Russia Analytical Report, Dec. 5-12, 2016


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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/saber rattling:

“Nuclear War Is No Longer ‘Unthinkable’ for Russia,” Nikolas K. Gvosdev, National Interest, 12.07.16: The author, a professor at the Naval War College, focuses on Russia’s newly released Foreign Policy Concept and, in particular, “two of its most noticeable features: … The first is a slight but significant shift in assessing the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons from ‘unthinkable’ to ‘unlikely.’ … The second is a very loud and clear restatement” that states should interact with each other “on the basis of absolute ‘non-interference in one another’s internal affairs.’” These reflect “a growing consensus among experts that indeed that risk [of nuclear confrontation] is growing” and fit “a pattern displayed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to warn the United States to back off.” The author wonders whether the new U.S. administration will pick up on these signals in its approach to U.S.-Russia ties: “Compromising … or scaling back on a number of past bipartisan policy approaches—notably the continued enlargement of NATO—in order to decrease pressure on the ‘spring’ might resonate with the new chief executive. Focusing a relationship on ‘hard’ security matters (starting with preventing nuclear conflict) rather than on Russia’s progress with democratization would revert U.S. policy back to a pre-1991 standard and reverse the insistence that has guided U.S. policy since that time that how Russia is governed internally is of vital national security interest to the United States.”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

  •  No significant commentary.


  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant commentary.

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Looking for U.S.-Russian Cooperation? Try Asia,” Jeffrey Mankoff, Russia Matters, 12.12.16: Ahead of this week’s Russia-Japan summit, the author, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, assesses Russia’s interests in the Asia-Pacific region and the opportunities they provide for U.S.-Russian cooperation. Though bilateral ties in the region are far less contentious than in Europe, they have long been underdeveloped and the author explains why. He also outlines the ambiguities, tensions and disappointments in Russia’s relationship with China and raises the possibility that now may be a good time for the U.S. to pull Moscow closer and help it balance between Washington and Beijing.

“Russian Hackers and American Hacks,” Wall Street Journal, 12.11.16: This editorial argues that while Americans should not be complacent about Russian cyberattacks and the intentions behind them, and while any related allegations should be investigated, the CIA’s most recent conclusion that Russia’s aim was specifically to ensure Donald Trump’s victory in last month’s U.S. presidential election should not “become the partisan exercise that Democrats appear to want.” If it does, that would be playing right into the Kremlin’s hands, insofar as its goal is “to undermine public confidence in American democracy.” As concerns the CIA’s claim, the editorial points out that “we’re told the evidence for this conclusion is far from definitive, and multiple intelligence services offered no such judgments when briefing the House Intelligence Committee on the election-related hacks last week.” The piece also contests claims made by New York Times sources saying “the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee website but then didn’t leak any documents,” pointing out that “other sources say that while it’s clear the Russians were probing the RNC website, it isn’t clear they penetrated it enough to grab emails. This is in contrast to the months the Russians spent roaming through the DNC site.”

“Americans Need a Demon, Even if It Isn’t Russia,” Paul Pillar, National Interest, 12.10.16: The author, a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies and the Brookings Institution, considers the “multiple levels” on which he is disturbed by the idea that Russia “hacked and leaked to influence the U.S. presidential election” in favor of the president-elect. First, there is “the compromise to the integrity and independence of the U.S. electoral process”; second, many more repercussions will stem from the fact that “Russia is widely perceived in the United States, by many members of both political parties, as an adversary.” Americans, the author continues, “have a strong Manichean tendency to perceive the world as divided simply and rigidly between friend and foe, between good and evil. A Washington Post article described this tendency as especially exhibited by military officers who are senior Trump appointees.” Who will be designated the next big evildoer—Russia? Political Islam? Iran? The author notes that Mitt Romney’s 2012 predictions about Russia were off the mark: During that presidential race, the Republican nominee called Russia America’s main geopolitical foe because it sides with “the world’s worst actors,” like Iran and North Korea; in fact, Russia was a key partner to the U.S. in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal and efforts to undo it would only further harm U.S.-Russian relations.

“First, Do No Harm,” Thomas Pickering, National Interest, 12.07.16: The author, a retired career ambassador, calls for steps by Washington and Moscow to ease tensions and move away from potential conflicts, “nuclear or conventional, [which] would be a disaster.” First, both sides should “tone down and tune out the unhelpful public statements,” abiding by the Hippocratic maxim “‘First, do no harm.’ … Next steps need to include the kind of dialogue that Henry Kissinger had with Zhou Enlai in 1971 at his first meetings in Beijing: What are your views on the world, where are you going and how does each side see the other? Truth here can lead to a third step.” This would entail finding measures “that can begin to resolve the problems and ease the confrontation in both sides’ interest”: greater stability “in the nuclear equation”; building on the Iran deal; working out Ukraine and finding ways for the country to bridge east and west instead of dividing them; work together more closely on Syria.

