Russia Analytical Report, May 8-15, 2023 – 7 Ideas to Explore
(Russia Matters – russiamatters.org)
- Ukraine’s counteroffensive needs to show demonstrable success for U.S. Congress to approve additional aid as the money American lawmakers set aside to fund military supplies to Kyiv is set to run out in July, according to U.S. officials interviewed by FT and Politico. Meanwhile, there is a debate underway in Washington over whether substantial gains in the much-touted counteroffensive should be followed by peace talks or by Kyiv putting diplomacy on the back burner and fighting on, according to NYT.
- Vladimir Putin will seek to continue the war as one of attrition, regardless of shifts on the battlefield, even though Russia is not well positioned for a “forever war,” according to Michael Kofman of CNA and Rob Lee of FPRI. For starters, “Russia’s ability to repair and restore equipment from storage appears so constrained that the country is increasingly reliant on Soviet gear from the 1950s and 1960s to fill out mobilized regiments,” they write in FA. In addition, Russia will face growing economic pressures and shortages of skilled labor,” they predict. And, yet, Putin may choose to fight on, in hopes that “Russia may still exhaust the Ukrainian military,” according to Kofman and Lee.
- While many in Washington believe Putin reinvaded Ukraine because of his “paranoid psychology, his misguided attempt to raise his domestic political standing, and his refusal to accept that Russia lost the Cold War,” this theory is rejected by Benjamin Schwarz and Christopher Layne. The popular theory “fails to account for … objections that Russians have expressed toward NATO expansion … and obscures the central responsibility that the architects of U.S. foreign policy bear for the impasse,” according to Schwarz of World Policy Journal and Layne of Texas A&M. In a commentary for Harpers, the authors draw parallels between the current crisis in Western-Russian relations and the Cuban Missile Crisis to demonstrate that “Washington has responded aggressively to situations similar to those in which it has placed Russia today.” They conclude that a “modern Concert of Europe” would be needed to facilitate a “comprehensive European settlement” after the war.
- Leaked U.S. intelligence documents indicate Volodymyr Zelensky proposed occupying Russian villages to gain leverage over Moscow and bombing a pipeline that transfers Russian oil to Hungary while also pining for long-range missiles to hit targets inside Russia’s borders, WP reported. When asked if he had suggested occupying parts of Russia, Zelensky dismissed the U.S. intelligence claims as “fantasies” but defended his right to use unconventional tactics in the defense of his country, according to WP.
- PMC Wagner’s Yevgeny Prigozhin has offered to give up Russian troop locations to Kyiv in exchange for Ukrainian forces withdrawing from the area around Bakhmut, WP reported, citing leaked U.S. intelligence documents. According to the latter, Prigozhin also told a Ukrainian intelligence officer that the Russian military was struggling with ammunition supplies and advised Ukrainian forces to push forward with an assault on the border of Crimea. Prigozhin has denied these claims.
- U.S. investigators are looking into reports of Javelin shoulder-fired rockets and Switchblade drones being smuggled out of Ukrainian military supplies and then sold online, but officials in Kyiv don’t believe these allegations represent a widespread problem, according to NYT. So far, American officials said, there have been only a handful of cases of suspected arms trafficking or other illicit military transfers of advanced weapons sent to foreign conflicts, the newspaper reported. A Ukrainian lawmaker who tracks U.S. arms supplies acknowledged to NYT that “we are done even if only a few of the U.S.-supplied arms wind up on the black market.”
- A revival of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty is possible in the future even though Russia just announced its withdrawal from the agreement. This follows from an interview that General Yevgeny Buzhinsky, ex-head of the Russian MoD’s international cooperation department, granted to PIR-Center. “The [Special Military Operation] has indeed shown that battle tanks, armored fighting vehicles, artillery, attack helicopters and combat aircraft remain relevant. Consequently, a revival of a treaty such as the [CFE Treaty] is possible in the future,” he told PIR-Center, whose council he chairs. “European security without treaty instruments is unrealistic. Sooner or later, arms control will be restored,” he predicted.
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:
“China and Russia Encourage Iran to Go Nuclear,” Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Iranian-targets officer in the Central Intelligence Agency, and Ray Takeyh of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, WSJ, 05.08.23. (See also Russia and China: Allied or aligned?)
- “For far too long, the Western foreign-policy establishment has gained comfort from the notion that Russia and China didn’t want a nuclear Iran. But Vladimir Putin would have no objections to a nuclear crisis in the Middle East if it diverted attention from his war in Ukraine.”
- “An Iranian bomb could hasten U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East. The American political class has been allergic to the idea of military strikes against the clerical regime’s nuclear sites. It isn’t hard to envision them rationalizing that an Iranian bomb means little to the overall balance of power. A growing conventional wisdom in Washington counsels a shift of focus to Asia.”
- “In all of this maneuvering, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stands out…. Iran’s never-ending internal troubles may yet unseat him and his regime, but the cleric has done what only great rulers do: He has taken a weak hand and played it brilliantly.”
Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:
- No significant developments.
Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:
“Beyond Ukraine’s Offensive The West Needs to Prepare the Country’s Military for a Long War,” Michael Kofman of CNA and Rob Lee of FPRI, FA, 05.10.23.
- “For Ukraine to sustain momentum—and pressure—Western states must make a set of commitments and plans for what follows this operation, rather than maintain a wait-and-see approach. Otherwise, the West risks creating a situation whereby Russian forces are able to recover, stabilize their lines, and try to retake the initiative.”
- “But in the end, military strategy is political, as it bridges military operations with political objectives. Ukraine’s leadership is keen to avoid giving Russia any kind of victory which might bolster Russian morale, and it has chosen to continue defending Bakhmut.”
- “The challenge Ukraine faces is that, despite an influx of Western equipment, its force is largely mobilized, uneven in quality, and training on a compressed schedule. And over the course of the past year, the Ukrainian military has taken significant casualties. … In general, Ukraine’s advantage has been that as a force it has proven more adaptable, much better motivated, and more rewarding of initiative than the Russian military.”
- “At this point, there is little evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin will willingly end the conflict, even if the Russian military is facing defeat. He may seek to continue it as a war of attrition, no matter the prospects for Russian forces on the battlefield. … Putin may assume that this offensive represents the high point of Western assistance and that, over time, Russia may still exhaust the Ukrainian military.”
- “That said, Russia does not seem well positioned for a forever war. Russia’s ability to repair and restore equipment from storage appears so constrained that the country is increasingly reliant on Soviet gear from the 1950s and 1960s to fill out mobilized regiments. And even if Moscow can keep mobilizing manpower and bringing old military equipment onto the battlefield, Russia will face growing economic pressures and shortages of skilled labor.”
“Ukraine’s Counter-Offensive: The War Reaches a ‘Decisive Moment’,” journalists Christopher Miller, Felicia Schwartz and Ben Hall, FT, 05.12.23.
- “Behind closed doors, some top officials in Kyiv have struck what one of them described as a ‘very realistic and very pragmatic’ tone, conceding that it is unlikely Ukraine will be able to retake all occupied land from Russia — at least this year. … Much is at stake for Ukraine. A successful counter-offensive could change the course of the war, shifting momentum decidedly in Ukraine’s favor, demonstrating that the war is not deadlocked and shoring up any doubts among Western allies thinking of scaling back military assistance to the country.”
- “Anything less than victory could also be momentous. Ukraine is concerned that a counter-offensive that does not win back significant territory could lead western supporters to question future military support and pile pressure on Kyiv to enter into peace negotiations with Moscow this year.”
- “Privately, some US officials say Ukraine will need to have some demonstrable success on the battlefield to be able to sell additional aid requests to Congress and the American public. In Europe, support for Kyiv is ‘not really conditional on Ukraine making progress on the military front in the near future’, says one senior European diplomat.”
- “Ukrainian military officials and soldiers …., say their forces are likely to launch a combination of counter-attacks along the frontline to test Russia’s defenses, with the bigger blows coming where they sense opportunities to break through. … One area where they are likely to focus their efforts is in the southern province of Zaporizhzhia. There, if they manage to sever the ‘land bridge’ connecting Russian territory with occupied Crimea and reach the strategic junction city of Melitopol, they could split Russia’s occupation into two. That would make it much more difficult for the occupying force to reinforce positions and shuttle supplies to and from Crimea.”
- “Andriy Zagorodnyuk, the former Ukraine defense minister, cautions against calling it a make-or-break moment. ‘I don’t think it’s Ukraine’s last chance. It’s a chance,’ he says. ‘But we should not expect this to be the end of the story. We can’t realistically talk about ending the war with one counter-offensive.’”
“Zelensky, in Private, Plots Bold Attacks Inside Russia, Leak Shows,” journalists John Hudson and Isabelle Khurshudyan, WP, 05.13.23.
- “Behind closed doors, Ukraine’s leader has proposed ….occupying Russian villages to gain leverage over Moscow, bombing a pipeline that transfers Russian oil to Hungary, a NATO member, and privately pining for long-range missiles to hit targets inside Russia’s borders, according to classified U.S. intelligence documents detailing his internal communications with top aides and military leaders.”
- “The documents, which have not been previously disclosed, are part of a broader leak of U.S. secrets circulated on the Discord messaging platform and obtained by The Washington Post. They reveal a leader with aggressive instincts that sharply contrast with his public-facing image as the calm and stoic statesman weathering Russia’s brutal onslaught.”
- “In some cases, Zelensky is seen restraining the ambitions of his subordinates; in several others, he is the one proposing risky military actions.”
- “In a meeting in late January, Zelensky suggested Ukraine ‘conduct strikes in Russia’ while moving Ukrainian ground troops into enemy territory to ‘occupy unspecified Russian border cities,’ according to one document labeled ‘top secret.’ The goal would be ‘to give Kyiv leverage in talks with Moscow,’ the document said.”
- “In a separate meeting in late February with Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s top military commander, Zelensky ‘expressed concern’ that ‘Ukraine does not have long-range missiles capable of reaching Russian troop deployments in Russia nor anything with which to attack them.’ Zelensky then ‘suggested that Ukraine attack unspecified deployment locations in Rostov,’ a region in western Russia, using drones instead, according to another classified document.”
