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Russia & CIS

Russia reduces imports of palm oil

Pravda.ru / Russia - Fri, 28/08/2020 - 19:33
In the first half of 2020, Russia has decreased imports of palm oil for the first time in six years. During the first half of 2019, Russia imported 506,000 tons of palm oil, and only 473,000 tons - during the same period of this year. The imports of palm oil in the Russian Federation have thus decreased by seven percent.Russia has ben continuously increasing palm oil imports since the late 1990s. This sector of imports has seen a tenfold increase over this period of time to a record-setting 1.06 million tonnes in late 2019. Palm oil enjoys great demand in the food industry: it is convenient for manufacturers to use it, and the cost of palm oil is lower in comparison with other vegetable and dairy fats.Making one croissant on a traditional recipe requires about 25 grams of butter, which costs about four times as much as its vegetable analogues. When ready, the croissants will look absolutely the same in comparison with those made with the use of vegetable oil substitutes, so it makes no sense for manufacturers to use expensive raw materials.During the last couple of years, Russia has been importing about one million tons of palm oil every year, primarily from Indonesia. Most of this volume - about 90 percent - is used in the food industry  by confectioners, bakers, and dairy products manufacturers.The decline in the imports of palm oil in the first half of 2020 may be due to the strengthening of state control over the quality of dairy products. In 2019, it was forbidden to display food products containing milk fat substitutes on the same shelves with products that do not contain such substitutes. The Russians consume only a small proportion of palm oil with milk substitutes - only 12-13 percent. Most often, palm oil is used in the confectionary industry. The decline in palm oil imports is not associated with the confectionery industry, it comes as a result of the introduction of new rules for the sale of products with milk fat substitutes, experts say. The temporary closure of cafes and restaurants could affect palm oil imports, as cafes and fast food outlets use a palm oil containing mixture for deep-fried cooking. Therefore, the demand in palm oil may go back to its common values already in 2020 due to a temporary decline in the purchasing capacity of Russian consumers amid the pandemic.
Categories: Russia & CIS

Kremlin plays three wise monkeys speaking about Navalny's poisoning

Pravda.ru / Russia - Tue, 25/08/2020 - 20:12
The Kremlin currently sees no reason to initiate a criminal investigation into the alleged poisoning of Aleksei Navalny, and considers accusations against the Russian authorities nothing but "empty noise," said Dmitry Peskov, press secretary of the Russian president. "First, one needs to identify the substance and establish what caused this condition. There must be a reason for the investigation. For the time being, the patient is in a coma," said Peskov, adding that the investigation should be based on the fact of poisoning with a particular substance. Peskov noted that the version of Navalny's poisoning can only be viewed as one of the versions of what happened to the opposition politician. According to Putin's press secretary, there are "many other medical versions", including taking certain medications and body's response to certain conditions."All these versions were reviewed by Omsk doctors and specialists from Moscow in the very first hours after the incident," the Kremlin spokesman said, stressing that Russian doctors did not find signs of the poisoning in Navalny's body.Dmitry Peskov criticized the West for trying to present the version of Navalny's poisoning as the only version of what happened to him, and noted that the medical analytics on the issue among Russian and German doctors is the same, "but the conclusions are different."
Categories: Russia & CIS

For Navalny, the sky is open

Pravda.ru / Russia - Tue, 25/08/2020 - 19:43
The story with the poisoning of Alexei Navalny is a strange bundle of facts that leave a very bad taste in the mouth, politician Nikolai Starikov believes. The German press published a statement from Jaka Bizilj (the founder of the Cinema for Peace Foundation), which he made on Bild Live on Sunday night. Bizilj, who organized Navalny's transportation from Omsk to Berlin for treatment, suggested that Alexei Navalny, the head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, would survive the "possible poisonous attack." "From my point of view, the key question is whether he can maintain health and continue his activities," he said. "If he survives, as we all hope, he will not be able to participate in political struggle for at least a month or two," Bizilj added. The sky is open for Navalny and no one else Nikolai Starikov, political and public activist told Pravda.Ru that there is no reason to say that Navalny was poisoned. Russia doctors did not make such a diagnosis."Therefore, this is wishful thinking at the moment," said Nikolai Starikov.The politician found it difficult to answer the question of how the card with the "poisoning" of Navalny would be played."Now it is not clear what game we are playing here. The very fact that a Russian citizen was taken out of Russia in a matter of hours after the conversation between the President of Finland and the President of Russia, was greeted at the military airport, and then accompanied by external surveillance by the FSB, which, in my opinion, is his security guards rather than persecutors - all this all creates such a strange story that leaves a bad taste in the mouth," Nikolai Starikov noted.According to him, the man was flown out of Russia without any problems when there is no air communication between Russia and Germany due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Categories: Russia & CIS

Can Russia experience another default like it did in 1998?

Pravda.ru / Russia - Tue, 18/08/2020 - 02:32
One of the most severe economic crises broke out in Russia 22 years ago. Since then, a "tradition" has developed in the country - in order to mark another anniversary of the 1998 default, specialists try to analyse whether it is possible or impossible for another major financial crisis to break out in Russia. Let us recall that three days before the announcement of the default, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin "firmly and clearly" stated that there would be no devaluation of the Russian ruble. On August 17, the government and the Central Bank announced a technical default on the main types of government securities and sent the ruble exchange rate plummeting. The events of August 1998 became an extremely difficult test for both the Russian political system and the national economy, even though it was not the first crisis that Russia had seen in the 1990s. Russian economy in 1998 and 2020 In 2020, both the global and Russian economies have once again com across a crisis that no one really expected at the beginning of the year. More precisely, few people assumed that the coronavirus pandemic could be the cause of such a major global crisis. Of course, this year gives yet another reason to compare the current situation in the Russian economy with the one that took place 22 years ago.Experts from the Higher School of Economics looked into the matter and concluded the following: "A close default is not visible in sight." What about the foreseeable future? The experts stated that both in 1998 and in 2020, the economies of Russia and the world faced a crisis, which, inter alia, was caused with a decline in energy prices. "However, the current economic situation is significantly different from the one that we saw twenty-two years ago. The main difference is about the availability of significant reserves and a low level of the public debt," the study says.
Categories: Russia & CIS

