Russia Analytical Report, Sept. 19-26, 2022

6 Ideas to Explore

  1. Vladimir Putin’s public threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine must be received soberly if only because leaders occasionally do what they say they’ll do, according to  Peggy Noonan. “American diplomats have believed Mr. Putin will never use tactical nukes because he’d fear the price. But they can’t know that, especially if they’re unclear what price they’d exact,” Noonan warns. For Putin, “the whole meaning of his adult life is his war with the West, and [Ukraine] is the battlefield,” according to this WSJ columnist.
  2. Western powers should fear a nuclear exchange over Ukraine, according to Russian strategist Dmitri Trenin. Many people in the West are no longer afraid of a nuclear war, even though they should be, given the war in Ukraine, according to Trenin. Re-instilling this fear of the “next step” in the Americans is the only way Russia can stop the U.S., Trenin claimed in a TV interview with the head of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, Fyodor Lukyanov. “The main thing here ... is to turn [Russian] nuclear weapons into an effective element of deterrence ... in order to convince the United States that a strike will follow on the U.S. territory as well,” according to the former head of the now defunct Carnegie Moscow Center.
  3. There is a growing chance that Putin will use nuclear weapons and Joe Biden needs to emulate JFK’s dual-track approach toward resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis, according to David Ignatius. Kennedy succeeded in the CMC because he showed that he was prepared to risk nuclear war to stop a reckless move by Moscow while finding a face-saving way, through a secret back channel, to avoid the ultimate catastrophe, Ignatius writes in WP.   
  4. A Russian nuclear strike against Ukraine “would be unlikely to spark a retaliation in kind” by any of Ukraine’s nuclear-armed allies. However, it could trigger conventional military responses from Western states to punish Russia, according to Western officials interviewed by FT.
  5. Putin’s mobilization is meant to protract the conflict beyond 2023 rather than to overwhelm Ukrainian forces, in hopes that the West will force Ukraine to negotiate. That is the view of RUSI’s Jack Watling, who thinks Western allies of Ukraine should respond to Putin’s decision to order a “partial” mobilization by expanding the training and arming of the Ukrainian army.
  6. Putin’s failure to address Russians’ “concerns and fears” with regard to his war in Ukraine is eroding his leadership, according to Tatiana Stanovaya. “The current political demand is for a decisive, bold, well-informed and competent strongman—and for Putin these latter two attributes are currently in doubt,” Stanovaya writes for Carnegie Endowment. Marlene Laruelle concurs with Stanovaya that Putin is in trouble, warning that the war in Ukraine may make “the ground beneath his feet ... shift.”  


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Russians vote with their feet against Putin's folly,” Editorial Board, BG, 09.25.22.

  • “In New York, the diplomatic debate has begun to focus on the ‘what next.’ Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his video address to the General Assembly Wednesday, urged the United Nations to create a special tribunal. ... [W]hile the Security Council's Thursday meeting provided a forum for discussion of Russia's crimes in Ukraine, as long as Russia exercises veto power in that body it can be little more than a debating society.”
  • “That's not to say, however, that the United Nations can't play a role in forming and giving legitimacy to a Nuremberg-style war crimes tribunal—an idea that is gaining some traction in foreign policy circles and was also the topic of some side meetings at the UN General Assembly session.”
  • “It may be small comfort to the thousands of Ukrainian families mourning their losses. But this isn't only about the tragic loss of life in Ukraine. It is also about upholding the rule of law and punishing crimes against humanity wherever they occur. It is about the international community standing up against genocidal wars of aggression—again. That process needs to begin now, and the UN is a good place to start.”

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Time is the Hidden Flank in Assessing Russia’s Mobilization,” RUSI’s Jack Watling, RUSI, 09.23.22.

  • “Having failed to seize Kyiv and then Donbas, his armies exhausted and losing ground, President Vladimir Putin finally declared mobilization.”
  • “It is not likely that the Kremlin is aiming to build a force able to overwhelm the Ukrainian armed forces. Instead, the more likely objective is to stabilize Russian losses and then to protract the conflict beyond 2023. Ukraine is already dependent on Western munitions stocks and financial support. The Kremlin’s theory of victory is likely that mobilization will sufficiently prolong the war to enable its unconventional campaign of economic warfare, political destabilization, escalation threats and influence campaigns in Europe and the U.S. to cause Ukraine’s allies to force Kyiv to negotiate.”
  • “There is a need to reinforce success now by continuing to expand training and equipping of Ukrainian troops. There is also a need to transition defense industry to be able to sustain production of equipment and ammunition throughout 2023. This is both to meet Ukraine’s needs and to reinforce a deterrence posture against China. The decision point to make such preparations is now.”

Why Putin Gambled on Russian Military Mobilization,” Nikolas K. Gvosdev of the Naval War College, NI, 09.26.22. 

  • “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to order a partial mobilization is perhaps the greatest risk he has undertaken during his 23-year tenure as Russia’s paramount leader. … Now, Putin must find a way to salvage Russia’s more modest gains after six months of fighting while forestalling the further erosion of Russian power and influence in the world—and to do so without further risking the survival of the current Russian system.” 
  • “The competing countdowns seem to be as follows:”  
    • “The first countdown is to use the mobilized forces to deploy to other military districts and to rear-echelons in Ukraine to free up enough personnel for front-line action, and then to seed both experienced reservists as well as ‘additional bodies’ to plug gaps in the lines—but to do so before Russian society reaches any sort of boiling point.”
    • “In the next several weeks, further Ukrainian moves—against the Donetsk region, or any effort to regain Kherson, Multipool, or Mariupol—must be stopped.”
    • Finally, we have the ‘winter clock.’”
  • “What is this gamble intended to produce? By spring, Putin hopes that Ukraine will not be able to sustain its campaign if significant amounts of Western help is no longer available and will accept a cease-fire. After a harsh winter, Putin assumes that European governments will prioritize the start of a diplomatic process that will clear the way for sanctions relief so that more Russian commodities can flow. The Russian economy muddles through—and the partial mobilization can end. Putin can adjust his victory conditions to claim success, and even declare that Russia prevailed not simply in an armed conflict with Ukraine, but a proxy war with the entire NATO alliance. … All that matters is Russia not having to fold in the next several weeks.” 

“The West Won’t Like Russia’s Next Move in Ukraine,” Cato Institute’s Ted Galen Carpenter, NI, 09.19.22.

  • “Russia still has several military options, and some of the scenarios should deeply worry the United States and its NATO allies.”
    • “Option 1: Moscow could launch a counter-counteroffensive—one focused on the Black Sea port of Odesa.
    • “Option 2: Although it would be extraordinarily ambitious, the Russians could contemplate initiating a major ‘pincer movement,’ sending troops northward from existing strongholds in southern Ukraine and launching a fresh offensive from Russia into Ukraine’s northeast.”
    • “Option 3: Putin could order a full national mobilization.”
    • “Option 4: Russia, smarting from its current humiliation, decides to resolve matters quickly and decisively by using tactical nuclear weapons.”
  • “Celebrations of Ukraine’s recent military successes are both premature and greatly overdone. Indeed, the cheering could prove to be entirely misplaced and inappropriate. NATO leaders and the Western news media need to realize that they may be celebrating the prelude to a prolonged, extremely bloody war or even an impending nuclear catastrophe.”

