Russia Analytical Report, Sept. 5-11, 2023

4 Ideas to Explore

  1. Russia’s military has proved to be “capable of learning and adapting” in Ukraine and these adjustments are “clearly hindering Ukrainian progress,” according to Margarita Konaev and Owen J. Daniels of Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology. Among other things, the Russian invasion force has “revitalized its electronic warfare capabilities” and “reconstituted its command-and-control infrastructure and processes,” according to these two experts. “Russia’s learning is not” the only obstacle faced by the Armed Forces of Ukraine (ZSU), according to Konaev and Daniels. “The slow pace of Ukraine’s counteroffensive also partly reflects the inherent difficulties of conducting large-scale joint offensive military operations against an entrenched enemy, as well as the delays in getting the right weapons and materiel,” they write in a commentary for FA.
  2. “G-20 leaders have failed to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a joint statement after China and Russia rejected language that blamed Moscow for the conflict, highlighting the lack of global consensus in support of Kyiv,” according to FT’s assessment of the outcome of last week’s G-20 summit in India. The New Delhi summit declaration refers only to the “war in Ukraine,” a formulation that supporters of Kyiv such as the U.S. and NATO allies have previously rejected as it implies both sides are equally complicit, according to FT’s Henry Foy, John Reed, James Politi and Joe Leahy. “The declaration called for a ‘just and durable peace in Ukraine’ but did not explicitly link that demand to the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” this FT trio writes.
  3. If corruption is left to fester” in Ukraine, it will also diminish this country’s  chances of joining the EU and NATO, according to WP’s editorial board. Graft remains an “existential threat to Ukraine,” and to help Ukrainians fight this bane, America and its allies should boost support for “Ukrainian investigators who can demand accountability from their government in perpetuity rather than create an American agency that will disappear over time,” according to Farah Stockman of NYT’s editorial board. Mark Champion of Bloomberg believes Volodymyr Zelensky “needs to fight corruption like he’s fighting Putin.” He also cautions, however, that Zelensky’s current “focus on quick, draconian fixes to deal with corruption, rather than the deep institutional and judicial cleanup that’s required” merits concerns.
  4. Alexander Solovyov, deputy editor of Russia in Global Affairs, spotted “many similarities” between Russia and North Korea shortly before Kim Jong Un’s armored train left Pyongyang to take him to Vladivostok for talks with Vladimir Putin. “In addition to the fight against imperialism and hegemonism, they include [the belief in the] unconditional primacy of sovereignty,” Solovyov wrote in a commentary for his journal. “Other common features of the foreign policy discourse are statism, the image of a ‘besieged fortress’ and the unquestioned authority of the national leader as a source of political decisions,” he wrote. At the same time, there are many differences between Russia and North Korea, including the presence of a national idea in the latter and its absence in the former, according to Solovyov. “Perhaps, most importantly, the Cold War never ended for the DPRK, and it will not end in the near future. Accordingly, Pyongyang had no reason to experience ‘loser’s resentment,’” which Russia did, according to Solovyov.


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

“Putin's North Korean Rendezvous,” Editorial Board, WSJ,

  • Vladimir Putin is digging around for more artillery shells to sustain his assault on Ukraine, and U.S. officials say the Russian dictator may soon visit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un. A global axis of authoritarians is consolidating against the West, and what happens in Ukraine will reverberate far beyond Europe.
  • Mr. Putin may meet Mr. Kim in Vladivostok on Russia's Pacific coast as soon as this month, according to press reports. The Russian is looking for more weapons, and the North Korean dictator would apparently like nuclear submarine technology. Mr. Putin has also been hitting up Iran for drones, and Russia may conduct joint naval drills with North Korea and China
  • The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Putin is weak for needing help from North Korea, a pariah state that starves its own people. But the Russian still thinks he can squeak out enough ammo to win in Ukraine, especially if political support for Kyiv crumbles. Mr. Putin understands what some American politicians don't -- that this would be an enormous victory for the new axis, making American support in the Pacific less credible.
  • The Ukrainians need deeper magazines, and the Army tactical missile system (ATACMS) can strike even farther into Russian positions. It travels faster than Storm Shadow and plugs into the U.S. Himars system so it doesn't have to be launched from the air. The Biden crowd is telling the press it can't spare ATACMS because U.S. stocks are too low. If that's true, it's an American emergency, not a compelling argument for withholding support.
  • A vogue view on the right and left is that the U.S. drove Russia and China together. But the Russia-North Korea summit is a reminder that these are partnerships of ideology and opportunity. The first step to breaking up the party is rendering Mr. Putin's Ukraine play a miserable failure.

“A country living in three eras: on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the DPRK,” Alexander Solovyov, Russia in Global Affairs, 09.09.23.Clues from Russian Views.

  • At the discursive level, Moscow and Pyongyang today have many similarities. In addition to the fight against imperialism and hegemonism, they include [the belief in the] unconditional primacy of sovereignty. Other common features of foreign policy discourse are statism, the image of a “besieged fortress” and the unquestioned authority of the national leader as a source of political decisions. Another similarity is the readiness to escalate international affairs, supporting confrontational rhetoric with a show of force. This, perhaps, is where the commonalities of discourse end. There are many more differences [including]:
    • The internal political roles of the leader in Russia and the DPRK differ quite seriously. Hence, the North Koreans practice “local leadership,” which ... is not at all the same as “manual control” ... Pyongyang seems to have somewhat more experience with escalation-de-escalation cycles than Moscow.
    • At the level of “grand narratives,” the DPRK, first of all, has no problems with the national idea, which Russia cannot produce for itself.
    • Perhaps most importantly, the Cold War never ended for the DPRK, and it will not end in the near future. Accordingly, Pyongyang had no reason to experience “loser resentment.” ... Also accordingly, the DPRK did not go through an ideological reassessment of itself; the DPRK did not try to see if Western “capitalist normality” fits it and it did not become disillusioned with globalization and liberal democracy and, of course, it did not feel the need to develop an alternative doctrine – as it already had one.

Iran and its nuclear program:

“Alone together: How the war in Ukraine shapes the Russian-Iranian relationship,” Ellie Geranmayeh, FP, 09.06.23.

  • The war in Ukraine has led to unprecedented levels of Russian-Iranian cooperation in the military, economic, and political spheres
  • The rise of anti-Western hardliners in both Moscow and Tehran mean that this cooperation is likely to continue and intensify, despite the differences between them.
  • The new relationship between Russia and Iran is a direct threat to the EU and European countries. Russian-Iranian cooperation could prolong the war in Ukraine, increase Iranian capacity to advance its nuclear program, de-stabilize the Middle East, and undermine Western influence in institutions of global governance.
  • European governments should seek to mitigate this damage through calibrated pressure and diplomacy. An important opening has now emerged for the West to de-escalate tensions with Iran and use its economic leverage to halt the advance of Russian-Iranian cooperation and isolate Russia.
  • As part of this effort, Iran should agree to reduce its arms transfers to Russia, roll back its nuclear activities, and cease attacks against Western interests in the Middle East. In exchange, the West should offer Iran some relief from various economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“Expel Russia From UNESCO,” Konstantin Akinsha, WSJ, 09.10.23.

  • On [September 10], Unesco's World Heritage Committee began a two-week session in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, devoted to reviewing the state of conservation of 260 sites on the agency's "World Heritage List," 55 of which are also on its "World Heritage in Danger" list. In the latter group is the historic center of Odesa, Ukraine, which was listed in January after having been the target of Russian missile attacks last year.
  • Ukrainians applauded Unesco's decision, hoping that this "reinforced protection" would spare the historic center. They were mistaken. When the city was bombed again in July, it was the target.
  • Russia, a Unesco member, has a delegation in Riyadh because it is on the World Heritage Committee. This is a travesty. For its deliberate targeting of Ukraine's cultural heritage, Russia needs to be expelled from Unesco.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:2

“The Russians Are Getting Better. What Moscow Has Learned in Ukraine,” Margarita Konaev and Owen J. Daniels, FA, 09.06.23.

