Russia Analytical Report, Sept. 11-18, 2023

7 Ideas to Explore

  1. “There's quite a good chance” that Ukrainian forces will breach the second and third lines of Russian defenses by the end of this year, according to former CIA chief David Petraeus. What made Ukraine’s recent breaches of Russia’s first line possible is that the Ukrainian forces have adapted and innovated, downsizing their attacking units to 10-man teams, among other things, in the view of Petraeus, who spoke with DW days before Kyiv claimed another “breach” in the Donetsk region. Like Petraeus, FT’s Christopher Miller and Ben Hall note Kyiv’s significant gains in their analysis of “the hard lessons from Ukraine’s summer offensive.” One of these lessons is that “the idea that Ukrainian forces, lacking any air cover, would storm through Russian lines was always going to be more of a Hollywood plotline than reality,” the duo writes. Going forward, even if West supplies Ukraine with long-range missiles, such as Taurus or ATACMS, that “would not guarantee a game-changing impact,” according to an analysis by IISS senior fellow Franz-Stefan Gady for FP.
  2. Any kind of formal or informal cease-fire is possible” between Ukraine and Russia, according to Thomas Friedman’s reflections from a recent trip to Ukraine.But what’s impossible is this: Ukraine agreeing to any permanent or temporary end to this conflict without the promise of a NATO Article 5 security guarantee,” this NYT columnist writes. “Such a security guarantee would signal to exhausted Ukrainians, foreign investors and the millions of Ukrainian refugees abroad that the war is basically over and Putin can’t just rearm and reinvade without the U.S. and Europe,” according to Friedman.
  3. The price cap imposed on Russian oil by the West has “helped preserve global production of oil, introduced frictions leading to higher shipping costs into the Russian oil trade, and helped preserve the wide discount importers paid on Russian oil imports,” according to Benjamin H. Harris of Brookings. “The combination of these factors almost certainly led to lower revenue received by Russia, likely driving down revenue by about 30% to 40% over the first six months of the price cap’s existence,” according to Harris’ estimates published by RM.
  4. An analysis of UNGA voting patterns by Dmitriy Nurullayev of the University of Arizona and Mihaela Papa of Tufts University finds that “other states are significantly more aligned with Sino-Russian policy positions than with those advocated by the United States when the two sides are at odds.” From 1991 through 2020, in over 1,500 cases when the United States disagreed with China and Russia, the U.S. perspective prevailed only 14% of the time, while a majority of states aligned with the Sino-Russian positions the remaining 86% of the time, according to Nurullayev’s summary of the analysis for the website of Havard University’s Davis Center. The findings of Nurullayev and Papa suggest that “the challenges Washington faces from Beijing and Moscow involve not only geopolitical posturing but also more tacit diplomatic maneuvering aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the international community,” he writes.
  5. Pyongyang has concluded that long-term geopolitical trends call for a realignment with Moscow and Beijing as the most practical and probably safest path for North Korea to follow,” according to Robert Carlin’s take for FP on the meeting between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin in the Russian far east. The North Korean leadership has concluded that “the previous policy of seeking normal relations with the United States as a buffer against North Korea’s big-power neighbors had totally failed,” this Middlebury Institute scholar writes. “The U.S. and its allies lack tools to influence Russia or North Korea beyond stepping up already extensive sanctions,” according to FT’s editorial on the Kim-Putin meeting.
  6. “The West should not ignore the possibility that Putin will still be in power in five or ten years,” with Russian arms makers overcoming bottlenecks in production caused by Western sanctions, according to Janis Kluge of SWP. “This scenario could be very threatening for Europe as a whole, much less Ukraine,” this German economist writes. Thus, the West “cannot lull itself to sleep and count on Russia’s weakness or instability.” Instead, “it must urgently redouble its current efforts and develop a long-term strategy for containing Russia,” Kluge writes in an op-ed for MT, entitled “The West Shouldn’t Underestimate Russia’s Resilience.”
  7. Russia’s recent regional elections, in which the ruling United Russia party won 15 out of 16 party-list elections for regional parliaments and 19 out of 21 gubernatorial elections, suggest that claims of “strong turnout and overwhelming support for Putin in the 2024 presidential election [will be] highly likely,” according to Mikhail Komin of ECFR. The elections also suggest that Putin’s 2024 campaign that will emphasize his role in “defending Russian sovereignty” amid Western pressure, he writes in a commentary for ECFR. The past elections have also taught the Kremlin “that its war narratives need to be updated to reflect a shifting public opinion; … and that what matters most to Russian people is … the reliable functioning of goods, services and infrastructure,” Emily Ferris of RUSI writes in MT.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“The Putin-Kim Summit Kicks Off a New Era For North Korea,” Robert Carlin, FP, 09.12.23.

  • What we’ve seen is a progression of statements and actions that reflect a new worldview, essentially a judgment that the previous policy of seeking normal relations with the United States as a buffer against North Korea’s big-power neighbors had totally failed. It appears that Pyongyang has concluded that long-term geopolitical trends call for a realignment with Moscow and Beijing as the most practical and probably safest path for North Korea to follow.
  • If that means opening North Korean airspace to Russian reconnaissance overflights, ports to the Russian Navy, and airfields to advanced Russian fighter aircraft—all of which happened before, in the mid-1980s—then Pyongyang will likely agree. If it means enhanced North Korean military support for Russia’s war in Ukraine and enhanced Russian nuclear and missile support to Pyongyang, we should not be surprised.

“Putin and Kim’s ominous marriage of convenience,” Editorial Board, FT, 09.13.23.

  • North Korea… has a huge stockpile of munitions compatible with Russia’s weapons, and a large production base. Analysts say it could supply not just artillery shells and rockets—which Russia is consuming in Ukraine faster than it can replace them—but armored vehicles, drones and even short-range ballistic missiles. It can also potentially provide manpower to ease Russian labor shortages caused in part by its military drafts.
  • Russia can offer much-needed grain and crude oil to Pyongyang, though of most interest to Kim is probably technical help in developing weapons, missiles, nuclear submarines and military spy satellites. The Kremlin will surely be wary of helping the capricious North Korean leader get hold of too many dangerous toys. But Kim is well-placed to drive a hard bargain.
  • If even elements of such a deal are done, the implications are profound. It could help Russia if not to make major breakthroughs in Ukraine then at least to sustain its grinding war.
  • An arms deal with Russia would, meanwhile, blow a hole in UN sanctions on North Korea that Moscow voted to support as recently as 2017… Beijing may have some sharp words in private for Russia’s president, and be less willing to help Moscow withstand western sanctions, but may shrink from antagonizing what it sees as an ally in countering U.S. clout.
  • The U.S. and its allies will be even more perturbed, but lack tools to influence Russia or North Korea beyond stepping up already extensive sanctions. Washington needs to make doubly clear it is ready to support Ukraine’s military effort for as long as it takes. Despite recent U.S.-China tensions, it should also step up efforts to reach understandings with Beijing on areas of common interest—which ought to include doing whatever might be possible to restrain an increasingly wayward Moscow and Pyongyang.

“What Putin and Kim Want From Each Other,” Ankit Panda, FP, 09.15.23.

  • Despite their attempts to project a shared ideological front at the summit, Putin and Kim may not be willing to fully yield to the other’s demands—at least, not yet. North Korea, for instance, may seek access to sensitive Russian naval nuclear propulsion technology, which Moscow is unlikely to part with for little in return. Similarly, Russia may seek to acquire more advanced North Korean missiles for possible use in Ukraine, but Kim may prefer to keep these for his own national defense and deterrence needs.
  • While their meeting will prompt talk of a new authoritarian axis in northeast Asia, there’s little to suggest that the recent surge in this relationship has foundations deeper than each country’s immediate strategic interests. Moscow may seek to revise the global order in its favor, but enlisting North Korea as a partner in that endeavor will be of limited use.