Kursk submarine disaster: 20 years of lies in the name of death

Pravda.ru / Russia - Wed, 12/08/2020 - 19:20
Russian nuclear submarine K-141 Kursk sank 20 years ago, on August 12, 2000, during exercises in the Barents Sea. All 118 people on board were killed. On August 12, 2000, the submarine carried out the conditional missile attack on the ships of the alleged enemy, and the connection with the nuclear cruiser was lost for good. The Kursk was found two days later resting at a depth of 108 meters, 80 miles from the main base of the Northern Fleet of Russia in Severomorsk. Several attempts were made to evacuate the Kursk crew members, but they all failed. On the night of August 19, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to return to Moscow from his vacation in Sochi, and announced that there was almost no hope left to save anyone on board. In 16 days, divers could recover 12 bodies. After the wreckage of the nuclear submarine was raised to the surface, the bodies of other 103 submariners were removed from the hull. Two submariners - Dmitry Kotkov and Ivan Nefedkov, as well as chief specialist of Dagdiesel, Mamed Hajiyev, remained at sea forever.According to the conclusions of the government commission, the Kursk submarine disaster occurred due to the explosion of a torpedo in the bow compartment of the submarine. According to the official version, the tragedy occurred as a result of the torpedo explosion in N4 torpedo tube, which triggered the explosion of other torpedoes in the first compartment of the sub. According to the investigation, the first explosion occurred as a result of the leakage of hydrogen mixture from microcracks on the torpedo body. The cracks appeared as a result of "abnormal processes." The escaped mixture, having exploded, destroyed torpedo tube N4 and the nearby N2. A second explosion, with a terrifying capacity of 5,000 tons of TNT, took place two minutes later and completely destroyed the bow section of the Kursk. The explosions did not kill all the submariners at once. Some of them died a few seconds after the explosion, but the death of at least 23 other people in the 9th compartment of the nuclear submarine occurred many hours later. The disaster took place in shallow waters, in a clearly marked area of ​​the Barents Sea with the presence of a large number of Russian ships. The submariners were sending out SOS signals - they were convinced that they would soon be heard rescued. President Putin is still criticized for refusing to interrupt his vacation immediately after the accident. His flat response to a question from Larry King, who asked Putin about what happened to the submarine still annoys many. "It sank," Putin answered King bluntly. On August 12, 2020, people came to the Serafimovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg, where 32 Kursk submariners are buried, to pay tribute to the victims of the terrible disaster. A mourning service was held, people laid flowers to the graves. Churches in many cities of Russia held services in memory of the killed submariners. However, 20 years later, the cause of death of 118 submariners remains a mystery.The command of the Russian fleet officially announced an emergency and raised the alert only 12 hours after the explosions.The news was unveiled to the general public only two days later. The Russian leadership refused to accept offers of assistance from other countries for four days. At first it was said that radio communication with the crew was maintained, then it was officially confirmed that communication with the crew was carried out through the knocks.The Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Vladimir Kuroyedov, refused to accept foreign aid and communicated a fake version about the collision of the Kursk with a foreign submarine. On the evening of August 14, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who was in charge of the investigation into the causes of the accident, said that Russia did not need help from other countries.In fact, however, the Russian navy was unable to save the dying men. The team of Norwegian divers, who were called for help when it was too late, and who arrived at the scene on August 20, managed to open the hatch in the 9th compartment of the sunken cruiser a day later. It was already filled with water.On August 23, President Putin addressed the nation. He said that communication with the sub had been lost at 23:30 on August 12, while rescue works began four hours after the tragedy. Communication with the Kursk was lost at 11:28 a.m. on August 12, and rescue operations began 29 and a half hours later. The first attempt to dock with the 9th compartment hatch coaming platform was made only 43 and a half hours after the explosions.Putin claimed that the fleet had all the necessary life-saving means that were fully operational. That was a lie too. The Northern Fleet had only one obsolete rescue vessel "Mikhail Rudnitsky" and three rescue vehicles, all of which had broken down repeatedly during the rescue operations. None of the submersible vehicles could dock with the hatch of the 9th compartment.Putin stated that foreign aid was accepted as soon as it was offered. However, the decision to attract foreign rescuers was made by the President of Russia, only when it became clear to him that the situation was critical, and the rescue operation was absolutely disastrous.The Russian authorities had been unwilling to recognise the relatives of the perished submariners as victims. They were recognized as such only when they turned to Putin personally. The Kursk case had been classified immediately, and the relatives were never able to get acquainted with the materials of the case. The lawyer of the victims, Boris Kuznetsov, managed to declassify the case only through the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. In 2002 he appealed against the decision  not to open a criminal case. However, all Russian courts refused to relatives of the deceased submariners. The lawyer then appealed to the Strasbourg court on behalf of the father of the deceased Lieutenant-Commander Dmitry Kolesnikov.In 2010 the ECHR communicated the Kolesnikov vs. Russia complaint and tried to contact the applicant's lawyer. However, a far-fetched criminal case had been filed against lawyer Kuznetsov by that time for disclosing state secret. The lawyer was forced to leave Russia and seek political asylum in the United States. The ECHR approached the applicant himself - Roman Kolesnikov, a retired captain of the 1st rank (late Kursk submariner Dmitry Kolesnikov continued the family dynasty).However, the father of the deceased submariner withdrew his complaint about the Kursk case. "Nobody is fighting these lies, corruption, theft, although the president and the prime minister make very nice statements. Can I stand up and fight? They will point fingers at me and call me Don Quixote. Of course, everyone understands that it was a lie, that they did not take efforts to rescue the men, that everything in the Navy had long been sold and squandered."The materials of the investigation into the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine continue to remain classified. In accordance with Russian law, 30 years after the disaster, a commission may be established to decide on the possibility to lift the label of secrecy from the Kursk files.
Categories: Russia & CIS

Russia's top military administration shows all the aces of possible nuclear strike

Pravda.ru / Russia - Fri, 07/08/2020 - 18:56
The Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper published an article under the headline "On the Foundations of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence." The material, which was prepared by the General Staff of the Armed Forces, speaks about the conditions, under which Russia can use nuclear weapons against another state. The General Staff noted that the document appeared at a time when Russia was trying to deter the arms race unleashed by the United States. It is this fact that prompted Russia to take an unprecedented step to publish its vision of its role in the security system. USA's aggressive behavior Based on the document, the United States has launched another arms race as a result of several sequential steps made by its administration: pull-out from the ABM Treaty in 2002; pull-out from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles in 2019; pull-out from the Open Skies Treaty in 2020. According to top Russian military officials, the purpose of such actions taken by the US administration is to deploy missile systems near Russian borders and exclude arms control on its own territory.In addition, the United States intends to pull out from the START III Treaty. The USA may thus cast serious doubts on two other fundamental documents that contain a nuclear catastrophe in the world:
Categories: Russia & CIS

The arrest of Ivan Safronov

Russian Military Reform - Wed, 15/07/2020 - 19:03

I was recently a guest on Kevin Rothrock’s Naked Pravda podcast on Meduza.io, talking about the role of military journalism in Russia and the potential impact of the arrest and prosecution of Ivan Safronov. Here’s the description of the show from the Meduza.io website, where you can also hear the full interview.

On the morning of July 7, federal agents arrested Ivan Safronov, a longtime journalist who recently took a job as a communications adviser to Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin. Safronov is being charged with treason and faces up to 20 years in prison. 

His lawyers have been granted limited access to the case file compiled by the Federal Security Service, which indicates that Safronov is suspected of selling secret information to Czech intelligence agents about Russian military cooperation with an unnamed African Middle Eastern country. The Czechs supposedly recruited him in 2012 and he allegedly sent them the data over the Internet five years later in 2017.