“All the Tsar’s Men: Why Mobilization Can’t Save Putin’s War,” Lawrence Freedman of King’s College London, FA, 09.23.22.

  • “How have [Putin’s] decisions as supreme commander aggravated the predicament that Russian forces now face? They have done this in four ways.”
    • “Putin’s initial mistake, once it was clear how badly the war was going, was not to use diplomatic means to bring it to an end with some gains to show for all the effort.”
    • “Second, Putin misjudged the leverage he could get from Russian oil and gas.”
    • “Third was Putin’s focus, after the failure of the initial Kyiv offensive, on territorial gains in the Donbas. The campaign in the east made more sense politically and could be executed in a more deliberate and systematic fashion. But it also meant concentrating available Russian resources into what was now a narrow segment of a very long frontline and taking high casualties for modest gains.”
    • “Because the invasion was designed as a limited and, Putin hoped, quick operation, it was not accompanied by a full mobilization. It was not even called a war. This meant that from the start Russia never had enough infantry, and over time the extensive losses in all departments made the situation worse, both quantitatively and qualitatively.”
  • “It is a common refrain among those who worry about Russia’s next moves that Putin cannot lose. But he can and he might.”

Punitive measures related to Ukraine and their impact globally:

  • No significant developments.

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“To confront Putin, Biden should study the Cuban missile crisis,” WP’s David Ignatius, WP, 09.22.22.

  • “As Russian President Vladimir Putin tries to salvage his failing invasion of Ukraine, there is a small but growing chance that he will use nuclear weapons. ... How should President Biden and other world leaders respond to this outrageous blackmail? The answer cannot be to capitulate.”
  • “Leaders must think now with the same combination of toughness and creativity that President John F. Kennedy showed during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.”
  • “Kennedy’s genius in the Cuban missile crisis was to respond to a message from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that offered a path to de-escalation, rather than to more belligerent messages. Is there a similar off-ramp with Ukraine? I doubt it. But I was struck that Putin in his Wednesday speech repeated the same claim he made at a news conference last week in Uzbekistan—that Russia had been prepared for a ‘peaceful settlement’ in the negotiations brokered by Turkey in Istanbul in late March, but that Ukraine and the West had balked.”
  • “Ukraine, for now, shows no interest in the sort of diplomatic process that Biden has said is necessary to end the war. The Ukrainians want to press their advantage against the retreating Russians, regaining as much territory as possible before winter. There’s a kind of catch-22 at work here: When the Ukrainians were losing ground last summer, they didn’t want to negotiate from weakness. Now that they’re advancing, they see no reason to compromise from a position of strength. Kyiv needs a reality check about its longer-term battlefield prospects.”
  • “Kennedy succeeded in the Cuban missile crisis for two reasons. First, he showed that he was prepared to risk nuclear war to stop a reckless move by Moscow. Second, through a secret back channel, he found a face-saving way to avoid the ultimate catastrophe. Biden should study both lessons.”

“Tick-tock: Putin escalation begins countdown of diplomacy clock,” Anatol Lieven, Responsible Statecraft, 09.22.22.

  • “Recent Ukrainian victories made the Russian government’s declaration of partial mobilization a military necessity from Russia’s point of view. Without this, Russia could not sustain the war in the long term.”
    • “The fact that Putin hesitated for so long before doing this—and that the mobilization is still only partial—is a sign of how much he fears the public reaction in Russia. Wednesday’s mass protests against conscription and the huge increase in people trying to leave Russia indicate that he was right to fear this.”
    • “It also suggests that the Russian government recognizes the extent of its strategic failure. This, and the fact that in his speech Putin made a positive reference to the peace proposals issued by the Ukrainian government last March, suggest that Russia may now be ready for negotiations, as long as they achieve at least some of the Kremlin’s initial goals.”
  • “The window of opportunity for a peaceful settlement in Ukraine is narrowing fast. It does however still exist. This is because Putin has not yet declared that Russia will officially recognize the ‘results’ of the referenda and annex these areas to Russia. … [T]he possibility still exists that Russia will pocket the ‘results’ of the referendums as bargaining chips for negotiation but will not move to immediate annexation.”
  • “To seek peace and break the present escalatory spiral is in the interests of Ukraine itself, as well as those of America and the world.”

“How Do You Handle a Wounded Putin?” NYT’s David Brooks, NYT, 09.23.22.

  • “The first American hope is that Putin will eventually do a cost-benefit analysis and conclude that his best option is to negotiate. The second American hope is that the Ukrainians will also do a cost-benefit analysis. They will realize that while they are winning the war, it is also nearly impossible to physically dislodge the Russian troops who are dug in in eastern Ukraine. They too will decide to negotiate. If that happens, a territorial settlement will be reached and the global rules-based international order will be re-established.”

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

“Nearly 90 % of the World Isn't Following Us on Ukraine,” former diplomat David H. Rundell and Amb. Michael Gfoeller, Newsweek, 09.15.22.

  • “While the United States and its closest allies in Europe and Asia have imposed tough economic sanctions on Moscow, 87% of the world's population has declined to follow us. Economic sanctions have united our adversaries in shared resistance. Less predictably, the outbreak of Cold War II, has also led countries that were once partners or non-aligned to become increasingly multi-aligned.”
  • “Alliances that were created in part to counter Western economic and political influence are expanding. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have announced their interest in joining the BRICS … The Shanghai Cooperative Organization currently links China, Russia, India and Pakistan, among others. Iran plans to join this month while Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are likely to become ‘dialogue partners,’ or candidate members. Additionally, China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative is tying many African nations to Beijing with cords of trade and debt.”
  • “Globalization can function only if most participants believe it advances their interests. If the rest believe the West is unfairly using the system for its own benefit, the rules-based international order falls apart and alternatives will emerge. … While the wealthy West can afford the cost of sanctions, much of the rest cannot. Europe now competes with the likes of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Thailand for energy shipments. In North Africa and the Middle East, energy and food shortages have raised the prospect of political unrest similar to the Arab Spring.”
  • “These concerns are generating considerable anti-Western sentiment across much of the Global South. While a nuclear-armed Russia shows no willingness to end a war its leaders cannot afford to lose; the West is rapidly losing the rest and thus undermining the very rules-based international order it has sought to create. Our most promising solution to this dilemma is likely to be some sort of diplomatic compromise.”

“The Quagmire in Ukraine Is Making Russia a Less Valuable Ally to Others,” George Mason University’s Mark N. Katz, Time, 09.21.22.

  • “Not only has Putin failed to defeat Kyiv, but he has not even been able to keep all his territorial gains in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine, as the recent ignominious flight of Russian forces in the face of the Ukrainian advance showed. It is not yet clear whether Ukrainian forces will be able to take back even more territory or whether Russia can cling on to what it has seized. Either way, Putin no longer enjoys a reputation for being militarily successful.”
  • “Many governments in the ‘Global South’ … that initially either expressed support for Putin’s war ‘against NATO,’ or remained neutral, may have done so at first because they thought Russia was going to win in Ukraine, and there was no point in needlessly incurring the wrath of a soon-to-be victorious Moscow. But now, all—except those like Iran and North Korea … are likely to take their cue from China and India by not expressing support for Putin’s war effort, even if … they take advantage of the opportunity to buy Western-sanctioned Russian oil at a steep discount.”
  • “The longer the war in Ukraine goes on, the less able Moscow may be to tamp down conflict in the former Soviet space. This will be especially ominous for Putin if Muslim opposition groups in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus see Putin’s quagmire in Ukraine as an opportunity for them to renew their rebellions.”
  • “Finally, the Ukraine war has disrupted the ability of countries to buy weapons from Russia since Moscow is not only less willing to export weapons when it needs them in Ukraine but is also less able to produce more sophisticated ones due to its inability to import semiconductors and other foreign components for them due to Western sanctions.”