“Are Russia and North Korea Now Brothers In Arms?” Aleksander Golts, Russia Post, 09.16.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Experts suggest that in exchange for ammunition, Pyongyang could request not only food and energy, but also technology for building nuclear submarines and missiles.
  • If Washington’s suspicions are correct and Russia intends to purchase North Korean missiles and transfer nuclear submarine technology to North Korea, this means that Moscow is refusing to comply with Security Council resolutions, thereby ceasing to follow international law in any form.
  • it has become increasingly true with time –common features began to emerge in Russian and North Korean policy. The official rhetoric of each country affirms national exclusivity. For the North Korean dictatorship, it is Juche, symbolized by the winged horse Qianlima. Russia has its own ideas about a special civilization.
  • Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s statements have repeatedly hinted at his readiness to use nuclear weapons. In this way, Russian policy has begun to increasingly resemble that of North Korea.
  • A large-scale purchase of ammunition from North Korea no longer seems incredible.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“The race to save Ukraine’s abducted children,” Gillian Tett, FT, 09.13.23.

  • Since Russia’s invasion, many Ukrainian children have been grabbed by Russian soldiers and officials, and dispatched east. Dmytro Lubinets, Ukraine’s humanitarian ombudsman, said he has records of almost 20,000 such deportations. He added, however, that Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, has proudly claimed “several times” that there are 700,000 Ukrainian children in Russia.
  • While some were orphans and a few were children from Russian-occupied regions deliberately dispatched by their families, many have living parents and were taken against the will of their families. The Humanitarian Research Lab at Yale University among others has reported that Russian officials are using these deportations to eradicate Ukrainian culture by placing children in re-education programs.
  • There is now a race against time for deported Ukrainian children. Since they are often adopted after a few months in Russia and, as Lubinets observed, “in the documents the Russians often change everything, like name and date of birth and place of birth”, it will become increasingly hard to find them as time passes.
  • The truth is that only about 400 children have returned so far—and this is unlikely to rise rapidly without new inducements or pressure on Russia, be that bribes or a fear of sanctions for lower-level officials. “The practical question is what can we give Russia to get the children back?” asked Patrick Desbois, a Catholic priest involved in the campaign [to save Ukraine’s abducted children].

“Citizens for Leverage: Navigating State Hostage-Taking in a Shifting Geopolitical Landscape,” Vina Nadjibulla and Stephanie Foggett, the Soufan Center, 09.14.23.

  • The use of human beings as political bargaining chips is an appalling practice that has no place in the twenty-first century. Often referred to as “hostage diplomacy,” or state hostage-taking, a number of states today—like Iran, Russia, and China—are unlawfully detaining foreign nationals within their criminal justice systems for use as foreign policy leverage.
  • The rise of state hostage-taking has not taken place in a vacuum, but in tandem with shifting power dynamics and in a geopolitical climate where great power rivalry overshadows multilateral cooperation. Conditions remain ripe for the practice of state hostage-taking to thrive and endure.
  • In addressing state hostage-taking, governments need to focus on two equally important imperatives: to bring their detained citizens home and to deter the practice. While deterrence must be a priority, it cannot come at the expense of current hostages. Securing the release of individual hostages often requires engaging in difficult negotiations. To offset possible concessions, governments must do more to raise the costs on the perpetrator states outside of individual cases.

“Can Samantha Power Win the Battle for Ukraine’s Future?” Bret Stephens, NYT, 09.16.23.

  • Until the war ends, [Samantha Power’s] U.S.A.I.D., its foreign partners, and other agencies of Western largess will remain the life-support system for Ukraine, without which it could not function.
  • But eventually the war will end. What happens to Ukraine then? Will it end up as a long-term ward of the international community, like Bosnia after the Dayton Accords? Will it revert to the oligarchical model that typified its early years? Or will it make good on its promise of genuine modernity? That process does not necessarily hinge on the recapture of Crimea or Donbas. But it does require a renovated ethical culture to undergird a strong rule of law and a political class bound by a sense of public duty and personal accountability.
  • Even if Ukraine wins the war soon and maintains its reformist course, it will take years of effort and hundreds of billions in additional financial support before it pulls itself out of the rubble. It will also require levels of political will and bureaucratic focus that Americans, historically, have found hard to sustain from one crisis and administration to the next.
  • If Ukraine can survive a Russian invasion and flourish afterward, it will be a rebuke to the idea that the free world is in terminal decline, that alliances with the United States are a bad bet, and that other nations facing similar threats—Taiwan in particular—should simply accommodate themselves to their aggressive neighbors rather than defend their freedom and independence. But if Ukraine falters, either in war or peace, we will face a world in which, as Thucydides put it long ago, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Petraeus: 'Good chance' Kyiv counteroffensive gains continue," David Petraeus in an interview with Anna Pshemyska, DW, 09.13.23.  

  • [When asked “do you share the assessment that there is a 50% chance that Ukrainians will breach the second and the third line of Russian defenses by the end of this year?”] Retired U.S. General David Petraeus said: I think there's quite a good chance of that, but let me explain what has transpired over the first three months of the counteroffensive.
  • The Ukrainians have had to adapt. They have now begun to accumulate gains, particularly in the central Zaporizhzhia area around Robotyne and so forth. I think there's quite a good chance that they can continue this progress.
    • What made it possible is the Ukrainians adapting […] And they're using essentially 10-man teams, small infantry squads and platoons fighting from tree line to tree line, picking their way through these minefields, establishing routes through them, then defending what they take. Then, a day or so later, taking the next tree line, the next house.
  • The question in my mind really is, when might the Russians begin to crack? When might this defense really begin to crumble? And then can the Ukrainians exploit that to take this at least as far as the distance that's required for the Ukrainians to be able to range that very important line of communication that runs from Russia along the southeast coast of Ukraine? If they can interdict that and disrupt or even degrade the logistical capacity of the Russians to support their forces in the center part of the south of Ukraine, that would be quite a substantial achievement.
  • Each side has been doing a lot of impressive innovation. We see that from the Ukrainian side with what is presumably Ukrainian weapons systems that are bringing the war to those in Moscow, in other oblasts [regions] within the Russian Federation. But, clearly, Russia has an economy that is many times the size of Ukraine, despite financial, economic and personal sanctions and export controls. And it obviously has a population that is three to four times the size of Ukraine as well. This really underscores the vital necessity that all of the NATO nations, the U.S., Germany, all of the others continue to provide all the support that we possibly can.
  • [When asked “What changes do you expect to see in this war by next year, by the spring of next year?”] Well, the first change will be what Ukraine achieves during the course of this offensive. And does it put them in a position, for example, to interdict the line of communication that connects Russia through southeastern Ukraine with the forces that are north of Crimea? Can they disrupt, degrade the routes that come from Crimea on roads and bridges into southern Ukraine? Can they further isolate Crimea? Can they take down more of the naval and air bases? There's an awful lot that is going to continue during the course of this calendar year. But what I'm getting at is that we need to prepare to help Ukraine for the long haul, and that's what NATO's focus should be.

“The Missing Escalation in Ukraine. In Defense of the West’s Go-Slow Approach,” Austin Carson, FA, 09.14.23.

