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

Nuclear security:

“25 Year of Nuclear Security Cooperation by the US, Russia and Other Newly Independent States: A Timeline,” Foreword by William Tobey, Russia Matters, 06.16.17: The author, former deputy administrator for the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration, provides an introduction to the nuclear security cooperation timeline created by Mariana Budjeryn and Simon Saradzhyan. Twenty-five years ago, U.S. and Russian leaders took great risks in order to begin the process of nuclear security cooperation. While the June 1992 “Umbrella Agreement” may seem inevitable when looking back, the agreement’s success depended heavily on the people involved in each step of the process from creation to implementation. The failure of any one of these people to step forward could have had “potentially catastrophic consequences.” November 2014 saw a breakdown in this constructive continuity when Russia refused to continue with certain cooperative threat reduction efforts. As tensions continued to increase, so has their toll on cooperation. However, acts of nuclear terrorism plotted by Chechen rebels and al-Qaeda and numerous instances of weapons-grade fissile material being seized outside authorized control demonstrate the urgency of the threat to nuclear security. Today’s Russian and American leaders will need to “demonstrate as much courage and creativity as did their predecessors” in order to meet these challenges, made ever more complicated by the two nuclear powers’ worse relations.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant commentary.

New Cold War/Sabre Rattling:

“Russia and the West in a New Standoff,” Eugene Rumer, Carnegie Endowment, 06.14.17: The author, director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, writes that the break between Europe and Russia is a long-term situation. In Russia, the ruling elite has changed little since its establishment in the 1990s and “does not share modern Europe’s founding values.” These values would undermine the very oligarchy ruling Russia. While the Kremlin appears to view NATO’s Article 5 security guarantee seriously, it has used diverse and powerful instruments to undermine NATO. These instruments, ambiguous and falling “well short of a direct attack that would trigger the Article 5 guarantee,” have left the alliance unable to develop an effective response. The idea of a new Cold War has been dismissed by many due to Russia’s relatively minor role on the global stage as compared to that of the Soviet Union. However, the author argues that Russia does indeed continue “to pose a major challenge to Europe and the West in general.” The author notes Russia’s 2015 intervention in Syria as the “key milestone.” The operation has been a success for the Kremlin, demonstrating Russia’s military capabilities and “reinserting Russia as a major military presence in the Middle East,” a role previously occupied by the U.S. Other areas of significance for Russia include Libya and the Western Balkans, where Moscow has taken action to curb EU influence. As Russia becomes more active around the globe, the U.S., Europe and Russia will have to contend with each other more, meaning that communication will be ever more vital. However, the author warns that engagement “should not be mistaken for a form of partnership.”

“The New Cold War Pits a US General Against His Longtime Russian Nemesis; It’s Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster vs. Putin Ally Valery Gerasimov,”  Nathan Hodge and Julian E. Barnes, Wall Street Journal, 06.16.17: The authors, the Wall Street Journal’s Moscow bureau chief and a reporter for the paper, write that behind the front lines of NATO’s and Russia’s military exercises in Eastern Europe are two highly influential officers: U.S. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov. The two have experienced parallel military careers, from their beginnings as junior armor officers to contending with the rise of disruptive battlefield technologies today. The strategic thinking of the two generals has been shaped by the imbalance between U.S. and Russian military power. McMaster, now national security adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, “has emphasized that America’s true strength lies … in well-equipped land, air and naval forces,” which can be seen in the administration’s 40% increase in U.S. military spending in Europe. Gerasimov, on the other hand, “has always looked for American weaknesses and how Russian prowess can overcome American power.” He has also been a major proponent of the “hybrid warfare” Russia has utilized in Ukraine and Syria, pairing military technological advances with new strategies of disinformation. While the strategic thinking of the two generals may diverge, the quality gap between the U.S. and Russian conventional military has recently closed.

