HARVARD UNIVERSITY

 

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

Nuclear security:

  • No significant commentary.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

Cold War/saber rattling:

“The Mind-Blowing Way America Planned to Fight a Nuclear War Against Russia,’ Sebastien Roblin, National Interest, 07.27.17: The author recounts the early days of U.S. military planning for use of tactical nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 60s, when the Army fielded a “Pentomic” division to fight “on the anticipated nuclear hellscape.” The Davy Crocketts, as the author calls them, were withdrawn from operational units by 1968. And though “the Army retained nuclear artillery shells for several more decades, the passing of the Pentomic division marked the turning point when the Pentagon realized modern war wouldn’t necessarily involve a liberal sprinkling of little mushroom clouds—an epiphany we should all be thankful for.”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Russia, NATO, and the INF Treaty,” Ulrich Kühn and Anna Péczeli, Strategic Studies Quarterly, 02.28.17: The authors, nuclear security fellows at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argue that the U.S. and its European allies must collectively work to persuade Russia to comply with the INF Treaty, “a cornerstone of European security … in acute danger of collapse.” They argue that Moscow seems to find political benefits, as well as military ones, in violating the treaty, but that Washington and its allies “remain much better off without a renewed Euromissiles debate.” The authors believe any military responses “should be proportional to the Russian threat capabilities” and U.S. withdrawal from the treaty should be only a measure of last resort. They call for development of “a genuine European strategy of punishing Russia for its INF transgressions” and emphasize “that it will take time and convincing arguments to alter the Russian logic.” The authors also point out that Russia sees INF dangers in Asia and this could open the doors to deeper engagement as Moscow and Washington have “mutual concerns” in the region. The main message to be communicated to the Kremlin, the authors conclude, is that “continued noncompliance will yield no political or military gains.”

“Why Mess With a Nuclear Treaty?” The New York Times, 03.06.17: This editorial argues that President Donald Trump would be “irresponsible” and “foolish” to abandon the New START Treaty as that would give Russia license “to build up arsenals” and “set off a costly, destabilizing arms race. And by eliminating verification and transparency requirements, America would lose insight into Russia’s program.” The editorial reminds readers that the U.S. “is already ahead of the pack” in terms of nuclear weapons, with more than four times the number of warheads necessary to “maintain a strong and credible deterrent” according to a 2013 Pentagon study. The newspaper’s editorial board believes that alleged Russian violations of a different treaty, on intermediate-range nuclear forces, can be dealt with as a separate issue “while Mr. Trump focuses on negotiating a New Start extension and then considers deeper reductions.”

Counter-terrorism:

  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant commentary.

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

Russia’s alleged interference in U.S. elections:

“What’s Behind the Putin Fantasies: Donald Trump never found much of a seat on the U.S.-Russia business express,” Holman W. Jenkins Jr., Wall Street Journal, 02.28.17: The author, a member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board, makes the case that the current hubbub over the Trump administration’s ties to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, disregards a “sorry truth: So much hopeful [U.S.] money that poured into Russia [since the fall of the Soviet Union] only helped fund the emergence of the Putin kleptocracy. Over the course of three administrations, when the U.S. goal was to promote business ties with Russia, Mr. Trump was notable mainly for failing to find a seat on the train. His Russian-backed property and branding deals all came a cropper.” The author points out that U.S. policy from 1991 until the Crimea sanctions in 2014 had been to encourage American business in Russia, with visits devoted in part to that purpose as recently as 2009 by President Barack Obama and his VP, Joe Biden. The two Exxon Russia deals that “define almost the entirety of Rex Tillerson’s CV in Russia” were also midwifed by the White House, according to the author. He catalogues other details that have been cast as nefarious but argues that the current political climate is skewing the interpretation of facts out of all proportion. He also marvels that no mention has been made of Goldman Sachs, former workplace of several Trump team members, which “arranged a convenient bond sale to tide the [Boris] Yeltsin government over” ahead of Russia’s 1998 default. … Another Goldman alum, Robert Rubin, was running the Clinton Treasury at the time, and pitched in with an IMF bailout for Russia.” In conclusion the author writes: “Thinking clearly about Russia might finally become a fashion in Washington. It won’t happen, though, if the only goal is to turn Mr. Putin into a partisan club against the Trump administration.”

“Let’s Settle the Russia Question Once and for All,” Gary Hart, National Interest, 03.02.17: The author, a former U.S. senator, argues that “it is difficult to imagine normalization of U.S.-Russian relations … until the mystery of the president’s personal attitudes toward [Vladimir] Putin and whatever background they represent are clarified and laid to rest.” He calls for  “a special panel composed of respected statesmen and stateswomen of both parties empowered to compel testimony under oath, inspect personal and classified documents (including tax returns), and issue a public report that either eliminates all suspicion of prior Trump-related activities in Russia or identifies areas of conflicting interest. … Otherwise, it seems inevitable that a cloud will linger for years to come regarding how relations between the current U.S. administration and the Putin government are being formulated, and whether in response to some prior arrangements or personal understandings. That will confuse whatever policies are adopted, either to strengthen U.S.-Russian ties, or draw lines against Russian actions in opposition to the interests of the United States and our allies.”

Energy exports from CIS:

“Gazprom Needs Its European Customers More Than Ever,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 03.01.17: The author, a Bloomberg Views columnist, takes a close look at Russian state-owned natural gas giant Gazprom and its prospects as both a business and a tool of geopolitics. He describes how Gazprom has raised its share of the EU’s gas market to what it calls a record high (34% in 2016) despite European political designs to reduce dependency on Russian energy. “Economically, though, the EU has pursued, and largely attained, a different goal—to stop Gazprom from abusing its monopoly power in Eastern Europe,” writes the author. “As soon as Gazprom mostly accepted the rules of the game, its prices became so attractive for European customers that they’ve seen no point in buying less Russian gas.” This has “cost [Gazprom] dearly” but, meanwhile, the company is “playing a complex, high-stakes political and economic game aimed at getting Europe to accept its plan for a major pipeline bypassing Ukraine,” Nord Stream 2. The pipeline’s proposed route would likewise bypass Poland and the Baltics, so Europe will have to carefully weigh the political consequences against the energy-supply and price benefits. That said, for Europe, “the threat of supply disruption from Russia is no longer as scary as it was in 2009… The worst that can happen now is a temporary rise in prices. Gazprom needs its customers more than they need it.” In any case, the author concludes, with little room to raise prices or increase supplies and a market cap “lower than the valuation of Uber … Gazprom as a business has a murky future” and is turning “from Russia’s crown jewel into a potential problem.”

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Vladimir Putin Isn’t a Supervillain. Russia is neither the global menace, nor dying superpower, of America’s increasingly hysterical fantasies, Mark Lawrence Schrad, Foreign Policy, 03.02.17: The author, a political science professor at Villanova University, asks whether “Putin’s regime [is] really as threatening and omnipresent as it is cracked up to be.” He describes two opposing camps into which much “Western commentary on the Kremlin’s foreign-policy ambitions tends to fall. … Both are prone to hyperbole in their appraisals and conclusions … [a]nd neither is useful for understanding, or responding to, the reality of Russian ambitions.” He calls the first the “Putler” camp (i.e., “Putin” + “Hitler”), which sees Russia as a mighty, Cold War-era-like nemesis full of “unrestrained totalitarianism, intent on weaponizing ‘absurdity and unreality.’” The second is the “Dying Bear” camp, whose adherents dismiss Russia as a threat and “instead presage stagnation, corruption, and decline”; they see “Russia’s foreign-policy aggression … [as] Putin’s attempt to distract patriotic Russians from the misery of their own existence and have them rally around the flag of patriotism, since he can’t deliver the performance legitimacy associated with the economic growth of the early 2000s, driven by sky-high global oil prices.” (Many of “President Obama’s dismissive public statements about Russia” fell into this category.) “The reality, of course, is somewhere between these extremes,” says the author, citing supporting data and noting that: American foreign policy toward Russia should not be given to the militarization and conflict of the Putler camp, nor to the marginalization of the Dying Bear view, but rather a respectful engagement, recognizing the interconnectedness of Russia’s varied strategic interests, which may conflict with Washington’s own.”

