Russia Analytical Report, Oct. 23-30, 2023

5 Ideas to Explore

  1. The Kremlin stands to benefit from the Israel-Hamas conflict in three ways, according to Hanna Notte of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. The conflict distracts the West from the war in Ukraine; it hinders normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel; and it helps Russia to style itself as David to the Western Goliath in the court of global opinion. At the same time, however, the conflict has brought about a domestic challenge to Vladimir Putin in the form of antisemitic demonstrations, which have broken out in Russia’s Muslim-majority North Caucasus region over the weekend in response to what demonstrators saw as the deadly mistreatment of civilians in Gaza by Israel in the course of the latter’s response to Hamas terrorist attacks. The Kremlin will struggle to reassure constituencies that the situation is under control in the wake of these demonstrations, according to ISW.
  2. While suitable for Congressional affairs, President Biden’s “linking Ukraine and Israel…is not good in terms of global politics"  as it  "ties Ukraine to what is going to happen in the Middle East…especially in [the Global South] where there was a great deal of skepticism about Ukraine,” according to Fiona Hill, chancellor of the Durham University and member of the Harvard University Board of Overseers. “We made a mistake in the very beginning, when [the war in Ukraine] was portrayed as the battle of democracy vs autocracy,” which is something many countries in the Global South “did not buy ... either,” Hill told FP.
  3. On three occasions Ukraine and Russia seemed to be close to a peace deal, indicating that there might be a pathway to a negotiated end of the war, according to Ted Snider of and Nicolai Petro of the University of Rhode Island. These three occasions were as follows: “First in Belarus, then in talks mediated by then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet and, most promisingly, in Istanbul, where they actually initialed a tentative agreement,” the duo write in NI. “The mere fact that a framework for an agreement has been reached before [in Istanbul] suggests that the most debilitating assumption about this war—that the parties’ differences are irreconcilable—is not true. In fact, it is the willingness to negotiate, not the terms of the agreement, that now stands in the way of peace,” they argue.
  4. “If Putin believes that complete defeat in Ukraine will lead to his being toppled—and killed or detained—he will likely see the stakes as sufficiently high to use nuclear weapons,” according to Keir Lieber of Georgetown University and Daryl Press of Dartmouth College. In their article for FA, these two scholars warn that “those who downplay Russia’s nuclear options misunderstand the logic of coercive escalation.” “Russia’s goal would not be to rectify the conventional military imbalance but to demonstrate in a shocking fashion that the war is spinning out of control and must be ended immediately,” they write.
  5. George E. Bogden’s archival research for documents related to the 1994 Budapest memorandum has made him challenge a long-established claim that “Ukraine was incapable of the technical means of operating nuclear weapons and that such weapons wouldn’t do much for its security even if it could.” In his NI article, this Columbia Law School fellow also argues that that the Clinton administration did “have a sense of the Russian threat” to neighboring post-Soviet republics at the time Ukraine’s denuclearization was negotiated. Bogden writes that Clinton’s Ambassador-at-Large Strobe Talbott may have been entertaining “misgivings” about Russia’s policies toward its neighbors. In September 1993, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Graham Allison and associate B. G. Riley had written to Talbott with their “concern about Russian unilateralism and increasing Russian pressure upon other states of the former Soviet Union,” according to Bogden. Allison and Riley noted that while negotiating joint control of the Black Sea fleet the month before, “Russia blackmailed [then-Ukrainian President Leonid] Kravchuk with oil and gas.” The ensuing circumstances were dire: “If Russia cuts off oil and gas, Kravchuk…will be forced out.” When reading Bogden’s account, it might be useful to ask: Who had the greatest national interest in eliminating Ukraine’s inherited nuclear arsenal?*


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

Impact of the Israel-Hamas war: 

"Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment,” ISW, 10.29.23. 

  • Ongoing antisemitic demonstrations in the Republic of Dagestan and elsewhere in the North Caucasus are highlighting heightened interethnic and interreligious tensions in Russia. Hundreds of demonstrators in Dagestan broke into Makhachkala airport, blocked the runway, and attempted to board a plane arriving from Israel on the evening of October 29 following the circulation of rumors that Russian authorities were planning to resettle “Israeli refugees” in Dagestan and elsewhere in the North Caucasus. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at a hotel in Khasavyurt, Dagestan on the evening of October 28 to look for suspected “Israeli refugees” based on similar rumors. Unknown actors reportedly set fire to a Jewish cultural center under construction in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkarian Republic on the night of October 28 to 29.
  • Demonstrators also checked identification documents in search of Israeli citizens, although there are no reports of demonstrators finding any Israeli citizens. Demonstrators have chanted “death to Jews” and have also occasionally gotten physical with security personnel at the airport. Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) elements have removed demonstrators from the premises of the airport, but crowds are still present outside of the airport. 
  • The rumors appear to have originated with a local Dagestani Telegram channel, which claimed that “Israeli refugees” were staying at the hotel in Khasavyurt, Dagestan on October 28 and proceeded to announce plans for demonstrations that took place several hours later in the center of Makhachkala. … The Telegram channel that spread the rumors is currently down, which may be the first indicator that Russian authorities are actively trying to suppress the continuation of the antisemitic demonstrations. Governor of Dagestan Sergei Melikov claimed that Utro Dagestana, a Telegram channel he said was run by “traitors,” was to blame for posting anti-Semitic statements on Oct. 28 in an attempt to inflame public opinion. The channel was created by former Russian MP Ilya Ponomarev, who is now based in Ukraine, but Ponomarev said that he cut all ties with the channel over a year ago, according to Novaya Gazeta.
  • The Kremlin will likely struggle to reassure constituencies that the situation is under control and convince Jewish audiences that Jewish minorities are safe in Russia despite its efforts to present Russia as a religiously tolerant country. Spokesperson for Russia’s Chief Rabbinate in Dagestan Ovadya Isakov stated on October 29 that hundreds of Jewish families in Dagestan should leave Dagestan and Russia altogether because “Russia is not salvation” as “there were pogroms in Russia too. Bloomberg reported on 10.30.23 that Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with top government officials to address the antisemitic protests in a predominantly Muslim region of the country, demonstrations the Kremlin blamed on Western interference. 
  • Russian ultranationalists expressed concerns that antisemitic demonstrations will spread from Dagestan and the North Caucasus to elsewhere in Russia. Select Russian ultranationalists blamed the initial rumors on a Ukrainian information operation, but others expressed deep concerns that antisemitic activities may spread and that anti-Russian activities could begin. 

“The nuances of Russia’s response to the Israel-Hamas War,” Nandan Unnikrishnan and Aleksei Zakharov, India’s Observer Research Foundation, 10.28.23. Clues from Indian and Chinese views.

  • It has become an unfounded cliché to say that Moscow is a beneficiary of the current crisis in the Middle East … triggered by an unprecedented Hamas attack against Israel on 7 October. The argument is that Israel’s war with Hamas distracts Western attention from the Russia-Ukraine military conflict and may even lead to disruptions of military supplies to Kyiv. While this may be true, the rising tensions in the region have posed a considerable challenge for Russia as it is forced to carefully navigate between the partners who are frenemies and adversaries to one another.
  • Moscow’s approach to the conflict is based on its long-held vision in which both sides are responsible for the enduring violence. It is worth recalling that, unlike the U.S., United Kingdom (U.K.), European Union (EU), Israel and some other countries, Russia officially does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, although its approach to the grouping has seen different turns. 
    • As Russia-Israel relations were improving in the early 1990s, the Russian representatives did not mince words labelling Hamas as “Islamic fanatics” and “extremists” and calling their acts “inhuman crimes” and “criminal and reckless wrongdoing.” Moscow’s rhetoric changed after Hamas won the 2006 elections as in Russia’s eyes, it transitioned from being a radical opposition into a legitimate power. 
  • Given the complexity of the current conflict between Israel and Hamas and its potential to escalate further across the region, Russia will likely go ahead with its diplomatic efforts to bring the tensions to an end. The extension of the war to the territories of Syria and Lebanon, let alone a direct clash between Israel and Iran, would be detrimental to Moscow’s interests as it is currently not ready to engage in any military kerfuffle far away from its borders.

“Putin Is Getting What He Wants,” Hanna Notte, NYT, 10.26.23. 

  • Russia is emerging as a major beneficiary of the [Israel-Hamas] war. With minimal effort, Moscow is reaping the benefits from the regional chaos that threatens Israelis and Palestinians with devastation and desolation. In three key areas … Russia stands to gain from a protracted conflict:
    • First and foremost, events in Gaza are distracting Western policymakers and publics from the war in Ukraine. 
    • What's more, the war in Gaza threatens to postpone—if not derail—the Biden administration's efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. 
    • Russia’s biggest gain may come in the court of global opinion. Moscow’s messaging on the conflict—the Kremlin has refused to call the attack on Oct. 7 “terrorism” and blamed the escalation on Western policy mistakes—aligns Russia with public sentiment across much of the Middle East… Styling itself as David to the Western Goliath, Russia has framed its war against Ukraine as an “anticolonial” fight to end the West's global dominance—tapping into powerful grievances held across the developing world about Western arrogance and hypocrisy. When commenting on the Israel-Hamas war, Putin’s spokesman Peskov said on Oct. 25: "We condemn terrorism, terrorist acts, including terrorist acts that were against Israeli civilians."1
  •  As Israel and Hamas tumble into a whirlwind of violence, the West is far from winning the battle of narratives. The Ukraine war has receded into the background; U.S.-led diplomacy in the Middle East is in disarray; and the West and the rest face each other over an abyss of mutual incomprehension. From this state of affairs, Russia will do its best to pocket the gains.

“Why Russia and Hamas Are Growing Closer,” Czerny Milàn and Dan Storyev, Carnegie Endowment, 10.25.23.

