Russia Analytical Report, Sept. 18-25, 2023

4 Ideas to Explore

  1. The Russian military “is showing some capacity to learn from” at least some of its early mistakes, according to WSJ’s Matthew Luxmoore. Among other things, Russian commanders have learned to keep their warplanes outside the range of Ukrainian air defense systems while adding guidance to older ammunition carried by these planes. The Russian infantry now digs deeper and more fortified trenches, while hiding their armored vehicle in tree lines, according to Luxmoore. That said, the Russian military in Ukraine still suffers from “a Soviet-style top-down structure that allows little initiative for front-line commanders,” Luxmoore writes.
  2. Washington and Kyiv need to start addressing the problems of a longer war in Ukraine, according to Hal Brands of Johns Hopkins’ SAIS. For one, they need to adapt military strategy as “Ukraine’s current offensive initially struggled because the country sought to mimic Western tactics without the advantages, such as air superiority, Western militaries have come to expect,” according to Brands. In addition, a “longer war may require accepting higher risks of escalation,” Brands warns in his Bloomberg column.
  3. Sergei Karaganov claims he does not “see any chance to awaken a sense of self-preservation in the Western global elites other than through an escalation of the nuclear threat.” “If nuclear weapons will have to be used (God forbid), the strike should be of a sufficiently large proportion,” according to Karaganov, who sits on the Scientific Council of Russia’s Security Council. A September 2023 RAND study has found that “[s]hould Russia decide to use nuclear weapons, it may be relatively unrestrained in their employment inside Ukraine.” Karaganov’s claim can be interpreted as a continuation of efforts by Russian government-connected experts and pundits to intimidate the West into discontinuing support for Ukraine in the ongoing war with Russia.*
  4. Armenia's pivot West was probably badly timed. It alienated the Russians without bringing reliable Western help,” according to WP columnist David Ignatius. “The Biden administration's policy now is to prevent the ethnic cleansing that Armenians fear,” Ignatius writes. Given that the exodus of Karabakh Armenians has already begun, that policy could already be stillborn.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

“Degradation Everywhere: The Long-Term Risks at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Plant,” Darya Dolzikova, RUSI, 09.18.23.

  • While an engineered incident at the ZNPP [the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant] remains possible, the massive strain on economic resources – as well as the longer-term safety implications – resulting from the degradation of the ZNPP’s systems are a certainty.
  • As such, it is critical that the response of Ukraine’s partners to the situation at the ZNPP includes allocating the economic resources and technical assistance that will be needed following de-occupation to ensure the safe operation of Europe’s largest NPP.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Russia-North Korea Talks,” Tatiana Stanovaya, et al, R.Politik, 09.25.23. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • North Korea has become a less inconvenient, more overtly beneficial partner for Russia since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year, improving prospects for military cooperation.
  • Russia has a pressing need to acquire artillery ammunition, other munitions, raw materials and electronic components, all of which North Korea has in large quantities.
  • As a result, it may become necessary for Moscow to revise or moderate its compliance with current U.N. sanctions against North Korea.
  • The level and nature of South Korea's military assistance to Ukraine is an important factor influencing the level and form of Moscow's cooperation with Pyongyang.
  • China is determined to retain a key role in Russia's diplomatic relationship with North Korea, while adhering to international U.N. sanctions. It approves of Pyongyang's cooperation with Moscow and may help replenish its military arsenals. China is interested in maintaining strategic influence over Pyongyang.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Russia’s Army Learns From Its Mistakes in Ukraine,” Matthew Luxmoore, WSJ, 09.24.23.

  • The poor performance of the Russian military in the early days of the war shocked many in the West and ultimately allowed Ukraine to resist, and then roll back, a large part of the Russian advance. But Russia has since learned from its mistakes…
    • To be sure, Russia’s military—which has suffered more than 270,000 killed and wounded as its army has lost more than 50% of its “combat effectiveness,” according to some Western estimates—may need to make deeper changes to sustain a yearslong war.
    • It still suffers from a Soviet-style top-down structure that allows little initiative for front-line commanders and gives priority to political goals from Moscow over battlefield decision-making.
    • Moreover, Russia is now largely on the defensive as it tries to hold back the Ukrainian push, and it is far easier for armies to defend than to go on the offensive.
  • However, the Russian military is showing some capacity to learn from early mistakes.
    • “So they now don’t fly in those rings or if they do, it is for low altitude for very quick moments and then they go back out,” Gen. James Hecker, the top U.S. Air Force commander in Europe, said.
    • The Russians have added guidance capabilities to older bombs.
    • Russia has also moved command posts and many ammunition depots farther from the front lines.
    • The Russians are now better at protecting their soldiers by building deep, highly fortified trenches.
    • They hide their tanks and armored personnel carriers in tree lines and under camouflage netting, conducting sorties to fire on Ukrainian positions before swiftly retreating.
    • In the south, the Russians have increased the use of drones and guided bombs to hold back the Ukrainian offensive.
    • The Russians started dispersing their planes to more airfields. They also began putting tires on the wings and fuselage of bombers at some of their bases.
    • Russia’s war machine is adapting at home as well, managing to sustain and even increase defense production of some items despite sanctions.
      • Western officials thought Russia could produce about 100 tanks a year, but the actual tank production is closer to 200 a year now,
      • Russia is on a path over the next couple of years to produce two million artillery shells annually.

“What Does the Russian Army Think About its War in Ukraine? Criticisms, Recommendations, Adaptations,” Dimitri Minic, Ifri, September 2023.

  • The Russian army is very critical of its war in Ukraine. Not just of the first phase of the failed special military operation (SVO), which was inspired by the theorization of bypassing, but also of the strategic deterrence phase that preceded it. Russian military theorists have commented on the profound lack of preparation not just for the SVO, but also—in many areas—for the heterotelic war the SVO has become.
  • The Russian army’s weaknesses vis-à-vis the Ukrainian army are generally, and sometimes quite directly, recognized. The Russian military elites have made numerous recommendations for improving Russia’s military performance, primarily focusing on the ground and aerospace forces. Meanwhile, the Russian army has mostly adapted (more or less successfully) to the difficulties it has encountered in the last year and a half in Ukraine.
  • Although the Putin regime is authoritarian and intent on reducing freedom of expression in Russian society, the existence and tolerance of a certain amount of truth-telling at this level of the military apparatus indicate that the Russian army’s and state’s ability to adapt should not be underestimate

“Escalation in the War in Ukraine. Lessons Learned and Risks for the Future,” Bryan Frederick, Mark Cozad, Alexandra Stark, RAND, September 2023.

 Further Russian escalation has likely been restrained by three main factors

  • The factors are (1) acute concerns for NATO military capabilities and reactions, (2) concern for broader international reactions, particularly the potential to lose China's support, and (3) the Russian perception that its goals in Ukraine are achievable without further escalation, making risker actions not yet necessary.

Russian escalation to date has seen limited effectiveness

  • None of Moscow's escalatory measures appear to have altered Ukrainian or NATO behavior in the ways that Putin and his inner circle likely sought. Instead, they have largely hardened Ukrainian and NATO opposition to Russia's invasion.