“Does Putin’s Gamble Make Russia’s War in Ukraine More Dangerous?” CFR’s Thomas Graham, Council on Foreign Relations, 09.21.22.

  • “The partial mobilization is ... an indication that Russia is planning for a prolonged fight. It will likely take weeks to retrain the reservists and organize them into units for deployment along the one-thousand-kilometer front in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Kremlin hopes its nuclear saber-rattling will deter the West from providing ever more sophisticated weapons in ever greater numbers to the Ukrainians.”
  • “The United States and NATO should continue to put the onus for breaking the nuclear taboo on Putin and urge other countries, especially China and India, to reiterate their opposition to the first use of nuclear weapons. At the same time, the United States is certainly reviewing with greater urgency the range of possible responses to Russia’s use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict, and should continue to stress, as Biden already has, that Russia will pay a heavy price.”
  • “There is no near-term path to peace, and the prospects for diplomacy will dim further with these annexations. The conflict has become a war of attrition. ... The struggle is existential for Ukraine.”
  • “The conflict might not be existential for Russia, but it certainly is for Putin and his entourage.”

Vladimir Putin’s Speech—Scrutinized,” RUSI’s Emily Ferris, RUSI, 09.22.22.

  • “[In Putin’s Sept. 21 speech] there are potential alternative messages behind the threat of nuclear weapons. Given that this speech comes alongside the referendums, which aim to absorb the four [Russian-occupied] Ukrainian territories into Russia’s, Putin appears to be delineating Russia’s territorial interests more narrowly, warding the West away from them. Referendums in these regions have been discussed for several months but the debate had died down of late, only to suddenly be resurrected again amid Ukraine’s recent counteroffensive. As Putin restated in his speech, the aims of the war are now to capture the Donbas region—significantly downgraded from the previously ambitious goal of regime change in Kyiv.”
  • “Changes on the battlefield and the difference that the latest conscripts will make will be factored into the Kremlin’s ultimate decision-making in the coming months. But from his speech today, there are suggestions that Putin may consider the four territories to be part of an acceptable win for Russia in Ukraine.”

“Putin has once again overplayed his hand in Ukraine,” Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, FT, 09.23.22.

  • “The Kremlin hopes that this combination of annexation and nuclear blackmail will make the U.S. and European leaders rein in their military support for Ukraine, and that the West will advise Kyiv to abort its counteroffensive. If no peaceful negotiation can be reached which legalizes Russia’s occupation, the Kremlin won’t be sorry: it can continue to attack random targets in Ukraine with the single goal of preventing the country’s reconstruction.”
  • “Since the annexed territories will be declared Russian as of next week, the Kremlin will be able to send conscripts to the front lines to fill the gap while the mobilized force is being equipped and trained, which could take four to six months.”
  • “Now the choice facing many Russian men is to go to prison for refusing to fight or to enter the fray—with a high chance of getting killed. Protests against the mobilization have broken out across the country but, for now, the scale of resistance is too small to present a real danger to Putin.”
  • “A far bigger challenge for the Russian president’s plan B is Ukraine itself. ... Ukraine has both agency as a highly-motivated fighting force and nearly unlimited moral capital in the West. Not only will the Ukrainian army not vacate the territories annexed by Moscow, it is very likely to redouble its efforts to liberate more territory before the Russian reinforcements arrive.”
  • “Putin has boxed himself in, and will have no option but to keep going.”

“How to Answer Putin’s Escalation in Ukraine,” former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad, NI, 09.26.22 

  • “In the face of his recent military setback, Russian President Vladimir Putin has [generated] big risks. … The first is the potential use of nuclear weapons and possible drift into nuclear war. The second is the impact on the conflict and allied support for it.”
  • “In addressing the nuclear risk, we must consider the consequences of Ukraine pushing to liberate Russian-annexed territory. In that scenario, Putin may demand that the Ukrainians stop their advance and then retaliate with one or more nuclear weapons if they do not comply.” 
    • “As difficult as it is to conjure, the United States must engage China, India and other fence-sitting nations now to ensure that a nuclear strike in Ukraine will lead to the complete international isolation of Russia.”
    • “Washington must also begin to think through the rungs in the escalation ladder. The emphasis of this examination must be on meeting Russian nuclear threats at a level that avoids general nuclear war and preserves U.S. escalation dominance.” 
  • “The second risk is the impact of the additional 300,000 reservists, annexation of Donbas and prospects for a protracted conflict. Taken together, these elements could change the balance of military power in Ukraine with a concomitant reduction in European support.”
    • “[I]n the event of Putin’s escalation, [Ukrainians] will need more international military and intelligence support. The United States should fulfill that need.”  
  • “Putin has made a big mistake by escalating. He risks failure and even the loss of his position. Our role in increasing those costs is critical but, in all of our responses, we must be wise and firm. This means keeping the door open for a political settlement that serves our long-term global interests of stability and security.” 

“Three Paths Toward an Endgame for Putin’s War,” NYT’s Thomas L. Friedman NYT, 09.20.22.

  • “I discerned three possible outcomes, some totally new, some familiar, but all coming with complicated and unpredictable side effects:”
    • “Outcome 1 is a total Ukrainian victory, which risks Putin doing something crazy as defeat and humiliation stare him in the face.”
    • “Outcome 2 is a dirty deal with Putin that secures a cease-fire and stops the destruction, but it risks splintering the Western allies and enraging many Ukrainians.”
      • “I also would not rule out an Outcome 2-B, where Putin doubles down to ensure that he can unilaterally take home at least a bite of Ukraine, by trying to do more damage to Ukrainian towns he doesn’t control and by having his puppet parliament pass legislation to enable four Russian-occupied Ukrainian regions to hold ‘referendums’ on joining Russia.”
    • “Outcome 3 is a less dirty deal—we go back to the lines where everyone was before Putin invaded in February.” 
    • “Outcome 4—something no one can predict.”

Holding Ground, Losing War: Zelensky’s strategy of defending territory at all costs has been disastrous for Ukraine,” Douglas Macgregor of The American Conservative, American Conservative, 09.22.22.

  • “Given Washington’s inability to end the war in Ukraine with the defeat of Russian arms, it seems certain that the Beltway will try instead to turn the ruins of the Ukrainian state into an open wound in Russia’s side that will never heal. From the beginning, the problem with this approach was that Russia always had the resources to dramatically escalate the fighting and end the fighting in Ukraine on very harsh terms. Escalation is now in progress.”
  • “In a public statement that should not surprise anyone, President Putin announced the partial mobilization of 300,000 reservists. Many of these men will replace regular Russian Army forces in other parts of Russia and release them for operations in Ukraine. Other reservists will augment the Russian units already committed in Eastern Ukraine.”
  • “Washington always mistook Putin’s readiness to negotiate and limit the scope and destructiveness of the campaign in Ukraine as evidence of weakness, when it was clear that Putin’s aims were always restricted to the elimination of the NATO threat to Russia in Eastern Ukraine.”
  • “Moscow is in no hurry. The Russians are nothing if not methodical and deliberate. Ukrainian forces are bleeding to death in counterattack after counterattack. Why rush? Moscow can be patient. China, Saudi Arabia, and India are buying Russian oil in rubles. Sanctions are hurting America’s European allies, not Russia. The coming winter will likely do more to alter Europe’s political landscape than any action Moscow might undertake.”

