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:

  • No significant commentary.

NATO-Russia relations:

“Assessing Russia’s Reorganized and Rearmed Military,” Keir Giles, Task Force White Paper, Carnegie Endowment, 05.03.17: The author, an associate fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House, writes that Western assessments of Russia’s transformed military create a confusing picture. Russian capabilities displayed in Syria and Ukraine lead some to fear that Western armed forces have neglected to keep pace. At the same time, others argue that this is an overestimation, and that the Russian military “is hostage to many problems inherited from its traumatic post-Soviet degeneration, critically challenged by overstretch, technologically backward or all three.” The author argues that the truth is in the middle. Russia’s military has indeed transformed drastically since 2008, but that change is still taking place: “the true capability of the Russian military is not static but a rapidly developing phenomenon.” A prolonged conflict with NATO would likely be unsustainable for Russia, but the West needs to be preparing countermeasures for Russia’s already proven capabilities and those still in progress. Russia’s other advantages will need to countered by shifts in policy. Military confrontation, the worst case scenario, needs to be avoided by a change in NATO’s and America’s declaratory policy, so that it reflects “the reality of the current state of relations with Moscow.” In addition, the author highlights the need for “visible will” to use superior Western capability.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Russia’s Missile Treaty Violations Directly Threaten Europe—So Europe Should Speak Up,” Oliver Meier and Steven Pifer, The Brookings Institution/ Frankfurter Rundschau, 05.05.17: The authors, the deputy head of the research group on security policy at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) and the director of the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at Brookings, write that Russia’s new ground-launched cruise missile is primarily a threat to Europe. The INF Treaty-violating missile, codenamed “SSC-8,” does not change the European security threat situation as drastically as the Soviet SS-20. While the U.S. reaction has been to call for the development of new weapons and transfer them to U.S. allies, Europe has been rather quiet. The authors argue that allowing the U.S. to “formulate its own position” before Europe does so is unwise. It allows Moscow to believe the matter is unimportant to Europe and gives the Trump administration ample time to decide the treaty is not worth saving. As such, Europeans “should loudly and clearly criticize” Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty to dispel any illusions to the contrary in Moscow. Now is also the time to engage in greater multilateral efforts to maintain the treaty for the security of all.


“After Metro Bombing, Russia Confronts New Terror Challenges, The Threats Facing Russia May Be Diversifying. Can Security Services Keep Up?” Matthew Kupfer, The Moscow Times, 05.05.17: The author, a reporter for the paper, writes that in recent weeks, attacks and arrests throughout Russia are raising new terror challenges. The Islamic State took credit for a teenager’s robbery and subsequent shooting of two people at a Federal Security Service (FSB) office in Khabarovsk, even though the teenager turned out to be a neo-Nazi. The arrest of 12 Central Asian recruiters from the Islamic Jihad—Dzhamaat Mozhakhedov movement highlights the challenge posed to Russia’s security services by migrants, whose social isolation makes it difficult to infiltrate their communities. While “security analysts caution that it’s too early to establish any trends,” the concerns are present.

Conflict in Syria:

“Putin Requested His Call With Trump to Outline a Plan for Syrian Safe Zones. Why Now?” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 05.03.17: The author, a foreign-affairs columnist for the paper, writes that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new peace proposal “appears to be a concession” on the issue of safe zones. The proposal could be an attempt to “fill the vacuum” left by an absence of clear strategy on the part of the Trump administration, or it may have been prompted by concerns triggered by the U.S. strike on a Syrian air base in April. Another fear that may have prompted the push for peace is the continuing deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations. The author notes that “Putin’s move is opportunistic,” but this time, Washington is biding its time.

“Putin Has a New Secret Weapon in Syria: Chechens,” Neil Hauer, Foreign Policy, 05.04.17: The author, a senior intelligence analyst at the SecDev Group, writes that Russian President Vladimir Putin will continue to do everything possible to make the Russian intervention in Syria a success. This includes the deployment of Chechen and Ingush forces “from Russia’s restive North Caucasus region.” Although they are called “military police,” these units have taken on increasingly important tasks in Syria. Their deployment has been “surgical,” confined to the areas and events most critical to Moscow’s aims in Syria. While their role does not appear likely to soon expand, they will remain instrumental in the Kremlin’s efforts to expand influence in Syria.