Further deliberate escalation, including Russian nuclear escalation, is highly plausible

  • Both Russia and Ukraine may still choose to deliberately escalate the conflict further. Six plausible options for Russian escalation were identified that would have the potential to fundamentally alter the nature of the conflict, ranging from a limited attack on NATO to the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine. The most likely potential trigger for Russia to escalate the conflict is a perception that battlefield losses are threatening the security of its regime.

Russian nuclear use could be surprisingly extensive

  • Should Russia decide to use nuclear weapons, it may be relatively unrestrained in their employment inside Ukraine.

Inadvertent escalation risks persist

  • Inadvertent escalation could still occur as a result of military activities that are commonplace on both sides but happen to lead to different outcomes. The longer the conflict drags on, the more such risks will accumulate.

“It’s Time for the West to Embrace Ukraine’s Way of War, Not Doubt It,” Nataliya Bugayova, ISW, 09.25.23.

  • Ukrainian forces had adapted their tactics after they encountered initial setbacks and were increasingly successful in using small infantry assaults backed by precision fires to make inroads against Russian defenses. Ukraine’s ingenuity is yielding results. Ukraine maintains the battlefield initiative and its forces are advancing in Zaporizhzhia Oblast and near Bakhmut. Ukraine continues to liberate its territory and people and is slowly but steadily breaking through an incredibly formidable Russian prepared defense—and the Russian forces are unable to stop the advance, which is now moving in two directions. Additionally, Ukrainian asymmetrical tactics in the Black Sea are preventing Russia’s Black Sea Fleet from operating freely.
    • Ukraine’s decision to pivot away from the type of large-scale mechanized breaches that its counteroffensive brigades were trained by NATO to perform, in hindsight, has enabled Ukraine’s progress.
    • Ukraine’s decision to keep pressure on Russian forces throughout the entire frontline instead of focusing all of Ukraine’s combat power on one line of attack in the direction of Melitopol, which some Western advisors preferred, was a good adaptation.
    • Ukraine’s decision to hold and conduct counterattacks in Bakhmut allowed it to pin down a substantial portion of the combat power of Russia’s relatively elite airborne (VDV) forces and deny the creation of a strategic Russian reserve.
  • The United States should embrace its partnership with a competent ally who also leads. We are used to partners that require us to lead—from proxy forces we trained to our allies who rely on us for security. In Ukraine, however, the United States has a partner that is leading on the battlefield and knows its operational environment, its enemy, and its own capabilities and limitations.
  • The West embracing Ukraine’s way of war is key to preserving the dominance of Western and Ukrainian decision-making.

Letter opposing Biden's request for additional aid for Kyiv, JD Vance, Rand Paul, Mike Braun, Tommy Tuberville, Paul A. Gosar, Dan Bishop, Bill Posey, Chip Roy, Mike Lee, Roger Marshall, Roger Williams, Clay Higgins, Harriet M. Hageman, Bob Good, Warren Davidson, Anna Paulina Luna, W. Gregory Steube, Josh Brecheen, Andy Ogles, Andy Biggs, Russell Fry, Eli Crane, Jeff Duncan, Beth Van Duyne, Lance Gooden, Mary E. Miller, Byron Donalds and Michael Cloud, 09.21.23. 

  • The vast majority of Congress remains unaware of how much the United States has spent to date in total on this conflict, information which is necessary for Congress to prudently exercise its appropriations power. It is difficult to envision a benign explanation for this lack of clarity. 
  • The Department of Defense's recent $6.2 billion accounting error on Ukraine Presidential Drawdown Authorities (PDA) further underscores the need for greater transparency from the administration. 
  • The Senate…passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDA), a bill which authorized the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative for three more years and provided an authorization of $300 million for the program in fiscal year 2024. The House version of the legislation also authorizes the program at $300 million in fiscal year 2024. You have asked for $5 billion for this program, 15 times more than either of these figures? 
  • [Biden’s] statements imply an open-ended commitment to supporting the war in Ukraine of an indeterminate nature, based on a strategy that is unclear, to achieve a goal yet to be articulated to the public or the Congress. 
  • The American people deserve to know what their money has gone to. How is the counteroffensive going? Are the Ukrainians any closer to victory than they were 6 months ago? What is our strategy, and what is the president's exit plan? What does the administration define as victory in Ukraine? 
  • It would be an absurd abdication of congressional responsibility to grant this request without knowing the answers to these questions. For these reasons and certainly until we receive answers to the questions above and others forthcoming we oppose the additional expenditure for war in Ukraine included in your request. 

“Why America Should Send Military Advisers to Ukraine,” Alexandra Chinchilla and Sam Rosenberg, FA, 09.22.23.

  • Sending advisers to Ukraine will, of course, require substantial political will on the part of the Biden administration. Biden may struggle to muster such will, especially as he prepares for the 2024 election and faces political opponents much more hesitant to aid Kyiv.
  • But Biden should not underestimate the ability of Americans to grasp why it is important to support Ukraine. It is true that recent polls show that U.S. support for Ukraine has fallen, but the dip is slight and to be expected over any long intervention. On the whole, support for helping Kyiv remains remarkably strong. A September CBS News poll, for example, found that 67 percent of Americans want the United States to give aid to Ukraine.
  • Biden should seize on this support, and he should use his messaging power to keep it high. Effective communication can go a long way toward shaping public opinion, and Biden should explain to Americans why they ought to keep backing Kyiv. The answer, after all, is straightforward and compelling: Ukraine is a bulwark against Russian expansionism in Europe. Were Kyiv to lose, it would jeopardize Europe’s stability, which Washington has worked hard to maintain since the end of World War II. Russia’s defeat in Ukraine is also necessary for the United States’ pivot toward Asia. If Moscow triumphs, the United States risks being dragged back into Europe when it would rather focus its attention elsewhere.
  • And deploying military advisers is, ultimately, one of the best ways Washington can help Kyiv win—especially given the cost. The routine deployment of a single battalion task force from a U.S. security force assistance brigade costs about $12 million, according to a recent study published by the Association of the United States Army. By contrast, the combined cost of just one Abrams tank and one Bradley Fighting Vehicle is almost $15 million.
  • If advisers begin working from inside Ukraine and at multiple levels of the country’s defense apparatus, they will strengthen the country’s democracy and fully prepare it for NATO membership.

“Poland’s damaging quarrel with Ukraine,” FT Editorial Board, FT, 09.21.23.

  • Poland may ultimately not stop sending arms to Kyiv; it cannot afford to see Ukraine falter and Russia become a bigger menace. But by threatening to withhold weapons, it has given cover to other capitals—or putative leaders—who are less committed to Ukraine’s victory.
  • Furthermore, it risks reassuring Putin that his calculation of waiting until the west tires of war is the right one. For a Polish government, it is hard to imagine a more self-defeating strategy.

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

The Legal, Practical, and Moral Case for Transferring Russian Sovereign Assets to Ukraine,” Laurence H. Tribe, Raymond P. Tolentino, Kate M. Harris, Jackson Erpenbach, and Jeremy Lewin, RDI, 09.17.23.