  • As battered and inefficient as it is, Russia’s military is still capable of learning and adapting. This process has been slow, painful, expensive, and cumbersome—but it is happening, and it is showing results.
    • Consider, for instance, how Russia has revitalized its electronic warfare capabilities....These systems still have problems, including relatively limited coverage and an inability to avoid affecting one another. But on the whole, they have proved tremendously valuable, helping Russia degrade Ukraine’s communications, navigation, and intelligence-gathering capabilities; take down Ukrainian aircraft and drones; and cause Ukrainian precision-guided munitions to miss their targets. Russia has also used them to block Ukrainian drones from transmitting targeting information, to augment Russian air defense networks and capabilities, and to intercept and decrypt Ukrainian military communications.
    • the Russian military has reconstituted its command-and-control infrastructure and processes, which were devastated by U.S.-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and other Ukrainian long-range precision missiles over the summer of 2022. In the process, Russia has made a number of relatively rudimentary but successful overall changes, including pulling its command headquarters out of range of Ukrainian surface-to-air missiles, placing its forward command posts farther below ground and behind heavily defended positions, and fortifying these posts with concrete.
    • In  the second half of 2022... the Russian military [acted] to exploit its two primary advantages over Ukraine: personnel and firepower.
      • The shift in infantry tactics was enabled in part by the arrival of conscripts [which were] used as cannon fodder in consecutive waves of assaults on Ukrainian positions  [in what] enabled Russia to better defend its fortified positions and withstand the Ukrainian counteroffensive even as it suffered thousands of casualties.
      • As the war shifted to the Donbas, the static nature of fighting compelled the Russian military leadership to consolidate artillery into brigades. This move helped improve coordination and concentrate firepower in a way that is better aligned with Russia’s traditional doctrine. .... Russia is also increasingly using relatively cheap Lancet loitering munitions or explosive drones to thwart Ukrainian advances.
  • Russia’s learning is not Kyiv’s only obstacle. The slow pace of Ukraine’s counteroffensive also partly reflects the inherent difficulties of conducting large-scale joint offensive military operations against an entrenched enemy, as well as the delays in getting the right weapons and materiel to the forces on the ground. But the adjustments Russia’s military has made are clearly hindering Ukrainian progress, as well.

“What the West Still Gets Wrong About Russia’s Military. Moscow’s Overlooked Manpower Problem—and How Washington Can Exploit It,” Zoltan Barany,  FA, 09.08.23.

  • The Russian military’s performance in Ukraine has not met the expectations of Western analysts, but those expectations were not based on realistic assumptions. Those who assessed the Russian military holistically, however, would hardly have been shocked at the low morale, poor training,  and general sloppiness of its soldiers (evidenced even in such seemingly minor and yet consequential lapses as underinflating their military vehicles’ tires). Underlying these specific issues are the deep-seated despotism that underscores Russian military politics and the pervasive corruption that has sapped the strength of its armed forces.
  • The enduring misperception among Western analysts and officials of Russia’s military strength has serious consequences. In the early phases of the current war, it may well have tempered the support in Western capitals that Ukraine has so desperately needed. Uncritical acceptance of reports and data emanating from Moscow encouraged many to believe in the inevitability of Russia’s eventual victory. Yet the effectiveness of Russia’s troops is unlikely to improve as the war grinds on. Putin’s upcoming meeting with Kim Jong Un to discuss the possibility of North Korea supplying Moscow with arms may be a sign that the Kremlin is not optimistic about its ability to arm its soldiers with the weapons they need. By recognizing and ignoring Russian propaganda and instead studying and identifying the actual vulnerabilities of Russia’s military, the United States and its allies may be able to develop new and better approaches that could allow them to help Ukraine prevail and to hasten the end of the war, just as the United States did with the Soviets’ war in Afghanistan.

“Don’t Write Off Ukraine’s Counteroffensive. Support It,” Editorial Board, Bloomberg, 09.07.23.[SS1] [IB2] 

  • The [Ukrainian] counteroffensive’s progress reinforces why the U.S. and Europe should increase the pressure on Vladimir Putin and give Ukraine the help it needs to prevail.
  • It’s certainly true that the counteroffensive hasn’t succeeded as quickly as the West might’ve hoped. But the perception that it’s fallen short is due partly to inflated expectations. … Hopes of a repeat of last year’s advances were always optimistic. Ukrainian forces have faced a tsunami of artillery fire as they try to move past some of the most heavily mined defenses seen since World War II. Russia’s military has used mass conscription to replenish its troops and absorb Ukraine’s assaults, albeit at great human cost. The surprisingly heavy resistance from entrenched Russian units has forced Ukraine’s military to adapt its tactics to preserve lives.
  • Even if battlefield positions become hardened, it matters where the lines are frozen. Should Ukraine advance far enough to hit Russia’s major resupply hubs to Crimea, it would be in a substantially better bargaining position if and when negotiations take place. But that would require a steady flow of support in the meantime. Regardless of what happens on the ground in the coming months, Ukraine will continue to need weapons for its defense, to recapitalize its forces and to protect against future aggression.
  • The alternative is grim. There is no serious constituency within Ukraine — despite suffering heavy daily losses — for giving up the fight to regain full control of its territory. Reducing U.S. aid now, as some Republican lawmakers advocate, would hand Putin a reprieve at a time when Ukraine’s counteroffensive has momentum and Russia’s economy is faltering. Putin’s bet is that he can impose greater costs than his opponents are willing to take. The West still has to prove him wrong.

“Interview With President Volodymyr Zelensky,” Fareed Zakaria, CNN, Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • [When asked how the Ukrainian counteroffensive is going]: It depends on many directions … how to speed up counteroffensive, but remember that we need the result. The result we need, we have to get our land. We have to get the occupied land, and it's also not about the land, it's about the people because the frozen world is not the peace. Putin, he want to take all our country, to destroy all of our families, houses … he understands that Ukraine will never go back -- go away from our land. We'll never do it, that's why he has to kill us. He want to do it. That's why when we speak about counteroffensive, it depends on many cases.
    • Of course, we gave a lot of time for Russians. We gave a lot of time to prepare to mine ... to put the mines on the fields and on the big territory, so you see the three defending lines.
    • For the weapons ... we waited too long. It's true. No, I'm thankful to partners, to the United States, EU, other partners. … [B]ut we have to understand, we waited too long, they put mines.
  • First of all, what we need long distance weapons systems, long distance artillery rounds, systems, et cetera, everybody speaks about ATACMS. It's very important. ... So it's about the ATACMS, I will speak with President Biden again. ... The second thing we'll be speaking about the jets, and I said before … that we don't control the sky. How to control or even to compare with the power of Russia in the sky.
  • All of us want to have success and a happy end. First of all, it's not the movie. … It's about counter offense. It's not a movie with the happy end. We will not have a happy end. We lost a lot of people. No happy end. That we have to recognize it. Victory that's only one thing that can bring the occupation of our land.
  • [When asked to comment on Brazilian president Lula’s call for a compromise with Russia:] I think he doesn't understand that the position of Putin not to stop the war, let us be honest … his position to continue the war. His position is to divide Europe. ... Compromise always with the people who are ready to compromise, who are compromistic to other issues. Do you see any other compromises from Putin in other issues? … With Chechnya, with Georgia, with Moldova? He occupied all these countries. He divided all these nations.
  • [When asked to comment on the problem of corruption:] Justice for today for people is very sensitive and it's because of the war, because our fighting for these values that we can't, you know, we can't give possibility live that way which we live during some years, before … It means how it will be after the war and after the victory in another country and other people and another generation, another way ... We don't want to have any compromises with not only corrupt -- corrupted things or people, even thoughts about it, you know?

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

“Russia/Ukraine: companies weigh investor disapproval with cost of exit,” Lex, FT, 09.07.23.

  • Société Générale, Imperial Tobacco and Domino’s Pizza, whose franchisee DP Eurasia recently filed for bankruptcy in Russia, all took large losses, when they left the country. SocGen alone recorded a €3.1bn loss. Danone and Carlsberg had no choice. The Kremlin seized their assets. So far, these companies are the minority. Many western companies with businesses in Russia remain, despite pressure from shareholders and customers to leave.
  • About 1,000 companies registered in the U.S., Europe and other Ukraine-allied countries accounted for revenues of about $172bn in Russia last year, according to the Kyiv School of Economics. Approximately half have announced that they plan to stay in the country or have yet to decide.
  • Calculating losses is difficult. Many companies with Russian operations do not take any earnings out of the country. Unilever says it does this voluntarily. Many cannot, given Russian laws designed to keep money in the country. Others risk breaching sanctions. One lawyer suggests those that want to get money out can use the global offshore banking network. Ultimately, if the cost of staying is negligible, the withdrawal of western business from Russia will continue as a slow retreat.

