Russia Analytical Report, Sept. 12-19, 2022

5 Ideas to Explore

  1. How will Putin respond to the setbacks his military has suffered in eastern Ukraine? David Ignatius thinks Putin will have to either define victory downward or escalate, while experts interviewed by The Economist warn that these setbacks can increase the risk that the Russian leader will initiate use of nuclear weapons. As for Putin’s domestic front, the military setbacks will “galvanize warmongers, fueling their potential ... [to] become one of the most serious challenges to the regime,” according to Tatiana Stanovaya. Tony Barber’s latest column suggests he would concur with Stanovaya’s assessment, as would Andrei Pertsev.
  2. The Russian-Ukrainian war offers two lessons for conflicts in cyberspace, according to Ignatius. “Cyber defenses appear to work better than might have been expected, and ... cyber offense works worse,” he writes in his Sept. 15 WP column on a new book, "Cyber Persistence Theory: Redefining National Security in Cyberspace."
  3. Finland’s and Sweden’s ascent to NATO will profoundly alter regional security dynamics and impact Russia’s threat perception, contrary to Putin’s statements suggesting that these Nordic countries’ inclusion in NATO does not threaten Russia, according to a new CNAS report on Russia in the Artic. “Russia’s growing sense of vulnerability, along with reduced channels of communication with the West, is likely to lower the threshold of what the Kremlin responds to in the Arctic,” the report says.
  4. Any conflict with Russia will always be implicitly nuclear in nature, according to  Michael Kofman and Anya Loukianova Fink. “If it is not managed, then the logic of such a war is to escalate to nuclear use,” these two CNA scholars warn. Therefore, “the United States needs to develop its own strategy for escalation management, and a stronger comfort level with the realities of nuclear war,” they remind us in a revised and updated version of their June 2020 commentary for War on the Rocks.
  5. Putin will weaponize the upcoming winter, predicts Thomas Friedman, the latest Western columnist to do so. “Putin thinks he’s found a cold war that he can win. He’s going to try to literally freeze the European Union this winter by choking off supplies of Russian gas and oil,” Friedman explains in his Sept. 13 column. When doing so, he wisely manages to avoid cliched references to “General Winter” and “General Frost” while making a point beyond the coming winter: “The U.S. and its Western allies [need to] stop living in a green fantasy world that says we can go from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable energy by just flipping a switch.”


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

Nuclear security and safety:

“Security model: why an agreement on the Zaporizhzhia NPP is so necessary,” RIAC’s Andrei Kortunov, RIAC/, 09.17.22. Clues from Russian Views

  • “Efforts to ensure the safety and security1 of the Zaporizhzhia NPP occupy a special place in the set of significant ‘small steps.’ ... If, after all, it is possible to stop the shelling of the nuclear power plant, create a reliable security zone around the facility and ensure international monitoring of such a zone, then further success can be developed in several directions at once.”
  • “The security model worked out at the Zaporizhzhia NPP could then be used at three other operating Ukrainian NPPs.”
  • “The precedent would be of great value beyond the framework of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Creating reliable algorithms to counter this threat is a common task for the international community.”
  • “If a general agreement on a ceasefire is reached, an agreement on independent international monitoring of the perimeter of the Zaporizhzhia NPP could be used to practice monitoring the entire line of contact between Russian and Ukrainian armed forces.”

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Kim Jong Un Is Putin’s and Xi’s New Best Friend, Mike Chinoy of the University of Southern California, FP, 09.12.22.

  • “Pyongyang has abandoned any rapprochement with Washington.” 
  • “On Aug. 15, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a message to Putin to mark the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. Kim hailed what he described as the growing ‘strategic and tactical cooperation, support and solidarity’ between the two nations.”
  • “Two weeks earlier, on Aug. 1, as China celebrated the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, North Korean Defense Minister Ri Yong Gil had sent a message to his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe. According to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, ‘the message stressed that the Korean People’s Army would closely wage strategic and tactic coordinated operations with the [Chinese military].’”
    • “The language in both cases was striking. It marked the first time that Pyongyang had used the phrase ‘strategic and tactical’ (emphasis added) cooperation to describe its security relations with Moscow and Beijing. ‘We haven’t seen anything like this,’ noted one former American intelligence official with long experience following North Korea, who asked for anonymity given the sensitivity of their work. ‘I am afraid this is a forewarning of what may be coming.’”
    • “With Washington seeking to beef up its own alliances in Asia as relations with Moscow and Beijing deteriorate, it is hardly surprising that both countries would seek to enlist North Korea as an even more active strategic asset to challenge the American position in the Pacific. It may not yet be a new ‘axis of evil,’ but it is a worrisome trend in a volatile part of the world.”

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“The IMF must step up to help Ukraine,” FT’s Gillian Tett, FT, 09.16.22.

  • “‘Russia has answered Ukraine’s counter offensive by destroying civil infrastructure,’ Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal told the Financial Times on Thursday, noting that Russian missiles have knocked out electricity plants and seriously damaged the gigantic Kryvyi Rih dam.”
  • “This creates big humanitarian and military challenges. But it also invites a key economic question: can Kyiv contend with the immediate, spiraling financial costs of destruction without tipping into fiscal crisis and/or hyperinflation?”
    • “Since the invasion, Ukraine’s economy has shrunk by more than a third, inflation jumped above 20% — and an estimated $97 billion in infrastructure was destroyed, just by June.”
    • “This is alarming. But it could soon get worse. Shmyhal says the government currently has a $5 billion hole in its monthly budget since tax revenues have collapsed, while military spending has soared.”
  • “So what should the West do next to shore up Ukraine’s financial defenses? Probably the most important move would be to urge the IMF to provide meaningful support.”
    • “The fund has already implemented one structural adjustment program in Ukraine, in 2015... However, Kyiv is now asking the fund to offer a fully fledged program, ideally of at least $15 billion.”
  • “[A]ll eyes are now on what the U.S. and European governments do at next month’s IMF autumn meeting. There is much at stake—for both Kyiv and the West.”

“Why Is Russia Jeopardizing the Ukraine Grain Deal?,” Alexandra Prokopenko, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 09.16.22.

  • “Moscow’s withdrawal from the [U.N.-brokered grain] deal would deprive Ukraine of a major part of its hard-currency revenues, and will drive up global food prices and inflation in Europe. Russia’s losses, on the other hand, look set to be insignificant. The country has already lost its status as a reliable partner in the eyes of most countries, while any reduction in hard-currency revenues from selling grain would be inconsequential amid the enormous trade surplus it is currently seeing from soaring energy prices.”
  • “The benefits for Moscow of signing the grain deal were always modest. ... Russia’s threat to drop out of the grain deal is already having an effect. In the last few days, Putin has received phone calls from French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The grain issue is also likely to come up in bilateral meetings at the U.N. General Assembly in New York from Sept. 20.”
  • “If the deal collapses, it won’t just be a major blow for Ukraine, but for the EU too. It will lead to an increase in wheat prices, which will inevitably be reflected in inflation levels, which are already at a record high in the Eurozone: 9.1% year on year in August. Food prices are the second biggest factor driving European inflation after energy prices.”
  • “Putin, who is used to engaging in dialogue from a position of strength, finds he does not have so many ways of putting pressure on the West at his disposal. Threatening to torpedo the grain deal is one of his few remaining options.”

