Russia Analytical Report, Nov. 28-Dec. 5, 2022: 4 Ideas to Explore

File Photo of Red Square, Kremlin, Environs, adapted from image at state.gov

(Russia Matters – russiamatters.org – Dec. 5, 2022)

  1. While rightly helping Ukraine to defend itself, the Pentagon and weapons contractors should not be allowed to exploit the crisis to expand the U.S. arms industry “in ways that go far beyond what is needed to help Ukraine in its current conflict,” according to William Hartung of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft warns.” “Rather than further ratcheting up an already massive arms production base, Washington should take a hard look at likely future defense needs while expanding its diplomatic capacity and relying more on allies to address future risks,” Hartung warns in a commentary for Forbes.
  2. Russia’s nuclear deterrent has failed to dissuade the West from continued wide-scale assistance to Ukraine. Dmitri Trenin of Russia’s Higher School of Economics acknowledges just that in his commentary for Russia in Global Affairs. “The fear factor [of a nuclear war] that was present in the public consciousness of Western countries … during the years of the Cold War has practically ceased to play a significant role,” according to Trenin. Trenin advocates for continuing the war in Ukraine until Russia “takes control of the entire eastern, southern and central parts”—an argument that is especially remarkable given his previous position as head of the Carnegie Moscow Center until early 2022.
  3. The existence of two conflict dyads, U.S.-China and U.S.-Russia, make the present multipolar world more dangerous than the Cold War was, according to John Mearsheimer. “Not only do you have two instead of one, each one of those dyads is more dangerous than the conflict dyad in the Cold War,” the University of Chicago professor told UnHerd. “And I think if anything, this situation is only going to get worse,” he predicts.
  4. No matter how the war in Ukraine ends, it’s very hard to imagine the reemergence of pro-Russian political parties on territories controlled by Kyiv, according to Konstantin Skorkin of GLOBSEC. Instead, “Ukrainian nationalist populism will likely blossom in the country’s southeast, although it will come with its own regional flavor of ‘Russian-language patriotism,’” Skorkin predicts in his commentary for the Carnegie Endowement for International Peace.

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

Nuclear security and safety:

“Russia’s ‘dirty bomb’ disinformation, annotated,” Harvard Kennedy School’s Matthew Bunn, BAS, 12.01.22.

  • “In late October, after eight months of war, the Russian government claimed that Ukraine was preparing to use a ‘dirty bomb’ and blame it on Russia. There was never any evidence for this claim. But Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vassily Nbenzia, nevertheless sent a letter (reproduced below) demanding that the Security Council hold a meeting to discuss the ‘dirty bomb’ issue.”
  • “The generally poor technical quality of the letter is surprising, given that Russia has many smart technical experts who have done credible analyses of the real ‘dirty bomb’ threat (which is mainly from non-state terrorists, not from states). That Russia demanded a Security Council meeting to discuss its brazen lies about Ukrainian dirty bombs, and then didn’t bother to assign anybody who knew what they were talking about to draft the letter, appears to reflect a deep contempt for the Security Council and its processes.”

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

“Despite Russian Reliance on Iranian Drones, Tehran’s Leverage Over Moscow Is Limited,” Mark N. Katz of the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, RM, 12.01.22.

  • “To the extent that ties between Moscow and Tehran could be characterized as a patron-client relationship, in the past Russia was clearly the patron and Iran the client. This seemed especially true about their arms trade: Russia provided weapons to Iran, not the other way round. As the war in Ukraine has dragged on though, Russia has reportedly become unable to replenish diminishing stocks of certain weapons requiring Western inputs that Moscow can no longer obtain due to international sanctions.”
  • “As a result, Moscow has been buying weapons from Iran (and North Korea), and Russian forces have been launching hundreds of Iranian drones against Ukrainian targets. There have also been reports of Iranian personnel in Crimea helping to launch these weapons and getting killed in the process, as well as of plans to launch production of Iranian-designed drones in Russia and of Moscow’s plans to buy Iranian surface-to-surface missiles. Further, while Iran was only a minor trade partner for Russia in 2021 … Russian-Iranian trade is reported to have grown dramatically since the outbreak of the war.”
  • “Has this recent Russian dependence on Iranian arms given Tehran a greater degree of leverage over Moscow than it had before, particularly over Russia’s policies in the Middle East? While Western and Ukrainian sources have claimed it has, Russia’s desire to maintain good relations with America’s traditional allies in the region—particularly Saudi Arabia and Israel, neither of which has joined in Western sanctions or other efforts against Russia—will serve to limit what Moscow is willing to do for Tehran.”

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • No significant developments.

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“Preliminary Lessons in Conventional Warfighting from Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: February–July 2022,” Mykhaylo Zabrodskyi, Jack Watling, Oleksandr V. Danylyuk and Nick Reynolds, RUSI, 11.30.22.

