Russia Analytical Report, Oct. 30-Nov. 6, 2023

4 Ideas to Explore

  1. Commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces Valery Zaluzhny has admitted that his troops’ offensive has reached a stalemate that requires “something new,” like China’s invention of gunpowder, to break it, Zaluzhny said in an interview with The Economist. “Just like in the First World War we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” he said. “The simple fact is that we see everything the enemy is doing and they [Russians] see everything we are doing,” Zaluzhny said. Zaluzhny’s assessment in his commentary for The Economist that the war has entered a new stage of “positional” warfare” suggests “an acknowledgment that Ukraine’s counteroffensive has wound down without achieving its objectives,” Col. Roman Kostenko, the chairman of the defense and intelligence committee in Ukraine’s Parliament, told NYT. “This had been the conclusion of military analysts for some time without being a stated position of the government in Kyiv. Ukraine is still on the offensive in the south, Mr. Kostenko said, but advancing slowly,” NYT reports. According to Kostenko, Zaluzhny’s article had “opened eyes and showed society that victory will not come tomorrow.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, however, begs to disagree with Zaluzhny and Kostenko, rejecting claims that the war with Russia has reached a stalemate, according to NBC.
  2. Zelensky “feels betrayed by his Western allies,” who “have left him without the means to win the war, only the means to survive it,” a member of his team told Time.Zelensky also remains dead set against even a temporary truce, telling Time that it would leave “this wound open for future generations.” One close aide told the magazine that the Ukrainian president “deludes himself … We’re out of options. We’re not winning. But try telling him that.” Another aide told Time that even if the U.S. and its allies come through with all the weapons they have pledged, “we don’t have the men to use them.” Like this aide, members of the Biden administration have begun to worry that "Ukraine is running out of forces," according to NBC. Ukrainian draft offices have been forced to call up ever-older personnel, raising the average age of a soldier in Ukraine to around 43, If the aging of the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s rank-and-file continues at the rate reported between the launch of the invasion and now, then the average age of Ukrainian soldiers one year from now would be 48-51according to an RM blog post on Ukraine’s aging soldier problem.    
  3. Putin’s 2024 reelection campaign will be his “busiest and most expensive,” Meduza’s Andrei Pertsev wrote two days before the appearance of reports that Putin had made the principal decision to run again. An exhibition of Russia’s Putin-era achievements, a patriotic competition and a World Youth Festival, among other events organized by Kremlin deputy chief of staff Sergei Kiriyenko, are “designed to create the theatrical backdrop of a supposedly flourishing country while sustaining the illusion of a genuinely democratic election, thereby helping to legitimize the official results, which will undoubtedly deliver a big win for Putin,” Pertsev writes. However, if economic woes and rumors of mobilization worsen, “all the positive mood music will have been in vain. Instead, the talk will be of how artificial intelligence was used to construct the same old Potemkin villages.”
  4. Russian authorities will not learn any lessons from the pogrom at Makhachkala airport, just as they failed to do so from Prigozhin’s mutiny, predicts Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Endowment. The angry mob that stormed an airport in Russia’s mostly Muslim republic of Dagestan hunting for Jews arriving on a flight from Israel revealed “three burning problems,” she writes: the system’s critical bias, which “only fights those who do not agree with the geopolitical course plotted by the regime”; the crisis of political responsibility, where “when faced with threatening situations for which the system has not provided instructions, the authorities prefer to simply do nothing”; and “Putin himself.” Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, Berlin concurs: “As happened after the Prigozhin mutiny, Vladimir Putin appeared to have temporarily lost control. This time, it occurred in the Caucasus, where Putin’s rise to power began with ruthless military campaigns. In both cases the explanation is the same: enthusiasts attempt to help the government carry out its policy more decisively, as they interpret it.” Stanovaya further predicts that “in the event of truly violent unrest on a massive scale, the reaction of both regional and federal authorities will again be belated, indecisive and indulgent. And one day, that will inevitably work against the regime itself.”

 

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

“Why the Russian Authorities Failed to Stop Pogroms in the Caucasus,” Tatiana Stanovaya, Carnegie Endowment, 10.31.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • When an angry mob in Russia’s mostly Muslim republic of Dagestan stormed the regional capital of Makhachkala’s airport, hunting for Jews arriving on a flight from Israel, the Russian authorities’ reaction—or lack of—was shocking. 
  • The pogrom at Makhachkala airport was preceded by other anti-Semitic protests in Russia’s North Caucasus. 
  • Like the armed mutiny led by the now deceased mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin a few months earlier, the airport pogrom laid bare three burning problems faced by President Vladimir Putin’s regime that prevent it from responding promptly to such challenges and indicate that the Russian government is effectively paralyzed in the face of impending (and clearly visible) political danger. 
    • The first problem is the system’s critical bias: it only fights those who do not agree with the geopolitical course plotted by the regime. 
    • The second problem is the crisis of political responsibility. When faced with threatening situations for which the system has not provided instructions, the authorities prefer to simply do nothing. … This second problem was also evident during the Prigozhin mutiny. What many interpreted as the refusal of the security forces to shoot at the Wagner mercenaries was in fact more likely hesitation due to a lack of coherent orders. 
    • The third and final problem is Putin himself. When there is no system of coordinates for decision-making, and regional authorities are paralyzed by a crisis of responsibility, everyone is waiting for a reaction from one person: the president. But in the case of the Makhachkala airport, there was no reaction until the next day, when first the president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov and then Putin himself blamed “outside interference” for the incident (while providing no evidence). 
  • Like Prigozhin’s mutiny, the authorities will not learn any lessons from the pogrom at Makhachkala airport. That means that in the event of truly violent unrest on a massive scale, the reaction of both regional and federal authorities will again be belated, indecisive, and indulgent. And one day, that will inevitably work against the regime itself.

“Russia’s approach to Israel reveals problems in the Kremlin,” Alexander Baunov, FT, 11.04.23. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • On October 29, several thousand angry men stormed the airport at Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan in Russia’s mainly Muslim north Caucasus. They were looking for Jews believed to have arrived from Israel. The police seemed inactive, much like during Yevgeny Prigozhin’s abortive mutiny in June. In a second Dagestani city, Khasavyurt, a mob searched for Jewish refugees allegedly placed in local hotels. In Karachay-Cherkessia, protesters demanded the eviction of all Jews from the republic. In Nalchik, also in the north Caucasus, a Jewish cultural center under construction was set on fire and antisemitic graffiti scrawled on its walls.
    • As happened after the Prigozhin mutiny, Vladimir Putin appeared to have temporarily lost control. This time, it occurred in the Caucasus, where Putin’s rise to power began with ruthless military campaigns. In both cases the explanation is the same: enthusiasts attempt to help the government carry out its policy more decisively, as they interpret it. 
  • After the failure of Russia’s blitzkrieg attack on Ukraine in early 2022, the Kremlin became consumed with the idea of opening a second front. It tried a gas front against Europe last winter, and a grain front stoking fears of world food shortages and migration crises. It hoped for a flare-up over Taiwan, or domestic political problems in the U.S.. Now that a second front has opened in the Israel-Hamas war, Moscow may hope to propose a bargain to the West: “We’ll help you get out of the mess in Palestine, you help us do the same in Ukraine.” This accounts for a Hamas delegation’s visit to Moscow on October 26.
  • However, Russia’s decision-making is too degraded for its leaders to use such opportunities. They are in the grip of destructive emotions, obsessed with grievances and fixated on revenge. This reduces their ability to play a constructive role in the Middle East. While conducting its aggressive geopolitical game, the Kremlin has overlooked the consequences at home. Its intense anti-Western sentiment has generated violence in the north Caucasus which contradicts the image of domestic harmony that Putin aims to project.

“Russia Has Big Plans to Win the Israel-Hamas War,” Anna Matveeva, NI, 10.31.23. 

  • While making war in Europe, Putin is clearly trying to set himself up as a mediator in the Middle East. This is not as far-fetched as it might sound. 
    • Russia’s ties with Israel are … important … After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, while the West lined up against Moscow, Israel offered to act as mediator and refused to send lethal weapons to Ukraine. Putin has reciprocated by acknowledging Israel’s right to self-defense, while calling for the two sides to seek a long-term two-state solution.
    • Moscow has strong relationships with many of Israel’s antagonists: Iran, Syria, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Hezbollah, and major Arab powers, such as Egypt and the Arab League.
  • From the Kremlin’s point of view, the crisis in Gaza diverts attention—and aid dollars—from the war in Ukraine. … Many analysts believe that if it comes to prioritizing which country to support (a situation which hasn’t materialized—yet), Israel would win out.
  • Russia’s diplomatic stance makes sense. Both sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict are entitled to security, but neither should use excessive force. Importantly, Moscow has put the two-state solution—which appeared to have been shelved over recent years—firmly back on the agenda.
  • Russia could play a pivotal role in bringing peace to the Middle East. And arguably, the nature and severity of the crisis calls for the U.S. to put its frustration with Putin aside for the sake of a greater good. The crisis is too big for geopolitical posturing. If Russia can help to resolve it, it should be given a chance. If it scores some points in the war of narratives, it is a small price to pay for peace.

“From the U.S. to Ukraine, the Gaza war will change the world: Conflict in the Middle East is bad news for liberals and helpful for Putin and Trump,” Gideon Rachman, FT, 11.06.23.

  • The Gaza war has forced the U.S. to divert time and resources away from Ukraine. In some cases, there is direct competition for munitions. Ukraine has been desperately short of shells and now is competing with Israel for scarce supplies. Air defense systems are also needed by both Ukraine and Israel. The West’s already weak ability to rally global support for Ukraine is further damaged by anger in the “Global South” about U.S. support for Israel. Efforts to press the argument that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine will now be met with renewed charges of double standards.
  • These developments came at a time when the Ukrainian war effort was already faltering. The Kyiv government’s counteroffensive has largely failed. … [P]redictions of a stalemate could actually prove over-optimistic. Russia has turned itself into a war economy and will probably have a growing edge in armaments and troop numbers next year. 
  • A battered Ukraine remains heavily dependent on the West for armaments and financial support. But Kyiv’s Western backers have failed to ramp up their weapons production to match the Russian war machine. Meanwhile, continued funding for Ukraine has got stuck in the U.S. Congress as Trump-supporting Republicans turn against the war. Vladimir Putin has even more reason to keep fighting hard over the next year, given the growing prospect that Donald Trump will return to the White House and abandon Ukraine to its fate.
  • The intense global spotlight on Israel and Gaza may also be providing cover for other human rights abuses to take place. In recent weeks, mass deportations and forced transfers of people have either taken place or been announced in Pakistan, Sudan and Nagorno-Karabakh. 
  • Analysts in Washington believe that he [Xi Jinping] has told the Chinese military to be ready to invade the island [Taiwan] by 2027. … But, with America distracted and divided, Xi may see an opportunity to increase the pressure on the island over the coming year. That would add a security crisis in east Asia to the ones gripping Europe and the Middle East.