“What do Americans care about? Not a Cold War with Russia and China,” WP’s Katrina vanden Heuvel, WP, 09.20.22.

  • “Congress is about to add tens of billions of dollars to the military budget. Unrepentant hawks scorn this as inadequate, urging a 50% increase, or an additional $400 billion or more a year. Aid to Ukraine totals more than $40 billion this year, and counting. A new buildup is underway in the Pacific. Biden summons Americans to the global battle between democracy and autocracy.”
  • “Americans, it is safe to say, have different … concerns, as revealed in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. Asked about the most urgent issue facing the country today, 27% of respondents—the highest number—ranked inflation as No. 1, while only 2% ranked Ukraine at the top. In a range of Economist-YouGov polls over the past month, the top foreign-policy concerns included immigration and climate change.”
  • “The foreign policy ‘blob’ may be gearing up for a global Cold War, but Americans are focused on security at home. According to a survey by the nonpartisan Eurasia Group Foundation, nearly half of Americans think the United States should decrease its involvement in other countries’ affairs; only 21.6% would increase it.”
  • “Polls, of course, are merely snapshots—and war fever can transform opinion. However, a 2021 report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs reported many of the same priorities. Far more Americans (81%) said they were concerned about threats from within the country than from outside the country (19%). … Ranked lowest were ‘helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations’ (18%) and ‘protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression’ (32%).”
  • “A foreign policy for the middle class must find a way to curb our adventures abroad so that we can rebuild our democracy and strength at home. A Cold War against Russia and China might empower the foreign policy elite, enrich the military-industrial-congressional complex and excite our bellicose media, but it ignores the American people’s common sense.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Still ‘No Limits’? The China-Russia Partnership After Samarkand,” Elizabeth Wishnick of CNA and Montclair State University, RM, 09.22.22.

  • “This month’s meeting between the Chinese and Russian presidents on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan has led to renewed scrutiny of the scope and depth of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership. Xi Jinping referred to Vladimir Putin as his ‘dear and old friend,’ but Putin admitted that Xi had raised ‘questions and concerns’ about Ukraine, though the Russian president also praised China’s ‘balanced position’ on the conflict. Unlike the case of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who clearly stated that ‘today’s era is not one of war’ and urged Putin to end the conflict through dialogue, the details of Xi’s remarks on Ukraine remain unknown. Many observers have filled in the blanks and jumped to the conclusion that Xi has finally broken with Putin over Ukraine. This reflects a misunderstanding of what the ‘no limits’ partnership between Russia and China really means.”
  • “Despite their many conflicts of interest in Ukraine and elsewhere, Russia and China continue to be bound together. Typically we focus on the geopolitical factors, such as perceived threats from the U.S. and its allies, the need for security along their lengthy border and their growing energy partnership. But under Xi and Putin the normative dimension also has been significant—both view regime security as their main priority and are determined to shape the international order in such a way that authoritarian states can be rule-makers.”
  • “Hopes in the U.S. for greater daylight emerging between Russia and China over Putin’s war on Ukraine will continue to go unfulfilled as long as the leaders of the two countries persist in prioritizing regime security and agree to disagree over the issues that divide them, not just in Ukraine but in the Arctic, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. A more promising avenue for the U.S. would be to concentrate on Russia’s increasingly nervous neighbors in Central Asia and develop a meaningful strategy to engage them.”

“Russia Facing China: Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella?” RIAC’s Andrey Kortunov, Global Brief/ RIAC, 09.16.22. Clues from Russian Views

  • “A large number of Russian analysts, politicians and journalists seemingly perceive China as the modern incarnation of the fairy godmother, ready with her magic wand to solve all the numerous problems of modern Russia, quickly and painlessly. They expect Beijing to vigorously oppose U.S. and EU anti-Russian sanctions ... However, the world of fairy tales and the world of international politics have little in common.”
  • “The real China ... is a vast and rather complex country, with its numerous and varied national interests, aspirations and priorities. Some happen to coincide with those of Russia, some overlap only partially, while others diverge altogether. Therefore, it would be hardly fair to define Beijing’s foreign policy as ‘pro-’ or ‘anti-Russian,’ since they have always been and will primarily be ‘pro-Chinese.’”
  • “Russian analysts and journalists should not flatter themselves, because no one will solve Russia’s own problems for it. No good wizard can turn a pumpkin into a carriage, mice into horses, and ash-soaked rags into a gorgeous ball gown. No generous fairy will shoe Russia in shimmering glass slippers and no Prince Charming awaits Moscow at the magical royal ball.”
  • “Russia should fight corruption and mismanagement, the overreach of officials and oppression of small businesses, all on its own. The country should invest in human capital, promoting its innovation sector, introducing full-fledged federalism and local governance, increasing the efficiency of the court system at all levels and unleashing the creative potential of Russian society to its fullest. The faster and further Russia advances these goals, the more valuable a partner it will become—both for China and other foreign countries. This, in turn, means that the current crisis in the Russia-West relations should become another incentive to speed up the socio-economic modernization of the country, rather than slack or freeze it.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

It’s a Mistake to Shrug Off Putin’s Threats,” WSJ’s Peggy Noonan, WSJ, 09.22.22.

  • “Vladimir Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine must be received soberly, if for no other reason than that leaders occasionally do what they say they’ll do. There are reasons beyond that. He has lost hardware, soldiers, ground and face. He is cornered and escalating, increasing the odds of mistake and miscalculation.”
  • “Russia is long thought to have about 10 times as many tactical nuclear weapons as the U.S., with delivery systems ranging from mobile ground-based launchers to ships .... radioactive debris in Ukraine would waft this way or that with wind currents, possibly west toward Poland, possibly toward Mr. Putin’s own troops. Not that he’d care; not that they’d think he’d care.”
  • “American diplomats have believed Mr. Putin will never use tactical nukes because he’d fear the price. But they can’t know that, especially if they’re unclear what price they’d exact. They hope Russian officials in the command structure would thwart such an order, but they can’t be certain of that either. They believe they can’t bow to nuclear blackmail because that would bring a whole new order of international chaos with it, and that’s true. … The whole meaning of his [Putin’s] adult life is his war with the West, and this is the battlefield.
  • “All this is apart from other unconventional means of trouble at his disposal, from cyber and infrastructure attacks to fighting near nuclear reactors, as has already occurred. There is the economic and political turmoil that will follow his cutting natural-gas supplies to Western Europe. … The leaders of the nations that would go to war in August 1914 were certain in July that there wouldn’t be a war—there couldn’t be, because everyone had too much to lose.”
  • I hope our leaders are groping toward something, some averting process, maybe along the lines of French President Emmanuel Macron’s urging for a negotiated peace. … When a bad man who’s a mad man says he’ll do something terrible, it’s not wrong to think about every way you can to slow or stop him. … I know the size of this war and this time in history. It’s not the same old, not the usual. It feels like a turning point. We have to get serious in some new way.