  • “Factoring in the idiosyncrasies of the Russian campaign, there are five key areas that should be monitored to judge whether the Russian military is making progress in resolving its structural and cultural deficiencies. These areas should be used to inform assessments of Russian combat power in the future.”
  1. “The AFRF [Armed Forces of the Russian Federation] currently operate with a hierarchy … in which the priorities of the land component are paramount, and the military as a whole is subordinate to the special services. This creates sub-optimal employment of other branches.”
  2. “The AFRF force-generation model is flawed. It proposes the creation of amalgamated combined arms formations in wartime but lacks the strength of junior leadership to knit these units together.”
  3. “There is a culture of reinforcing failure unless orders are changed at higher levels. This appears less evident in the Russian Aerospace Forces than in the Ground Forces and Navy.”
  4. “The AFRF are culturally vulnerable to deception because they lack the ability to rapidly fuse information, are culturally averse to providing those who are executing orders with the context to exercise judgement, and incentivize a dishonest reporting culture.”
  5. “The AFRF’s capabilities and formations are prone to fratricide.”
  • “Ukraine’s victory is possible, but it requires significant heavy fighting. With appropriate support, Ukraine can prevail.”
  • “There is no sanctuary in modern warfare. The enemy can strike throughout operational depth. … Warfighting demands large initial stockpiles and significant slack capacity … Uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) and counter-UAS (CUAS) are essential across all branches and at all echelons. … The force must fight for the right to precision. … For land forces, the pervasive ISTAR on the modern battlefield and the layering of multiple sensors at the tactical level make concealment exceedingly difficult to sustain.”

“Don’t Use the War in Ukraine As An Excuse To Permanently Expand the Weapons Industry, William Hartung of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, 12.02.22.

  • “[T]he Pentagon, the military services and the big weapons contractors appear to be poised to seize on [the Ukraine] crisis to permanently expand the size and scope of the U.S. arms industry.”
  • “Plans that have been floated so far include building new weapons factories, dramatically boosting production of ammunition, anti-tank weapons and other systems, and easing oversight of weapons procurement. These changes will come at a cost that over time will run into tens of billions of dollars above current spending plans.”
    • “For example, the version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) put forward by the Senate Armed Services Committee included … [authorization for] procurement of tens of thousands of Raytheon Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Raytheon/Lockheed Martin LMT +2.6% Javelin anti-tank missiles and hundreds of Lockheed Martin HIMARS rocket systems—quantities that are as much as 12 to 50 times the amounts committed to Ukraine so far.”
  • “This drive to rapidly expand the size and reach of the military-industrial complex is both unnecessary and unwise. … The United States has supplied the vast bulk of the weapons aid given to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion. That balance could and should shift as some European countries move to increase their military budgets.”
  • “Another argument for boosting production … is to make sure the U.S. has adequate stocks to deal with a possible conflict with China. But the equipment being given to Ukraine is mostly relevant to fighting on the ground. The U.S. is unlikely in the extreme to fight a land war against China, and an overarching goal of U.S. policy should be to avoid a military confrontation of any form with that nation.”
  • “Washington should take a hard look at likely future defense needs while expanding its diplomatic capacity and relying more on allies to address future risks in their respective regions.”

“Ukraine and Russia are fighting the first full-scale drone war,” reporters Isabelle Khurshudyan, Kostiantyn Khudov and Mary Ilyushina, WP, 12.02.22.

  • “With hundreds of reconnaissance and attack drones flying over Ukraine each day, the fight set off by a land grab befitting an 18th-century emperor has transformed into a digital-age competition for technological superiority in the skies—one military annals will mark as a turning point.”
  • “In the battle between Russia and Ukraine, drones are integrated into every phase of fighting, with extensive fleets, air defenses and jamming systems on each side. It is a war fought at a distance – the enemy is often miles away—and nothing bridges the gap more than drones, giving Russia and Ukraine the ability to see, and attack, each other without ever getting close. Ukrainian forces have also used drones to strike targets far from the fighting – in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, and in Russia’s Belgorod border region. Russia has repeatedly struck Ukraine’s critical civilian infrastructure with self-detonating drones – a cheap substitute for high-precision missiles. … Drones have become so critical to battlefield success that at times they are used to take out other drones.”
  • “‘Two main developments are going to impact future war,’ said Samuel Bendett, a military analyst at … CNA. ‘The proliferation and availability of combat drones for longer-ranged, more-sophisticated operations, and the absolute necessity to have cheap tactical drones for close-support operations.’”

“It’s No Crime to Be a Russian Soldier in Ukraine,” Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Study, FP, 12.04.22.

  • “War is a special place, a highly coercive place, and people caught up in it have to be judged with reference to their actual circumstances. Think of yourself in that place, very young, conscripted, believing in your country’s leaders, or maybe skeptical but not ready for heroics, quickly finding comrades among others like yourself, and fighting first of all with them and for them.”
  • “Assume that you don’t commit murder or rape. Surely you would want, and expect, to return to your family when the war was over. You might have to deal with mental trauma, remembering the fear and horror of battle. You shouldn’t have to deal with a guilty conscience.”
  • “The question about the moral burden of an unjust war has a correct answer. It is indeed commendable to object and resist. But those who accept mobilization have not acted wrongly. Individuals should be tried and punished for the crimes they have committed; the rest of the soldiers should go home soon, I hope.”

Punitive measures related to Ukraine and their impact globally:

“Public Pressure on Multinational Corporations in Russia,” Julian Alin, Abigail Eichenberg, Volodymyr Kulikov and Mykhaylo Simanovskyy, PONARS, December 2022.