Outside the FSB’s headquarters in Lubyanka Square, during Safronov’s arraignment hearing on July 7, dozens of journalists picketed, each taking turns holding up signs in his defense, and police officers arrested them, one by one, for an unlawful assembly. 

Putin addresses nation, promises unprecedented social support

Pravda.ru / Russia - Tue, 23/06/2020 - 21:14
On Tuesday, June 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed to the nation to speak about Russia's efforts in the fight against coronavirus, the state of affairs in the Russian economy and prospects for the future. "These, of course, are difficult days, weeks, months - we all had a different sense of time. They brought too many changes in our lives: restrictions in our work and communication, anxieties and fears, and even the grief of loss. Thoughts on what will happen tomorrow, how to protect loved ones from misfortunes, how to support family and parents," the president said in the beginning of his speech, which was most likely pre-recorded and aired two hours later than was originally announced. "It is important that in our country there was no confusion, but on the contrary, many were united in their understanding of the crisis, the real threat," the president noted. Putin thanked the people of Russia "for mutual support and dignity," which Russia showed during the most dangerous stage of the epidemic - self-isolation. According to him, protective measures taken in Russia made it possible to delay the epidemic, its peak, for 1.5-2 months. It saved tens of thousands of lives.
Categories: Russia & CIS

Europe does not like amendments to the Russian Constitution

Pravda.ru / Russia - Mon, 22/06/2020 - 11:24
As one would expect, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (or the Venice Commission) criticized the amendments to the Russian Constitution. What should be expected after the critical review? What commission experts did not like According to experts of the Venice Commission, the amendments make the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation more vulnerable to political pressure, because the powers of judges can be terminated on the proposal of the president. In addition, the amendments provide for a possibility not to enforce decisions of international courts, including decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights. It goes about a change to article 79 of the Constitution. The Venice Commission called to either remove the amendments or change their wording. What they say in Russia Senator Andrei Klishas, ​​co-chair of the constitutional amendments working group, commented on the conclusions from the Venice Commission.
Categories: Russia & CIS

Putin’s article on WWII leaves Russian historians disappointed

Pravda.ru / Russia - Fri, 19/06/2020 - 19:49
Russian President Vladimir Putin penned an article about the reasons for the outbreak of World War II. Putin's article was published in the Rossiiskaya Gazeta (The Russian Newspaper) and in the US-based magazine The National Interest. The article is quite lengthy and it would be is incorrect to say that the Russian leader focuses on only one thesis. Here are some of them: The Soviet Union contributed most to the destruction of Nazism; It is unfair to claim that it was the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that triggered World War II. All leading countries are responsible for its outbreak to a certain extent; Russia calls on all countries to expedite the declassification of prewar and military archives; Some European politicians, Polish in particular, are trying to sweep the Munich Agreement under the carpet, which led to the division of Poland; Irresponsible calls to deprive permanent members of the Security Council of the veto right. Pravda.Ru asked historians to give their opinion about Putin's article.
Categories: Russia & CIS

Can the West crush Russian national unity?

Pravda.ru / Russia - Mon, 15/06/2020 - 22:27
Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, gave an interview to a well-known Russian publication, in which he spoke about new insidious plans of international political elites about Russia. The official said that this time, the West intends to crack down on Russia for the imminent vote on amendments to the Constitution of Russia. The sealed carriage of the revolution According to Nikolai Patrushev, the standard "claims" were used as a reason for launching the mechanism to remove the sitting Russian administration from power: dispersal of a peaceful demonstration; death of a protest participant; possible election fraud. The head of the Security Council anxiously announced the financing of the so-called non-systemic opposition by Western countries and shared the plans of his ill-wishers: "Activities aimed at destabilizing the socio-political situation in our country are being constantly intensified. To this end, an extensive network of foreign non-profit NGOs and domestic public structures dependent on them is being created on the Russian territory to implement so-called democratic programs and projects that meet the interests of Western states." According to Nikolai Patrushev, on the eve of the vote on amendments to the Constitution of Russia, Western curators of the Russian non-systemic opposition will mobilize their opportunities to:
Categories: Russia & CIS

Former governor sues Putin for dismissing him due to loss of trust

Pravda.ru / Russia - Thu, 28/05/2020 - 20:34
The former head of Chuvashia, Mikhail Ignatiev, filed a lawsuit at the Supreme Court of Russia, in which he disputed the decree, which Vladimir Putin had signed to dismiss Ignatiev from his post. The news became a bombshell, because Ignatiev became the first ex-governor, who disputed Putin's decree on his dismissal by filing a lawsuit at the Supreme Court. There was a time, when governors sued president, but that was a very long time ago. Putin's decree on Ignatiev's resignation due to the loss of trust was made public on January 29, 2020. It is not very often, when Putin uses the 'loss of trust' formulation in his decrees that dismiss regional heads from power.
Categories: Russia & CIS

Russia and Collective Security: Why CSTO Is No Match for Warsaw Pact

Russian Military Reform - Wed, 27/05/2020 - 23:49

I wrote a piece on the CSTO and the Warsaw Pact for Russia Matters. Here’s a preview. You can read the whole article here.

This month 65 years ago, the Soviet Union announced the formation of the Warsaw Pact. For the next three and a half decades, the pact remained the security alliance of the Communist world, designed to counter NATO in Europe, before becoming defunct in 1991. Almost immediately, however, post-Soviet Russia laid out a new collective defense organization. Officially known as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), that post-Soviet pact has proved to be no match for the Warsaw Pact. Neither CSTO nor the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the other collective security pact of which Russia is a member, pose a real threat to the U.S. and its allies above and beyond the threat posed by their individual member states.

The Warsaw Pact was formally founded on May 14, 1955, as Moscow’s answer to the integration of West Germany into NATO. Its members included the Soviet Union and its East European satellite states: Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania. Albania was initially a member, but withdrew in the 1960s after siding with China during the Sino-Soviet split. The pact obligated member states to mutual defense, allowed for member states to station troops on each other’s territory and set up a unified military command under Soviet control. During the 35 years of its existence, the pact only undertook one operation as an organization—the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, though Hungary’s withdrawal from the pact in 1956 was one of the proximate causes of the Soviet invasion of that country. Both of these actions were practical applications of the Brezhnev Doctrine, which justified intervention in any socialist state if socialist rule was considered to be under external or internal threat. The pact’s dissolution in July 1991 was a key signal that the Soviet Union’s hold on Eastern Europe had been broken and that the Cold War was truly over.

After the subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union, leaders of several of the newly independent states signed a new collective security treaty. Although the treaty was signed in 1992, no practical actions were taken until the early 2000s, when six states formed a new organization on its basis, imaginatively called the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Through this new organization, the member states sought to enhance the existing treaty’s mutual security commitments to develop a standing organization that enhanced security cooperation through regular exercises, while aspiring to further integration including an eventual joint command structure. However, the organization was largely moribund for several years after its founding. Although it became more active in the last decade, organizing regular and increasingly frequent military exercises since 2012, it still does little more than provide a venue for cooperation among the military forces of its member states.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Russian economy being prepared for second wave of pandemic

Pravda.ru / Russia - Wed, 20/05/2020 - 18:56
The second wave of the pandemic may arrive sooner than we expect, and the world will have to deal with it. Russia needs to change her approach to planning and business processes, experts say. The leaders of the Federal Reserve System, the International Monetary Fund and the World Economic Forum announced that it would take economy several years to recover from the current crisis completely. Analysts believe that the current crisis in the Russian Federation is similar to the pre-war situation. The main problem is seen in the new growth of the number of infections in China. As many as 40 cases of the coronavirus infection have been recently found in the city of Shulan in Jilin province, which borders on the Russian Federation. The Chinese authorities decided to close the city, similarly to the practice they used in relation to Wuhan. Experts believe that in the United States, the coronavirus is going to come back again along with seasonal flu. Elena Malinnikova, the chief freelance specialists for infectious disease at the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, believes that the pandemic of the new coronavirus infection in Russia will end by July. However, many financiers surveyed by Deutsche Bank, (55%), believe that coronavirus-caused problems are going to return.
Categories: Russia & CIS

Russian doctors fight for COVID-19 compensations

Pravda.ru / Russia - Tue, 19/05/2020 - 21:28
The first criminal case in Russia regarding the non-payment of compensations to medical personnel working with coronavirus patients was initiated in the Krasnodar region, the press service of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation said. The case was filed in the town of Armavir under Part 1 of Art. 293 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (negligence) following a pre-investigation into the non-payment of incentive payments to doctors for their work and working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. On May 16, a video message of ER doctors of Armavir was posted on the Internet. In their message, the doctors said that they did not receive any financial assistance for their work in the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was said that the violation of the rights of doctors to receive incentive payments "became possible due to acts of negligence committed by the administration of the medical institution."
Categories: Russia & CIS

Gazprom flings the gauntlet to USA

Pravda.ru / Russia - Fri, 15/05/2020 - 18:23
Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly, with the help of the Akademik Chersky pipe-laying vessel, is going to build the remaining 160 km of Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline. This is a challenge for the United States. The Akademik Chersky pipe-layer is currently anchored in the German port of Mukran, where it is being loaded with pipes for Nord Stream-2, Bloomberg reports.  The agency substantiates its point with satellite images of the ship off the port of Mukran. The photos, published by Planet Labs Inc., show that sections of the gas pipeline, which were in storage near the harbor, have been moved to the pier for loading. Thus, the agency concludes, Gazprom is moving the construction of the Trans-Baltic gas pipeline to the final stage.
Categories: Russia & CIS

An Emerging Strategic Partnership: Trends in Russia-China Military Cooperation

Russian Military Reform - Wed, 29/04/2020 - 15:15

One more policy brief from the series on Russian strategic culture and leadership decision-making, written for a collaborative project organized by the Marshall Center with support from the Russia Strategy Initiative. This one is on Russia-China military cooperation.  Several sections of this brief are based on previous work on Russia-China cooperation that was co-authored with Michael Kofman, Paul Schwartz, and Katherine Baughman.

As with the previous ones, I am posting the full text here with permission from the Marshall Center. Please go to the newly updated Marshall Center website if you would prefer to read a PDF version.

Executive Summary
  • Since 2014, Russia and China have developed a strategic partnership, primarily due to enhanced military cooperation, including sales of advanced military equipment and an increasingly robust program of bilateral and multi-lateral military exercises. Economic and diplomatic cooperation have also increased, though to a much lesser extent.
  • Bilateral cooperation is unlikely to advance to the level of a full alliance because of differences in geopolitical interests and asymmetries of power, with Russia remaining reluctant to fully acknowledge China’s geopolitical rise.
  • Actions by the United States to pressure both Russia and China have the effect of pushing the two countries closer together. To prevent a closer partnership, the United States should focus on creating areas of policy divergence between the two states.
Introduction

There is widespread consensus among scholars that, although Russia and China have been moving toward closer cooperation through the entire post-Soviet era, the trend has accelerated rapidly since 2014.1 The relationship was boosted by Russian leaders’ belief that Russia could survive its sudden confrontation with the West only by finding an alternative external partner. China was the obvious candidate because it had a suitably large economy, was not openly hostile to Russia, and was not planning to impose sanctions in response to the Ukraine crisis.

Since 2014, the bilateral relationship has been focused on increased military cooperation, closer economic ties, and an increase in coordination on responses to various issues in international politics. Although some advances have occurred in all three areas, military cooperation has advanced the most. As discussed in more detail later in this paper, Russia and China have institutionalized a comprehensive mechanism for military consultation, expanded military technical cooperation initiatives and military personnel exchanges, and expanded regular joint military exercises. In the diplomatic sphere, Russia and China have supported each other in various international organizations and worked to establish new international institutions that could act as alternatives to existing Western-dominated institutions.2

Although economic cooperation is the weakest aspect of the Russia-China alignment, it has progressed a great deal, particularly in the energy field. “China is eager to increase energy relations with Russian companies,… [while] Russian concern over its increased dependence on China in the East is deemed secondary to expanding Russia’s customer base beyond the still dominant European market.”3 At the same time, there have been limits to this cooperation, particularly in the economic and financial sectors outside of the energy sphere. China refused to help Russia overcome the effects of Western economic sanctions and bilateral trade and trade in national currencies has remained limited, with little diversification of trade and investments. On the political side, neither country has shown itself to be prepared to support the other’s geopolitical interests if doing so would hurt its own interests.4

This policy brief focuses primarily on strategic and military cooperation, where the two sides have made the greatest progress. After briefly discussing the prospects for a strategic partnership between Russia and China, I examine the progress in and remaining constraints on expanding bilateral military cooperation, outline three scenarios for future cooperation in this sphere, and conclude with a discussion of how the United States should respond.

Strategic Partnership?

As bilateral cooperation has progressed, analysts have increasingly examined whether the Russia-China relationship has reached a level of strategic partnership. The growing consensus is that it has.5 According to Alexander Korolev, the partnership is neither ad hoc nor temporary and provides clear benefits for both sides: “Through this partnership, Russia can gain access to more instruments for promoting its agenda of balancing the United States and enhancing its version of multi-polarity in Europe. China, in turn, receives Russia’s political backing and access to Russia’s energy resources and military technologies, which are essential assets for China in its growing tensions with the U.S. in Asia.”6  Some Russian scholars are even more optimistic about the trajectory of the relationship, suggesting that, over time, the two states might even develop an alliance.7

At the same time, there is a similar consensus forming that the current upward trend in Russia-China strategic cooperation should not be viewed as irreversible. In particular, scholars note that, should Russia’s challenge to the United States start to destabilize the international system, it may also jeopardize China’s peaceful rise. This would lead to a divergence in the countries’ interests and potentially cause a rift between the two powers to emerge.8 Some scholars argue that the geopolitical and economic factors that have hindered Russia’s past Asian pivots could have a similar effect again, although this is distinctly a minority position. One possibility proposed by analysts who hold this view is that a future leadership transition in Russia might result in a policy shift back toward a preference for closer relations with Europe, undermining the long-term prospects of Russia’s partnership with China.9