  • The Kremlin purports to take a hard stance on terrorism. Yet since the massacre in southern Israel carried out by Hamas militants on Oct. 7, it has only grown closer to the group. Despite the killing of 16 Russian nationals, and even as Muscovites laid flowers at the Israeli embassy, the Kremlin declined to condemn Hamas’s actions, expressing only “grave concerns.” Some might see its overtures toward the group as an attempt to sow chaos. In fact, Moscow’s goal is to cement its status as a friend of the Global South. As stated above, when commenting on the Israel-Hamas war, Putin’s spokesman Peskov said on Oct. 25: "We condemn terrorism, terrorist acts, including terrorist acts that were against Israeli civilians."
  • While Russia may grow closer still to Hamas in symbolic ways, there is little reason to expect it to increase its material assistance to the group—of which there is little evidence as it is. Most likely, these overtures will remain at the level of rhetoric. The reality is that, for Moscow, the crisis in the Middle East is an opportunity to pitch itself to the region and the wider Global South as a diplomatic partner: a pitch that would gain nothing from the creation of further chaos in a part of the world the Kremlin regards as strategically important and to which it believes itself to be highly exposed. 

“New danger for Ukraine: Taking Israel's side in war against Hamas and Gaza,” Isobel Koshiw, WP, 10.29.23. 

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's immediate and forceful support for Israel in its fight against Hamas has imperiled almost a year of concerted efforts by Kyiv to win the support of Arab and Muslim nations in its war against Russia.
  • Zelensky's early statements backing Israel after the surprise attack by Hamas, in which more than 1,400 Israelis were killed, helped Ukraine stay in the international spotlight, and placed it firmly on the side of the United States. … Hamas and Russia are the "same evil, and the only difference is that there is a terrorist organization that attacked Israel and here is a terrorist state that attacked Ukraine," Zelensky said in a speech to NATO's Parliamentary Assembly on Oct. 9.
  • But with Israel's military operation set to enter its fourth week, and Palestinian civilian casualties mounting, the war in Gaza is posing one of the most difficult diplomatic tests for Ukraine since Russia's invasion in February 2022. Countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which at times have provided crucial support to Ukraine, have accused the West of double standards in Gaza, alluding to the broad condemnation of civilian deaths in Ukraine compared with the muted criticism of Israel.
    • Turkey was planning to send a delegation to Malta, but in recent days Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spoken out forcefully against Israel and has described Hamas as a resistance movement—a stark contrast to Zelensky's stated positions.
  • Tension with Muslim and Arab nations, however, is just one risk facing Kyiv, which must now also contend with the world's attention shifting largely to new war in the Middle East, as well as competing demands for U.S. military support at a time when House Republicans just elected a new speaker, Mike Johnson (La.), who has opposed sending additional aid to Ukraine. Some experts noted that Israel had already made clear it was not going to reciprocate with greater support for Ukraine.

Opening remarks at the “Meeting with representatives of religious associations,” Vladimir Putin, 10.25.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • All of us are watching with concern and pain in our hearts the tragic developments in the Holy Land, which holds sacred significance for Christians, Muslims and Jews, for the followers of the world's major religions. A new phase in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has claimed thousands of lives, thousands
  • Russia knows first-hand what international terrorism is all about. We know what it is like. We will always feel the pain of irreplaceable losses sustained by our country during the years of the war on international terrorism. I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the families of Israelis and citizens of other countries whose loved ones died or were wounded during the October 7 attack.
  • But it is likewise clear to us that innocent people should not be held accountable for crimes committed by others. The fight against terrorism cannot be conducted on the notorious principle of collective responsibility resulting in the deaths of elderly people, women, children, entire families. Hundreds of thousands of people are left without shelter, food, water, electricity and medical assistance. This is a genuine humanitarian disaster
  • Russia's position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is … based on the UN Security Council resolutions which envisage the creation of two independent sovereign states, Israel and Palestine. This is the key to a lasting and fundamental settlement and peace in the Middle East. This has been the traditional position of the Soviet Union and then Russia since 1948.
  • Our primary goal is to stop bloodshed and violence. Further escalation of the crisis poses a risk of severe and highly dangerous and destructive consequences not just for the Middle Eastern region. It can spill far beyond the borders of the Middle East. I have emphasized this repeatedly in my remarks, during numerous telephone conversations, and in personal meetings with the leaders of Middle Eastern and other countries.
  • We see attempts made by certain forces to incite further escalation through dragging other countries and nations into the conflict and using them for their own selfish interests, to launch a wave of chaos and mutual hatred not only in the Middle East but far beyond. To this end, they are trying to exploit the ethnic and religious sentiments of millions of people, which has been their policy—if you can call it that—for a long time, long before the current crisis.
  • Muslims are pitted against Jews and called on to wage a “war against unbelievers.” Shiites are pitted against Sunnis, and Orthodox Christians against Catholics. In Europe, they turn a blind eye to blasphemy and vandalism against Muslim holy sites. In some countries, they openly, officially glorify Nazi criminals and anti-Semites whose hands are stained with the blood of Holocaust victims. In Ukraine, they are working to outlaw the canonical Orthodox Church and to deepen the schism. In my view, these actions are clearly designed to sow instability around the world, to divide cultures, peoples and world religions, and to provoke a clash of civilizations. All is based on the well-known principle of divide and conquer. 
  • The West can see that the emergence of a multipolar world order is gaining speed, and it is deploying all the same means, such as Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and Russophobia, to hinder the progress of independent sovereign countries and divide the global majority.

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

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:

“Ukraine Aid in Doubt as Johnson Moves to Drop It From Israel Assistance Bill,” Karoun Demirjian and Catie Edmondson, NYT, 10.27.23. 

  • Rep. Mike Johnson’s election as speaker has thrown the fate of U.S. assistance for Ukraine into doubt, as the Louisiana Republican, a longtime opponent of funding the war effort, resists President Biden’s call to package money for Kyiv in a large emergency spending bill to tackle global crises including Israel’s war against Hamas.
  • Congressional Democrats, White House officials and some leading Republicans are scrambling to salvage Ukraine aid. They are working against Mr. Johnson’s own personal stance, and considerable pressure he is facing from rank-and-file House Republicans, many of whom have soured on sending additional funding to Kyiv and want to focus exclusively on arming Israel.
  • Johnson has signaled that he will not seek to block aid to Ukraine altogether, but he has also made it clear that he wants to consider it separately from any assistance for Israel, and put tight restrictions on it. … “We’re not going to abandon them,” Mr. Johnson added … “but we have a responsibility, a stewardship responsibility over the precious treasure of the American people and we have to make sure that the White House is providing the people with some accountability for the dollars.”
  • That approach is at odds with the one favored by the White House, congressional Democrats and many mainstream Republicans who believe that the best way to ensure funding for both wars is to keep them together in one large package. The $105 billion measure Mr. Biden has requested includes $14.3 billion for Israel and $61.4 billion for Ukraine, as well as funds for Taiwan and border security in the United States.
  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, has pledged that his chamber will produce legislation to address multiple global threats, including Ukraine and Israel. Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, has also stressed the urgency of addressing multiple crises at once, arguing … that Congress must approve assistance for both Israel and Ukraine in order to counter Russia, Iran and China. But bands of both House and Senate Republicans have been trying to stop that from happening.
    • On [Oct. 26], five Republicans led by Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida … wrote to Senate leaders warning them against including Ukraine funding in an aid package for Israel and the southern border.
    • A separate group in the Senate led by Sens. Roger Marshall of Kansas and J.D. Vance of Ohio introduced legislation [on Oct. 26] to provide military aid to Israel alone. “Israel has an achievable objective,” Mr. Vance wrote in a memo he circulated among Senate Republicans before introducing the bill. “Ukraine does not.”

“Europe scrambles to ‘Trump-proof’ Ukraine's defense,” Lee Hockstader, WP, 10.24.23.

  • Even if Biden can push his latest military lifeline for Ukraine through Congress - $61.4 billion, tethered to a smaller package for Israel - the writing is on the wall. Fraying GOP support for Kyiv has clouded prospects for future infusions, even if Biden is reelected.
  • The European Union is earmarking billions of euros to arm Ukraine in the long term. Individually, Kyiv's biggest allies are drafting bilateral deals that would sustain the weapons flow for years. Ukraine itself has ambitious plans to juice its domestic munitions industry through joint ventures with Western arms-makers. It dreams of new plants and production lines churning out drones, armored vehicles and ammunition near the front lines.
  • Those strategies will not bear fruit quickly, however. By contrast, Ukraine's needs are immediate, and the headwinds facing its European allies are getting stiffer. Germany and Britain, the West's two biggest economies after the United States, have struggled to recover financially since the pandemic. 
  • U.S. aid for Kyiv is not about making Ukrainians or Europeans happy. It's about maintaining the United States' standing in the world. But as that argument loses traction with some Americans, the question for Europe becomes how to keep Ukraine alive. The answer remains murky - and time is on Putin's side.

“Charts track wobbly support for Ukraine in the U.S. and E.U,” Michael O'Hanlon, Constanze Stelzenmüller and David Wessel, WP, 10.25.23. 

  • Support for Ukraine in the U.S. is eroding along partisan lines As the American public reconsiders its efforts to help Ukraine, a partisan divide is becoming clear. Only half of self-identified Republicans support continued military and economic aid. With the House of Representatives thrown into disarray by the Republicans' struggle to settle on a new speaker, the prospects for consensus on additional aid in Congress look worrisome. Democratic support, though it has weakened since the spring of 2022, remains stronger: Three-fourths of self-identified Democrats back military and economic aid to Ukraine. 
  • European support for Ukraine is under pressure, but still going strong: The Eurobarometer survey shows that two-thirds of Europeans support European Union sanctions, financial aid, humanitarian aid and taking in refugees. A smaller majority is in favor of paying for military equipment. 
  • Foreign aid continues to bolster Ukraine: Taken as a whole, Europe has been more generous than the United States. If Congress funds most of Biden's new proposed package for Ukraine, that gap between Europe and the United States—depending on how it is calculated—will largely disappear.
  • High-level visitors continue to visit Kyiv: more than 100 foreign heads of government, cabinet members and leaders of international governmental organizations from Europe, North America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia have traveled to the war zone to demonstrate their support.