  • The puzzle of the missing escalations in Ukraine is, in part, explained by the broader context of this particular war. There are significant incentives for leaders to try to contain the fighting. A direct conventional or nuclear clash between Russia and NATO would clearly be ruinous for both sides, inflicting tremendous economic, political, and military damage. War between major powers in the modern era is incredibly costly. Today’s war in Ukraine and past conflicts during the Cold War share this structural constraint.
  • The strain on Russia’s military resources almost certainly amplifies the downsides of escalation for Moscow. After its failed bid to swiftly seize Kyiv at the beginning of the war and high rates of equipment loss and casualties, Moscow cannot open new war fronts and achieve anything close to its military objectives in Ukraine. Putin’s decisions over the course of the conflict will need to reflect this reality: if the conflict dramatically widened, he would be playing with a losing hand.
  • Domestic politics also matter. During the Cold War, restraint toward Communist aggression could be politically fatal. Today’s political environment has changed. Leaders in the democratic West that recklessly invite escalation are probably more likely to lose the next election. It is less clear whether Russia’s domestic political dynamics have blunted or encouraged escalation. Putin must avoid alienating the Russian elites that support him and mobilizing mass dissent. Yet some domestic pressures on Putin incentivize belligerence, namely the war hawks outside government who continually demand more expansive military mobilization or even the use of nuclear weapons.
  • Another reason for missing escalation involves incrementalism and learning. At critical moments, political leaders and military commanders in the West have chosen gradualism. Going slowly in war often invites criticism. Ukraine’s supporters have at times complained that the United States and its allies have dithered in providing more effective artillery, air defense, and tanks. What looks like indecisiveness, however, can have significant value on the battlefield.
  • Escalation control measures that have worked today may need to evolve to keep working tomorrow. Developments over the summer of 2023 may test the limits that have developed.
    • First, Russia’s renewed attacks against Ukrainian grain exports have expanded the geographic boundaries of the war.
    • Second, Ukraine appears to be ramping up the scale and intensity of its attacks inside Russia.
    • New developments concerning Putin’s domestic position suggest his decision-making could become more unpredictable. Although some Western commentators and analysts viewed Prigozhin’s rebellion as a positive development, suggesting it indicated a growing appetite for open dissent in Russia, it may also have increased the risk of escalation. Internal dissent could recalibrate Putin’s willingness to accept strategic risk, making him more likely to gamble with escalation as the Hail Mary that would turn the tide of the war and shore up his domestic political support.
    • Finally, the emergence of a stronger diplomatic process to end the war could reshape the war’s escalation dynamics or even paradoxically encourage escalation. While strengthening diplomatic communication can facilitate better crisis management, peace negotiations can also tempt leaders to escalate. In 1971 during the Vietnam War, for example, U.S. President Richard Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, expanded military operations into Laos ahead of talks with North Vietnam to increase their leverage at the negotiating table.
  • The lack of escalation in Ukraine serves as a reminder that in limited wars, patience is a virtue. A go-slow approach has allowed NATO countries to provide a level of military support that was unthinkable at the war’s start. The risks of escalation have not been overblown. Instead, gradualism has allowed the West to learn—and, in some ways, stretch—the limits of the war.

“The hard lessons from Ukraine’s summer offensive,” Christopher Miller and Ben Hall, FT, 09.15.23.

  • The idea that Ukrainian forces, lacking any air cover, would storm through Russian lines was always going to be more of a Hollywood plotline than reality. But three months into the counteroffensive, Zelensky and his government are dealing with the reality that it has not achieved the desired decisive breakthrough—and are girding themselves for a drawn-out war.
  • Ukraine’s armed forces have made slow but significant gains in the south of the country in recent weeks, including a first puncture in Russia’s formidable defensive line. … While some in NATO worry this attritional approach sounds like the old Soviet mindset taking hold, Ukrainian officials and western analysts who have studied this summer’s fighting say it is more adapted to conditions on the ground, including Russia’s heavy fortifications and dense minefields, Ukraine’s lack of air power and the prevalence of drones exposing everything on the battlefield.
  • In these tough battlefield conditions, Ukrainian forces found it impossible to follow NATO doctrine of combined arms warfare—coordinated actions by infantry, armor, artillery and air defense. Kofman and Lee say they are best at fighting in small highly maneuverable assault units. They struggle to run operations above the level of company (200 men) or even platoon (20-50). But if Ukrainian forces are to exploit any breach in Russia’s defenses, they will need to co-ordinate larger forces and for that they need better training.
  • Ultimately, the course of the war will be decided by how each side manages its reserves of manpower and equipment. “Our big problem is sustainability,” says a Ukrainian official. “It is a war of resources.”

“Why There Are No Game-Changing Weapons For Ukraine,” Franz-Stefan Gady, FP, 09.14.23.

  • Even larg[e] quantities—whether of the Taurus alone or in combination with ATACMS—would not guarantee a game-changing impact. As Michael Kofman and Rob Lee pointed out, conducting a successful deep battle campaign is much harder than most commentators seem to think. It is very difficult to interdict supply lines, conduct dynamic targeting, or establish fire control in the deep rear without air superiority. To conduct a more systematic deep battle campaign, Ukraine would need persistent intelligence, as well as better surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities (such as satellites and uncrewed aerial vehicles) to identify and track Russian targets.
    • Given effective Russian countermeasures—such as electromagnetic jamming of drones, and Ukraine’s lack of high-end reconnaissance platforms and lack of control of the skies—persistent coverage of the Russian rear is a difficult proposition.
  • The hope that Taurus and ATACMS will be game-changers also seems to ignore systematic Russian adaptation ever since the introduction of HIMARS multiple rocket launchers in the summer of 2022.
  • Finally, some commentators seem to overestimate the amount of supplies the Russians need to hold off or delay Ukrainian attacks on the front line. It is true that Russian logistics are under increasing pressure, as evidenced by reduced artillery fire rates as well as difficulties rotating troops to and from front-line positions. But Russian forces are still able to mount counterattacks, conduct counterbattery fire, and keep up relatively steady artillery barrages in the face of Ukrainian attacks.
  • In short, given missile availability and Russian adaptations, the expectations in what can be accomplished with long-range missiles in the Russians’ deep rear are far beyond what seems to be possible. We should not expect a sudden, disruptive impact on the war effort from additional precision-strike missiles, even if they are armed with a more powerful warhead and have an even longer range, such as ATACMS. Rather, these systems will be an additional asset to help Ukraine slowly attrit Russia’s capacity to wage this war.

“The Ukraine war is revolutionizing military technology. Whoever masters it wins,” Max Boot, WP, 09.18.23.

  • It's important not to exaggerate the impact of advanced technology. Much of the war in Ukraine remains low-tech and old-fashioned. Many higher-end technologies such as artificial intelligence, hypersonics and cyberwarfare have barely made an impact, and manned aircraft have not played much of a role—in part because of the strength of air defenses on both sides.
  • The war would look very different if it were being fought by the United States rather than Ukraine: U.S. aircraft would first try to "suppress" Russian air defenses and then, assuming they were successful, pummel Russian troops from the air, as they did with Iraqi forces in 1991 and 2003. Ukraine lacks the modern aircraft to do that. It is scheduled to receive F-16s soon, but stealthy, next-generation F-35s, which would be needed to take down the most Russian advanced air defenses, remain off the table. That is why Ukraine has to rely on drones.
  • No matter how widespread drones have become, the human element will remain of central importance in warfare. Both sides in Ukraine have drones; the question is which side can use them more effectively. Technology alone seldom confers a long-lasting advantage. What counts is how successfully militaries create strategies, training and bureaucratic structures to harness cutting-edge weapons systems—whether it's rifles and railroads in the 19th century, tanks and aircraft in the 1930s, or drones and precision-guided missiles today.
  • Despite some problems with their own lumbering Soviet-style bureaucracy, the Ukrainians have shown themselves to be highly adaptive—it is, in fact, their ability to innovate from the bottom up that has enabled them to stymie the Russian onslaught. Can the U.S. military be as nimble facing threats from China, Iran, North Korea, Russia and other adversaries? There is much that the Ukrainians can teach Western armed forces—which is why Western analysts will continue to closely study this laboratory of warfare.