”Sberbank: Bank’s strong numbers point to weakness of sanctions,” Lex, FT, 09.11.23.

  • The ruble has dropped 20 per cent against the dollar in the past four months. Russia’s central bank lifted its key interest rate by 3.5 percentage points to 12 per cent last month. That suggests western sanctions are biting.
  • Or maybe not? Retail banks are often seen as proxies for domestic financial conditions. Sberbank has more than half of the Russian mortgage market and a similar share of lending to smaller companies. All is well here, if Sberbank’s chief executive Herman Gref can be believed. He reports that the bank’s return on equity year-to-date to the end of August is 25 per cent, compared with 24 per cent through to May.
  • Gref’s optimism puts a good face on Russia’s economy. It is credible that Russia’s largest bank should be prospering, given the failure of sanctions to stem oil and gas exports.
  • Sberbank still operates on the Swift bank messaging system. Its local share price has climbed all year, up 82 per cent. That is far more than the ruble has depreciated. RoE figures were similar before the Ukraine war and coronavirus. If we are skeptical over Gref’s Russian cheerleading, the same should apply to western claims about the effectiveness of sanctions.

“The Dangerous Loophole in Western Sanctions on Russia. Putin’s weaponry runs on advanced electronic components obtained from a hidden international market,” Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld and Michal Wyrebkowski, FP, 09.07.23.

  • An increasing number of Western-made components are finding their way into Russian military equipment. After a drop in 2022, Russian imports of critical components, from simple transistors—the building blocks of electronics—to microchips and more specialized microprocessors, have reverted to levels commensurate with what we saw before the war. Moreover, a staggering 98 percent of these components are routed through third countries, compared to 54 percent the year prior, often manifesting in military equipment ranging from Kalibr missiles to T-72 tanks.
  • Three patterns can be discerned across the entire parallel import supply chain—a term that the Kremlin’s official communication team uses to describe what are in effect decriminalized smuggling schemes used to bypass Western sanctions.
    •  First, using intermediaries that haven’t been put under sanctions;
    • second, restructuring existing companies to conceal entities; and
    • third, purchasing components and moving final assembly to Russia instead of buying finished sanctioned goods.
  • Much can still be done to strengthen the tracking of chips across supply chains, thereby enhancing the efficacy of sanctions. We propose a five-point solution that would address the glaring deficiencies of the sanction regime.
    • Transparency and public accountability have an unambiguous power to induce change, as has been demonstrated by the corporate exodus from Russia.
    • Advanced tracking mechanisms should be an integral part of new procedures.
    • Secondary sanctions must be imposed on repeat violator countries.
    • Criminalization of sanction evasion is still put on the back burner in a curious display of legislative lethargy in some parts of the EU.
    • Harmonization and simplification are also much needed. Currently, different types of chips are banned for export across the entire Western coalition, which creates possible loopholes.
  • As the saying goes, “Chips are the new oil.” The West holds the advantage in this crucial sector. It’s time to tighten the screws and turn off the spigot for Putin.

“A world on fire: How the G-20 can douse the flames,” Bono and Lawrence H. Summers, WP, 09.07.23.

  • Already, the world economy is faltering and fragmenting, with sticky inflation and a cost-of-living crunch continuing to bite hard. And if the still-lingering global pandemic and climate change were not enough, the world's low- and middle-income countries could face the second major food security shock in less than a year as Russia again wields grain as a weapon of war.
  • [We have] three big ideas for [the G-20 summit in] New Delhi that would help put out and prevent future economic fires.
    • One. Ramp up all the multilateral development banks, starting with the World Bank.
    • Two. The G-20 should demand that the IMF move deeper on debt and further on flexibility.
    • And three. Russia's immobilized assets should be used to rebuild Ukraine and repair the damage caused by Vladimir Putin's invasion, a trail of wreckage that has devastated Ukraine's critical supply chain to the developing world, creating a food-insecurity crisis and accelerating the risk of starvation in countries hit by drought and conflict. There are roughly $300 billion in Russian central-bank assets frozen in Western accounts, and there is clear legal precedent for their use to compensate the victims of aggression. We need to start deploying these resources now to undermine Putin, to uphold justice and to ensure that, at a time of maximum need across the globe, we are financing Ukraine's reconstruction while also getting resources to the world's poorest people.
  • The world doesn't need any more arsonists. The world needs its firefighters at last to leave the station, which means leadership that recognizes the danger we're all facing. The three actions we put forward today can supply some of the speed and scale of response that's required. It follows from this commentary that Russian assets should be allocated for restoration of Ukraine with or without Russia’s consent. It is not immediately clear how this can be done, given that the G-20, of which Russia is a full-fledged member, typically strives for consensus.*

“The West’s Reliance on Russian Nuclear Fuel Funds Moscow’s War,”  Charles Digges, MT, 09.05.23.

  • Unlike the rest of Russia’s energy sector, Rosatom has escaped largely unscathed from Western sanctions despite numerous appeals from Kyiv to blacklist the corporation. In fact, Rosatom’s fortunes have actually improved since the beginning of the war. The corporation posted $10 billion in foreign sales last year, a 15% increase from the previous year. 
  • The problem is that Rosatom is an almost unavoidable presence in the international nuclear sphere. It sits at the center of a web of interlocking dependencies that are exceptionally difficult to untangle.
    • As of 2021, there were 439 total nuclear reactors in operation worldwide. Thirty-eight of these were in Russia. Another 42 of those operating in other countries were of the Russian VVER design — including 19 in just five European Union member states.  All of these depend on Russian-manufactured nuclear fuel.
    • Russia also owns between 40 and 46% of the world’s uranium conversion infrastructure, according to a report from Columbia University, which is critical for fabricating nuclear fuel. Europe obtains 20% of its uranium from Russia. Last year, the United States relied on Russia for 12% of its uranium, with another 30% coming from two of Moscow's close partners, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
  • Rosatom’s uranium enrichment capacity seems to be its current trump card for avoiding sanctions. Building up enrichment capacity elsewhere to replace it will take time and significant investment. The United States is at least ten years from being able to supplant the supplies of enriched uranium they currently purchase from Rosatom.  However, knowing that continued reliance on Rosatom is helping to finance the Russian war effort would make such an investment worthwhile. The longer Western nations shy away from that fact, the more fragile and morally fraught their dependence on Rosatom becomes.

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“Donald Trump will ‘never’ support Putin, says Volodymyr Zelensky,” The Economist, 09.09.23. Clues from Ukrainian Views.  

  • Mr. Zelensky has detected a change of mood among some of his partners. “I have this intuition, reading, hearing and seeing their eyes [when they say] ‘we’ll be always with you,’” he says, speaking in English (a language in which he is increasingly fluent). “But I see that he or she is not here, not with us.”…Some partners might see Ukraine’s recent difficulties on the battlefield as a reason to force it into negotiations with Russia. But “this is a bad moment, since Putin sees the same.” 
    • Mr. Zelensky rejects outright the idea of compromise with Vladimir Putin. War will continue for “as long as Russia remains on Ukrainian territory”, he says. A negotiated deal would not be permanent. The Russian president has a habit of creating “frozen conflicts” on Russia’s borders (in Georgia, for example), not as ends in themselves but because his goal is to “restore the Soviet Union”.  
  • With several of his Western allies (including America) holding elections next year, Mr. Zelensky knows that sustaining support will be difficult, especially in the absence of significant progress at the front … If Mr. Putin hopes that a victory by Donald Trump in America’s presidential election in 2024 would deliver him victory, he is mistaken. Trump would “never” support Vladimir Putin. “That isn’t what strong Americans do.” He expects Joe Biden will stay the course if he is re-elected. (“Do they want Afghanistan, part two?”) And he hopes that the European Union will not only keep supplying aid, but will open negotiations over the accession process for Ukraine this year. (That move is widely expected to happen at a summit in December.) 
  •  “I have to be ready, my team has to be ready for the long war, and emotionally I am ready,” Ukraine’s president says…Victory will not come “tomorrow or the day after tomorrow”, he says. But it is not some fantastical dream. Ukraine deserves to win, and the West should back it. 
  • A long war of attrition would mean a fork in the road for Ukraine. The country would lose even more people, both on the front lines and to emigration. It would require a “totally militarized economy”. The government would have to put that prospect to its citizens, Mr. Zelensky says, without specifying how; a new social contract could not be the decision of one person. Almost 19 months into the war, the president says he is “morally” ready for the switch. But he will only broach the idea with his people if the weakness in the eyes of his Western backers becomes a “trend”. Has that moment come? No, not yet, he says. “Thank God.” 

“Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine would be a moral defeat,” Andreas Umland, FT, 09.07.23.

  • This risks encouraging other revanchist countries and may strike fear into those who dread the same treatment as the Ukrainians. Why should other relatively powerful countries, with semi-plausible justifications, not encroach upon their neighbours? Aren’t some other territories, whether in Asia, Africa or elsewhere, waiting to be brought home in just the same way as Crimea and “New Russia”?
  • Given this hazard, why would the governments of relatively weak nations across the world continue to rely on international law for the protection of their borders, territories, and independence? If western governments signal that they cannot be counted on as staunch defenders of the international order, then it weakens these institutions.
  • As long as Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine continues, there is no other way to counter it than to meet force with force. …. Compromises, concessions and other allowances to an aggressor state are no way towards a durable peace. Those urging Kyiv to engage in any such negotiations should consider the full implications of this course of action — not just for Ukraine, but also for vulnerable states far beyond its borders.

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

“G-20 New Delhi Leaders' Declaration,” Russian MFA, Below is selection of excerpts from the declaration that touch upon the Russian-Ukrainian war and its consequences.

  • Concerning the war in Ukraine … we reiterated our national positions and resolutions adopted at the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly (A/RES/ES-11/1 and A/RES/ES-11/6) and underscored that all states must act in a manner consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter in its entirety. In line with the UN Charter, all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state. The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.
  • Reaffirming that the G-20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation, and recognizing that while the G-20 is not the platform to resolve geopolitical and security issues, we acknowledge that these issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.
  • We highlighted the human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine with regard to global food and energy security, supply chains, macro-financial stability, inflation and growth, which has complicated the policy environment for countries, especially developing and least developed countries which are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic disruption which has derailed progress towards the SDGs. There were different views and assessments of the situation.
  • We appreciate the efforts of Turkey and U.N.-brokered Istanbul Agreements consisting of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Russian Federation and the Secretariat of the United Nations on Promoting Russian Food Products and Fertilizers to the World Markets and the Initiative on the Safe Transportation of Grain and Foodstuffs from Ukrainian Ports (Black Sea Initiative), and call for their full, timely and effective implementation to ensure the immediate and unimpeded deliveries of grain, foodstuffs, and fertilizers/inputs from the Russian Federation and Ukraine. This is necessary to meet the demand in developing and least developed countries, particularly those in Africa.
  • In this context, emphasizing the importance of sustaining food and energy security, we called for the cessation of military destruction or other attacks on relevant infrastructure. We also expressed deep concern about the adverse impact that conflicts have on the security of civilians thereby exacerbating existing socio-economic fragilities and vulnerabilities and hindering an effective humanitarian response.
  • We call on all states to uphold the principles of international law including territorial integrity and sovereignty, international humanitarian law, and the multilateral system that safeguards peace and stability. The peaceful resolution of conflicts, and efforts to address crises as well as diplomacy and dialogue are critical. We will unite in our endeavor to address the adverse impact of the war on the global economy and welcome all relevant and constructive initiatives that support a comprehensive, just, and durable peace in Ukraine that will uphold all the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter for the promotion of peaceful, friendly, and good neighborly relations among nations in the spirit of ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’.
  • Today’s era must not be of war.

“G-20 statement drops reference to Russia aggression ‘against’ Ukraine,”  Henry Foy, John Reed, James Politi and Joe Leahy, FT, 09.09.23.

  • G-20 leaders have failed to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a joint statement after China and Russia rejected language that blamed Moscow for the conflict, highlighting the lack of global consensus in support of Kyiv. The New Delhi summit declaration refers only to the “war in Ukraine”, a formulation that supporters of Kyiv such as the U.S. and Nato allies have previously rejected as it implies both sides are equally complicit.
  • The previous G-20 declaration, made in Indonesia last November, referred to “aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine”. Western diplomats said China’s refusal to repeat that formulation was critical in pushing host India to propose compromise language.
  • “We highlighted the human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine with regard to global food and energy security, supply chains, macro-financial stability, inflation and growth,” the joint statement said. “There were different views and assessments of the situation.”
  • The declaration called for a “just and durable peace in Ukraine” but did not explicitly link that demand to the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, as western countries had pushed for. It also did not include the statement from the 2022 version that noted “most members strongly condemned the war”.
  • The deletion of western criticism of Russia allowed the G-20 to find agreement on other issues such as a pledge to restart exports of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, said one senior western official present at the summit, who said compromise was necessary to maintain consensus. … The declaration also contains a pledge by the leaders of the world’s biggest economies to “pursue and encourage efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally”, but does not include any deadline for phasing out fossil fuels. China and Saudi Arabia led efforts to block such language in G-20 meetings in July.

“The G-20 should abolish itself,” John R. Bolton, Washington Post, 09.11.23.

  • Even to the G-7 herd of cats, the G-20 has been feckless. Because the group includes Russia and China, its final joint statement in India contained only an anodyne comment on Russia's unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, even weaker than its 2022 statement. Every G-20 member holds veto power over a consensus leaders' statement, so it should be no surprise that nothing much happened this weekend in New Delhi, as in the United Nations Security Council, where Russia and China also hold veto power.
  • When asked to justify the G-20, supporters invariably say it provides a useful platform for members to confer bilaterally outside the larger meeting. It is true the G-20 enables this diplomatic version of speed dating, but so do any number of other forums, not least the U.N. General Assembly's opening next week in New York. The real question is whether endless rounds of brief encounters have any measurable utility.
  • In international affairs, pretending is not a sound basis for policy. Eliminating G-20 meetings would free up the leaders' time to focus on real issues, not diplomatic niceties.

“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions following the G-20 Summit, New Delhi,” Russian MFA, 09.10.23.^  Clues from Russian Views.

  • The G-20 Summit was an unqualified success. First and foremost, it was a success of the Indian Chairmanship, but also of all of us.
  • The [summit] Declaration [puts] an emphasis on the need for the West to fulfil its commitments and long-standing promises, which are not being kept, including the transfer of technology. It is firmly stated that developing countries will no longer put up with being presented with a false choice: either to fight poverty or to invest in fighting climate change.
  • The Declaration reminds us of everything that needs to be done, in line with long-standing pledges, to ensure a balance of interests in the global economy.
  • Notably, the Ukraine paragraph is part of the agenda and is a subject of consensus, but it is not about Ukraine. Indeed, it mentions the Ukraine crisis, but only in the context of the importance of resolving all existing global conflicts in accordance with UN Charter goals and principles in their entirety and interrelation. This is important because as soon as Ukraine is mentioned, the West tends to avoid intellectual discussions and demands the cessation of Russian aggression and the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity.
    • Territorial integrity is enshrined in the UN Charter alongside the principles of equality and self-determination of peoples, but it was, in fact, included in the charter at a later date. We explained to our colleagues that when a state coup took place in Kiev in February 2014, and the coup leaders immediately declared their objective of abolishing the status of the Russian language in Ukraine, it served as a trigger.
    • Clearly, the G-20 members have a correct understanding of what is happening. I’m confident that some of our Western colleagues are perfectly clear about this as well, but they are banking on the strategic defeat of the Russian Federation.
    • Overall, the paragraph deals with geopolitical realities. In addition to the importance of resolving all conflicts around the world based on the UN Charter principles in their entirety and interrelation, it contains important agreements on how to proceed in the sphere of food security.
    • I would also like to highlight another paragraph in the geopolitical section where the West had to agree to a significant shift in its position, calling for an end to attacks and the destruction of critical energy infrastructure related to agriculture.
  • [In reference to views of the Global South countries on the Russian-Ukrainian war] everyone understands that this war, started by the West with the use of hands and bodies of Ukrainians against the Russian Federation, must be stopped.....Russian President V.V. Putin publicly said more than once that we are not against negotiations, but  that they must be conducted on a serious basis - recognition of the realities “on the ground” and the reasons that have accumulated for decades due to NATO’s aggressive policy.
  • The New START treaty was being concluded under diametrically different conditions in the international arena and in relations between Moscow and Washington than those that have developed now due to the West’s declaration of war on Russia through Ukraine with the aim of inflicting a “strategic defeat” on Russia. Under these conditions, there can be no talk of any negotiations on the implementation of the current agreement or new negotiations on strategic stability. However, as we stated, we will adhere to its parameters, first of all, to numbers for the maximum number of relevant weapons, until New START’s expiration

“Too often, military defense comes off as offense,” Stephen Kinzer, The Boston Globe, 09.05.23.