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Has North Korea Joined Russia and China’s Anti-American Alliance?”, Gabriela Bernal, NI, 11.01.23.

  • Isolated from the international community and in urgent need of weapons and ammunition to continue its fight in Ukraine, Russia has chosen to double down on its alliance with North Korea. Although Moscow and Pyongyang have been allies for decades, recent developments point to deepening military cooperation, which may prolong the war in Ukraine and increase provocations on the Korean peninsula. … Russia reaffirmed its intentions on 26 October 2023, when the Kremlin pledged to ‘continue to develop close relations in all areas’ with Pyongyang. 
  • The deepening of the North Korea-Russia alliance took off in July 2023 when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un welcomed a Russian delegation to Pyongyang, headed by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, to mark celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice Agreement. The visit marked the first time North Korea had welcomed a foreign delegation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shoigu reportedly proposed trilateral naval exercises involving China and North Korea—a move that highlights just how far Moscow is willing to go to deepen cooperation with Pyongyang. Although North Korea has yet to commit to such joint drills, Kim Jong-un expressed his interest in deepening ties with Moscow in a highly public manner by making a personal visit to Russia on 12 September 2023. … The fruits of the summit seem to already be materializing. An October 2023 report indicated ‘a dramatic and unprecedented level of freight railcar traffic at North Korea’s Tumangang Rail Facility located on the North Korea-Russia border’. According to the report, ‘the dramatic increase in rail traffic likely indicates North Korea’s supply of arms and munitions to Russia’.
  • In exchange for the weapons, Russia may offer advanced military technology to help North Korea develop and expand its military capabilities. … Ordinary North Koreans are also hoping to receive food aid from Russia. Besides the material goods Kim may receive from Putin, the North Korean leader’s visit to Russia also served to show the world that the ‘hermit kingdom’ is not as isolated as many may think. 
  • Given China’s strong influence, North Korea and Russia are unlikely to engage in actions that would directly hurt Chinese interests. Both North Korea and Russia will likely maintain close communication with China over the course of their deepening bilateral ties. Days after Kim left Russia, Putin hosted China’s top diplomat Wang Yi. Putin also visited China on 17 October 2023. The news comes amid the Kremlin calling for closer policy coordination between Moscow and Beijing to counter Western aims at the ‘double containment of Russia and China’.
  • With Russia, China and North Korea united against a U.S.-led world order, Cold War-era blocs are becoming increasingly solidified. The revival of these blocs is raising tensions across continents from Europe to Asia.

“Russia and North Korea: A Military Partnership That Can Truly Last or Not?” Timo Kivimäki, NI, 10.31.23.

  • The cooperation between North Korea and Russia is primarily driven by considerations of power rather than a commitment to shared principles. North Korea seeks allies to establish a sense of normalcy following the Supreme People’s Assembly enacting a law on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Policy on Nuclear Forces in September 2022, making nuclear weapons a permanent element of the country’s defense policy. 
  • In addition to ammunition, Russia may view North Korea as a potential proxy in its power politics and nuclear brinkmanship. Putin perceives that the United States is using Ukraine in a similar capacity, willing to accept the risks of a nuclear conflict as a quid pro quo for military aid. For Putin, Ukraine is a U.S. asset in the global game of brinkmanship. There exists the possibility that North Korea could play a similar role for Russia.

Iran and its nuclear program:

“The Iran-Russia Military Axis,” WSJ Editorial Board, WSJ, 11.03.23. 

  • A school of conservative isolationist thought is that the U.S. should let powers like Russia and Iran dominate their regions. Withdraw to our shores and those countries will leave us alone. But as we've learned in Ukraine and now Israel, those powers aren't content with the status quo. They want to expand their empires and subjugate (or in the case of Israel exterminate) their neighbors. America's enemies are working together, and it is strategic folly to think the U.S. can treat them like isolated problems. Letting Russia subjugate Ukraine will give Vladimir Putin an opening to further help Iran against Israel.

“The China-Russia-Iran Axis Is a Clear Threat to America,” Ariel Cohen, NI, 11.03.23.

  • After the ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. policymakers hoped to forget about the Middle East and yearned to focus on peer competitors: Russia and China. But the Middle East has the gravitational force of a black hole: it pulls great powers back in. 
  • In the global conflict with the Moscow-Beijing-Tehran axis, the American superpower needs to walk and chew gum: it needs to support Ukraine while giving Israel the window to eradicate Hamas terrorists and deter Iran. Both China and Russia do not have the military power, especially naval and air assets, to credibly dethrone the United States as the dominant actor in the Middle East—if America has the political will and leadership to stay the course.
  • If Iran does not heed warnings from Washington and unleashes the Hezbollah dogs of war, causing unacceptable damage to Israeli civilians, it needs to be severely punished, and its nuclear program, military posture, and possibly oil terminals destroyed. The kleptocratic Shia jihadi dictatorship is unlikely to survive this. That will be the message Moscow and Beijing will not be able to ignore.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Murder, torture, rape: Russia's crimes are a long-running horror show,” Lee Hockstader, WP, 10.31.23.

  • The reports pile up like desiccated bones in a mass grave, each brimming with a ghoul's gallery of horrors, each bearing a dreary title and, often, the imprimatur of the United Nations:
    • "Report on the Human Rights Situation in Ukraine."
    • "Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine."
    • "Detention of Civilians in the Context of the Armed Attack by the Russian Federation Against Ukraine."
  • Yet the evidence attesting to Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine also obscures an essential fact: It represents a small fraction measured against the likely scale of atrocities carried out by President Vladimir Putin's forces. We know that because we know this: Notwithstanding the lurid accounts detailing systematic torture, rape, execution and other forms of abuse deployed by Moscow's troops, independent investigators are denied access to territory seized by Russian forces.
  • To me it looked all too familiar. Nearly 30 years ago, I covered Russia's first war in Chechnya, the southern Russian region that fought to free itself of Moscow's rule. There, torture, rape and indiscriminate killing of noncombatants by Russian forces were routine. 
  • Russia's subjugation of Chechnya, a little-known place, got scant attention. But in the military's viciousness and brutality, it was a prelude to Putin's current campaign. It's a further reminder that Ukraine is fighting not only for its right to live as a democratic, pluralist and independent country, free of Russia's yoke. It is also fighting for its life.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“‘Nobody Believes in Our Victory Like I Do.’ Inside Volodymyr Zelensky’s Struggle to Keep Ukraine in the Fight,” Simon Shuster, Time, 10.30.23.

  • “Nobody believes in our victory like I do. Nobody,” Zelensky told TIME in an interview after his trip to Washington in September. … “The scariest thing is that part of the world got used to the war in Ukraine,” he says. “Exhaustion with the war rolls along like a wave. You see it in the United States, in Europe. And we see that as soon as they start to get a little tired, it becomes like a show to them: ‘I can’t watch this rerun for the 10th time.’” …Zelensky feels betrayed by his Western allies. They have left him without the means to win the war, only the means to survive it. 
  • Despite the recent setbacks on the battlefield, he does not intend to give up fighting or to sue for any kind of peace. On the contrary, his belief in Ukraine’s ultimate victory over Russia has hardened into a form that worries some of his advisers. It is immovable, verging on the messianic. “He deludes himself,” one of his closest aides tells me in frustration. “We’re out of options. We’re not winning. But try telling him that.”
    • Zelensky’s stubbornness, some of his aides say, has hurt their team’s efforts to come up with a new strategy, a new message. As they have debated the future of the war, one issue has remained taboo: the possibility of negotiating a peace deal with the Russians. Judging by recent surveys, most Ukrainians would reject such a move, especially if it entailed the loss of any occupied territory. … Zelensky remains dead set against even a temporary truce. “For us it would mean leaving this wound open for future generations,” the President tells me.  
  • Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure have damaged power stations and parts of the electricity grid, leaving it potentially unable to meet spikes in demand when the temperature drops. Three of the senior officials in charge of dealing with this problem told me blackouts would likely be more severe this winter, and the public reaction in Ukraine would not be as forgiving. “
  • In some branches of the military, the shortage of personnel has become even more dire than the deficit in arms and ammunition. One of Zelensky’s close aides tells me that even if the U.S. and its allies come through with all the weapons they have pledged, “we don’t have the men to use them.” … draft offices have been forced to call up ever older personnel, raising the average age of a soldier in Ukraine to around 43 years. “They’re grown men now, and they aren’t that healthy to begin with,” says the close aide to Zelensky. “This is Ukraine. Not Scandinavia.”
  • Amid all the pressure to root out corruption, I assumed, perhaps naively, that officials in Ukraine would think twice before taking a bribe or pocketing state funds. But when I made this point to a top presidential adviser in early October, he asked me to turn off my audio recorder so he could speak more freely. “Simon, you’re mistaken,” he says. “People are stealing like there’s no tomorrow.” 
  • Instead of asking Congress to vote on another stand-alone package of Ukraine aid, Biden bundled it with other priorities … it was, … an acknowledgment that, on its own, Ukraine aid no longer stands much of a chance in Washington. 

“The commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces on what he needs to beat Russia. Technology is the key as the war becomes 'positional,' says Valery Zaluzhny," The Economist, 11.01.23. 

  • The war is now moving to a new stage: what we in the military call “positional” warfare of static and attritional fighting, as in the first world war, in contrast to the “maneuver” warfare of movement and speed. This will benefit Russia, allowing it to rebuild its military power, eventually threatening Ukraine’s armed forces and the state itself. 
  • Basic weapons, such as missiles and shells, remain essential. But Ukraine’s armed forces need key military capabilities and technologies to break out of this kind of war. 
    • The most important one is air power. … Drones must be part of our answer, too. 
    • Our second priority [is] electronic warfare (EW), such as jamming communication and navigation signals. EW is the key to victory in the drone war. 
    • The third task is counter-battery fire: defeating enemy artillery. 
    • The fourth task is mine-breaching technology. 
    • My fifth and final priority is to build up our [manpower] reserves. 
  • Russia should not be underestimated. It has suffered heavy losses and expended a lot of ammunition. But it will have superiority in weapons, equipment, missiles and ammunition for a considerable time. Its defense industry is increasing its output, despite unprecedented sanctions. Our NATO partners are dramatically increasing their production capacity, too. But it takes at least a year to do this and, in some cases, such as aircraft and command-and-control systems, two years.
  • A positional war is a prolonged one that carries enormous risks to Ukraine’s armed forces and to its state. If Ukraine is to escape from that trap, we will need all these things: air superiority, much-improved electronic-warfare and counter-battery capabilities, new mine-breaching technology and the ability to mobilize and train more reserves. We also need to focus on modern command and control—so we can visualize the battlefield more effectively than Russia and make decisions more quickly—and on rationalizing our logistics while disrupting Russia’s with longer-range missiles. New, innovative approaches can turn this war of position back into one of maneuver.

“Ukraine’s commander-in-chief on the breakthrough he needs to beat Russia. General Valery Zaluzhny admits the war is at a stalemate,” The Economist, 11.01.23. 

  • Five months into its counter-offensive, Ukraine has managed to advance by just 17 kilometers. Russia fought for ten months around Bakhmut in the east “to take a town six by six kilometers.” 
    • “Just like in the first world war we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” he says. The general concludes that it would take a massive technological leap to break the deadlock. “There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.”
  • The course of the [Ukrainian] counter-offensive has undermined Western hopes that Ukraine could use it to demonstrate that the war is unwinnable, forcing Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to negotiate. It has also undercut [commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces] General Zaluzhny’s assumption that he could stop Russia by bleeding its troops. “That was my mistake. Russia has lost at least 150,000 dead. In any other country such casualties would have stopped the war.” But not in Russia, where life is cheap and where Mr. Putin’s reference points are the first and second world wars, in which Russia lost tens of millions.
  • An army of Ukraine’s standard ought to have been able to move at a speed of 30km a day as it breached Russian lines. “If you look at NATO’s text books and at the maths which we did, four months should have been enough time for us to have reached Crimea, to have fought in Crimea, to return from Crimea and to have gone back in and out again,” General Zaluzhny says sardonically. Instead he watched his troops get stuck in minefields on the approaches to Bakhmut in the east, his Western-supplied equipment getting pummeled by Russian artillery and drones. The same story unfolded on the offensive’s main thrust in the south, where inexperienced brigades immediately ran into trouble.
  • By holding back the supply of long-range missile systems and tanks, the West allowed Russia to regroup and build up its defenses in the aftermath of a sudden breakthrough in Kharkiv region in the north and in Kherson in the south late in 2022.
    • The delay in arms deliveries, though frustrating, is not the main cause of Ukraine’s predicament, according to General Zaluzhny. “It is important to understand that this war cannot be won with the weapons of the past generation and outdated methods,” he insists. “They will inevitably lead to delay and, as a consequence, defeat.” It is, instead, technology that will be decisive, he argues. 
  • General Zaluzhny is desperately trying to prevent the war from settling into the trenches. “The biggest risk of an attritional trench war is that it can drag on for years and wear down the Ukrainian state,” he says. 
  • “The simple fact is that we see everything the enemy is doing and they see everything we are doing. In order for us to break this deadlock we need something new, like the gunpowder which the Chinese invented and which we are still using to kill each other,” he says. 
  • There is no question in General Zaluzhny’s mind that a long war favors Russia, which has a population three times and an economy ten times the size of Ukraine. “Let’s be honest, it’s a feudal state where the cheapest resource is human life. And for us…the most expensive thing we have is our people,” he says. 

"Ukraine’s Top Commander Says "War Has Hit a ‘Stalemate,’" Constant Méheut and Andrew E. Kramer, NYT, 11.02.23.

  • Gen. Valery Zaluzhny [stalemate comments toThe Economist; see above] marked the first time a top Ukrainian commander said the fighting had reached an impasse, although General Zaluzhny added that breaking the deadlock could require technological advances to achieve air superiority and increase the effectiveness of artillery fire. He added that Russian forces, too, are incapable of advancing. … The general said modern technology and precision weapons on both sides were preventing troops from breaching enemy lines, including the expansive use of drones, and the ability to jam drones. He called for advances in electronic warfare as a way to break the deadlock.
  • General Zaluzhny’s comments came amid a wider effort by Ukrainian officials to temper allies’ expectations of rapid battlefield success, while urging them to maintain military support to allow Ukraine to gain the advantage on the battlefield. On Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said that the outside world was “accustomed to success” and complained that Ukrainian troops’ achievements were “perceived as a given.” While it was not laid out specifically in the general’s article, the assessment that the war had shifted to “positional” fighting suggested an acknowledgment that Ukraine’s counteroffensive has wound down without achieving its objectives, said Col. Roman Kostenko, the chairman of the defense and intelligence committee in Ukraine’s Parliament.
    • This had been the conclusion of military analysts for some time without being a stated position of the government in Kyiv. Ukraine is still on the offensive in the south, Mr. Kostenko said, but advancing slowly. The article, he said, “opened eyes and showed society that victory will not come tomorrow.” 
    • The article, Mr. Kostenko said, should also signal to the ministry of defense, which is responsible for procuring weaponry, that its focus on obtaining heavy arms including tanks and artillery is less significant than seeking new technologies and precision weaponry
  • Zaluzhny pointed out that the standoff was largely the result of technological parity on the battlefield, with both sides using modern sensors to detect troops and equipment, and advanced weapons to destroy them.
  • The use of artillery and drones enables each side to wear down the enemy, tie them up and target advancing troops. … Zaluzhny said the effectiveness of Western-supplied weapons had diminished because they use GPS navigation technology that is vulnerable to Russian communications jamming systems. 
  • Electronic warfare is a hidden hand behind much of the war, with Russian abilities outmatching those of the Ukrainians. Russian forces can detect cellphone signals and jam GPS and radio frequencies. Ukraine fields its own electronic warfare systems but its soldiers frequently complain that Russia consistently has the upper hand in this area.

“Hamas and the New Lessons of Irregular Warfare: Military strategies need urgent revisions to counter—and learn from—fast-evolving irregular threats,” Varsha Koduvayur and Peter Chin, FP, 11.06.23.

  • Irregular adversaries will eventually learn how to beat their target’s capabilities. Or, if not quite beat them, at least overwhelm the target long enough to notch a strategic advantage … Ukraine provides another example of this maxim, with Kyiv innovatively turning commercial drones into explosive-bearing weapons that have damaged much more expensive Russian equipment. Thus, states must constantly evolve and strengthen their capabilities while developing new ones. Steps need to be taken to proactively prepare for adversarial encroachment, such as through war-gaming and red teaming what an adversary can or will do in the future. And these preparations need to account for irregular tactics—no matter the adversary—instead of focusing only on conventional military capabilities.
  • Hamas’s offensive is replete with lessons on irregular warfare. … Russia’s war in Ukraine also bears powerful witness to the salience of irregular warfare. On one side, Russia utilizes asymmetric means—Iranian-made drones—to knock out key nodes of Ukrainian infrastructure, such as power plants, and to grind down the Ukrainian population’s morale.
  • Ukraine, meanwhile, has also used asymmetric means to defend itself. Kyiv carries out massed attacks using its aforementioned inexpensive drones, which can penetrate far into Russian territory and bomb airbases, damaging the equipment that Russia would use against Kyiv. Lacking a navy and long-range anti-ship missiles to defeat the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Ukraine has also come up with an innovative, inexpensive and domestically produced sea drone to destroy Russian warships.
  • Other countries are taking note of emerging irregular warfare tactics. Taiwan has been a careful observer of the Ukrainian conflict to distill lessons that can help the island nation defend itself against a possible future Chinese hybrid warfare assault. Inspired—or, perhaps, forewarned—by the Ukrainian example, Taiwan has launched an ambitious drone strategy to build up its domestic manufacturing capabilities.

“Ukraine’s top general admits the war is stalemated. Now what?”, Max Boot, WP, 11.06.23.

  • After nearly five months of intense combat, the Ukrainians have advanced barely 10 miles. … Last week, Ukraine’s top general, Valery Zaluzhny, admitted to the Economist that the war had reached a “stalemate” and that “there will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough” unless Ukraine can somehow gain a technological edge over the Russians.
  • Why hasn’t Ukraine had more success? Behind the scenes, there is plenty of finger-pointing among Ukrainian and U.S. officials. The Americans privately grumble that the Ukrainians have not done a good job of executing a NATO-style combined-arms offensive … The Ukrainians, in turn, complain that the West has not given them enough weapons to break through the Russian fortifications and that many of the weapons they have received are not in good working order. 
  • “In many ways, Ukraine was set up to underdeliver on unreasonable expectations of a massive territorial gain,” agreed Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington.
  • So what should Ukraine—and its supporters in the West—do now? Many will argue that, with the failure of this counteroffensive, it’s time to cut a deal with the Kremlin. But there is scant indication that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is ready to make any concessions or to give up his goal of swallowing Ukraine. The Ukrainian military setbacks—and waning support for Kyiv’s cause among Republicans in Congress—only encourage him to keep going in the expectation that he will outlast his enemies. 
  • The United States has a strategic imperative at stake: The Ukrainians are inflicting massive losses on the Russian armed forces that will make Russia less of a threat to its NATO neighbors for years to come. There is also a humanitarian imperative: By arming Ukraine, we are saving innocent lives. … “The Russians will try to break Ukraine over the winter,” an administration official told me. “We need to stop that from happening.”
  • [I]f our support for Ukraine falters, then Putin could still emerge as the winner in his war of aggression—with frightening consequences for the entire world.

“It didn’t work out: the failure of the Ukrainian counter-offensive and its consequences,” Vasily Kashin, RIAC, 11.01.23.1Clues from Russian Views.

  • The declared goal of the large Ukrainian offensive was to inflict a heavy strategic defeat on Russia by cutting the land corridor to Crimea. However, hardly anyone among Western military officers and politicians who had real information believed that the Ukrainian Armed Forces would be able to achieve such a result. It would be strange to expect a different attitude: during the entire war, the Ukrainians never managed to break through the prepared defenses of the Russian troops.
    •  The Kharkov offensive in September 2022 was carried out against extremely small Russian forces that were stretched along the front and did not have a serious fortification system. The offensive in the Kherson region in August-November 2022 was also conducted against an exhausted and stretched Russian group, but led to only limited progress at the cost of heavy losses—until the threat of destruction of the Dnieper crossings forced Russian troops to withdraw to the left bank.
  •  Taking into account the above, it would be unreasonable to expect that Ukrainians will be able to succeed in the new conditions. The numerical balance of forces by the summer of 2023 has changed in favor of Russia. The Russian line of defense was well equipped and fortified. The mobilization of domestic industry also began to bring obvious results.
  • So the real goal of the offensive was not the defeat of Russian forces with access to the Sea of Azov, but to force Moscow to negotiate on terms favorable to the West. This required, firstly, to show that Ukraine continues to hold the strategic initiative, secondly, to inflict heavy losses on the Russian army that would destabilize the situation within the country, and thirdly, to achieve some progress so that it would be possible to declare victory.

“The Military-Industrial-Complex Complex,” Paul Krugman, NYT, 10.31.23.

  • Do we have a hugely bloated military budget? No doubt the Pentagon, like any large organization, wastes a lot of money. But recent events have made the case for spending at least as much as we currently do, and perhaps more.
  • First, one of the revelations from the war in Ukraine has been that those expensive NATO weapons systems, from Javelin anti-tank missiles to HIMARS, actually do work.
  • More important, it turns out that the era of large-scale conventional warfare isn’t over after all, and there are real concerns about whether our weapons production capacity is large enough to deal with the potential threats.
  • By all means, let’s have good-faith arguments about how much America should spend on its military. But repeating 60-year-old clichés about the military-industrial complex doesn’t help the discussion.
    “For Russia and Ukraine, Winter Could Be Their Fiercest Enemy Yet,” Marina Miron, NI, 11.02.23. 
  • The future of this conflict will largely come down not to weather, but to political will and the availability of resources. 
  • For Ukraine, the crux will be military equipment and ammunition, while for Russia, it will be manpower—according to U.S. estimates, as of August 2023, they have already lost some 120,000 troops. Ultimately, the outcome of the winter operations in Ukraine will depend on the will of the opposing forces, and on the West’s ability, and willingness, to supply the Ukrainian side with the necessary quantities of ammunition.2

"Average Age of Ukrainian Soldiers Is Past 40 and That Could Be a Problem," Simon Saradzhyan, RM, 11.03.23. 

  • Time journalist Simon Shuster has just published an article titled “Volodymyr Zelensky’s Struggle to Keep Ukraine in the Fight,” which contains three revelations that do not bode well for that struggle. 
    • First, the article reveals that Zelensky—who remains staunchly opposed to either truce or peace—is so convinced of Ukraine’s victory that one of his closest aides describes him as “delud[ing] himself.” 
    • Second, the article reveals that after his September trip to the U.S., Zelensky has been feeling betrayed by his Western allies, who he feels have left him without the means to win the war, only the means to survive it. 
    • Last but not least, even if the West did come through with all the weapons they have pledged, “we don’t have the men to use them,” one of Zelensky’s close aides told Time’s Shuster, revealing that the average age of a Ukrainian soldier has already reached 43. 
  • The reason I think this last revelation might be the most consequential is because it shows both Ukraine’s adversary and its allies, that, on its current trajectory, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (ZSU) will have to conscript pre-pension age males in the not-so-distance future. 
  • Less than a month after the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022, the average age of Ukrainian soldiers was 30-35, according to FT. Thus, if the ageing of the ZSU’s rank-and-file continues at the rate reported between the launch of the invasion and now, then the average age of Ukrainian soldiers one year and two years from now would be 48-51 and 52-58, respectively. 
  • Older cohorts tend to have greater health problems, especially in a country with a male life expectancy of 65, ranking 98th of 123 in the world by that metric. As the close aide to Zelensky explained to Shuster, “They’re grown men now, and they aren’t that healthy to begin with ... This is Ukraine. Not Scandinavia.” 
  • For Ukraine to escape from the trap of a prolonged war, “we need something new, like the gunpowder which the Chinese invented,” according to Zaluzhny, who in his Economist article urged the West to help the ZSU to acquire air superiority, much-improved electronic-warfare and counter-battery capabilities and new mine-breaching technology, among other things. It could take a long time for the U.S. and its allies to supply these capabilities in game-changing quantities even if they agree to do so in spite of the fact that public enthusiasm for helping Ukraine reclaim its territory is waning. Whether the ZSU will have sufficient numbers of able-bodied personnel available by then to be trained to operate all of these weapons is an open question. 

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

“The Easiest Way to Make Russia Sanctions More Effective,” Agathe Demarais, FP, 10.30.23.

  • Britain left the EU in 2020, London and Brussels have made sanctions decisions completely separately, and there is no formal mechanism to ensure alignment between British and European measures. This has resulted in regulatory divergences—a polite way to say sanctions loopholes—that Moscow and other malicious actors can exploit. 
    • The British government likes to claim that it is no longer a haven for wealthy Russians, but British law still makes it harder than in the EU to place someone under sanctions. Yet this obstacle is not insurmountable, and there are at least three reasons why greater alignment on Russia sanctions would be a positive development. 
      • The first is obvious: Joint British-EU designations would boost the effectiveness of sanctions. 
      • The second reason has to do with the private sector. Many of the Western firms that chose to stay in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine face a tricky situation. Beyond the controls that Moscow has imposed to complicate exits, many multinationals report that the difficulties of navigating different sanctions regimes further complicate exit strategies. Of course, this argument may be disingenuous: It could well be that some private firms have chosen to stay in Russia and are using sanctions divergence as an excuse to deflect criticism. Greater alignment between British and EU sanctions legislation would make this talking point moot and possibly help some firms to leave the Russian market.
      • A third factor is that pan-European collaboration on sanctions would be a useful preemptive measure for Europeans to take if a Republican president were to upend U.S. sanctions policy on Russia from 2025. 
  • Sanctions represent a key tool for Western countries to weigh on Russia’s ability to wage war against Ukraine. As a result, ensuring the effectiveness and predictability of these measures should be a priority for allies, not least to ensure greater compliance and buy-in from the private sector. This, in a nutshell, is why greater British-EU collaboration on sanctions would make perfect sense. Of course, it would not be a silver bullet to change Moscow’s calculus in Ukraine. But every little bit helps, and greater collaboration on sanctions could also represent a low-hanging fruit to revive political relations across the channel.

“How to Exploit Russia’s Addiction to Western Technology. The Private Sector Must Do More to Help,’ Alena Popova, FA, 11.03.23. 

  • [Russia’s] transition from Western to Chinese technologies is not proceeding smoothly for the Kremlin. Numerous obstacles have arisen that prevent a complete shift. The main stumbling block arises from the globalized nature of complex technological systems and their supply chains. Chinese companies themselves rely on Western technologies and are therefore vulnerable to Western sanctions. Fearful of being a Western target, some Chinese companies have felt compelled to place restrictions on their exports. 
  • The Kremlin is, therefore, working hard to ensure that vast amounts of Western technologies are still being shipped to Russia through a sprawling network of global intermediaries. In the first seven months of the Ukraine war, goods worth at least $777 million from Western chip manufacturers were imported into Russia via intermediary companies in countries including China, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. The Kremlin is ready to accept significantly higher prices and longer delivery times for Western technologies in order to maintain supplies.
  • Western governments should never repeat the mistakes made with Russia. Western technologies should not be used to establish and reinforce authoritarian regimes, to violate human rights, to conduct wars of conquest, or to enable confrontations with the West itself.
  • Washington and its allies must respond by better tracking not just the volume and type of technology exported from the West but also how they are used. Western technologies should be linked directly to values and use cases, so that, for example, a facial recognition system operating on Western technologies cannot be used by a dictatorship to detain opposition leaders and activists. Western governments and human rights organizations must assist technology companies in establishing clear ethical boundaries for their business. Transparency and accountability are key. 
  • Private companies whose technologies continue to be supplied to Russia in circumvention of sanctions should also actively participate in government efforts to identify and disrupt such supply chains. While Western countries are trying to stop supplying Russia’s war machine with technologies, private companies must not ignore violations of export controls. If they continue to do so, Western governments should withhold privileges from these companies, including the chance to participate in government procurement or receive diplomatic support when operating abroad. There can be no more “business as usual.”

“The West must not prevaricate when it comes to seizing Russian reserves,” Martin Sandbu, FT, 11.04.23. 

  • The supposed cost of seizing Russia’s reserves… is limited. It must in any case be held against the economic gains. They include giving Ukraine the financial means to win, recover and become fit to join the EU. It would also set a salutary precedent, suggesting that a country that flagrantly attacks the international order cannot expect to enjoy its protections.
  • Other economic arguments are harbored in private. One goes: Europe knows from its history that exacting payments from a defeated wartime foe can make things a lot worse. A hundred years ago, war reparations imposed on Germany were so large that attempting to pay them destabilized the German economy. But the transfer problem does not apply today. Russia’s reserves are accumulated surpluses from the past. Taking them would not require the Russian economy to produce impossible surpluses in the future. Call it the Weimar fallacy: there is no parallel here to the Versailles treaty’s mistakes.
  • That such thoughts circulate is a sign of the West’s unreliable intentions. However the war ends, calls to treat Russia “reasonably” will suddenly multiply. All the more reason to seize its reserves now.

“How Russia Games Oil Sanctions for Big Profits: Moscow circumvents the G-7 oil-price cap by moving crude on a fleet of aging tankers on which sanctions have limited traction,” Georgi Kantchev, Joe Wallace and Andrew Duehren, WSJ, 11.06.23.

  • A Western price cap on Russian oil meant to curb Moscow’s war spending is increasingly losing its punch. … Oil and gas tax revenue to the Russian budget in October more than doubled from September and rose by more than a quarter from the same month last year, according to data released Friday. That represents a stark turnaround from the beginning of the year when energy revenues tumbled.
  • The price cap, imposed last December, was supposed to achieve twin goals: ensure the flow of Russia’s crude on world markets, thus keeping gasoline prices low, while reducing Moscow’s revenue for each barrel it sells. But after the sanctions initially worked largely as expected, Moscow has found ways to circumvent them, moving oil on a fleet of aging tankers on which the restrictions have limited traction. The discount at which it sells its oil relative to global prices has shrunk, boosting Russia’s war chest.
  • With much of the Russian oil trade now happening outside their jurisdictions, the U.S. and its allies are also discussing ways to make it more expensive for Russia to grow and operate the flotilla of ships it uses to skirt the sanctions, the people said. The Justice Department is conducting a broad effort to crack down on violations of sanctions on Russian energy. … The rise in Russian oil prices suggests the cap is increasingly unenforceable, the World Bank said in a recent report.
  • Even with Russian revenue climbing again, Treasury officials argue that the price cap has diverted resources from Moscow’s war effort by forcing Russia to build its own shipping infrastructure outside the net of Western sanctions. … “The effectiveness of the price cap has waned, but it doesn’t mean it’s beyond repair,” said Maria Shagina, research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. She said that Western officials should improve enforcement by introducing strict liability for price-cap violations, tightening documentation requirements to prevent attestation fraud, and investigating inflated shipping and insurance costs.

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“U.S., European officials broach topic of peace negotiations with Ukraine, sources say,” Courtney Kube, Carol E. Lee and Kristen Welker, NBC, 11.03.23. 

  • U.S. and European officials have begun quietly talking to the Ukrainian government about what possible peace negotiations with Russia might entail to end the war, according to one current senior U.S. official and one former senior U.S. official familiar with the discussions. The talks began amid concerns among U.S. and European officials that the war has reached a stalemate and some of these talks took place last month during a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the officials said. 
  • Administration officials expect Ukraine to want more time to fight on the battlefield, particularly with new, heavier equipment, “but there’s a growing sense that it’s too late, and it’s time to do a deal,” the former senior administration official said. It is not certain that Ukraine would mount another spring offensive. 
  • As incentive for Zelensky to consider negotiations, NATO could offer Kyiv some security guarantees, even without Ukraine formally becoming part of the alliance, officials said. That way, officials said, the Ukrainians could be assured that Russia would be deterred from invading again.
  • Biden administration does not have any indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready to negotiate with Ukraine, two U.S. officials said
  • Biden administration officials are worried that Ukraine is running out of forces, while Russia has a seemingly endless supply, officials said. Ukraine is also struggling with recruiting and has recently seen public protests about some of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s open-ended conscription requirements. "Manpower is at the top of the administration’s concerns right now,” one official said. The U.S. and its allies can provide Ukraine with weaponry, this person said, “but if they don’t have competent forces to use them it doesn’t do a lot of good”(
  • Some U.S. military officials have privately begun using the term “stalemate” to describe the current battle in Ukraine

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

“Has Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Strengthened Transatlantic Ties?” Update on sessions of a study group led by Karen Donfried, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 11.02.23.

  • Over the course of six sessions, this study group, led by Dr. Karen Donfried, is examining key foreign policy debates flowing from Russia’s war against Ukraine. The objective is to provide a deeper understanding of the geopolitics of the war in Ukraine and the implications for U.S. interests. Two teams of four students each debate the weekly topic as the rest of the study group observes. 
  • Transatlantic ties and unity have experienced substantial transformation as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While some may argue that the U.S. and Europe are more united than ever thanks to a common geopolitical adversary, others are not as convinced due to growing costs and diverging strategic interests. The question as to whether or not the transatlantic alliance is fraying or strengthening remains central to current debates.
IssueAgreeDisagree
A Renewed Purpose for NATONATO has never been more united in its mission and by its values of freedom and democracy, as evidenced by Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership applications and the significant amount of U.S. assistance to European allies. While there is almost certainly a renewed sense of purpose within the NATO community and the need for U.S. troops to be stationed in Europe, there is also a renewed European dependence on the United States for security despite efforts for European “strategic autonomy.” 
China Challenge Coalesces the Transatlantic CommunityRussia’s invasion of Ukraine has boosted European resolve to stand with the United States in countering the geopolitical challenge that China poses. While it previously was an acceptable mainstream position in Europe to be relatively “soft” on China, particularly within the realm of economic engagement and human rights, the war has since driven Europeans to adopt more similar views on China as Americans hold.All the signs still point to China and Asia remaining the top U.S. strategic priority for the foreseeable future and this has certainly driven U.S. foreign policy; however, to state decidedly that the war has pushed Europeans to become hawkish on China would completely ignore the damaging actions of the Chinese government and the implications they have had on EU-China relations, independent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Europe Remains a Key Priority of the United StatesPresident Biden has voiced fervent support for a strong alliance with Europe and made clear that Europe remains and will continue to be a key strategic partner of the United States. This war has demonstrated that the fate of the United States is much more closely linked with European affairs than Americans initially assumed, which provides reason for greater engagement and cooperation.The crux of the debate hinges on how transatlantic ties are defined. If defined in a military sense, while multinational military exercises have occurred in Europe between NATO partners since 2014, the United States has also increased multi-national training exercises in the Pacific within the last 24 months, including the largest naval exercise with partners such as the Philippines.
Divergence in Strategic InterestsThe invasion has demonstrated to Europe that the United States is interested in more than just itself and that the transatlantic alliance is more than just a large entity but rather a critical component of a larger rules-based order built on common principles and strategic objectives.The United States appears to be more interested in using the war to weaken Russia strategically, while Europe is more concerned about the humanitarian costs of the war and the growing risk of escalation.
Strategic Autonomy or Continued DependenceThe invasion has pushed European countries to significantly increase their military spending to be in line with NATO’s guidelines that require NATO member states to commit a minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to defense spending. Europe is positioned to become even more dependent on the United States for security assurances despite official efforts to solidify European strategic autonomy. As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States has been pulled back into the European security theater due to the crucial role it plays, as the largest NATO member, in significantly building up Europe’s strategic deterrence mechanisms.
Public Support MattersIf we examine key international institutions such as NATO and the EU, there is an observable level of growth in support of multilateralism with the broader public voicing increasing support for international cooperation. Much of this support can be attributed to a greater public understanding of just how interlinked European and American affairs are.European public opinion on trust in the United States shifted following Biden’s election, not after the U.S. response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as is demonstrated by an EU Parliament public opinion poll. This raises questions about just how much the invasion of Ukraine has shifted public opinion on the issue. 

“For Putin, a very good October,” Lee Hockstader, WP, 11.02.23. 

  • Among Vladimir Putin's most conspicuous traits is a predator's keen sense for his enemies' weaknesses. He rarely fails to take note, and in October he had plenty to take note of. October was probably the best month for the Russian president since he unleashed his blood-soaked invasion of Ukraine 20 months earlier. If the discrete events that broke his way constitute a trend, Kyiv faces a menacingly greater chance of losing the war—a scenario that would pose enormous risks to the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization, not to mention the lives of millions of Ukrainians.
    • In the first few hours of Oct. 1, Moscow time, Congress voted to keep the U.S. government running, but only after a scaled-back $6 billion package of military and civilian aid for Ukraine was stripped from the legislation. That reflected Kyiv's crumbling support among House Republicans and was a portent of more to come.
    • Just the day before, Putin had received good news from Slovakia, a small European country with the potential to cause big mischief. It elected a new government whose prime minister, pro-Russian populist Robert Fico, has suggested he would further block European Union military and economic assistance to Ukraine. 
    • A week after Fico's electoral victory, Hamas murdered 1,400 Israelis, diverting the world's, and Washington's, attention from Putin's atrocities in Ukraine. 
    • Amid those events, Ukraine's military counteroffensive, launched in June, sputtered to a halt as it faced dug-in Russian forces, soggy autumn weather and a worrying shortage of recruits. 
    • Republicans elected a new House speaker, Rep. Mike Johnson (La.), who has voted repeatedly against funding for Ukraine. Immediately after being sworn in, he said he would block President Biden's effort to tether a new $61 billion aid package for Ukraine to a new weapons package for Israel.
    • A new poll in France put Marine Le Pen, an extreme nationalist with long-standing ties to Russia, atop the pack of plausible candidates in the 2027 French presidential election. 
  • The Russian dictator is playing the long game, attuned to every fissure in the transatlantic alliance. And the greatest potential crack of all—a potential election victory for Donald Trump, who is no friend of Ukraine's—looms just 12 months off. That, for Putin, could be game, set and match.

“The Ukraine-Israel Test for U.S. Democracy,” The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, WSJ, 11.01.23. 

  • President Biden has too often offered Ukraine enough weapons to tread water but not enough to prevail. The political high ground for Republicans is to insist on victory, which means pushing Russia back to its pre-invasion borders or further. Force Mr. Biden to transfer the long-range Army tactical missile system at scale. Give the Administration a deadline for procuring 1,000 more missiles. This is better politics than no House offer, which sets up the House to be cornered by the White House and Senate at crunch time.
  • Mr. Biden might think he can blame Republicans if Ukraine aid fails, but his political standing is on the line. If Russia rolls over Ukraine next year, he will share the blame as President and play into Donald Trump's hands. As the world gets more dangerous, Washington's political dysfunction is becoming more dangerous as well. If Washington can't help two allies defend themselves, with no U.S. troops fighting, the world will conclude that our adversaries are right about American decline.

“The Inevitable Fall of Putin’s New Russian Empire,” Alexander J. Motyl, FP, 11.05.23.3

  • At the height of their power, some empires fall apart suddenly and comprehensively, usually as the result of cataclysms that rip apart the formal ties between core and periphery. Imperial Russia, Wilhelmine Germany, and the Soviet Union all met this fate. 
  • The question facing Russians, their neighbors, and the world is whether Russian President Vladimir Putin’s realm can succeed in holding on to, and possibly expanding, the territories that it has effectively seized. Or will the Russo-Soviet empire’s remains continue on their downward trajectory until the Russian Federation itself cracks? A look at the factors that have accounted for the rise and fall of other empires will help answer this question.
    • Necessary conditions for re-imperialization are a 
      • A powerful military,
      •  a strong economy, 
      • an effective government. 
    • Facilitating conditions include preexisting institutional ties between the imperial core and the periphery, outside powers that are either indifferent or receptive to imperial expansion, and authoritarian rule at the core. The final push to action is an imperial ideology that spurs the desire for empire.
  • Examples from history … illustrate Russia’s inevitable failure to re-imperialize.
  • What should the West do? Since the Russian Federation’s re-imperialization project is doomed, all that anyone can realistically do is prolong or hasten the process, not stop it. Prolonging it means prolonging the misery incurred by the non-Russians targeted for re-annexation and by the Russians tasked with bringing misery to these targets. Anything that hastens re-imperialization’s inevitable end would reduce death and destruction.
  • Since Putin has thrown all his resources and political capital at the war against Ukraine, stopping him there means stopping him and his re-imperialization project everywhere. … In the absence of defeat, a militarily and economically weak and misgoverned Russia will remain in thrall to the ideology and attempt, yet again, to re-imperialize—all but certainly with the same results: failure, death, and destruction.

“The Dream of a European Security Order With Russia Is Dead,” Kristi Raik, FP, 10.31.23. 

  • We should not expect a common understanding between the West and Russia on European security to emerge anytime soon—and certainly not as part of a negotiated agreement that would at least partially reward Russia for its dismemberment of Ukraine. It is therefore necessary to envisage a future European security order not with Russia but against it, aimed at deterring further Russian threats and defending European democracies against the Kremlin’s authoritarian, revisionist, and imperialist ambitions.
  • The future European order will most likely be characterized by a long-term Russian threat and an antagonistic relationship with Moscow, much as during the Cold War. Russia will continue to reject a new balance of power that shrinks its former Soviet and tsarist sphere of influence, while the West will continue to reject the very principle of spheres of influence. Russia would seek to revise the balance of power as soon as it rebuilds its military capability. In order to make the new order in Europe more sustainable, the West will need to pursue a proactive containment policy, including credible deterrence and defense, full integration of Ukraine and other countries in NATO and the EU, and restrictions on Russia’s ability to restore its military strength.