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

“The West Shouldn’t Underestimate Russia’s Resilience,” Janis Kluge, MT, 09.15.23.

  • Economically, the country is going through a very peculiar crisis. While Russians have lost their chance at a more prosperous future, the regime is still rich. Moscow can count on billions of dollars in export revenues to continue flowing into its coffers in the next years. Even in the miserable first half of 2023, Russia earned over $200 billion, more than enough to cover its import needs. Even if the G7 oil price cap worked perfectly, Moscow could still expect export revenues of around $400 billion per year. As long as global oil markets remain tight, the West does not have much room to maneuver. It would take a more severe global economic downturn to change that.
  • Russian industry is still fully dependent on Western technologies, but despite sanctions, it is also still able to import many critical components that it needs to manufacture weapons.
  • [One] element of Russia's crisis is a severe labor shortage caused by a long-term demographic crisis combined with the short-term effects of mobilization the emigration of many skilled Russians.
  • The war has been effective at disciplining Russia's senior officials. … There are hardly any scenarios for a post-Putin, post-war Russia that would appeal to these cynical elites.
  • Internationally, Russia is mostly isolated from the West, … At the same time, most non-Western countries are strongly opposed to isolating Russia completely. Interest in diplomatic forums that include Russia, such as BRICS, has increased.
  • Finally, the Russian regime itself is still very much concerned about its resilience and seems to avoid taking excessive additional risks.
  • None of the factors described above guarantee long-term political stability in Russia. Putin is bound to make mistakes, just as he has in the past. … But the West should not ignore the possibility that Putin will still be in power in five or ten years. Russia may also gradually overcome bottlenecks in arms production. This scenario could be very threatening for Europe as a whole, much less Ukraine. … In the longer term, constant escalation is still the fuel that Putinism runs on.
  • The West cannot lull itself to sleep and count on Russia’s weakness or instability. Instead, it must urgently redouble its current efforts and develop a long-term strategy for containing Russia. Sanctions are crucial for slowing down Moscow‘s military resurgence. But they need further tightening.

“Shipping industry: risk of war has yet to be fully priced in,” Lex, FT, 09.14.23.

  • Geopolitical divisions threaten the global order of sea trade. The war in Ukraine has already disrupted energy and grain shipments from Russia. A potential invasion or blockade of Taiwan by mainland China could do the same in east Asia. But war is not yet being priced into all insurance cover.
  • Open sea lanes with Russia and Ukraine are critical for grain and other commodity supplies. Recent drone attacks in Crimea highlight the risks. Open trade with Taiwan is even more important given the concentration of global chip supplies.
  • Maritime tension is just one of several problems facing the global shipping industry. Supply chains are still recovering from pandemic-era disruption and putting shippers, such as AP Møller-Maersk, under cost pressure. Port congestion has pushed up rates for hull and cargo cover at the busiest bottlenecks. Fire risks are also rising, given ships are carrying greater amounts of lithium-ion batteries.
  • But the war in Ukraine has caused a sustained increase in rates unlike anything seen for a generation, says Dan McCarthy, head of marine at Markel International. It was one of the first to insure the Ukrainian grain trade following the start of the war.

“Sanctions, Peacemaking and Reform: Recommendations for U.S. Policymakers,” ICG, 08.28.2023.

  • While sanctions can effectively constrain conflict actors, address abuses, and encourage negotiations, they may also hinder peace processes and post-conflict recovery. 
  • Although substantial reforms were introduced, there are gaps. Sanctions remain inflexible and hard to change, ease or lift due to domestic and bureaucratic inertia. They have become increasingly complex and less likely to sway conflicting parties with little faith that the restrictions would be lifted. 
  • There must be improvements in definition objectives for imposing sanctions as well as meaningful systems to review their effectiveness frequently. These reforms will increase U.S. leverage over the sanctioned parties, including “during negotiations, in turn allowing officials to use them more effectively as part of conflict resolution and mitigation strategies.”
  • The United States should improve private sector confidence in previously sanctioned jurisdictions. Private actors are wary of destinations with experience of U.S. sanctions, fearing their reintroduction. The United States should conduct better outreach campaigns and deliver credible assurances to the private sector to facilitate investment inflows into previously sanctioned states. 

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“A Trip to Ukraine Clarified the Stakes. And They’re Huge,” Thomas L. Friedman, NYT, 09.15.23.

  • Being in the city [of Kyiv] has been clarifying for me in three regards. I understand even better just how sick and disruptive this Russian invasion is. I understand even better just how hard, maybe even impossible, it will be for Ukrainians to evict Putin’s army from every inch of their soil. Perhaps most of all, I understand even better something that the former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski observed almost 30 years ago: “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.”
  • It is clear as day what defines a just outcome. It’s a Ukraine that is whole and free—with reparations paid by Russia. But it isn’t at all clear how much such justice is attainable, and at what price, or whether some dirty compromise will be the least-worst option, and if so, what kind of compromise, just how dirty, when and guaranteed by whom. In other words, the minute you step out of the justice framework of this war—and into the realm of realpolitik diplomacy—the whole picture turns from black-and-white to different shades of gray. Because the bad guy is still powerful and still has friends and therefore a say.
  • Any kind of formal or informal cease-fire is possible. But what’s impossible is this: Ukraine agreeing to any permanent or temporary end to this conflict without the promise of a NATO Article 5 security guarantee (or some equivalent from the U.S. and Europe). Such a security guarantee would signal to exhausted Ukrainians, foreign investors and the millions of Ukrainian refugees abroad that the war is basically over and Putin can’t just rearm and reinvade without the U.S. and Europe defending Ukraine. … No Western security guarantees for Ukraine, no end to this war.

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

“The Alliances That Matter Now: Multilateralism is at a dead end, but powerful blocs are getting things done,” Stefan Theil, FP, 09.11.12.

  • The most creative and dynamic form of international cooperation is the new minilateral groups, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and the Australia-United Kingdom-United States pact. As C. Raja Mohan argues, these are nimble, pragmatic coalitions that overcome multilateral paralysis while avoiding more formal alliances. This flexibility is particularly attractive for countries such as India, which is keen to preserve its strategic autonomy even as it shifts into closer alignment with the West.
  • Of course, there are many pieces still missing, as multilateralism struggles, old alliances are revitalized, and new forms of cooperation emerge. Global problems still require global collaboration. Large parts of the world remain outside both old and new power blocs. But the weakness of alliances in the global south may be a feature, not a flaw: As long as countries are focused on development, it may be in their interest to avoid alignment and let the two geopolitical camps bid for their favors.
  • Lamenting the decline of multilateral action is understandable. But there is no reason a world reshaped around blocs and coalitions will inevitably be worse. Competition between the greater West and a China-Russia bloc could yield unexpected benefits: To woo swing states in the global south, for example, each side will have to hone an attractive vision for development, security, and governance, likely backed by greater resources than before. As pragmatic new formats such as minilaterals prove their worth, they can be constructed around other urgent issues in ways that transcend ideological and geopolitical divides. Parts of the creaking multilateral system will need to be salvaged—read Gordon Brown’s proposal on how best to do that—even as new forms of cooperation are layered on top. In the end, though, what matters is getting things done.