  • “Although boycott and divestment campaigns have had significant economic, social and cultural impact on a global scale, resulting in altered corporate behavior and diminished business operations in each targeted county, boycott campaigns have not been found to affect the conflict resolution processes in the countries they target.”
    • “Apartheid continued for 36 years after the foundation of boycott campaigns, finally ending with the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994. Although boycott campaigns significantly reduced MNC presence in South Africa, potentially weakening the South African government, the end of Apartheid was not attributed to the pressure applied by boycott campaigns.”
    • “For its part, the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] Movement emerged after the conclusion of the second Intifada. Still, although Israel has not seen a period as violent as those years since then, the BDS movement’s principal goal of getting Israel to withdraw its settlements from the West Bank has not come closer to being achieved.”
  • “Whether or not boycott campaigns against Russia will be instrumental in dismantling Putin’s invasion of Ukraine—by pressuring Russia’s oligarchs into prioritizing economic interests over military operations—is yet to be determined.”

“Sanctions on Russia Are Working. Here’s Why,” Agathe Demarais of the Economist Intelligence Unit, FP, 12.01.22.

  • “The confusion around the effectiveness of sanctions stems from a lack of clarity about their goals.”
    • “Western countries never intended to use sanctions to force Putin to back down and pull out of Ukraine; they know that Putin believes he is waging a war for Russia’s survival against a decadent West.”
    • “Provoking regime change in Moscow is not the objective, either: Sanctions on Cuba, North Korea and Syria show that this never works, and there is no reason to believe that Putin’s hypothetical successor would change course in Ukraine.”
    • “Prompting a Venezuela-style collapse of the Russian economy is not the goal, either: This is impossible when the target is the world’s 11th-largest economy. Besides, Russia’s collapse would likely send the global economy into a recession by abruptly halting Russia’s exports of many commodities, including grain, fertilizer, energy and metals.”
  • “What are the goals of Western sanctions on Russia, then?”
    • “First, Western countries are trying to send a strong signal of resolve and unity to the Kremlin. … Second, sanctioning states aim to degrade Russia’s ability to wage war. … Third, Western democracies are betting that sanctions will slowly asphyxiate the Russian economy and in particular the country’s energy sector. When judged on the basis of these criteria, sanctions are clearly working.”
  • “To make matters worse for Putin, Western countries have not exhausted all the options in their sanctions arsenal.”
    • “Washington and Brussels could cut all Russian banks off from SWIFT, which would send the country into financial isolation. … The United States could also ban Russia from using the U.S. dollar, greatly complicating energy exports. … And the most powerful option, U.S. secondary sanctions, would force all companies, whether foreign or domestic, to choose between the Russian and U.S. markets. Buying Russian oil or gas would be outlawed worldwide, seriously harming the Kremlin’s finances.”
  • Also see the Energy exports from CIS section below.

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“START On Ukraine,” Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, R. Politik, 12.05.22.

  • “Russia has unexpectedly cancelled a Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty (START) meeting with the U.S. to discuss nuclear arms control. … To R.Politik’s knowledge, there were two main factors behind the decision to postpone talks. The first was the formal, publicly stipulated reason … [that] the U.S. insisted that the resumption of inspections under START be the main subject under discussion. However, the underlying reason … [was that] Putin wants to engage Washington in talks about Ukraine (with the goal of pushing Kyiv to capitulate) and seeks any possible leverage to do so. The prospect of START talks’ progress and discussions about inspections have become part of this leverage.”
  • “The Kremlin expects Washington to shift its approach to Ukraine on the understanding that Russia would rather let the whole world burn (literally) than lose this war—one which Ukraine cannot win anyway.”
  • “Instead of examining the conflict in Ukraine [during the meeting between CIA director William Burns and foreign intelligence service (SVR) head Sergey Naryshkin in Ankara], the American side focused entirely on nuclear security. Naryshkin’s attempts to bring up the ‘Nazi’ Ukrainian regime were futile. In Moscow’s eyes, the meeting was a failure.”
  • “In Moscow’s eyes, Washington is dodging talks about Ukraine. … One problem for Washington is that it is not at all clear who the Americans should talk to [as] there is no obvious counterpart on the Russian side who they believe would make a productive interlocutor.”
  • “Any effort by Washington to bypass Patrushev might be seen in Moscow as an attempt to avoid serious talks altogether. A source close to the Kremlin said that, first of all, Putin must be convinced that Washington is prepared to seriously discuss the Ukraine question … Only then will a suitable interlocutor appear.”

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

“The Perpetually Irrational Ukraine Debate. The war continues to be discussed in ways that are self-serving—and self-defeating,” Harvard University’s Stephen M. Walt, FP, 11.29.22.

  • “What if the war does end in a messy and disappointing compromise instead of the happy Hollywood ending most of the world would like to see? Despite the welcome progress Ukraine has made in recent months, such an unsatisfying outcome may still be the most likely result. If Russia still controls substantial amounts of Ukrainian territory a year from now, Ukraine has suffered additional damage in the interim, Putin still rules in Moscow despite the harm his war has done to Russia and the United States’ European allies have had to absorb another influx of refugees and endure difficult Ukraine-related economic hardships, then it will be increasingly difficult for the Biden administration to spin this war as a success story. The finger-pointing, blame-casting and blame-avoidance will then make today’s rancorous debate seem mild by comparison.”
  • “Unfortunately, these are the sort of political circumstances that lead presidents to keep distant wars going. Even if there’s no plausible path to victory, the desire to avoid being accused of not having done enough tempts them to escalate in some way or kick the can down the road.”
  • “Biden and his team haven’t given themselves a lot of wiggle room, and their freedom of action is further reduced when any hint of less-than-total support for Kyiv generates a firestorm of hawkish denunciations. If the world is forced to choose the lesser evil from a set of bad choices, a more civil and less accusatory discourse would make it easier for policymakers to consider a wider range of alternatives as well as make it more likely that Ukraine and the coalition that is presently supporting it make the right call.”