Cyber security:

“Difficulty Level–‘EXTREME’: Why Is Attribution Such a Challenge?” Jeff Schilling, SC Magazine, 05.02.17: The author, a retired U.S. Army colonel and chief security officer for Armor, discusses the difficulty of pinpointing perpetrators of cyberattacks. The actors behind a cyberattack use a variety of means to conceal their identities, such as using command and control nodes of others and using “open source” malware and frameworks. The author writes that personal experience seeing these tactics in use make him skeptical when a threat actor is said to be identified. The author notes that the evidence from the DNC hacking event pointing to Russia “could all potentially be ‘false flags’” intended to misdirect and implicate Russia. Other evidence appears to be too much of a “rookie mistake” for a sophisticated actor to make. While the public case “has a few holes,” the U.S. government, which has sources of information that cannot be made public, also appears to be sure that Russian actors were behind the DNC hacking. The author says he will take the government’s word, “based on sheer faith,” but notes that “this incident shows just how weak our ability to properly attribute cyberthreat activity actually is.”

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

  • No significant commentary.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“How International Cooperation in Research Advances Both Science and Diplomacy: It Can Have Multiple Benefits Even When the Partner Is Also an Adversary,” John P. Holdren, Scientific American, 04.27.17: The author, who served as senior adviser to former U.S. President Barack Obama on science and technology issues, writes that the White House’s proposed budget cuts in science and technology will harm U.S. collaboration with other nations on issues of scientific and technological importance. This kind of collaboration “foments personal relationships of mutual respect and trust across international boundaries,” providing benefits when those same scientists and engineers are placed in international diplomacy roles. The author points to his own relationship with Soviet/Russian scientist Evgeny Velikhov, whom he first met in the 1970s thanks to the agreement between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to collaborate on fusion energy research. In the mid-1990s, the author’s long-standing relationship with Velikhov helped to create a breakthrough on U.S. and Russian plutonium disposition. The author argues that today, such collaboration is more necessary than before. The challenges faced by the scientific community are “too big, too complex and too interlinked” to approach alone, and American relationships with both adversaries and allies are too tense or fragile to lose the diplomatic benefits of collaboration in science and technology.

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“In France, Would a Macron Victory Spell Defeat for Putin? Or a Shift to ‘Multipolarity’?” Mathew Burrows, Russia Matters, 05.05.17: The author, director of the Strategy, Foresight and Risks Initiative at the Atlantic Council, writes that the victory of French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron may not be as great a defeat for Russian President Vladimir Putin as some believe. While Macron is not as pro-Russia as some of his opponents, neither is he “hawkish.” Moscow may find him to be open to “good ties and open channels of communication” between France and Russia, but “not at the cost of a weakened Europe.” Macron is likely to favor a Europe that is strong, autonomous and does not necessarily “follow Washington’s line.” While he will likely maintain traditional alliances, he also desires a better relationship with China. Both Putin and Trump may see in Macron “a man they could do business with” on the international stage, although Macron’s initial focus is likely to be domestic.

“What do we know about Russia’s ‘Grand Strategy?’“ Andy Akin, The Washington Post, 05.02.17: The author, an assistant professor of national security studies, writes that a nation’s “Grand Strategy” is a plan for using all available leverage to mold the international system to the nation’s advantage. Russia’s Grand Strategy includes: the creation of a polycentric world, opening markets and removing sanctions and the projection of regional authority and power. The author notes that Russia “is aggressively pursuing” a state-centric, realpolitik kind of international order, where a nation’s needs and perceived opportunities take precedence over “moral convictions about foreign policy.”