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“The Tide Has Already Turned in Ukraine’s Favor: Military analyst Jack Watling unpacks Kyiv’s lightning offensive against Russian forces,” FP’s Amy Mackinnon, FP, 09.14.22.

  • [FP:] “Set the scene for us: What has changed on the battlefield that has enabled Ukraine to launch this incredibly effective two-front offensive that we’ve seen over the past few days?”
    • “Watling: Once the Ukrainians managed to bring long-range rockets and artillery into theater and worked out the targeting, they were able to strike the ammunition and fire control headquarters for a lot of the Russian artillery, with the results that the Russians lost the ability to bring sustained mass fire to bear.”
    • “The Ukrainians publicly messaged the offensive against Kherson in the south. This caused the Russians to redeploy the VDV, their paratroopers, onto that axis. Because the Russians recognized that this was an axis where it was politically very important … And they also knew that it was on the west side of the Dnipro River and therefore very vulnerable. The Ukrainians recognize they can isolate that objective by knocking out the bridges, and therefore … they have pushed the Russians back up against the river and can now kill them in place with artillery.”
    • “[Around Izyum in eastern Ukraine,] the Ukrainians avoided any public comment to suggest that this axis was a priority. They then launched that offensive with the intent of severing the ground lines of communication to Izyum and then by achieving two effects, firstly surrounding or cutting off Russian forces, which would create a time pressure for the Russians to recover those troops. That part of the plan didn’t work.”
  • “FP: Do you think that if Russian President Vladimir Putin feels backed into a corner, we may see increasingly erratic behavior? Is the risk that they could resort to using a tactical nuclear weapon?”
    • “JW: The risk of tactical nuclear use has been there the whole time. I think it has been made very clear to the Russian government, the severity of the consequences of them doing that, and I don’t think that using a tactical nuclear weapon would actually get them out of the problem they’re in. It wouldn’t change the calculus for Ukrainians. … The density of forces means that the Ukrainians actually don’t present a very good military target for tactical nuclear use.”
  • “FP: Is it too soon to call this moment a turning of the tide?”
    • “JW: No, no, the turning of the tide was already in July. The Russians’ capacity to conduct offensive operations was crippled by the extensive range of long-range strikes by the Ukrainians against their logistics and command and control.”

Putin's Next Move in Ukraine. Mobilize, Retreat, or Something In-Between?” Liana Fix of the Körber Foundation and Michael Kimmage of the Catholic University of America, FA, 09.16.22.

  • “For both Ukraine and its Western allies, it would be preferable for Russia not to mobilize. A better outcome is for Putin to give up on the prospect of victory. But the means for influencing Putin’s choices are limited.”
    • “One is to maintain the status quo, in which the provision of weapons and intelligence have helped the Ukrainian military prosper.”
    • “In the best case, Putin would accept the tactical and strategic setbacks that began in early September not in apocalyptic terms but as the outcome of military choices that will define the scope and aims of eventual negotiations.”
  • “As they wait for Putin’s response to Ukraine’s successes, whatever it will be, the United States and Europe should keep providing Ukraine with the support it needs to stay in the fight and, most of all, to remain on the offensive. At the same time, Germany and France can use telephone diplomacy … to convey to Putin the futility of his war and of his attempts to undermine support for Ukraine by engineering energy crises in Europe and hunger crises globally. In case Putin escalates and resorts to nuclear threats, the West should not be intimidated.”
  • “Ukraine’s successes have opened a solid path to constructing a Ukraine too strong for Russia to attack in the future. That is a substantial achievement. The unresolved question is how Putin will attempt to manage Russia’s bleak position, with what military purpose and with what political message. To give up, he would have to reinvent himself politically. To mobilize he would have to reinvent the Russia he has been creating since coming to power in 2000, the Russia saved from the chaos of the 1990s, the Russia that was ushering in a stable, consumption-oriented middle class, the Russia in which a private life (far away from politics) was a pleasant pastime. By invading, Putin thought he would push Zelensky’s Ukraine into the abyss. He may in fact have done this to his own regime.”

“Kyiv’s troops turn the tables in north-east Ukraine,” Editorial Board, FT, 09.12.22.

  • “Ukraine’s advance sends important messages about the strengths and morale of the two armed forces. It shows Kyiv’s army has the capacity for intelligent planning, as well as flexibility, devolving more decision-making to lower levels. Moscow’s more hierarchical forces, where decisions are pushed up the line, struggle to handle events happening in multiple places at once.”
  • “Despite its far bigger population and overall armed forces, Moscow faces serious troubles over manpower and motivation. The forces it now has in eastern and southern Ukraine appear too thinly-spread to defend a 1,300 kilometer frontline. Ukraine has in effect mobilized its entire country to fight an existential war its forces cannot afford to lose. Russian soldiers are in a conflict foisted on them by the Kremlin that many would rather have nothing to do with. Reports from Kharkiv suggest many Russian troops fled as Ukrainians advanced, dumping their equipment.”
  • “Too much of the aid provided so far, moreover, has been based on what happened to be available. Supplies should be better tailored to Kyiv’s strategy.”
  • “The danger that [Putin] might seek to lash out or up the ante is one Western capitals must be alert to, and prepared for. But it should not deter them from continuing a support strategy to Ukraine that is showing signs of bearing fruit.”

“Russia faces defeat in Ukraine: Putin’s military strategy looks increasingly shaky,” Gideon Rachman interviews Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of war studies at King’s College London, FT, 09.15.22.

  • “LF: We’ve reached a position where the Russian options have narrowed enormously, and there’s all sorts of grim possibilities that might still await us. But by and large, I think this is very much the beginning of the end of the war. ... It could be over within a couple of months or it might not be over in a couple of months.”
  • GR: “How much do you think what’s happened in Russia, both at the sort of top political level and on the battlefield, is a failure of command?”
  • LF: “Oh, it’s a monumental failure of command. I mean, command is about decision-making and then getting your decisions implemented. These are Putin’s decisions, you know ... But there’s lots of questions to be asked about the more intermediate levels.”
    • “Why did they attack on so many axes to start with?”
    • “What happened to air power?”
    • “Why have they been so unable to coordinate artillery and infantry and armor?”
      • “So a lot of the failures that are now evident to failures in their command systems.”

“The Critical Moment Behind Ukraine’s Rapid Advance,” NYT’s Julian E. Barnes, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, NYT, 09.13.22.