  • The U.S.-China conflict is a sterling example of the security dilemma. Both sides behave like wounded innocents. They insist that they are building new weapons systems and deepening military alliances only to protect themselves against a predatory enemy.
    • World War I erupted because of the same security dilemma.
    • A more recent example of the security dilemma at work is the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
  • All countries seek to guarantee their security. The traditional way to do that is by building up armies and navies. Since this inevitably triggers counter-buildups, is there an alternative? Diplomacy is the obvious answer. But it runs against human emotion. Diplomacy dictates that differences between countries should be resolved through negotiation and compromise. Human nature, however, makes it difficult for people to see the world from an adversary's perspective.
  • Both the U.S./Japan/South Korea side and the China/Russia/North Korea side say they seek peace through strength. Each feels threatened by the other and arms itself accordingly. The security dilemma is doing its pernicious work.

“U.S. Diplomacy After the Russia-Ukraine War,” Kelly M. McFarland, Chester A. Crocker, and Ryan Conner, War on the Rocks, 09.11.12.

  • The linchpin of any successful diplomatic strategy moving forward will be a special emphasis on multilateral diplomacy, where the United States can use its convening power to build and lead coalitions around mutual interests.
  • How can Washington better embrace multilateral diplomacy?
    • First, the State Department should focus more on training multilateral diplomats. U.S. diplomats at all levels should be familiar with multilateral, consensus-driven negotiations and understand their nuanced dynamics.
    • Second, the United States should continue to support U.N. Security Council reform.
    • The United States should also seek to provide hedging nations with positive aid on areas of shared concern in the near term, with an eye toward long-term mutual benefits.
    • Whether on fishing, corruption, or trafficking, Washington can use more robust intelligence sharing to build relationships and long-term goodwill. With this in mind, policymakers should focus on policies that can build long-term relationships and secure payoffs for the United States.
    • Finally, the United States should embrace variable geometry in its coalition building efforts. In practice, this would involve working within existing institutions and forming ad hoc coalitions to corral states with a shared interest without necessarily requiring agreement on other core issues. By reinvigorating the diplomatic toolkit, engaging effectively in multilateral spaces, developing and deploying “positive currency,” and exercising variable geometry, the United States can compete and succeed in a world of rising middle powers.

“Middle powers, big impact: Africa’s ‘coup belt,’ Russia, and the waning global order,” Theodore Murphy, ECFR, 09.06.23.

  • African leaders grasp that changing global order is creating greater interest in Africa. They encourage new partners as a welcome means of diversification beyond the former confined choice of the U.S., old colonial powers such as France and Britain, or China. But the impact of Russian and middle power engagement in the coup belt demonstrates the pitfalls of such diversification. Rather than creating an additionality of options for Africa’s benefit, Russian and middle power engagement strengthens African autocrats and feeds state destabilization.
  • There will be no return to the unipolar U.S.-led order; no American linchpin to hold together the rules-based order against coups in Africa. Even if the U.S. were to reallocate political capital to this end, the interregnum phase has already created shifts in global order of a magnitude that makes assertive middle powers and Russia near impossible to contain. Nor can muscular engagement by France in its former colonies – the Sahel swathe of the coup belt – fill the U.S. leadership gap. As much as France struggles to retain its primus inter pares role among European powers in the Sahel, the fever-pitch of anti-French sentiment in its former Sahel colonies constrains its efficacy.
  • When encouraging all-comers to support development in their countries, African leaders may have lingered too little on the drawbacks of Russia’s and middle powers’ engagement. If their fear was of Africa’s instrumentalization by China and the U.S., then Russia and middle powers are not creating greater African agency. As it stands, they simply add to the number of actors instrumentalizing Africa. That is the true wake-up call sounded by the Niger coup.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“China's model is failing,” Editorial Board, WP, 09.08.23.

  • After decades of spectacular growth, China's economy is slowing down - and the country is facing serious economic and demographic challenges. Exports are flagging. Retail sales are lagging. The all-important property market appears to be a bubble in danger of collapsing. More than one-fifth of young people are officially unemployed and the real number is likely much higher. The country is awash in debt.
  • The world's other great authoritarian model, Russia under President Vladimir Putin, is floundering economically for very different reasons. After Mr. Putin's illegal and disastrous invasion of Ukraine, the West came together to impose crippling sanctions. Now, the ruble has plunged to its lowest point in 17 months, inflation is rising and Russia's once lucrative gas exports to Europe have plummeted. Defense spending is, for now, keeping Russia's economy propped up. China and Russia had been trying to lure countries of the Global South to their concept of a new world order, not dominated by Western institutions and the United States, showcasing alternative models to Western-style democracies. Now, the two authoritarian giants are flailing. Let's hope the world is paying attention.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:5

“With Nuclear Threats, Putin Plays the West Like a Fiddle. It’s time for Washington to see through the Kremlin’s mind games,” David R. Shedd, FP,

  • It’s high time for Washington to see through Putin’s games and stop amplifying the fears Moscow is deliberately instilling. The first step is changing the content of the conversation. To this end, Biden said that if Russia were to use nuclear weapons, it will “become more of a pariah in the world than they ever have been.” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan threatened “catastrophic consequences” if Russia escalated to using nuclear weapons. This is a good start: Instead of amplifying the Kremlin’s messaging with Armageddon scenarios, the argument must be about what would happen if Putin used them. One consequence could be nonnuclear retaliation, such as the destruction of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet.
  • More fundamentally, what’s missing in most Western governments is a comprehensive, strategic effort to address Russian influence operations and other means of manipulation. One immediate step would be for Biden to issue an executive order requiring every U.S. department and agency head to commit to a governmentwide response to counter psychological and information warfare directed at the United States. This would go far to increase awareness of these operations, decrease their effectiveness, and direct more resources at the problem.
  • Biden should also designate a department or agency to coordinate the United States’ own information operations, with the aim of countering adversaries’ messaging and ensuring that these operations are coordinated among various parts of government. The U.S. National Security Council, relying on key departments and agencies, should promote and coordinate similar efforts among U.S. allies and partners.
  • In addition, Biden could enlist the help of Congress to expand the scope and resources of the U.S. Global Engagement Center, which currently has a mostly defensive mission focused on discovering and understanding foreign propaganda. 


“Shattered World,” Andrei Kortunov, Izvestia, 09.11.23.^ Clues from Russian Views. 