“What the West Loses by Trading With Dictatorships; In the face of rising challenges from China and Russia, the U.S. needs a new framework for free trade among free countries,” Mathias Döpfner, WSJ, 09.14.23.

  • The phrase "change through trade," which Western politicians and bankers loved so much, turned out to be true—but in sharp contrast to its original meaning. Instead of becoming more tolerant and democratic through intensified business links with the West, autocracies in China, Russia and the Middle East have become even more radical and undemocratic. At the same time, more and more democratic economies have grown dependent on their nondemocratic counterparts. The West has been led into a trade trap.
  • The West's fundamental error was to expose its market economies to China's state-led capitalism, which creates its own rules and abuses existing terms of trade and competition. If we keep heading down this road, China will continue to gain in economic power and dominance, which will lead to increased political influence and the global rise of AI-boosted surveillance autocracies.
  • Europeans and Americans must decide between two possible paths. One is that Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin continue their attempts to drive the U.S. and Europe apart. … The alternative is to revive the trans-Atlantic alliance as an economic and values-based partnership and as the basis of a broader global alliance of democracies including India, Japan and others.
  • Creating a new trade architecture and redefining our relationship with autocracies wouldn't simply be a form of damage limitation. It would also help us to avoid one of the biggest perils of our time: progressive and dangerously escalating deglobalization, and with it, a new and lasting rise of nationalism.
  • If we want to save democracy, we need a renaissance of truly free trade and a rebirth of "liberalism" in the spirit of Adam Smith. This is an American-European project. It can only be achieved together.

“NATO’s Remarkable Revival. But the bloc’s future could look very different from its past,” Jo Inge Bekkevold, FP, 09.11.23.

  • There are four main reasons for NATO’s comeback as an enhanced and more coherent alliance.
    • The most important and obvious factor is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
    • A second factor behind NATO’s resurgence is the rise of China.
    • Third, new technologies and interdependencies have broadened NATO’s agenda to cover cyberdefense and disruptive technologies.
    • Fourth, the election of U.S. President Joe Biden enabled smoother cooperation between the United States and its allies.
  • Will NATO still be a pillar of the security order when it turns 100? That will depend on how the alliance addresses the changing geopolitical order—above all, the threat from a rising, revisionist China. In particular, there are three scenarios for NATO’s future:
    • A Europe-only NATO is a scenario where the United States decides to withdraw from the alliance, either because it shifts all of its resources to the Indo-Pacific in order to take on China or due to domestic political change in the United States.
    • A global NATO is a scenario where both the United States and its European allies shift their energies and resources from Europe to Asia.
    • Finally, a fragmented NATO is a scenario where the United States remains committed to the defense of Europe but where allies are no longer pursuing a single, coherent strategy—because of different threat perceptions, the disparate interests of new members, or domestic political pressures.
  • None of these three scenarios have to come true in their extreme versions. But in all likelihood, NATO will have to grapple with elements of all three. Whatever they do, NATO members should not take their present unity and strength for granted.

“Will the West Abandon Ukraine? Kyiv Must Prepare for a Possible Change of Heart in America and Europe,” Liana Fix and Michael Kimmage, FA, 09.12.23.

  • The main risk for Ukraine is less an abrupt political shift in the West than the slow unraveling of a carefully woven web of foreign assistance. If a sudden shift does occur, however, it will start in the United States, where the basic direction of U.S. foreign policy will be on the ballot in November 2024.
  • To Europeans, the longer the war continues, the more it could seem intractable and costly, more a vehicle for U.S. power than a core European interest.
  • As the conflict lingers, Ukraine will have to adapt its narrative of the war for Western publics. Instead of a quick and decisive victory, as many had hoped for when the summer counteroffensive was first launched, Kyiv will need to explain the endgame of a prolonged war, which remains the survival of Ukraine.
  • In 2015, after the worst of the fighting in eastern Ukraine ended after a flawed cease-fire deal, the cardinal error of the West was to lose interest. Somehow the crisis was supposed to take care of itself. From this, Putin learned what he took to be an essential truth about the fickleness of Western leaders. Going forward, Europe and the United States must keep demonstrating that Putin drew the wrong conclusion.
  • Western indifference and impatience are Putin’s ultimate weapons in this war. Without them, Putin faces a strategic dead end.

“'Report card' grading House Republicans on Ukraine aid shows stark split,” Marisa Iati, WP, 09.18.23.

  • As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky prepares to visit Capitol Hill later this week to lobby for additional aid in his country's war against Russia, a conservative group released a "report card" Monday grading House Republicans on their support for Kyiv. The newly released analysis highlights the stark divide within the Republican Party on providing more financial assistance to Ukraine. Of the 222 members, nearly as many failed the report card as received the highest mark. Defending Democracy Together, led by Republican strategist Sarah Longwell and conservative political commentator Bill Kristol, doled out 82 A's, 43 B's, eight C's, 17 D's and 72 F's.
  • The bluntest split was between House Republican leadership and some of the most prominent current and former members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. Many members of the party's rightmost flank have been advocating for cutting aid to Ukraine—in some cases, to zero. Their desires hold sway, as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) needs their votes on spending bills to keep the government open past a Sept. 30 deadline. McCarthy's speakership also hangs on the support of his most conservative members, who have threatened to seek his removal if he doesn't meet their demands.
  • A growing number of congressional Republicans are expressing skepticism about Biden's request for an additional $24 billion in aid for Ukraine. While Senate leaders have indicated support for the supplemental funding, several members of the House have said they would not back more aid for the Eastern European democracy as it struggles to win a definitive victory in its counteroffensive.
  • Recent public opinion surveys suggest that Americans' support for Ukraine is moving in the same direction. Among Republicans specifically, 56 percent said in a Fox News poll released last month that U.S. assistance to Ukraine should be decreased—up from the 38 percent who said the same in December. The White House insists that the nation remains committed to supporting Ukraine.

“If Trump abandons Ukraine, don't count on Europe plugging the gap,” Lee Hockstader, WP, 09.12.23.

  • When Trump says he would end the war in "24 hours" if reelected, the implicit threat—that he would veto further aid to Ukraine, a stance already backed by a majority of Republicans—is lost on no one in Europe.
  • A drastic reduction in Washington's backing for Ukraine would be a major boost for Putin's hopes of imperial revival—and a signal that the United States is turning its back on Europe after more than 75 years of American leadership. It would imperil the viability of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and jeopardize the defense of NATO front-line states in the face of Moscow's revanchist ambitions. It could also lead to a bloodbath in Ukraine by weakening the country's defenses.
  • For all of Europe's efforts to help Ukraine, its qualitative contributions do not measure up to those of the United States, despite the headline numbers. It is not remotely realistic that the Europeans could roughly double their contribution to make up for a halt to U.S. funding in the Trump redux scenario.
  • The deepest impediment to European security leadership is political will, or rather the lack of it—a deficit starkly on display last winter when Chancellor Olaf Scholz for weeks dragged his feet on greenlighting German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks for Ukraine. Only when Biden moved first, by promising to send U.S.-made Abrams tanks, did Scholz give his own thumbs-up.
  • After decades of relying on the U.S. security umbrella, many European policymakers are aware that an investment in Ukraine's security is a down payment on their own. Their efforts are accelerating, but not fast enough to negate the potentially catastrophic fallout of a U.S. withdrawal.

"Levada: Majority of Russians View Their Country, China as ‘Great,’ But Not U.S., Its Allies," Simon Saradzhyan, RM, 09.13.23.

