Foreign Policy Concept published in 2016 did not even mention the INF Treaty on its list of arms control agreements to which Russia is pledging its allegiance. … [T]he U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty risks triggering a chain reaction that would result in the collapse of the U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control architecture. … [T]he New START Treaty may join it [INF] in the dustbin of history, as may the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, or CTBT. The world faces a new offensive nuclear arms race … This multidimensional arms race would most likely become multilateral, drawing in China, NATO member-states, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Plus, the consequent and inevitable proliferation of nuclear weapons will be concentrated along Russia’s borders, leaving Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Japan forced to ensure their own security. … [H]istory shows that rejecting arms control agreements never improves one’s security and always damages it, a lesson that Moscow and Washington should heed.”

“Here’s What the Russians Think About the Trump Administration’s Decision to Withdraw From a Nuclear Arms Treaty,” Dmitry Gorenburg, The Washington Post, 10.26.18The author, a senior research scientist in the strategic studies division of CNA, writes: “Russians see the INF as giving unfair advantages to the United States. Russia gave up its ground-launched intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles without extracting any restrictions on U.S. sea- and air-launched missiles. … Russia’s nuclear weapons are land-based, whereas the United States bases much of its nuclear force on submarines. … The United States has claimed that Russia has been violating the INF since 2014 … Russia has in turn claimed that the United States is in violation … First, the Kremlin claims that U.S. unmanned strike aircraft, such as Predators, are actually ground-launched cruise missiles—and should be subject to the treaty’s prohibitions. … [And] Russia argues that the U.S. Aegis Ashore missile defense system … uses the same launch systems as the ship-based Tomahawk cruise missiles. … Russian experts unanimously believe that if the United States withdraws from the treaty, Russia will benefit in the short term, as it has ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles that are much closer to being deployable than the United States’ missiles. Russian insiders think this U.S. move is aimed primarily at China, which is not a party to the INF and has deployed a large number of intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

“A New Nuclear Arms Race Has Begun: President Trump says he plans to withdraw from a nonproliferation treaty that I signed with Ronald Reagan. It’s just the latest victim in the militarization of world affairs,” Mikhail Gorbachev, New York Times, 10.25.18The author, former leader of the Soviet Union, writes: “A new arms race has been announced. … [T]he United States invoked Russia’s alleged violations of some of the [INF] treaty’s provisions. Russia has raised similar concerns regarding American compliance, at the same time proposing to discuss the issues … [T]he United States has been avoiding such discussion. I think it is now clear why. With enough political will, any problems of compliance … could be resolved. But … the president of the United States has a very different purpose in mind. It is to release the United States from any obligations, any constraints, and not just regarding nuclear missiles. The United States has in effect taken the initiative in destroying the entire system of international treaties and accords that served as the underlying foundation for peace and security following World War II. … Is it too late to return to dialogue and negotiations? I don’t want to lose hope. I hope that Russia will take a firm but balanced stand. I hope that America’s allies will, upon sober reflection, refuse to be launchpads for new American missiles.”

“We Must Preserve This Nuclear Treaty: This is the time to expand, not abandon, an important nuclear weapons agreement with Russia,” George P. Shultz, New York Times, 10.25.18The author, who served as U.S. secretary of state in the Reagan administration, writes: “The treaty is still in force, although both the Obama and Trump administrations have said that Russia is in violation. Whatever the case, we need to preserve the agreement rather than abandon it … [W]e should invite other countries to join the treaty and resist the temptation ourselves to develop new classes of these deadly weapons. … The first step would be to convene a meeting between American and Russian experts to discuss possible violations of the treaty. … Now is not the time to build larger arsenals of nuclear weapons. Now is the time to rid the world of this threat. Leaving the treaty would be a huge step backward.”

“Under the Missile’s Shadow: What Does the Passing of the INF Treaty Mean?” Michael Kofman, War on the Rocks, 10.26.18The author, a senior research scientist at CNA Corporation, writes: “Despite gut-wrenching protests from the arms control community, walking away from the treaty is not necessarily a mistake. … If only one party is complying with the deal, then it ceases to be an instrument of arms control and becomes a unilateral act of self-restraint. Discarding the INF Treaty may even help secure the extension of the much more important New START Treaty in 2021. As it stands today, extending New START would be tantamount to renewing vows despite ongoing infidelity. … [W]alking away from the treaty may ultimately be the best option for the United States. Yet doing so without a plan will simply further enable Russia to deploy intermediate-range land-based cruise and ballistic missiles, with Washington taking the blame—as Moscow always intended—for withdrawing from the agreement. Meanwhile, comparable American systems are years or decades away … Withdrawing from the INF Treaty may seem an initial victory for Moscow. … However, Russia’s gains are not without long-term costs. … Russia will further lose status and recognition as a great power that once signed treaties as a peer of the United States. … Given the asymmetry in economic resources, the United States is much better positioned to eventually deploy a substantially larger arsenal of intermediate-range missiles than Russia. … [S]hort- and intermediate-range missiles could eventually find their way to NATO’s eastern member states, where they would pose an existential threat to Russia.”