- “In a meeting in mid-February with Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Svrydenko, Zelensky suggested Ukraine ‘blow up’ the Soviet-built Druzhba pipeline that provides oil to Hungary. ‘Zelenskyy highlighted that … Ukraine should just blow up the pipeline and destroy likely Hungarian [Prime Minister] Viktor Orban’s industry, which is based heavily on Russian oil,’ the document says.”
- “When asked if he had suggested occupying parts of Russia, Zelensky, during an interview with The Post in Kyiv, dismissed the U.S. intelligence claims as ‘fantasies’ but defended his right to use unconventional tactics in the defense of his country.”
“Wagner Chief Offered To Give Russian Troop Locations to Ukraine, Leak Says,” journalists Shane Harris and Isabelle Khurshudyan, WP, 05.15.23.
- “In late January, with his mercenary forces dying by the thousands in a fight for the ruined city of Bakhmut, Wagner Group owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin made Ukraine an extraordinary offer. Prigozhin said that if Ukraine’s commanders withdrew their soldiers from the area around Bakhmut, he would give Kyiv information on Russian troop positions, which Ukraine could use to attack them. Prigozhin conveyed the proposal to his contacts in Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate, with whom he has maintained secret communications during the course of the war, according to previously unreported U.S. intelligence documents leaked on the group-chat platform Discord.”
- “Two Ukrainian officials confirmed that Prigozhin has spoken several times to the Ukrainian intelligence directorate, known as HUR. One official said that Prigozhin extended the offer regarding Bakhmut more than once, but that Kyiv rejected it because officials don’t trust Prigozhin and thought his proposals could have been disingenuous. A U.S. official also cautioned that there are similar doubts in Washington about Prigozhin’s intentions. The Ukrainian and U.S. officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.”
- “Prigohzin has carried on a secret relationship with Ukrainian intelligence that, in addition to phone calls, includes in-person meetings with HUR officers in an unspecified country in Africa, one document states. Wagner forces provide security to several governments on the continent. The leaked U.S. intelligence shows Prigozhin bemoaning the heavy toll that fighting has taken on his own forces and urging Ukraine to strike harder against Russian troops.”
- “According to one document, Prigozhin told a Ukrainian intelligence officer that the Russian military was struggling with ammunition supplies. He advised Ukrainian forces to push forward with an assault on the border of Crimea, which Russia has illegally annexed, while Russian troop morale was low. The report also referred to other intelligence noting that Prigozhin was aware of plummeting morale among Wagner forces and that some of his fighters had balked at orders to deploy in the Bakhmut area under heavy fire, for fear of suffering more casualties.” Later on Monday, Prigozhin denied these claims, stating that reports that he offered information on Russian troop positions to Ukraine “laughable” and a result of a possible smear campaign, MT reported.*
“The End of Ukraine Aid Is Rapidly Approaching. Reupping It Won’t Be Easy,” reporters Paul Mcleary, Anthony Adragna and Joe Gould, Politico, 05.15.23.
- “The $48 billion Ukraine aid package that Congress approved in December has about $6 billion left, meaning U.S. funding for weapons and supplies could dry up by midsummer. That’s raising fresh concerns among lawmakers about what the White House is planning next, including when the administration will ask for another major package and whether it will be enough.”
- “One congressional aide who closely tracks the issue estimated that, based on the rate of announcements, the money to draw down existing U.S. stockpiles will expire in July. That would mean the flow of equipment could be disrupted if Kyiv has to wait an extended period for a new tranche of funding.”
- “More money isn’t guaranteed, especially in this environment in Washington. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it would be a ‘mistake’ for the Biden administration to bank on an additional Ukrainian supplemental funding measure. ‘It looks like they’re expecting some sort of a supplemental at some point — they’re going to come back and ask for more money,’ Rubio said. ‘I think that’s a mistake. I think it should be in their baseline’ budget.”
“Ukraine’s Hidden Advantage How European Trainers Have Transformed Kyiv’s Army and Changed the War,” Alexandra Chinchilla of Texas A&M and Jahara Matisek of the US Naval War College, FA, 05.11.23.
- “To defend its own positions and reclaim territory from Russia, Ukraine must continue to train large numbers of citizen-soldiers, many of whom lack basic skills, such as how to shoot, move, communicate, and provide combat medicine. The Ukrainian government has set out to train 6,000 new soldiers a month — a difficult task given the country’s severely stretched resources and struggle for survival.”
- “Our interviews with Ukrainian and NATO personnel indicate that trainers from NATO countries have been able to get around 2,500 new Ukrainian soldiers through basic combat training each month — short of Kyiv’s target but still an important contribution.”
- “Some Western weapons systems, such as Javelin and NLAW antitank missiles, have been easy to integrate into Ukrainian operations because they are easy to use or already familiar to Ukrainian soldiers. But many other kinds of non-Soviet weapons and equipment — including artillery, air defense systems, and the German Leopard 2 and British Challenger 2 tanks — are new to Ukrainian soldiers and require advanced training to master.”
- “In fact, European countries have another advantage in leading this training effort: they are familiar with a wider variety of equipment and weapons systems than their counterparts in the United States. Although the United States is the biggest donor in terms of the volume of aid, European countries provide a wider array of weapons systems, ammunition, and equipment to Ukraine.”
- “Ensuring the continued quality of Ukraine’s junior military officers will be essential to maintaining the good battlefield decision-making that has been crucial to Ukraine’s success thus far. Since European countries are already doing so much to train Ukrainians, this is one area in which the United States, with its combat experience and resources, could take the lead.”
“Kyiv’s Soldiers Risk Their Lives to Keep US Weapons Off Black Market,” reporter Lara Jakes, NYT, 05.12.23.
- “If even a few of the [US-supplied] arms wind up on the black market instead of the battlefield, a Ukrainian lawmaker gloomily predicted, ‘we’re done.’ The lawmaker, Oleksandra Ustinova, a former anti-corruption activist who now monitors foreign arms transfers to Ukraine, does not believe there is widespread smuggling among the priciest and most sophisticated weapons donated by the United States over the last year.”
- “But in Washington, against a looming government debt crisis and growing skepticism about financial support for Ukraine, an increasingly skeptical Congress is demanding tight accountability for ‘every weapon, every round of ammunition that we send to Ukraine,’ as Representative Rob Wittman, Republican of Virginia, said last month.”
- “The sheer volume of arms delivered — including tens of thousands of shoulder-fired Javelin and Stinger missiles, portable launchers and rockets — creates a virtually insurmountable challenge to tracking each item, officials and experts caution.”
- “So far, American officials said, there have been only a handful of cases of suspected arms trafficking or other illicit military transfers of advanced weapons sent to foreign conflicts that must be most closely tracked. Currently, federal investigators are looking into reports of Javelin shoulder-fired rockets and Switchblade drones being sold online after being taken from Ukraine, according to an American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a highly sensitive issue.”
- “There was one confirmed report of a Swedish-made, anti-tank grenade launcher being smuggled out of Ukraine. But the theft was discovered only after the weapon exploded in the trunk of a car about 10 miles outside Moscow, injuring a retired Russian military officer who had just returned from eastern Ukraine.”
- “The scrutiny is wearing on Ukrainian officials, who are balancing their dire need for weapons against onerous expectations for tracking them. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine revealed ‘a twinge of frustration’ and an air of ‘How many times do I have to tell you?’ when the issue was raised last month by a U.S. delegation to Kyiv, said Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, who was on the trip. ‘All it will take is a situation where we find that somebody, somewhere down the chain, has gotten a piece of military equipment and has sold it for personal enrichment, or misappropriated it in some way,’ Ms. Murkowski said. ‘Because then it just gets that much harder.’”
“Germany Announces Its Biggest Military Aid Package Yet for Ukraine,” reporters Erika Solomon and Christopher F. Schuetze, NYT, 05.13.23.
- “Germany on Saturday sent the strongest signal yet of its commitment to backing Ukraine in its battle against Russian occupiers, promising more tanks, armored vehicles and substantial air defense systems in its largest weapons package for Kyiv. The arms package, totaling 2.7 billion euros, or about $2.95 billion, amounted to roughly as much as Germany’s total military aid to Ukraine since the war began in February 2022.”
- “The German announcement was one of the most forceful steps yet taken by Mr. Scholz to back his call last year for Germans to play a leading role in Europe’s security affairs — and to bolster their own forces — in the face of a newly perceived threat from Russia. ‘We all wish for a speedy end to this terrible war waged by Russia against the Ukrainian people,’ said Germany’s defense minister, Boris Pistorius, who has been even more outspoken than the chancellor on support for Ukraine. ‘Germany will provide all the help it can — as long as it takes.’”
“Putting Russia’s Army in the Shadow of the Storm,” senior research fellow Jack Watling , RUSI, 05.15.23.
- “The decision by the UK government to gift Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine provides a significant capability for disrupting Russian logistics and command and control, and will likely prove useful in support of forthcoming Ukrainian offensive operations. At more than £790,000 a munition, however, they will have to be expended carefully.”
- “Throughout the war, the relentless focus on weapons systems has overshadowed the importance of tactics in determining the course of the fighting. There are not enough Storm Shadow missiles to alter the course of the war in themselves, but if they are used judiciously to create gaps, enhance uncertainty and shape opportunities, the UK will have just given Kyiv a powerful tool to contribute to the liberation of Ukrainian lands.”
Punitive measures related to Russia’s war against Ukraine and their impact globally:
“U.S., Allies Weigh How to Further Punish Russia,” reporter Andrew Duehren, WSJ, 05.12.23.
- “The U.S. and European Union are weighing fresh steps to prevent Russia from working around their efforts to deprive the Kremlin of key technologies and revenue needed for the war. … Officials across Europe and in Washington are also taking a look at how they could use Russian assets to finance rebuilding Ukraine, trying to resolve a thicket of legal questions surrounding the issue, they say.”
- “Discussions here among finance ministers from the G-7 advanced democracies about how to better enforce sanctions on Russia are continuing, and President Biden and other leaders from G-7 nations are expected to take up the issue when they meet in Hiroshima later this month.”
- “While Western officials see their sanctions hampering the Kremlin’s war effort, the penalties have been less effective than some officials had initially hoped. The Russian economy is on track to grow 0.3% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, and Ukrainian officials have found banned Western technology in Russian munitions on the battlefield.”