“Cold War Deja Vu Deepens as New Russia Sanctions Anger Europe,” Marc Champion, Bloomberg, 06.18.17: The author, a senior correspondent for the paper, writes that the sense of Cold War déjà vu is more striking than ever, citing Columbia University professor Robert Legvold. From “nuclear saber rattling” to debates “over whether missile defense systems count as offense or defense,” the trend continues to grow. This makes strategic cooperation between Russia and the U.S on necessary matters even more difficult to achieve. In an increasingly complex and unstable world featuring nine nuclear powers, that strategic cooperation is more necessary than ever. While Legvold advises Congress to “stop digging” the already deep hole Russia and the U.S. find themselves in, “speeches on the Senate floor invoked Cold War images of a free world and its values again under threat from a ‘hostile’ power in Moscow.”

NATO-Russia relations:

  • No significant commentary.

Missile defense:

  • No significant commentary.

Nuclear arms control:

“Taking the Edge off U.S.-Russia Strategic Relations,” Steven Pifer, Russia Matters, 06.16.17: The author, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes that the U.S. and Russia should make haste in resuming strategic stability talks. The first items these talks should touch on include mitigating the risk of accident or miscalculation, preservation of the INF Treaty and extension of New START. The talks can also “provide an important forum for dialogue at a time when U.S.-Russia relations have hit a low point.” Since the end of the Cold War, strategic stability has become “a multilateral, multi-domain concept” and should be treated as such. Dangerously close encounters between Russian and U.S./NATO military in the air and at sea have becoming increasingly common since 2013, raising the risk of miscalculation or accident. “The strategic stability talks should address these issues, with a view to establishing a military-to-military dialogue.” The talks should also address the INF Treaty as a matter of urgency. New START should also be discussed and extended. The extension of New START would benefit arms control and “generate momentum in the broader political relationship,” giving both U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin “an early ‘win.’”

Counter-terrorism:

  • No significant commentary.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant commentary.

Cyber security:

  • No significant commentary.

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

“Moscow’s Assaults on American Democracy Began 80 Years Ago,” Ian Johnson, War on the Rocks, 06.14.17: The author, a postdoctoral fellow at the Clements Center for National Security, writes that “fake news” and financial assistance to the opposition are Russian intelligence tactics dating to the 1930s. Soviet efforts to directly influence American elections were only curtailed by the FBI’s expansion and a reorganized House Un-American Activities Committee. A Soviet handler, Peter Gutzeit, suggested to Soviet intelligence, the NKVD, that they should help “during elections with money.” Moscow liked Gutzeit’s idea and suggested that he also purchase a newspaper. The NKVD financed William Dodd, a communist agent, to buy the Blue Ridge Herald and in 1937 also successfully recruited Michael Straight, “son of the founder and editor-in-chief of The New Republic.” By 1941, the NKVD had 22 journalists in the U.S. alone working as agents, writing for Time Magazine, CBS, Reuters and the United Press, among others. However, this was not the most blatant Soviet attempt to interfere in U.S. politics. In 1944, Democrats wanted sitting vice president Henry Wallace removed from the presidential ticket due to a suspected soft spot for communism. In 1945, Wallace set up a secret meeting with the head of the NKGB (later KGB) and suggested that the NKGB should help the small, pro-Soviet faction in the 1948 election. The NKGB declined, but had Wallace succeed, “his intentions might have turned the U.S. government into an extension of Soviet intelligence,” with Russian intelligence assets serving as secretary of state and secretary of treasury. “The consequences on the course of the Cold War would have been stark.”

“Firing Mueller Would be Disastrous,” David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 06.14.17: The author, a foreign-affairs columnist for the paper, writes that firing special counsel Robert Mueller “could veer into a much more dangerous phase of presidential lawlessness.” The author looks at the assessment of a Mueller firing written by Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the George W. Bush administration. Firing Mueller would necessitate “good cause” that would be difficult to come by. While Trump “could argue that Mueller’s appointment was compromised because it was triggered by Comey’s leak of one of his memos about the president,” the FBI’s prepublication review guide does not raise questions regarding Mueller’s actions. Goldsmith notes Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein’s reassurances that he would only fire Mueller per presidential order if it were “lawful and appropriate.” Although Trump could then fire Rosenstein and continue issuing the order until it was obeyed, Goldsmith believes Congress would put a stop to this scenario. The author notes that the will of public officials, not institutional framework, protects against lawlessness in a democracy. If Trump seeks to fire Mueller, “he will be making a bet that the country is too weak and disoriented to stand together behind its constitutional structure of law—which, really, would be the saddest outcome of all.”