  • “The [Ukrainian] counteroffensive—revised this summer from its original form after urgent discussions between senior U.S. and Ukrainian officials—has succeeded beyond most predictions.”
  • “The work began soon after President Volodymyr Zelensky … told his generals he wanted to make a dramatic move to demonstrate that his country could push back on the Russian invasion. Under his orders, the Ukrainian military devised a plan to launch a broad assault across the south to reclaim Kherson and cut off Mariupol from the Russian force in the east. The Ukrainian generals and American officials believed that such a large-scale attack would incur immense casualties and fail to quickly retake large amounts of territory.”
  • “One critical moment this summer came during a war game with U.S. and Ukrainian officials aimed at testing the success of a broad offensive across the south. The exercise, reported earlier by CNN, suggested such an offensive would fail. Armed with the American skepticism, Ukrainian military officials went back to Mr. Zelensky.”
  • “Instead of one large offensive, the Ukrainian military proposed two. One, in Kherson, would most likely take days or weeks before any dramatic results because of the concentration of Russian troops. The other was planned for near Kharkiv. … Together Britain, the United States and Ukraine conducted an assessment of the new plan, trying to war game it once more. This time officials from the three countries agreed it would work -- and give Mr. Zelensky what he wanted: a big, clear victory.”
  • “Before the counteroffensive, Ukraine's armed forces sent the United States a detailed list of weapons they needed to make the plan successful … The Kherson attack was never a feint or a diversion, according to people briefed on the plan. … While Ukraine may have an opportunity to recapture more territory in the east, U.S. and Ukrainian officials say the south is the most important theater of the war.”

“Threat Inflation, Russian Military Weakness and the Resulting Nuclear Paradox: Implications of the War in Ukraine for U.S. Military Spending,” Brown University’s Lyle J. Goldstein, Costs of War, 09.15.22.

  • “Not only has Russia failed to administer a knock-out blow to Ukraine, but its military forces have shown themselves to be significantly weaker and less disciplined than expected, giving the world myriad examples of military failure. The terrible destruction tragically wrought upon many Ukrainians does not constitute a victory for the Kremlin, but rather an embarrassment and humiliation for the Russian armed forces.”
  • “The image and reality of Russia’s military power is now much deflated. Inspired by the Ukrainian example, many of the states of Europe and around the world may grasp for new, defensive technologies and doctrines that enable them to more fully take responsibility for their own security. In turn, this may allow the U.S. to adopt a more cautious and less aggressive stance vis-à-vis other great powers—easing the ‘security dilemma’ and related escalation spirals that have been triggered recently by American fears associated with ‘great power competition.’”
  • “The easing of such security dilemmas, heading off related escalation and restraining interventionist impulses, should in turn allow for decreased U.S. defense spending. The U.S. has been and remains utterly secure from any notional Russian national security threat. The runaway Pentagon budget that has profited from recent global instability must be brought back under rational control and limitations based on the objective reality of Russian weakness.” 

Putting Ukrainian battle successes into cold, hard perspective,” Seth Harp of Rolling Stone, Responsible Statecraft, 09.19.22.

  • “The coming winter weather, which can be brutally cold and icy in Ukraine, is likely to slow troop movements, and perhaps bring them to a near halt (as would happen in Afghanistan every winter). In a more metaphorical sense, the conflict might already be frozen. Since about May, this has increasingly seemed to be the cold, hard reality, loathe as propagandists on both sides are to admit it.”

“‘We Fight How We Can’: Russian Views on Ukraine’s Counteroffensive—How It Happened and What Comes Next,” RM Staff, RM, 09.16.22. Clues from Russian Views

  • “After Russian forces suffered their worst setback in months—driven from key towns by Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region—much of the response in Russia’s pro-war camp this week fell into three categories: spin, spleen and silence.”
  • “The Kremlin mostly kept mum, minimizing Ukraine’s achievements even as Kyiv claimed it had liberated more than 2,000 square miles and vowed to press on with offensives not only in the east but in the south.”
  • “Russian diplomats took nearly all week to come out with comments, ultimately accusing the U.S. of prolonging the conflict through its support for Kyiv. In contrast, Russian and pro-Russian officials close to the fighting—mostly from the fringes of Moscow’s domain—criticized Russia’s military, as did jingoistic Russian war bloggers. This camp hardly saw Ukraine’s counteroffensive as a coup de grace but cautioned that Russia had to learn lessons from the setback, with some particularly shrill voices calling for overhauls in strategy, censure for commanders, general mobilization and even nuclear strikes.”
  • “Other relatively pro-Kremlin military experts were more cautious in pointing out the army’s mistakes, while propagandists on state TV spent a few days grasping for explanations until finally settling on a tried and tested approach of the past decade: blaming the West. Finally, liberal-leaning analysts and activists spoke of systemic problems in the Russian military but did not see Kyiv’s recent success as ‘decisive.’”

Punitive measures related to Ukraine and their impact globally:

See section “Energy exports from CIS”

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“Russia at a crossroads after Ukrainian offensives,” Marcus Stanley of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Responsible Statecraft, 09.19.22.

  • “Unless and until a settlement is made, Russia will retain the capacity to play spoiler in Ukraine and effectively prevent any economic reconstruction of the country—as illustrated by its recent infrastructure strikes. An intensified war, even one which Russia is losing, will mean continuing destruction and a spreading zone of chaos. As Washington commenters are already suggesting, this is an opportune moment to open the door to diplomacy.”

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

“How Ukraine's offensive changes the equation for Putin and Zelensky,” WP’s David Ignatius, WP, 09.12.22.

  • “Putin's problem now is that all those television watchers in Moscow and St. Petersburg can see that the Russian leader's non-war is a total mess. His strongest backers on the Telegram channel, and even some commentators on state television, are saying that Russian forces have suffered a severe defeat. The finger-pointing has begun in earnest, and the daggers are out for Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia's chief of staff, and Sergei Shoigu, the defense minister. But not yet for Putin, and probably not ever.”
  • “How does Putin respond? That's the question that will keep people up late this week at the CIA and the National Security Council.”
    • “Putin could define victory downward. He could say his special military operation was never about Kherson and Kharkiv.”
    • “Or Putin could respond angrily, by escalating his attacks against Ukraine and even its Western allies.”
  • “The Biden administration has consistently stressed three points about this war. It is committed to support Ukraine with the weapons it needs to defend itself; it doesn't want a war with Russia; and it believes that, eventually, this conflict must be settled by diplomacy. All three goals should come into sharper focus after Ukraine's successful offensive.”
  • “We can only salute Ukraine's heroism and hope for more victories and, when the time is right, an honorable end to this dreadful war.”

“The West Holds Firm. Why Support for Ukraine Will Withstand Russian Pressure,” Ivo H. Daalder of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and CFR’s James M. Lindsay, FA, 09.15.22.

  • “The pressure on Western unity is real. The euphoria and determination that marked the initial strong reaction to Russia’s invasion was always bound to be tested. Both within and between countries, squabbles over who should bear the burden of making Russia pay for its aggression were inevitable.”
  • “Despite such handwringing, or perhaps because of it, the collapse of Western resolve remains unlikely, even if Ukraine’s current counteroffensive stalls.”
  • “Putin has two main levers to divide the West: energy, especially natural gas exports to Europe, and disinformation, including interfering in foreign political campaigns.”
  • “Putin is hardly alone in believing that Western unity is temporary and cannot last. Many skeptics in the West believe democracies will buckle in the face of hardship. But such voices underestimate the West’s staying power.”
  • “Today, Russia is the most sanctioned country on earth. Military support to Ukraine has given Kyiv a real edge in the war—perhaps a decisive one. Europe is fully committed to denying Russia its energy weapon by weaning itself off from Russian fossil fuel exports.  None of this will change because winter is coming. Eventually, winter will end, and Putin’s leverage will be exhausted. Large majorities in Europe and North America understand that their security and freedom depend on Ukraine remaining free, independent, and part of the West. Those are the true stakes of this war. And it is why the West will stand firm.”