  • [Levada Center] polls show that the share of Russians who view their own country as great has almost doubled in the past two decades from 43% in 2002 to 80% in 2023 (Table 1) in a clear reflection that both a recent streak of increases in Russia’s national power and the Kremlin’s consistent messaging on Russia’s “rise from its knees” during Vladimir Putin’s rule continue to have an impact on the Russian public.
  • In addition to increasingly seeing their own country as great, Russians also see a similar trend in China.1 In fact, the share of Levada respondents who view China as great has more than tripled, from 19% in 2002 to 63% in 2023, reflecting the steady strengthening of Moscow’s alignment with Beijing.
  • In contrast, even those Western countries that continue to be superior to Russia in components of national might such as GDP size (the U.S., Japan and Germany, when measured in constant international dollars, PPP) and population size (the U.S.), looked less great than Russia in the eyes of those polled by Levada. In fact, the share of Russians who view the U.S. as great halved from 62% in 2002 to 30% in 2023. The same period saw the share of Russians who view Japan, the U.K., Germany and France as great shrink at an even faster rate, ending at 9%, 9%, 8% and 3%, respectively.
  • While the share of Russians who admire Western greatness has shrunk dramatically over the past two decades, shorter-term measurements reveal certain improvements in Russians’ views toward some of these countries, as well as toward Ukraine, which Russian leaders claim is acting as the spear of what they seek to portray as the West’s geopolitical assault on Russia.
    • The share of Russians who say they have a good attitude toward the U.S. was 22% in August 2023, which is higher than at any other point since February 2022 (the month when Russia invaded Ukraine).
    • The share of Russians who reported having a good attitude toward the EU also improved remarkably from 16% in May 2023 to 23% in August 2023.
    • Finally, the share of those with a positive attitude toward Ukraine also increased, from 15% in May 2023 to 21% in August 2023.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“In Global Battle for Hearts and Minds, Russia and China Have Edge Over U.S.,” Dmitriy Nurullayev, Davis Center, 09.11.23.

  • An analysis of voting patterns in the United Nations General Assembly, published this year by myself and Mihaela Papa of Tufts University, finds that, globally, other states are significantly more aligned with Sino-Russian policy positions than with those advocated by the United States when the two sides are at odds. From 1991 through 2020, in over 1,500 cases when the United States disagreed with China and Russia, the U.S. perspective prevailed only 14% of the time, while a majority of states aligned with the Sino-Russian positions the remaining 86% of the time. The contrast is even sharper when the analysis is limited to U.N. member states belonging to “soft-balancing groups” like the informal BRICS alliance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the G-77 bloc, a coalition of emerging economies within the U.N. system.
  • These quantitative findings suggest that the challenges Washington faces from Beijing and Moscow involve not only geopolitical posturing, but also more tacit diplomatic maneuvering aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the international community.
  • The rapid rise of the BRICS alliance is especially noteworthy in illustrating the changing distribution of global affinity. The recent announcement at the bloc’s summit in Johannesburg that Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE will be joining BRICS leaves little doubt about its global appeal and the challenge it poses to the U.S.-led world order. The bloc’s core members—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—have worked to overcome internal disagreements, such as China’s territorial disputes with both India and Russia. They have also advocated for an alternative framework of monetary management in competition with the U.S. dollar-oriented Bretton Woods system, though that effort has earned considerable skepticism.
  • More broadly, Beijing and Moscow have built a robust foreign policy coalition. Although the potential for future strife between them remains, especially as Beijing gains influence over Moscow, the coalition's depth has been evident in the aftermath of Russia's military incursion into Ukraine. Despite this blatant violation of territorial integrity and the heightened risk of nuclear escalation, the Chinese response has remained notably reserved, with Beijing refraining from overtly condemning the Kremlin's actions. This measured "wait and observe" approach is mirrored in the policies of New Delhi, Brasilia, and Pretoria. While BRICS may be an informal alliance, its effects on the policy preferences of its members appear to be real and measurable.

“The China-Russia Axis Takes Shape,” Bonny Lin, FP, 09.11.23.

  • The increasingly close relationship between China and Russia has been decades in the making, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has tightened their embrace. Both countries made a clear strategic choice to prioritize relations with each other, given what they perceive as a common threat from the U.S.-led West. The deepening of bilateral ties is accompanied by a joint push for global realignment as the two countries use non-Western multilateral institutions—such as the BRICS forum and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)—to expand their influence in the developing world. Although neither Beijing nor Moscow currently has plans to establish a formal military alliance, major shocks, such as a Sino-U.S. conflict over Taiwan, could yet bring it about.
  • What’s next? Continued Sino-Russian convergence is the most likely course. But that is not set in stone—and progress can be accelerated, slowed, or reversed. Absent external shocks, Beijing and Moscow may not need to significantly upgrade their relationship from its current trajectory. Xi and Putin share similar views of a hostile West and recognize the strategic advantages of closer alignment. But they remain wary of each other, with neither wanting to be responsible for or subordinate to the other.
  • Major changes or shocks, however, could drive them closer at a faster pace. Should Russia suffer a devastating military setback in Ukraine that risks the collapse of Putin’s regime, China might reconsider the question of substantial military aid. If China, in turn, finds itself in a major Taiwan crisis or conflict against the United States, Beijing could lean more on Moscow. During a conflict over Taiwan, Russia could also engage in opportunistic aggression elsewhere that would tie China and Russia together in the eyes of the international community, even if Moscow’s actions were not coordinated with Beijing.
  • A change in the trajectory toward ever closer Chinese-Russian ties may also be possible, though it is far less likely. Some Chinese experts worry that Russia will always prioritize its own interests over any consideration of bilateral ties. If, for instance, former U.S. President Donald Trump wins another term, he could decrease U.S. support for Ukraine and offer Putin improved relations. This, in turn, could dim the Kremlin’s willingness to support China against the United States. It’s not clear if this worry is shared by top Chinese or Russian leaders, but mutual distrust and skepticism of the other remain in both countries.

“China’s Complex Relations with Russia: Tracing the Limits of a “Limitless Friendship,” Una Berzina-Cerenkova and Tim Rühlig, Internationale Politik Quarterly, September 2023.

  • Russia’s war against Ukraine has confirmed once again that China and Russia are not in a military alliance. China has adopted a pro-Russian neutrality mostly to prevent the worst case: a failing Russia that might slide into civil war and regional secession. China would lose a close companion in its geopolitical rivalry with the United States. Worst from Beijing’s viewpoint, a pro-Western regime could replace Putin in the Kremlin. Also, in private conversations, Chinese officials characterize Russia’s economic model as unsustainable, further confirming concerns about Russia’s stability.
  • Before the war, China frequently reminded the Kremlin that it should not attack third countries. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has not been Beijing’s agenda. But China is not doing all it can to facilitate a peace deal. China’s above-mentioned position paper of February 2023 is not—as is often falsely claimed—a “peace plan.” It neither outlines options for a compromise nor does it present a roadmap to peace. Instead, the paper simply summarizes China’s view on the war.
  • For the time being, Russia’s defeat is China’s nightmare, not an ongoing war in Ukraine. The recent mutiny of the Wagner Group has reminded the leadership in Beijing that its nightmare could become a reality. And China might not be prepared for it.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“The nuclear-force structure of the past will not suffice now,” Deb Fischer and Angus King, WP, 09.17.23.