  • The Renew Democracy Initiative (RDI) published an extensive report arguing that transferring frozen Russian Central Bank (CBR) assets to Ukraine is legal under international law and U.S. national legislation if approached as a countermeasure.
  • U.N. Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (ARSIWA) permit otherwise unlawful acts when they seek to induce targeted parties’ compliance with international law.
  • U.S. International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) gives the U.S. president executive powers to “block” and/or “direct and compel” the “transfer” of “any right, power, or privilege with respect to” Russia’s “property,” the report says.
  • Presidential executive action to transfer sovereign funds is not unprecedented, as seen in the cases of Iraq after it invaded Kuwait and, recently, Afghanistan, where the United States transferred approximately $3.5 billion of sovereign funds for humanitarian purposes.
  • Transferring CBR assets will not create a dangerous precedent or fundamentally undermine the U.S. dollar.
    • Well-articulated conditions narrow the application procedure to extreme cases of grave human rights violations while they are increasingly rare.
    • Domestic legal constraints remain rigid even if relevant legislation is adopted. The U.S. president can pursue IEEPA only in cases of emergency and is subject to routine Congressional oversight.
    • Fears of de-dollarization are not new. A transfer of Russian assets will not change countries’ motivations to de-dollarize while the U.S. dollar retains its unique structural advantages over other currencies.
  • Claims citing sovereign immunity are missing the point.
    • Sovereign immunity only applies to judicial action while the proposed transfer is in the hands of the executive.
    • Governments have already crossed the Rubicon of “violating” sovereign immunity by freezing CBR assets. Transferring the funds to Ukraine is no longer an uncharted territory.
  • The report proposes a multilateral transfer mechanism that must be transparent, impartial and free of corruption.
    • A multilaterally administered transfer of Russian financial assets to Ukraine is legal but also moral and pragmatic because it breaks the cycle of impunity, creates pathways for future countermeasures against states that grossly violate international law and gives Ukraine the urgently needed aid to defend and rebuild itself.
    • International legitimacy is vital for the success of the transfer initiative. RDI outlines core actors involved in strengthening the case against Russia through fact-finding (investigations and evidence collection), legal action (through international courts) and national legislation.
    • G7 states should look at Canada’s experience of adopting legislation to enable the speedy executive transfer of CBR assets to an internationally managed account.

“The dilemma over transferring Russian assets to Ukraine,” Gillian Tett, FT, 09.21.23.

  • Laurence Tribe, a pre-eminent American constitutional scholar, has co-authored a 187-page legal analysis that urges western allies to give Ukraine the estimated $300bn of Russian state assets they froze last year. Tribe .... insists that America’s 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act would let the west transfer all $300bn to Ukraine
  • Is this a good idea? I, like many, feel torn.
    • On a personal level, I passionately support Ukraine in its fight .
    • There is also a powerful political and economic case: reconstruction will cost at least $400bn, according to recent estimates—and western taxpayers may rebel if asked to shoulder this.
    • But I can also see practical drawbacks in this move.
      • One problem... is that asset transfer could (further) undermine international faith in the safety of dollar assets.
      • Another is that it might also reduce the west’s leverage in its dealings with Russia. “
      • A third problem is that the move could unleash judicial challenges

“How to Make Russia Pay for Invading Ukraine,” Bret Stephens, NYT, 09.19.23.

  • A carefully argued and exhaustively researched 184-page report [by Laurence Tribe et al] circulated this week among journalists, government officials and NGO leaders by the Renew Democracy Initiative [finds] that the president has ample authority, under the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act, or I.E.E.P.A., to transfer Russia's frozen assets to Ukraine.
  • The Biden administration has compiled an honorable record of doing right by Ukraine -- but generally comes around to it a bit late. Helping to defeat Russia with Russia's own money is vital to that effort. The moral logic is compelling. The legal case is clear. And, as the bills add up, the political moment is now.

“Confiscating Russian Oligarchs’ Assets in Ukraine: The First Successes,” Glib Kanievskyi, RUSI, 09.22.23.

  • At a time when Ukraine needs all possible sources of funding to support its reconstruction and recovery, these funds are welcome, but they fall far short of what is needed to restore Ukraine.
  • It is important therefore that the EU and other countries and international institutions boost their efforts to ensure that there is no doubt that aggressors and their supporters must pay for the damage they cause, as an important mechanism for deterring other such illegal acts of aggression throughout the world.

“On Shaky Grounds The Secret, Slipshod Evidence the EU Uses To Sanction Russian Oligarchs,” Leonie Kijewski, Politico, 09.21.23.

  • Politico has obtained access to five of the so-called “working papers” used by the Council to justify sanctioning Russian business leaders, officials and their family members. While the documents are labeled as secret, the evidence they rely upon is anything but.
  • One evidence packet relies on 10 open-source links with varying degrees of reliability. Another on nine. Another on four. They include articles from publications like the Financial Times and Reuters but also rely heavily on machine-translated articles from Russian or Ukrainian sources of varying credibility. One packet, for example, cites an article published by a lifestyle magazine affiliated with the Russian government, which has been accused of propaganda and that publishes more cooking recipes than serious journalism. Another cites a thinly sourced website dedicated to the dubious affairs of rich Russians. As background material, the packets cite one-page profiles from Forbes magazine or Wikipedia articles about the proposed target for sanctions. Inclusion on the so-called U.S. oligarch list, which names some 100 people the country’s Treasury Department views as “oligarchs,” is cited as evidence of wrongdoing, even if not everybody on the list has been sanctioned.

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“The use of veto power requires reform, and this can be a key reform in the U.N.–address by the President of Ukraine at the U.N. Security Council meeting,” presidential website of Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, 09.20.23. Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • I would not be here today if Ukraine had no proposals precisely regarding solutions. Yesterday, in my address to the U.N. General Assembly, I said that the Ukrainian Peace Formula had become the basis to update the existing security architecture in the world, in particular – to restore the real power of the U.N. Charter and the rules-based international order.
  • Five hundred seventy-four days of the full-fledged Russian aggression are five hundred seventy-four reasons for changes in this Chamber [UNSC]. And the number of votes in favor of these changes actually amounts to billions. The absolute majority of people in the world aspire to live in a world free of aggression. In contrast to all of us, there are only a few obsessed individuals in Moscow. Veto should not serve as a weapon for those who are obsessed with hatred and war.... the U.N. General Assembly should be given a real power to overcome the veto. This will be the first necessary step.
  • The second step. The U.N. Security Council must be fully accountable to the nations of the world. I welcome the proposals of various leaders to expand the representation of nations in the Security Council. The composition of the permanent members of the Security Council should reflect the current realities and justice.
  • The third step. There is a need for a system to prevent aggression through early response to actions violating territorial integrity and sovereignty of states. It's time to do this. Nations of the world should agree on such a mechanism for responding to aggression to protect others, that everyone would want for their own security.
  • And now, I would like to focus on territorial integrity. This is an element of both the U.N. Charter and our Peace Formula that is inextricably linked to the issue of clearing the territory from the occupiers. Occupation is an inexhaustible source of dynamite under the international rules-based order. So, I will provide examples of concrete steps to be taken for the security architecture to be strong. Using Ukraine as an example. Concrete things. Concrete as we, Ukrainians, are.
    • First: full withdrawal of all Russian troops and military formations, including the Russian Black Sea Fleet or its leaky remnants, as well as the withdrawal of all mercenaries and paramilitary formations of Russia from the entire sovereign territory of Ukraine within our internationally recognized borders as of 1991.
    • Second: full restoration of Ukraine’s effective control over the entire state border and exclusive economic zone, including in the Black and Azov Seas, as well as in the Kerch Strait.
      • In fact, only the implementation of these two points will result in an honest, reliable, and complete cessation of hostilities.