- “European and U.S. officials have dispersed across Europe and Central Asia in recent weeks to warn governments and companies that they risk facing penalties themselves if sanctioned goods pass through their jurisdictions en route to Russia. Of particular concern are countries showing large increases in trade with Russia, a group that officials say includes Turkey, Kazakhstan and Serbia, among others.”
- “A complete ban of exports to Russia is another step discussed by some Ukrainian and U.S. officials as a way to better prevent sanctions evasion. Under such a design, the West would effectively flip around its export controls on Russia, specifying which exports are allowed rather than which ones are banned. The idea faces skepticism from officials in Europe and the U.S.”
“Cutting Power: How Creative Measures Can End the EU’s Dependence on Russian Nuclear Fuel,” Marina Lorenzini of Harvard’s Belfer Center, BAS, 05.03.23.
- “Removing the EU dependence on Russia’s nuclear energy technology won’t be easy — except maybe when it comes to uranium ore. At best, it would take at least several years for EU nuclear plants to substitute Russian fuel fabrication services with other suppliers. And it would take much longer to replace the critical supply chain components of uranium conversion and uranium enrichment. This makes the prospects of Brussels sanctioning Rosatom overall — and therefore all its activities — quite bleak.”
- “Dealing a blow to the Russian nuclear portfolio would pale in comparison to revenues of its oil industry anyway. Moreover, Russia could take its nuclear products elsewhere, such as to China or India.”
- “A combined strategy of minimal contract fulfillment and staged sanctioning could help Europe to cut its dependence quickly and efficiently on Russian nuclear energy technologies while maintaining operations of its nuclear power plants critical for the continent’s energy security. Such an approach could maintain a happy medium between stakeholders across the EU all seeking to decouple from Russian products while delivering economic electricity options.”
“How Sanctioned Western Goods Are Still Flowing Into Russia,” journalists Georgi Kantchev, Paul Hannon, and Laurence Norman, WSJ, 05.14.23.
- “A group of former Soviet republics has emerged as a major transshipment hub for U.S. and European computer chips, lasers and other products with civilian and military uses headed for Russia, according to Western officials and data compiled by The Wall Street Journal.”
- “U.S. and European Union exports of sensitive, so-called dual-use goods to countries in Russia’s neighborhood rose sharply in 2022. So did these countries’ shipments of these products to Russia, often by a similar multiple, an analysis of United Nations trade data shows.”
- “The data suggests Moscow continues to acquire crucial Western goods—whose sale is mostly restricted by U.S. and European sanctions—as it seeks to keep its economy afloat and its war machine running. In total, U.S. and EU goods exports to Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan rose to $24.3 billion last year from $14.6 billion in 2021. These countries collectively increased their exports to Russia by nearly 50% last year to around $15 billion.”
- “Such technologies are critical for Russia’s war in Ukraine, experts say. Russia has limited ability to replace Western components with its own products. … ‘Electronics are needed everywhere from aircraft and cruise missiles manufacturing to command, control and communication systems in armored vehicles and tanks,’ said Pavel Luzin, an expert on Russia’s military and visiting scholar at Tufts University.”
- “Complicating sanctions compliance, Central Asian officials say, is the membership of Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan in the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, which largely eliminates customs borders among its members. … Complicating sanctions compliance, Central Asian officials say, is the membership of Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan in the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, which largely eliminates customs borders among its members.”
“Rosatom: A Difficult Target; Russia’s Global Energy Role — Working Paper No. 1,” CEIP’s Alexandra Prokopenko, EIRP, May 2023.
- “Through its state company Rosatom, Russia is the world leader in nuclear power export markets. The company controls almost half of the world uranium processing and enrichment market and holds 70% of the reactor export market. Setting aside some cancellations following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Rosatom’s portfolio of foreign orders appears stable at about $200 billion.”
- “In addition to its commercial role, Rosatom is a foreign policy instrument that may advance Russian strategic interests by establishing long-term official and commercial ties with governments and businesses in customer nations. Rosatom offers one-stop shopping for design, construction, fuel, training, maintenance, and spent fuel processing as well as attractive financing. The company generally has strong support from Russia’s government.”
- “The United States and several European Union (EU) member countries import nuclear fuel from Rosatom and have been reluctant to impose stiff sanctions on the company that would compare to sanctions on Russian oil and gas firms. Eighteen Soviet-era nuclear reactors are operating in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, and Slovakia. In addition, France imports Rosatom’s uranium products to manufacture nuclear fuel, some of which goes onward to other EU countries.”
- “While some of Rosatom’s prewar aspirations for growth may no longer be realistic, and while the company is losing some business in the West, Rosatom appears to be largely on track with its non-Western projects, which comprise the bulk of the company’s business. Reducing Rosatom’s global role will not be quick, easy, or cheap.”
“The West Needs Russia to Power Its Nuclear Comeback,” journalists Jennifer Hiller, Daniel Michaels and Kim Mackrael, WSJ, 05.10.23.
- “In the U.S., after years of delays and billions in cost overruns, a nuclear reactor in Georgia in March began splitting atoms for the first time, a crucial step toward reaching commercial operation. Another reactor at the facility, owned by a unit of Atlanta-based Southern, is scheduled to be operational next year.”
- “Nuclear fuel is one of the few Russian energy sources not banned by the West as a result of the war in Ukraine. The reason is rooted in a program from the early 1990s, soon after the Cold War ended, aimed at shrinking the threat of Soviet nuclear warheads falling into the wrong hands.”
- “The problem, critics said, was that the deal delivered Russian nuclear fuel so cheaply that rival suppliers struggled to compete. Before long, U.S. and European companies were scaling back and Russia was the world’s biggest supplier of enriched uranium, with nearly half of global capacity. … Before the deal ended in 2013, Russian suppliers, now organized as Rosatom, signed a new contract with the U.S. private sector to provide commercial fuel beyond the government-to-government program. Rosatom still supplies as much as one-fourth of U.S. nuclear fuel.”
- “A proposed new generation of reactors, which proponents and investors including Microsoft founder Bill Gates are touting as less risky and more environmentally friendly than current reactor designs, requires a special type of fuel that is the nuclear equivalent of high-octane gasoline. The only source of that fuel today is Rosatom.”
- “A bipartisan group in Congress is now pushing legislation to ban U.S. use of Russian uranium, build a national uranium reserve, boost domestic ability to refine uranium into fuel and add uranium to the country’s critical minerals list.”
“The New ‘Blood Diamonds’: The Elaborate Plan To Halt Russia’s Trade,” journalists Chloe Cornish, Sam Fleming and Harry Dempsey, FT, 05.10.23.
- “Russia’s rough diamond exports were worth $4 billion in 2021, trade statistics show. That’s only a fraction of Russia’s crude oil exports, but every available revenue source is important to Moscow’s treasury as it bankrolls President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.”
- “In the US, the world’s largest market for finished diamonds, the government has already taken action — the Treasury department placed sanctions on Alrosa in April 2022, and President Joe Biden banned the import of Russian rough diamonds. The EU did not follow suit, however, as Belgium resisted restrictions that could hurt its diamond trading industry in Antwerp.”
- “But soon, G7 capitals will join Washington by endorsing efforts to drive down Russia’s diamond mining revenues, according to a draft communique seen by the Financial Times, aiming to introduce an effective mechanism for tracking and tracing individual gemstones — which today does not exist.”
“Russia’s Economy Has Not Crashed. Here’s How To Make It Suffer,” editorial board, WP, 05.14.23.
- “It is now clear that the West’s campaign to weaken Russia’s finances in hopes of dampening Putin’s resolve and popular support will be a slog, not a sprint.”
- “Still, Washington and its allies retain potent ways to undercut the Kremlin’s war-making capacity over time — if they are honed and intensified. Better coordination and tighter enforcement of existing restrictions hold the key to sharpening the war’s costs for Russian industry and consumers, and to further sapping its ability to continue manufacturing high-tech weapons. Equally important, the West can double down on its success in squeezing the Russian state’s most important revenue source: energy.”
- “It would help for the United States and the E.U. to coordinate more closely on their export bans. A group of Harvard economists examined the discrepancies in sanctions applied to several thousand products sought by Russia and found that many have been targeted for restrictions by either the E.U. or the United States, but fewer than half have been subject to sanctions from both.”
- “The West’s most effective measure to date has been the imposition last year of a $60 per barrel price cap on Russian crude oil, compounded early this year by similar caps on diesel and other refined petroleum products. Those caps — above which Western shippers and insurers will not move the Kremlin’s exports — slashed Russia’s oil export revenue by nearly a third in the first three months of this year compared with the last three months of 2022, a $15.7 billion hit in a single fiscal quarter, according to the Kyiv School of Economics.”
- Russia’s economy, though it has proved surprisingly resilient, is smaller than Canada’s or Italy’s; it cannot indefinitely absorb such an income loss — let alone even lower revenue if the West continues to reduce the cap, as it should. For RM’s repeated effort to compare the size of Russia’s economy to those of other countries, see here and here.
“It’s Time to Hold Russia Accountable For Its Use of Chemical Weapons,” Anthony Ruggiero and Andrea Stricker of Foundation for Defense of Democracies and, WP, 05.12.23.
- “The erosion of decades-long norms against possession and use of chemical weapons threatens all peace-seeking countries. It is inexcusable that the United States and its allies have failed to hold Moscow to the same standard as Syria. The United States must send a clear message to Putin to deter further chemical weapons use as tools of intimidation and war.”
“Ukraine’s Offensive Could Set Stage for Diplomacy With Russia, U.S. Officials Say,” correspondents Mike Crowley, Edward Wong, NYT, 05.12.23.
- “Ukraine’s planned counteroffensive against Russia has overshadowed talk of a potential negotiated settlement in the conflict, but some U.S. and European officials say the next phase of the war could create momentum for diplomacy.”
- “President Biden’s aides have been exploring potential endgames, trying to identify an outcome that could be acceptable to both Kyiv and Moscow if real peace talks started, U.S. officials say.”
- “‘I know that senior-level administration officials are regularly having conversations about what peace ultimately would look like with our Ukrainian counterparts,’ said Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, ‘while at the same time having conversations about how to arm them and win back as much territory as possible.’”