“Why Putin May Endure. Powerful Leaders Have Often Withstood Staggering Defeats,” John Mueller of Ohio State University, FA, 11.29.22.

  • “In numerous autocratic countries, catastrophic losses have often had little effect on the leader’s hold on office.”
    • “In Egypt … autocrat Gamal Abdel Nasser suffered a humiliating defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. Yet he stayed in power and was still in office when he died of a heart attack three years later.”
    • “Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein not only survived the disastrous eight-year war he started against Iran in 1980 but also the devastating 1991 Gulf War.”
    • “Omar al-Bashir in Sudan … survived in office for 14 years after the failure in 2005 of his war against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which resulted in the independence of South Sudan.”
    • “Going back to the beginning of the twentieth century, it might be noted that Tsar Nicholas II survived a terrible debacle in Russia’s war with Japan in 1904-5. … And dictator Joseph Stalin did not fare any worse in his own disastrous war against Finland in 1939–40.” That war ended in territorial gains for the Soviet Union (western Karelia).1
    • “Humiliating events in Chechnya played out during Yeltsin’s 1996 reelection campaign, yet he was reelected.”
  • “For now, then, experience suggests there is a serious possibility that Putin will remain in office during any settlement period over the war in Ukraine and that he will still be there afterward. It also suggests that Putin will be able to repress any temptation to escalate the war catastrophically. For the United States and its partners, this carries implications.”
    • “First, it is not at all clear that Putin needs to be given face-saving concessions to retreat from his debacle and withdraw from Ukraine.”
    • “Second, however, if it could help lead to a Russian withdrawal, NATO might seek to nudge Putin along in this debacle-justifying fantasy by engaging in several cost-free gestures. These could include issuing a formal no-invasion.”

“Washington’s Carthaginian Peace Collides With Reality. The Biden administration refuses to tell the American people the truth: Ukraine is not winning and will not win this war, Douglas Macgregor of The American Conservative, American Conservative, 11.29.22.

  • “The Biden administration repeatedly commits the unpardonable sin in a democratic society of refusing to tell the American people the truth: contrary to the Western media’s popular ‘Ukrainian victory’ narrative, which blocks any information that contradicts it, Ukraine is not winning and will not win this war. Months of heavy Ukrainian casualties, resulting from an endless series of pointless attacks against Russian defenses in Southern Ukraine, have dangerously weakened Ukrainian forces.”
  • “Predictably, NATO’s European members, which bear the brunt of the war’s impact on their societies and economies, are growing more disenchanted with Washington’s Ukrainian proxy war.”
  • “Russia has also undergone a transformation. … The coming offensive phase of the conflict will provide a glimpse of the new Russian force that is emerging and its future capabilities.”
  • “By the time the conflict ends, it appears Washington will have prompted the Russian State to build up its military power, the very opposite of the fatal weakening that Washington intended when it embarked on its course of military confrontation with Moscow.”
  • “Biden’s ‘take no prisoners’ conduct of U.S. foreign policy means the outcome of the next phase of the Ukrainian War will not only destroy the Ukrainian state. It will also demolish the last vestiges of the postwar liberal order and produce a dramatic shift in power and influence across Europe, especially in Berlin, away from Washington to Moscow and, to a limited extent, to Beijing.”

“John Mearsheimer: We’re playing Russian roulette,” Freddie Sayers’ interview with John Mearsheimer, Unherd, 11.30.22.

  • “Bleakly, Mearsheimer now believes that the opportunity for peace has been lost, and that there is no realistic deal that could be reached in Ukraine. Russia will not surrender the gains made in eastern Ukraine, while the West cannot tolerate their continued occupation; meanwhile, a neutral Ukraine is also impossible, as the only power capable of guaranteeing that neutrality is the U.S., which would of course be intolerable to Russia.”
  • “He believes that escalation is likely, and the chance of a nuclear event is ‘non-trivial.’ … ‘If the Russians were to use nuclear weapons, the most likely scenario is that they would use them in Ukraine. And Ukraine does not have nuclear weapons of its own. So the Ukrainians would not be able to retaliate against the Russians with their own nuclear weapons. So that weakens deterrence. Furthermore, if the Russians use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the West, and here we’re talking mainly about the United States, is not going to retaliate with nuclear weapons against Russia, because that would lead to a general thermonuclear war.’”
  • “The idea that Russia is poised to invade either Finland or Sweden is a ‘figment of the West’s imagination’ … He believes their applications should be rejected, and that nobody should have the ‘right’ to join a security pact like NATO.”
  • “So where would Mearsheimer draw the line? His answers are unambiguous … he believes without hesitation that the existing NATO countries must be defended, notwithstanding the risks. … He … believes that the war in Ukraine is a distraction from the real threat, which is China, and worse, will drive Russia into the arms of China when it is in America’s interests to drive them apart.”
  • “I ask him whether this uncertain, multipolar world is here to stay and if so, is that a good thing? “I think it’s definitely here to stay. … What we have today … is two conflict dyads. They’re separate conflict dyads—U.S.-China, U.S.-Russia. … I think we live in more dangerous times today than we did during the Cold War, and certainly than we did during the Unipolar Moment. And I think if anything, this situation is only going to get worse.”