“Bring the fear back!” Dmitri Trenin interviewed by Fyodor Lukyanov, Russia in Global Affairs/Mezhdunarodnya Panorama, 09.26.22. Clues from Russian Views

  • “Our ‘red line’ is absent from the American rule book, which the world is based on. Therefore, the only thing that can stop the United States in this situation is fear—its own fear of the next step. That's it, there's nothing else.”
  • “Putin’s 2018 observation that ‘we don’t need a world without Russia’ has somehow stuck with me. And I always remember it. But I don't think it's taken that seriously by many people in the United States, for example.”
  • “In my opinion, many people in the United States and in Europe (to a much lesser extent in Europe) probably do not view a nuclear exchange in the European theater of war, that is, not only in Ukraine, but on a wider scale, as something that is catastrophic in principle. And the main thing here, in my opinion, is to turn [Russian] nuclear weapons into an effective element of deterrence in this concrete Ukrainian situation in order to convince the United States that a strike will follow on the U.S. territory as well.”
  • “It is quite possible that the [Russian nuclear] strike will occur not on a specific theater of operations, but at a certain distance from it. The funnel is drawing in not only us, but the Americans as well. And we are heading towards a head-on collision ... For us, this is an existential question, because we are talking not only about the fate of Ukraine, but (which is much more important for us) about the fate of Russia, and in the most fundamental sense of the word.”

“Kyiv’s western allies boost nuclear deterrence after Putin’s threats,” FT’s Felicia Schwartz, Henry Foy and Max Seddon, FT, 09.25.22.

  • “The Russian president’s nuclear warnings are ‘a matter that we have to take deadly seriously,’ White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS on Sunday. ‘We have communicated directly, privately at very high levels to the Kremlin that any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia, that the United States and our allies will respond decisively, and we have been clear and specific about what that will entail,’ he said.”
  • “While they believe Putin’s threats are unlikely to materialize and do not signal a formal shift in the Kremlin’s nuclear strategy, Kyiv’s allies are increasing nuclear vigilance and deterrence, according to five western officials who spoke under the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.”
  • “‘If he thinks the threat is going to intimidate Ukraine into capitulating or giving up 20% of its territory, or intimidate the rest of us away from helping Ukraine, the opposite has happened,’ one U.S. senior official said. Two other Western officials said that a nuclear strike against Ukraine would be unlikely to spark a retaliation in kind but would instead trigger conventional military responses from Western states to punish Russia.”
  • “If Putin resorts to nuclear weapons, the most likely scenario might be that he would test or use a tactical nuclear weapon—a smaller, more targeted device designed to be used on a battlefield—to deter the West from supporting Ukraine, officials and analysts said.”
  • “The U.S. has also discussed scenarios with the Ukrainians about possible nuclear use and walked through ‘protection and safety,’ the senior U.S. official said.”

“A Nuclear Shadow Over the Ukraine War,” NYT’s Ross Douthat, NYT, 09.24.22.

  • “By announcing referendums in occupied regions of Ukraine, Putin was essentially declaring that Russia intended to absorb them into its own territory. By promising to defend Russian territory with 'all the means at our disposal' he was pledging to defend the conquests with, at the very least, tactical nuclear strikes.”
  • “This creates an unusually perilous dynamic. … [W]e have an active conflict, a hot war, where a non-nuclear power is trying to win a victory with conventional forces and the other side is attempting to draw a red line past which nukes will be deployed—meaning that if the war continues on its current trajectory, that side's bluff will be called, and it will face an immediate choice between the nuclear option and defeat. The closest Cold War parallels might be Fidel Castro's desire for Soviet nukes to defend his regime against invasion, or Douglas MacArthur's request for permission to use nuclear weapons to forestall outright defeat in the Korean War.”
  • “Except with the added twist in this case that the key decision makers, Putin and his inner circle, are more immediately threatened … by the prospect of conventional defeat in the Ukraine War than the United States was threatened by the prospect of defeat in Korea or the Soviet Union by the prospect of Castro being toppled.”
  • “This doesn't mean that we should expect Putin to use nuclear weapons (and it's unclear from the Russian chain of command just how singular the decision would be). The world-historical recklessness of such a decision would carry its own potentially regime-destroying consequences—the possibility of escalation to outright war with NATO, the total abandonment of Russia by its remaining quasi-friends and the full collapse of its economy.”
  • “American support for Ukraine is good and necessary, but there is a point at which Ukraine's goals and America's interests may diverge, and the combination of Ukrainian military breakthroughs and Russian nuclear threats brings that point closer than before -- the point where the Ukrainians want to go all the way, and we require negotiation and restraint.”

“Take Putin’s Nuclear Threat Seriously, But Not Too Seriously,” Bloomberg’s Hal Brands, Bloomberg, 09.22.22.

  • “[In his Sept. 21 speech] Russian President Vladimir Putin has raised anew the possibility he might use nuclear weapons against Ukraine to prevail in a conflict going sideways. The smart money says he won’t, because doing so—or otherwise expanding the conflict drastically—wouldn’t make a bad situation any better. Yet the smart money might not have predicted the choices that set Putin down this path in the first place.”
  • “Would Putin carry through on the threat? In Washington and other Western capitals, there are two schools of thought.”
    • “Optimists believe Putin won’t use nuclear weapons because doing so wouldn’t really help him.”
    • “Pessimists aren’t so sure Putin is bluffing, because using nuclear weapons might not actually backfire. Some unknown portion of the international community would become desperate to end the fighting immediately, even at the cost of making concessions to Moscow.”
  • “Yes, using nuclear weapons would be an existential gamble for Putin. But if he was headed for a defeat that threatened his hold on power, and perhaps his life, then why not gamble big rather than end up like Moammar Al Qaddafi?”
  • “It is sobering to realize that we are now in the gravest great-power nuclear crisis in a half-century. It is more sobering still to think that avoiding nuclear escalation may require Putin to show more prudence and caution in ending this war than he did in starting it.”

“Vladimir Putin’s desperate roll of the dice,” Editorial Board, FT, 09.21.22.

  • “Putin’s [Sept. 21] declaration must be taken for what it is: a cynical rewriting of history designed to coerce Ukraine and its western backers to accept Russia’s gains. ... That is not to say his nuclear threats should be dismissed: they are serious and, if mishandled, risk catastrophe. A cornered, nuclear-armed autocrat is a dangerous and unpredictable one—for his own people, for Ukraine, and for the world.”
  • “The Kremlin has long reserved the right to use all possible means, including nuclear weapons, to protect its country and people. This does not represent a new nuclear threat, but it steps up the rhetoric. For western leaders, Putin’s bombast is evidence their strategy of support and supplies to Ukraine is working. This may not amount to a final roll of the dice by Putin but it is clearly a desperate one. The world’s response must be as cool as it is resolute.”

“The Nuclear Weapons Factor on Interstate Politics in the Russia-Ukraine War,” Polina Sinovets of Mechnikov National University, Odesa, PONARS, 09.19.22.