“Trenches and tech on Ukraine’s southern front,” The Economist, 10.29.23. 

  • In a war increasingly dominated by aerial killing-machines, the hunters are rapidly becoming the hunted. The controllers for most drones leave their own electronic trace, and if a pilot isn’t careful, the enemy can home in on them. “Major,” a 25-year-old drone pilot operating near the hottest front lines of the south, says he has lost 15% of his colleagues over the last few months. 
  • Ukraine is the pioneer of the first-person-view (FPV) drones: craft that are flown, video-game-like, by goggle-wearing pilots with real-time maneuverability. The drones can cost just a few hundred dollars to build, but can deliver explosives capable of destroying or incapacitating equipment with a value of millions.
  • The first FPV drones appeared in eastern Ukraine in the spring. They were a response to limited supplies of Western ammunition and the challenge of a much better-equipped adversary. Drones have since played a leading role degrading Russian firepower as part of Ukraine’s southern counter-offensive in the Zaporizhzhia region. But though Ukraine initially enjoyed total dominance in this new class of drones, Russians are catching up. The first Russian FPV drones appeared by July, and are now harassing Ukrainian units along the front lines. 

“'If we stop fighting, we, Ukrainians, will be gone,’” Boštjan Videmšek, The Boston Globe, 10.25.23.

  • When a major Russian offensive began in February 2022, the world reacted with the idea that Ukraine must not fall… But now the time has come to change that narrative: Let's help Ukraine to win quickly. 
  • What do we need to win, you ask? Outcomes of wars are not decided on national borders. It is not just a war between Russia and Ukraine, between two countries. It is a war between two systems. Between totalitarianism and democracy. Putin will not stop. Putin must be stopped. If he is not stopped in Ukraine, he will go on. Russia is an empire that has its center but no borders. If an empire has enough energy available, it will always expand. To stop the expansion of this empire, many countries, not only Ukraine, need to get out of their comfort zone. Yes, we are grateful for arms and financial aid to the Ukrainian economy, but Russia is preparing for a protracted war.

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

“West Sanctions Russian Aviation, But Moscow Decides to Keep Planes Flying Despite Risks,” Steven E. Harris, RM, 10.26.23.

  • When the U.S. and its allies slapped sanctions on Russia for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, severing aviation links was at the top of the list. … Aviation sanctions today are having an impact but come with a major risk. If the fatal crash of a jetliner killing hundreds is linked to the lack of spare parts, Putin will blame sanctions and the West. The stakes are high as Russia seeks to use any issue from cluster bombs to soccer to widen cracks in Western unity over Ukraine. To get ahead of this, U.S. policymakers and their allies need to better explain the effects of sanctions, why they’re worth the risk and why the Russian state, not the West, is ultimately responsible for any fatal crash.
  • A closer look shows widening success in degrading this increasingly weak link in Russia’s political economy. By late 2021, foreign aircraft comprised 70% of Russia’s fleet of 801 passenger airplanes … In addition, 95% of Russian airline flights were on foreign-made aircraft.  … Reports of Russian airlines’ cannibalization of foreign aircraft similarly underscore a dire situation.
  • Less well known is how sanctions hurt Russian manufacturing since Western technology is critical to aircraft such as the Sukhoi Superjet 100 … Production of the Yakovlev design bureau’s MC-21 passenger airplane faces significant delays due to sanctions that force substitution of its Western-made parts. Sanctions even helped push Russia out of a joint venture with China to produce the CR929 widebody aircraft. 
  • In response, Russia has adapted to and thwarted some aviation sanctions, which I predicted would happen because Putin’s regime is reproducing a state-centered aviation sector rooted in the Soviet past. … How does this shape safety in Russia’s skies? The short answer is that it’s not as bad as headlines suggest and the impact of sanctions is ambiguous at best. Click bait stories paint a dire picture but often conflate commercial, military and general aviation into alarming numbers that do not accurately capture what ordinary passengers face.
  • At the end of the day, Russian airlines and aviation authorities are solely responsible for putting planes in the sky and Russians’ lives at risk. … But if a fatal crash of a Boeing or Airbus flown by a Russian airline kills hundreds … Putin will blame the West as he does for everything else affecting his legitimacy.
  • Such a scenario will be a serious test for policymakers who argue that punishing Russia with sanctions is still worth it. To prepare for this, they need to take a page from the Biden administration’s release of intelligence on Russia’s military buildup before the full-scale invasion: publicize as much intelligence as possible on sanctions and their impact, as well as Russia’s aviation sector and what it does or doesn’t do to ensure safety.

“Are Sanctions on Russia Effective? How (Not) to Inform the Debate,” Juliet Johnson, PONARS, 10.23.23.

  • Claims of effectiveness require judgments not only about how and how much sanctions hurt the Russian economy but also about the policy results of that pain.
  • [Assessment] should focus on three things: identifying the goals of sanctions, drawing on appropriate evidence and avoiding confirmation bias. 
  • Avoid…implying that inflicting economic pain alone indicates effectiveness.
  • [Sanctions may have different goals, such as] 
  • Display unity in condemning the target country’s actions.
  • [Seek to “punish”] the target state. This is a moralistic rather than strategic use of sanctions.
  • [To be used as] deterrence.
  • Reduce the target state’s economic ability to achieve its military ends. 
  • To induce the fall of the target government.
  • [Force] the target government to change its own policies and goals. 
  • [Sanctions] can aim to achieve such goals either through direct pressure on government decision-makers or … indirect pressure on influential economic elites or the public…
  • [Then] it becomes more difficult to demonstrate cause and effect.
  • [It is important to] match the identified goals to the appropriate evidence…. And being honest about the quality of that evidence.
  • Finally, be wary of confirmation bias.
  • The unprecedented nature of the current sanctions [imposed against Russia] … makes it more challenging to extrapolate from prior experience.

Ukraine-related negotiations: 

“On Ukraine the Question is Not Who Started It, but Who is Going to End It,” Ted Snider Nicolai N. Petro, NI, 10.29.23. 

  • But for the opposition of the United States and key allies, the war could have ended on terms that would have preserved Ukrainian statehood and its current government and even allowed it to join the EU with Russia’s blessing, provided only that it gave up NATO membership. 
  • The mere fact that a framework for an agreement has been reached before suggests that the most debilitating assumption about this war—that the parties’ differences are irreconcilable—is not true. In fact, it is the willingness to negotiate, not the terms of the agreement, that now stands in the way of peace. A diplomatic settlement must, therefore, accomplish three goals:
    • First, Ukraine must be guaranteed sovereignty, security, and the potential to thrive.
    • Second, Russia must receive guarantees that its legitimate security concerns will be respected.
    • And third, the Russian-speaking population of Donbas—and Ukrainians in any new Russian territories—must be afforded legal protection.
  • In arriving at these three goals, ideally, three conditions should be met.
    • The United States and NATO cannot be overly rewarded for their desire to expand NATO into Ukraine in violation of the pledges they made to the “indivisibility of security” in Europe 
    • Russia cannot be overly rewarded for its invasion of Ukraine 
    • Ukraine cannot be harmed in a way that undermines its future potential for achieving a harmonious, secure, and prosperous society
  • As unfair as it is that Ukraine has to negotiate anything after suffering such horrendous losses, tomorrow it may well be worse.
    • Ben Wallace, the former Secretary of State for Defense of the U.K., inadvertently revealed that the average age of the soldiers at the front is over forty. 
    • And it scarcely raised an eyebrow when Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister, Natalya Kalmykova, mentioned in a television interview that draft dodgers currently numbered in the “tens, hundreds of thousands of people.”
  • To be sure, ending the war will benefit Russia, and many will consider this fundamentally unfair. But Russia, too, has lost many lives and must consider the possibility that further escalation of the war will lead to more losses and bring more risks and danger. … Finally, ending the war will benefit Europe’s suffering economies. … Even if the prospect of successful negotiations appears slim, the survival of Ukraine imposes a moral obligation on all the parties to try. It is time to stop asking who is to blame for starting the war and start focusing on what needs to be done to stop it

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

“The Sources of American Power. A Foreign Policy for a Changed World,” Jake Sullivan, FA, November/December 2023 issue, published online on 10.24.23.

  • Nothing in world politics is inevitable. The underlying elements of national power, such as demography, geography, and natural resources, matter, but history shows that these are not enough to determine which countries will shape the future. It is the strategic decisions countries make that matter most—how they organize themselves internally, what they invest in, whom they choose to align with and who wants to align with them, which wars they fight, which they deter, and which they avoid.
  • When [Biden] took office [h]e was determined not just to repair the immediate damage to the United States’ alliances and its leadership of the free world but also to pursue the long-term project of modernizing U.S. foreign policy for the challenges of today. This task was brought into stark relief by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, as well as by China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea and across the Taiwan Strait.
  • We recognized that Washington could no longer afford an undisciplined approach to the use of military force, even as we have mobilized a massive effort to defend Ukraine and stop Russian aggression. The Biden administration understands the new realities of power. And that is why we will leave America stronger than we found it.
  • President Biden was clear from the moment he took office about the importance he attached to U.S. alliances … Accordingly, we have strengthened these alliances and partnerships in material ways that improve the United States’ strategic position and its ability to deal with shared challenges. For example, we have mobilized a global coalition of countries to support Ukraine as it defends itself against an unprovoked war of aggression and to impose costs on Russia. 
  • One of [the] challenges came even more quickly than we had anticipated, with Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. If the United States were still fighting in Afghanistan, it is highly likely that Russia would be doing everything it could right now to help the Taliban pin Washington down there, preventing it from focusing its attention on helping Ukraine.
  • The crisis in the Middle East does not change the fact that the United States needs to prepare for a new era of strategic competition—in particular by deterring and responding to great-power aggression. 
  • When Putin invaded, we implemented a policy to help Ukraine defend itself without sending U.S. troops to war. 
  • President Biden also made it abundantly clear that if Russia attacked a NATO ally, the United States would defend every inch of allied territory, backing that up with new force deployments. 
  • American support for Ukraine is broad and deep, and it will endure.
  • The United States now finds itself at the start of the third era: one in which it is adjusting for a new period of competition in an age of interdependence and transnational challenges. This does not mean breaking with the past or giving up the gains that have been made, but it does mean laying a new foundation of American strength. That requires revisiting long-held assumptions if we are to leave America stronger than we found it and better prepared for what lies ahead. The outcome of this phase will not be determined solely by outside forces. It will also, to a large extent, be decided by the United States’ own choices.