“Can America Really Envision World War III?” Stephen Wertheim of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, NYT, 12.02.22.

  • “Since February, the war in Ukraine has created an acute risk of U.S.-Russia conflict. It has also vaulted a Chinese invasion of Taiwan to the forefront of American fears and increased Washington’s willingness to respond with military force. ‘That’s called World War III,’ indeed. Yet how many Americans can truly envision what a third world war would mean?”
  • “Not having to worry about the effects of wars—unless you enlist to fight in them—has nearly become a birthright of being American. That birthright has come to an end. The United States is entering an era of intense great power rivalry that could escalate to large-scale conventional or nuclear war. It’s time to think through the consequences.”
  • “Relations with Russia and China are not assured to stay cold. During the original Cold War, American leaders and citizens knew that survival was not inevitable. World-rending violence remained an all-too-possible destination of the superpower contest, right up to its astonishing end in 1989. Today the United States is again assuming the primary burden of countering the ambitions of governments in Moscow and Beijing. When it did so the first time, it lived in the shadow of world war and acted out of a frank and healthy fear of another. This time, lessons will have to be learned without that experience.”

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • No significant developments.

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms control:

“The Kremlin Tones Down the Nuclear Rhetoric,” Stanford University’s Steven Pifer, CISAC, 11.28.22.

  • “The Kremlin may want Ukraine and the West to believe that Russia is prepared to escalate to the nuclear level, but it does not want a nuclear war.  Moscow has real reasons not to cross the nuclear threshold.”
    • First, Ukraine does not mass its forces in a way that would create a tempting target for nuclear attack. … Second, the same is true for the resolve of Ukraine’s Western supporters. The flow of arms and other support for Ukraine continues, and Western officials have pushed back on the nuclear question … Third, Russian officials have to consider the reaction of other countries.”
  • “There are indications the Kremlin understands that it has overplayed its hand and in recent weeks has sought to tone down the nuclear rhetoric.”
    • “Speaking to the Valdai Discussion Club on Oct. 27, Putin raised the question ‘that Russia might theoretically use nuclear weapons,’ called ‘the current fuss’ a ‘very primitive’ attempt to turn countries against Moscow, and commented that ‘we have never said anything proactively about Russia potentially using nuclear weapons.’”
    • “A Nov. 2 Russian Foreign Ministry statement said Russia is guided by the principle that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,’ reiterated commitment to the Jan. 3, 2022 statement by the U.S., Russian, Chinese, British and French leaders on preventing a nuclear war.”
    • “Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reported that, in their Nov. 16 meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had stated that nuclear use was ‘impossible and inadmissible.’”
    • “Representing Russia at the G20 summit, Lavrov agreed to the leaders’ declaration that included the language about the inadmissibility of the use or threat of use of nuclear arms.”
  • “Russian officials have backed away from the nuclear hints and threats of September and sought to tone down the rhetoric. This does not mean they might not reemerge, but it does suggest that the Kremlin understands that the use of nuclear weapons would have significant consequences for Russia, and that its nuclear threats failed to achieve their desired political objectives while proving counterproductive for Russia’s image abroad.”

Video message from Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov to the participants of the Moscow Conference on Nonproliferation, MID.ru, 12.05.22. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “One of the catalysts for the current aggravation of international tension was the fact that the NATO states arrogantly rejected President Vladimir Putin’s initiative to provide security guarantees to Russia in the western direction. Of particular concern in our country were direct statements made from Kyiv about the possibility of Ukraine revising its non-nuclear status. In essence, this would mean an attempt by Ukrainian national radicals to acquire nuclear weapons.”
  • “In the context of the West’s efforts to contain Russia, the line of the U.S. and NATO as a whole for an actual military confrontation with us poses a serious threat. Obviously, this is fraught with a direct clash of nuclear powers with catastrophic consequences. We are compelled to regularly send our warning signals in this regard. But instead of taking them seriously, they are maliciously distorted in the West and accuse us of using ‘threat rhetoric.’”
  • “I would like to take this opportunity to confirm that the Russian side is firmly committed to the logic of the understandings that were enshrined in the joint documents of the nuclear five countries. In accordance with the declaration of the five powers on the inadmissibility of nuclear war, it is necessary to prevent any armed conflict between countries possessing nuclear weapons. Russia proceeds precisely from this.”
  • “We note with regret that at the moment the strategic dialogue between Russia and the United States, which possess the largest nuclear arsenals and bear special responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, is being held by Washington in a ‘frozen’ state. The latest tangible result of joint efforts in this area was an agreement to extend the START Treaty for five years. It is clear that in the absence of negotiation work to maintain strategic stability, the existing problems will accumulate. This is fraught with an avalanche-like increase in risks.”