“Deal with Russia, But Don’t Be Too Eager,” Daniel Treisman, National Interest, 12.06.16: The author, a political science professor at UCLA, offers his advice on dealing with Russia to the incoming Trump administration. He begins by saying that the American president-elect has greatly weakened his negotiating position by displaying excessive eagerness to meet and strike deals with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In terms of concrete policies, he identifies the top priority as “shoring up NATO.” On Syria, the two presidents may be able to “announce an alliance against terror,” claiming “a ‘breakthrough’ that was in fact occurring anyway. … On Ukraine,” the author says, “Trump could offer a personal commitment to block any proposed admission of Ukraine or Georgia to NATO for as long as he is in office.”

“Beyond the Trump-Putin warmth, tough decisions lurk,” Ariel Cohen, Financial Times, 12.06.16: The author, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, argues that “in the two defining relationships the Trump administration will face, China and the Middle East, having a working relationship with Russia is key.” He notes that in his Dec. 1 address to parliament, President Putin “did not mention either Europe or Ukraine. Nor did he attack the United States. Clearly, much will be on the table when the Trump foreign policy team is in place.” The author also calls for “a clear definition of America’s vital national interests as the global system goes through an inflection point. An in-depth understanding of Russia’s strengths and weaknesses and an assessment of what Russia is—not what we want it to be—is also key.” Once these are in place, the U.S. will need “systematic co-operation with allies and friends and an array of effective incentives and disincentives. … Without all that, there will be no effective Russia policy. Prepare for a rocky ride—but hopefully for a safer and more solid relationship.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

General developments and “far abroad” countries:

“Why Putin Scores Big With the Rosneft Deal,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 12.08.16:

The author, a staff columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes that the unexpected, multibillion-dollar “deal in which Qatar’s sovereign wealth [fund] and the commodities trader Glencore are acquiring 19.5 percent of Russia’s state-controlled oil company, Rosneft, has broad implications for Middle Eastern geopolitics, Russia’s opaque domestic politics and the oil market.” As important as the immediate financial benefits of the sale, the author argues, “the deal was meant to demonstrate the inefficiency of Western sanctions against Russia.” The sanctions had made European and U.S. investors cautious about participating in Russia’s privatization drive, but they will “have fewer reasons to fear … now,” particularly with anti-sanctions politicians in the ascendancy in Washington and Paris. Moreover, a number of signs suggest that Putin’s longtime associate and Rosneft’s CEO, Igor Sechin, worked overtime to make the deal happen as he picked up on signals that his position may not be as secure as it used to be. Finally, the participation of Qatar gives some insights into Russia’s balancing act in the Middle East.



  • No significant commentary.

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Armenia at Twenty-Five: A Rough Ride,” Paul Stronski, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 12.07.16: The author, a senior fellow with the endowment’s Russia and Eurasia Program, argues that “Armenia is at a turning point. The economy remains troubled, the population is growing tired of its politicians and their decision-making, and the security situation in and around the Caucasus has deteriorated, as was most visibly seen in the April 2016 Four-Day War with Azerbaijan. … The old social contract, in which the population accepted limited democratic choice and a struggling economy in exchange for security, is eroding.” President Sargsyan has reshuffled the government and tried to pull in some “fresh and capable faces,” while also maintaining Armenia’s “delicate foreign policy balance” between Russia and the West. One dangerous development could be “Sargsyan’s purported plan to move to the prime minister’s office in order to remain at the helm,” as it would upend mounting public expectations about good governance and rule of law.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

Defense and aerospace:

“Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective – 2016,” Gudrun Persson (ed.), Swedish Defence Research Agency, December 2016: In this, the eighth issue of a two-year peer-reviewed study, highlights include the following: “The Russian Armed Forces are developing from a force primarily designed for handling internal disorder and conflicts in the area of the former Soviet Union towards a structure configured for large-scale operations also beyond that area”; “the Armed Forces can defend Russia from foreign aggression in 2016 better than they could in 2013”; “they are a stronger instrument of coercion than before”; “the fighting power of Russia’s Armed Forces has continued to increase—primarily west of the Urals”; “Russian military strategic theorists are devoting much thought not only to military force, but also to all kinds of other—non-military—means. The trend in security policy continues to be based on anti-Americanism, patriotism and authoritarianism at home. Future generations are being trained into a patriotic spirit, and there is a wide array of different school and youth organizations with a mission to instill military-patriotic values in the younger generations. Opportunities to change the policy to a more Western-friendly approach have diminished. This will be the situation Russia finds itself in whether Vladimir Putin continues as a president or not.”

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary