Russia Analytical Report, Oct. 9-15, 2018

This Week’s Highlights:

  • The opposition winners in Russia’s recent regional elections were not anti-establishment liberals but traditionalists and paternalists, unhappy with the Kremlin’s modernization agenda, according to Gleb Kuznetsov writing for the Carnegie Moscow Center.
  • Discussions over the past year have produced recommendations for a sustainable bipartisan U.S. strategy toward Russia, according to Nikolas Gvosdev, and it would comprise three elements: cooperate, compete and confront.
  • In their critique of U.S. NATO envoy Kay Bailey Hutchison’s recent warning that the U.S. might “take out” Russian missiles, Jeffrey Lewis and Aaron Stein write “one would think that not provoking a nuclear war with Russia would be at the very top of the ambassador’s list of priorities.” Instead, Hutchison’s undiplomatic language fuels Moscow’s fears of a decapitating U.S. strike, according to the two experts.
  • Considering the new independence of Ukraine’s Orthodox Christian churches from Moscow, Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky argues that the damage to Russia “cannot be fully contained. Even if only 20 percent of Ukrainians and 15 percent of Russians say religion is very important in their lives, the symbolic meaning of the religious demarcation and the real prospect of a schism won’t be lost on much bigger percentages of both countries’ population.”
  • The fees from American, European and Japanese astronauts that use Soyuz spacecraft account for almost 25 percent of the annual Roscosmos budget.


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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

“Paranoia and Defense Planning: Why Language Matters When Talking about Nuclear Weapons,” Jeffrey Lewis and Aaron Stein, War on the Rocks, 10.10.18: The authors—based at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, respectively—write that “the U.S. ambassador to NATO has many priorities … [b]ut one would think that not provoking a nuclear war with Russia would be at the very top of the … list.” In early October, Kay Bailey Hutchison—the U.S. permanent representative to NATO and a former senator from Texas—effectively threatened “to preemptively attack Russia before it deployed a new cruise missile in violation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). In response to a series of questions from journalists, Hutchison used imprecise language, culminating in a strangely worded statement: ‘Getting them to withdraw [deployed missiles] would be our choice, of course. But I think the question was what would you do if this continues to a point where we know that they are capable of delivering. And at that point we would then be looking at a capability to take out a missile that could hit any of our countries in Europe and hit America in Alaska. So it is in all of our interests, and Canada as well, I suppose. So we have our North Atlantic risk as well as the European risk.’ This suggests a preemptive missile strike. Perhaps that’s not what she meant, but it is what she said. Hutchison has now issued a clarification, so perhaps someone has reminded her that her job is no longer riling up voters, but engaging in diplomacy. Threatening a nuclear-armed power is not something to be done lightly. But the clarification, however welcome, does not undo the very real damage that Hutchison has done. The real issue is less the cavalier nuclear threat and more that Hutchison’s lapse risks feeding a particular strain of Russian paranoia. … The INF Treaty is inextricably tied to Moscow’s fears of decapitation,” dating back to Soviet times. “The Russians have made this fear clear repeatedly,” the authors write. “In 2009, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained: ‘[T]he Russians believed, despite our best efforts to dissuade them, that the ground-based interceptors in Poland could be fitted with nuclear weapons and become an offensive weapon like a Pershing and a weapon for which they would have virtually no warning time.’ … All of this seems bizarre. There are no nuclear weapons in Poland or Romania, nor are there plans to convert these missiles to offensive purposes. The problem is that such a conversion is feasible and it is the kind of thing that American officials occasionally propose. For example, in the Senate report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2018, there was a call for ‘evaluating existing U.S. missile systems for modification to intermediate range and ground-launch,’ including—among other systems—the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3). The SM-3, of course, is the missile deployed in Poland and Romania. … The Russian actions are a worrying signal for the future of stability in Europe. Moscow appears close to deploying the INF-violating cruise missile, the 9M729. In parallel, Russia has also ‘circumvented’ the INF by developing a RS-26 ballistic missile. … Moreover, Putin has signaled an open-ended commitment to developing an array of new and exotic delivery vehicles—some of which may be captured by New START, others of which may not. … Russia’s violation of the INF requires an allied response that mixes military deployments with arms control. For the American ambassador in Brussels, it also demands precision with language and a familiarity with terms, so that the United States does not needlessly contribute to Russia’s deep paranoia about decapitation.”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • See “New Cold War/saber rattling” section above.

Nuclear arms control:

  • See “New Cold War/saber rattling” section above.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant commentary.

Cyber security:

“U.S. Needs a Global Alliance Against Russia’s Cyberattacks,” James Stavridis, Bloomberg, 10.11.18: The author, a former military commander of NATO, writes that “while Americans are of course aware of the Kremlin’s efforts to undermine U.S. democracy in the 2016 presidential election, Russia has done much the same across Europe as part of a larger comprehensive strategy.” In proposing a response, Stavridis identifies “four key tasks” for the U.S. and its allies: “We must begin by revealing the extent of the damage caused not only by Russian state activity, but by … private proxies as well. … In addition to simply revealing the extent of Russian activity, we need to respond forcefully and in concert with our allies. … Third, we need to rebuild our defensive structures,” including more resources devoted to cyber defenses. “Finally, the U.S. and its allies may need to retaliate in a creative way.” The author concludes by saying that the U.S. and its allies “will need a more steely approach in dealing with the new wave of Russian cyberattacks.”

Elections interference:

  • No significant commentary.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“How America Can Repair Its Damaged Relationship with Russia,” Nikolas K. Gvosdev, The National Interest, 10.12.18: The author, a national-security scholar and contributing editor at the magazine, lays out a preliminary plan for improving the U.S.-Russia relationship that has grown out of a year’s discussions aimed at generating a “Sustainable Bipartisan U.S. Strategy Towards Russia.” The participants of the discussions, informally known as the Mayflower group, “have produced the outlines of what might be termed a 3-C paradigm: cooperate, compete and confront.” By way of background, Gvosdev describes the problem thus: “Arguably since 2007 and Vladimir Putin’s bombshell remarks at the Munich Security Forum, the West has been put on notice that Russia would seek to revise the parameters of the post-Cold War settlement, particularly in Europe and in Eurasia. It would seek to do so cooperatively wherever possible, but by use of both conventional and nonconventional force whenever necessary. Thus, Moscow has been prepared to engage both in conciliatory and hostile behavior with Western countries, sometimes even simultaneously, in pursuing its objectives. While this approach has not always been successful—with some spectacular miscalculations (such as the fallout from the Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections)—it has nonetheless given the Kremlin the hallmarks of an overall grand strategy. … The West, on the other hand, approaches its relations with Russia through the prism of what Moscow ‘should’ do rather than what it actually ‘is’ doing. For some countries like Italy, Hungary, Austria and to a lesser extent Germany and France, Russia ‘should’ be a partner to Europe. Thus, these governments prefer to focus on areas of cooperation with Moscow and thus to minimize cases where Russia’s behavior is far less than constructive. For others—the United States most notably, Russia ‘should’ conduct its domestic and foreign affairs in line with Western values, norms and preferences. When Russia deviates from such standards, the first instinct is to correct and punish. … A 3-C approach, guided by a sober assessment of costs and consequences, has the possibility of breaking this dysfunctional cycle. It assumes that enmity between Russia and the West is not inevitable but avoids a partnership-at-all-costs approach. It provides a way to take advantage of openings to improve the relationship but to stand firm against Russian challenges to U.S. interests and values. … [A]t this point,” Gvosdev writes, “the United States does not appear ready to develop this approach. It requires a degree of flexibility—to be able to impose or lift sanctions—that the Congress is unwilling to grant the president. It also requires an ability to think through priorities—not every Russian transgression or disagreement with Washington merits an all-out response. Perhaps the midterm elections will stabilize the American political system and lead to a modus vivendi between the president and Congress for the next two years, in which a more sustainable approach to Russia can take root. If not, then the dysfunction that has been observed for the last several years will deepen.”

“Existential Problems Threaten U.S.-Russia Space Cooperation,” Pavel Luzin, The Moscow Times, 10.12.18: The author, who holds a PhD in international relations and runs a research and consulting service, writes that the “lack of new joint [U.S.-Russian] projects since the late 2000s, in combination with deepening mutual mistrust between the countries, has thrown a shadow over cooperation. At the same time, Russia faces a crisis in its own space industry. Russia is still the only U.S. partner capable of bringing its [i.e., American] astronauts to the International Space Station, and Russian rocket engines enable the operation of the American Atlas V and Antares launch systems. Both countries, however, deal in interdependence, and Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, is also heavily dependent on contracts from the United States. For example, the fees from American, European and Japanese astronauts that use Soyuz spacecrafts account for almost 25 percent of the annual Roscosmos budget (the remaining 75 percent comes from the Russian government). Nevertheless, this interdependence is not going to last forever. The ISS, which currently operates as something of an international institution, will eventually go commercial or will end operation after 2025. In the meantime, NASA will go further into space with its own Gateway lunar orbital station and other projects. Here, Russia faces an existential dilemma. It is crucial for Moscow to continue its space partnership with the United States. After all, aside from its nuclear arsenal, this space cooperation is what allows Russia to maintain its status as a great world power. At the same time, Russia is not in a position to offer anything of substance to American’s long-term space agenda, like it was in the early 1990s with its experience in manned space flights and its orbital stations. … [F]uture U.S.-Russia space cooperation is dependent both on whether Russia can prove its competences and reliability, and on the status of bilateral relations more broadly. Ultimately, it is the Russian government that will determine the outcome of those questions.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“The Kremlin’s comeback. Thirty years after the Soviet Union’s humiliating defeat in Afghanistan, Moscow wants back in,” Missy Ryan and Amie Ferris-Rotman, The Washington Post, 10.12.18: Reporting from Kabul, the authors write that “Russia has been cultivating ties with the Taliban to increase its influence in Afghanistan three decades after Moscow’s humiliating defeat there helped hasten the Soviet Union’s collapse. Russian engagement with the militants drew attention, and some flak, when the Kremlin invited Taliban representatives to Moscow for a meeting in September. That invitation was rescinded—at least temporarily—after the Afghan government objected, saying it must take the lead in any talks. But the diplomatic kerfuffle laid bare the Kremlin’s effort to reassert itself in Afghanistan, an initiative that has included discreet contacts with Taliban leaders and a military buildup along the country’s northern edge. Moscow has also sought to reclaim its role as regional power broker, convening secret discussions with the United States, Iran, Pakistan, India and China and seeking to ensure any finale to the conflict suits Russian interests. It is part of a strategy, analysts said, to protect Russia’s southern flank from the Islamic State’s emergence in Central Asia and hedge against the possibility of an abrupt U.S. exit from Afghanistan after 17 years of war. The Russian gambit is a relatively modest political investment that could yet yield outsize dividends as Moscow seeks to prove its global heft. ‘Supporting the Taliban in a small way is an insurance policy for the future,’ said Artemy Kalinovsky, a scholar of Central Asian history at the University of Amsterdam. … U.S. officials doubt that Moscow is trying to help secure victory for the militants, the successors of the mujahideen guerrillas who battled the Soviet troops in the 1980s. Instead, the officials said, Russia is trying to strengthen its own position without provoking the United States—and a few crates of Kalashnikovs can facilitate meetings and establish relationships without altering the battlefield. … The goal [of Russia’s ‘weird flirtation’ with the Taliban], officials and analysts say, has been to strengthen elements battling the Islamic State and ensure that if a Taliban takeover were to occur, Russia would have an established line to those in charge. … Laurel Miller, who served as a top diplomat on Afghanistan until last year, said Russia and the other nations involved in … discussions [organized by Russian diplomat Zamir Kabulov] would be central to fostering—or undermining—stability in the long run. ‘The United States is not likely to be able to achieve its goals over the objections of these countries,’ she said. ‘Afghanistan is in their backyards, after all, not ours.’”


  • No significant commentary.


“Russia vs. Ukraine: More of the same?” Steven Pifer, Brookings Institution, 10.09.18: The author, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, writes that “Ukraine’s 2019 calendar has a presidential ballot on March 31 and Rada (parliamentary) elections no later than October. No clear favorite has emerged in either. The Kremlin undoubtedly will seek to influence both elections with money, supportive electronic media, active social media and cyber operations. The few openly pro-Russian faces that remain in Ukraine, such as Victor Medvedchuk, also will likely help out. Moscow’s influence campaign faces challenges, however. Ukrainians are on the alert for Russian interference. Moreover, no candidate or party wants a ‘pro-Moscow’ label. And Russia’s occupation of Crimea and part of the Donbas means that a significant portion of the electorate that in the past has been pro-Russian will not be voting.” Opinion polls reflect the drift away from Russia, Pifer writes. “A June survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology showed 47 percent of Ukrainians favoring integration with the European Union, as opposed to 12 percent who supported joining the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. … Big changes are afoot in Ukraine’s religious scene. Sometime this fall, the Ukrainian church is expected to gain independent recognition from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. That will sever links between the Ukrainian church and Russia.” (Editor’s note: Bartholomew issued the decision on Oct. 11.) Furthermore, the author writes, “Ukraine is moving west in economic terms as well. The European Union has displaced Russia to become Kyiv’s largest trading partner. Ukraine-EU trade made up more than 40 percent of Ukraine’s total in 2017. The decline in energy trade has accounted for a big part of the overall drop in Ukraine-Russia trade. Ukraine today imports no natural gas directly from Russia… The Kremlin could choose to adopt a course aimed at settling the conflict in Donbas. However, it seems unready to do so. As it continues its present approach, the gulf between Ukraine and Russia continues to widen. … One has to question whether a policy that drives Ukraine away and presses it closer to the West really is in Russia’s interest. The answer lies in the Kremlin—with Mr. Putin.”

“Putin Is the Biggest Loser of Orthodox Schism. As Ukraine’s church moves toward independence, the Russian president could lose his role of defender of the faith,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 10.13.18: The author, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes that on Oct. 11 “the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople took a momentous action for the Orthodox faith in Ukraine. It reinstated two bishops leading Ukrainian splinter churches not recognized by the Moscow Patriarchate to their rank and allowed their followers to take communion with the Church. Now, the clerics must unite their organizations to form an independent, or autocephalous, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which will be recognized by the Constantinople Patriarchate, disregarding the wishes of Russia, formerly responsible for appointing Ukraine’s official church leaders. The Synod invalidated a document it issued in 1686, granting the Patriarch of Moscow the right to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev. If this sounds arcane, it should. The Orthodox Church, with about 300 million faithful worldwide, is steeped in tradition and ritual.” Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, writes the author, “has never made a decision as important as this in the almost 27 years since he assumed his post. … It was Russia’s aggression since 2014 and Western nations’ support for Ukraine that gave the 78-year-old church leader the opening that he is using so ambitiously today. … [I]t’s as difficult for Putin as it is for Moscow Patriarch Kirill to accept an independent Ukrainian church blessed by Constantinople. It would go against his oft-repeated assertion that Russians and Ukrainians are one people. And admitting that not Moscow but Istanbul, with only a few hundred Orthodox believers, is the true seat of power of global Orthodoxy would be almost unbearable. Compared to these spiritual wounds, the potential loss of many of the Russian church’s 12,328 parishes in Ukraine, and the income from them, is arguably less catastrophic. Moscow’s only hope in this lose-lose situation is that Ukrainians will shoot themselves in the foot, as they’ve often done before. To receive autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Ukrainian Christians must unite and select a leader. … No matter how hard Russia tries to slow down Ukrainian autocephaly, the damage cannot be fully contained. Even if only 20 percent of Ukrainians and 15 percent of Russians say religion is very important in their lives, the symbolic meaning of the religious demarcation and the real prospect of a schism won’t be lost on much bigger percentages of both countries’ population. This is a war Putin has already lost to some unlikely adversaries, including a tough old cleric in Istanbul.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Putin Shouldn’t Feel Too Good About Russians in the Baltics. A pro-Russia political party rises in Latvia, but pro-Russia sentiment doesn’t,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 10.10.18: The author writes that “Harmony, the center-left Latvian party that came in first on Saturday [Oct. 13] with 19.8 percent of the vote, is easy to call ‘pro-Russian.’ Its leader, Nils Usakovs, mayor of the capital, Riga, is an ethnic Russian, and so is Vjaceslavs Dombrovskis, the party’s candidate for prime minister. Harmony used to have a cooperation agreement with Putin’s United Russia. … So, has a pro-Russian party won the election? Not really. Usakovs has long wanted to trade his party’s ‘Russian’ image for that of a mainstream social-democratic political force. Harmony dissolved the United Russia agreement last year when it joined the Party of European Socialists, which unites all the most influential center-left forces in the European Union. … ‘We support the European Union’s united stance on Russia no matter what it is,’ said Usakovs… [E]ven if Usakovs’s party ends up in government, it’s unlikely that Latvia will turn more pro-Russian. The realities of coalition government will keep any pro-Moscow sentiments in check. … If the Baltic nations have to worry about any Russians at all, it’s those who were born in these countries but have Russian citizenship. These are largely people who have chosen the ‘Russian world.’ But there are only 17,761 such people in Estonia and 8,626 of them in Latvia. These aren’t large numbers—1.3 percent and 0.4 percent of the population, respectively—no fearsome fifth columns are anywhere on the horizon.”

“Armenia’s Post-Revolution Party Is Over. The country’s new government wants to root out corruption—but the ancien régime isn't giving up without a fight,” Maxim Edwards, Foreign Policy, 10.15.18: The author, a journalist covering Central and Eastern Europe and an assistant editor at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, writes that “Nikol Pashinyan, a former journalist turned firebrand opposition politician who leads the Civil Contract party, was swept into power [this spring], becoming prime minister in May. He has been the face of Armenia’s revolution ever since. His slogan ‘dukhov’ (with courage) appears on baseball caps and T-shirts, sold in downtown Yerevan as readily as tourist trinkets. Pashinyan’s other watchword is ‘anti-corruption.’ … But the mood of optimism in Yerevan today is tempered by caution: namely, the fear that public expectations of Pashinyan are so high they can only go downhill. ‘The rhetoric during the transition of power was entirely against the old regime,’ reflected Alexander Iskandaryan, the director of the Caucasus Institute, a Yerevan-based think tank. ‘That was smart. A positive program would have divided people, whereas nobody is consciously for nepotism or corruption.’ … Even if Armenians did start dutifully reporting corruption, are the authorities up to tackling it? Experts prescribe institutional overhaul, particularly of law enforcement. As Sona Ayvazyan, the executive director of Transparency International’s Armenia office, put it: ‘At the moment we have five or six different law enforcement bodies dealing with corruption cases, but their remits overlap and they aren’t specialized in corruption.’ Ayvazyan believes that Armenia needs a unified anti-corruption enforcement agency, and that the current uncoordinated efforts against corruption are inefficient. But in Armenia today, the distinction between successful business owners who happen to enter parliament and politicians who abuse their office for personal gain is a fuzzy one, explained Yerevan-based political analyst Mikayel Zolyan. ‘These people were like feudal lords,’ Zolyan said. ‘What we have now is more than an anti-corruption struggle: It’s a struggle against Armenia’s deep state.’”

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Chavismo, Russian Style: The Winners of Russia’s Regional Elections,” Gleb Kuznetsov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.12.18: “The opposition victors in Russian regional elections were not anti-establishment liberals but traditionalists and paternalists, unhappy with the Kremlin’s modernization agenda,” according to the editorial blurb summarizing the article. Kuznetsov, a board member at the Moscow-based Expert Institute of Social Research, writes that “Russia is still digesting what has been dubbed a ‘new political reality’—the strong protest vote in four of the 22 regions where gubernatorial elections were recently held. … The opposition victories—by Sergei Furgal in Khabarovsk, Vladimir Sipyagin in Vladimir, as well as the strong showings by Andrei Ishchenko in Primorsky Region and Valentin Konovalov in Khakassia, whose political fate has yet to be sealed—may not so much herald a ‘new political reality’ as changing political landscapes in each place. … The victorious opposition candidates, while promoting neither populist nor modernist narratives, did not come out of nowhere. They offered a traditionalist, paternalist platform directed not at the urban electorate but at voters who support the status quo: retirees who want to maintain the distributive pension system and receive benefits. … Furgal and Sipyagin’s victories do not threaten the stability of the political system, but they jeopardize Putin’s attempt to reorient citizens toward facing the challenges of the twenty-first century. As for the more individualist voters who do not rely on state support, they did not show up at the polls in the regions where the ‘new political reality’ was supposedly born. This was a triumph for a different kind of ideology.”

“Moscow in Crisis: How Will the Kremlin Respond?” Maxim Trudolyubov, The Russia File, 10.10.18: The author, a senior fellow at the Kennan Institute, writes that when “President Vladimir Putin was reelected in March unopposed, few could have imagined he would be mired in multiple crises just six months into what is his fourth and officially last term in office. … Scandals involving Russian military intelligence agents, caught in the act and deanonymized, are not the kind of material Russian propagandists can use to support an image of a successful international leader. … But the deepest cracks in Putin’s stature are of purely domestic origin. Putin’s famous approval rating, the one that, as measured by the Levada polling organization, floated confidently above 80 percent between the summer of 2014 and the spring of 2018, is now at 67 percent. His disapproval rating, at 33 percent, is the highest since 2013. The popularity of United Russia, the Kremlin’s party, is going down too. The sobering results of recent regional elections have acted as a wake-up call to the Kremlin. … Faced with similar troubles in the past, Moscow normally would take a twofold path. Out of public view, the presidential administration would tweak its current approach to political appointments, fine-tune its propaganda line and take other technical steps. The Kremlin would also create a very public crisis in order to turn the tables, create a massive distraction, and start the game all over. … The technical part of the twofold response is well under way. The administration is busy getting rid of the worst-performing governors. It is also fine-tuning its media spin. … The second part of the response is the more interesting part. Does Putin have a mighty asymmetric card up his sleeve? This is the question that defines Russia’s immediate future. A major foreign adventure and a sweeping political reform are the two avenues that the Kremlin, caught in similarly embarrassing predicaments, has taken before. An invasion of Belarus is on everybody’s mind, but the consensus view among policy watchers in Russia is that an adventure of that sort is out of the question now. … Creating a crisis has been Putin’s response to failures. The big question now is this: Is there still a space for a game-changing move that would make everyone forget about Moscow’s intelligence embarrassments and the brewing domestic discontent?”

