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

Nuclear security:

“Pathways to Cooperation: A Menu of Potential U.S.-Russian Cooperative Projects in the Nuclear Sphere,” Andrew Bieniawski and Anton Khlopkov, Nuclear Threat Initiative, February 2017: The authors, the vice president of Material Security and Minimization at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the head of the Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS), discuss the results of the February 2016 conference on nuclear security. The conference brought together Russian and U.S. nuclear experts from a wide variety of organizations and produced “a menu of possible projects designed to use the countries’ unique technical capabilities to advance their mutual interests” across five areas: nuclear science, nuclear energy, nuclear safety, nuclear security and nuclear environmental remediation. The project also noted that fluctuations in the U.S.-Russia political relationship should not impact nuclear cooperation. It can in fact lay groundwork for rebuilding the countries’ relationship, as nuclear cooperation should be based on mutual benefit. In addition, the U.S. and Russia “have a special imperative to work together to address the threat of nuclear terrorism.”

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

“Moscow Dusts off the KGB Playbook—Covert Operations to Meddle in Western Elections Date Back to the Cold War,” Andrew Weiss, Wall Street Journal, 02.18.17: The author, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes that the disinformation and political meddling tactics Russia is employing today date back to the Soviet era. While modern day technology and today’s lack of trust in traditional media has created “a target-rich environment,” the big picture is a familiar one. In the 1980s, to stop the deployment of U.S. intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe, Moscow manipulated and encouraged a European peace movement via propaganda and disinformation. The Kremlin also made attempts in the 1970s and 1980s to influence elections in the West; however, the heavy-handed nature of these attempts “often undermined their effectiveness.” Similar efforts in Third World countries were more successful. Soviet fake-news included stories such as the creation of HIV by Pentagon bioweapons scientists and that the CIA was behind the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981. Today’s headlines aren’t too different, with rumors that France’s Emmanuel Macron is “secretly gay” echoing similar ones about FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson in the 1960s and 70s. Today’s “Kremlin is conspicuously unembarrassed about its handiwork,” and although this is familiar footing for the West, the author argues that “it is past time we remembered how to play this game ourselves.

“Neo-McCarthyite Furor Around Russia is Counterproductive,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Washington Post, 02.21.17: The author, editor of The Nation, writes that the frenzy surrounding possible Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election has increased following Michael Flynn’s resignation from the post of national security advisor. The author argues that in this furor, common sense is being lost and important questions are not being addressed. Scant evidence supporting the CIA and FBI’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election necessitates an independent investigation into the matter, and while Flynn may not have been the best choice for heading the National Security Council, the chain of events that led to his resignation require further attention. The author argues that Flynn’s purported conversation with Russian intelligence regarding Trump’s intentions as incoming president “is hardly subversive,” and what should be of greater concern is the targeted “leaking of officially classified and intercepted” phone calls. The author notes “a McCarthyite furor” in trying to discredit those looking to warm U.S.-Russia relations, all while bilateral cooperation on a variety of issues is in fact in the U.S. national interest. The author calls for independent investigations into both the interference in the election and the leaking of classified information. For further reading on this subject, we also recommend the following piece: “Two Explosive Reports on Trump and Russia. Zero on-the-Record Sources,” Callum Borchers, The Washington Post, 02.15.17.

“Hybrid Warfare in the Baltics: Threats and Potential Responses,” Andrew Radin, RAND Corporation, February 2017: The author, an associate political scientist at the RAND Corporation, writes that neither nonviolent tactics nor covert violent action alone will likely allow Russia to destabilize the Baltics. Russia’s “local conventional superiority,” on the other, coupled with political subversion could work to overwhelm NATO forces. Russia’s possible “hybrid aggression” in the region could include “nonviolent subversion, covert violent actions and conventional warfare supported by subversion.” Nonviolent subversion could take the shape of Russian influence over internal politics in the Baltic countries, with Estonia and Latvia particularly vulnerable due to a large Russian speaking minority in both countries. Covert violent action could follow “the model of Russian activities in eastern Ukraine in mid-2014,” a pro-Russian political movement could declare independence and invite Russian annexation or Russia could begin a terrorist campaign against Baltic governments. Conventional aggression supported by political subversion would see “a conventional attack by Russian ground, air, naval and airborne forces, justified and legitimized by covert or denied activities focused on the Russian speakers.” To avoid these scenarios, the author recommends a more sophisticated “strategic communication campaign,” NATO assistance in strengthening Baltic security forces and an effort by NATO and the U.S. “to mitigate the risks that a NATO deployment in the Baltics will increase the potential for low-level Russian aggression.”