“Fiona Hill on the War in Ukraine,” Fiona Hill, Foreign Policy, 10.27.23.

  • Putin thinks… [Israel-Hamas war] presents him with an opportunity to turn the tide of the war…because [the West is] …distracted [and supporting Israel] will deplete U.S. ammunition stocks.
    • Putin thinks this will [undercut] the support for Ukraine. He thinks [the war] ends when the West gives up Ukraine.
  • Some countries (Poland and Slovakia) are [stepping back on supporting Ukraine] because of the domestic backlash.
    • Germany…[has] very important regional elections where Alternative for Germany is polling at 30-35%.
  • [While suitable for Congressional affairs] Biden’s linking Ukraine and Israel…is not good in terms of global politics and ties Ukraine to what is going to happen in the Middle East…especially in [the Global South] where there was a great deal of skepticism about Ukraine. 
    • We made a mistake in the very beginning, when [the war in Ukraine] was portrayed as the battle of democracy vs autocracy. [Many in the Global South] did not buy it either.
    • Ukraine tries to portray it as a post-colonial conflict. In other parts of the world, there is no perception that European countries can be colonized.
    • Russia is seen in many countries [in the Global South] as the defender and supporter of national independence movements.
    • Ukraine finds it hard to understand the resentment of the Global South because they have been the underdog as well.
  • There is a feeling that there has been a diversion of resources…into armaments that could have been put towards sustainable development, debt relief, climate change commitments and investment in the global south. 
    • The challenge for Ukraine is to present itself as an asset – not a liability. 
  • [Russia has] no intention to give autonomy to occupied regions. 
    • For Ukraine, that makes it very difficult…to find a negotiated solution. 
    • [Ukraine] needs a bigger diplomatic effort on their behalf. 
  • [On Ukraine’s counteroffensive,] in the media, the perceptions generated…proven to be counterproductive. 
    • If Ukraine [failed]…it would be perceived as a playoff. Because [Ukraine did not recapture major cities, the perception is] that they have not achieved what we wanted them to. There are already discussions…about how long the U.S. should be supporting this. This boosts Putin and [makes him] more confident. 
    • [However,] Ukraine [had success] in the Black Sea. They have broken the Russian dominance and the blockade [of grain shipments]. We have seen the removal of some Russian shipping and naval fleets from the Black Sea. 
  • Unfortunately, this is going to be a long grind.
    • It is a numbers game…of manpower…and economy.
      • Russia [has] a wartime economy… with a wartime production of ammunition and equivalent. 
      • Over the longer term, Ukraine can be in good shape [if allies step up ammunition production]. [However,] it has a hard time generating revenue [in the economy].
    • The Russian casualties are high. Over the longer term, this will be detrimental for Russia.
      • Ukraine has a lot less manpower… [and this is very difficult]. The difficulty will be dislodging Russia from occupied territories. 
  • Wagner…gave Russia implausible deniability.
    • Russian strategies benefited enormously from the tactical advantages Wagner brought, including prisoner forces and operations outside Russia.
    • The [mutiny] forced the Kremlin to take responsibility. 
      • [It was shocking] how low the support of the system is. Prigozhin engaged Russian forces and the images of him as a “Robin Hood” and a hero…showed that people were not massively in support of the establishment. 
      • He was reflecting the sentiment of the population that “the war was a mistake but now that they are in it, they want to win it.”
  • Putin has to be more attentive to domestic dissent and is more on the offensive.
    • We have seen actions like…extended prison sentences to people like Navalny. 
    • Putin is focused on external public game…and media operations. The government is taking control of that as well.
  • [Talking about the 2024 elections,] it is about the credibility of leadership.
    • The perception now is that U.S. commitment is only about one administration. We committed to Ukraine…in 1994. 
  • The Russians are… playing with nuclear testing. Putin has shown himself to be a…nuclear menace.
    • [Pulling ourselves out of the strategic considerations] does not enhance U.S. security. We are not an indispensable power…but other countries still look to us. 
  • President Xi feels set up by Putin on the [war in Ukraine].
    • If resolving the war on Ukraine’s terms…boosts the U.S., then it is as much a proxy war with China as a proxy war with Russia.
    • [China] does not want [Putin] to win, but [to] does not want him to lose.
  • China relied on the Middle East for oil and wanted to have more prosperity in the Middle East.
    • China did play an important role in the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. 
    • If we want to…manage [the conflict in the Middle East], we…have to [lower] the temperature in the relationship with China.

 "The West appeased Putin once. They’ll do it again," Simon Kuper, FT, 10.26.23.  

  • French journalist Sylvie Kauffmann’s Les aveuglés anatomizes why the west misread Putin … Each Western country had its own incentive to misread Putin. 
    • The French retained a fantasy they were a superpower, dealing head to head with their peers, not just following the U.S. Germany’s psychologically damaged embrace of Russia was made up of guilt, greed and fear. 
    • The Germans, Kauffmann recounts, felt they owed Russia (though not Ukraine, Belarus, etc.) for every Soviet killed in the Second World War. And German industry craved cheap Russian energy. Economic interdependence brought friendship with France; surely it would work with Russia, too? German leaders imagined that Putin pursued economic rationality, just like they did.
    • The U.S. simply didn’t care much. Sure, it was affronted by Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008. During a panel debate earlier this year, Condoleezza Rice, then-secretary of state, recalled a White House discussion with “the testosterone flying on the table.” But, she said, “We were not going to use American military forces against the Russians.” 
  • When Russia invaded Crimea, Kauffmann reveals, the Obama administration instructed Ukraine not to resist. Much of Ukraine’s army in Crimea defected to Russia. Its own defense minister fled to Crimea and took Russian citizenship. His successor told Ukraine’s president: “We don’t have an army.”
  • However this plays out, Western armies won’t defeat Russia. The country has one military advantage over the West and possibly even over China: it treats its citizens as cannon fodder. The U.S. lost about 7,000 soldiers in two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan and gave up fighting wars. The Russian army lost perhaps 120,000 in the war’s first 18 months and didn’t bother burying many of them.
  • All Western leaders now know Putin lies. Yet, when the time comes, they will try to bully Zelensky into laying down arms—let’s not even call it peace—just as then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy bullied Georgia’s leader Mikheil Saakashvili in 2008.
  • Since the West won’t bring down Putin, it will have to live with an imperialist Russia. It learned from 1945 to 1990 that it can, even as it knows that Eastern Europe cannot. When British soldier Fitzroy Maclean was fretting in 1942 about postwar Yugoslavia going communist, Winston Churchill asked him, “Do you intend to make your home in Yugoslavia after the war?” No, Maclean responded. “Neither do I,” said Churchill. Substitute Ukraine for Yugoslavia, and traces of that Western attitude linger: no longer blind, just selfish.

“Don’t flatter the West’s enemies as an ‘axis.’ Democracies should tease out the contradictions between Russia, China, Iran and North Korea,” Janan Ganesh, FT, 10.24.23. 

  • Whenever a dictator or ruling cleric attacks the honor of the Western world, they are conceding a rather important point. There is something there to attack. The west is a coherent entity.
  • Its rival bloc is the first of these things, without question, but not the second. In fact, doesn’t “bloc,” or “axis,” give too much credit, too soon, to a grouping as loose and putative as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea? What, after all, unites the four? The group includes secular communists and the world’s leading theocracy. 
  • In its broad outlines, the foreign policy of the free world over the coming years more or less writes itself. It has to be a patient game of teasing out the contradictions within the autocratic world: between theologians and commissars, between closed economies and trading ones, between rising powers and fading ones, between states with extensive contact with the west and total outcasts. Instead, we have no less a personage than Mitch McConnell describing Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as the “axis of evil.” All four nations will blush at the flattery.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“China and Russia cast U.S. as agent of global instability at military forum,” Meaghan Tobin, WP, 10.30.23.

  • Chinese and Russian military officials … criticized the United States as an agent of global instability at a Beijing military forum, where Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, also threatened grave consequences over Western involvement in the war in Ukraine.
    • “The Western policy of steady escalation of the conflict with Russia carries the threat of a direct military clash between nuclear powers, which is fraught with catastrophic consequences,” he said, according to Russia’s state-run Tass news agency. Shoigu made the remarks at the Beijing Xiangshan Forum, China’s annual international military summit.
    • [At the summit] the country’s second-highest-ranked military official, Zhang Youxia, also issued oblique criticisms of the United States — while leaving the way open to improve military ties with Washington. “Some countries deliberately create turbulence and interfere in other countries’ internal affairs,” said Zhang, the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, in his keynote address, referring to the United States. But in another part of his speech, which was broadcast, Zhang said: “We will deepen strategic cooperation and coordination with Russia, and are willing to, on the basis of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation, develop military ties with the U.S.”
  • The Beijing forum, which state media reported brought together delegations from more than 100 countries, provided a venue for “a second battlefield for Russia and the United States,” said Wan Qingsong, an associate professor at the Center for Russian Studies at East China Normal University in Shanghai. “
  • Although Austin was reportedly invited to this week’s forum in Beijing, the event was instead attended by Cynthia Xanthi Carras, China country director in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense.