“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions during a news conference following the High-Level Week of the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly, New York,” Russian Foreign Ministry’s web site, 09.23.23. Clues from Russian Views.1

  • Of course, we recognized the sovereignty of Ukraine back in 1991, on the basis of the Declaration of Independence, which Ukraine adopted when it withdrew from the Soviet Union. The declaration had a great deal of good written there, including that they will respect the rights of national minorities, Russian language speakers (Russian is specifically mentioned there) and other speakers. That was later reflected in the Ukrainian Constitution. One of the main points for us in the declaration was that Ukraine would be a non-bloc, non-alliance country; it would not join any military alliances. In that version, on those conditions, we support Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
  • We have no problems with the territorial integrity of Ukraine. It was destroyed by those who carried out and supported the coup, whose leaders declared war against their own people and began to bomb them.
  • There are legal norms according to which a country can be defined as a direct participant in hostilities. Western states try in every possible way to avoid and not remember them [the norms]. They are actually fighting against us with the hands and bodies of Ukrainians. ... They are directly at war with us.
  • What we are guided by is bare truth: the President of Ukraine and everyone who governs him in Washington, London, and Brussels firmly say that there is no other basis for peace other than the ‘Zelensky format.’ This ‘format’ can be described in different ways, but it is unfeasible. Everyone is aware of this. But at the same time, they say that this is the only basis for negotiations, and in general Russia must be vanquished “on the battlefield.”
  • This is what we hear as facts. We have drawn the conclusion that no one is willing to show serious understanding of what is happening, including those who understand but do not want to do so publicly. Under such circumstances, when they say “on the battlefield” – well, let it be on the battlefield.
  • The main reason for us to withdraw from the grain deal and it ceasing to exist was that everything that had been promised to us turned out to be deception.
  • Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, under the auspices of the European Union, signed a document that recognized each other’s territorial integrity within the 1991 borders. This means Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan, plain and simple. 
  • While signing the document under the auspices of the European Union, they forgot to add that the rights of the Karabakh people as an ethnic minority should be ensured
  • I’ve heard what was said, that if Iran gets into possession of nuclear weapons, then Saudi Arabia will also have to consider this. I view this as a statement of fact. Nobody on the planet wants to see the emergence of new nuclear states. The Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly confirmed that they have no such intention. Their spiritual leader has even issued a fatwa on this. We proceed from the assumption that they will not have a bomb. Then Iran's neighbors will not be tempted to follow this path.

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

“Remarks by President Biden Before the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly,” the official website of U.S. President Joe Biden, 09.19.23.

  • For the second year in a row, this gathering dedicated to peaceful resolution of conflicts is darkened by the shadow of war—an illegal war of conquest, brought without provocation by Russia against its neighbor, Ukraine. Like every nation in the world, the United States wants this war to end. No nation wants this war to end more than Ukraine. And we strongly support Ukraine in its efforts to bring about a diplomatic resolution that delivers just and lasting peace.
  • But Russia alone—Russia alone bears responsibility for this war. Russia alone has the power to end this war immediately. And it is Russia alone that stands in the way of peace, because the—Russia’s price for peace is Ukraine’s capitulation, Ukraine’s territory, and Ukraine’s children. Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence. But I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the United States [U.N. Charter] to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?
  • That’s why the United States, together with our allies and partners around the world, will continue to stand with the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity and their freedom.
  • It’s not only an investment in Ukraine’s future, but in the future of every country that seeks a world governed by basic rules that apply equally to all nations and uphold the rights of every nation, no matter how big or how small: sovereignty, territorial integrity. They are the fixed foundations of this noble body, and universal human rights is its North Star. We cannot sacrifice either.

“Ukraine and US Need a New Strategy for a Longer War,” Hal Brands, Bloomberg, 09.22.23.

  • Unless the US opts for disengagement—tantamount to Ukrainian defeat—it needs to start addressing the problems a longer war will confront.
    • The first involves assessing, and perhaps adapting, military strategy. Ukraine’s current offensive initially struggled because the country sought to mimic Western tactics without the advantages, such as air superiority, Western militaries have come to expect.
    • Second, a longer war may require accepting higher risks of escalation.
    • Third, Washington must tighten the economic squeeze. Sanctions have injured but not crippled Putin’s economy, which continues to churn out weapons for the war.
    • Fourth, Washington must prevent a long war from becoming a source of weakness and distraction.

“The Morality of Ukraine’s War Is Very Murky,” Stephen M. Walt, FP, 09.22.23.

  • The moral case for pursuing peace—even if the prospects are unlikely and the results are not what we’d prefer—lies in recognizing that the war is destroying the country and that the longer it lasts the more extensive and enduring the damage will be. Unfortunately for Ukraine, anyone who points this out and offers a serious alternative is likely to be loudly and harshly condemned and almost certain to be ignored by the relevant political leaders.
  • Those who believe the long-term answer is to send Ukraine more advanced weapons and get it into NATO and the European Union as quickly as possible—as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman opined last weekend—have it exactly backwards. Putin went to war primarily to foreclose this possibility, and he’ll continue the war either to prevent it from happening or to ensure that whatever remains of Ukraine is of little value. It makes sense to give Ukraine enough support that Russia cannot dictate a peace, but that support should be tied to a serious effort to bring the war to a close.
  • Hardliners have an obvious reply to these arguments, of course. “Ukraine wants to keep fighting,” they insist—correctly, “and we should therefore give them whatever they need.” Ukraine’s resolve has been extraordinary, and its desires should not be dismissed lightly, but this argument is not decisive. If a friend wants to do something you think is ill-advised or dangerous, you are under no moral obligation to aid their efforts no matter how strongly committed they may be. On the contrary, you’d be morally culpable if you helped them act as they wished and the result was disastrous.
  • Of course, these moral tradeoffs diminish if you believe Ukraine can win at an acceptable cost and that this outcome will have a profound positive impact around the world. As noted above, this is the war party’s central argument. Given the disappointing (if not disastrous) results of Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive, however, that position is getting harder to defend. Hardliners now hope that more advanced weaponry...will tip the balance in Ukraine’s favor. Or they speculate that Russia is running out of reserves and will soon be on the ropes. I hope they are right, but it is telling that these hawks are mostly silent on the issue of Ukraine’s own losses. To be specific: How many Ukrainians have been killed or wounded, and how long can Kyiv continue to replace them? This issue is vital to any attempt to assess Ukraine’s prospects, but reliable information on it is almost impossible to obtain.