NATO-Russia relations:

“An Alternative to NATO Expansion that Won’t Antagonize Russia,” Michael O’Hanlon, Wall Street Journal, 02.27.17: The author, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, details a possible alternative to NATO, previously mentioned in his 2014 piece in The Washington Post. “The core concept would be permanent neutrality, at least in terms of formal membership in treaty-based mutual-defense organizations.” These “neutral countries” include: Finland, Sweden, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Serbia “and possibly other Balkan states.” This alternative security agreement would require Russia to uphold the security of and remove Russian troops from these countries, which would allow sanctions to be lifted. The neutral states would also have great freedom of choice, including a right to join the European Union, which Russia would have to acknowledge. Little would be lost if Russia refused such negotiations or did not fulfill the obligations of such an agreement. “But only with an idea this big and bold does Mr. Trump have a realistic chance of putting U.S.-Russian relations on a better course.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“INF, New Start and What Really Matters for US-Russian Nuclear Arms Control,” Hans M. Kristensen, Russia Matters, 02.24.17: The author, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, writes that “Russia and the West have entered into a dangerous new exchange of threats, counter-threats, aggressive posturing and mutual recriminations in the nuclear arena.” As tensions continue to rise between Russia and the West, some have called for dismantling existing arms control treaties. The author argues that these agreements are now more important than ever. Regarding the INF treaty, the author writes that U.S. accusations of Russia’s treaty violations “have left a lot of unanswered questions,” and that Moscow’s reasons for allegedly violating the treaty could stem from a variety of issues. Worries over the New START treaty also require closer examination. Russia’s number of deployed nuclear warheads, currently above New START’s February 2018 cap, “results from an overlap in new systems coming online and old systems getting decommissioned,” and can easily be cut down. In addition, the U.S. Intelligence Community determined in 2012 that even if Russia were to break the New START treaty, Moscow cannot “achieve a militarily significant advantage.” Although there is little support for the idea that Russia “has lowered the threshold for using nuclear weapons,” it does appear to have effected U.S. policy. The author notes that the Kremlin is conscious that Russia’s economic situation would not allow it to win an arms race with the U.S. As such, the U.S. “should continue a policy of maintaining strategic stability with Russia by combining arms control with a safe and secure retaliatory capability.”

“Trump Makes Nuclear Mistake on Arms Control Treaty With Russia,” Thomas Graham, Jr. and Byron Dorgan, The Hill, 02.16.17: The authors, a former senior U.S. ambassador and a former U.S. senator, write that the New START treaty “is not a bad deal,” arguing that without it, U.S. national security is at risk. The treaty’s limitations and verification measures force Moscow to be transparent and limit its nuclear supply, all of which would change without New START. The authors note that after New START was signed, “seven former commanders of the U.S. nuclear arsenal signed a joint letter” in support of the treaty and its provisions. The authors advise U.S. President Donald Trump to discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin the possibility of extending the treaty.


  • 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:

“US Vital Interests Vis-à-Vis Russia,” RM Experts, Russia Matters, 02.15.17: Several Russia experts weigh in on how Russia impacts U.S. national interests. Thomas Graham notes that Russia is vital to major U.S. interests, including nonproliferation efforts and managing China’s rise. Stephen Kinzer writes that Russia does not threaten U.S. vital interests, but a less confrontational relationship with Russia could help the U.S. Jack F. Matlock, Jr. highlights the necessity for U.S.-Russian cooperation on global issues, and notes that “there is no fundamental reason for the United States and Russia to consider themselves enemies.” Matthew Rojansky details the ways in which Russia can help or hinder U.S. vital interests, while Paul Saunders notes that differences in the two countries’ interests make a lasting partnership difficult and that a functional relationship is a more realistic goal.

“The Trump Administration’s Internal War Over Russia,” Nikolas K. Gvosdev, The National Interest, 02.23.17: The author, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, writes that although U.S. President Donald Trump’s desire for warmer relations with Russia is well known, his national security team appears to “remain far more cautious and tentative.” Both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have spoken of cooperation with Russia in more tempered tones. Although senior U.S. officials “repeat assurances that the United States seeks better relations with Russia … the talking points utilized by many U.S. government officials … appear to be unchanged from those used during the Obama administration.” With Russian skepticism still strong in Congress, the author lists three possibilities for U.S. policy: Trump’s team may be “prepared to carry out the wishes of the president” despite their own views on Russia, they may believe that Trump will adopt their more hardline views “once exposed to the same sets of facts and analyses that they possess” or Trump will look outside Washington for “new, fresh or creative thinking on Russia.”