Special military operation in Ukraine as a breaking point in the foreign policy of modern Russia,” Dmitry Trenin of Russia’s Higher School of Economics, Russia in Global Affairs, 11.30.22. Clues from Russian Views

  • “Nuclear deterrence, which the Russian leadership counted on as a guarantee that the country’s vital interests would be reliably protected from outside encroachments, has shown its insufficiency. … [T]he statements of Russian officials referring to Russia’s nuclear potential, the exercises of the strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation were widely interpreted in the West and replicated around the world as evidence of Moscow’s preparations for unleashing a nuclear war.”
    • “The fear factor that was present in the public consciousness of Western countries, especially European ones, during the years of the Cold War, has practically ceased to play a significant role.”
  • “It is worth reconsidering the attitude toward strategic stability. … The key to strategic stability for Russia is to develop its own potential in various areas, and agreements with the United States, if any, can only be an addition to this potential … There is also a need for careful consideration of the problem of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. In any case, Russia cannot act in line with American non-proliferation approaches to Iran and North Korea.”
  • “We must consider all options for the development of the current conflict.”
    • “Losing the war … and, accordingly, the actual victory of the enemy is fraught with upheavals … The option of “freezing” military operations along the front line would mean Moscow’s recognition of the inability to achieve the declared goals … that is, its moral defeat.”
    • “With regard to the situation in Ukraine, Russia’s taking control of the entire eastern, southern and central parts of the neighboring country could be considered a strategic success.”
  • “[T]he break in Russian-Western relations will not heal … Russia’s defeat in this struggle is fraught with a national catastrophe, a sustainable compromise solution is unlikely and a compromise on an equal footing is practically out of the question; the only option left is to go forward.”
  • “Russia’s main foreign policy resource is the position of the World Majority.”
  • “Chances that Russia will achieve a strategic success are real, it has the necessary internal and external resources, but it requires a firm political will of the leadership, unconditional patriotism of the elite and national solidarity.”

“On ground retreat and air advance,” Sergei Poletaev of “Whatfor” and Dmitry Stefanovich of IMEMO, Russia in Global Affairs, 12.01.22. Clues from Russian Views

  • “It seems that in the absence of successful negotiations at least on a ceasefire, strikes with long-range precision weapons on infrastructure throughout the entire depth of Ukraine’s territory will continue. However, further growth of escalation (including to the nuclear level) seems unlikely. This may change in the event of a full-fledged entry into hostilities by NATO or individual countries of the bloc, from which the alliance has so far diligently abstained, preferring to maintain control over the scale of the conflict and not be directly involved.”

Counterterrorism:

  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

“The West’s proposed price cap on Russian oil is no magic weapon,” The Economist, 11.30.22.

  • “After months of negotiations, on Dec. 2 the G-7, European Union and Australia agreed to impose a $60-a-barrel cap on shipments of Russian oil. … On paper, this looks astute. Setting the price below the market rate Russia receives today would lower its earnings. And as long as the price is above its cost of production (which is thought to be in the region of $20-44 a barrel), Mr. Putin would still have a reason to pump oil. Consumers would get oil at a discount and inflation would be kept in check. Non-aligned countries such as China and India would surely leap at this bargain.”
  • “According to hard-headed oilmen, however, life rarely turns out so neatly. There are two uncertainties.”
    • “One is how Mr. Putin responds if European firms really do have a stranglehold and can block his ability to get some oil to market. Russia … could cut its oil exports, relying on a smaller group of non-Western tankers and insurers, and sending global prices spiraling.”
    • “The other uncertainty is how much power the West will ultimately wield over global oil markets. … [C]ountries such as China, India and Indonesia want to avoid participating in Western sanctions and embargoes. They are seeking alternative sources of day-to-day insurance—and, because the ban was announced six months ago, have had time to prepare.”
  • “Over time, the global oil system is more adaptable than you might think. Just as financial sanctions have energized attempts to evade the Western banking system, so the war will lead China, India and others to circumvent the West’s energy infrastructure. As weapons, sanctions and embargoes have their limits—and a finite shelf-life.”

“How well will the EU’s oil embargo on Russia’s seaborne exports work?” editor-in-chief Ben Aris, BNE, 12.03.22.

  • “The EU’s oil embargo, contained in the sixth and eighth packages of sanctions, comes into effect on Dec. 5 … These include a tough flat ban on importing Russian oil in the sixth, but a softer oil price cap mechanism in the eight that is designed to allow the EU to import Russian oil, but cut the Kremlin off from making any real money from the trade. … On Dec. 2 a compromise price [cap] of $60 was reached, but with an adjustment mechanism that will keep prices 5% below market rates and also a review of the cap every two months, allowing the price to be reduced.”
  • “Even after the embargo takes effect, Russia will continue to export significant amounts of oil to Europe, as the eighth package of sanctions only applies to seaborne oil deliveries, whereas two thirds of the oil Russia sends to Europe goes by pipeline (of which half goes through the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline), which are not affected by the sanctions.”
  • “The plan is to enforce the embargo by targeting insurance; ships without insurance cannot enter ports or international sea lanes and some 95% of all maritime insurance is issued in London.”
  • “‘Some disruption to Russian oil exports (and production) is almost inevitable,’ Kieran Tompkins, a commodities economist with Capital Economics, said. ‘Our base forecast is that Russia’s crude output will steadily fall to 9.6 million bpd by end-2023, compared with an estimated 10.3 million bpd in 4Q22. A drop in Russia’s production is one of the reasons why we forecast that oil prices will remain historically high next year, despite the global economy tipping into recession.’”