“Russian Dish in the Chinese Menu,” Andrei Kortunov, RIAC, 10.24.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • When Vladimir Putin headed to Beijing in the middle of this month, many observers predicted that he would return to Moscow with another energy megaproject in his pocket. However, the most striking achievement of the Russian-Chinese bilateral dialogue on the sidelines of the Third Belt and Road Forum has turned out to be somewhat different. The parties agreed to significantly increase the export of Russian agricultural products to China - over the next eight years, this export should reach a level of $25 billion.
  • Sino-Russian food cooperation should not be limited only to bilateral trade or cross-border investment. For many parts of the global South, the threat of famine is still a daily reality. This means that Moscow and Beijing can and should address the fundamental problem of global security, which is likely to become one of the most important global challenges of the 21st century.
  • An innovative Russian-Chinese strategic approach to food security would become an important dimension of the emerging world order, which both Moscow and Beijing are actively promoting today.

“Putin returns empty-handed from Beijing,” The Bell, 10.20.23. 

  • Despite much back-slapping about the Sino-Russian partnership, no major economic agreements were signed [during Putin’s visit to Beijing, his first trip outside of the former Soviet Union since the ICC arrest warrant was issued against him in March].
  • Most significantly, just as in his previous meetings with Chinese premier Xi Jinping, Putin was unable to secure any agreement on constructing the long-awaited Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline that will export Russian natural gas from the Yamal Peninsula in Western Siberia to China. Six months ago, after meeting Xi in Moscow, Putin asserted that “practically all the parameters” of the project had been agreed, and all that remained was to ink the contracts. This sounded like wishful thinking at the time, and so it proved to be. Despite the political and propaganda value of sealing such a deal, there was no mention of it in Beijing this week. Apparently the two sides are still haggling over the commercial elements of the deal—price formulae, supply volumes and mandatory purchase levels (take-or-pay).
    • Even the first Power of Siberia pipeline, launched in 2014 and negotiated when Russia was in a far stronger geopolitical position, has not been a hugely profitable project for Moscow. 
    • While Russia needed Power of Siberia as a political project, now, with no way of selling to Europe, China is its sole remaining market for Yamal gas. 
    • Despite its political value to Russia, an agreement is unlikely to be signed anytime soon
  • Even if a new pipeline to China is eventually brought online, it will not mean Russia is able to replace the approximately $20 billion a year it used to earn from gas exports to Europe. Neither the price, nor the volume, of new gas supplies to China would compensate for the European revenues lost after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In 2019, Russia exported 165 billion cubic meters of pipeline gas to Europe and Turkey. The potential capacity of Power of Siberia 2 would be 50 billion cubic meters of gas (and it would be sold at much lower prices than for European contracts).
  • The Power of Siberia 2 saga illustrates the extent of Russia's growing dependency on China. Moscow and Beijing might like to present their relationship as a partnership of equals, but it is Beijing that holds the economic trump cards.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“The Return of Nuclear Escalation. How America’s Adversaries Have Hijacked Its Old Deterrence Strategy,” Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, FA, November/December 2023, published on 10.24.23. 

  • The risk of nuclear escalation during conventional war is much greater than is generally appreciated. 
  • No enemy army stands poised to invade Russia. But if Putin believes that complete defeat in Ukraine will lead to his being toppled—and killed or detained—he will likely see the stakes as sufficiently high to use nuclear weapons.
  • Russian leaders have made the links between the war in Ukraine and nuclear escalation clear.
    • of Russia’s most senior defense officials and former president, Dmitry Medvedev, said in July 2023 that Russia “would have to use nuclear weapons” if Ukraine’s counteroffensive succeeded in retaking Russian-held territory. “There simply wouldn’t be any other solution,” he said.
    • claimed in February 2023 that Western countries “intend to transform a local conflict into a phase of global confrontation,” adding that Russia “will react accordingly, because in this case we are talking about the existence of our country.” And in September 2022, he said that Russia would use “all means at its disposal” to defend its territorial annexations in Ukraine.
  • Those who downplay Russia’s nuclear options misunderstand the logic of coercive escalation. Russia’s goal would not be to rectify the conventional military imbalance but to demonstrate in a shocking fashion that the war is spinning out of control and must be ended immediately.
  • The United States must take the growing threat of coercive nuclear escalation seriously. After the Cold War, the United States became more ambitious in its foreign policy objectives. It spread Western political values and free markets and forged military ties around the world. But such objectives are opposed by nuclear-armed adversaries in China, North Korea, Russia, and perhaps soon in Iran. U.S. policymakers would be wise to not discount the potential power of their enemies. And if they need to be reminded of what their foes may be able to do, they need turn only to their own history.

“Russia’s Withdrawal From the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Is an Own Goal,” Maxim Starchak, Carnegie Endowment, 10.24.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Russia doesn’t stand to gain anything from de-ratifying the CTBT. It won’t increase its national security or induce the United States to make concessions on Ukraine, and will only tarnish Russia’s reputation even further in the eyes of its few remaining partners. Moscow had been seen as an important player in nuclear nonproliferation. Not so long ago, the Russian Foreign Ministry described the CTBT as “one of the major international legal instruments designed to put a reliable barrier against the qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons and their spread in the world.”
  • Now Moscow is telling the world that it no longer considers nonproliferation important: the priority is countering the United States. Perhaps the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) could be next on the chopping block. After all, certain Russian hawks argue that nuclear weapons are necessary to ensure a stable peace, and that many countries should have them.
  • If de-ratifying the CTBT becomes the first step toward nuclear testing on Russian territory, things will go from bad to worse. Putin has said that “for now, it is sufficient to mirror our enemies: the United States and others.” The crucial part is “for now.” Mikhail Kovalchuk, president of the Kurchatov Institute (a prominent nuclear development lab) and someone who also happens to be close to Putin, is already calling for nuclear testing to show everyone how things stand between Russia and the West. If they happen, the tests would give other countries the moral right to resume testing. Once started, a nuclear chain reaction is very hard to stop.

“Both Parties Can Agree on America's Nuclear Peril,” John Bolton, WSJ, 10.26.23. 

  • "America's Strategic Posture," the recent report from the congressional commission on U.S. nuclear capabilities and defense strategies, merits those laurels. Led by Madelyn Creedon, a senior Clinton and Obama administration official, and former Sen. Jon Kyl, a Republican, the commissioners prepared a 145-page report that warrants urgent review by anyone seeking a safe future for America. … The bottom line is that the U.S. faces "two nuclear peer adversaries for the first time" in a rapidly expanding threat environment. Maintaining and improving our nuclear-deterrence force against China and Russia will require significant effort. 
    • Days after the paper's release, the Pentagon published its own finding that a tripolar nuclear scenario effectively exists, well ahead of our predictions. This reality raises questions that demand strategic responses. Will the U.S. face entirely separate Chinese and Russian threats, or will Moscow and Beijing act in coordination? What do two peer nuclear foes mean for U.S. pre-emptive or second-strike capabilities? How many new targets in China—or elsewhere—must we now put at risk?
  • Our capabilities and the entire nuclear-enterprise infrastructure needs modernization, upgrading and recapitalization to meet the Sino-Russian threat. … "America's Strategic Posture" reaffirms the logic of maintaining the nuclear triad of delivery systems: ground-based missiles, long-range bombers and ballistic-missile submarines. The triad undergirds deterrence by "presenting an intractable targeting problem for adversaries."
  • Naive isolationist elements in both parties will argue that the U.S. can address the new nuclear environment through arms-control agreements. That is a distant dream. Further strategic-arms treaties are essentially irrelevant and dangerous unless and until the U.S. has "a strategy to address the two-nuclear-peer threat environment" and its "related force requirements are established," the commission says. Without knowing what we need, we can hardly start negotiating it away.
  • America's aging nuclear weapons and inadequate life-extension programs cast doubt on the stockpile's reliability and safety. To be credible, a deterrent must satisfy the "always/never rule": "Nuclear weapons must always work when they are supposed to, and never detonate when they are not supposed to." At some point within a few years, the U.S. will need to conduct underground nuclear tests. Even highly sophisticated simulations aren't enough.
  • Finally, the commissioners emphasize nonnuclear capabilities, particularly "integrated air-and-missile defense systems" for homeland and theater-focused protection. The report may at last end the debate on "deterrence by denial," the core purpose of strategic and tactical missile defenses. The commission recommends national missile-defense systems "that can deter and defeat coercive attacks by Russia and China," Ronald Reagan's seminal vision. "America's Strategic Posture" covers many other issues, but mark these words: unanimous and bipartisan. This isn't congressional performance art; it's a fire bell in the night.

“All Blushes of Autumn: Russia’s Evolving ‘Red Lines’ in the War on Ukraine,” Polina Sinovets, PONARS, 10.23.23.