“What the US Must Do About Russia,” Richard N. Haass, Time, 02.17.17: The author, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes that whatever the reason for the deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations, “the results are troubling.” Russia’s actions in Ukraine, its role in Syria and its interference in the U.S. presidential election necessitate that something be done. Russia is a major, “potentially dangerous,” power. While Russia’s motivations are “a matter of speculation,” Putin’s desire to avoid revolution is clear. “He seeks not to make Russia great again (which would require real economic and political reform, something he fears) so much as to make it viewed as great.” The author counsels U.S. President Donald Trump to “respond with firmness.” Deterrence and the perception that a government can and will defend its interests are linked. “This argues for providing defensive weapons to Ukraine and stationing additional military forces in and around areas belonging to those NATO members that Russia might move against.” While sanctions should remain in place, they should “not be overused.” The U.S. should also show “more traditional foreign policy restraint.” Firmness should be accompanied by reassurance, with the goal of having Russia “exercise greater restraint.”

“Why Trump is Right on Russia,” Anatol Lieven, New York Times, 02.14.17: The author, a professor of international politics at Georgetown University in Qatar, writes that while there are many reasons for U.S.-Russia cooperation, Washington’s “own desire for global hegemony” might complicate that cooperation. Russia does not pose the same threat to the U.S. that China does, and working with Russia would allow for greater attention to other geopolitical issues. The author argues that “recent policy failures” suggest that cooperation with Russia is unavoidable, and this can begin with Ukraine as per the Minsk II agreement. This would include working towards a compromise in the Donbas region, accepting but not recognizing the annexation of Crimea and lifting sanctions. The author argues against the argument that this kind of compromise would encourage further Russian aggression, as Russia did not invade Latvia in 2008 when Latvia’s weak economy would have made disruption there easy. In Syria, negotiating with Russia and Iran will be necessary as Bashar al-Assad’s Syria “is not going to fall.” In addition, Russia will likely not be willing to take “an outright hostile stance” towards China. Russia’s opposition to the U.S. following the Cold War has not been “out of blind anti-Americanism.” Although Moscow wants better U.S.-Russia relations, “it will not lend blanket support to American global primacy.”

“Why Back-Channels With Russia Cost Michael Flynn His Job,” Richard A. Moss, The Washington Post, 02.14.17: The author, an associate research professor at the U.S. Naval War College, examines the differences between successful Washington-Moscow back-channel contacts during the Nixon administration and Michael Flynn’s unsuccessful attempt. The author notes that Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, and his adviser and later NATO ambassador Robert Ellsworth, both kept Nixon apprised of their contacts. Additionally, “the messages both men conveyed to the Soviets complemented and reinforced each other.” The men also met in person, which may be more “subject to surveillance,” but is “more complicated legally and technically than monitoring open phone lines.” The author notes that Flynn’s use of an open phone line to speak to Kislyak is somewhat odd “for a career intelligence officer.” The author acknowledges that Trump and his administration are facing domestic challenges and challenges from Russia that Nixon did not. He also notes that “back channels require the confidence of the person at the top. Kissinger understood this and became the indispensable man for Nixon’s foreign policy.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Europe Needs a Hearts and Minds Campaign for Russia: Forget About Dealing With Trump or Putin. Europe’s Russia Strategy Should Focus on Winning Over the Russian People,” Samuel Greene, Foreign Policy, 02.21.17: The author, director of King’s Russia Institute at King’s College London, argues that rather than directing energy towards regime change in Russia, Europe should focus on “building a more direct relationship with Russia’s citizens.” He notes that while Putin’s approval rating may be genuine, Russians “don’t like the way their country is run,” with only 14% saying they think “Putin represents the interests of the common man” according to a Levada Center poll. The conditionality approach Europe has used in the past, which tries to get “Russian citizens to affect the decisions of a government over which they have no control” is ineffective. If Europe grants Russian citizens greater access to Europe now, where they will see how Europe works, they will then be able “to leverage European educational, legal and financial institutions to build their own stability and prosperity,” thus shifting the balance of power in Russia. While such actions do not mean lessening pressure on Russia for its aggressions, prosperity and stability in Europe will require “creating change in Russia.”