“Is Putin Less Popular?” Andrei Kolesnikov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.10.18: The author, who chairs the center’s program on Russian domestic politics, writes that “Russians’ trust in President Vladimir Putin has slumped. According to the most recent data (a September 2018 poll by the Levada Center) a disappointing 39 percent of Russians said they trusted Putin. This marks a 9 percent dip since June 2018 and a 20 percent plunge since November 2017. … In September 2018, 67 percent of Russians polled by the Levada Center said that they approved of the president’s activities… That figure dropped from 82 percent in April and 79 percent in May. … Putin can use his standard toolkit to reestablish his popularity: patriotism, militarism, whipped up external threats, and internal conflict with the so-called fifth column (people seen as undermining the country from within). But the Crimea effect—the bump in nationalism after Russia annexed Crimea—has become routine, and many Russians feel fatigued by the permanent struggle with the West. It’s symptomatic of this fatigue that the degree of hatred toward the United States among Russians has fizzled, from 69 percent in May 2018 to 40 percent in July. People are waiting for more friendly relations with the West. Putin may have made Russia great again with his hawkish foreign policy, but many Russians feel it’s high time for him to focus on Russia’s domestic economic and social problems. As a result, the options for boosting Putin’s popularity have narrowed. One thing is certain: the elites who support him will not try to make Russian politics more democratic nor try to modernize the state-driven economic system.”

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.


“A public warning to Putin: Knock it off,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 10.09.18: The author, a columnist with the newspaper, writes that “[f]or the past few years, the CIA, NSA and FBI have watched as hackers and whistleblowers (perhaps with a helping hand from Moscow) revealed the agencies' hacking techniques. For U.S. intelligence officials, revenge is a dish best eaten cold. The most astonishing disclosure came from the Dutch, who caught four GRU officers red-handed in The Hague as they were hacking the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. As Dutch intelligence officers intervened, ‘the conspirators abandoned their equipment,’ including a backpack and other gear that revealed techniques and a string of other operations, according to the indictment. The Dutch even found a taxi receipt showing that a member of the team had left the rear entrance of the GRU headquarters in Moscow and headed to the airport. The implicit message in all of this: If you hit us, one of the ways we will retaliate is by exposing your operatives, sources and methods. There are other reprisals underway, but these public disclosures undermine the GRU's operational capabilities. And they must make the Russian spy service wonder: What else do the Americans and their allies know? If agent A is blown, then what about his colleagues B, C and D? The CIA and its foreign allies don't normally like to divulge secrets like these, because they reveal how much they know about their adversary. The revelations are a public warning to Putin: Knock it off; you're more vulnerable than you think.”

“The Skripal Rorschach Test,” George Beebe, National Interest, 10.06.18: The author, who directs the Center for the National Interest’s intelligence program and is a former chief of Russia analysis at the CIA, writes that the “debate over the latest evidence [in the Skripal poisoning case] pivots on what one is inclined to believe about how Russia’s political system works and what Moscow aims to do in the world. For those who see the Russian government as a tightly disciplined organization, closely controlled by Putin, intent on eliminating its internal opponents and intimidating and undermining the West, the Skripal case is all but closed. The presence of GRU officers in Salisbury on the day of the poisoning is by itself sufficient to prove the Kremlin’s guilt. Putin’s risible denials—and his denunciation of Skripal—only reinforce the conclusion that he ordered the hit. For those who see the Russian government as a gang who cannot shoot straight, mixing official activities with illicit business on the side, while keen on maintaining the fiction that Putin presides over a well-oiled machine, the situation looks a lot murkier. … Ultimately, however, these distinctions have become academic. In choosing to throw shade rather than light on what occurred, Putin has made clear he bears responsibility for the attack whether he ordered it or not.”

Teaser photo on homepage: President Vladimir Putin meeting with members of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, 2013. Courtesy of the Kremlin press service.