  • The latest anniversary of the tragic events in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, makes one reflect on the prospects for international cooperation in the fight against terrorism, which are not very inspiring.
  • Today, few people remember that at the beginning of the century, bilateral Russian-American cooperation on terrorism issues was actively developing. For several years, the Trubnikov-Armitage high-level working group regularly met.... Algorithms for interaction between the [U.S. and Russian] intelligence services were used both in the launch of other bilateral cooperation mechanisms and in the creation of corresponding multilateral formats.
  • A little over two decades have passed [since then], and the world has become a completely different place. The fight against terrorism is no longer the main priority of global politics: it has given way to the more familiar geopolitical confrontation of great powers.
  • When thinking about the possibilities of international cooperation in countering terrorism, we have to assume that the geopolitical confrontation between the great powers is serious and long-lasting. For the foreseeable future, the world will remain divided, and in this world it is unlikely that a common understanding of the problem of terrorism will be achieved. This means that there will be no global strategy to counter the threat.
  • Apparently, in the current circumstances, cooperation should develop around private, specific problems, where the convergence of interests is obvious and the associated political risks are minimal. Even today, there are no fundamental differences between the great powers on issues such as the presence of the Islamic State in the Middle East, Boko Haram in West Africa or al-Qaeda in South Asia.
  • The rising next wave of international terrorism threatens new shocks for all of humanity. And we must prepare for this threat today, even if other challenges and problems do not make it possible to clearly see the approaching tsunami.7

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

America’s Digital Achilles’ Heel The United States’ Reliance on Sensitive Technology Leaves It Vulnerable to Attacks, Erica Lonergan and Jacquelyn Schneider, FA, 09.07.23.

  • Today, the tension between the necessity of technology and its concurrent risks is on full display in Ukraine, where efforts to gain the upper hand in digital warfare are shaping the physical conflict. Technologies including GPS-guided artillery, small drones, and civilian cellphone videos have given Ukraine an edge against a much larger Russian military force, allowing Kyiv to more accurately strike Russian targets. But Moscow’s assaults have revealed the fragility—and potential unreliability—of such technology: Russian cyberattacks on satellite communications can cut Ukrainian troops off from commanders; attacks that jam GPS systems blunt the effectiveness of smart artillery; and electromagnetic assaults destroy up to 5,000 small drones a month. Ukraine—and other countries that are seeking to transform their armed capabilities in line with the future of digital warfare—must find a way to make these systems less vulnerable.
  • As new kinds of digital threats and warfare capabilities emerge, it is critical that the United States take resilience seriously—or it will find itself floored by attacks that its friends and rivals will be able to withstand.

“If you worry about humanity, you should be more scared of humans than of AI,” Moran Cerf, Adam Waytz, BAS, 09.11.23.

  • As a sobering reminder of the human-AI risk comparison, we highlight several domains where current machine intelligence seems already to challenge the performance of humans: With regard to traffic safety, while much attention is given to every accident perpetuated by autonomous cars, the reality is that reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the General Services Administration suggest that out of over six million accidents annually (with 42,939 fatal incidents), 98 percent are due to human error, and self-driving cars are estimated to reduce this proportion by 76 percent.
  • Similarly, in the domain of medical diagnosis, a meta-analysis of articles published across 20 years of research shows that in various domains (e.g., brain tumors) machine performance is increasingly becoming superior to that of human doctors.
  • Recently, AI has won competitions for creativity in art and advertising, surpassing human performance in art authentication and, in legal contexts, correcting wrongful convictions made by humans (resulting from false identification) and shortening trial times by over 20 percent.
  • Finally, it is noteworthy that current research by the corresponding author investigates the possibility of using “digital twin”—a reasoned and composed machine-based decision tool that replicates the key stakeholder’s thinking under minimally biased conditions—to aid leaders in choices related to critical decisions (namely, nuclear and climate-related critical decisions).
  • Unlike humans... algorithmic bias can be readily deprogrammed, or as economist Sendhil Mullainathan puts it, “Biased algorithms are easier to fix than biased people.” Mullainathan and colleagues’ research showed that an algorithm used by UnitedHealth to score patients’ health risks systematically underscored black patients relative to white patients because it measured illness in terms of health care costs (which are systematically lower for black versus white individuals, given that society spends less on black patients)
  • Finally, consider the threat to cybersecurity. Although commentators have warned that large language models added tools to the arsenal of hackers by democratizing cybercrime, most high-profile information leaks and hacks to date are ushered in by human beings with no reliance on AI.8

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:

  • No significant developments.


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Driving Towards a Brighter Past? A ‘Brezhnevisation’ of Russia’s Internal Market,” Karel Svoboda, Giangiuseppe Pili and Jack Crawford, RUSI, 09.07.23.

  • Maintaining a perception of stability and wealth is crucial for Putin’s domestic legitimacy, and consumer goods are important for this purpose. Putin’s strategy is reminiscent of Leonid Brezhnev’s “social contract,” which relied on the relative welfare of citizens in exchange for their political apathy. Any weakening of this contract undermines the system’s “immunity” and increases its vulnerability during a crisis.
  • Russia’s workforce is tied to the country’s economic structure; many entrepreneurial individuals have migrated in search of better opportunities in the West, and the remaining workforce is often specialized but has limited access to higher-paying employment opportunities. Russia’s internal market workforce is sufficient to meet military and economic needs, but there are no significant incentives for comparable development in manufacturing and services to that in the West. In the face of Western sanctions, Russia will continue trying to rely on countries hostile or indifferent to the preferences of Western countries.
  • The economic situation in Russia, as reflected in the automobile market, is unlikely to directly threaten Putin’s regime. However, it does present a significant security concern. The automobile market in Russia is showing signs of a decline reminiscent of the Brezhnev era, characterized by technological backwardness and diminishing quality. Russian automobile producers lack the necessary technologies and expertise to manufacture their own vehicles; most new automobile models introduced recently are essentially Chinese automobiles assembled in Russia. As a result, Putin’s ambitions for “technological sovereignty” are unlikely to be realized soon, and tensions may rise as consumer demand becomes impossible to meet. Domestic complacency with regard to Russia’s wanton belligerence in Ukraine, and indeed, toward Putin’s regime, may be in for a bumpy ride.

“Wartime Russians Fall Back on an Ancient Survival Strategy. Conformism and acquiescence have a long tradition in a culture of chaos and repression,” Alexey Kovalev, FP, 09.10.23.

  • One of the strangest aspects of the mutiny that took an army of Wagner Group mercenaries almost to the gates of Moscow in June was the deafening silence of the vast majority of Russians. … When Putin subsequently praised the population’s cohesion in support of his regime, nothing could have been further from the truth.
  • Few Russians—or those familiar with Russian history and culture—were even a tiny bit surprised by a population scrupulously avoiding taking sides, waiting who would come out on top. That’s because for centuries, Russians have been masters of survival in times of repression, upheaval, chaos or uncertainty, which have permeated and even defined so much of the country’s history. In fact, they have a special word for their survival strategy: prisposoblenchestvo, which roughly translates to “adaptability to one’s surroundings.”
  • There is no single word in English that can adequately convey all the word’s subtleties when it is used by Russians. Acquiescence, conformism, opportunism, lying low and avoidance of conflict only reflect some of its many aspects. What’s more, the evocative word is used almost exclusively to capture Russians’ behavior in their own country’s social and political context.
  • During the Putin era, these attitudes helped buttress the social contract between an increasingly authoritarian regime and Russian citizens, whereby the latter were willing to agree with whatever the government was doing in exchange for modest prosperity.
  • The dark side … is that when words, symbols, and behaviors are little more than a uniform to slip into in order to blend in more effectively, nihilism reigns.
  • As the war drags on, Russians’ prisposoblenchestvo manifests in new ways. People who were initially anti-war have adapted to Russian military setbacks and the possibility of defeat in Ukraine with a new attitude: “My country, right or wrong.” … The grim determination to stick with their motherland, however many atrocities it commits against a neighboring nation, betrays yet another tactic of avoidance. For these formerly anti-invasion and now pro-war Russians, prisposoblenchestvo offers an escape from an uncomfortable moral dilemma.

“Prigozhin’s Fate in Putin’s Russia: The Political Roles of Aircraft,” Mark Kramer, PONARS, 09.07.23.

  • Whatever the case may be, the truth about Prigozhin’s fate—whether accidental or instigated by those who wished to do him in—will probably never be known.
  • Accurate details of the plane crash may well be disclosed, but there is little reason to believe that the investigators will reveal who ordered the sabotage of the plane (if that is indeed what caused the crash).
  • Instead, what will likely unfold is a blither of lies and cover-ups, as has happened in Russia in the wake of many high-profile assassinations, such as the murder of the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in February 2015. The general pattern in Russia on such occasions has been that investigations are carried out, but no convincing explanations are ever offered and no high-level figures are ever held to account. 