“Mutual Assured Deterrence,” Sergei Karaganov, Project Syndicate, 02.17.17: The author, a Russian political scientist, argues that Russia will be a “key pillar” of a new world order that will replace the waning Pax Americana. Having given up hope on “amicably” creating a stable and just world order, Russia has recently “restored its hard power.” This power was then used to curtail NATO expansion in countries Russia views as “vital to its own security” and to halt “yet another illegitimate Western effort to bring about regime change, this time in Syria.” These actions have allowed Russian to reassert itself as a global “balancing influence.” The author cautions Russia against “triumphalism” and notes that global stability is not possible to achieve alone. He calls for Russia, China and the U.S. to work together as a “big troika” to transition peacefully “to a new, more stable world order,” noting similar propositions by Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. The author argues that success in this endeavor will be achieved by doing away with “the obsession with arms-control agreements” and instead begin a dialogue on international strategic stability. The “big troika” would over time expand into a new “concert of nations.” As a new global order begins in starts and lurches, the author urges readers to “remember how we survived another dangerous time. Today, as during the Cold War, mutual deterrence can save the world.”


“Russia and China’s Enduring Alliance. A Reverse ‘Nixon Strategy’ Won’t Work for Trump,” Jacob Stokes, Foreign Affairs, 02.22.17: The author, an adjunct fellow in the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security, writes that the China-Russia relationship, defined by a “desire to see an end to U.S. primacy,” has been warming since the final years of the Cold War. Although a rift in the relationship turned China towards the U.S. in the 1970s, Russia’s relationship with China today remains strong even though there are factors that could break the partnership. The U.S. ability to exploit existing disputes “remains limited at best.” For Russia to turn against China, Moscow may seek anything from lifted sanctions to the abolition of NATO. Even if turning Moscow away from Beijing was successful, “Russia would still have little capability to thwart China’s bad behavior in places that matter.” The author advises the Trump administration to cooperate with Russia and China “where possible.” This includes creating “a trilateral understanding on contentious issues affecting strategic stability,” and continuing to maintain support among U.S. allies in Europe and Asia.


“Why Ukraine is Dying a Slow Death (Literally): Amid War, Ukraine’s Population Continues to Dwindle,” Nolan Peterson, The National Interest, 02.22.17: The author, a Ukraine-based foreign correspondent for The Daily Signal, writes that Ukraine’s population shrunk by 170,000 in 2016, with each birth matched by 1.5 deaths, according to a report from the Ukrainian government. From 1993 to 2016, Ukraine’s population has decreased by 18%. The author notes that in 2014, Ukraine’s population data excluded Crimea and the Russia-backed territories in eastern Ukraine, dropping the population count by 2.5 million in that one year, but by the previous  year, the population had already dropped by 6.7 million people from its 1993 peak. Leading causes of death in Ukraine in 2016 included heart disease and cancer. Depopulation threatens not only Ukraine’s economy, but also its “post-revolution political reformation.” With a low ration of men to women (86.3 men for every 100 women) and a 10 year difference between male and female life expectancy, underscores “how lifestyle choices among Ukrainian men, particularly their proneness to alcoholism, contributes to a high mortality rate.” Additionally, increasingly more Ukrainian students are studying abroad, and the country’s economic problems have “dissuaded many Ukrainian families from having children.”

“Minsk II at Two Years,” Steven Pifer, Brookings Institution, 02.15.17: The author, director of the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institution, writes that at the two-year anniversary of the Minsk II agreement, the fighting in Ukraine continues “primarily because the Kremlin does not seem to want peace.” For the West, sanctions on Russia can only be lifted if Russia fully complies with Minsk II, and despite some concerns to the contrary, the Trump administration does not appear eager to lift sanctions. However, Moscow could change this attitude by implementing a lasting ceasefire and withdrawing Russian weapons. This would shift the focus from Moscow to Kiev, with the West looking to see if Kiev will implement Minsk II’s political elements. However, hardened attitudes in Ukraine towards the agreement may make it difficult for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to implement those political measures. In that case, Minsk II’s failure would be on Kiev, not Moscow, and the Kremlin would be able to argue “a much stronger case” for the removal of sanctions. Moscow’s reasons for not embarking on such a course may stem from fears that Kiev will make good on its part of the agreement, restoring “a degree of peace and normalcy… to the Donbas. And that precisely may be the problem for the Kremlin.”

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant commentary.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • No significant commentary.

Defense and aerospace:

  • No significant commentary.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant commentary.