  • “One can foresee three most probable scenarios for the use of nuclear weapons during the war on Ukraine.”
    • “One might be due to a highly successful counteroffensive operation by Ukrainian forces, which would ‘threaten Putin’s political positions and the stability of his regime.’”
    • “The second might be an escalation of the war involving Crimean territory or missile strikes on Russia itself. It may result from Ukraine’s troops’ counteroffensive operations and also the application of new Western artillery systems in those areas.”
    • “The third case could be an unintentional nuclear escalation resulting from Russia’s early warning systems due to possible malfunction or misperception, such as a spontaneous clash between Russian and NATO aircraft.”
  • “Russian rhetoric became sprinkled this year with nuclear-use references that are meant to serve several purposes.”
    • “Among the many reasons the Kremlin gave for its invasion of Ukraine, a vehemently expressed one was to prevent NATO military facilities from being potentially deployed there.”
    • “Putin also wanted Ukraine’s actual and possible allies to feel a fear factor, both at the launch of the invasion and later, as the conflict dragged on and Russia experienced losses.”
  • “We can expect Moscow’s nuclear rhetoric to rise when it senses its upper hand slipping, even if it may add to geopolitical misinterpretations. Further, battlefield desperation or an unexpected military mishap could trigger a Russian nuclear release. But on the most important underlying query: if Ukraine chooses a future aligned with Europe, is the existence of the Russian state in jeopardy? No.”

“Putin’s nuclear threats cannot be ignored,” FT’s Gideon Rachman, FT, 09.26.22.

  • “After a series of Russian defeats, Vladimir Putin has called up more troops and once again threatened to use nuclear weapons.”
  • “Putin is cornered. He is also immoral and reckless. Using a nuclear weapon is clearly not his first choice. But it might be his last roll of the dice—if the alternative was humiliation and defeat.”

“Cuban Missile Crisis: Lessons of Our Foreign Policy Strategy,” Russian presidential adviser Alexander Kramarenko, RIAC, 09.26.22. Clues from Russian Views

  • “The Cuban Missile Crisis was provoked by Washington's hysterical emotional reaction to Moscow's actions meant to ensure its own and its ally's security. The Soviet leadership did not violate any international obligations: there were simply none at that time, and the United States did not consider it necessary to negotiate with Moscow on strategic arms control.”
  • “It is worth reconsidering the attitude towards Khrushchev's policy, formulated as ‘A special way of implementing foreign policy by threatening the imperialists with war.’ Its integral part was the strategic relationship with China based on the principle of ‘back to back,’ which is also relevant again.”
  • “We stuck to our promise to the Americans to keep the terms of the settlement confidential. [There was] a misunderstanding by Soviet public opinion of what actually happened. American propaganda ‘sold’ it as the defeat of Moscow ... that is why it is important [today] to dot the i's in this story.”
  • “The similarity between the current situation in Ukraine and October 1962 is that Washington has publicly articulated its radical positions. This reduced the space for maneuver for the Americans and served as a means of pressure on Moscow. We are acting in exactly the same way now: by publicly declaring the goals of the NWO. But this time, our strategy is already limiting Washington's room for maneuver.”
  • “In fact, we have drawn the right conclusion from the experience, including the Cuban Missile Crisis: no secret diplomacy, all cards on the table and public display, plus diplomacy backed by force.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

  • 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:

“Russia's Sergei Lavrov Warns U.S. It Risks Becoming Combatant in Ukraine War,” Interview by Tom O’Connor, Newsweek, 09.21.22. Clues from Russian Views

  • “I would like to emphasize that the collective West, led by the United States, is openly seeking to defeat Russia ‘on the battlefield.’ The United States and its allies are ready to sacrifice Ukraine for the sake of their geopolitical goals. To achieve them, they pump the country with weapons, and this leads to an escalated and prolonged conflict. It puts off the prospects of its settlement.”
  • “The Russian-American interstate dialogue has been practically frozen owing to the United States. It is objectively not possible to maintain normal communication with Washington declaring the strategic defeat of Russia as an objective. It equally pertains to the consultations on strategic stability and arms control discontinued by the American side. Naturally, we note some sketchy signals from the U.S. administration, and personally Joe Biden, concerning the resumption of the START dialogue, but what is behind those signals remains to be seen.”
  • “As for the detained U.S. citizens, we have repeatedly warned that it is counterproductive to bring this issue before the public. … As for the Americans imprisoned during combat operations, one should turn to the authorities in Kyiv as well as senior officials of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics through official diplomatic channels.”
  • “Strategic partnership with China remains an absolute foreign policy priority for Russia. It is sustainable, long-term and does not depend on the volatility of the international environment.
  • “Unfortunately, Washington seems to be still living in the day before yesterday, thinking in terms of unipolarity. … I can say straight away that we do not exaggerate the importance of the results of these [U.S. Congressional] elections in the context of improving Russian-American relations, given the persistent rejection at the Capitol of the very idea of equal dialogue with Moscow. It is still too early to say anything about the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign since it has not really begun yet.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“What Russia’s Elites Think of Putin Now,” Carnegie Endowment’s Tatiana Stanovaya, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, FP, 09.19.22. Clues from Russian Views

  • “Putin’s unwillingness to explain himself, to reveal practical plans and intentions, or to address concerns and fears is one of the main reasons that his leadership is being eroded. It’s one thing to put your fate in the hands of a political leader who is a proven strongman with the capacity to stand firm in the face of geopolitical challenges. It’s another thing entirely to find yourself completely dependent on a political leader who seems to be losing yet remains stubbornly reluctant to explain anything.”
  • “Over the course of September, the long-running question of ‘How are we going to win this war?’ became ‘How are we going to avoid losing this war?’”
  • “The military setbacks and ensuing uncertainty and fears that Russia may lose the war have also aggravated internal splits. The current challenging situation on the front has deepened the schism between two large groups: The first can be summarized as ‘let Putin do what he considers necessary,’ and the second one as ‘it’s time to do something, since the Kremlin is failing to react appropriately.’”
  • “For 21 years, Putin was a highly convenient political leader for Russia’s ruling elites: His popularity guaranteed political stability and predictability, while his reluctance to carry out any reforms ensured the conservation of the status quo. While his high approval rating still safeguards against political destabilization from ordinary Russians, he has suddenly been transformed into a destroyer: a leader of a country with a very uncertain future.”
  • “But make no mistake. It’s not anti-Putin sentiment that has been rising. The current political demand is for a decisive, bold, well-informed, and competent strongman—and for Putin these latter two attributes are currently in doubt.”

“What the History of Russia’s Power Struggles Says About Putin’s Future,” Sergey Radchenko of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, FA, 09.22.22.

  • “Vladimir Putin has lost touch with reality. ... [B]ut even if Putin’s deputies conclude they want Putin out, removing him from power will be difficult. Moscow has experienced no coup attempts, successful or unsuccessful, since the Soviet Union fell.” If the events of October 1993 in Moscow were not a coup attempt, then what is?1
  • “Putin has likely decided to stay in office. But as his reign of corruption and infamy approaches its 23rd anniversary, and as Putin nears 70, it is almost certain that his would-be replacements are carefully eyeing one another and thinking through potential succession scenarios.”
  • “All [of Putin’s potential successors] are implicated in Putin’s many violent acts, including his invasion of Ukraine. And on the surface, it seems that each one’s ascension would change little about Russia’s foreign agenda. But the Kremlin’s power plays rarely involve questions of principle, and successors may well break with the behavior of predecessors when convenient. That means that Putin’s eventual replacement does not have to be invested in his neo-imperialist agenda. Indeed, were Putin ousted, his successors would likely blame Ukraine on his decisions and try to begin with a clean slate.”
  • “Analysts, of course, do not know whether losses in Ukraine will shake Putin’s hold on power. And his successor may ultimately continue the war to placate Russia’s ultranationalists or simply because of inertia. But if Putin does go, the world should use his departure as a chance to resume negotiations for Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine. A post-Putin Russia may still be autocratic, but it does not have to continue his reckless overseas adventures.”