“Three Foreign-Policy Illusions,” Jakub Grygiel, WSJ, 11.01.23. 

  • Simultaneous crises are threatening global stability and taxing U.S. power and attention. Russia's war in Ukraine, Hamas and Iran's aggression against Israel and China's threats in the Pacific are all products of the grand ambitions of evil imperial regimes. The West has cultivated illusions that have allowed these threats to rise and have left it unprepared. Three in particular are deeply ingrained in the American and European mindsets.
    • The first is that leaders are responsible for wars and these countries are our rivals only because of their bad leaders. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said of the Ukraine invasion at the United Nations Security Council in September 2022: "One man chose this war. And one man can end it."
    • The second illusion is that international organizations and global governance can overcome contentious national and regional politics. … The formative power of international institutions has been greatly exaggerated, and the grand strategy based on it has left the West unprepared for the hard competition, including war, in front of us.
    • The third illusion is that greater trade and wealth produce peace. 
  • Military might, not interdependence, gives states the ability to act in their best interests without constraints imposed by other powers. Our rivals have been arming while the West, Europe especially, hoped that trade would render military capabilities useless. Deep enmities can't be transcended through leadership changes, international organizations or trade. They can be checked, and when necessary defeated, only through military power.

“Is the U.S. an 'indispensable nation' or reckless and misguided?” Andrew Bacevich, BG, 10.31.23.

  • “American leadership is what holds the world together,” Biden insisted. But self-flattery makes a poor basis for policy. The reality is that over the past two decades, the unrestrained exercise of American power has made United States a prime contributor to global disorder. Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel deserve condemnation. But to pretend that the United States has been simply an innocent bystander while others have committed crimes serves no purpose.
  • Oblivious to this reality, Biden is now doubling down on the self-congratulatory rhetoric of the 1990s, in effect embracing the very logic that delivered the excesses and mistakes that he ironically urges others not to repeat. He is counting on Americans to write off the costs in blood and treasure that the United States has paid as a result of Washington's recurrent folly. “Innocent people all over the world,” Biden asserted during his recent Oval Office address, “are waiting for us.” Perhaps, but if so, they are waiting for the United States to display the prudence and wisdom that in recent decades have been sadly lacking.

“Semi-Polar World,” Fyodor Lukyanov, Profil, 10.31.23.4Clues from Russian Views      

  • The Palestinian-Israeli war has consolidated the West, but it did not create a second pole… the war will not solve the … Palestinian issue. But it has already become a milestone in world politics. The international order is taking on a strange shape… it can be called semi-polar.
    • On the one hand, there is a community of culturally and historically close countries that, in the language we are familiar with, are fighting to prevent a revision of the results of the Cold War [the collective West.]
    •  On the other hand, there are various countries that obviously cannot be united into any common pole … The principle of hierarchy, simple suppression of the weaker by the stronger, does not work in a situation of complex asymmetry of relations and multidirectional relationships [in this semi-pole].
  • The West remains the only group of states where there is a working system of subordination. At the head of the hierarchy is the United States, which has now consolidated its dominance, but only within its “pole.” Representatives of the rest of the world are not inclined to unite and are not inclined to confront the West.
  • A semi-pole surrounded by something like a geopolitical plasma is the state of the international environment today. It is obviously unstable and transitional, although the transition may be long.

“Is the House GOP about to give Putin a pat on the back for his barbarism?” George F. Will, WP, 11.03.23.

  • Russia’s war crimes—targeting civilians, kidnapping children, mass executions, torture, rape—are not incidental to, they are premeditated tactics in, the war that some congressional Republicans seem eager to help Putin win. He knows the help he needs. “If Western defense supplies are terminated tomorrow,” Putin said on Oct. 5, “Ukraine will have a week left to live as it runs out of ammunition.”
  • This blithe acknowledgment that killing Ukraine is his intention came as some congressional Republicans were intensifying their opposition to aiding Ukraine. Their canine obedience to Donald Trump is congruent with his vow that if reelected he will end the war “in 24 hours.” … Today, during the biggest European war since then [WWII], many Americans seem so indifferent to its outcome that they are prepared to decide the outcome by abandoning the bleeding victim with a low, dishonest shrug.

“Xiangshan Forum: from balance of power to balance of interests,” Andrey Kortunov, RIAC, 11.02.23.5 Clues from Russian Views

  • The Xiangshan Forum, held in Beijing on October 29-31, 2023 under the slogan “Common Security and Lasting Peace,” cannot be classified as a standard expert event … The organizers tried to give this event maximum scope and representativeness.
  • The forum remains one of the few platforms where you can still see an American general [speaking with his] Russian counterpart, and an expert from Saudi Arabia having a friendly conversation with his counterpart from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
  • To summarize the Forum's discussions in one sentence, the central question of the event was how, in the current, exceptionally unfavorable, international conditions, to move from a balance of power to a balance of interests as the foundation of a preferred model of global security for the future:
    •  How do we draw the line between “legal” and “illegal,” between “fair” and “unfair” interests of the nation state? How can we distinguish true national interests from powerful vested interests that try to speak for the entire nation but do not actually represent it? How far must political leaders go to accommodate their opponents to reach a lasting compromise, and where is the red line between diplomatic flexibility and surrender of principled positions? The picture becomes even more complex when we approach the balance of interests not at the bilateral, but at the multilateral level. …Nevertheless, the transition from a balance of power to a balance of interests is critical if humanity is to survive in the 21st century. The future belongs to responsible international players who are ready to respect each other and build a complex multilateral balance of interests, rather than a crude balance of material forces. It is also important that this idea is being promoted today by China, a country that has all the necessary resources to successfully play by the old rules of Realpolitik.

“Report on the Arctic Capabilities of the U.S. Armed Forces,” Abbie Tingstad, et al, RAND, October 2023.

  • A primary limitation for the United States is capacity and, to a lesser extent, capability in certain areas (e.g., communications, domain awareness, and logistics).
  • The U.S. armed forces' most-urgent needs for Arctic access and presence fall into the following categories: assets with proximity to support response; multidomain awareness and communications; infrastructure for response and logistics; sufficient cadre of personnel trained, current, and proficient with the skills to operate in this harsh environment; tactics and equipment for low-probability, high-impact incidents; and the ability to scale presence.
  • Leaving these attributes without resolution could lead to several types of risk to U.S. regional interests, including the following: potential inability to fulfill responsibilities (e.g., for search and rescue and oil spill response) when called on; loss of life, property, economic potential, and environmental integrity; limitations in being able to operate with and rely on partners; growth in Russian control and potential for aggression in concert with a loss of possible opportunities to engage in positive diplomacy; development of Chinese regional influence; accidental escalation of NATO-Russia tensions; and global perception of U.S. absence and a security void, which would exacerbate some of the other risks.

“The return of hard power,” Harsh V. Pant, Observer Research Foundation, 10.30.23. Clues from Indian Views. 

  • As conflict escalates in the Middle East and the Russia-Ukraine war shows no sign of petering out in Europe, nations, large and small, are accumulating hard power like never before. With geopolitics firmly in the saddle driving international politics, the lure of military accoutrements is too hard to resist. In many cases, it is a veritable necessity to pursue vital priorities. From great power politics to multiple regional crises, inter-state relations are turning back to the seeming normalcy of balance of power and concomitant building up of military capabilities. This is hardly surprising if one understands the underlying forces that shape global politics. What is remarkable, rather, is that for some decades, the world could actually have been lulled into believing that hard power was in retreat.
  • From great power politics to multiple regional crises, inter-state relations are turning back to the seeming normalcy of balance of power and concomitant building up of military capabilities.
  • For all the debate, the emerging challenges underscore the fact that the nature of power and the underlying forces shaping global politics never really changed. It was hubris among a section of policymakers and strategic thinkers that led them to start believing their own rhetoric. Now, as the world starts displaying the anarchy that has always defined it, perhaps it is time to accept the limits of our own imagination.

“Biden Needs a New Foreign-Policy Team; As in Ukraine, William Burns and Jake Sullivan failed to see an attack on U.S. interests coming,” Garry Kasparov, Wall Street Journal, 11.02.23. 

  • For Mr. Putin, Xi Jinping, Mr. Maduro and the ayatollah, this war isn't optional. The only way these men can cling to power is by blaming their failures on the free world. There can be no de-escalation that doesn't include defeating them, because for them, the conflict itself is the point. 
  • Whether fighting anti-Semitism at home or standing up to terror and invasion abroad, America's leaders and the American people must realize their way of life is under attack. You can lose a war you refuse to acknowledge exists. In fact, you are sure to.

“America’s Withdrawal From Afghanistan Did Not Spur Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: The Persistent Myth That Could Weaken U.S. Deterrence,” Peter Schroeder, FA, 11.06.23.

  • Over the last year and a half, some of Biden’s critics have … argued that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan helped inspire Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch his 2022 full-scale attack on Ukraine. 
  • Washington seemed too distracted, this argument goes—by domestic priorities, other foreign policy issues, and infighting—to respond effectively to a Russian attack. The very decision to leave Afghanistan appeared to be just the latest example in a long history of the United States abandoning its partners, and Putin would conclude that Washington would do the same with Ukraine. Overall, these critics allege, as Putin watched the United States flounder in Afghanistan, he became convinced that he could attack Ukraine without fearing that the United States would stop him.
  • Many U.S. policymakers have drawn the wrong lessons by believing that U.S. weakness, displayed in the pullout from Afghanistan, factored heavily in Putin’s choice. But, in fact, a close analysis of Russia’s actions and Putin’s comments in the summer of 2021—including subsequently revealed information—indicate that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan had no influence on Putin’s calculus. Putin had likely already decided to invade Ukraine in the late spring of 2021, well before the U.S. withdrawal.
  • In fact, a different, potent lesson arises from a better understanding of the timeline of Putin’s decision: that U.S. strength and its commitment to its partners motivated rather than deterred him. This represents a classic security dilemma: U.S. efforts to improve the security of its partners on Russia’s periphery are viewed by Moscow as a potential threat to Russia. The sharp U.S. response to Putin’s spring 2021 troop buildup appears to have been the last piece of evidence that convinced him that he could never use diplomacy to satisfy his goals when it came to Ukraine. In the future, Putin may determine that U.S. shows of strength meant to deter Russia are threats that require a direct Russian military response, bringing the two sides to the edge of direct conflict. If powerful players in Washington continue to misunderstand the origin of Putin’s choice to invade Ukraine and to believe that shows of strength are the only way to deter him, they risk prompting the opposite response—or even risk triggering a direct conflict with Russia.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Russia’s move to de-ratify the nuclear test ban treaty signals Putin’s aggravation with the war,” Steven Pifer, Kyiv Independent, 10.30.23.