Central Asia represents one potential area of tension between Russia and China, because the two states have formulated competing regional influence projects for the region. As a result, some analysts believe that the two countries may be heading toward a strategic rivalry caused by China’s increasing desire to play a role in Central Asian security and by competition over energy export routes and trade connectivity in general.10 A more likely scenario, however, is that the two countries will maintain a division of responsibilities that allows them to continue to cooperate in the region, with Russia taking primary responsibility for security issues while China focuses on economic development.11

The global coronavirus pandemic initially introduced another source of tension into the Russia-China relationship, especially since Russia moved quickly in late January to close its borders with China. This move was seen by some observers as an indicator of a lack of trust in Chinese information, since China at the time was still making an effort to minimize the scope and threat of the epidemic. At the same time, the almost immediate decision to reopen the border to commercial traffic highlighted Russia’s dependence on Chinese goods.12 As it turned out, even this partial closure proved to be economically damaging, especially in the Russian Far East.13 However, any residual tension was overcome once China largely ended community spread of the virus. Once the threat of spread was over, the two countries developed complementary information campaigns designed to highlight their mutual assistance in the crisis and the superiority of authoritarian systems over democratic ones in marshalling resources to fight the pandemic.14

Future of Bilateral Military Cooperation

Russian senior officials have highlighted the special nature of Russia’s defense relationship with China by characterizing the ties in terms of a strategic partnership. As the two countries have expanded the number of military exercises and consultations while deepening military technical cooperation, analysts have suggested a growing alignment between the two countries at a political level that allows for stronger defense ties. This does not mean that Russia and China are about to enter a military alliance. As cogently argued by Michael Kofman, Russian and Chinese leaders have labeled the relationship a strategic alliance because a military alliance is not needed, given that the two countries do not need each other for security guarantees or extended nuclear deterrence. That said, they have sought to make their ties more formal, as shown by the 2017 agreement on a three-year road map to establish a legal framework to govern military cooperation. This framework is expected to be completed and signed later in 2020, further codifying various aspects of defense ties, including the option of conducting joint long-range aviation patrols.15

Military Technical Cooperation

Although China was Russia’s leading client for military hardware in the 1990s and early 2000s, the arms sales relationship sharply declined after 2006 because of a combination of Chinese unhappiness with Russian pricing policies and the poor maintenance record of Russian equipment, as well as Russian concerns about China’s tendency to reverse-engineer Russian equipment for both its own use and export abroad. Russian arms sales to China saw a modest revival post-2011 but expanded most substantially after the Ukraine crisis, with agreements for the sale of S-400 air defense systems and Su-35 combat aircraft signaling the end of Russia’s informal ban on sales of advanced weapon systems to China.16 In October 2019, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was helping China develop its own ballistic missile early warning system. Russia’s new willingness to share information related to strategic nuclear weapons highlights the extent to which old sensitivities about sharing advanced military technology with China has dissipated in recent years.17 Russia has also turned to China for electronic components and naval diesel engines that it could no longer obtain from the West. Most significantly, military cooperation and defense ties improved as defense sales declined, making clear that such ties are driven at the senior political level and not tied to arms sales.

However, Russia faces a difficult choice this decade in either providing advanced technology to China, knowing that the technology will most likely be copied, or forgoing arms sales but with the expectation that China’s defense sector will develop comparable systems in the near future. The previous Russian arms export strategy of selling the “second-best” technology available while staying a generation ahead is no longer viable. China’s defense industry has sufficiently caught up with or worked around Russia via defense-cooperation deals with other countries that it is now only interested in the most-advanced Russian weapons available. China’s advances in weapon design and general goal of self-sufficiency in military production suggest that Russian arms sales will never reach the peak achieved in the early 2000s and that China will emerge as a stronger arms market competitor to Russia over time.

Military Exercises

Military exercises are a central pillar of bilateral military relations. Moscow and Beijing have recently been rapidly expanding the scale and pace of their joint exercise activity far beyond the two traditional programs, the Peace Mission ground forces exercises in Central Asia and the Joint Sea naval exercises. Both of the long-standing exercise programs have had an anti-U.S. character, with gradually increasing levels of complexity and joint activity. However, the exercises have been criticized for being overly scripted and poorly coordinated, as well as for continuing to lack a joint command structure.18 These criticisms are not necessarily warranted, as the purposes of the exercises are primarily to build military ties at the senior level and to signal political intentions rather than to establish interoperability. There has been no evidence that Russia and China intend to operate in a joint command structure; such a structure would not make sense for two countries that have not entered a formal military alliance.

The naval exercises between Russia and China have been more effective in terms of providing realistic operational experience, although they have not focused particularly on interoperability between the two navies. Naval exercises are not only becoming more frequent but also are being held in new geographical areas. Before the Ukraine crisis, Russia refused to hold bilateral exercises in such controversial territories as southern China near Taiwan. Since 2015, however, naval exercises have been held in areas such as the Baltic and South China Seas as a way of signaling the two countries’ growing power, expanding military ties, and mutual displeasure with the United States.19 Recent trilateral exercises with Iran represent another example of this steady expansion in the use of exercises for political signaling, now including third nations.20 Given China’s desire to be more visible in the European maritime theater, one can expect an increase in exercises that serve the Chinese desire to show its flag in distant waters.

Since 2015, the two countries have expanded their repertoire of exercises, including adding joint missile defense exercises in response to the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea. Most observers are aware of growing Chinese participation in Russian strategic exercises, including Vostok-2018 and Tsentr-2019. A joint Russian-Chinese bomber patrol in July 2019 demonstrated that Moscow is increasingly willing to disregard the interests of other states in the Asia-Pacific region in its pursuit of a closer military relationship with China.21

These exercises are primarily focused on setting a positive tone for military-to-military ties at the highest levels, rather than increasing interoperability at the tactical level. The exercises suggest that Russian-Chinese military cooperation in the air domain, which lags naval exercises, will increase. Stronger participation of Chinese air assets in Tsentr-2019 further substantiates this observed trend.22 Space is the next likely frontier for expanding cooperation, although it may be limited given sensitivities about the technologies involved in this domain.

Limitations on Bilateral Military Cooperation

Despite steady progress over the past decade, there remain significant geopolitical and technical constraints on military cooperation between Russia and China. Although senior Chinese and Russian officials repeatedly and publicly affirm that their relationship is characterized by great trust, in reality, a lack of mutual trust remains an obstacle to more robust cooperation. Although Russia and China formally settled the last of their border disputes in 2008, there are still regions where the two sides’ geopolitical interests may not align in the long term. Russia remains concerned over potential Chinese encroachment into the Russian Far East. Russia’s concerns are fueled by a combination of past Chinese claims to territory Russia annexed in the 1800s and the contrast between the sparsely populated Russian Far East and the densely populated Chinese border regions, which have generated ongoing Chinese immigration. A military incursion is seen as unlikely by Moscow relative to the more insidious problem of what Russian leaders fear could prove to be (1) a creeping annexation, in which China projects influence into parts of the Russian Far East on a de facto basis through a large influx of illegal Chinese immigrants, and (2) a steady reorientation of the Russian Far East toward more economically attractive Chinese markets and away from the distant center of power in Moscow.

As the relative balance of influence in Central Asia continues to shift more in favor of China, the potential for the two sides to clash over interests in the region remains significant. Beijing has steadily supplanted Russia as the principal economic power in Central Asia in terms of investment and lending. Still, countries in the region continue to look primarily to Russia to defend their security interests; additionally, Russia remains the principal labor market for this region.

Thus far, this de facto division of labor has enabled Russia and China to maintain a reasonably stable working relationship in Central Asia, such that they do not step on each other’s vital national interests or security concerns. However, as China’s Belt and Road Initiative develops, its economic footprint in Central Asia is likely to grow larger, which could lead to tensions between Beijing and Moscow.

Russia has sought to play a key role in the development of the Arctic region; in particular, it plans to capitalize on new energy sources, as well as the opening of the Northern Sea Route. While Moscow has been willing to work with other members of the Arctic Council, Russia has been reluctant to allow non-Arctic powers, such as China, to play a major role in the region. By contrast, a resource-hungry China has plans to extend its presence to the Arctic and is building its first domestically-produced icebreaker. Although none of these geopolitical concerns are currently likely to cause tensions that could limit military cooperation between Russia and China, they could be factors in the long term.

The asymmetry in economic power between the two countries, including their potential regional influence and global heft, has grown more visible. Furthermore, Russian strategic culture, long having seen itself as superior to China, is visibly struggling with the new realities of this power balance. As a result, Russian political elites have yet to come to terms with China’s rise. Finally, both countries are deeply nationalistic and prestige-seeking, which means neither would be particularly willing to subordinate its military to the leadership of the other. Russian leaders’ desire to maintain an independent foreign policy means that they will not accept Chinese leadership or impose limitations on their relationships with other countries for the sake of Chinese foreign policy. Although the two countries seek to manage conflict over core interests, most international competition is seen as fair game, whether it is arms sales or foreign direct investment.

Russia and China have placed a low priority on achieving greater interoperability during joint military exercises, reflecting an enduring lack of interest on the part of both sides in developing the kind of integrated military capability needed to conduct effective joint military operations.23 At the tactical level, issues such as language and communication highlight that these are decidedly different military structures, with different planning processes and organizational cultures. This limits what the Chinese are able to learn from their counterparts.

China is seen as a predatory power by many Russian experts, so there is a natural degree of apprehension among the Russian military. General Staffs plan contingencies around capabilities, because intent can change. This is especially so when dealing with another great power that is self-admittedly revisionist in its ambitions. Despite the positive outlook of Russia’s national leadership on the benefits of a growing Sino-Russian alignment, the military establishment will always see the Chinese military as a potential adversary and plan accordingly.

Scenarios for Future Russia-China Military Cooperation

The impact of various scenarios for the development of Russia-China military cooperation on U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region is inversely correlated with their likelihood. That is, the most likely scenarios are relatively low impact, while the highest-impact scenarios are very unlikely to develop. In this section, I outline three scenarios for future military cooperation between Russia and China.

Low Impact, High Probability

In a low-impact, high-probability scenario, Russia and China expand their military cooperation by holding additional joint naval exercises with countries that are seen as adversarial to the United States and expanding the visibility of their maritime presence both in the Pacific and the Mediterranean regions. As noted earlier, previous joint naval exercises have been conducted in the South China Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Baltic Sea, and future theaters could include other areas within the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Expanded exercises in these regions would serve the two countries’ respective purposes, as Russia seeks greater visibility in the Asia-Pacific and China seeks greater visibility in the European maritime theater.

Both countries seek to reciprocate U.S. freedom-of-navigation operations to the extent possible by visiting the Western Hemisphere. Russia and China could agree to hold a naval exercise in the Caribbean Sea, hosted by Venezuela or Cuba. Such an exercise would have little long-term impact on either Russia’s or China’s geopolitical influence in Latin America and it would not do much to improve their military capabilities or naval interoperability. It would, however, generate a great deal of media attention, highlighting the countries’ ostensible global reach and potential strategic partnership. In other words, both countries could feel that they had scored a propaganda win at relatively low cost, but the actual impact on regional security would be negligible.

Medium Impact, Medium Probability

A medium-impact, medium-probability scenario might focus on additional sales of Russian advanced military equipment. The most interesting systems for China would include diesel-electric submarines, over-the-horizon radar systems, early warning systems, space-related technology for satellites, microchips, and next-generation aircraft engines. In return, Russia might accelerate the purchase of Chinese defense-industrial components, such as heavy-lift cranes, machine tools, and circuitry board components and parts. Although Russia would benefit substantially from procuring Chinese surface combatant vessels, given the shortcomings in those parts of the Russian defense-industrial complex, the financial interests of Russia’s domestic defense industry would likely prevent such deals from being made.

The two countries could also build on Russia’s recent sale to China of S-400 long-range air defense systems to agree to the sale of Russian S-500 air defense systems once those come online. S-500 systems would have a longer range than existing systems owned by China and may have the capability of defending against a wider range of missile types. These capabilities would lead to a significant improvement in Chinese air defense capabilities versus the United States and its allies. China would seek to acquire the 40N6 extended-range (400-km) missile, which has reached initial operating capability with the S-400, either as part of an S-500 deal or on its own for China’s existing S-400 systems.

High Impact, Low Probability

A number of highly unlikely but potentially very damaging scenarios present themselves. One such area would involve greater Russian-Chinese defense industrial cooperation on sensitive technology, such as theater hypersonic weapons or submarine quieting. Although military establishments on both sides would almost certainly resist allowing the other side access to such technology, if such cooperation did develop, it would substantially affect the ability of the United States to maintain a favorable regional military balance and retain a technological edge in certain domains over China. One possibility for enhanced defense cooperation that has been discussed in recent years, though with little progress to date, is a potential technology transfer deal in which Moscow would provide Beijing with the RD-180 rocket engine in exchange for space-grade microelectronic components.24 Past discussion centered on trading finished equipment, but a  closer relationship between Russia and China may result in consideration of exchanging production technology in the future. Such a deal would increase China’s lift capacity and Russia’s ability to produce advanced guidance and control systems.

Another scenario in this category is a joint military intervention, most likely in a Central Asian country in the event of a political crisis or instability, because Russia and China have previously conducted exercises to deconflict areas of responsibility in this type of scenario. However, one should not exclude the possibility of a joint Russian-Chinese intervention in Africa or the Middle East. While the countries lack core interests in these regions, the cost and risk of intervention is also dramatically lower and the barrier for entry in such operations is not especially high. Both countries have the expeditionary capacity to conduct relatively small force deployments around much of the world and might well seek to do so together in response to a contingency where their interests align.