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:

“Russia’s Would-Be Assassins Still Stalk Europe’s Streets. Moscow’s regular spies have been expelled. Their kill squads are still active,” Amy Mackinnon, FP, 09.08.23.

  • What are still operational are Russian kill teams, dispatched to liquidate state enemies. Or try to. Russia’s resident spies—who are stationed at embassies under official cover—are largely drawn from the country’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR. They would principally be focused on the lengthy process of recruitment—cultivating assets in European governments and institutions—and handling existing moles. The wet work, as assassinations are referred to in the slang of the Russian intelligence services, has typically been run by military intelligence, the GRU, operating deep under cover.
  • “What the expulsions really degrade is the Russian ability to recruit, not the Russian ability to kill,” former CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos said.
  • The expulsions [of suspected Russian spies] and increased scrutiny have also forced Moscow to change its tactics.
    • In a bid to stymie the flow of Western weapons through Poland into Ukraine, Moscow attempted to recruit cash-strapped Ukrainian refugees via the social messaging app Telegram to conduct surveillance, with plans to carry out arson attacks and an assassination, the Washington Post reported. “This is completely new,” bellingcat’s Khristo Grozev said of the change in tactics. He also noted that Russian intelligence had begun outsourcing surveillance activities to organized crime groups in Europe.


“Ukraine deserves EU membership. It has work to do to make its case,” Editorial Board, WP, 09.11.23.

  • It is critical that the EU and especially its most powerful members, Germany and France, fix Ukraine's eventual EU membership as a goal. Equally critical, no player will be more important in advancing that goal than Ukraine itself.
    • That means, first and foremost, that President Volodymyr Zelensky demonstrate that he is more than the inspirational wartime leader by dint of his gift for astute domestic and international messaging.
    • He will also have to prove — to Ukrainians and to the outside world — that he has the managerial chops and determination to implant independent, trusted and enduring systems and public institutions.
      • A signpost of progress in that regard would be a more aggressive campaign against the oligarch-tinged corruption for which Ukraine was notorious before Russia's full-scale invasion. That notoriety inspired Mr. Zelensky's own election victory, in 2019, on an anti-corruption platform, as well as ongoing skepticism about the country's suitability to be welcomed into the EU, the continent's most exclusive club. Much work remains to be done.
  • In the longer term, if corruption is left to fester, it will also diminish Ukraine's chances of gaining entry to the EU and, once the war is over, its hopes of membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Admission to those clubs is a tangible symbol of Kyiv's aspiration of becoming a full-fledged Western country, unfettered by its Soviet past. That prospect was the very thing that triggered Mr. Putin's decision to unleash the bloodbath of Russia's invasion. It would be a tragedy for Ukrainians, and for the West, if misgovernment and malfeasance end up subverting Ukraine's legitimate goals.

"Born in the Bloodlands: Ukraine and the Future of the European Project" Michael Kimmage’s review of Serhii Plokhy’s “The Russo-Ukrainian War: The Return of History,” FA, September/October 2023.

  • As the historian Serhii Plokhy writes in “The Russo-Ukrainian War,” his masterful new book, war has "been the main instrument used to create the European system of nation-states." The war raging in Ukraine is merely the latest chapter in a "long history of wars of national liberation, which can be traced back to the American Revolution" and runs through the hot and cold wars fought against the Russian and the Soviet empires.
  • As much as Europe has changed Ukraine since 1991, drawing it away from its Soviet past, Ukraine will shape Europe. The nature of its postwar nationhood will change the idea of Europe.
  • A war fought in the name of history can be comprehended only through the study of history. Plokhy, a distinguished and prolific historian of Russia, the Soviet Union, and Ukraine, is thus well positioned to explain the present moment. In “The Russo-Ukrainian War,” he expertly juxtaposes the histories of Russia and Ukraine, especially the paths they took during the Soviet era and afterward.
  • Plokhy gently critiques the West's tepid approach to Ukraine before 2022, arguing persuasively that it did too little to help build Ukraine's military capabilities. He also suggests that China will emerge as "a key beneficiary" of the conflict, poised to leverage the enmity between Russia and the West to its advantage.
  • It remains unclear what kind of Russia the war will create. It might be a country bent on expanding in perpetuity, driven by an appetite for conquest or by a fear of collapse. A powerful Ukraine grounded in Western security structures would be impossible for Putin to accept; it might be impossible for any Russian leader to accept.
  • The Russo-Ukrainian War offers insights for Ukrainian policymakers as well. As they shepherd their country into European institutions, which is clearly their goal, they will have to balance two competing realities. The war will situate a Ukrainian nation in the West, with borders that will be set on the battlefield. … It will take diplomatic finesse, however, to reconcile Ukraine's national strength with the postnational spirit of the EU.

“‘Where Is the Money?’ Military Graft Becomes a Headache for Ukraine,” Andrew E. Kramer, NYT, 09.04.23.

  • The removal of Ukraine’s minister of defense Oleksii Reznikov after a flurry of reports of graft and financial mismanagement in his department underscores a pivotal challenge for President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wartime leadership: stamping out the corruption that had been widespread in Ukraine for years.
  • Mr. Zelensky has responded to the pressure from allies and criticism at home with a flurry of anticorruption initiatives, not all of them welcomed by experts on government transparency. The most controversial has been a proposal to use martial law powers to punish corruption as treason.
  • At one point this year, about $980 million in weapons contracts had missed their delivery dates, according to government figures, and some prepayments for weapons had vanished into overseas accounts of weapons dealers, according to reports made to Parliament. Though precise details have not emerged, the irregularities suggest that procurement officials in the ministry did not vet suppliers, or allowed weapons dealers to walk off with money without delivering the armaments.
  • The public revelations of mismanagement so far have not directly touched foreign weapons transferred to the Ukrainian Army, or Western aid money, but they are nonetheless piercing the sense of unquestioning support for the government that Ukrainians had exhibited throughout the first year of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
  • “The question here is, ‘Where is the money?’” said Daria Kaleniuk, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Ukraine, a group dedicated to rooting out public graft that is now focused on war profiteering. “Corruption can kill,” Ms. Kaleniuk said. “Depending on how effective we are in guarding the public funds, the soldier will either have a weapon or not have a weapon.”
  • That high-level cases of corruption are coming to light is positive, said Andrii Borovyk, director of Transparency International in Ukraine, rather than an indication of a nation bogged down by insider dealing; it shows that the country can fight the war and graft at the same time, he said.

“Zelensky Needs to Fight Corruption Like He's Fighting Putin,” Marc Champion, Bloomberg, 09.07.23.

  • Zelensky’s focus on quick, draconian fixes to deal with corruption, rather than the deep institutional and judicial cleanup that’s required, is worrying. First came an anti-oligarch law, whose definitions seemed open to potential weaponization by whoever administered it. Now it’s the ... proposal to treat war-related graft as treason.
  • This is clearly an area where Zelensky’s domestic political opponents, quiescent since the start of the war, see him as becoming vulnerable. When he made his proposal to make defense-sector corruption punishable as treason, Dmytro Razumkov — a former parliamentary chairman and head of Zelensky’s Servants of the People party — rushed to submit draft legislation first.
  • [Razumov’s] bill’s focus on preventing any new law from becoming just another tool for controlling, rather than eliminating, corruption is surely right.
  • Zelensky of all people should understand the risks. He famously came to power on the strength of his role in a hit 2015 TV series, Servant of the People, in which he plays a school teacher whose rant against corruption goes viral and catapults him to the presidency. In the show, it took just days for the new leader’s fictional family to start leveraging his position for their personal gain.

“Corruption Is an Existential Threat to Ukraine, and Ukrainians Know It,” Farah Stockman, NYT, 09.10.23.