“Vladimir Putin’s war is failing. The West should help it fail faster,” The Economist, 09.15.22.

  • “Ukraine has shown that it can use Western weapons to regain territory; the West should send better ones, such as longer-range ATACMS munitions for the HIMARS launchers that have proved so effective, which it previously hesitated to supply. To avoid escalation, advanced NATO weapons should not be fired into Russia; Ukraine will surely comply rather than alienate its arms supplier. It will also need a reliable flow of ammunition for future offensives and armored vehicles to move forces fast. The West should also consider what Ukraine might need next year—and vastly expand the scale of training for Ukrainian troops abroad.”

“Which NATO Do We Need? Four possible futures for the trans-Atlantic alliance,” Harvard’s Stephen M. Walt, FP, 09.14.22.

  • “It is worth asking what form the trans-Atlantic partnership should take in the future. … I can think of at least four distinct models going forward.”
    • “Model 1: Business as Usual”
    • “Model 2: Democracy International”
    • “Model 3: Going Global vs. China”
    • “Model 4: A New Division of Labor: the optimal future model for the trans-Atlantic partnership is a new division of labor, with Europe taking primary responsibility for its own security and the United States devoting much greater attention to the Indo-Pacific region.”

“Russia in the Arctic: Gauging How Russia's Invasion of Ukraine Will Alter Regional Dynamics,” Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Jim Townsend, Nicholas Lokker, Heli Hautala and Col. James Frey, CNAS, 09.15.22.

  • “Given the high degree of uncertainty about the trajectory of the war in Ukraine and its effect on Russia, it is impossible to confidently project a single future for Russia’s Arctic policy. CNAS researchers, therefore, identified four drivers that are most likely to shape Russia’s approach to the Arctic: Russia’s perception of the Western threat, the impact of Western sanctions, China’s role in the Arctic and whether Putin remains in power. Using different permutations of those drivers, the authors developed three scenarios for how the future Russian approach to the Arctic could evolve looking out to 2025.”
    • “Scenario One: Isolated Russia.”
    • “Scenario Two: Russia-China Entente.”
    • “Scenario Three: Post-Putin Russia.”
  • “Key Takeaways”
    • “Contrary to Putin’s statements suggesting that Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership do not pose a threat to Russia, their entry into the alliance will profoundly alter regional security dynamics, Moscow’s relations with each country, and ultimately Russia’s threat perception in the region.”
    • “The Kremlin’s sense of security is most likely to be affected by the movement of any NATO infrastructure into Finland and Sweden, the increased size and complexity of NATO exercises in the region, the gathering of air forces on the Scandinavian peninsula, cross-border air exercises, enhanced intelligence collection, and the changed dynamics in the Baltic Sea, which will now be surrounded by NATO member states. This sense of Russian insecurity could increase the chance of miscalculation and escalation.”
    • “Russia’s war in Ukraine and the weakening of its conventional forces will likely drive the Russian political and military leadership to see an increase in the utility of nuclear weapons in managing escalation and conflict, increasing the importance of the Kola Peninsula.”
    • “Russia’s growing sense of vulnerability, along with reduced channels of communication with the West, is likely to lower the threshold of what the Kremlin responds to in the Arctic and is likely to increase the unpredictability of Russia’s actions there. Putin is also likely to view the Arctic as a venue for demonstrating that Russia is still a power to be feared, raising the risk of Russian provocations and miscalculation/escalation in the Arctic.”

“Some Assembly Required. Why the UN’s Broadest Forum Matters More Than Ever,” Suzanne Nossel of PEN America and Leslie Vinjamuri of Chatham House, FA, 09.19.22.

  • “The 77th High Level session of the U.N. General Assembly is the first time the gathering of global leaders has been fully in person since the pandemic began.”
  • “With Europe fast weaning itself off Russian energy and the West trying to wall itself off from intrusive Chinese technologies, the bright promise of global interdependence has dimmed into a hard-headed, selective, and wary approach to international engagement. And yet, pandemics, climate shocks, and economic tremors cross borders with abandon, thwarting efforts at retreat and isolation. In a world increasingly devoid of agreed rules, it is notable that the United States, Russia and China all profess deference to the U.N. and claim to want to see the U.N. system triumph. That in itself represents an essential opportunity to surmount competition and sustain cooperation.”
  • “That the U.N. can be seen as both the seat of the liberal internationalist order or, in Putin’s conception, as a set of universal rules operating to constrain Western prerogatives, is a reminder of the scale of the challenge. Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., used to say that if the U.N. did not exist, the world would have to invent it. The U.N. does exist, but both the institution and the world it serves demand reinvention. This year’s General Assembly meeting has the opportunity to distinguish itself as the moment when that transformation began in earnest.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Putin, Xi and the limits of friendship,” FT’s Gideon Rachman, FT, 09.19.22.

  • “Sentiment in the global south is shifting. At the Samarkand summit, Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, publicly chided Putin, telling him that ‘today’s era is not of war.’ The Russian leader was reduced to promising that: ‘We will do our best to stop this as soon as possible.’ At the U.N. General Assembly last week, India joined 100 other countries in voting to allow Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, to give a virtual address. Just six countries joined Russia in opposing the speech. China abstained.”
  • “At home and abroad, Xi likes to stress his desire for stability. But the war has stoked instability across Eurasia. Azerbaijan has just attacked Armenia, which is an ally of Russia. Fighting has also broken out between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.”
  • “A seriously weakened and embarrassed Russia is already a much less useful partner for China. And the results of the war are still unfolding. The ultimate nightmare for Beijing would be if Putin were to fall and to be replaced by a pro-western government—which is improbable, but not impossible. Of course, a weakened Russia also brings some benefits for China. Moscow is now increasingly economically dependent on Beijing. Putin recently made a grim reference to the hard bargain China drives in commercial negotiations.”
  • “The reality is that Russia and China have formed an informal alliance because their world views have a lot in common. It is implausible that one of them would peel off and decide to align with America. America is the problem that they are trying to solve.”
  • “With Putin now looking more like Nicholas II than Peter the Great, Xi must regret embracing his Russian counterpart so wholeheartedly.”