“The Price Cap on Russian Oil Exports, Explained,” Catherine Wolfram, Simon Johnson and Łukasz Rachel, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 12.05.22.

  • “The price cap on Russian oil differs from a standard price cap in several important ways.”
    • “First, it only caps the price received by one supplier—Russia.”
    • “Second, Russia is an inframarginal producer, meaning that its marginal costs of extracting and transporting oil for export are considerably below market clearing prices. … [B]ecause Russia is an inframarginal supplier, there is room to set a price cap above the country’s marginal cost and still significantly below world prices.”
  • “In addition to reducing Russian export revenue while keeping oil on the market, the price cap on Russian oil will have several additional potential benefits.”
    • “First, while the price cap only directly applies to purchases of Russian oil that use services from coalition countries, it also provides negotiating power to oil importers that continue to buy Russian oil above the cap without using those services.”
    • “Second, it is important to weigh the price cap relative to alternatives. In the past, oil sanctions have involved embargos, which make it illegal for anyone in one country to buy from the embargoed country. … An all-out embargo on Russian oil would have much larger implications for world oil markets and thus for global inflation.”

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant developments.

II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“How is the Kremlin Eroding Russia’s Major Uniting Symbol?”, Ivan Kurilla of the European University in St. Petersburg, Russia.Post, 11.22.22.

  • “On Oct. 22, Sergei Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff of the Presidential Administration, addressed a national conference of teachers, declaring that the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine should become a ‘people’s war.’ That was a direct reference to the most famous patriotic song of World War II, Sacred War, written days after Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941.”
  • “The memory of the Great Patriotic War is shared by most Russians as a unique example of human sacrifice and a great victory over the evil of Nazism won by the grandparents of the current generation. No other event in Russian history has had such a unifying effect. In contrast, the war in Ukraine has produced the deepest divide within the Russian society, with thousands openly calling it a crime and millions trying to distance themselves from the ‘special military operation.’”
  • “Putin’s war is not only destroying Russia’s international standing, economy and science (the destruction of Ukraine goes without saying), it is also destroying the very ideological base that the regime has used to legitimate its rule. It represents a blow to the strongest social glue that has held Russian society together—the memory of the Great Patriotic War.”

“A Week in the Life of Vladimir Putin,” columnist David Ignatius, WP, 12.05.22.

  • “Putin is often portrayed in the Western media as something of a cartoon villain. But he’s also a skillful politician who has used the state-run media, a pliant bureaucracy and brutal repression to dominate Russian politics so totally that he appears to have no significant opposition. For many in the West, he’s a figure of derision, even hatred. But at home, he retains a bedrock of popular support, even amid the Ukraine fiasco.”
  • “The calendar shows Putin filling his days with a surprisingly mundane string of meetings, videoconferences and ceremonies that demonstrate how he tries to bolster domestic confidence even as he wages a failing war in Ukraine. He is peripatetic, talking with aides about animal husbandry one day and artificial intelligence the next. He knows that he rules a vast nation, and although he’s often seen as a Russian nationalist, he assiduously cultivates Russia’s other, disparate ethnic groups. And although the Soviet Union is gone, he stays in regular touch with fractious leaders of former republics. His nostalgia for the Soviet era is palpable.”

Defense and aerospace:

  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.

III. Russia’s relations with other countries

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

“Don’t Let Zeitenwende Get Derailed,” Sophia Besch of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Liana Fix of CFR, War on the Rocks, 11.21.22.

  • “The concept of Zeitenwende was meant to be a course correction after years of tight economic ties with Russia. ‘The times,’ Scholz declared in a special address to the Bundestag in February, ‘are changing,’ and after years of neglect Germany increased defense spending, made changes to its energy policy and ushered in a new, more adversarial approach to Russia.”
  • “To succeed with the monumental shift, as one of us argued in these pages, German policymakers and experts should urgently focus on issues they had neglected for years: crafting strategy; reforming government bureaucracies; altering the structures and processes of decision-making on foreign, security and defense policy; and explaining all this to the wider public.”
  • “It is smart not to single out Germany for its shortcomings, but there is some space for gentle but explicit nudging from Washington to help firm up the commitment to Zeitenwende. … The United States should also encourage Germany to take on a leadership role in the debate on security guarantees for Ukraine”

Ukraine:

“What Next for Ukraine’s Formerly Pro-Russian Regions?”, Konstantin Skorkin of GLOBSEC, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 12.02.22.