  • The Aug. 10 editorial on sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCM), "The weapon the warriors don't want," didn't provide key information on why a bipartisan coalition in Congress agrees that this program is necessary.
  • We have a strong strategic nuclear capability today, but it is just that: strategic, not tactical. The danger is that an adversary might believe that we would not respond to the use of a low-yield tactical nuclear weapon because our only tool is massive retaliation. Indeed, this almost certainly is part of President Vladimir Putin's calculation as he continues to threaten the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile fills this gap and can be a critical part of maintaining the credible deterrent that has protected us all these years.
  • SLCMs are our best option for filling [the] capability gap within the next 10 years, which is why the Senate NDAA supports the continued development of the system. Meanwhile, we encourage other nuclear nations to enter into talks aimed at reducing tensions, improving transparency and building frameworks for effective arms-control efforts in the future.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

“The Evolving Cyber-Based Threat: The Need for International Regulations to Avoid ‘Accidental’ Conflicts,” Gabriel Molini, Arms Control Center, 09.12.23.

  • With the continued development of cyberweapons, it will become more difficult to limit their reach. When such programs gain access to computer systems, it is very difficult to dislodge them. As with the intricate nature of modern-day communications and infrastructure, if such nodes were to be knocked offline, there would most likely be an effect on civilians or non-combatants.
  • Indiscriminate targeting and the difficulties surrounding proper attribution could possibly escalate tensions between states, and the consequences for such tension are heightened if the parties involved are armed with nuclear weapons. That is why international efforts to regulate and control cyberweapons and their effects must become an international priority to avoid escalation in the digital realm with implications in the physical one.

Energy exports from CIS:

"The Origins and Efficacy of the Price Cap on Russian Oil," Benjamin H. Harris, RM, 09.14.23.

  • In the wake of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the international community levied a series of sweeping and unprecedented sanctions designed to disrupt the Russian economy and limit Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ability to wage war. This effort included a price cap on Russian oil, a novel sanctions regime collectively imposed by the G-7, the European Union and Australia, designed to simultaneously lower Russian revenue while preserving the supply of oil in the global markets.
  • The price cap regime imposed on Russia by the G-7, the EU and Australia represented a historic step toward sanctioning a global producer of oil. Initial skepticism around the price cap’s efficacy faded as Russian production stabilized along with global oil prices, and as the cap preserved the unprecedented spread between Russian and other-origin oil producers.
  • But it is still difficult to assess the precise impact of the cap, since it requires both an accurate assessment of the current trade (including the price paid to Russia for each barrel of export and the change in other shipping-related costs) and a similarly precise assessment of the trade that would occur without the cap.
  • Overall, evaluations show that the price cap helped preserve global production of oil, introduced frictions leading to higher shipping costs into the Russian oil trade, and helped preserve the wide discount importers paid on Russian oil imports. The combination of these factors almost certainly led to lower revenue received by Russia, likely driving down revenue by about 30% to 40% over the first six months of the price cap’s existence.
  • Russia’s countermeasures, which include expanding the fleet of ships available to transport oil around the price cap, will require close monitoring and strict enforcement to maintain this level of depressed revenue moving forward.

“How to wage the financial war against Russia's economy,” Editorial Board, WP, 09.17.23.

  • [C]racks in Moscow's defenses are showing and, especially in the case of the Russian economy, they are widening. Now, there are critical points where the United States and Europe can apply more pressure. The most promising of those are in the energy sector—whose revenue accounts for a majority of the Kremlin's export earnings, and a sizable chunk of its federal budget and gross economic output.
  • Along with capital flight, the loss of revenue has caused a steady decline in the ruble, which has lost more than a third of its value against the dollar over the past year.
  • Much of the squeeze on Moscow's energy exports has been applied by a price cap on Russian crude oil set by Washington and its European allies … Predictably, Russia has tried to evade the price cap, with increasing success. On average, the price of Russian oil has lately risen above the $60 cap, though it remains substantially below the Brent benchmark. The danger now is that Russia will start to recover some of its energy revenue, which would extend its ability to wage its illegal and bloody war.
  • A broad group of experts organized by Stanford University, including economists and energy specialists, has proposed what might be a workable blueprint for tightening the energy sanctions. The group's proposals include technical measures to stop Russia from using seaborne shipments of crude not subject to the cap—an unregulated "shadow fleet" of tankers that carries around a third of Russian seaborne oil. Perhaps the toughest measure to turn the screws on Russia would be to gradually lower the oil-price cap—eventually even by half.
  • No sanctions regime is watertight. Western sanctions against Russia will inevitably involve a cat-and-mouse game of enforcement and evasion. Without doubt, however, the Russian economy has been diminished and is in a much more fragile condition today than if sanctions had not been imposed. And the longer the West keeps them up, the more painful the sanctions will be for Russia and ordinary Russians, whose flagging support for the war might force Mr. Putin to reassess his fantasy of imperial revival.

“Peak fossil fuel demand will happen this decade,” Fatih Birol, FT, 09.12.23.

  • This year’s IEA’s World Energy Outlook, to be released next month, shows the world is on the cusp of a historic turning point. Based only on today’s policy settings by governments worldwide—even without any new climate policies—demand for each of the three fossil fuels is set to hit a peak in the coming years. This is the first time that a peak in demand is visible for each fuel this decade—earlier than many people anticipated.
  • These remarkable shifts will bring forward the peak in global greenhouse gas emissions. They are primarily driven by the spectacular growth of clean energy technologies such as solar panels and electric vehicles, the structural shifts in China’s economy and the ramifications of the global energy crisis.
    • Global demand for coal has remained stubbornly high for the past decade. But it is now set to peak in the next few years, with big investments drying up outside China as solar and wind dominate the expansion of electricity systems.
    • Our latest projections show that the growth of electric vehicles around the world, especially in China, means oil demand is on course to peak before 2030.
    • The “Golden Age of Gas”, which we called in 2011, is nearing an end, with demand in advanced economies set to fall away later this decade. This is the result of renewables increasingly outmatching gas for producing electricity, the rise of heat pumps and Europe’s accelerated shift away from gas following Russia’s invasion of
  • Peaks for the three fossil fuels are a welcome sight, showing that the shift to cleaner and more secure energy systems is speeding up and that efforts to avoid the worst effects of climate change are making headway. But there are some important issues to bear in mind.

Climate change:

“Why Russia is ambivalent about global warming,” The Economist, 09.19.23.

  • If Russia goes greener, it may not be in a way that Western environmentalists will like. It has a flourishing domestic nuclear industry, and a well-stocked foreign order book. Mr. Putin recently raised eyebrows with an attack on wind turbines over the harm they do to birds and, he said, worms. “They shake, causing worms to come out of the soil,” he said. “This is not a joke.” Instead, warmer temperatures tantalize with the prospect of easier access to natural-resource wealth, an expanded farm belt, a reduced winter heating bill, and tolls from the Northern Sea Route.
  • Yet those benefits are hardly certain. The number of ships taking the NSR remains a fraction of those taking more established paths, such as the Suez Canal; tapping its potential will require big investment. Though land in the north may become arable, it will be farther from the agricultural know-how, infrastructure and logistical base of traditional farming regions. Those established farmlands, meanwhile, will have to adjust the crops they plant and cope with ever more frequent droughts. “The bad will be there no matter what, while the good requires major efforts,” says Vladimir Kattsov, director of Russia’s Voeikov Geophysical Observatory.
  • Unstable weather patterns are already on the rise. In 2000 Russia’s weather service recorded 141 “severe weather phenomena”, which it defines as intense weather conditions—from heatwaves to heavy winds—that threaten human safety and can cause significant economic damage. Last year there were 580.
  • Frequent severe weather will trigger alarming consequences across Russia’s vast territory, its environment ministry warns. Modern-day infectious diseases will spread and ancient ones may return, as thawing permafrost exposes old burial sites. Arctic infrastructure will crumble as the ground becomes softer. … The floods that have devastated the Russian far east in recent years will become more common.

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:

“Russia’s regional elections: A prelude to Putin’s future,” Mikhail Komin, ECFR, 09.13.23.