  • Ukraine is making progress [on fighting corruption], no small feat in the middle of a hot war. But it is still ranked the second most corrupt country in Europe, after Russia, according to Transparency International. Since the February 2022 Russian invasion, a host of characters — from arms dealers to suppliers of soldiers’ meals — has stood to reap big profits, creating vested interests in prolonging the conflict.
  • Corruption has been the elephant in the room since the invasion — an unpopular subject in Washington, since it risks undermining the American support that Ukraine desperately needs. But guess who hasn’t shied away from calling out corruption in Ukraine? Ukrainians. No one knows better what an existential threat corruption can be, sapping the public trust and the legitimacy of the state. Ukrainians consider corruption the country’s second-most-serious problem, behind only the Russian invasion, according to a poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology this year. 
  • Some Republicans are pushing for the appointment of a special inspector general for Ukraine, like the office that was created for Afghanistan. Before we spend a fortune on a new inspector general, we should make sure that we’re staffing the inspector generals that already exist. ... We should also boost our support for Ukrainian investigators who can demand accountability from their government in perpetuity rather than create an American agency that will disappear over time.
  • The lessons of Afghanistan are not lost on Ukrainians. Last year an article in Foreign Affairs by Tymofii Brik, the rector of the Kyiv School of Economics, and Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili of the University of Pittsburgh argued that donor countries should work with local Ukrainian government entities to rebuild the country instead of using “vast armies” of foreign contractors and nongovernmental organizations.

“Why Republicans Are Increasingly Opposing Aid to Ukraine,” Paul R. Pillar, NI, 09.09.23.

  • First, Republican opposition against aid to Ukraine is over-determined. This opposition is thus likely to continue growing.
  • Second, among the reasons for that opposition are some that are not legitimate ingredients of a healthy foreign policy debate and are likely only to confuse and pollute that debate.
  • But third, the illegitimate ingredients should not be allowed to overshadow sound reasons to question an open-ended supply line to Ukraine. The future course of the war in Ukraine has yet to be determined, and the jury is still out on which approach toward the war is best for U.S. interests and for bringing a stable peace to that part of Europe. All the arguments both in favor of and opposed to added military aid to Ukraine need to be carefully considered, regardless of any other reasons some participants in the debate have for taking the stand they do.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Will Armenia join NATO? It is already leaving the pro-Russian CSTO. NATO, for its part, calls on Armenia to join the Alliance” Alexander Zhelenin,, 09.08.23.Clues from Russian Views.

  • Armenia recalled its permanent and plenipotentiary representative to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Viktor Biyagov. Literally the day before this event, Secretary of the Security Council of Armenia Armen Grigoryan ... recalled that “since 2020, there have been three large-scale attacks on Armenia from Azerbaijan, during which the CSTO has not provided any assistance to Armenia.” Almost simultaneously with these demarches, Yerevan announced the Eagle Partner military maneuvers [with the U.S.] on Armenian territory from Sept. 11 to 20.
  • In essence, Armenia is leaving the CSTO and is rapidly moving closer to the West. Against this background, the call for Armenia to join the Alliance [NATO], publicly announced on Sept. 4 by the President of the NATO European Development Committee, Günter Fehlinger, looks quite logical.
  • Let us recall that during [the second Karabakh war of 2020] Russia did not provide military assistance to Armenia, its official ally and member of the CSTO, arguing that the fighting did not take place on its [Armenia’s] internationally recognized territory. Naturally, this was only an excuse: neither in Georgia in 2008, nor in Ukraine in 2014–15 and 2022, the Kremlin was not interested in the internationally recognized borders of other states.
  • If you do not support your partner when he needed it most, then the partner has the right to send you along a certain course and find other allies, more reliable ones. Which is what Armenia did. Another strategic defeat for Putin’s Russia – there is no other way to call it.
  • The American-Armenian military maneuvers in Armenia are a black mark not so much for Putin, whose influence in this region after a full-scale attack on Ukraine is already almost nominal, but for Turkish President Recep Erdogan. This is a very serious message to the Turkish leader, designed to show that everything has its limits. ... Today Erdogan is clearly shown that the games and persuasion are over, that nothing, not even the status of an official NATO ally, will stop America in its confrontation with the Kremlin, and if necessary, it will go as far as it deems necessary in Transcaucasia.

“Putin Faces Geopolitical Setback in South Caucasus,” Robbie Gramer, FP, 09.07.23.

  • There’s a geopolitical shift afoot in the South Caucasus that has U.S. officials (quietly) grinning from ear to ear and their rivals in Moscow fuming. Armenia is having second thoughts about its longtime partnership with Russia and is beginning to shift in not-so-subtle ways toward the West, signaling an embarrassing setback for the Kremlin in the strategic region.
    • Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica this week that his country’s reliance on Russia wasn’t paying off, particularly as Moscow struggles to supply its own military, let alone partnering militaries. “Dependence on just one partner in security matters is a strategic mistake,” he said.
    • Armenia followed up by announcing its first-ever tranche of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, which Pashinyan’s wife personally handed over during a visit to Kyiv this week.
    • Then, just to add some salt to the Kremlin’s wounds, Armenia announced a new joint military exercise with the United States, dubbed “Eagle Partner 2023,” to be held in the coming weeks.
  • Hell hath no fury like a partner scorned. The volte-face comes after mounting frustration in Armenia that Russia has done too little to address the crisis between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave at the heart of a decades-old dispute between the two countries. (Russia deployed “peacekeeping troops” to the region after a deadly conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020.)
  • It’s … early to tell whether this represents a permanent shift away from Russia by Armenia, or a temporary one serving as a shot across the bow to Moscow to get its act together.

“A Window of Opportunity by Default: Will Moldova Use It?” Arkady Moshes and Ryhor Nizhnikau, PONARS, 09.09.23.

  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has offered Chisinau a unique opportunity to break out of a vicious circle of domestic instability, poverty, and ambivalent foreign policy. But this window of opportunity is quickly narrowing. The new electoral cycle will be a major test of the sustainability of Moldova’s new political course. Given the current political and socio-economic turbulence, public discontent, and inefficient state institutions, it will be a real challenge to maintain the country’s current direction.
  • By themselves, Brussels’ political and economic support and a fear of Russia do not guarantee success, especially since the latter is almost certain to tilt the scales. Moscow looks at Moldova as “the next Ukraine;” moreover, its unreformed state institutions and weak economy tempt the Kremlin to use the leverage it possesses. Attempts to undermine the country’s socio-economic stability and its government’s legitimacy are likely to increase as the presidential and parliamentary elections approach. To give the country a chance, Sandu and the ruling party would need to focus on achieving a breakthrough with reforms, as expected and required by the EU. If Moldova is invited to begin accession talks but its reform commitment is deemed insufficient, the country will once again find itself in limbo, regardless of regional dynamics and the motivations of its Western partners.



  1. On Sept. 11 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was heading to Russia via his train, South Korean media reported, ahead of talks with President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, Bloomberg reported. The Kremlin confirmed Kim’s visit.
  2. For a recent assessment of the dynamics on the battlefield, see “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 10, 2023,” Riley Bailey, Angelica Evans, Nicole Wolkov, Karolina Hird, and Mason Clark, ISW, 09.10.23. and “Theaters of War That Make Up the Fighting in Ukraine,” Mark Santora, NYT, 09.11.23.
  3. According to CNN, this is a rush transcript, this copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
  4. Also available in PDF format in other resources, such as the G-20’s site.
  5. A Russian media outlet, Newsland, has published what it claimed was a joint HSE/SVOP report entitled “Problems and Lessons of the Recent History of Russian Foreign Policy (and Opportunity to Adjust It)” and written by Sergei Karaganov, Alexander Kramarenko, Fyodor Lukyanov and Dmitri Trenin for President Vladimir Putin’s administration. RM could not confirm this claim. However, one can find a summary of the claims, including the report’s propositions on use of nuclear weapons, here.
  6. The latest example of nuclear saber-rattling was provided by Dmitry Medvedev last week. Writing in his Telegram channel on the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said: “I don’t want to invite disaster for anyone, but they [Americans] will at some point end up seeing terrorists will again carry out an attack in the style of 9/11, but this time with an atomic or biological component. Or even worse: one of the leaders of the nuclear countries will lose their nerve, and he will make an emotional decision to use WMD. Moreover, the nuclear club is constantly expanding and a significant number of [its members] are not bound by any obligations.” 
  7. For an example of the continuing Russian effort to accuse the U.S. of complicity in supporting “terrorism,” see Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council Yuri Kokov’s interview with the Russian government’s daily last week.
  8. The entire September 2023 issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is dedicated to AI and is available here.


The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 12:00 pm Eastern time on Sept. 11, 2023. 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 the Ukrainian presidential press service via a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.