  • Rescinding its ratification [of CTBT] will not change Russia’s obligations under the treaty unless Moscow also revokes its signature. Under international law, countries that have signed but not yet ratified a treaty have an obligation “not to defeat the (treaty’s) object and purpose.” Conducting a nuclear test would certainly contradict that obligation. Thus, even after revoking its ratification, Russia will remain obligated not to conduct a nuclear test, just as the United States—which has not revoked its signature—is obligated not to test.
  • these steps [by Russia] will [not] cause Washington or other Western capitals to alter their support for Ukraine. But they do make the international nuclear arms control regime a bit shakier.
  • If Russia starts downgrading agreements like New START and the CTBT, why should other countries consider reducing their nuclear arms or even forgoing nuclear weapons? Russia’s revocation of its CTBT ratification will do nothing to change the West’s decision to support Ukraine. It will undermine the international regime to control and prevent the spread of nuclear arms. Other than that, it will be little more than a futile gesture of Putin’s aggravation that his February 2022 blunder has not succeeded.

“Nuclear Talks With China Are Essential and Long Overdue,” Editorial Board, NYT, 11.04.23. 

  • After months of troubled relations, and then some tentative steps to bridge the gap between the United States and China, there is one glaring omission: American and Chinese military leaders still don’t communicate with one another directly. That’s important because those lines of communication are the best way to avoid the kind of misunderstandings or overreactions that can lead to actual conflict. That’s why it’s encouraging that the countries plan to meet on Monday to discuss arms control.
  • The talks come at a perilous moment for the systems of global controls, painstakingly built over decades, to avoid nuclear conflict. The landmark Cold War-era treaties between the United States and Russia have fallen by the wayside, one by one, with few meaningful restraints remaining and even less good will to negotiate successor agreements. 
  • Arms races tend to acquire a self-sustaining momentum. The danger of the Chinese expansion is that the United States and Russia may each feel that they then need to expand their own arsenals to match the combined total of the other two powers. That’s a formula for the construction and maintenance of arsenals without end. Such competition would be alarming even if the relations between these three superpowers were otherwise harmonious. 
  • The world has faced such peril before. Some of the most alarming moments of the Cold War came as a result of misunderstandings. That was the rationale for establishing a hotline between Washington and Moscow in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis. … China’s apparent willingness to now consider an arrangement to open lines of military-to-military communication is welcome news. In addition to a hotline, the United States and China should also agree to provide each other with basic information about test missile launches, as America and Russia have done for years. This kind of visibility and sharing of information is critical for all nations to distinguish between routine tests and potential first strikes, to avoid catastrophe by accident. 
  • Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, launched a pre-emptive strike against hawks in the United States, noting … that the current arsenal of nuclear weapons is sufficient to deter both Russia and China, even if the number of their weapons grows. In the cold logic of nuclear game theory, having enough nuclear weapons to launch a devastating counter strike is sufficient to deter a first strike. … Expectations for the low-level talks are modest. But any dialogue between nuclear armed powers is welcome.

“The Russian Way of Deterrence, Strategic Culture, Coercion, and War,” Dmitry (Dima) Adamsky, Stanford University Press, 2023.

  • What accounts for the difference between the Russian conceptualizations of coercion and the Western version of this strategy? This was the main research question of The Russian Way of Deterrence. The book has argued that the singularities of the Russian approach emanate from Russian strategic culture, national mentality, and military and intelligence traditions. It demonstrated how the latter have been conditioning the former. 
  • Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian deterrence discourse was relatively more synchronized, coherent, codified, and aligned with the force buildup programs, doctrine, and posture than ever before. Nonetheless, substantial internal and external incongruences still exist. When discussing deterrence, Russian experts and their Western colleagues often mean different things when using the same terms and use different terms to refer to the same things. In part, this pluralism reflects the fact that strategic deterrence is an umbrella term under which a variety of definitions coexist. In part, it reflects the uncertainty about the extent to which the political leadership has embraced the military theory. And in part, it reflects the fact that the theory of deterrence is continuing to evolve in Russia. Also, it reflects traditional disconnect in Russia between advanced theory in military affairs and actual practice of strategy and operations.
  • In the nuclear and conventional realms, Russian experts have tended to downplay the Western punishment versus denial typology. Rather, they have focused on the forceful versus nonforceful taxonomy, which in their view is more useful for the purposes of the operational art of deterrence. Deterrence à la Russe has been honing its proficiency in being flexible across domains of influence and in calibrating damage to the adversarial strategic psychology, at least to the same extent as in the West, where academic experts and practitioners appreciate these qualities, which lie at the heart of tailored deterrence in planning and execution.
  • Since the mid-2000s, when the concept of strategic deterrence began gathering momentum, the discourse has tended to conflate the employment of informational struggle as a tool of war and as a tool of coercion. Similarly, Russian authors tend to conflate cyber and radio-electronic means of informational influence, and to assume that the offense-defense distinction is somewhat irrelevant in the informational realm. More often than not, Russian authors have blurred the distinction between informational operations in peacetime, crisis, and war.

“Why Putin toned down his nuclear rhetoric,” Max Seddon, FT, 11.01.23.

  • [Putin’s nuclear] posturing, experts say, is Putin’s way of keeping nuclear tensions at a simmer even as he dialed down threats that had alarmed allies and foes alike about the war in Ukraine turning into an atomic conflagration.
  • Putin admitted last autumn it would make no “political or military sense” to use tactical nuclear weapons and largely stopped talking about his atomic arsenal …Instead, in recent months, Russia has explored other ways to use its atomic arsenal as a deterrent against Western support for Ukraine. While these measures fall short of outright threats, they attempt to show Russia’s determination in Ukraine, and the broader cost of standing in its way.
  • “There was an understanding that Russia won’t gain any friends by putting emphasis on its nuclear weapons,” said Pavel Podvig, a senior researcher at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva. “So the de-ratification of CTBT was a kind of compromise, if you will, between those who want a strong stick and those who realize it would be counterproductive.”
  • Putin’s moves showed he had realized that Russia’s attempts to deter the West from supporting Ukraine “need significant strengthening,” said Dmitry Trenin, a prominent foreign policy academic who favors nuclear saber-rattling to “bring back fear” in Western capitals. “This is an important step towards adapting our peacetime containment policy to the conditions of a real war, an indirect one for now.” In winning the war in Ukraine, Trenin said, “Russia will look at all the resources it has without exception, including heightened nuclear containment.”
  • In June, Sergei Karaganov, another influential academic, wrote an article urging Russia “to hit a bunch of targets in a number of countries in order to bring those who have lost their mind to reason” and end Western support for Ukraine. … Putin, who said he was familiar with Karaganov’s proposals, has argued there was no need to alter the doctrine, listing the successful test of his “invincible” ballistic missiles and the de-ratification of the CTBT.
  • Dmitry Medvedev, who served as president and prime minister of Russia, mused on X, formerly Twitter, that the “Apocalypse revelations are drawing nearer” as Western countries supplied Ukraine with more advanced weapons. 
  • Margarita Simonyan, editor of state news network RT, proposed detonating a thermonuclear weapon in the atmosphere hundreds of kilometers above Siberia to take out telecommunications and send a “painful” message to the West. Siberian officials demanded an apology.
  • Western analysts warn that Putin’s toned-down rhetoric does not mean the nuclear threat has disappeared.

“Two Myths about Counterforce,” James Acton, War on the Rocks, 11.06.23.

  • Traditionally, the United States has adhered to the policy “counterforce,” widely interpreted as the practice of targeting adversaries’ nuclear forces and nuclear command-and-control capabilities. Applying counterforce in the context of the rapid expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal, many contend that the United States would be required to increase its nuclear arsenal to simultaneously respond to both the nuclear threat posed by China and Russia. Acton argues that this approach could lead to a three-way arms race that would leave the United States less secure. Instead, the United States should implement a policy targeting conventional military forces and war-supporting industries (CMI targeting). 
  • However, two myths distort this debate about targeting.
    • Myth 1: “Counterforce targeting would avoid strikes on cities in all circumstances.”
    • Myth 2: “The only alternative to counterforce targeting is planning for large-scale strikes against cities.”
  • Regarding the first myth, U.S. policy long included unambiguously the ability to attack cities in a nuclear engagement, and only in 2013 did the United States first state that its nuclear strategy would be consistent with the principles of the Law of Armed Conflict, prohibiting “countervalue” and “minimum deterrence” strategies. However, Acton attests that today, the U.S. government does not reject the option of using nuclear weapons to target legitimate military facilities in cities outright if military leadership deems that the military benefits outweigh the harm to civilians. 
  • Regarding the second myth, proponents of counterforce targeting often portray a binary alternative as the natural alternative: large-scale strikes against cities. Acton argues that many more options are available and should be considered. CMI targeting provides a diverse range of options, from a strike to an isolated industrial facility or conventional military base with a low-yield warhead, causing few civilian casualties, to a large-scale CMI strike that would include targets in cities. 

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI: 

"Eric Schmidt on Benefits, Challenges of AI," Conor Cunningham, RM, 11.02.23.

  • During a discussion on the future of AI hosted by former director of the Belfer Center Graham Allison at the Harvard Institute of Politics, former Google chairman Eric Schmidt extrapolated the future of geopolitics, stating that “future national security issues will be determined by how quickly you can innovate against the solution.” Schmidt articulated his belief in the ultimate substitution of soft power with “innovative power” in geopolitics and candidly described the benefits of AI while admitting that the threats are “quite profound.” Schmidt spoke on six areas of significant relevance for the future of AI:
    • While providing incredible benefits, such as doubling productivity, AI will also give rise to what Schmidt called “extreme risks,” the kind that could lead to the deaths of more than 10,000 people. Examples include the risk of large-scale cyber and biological attacks. … To avoid extreme risks, governments globally will have to spearhead regulations concerning AI. 
    • The future of national security is a very large number of distributed systems,” Schmidt said. Thus, the United States should replace its current surveillance system—one dominated by “a very small number of extremely exquisite surveillance systems”—with “an awful lot of cheap satellites.” 
    • China remains “a couple of years” behind the U.S. because they were “late to the party,” lack access to the most advanced computing chips, and require a greater amount of Chinese language data to train AI systems, Schmidt said. Graham Allison—who has most recently co-authored an article with Henry Kissinger on paths to AI arms control—emphasized an additional roadblock to innovation: “If you are living in a society in which all wisdom and truth is contained in the thoughts of Xi Jinping, you can’t have your model coming to conclusions that are conflicting with it.” However, Schmidt emphasized that China can surpass the United States, and “they’re coming,” as previous Chinese technological successes like TikTok and the capability of Chinese scientists and engineers demonstrate. Allison added that three to four years ago, he and Schmidt were already urging policymakers to consider China as a “full-spectrum competitor” in the AI space. 
    • “Ukraine has become the laboratory of the world for drones” in response to the WWI-style battle that persists because, at least in part, Russia does not fully employ its navy and air force [both have been successfully targeted by Ukraine]. 
    • “You have to move very, very quickly. We don’t have time for a human in the loop.” The utilization of AI in military operations will soon present an ethical dilemma, including its deployment and defense strategies. While present U.S. military regulations mandate human intervention and supervision, it’s conceivable that in the future, an AI system could autonomously determine and strike targets. The fast pace of AI means that unlike the four-year-long nuclear advantage the U.S. had from 1945 to 1949, who has an advantage will change rapidly and ultimately could lead to a new arms race, which Graham mentioned “is what we are seeing in the AI space in the early applications.” 
    • “We have lost the psychological war,” Schmidt admitted, “With a single computer, you can build an entire ecosystem, an entire set of worlds, and everyone’s narrative can all be different, but they can have an underlying manipulation theme—this is all possible today.” Thus, “elections in 2024 are going to be an unmitigated disaster,” first in India and then in the U.S. 