“How the mobilization threatens Vladimir Putin,” Istories, 09.22.22. Clues from Russian Views

  • “The absence of Nazis in Ukrainian villages and cities, the scale of destruction and suffering of civilians, the lack of professionalism of the Russian military command, leading to the needless death of colleagues, the hatred of the local population for the ‘liberators’—all this can make ready opponents of the regime from the fighters who returned from the war. But they still talk about what they saw to relatives, friends and acquaintances.”
  • “When 300,000 reservists are sent to war … the number of suddenly awakened people can increase significantly. In addition, people will return from the front, realizing that they were deceived, used and sent to their deaths. All of them will be with combat experience, able to hold weapons in their hands and capable of killing. In Russian conditions (taking into account the lessons of history) this is an unpredictable force. It is not clear who can become its leader and where that leader direct that force.”
  • “The irresolvable contradiction lies in the fact that the Russian military group in Ukraine cannot do without mobilization: on a front that is more than a thousand kilometers long, the troops of the attacking side cannot be half as numerous as those of the defending side. At the same time, sending hundreds of thousands of people to the front could be suicidal for the regime.”

“Turning an imperialist into a patriotic war,” Nikolai Petrov, Russia.Post, 09.23.22. Clues from Russian Views

  • “The unexpected and hasty referendums called in the occupied territories of Ukraine are attributable to a couple factors.”
    • “The sudden referendums look like an attempt to seize the initiative politically since it wasn’t possible to seize the territories by military means.”
    • “It is also an attempt to turn an aggressive war into a patriotic war, as if the four territories seized from Ukraine become part of Russia, military operations there will automatically turn into a war on the ‘territory of the Russian Federation’ with all the political (psychological) and military consequences, including the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons in response to aggression ‘on the territory of Russia.’”
  • “The repressive nature of the regime is inevitably worsening. A crackdown is inevitable against objectors and deserters, but also in relation to manifestations of disloyalty, as well as members of the elite. By putting interactions with society into a mobilization regime, and moving away from depoliticization and toward coercion, including coercion to give one's life, Putin is finally turning the regime from a police state into a brutal repressive state.”

“Putin Is in Trouble,” Marlene Laruelle of George Washington University, NYT, 09.22.22.

  • “Though the war has significantly reduced the scope for dissent, there are still several competing ideological camps within the ruling elite capable of making their voices heard. For example, the so-called systemic liberals, mostly concentrated in state financial institutions and among oligarchs, have expressed concerns about the war’s consequences for the Russian economy. But it is another group, emboldened by the Kremlin’s failure to deliver victory in Ukraine, that is putting ever more pressure on the regime. Call it the party of war. Made up of the security agencies, the Defense Ministry and outspoken media and political figures, it encompasses the entire radical nationalist ecosystem—and its adherents have been mounting a sustained critique of the Kremlin’s handling of the war in Ukraine.”
  • “Powerful, well positioned and ideologically committed, they want a much more aggressive war effort. And judging from Mr. Putin’s address on Wednesday—where he announced the call-up of roughly 300,000 troops, gave his support to referendums in the four occupied regions of Ukraine on joining Russia and repeated the threat of nuclear escalation—they seem to be getting their way.”
  • “There’s also assurance that hard-liners in the ruling elite will accept domestic repression as a substitute for military success abroad—or that the influx of troops will substantially alter the dynamics on the battlefield. With an overdrawn and exhausted army, Mr. Putin must still find a way to deliver a military result that can be framed as at least a partial victory. It doesn’t help that the country’s major backers, China and India, have begun to voice concerns.”
  • “Even amid such difficulties, it would be a mistake to foresee a collapse of the regime, ensconced for two decades. But Mr. Putin, like any leader, depends on legitimacy to ensure his rule. And in the weeks and months ahead, he may discover that the ground beneath his feet has started to shift.”

How Higher Education Keeps Dictators in Power,” Margaret Hanson of Arizona State University and Sarah Wilson Sokhey of the University of Colorado Boulder, Jordan Center, 09.21.22.

  • “Higher education is a popular form of public spending, particularly among the middle and upper classes, who disproportionately benefit from it. Typically, it helps to foster economic growth and development by improving a country’s human capital. Economic performance can, in turn, legitimate authoritarian rule. For authoritarian regimes, however, investing in universities also poses a risk. Cultivating a robust system of higher education may facilitate the development of a middle class and politically active youth movements that may be inclined to advocate for democracy. Universities can also be a convenient focal point for collective action and protest.”
  • “We offer evidence that autocrats are most likely to benefit from investing in higher education when the public sector is large and the population is therefore more economically dependent on the state.”
  • “The main lesson of our research is that authoritarian leaders use public goods to build support and stay in power. Higher education can be a tool to reward regime supporters, including those who can be co-opted through state employment into a large public sector. In the end, even public goods are not public when democracy is absent.”

Defense and aerospace:

“Putin just called up young men to the war. He's taking a big risk,” Sam Greene of King’s College London, WP, 09.21.22.

  • “New data … suggests [Putin] should be worried about turning a different tide: that of public support for the war.”
    • “Just as older Russians have consistently been among the biggest proponents of the war, younger Russians have been among its most consistent opponents. Among respondents aged 18 to 24, 'only' 68% supported the war … much less than the 81% among the total population, or the 88% among those aged 55 and older. The surveys also show that women are more likely to openly oppose the war than men.”
    • “Equally importantly, the data reveals a range of negative emotions closely connected with opposition to the war: anger, shame, depression, fear and shock. Indeed, 31% of respondents said that the war made them feel horror, fear or anxiety. Feeling just one of the negative emotions in the surveys increased opposition to the war from 4% to 21%. Of those who said they felt all four or more negative emotions, 74% opposed the war. A close look at these data, then, gives us a clearer picture of who the war's biggest opponents are: young, fearful women.”
      • “For the resistance to the war to grow, young, fearful women will need to be joined by someone new—and the Levada data strongly suggest that the answer is young, married, unemotional men.”
      • “On the face of it, those young married men with no emotional response to the war were just as likely as anyone else to say they support the war … But 26% of those men avoided the question altogether … While there is not enough data to provide a precise estimate, statistical analysis shows that young, married, 'unemotional' men are significantly more likely than any other category to keep their opinions about the war to themselves … For Putin, then, asking young men to commit their lives to a flagging war effort is risky—not only because it might not bring benefits on the battlefield, but because it is likely to provoke many of those men into outright opposition to the war itself. For the war's opponents, on the other hand, appealing to young married men looks like the clearest route to stymying Putin's plans.”
  •  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:

“Russia Is Losing India,” Happymon Jacob of Jawaharlal Nehru University, FA, 09.22.22.