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant commentary.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Washington Wants More Sanctions. But They Would Further Strangle a Pro-Democracy Movement on Life Support,” Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 06.12.17: The author, a Bloomberg Views columnist, argues that new U.S. sanctions would hurt not Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “repressive regime,” but rather the Russians protesting that regime. Sanctions directed at the regime, such as high-profile asset freezes, would have hurt Kremlin officials and perhaps even helped the opposition. Instead, sectoral sanctions directed against the country hurt the opposition more than the regime, and “such measures tend to be sticky.” The author argues that there is likely no way to stop the idea of “punishing Russia,” but he urges those calling for punishment  to “keep in mind the images of Navalny being shoved into a police car and the thousands protecting their heads against rubber sticks” in recent protests across Russia.

“Why the Congressional Push to Sanction Russia Worries Me,” Daniel W. Drezner, The Washington Post, 06.14.17: The author, a professor of international politics, writes that imposing but not lifting sanctions reduces incentive for the targets to negotiate with the U.S. While the author sees the need for “a more hawkish” stance on Russia, he notes that “Russia is a great power that cannot be embargoed into irrelevance.” Sanctions will only complicate the flexibility necessary to deal with Russia.

“For Washington, Russia Makes Afghanistan Mess Even Messier,” Jeffrey Mankoff, Russia Matters, 06.14.17: The author, deputy director and senior fellow with the Russia and Eurasia Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes that the situation in Afghanistan is continuing to worsen for the U.S. Although Russia has had a complicated and not all together successful history of involvement in Afghanistan, Moscow is now wading back into the fray. “Russia’s growing involvement is thus both about protecting Moscow’s interests in an increasingly unstable Afghanistan and part of a larger effort to enhance its own role in the Greater Middle East at Washington’s expense.” For Washington, the most worrying aspect of Moscow’s presence in Afghanistan is Russia’s embrace of the Taliban as a partner. While Moscow has never wanted a permanent U.S. military presence so close to its borders, Russia has also worried about the region’s stability if the U.S. were to pull out of Afghanistan before its work is finished. Fears of “spillover” instability have played a political role, but “they are not illusory.” Moscow’s embrace of the Taliban is partly a bet that the Taliban is more interested in Afghanistan’s internal affairs than in “exporting jihad.” Empowering the Taliban would also “insure Russia against a long-term U.S. presence in Afghanistan and give Moscow greater influence over the resulting government in Kabul.” Even though Moscow has reminded Washington of its ability to disrupt and create new challenges, the author notes that “wading in is always easier than climbing out.”

“4 US Ambassadors Offer a Positive Agenda for US-Russian Relations,” John R. Beyrle, James F. Collins, Jack F. Matlock, Jr. and Alexander R. Vershbow, The Kennan Institute, 06.19.17: The authors, former ambassadors to Russia/the Soviet Union, offer possible areas of practical cooperation for the U.S. and Russia. Russian and American scholars and policymakers at a May conference in Moscow “all agreed the stakes are too high to let the relationship deteriorate further.” The U.S. and Russia share a “unique responsibility” to strengthen strategic stability and should use the coming expiration of the New START Treaty and disagreements over the INF Treaty to “return to the strategic arms negotiating table.” To address the Ukraine conflict, the participants advise naming special envoys from Washington and Moscow to help facilitate discussion. These envoys “could work out a road map of steps in the political and military realms” for eventually resolving the conflict in Donbas, while acknowledging that Crimea will remain a contentious issue. Transnational threats, such as the situation in Syria, North Korea, terrorism and drug trafficking also offer areas for cooperation, as do “‘intrinsically cooperative’ areas,” including space exploration and general scientific partnership. Robust channels of communication are also necessary to the relationship. The authors note that “our own Congress should know that Russian parliamentary participants view the resumption of long dormant legislative contacts as an important priority.”