Nuclear arms:

“Escalation Management and Nuclear Employment in Russian Military Strategy,” CNA’s Michael Kofman and Anya Loukianova Fink, War on the Rocks,

  • “One of the misperceptions about Russian nuclear strategy is that it takes advantage of lower-yield nuclear weapons that the United States does not have. This appears nowhere in Russian military writings or deliberations. There has never been a theory suggesting that asymmetry in yields presents a special escalation dilemma for the United States. … Lower-yield weapons make Russia’s escalation management strategy more viable in practice, especially when considering that in a theater wide conflict they might be used in Eastern Europe or near Russia’s borders.”
  • “For the United States, attaining greater force flexibility and developing the ability to respond in kind with a limited number of low-yield nuclear weapons makes sense, but it also reduces Russia’s risk of uncontrolled nuclear escalation. This results in a schizophrenic nuclear posture … One of our findings is that Russian strategy has not been based on the premise that the United States is hamstrung by an asymmetry of yields. The U.S. escalation dilemma stems from its having much lower interests at stake, and its extending deterrence to distant allies, which cannot be resolved by strapping a low-yield warhead onto a submarine-launched ballistic missile.”
  • “Russia’s political leadership shows a strong interest and involvement in nuclear strategy, regularly attends military exercises that simulate nuclear use and is conversant on the questions of nuclear policy. It would be wrong to dismiss Russian military thinking on this subject as general staff or military scientist machinations holding debates in the proverbial wilderness.”
  • “The challenge posed by Russian nuclear strategy is not just a capability gap, but a cognitive gap. The Russian military establishment has spent decades thinking and arguing about escalation management, the role of conventional and nuclear weapons, targeting, damage, etc. In the United States, precious little attention has been paid to the question of escalation management, which is overshadowed by planning for warfighting.”
  • “Any conflict with Russia will always be implicitly nuclear in nature. If it is not managed, then the logic of such a war is to escalate to nuclear use. The United States needs to develop its own strategy for escalation management, and a stronger comfort level with the realities of nuclear war.”

"Do Russia’s military setbacks increase the risk of nuclear conflict?”, The Economist, 09.14.22.

  • “The spectacular collapse of Vladimir Putin’s army in Kharkiv province has revived concerns that Russia might resort to nuclear weapons. ‘I fear that they will strike back now in really unpredictable ways,’ warned Rose Gottemoeller, a former deputy secretary-general of NATO, ‘and ways that may even involve weapons of mass destruction.’”
  • “The fear is less that Russia would use them for battlefield gain than as instruments of coercion. Christopher Chivvis, who served as America’s top intelligence official for Europe between 2018 and 2021, says that in various war games held after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 the Western experts and military officers playing Russia sometimes chose to conduct nuclear tests or a high-altitude detonation of the sort which interferes with communications over a wide area. ‘Think of an explosion that makes the lights go out over Oslo,’ he says. Ms. Gottemoeller points to the possibility of a single strike over the Black Sea or on a Ukrainian military facility. ‘The goal,’ she suggested, ‘would be to get the Ukrainians, in their terror, to capitulate.’”
  • “It would be hard to square this with Russia’s stated policy. In recent years it has raised the threshold of nuclear use, from ‘situations critical for the national security of the Russian Federation’ (in 2000) to something more stringent: ‘aggression…involving the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is under threat’ (in 2014).” 
  • “Much of this is simply unknowable. Arguments over whether Russia would or would not resort to nuclear use have acquired a theological flavor in recent months. One faction argues that the dangers are so great that the West must coax Ukraine’s government into negotiations before things get out of control. Another retorts that the exaggeration of nuclear risks plays into Mr. Putin’s hands, deterring the West from sending its most advanced weapons and constraining Ukraine from liberating all of its territory. In truth, the only person in a position to know with any certainty is Mr. Putin himself.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

“Will deterrence have a role in the cyberspace 'forever war'?” WP’s David Ignatius, WP, 09.15.22./

  • “Times have changed, argues the new book ‘Cyber Persistence Theory: Redefining National Security in Cyberspace.’ Its three authors have all worked closely on cyber strategy for the Pentagon: Michael P. Fischerkeller as a cyber expert with the Institute for Defense Analyses; Emily O. Goldman as a strategist at U.S. Cyber Command; and Richard J. Harknett as a cyber expert at the University of Cincinnati and the first scholar-in-residence at Cyber Command.”
  • “To sum up the authors' arguments: Cyberweapons fundamentally change the nature of warfare. Borders don't matter much to digital code. And cyberwar is a continuum (and always happening at a low level), rather than an on-off switch. It's a new domain, with new rules. ‘Cyberspace must be understood primarily as an environment of exploitation rather than coercion,’ the authors write. ‘Achieving strategic gains in the cyber strategic environment does not require concession of the opponent.’ In other words, much of what we think we know about war doesn't apply in this domain.”
  • “Two lessons of the Ukraine war is that cyber defenses appear to work better than might have been expected, and that cyber offense works worse. That's one explanation for Ukraine's amazing resilience against the Russian onslaught.”
  • “The authors offer some suggestions for this new domain: Strategists should have rules for continuous engagement, rather than plan for contingencies; they should prepare for continuous operations not ‘episodic’ ones, and they should seek ‘cumulative’ gains, rather than final victory. As the authors wrote in a recent article in the National Interest: ‘Because of the fluidity of digital technology, security rests on seizing and sustaining the initiative.’”
  • “Cyberspace might prove to be the ultimate version of forever war. But if these strategists are right, it could be less dangerous, and ultimately more stable, than the convulsive explosions we've known as war for millennia.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Putin Will Make People Choose Between Heating and Eating This Winter,” NYT’s Thomas L. Friedman, NYT, 09.13.22.

  • “Putin thinks he’s found a cold war that he can win. He’s going to try to literally freeze the European Union this winter by choking off supplies of Russian gas and oil to pressure the EU into abandoning Ukraine.”
  • “Putin's Kremlin predecessors used frigid winters to defeat Napoleon and Hitler, and Putin clearly thinks it's his ace in the hole to defeat Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who told his people last week, '’Russia is doing everything in 90 days of this winter to break the resistance of Ukraine, the resistance of Europe and the resistance of the world.'”
  • “The U.S. and its Western allies [need to] stop living in a green fantasy world that says we can go from dirty fossil fuels to clean renewable energy by just flipping a switch.”
  • “Despite all the wind and solar investments in the past five years, fossil fuels—oil, gas and coal—still accounted for 82% of total world primary energy use in 2021. In America alone in 2021, about 61% of electricity generation was from fossil fuels (primarily coal and natural gas) while about 19% was from nuclear energy and about 20% was from renewable energy sources. … We have a long transition ahead, and we will make it only if we urgently embrace smart, pragmatic thinking on energy policy, which in turn will lead to greater climate security and economic security. Otherwise, Putin can still hurt Ukraine and the West badly.”
  • “U.S. energy policy today has to be the arsenal of democracy to defeat petro-Putinism in Europe, by providing desperately needed oil and gas to our allies at reasonable prices so that Putin cannot blackmail them. It has to be the engine of economic growth that provides the cleanest and most affordable fossil fuel energy as we transition to a low-carbon economy. And it has to be the vanguard for scaling renewables to get the world to that low-carbon future as fast as we can. Any policy that doesn't maximize all three will leave us less healthy, less prosperous and less secure.”

“Moscow’s Gas Freeze Shows EU-Russian Trade Is Doomed,” Oleg Korenok of Virginia Commonwealth University and Swapnil Singh of the Bank of Lithuania, FP, 09.13.22.

  • “Why would Russia self-sanction ahead of EU sanctions? There are two factors that can help us understand Russia’s behavior.”
    • “The first is the EU’s commitment to a future without Russian energy.”
    • “The second factor is Russia’s desire to break the unity of the EU’s response to the invasion.”
  • “So, what can the EU do? In our view, any EU strategy and its execution must satisfy two objectives: reducing the cost imposed by the energy crisis and avoiding incentivizing Russia to throw another temper tantrum in the future. The following three-pronged approach would accomplish that. Although some aspects have been implemented, albeit haphazardly, others have so far only been considered.”
    • “First, reduce misallocation of energy across EU users and increase the efficiency of its usage.”
    • “Second, redistribute the higher energy cost across households in a progressive manner.”
    • “Finally, prepare the public for the costs—especially as winter draws near.”