  • “Today, there is little that connects the two countries. India has limited incentive to remain closely tethered to Russia, outside of … their now-shrinking defense trade. In 2021, trade between India and Russia was worth around $13 billion. Fewer than 30,000 Indians live in Russia, and fewer Indians speak Russian than did during the peak of Soviet-India friendship during the Cold War.”
    • “India’s dependence on Russia will continue to wane over time as it leans on alternate military suppliers such as France, Israel and the United States.”
  • “The new generation of India’s strategic community has little interest in Russia. The pool of Russia specialists in India is shrinking. India’s old elite was more supportive of Russia, but younger Indian leaders and thinkers have less reason to be inclined toward Moscow—a process that began at the end of the Cold War.”
  • “One crucial area where Russia was useful to India was at the U.N. Security Council, where it often assisted India in opposing the adoption of sanctions or other resolutions. But many analysts and former policymakers in New Delhi today think that France or even the United States could help India pursue its interests at the Security Council. Furthermore, India could grow concerned that China may influence a weakened Russia’s votes on the Security Council.”
  • “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has quickened the evolution of a more definitive realignment, with Russia and China drawing closer and India drifting to the West. Even if Moscow and New Delhi make a serious effort to sustain their relationship, structural constraints such as growing Sino-Russian ties, closer India-U.S. relations and the increasing geopolitical incompatibility between the two sides are bound to drive a wedge between them.”
    • “Still, the Moscow-New Delhi relationship has enough ballast not to sink in the immediate future.” 

“Russia and India: A New Chapter,” Rajan Menon of Defense Priorities and Eugene Rumer of the Carnegie Endowment, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 09.20.22.

  • “The fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of India and China, the U.S.-China tensions, the deepening of U.S.-India ties and the Russian-Chinese partnership intensified by Russia’s break with the West and the war against Ukraine have had a profound effect on Russian-Indian relations.”
  • “Of the three pillars of the Moscow–New Delhi relationship, only one remains: the arms trade. Russia remains a major supplier of weapons to India, and Russian equipment still makes up a vast portion of Indian Armed Forces’ force structure; but Russia is facing competition in the Indian arms market.”
    • “India’s desire to diversify its supply of weapons and develop its own defense industry has resulted in declining Russian arms deliveries to India in recent years.”
  • “Russia’s break with the West because of its war against Ukraine has accelerated its pivot toward China. Against the backdrop of U.S.-China and China-India tensions, Russia’s position as China’s junior partner will make it harder for Russia to preserve partnership with India. Moscow’s leverage versus both New Delhi and Beijing is shrinking as they have greater capabilities of their own than they had previously and have new partners that offer more than Russia.”
  • “Whether Washington’s relationship with New Delhi thrives or proves disappointing will depend on the extent to which it benefits both parties rather than on the degree to which the United States succeeds in pushing India away from Russia. The future of the Indian-Russian relationship will have its own logic, determined increasingly by India, and can be shaped at best only at the margins by the United States.”

“Russia in the Balkans After Ukraine: A Troubling Actor,” Paul Stronski of the Carnegie Endowment, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 09.20.22.

  • “The Kremlin has demonstrated repeatedly that the Balkans are a conducive environment for punching back against the United States and the European Union (EU). The region’s ample ethnic, political and social fractures, along with widespread disenchantment with the slow pace of Euro-Atlantic integration, create easy opportunities for Moscow to disrupt the post–Cold War European order.”
  • “Going forward, Western Balkan countries will likely have to weigh the threat of alienating the EU or the United States against the benefits of marginal gains from purchasing gas supplies from Russia.”
    • “If the EU throws its weight behind diversification efforts, Russia’s energy toolkit in southeastern Europe may not be all it is cracked up to be. Of course, any such changes will require time and massive investment, neither of which is assured.”
  • “Still, Russia remains a dangerous actor in the Western Balkans. It has a proven capacity and willingness to play the spoiler in regional reconciliation and integration processes. With Russia’s economic toolkit likely weakening over time, the war in Ukraine could incentivize Moscow to use its more destabilizing tools in the region with the goal of overtaxing the limited bandwidth of EU and U.S. decisionmakers. Russia has proven that it knows how to be a master of distraction and how to take advantage of ethnic cleavages, bolster hardline nationalist politicians and complicate the region’s lagging reform agendas.”

“Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s Remarks at the General Debate of the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly,”, 09.24.22. Clues from Russian Views

  • “The future world order is being decided today, as any unbiased observer can clearly see. The question is whether this world order will have a single hegemon that forces everyone else to live by its infamous rules, which only benefit this hegemon ... Or whether this will be a democratic and just world free from blackmail and intimidation against the unwanted, as well as free from neo-Nazism and neo-colonialism. Russia firmly opts for the second option.”
  • “The unipolar global development model, which served the golden billion who for centuries had been fueling its excessive consumption by relying on Asian, African and Latin American resources, is receding into the past.”
  • “Clearly, the notorious Monroe Doctrine is becoming global in scope. Washington is trying to turn the entire globe into its own backyard while it uses illegal unilateral sanctions as a tool for coercing those who disagree.” 
  • “For many years, we have been repeatedly offering to agree on the rules for co-existence in Europe based on the principles of equal and indivisible security as set forth at the highest level in the OSCE documents. ... Considering the inability of the Western countries to engage in talks, and the fact that the Kyiv regime was continuing the war against its own people, we were left with no choice but to recognize the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics and launch a special military operation to protect Russians and other people in Donbas, while also removing threats to our own security, which NATO has been consistently creating on Ukrainian territory, and which is de facto right on our border.”


  • No significant developments.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Russia Can’t Protect Its Allies Anymore. Moscow is Overstretched in Ukraine—and Armenia Is Suffering the Consequences,” FPRI’s Maximilian Hess, FP, 09.22.22.

  • “Following the Sept. 12-14 fighting, Armenia turned to the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and requested a direct intervention to protect it. Pashinyan had backed Russia’s use of the CSTO as its vector for intervening in Kazakhstan following mass unrest there this January, in an effort to shore up support.”
    • “However, the organization has no independent position from Russia. Amid the deteriorating situation for the Russian military in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin showed no interest in diverting efforts.”
  • “The CSTO duly refused to get involved, just as it did in 2020, when it excused its absence by stating the fighting was not in Armenia proper. That justification was no longer available, revealing the organization to be a paper tiger.”
  • “Baku appears emboldened, confident in its apparent military supremacy over Armenia. The power vacuum in the region resulting from Russia’s self-inflicted troubles and self-interested foreign policy risks turning into a black hole, the gravitational pull of which is so strong that it crushes all that falls into it.”
    • “Unless the crisis moves far up the international agenda—and the United States, the EU and Turkey can work together to disincentivize Azerbaijan—the outlook for Armenia is bleak.”

“SCO Summit in Samarkand: Alliance Politics in the Eurasian Region,” Andrea Schmitz of SWP, SWP, 09.20.22.

  • “The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan on 15 and 16 September has been interpreted as the gathering of an anti-Western alliance. Such assessments misconceive the complex constellations in non-European political spaces.”
  • “Expansion of the SCO to include countries such as Iran and, prospectively, Turkey as well as Arab states is an extremely attractive option for the Central Asians. However, they do not associate this with the prospect of a powerful alliance against the West, from which they would gain no advantage. Rather, the benefit of an expanded SCO for them lies in increasing the diversity within the organization, thereby curbing claims to power by individual members and at the same time expanding their own room for maneuver.”


  1. Here and elsewhere italicized text represents contextual commentary by RM staff.