  • The ruling United Russia party (UR) won 15 out of 16 party-list elections for regional parliaments and 19 out of 21 gubernatorial elections, with minimal real opposition, and almost all parliament party candidates openly supporting the war on Ukraine. These favorable results for the Kremlin were achieved through a mix of traditional and emerging manipulation techniques:
    • Increasing repression since the war has allowed the Kremlin to quash any remnants of real opposition.
    • Voting expanded from one day to three, complicating independent election observation and allowing more time for mobilizing “administratively dependent voters” –those who work for corporations or organizations dependent on the state.
    • Despite criticism, remote electronic voting (REV) –which is especially vulnerable to manipulation –expanded to 25 regions with President Vladimir Putin’s endorsement, especially in areas with expected challenges.
    • Key independent observer Golos faced challenges, including the arrest of its leader, Grigory Melkonyants, before the elections, and legislative changes further restricted observation opportunities.
    • The Kremlin also held ‘elections’ in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories, after pushing through a candidate list assembled by parliamentary parties.
  • These regional elections suggest that strong turnout and overwhelming support for Putin in the 2024 presidential election is highly likely, alongside a campaign that will emphasize his role in ‘defending Russian sovereignty’ amid Western pressure. To achieve this, REV will likely expand further, particularly in protest-prone regions. Sham election tactics like ‘extraterritorial polling stations’, extended voting periods, and intimidating independent observers may also be used to manufacture support from occupied territories, as seen in these elections.

“Russia’s Regional Elections Have Taught the Kremlin a Valuable Lesson,” Emily Ferris, MT, 09.13.23.

  • Russia has wrapped up its regional elections, held over a three-day period, for thousands of seats in regional councils and legislatures as well as the governorship of over 20 regions. But what made these elections particularly noteworthy was not the results themselves, but what the Kremlin might have learned from the process which it will take forward for the upcoming presidential elections in 2024.
  • Throughout these electoral processes, the Kremlin will have learned a number of lessons; that its war narratives need to be updated to reflect a shifting public opinion; that it cannot rely on patriotic ideology alone to secure votes, and that what matters most to Russian people is still that which preoccupies most people the world over—the reliable functioning of goods, services and infrastructure.

“Putin Is Betting On a New Class of Asset Owners to Shore Up His Regime,” Alexandra Prokopenko, Carnegie Endowment, 09.14.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • The first candidates for nationalization and subsequent redistribution to new owners were the Russian assets of companies from countries declared “unfriendly” by the Kremlin. Under a law passed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, foreign companies wishing to leave the Russian market have to sell their assets for half of their value, and also pay one-tenth of the sale proceeds to the state. But the process is constantly getting tougher, and any deal may be blocked by the Russian authorities.
  • Officially, the Russian authorities continue to insist that they welcome foreign investment. But foreign investors, regardless of where they are from, require predictable terms and conditions and guarantees that their rights of ownership will be upheld. The Kremlin can provide neither—and nor does it need to. Instead of foreign investors, it has “heroes of the special military operation,” young FSB officers and their associates, the many participants of the Leaders of Russia state management contest, the children of regional governors, and other managers. Anyone who is “one of us” can be given an asset or two for safekeeping, along with the chance to profit from it. Those people will owe their new position and wealth to Putin and his entourage, making them directly dependent on the Kremlin to preserve that new status and wealth. The calculation, therefore, is simple: when Putinism encounters a crisis, these new asset owners will come out to defend their property—and in doing so, save the regime.

"Putin’s Useful Priests. The Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin’s Hidden Influence Campaign in the West,” Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, FA, 09.15.23.

  • When Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, church leaders saw an opportunity to turn the country into a full-fledged fundamentalist regime in which Russian Orthodoxy would return to its historical role as an anchor for the Russian state. The embrace of this approach suggests that there will be ever-closer cooperation among the church, the military, and the intelligence services, with the result that the church will significantly enhance the Russian government’s disinformation campaigns abroad and efforts to infiltrate the West, particularly through its relations with the Russian émigré community.
  • The Russian government’s growing focus on traditional values, empire, and militarism has provided a dramatic boost to the Russian Orthodox Church and its affiliates abroad. This religious resurgence not only enhances the legitimacy and durability of the Putin regime; it also poses a growing security threat with which the West will have to contend.

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 deserves E.U. membership. It has work to do to make its case,” Editorial Board, WP, 09.15.23.

  • If Ukraine's dream of E.U. accession remains distant—the bloc would hardly admit a country at war—it is no longer a pipe dream. Nor should it be. Ukraine deserves E.U. membership, but it has work to do to make its case.
  • An array of complex problems would need to be ironed out in negotiations before Ukraine could join. For one thing, if admitted, it would be by far the poorest member (by per capita gross domestic product) and one of the biggest (by population), and therefore eligible for massive E.U. subsidies, especially for agriculture—beyond a war reconstruction bill that could hit $1 trillion. That would be a bitter pill for some other members competing for the same funds.
  • No player will be more important in advancing that goal [EU membership] than Ukraine itself.
    • That means, first and foremost, that President Volodymyr Zelensky demonstrate that he is more than the inspirational wartime leader by dint of his gift for astute domestic and international messaging.
    • He will also have to prove—to Ukrainians and to the outside world—that he has the managerial chops and determination to implant independent, trusted and enduring systems and public institutions. A signpost of progress in that regard would be a more aggressive campaign against the oligarch-tinged corruption for which Ukraine was notorious before Russia's full-scale invasion.
  • In the longer term, if corruption is left to fester, it will also diminish Ukraine's chances of gaining entry to the E.U. and, once the war is over, its hopes of membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Admission to those clubs would be a tangible symbol of Kyiv's aspiration of becoming a full-fledged Western country, unfettered by its Soviet past. That prospect was the very thing that triggered Mr. Putin's decision to unleash the bloodbath of Russia's invasion. It would be a tragedy for Ukrainians, and for the West, if misgovernment and malfeasance ended up subverting Ukraine's legitimate goals.

“Ukraine is not letting the war stop its anti-corruption efforts, Daria Kaleniuk, FT, 09.12.23.

  • A poll taken in June shows that nearly 34 per cent of Ukrainians consider government corruption to be a significant security threat in the coming months, against almost 24 per cent who mention the risk of Russia using nuclear weapons. Tolerance of corruption is falling now that it is rightly considered a danger to national security.
  • Recent corruption scandals in Ukraine should be seen as a sign that internal checks and balances are functioning well in a society that faces existential challenges. Such episodes should not be regarded as a reason for ceasing to assist Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression. On the contrary, by exposing and dealing with corruption in wartime, Ukraine shows its gratitude for the financial and military assistance it is receiving from the international community. Government officials who do not show such respect will lose their posts sooner or later under pressure from wider society.
  • Over the coming months, there will be efforts, backed and sometimes fomented by the Kremlin, to undermine Ukraine’s international reputation and to portray it as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. I fear that we could become a political football in the next American presidential election. But I also believe that most Americans support us in our struggle for fundamental democratic values against the Russian Goliath.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Azerbaijan: Brutality, Corruption, and yet a Thriving Oil Deal with the EU,” Drew Morrison, Jordan Center, 09.12.23.

  • President Aliyev’s continued tenure and the European Commission’s continued investment in his regime ensure that Azeri oil and its profits remain outside the control of Azerbaijan’s people.
  • If the European Commission does not offer more than lip service to correcting human rights abuses in the closing remarks of speeches lauding fresh deals, there is little incentive for Azerbaijan’s leadership to aim for a Democracy Status of higher than 1/100.


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.

Slider photo obtained from the website of Russia's United Russia party, in compliance with its content usage requirements