- “Mr. Biden’s aides and European officials say their best hope is for Ukraine to make substantial gains during the counteroffensive, which would give it more leverage in any negotiations.”
- “The debate in Washington over potential peace talks is amorphous and paradoxical. There are even competing arguments based on the same hypothetical outcome: If Ukraine makes substantial gains, that might mean it is time for talks, some officials say — or it could mean Ukraine should put diplomacy on the back burner and keep fighting.”
- “If Ukraine is unable to seize significant territory, some U.S. and European officials might want to nudge Mr. Zelensky toward a negotiated settlement. ‘The dynamic will shift even if Ukraine makes marginal gains,’ said Mr. Smith, the Democratic lawmaker. After several more months of war, he predicted, both sides will be exhausted.”
- “Among top U.S. officials, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been the most outspoken on the need for Ukraine and Russia to consider negotiations, arguing that a prolonged war would result in many more casualties. Mr. Blinken has taken a different position. ‘There has to be some profound change in Mr. Putin’s mind and in Russia’s mind to engage in meaningful diplomacy,’ he said last week.”
“Zelensky Interview Transcript: ‘Ukraine Must Win,’” WaPo staff, WaPo, 05.15.23. Clues from Ukrainian views.
- “I know that there is skepticism among some partners that it would be scary if Ukraine liberates absolutely all of its territories. But I, for example, can live with this skepticism.”
- “We cannot say that Putin alone started a full-scale war in 2022. And it would be, to be honest, just insulting to all those people who have died. They have a large collective responsibility for this. And that’s why I’m just not ready to talk to him. I am not ready to talk to this collective. Not because someone is stubborn, but because they have chosen the path of destruction of Ukraine — a full-scale path. That’s why we can’t absolve anyone of responsibility… I think it makes no sense for Ukraine to negotiate with this collective with the name ‘Putin.’”
- “For me, it is very important that China respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine according to our 1991 administrative borders, including the island of Crimea. All of this is very important to me.”
Great Power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:
“Putin’s Historical Magical Mystery Tour,” former White House and NIC advisor on Russia, Fiona Hill, currently of Brookings, in an interview conducted by columnist Gideon Rachman, FT, 05.11.23.
- “In [the] case of Ukraine, we have started to conjure up the idea of a consequential battle before it’s happened. … This is a 20th-century war. And I think we have to recognize it’s kind of like the last gasp of European imperial wars… History, never ended for Vladimir Putin and the people around him. … He’s actually not just taking us back to the 20th century. He’s taking us back to the 10th century because he talks about 988, which is the Christianization of Rus, you know, some old mythical forebears of the Russian people. And Putin is taking us on this magical mystery tour of a past that’s just from a Russian perspective. … Putin’s dragged us back to these earlier times, and we’re now [going to] have to get used to thinking in these old patterns.”
- Early on in this conflict, Dr. Hill says she got a lot of pushback when referring to the idea of World War III.* “[This was a] structural point … World War III doesn’t have to mean a kind of a big absolutist showdown, absolute victory over Russia … When we look back to the other two wars that we called world wars, which all started off in a European context and had knock-on effects of … system-changing wars … they were also structurally very similar.”
- “I think we have to make sure that we block him [Putin] from getting as much support as we possibly can.”
- “There can be a place for Russians at the moment as well. We’ve got a huge diaspora of Russians. … How do we try to figure out how to work with Russians in the places that we have them inside of Europe? … The classic example is … the German high command helping to facilitate Vladimir Lenin returning to Russia in the throes of the … revolution. I don’t think we want to start doing that kind of thing again. That didn’t turn out well for anybody … But I think … what we do want to do is start to think about how can we work with technocrats, Russian students, different generations.”
- “I think there’s a lot that needs to be done here to get it out of this paradigm that this is somehow part of a larger struggle between US and China. … Russia’s got nowhere to go but China. I mean, China’s not rushing towards Russia. But China’s view is, you know, the enemy of my enemy is grace is very useful here. So they’ve got more incentive of keeping this going and they don’t want Russia to lose.”
- “In some countries, people very openly say that I would just have less of democracy however they define it, if my personal circumstance would improve more. And that’s where the Trumps and Putins and others come in. Now, Putin’s just ruptured that completely in Russia. You know, I’ll send you to the front, and you can die in Bakhmut or somewhere else. And Trump never came through.”
“Why Are We in Ukraine?”, journalist Benjamin Schwarz and Texas A&M’s Christopher Layne, Harpers, June 2023.
- “To most American policymakers, politicians, and pundits—liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans — the reasons for this perilous situation are clear. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, an aging and bloodthirsty authoritarian, launched an unprovoked attack on a fragile democracy. To the extent that we can ascribe coherent motives for this action, they lie in Putin’s paranoid psychology, his misguided attempt to raise his domestic political standing, and his refusal to accept that Russia lost the Cold War. Putin is frequently described as mercurial, deluded, and irrational — someone who cannot be bargained with on the basis of national or political self-interest.”
- “This conventional story is, in our view, both simplistic and self-serving. It fails to account for the well-documented — and perfectly comprehensible — objections that Russians have expressed toward NATO expansion over the past three decades, and obscures the central responsibility that the architects of U.S. foreign policy bear for the impasse. Both the global role that Washington has assigned itself generally, and America’s specific policies toward NATO and Russia, have led inexorably to war — as many foreign policy critics, ourselves among them, have long warned that they would.”
- “While Russians of every political stripe have judged Washington’s enfolding of Russia’s former Warsaw Pact allies and its former Baltic Soviet republics into NATO as a threat, they have viewed the prospect of the alliance’s expansion into Ukraine as basically apocalyptic.”
- “The parallels between Ukraine and Cuba run deep. Just as Moscow has justified its war in Ukraine as a response to a foreign military threat emanating from a neighboring country, so Washington justified its bellicose and potentially calamitous reaction to Soviet missiles in Cuba. Just as Ukraine, even before the Russian invasion, was well within its rights under international law to welcome NATO’s military support, so Cuba, as a sovereign state, had every right to accept the Soviet Union’s offer of missiles.”
- “The point here is not to make arguments of moral equivalency. Rather, given that, historically, Washington has responded aggressively to situations similar to those in which it has placed Russia today, the motive for Russian aggression in Ukraine is likely not expansionist megalomania but exactly what Moscow declares it to be—defensive alarm over an expansive rival’s military influence in a bordering and strategically essential neighbor. To acknowledge this is merely the first step U.S. officials must take if they wish to back away from the precipice of nuclear annihilation and move instead toward a negotiated settlement grounded in foreign policy realism.”
- “Barring either side’s complete collapse, the war can end only with compromise… [just like] The Cuban Missile Crisis was … resolved not by steadfastness but by compromise.”
- “A comprehensive European settlement in the aftermath of the Ukraine war, … guided by the old diplomacy, would need to resemble the vision, thwarted by Washington, that Genscher, Mitterrand, and Gorbachev sought to ratify at the end of the Cold War. … … This new system might embrace the notion of a community of Europe, but in reality the powerful states would exercise outsize influence (as they do in the E.U. and the U.N.). Such a system would in fundamental aspects resemble a modern Concert of Europe.”
“Putin Repeats Napoleon’s Mistake: Strategy Wins, Not Power,” Hal Brands of Johns Hopkins University’s SAIS, Bloomberg, 05.14.23.
- “Combined with the most globally consequential war of our era — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal assault on Ukraine — it brings us back to strategy’s most enduring truths.”
- “First, strategy is too important to be left to the generals.”
- “If strategy encompasses all the things that shape a country’s global position, Putin’s performance has been a master class in strategic self-harm. This relates to a second truth: The best strategies reveal power in unexpected places.”
- “Why, though, has Russia underperformed so epically? The answer involves a third truth: Strategy is suffused with politics.”
- “A fourth truth is coming into focus as this war goes longer: Strategy is about adaptation as much as design. … Napoleon’s revolutionary style of warfare nearly gave him mastery of Europe, until his adversaries wised up and changed their own methods. Advantage is perishable, so adaptation is essential. So far, Ukraine — with Western support — has been winning the adaptation battle.”
- “Finally, the study of strategy is so vital because the stakes are so high.”
- “The course of the current war was not predetermined. A smarter attack plan by Putin, a less tenacious Ukrainian defense, or a more diffident American stance might easily have produced a Russian victory that would have reordered Eastern Europe and reverberated around the world. Ukraine, or large chunks of it, might have been incorporated into a ‘union state’ with Russia and Belarus; the global axis of autocracies led by Moscow and Beijing would be riding high.”
- “Even now, the outcome is far from certain. Choices made in Moscow, Kyiv, Washington and Beijing will determine when and how the conflict ends, and whether it bolsters or batters an international order that has been under growing strain.”
“Vladimir Putin Is the World’s Most Dangerous Fool,” columnist Thomas L. Friedman, NYT, 04.12.23.
- “Putin never had a Plan B. It’s now obvious that he thought he was going to waltz into Kyiv, seize it in a week, install a lackey as president, tuck Ukraine into his pocket and put to an end any further European Union, NATO or Western cultural expansion toward Russia. He would then cast his shadow across all of Europe.”
- “Putin has put himself in a situation where he can’t win, can’t lose and can’t stop. There’s no way he can seize control of all of Ukraine anymore. But at the same time, he can’t afford to be defeated, after all the Russian lives and treasure he has expended. So he can’t stop.”
- “It’s impossible to get into Putin’s head and predict his next move, but color me worried. Because what we do know, from Putin’s actions, is that he knows his Plan A has failed. And he will now do anything to produce a Plan B to justify the terrible losses that he has piled up in the name of a country where everybody talks and where defeated leaders don’t retire peacefully.”
“Ukraine vs. the Axis of Illegitimacy,” columnist Holman W. Jenkins Jr., WSJ, 05.09.23.
- “Ukraine doesn’t pose a threat to Russian security but to the Vladimir Putin regime’s legitimacy. Taiwan doesn’t threaten China’s security. It only threatens, by example, the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.”
- “China’s regime rushed to Russia’s side because it perceived a moment of geopolitical danger for antidemocratic governments. We might even give the global conflict that started in Ukraine a nickname: World War Legitimacy.”