“Russia Gambles in Afghanistan—Again,” Artemy Kalinovsky, The Moscow Times, 05.08.17: The author, an assistant professor of East European studies, writes that Russian officials will not confirm U.S. accusations that Russia is arming the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, the Kremlin’s willingness to cooperate with the Taliban has been open. This cooperation is inspired by Russia’s fear of the Islamic State, whose ambitions extend beyond those of the Taliban and who have struck in Russia itself, as well as Moscow’s lost faith in Washington’s ability to take care of the Taliban or establish stability in Kabul. The Kremlin may believe that establishing a relationship with the Taliban is “a form of political realism.” However, Afghanistan has been terribly damaged by foreign intervention. In addition, any peace talks with the Taliban could be “improbable” due to “nearly uninterrupted antagonism” between the U.S. and Russia.


  • No significant commentary.


“Ban the Bomb By … Banning the Bomb? A Ukrainian Response,” Polina Sinovets, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 04.24.17: The author, head of the Odessa Center for Nonproliferation, writes that while Ukraine’s vote for a nuclear weapons ban may have been expected, Ukraine abstained from casting a vote. While some signs point to a desire for Ukraine’s restored status as a nuclear weapon state, included a 2014 bill to withdraw from the NPT, Ukraine is not likely to “go nuclear.” Although 49% of Ukrainians in 2014 believed that Ukraine should develop nuclear weapons, only a small percentage actually believed it would happen. Kiev’s abstention on the nuclear weapon ban can be viewed as a kind of “solidarity with the U.S. nuclear umbrella,” a solidarity also shown by most NATO members. “For Ukraine, U.S. extended deterrence presents an illusion that has not been broken yet.” While Ukraine did abstain from the ban treaty, its goals do include a global treaty assuring non-nuclear states that they will remain safe from nuclear ones.

“Deepening Division in Donbas,” Steven Pifer, The Brookings Institution, 05.02.17: The author, a senior fellow at Brookings, writes that the line of contact between Ukrainian and Russian/separatist forces in Ukraine’s Donbas is hardening. This is due in part to a Russian preference for “a simmering conflict” that puts pressure on and destabilizes Ukraine’s government, the economic shift to Russia by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), as well as Ukrainian actions. Kiev stopped wiring pensions to the occupied areas in 2015, an unofficial blockade and a trade embargo was imposed there earlier this year and in April, Ukraine cut electricity to the LNR, with the DNR likely soon to follow. As Russia pulls the areas closer, Ukraine is attempting to shift the economic burden of supporting those areas onto Moscow. No major Ukrainian leaders currently support letting Donbas go, but the question is beginning to be asked.

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • No significant commentary.

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“This Is Russia’s Biggest Problem,” Kenneth Rapoza, Forbes, 05.01.17: The author, a reporter on emerging markets for Forbes, writes that the problem of regionalization will outlive Russian President Vladimir Putin. Over a fifth of Russia’s wealth is generated in the capital and surrounding areas, but the economy is “highly regionalized.” The central government redistributes wealth to interior regions, according to researchers for Mauldin Economics. In a generation, this situation is likely to worsen and within 20 years, may even reach a tipping point. Interior and port regions are likely to experience economic trouble first, and currently rare labor strikes could become more common. “Russia’s biggest problem is Russia. And within that landmass, keeping Siberians and Far Easterners paid and in expanding regional economies will be a task no matter who is in the Kremlin.”

Defense and aerospace:

“Russia’s New Conventional Capability: Implications for Eurasia and Beyond,” Nikolai Sokov, PONARS Policy Memo, May 2017: The author, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, writes that Russia’s demonstration of new, long-range, precision-guided, conventional-strike capability has serious implications for the West, whether or not the West wants to acknowledge it. These implications include: the West’s lost monopoly on using proactive force to achieve foreign policy goals; “changes in the nature of the global ‘game’”; and the need for changes to global and regional strategies. The U.S. has benefited from its resistance to Russian demands for conventional long-range weapons to be included in arms control talks in the past. However, once the U.S. no longer has a monopoly on such weapons, this resistance could quickly become counterproductive. Changing the long-standing American position on this issue is not easy and is politically controversial, yet “it appears to be the only reliable way to control Russia’s emerging conventional capabilities.”