  • Some of the “red lines” Russia had drawn were not that red: they were more coercive tools than genuine red lines.
    • Neither increasing the supply of weapons to Ukraine nor Moscow’s loss of annexed territories had prompted any serious response from Russia.
    • [Still] the nuclear card is never far from the Kremlin’s hand; future threats should, therefore, be expected. 
  • [When]… the U.S. adopted a bill on comprehensive military aid to Ukraine, Moscow emitted a new threat, declaring “intolerable” the supply of long-range systems to Kyiv.
    • Putin claimed that “if Russia feels its territorial integrity is threatened, we will use all defense methods at our disposal, and this is not a bluff.”
    • Moscow has not followed through on this threat.
  • Ukrainian drone attacks…were performed over the internationally recognized territory of the Russian Federation.
    • [Yet they] have not been met with a Russian nuclear response [and] the West continues to flagrantly cross all Russia’s supposed red lines.
  • I distinguish three currents of opinion on this issue.
    • Dark red [view is that] the West could easily cross Moscow’s red lines without noticing, precipitating an unexpected escalation. [It may] trigger the escalation of the conflict to the nuclear level.
      • Some experts predict that if the West keeps disregarding these “red lines,” it will result in a “last straw that broke the camel’s back” [and] escalation happens…in response to earlier measures.
  • [Light pink camp argues] Russia’s constant use of nuclear threats has eroded, if not their deterrence value, then at least their coercive potential
    • While these propagandistic claims aim to stoke…fears of escalation [they are] hollow [and] lack…credibility.
  • Classic red or “Russian red” posits that Russian red lines have not yet been crossed yet.
  • The Kremlin’s primary fear, which brings with it the possibility of escalation, is Russia’s strategic defeat… [sometimes connected] with the geographic dimension [particularly, Crimea].
  • Some of the red lines outlined in these speeches have come to be disregarded, while others are still respected by the West. … No NATO state has engaged in a direct military confrontation with Russia. … Moscow had to expand its margins of acceptable because its badly veiled threat to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine threatened to cross the West’s own “red lines.”
    • [However] the suspension of New START, the withdrawal from the CTBT…and intent to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus—all these steps have taken place in the nuclear domain, and…Russia [may] go on to make other types of nuclear threats.

“Deceit, Dread, and Disbelief: The Story of How Ukraine Lost Its Nuclear Arsenal,” George Boden, NI, 10.27.23. When reading this account, one might ask: “Who had the greatest national interest in eliminating Ukraine’s inherited nuclear arsenal?”

  • The Budapest Memorandum remains settled history for many in the foreign policy establishment: something that could not have unfolded any other way. Drawn from archives in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United Nations, new never-before-published evidence flatly contradicts this idea. These documents are the grist of exhaustive searches and inquiries to the National Security Archive, two presidential libraries, and the Library of Congress. 
  • These records cut sharply against the rationale for this historical resignation: that Ukraine was incapable of the technical means of operating nuclear weapons and that such weapons wouldn’t do much for its security even if it could. Moreover, their contents undermine the general belief that the effort—even if ultimately in error—was at least dedicated to the noble goal of reducing overall global stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
  • Senior administration officials also appeared confident that Ukraine did, in fact, possess the means to become a fully nuclear-capable state. Clinton’s CIA Director-in-waiting, James Woolsey, wrote a memo during the campaign that concluded “Ukraine, unlike Byelarus [sic] and Kazakhstan, has a very substantial military-industrial complex capable of supporting a nuclear-armed state.” The paper, written based on Woolsey’s vantage as the chief negotiator for another arms treaty at the time, further emphasized that Ukraine “has not only ICBMs, but nuclear-armed bombers.”
  • Clinton’s Ambassador-at-Large Strobe Talbott may have been entertaining misgivings [about Russia’s policies towards neighbors]. [In September 1993, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Graham Allison and associate B. G. Riley had written to Talbott with their “concern about Russian unilateralism and increasing Russian pressure upon other states of the former Soviet Union.” They noted Moscow’s “unilateral abolition of unified control of strategic nuclear weapons,” as had been agreed under previous arrangements, “and assumption of direct Russian command.” They noted that while negotiating joint control of the Black Sea fleet the month before, “Russia blackmailed[then-Ukrainian president Leonid]  Kravchuk with oil and gas.” The ensuing circumstances were dire: “If Russia cuts off oil and gas, Kravchuk…will be forced out.”
  • Perhaps the American stance towards Ukraine’s security concerns is best summarized by Rose Gottemoeller, who would serve on the White House National Security Council as Director for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. She recently attributed the following joke to one of the American negotiators on the nuclear question: Kyiv’s airport has long runways made for bombers, and the wheels whined upon our long landings for what seemed like ten minutes. When we were arriving at the airport, John Gordon, then Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, said[,] ‘Ukraine is the only country where the whining never ends.’
  • As Kuchma deposited the treaty in Budapest, as the memorandum required, French President Francois Mitterrand remarked to him, “young man, you will be tricked, one way or the other.” “Don’t believe them,” he admonished, “they will cheat you.”


“Ash Carter’s Lessons from ISIS for Israel’s Campaign Against Hamas,” Graham Allison, Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School, 10.25.23. 

  • Our colleague and friend Ash Carter left us one year ago this week. As we reflect on all he brought to our lives and our nation, and face the challenge Hamas’ vicious terrorist attack that killed 1,400 innocent Israelis, it is instructive to consider what the architect of President Obama’s strategy to defeat ISIS might say if asked how Israel should respond
  • Fortunately, Ash not only developed a strategy for defeating ISIS but then subsequently described it in a Belfer discussion paper released in September 2017, shortly after the Obama administration handed off the ISIS fight to the newly-elected President Trump. 
  • While his 2017 Belfer report is now six years old, as the Netanyahu government now contemplates launching a full-scale ground invasion to destroy Hamas, three key lessons from the strategy Carter and [Gen. Joe] Dunford crafted offer wise advice.
    • First, as a sign hanging in the Pentagon reminds us, hope is not a plan. … As Netanyahu embarks on his own version of an anti-ISIS campaign, he would be well-served to remember Gen. David Petraeus’s prescient plea: “Tell me how this ends.” Having already decided that the mission is “lasting defeat” and not containment or deterrence, it falls to Netanyahu to align this end with sufficient ways and means. Ash would likely want to know what Gazan strongholds must be breached to consider Hamas defeated, and what capabilities can Israel marshal, at acceptable cost, to neutralize the “Gaza Metro” of tunnels from which Hamas can emerge and launch surprise attacks.
    • Second, having a strategy to win the peace is at least as important as a strategy to win the war. … Ash would urge Netanyahu to think beyond the understandable first step—eliminating Hamas—and consider: what comes next? Who will govern in the aftermath? ISIS’s birth from the ruins of Iraq and Hezbollah’s emergence after the ejection of the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Beirut are stark reminders that extremism thrives in leaderless Middle East vacuums.
    • Third, the best-laid strategies will fail if not sustainably resourced at home. As Ash considered how best to take the fight to ISIS, he faced an immutable constraint: Americans’ lack of appetite for another “forever war” in which their countrymen would be sent to die in foreign lands. He noted that “The president clearly wanted to reassure the American people that we were not involving ourselves in large-scale ground combat, and the people of the region did not want invasion-sized forces to return.” Operating within these parameters stretched Pentagon planners’ imaginations and required adjustment: pursuing goals by “identifying and enabling local Syrian and Iraqi troops to lead the fighting by leveraging a relatively small footprint of U.S. and coalition forces.”
  • As we struggle with the current challenge, we need his [Ash Carter’s] insights and pointers about what led us to where we are now—and where we go from here.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

“AI Is Already at War,” Michèle A. Flournoy, FA, November/December 2023, published online on 10.24.23. 

  • AI has sparked a security revolution—one that is just starting to unfold. 
  • The Pentagon needs to accelerate—not slow—its adoption of responsible AI. If it doesn’t, Washington could lose the military superiority that underwrites the interests of the United States, the security of its allies and partners, and the rules-based international order.
  • Even as policies and regulations are still being written, AI is already transforming U.S. security. 
    • The U.S. Air Force, for example, is beginning to use AI to help it allocate resources and to predict how a single decision can reshape its program and budget. 
    • Similarly, the military is beginning to use AI models in the maintenance of complex weapons systems, from ships to fighter jets. 
    •  In the intelligence community, AI helped analysts predict Russia’s invasion of Ukraine months in advance, enabling the United States to warn the world and deny Russian President Vladimir Putin the element of surprise. 
    • At U.S. Strategic Command, AI developed by Rhombus Power (where I am an adviser) is being used to help warn officials about the movement of nuclear-armed missiles that often evaded detection in the past. 
    • Predictive AI could also give Washington a better understanding of what its potential adversaries might be thinking, especially leaders in Beijing. 
  • The stakes of slowing AI down are unacceptably high, but so are the stakes of racing ahead without needed precautions. U.S. policymakers appear to understand this paradox … Yet understanding the problem is just the first step. To solve it—to balance the need for speed with the need for safety—policymakers will have to implement better approaches to accelerating adoption as well as ensuring safety. Otherwise, Americans risk being caught in a world of both spiraling AI dangers and declining U.S. power and influence.

“Biden to Lay Out Limits On Artificial Intelligence,” David E. Sanger and Cecilia Kang, NYT, 10.30.23. 

  • President Biden will issue an executive order [on Oct. 30] outlining the federal government's first regulations on artificial intelligence systems. They include requirements that the most advanced A.I. products be tested to assure that they cannot be used to produce biological or nuclear weapons, with the findings from those tests reported to the federal government.
  • The testing requirements are a small but central part of what Mr. Biden, in a speech scheduled for [the afternoon of Oct. 30], is expected to describe as the most sweeping government action to protect Americans from the potential risks brought by the huge leaps in A.I. over the past several years.
  • The regulations will include recommendations, but not requirements, that photos, videos and audio developed by such systems be watermarked to make clear that they were created by A.I. That reflects a rising fear that A.I. will make it far easier to create “deep fakes” and convincing disinformation, especially as the 2024 presidential campaign accelerates.
  • Mr. Biden's order will be issued days before a gathering of world leaders on A.I. safety organized by Britain's prime minister, Rishi Sunak. 
  • The new U.S. rules, some of which are set to go into effect in the next 90 days, are likely to face many challenges, some legal and some political. But the order is aimed at the most advanced future systems, and it largely does not address the immediate threats of existing chatbots that could be used to spread disinformation related to Ukraine, Gaza or the presidential campaign.
  • .The order affects only American companies, but because software development happens around the world, the United States will face diplomatic challenges enforcing the regulations, which is why the administration is attempting to encourage allies and adversaries alike to develop similar rules. Vice President Kamala Harris is representing the United States at the conference in London on the topic this week. The regulations are also intended to influence the technology sector by setting first-time standards for safety, security and consumer protections. 