- “There’s no stable solution to either regime’s problems that Western appeasement or diplomacy can provide. Accommodating Russian interests vis-à-vis NATO membership for Ukraine or even the Kremlin’s desire for Crimea would solve nothing. The next morning Putin’s basic regime insecurity would still hang over him.”
- “[Ukraine’s offensive] needs to show that Russia can’t hold what it has occupied, that the Kremlin’s army will be pushed back whenever Ukraine and its allies make a concerted effort to push it back.”
- “[Putin’s] next-best solution is some kind of cease-fire arrangement that relieves pressure on him domestically to keep finding bodies and materiel to throw into a war that everyone sees is failing.”
“The Danger in Hyping Ukraine’s Spring Offensive,” columnist Andreas Kluth, Bloomberg, 05.10.23.
- “Ukraine’s ballyhooed ‘spring offensive’ hasn’t even begun yet, but Western politicians are already using it to reframe their thinking about Kyiv’s defensive war against Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is a problem. By hyping expectations for the Ukrainians’ imminent military push, the US, Europe and NATO may jeopardize Kyiv’s long-term prospects.”
- “The reality is, no matter how the Ukrainian offensive pans out, this war is likely to drag on for years. And the West must have Kyiv’s back as long as it takes, no matter the vicissitudes on the battlefield. Too much is at stake — including peace, order and liberty in Europe and beyond.”
- “First, the West and all freedom-loving nations of the world must keep supporting Ukraine, no matter how its spring offensive turns out. Second, one day, when both sides are exhausted, there will be peace talks and concessions. Ukraine and the rest of us must simultaneously prepare for both, the fighting and the jaw-jaw.”
“The Russo-Ukrainian War — Turning Points: Serhii Plokhy Offers a Compelling Rejoinder to Those Who Blame Putin’s War on Western Provocations,” editor Ben Hall, FT, 05.11.23.
- “Serhii Plokhy did not believe Russia would launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year and advance on the capital Kyiv with the aim of deposing its democratically elected president. … Plokhy, the world’s foremost historian of Ukraine, was deceived then. But he is clear-sighted in his latest book, The Russo-Ukrainian War, about the nature of the bloodiest conflict in Europe since 1945. It is an old-fashioned imperial war of domination that has been decades, if not centuries, in the making, ‘conducted by Russian elites who see themselves and heirs of the great-power expansionist traditions of the Russian empire and the Soviet Union.’”
- “To a book written at speed, Plokhy has added an afterward that reaches some powerful conclusions. In sum, Russia’s aims have rebounded against it. Ukraine is ‘terminating the era of Russian dominance in a good part of eastern Europe and challenging Moscow’s claim to primacy in the rest of the post-Soviet space.’ And rather than hastening the emergence of a multipolar world, the conflict has reaffirmed American leadership of a reunited west and underscored Russia’s weakness relative to China, now its main sponsor.”
“The Belligerent Bear: Russia, Status Orders, and War,” Cambridge University fellow Pål Røren, International Security 47, no. 4 (Spring 2023).
- “The 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine shifted the U.S. public discourse. Over time, this discourse labeled Russia as a disgruntled and disillusioned regional power, then as a resurgent imperial power, and then increasingly as a great power rival. Whether a planned status move or not, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine was viewed by the U.S. public as in line with the status order of the great power club. In contrast, Russia’s status remained stable in the UN Security Council because of established legal privileges and the council’s joint interest in cooperating with Russia on other issues. But these two factors were not relevant to the status order of the G-8, and thus that club ejected Russia for violating its shared rules, values, and order.”
“NATO Races To Bridge Divisions Over Ukraine Membership,” journalists Missy Ryan and Emily Rauhala, WP, 05.14.23.
- “NATO nations are locked in negotiations to determine next steps in Ukraine’s path toward joining the Western alliance, as member states scramble to bridge divisions over how quickly Kyiv should be brought under the transatlantic security shield at a time of acute hostility with Russia.”
- “Officials from NATO nations, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail sensitive diplomatic discussions, said there is consensus among the alliance’s 31 members that, despite advocacy from Kyiv, NATO will not issue Ukraine a formal invitation to join at the July 11-12 meeting.”
- “But Eastern European nations are pushing for concrete steps toward that goal, including potential commitment to a timeline for Ukraine’s accession, even as the United States and some Western European nations advocate smaller steps that could include a bureaucratic upgrade to a NATO-Ukraine body or a decision to further expand NATO’s technical support to Ukraine’s defense sector.”
“It’s Time the West Committed to Ukraine for the Long Haul,” former NATO policy planner Fabrice Pothier, Economist, 05.12.23.
- “We should not underestimate Ukrainians’ resolve in defending their nation. But nor can we underestimate Mr Putin’s willingness to stay put, use his own people as cannon-fodder and wait for disorder to spread. That is why the best way to end this war is to end any remaining doubt about Ukraine’s place in the Euro-Atlantic security architecture. The sooner that happens, the sooner Mr Zelensky can negotiate a just peace and give his citizens the future they have so bravely fought for.”
“NATO’s Got a New Backbone,” U.S. representative Mike Rogers, FP, 05.12.23.
- “More must be done to boost our alliance’s defense posture and deter the shared threats we face.”
- “First, the time has come to shift current U.S. forces in Europe to the countries that are investing most heavily in their own security.”
- “Next, leaders in Washington must recognize that the NATO-Russia Founding Act has been effectively killed by Russia’s ongoing war.”
- “To maintain the solvency of the alliance, leaders must also be forward-looking and prepare to counter not only Russia’s current threat but also that of China.”
- “It’s clear that the center of gravity for the alliance’s resolve has shifted east: Warsaw, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, and Bucharest are the new backbone of NATO, and the United States should adjust its policies and posture accordingly.”
“President of Russia’s Speech at the May 9 Victory Parade on Red Square,” Kremlin.ru, 05.09.23. Clues from Russian views.
- “Today, our civilization is at a crucial turning point. A real war is being waged against our country again but we have countered international terrorism and will defend the people of Donbass and safeguard our security.”
- “For us, for Russia, there are no unfriendly or hostile nations either in the west or in the east. Just like the vast majority of people on the planet, we want to see a peaceful, free and stable future.”
- “We believe that any ideology of superiority is abhorrent, criminal and deadly by its nature. However, the Western globalist elites keep speaking about their exceptionalism, pit nations against each other and split societies, provoke bloody conflicts and coups, sow hatred, Russophobia, aggressive nationalism, destroy family and traditional values which make us human. They do all that so as to keep dictating and imposing their will, their rights and rules on peoples, which in reality is a system of plundering, violence and suppression.”
- “Their goal – and there is nothing new about it – is to break apart and destroy our country, to make null and void the outcomes of World War II, to completely break down the system.”
- “The memory of defenders of the Fatherland is sacred for us in Russia, and we cherish it in our hearts. We give credit to members of the Resistance who bravely fought Nazism as well as the troops of the allied armies of the United States, Great Britain and other countries. We remember and honor the feat of Chinese soldiers in the fight against Japanese militarism.”
- “I strongly believe that the experience of solidarity and partnership during the years of fighting a common threat is our invaluable heritage and a secure foothold now when the unstoppable movement is gaining momentum towards a more just multipolar world, a world based on the principles of trust and indivisible security, of equal opportunities for a genuine and free development of all nations and peoples.” Thus, while the English-language coverage of Vladimir Putin’s speech at the May 9 Victory Day parade has predictably focused on yet another tongue–lashing of the West over the Russian-Ukrainian war, the Russian leader also had some positive things to say about the West’s conduct — albeit in the past.
“Interview of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation S.A. Ryabkov,” Parliamentskaya Gazeta, May 15, 2023. Clues from Russian views.**
- “The events of recent months — the [transfer] of Helsinki and Stockholm from non-alignment to military alliances, the admission of Finland to [NATO] and the real prospect of the appearance of American troops on Finnish territory, embodied in the corresponding agreement, i.e. on our border, and beyond the restrictions of the [Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty] — they deprived us of the opportunity to continue to remain in the Treaty.”
- “At the current stage, the situation is not conducive to the promotion of new ideas [with regards to agreements on conventional arms control in Europe]. This, in my opinion, can become possible only in the context of the creation of a new system of regional security at the end of the current stormy period in European history. Of course, the coming world will be completely different from the one we lived in in 1990 or 1999, and this will require fundamentally new approaches, including arms control.”
“The Indivisibility of Security is Our Principled Position,” Interview with PIR-Center chairman and ex-head of the Russian MoD’s international cooperation department Yevgeny Buzhinsky, PIR-Center/RIAC, 05.15.23. Clues from Russian Views.**
- “Our relations with the West as a whole have reached a critical point, when it became impossible to talk about the return of the Russian Federation to the CFE Treaty. … Perhaps the decision makers have come to the conclusion that the relationship will not improve in the foreseeable future. The denunciation of the Treaty is one of the demonstrative steps.”
- “The [Special Military Operation] has indeed shown that battle tanks, armored fighting vehicles, artillery, attack helicopters and combat aircraft remain relevant. Consequently, a revival of a treaty such as the [CFE Treaty] is possible in the future.”
- “European security without treaty instruments is unrealistic. Sooner or later, arms control will be restored. And this will happen in Europe, because after the end of the Ukrainian crisis, it is the contractual instruments for its settlement that will be required.”
- “Of course, many new types of weapons have appeared, such as unmanned aerial vehicles or cruise missiles. Accounting for new funds is the old position of Russia. In addition, the SVO demonstrated the importance of the weapons listed in the CFE Treaty. In the future, they should also be taken into account. The choice of the very format of the updated Treaty is a matter for the future. Various options are possible.”
- “The indivisibility of security is our principled position. We will not refuse it. This principle will remain.”
China-Russia: Allied or aligned?
“The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Russia,” Janko Šćepanović of the Shanghai Academy of Global Governance and Area Studies, PONARS, 05.15.23.
- “The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is on a rising trajectory. At the 2022 Samarkand Summit, Iran officially signed a memorandum of obligation to join as a full-fledged member. For the Islamic Republic, this promotion was a long time in coming. Less conspicuously, long-standing observer Belarus was promoted to full member. Very recently, in late March 2023, it was revealed that Saudi Arabia had joined as a dialogue partner after it had been invited in September 2021. This was followed by the news that at the May 2023 meeting of SCO foreign ministers, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Myanmar, and the Maldives were also added as dialogue partners. Even though these forms of association are the lowest in rank, they represent natural stepping stones toward more cooperation.”