The least likely, but nonetheless possible, scenario is a military crisis with the United States in which one country takes advantage of a situation to press for geopolitical gains. For example, in the event of a standoff between the United States and China, Russia would seek to leverage the distraction of the United States to make opportunistic gains. Russia could deploy forces to Asia or provide military assistance via deniable means to China in order to raise costs to the United States. Because China is quite remote from Europe, the likelihood of Chinese involvement in a crisis between Russia and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Europe is too low to be worth considering.

How Should the United States Respond?

There is a general perception among experts that greater cooperation between Russia and China is inevitable, given the core precepts of present-day U.S. foreign policy. Scholars focused on relative power suggest that the two countries will inevitably balance against the most powerful country in the international system.25 Furthermore, U.S. efforts to pursue a hard line against either Russia or China, and especially against both at the same time, have the effect of driving the two countries closer together. For some scholars, this suggests that accommodating them within the existing international order would be a more effective response.26 Scholars focused on the role played by ideas highlight the perceived threat of liberal ideology and suggest that if the United States reduces its emphasis on democracy promotion and regime change, this would reduce the impetus to Russian-Chinese cooperation.27

In this geopolitical environment, actions by the United States that threaten Russia and China in a similar manner or present a common security challenge will have the effect of driving the two countries closer together. This is especially true if the actions are strategic in nature. Examples of such actions include the deployment of missile defense systems or freedom-of-navigation operations near the shores of either Russia or China. Both of these actions create a perception among Russian and Chinese leaders that they share a common global security challenge from the United States—and one that is serious enough that they would be best served by facing it together.

On the other hand, actions that disaggregate the nature of the threat perceived by Russian and Chinese leaders would help create divergence in their interests and thereby slow the trend toward a closer bilateral relationship. For example, the United States could challenge Russia in ways that are exclusive to the European theater, such as by pulsing additional troops to NATO member states for exercises. Similarly, China could be challenged in the regions of Taiwan and Southeast Asia rather than in East Asia or maritime territories adjacent to Russian territory. Russian relations with such countries as Vietnam and India could be exploited to highlight potential tensions between Russia and China.

Notes

1 Alexander Gabuev, Friends with Benefits? Russian-Chinese Relations After the Ukraine Crisis, Carnegie Moscow Center, June 29 2016, https://carnegie.ru/2016/06/29/friends-with-benefits-russian-chinese-relations-after-ukraine-crisis-pub-63953.

2  Alexander Korolev, “How Closely Aligned Are China and Russia? Measuring Strategic Cooperation in IR,” International Politics, May 2019.

3 Tom Røseth, “Russia’s Energy Relations with China: Passing the Strategic Threshold?” Eurasian Geography and Economics, Vol. 58, No. 1, 2017, pp. 23–55.

4 Mikhail Korostikov, Дружба на расстоянии руки: Как Москва и Пекин определили границы допустимого [“Friendship at Arms’ Length: How Moscow and Beijing Determined the Boundaries of the Permissible”], Kommersant, May 31, 2019, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3984186.

5 Tom Røseth, “Moscow’s Response to a Rising China: Russia’s Partnership Policies in Its Military Relations with Beijing,” Problems of Post-Communism, Vol. 66, No. 4, 2019, pp. 268–286.

6 Korolev, 2019, p. 29.

7 Vassily Kashin, “Is the Conflict Inevitable? Not at All. How Reasonable Are Western Expectations of a Russia-China Confrontation?” Russia in Global Affairs, Vol. 17, No. 3, 2017

8 Andrej Krickovic, “The Symbiotic China-Russia Partnership: Cautious Riser and Desperate Challenger,” Chinese Journal of International Politics, Vol. 10, No. 3, 2017, pp. 299–329.

9 Chris Miller, “Will Russia’s Pivot to Asia Last?” Orbis, Winter 2020. See also Mikhail Karpov, “The Grandeur and Miseries of Russia’s ‘Turn to the East’: Russian-Chinese ‘Strategic Partnership’ in the Wake of the Ukraine Crisis and Western Sanctions,” Russia in Global Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 3, 2018.

10 Carla P. Freeman, “New Strategies for an Old Rivalry? China–Russia Relations in Central Asia After the Energy Boom,” Pacific Review, Vol. 31, No. 5, 2018, pp. 635–654.

11 Liselotte Odgaard, “Beijing’s Quest for Stability in Its Neighborhood: China’s Relations with Russia in Central Asia,” Asian Security, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2017, pp. 41–58.

12 Jake Rudnitsky and Evgenia Pismennaya, “Russia Closes Border With China to People, Not Goods,” Bloomberg News, January 30, 2020,  https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-01-30/russia-closing-border-with-china-to-affect-people-not-goods.

13 Andrew Higgins, “Businesses Getting Killed on Russian Border as Coronavirus Fears Rise,” New York Times, February 24, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/24/world/europe/coronavirus-russia-china-commerce.html.

14 Van Ivej, “Выход из Кризиса и Преимущества Китая, [Exit from Crisis and China’s Advantages],” Russia in Global Affairs, April 1, 2020, https://globalaffairs.ru/articles/vyhod-iz-krizisa-i-preimushhestva-kitaya/; Fyodor Lukyanov, “Вирус Разнообразия [Virus of Diversity],” Russia in Global Affairs, March 25, 2020, https://globalaffairs.ru/articles/virus-raznoobraziya/.

15 Michael Kofman, “Towards a Sino-Russian Entente?” Riddle, November 29, 2019, https://www.ridl.io/en/towards-a-sino-russian-entente.

16 Siemon Wezeman, “China, Russia and the Shifting Landscape of Arms Sales,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, July 5, 2017, https://www.sipri.org/commentary/topical-backgrounder/2017/china-russia-and-shifting-landscape-arms-sales.

17 Dmitry Stefanovich, “Russia to Help China Develop an Early Warning System,” The Diplomat, October 25, 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/10/russia-to-help-china-develop-an-early-warning-system.

18 Daniel Urchik, “What We Learned from Peace Mission 2018,” Small Wars Journalundated, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/what-we-learned-peace-mission-2018.

19 Chris Buckley, “Russia to Join China in Naval Exercise in Disputed South China Sea,” New York Times, July 29, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/29/world/asia/russia-china-south-china-sea-naval-exercise.html and Andrew Higgins, “China and Russia Hold First Joint Naval Drill in the Baltic Sea,” New York Times, July 25, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/world/europe/china-russia-baltic-navy-exercises.html.

20 Andrew Osborn, “Russia, China, Iran Start Joint Naval Drills in Indian Ocean,” ReutersDecember 27, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-military-russia-china/russia-china-iran-start-joint-naval-drills-in-indian-ocean-idUSKBN1YV0IB.

21 Franz-Stefan Gady, “The Significance of the First Ever China-Russia Strategic Bomber Patrol,” The Diplomat, July 25, 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/the-significance-of-the-first-ever-china-russia-strategic-bomber-patrol/.