Energy exports from CIS:

“How Russia Evaded the Oil Price Cap. The idea worked well until the Kremlin adapted, which is the usual fate of sanctions,” Agathe Demarais, FP, 10.26.23.

  • Discussions around the future of the price cap placed on Russian oil exports by the G-7 and European Union were high on the agenda of the U.S.-EU summit in Washington… The debate is raging around what to do with the policy, which imposes a maximum price of $60 per barrel for Russian oil exported with the assistance of Western shipping or insurance firms. 
    • Proponents of the cap argue that it represents a critical tool to curb the Kremlin’s ability to finance the war in Ukraine. 
    • Critics believe that Russia easily dodges the cap, rendering it ineffective.
      • The reality is more nuanced: Both sides are right. Over the past year, the oil price cap has largely succeeded in lowering Russia’s hydrocarbon revenues. Yet looking at the precedent set by other sanctions regimes, it was always clear that Moscow would gradually manage to evade the measure and make it ineffective in the long term.
  • What’s next for the price cap? Besides lowering its level below $60, proponents of the measure have three suggestions to resurrect it.
    • The first revolves around stepping up enforcement.
    • The second suggestion… is to tackle the dealings of Moscow’s oil tankers. 
    • The third proposal is the most powerful: It entails imposing sanctions on Russian oil firms and international businesses helping Russia to dodge the price cap, such as bad-faith commodity traders or companies selling old oil tankers to mysterious Russian clients.
  • Policymakers never like to admit it, but there is no such a thing as a perfect sanction. The oil price cap has done its job over the past year, but it was never meant to be a long-term fix. Sanctions targets always adapt, and Russia will be no exception to the rule. What’s the best long-term option for sanctions on Moscow, then? Slow-acting measures that deprive Russian oil and gas firms from Western technology are the surest way to provoke a slow asphyxiation of the Russian energy sector. Russian hydrocarbon fields are depleting, and developing new fields will require Western know-how that will not be forthcoming. Such sanctions have been in place since 2014, and they still represent the most effective long-term measure against the Kremlin. However, they will take time to work. Sanctions are a marathon, not a sprint.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Thomas Graham on how to rectify mistakes the West made in dealing with Russia. Post-cold-war policy failed to take account of Russian aspirations, says the foreign-policy expert,” The Economist, 10.26.23. 

  • The collapse of the Soviet Union created great hopes of an enduring partnership between the West and Russia. And yet, a little more than 30 years on, Russia has become an unrelenting adversary. Why? There is much truth in the prevailing Western narrative, which lays the blame squarely on Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. …This is not the full picture, however. It absolves the West, and first of all America, of any responsibility for the current situation. That position is untenable. Mr. Putin was not operating in a vacuum, but often responding to what he considered to be threats from the West. As distasteful as it might seem under current circumstances, Western policymakers need to take a critical look at post-cold-war American policy if they are to deal more effectively with the challenge from Russia—today and in the future.
  • Adversarial relations were not inevitable. A more gradual approach to the eastward expansion of NATO, and of American influence in the former Soviet space, combined with less interference in Russia’s internal affairs, could have mollified the Kremlin. It would have given Russian leaders time to appreciate the benefits of cooperation as their country adjusted to the emerging geopolitical realities. But America was impatient to lock in the gains from Russia’s strategic weakness in Europe and the former Soviet bloc—and Mr. Putin eventually concluded that he could restore Russia as a great power only through confrontation. As a result, the West now faces a two-fold challenge: it must seek to defeat Russia’s strategic designs in Ukraine while preparing the ground for a less adversarial long-term relationship with Russia in an increasingly polycentric world. How does America transform a bitter adversary into a more constructive competitor? Western unity in support of Ukraine will be essential. That task is not confined to the battlefield. Russian designs will be thwarted only if Ukraine 
  • No matter what happens in Ukraine, however, Russia is not going to disappear as an American rival. 
  • This Russia will still matter, thanks to its large nuclear arsenal, its abundant natural resources, its location in the heart of Eurasia and its veto-wielding permanent seat on the UN Security Council, among other assets. The challenge for America is not so much to contain Russia as to harness its ambitions to the advancement of American national interests. 
  • Success will require deft diplomacy: a careful balancing of resistance to, and accommodation of, Russian interests. Patience will be critical. Progress will come not through spectacular advances, but through the steady accumulation of incremental advantage over time. That is how America persevered in the cold war. That is the way forward today.

"Russia’s Slaughter of Indigenous People in Alaska Tells Us Something Important About Ukraine,” Casey Michel, Politico, 10.27.23. 

  • In the racial-reckoning summer of 2020, local leaders in the small American [Alaskan] town of Sitka … voted to join the floodtide of decisions elsewhere to take down another symbol of historic oppression [by taking down the statue of a Russian] merchant by the name of Alexander Baranov, a key figure in Russia’s conquest of Alaska over 200 years ago
    • The resolution authorizing the removal said Baranov, who was Alaska’s first colonial governor, “directly over[saw] enslavement of Tlingit and Aleut people,” a policy that was “often justified under a theory of racial and cultural superiority.” Baranov’s criminality—which included, among other things, the “violation of Native women” and “murder and theft of Indigenous property”—was so depraved that local Tlingit nicknamed him “No Heart.”
  • The removal of Baranov’s statue never cracked into the national news cycle. And maybe that’s understandable, given the protests rocking the rest of the country at the time. But it’s also understandable for a related reason: Russia’s colonization of Alaska—and the rampant violence, spiraling massacres and decimation of local Alaska Native populations that came along with it—is hardly well-known among the broader American body politic. … It’s also an overlooked aspect of Russian history inside Russia. 
  • Both inside and outside Russia, scholars and analysts are discerning important throughlines in patterns and practices from tsarist times to the present. One of those throughlines is colonialism, which is turning out to be one of the best explanations for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Which is why it’s past time for Americans to finally familiarize themselves with the Russian occupation of Alaska, and with what it meant for not only Indigenous populations slaughtered and shattered by tsarist forces, but for how that history reframes our understanding of Russia as a colonial power little different from its European counterparts—especially here, in North America.


II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“From Putin to Musk: the making of a modern-day oligarch,” Simon Kuper, FT, 10.28.23.

  • Anyone who thinks of oligarchs as a strictly post-Soviet phenomenon should reflect that the original definition comes from Aristotle, writing nearly 2,400 years ago: “Wherever men rule by reason of their wealth, whether they be few or many, that is an oligarchy.”…Yet oligarchs are strangely understudied, says David Lingelbach, who with Valentina Rodríguez Guerra has written a new book, The Oligarchs’ Grip, which reworks Aristotle’s definition. An oligarch, say the authors, is “someone who secures and reproduces wealth or power, then transforms one into the other.” 
  • The book distinguishes various types of oligarchs. “Business oligarchs” like Musk turn wealth into political power, while “political oligarchs” go the other way. A classic example of the latter, says the book, is Vladimir Putin, “a billionaire with nuclear weapons.”
    • The number of oligarchs who are heads of state or government has jumped from three in 1988 to more than 20 today, calculate Lingelbach and Rodríguez Guerra. 
  • Clearly there are differences between post-Soviet oligarchs and their American counterparts, in particular. In 1990s Russia, the route to instant wealth was using government patrons to get an inside track on privatizations. Because of these origins, Russian oligarchs never quite owned their fortunes. They only looked after the money, until the moment when their patrons in government asked for it. Many post-Soviet oligarchs built a life between Moscow and homes around the west, using the creative tension between Russia and its Western adversaries. But as their colleague Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s 10 years in jail reminded them, they were never safe.
  • American tech barons, by contrast, generally built their platforms before their government even grasped what they were up to. But once rich, they faced the same life-long burden as their post-Soviet brethren: what Jeffrey Winters, another scholar of oligarchs, calls “wealth defense.” Every oligarch is always working out where the next threat to his money (or life) will come from. American tech billionaires live in fear of Washington or Brussels breaking up their near-monopolies. Whereas ex-Soviet oligarchs seek favors from government, Western oligarchs want governments to leave them alone.
  • The Oligarchs’ Grip describes Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a typically oligarchic attempt to seize an opportunity—like his invasion of Crimea in 2014. Along the same lines, former chess champion Garry Kasparov describes Putin not as a chess player but “a poker player” who is always playing weak hands. “But in poker, even a weak hand can win if you raise the stakes and [your] opponent keeps folding.”
  • Putin has also followed the oligarch strategy of cultivating and then dropping temporary allies: Wagner group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, Germany and France, and now North Korea. Lingelbach says: “I would mark the demise of Putin from the day he stops trying these kinds of things.”
  • Two of the Ukraine war’s leading actors, Prigozhin and Musk, were or are oligarchs of unreliable loyalty—as oligarchs typically are. Prigozhin was the kind of warlord oligarch whom the Romans would have recognized. Musk, though not a battlefield warlord, does control a new form of military material: his Starlink satellites provide battlefield broadband. 
  • The war may bring down many Russian oligarchs. Suddenly, they find themselves caught between Putin and the west. Mikhail Fridman is a case in point. 
  • Those who stayed in or returned to Russia may also now be ex-oligarchs, in that they have lost the independence that is essential to oligarchdom. Putin no longer tolerates autonomous actors, as became apparent when Prigozhin, after marching on Moscow in June, died in a not very mysterious plane crash. Roman Abramovich, who had a personal relationship with Putin for many years until the war broke out, suffered suspected poisoning while attending Russian-Ukrainian peace talks in March 2022. Guriev says: “The oligarchs are suffering materially and psychologically, and in the case of Abramovich, possibly physically. If you ask them, ‘Are you afraid for your own lives?’, they will say—even in private conversations—‘No.’ But I’m sure they are.”
  • Now the oligarchs are being replaced by a coterie of Putin’s “appointed billionaires”: his dependent cronies Igor Sechin, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, and the slightly more autonomous Vladimir Potanin. After Russian minigarch Oleg Tinkov criticised Russia’s war, it was Potanin who bought a stake in his devalued bank. Potanin also bought Rosbank from Société Générale, after the French bank exited Russia. So there is still ample Russian wealth to redistribute, but no longer much power.
  • Ukrainian oligarchs—some of them old frenemies of their Russian peers—are being decimated too. Many lost assets in war zones. After the Ukrainian state mobilized for war, it obtained a monopoly of violence, dissolving the private armies that the country’s oligarchs used to run. And in 2021, the country passed a de-oligarchisation law forcing them to disclose their assets and stop funding political parties.