- “The broader theme of positioning and transforming the SCO as an alternative non-Western global center has indeed been part of= Moscow’s strategy, as I have previously argued. At the same time, insinuations about the SCO’s transformation into a rival bloc to the West ignore the realities behind its decision-making and the complexity of its diverse membership and interests.”
- “ As the organization expands its list of full members and adds observers and dialogue partners, internal contradictions between expansion and decision-making processes become more glaring, especially when states with complicated relations and conflicting interests are added to the group. Furthermore, critically in the near term, the SCO will need to manage the worsening relations between Russia, a founding member, and U.S.-led international organizations and Western alliances.”
- “The wording in the Samarkand Declaration reflects China’s growing interest in conveying through the SCO its opposition to developments it finds increasingly aimed against it, such as the perceived hegemony, unilateralism, bloc politics, and unilateral application of economic sanctions. While the support it receives from other full members in joint SCO statements is valuable, judging by the organization’s historical record, there is little to suggest that it will muster anything more concrete than verbal backing.”
“In the Ukraine War, China Is the Only Winner,” Nilay Saiya of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and Rahmat Wadidi of Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NI, 05.13.23.
- “Just as Beijing sat back and smiled as the United States bled itself in various interventions in the Middle East over the past two decades, it is again doing the same now as Washington has found itself bogged down in yet another protracted and unwinnable war. In the meantime, China has funneled considerable expenditure into its military, modernizing its air and ground forces, expanding its naval forces in East Asia to counter the existing U.S. naval presence, and upgrading its strategic and tactical nuclear stockpile and launch systems. Chinese policymakers understand that continued and costly American forays abroad will only tip the balance of power further in Beijing’s favor. China has also taken advantage of the Ukraine war in its foreign policy, steadily increasing its economic relations with Russia and, according to some China experts, possibly supplying Russia with weapons and ammunition in the near future.”
- “The devastating irony of the situation is that the West became embroiled in a war against Russia at the very moment when it should have been cultivating Russia as a counterbalance against the rise of China. Instead, the West has pushed Russia into the waiting arms of Beijing.”
- No significant developments.
“Nuclear Notebook: Russian nuclear weapons, 2023,” Hans M. Kristensen, Matt Korda and Eliana Reynolds of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project, BAS, 05.09.23.
- “As of early 2023, we estimate that Russia has a stockpile of approximately 4,489 nuclear warheads assigned for use by long-range strategic launchers and shorter-range tactical nuclear forces. This is a net increase of approximately 12 warheads from last year, largely due to the addition of new intercontinental ballistic missiles and one new ballistic missile submarine, as well as the retirement of older warheads. Of the stockpiled warheads, approximately 1,674 strategic warheads are deployed: about 834 on land-based ballistic missiles, about 640 on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and possibly 200 at heavy bomber bases. Approximately another 999 strategic warheads are in storage, along with about 1,816 nonstrategic warheads. In addition to the military stockpile for operational forces, a large number—approximately 1,400—of retired but still largely intact warheads await dismantlement, for a total inventory of approximately 5,889 warheads.”
- “Russia is in the late stages of a decades-long modernization of its strategic and nonstrategic nuclear forces to replace Soviet-era weapons with newer systems. In December 2022, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu reported that modern weapons and equipment now make up 91.3 percent of Russia’s nuclear triad, an increase of 2.2 percent from the previous yea. These modernization percentage values probably come with significant uncertainty, as it is unclear what methodology Russia is using to make those calculations.”
- “Russia’s nuclear modernization program appears motivated in part by the Kremlin’s strong desire to maintain overall parity with the United States and to maintain national prestige, but also to compensate for inferior conventional forces as well as the Russian leadership’s apparent conviction that the US ballistic missile defense system constitutes a real future risk to the credibility of Russia’s retaliatory capability. The poor performance of Russian conventional forces in the war against Ukraine and depletion of weapon stockpiles will likely deepen Russian reliance on nuclear weapons for its national defense.”
- “Russia’s nuclear modernization programs—combined with an increase in the number and size of its military exercises and occasional explicit nuclear threats against other countries—contribute to uncertainty about Russia’s long-term intentions and growing international debate about the nature of its nuclear strategy. These concerns, in turn, stimulate increased defense spending, nuclear modernization programs, and political opposition to further nuclear weapons reductions in Europe and the United States.”
“Nuclear Ethics Revisited,” Harvard’s Joe Nye, Ethics & International Affairs, vol. 37. no. 1. (Spring 2023): 5–17.
- “The more nuclear weapons spread, the greater the prospects for eventual inadvertent or accidental use, the more difficult it will be to manage nuclear crises when many players are involved, and the greater the difficulty of establishing controls that may someday help to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in world politics. In short, the greater the spread, the greater the risks of blowing up the whole neighborhood. What the war in Ukraine teaches us is the importance of reinforcing the existing Non-Proliferation Treaty and refraining from actions that erode it.”
- “Our moral obligation to ourselves and to future generations is to avoid large risks now—of either war or the sacrifice of freedoms — and to try to ensure future choices by trying to gradually reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons whenever we can do so without unacceptably increasing current risks. There is no way to avoid uncertainty and risk entirely. Our obligation to our own generation is to be explicit about our values and use them carefully in moral reasoning about our critical choices. I still believe what I wrote in 1986: The first generation since Genesis must strive to live in freedom without being the last.”
“Putin Is Fighting, and Losing, His Last War,” Yale’s Timothy Snyder, NYT, 05.09.23.
- “Americans’ fear of escalation delayed the supply of weapons that could have allowed Ukraine to win last year. … In nearly 15 months of war, despite Russian nuclear propaganda and Western anxiety, there has been no use of nuclear weapons. This is an absence worthy of an explanation. Those who predicted escalation if Ukrainians resisted, if the West supplied weapons or if Russia suffered defeat have thus far been wrong. Strategic thinkers point to deterrence and note that nuclear use would not in fact bring a Russian victory. It would ensure a dramatic Western response and make Russian leaders pariahs.”
- “But there is a deeper explanation: Russia’s nuclear talk is itself the weapon. It rests on false assumptions. Russian nuclear propaganda assumes that the bully always wins. But the bully does not always win. Russian propagandists want us to think that nuclear powers can never lose wars, on the logic that they could always deploy nuclear weapons to win. This is an ahistoric fantasy. Nuclear weapons did not bring the French victory in Algeria, nor did they preserve the British Empire. The Soviet Union lost its war in Afghanistan. America lost in Vietnam and in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Israel failed to win in Lebanon. Nuclear powers lose wars with some regularity.”
- “By taking [Putin’s] nuclear blackmail seriously, we have actually increased the overall chances of nuclear war. If nuclear blackmail enables a Russian victory, the consequences will be incalculably awful. If any country with nuclear weapons can do whatever it likes, then law means nothing, no international order is possible and catastrophe beckons at every turn.”
- “The Russians talk about nuclear weapons not because they mean to use them but because they believe a large nuclear arsenal makes them a superpower. … If Russia detonated a weapon, it would lose that jealously guarded treasure of superpower status. Such an act would constitute an admission that its army has been beaten — a tremendous loss of face. Worse still, neighbors would build (or build up) their own nuclear arsenals.”
- “We have to work within that world of risk and horror and evaluate it calmly. No option is without hazards; our responsibility is to reduce them. When Russians talk about nuclear war, the safest response is to ensure their very conventional defeat.”
“The Third World War. Will It Be Nuclear?” excerpts from political scientist Sergei Karaganov’s interview with Russia’s NTV channel, NTV/Russia in Global Affairs, 05.03.23. Clues from Russian Views.**
- “The likelihood of a nuclear conflict is higher now than it has been in the past 50 years. We are witnessing a dangerous phenomenon that my colleagues and I call strategic parasitism. Seventy years without war have led to the fact that the elites, and the population, especially in the West, have lost their sacred fear of nuclear war.”
- “We are dealing with a degraded elite and a population that has partially lost its fear. Therefore, a fairly tough and subtle policy is needed to restore the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence. But nuclear deterrence is, first of all, the prevention of a major thermonuclear war, and secondly, war in general. Right now it is not working.”
- “It is necessary to make sure that a nuclear war does not happen, including by increasing the threat against Western adversaries in order to sober them up a bit. It’s a dangerous strategy though, because I’m not sure they can sober up.”
- “I don’t see people in Europe and hardly see people in the United States of America who fully understand what is now at stake. During the CMC years the situation may have been possibly better than now – after all, the other side was represented by people who were deeply intellectual and knew what the war was. Our contemporaries are very different from the previous generation, and this is a big problem. I do not rule out that in order to reason with them, we will have to take the most stringent measures. But it’s dangerous.”
- No significant developments.
Conflict in Syria:
- No significant developments.
- No significant developments.
Energy exports from CIS:
- See section on punitive measures for commentaries on sanctioning of Rosatom.
“The Arctic Council in Transition: An Interview with Fran Ulmer,” an interview conducted by editor Elizabeth Hanlon with Fran Ulmer, a senior fellow with the Arctic Initiative at Harvard’s Belfer Center, Belfer, 05.08.23.
On May 11, the chairship of the Arctic Council transferred from Russia to Norway. The eight-country council has largely been paused since March 2022, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Hanlon spoke with Ulmer about what to expect as Norway takes the helm of the Council, whose work is becoming increasingly critical in a period when climate change is driving dramatic change in the resource-rich region.*
- On what to expect in the aftermath of the transition: “Norway already announced their priorities and, unsurprisingly, they are very similar to the priorities of previous Chairships: climate, the environment, oceans, sustainable economic development, the people of the Arctic. … I expect Norway will clarify their agenda with more specifics. … Arctic Council Members, Permanent Participants, and Observers can make headway on those issues even if Russia is not participating. Clearly, the Arctic Seven are not bound to wait for Russia to come back out of the penalty box before progress can be made.
- On what the Arctic Council can accomplish without Russia’s participation: “Now, it’s true there is no way of binding Russia to whatever the other seven Arctic states might agree on, but that’s how it’s always been. The Arctic Council is an international governmental forum; it is not a treaty-based organization with binding authority of any kind. So what I’m hoping for, is that under Norway’s leadership – which I have no doubt will be excellent, because they always commit the resources to participate fully – Arctic Council Working Groups will focus on specific agenda items in ways that make progress. … It would be nice to have Russia at the table, but even without them, it would be useful to discuss challenges, and share research, best practices, and cross-border solutions. … It’s clear that it won’t be ‘business as usual’ for the Arctic Council as long as Russia is attacking Ukraine; but why should operational questions be shelved until then, when they could be advanced or at least seriously discussed now? I hope that under the Norwegian Chairship progress can be made.”
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant developments.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- No significant developments.
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
“Russia’s Ruble Troubles Are More Than Economic,” Princeton’s Ekaterina Pravilova, WaPo, 05.09.23.
- “The ruble has plunged, showing that celebration of its miraculous revival was premature. The question that looms large but rarely elicits response is how the ups and downs of Russian currency affect Russia’s political stability. For a country that has demonstratively shut the doors to the West, does it really matter?”
- “A look at the ruble’s past shows that money in Russia has always been more than an economic category. When it comes to the question of the ruble’s rate vis-a-vis its Western counterparts, the government’s economic rationality fades into the background.”
- “From the 18th to the early 20th century, Russian rulers and thinkers viewed the country’s geopolitical standing through the lens of its national currency, considering the ruble’s reputation crucial for the magnificence of the autocratic order. But while worrying about the ruble’s standing, Russian rulers were constantly engaged in imperialistic wars that dissipated the country’s finances. … The rulers’ obsession with the ruble’s standing … did not align with their military ambitions.”
- “Further, since the beginning of the 18th century, Russian westernized elites had developed a taste for Western goods.”
- “Exhausted by seven years of incessant wars between 1914 and 1921, Soviet Russia quickly put the ruble back onto the gold standard in 1922. … The Soviet gold standard soon turned into a fiction, but concerns over the ruble’s rate compared to its capitalist rivals never faded.”
- “Of course, no revolution has happened because of the collapse of currency, and no war has yet, regrettably, stopped for that reason. Yet in the long run, wearing down the ruble affects the prestige and the longevity of the regime. Whoever develops the economic measures aimed at stopping the war needs to consider the hidden forces that pull the mechanisms of Russia’s financial war policy, including the persistence of the century-long fears, anxieties and myths.”
“There is a Desire Prevailing: Let it All End Soon and Not Bother Us,” Levada Center Director Denis Volkov, interviewed by journalist Maria Litvinova Republic/Russia.Post, 05.13.23. Clues from Russian Views.
- “On the one hand, there is an ongoing conflict in which the majority support the Russian side in one way or another. But at the same time, fatigue is gradually accumulating: we support our guys, but better if this ended as soon as possible. Moreover, I would call attention to the terms they want for the peace negotiations – only a fifth say it is necessary to make some concessions to Ukraine. In other words: yes, it should end, but there is no need to make concessions either. Here is the unspoken, unrationalized feeling of fatigue.”
- “There is a desire prevailing: let it all end soon and not bother us. A significant part [of the public] continues to follow what is happening in Ukraine, but people who support the Russian side are watching the situation most closely. And those who are not for become shut in their own bubble. People have explained that watching the progress of a war is a traumatic experience, especially when nothing can be done about it. As our respondents say, their capacity for worry has been exhausted. They, of course, continue to follow events, but are already less emotionally involved.”
- “The Kremlin is making a lot of efforts to keep the mood in society stable, because it understands very well that this conflict is a great stress for society, both economically and emotionally, and that more and more people are being drawn into it, and there are victims.”
“For Russians, Reading Is the New Resistance What Bestselling Books Tell Us About How Russians Are Processing the War,” Carnegie’s Andrei Kolesnikov, FP, 05.14.23.
- “When Russia launched the war that Russians must not call a war — the ‘special military operation,’ in the Kremlin’s parlance — many Russians immediately recognized the Orwellian reality in which they now lived.”
- “Suddenly, George Orwell’s 1984, a dystopian novel about a totalitarian regime in a state of perpetual war written in the 1940s, became the most popular fiction book. In 2022, it could be seen in the hands of people strolling on Moscow’s boulevards or lying next to vacationers sunbathing on Kaliningrad’s beaches.”
- “As the economy foundered, laws against opposition tightened, and news of Russia’s military failures in Ukraine began to trickle in, people started buying noticeably fewer business and self-improvement tomes and more fiction. Predictably, escapism was in high demand: Sales of romance, fantasy, science fiction, and detective books have grown especially strongly.”
- “But the most intriguing part of the Russian reading list is on the nonfiction side. For about two months after the war began in February 2022, the bestseller on the Ozon online marketplace was the Russian translation of Man’s Search for Meaning , a book by the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. Originally published in 1946 under the German title, A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp , Frankl explores ways to find strength and resilience in the midst of the worst possible adversity and oppression. The book’s revival is not exactly flattering to the Russian regime.”
- “Indeed, if book sales are any guide, there has been a surge in interest in Nazi Germany among Russian readers—and that doesn’t mean the usual fare about Soviet heroism during the Great Patriotic War. Bestsellers among educated Russians include newly translated works, such as Sebastian Haffner’s Defying Hitler: A Memoir, which depicts the transformations taking place in Germany in the 1930s through the eyes of a young lawyer. Nicholas Stargardt’s book The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-45 —published in Russian as The Mobilized Nation — has also become a bestseller, perhaps because Russians have found themselves mobilized in every sense.”
- “In another parallel to the German experience, more Russians are now contemplating collective guilt and responsibility for their regime, the war, and the widespread atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine. In this respect, the publication of The Question of German Guilt , a series of lectures given by the German psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers in 1945, has come at a very opportune moment.”
- “The question of collective guilt or responsibility arose among the more reflective part of Russian society immediately after the invasion — so powerful was the shock. And these debates have not ceased.”
- “Russian civil society — split between those who left and those who stayed behind — is not as hopeless as some might believe if these discussions are taking place, and books like Jaspers’s and Haffner’s are being read.”
“For Russians, It’s the Wild 1990s All Over Again,” Meduza reporter Alexey Kovalev, FP, 05.09.23.
- “The idea that Putin pulled Russia out of that era is one of his most consistent political campaign messages; his official website, kremlin.ru, contains dozens of derogatory remarks about the chaotic 1990s in Russia.”
- “Putin’s assumption of power on Dec. 31, 1999, bookended a decade which indeed contained many elements of collapsing statehood. Amid general destitution and growing inequality, criminal anarchy, shootouts between rival gangs, and revenge bombings were a regular occurrence. Life expectancy for Russian men rapidly sank. These and other factors, including mass emigration, contributed to a period of unprecedented demographic decline: Each year between 1994 and 2008, Russia’s population decreased by several hundred thousand people, reaching the nadir of almost 1 million in 2000, Putin first full year in power.”
- “Today, there are fresh graveyard lots across Russia, some covering an area as large as several football fields. Instead of a few kitschy mausoleums, there are dozens and often hundreds of fresh mounds of earth with simple, identical crosses bearing men’s names. Their years of death are the same: 2022 and 2023. … By even the most conservative estimates, in a single year of its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has already lost more men than in the 10-year Soviet-Afghan War and First Chechen War — combined.”
- “The preponderance of death made visible at the country’s cemeteries isn’t the only way Russia is returning to the 1990s. Today’s Russians once again struggle with growing violence, economic instability, and a flood of mentally and physically broken veterans. They once again face a failed war, broken society, and national humiliation. For a leader whose signature claim to power has been the banishment of 1990s-era chaos in Russia—for which the loss of political freedom, in his supporters’ eyes, was a small price to pay—the return of the 1990s could well become a threat to his rule.”
- “Gone is the social contract between the Kremlin and Russia’s emerging middle class, which traded political participation for social and economic ‘stability.’ Time and time again, Putin invoked the excesses of the 1990s and promised to lead Russians to a better future; instead, he is dragging them toward an unprecedented decline. His newest promise is to ‘return’ Russia’s ‘historic lands’ — but there are simply fewer and fewer Russians to populate them. And fresh grave lots keep growing by the day.”
“Russia’s Prime Minister Mishustin: A Quiet Technocrat Who Toes the Line and Gets Results,” RM staff, RM, 05.11.23.
- “Ever since Mikhail Mishustin was hoisted from his job as tax chief to become Russia’s prime minister in 2020, analysts have said he would not be a potential successor to Vladimir Putin after the president’s term ends next year. This take was hard to argue against. As Carnegie’s Tatiana Stanovaya wrote back then: ‘Mishustin does not have any political experience or popularity with the electorate, and is not part of Putin’s inner circle.’”
- “What Mishustin does have is Article 92 of the Russian constitution, which would make him interim president — and commander-in-chief of a country at war — if something were to abruptly stop Putin from carrying out his duties. Last week, the Kremlin claimed that two drones destroyed over Putin’s Moscow residence had been sent to assassinate him. Though there are still multiple alternative explanations that are at least as compelling, the incident does spark some curiosity about the man who would take over the presidency if Putin dropped out of the picture before his term is up.”
- “It is true that he lacks both the insider credentials of a more obvious potential successor like Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev and the populist appeal of hawkish firebrands like former president Dmitry Medvedev (whom he replaced as prime minister) and Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin. But those who track Russia’s fiscal health have praised Mishustin as a highly competent technocrat, who oversaw a doubling (if not tripling) of budget revenue when he ran the tax service. Granted, that image of competence may be bolstered by the prime minister’s alleged preoccupation with his public persona. In either case, now — as his government helps Russia overcome unprecedented sanctions pressure — it also seems to have translated into a measure of popular appeal: Mishustin’s approval rating, according to the Levada Center, has climbed from around 50% at the start of 2020 to more than 70% as of this April.”
- “Like many other senior Russian officials, Mishustin appears to have been caught off guard by Putin’s decision to mount a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but he has publicly stayed loyal to his boss.”
- “Though the prime minister usually speaks about the war obliquely, without the vitriolic saber-rattling of his predecessor, he has stayed on in his role, not challenging the Kremlin’s messaging, working for Russia’s ‘technological and economic sovereignty’ in the face of pressure from ‘the collective West.’ The details have changed but the ethos is the same as in fall 2020, when an official at a research institute that Mishustin was visiting began his story of progress by recalling a visit some years earlier by ‘your colleague’ Putin, during his time as prime minister; Mishustin corrected him: ‘Not a colleague, but our leader.’”
“Putin’s Victory Day Brings Evidence of Defeat,” columnist Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg via WaPo, 05.09.23.
- “Russia has rarely been as far removed from any kind of victory as it is today. Putin’s biggest problem is that hardly anyone, apart from his suppressed, docile population, is scared of him anymore.”
- “A year and two months into its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russian military is squarely on the defensive.”
- “Pro-war Russians await a Ukrainian counteroffensive with some trepidation.”
- “Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, a veteran of the 2014 Russian campaign against Ukraine and now a nationalist critic of the Kremlin, has just predicted for the first time in so many words that Russia will lose the war.”
- “Leaked recordings, allegedly of private conversations involving prominent Russian businessmen, reveal a helpless anger if not at the invasion itself, then at its inept handling by the Kremlin and at the long-term damage inflicted on the Russian business community’s international ties.”
- “The combined efforts of the propaganda machine and repressive apparatus have failed to convince most Russians that they have a real stake in the invasion: The concept of Russia’s existential war against the West may be attractive on some level, but not on a personal one.”
- “A clear disconnect has emerged between the humiliations that can be dealt to Russia on and off the battlefield and its ability to respond: A nuclear strike would be out of proportion to the suffered affronts — and, short of that last trump card, Putin can’t deliver much except empty threats. Instead of a range of escalatory options, he only appears capable of, literally, the nuclear option — one that might doom his regime, and perhaps Russia itself, by inviting a commensurate response.”
- “Resorting to that last, desperate act would not bring victory under any scenario. What, then, could Putin say to Russia and the world on Victory Day 2023 — in reality, a day to contemplate defeat? The answer is that his words no longer matter. Winning even a short-lived, localized victory requires action, and the Ukrainian counteroffensive soon will show what, if anything, Putin’s Russia still is capable of in this department.”
Defense and aerospace:
- See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.
“Why Putin Needs Wagner The Hidden Power Struggle Sustaining Russia’s Brutal Militia,” Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan of the Center for European Policy Analysis, FA, 05.12.23.
- “[Putin] knows that the longer the war continues the more this power will grow, and the harder it may be for him to exercise control. And since he tends to view the world in terms of threats, the relative power of the military is something that concerns him — in some ways even more than the army’s performance on the battlefield. … Putin has resorted to increasingly unorthodox methods to rein in the generals.”
- “For Prigozhin, despite the extraordinary casualties suffered by his solders, this is a win-win situation. He recognizes that he will never pose a political threat to Putin because he has no other backing within the Russian ruling elite apart from Putin’s own patronage. And Putin has been careful to keep it that way.”
- “With his special status — loosely managed by the GRU, tolerated by the military, and protected by Putin — Prigozhin hopes to keep his unique position in the Kremlin’s increasingly medieval court. And in this situation, even Prigozhin’s outrageous attacks may be part of the design: the more he acts like a wicked court jester, the better. This is a familiar type in Russian history.”
- “Many sectors of Russian society, in particular the country’s bureaucracy, are watching the Wagner boss’s escapades with horror and disgust. Right now, Wagner is burning through more ammunition than any other Russian unit, which can be justified only as long as Wagner is doing what Prigozhin promised — making advances in Bakhmut”.
- “If things go south on the battlefield, this enormous monthslong campaign — in which Wagner has sacrificed thousands of human lives and destroyed huge quantities of war material — could start to look like a colossal waste of scarce resources. But whether Putin would see a serious Wagner setback as a capital offense is another matter. The Russian president has a long record of making effective use of failed bureaucrats, politicians, and other henchmen — former president and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev comes to mind. Prigozhin could be next.”
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:
“On the Issue of Civilizational Self-Determination of Russia,” Russian ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary Alexander Kramarenko, Russia in Global Affairs, 05.04.23.**Clues from Russian Views.
- “There is no doubt that, knowing ourselves and realizing our difference from the West, we will be able to purposefully and coherently build a strategy for our own development.”
- “First of all, we must admit that we are not and have never faced a choice between Europe and Asia. This is a false choice, and there is no need to fear that the alternative to Europe is to fall into ‘Asianism’.”
- “Of course, there can be no question of abandoning the European part of its historical heritage. We have taken over the baton of the best in European culture, and not only in literature and music, but also in terms of the ideas and humanistic orientation of the Enlightenment.”
- “[But] are we on the same path with this Europe, overcoming itself? Are we on the same path with the United States, where … destructive policies are pursued by the ultra-liberal elites, who, like the Bolsheviks in Russia, are betting on the marginal strata and on the democratic world revolution?”
- “Thus, the cultural and civilizational self-determination of Russia is long overdue and has become an urgent need. It is necessary both for our friends and our enemies, but above all for ourselves. … Finally, we must know where we come from, who we are and what is the meaning of our existence in this world in specific historical conditions.”
“Turkey’s Erdogan Is in the Fight of His Political Life. The Real Winner May Be Putin,” BGIA’s Elmira Bayrasli, CNN, 05.10.23.
- “Polls show that Erdogan, who has been at the country’s helm since 2003, first as prime minister and since 2014 as president, is in a tight race and vulnerable to defeat. This has made many in Brussels and Washington giddy — and hopeful that Turkey, a once reliable ally and partner turned spoiler, will rejoin the Western fold. … Whether Erdogan wins or loses, Ankara is unlikely to untangle itself from Moscow and turn back to the West.”
- “[Turkey] depends on tourism dollars and energy imports from Russia. Moscow has been supplying cash-strapped Turkey with natural gas, on credit. Especially if Erdogan loses, you can bet that Putin will press the new government to not only pay up, but to continue to be one of the few countries that engages with him.”
- “Even if Erdogan is defeated, he will not simply disappear from public life. This is not just a matter of whether he would peacefully hand over power. Erdogan would be relegated to the opposition. In a bitterly polarized Turkey, that would continue to give him leverage.”
- “What does or can the West do? Allow Ankara to keep its distance. Washington and Brussels have to recognize that Turkey is a country literally and metaphorically at the crossroads. Not entirely in the West or the East, it is positioned to be both a difficult and useful partner.”
- “Erdogan has long been eager to catapult Turkey to be a regional player and has been eager to bring the warring sides to negotiate peace. A strident Turkey, not completely aligned with the West and the gatekeeper to Russia and Ukraine’s only shipping outlet over the Black Sea, makes it a credible broker for both sides.”
“Serbia and Kosovo: The West’s Ill-Fated Push To Heal the Divide,” correspondent Marton Dunai, FT, 05.07.23.
- “The Russian invasion of Ukraine cast a new light on the western Balkans, where Serbia dominates… Serbia began to move, expanding ties to non-Russian energy sources, which could potentially deprive Moscow of its most important channel of influence. The pivotal issue of Kosovo, however, remains. Russia has won Serbia over in part by backing Belgrade over Pristina in international forums like the U.N. If the West can help defuse those tensions, it will remove leverage from Moscow. [A deal brokered this spring by the EU to normalize Serbia-Kosovo relations has pretty much fallen through.]”
- “The deterioration of relations between Serbia and Kosovo has a long and tortuous history that defies easy breakthroughs, no matter the amount of pressure from the West. … [Nenad Rašić, an ethnic Serb who serves as minister for communities in Kosovo’s government] thinks that the international community wants to sweep the region’s disagreements under the rug. ‘Stabilocracy replaced democracy,’ he says. ‘Especially now with the war in Ukraine, the West just wants stability, and [Serbian President Aleksandar] Vučić will keep placating them for years if that’s how he hangs on to power. He will never stop using Kosovo Serbs for his politics.’”
- “[The] undercurrents of anger against the West risk feeding local support for Russia, already highly visible on the streets of [the ethnically divided city of] Mitrovica. Murals adorning the city’s walls equate Serbian claims on Kosovo with Russian claims on Crimea, and giant posters call Putin an honorary citizen of the nearby town of Zvečan. This kind of imagery is often used to portray the region as being in Putin’s pocket, says [resident Marko] Jakšić, but it’s not the case. ‘I support Ukraine. We know Russia is dangerous if it’s too close. We don’t want to be a Russian colony either. But the international community is nervous because of Ukraine and they are rushing the Kosovo deal. Well, as in every job, a rush job is a bad job.’”
- See sections on Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts and Punitive measures related to Russia’s war against Ukraine and their impact globally, above.
Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:
“Why Did Central Asia’s Leaders Agree To Attend Moscow’s Military Parade?”, Temur Umarov is a fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, Kyiv Independent, 05.12.23.
- “In all likelihood, with the exception of Japarov, the Central Asian presidents initially managed to politely decline the invitation to Moscow [to attend the May 9 parade]. But when Putin called them, it became not only difficult to do so, but also dangerous.”
- “There were also pragmatic reasons for visiting Moscow. Contrary to expectations, far from severing ties with Russia, Central Asia actually drew closer to it in 2022. The reality is that it can be profitable to be located next door to a giant, isolated economy and diplomatic pariah.”
- “Firstly, Central Asian companies have made record profits from the disappearance of Western imports from the Russian market. Exports from all five Central Asian countries to Russia soared in 2022.”
- “Secondly, Central Asia is becoming a financial hub for Russians moving their savings out of Russia. Last year, more than $770 million was transferred from Russia to Kazakhstan – an almost sevenfold increase from 2021. Transfers to Uzbekistan, meanwhile, more than doubled to $17 billion.”
- “Thirdly, Central Asia is now the focus of far more international attention than ever before, with Western countries trying to persuade the region not to help Russia in any way, and Moscow trying hard to stop it from drifting away.”
- “Central Asia’s political elites view the invasion of Ukraine through the prism of their own interests, top of which is the preservation of their own regimes. For this reason, they will continue to show loyalty to Putin, attending parades with him and periodically praising Moscow in public speeches. It might look like an attempt to have it both ways, but this is the survival strategy the Central Asian regimes consider most likely to work.”
*Here and elsewhere italicized text represents contextual commentary by RM staff.
**Machine translation tools were used to help translate this summary.
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