“The INF Treaty Hamstrings the US Trump Is Right to Leave It,” Elbridge Colby, The Washington Post, 10.23.18The author, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, writes: “The truth is that the United States should no longer tolerate the INF status quo. The reasons basically boil down to two:  Russia appears unwilling to give up the systems that violate INF … and, more important, the United States no longer benefits from a ban on ground-based intermediate-range systems—but because of China, not Russia. Many will argue that leaving the INF treaty is tantamount to tearing down the late-Cold War arms-control architecture … But such statements are gross exaggerations. … INF did not need to be a disarmament treaty; most arms control treaties involve ceilings rather than bans, as well as transparency and inspections. There is nothing inherently destabilizing about INF systems. … It is disarmers who argue that we should put our faith in treaties—but if there is no consequence for violating them, what hope is there for disarmament? All that this means, however, is that there is a middle course open. Russia clearly believes it needs INF systems, and the United States could benefit from them in Asia. A revised INF that regionalized the treaty and replaced the ban with ceilings and transparency measures … is therefore a natural area of potential agreement. Ending up there could make sense for all parties.”

“Trump Is Pulling Out of One of the Most Successful Arms-Control Treaties Ever,” Michael McFaul, The Washington Post, 10.24.18The author, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, writes: “It is true that Russia was violating the INF Treaty by developing a new cruise missile. … And yes, China also needs to be deterred in Asia. The Trump decision to withdraw for the INF Treaty now, however, does little to achieve these U.S. security goals and much to undermine them. … In Europe, we have now lost the diplomatic battle by appearing yet again as the wrecker of international agreements. … [T]he Trump administration has not outlined how it will use its freedom from the INF Treaty to deploy more intermediate-range missiles on land in Europe. … In Asia, the United States and our allies have many other means to deter China without deploying intermediate-range missiles on the ground. … What's likely up next for the Trump/Bolton wrecking ball: New START. Bolton has never supported this treaty. If we pull out of it, get ready to spend hundreds of billions on more nuclear weapons of little strategic value … and tens of billions of dollars more to gather intelligence about Russia's nuclear deployments that can currently be collected through the verification and inspections procedures codified in New START.”

“Serial Killing Spree That Threatens Us All,” Joe Cirincione, DefenseOne, 10.22.18The author, president of Ploughshares Fund, writes: “Europeans saw that agreement as the crowning achievement of European Union security diplomacy. … Perhaps that is why the decision to jettison the INF Treaty did not come from the State Department (which normally has jurisdiction over treaties), but out of Bolton’s National Security Council. Bolton has an obsession with tearing down the treaties, legal arrangements and global governance councils created by Republicans and Democrats over the past 70 years. He views treaties as tools of the global Lilliputians to tie down the American Gulliver. … Like a recycled horror movie, he presents nuclear war-fighting ideas from the 1950s as if they were bold new concepts. … Bolton is setting up Trump—and America—for a foreign policy disaster. Ronald Reagan must be rolling over in his grave.”

“Donald Trump Strikes a Blow Against Nuclear Stability,” Editorial Board, Financial Times, 10.23.18The news outlet’s editorial board writes: “The immediate impact of the INF announcement is to inject an element of nuclear instability into European security barely four years after the Russian annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine. … The INF decision reinforces the signal that the U.S. is no longer interested in negotiated de-escalation. It is everyone for themselves. The meaning will not be missed in Beijing. … There is a temptation to see the idea of nuclear confrontation between great powers as belonging to the bygone age of Dr. Strangelove. … The reality, amplified by the demise of the INF Treaty, is the threat of a new era of nuclear instability, this time unchecked by the agreements that stabilized the stand-off between the U.S. and Soviet Union.”


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

“Russia Cannot Dictate Syrian Repatriation: Refugees are pawns in Moscow’s game, but only if Washington lets it be that way,” Justin Roy, The National Interest, 10.28.18The author, a fellow at Americans for a Free Syria, writes: “After more than seven years of war, Syria is decimated. … According to the United Nations eleven million Syrians have been displaced, around six million internally, while more than five million have fled the country. More than a million Syrians have fled to Europe. … Still, as the Assad regime retakes more territory, the calls for Syrian repatriation are growing. On Sept. 29 … Assad’s deputy prime minister, Walid al-Moualem, said it was time for Syrian refugees to return home. The president of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, and Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, echoed these calls and trumpeted a Russian-led repatriation effort … The United States must counter Russia’s manipulation of the refugee population and work with the international community to block any move to repatriate Syrian citizens involuntarily or prematurely. Despite the Russian disinformation campaign to the contrary, the reality is that Syria is not safe for the return of refugees.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Elections interference:

“Russian Disinformation on Facebook Targeted Ukraine Well Before the 2016 US Election,” Dana Priest, James Jacoby and Anya Bourg, The Washington Post, 10.29.18The authors, an investigative reporter for the Post and producers for Frontline PBS, write: “In the spring of 2015, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was desperate for Mark Zuckerberg's help. His government had been urging Facebook to stop the Kremlin's spreading of misinformation on the social network to foment distrust in his new administration and to promote support of Russia's invasion and occupation of parts of Ukraine. In the three years since then, officials here [in Ukraine] say the company has failed to address most of their concerns about Russian online interference … The tactics identified by officials … are the same as in the 2016 contest—and continue to challenge Facebook ahead of next month's midterm elections. … Facebook has launched major changes … since the 2016 U.S. election made the company … aware of how Russian actors were abusing it to influence politics far beyond their borders. But Ukraine's warnings two years earlier show how the social media giant has been blind to the misuse of Facebook, in particular in places where it is hugely popular but has no on-the-ground presence.”

“Our Elections Are Wide-Open for a Constitutional Crisis,” Norman J. Ornstein, The Washington Post, 10.27.18The author, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writes: “We have no Plan B to take the impact into account if a national election is disrupted. … What if, for example, China or Russia knocks out the electrical grid in one region of the country on a presidential Election Day? A hundred or more electoral votes would be disrupted, leaving the election outcome unsettled … And of course, the same disruption could occur with a hurricane … We have no provision for a later election just in one region, and if we did, it would not be fair, because voters would know the results in the rest of the country. We have no provision to hold another election at a later date. Yet under such circumstances, it's likely that no presidential candidate would get the necessary 270 electoral votes to be declared the winner. That, under the Constitution, would send the election to the House of Representatives—where, in turn, a significant share of members would not be seated for the new Congress, because their elections would not be held or valid. … What is urgently needed is to put this issue on the agenda and work through the possible ways to deal with it. And we need to do this—and act—before an event happens.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant commentary.

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Looking Beyond the Era of Angela Merkel: Germany is heading for a period of introversion and instability,” Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, 10.29.18The author, chief foreign affairs columnist for the news outlet, writes: “Ms. Merkel is on her way out as the leader of Germany. … With Germany now clearly the dominant player within the EU, the policies adopted in Berlin, in the closing of the Merkel era, will be critical to the future of the euro, to the handling of Brexit and to the future of the EU’s relations with both Russia and the U.S. Ms. Merkel was awarded the unofficial title of ‘leader of the West’ by those who looked to Germany to defend the multilateral rules-based order against the nationalist and protectionist policies of … Donald Trump … and the revanchism of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. … Ms. Merkel’s retreat is likely to make Germany more introverted and unstable and therefore less able to lead in Europe or internationally.”

“Strategy on Ice: Has Russia already won the scramble for the Arctic?” Joanna Hosa, European Council on Foreign Relations, 10.26.18The author, program manager for the ECFR Wider Europe program, writes: “The northern ice is melting faster than previously thought, and the Arctic could even be ice-free by 2040, meaning the scramble for the top of the globe may accelerate. … [T]he biggest winner of this evolving situation is likely to be Russia. … Russia does have a long-term, viable strategy for the Arctic that it started to pursue before others fully grasped the region’s strategic importance. … Russia has the tools and the infrastructure it needs to work in the harsh conditions in the north. It will be difficult for others to catch up when Russia has this headstart. … Other countries should prepare for Russia continuing to want more than it receives under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. … [I]t is not unimaginable that Russia may simply move in to begin exploiting the Lomonosov ridge, creating a fait accompli that only other major powers could undo. At the moment it is not clear who would wish to confront Russia in this way, or even whether they have the full complement of strategy, skills and technology to do so.”


“As Russia and China Improve Their Conventional Military Capabilities, Should the US Rethink Its Assumptions on Extended Nuclear Deterrence?” Frank A. Rose, Brookings Institution, 10.23.18The author, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes: “Though the United States currently possesses unmatched global military power projection capabilities, and spends substantially more on defense than Russia and China, there is little doubt that Russia and China have achieved conventional military parity or local superiority with the United States in certain regional contingencies in Eastern Europe and the Western Pacific. … Russia and China are also devoting significant resources to develop disruptive technologies like offensive cyber and anti-satellite weapons, which are designed to exploit perceived gaps and vulnerabilities in U.S. defenses. … Russia and China are investing heavily in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, cyber and hypersonics. … How will the United States be able to maintain an effective extended deterrence posture given the above-mentioned challenges? … Don’t adopt a ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons policy. … Improve U.S. conventional military capabilities. … Modernize and strengthen U.S. and allied theater nuclear forces and consultative mechanisms. … Enhance the resiliency of critical infrastructure. … Invest in emerging technologies. … Maintain open lines of communication with Russia and China.”


“Soldiers of the Cross: The Church, Ukraine’s Independence and Russia’s Fight for Regional Influence,” Emily Ferris, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), 10.26.18The author, a research fellow in the international security studies team at RUSI, writes: “Autocephaly of the church has been under discussion for months in Ukraine … As indicated, this drive for independence from Moscow is part of Poroshenko’s campaign strategy as he seeks re-election. As Poroshenko’s campaign posters indicate, he promotes three main goals—developing the army, language and faith. … Distancing the church from Moscow is another attempt to further reinforce distinctions between Russian and Ukrainian national identities, and in many respects replicates the historic drive for independence of other Orthodox churches in 19th Century Europe … Poroshenko has also focused on the other two goals. … Opinion polls vary, but most agree that these efforts are not making an appreciable impact: opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko from the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party leads in the polls … Independence from the Russian Orthodox Church is clearly a political win that Poroshenko can point to, but it is unlikely to have a tangible effect, particularly as popular support for the conflict in the east has significantly declined. But another pillar of Ukrainian independence is now put in place. And another front has opened in Moscow’s struggle to reassert Russia’s control over the former Soviet space.”

“The Lessons of the Donbass Election Campaigns,” Kirill Krivosheev, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.29.19The author, a journalist with Kommersant, writes: “Just two months ago, there were no plans to hold elections in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics, even though the four-year terms of the Donbass officials were coming to an end. … Then, the assassination of Donetsk leader Alexander Zakharchenko in late August forced everyone into an about-turn. … The recently published lists of candidates confirmed that the [upcoming Nov. 11] election winners were selected far ahead of time in Moscow, but the campaigns and candidates … say a lot about the ideological differences within the self-proclaimed republics and about the Kremlin’s vision for their future. … Zakharchenko’s assassination may have introduced some political uncertainty in Donetsk, but in Luhansk there was never any question about what the future holds. … [In Donetsk] [b]oth the low popularity of the main candidate … and the Kremlin’s attempts to restore his reputation … have made things more interesting. … The romantic spirit of 2014 … has completely dissipated. Today, the poster child of Donbass is not a tough guy in fatigues, but an ‘effective manager’ in a suit and tie who is ready to take unpopular decisions as directed from above and relay the bad news to the people.”

“The Church Strikes Back: Where Will Moscow’s Rupture With Constantinople Lead?” Alexander Zanemonets, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.23.18The author, a professor of Byzantine studies with the University of Haifa, Israel, writes: “The Russian Orthodox Church has broken off full communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople after he took steps to recognize two Ukrainian Orthodox Churches that Moscow regards as ‘schismatic.’ … What does the Russian Church’s decision actually change? In truth, very little. … Both Russia and its church are still trying to construct their relations with Ukraine in the mold of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union. … But other nations’ histories provide numerous examples of states that perceived themselves as one, then split, but later came together on new terms. … Great Britain and the United States or Austria and Germany are clear examples. Another example is Greece and Cyprus. … Ukraine and Russia are in a totally different position, so the unity of faith is powerless here. In the olden days, faith was greater than the state. Now, everyone—including the clergy—frequently and eagerly demonstrates that the state trumps faith.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant commentary.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“What Russia Will Be: Four scenarios for the future of Putin’s Russia, and Russia’s Putin,” Allen Lynch, The American Interest, 10.25.18The author, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, writes that in the first scenario is “Continuation of the Status Quo. … [W]e can expect to see a Russian economy that remains disproportionately based on fuels and other natural resources and struggles to grow at 1-2 percent per year. … [W]e can expect that with Putin at the helm, the Russian government will remain capable of managing a slowly deteriorating macroeconomy … Scenario 2. The Disintegration of the Russian Federation. … It is difficult to see where the impulse for the breakup of Russia might come from, absent defeat in a major war that its thousands of nuclear weapons are virtually certain to deter. One possible trigger could be a major escalation of war in Ukraine. … Scenario 3. Bankruptcy. … Were Putin to die tomorrow, or fail to institutionalize his system before the onset of a succession crisis, a struggle for power and wealth might siphon off the financial resources needed to weather another crisis. … Scenario 4. Emergence of a Democratic Alternative … Even in the event that a Navalny-like figure comes to power, Russia would remain far from liberal and still suspicious, at best, of the West in general and the United States in particular. … The bipartisan consensus in Washington now is that there can be no progress in U.S.-Russian relations so long as Putin is in power. But Putin in power may be the best that the United States can hope for. Every other scenario, plausible and less plausible, seems more unpredictable and even dangerous.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.