“The era of Ukraine’s blank check from Congress is over,” Michael Waltz, Fox News, 09.18.23.

  • Most Americans are sympathetic to Ukraine...Giving Ukrainians the bullets to do the fighting and dying for their freedom was the right thing to do, and Congress has duly supported Kiev with sufficient military aid. But President Joe Biden has not been a good-faith partner.
  • The Biden administration has neither explained the American objective in Ukraine nor his strategy to achieve it. Will American military spending continue until Ukraine has pushed Russia back to its prewar boundaries? Its pre-2014 boundaries? Or until the Putin regime collapse? We don’t know because Biden refuses to tell us. "As long as it takes" is a slogan, not a strategy.
  • In the near term, U.S. military aid must be contingent on European burden sharing and equal European assistance going forward. The U.S. has provided nearly as much military aid to Ukraine – a reported $46.6 billion – as every other nation combined.
  • The United States must invest its savings in its own security. It should match the dollar value of any aid it gives to Ukraine with securing the southern border.
  • Congress needs to investigate why deterrence failed, same as it investigated the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
  • Putin has invaded a neighbor under every president since Bill Clinton, except for Donald Trump. With the amount of money Americans are being asked to spend, we deserve to know where we fell short.
  • The burden cannot continue to be solely on the shoulders of the American people, especially while Western Europe gets a pass. There must be policy space between Biden’s current strategy of "as long as it takes" and those demanding "not another dollar."
  • If Biden wants to continue funding Ukraine’s war effort, he must do so with conditions set forth by Congress.

“Biden has done a lot for Ukraine. But not enough,” WP Editorial Board, 09.20.23.

  • There is no single weapon system that would provide the Ukrainians with game-changing firepower. Over time, however, the Ukrainians have proved adept at using most of the weapons they have been given. Mr. Biden should stop dawdling and provide Kyiv with ATACMS.
  • While Mr. Biden has delivered speeches on Ukraine on his travels to Lithuania and Kyiv, he has yet to give a major address about the war from the Oval Office, directed at the American people. He can make the case forcefully for intensified U.S. support, including by explaining his policy's deterrent effect on Chinese ambitions in East Asia. It should be a message with bipartisan appeal—that the best way to dissuade China from invading Taiwan is to succeed in thwarting Russia in Ukraine.
  • Mr. Biden's leadership on the war has been critical to Ukraine's survival. Now he needs to press ahead toward forcing Moscow to sue for peace.

“US support for Ukraine is waning. That's a bad sign for democracy,” Renée Graham, BG, 09.22.23.

  • According to a recent CNN poll, 55 percent of Americans now oppose Congress authorizing more funding to Ukraine in its fight against Russia. And 51 percent say this nation has already done enough to help the Ukrainian war effort.
  • Yes, this nation has already given more than $110 billion to Ukraine during what will soon be 19 months of horror and bloodshed. But if Ukraine loses, it will be a mortal wound to every democracy and embolden dictators and autocrats to invade any nation of their choosing.
  • Even as political tides shift, what compelled this nation to aid Ukraine has not changed. The existential threat to the free world is real. And every bomb that lands in Ukraine is also designed to land ever closer to democracy's heart.

“Why Ukraine Is Not a Priority for the Global South. Increasingly, poor countries are saying to the rich that your priorities won’t mean more to us until ours mean much more to you,” Howard French, FP, 09.19.23.

  • For months now, U.S. and European politicians and diplomats have beseeched their counterparts in this ungainly grab basket of countries to stand in principle with the West in condemning Russia’s invasion. And for almost as long, Western officials have expressed puzzlement, dismay, and chagrin over the feeble response to their appeals.
  • The conventional wisdom pretends that countries of the global south are reluctant to criticize Russia out of an old and logical strategy long embraced by the weak: If you are being dominated by one set of countries, say the West, then for the sake of obtaining more breathing room for yourself, you root for their rivals. ...There is truth to this explanation, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
  •  Our careless use of this thoughtless language has blinded us to the reality that many of the “developing” countries are trapped in economic stasis, or worse, stagnation and economic regression. Here, one true geographic region, as opposed to a contrived collection of countries, obviously stands out:...Africa stands out as a clear human emergency that has been treated as anything but.
  • There are longstanding structural problems in our international system that hobble and disfavor the poor and weak and hinder their efforts to develop. The rich of the world, however, would rather talk about almost anything else. Instead of facing this reality squarely, European countries and the United States (read: the West) have recently tacked on another foreign-policy priority of theirs on which they want the poor of the world’s sympathy and cooperation: Ukraine’s battle to win back control of territory lost to Russia. Now, though, it seems that not only in Africa but also in the global south—construed to mean countries that are not growing—we have rounded a corner. Increasingly, the poor are saying to the rich that your priorities won’t mean more to us until ours mean much more to you.

“Did Kennan Foresee Putin? What the Diplomat Got Right About Russia and the West,” Andrei Kolesnikov, FA, 09.20.23.

  • [In February of 1997], Kennan...wrote [in NYT], “Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.” He continued, “Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”
  • On February 24, 2022, in a sweep of the hand, Putin took every possible alternative model for Russia off the table. But he also began to look for a bright future in a dark past, rhapsodizing on Russia’s lost historical greatness and contrasting it with the West. Since then, ordinary Russians—those who fled the country, those who have been mobilized, those who have found excuses for the war, and those who are putting up resistance to Putin from within the country—have mostly simply been trying to survive. One day, they will have to start the long process of ridding their country of totalitarianism for a second time. Not everyone in the West shares Kennan’s position that totalitarianism in Russia is also “our own tragedy.” Perhaps he was mistaken on some points, but in that respect, he was almost certainly correct.

“The Black Box of Moscow. The West Struggles to Understand Russia—but Can Still Help Ukraine Win,” Sam Greene, FA, 09.22.23.

  • The trouble for Washington, and more important, for Ukraine, is that the Russia that might have been strategically defeated by the West’s moves is not the same Russia with which Ukraine is at war. Blinken and others assume that Russian leaders care about the national interest and might be held accountable for harming that national interest. The fact that Russia keeps fighting despite its losses suggests that a different logic is at work.
  • The good news, however, is that Washington and its allies still maintain considerable leverage.
    •  First and foremost, they can strengthen Ukraine’s ability to make progress on the battlefield. The West may be unable to affect Russia’s military decision-making with any degree of reliability. But it has shown that it can improve Ukraine’s ability to hold and retake territory.
    • Similarly, the United States and its allies have not been able to deter Russia from bombarding Ukrainian civilians, but they can bolster Ukraine’s air defenses to prevent Russian missiles and drones from hitting their targets. None of these actions can force Russia to stop fighting, but they can help Ukrainians stay alive.
  • In the absence of any ability to gauge how Moscow will behave, the G-7 security guarantees promised after the July NATO summit in Vilnius should be focused tightly on increasing military impacts in Ukraine. Western countries should privilege developing and enforcing sanctions that squarely target the war effort rather than attempting to induce political change in Russia. In practice, that means closing the loopholes that have kept cash and technology flowing to Russia. And as the West saps Russia’s resilience, it should focus on increasing Ukraine’s resilience by fast-tracking the country’s progress toward European integration and spurring investment in the infrastructure and technology Ukraine will need to get its economy back on its feet.
  • More than a year and a half into this war, Western analysts and policymakers have accumulated tremendous amounts of robust data on the impacts of adding new weapons systems to the battlefield and defending Ukrainian airspace. They have solid evidence that policies to support Ukraine’s economy and weaken Russia’s financial capacity to prosecute war are effective, and they know what adjustments could make them even more effective.
  • Alas, those same analysts—this author included—remain flummoxed by events within Russia itself. Over time, this problem will be addressed, and the gap between awareness and analysis will narrow. Until it does, however, Western policy should focus on the things Westerners understand rather than the things they do not.

“Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of the Russian Federation addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s 78th session,” U.N. Affairs, 09.23.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Russia’s Foreign Minister told the U.N. General Assembly on Saturday that a new world order is being born through a struggle between a neocolonial minority and a “global majority” seeking to end decades of Western domination. Sergey Lavrov said power was slipping through the hands of the old order, dominated by Washington, which has long rejected the principle of equality. Americans and Europeans “make all sorts of promises…and then just don’t fulfil them”, he told delegates. Quoting President Vladimir Putin, he said the West was “truly an empire of lies” which even during the battle against Nazism in World War Two, had plotted an offensive against their Soviet allies.
  • Turning to Ukraine, he said the West had “continued its ongoing militarization of the Russophobic Kyiv regime”, brought to power via a “bloody coup” in 2014 and took that opportunity to “wage a hybrid war against our country.” The aim since then, has been the strategic defeat of Russia he argued, with the US-led offensive now stretching into outer space and disinformation online. Mr. Lavrov said it was “obvious” that its creation of subordinate alliances was “targeted against Russia and China” in a bid to sabotage more “inclusive” regional forums.
  • Mr. Lavrov closed his case with an appeal for compromise, saying “humanity is at a crossroads… It is in our shared interest to prevent a downward spiral into large scale war.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“The Case Against Containment. The Strategy Didn’t Win the Cold War—and It Won’t Defeat China,” John Mueller, FA, 09.21.23.

  • Given China’s many weaknesses, a policy of containment is scarcely called for. Indeed, it would likely fuel, not allay, the common motivating belief among Chinese leaders that Washington is out to stop their country’s economic growth—something that many fear might cause them to lash out. Most of China’s expansionist moves have nothing to do with force, however. As the former U.S. diplomat Chas Freeman has put it, “There is no military answer to a grand strategy built on a nonviolent expansion of commerce and navigation.”
  • The alternative is to wait (perhaps for a rather long time) for China to mellow; although currently in eclipse, there is a substantial liberal element in China. This policy of patience could be pursued while warily seeking to profit from China’s economic size and problems to the degree possible. The United States should also continue to maintain the decades-long charade in which Taiwan is effectively independent as long as it doesn’t say so. It might also humor China by welcoming it into the global leadership club as if that had some tangible meaning. If the United States can declare itself to be the one indispensable nation (suggesting that other nations are, well, dispensable), why should China be denied the opportunity to wallow in such self-important and essentially meaningless proclamations?
  • The lesson of the Cold War is not about the value of persistent containment in breaking your adversary’s will and sapping its power. It is about the wisdom of standing back, keeping your cool, and letting the contradictions in your opponent’s system become apparent. In a 2018 article in Foreign Affairs, Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner (both now members of the Biden administration) opened by observing that “the United States has always had an outsize sense of its ability to determine China’s course.” Instead of repeating that misguided approach, policymakers might keep in mind an apt maxim from Napoleon Bonaparte: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

“No, the World Is Not Multipolar,” Jo Inge Bekkevold, FP, 09.22.23.

  • A multipolar system may be less overtly polarized than a world with two adversarial superpowers, but it would not necessarily lead to a better world. Instead of being a quick fix for multilateralism, it could just as well lead to further regionalization. Rather than wishing for multipolarity and spending energy on a system that does not exist, a more effective strategy would search for better solutions and platforms for dialogue within the existing bipolar system.
  • In the long term, the world may indeed become multipolar, with India being the most obvious candidate to join the ranks of the United States and China. Nevertheless, that day is still far off. We will be living in a bipolar world for the foreseeable future—and strategy and policy should be designed accordingly.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“How to Prevent a Third World War,” Sergei Karaganov, RIA Novosti, 09.25.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • Inadvertently, we contributed to the unchecked growth of the Western aggression with our nuclear doctrine. Blithely, if not irresponsibly, it raised the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. Americans and their vassals are exploiting this; they have unleashed and are waging a big war against a major nuclear power, which previously was thought to be unthinkable.
  • I do not see any chance to awaken a sense of self-preservation in the Western global elites other than through an escalation of the nuclear threat, hopefully without having to take that to its conclusion in reality. However, the adversary must be aware of our leadership and society's unwavering commitment everything else, drones are almost perfectly suited for terrorist attacks, even ones involving weapons of mass destruction which, amid rampant mistrust, if not hatred, could easily trigger a big war.
  • [There is an] almost unprecedented level of mistrust and suspicion among major powers that have of late become open rivals. This is happening against the backdrop of a broken dialogue system and the collapse of the arms control system, which, while not always useful and sometimes even harmful in the past, at least provided channels of communication between leading military powers. stage, and they will inevitably engage in a competition. The intensification of the nuclear factor with the terror it instils is necessary to prevent the inevitable rivalry from escalating into hostilities. Therefore, if nuclear weapons will have to be used (God forbid), the strike should be of a sufficiently large proportion.
  • If nuclear weapons are used on a small scale, with a yield of several kilotons, it could potentially win us a war but would destroy the fear that had preserved relative peace for three-quarters of a century. Nuclear weapons would become “usable.” I’m aware that I was joined by some colleagues in the West in my fear of limited nuclear exchanges between India and Pakistan in this context. The world would not collapse, but the sacrosanct fear of nuclear weapons would disappear. Fear would be restored if it were to be used in Europe, since it still plays the key role in the global media agenda. But, I reiterate, heaven forbid that ever comes to pass and pray that one could avoid using the weapon of God to bring sense to those, who have lost it.