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.

 

II. Russia’s domestic policies 

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Prigozhin’s Fate in Putin’s Russia: The Political Roles of Aircraft,” Mark Kramer, NYU Jordan Center, 11.02.23.

  • The widespread assumption that Putin was behind [the downing of Prigozhin’s plane] is politically important, but the full truth of the matter may never emerge. [Putin] has often resorted to assassinations… to reinforce his control of Russian politics… it is not surprising that most… observers have assumed that he orchestrated Prigozhin’s death as revenge for the mutiny in June. Such an assumption…is premature.
    • Many aspects of the mutiny and the subsequent “deal” did not add up, and most observers assumed that the whole affair would…end badly for Prigozhin.
    • …Prigozhin [in weeks before the crash could] travel around Russia and abroad…to continue overseeing [his business].
  • There is little reason to believe that a technical glitch brought the plane down.
    • Embraer Legacy 600s are extremely reliable and easy-to-fly aircraft and have had only one mishap in 20 years of service.
  • Video footage posted online needs to be treated cautiously…but close analysis of the video footage does not show a missile or other external object…
    • A more plausible explanation is that an explosion occurred on board. One possibility is that the plane was carrying a crate of ammunition that accidentally exploded.
  • Another…. possibility is that the plane was sabotaged with hidden explosives. 
    • Prigozhin had many enemies…. but access to the plane was severely restricted, and multiple inspections were conducted before the flight.
    • [Some] have alleged that Artem Stepanov, a former pilot who once ran the company that serviced the Embraer, may have been the culprit… but there is no convincing evidence that he was anywhere near the plane.
  • If sabotage did occur, it is highly unlikely that whoever planted explosives on the Embraer was acting as a freelancer.
    • The saboteur would almost certainly have been enlisted by an authoritative, top-level figure.
    • But it is doubtful that [Gerasimov or Shoigu] would have acted against Prigozhin without Putin’s explicit approval.
    • Putin’s somber tone during his televised remarks about Prigozhin did not give the impression of a leader savoring the death of a… rival.

“Putin Prepares for Reelection Amid Potemkin Villages and a Virtual Russia,” Andrei Pertsev, Carnegie Endowment, 11.02.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Russia’s 2024 presidential election looks set to be one of President Vladimir Putin’s busiest and most expensive reelection campaigns ever. The vote will take place against a backdrop of events including a huge exhibition showcasing the achievements of the Putin era, a months-long patriotic competition, and a World Youth Festival. All of this is being organized by Kremlin deputy chief of staff Sergei Kiriyenko, who oversees domestic politics. It is designed to create the theatrical backdrop of a supposedly flourishing country while sustaining the illusion of a genuinely democratic election, thereby helping to legitimize the official results, which will undoubtedly deliver a big win for Putin.
    • Governors, celebrities, and state-owned news channels are all busy advertising the exhibition. The goal is clear: as the election approaches, Russians need to be convinced that Putin has made their country a developed, high-tech Mecca where standards of living are rising and infrastructure is practically perfect. In effect, the
    • A months-long national competition titled “It Runs in the Family” and resembling a TV show for all ages will get under way on the same day as the “Russia” exhibition. According to officials, hundreds of thousands of people have already registered for the competition, which will include both patriotic activities (such as creating a family tree) and entertainment segments (like cooking dishes according to recipes devised by celebrities).
    • Another major event set to take place ahead of the election is the World Youth Festival in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. Its website claims it will be the “largest youth event in the world.” Once again, the head of the organizing committee is none other than Kiriyenko. 
  • While the Kremlin’s election strategy may lend Putin some legitimacy in the short term, what comes after the vote will be very different. The Kremlin is diffusing the public’s attention through a barrage of events, distracting people from economic problems and rumors of mobilization. If things get worse after Putin’s victory, all the positive mood music will have been in vain. Instead, the talk will be of how artificial intelligence was used to construct the same old Potemkin villages.

“What is Really Behind Putin’s Approval Ratings,” Alexei Levinson, Russia.Post, 11.03.23. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • The “electoral procedures” that legitimize his power have been questioned by many observers. There are, however, numerous public opinion polls that show that the majority of the adult population of Russia approves of him as president, while almost 70% would like him to remain president.
  • [Some] 60-65% are chronically loyal [to Putin] and 10-15% are chronically disloyal. Thus, 20-30% remains. Who are these people and what is their attitude toward the national leader?
  • After the start of each of these campaigns, the abovementioned 25-30% of Russians immediately (in no more than four weeks) changed their attitude toward Putin from negative to positive. When breaking down the socio-demographic makeup of this category, we see that the proportion of men is slightly higher, as is that of residents of big cities. Supporters of the KPRF and LDPR are found there more often, while a higher-than-average share of these people express high confidence in the army and other security forces.
  • Note that for these people, Russia’s opposition to the West, NATO and the U.S. is particularly important. They perceive all the abovementioned military actions as episodes in Russia’s eternal struggle with this geopolitical enemy. This is precisely what they approve of in Putin. A very small number of them are ready and able to personally take part in this struggle. They, like the rest of the Russian population, are mostly spectators, but they “activate” when things heat up. The critics of the Russian command on the right that emerged during the special operation probably find their most loyal audience among these people.
  • In Russian politics, the fate of a politician, including the top one, does not directly depend on public opinion, on the public’s approval or disapproval. Yet a high level of public approval does convert into political capital, his or her political weight, which can help manage and control competing elite factions.

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:

  • No significant developments.

Ukraine:

“As Politics Returns to Ukraine, the Fight for Russian-Speakers’ Votes Begins,” Konstantin Skorkin, Carnegie Endowment, 11.01.23.

  • The current political situation requires a fundamentally new approach to the representation of Russophone Ukraine. In the past, the now defunct pro-Russian Party of Regions and its successors banked on the nation remaining divided, with half of it oriented toward Russia and culturally isolated.
  • Ukraine’s Russian-speakers are at a fork in the road. Some will opt for full assimilation with a new patriotic, Ukrainian-speaking identity, while others may opt for the status of a cultural and national minority. By all indications, though, the majority of Russian-speakers in Ukraine will try to make the Ukrainian nation currently under construction more inclusive: an endeavor in which they will inevitably be joined by no small number of politicians, notwithstanding Ukraine’s new patriotic consensus.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Is Belarus the Real Beneficiary of Putin’s War? How the Stalemate in Ukraine Has Quietly Revived Lukashenko’s Autocracy,” Artyom Shraibman, FA, 10.31.23. 

  • For the time being, Lukashenko appears to have benefited from Belarus’s military usefulness to Putin, and the Minsk regime looks more secure than it did before the invasion. At a base level, however, Minsk and Moscow still have contradictory goals: Lukashenko aims to maintain maximum control over an independent Belarus, and Putin wants Russia to expand with Belarus a part of its reborn empire. This fundamental discord explains why Lukashenko hopes that the war in Ukraine continues as a stalemate or leads to a cease-fire without a decisive victory for either side. All other outcomes pose a threat to Lukashenko’s survival.
  • Consider, first, a Ukrainian victory. If Kyiv wins and Putin survives, the Russian president might seek to claim Belarus as a compensation trophy. In such a scenario, the relatively smooth coexistence between Minsk and Moscow would come to an end, with Russia becoming far more demanding and aggressive toward Lukashenko. If Putin falls and is replaced by an even more hard-line leadership, Belarus’s autonomy and sovereignty would also be in jeopardy. And if more moderate, pragmatist forces take power in Russia, ones that seek to somehow restore relations with the West, there would be little incentive to keep an odious and costly Minsk dictatorship afloat. In such an outcome, the Lukashenko regime might be consigned to the fate of obsolete communist regimes of Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, which fell like dominos after the Soviet Union became unable and unwilling to prop them up. 
  • On the other hand, if Putin somehow achieves victory, the Kremlin’s worries about destabilizing a friendly regime would quickly wane and there would be far less incentive to cater to Lukashenko. In this scenario, Moscow might be emboldened to absorb Belarus not as compensation for losing elsewhere but simply as part of Putin’s self-assigned mission to restore what he sees as historic Russia. And Belarus, isolated from the West, would have no protectors.
  • Finally, if the war in Ukraine escalates to a NATO-Russian confrontation, the risks for Lukashenko grow exponentially. Russian military bases, airfields, and tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus could become priority targets for NATO strikes. Preserving his regime in the middle of such crossfire, with very few redlines left for each side, would be an especially hard task for Lukashenko. Indeed, in a full-blown nuclear confrontation, the fact of these weapons in Belarus could, theoretically, offer NATO a further option of making a limiting strike on that country first, in a last-ditch effort to get Putin to de-escalate. 
  • When Lukashenko repeatedly urges Kyiv and Moscow for an immediate cease-fire, then, he is not just attempting to reincarnate himself as some kind of mediator, as with the earlier Minsk agreements. In these moments, Lukashenko is also speaking to another fear. He knows too well that if the current fragile equilibrium at the frontline morphs into something more dynamic, his mutually beneficial relations with Moscow may very well end—and with them, his own precarious legitimacy.

 

Footnotes

  1. Translated with the help of machine translation.
  2. Also see RM’s “Can Weather Predict Operational Tempo in Ukraine This Winter?”
  3. It might be worth recalling that Professor Motyl predicted “coming Russian collapse” in 2016. He then wrote “It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse” in January 2023
  4. Translated with the help of machine translation.
  5. Translated with the help of machine translation.

 

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 12:00 pm Eastern time on the day this digest 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.

Photo shared by Ukraine's Ministry of Defense via a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.