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.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

“How the Tumultuous ’90s Paved the Way for Putin’s Russia,” Rajan Menon’s review of “Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War” by Peter Conradi, New York Times, 04.10.17: The author, a political science professor, writes that Peter Conradi, the foreign editor of The Sunday Times of London, in his new book tackles the complex question of “what went wrong” on the road to establishing a partnership between Russia and the West. Conradi notes that Putin’s much-criticized “quest for spheres of influence” is not new, but rather something that has been around since former Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s days. Early meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Western counterparts “were convivial,” and even though Putin was not thrilled by some actions taken by the George W. Bush administration, Putin “took these matters in stride.” The turning point, as suggested by Conradi, was the series of “democratic revolutions in Georgia in 2003-4 and Ukraine in 2004-5.” For Russia, these events and the eventual ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2013 were “a Western effort to undercut Russia in its own neighborhood.” Conradi does not provide an answer to the question of who lost Russia, suggesting that both Putin and the West share the blame.

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

  •  No significant commentary.

Counter-terrorism:

“Terrorism in Russia. Why the Problem Is Set to Worsen,” Ilan Berman, Foreign Affairs, 04.05.17: The author, senior vice president at the American Foreign Policy Council, writes that the bomb blast in the St. Petersburg subway on April 3 could be a taste of increasing terrorist activity in Russia’s future. The root of this could be Russia’s involvement in Syria. Muslims are Russia’s fastest-growing minority group, and “could account for a fifth of the country’s total population” by 2020. Russian is the third most frequently spoken language among Islamic State fighters. “Counterterrorism experts have long been concerned that the Syrian conflict could eventually produce an exodus of former fighters who would return to engage in terrorist activity in their home countries.” Now, as Islamic State loses ground in Iraq and Syria, this trend is beginning to gain momentum, and “Russia is bound to be a principal target.”

“The St. Petersburg Bombing: Why It Won’t Bring America and Russia Together,” Nikolas K. Gvosdev, The National Interest, 04.04.17: The author, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, writes that the recent terrorist attack in St. Petersburg is likely insufficient to reignite U.S.-Russian cooperation on counterterrorism. In the past, following terrorist attacks, Russia has invoked stricter security measures. However, with this attack following so closely on the heels of country-wide protests in Russia, Western political figures and members of the Russian opposition will likely “view any new mandates permitting greater restrictions on public assembly or more intrusive surveillance, not as genuine anti-terrorism measures, but as designed to further crack down on the protest movement.” Militant groups have been promising “to take revenge on Russian soil” since Russia became involved in Syria, and Russia remains a target. While Washington and Moscow “may indeed face a common enemy,” it is unlikely that they will fight it together, as Washington wants to avoid sending any signals that it approves of Russia’s actions.

Conflict in Syria:

“History Has Served up a Rare Second Chance on Assad,” Richard Haass, Financial Times. 04.06.17: The author, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes that the U.S. and others find themselves in a unique position. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s apparent use of chemical weapons gives U.S. President Donald Trump an opportunity to differentiate himself from his predecessor in the White House. The author notes that the timing of Assad’s choice, “days after the Trump administration signaled it had accepted the reality of his rule,” seems odd. However, Assad should “not be allowed to escape without paying a price.”

“Tom Friedman Is Calling for a Partition of Syria. Trump Should Run the Other Way,” Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy, 04.07.17: The author, a professor of international affairs, writes that the advice Thomas Friedman gives in a recent New York Times column is problematic at best. Friedman lays the blame for the mess in the Middle East, “including the emergence of the Islamic State,” at the feet of Russia and Iran. Friedman also advises U.S. President Donald Trump to send U.S. troops into Syria, an idea the author takes issue with for a number of reasons. These include: unclear logic behind “why fixing Syria is a vital U.S. interest”; the inexplicable reason why chemical weapons use crosses a red line other terrible weapons do not; and the assumption that the U.S. would be able to “quickly assemble a militarily effective coalition of NATO and/or Arab forces to enter Syrian territory and enforce peace.” He also notes the problems inherent in creating a “‘primarily Sunni’ safe zone” and the lack of an exit plan in Friedman’s piece. The author highlights the lack of success the U.S. has had in Middle East ventures undertaken under similar pretenses; “as former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen put it last year, ‘We’re zero for a lot.’”

“What Could Go Wrong for the US in Syria? War With Russia. Pressure to Escalate Is Only Going to Get Worse,” Colin H. Kahl, The Washington Post, 04.09.17: The author, an associate professor of security studies, writes that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Moscow will largely focus on the issue of Syria, as even the limited strikes conducted late last week “could lead the United States and Russia down an escalatory path.” The Trump administration’s lack of precise goals in Syria could lead to “pressure to escalate there,” making a military confrontation with Russia increasingly likely. Russia has “a few thousand military personnel” in Syria, and extensive U.S. actions run the risk of killing Russian ground troops. Similarly, Russian response to U.S. action in Syria would also jeopardize the lives of U.S. troops. There is also the risk of “air-to-air incidents.” “Under any of these circumstances, the prospect of spiraling conflict is enhanced by Moscow’s decision to suspend the ‘deconfliction’ channel between the Russian and U.S. militaries.” Additionally, “this could derail the counter-Islamic State campaign.” Even if the Trump administration does not deviate from its stated intention to only deter future use of chemical weapons, escalation risks are still high. Trump, who has “invested his personal credibility in standing firm,” may find himself pressured into responding to a test by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that results “in a direct military clash with Russia.” The author advises the Trump administration to clarify its goals in Syria and take desperately needed “risk-mitigation steps.”

“Why Did Trump Strike Syria?” Richard Sokolsky, Aaron Miller, CNN, 04.07.17: The authors, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, write that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reaction to the U.S. strikes in Syria will be shaped by what the U.S. does next. If Washington is only attempting to deter the use of chemical weapons, Moscow may be willing to cooperate. However, “if the strike is designed to set the stage for further U.S. pressure on Syria and indirectly on Russia, Putin will likely push back.” This then begs the question: “What was the purpose of the strike?” Is it deterrence or regime change? The author notes that Assad’s removal “will help destroy ISIS,” but it will also necessitate a long-term U.S. strategy and “a major investment of resources over a prolonged period of time.”

“Was Chemical Attack in Syria Meant to Drive Wedge Between US and Russia?” Simon Saradzhyan, Russia Matters, 04.07.17: The author, the director of the Russia Matters project, writes that the U.S. strike on Syria carries with it the “risk of unintended military confrontation between the U.S. and Russia.” While the Pentagon has stated that they warned the Russian military of the strike, the warning was issued only two hours prior to the event, meaning that some Russian personnel may not have received the message. There is also the possibility that the deconfliction channel could have been disrupted, making it so that no Russian personnel got the message, or that “one of the Tomahawks could have strayed and hit a Russian asset.” While the probability of these events is low, the consequences that could follow such scenarios would be significant.

“Russia Needs American Help to Seal the Deal in Syria. After the Air Strikes, Closer Cooperation Between Putin and Trump Is More Likely,” Dmitri Trenin, Financial Times, 04.10.17: The author, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes that Russia’s response to the U.S. strikes in Syria “was strong but measured.” Although the risk of confrontation has increased, “paradoxically,” the chances for U.S.-Russia cooperation in Syria have, too. Russia’s previous negotiation attempts have been stymied by its allies, but U.S. involvement in Syria could change that. The U.S. is necessary for a diplomatic solution for Syria, and it is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “only acceptable exit strategy.” “Mr. Trump prides himself on being a dealmaker. He now has a chance to secure that reputation.”

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

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

“Don’t Worry, It’s Worse for Putin,” Holman W. Jenkins Jr., Wall Street Journal, 04.05.17: The author, a columnist, editorial writer and member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, writes that the current geopolitical state of affairs is not necessarily “a win” for Moscow or Russian President Vladimir Putin. The author notes that Russian interference in the U.S. election has turned those previously soft on Russia into “anti-Russia hard-liners,” the chances for sanctions removal looks increasingly small, other Western states have neglected to help keep Russian secrets and Russia’s annexation of Crimea is on trial in The Hauge. The author adds that “none of this remotely represents a ‘win’ for the U.S. either,” and that U.S.-Russia relations will likely remain hostile for the duration of Putin’s time in power.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • No significant commentary.

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • No significant commentary.

China:

“Who Is a Better Ally for the United States: China or Russia? President Trump May Have to Choose,” Jeremy Friedman, The Washington Post, 04.07.17: The author, an assistant professor of business, government and the international economy, writes that the U.S. “can no longer oppose Russia and China at the same time.” Thus, the U.S. may need to choose to align with one against the other. Aligning with Russia would suggest that China does more harm to U.S. interests than Russia through its unfair trade practices and by increasing efforts to drive the U.S. out of East Asia. Russia does not challenge the U.S. in quite the same way. Aligning with China against Russia would curtail Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to break up the EU or NATO, as “China’s resurgence is built on a world of peace and trade, a world ultimately sustained by U.S. military strength.”

“What Stops Moscow and Beijing From Forming a Military Bloc?” Vasily Kashin, RBTH, 04.06.17: The author, a senior research fellow in the Moscow-based Institute for Far Eastern Studies, writes that “China is now the main focus of Russian military diplomacy.” For the first time since the 1950s, senior officers in the Chinese army have a Russian educational background and “an understanding of Russian views on military affairs.” While the two countries’ military contracts are strong, no formal arrangement is possible until both China and Russia “revise the conceptual basis of their foreign policies.” In the event of a global military crisis, however, the two could be pushed into an alliance. Such a move would only require a formal decision, as “the bulk of the preparation work has been done.” The strength of this military relationship bolsters Russian and Chinese confidence in the face of dissolving relations with the U.S.

Ukraine:

  • No significant commentary.

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant commentary.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“‘We Went Skiing’: How the Kremlin Lost the Ability to Speak Normally,” Andrei Kolesnikov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 04.05.17: The author, a senior associate and the chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime has lost its ability to communicate with the Russian people. The author places the first failures of communication during the tumult of 2011-2012 when the Kremlin “received, as they saw it, the mandate to govern from the silent majority,” and began prosecuting dissenters. As a new wave of protests swept Russia on March 26, 2017,  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tweeted “Had a nice time skiing.” “Russia’s leaders simply refuse to recognize what they can see, or pretend not to understand, if they sense that there is something in the air.” As economic burdens continue to weigh down Russian citizens, “the deaf-and-dumb game the government is playing” grows increasingly irksome to greater numbers of Russians. Following the recent protests, the government is finding that it has nothing to say, as “they have never learned the language of today’s reality.” “The regime’s inability to speak a normal language stems from years of denying society its right to be a society, and citizens their right to be citizens.”

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