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“The elephant pulls, the donkey digs its heels,” Andrei Kortunov, RIAC, 09.22.23. Clues from Russian Views.^

  • Today, a broad and stable anti-Russian consensus has emerged in the United States. It is broader and more stable than even the… anti-Chinese consensus. The White House and Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department, the leading media and influential think tanks generally maintain… very close positions towards Moscow, and these positions are unlikely to change even in the medium term.
  • Nevertheless, any new team in Washington simply must demonstrate some differences from the old one and prove its undeniable superiority over its predecessors. This means that new nuances must appear in foreign policy. For example, Republicans will not give up military support for Kyiv, but they have to consider that foreign aid programs have never been popular among voters, especially conservative ones.
  • Therefore, it is quite possible to expect that the Republicans will sharply tighten control over how American military and other assistance to Ukraine is used. It can also be assumed that they will push for a “fairer” distribution of the burden of military support for Ukraine between the United States and its European allies.
  • In addition, US approaches to Russia should be considered in the broader context of American foreign policy. For example, Democrats have traditionally been much more concerned than their Republican opponents with promoting liberal values around the world. This fixation gives Joe Biden extra points in predominantly liberal Europe, but creates problems with such important “illiberal” or “less than liberal” US partners as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam or even India. A Republican victory would be greeted with enthusiasm in these countries, but would pose a serious challenge to fragile transatlantic unity. These differences, although not radical, must be taken into account by all international players, including Russia.
  • As always happens, the Republican elephant in opposition today demands change, but the Democratic donkey in power does not want change. A Joe Biden victory next November would mean maintaining the status quo for another four years, unless the aging president is forced out of office before January 2029. The victory of any Republican candidate will, in one way or another, launch a process of revision of this status quo, which will generate both new opportunities and new difficulties for both America and the rest of the world.


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“The Man Behind Putin’s Warped View of History,” Mikhail Zygar, NYT, 09.19.23.

  • Starting this month, all high school students in Russia have a new history textbook. On its pages, they’ll find a strikingly simplistic account of the past 80 years—from the end of World War II to the present—that all but comes with the Kremlin’s signature.
  • The book was written, along with others, by Vladimir Medinsky, Russia’s former culture minister and now a presidential aide. Mr. Medinsky … is [also] President Vladimir Putin’s ghostwriter. … Given the president’s obsession with history and use of it to justify his regime, Mr. Medinsky occupies an important position in Russia today. From the shadows, he has helped construct the ideological and historical edifice on which much of Mr. Putin’s rule rests.
  • From the start, Mr. Medinsky’s work was criticized by real Russian historians. But he never hid that his work was not based on facts. They were not important to him; the real goal was to create a persuasive narrative. “Facts by themselves don’t mean very much,” Mr. Medinsky wrote in one of his books. “Everything begins not with facts, but with interpretations. If you love your homeland, your people, then the story you write will always be positive.”
  • The president dictates his theses to Mr. Medinsky, who develops them and dictates in turn to his assistants. They write the essays, and then the texts go in the opposite direction—to Mr. Medinsky and, finally, to Mr. Putin—to be edited. This is how, for example, Mr. Putin’s infamous essay of 2021 came about, in which he wrote for the first time that the West was deliberately turning Ukraine into “anti-Russia.”
  • According to colleagues, he sees himself as akin to the conservative intellectuals of the Russian Empire—like Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the infamous ideologue of Nicholas II’s reign. Other models are Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin’s right-hand man after World War II, and Mikhail Suslov, Brezhnev’s chief ideologue who advocated the persecution of dissidents. Mr. Medinsky, of course, is a parody of the above—just like his version of Russian history. … For all his success, Mr. Medinsky may yet become the gravedigger of Russian imperial ideology. Because after him, it should no longer be possible to talk about Russia’s past without shame, horror and disgust.

“Regime Change in Russia Won’t Lead to Chaos or Collapse,” Andrei Kolesnikov, Carnegie Endowment, 09.25.23. Clues from Russian Views.  

  • When President Vladimir Putin leaves office—however that happens—we will enter the post-Putin era. Much about this next period in Russian history is uncertain, and many fear what it could bring: perhaps a more brutal leader will emerge, perhaps Russia will disintegrate, or descend into chaos.

“Fuel Price Crisis,” Tatiana Stanovaya et al., R.Politik, 09.25.23. Clues from Russian Views. 

  • The Russian government has introduced radical measures to control domestic fuel prices: a ban on the export of commercial petrol and diesel fuel. The decision was made under the influence of Dmitry Patrushev and Igor Sechin.
  • Major oil companies, with the exception of Rosneft, strongly oppose this decision, alerting the government to potential fuel shortages and a decrease in oil production.
  • Vladimir Putin has wavered between different approaches to the fuel crisis, initially supporting the Ministry of Finance and then the oil companies before finally siding with Patrushev. It is anticipated that the Ministry of Finance's risky decision to cut damper payments in half will be revisited.
  • The potential economic fallout from the decision is expected to be mitigated by a substantial increase in export duty on a wide range of goods, highlighting the government's indecision when dealing with economic challenges.

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.


“A multi-speed Europe holds the key to EU enlargement, Martin Sandbu, FT, 09.24.23.

  • “The international order is changing [and] the EU must change with it.” The words of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez when Spain took over the EU’s rotating presidency this summer sum up Europe’s new near consensus. A decade when the EU was desperately holding off disintegration has dramatically given way to a political imperative of integrating internally in order to expand externally—to Ukraine, above all. That shift received a strong boost last week by a Franco-German group of 12 experts tasked with studying how to reform the EU ahead of any enlargement.
  • The “Group of Twelve” concludes—and it is surely correct—that ambitious reform must be combined with a definitive embrace of a multi-speed Europe. They envisage a Europe of four concentric circles — an inner core; the EU itself; “associate membership,” largely meaning the single market; and the loose ties of the new European Political Community.
  • The group has committed one sin of omission and one of commission. They missed an opportunity to see differential integration as a geopolitical tool to pull more countries into the EU orbit, apart from a single mention that north African countries could be given “guest status” to the EPC. The sin of commission is much worse. The group thinks “ . . . countries with lasting military conflicts cannot join the EU . . . accession of countries with disputed territories with a [non-EU country] will have to include a clause that those territories will only be able to join the EU if their inhabitants are willing to do so.” Applied to Moldova and Ukraine ... this parrots the dictator in the Kremlin and in effect gives Russia a veto on their accession. It is a slap in the face of the old dream of a “Europe whole and free.”

“Ukraine’s democracy is facing a wartime election test,” Ben Hall, FT, 09.25.23.

  • A brief suspension of martial law, approved by a friendly constitutional court, could allow for simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections, maximizing the benefits for Zelensky but eroding the checks and balances on the head of state.
  • “We may have elections but without competition this could break Ukraine’s growth as an electoral democracy,” says Olha Ajvazovska, the head of Opora, an activist group.
  • But Zelensky knows the longer he waits, the worse it gets politically, says Marcin Walecki of the National Democratic Institute, a U.S. and U.K. backed NGO. Polls show many Ukrainians want a clear-out of existing political parties and a bigger role for former soldiers in political life. The armed forces are the most trusted institution in Ukraine and Valery Zaluzhny, the top general, is even more popular than Zelensky.
  • The president’s wartime leadership has turned him into a Churchillian figure. But being turfed out of office by an electorate more interested in rebuilding their lives and their country than heroism is a Churchillian parallel he will want to avoid.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Azerbaijan waited for its opening on Nagorno-Karabakh. This week it found it,” David Ignatius, WP, 09.22.23.