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Predictions of Putin’s Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated: The Russian autocrat’s end has been predicted, wrongly, for two decades,” Mark Lawrence Schrad of Villanova University, FP, 09.13.22.

  • “The end-of-Putin genre is nothing new and includes (ultimately false) prognostications by all manner of respected journalists, academics, Russian opposition politicians, and even Western leaders. The predictions of Putin’s imminent demise have been around for almost the entirety of his rule.”
  • “[It was] Putin’s escalation into a full-scale war of aggression in Ukraine this February unleashed an absolute tidal wave of end-of-Putin prognostications... Add to that a telling flurry of claims that Putin was sick or dying—not based on any actual intelligence but long-distance diagnosis-by-photo. This was the ultimate form of punditry as karmic hope: a wish that the universe itself was punishing the Russian leader for his sins.”
  • “So it is not at all surprising that—as news of the haphazard retreat of Russian forces from the Kharkiv front pours in—we’re seeing ever more installments in the end-of-Putin literature. Foremost among them is a recent piece in the Atlantic by the acclaimed journalist and historian Anne Applebaum: ‘It’s Time to Prepare for a Ukrainian Victory.’”
  • “Is this [the war in Ukraine] the thing that truly, finally dooms Putin? Only time will tell. But 20 years’ worth of Putin outliving his supposed demise should give us pause. He has survived economic depression, international isolation, mismanagement of a deadly pandemic, botched terrorist responses and an intelligence fiasco that led Russia into a bungled war—and he’s still here.”

“Kharkiv Retreat: What Will Military Losses Mean for Russia’s Domestic Politics?” Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Endowment, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 09.19.22.

  • “Two parallel realms have emerged. In the first, the official one, the realm of ‘peace,’ … everything is going splendidly in Russia, all goals will be achieved on the front lines and the West is doomed. In the second, the realm of ‘war,’ thousands are dead and wounded, there are victories and defeats and the struggle is for life or death. There is now a chasm between those who see a holy war with nowhere to retreat lest Moscow fall, and those who only recognize a ‘special military operation’ with unclear objectives and uncertain time frames.”
  • “With time... the realms have grown further and further apart. Recent polls showed that Russians have gradually become tired of news about the war and even irritated by those who use the war for political dividends. The Kremlin has realized that it may be dangerous to push the military agenda too far, and is betting instead on making a bigger show of ‘peaceful life.’”
  • “The … realms might have coexisted for a long time, were it not for the devastating retreat from Kharkiv.”
  • “At the root of this divide is Putin’s peculiar attitude toward Ukraine. In his eyes, Russia was never supposed to defeat the Ukrainian army on the battlefield, or wage a lengthy campaign. Putin’s reluctance to mobilize, his readiness to retreat and his talk that there is no need to rush betray his conviction that Ukraine is historically doomed without full-scale battles: with time, he believes, the country will be exhausted, with the West withdrawing its military help and the elites accepting capitulation. It appears he also miscalculated Ukraine’s readiness to counterattack.”
  • “[T]he Kremlin is trying to push the military agenda to the periphery and cultivate a sense of normalcy. This will only further widen the gap between the [realms] … Military failures will, in turn, galvanize the warmongers, fueling their potential as the opposition. A pro-war opposition could become one of the most serious challenges to the regime since that of destroying the non-systemic opposition.”

“Kremlin Must Placate Its Supporters Amid Outrage Over Kharkiv Retreat,” Andrei Pertsev of the Carnegie Endowment, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace/MT, 09.14.22.

  • “The fervent supporters of the war know exactly what they want—a ‘real,’ all-out war and the capitulation of Ukraine—and are determined to go further, despite the mounting difficulties. What ordinary Russians want above all, meanwhile, is not to have to fight, and no amount of propaganda and imperialist rhetoric is likely to change that.”
  • “The Kremlin can’t just ignore its most zealous supporters, of course: their discontent might spread to other, less radical Russians who support the war but have a less sober view of the state of the Russian army, and who genuinely believe that Russia hasn’t really started fighting. Then the Putin majority will start to unravel.”
  • “For this reason, the president will most likely try to meet some of the radicals’ demands and declare a partial mobilization, or replace the Defense Ministry leadership or start resorting to even more inhumane methods of waging war. The recent shelling of Ukrainian electrical power plants and other critical infrastructure can be considered the start of that. There will also be siloviki, or security service officials, who promise to get results in no time at all, as Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has already tried to do. The Kremlin, however, will try to avoid alienating the loyal majority that does not want to fight on any terms. Or, at the very least, it will put off doing so until the course of the war leaves it with no choice.”

“The Russian nationalist pressure on Putin,” FT’s Tony Barber, FT, 09.17.22.

  • “From a western point of view, the bitter truth is that liberals are a minority in Russia. Grigory Yudin, an eminent Russian political scientist, estimates that antiwar dissenters—not all of whom are liberals, anyway—account for about 20 to 25% of public opinion. Their influence is limited.”
  • “By contrast, the hawks’ outrage at Russia’s retreat in northeastern Ukraine is loud and fierce. … Nationalist attacks on Putin’s conduct of the war point to one of his main vulnerabilities—the myth, cultivated year by year after he came to power in 2000, of his almost superhuman invincibility.”
  • “The all-important question is the extent to which the hawks have connections and influence with the security and military officials who are, in the last resort, the people who keep Putin in power.”

“Ukraine’s counter-offensive has left Putin encircled at home,” Ivan Krastev of the Center for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, FT, 09.17.22.

  • “Predicting what happens in Moscow after Russian troops have been humiliated in Ukraine is not easy. But it is safe to say that while Putin is not in danger of losing power, he has lost his room for maneuver. The Kremlin fears that mass mobilization could reveal the internal weakness of the regime. It could also expose the selfishness of Russian elites.”
  • “Putin has resisted any effort at mass mobilization for the same reason that he was reluctant to impose mandatory vaccination during the Covid pandemic: the fear that such a move would expose his lack of control.”
  • “This is the cardinal difference between democracy and autocracy: even weak democratic governments are able to preserve their legitimacy, whereas the legitimacy of the autocrat depends on how strong the public perceives them to be. And contrary to the claims of Kremlin propaganda, while most Russians are ready to cheer on their army, they are much less enthusiastic about joining up.”
  • “The only option left to Putin, if he resists a mass call-up, is to plunge Ukraine further into darkness. In the short-term, therefore, Kyiv’s counter-offensive is likely to mean escalation rather than ceasefire.”

“How Conservative Are Russians? Findings from the 2021 LegitRuss Survey,” Henry Hale of The George Washington University, PONARS, 09.12.22.

  • “Beginning in 2011-12, the Kremlin and the media it controls embarked on what analysts have widely called ‘the Conservative Turn.’”
  • “To what extent do people actually share such [conservative] values? The LegitRusssurvey was designed, in part, to find some answers.”
  • “Conducted by the Russian agency VTsIOM, the survey interviewed a total of 5,100 people, which includes a nationally representative sample of 1,500 plus oversamples of 600 respondents each in 6 regions of Russia [in 2021].” 
  • “While parts of the Russian state and many of its supporters have strongly pushed conservative values since the 2011-12 Conservative Turn, the LegitRuss study shows that such an approach has the potential to appeal only to about half of the population.”

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  • “The LegitRuss survey found that some 67% of the population approved of Putin, a significantly larger share of the population than the share holding most of the conservative values considered in the same poll. It is likely partly for this reason that Putin personally has, as the study mentioned above found, avoided the most intolerant, inflammatory rhetoric on conservative issues; this is left to the media, United Russia Party representatives and others close to the regime. If the Kremlin attempts to further push such values as state ideology, therefore, this is likely to be a sign of regime weakness rather than strength.”

“The shift to ‘centralized corruption’ and  the effectiveness of the Russian bureaucracy,” Andrei Yakovlev, Russia.Post, 09.16.22.

  • “My analysis of public procurement data in the 2010s didn’t reveal high levels of corruption in low-level contracts between ordinary government customers and small and medium-sized suppliers. This doesn’t change the fact that the biggest contracts are very often landed by people with connections. And since there is still a very high concentration of large government orders in the hands of a small number of the largest suppliers, the total losses from corruption in the economy have changed little. Nevertheless, it can be argued that at the lower levels of ‘ordinary public entities,’ the existing system of procurement generally works, despite its rigidity and excessive regulation.”
    • “One indirect confirmation: According to surveys of suppliers for government orders in Russia, Kazakhstan and Slovakia conducted in 2020 under a common methodology, the effectiveness of Russia’s procurement regulation was rated higher than the other two countries.”
  • “There is obviously a high level of corruption in Russia, but now it is primarily political corruption at the highest level. On the lower and middle levels, in my view, it has decreased in recent years, and the bureaucracy has become more effective. And that can help to explain the current relative stability of the Russian economy in the conditions of war.”

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:

“Vladimir Putin’s catalogue of miscalculations,” Editorial Board, FT, 09.17.22.

  • “On the way to the [SCO] summit, President Xi had taken the unusual step of offering support to Kazakhstan’s president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in defending his country’s sovereignty and integrity should it face ‘interference of any forces.’ Since the most likely source of interference would be Moscow—northern Kazakhstan has a large Russian population—the words seemed a veiled warning to Putin.”
  • “A day after Putin’s exchange with Xi, India’s Narendra Modi also publicly criticized the Ukraine invasion for the first time, telling the Russian leader at the same summit that now was ‘not an era of war.’ Modi added that he had ‘spoken to you on the phone about this.’ The Indian premier’s comments added to the sense that, after Russia’s military setbacks, a spell had been broken.”
  • “The realization of the extent of Putin’s miscalculations is reason for Western democracies to take heart, but also for wariness. A cornered leader can be a dangerous one. If Putin does find himself facing a broader rout in Ukraine, his cascade of miscalculations to date provides little confidence that his subsequent decisions will be wise.”

“From the Non-West to the Global Majority: Russia Is Leaving Euroatlantic Civilization,” Sergei Karaganov, Russia in Global Affairs, September/October 2022. Clues from Russian Views

  • “A battle is unfolding for the future of Russia as a sovereign state and a unique civilization. Russia is moving away from the Euro-Atlantic civilization in its modern form... The main reason behind the explosion of the global system ... is the rise of what we call the non-West ... it would be more accurate to call this set of states and peoples the Global Majority per ...  the wording gifted to me by Fyodor Lukyanov.”
  • “The cultural distancing [of Russia from the West is under way]. … Theoretically, in the future we can expect a relative normalization of relations [with the West] if nationally oriented elites come to power and recognize Russia's national interests.”
  • “Much in future policy regarding Ukraine will be determined by the outcome of the special military operation, the final goals of which have yet to be determined.”
    • “‘Denazification’ would be possible only with the complete occupation of the territory of present-day Ukraine.”
    • “Complete demilitarization, and the neutral status of the Ukrainian state, the liberation and restoration of the East and South-East are realizable. … An attempt to liberate all or most of the territory of present-day Ukraine … will require long-term mobilization, a sharp rise in the cost of the campaign, even greater human losses.”
  • “After the liberation of most of the eastern and southern territories of Ukraine, it is permissible to start talking about a truce.”
  • “Russia needs to achieve a number of goals:”
    • “First, the final nationalization of the Russian elites, the exclusion of comprador and pro-Western elements and sentiments.”
    • “Secondly, the country, citizens, business should be ready for 10 to 20 years of life and development in the conditions of growing international chaos, rupture of habitual ties, economic, informational and human deglobalization.”
    • “The third and most important task is to ensure the maximum possible self-sufficiency of the Russian economy.”
    • “And finally, the fourth. The intellectual community should carry out systematic work on the sovereignization of society, the elite, itself, on gaining independence of consciousness.”

“Ostracized by the West, Russia Finds a Partner in Saudi Arabia,” NYT’s Clifford Krauss, NYT, 09.14.22.

  • “As Russia massed troops on its border with Ukraine and invaded the country at the start of the year, Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Company quietly invested more than $600 million in Russia’s three dominant energy companies.”
  • “Then, over the summer, as the United States, Canada and several European countries cut oil imports from Russia, Saudi Arabia doubled the amount of fuel oil it was buying from Russia for its power plants, freeing up its own crude for export.”
  • “And, this month, Russia and Saudi Arabia steered the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allied producers to reduce output targets in an effort to prop up global oil prices, which were falling, a decision that should increase the oil profits of both nations.”
    • “Taken together, the moves represent a distinct Saudi tilt toward Moscow and away from the United States, which it has typically aligned itself with. The Saudi position falls short of an outright political alliance between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, but the two leaders have established an arrangement that benefits both sides.”
  • “‘I think M.B.S. wants to play in the big leagues, and whatever gives him that opportunity, he’ll be opportunistic about it,’ said Robert W. Jordan, who was the ambassador to Saudi Arabia in the George W. Bush administration. ‘If there is a way to help Putin, fine, and, incidentally, it doesn’t hurt that he is able to show that he is independent of American influence.’”


“The World Now Has a Vision of Ukrainian Victory,” Nataliya Gumenyuk, NYT, 09.16.22.

  • “A striking counteroffensive that liberated, according to the government, around 150,000 people, it has altered the shape of the nearly-seven-month conflict, delivering to Ukrainians a renewed sense of hope and a body blow to Russia. It has not delivered ultimate victory, of course. But the significance cannot be denied.”
  • “This wreckage of defeat puts paid to the notion of Russian military excellence.”
  • “Discussion of negotiations and a deal—despite Vladimir Putin giving not the slightest sign he would play along—will surely now subside, in favor of renewed support.”
  • “The counteroffensive showed that the Ukrainian army is capable not just of defense but also of attack.”
  • “Meanwhile, the hail of Russian missile attacks ensures we can never forget we remain at war.”

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Defending Armenia from Turkic Aggression,” David L. Phillips of Columbia University, NI, 09.15.22.

  • “Turkey and Azerbaijan have once again launched an unprovoked attack against Armenia. The New York Times noted, ‘For the first time in 30 years of a largely frozen conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding districts, Azerbaijan attacked Armenian air defense and artillery systems based inside Armenia.’ Heavy fire was reported inside Armenia, targeting civilian homes and infrastructure, despite Turkish and Azerbaijani denials and attempts to shift blame.”
  • “This kind of behavior is not new for Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, who has launched cross-border operations to establish a zone of Turkish influence in former Ottoman territories. Erdogan has pursued a neo-Ottoman agenda by targeting Kurds in Syria and Iraq, deploying troops to Libya and the eastern Mediterranean, and using Azerbaijan as a proxy for the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
  • “Azerbaijan must pay a price for attacking a sovereign state in violation of international law. The Biden administration can get Aliyev’s attention by rescinding its waiver of Section 907 [of the FREEDOM Support Act of 1992]. Bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues condemns Azerbaijan’s unprovoked attacks on Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and calls for an ‘immediate and unconditional ceasefire.’ It also requires ending all assistance to Azerbaijan whose aggression is an attempt to eliminate the centuries-old Christian presence of Armenians in the Caucasus.”

“Is the Armenia-Azerbaijan Peace Process Dead?” Center of Analysis of International Relations’ Farid Shafiyev and Vasif Huseynov, NI, 09.19.22.

  • “The lack of a peace agreement might expand the theater of future hostilities between the two countries and lead to new tragedies. While thirty years of military action occurred on the territory of Azerbaijan, the latest clashes have shown that Azerbaijan will not tolerate shelling and rocket strikes from the territory of Armenia and its response will affect Armenian military installations there.”
  • “Unfortunately, the major powers that previously dealt with the resolution of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, namely Russia, France, and the United States, have opposing interests in the region. Additionally, U.S. politics are occasionally affected by various domestic interests, such as Armenian lobby groups. The Brussels platform, which initially looked promising, is now endangered.”

“Kazakhstan Is Breaking Out of Russia’s Grip,’ Temur Umarov of the Carnegie Endowment, FP, 09.16.22.

  • “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may not have changed the global world order, but it has certainly changed the geopolitics of Asia. Before the war, if Belarus was Russia’s closest ally to the west and China to the east, Kazakhstan was unquestionably its greatest ally to the south.”
  • “Unlike Belarus or China, however, Kazakhstan is not looking for any extra opportunities in its relations with Russia, instead trying to quietly dismantle an alliance it never really wanted without provoking Moscow’s wrath. Chinese President Xi Jinping picking Kazakhstan for his first foreign trip since January 2020, and promising to support Kazakhstan in ‘safeguarding national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,’ gives a golden opportunity to further this goal.”
  • “Officially, Moscow continues to repeat its mantra about stable allied relations blossoming with Kazakhstan, but in reality, its frustration with its ally may be turning into outright anger. Naturally, the Kremlin has not publicly admitted this, but it allows the hawks among Russian officials and commentators to threaten Kazakhstan. Fake news about a ‘genocide of Russians’ in Kazakhstan has fueled talk of the ‘denazification’ of Kazakhstan.”
  • “In March, Sergey Savostyanov, a Moscow city parliament deputy from the Communist Party, suggested including Kazakhstan in a ‘demilitarization and denazification zone’ to protect Russia’s security interests. In August, Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, suggested in a social media post that after Ukraine, Moscow might turn its attention to the fate of northern Kazakhstan. Medvedev claimed that his account had been hacked, but the well-known Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar is sure that it was composed by the ex-president’s large staff with the aim of portraying Medvedev as a war supporter.”
  • “Although Russia launching another war on its border is highly unlikely (especially after the recent successful counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces), the biggest downside of Kazakhstan’s newly emerging strategy toward Russia might well turn out to be the unpredictability of decision-making in the Kremlin.”

“Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan: The terror and death of a fruitless border conflict,” Danil Usmanov, Eurasianet, 09.18.22.

  • “As people in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan pray and hope that the fighting along their border is over, thoughts will turn to the damage to life and property wrought in under a week of fighting. The reckoning will take time. Civilians are still stunned by trauma.”
  • “Batken, the capital of the eponymous region in southern Kyrgyzstan, has become a ghost town since hostilities broke out... Most of the shelling and incursions by Tajik troops occurred in places right on the border. On Sept. 16, though, the odd projectile landed on Batken too, despite it lying several kilometers from Tajikistan.”
  • “The deep sense of fear has spread all throughout the region of Batken. As of Sept. 18, almost 137,000 people had fled for their safety, Emergency Situations Ministry officials said. According to official government data, almost 550,000 people live in Batken region.”
  • “Border areas in Tajikistan, which have also seen rocket attacks, are more populous than those in Kyrgyzstan. But news of evacuation efforts there has filtered out only by word of mouth. The government’s official channels in Dushanbe have entirely disregarded the humanitarian aspect of the unrest.”
  • “Neither Kyrgyzstan nor Tajikistan are being forthcoming about the disposition of their forces around the disputed border. By all appearances, however, Tajik troops and irregulars have retreated from the Kyrgyz villages that they occupied after the first surge of major clashes. No territorial gains or losses have been recorded. Only deaths.”

Kazakhstan: A Bridge Between West and East,” Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, NI, 09.14.22.

  • “Our faith has always been crucial to the quest for peace. We share common values, including compassion, social justice, and humanity. As such, they can provide building blocks for peace. They can show that despite the sharp differences of our globalized world we can overcome our deep divisions. This is the core message of the 7th Congress of World and Traditional Religious Leaders ... in our capital.”
  • “Our country is home to seventeen major religions and over 100 ethnic groups. Our national identity is built on unity in diversity, dialogue, tolerance, acceptance, and empathy. That is why we have hosted international talks in recent years on Iran’s nuclear program, on the conflict in Syria, and on the legal status of the Caspian Sea.”
  • “Of course, we are not the only country to take this approach to religious tolerance or to promote dialogue, mediation, and diplomacy. But we need more countries to do so. So, cognizant of both our heritage and our responsibility, we are ready to build bridges and provide platforms for dialogue whenever and wherever the cause of peace needs it.”

“Four reasons Belarus isn't likely to send troops to Ukraine,” Tatsiana Kulakevich of the University of South Florida, WP/Monkey Cage, 09.14.22.

  • “A permanent Russian military presence isn’t in Lukashenko’s interest.”
  • “Sanctions have weakened Lukashenko’s support from domestic allies.”
  • “Russia’s war is not popular in Belarus.”
  • “Belarus can’t actually spare the troops.”
    • “[T]he reluctance of Lukashenko to send Belarusian troops into Ukraine reflects his desire to continue his 28-year rule—and a keen awareness of the need to maintain distance from Russia and the military setbacks suffered by Putin's army.”


  1. In the Russian original, the author uses the word “bezopasnost’” which can be translated as both “safety” and “security.”
  2. This is a revised and updated version of Kofman’s and Fink’s June 2020 article for War on the Rocks. Also, see a useful chronology of nuclear rhetoric and escalation management in Russia’s war against Ukraine by SWP's Anna Clara Arndt and Dr. Liviu Horovitz here.