“On Russia, Trump Needs Breathing Room,” Nikolas K. Gvosdev, National Interest, 03.01.17: The author, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, argues that President Donald Trump “has consistently indicated … that his stance towards Russia (or any other country) will be guided by his assessment of what best serves American interests. … Trump has also signaled that he sees U.S. sanctions on Russia as a means to induce Moscow to the bargaining table to see what sort of deals can be reached that would benefit U.S. interests. … But the current climate in Washington is creating conditions where Trump’s assessments of what best serves U.S. interests will automatically be seen as suspect, and any move on his part to improve ties with Russia discredited. … Based on unofficial conversations in Moscow, it appears that the Russian government is prepared to give the Trump administration time to get settled (while at the same time [is] not averse to taking steps to better Russia’s bargaining position). Yet Trump’s freedom to maneuver may be seriously constrained by the time he and Putin have their first face-to-face meeting. Will that necessarily serve American interests?”

“Maintaining Arctic Cooperation with Russia: Planning for Regional Change in the Far North,” Stephanie Pezard, Abbie Tingstad, Kristin Van Abel, Scott Stephenson, RAND, 2017: The authors present a close review of Russian-Western ties in the Arctic region. They conclude that: Russia’s current militarization of its Arctic region does not, in itself, suggest increased potential for conflict, with the exception of accidental escalation; Russia’s cooperative stance in the Arctic cannot be taken for granted; sea ice decline projections suggest Russia will likely continue to militarize the Arctic, if only to protect its strategic assets and infrastructure in the region; and Russia would likely feel threatened by an expansion of NATO’s role in the Arctic. The authors recommend that the U.S. closely monitor developments in the region, take care to avoid accidental escalation of small-scale incidents, encourage the creation of a forum dedicated to Arctic security issues and ensure that NATO has some capability and experience to support Arctic operations without establishing a presence in the region that would create tensions. They also point out that the United States would be in a better position to pressure Russia to abide by its commitment to UNCLOS if it were itself a signatory to the convention.

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • No significant commentary.

China:

  • No significant commentary.

Ukraine:

 “What the IMF Doesn’t Know About Ukraine,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 03.02.17: The author, a Bloomberg View columnist, writes that “the conflict between Ukraine and Russia [has] entered a new phase,” as pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine “announced they were taking over Ukrainian oligarchs’ assets on their territory.” These factories and mines have managed to pay Ukrainian taxes and contribute to the country’s GDP over the three years of war. If a “blockade and a more or less complete ‘nationalization’ of these assets persist through 2017,” writes the author, Ukraine is not likely to see any economic growth at all, much less the predicted 2.5%. Moreover, “the Kremlin is serious about putting an economic squeeze on Ukraine” and remittances from Ukrainians in Russia to their homeland—the most remittance-dependent country in Europe and Central Asia, according to the World Bank—will be getting increasingly more difficult to send. “The remaining economic ties between Russia and Ukraine, including the arrangement for Ukrainian companies to operate in the rebel-held east, have been the only obstacles to an all-out war,” the author concludes. “As they are severed, the probability of armed unrest in Ukraine and more direct Russian interference increases. But even if the worst-case scenario doesn’t unfold, Ukraine will probably do worse economically this year than its creditors, and its people, expect.”

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant commentary.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

 “There Are No ‘Killers’ in Vladimir Putin’s Russia,” Oleg Kashin, New York Times, 03.02.17: The author, a Russian journalist known for his oppositional stance to the regime, examines the recent exchange between television host Bill O’Reilly and President Donald Trump in which Russian President Vladimir Putin was referred to as a “killer.” In Putin’s Russia, the author says, “a remarkable phenomenon has emerged: Accusations have become decoupled from crimes. In an ordinary society, if a man is called a killer, he will either deny it or admit his guilt. Twenty-first-century Russia has chosen a third path: to take pride in one’s crimes while at the same time claiming to have no involvement in them. It’s a tactic of intelligence agents and spies, people who work in the shadows.” The author cites two examples of this pattern and then returns to Putin: “He is from the K.G.B., he is always on duty, and his mission is not to avoid committing crimes, but to commit them in such a way as to avoid being caught. There is no particular taboo associated with the crimes themselves. This formula explains Mr. Putin’s position on the war in Ukraine: There’s not the slightest doubt that Russian soldiers are confronting the Ukrainian Army in eastern Ukraine, but Vladimir Putin has made it a fundamental matter of principle to refuse to admit this.” This, the author concludes, “is an experimental space: one huge espionage operation that proceeds in complete secrecy. … In the standard investigation of a political killing in Russia today, the triggerman is arrested, but no one can name the guy who hired him.”

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