  • “Ironically, the regions that have borne the brunt of Russia’s invasion are those that were always most likely to vote for pro-Russian political parties. Just two years ago, Viktor Medvedchuk’s pro-Russian Opposition Platform–For Life bloc won local elections for the Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv, Odesa and Kherson regional legislatures. In recent years, … this part of Ukraine had retained generally positive attitudes toward its neighbor to the east: 53% in Ukraine’s east and 45% in the south viewed Russia favorably. Some—though not many—went as far as to support unification with Russia: 22% in the Luhansk region, and 11% in the Kherson region.”
    • “Russia’s invasion largely put an end to this pro-Russian sentiment: by May 2022, only 4% in Ukraine’s east and 1% in the south still had a positive view of Russia. Support for Ukraine joining NATO, on the other hand, had surged to record highs: 69% in the east and 81% in the south, up from 36% in the east and 48% in the south, according to a poll taken on Feb. 16 and 17 of this year.”
  • “The ‘Russian-speaking Ukraine’ political project is in tatters. Having failed to formulate an attractive alternative to the Euro-Atlantic vector within the nation state, its proponents chose to look to the Russian authoritarian model, and hence came to be associated with Soviet nostalgia and post-Soviet corruption. Still, it was the Kremlin itself that dealt the final blow to pro-Russian forces in Ukraine by unleashing its war machine against historically loyal regions.”
  • “No matter how the current war in Ukraine ends, it’s very hard to imagine the reemergence of pro-Russian political parties. … Ukrainian nationalist populism will likely blossom in the country’s southeast, although it will come with its own regional flavor of ‘Russian-language patriotism.’”

“Ukrainian Women Fight for Their Own Liberation,” columnist Nicholas Kristof, NYT, 12.03.22.

  • “Ukraine is a traditional and sexist society caught in a grueling artillery war with Russia, so the last person you’d expect to see in an army uniform is a grandma. But Mariia Stalinska, 41, a bookkeeper whose first grandchild was born a year ago, enlisted in the army after Russia invaded her country in February.”
  • “The determination of Ukrainian women to fight Russians, or spy on them from behind enemy lines or raise money for the troops reflects an unflinching determination of Ukrainians, male and female alike, to sacrifice for their country.”
  • “An open question is whether the heroism of so many women in this war will chip away at traditional sexist attitudes and create a more equal society afterward. Will Ukrainian men be more likely to treat their wives as equals? One indication of possible progress is that almost half of all new small businesses since the invasion were started by women.”
    • “‘This will change the role of women in society,’ said Alla Kuznietsova, who spied on the Russians during the occupation of Izium and reported regularly to the Ukrainian side. ‘Not every woman will take a gun and fight, but we do everything possible to help the army,’ said Kuznietsova, who recounted having survived brutal torture and rape at the hands of Russian interrogators.”

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Is Russia’s Post-Soviet Sphere of Influence in Jeopardy?”, Samuel Ramani of the University of Oxford, RUSI, 11.29.22.

  • “As Russia’s relations with its CSTO treaty allies fray, it has devised a three-pronged strategy to maintain influence in the post-Soviet space.”
    • “First, Russia is strengthening its relations with non-treaty allies, such as Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, as a hedge against its wayward CSTO partners.”
    • “Second, Russia is trying to add new vitality to flailing multilateral institutions for intra-regional cooperation. After Kazakhstan stated on Oct. 3 that the CSTO will not be a party to the Ukraine War, as it favors ‘territorial integrity and the sovereign equality of states’, Russian state media overtly mocked the CSTO’s inefficacies.”
    • “Third, Russia has diversified its economic and security partnership with Belarus to hedge against strains in its other regional alliances.”
  • “Nine months after Putin launched a neo-imperial war to subordinate Ukraine, Russia is on the verge of seeing its sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space atrophy. The growing risk of secondary sanctions, continued weaknesses of intra-regional institutions and Russia’s eroding soft power point to a continuation of this trajectory. As we enter 2023, it remains to be seen whether Russia can reassert itself as a mediator in disputes involving its treaty allies, such as Nagorno-Karabakh and the recent Kyrgyzstan–Tajikistan tensions, or if its strategy in the post-Soviet space will lean more heavily on an increasingly isolated Belarus.”

“Iran Is Filling Armenia’s Power Vacuum,” journalist Gabriel Gavin, FP, 12.01.22.

  • “The town of Kapan, a sleepy mining community nestled in the mountains of southeastern Armenia, is an unlikely hub for international diplomacy. But in October, Armenian officials gathered in its central square to cut the ribbon on a brand-new consulate—and welcome the delegation arriving from the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Just two miles away from the site of Tehran’s newest international mission is the border with Azerbaijan.”
  • “Days before the consulate opened, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced its troops were staging “massive” war games on Iran’s border with Azerbaijan. According to Iranian Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour, the drills were designed to send a message of “peace and friendship” to countries in the region, while demonstrating their ability to “respond decisively to any threat.”
  • “As a relatively liberal democracy that prides itself on being the world’s first Christian nation, Armenia is an unlikely partner for Iran. However, after Armenian towns and villages along the border came under heavy bombardment from Azerbaijan briefly in September—with Western officials blaming Baku for firing first—Yerevan is looking for support wherever it can find it.”
  • “Despite Yerevan’s membership in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military bloc, Russia has so far refused Armenia’s calls to intervene. Iran, meanwhile, seems more than eager to fill the power vacuum and open another front against Azerbaijan and its backer, Turkey, which Iran has long mistrusted and seen as a potential rival in the region.”
  • “‘The tragedy of this situation is that while we have this great power competition going on, Armenia really has no choice but to get what it can out of this odious alliance because it is being forced into a corner,’ Banai added. But what Armenia might see as a regrettable necessity, Iran seems intent on treating as a major opportunity.”

Footnotes

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

 


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