  • For Armenians, who live in the long shadow of the 1915 Ottoman genocide, the plight of an estimated 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Karabakh has been haunting. Lacking the military power to rival Azerbaijan—and without protection from Russia, the United States or even Armenia itself—the Karabakh Armenians were forced to surrender in two days.
  • At least 200 Karabakh Armenians died in the fighting that began Tuesday, according to local reports, as Azerbaijani artillery pounded Karabakh's small military force and Baku's commandos seized strategic high ground. Armenian social media carried wrenching stories about families searching for missing children and thousands gathered at the airport in Stepanakert, the region's de facto capital, hoping to flee.
  • Global power politics overlay this week's dramatic events. The Karabakh turmoil results in part from the vacuum in the region caused by Russia's preoccupation with Ukraine. … Armenia, which has relied for a century on Russian protection, had begun doubting Moscow and started pivoting to the West this year, hoping for more reliable allies.
  • Armenia's pivot West was probably badly timed. It alienated the Russians without bringing reliable Western help. The Armenians, especially in Karabakh, were isolated and vulnerable—waiting for foreign deliverance that never came. In that respect, it was a cruel recapitulation of modern Armenian history.
  • Azerbaijan began a slow strangulation of Karabakh in December, when a government-backed organization closed the road to Armenia, known as the "Lachin Corridor." Karabakh was gradually starved of food and fuel—and by this month, basic supplies of flour and other essentials were said to be exhausted. That's when Aliyev struck militarily.
  • The Biden administration's policy now is to prevent the ethnic cleansing that Armenians fear. Blinken is said to have urged Aliyev to grant what amounts to amnesty to the Karabakh Armenians and provide reliable guarantees for their security. The United States also hopes that a lasting accord between Armenia and Azerbaijan will be possible now that the Karabakh issue has been resolved at gunpoint. But that overlooks the deep mistrust and anxiety felt by Armenians, which will only increase after this week's armed takeover.

“Call what is happening in Nagorno-Karabakh by its proper name,” Luis Moreno Ocampo, WP, 09.22.23.

  • In international law, the Genocide Convention of 1948 makes it clear that one way to commit the crime is by "deliberately inflicting on [a] group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" (Article II c). By blocking the Lachin Corridor, Aliyev turned Nagorno-Karabakh into a vast concentration camp for 120,000 Armenians. This week's military intervention added killing (Article II a) and causing serious bodily and mental harm (Article II b) to the ledger.
  • Because Nagorno-Karabakh authorities surrendered, the international community has urged Aliyev to guarantee the full rights of his Armenian citizens in the enclave. Aliyev's government has said it is not committing ethnic cleansing and assured the world that "reintegration" will bring prosperity to the region.
  • But this rhetoric rings hollow given what has already been done. And Azerbaijan's ambitions extend beyond Nagorno-Karabakh. Since 2010, Aliyev has regularly talked about Armenia itself as "Western Azerbaijan," echoing long-standing Azerbaijani claims that Armenia as a whole is an illegitimate state. As recently as December, he said that "present-day Armenia is our land."
  • The world must call the crime by its proper name. Resistance to using the term "genocide" has been a long-standing problem in international affairs. … The last time the U.N. Security Council discussed the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, Aliyev's blockade was repeatedly called a "humanitarian situation," and continued negotiations were proposed. One is reminded of the heroic intervention by the Czech ambassador, Karel Kovanda, during the U.N. debates on Rwanda: When most leaders backed negotiating a truce, he likened the idea to "persuading Hitler to reach a ceasefire with the Jews."
  • Today, as always, geopolitics explain the world's reticence. Azerbaijan is an ally with the West against Iran; it provides energy to Europe and it spends millions on sophisticated Israeli weapons. But such exigencies must not get in the way of the world's responsibility to stop what is happening before its very eyes: the Armenian genocide of 2023.

“China Continues To Deepen Its Political Influence In Georgia,” Miro Popkhadze, FPRI, September 2023.

  • While China’s investments in the Georgian economy and its physical infrastructure increase its footprint in Georgia, its development of digital infrastructure cements its influence, which will be hard to dislodge. As the world splinters between countries that employ Chinese digital infrastructure (e.g., Russia, Iran and others) and those that don’t (e.g., mostly NATO and the European Union and their allies) the enlargement of digital ecosystems becomes the main area of competition between China and the United States. Hence, Georgia with its digital alignment with China, will be entrenched in the Chinese digital ecosystem from which it will be hard to escape. That is why accepting both physical and digital infrastructure development from China carries risks and far-reaching consequences for Georgia and its strategic orientation as it will gradually reshape its domestic political landscape and limit its ability to conduct an independent foreign policy for many years to come.
  • China’s increasing political clout in Georgia, its encirclement of the Middle Corridor, and its deployment of digital infrastructure linking both Central Asia and the South Caucasus will gradually change regional development, entrench Chinese systems in regional infrastructure, and challenge the Western liberal democratic model. The loss of the South Caucasus and ultimately the Middle Corridor to China will prove detrimental for the United States and the European Union as the global competition between the West and China will focus on global trade routes, infrastructural networks, and regional integrative initiatives, creating fault lines in the wider Black Sea region where the battle between democracies and autocracies, as well as the networks of infrastructure projects, will unfold.

“Specifics of the military-political presence of Iran, Russia and Turkey in the South Caucasus,” Yekaterina Entina, Sabina Davranova, Tigran Meloyan, and Alexander Nadzharov, Russia in Global Affairs, September 2023. Clues from Russian Views.^

  • Three regional players—Russia, Iran and Turkey—are striving to build three different models of presence in the [South Caucasus] region to realize their own interests.
    • Russia, as the successor to the USSR and the Russian Empire, has the most diverse and deep presence. However, Moscow is involved in all current conflicts in the South Caucasus, which, together with the penetration of other players, greatly limits room for maneuvering.
    • Iran is taking advantage of the post-2020 situation in the region to strengthen its own positions, primarily building relations with Armenia.
    • Turkey is pursuing an extremely active policy in the South Caucasus, trying to get maximum dividends from Azerbaijan's victory in the 44-day war.
  • The actions of the three regional players largely form a new balance of power in the South Caucasus. The activity of the three powers historically present in the region could theoretically contribute to its withdrawal from the logic of Russian-Western confrontation. However, at the moment, the interaction between Russia, Turkey and Iran is more likely a factor of escalation than de-escalation. This is due to the fact that the South Caucasus is more interesting to the states of the regional trio as a transit space that provides connectivity with Asia, the Middle East and the Black Sea region. These considerations underlie the new balance of power being formed in the South Caucasus.

“A Tragic Endgame in Karabakh,” Thomas de Waal, Carnegie Endowment, 09.22.23. 

  • Barring an unexpected international initiative, the main question may now be whether a mass exodus of Karabakhis to Armenia will happen in an orderly fashion or with bloodshed and detentions of male residents. There are modest signs that the Azerbaijanis will allow the former, but the situation on the ground is messy and volatile—as could only be expected when combatants in a three-decade-long conflict confront one another again, face to face. The repercussions of the third Karabakh war will be long and hard.



  1. For the latest developments, including the exodus of Armenians from their Karabakh homeland, see “Ethnic Armenians flee enclave as Azerbaijan asserts control,” FT, 09.25.23.


The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 12:00pm 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.

^ Translated with the help of machine translation.

Slider photo shared by via Wikimedia Commons under a CC 4.0 license.