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

“Damage Assessment: EU-Russia Relations in Crisis,” Edited by Łukasz Kulesa, Ivan Timofeev Joseph Dobbs, European Leadership Network, June 2017: The authors of this report, both Russian and European experts, write that the rift between the EU and Russia is not so much a temporary crisis as “an emerging ‘new normal’ between two opponents.” Beginning with the geopolitical dispute of 2013 and 2014, this new normal is nonetheless different from the Cold War’s old normal due to globalization. Despite predictions, sanctions appear to “have had no decisive economic impact on either side.” The EU is still Russia’s primary foreign investor and trade partner. The areas of the relationship that have seen decline will continue to do so, complicating attempts to improve relations between Russia and the West. Both sides “increasingly identify themselves ideologically in opposition to the other,” and negative impressions of the other have surged while trust has dropped. Additionally, Ukraine and others “continue to suffer from the consequences of the crisis.” The authors advise those managing EU-Russia relations to be aware that sustained tensions will become institutionalized. The authors of the report express hope for improved relations, but note the increasing difficulty in conceiving this under present circumstances.

“The Kremlin’s Newest Hybrid Warfare Asset: Gangsters. Russia and Other States Have Taken to Hiring Street Gangs and Thugs to Do the Sort of Dirty Work that Even Spies Don’t Want to Touch,” Mark Galeotti, Foreign Policy, 06.12.17: The author, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Affairs Prague, writes that “Russians are emerging as the most enthusiastic users of gangsters’ services.” Examples include the use of local gangsters fighting in Russia’s seizure of Crimea and the mobilization of Russian criminal hackers. Some of these gangsters work willingly, some believe they are working for a Russian gang rather than the state and others “are made an offer they can’t refuse.” While the direct links between the criminals and Moscow are difficult to pinpoint, “the politically convenient patterns” are sometimes easy to spot. In an age of hybrid warfare, the author asks “what could be more hybrid than the gangsters?”

China:

  • No significant commentary.

Ukraine:

“Ukraine’s Ultra-Right Militias Are Challenging the Government to a Showdown ; It’s Just as Important for Ukrainian Democracy to Cleanse Extremists From Law Enforcement as It Is to Remove Corrupt Officials,” Joshua Cohen, The Washington Post, 06.15.17: The author, a former U.S. Agency for International Development project officer, writes that Ukraine’s right-wing ultranationalist groups pose a threat to Kiev’s sovereignty. Not afraid to use violence to achieve their ends, these groups do not mesh with the “tolerant Western-oriented democracy Kiev ostensibly seeks to become.” Groups like neo-Nazi group C14 have recently stabbed left-wing activist Stas Serhiyenko, beaten a socialist politician, stormed city councils and assaulted or disrupted other events from LGBT events, to court proceedings, to a Victory Day march. Far-right violence is frequent, and the “perpetrators enjoy widespread impunity,” as Kiev fears these groups turning on the government. The author argues that it is not too late for the government to resume control, through measures including a zero-tolerance policy on far-right violence and a break between law enforcement agencies and these groups.

Russia’s other post-Soviet neighbors:

“Moscow’s Man in Moldova,” Andrey Devyatkov, Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.13.17: The author, an expert in foreign policy and security, writes that Moldovan President Igor Dodon has made major gains for Moldova since his recent ascent to the presidency thanks to meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, this is not the typical case of Moscow “supporting yet another post-Soviet leader simply because he seems inclined to enter into an exclusive ‘strategic partnership’ with Moscow.” Rather, the Kremlin has realized that its options in Moldova have become increasingly limited as Moldova has become closer the EU and the U.S., including Western support for the Moldovan economy and integration into the EU’s energy market. Thus, Moscow is willing to offer Dodon “its complete and unequivocal support” as long as he strengthens his own position in Moldovan politics and creates “a new kind of strategic partnership with Russia.”

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