“Russia’s Economy Is Increasingly Structured Around Its War in Ukraine,” Patricia Cohen, NYT, 10.28.23.

  • [The Russian] government still calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation,” but the new budget figures make clear that the economy is increasingly being restructured around war. Nearly a third of the country’s spending next year—roughly $109 billion—will be devoted to “national defense.” More tellingly, 6 percent of the nation’s total output is being funneled toward Russia’s war machine, more than double what it was before the invasion.
  • The Russian economy has proved to be much more resilient than many Western governments assumed after imposing a punishing string of sanctions.
    • Moscow has found other buyers for its oil.
    • It has pumped money into the economy at a rapid pace to finance its military machine, putting almost every available worker into a job and raising the size of weekly paychecks.
    • Total output, which the Russian Central Bank estimates may rise as much as 2.5 percent this year, could outpace the European Union and possibly even the United States.
  • Yet that is only part of the story.
    • As Laura Solanko, a senior adviser at the Bank of Finland Institute for Economies in Transition, said: “When a country is at war, gross domestic product is a fairly poor measure of welfare.” Producing bullets adds to a country’s growth rate without necessarily improving the quality of life
    • The insistent demand for foreign currency—to pay for imported goods or provide a safe investment—has also caused the value of the ruble to sink at a precipitous pace. Last week, it fell to a symbolic break point of 100 to the dollar, further fueling inflation and raising anxiety levels among consumers.
    • The spike in government spending and borrowing has seriously stressed an already overheated economy. The central bank rapidly raised interest rates to 13 percent over the summer
    • The exodus of funds is so worrying that the government has warned of reinstating controls on money leaving the country.
    • .Consumers are also feeling the squeeze for daily purchases. 

“For Putin foe Alexey Navalny, Ukraine has long been a volatile issue,” David M. Herszenhorn, WP, 10.27.23.

  • Ukrainians believe [that] imperialist mindset [is] rooted deeply in the Russian population even who want freedom and democracy.
  • [Alexei Navalny] has condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and said that Moscow must withdraw its troops and pay reparations. 
    • Yet he is widely distrusted, if not despised, in Ukraine. 
  • [After the invasion, Navalny had to] change and clarify earlier statements [appearing] to deny Ukrainian nationhood. He has struggled to reconcile his views while trying to forge a role as a genuine alternative to Putin.
    • He is also struggling to stake out positions that do not alienate him from the Russian voters.
  • Navalny’s connections to Ukraine… cemented some of his defining personal and political beliefs…that the Soviet Union was a debacle [governed by] a bunch of greedy, hypocritical liars. [This] is how he views Putin and today's Kremlin power structure.
    • [He] has long expressed admiration for Ukrainians' willingness to take to the streets to demand democracy. [He] voiced unequivocal solidarity with the protesters camped out in the Ukrainian capital [in 2014].
    • [When Russia seized Crimea] Navalny's political party…posted a statement calling on Putin to stop any military activity.
  • [However,] he…voiced deep unhappiness that Crimea ever become part of Ukraine. 
    • "Crimea was handed over by the illegal voluntaristic decision of the tyrant Khrushchev," he wrote.
    • “I believe that, despite the fact that Crimea was seized in blatant violation of all international norms…the reality is that Crimea is now part of the Russian Federation. And let's not fool ourselves,” he said. 
  • [On the anniversary of the invasion] Navalny called for the withdrawal of Russia's troops, for the investigation of war crimes and for Ukraine to be compensated using Russia's oil and gas revenue.
    • While such comments are applauded in the West, it is hard to imagine average Russians endorsing the idea of compensating Ukraine.
    • [Yet] Putin’s invasion of Ukraine… there was no longer room for any nuance—at least as far as millions of Ukrainians were concerned.

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:

“After Hamas's massacre, clarity on the Iran-China-Russia threat is vital,” Hugh Hewitt, WSJ, 10.24.23.

  • "Iran invaded Israel," Robert C. O'Brien told me in a radio interview last week. 
  •  Let's also be clear about who is allied with Iran's so-called supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: dictators Xi Jinping in China and Vladimir Putin in Russia. The ruthlessness of these tyrants is not in dispute.
  • The combined poisons of communism, fascism and Islamist fanaticism cannot be defeated without a moral clarity that too many hesitate to express for fear of offending the small contingent of fellow citizens who prefer to impose their own absurd ideological slogans on everyone.


See "Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts" and "Punitive measures" sections above.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict. What Role Now for the EU in the South Caucasus after Nagorno-Karabakh?” Stefan Meister and Laure Delcour, DPAS, 10.25.23. 

  • The EU’s increasing role in negotiations for a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh raised hopes for more EU engagement in conflict resolution in the South Caucasus. It failed because of the lack of support of member states.
  • EU countries like Germany and France need to take a larger role in building up leverage on the conflicting parties, especially toward Azerbaijan. There is a need to deter further aggression by Azerbaijan by sanctioning, for example, gas, and by freezing assets.
  • If the EU and its member states cannot prevent further Azerbaijani aggression, peaceful conflict resolution will be further undermined. It is crucial to deter authoritarian norm-setting through the combination of liberal peace and robust peacekeeping.
  • Armenia must be supported in its path to democracy and should have the perspective of EU membership if it so desires.

“A power vacuum raises conflict risks in the Caucasus,” Editorial Board, FT, 10.26.23.

  • With much of the world’s attention distracted by wars in Israel and Ukraine, a third region of potentially escalating conflict risks being overlooked: the southern Caucasus. In a lightning military campaign Azerbaijan last month seized Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-populated enclave inside its borders. More than 100,000 Karabakh Armenians fled. Despite denials from Baku, Armenia and some Western capitals fear the fighting is not over and that Azerbaijan may have bigger ambitions—emboldened by an effective international power vacuum in the region.
  • Azerbaijan’s assault would have been difficult to pull off… without acquiescence from Moscow, the traditional regional overlord. Russian peacekeepers around the enclave mostly stood by as Azerbaijani forces moved in. Western diplomats suspect Russia’s Vladimir Putin is preoccupied with Ukraine and wants to punish Pashinyan, brought to power by street protests in 2018, for tilting towards the west.
  • The Caucasus instability is a worrying sign of how the international order frays when the big powers are at odds and regional players take advantage. If the Azerbaijan-Armenia clash is not resolved, the danger is not just of regional escalation, but that other states will see today’s power vacuum as a chance to settle old scores by force.

“How the End of Nagorno-Karabakh Will Reshape Geopolitics,” Samuel Ramani, FP, 10.25.23. 

  • While France is poised to send military gear to Armenia, many Western officials acknowledge their inability to rein in Azerbaijan’s alleged ethnic cleansing policy in Nagorno-Karabakh. Hungary vetoed a European Union joint statement condemning Azerbaijan’s conduct, which prevented the bloc from pushing back against Baku’s narrative that it wants Armenians to stay in Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • And Azerbaijan’s 18 percent increase in gas exports to Europe in 2022, which included a 41.2 percent uptick in sales to Italy, as well as its critical role in the recently completed Greece-Bulgaria natural gas pipeline, limit the West’s ability to influence Baku’s conduct. Aside from providing emergency humanitarian assistance to help Armenia’s resettlement of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh, the United States and EU will likely be bystanders to Aliyev’s next moves against Armenia.
  • Despite the mood of euphoria in Baku and despondence in Yerevan, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict’s resolution could benefit faraway powers even more than regional stakeholders. As external powers scramble to capitalize on new transport infrastructure projects and court an empowered Azerbaijan, human rights are likely to be put on the backburner. That is a tragic outcome for the more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians who saw their lives upended by Azerbaijan’s rapid-fire offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Can There Be Lasting Peace Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?” Kirill Krivosheev, Carnegie Endowment, 10.27.23. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • For now, signing a rudimentary peace treaty that deters Azerbaijan from further escalation would be a good result for Armenia. Baku knows this, and will therefore try to squeeze everything it can from the situation before signing any such document.
  • Baku has all the tools for a new escalation. One is its claim of a “Western Azerbaijan” (i.e., parts of Armenia that were populated by Azeris in Soviet times). This notion features increasingly prominently in state media and Aliyev’s speeches. And while Armenia’s only leverage comes from external backers, Azerbaijan’s stems from the facts on the ground. 



  1. Putin himself said on Oct.23: “A new phase in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has claimed thousands of lives, thousands. Russia knows first-hand what international terrorism is all about. We know what it is like. We will always feel the pain of irreplaceable losses sustained by our country during the years of the war on international terrorism.” Additionally, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Oct. 12 statement on the Palestine-Israel conflict said: "we decisively condemn any manifestations of extremism, terrorism.”

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

Slider photo shared by Соколрус under a CC BY 4.0 license.