22 “China to Send 1,600 Troops, About 30 Aircraft to Russia’s Strategic Military Drills,” TASS, August 29, 2019, https://tass.com/defense/1075535.

23 Paul Schwartz, “The Military Dimension in Sino-Russian Relations,” in Jo Inge Bekkevold and Bobo Lo, eds. Sino-Russian Relations in the 21st Century, (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), p. 105.

24 Eric Berger, “Russia Now Looking to Sell Its Prized Rocket Engines to China,” Ars Technica, January 18, 2018, https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/01/russia-now-looking-to-sell-its-prized-rocket-engines-to-china.

25 Robert S. Ross, “Sino‑Russian Relations: The False Promise of Russian Balancing,” International Politics, September 2019.

26 Krickovic, 2017.

27 John M. Owen IV, “Sino‑Russian Cooperation Against Liberal Hegemony,” International Politics, January 2020.

The Political Elite Under Putin

Russian Military Reform - Wed, 22/04/2020 - 22:34

Here’s my latest policy brief from the series on Russian strategic culture and leadership decision-making, written for a collaborative project organized by the Marshall Center with support from the Russia Strategy Initiative. This one is on stability in Russia’s political elite during Vladimir Putin’s rule. As with the previous ones, I am posting the full text here with permission from the Marshall Center. Please go to the newly updated Marshall Center website if you would prefer to read a PDF version.

Executive Summary
  • Russia’s political elite has undergone relatively little change under Vladimir Putin’s rule. Only sixty people have been ranked twentieth or higher at least once between 2000 and 2019 in the annual Nezavisimaya Gazeta list of the most politically influential Russians. Eighteen people have appeared on every list during this period. The greatest shift in elite composition occurred between 2007 and 2008, with smaller shifts around the presidential elections of 2004 and 2012.
  • Most of the political elite originate in the government bureaucracy in Moscow or St. Petersburg or came to their positions of influence through personal ties to Vladimir Putin, either in St. Petersburg or in the security services. Only ten percent came to power through electoral politics; another ten percent are businessmen who made their money independently of any connections to Vladimir Putin.
  • The elite is fairly evenly divided between individuals who have political influence solely because of their positions in government and individuals who have influence outside of their official role. People in the first group generally drop off the list quickly after leaving government or being demoted, and people in the second group tend to retain influence regardless of their position at any given time and remain influential for extended periods, even after departing government service.
Introduction

For most of the post-Soviet period, the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta has conducted a monthly survey of Russian political experts. This survey asks its respondents to rank the 100 most politically influential Russians in the previous month. Throughout this period, the newspaper has also published an annual ranking,1 based on the average rank of those mentioned during the previous calendar year. These data can be used to identify the most politically influential members of the Russian elite during the twenty years of Vladimir Putin’s rule.2

Characteristics of the Data Set

The dataset used includes all individuals identified in Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s survey who ranked at least twentieth at some point during the period from 2000 to 2019. Since the annual rankings run through 2019, they do not include changes in elite composition resulting from the government reshuffle that took place in January 2020. Such changes will be reflected in the next annual ranking, which is expected to be published in early 2021. This group is composed of just sixty individuals. Although most of those named are politicians or senior government officials, eight are well-connected businessmen or executives of state corporations. Only six individuals came to power through electoral politics. Two are religious leaders. Only three are women. Almost all built their careers in Moscow or St. Petersburg, with only three originally coming from the regions.

The dataset shows each individual’s average annual ranking if they were in the top 100 that year. In the graphs below, gaps indicate periods when the individual in question fell out of the top 100. The primary characteristic of the list is the extraordinary longevity of the people on it. Eighteen people have appeared in the top 100 every year from 2000 through 2019. Nine of them also appeared in the 1999 list, indicating that their political careers extend at least to the late Yeltsin period.3 Only four people have returned to the top 100 after spending more than a year off the list.

Members of the Putin-era political elite can be characterized in various ways. Many analysts have divided them according to their background, as having emerged from the security services or from Vladimir Putin’s circles in St. Petersburg or from private businesses established in the 1990s.4 Others have divided them according to the nature of their position.5 These are very useful ways to categorize, therefore both background and position are mentioned in the discussion below. However, I take a different starting point and categorize the elite on the basis of when they attracted the notice of expert analysts of the Russian political scene as being influential in that scene. This undoubtedly creates some artifacts. Some individuals undoubtedly flew under the radar for some period of time before attracting the notice of experts. Most importantly, individuals who may be influential advisors to senior leaders but stay in the shadows may be undervalued or missed entirely. Nevertheless, given that the main goal of this study is to examine elite stability and change, a primary focus on the chronology of the subjects’ appearance on the scene is more appropriate than one that puts the main focus on the subjects’ background or role in the political system.

Survivors of the Yeltsin Era

Ten members of the political elite can be characterized as long-term survivors of the Yeltsin era. These are individuals who have appeared on the list since at least 1999, which is the earliest year for which data is currently available. Strikingly, half of the group is still considered among the top thirty most politically influential people in Russia in 2019, twenty years later. This group of Council and former Governor of St. Petersburg Valentina Matvienko; and current Presidential Envoy of to the North Caucasus region and former Prosecutor General, Yuri Chaika. With the exception of Putin and Matvienko, these are people who have made careers as appointed senior officials rather than elected politicians.

The group of survivors also includes a number of people who have made their careers primarily in the business world, including such prominent oligarchs as Roman Abramovich and Vagit Alekperov. Vladimir Potanin is also included in the graphic as an oligarch known for his ability to maneuver through changes in Russia’s political scene and remain influential, although he is not part of the dataset, having never reached the top twenty in influence in any year measured. Although Anatolii Chubais was a prominent government official earlier in his career, during the period being analyzed here he has made his career in the world of state corporations, first as head of Russia’s electricity monopoly and then as head of the Rosnanotech state corporation. All four of these individuals have seen a decline in their influence in recent years, reflecting a general decline in influence among oligarchs in favor of bureaucratic officials.

The two other members of this group deserve a brief mention. Aleksandr Zhukov is a survivor who has played a variety of roles in government, including as a leading member of the State Duma, as the head of the Russian Olympic committee that organized the Sochi Winter Olympics, and as a deputy prime minister. Like the oligarchs, his influence has declined sharply in recent years. Finally, there is the case of Aleksandr Voloshin. Throughout Putin’s first term as President, Voloshin was the head of the presidential administration and considered one of the most powerful people in Russia. More interestingly, unlike other holdovers from the Yeltsin team described in the following section, he has consistently remained on the list of politically influential Russians since his resignation in 2003, albeit in relatively low positions.

Yeltsin-Era Politicians Who Did Not Last

A second group of members of the political elite were also survivors of the Yeltsin era, but have not retained their influence. These nine individuals are a fairly diverse group. Five of the nine were senior officials in the central government who stepped down at various points between 2001 and 2011 and thereafter disappeared from political life in Russia. These include Viktor Gerashchenko, who headed the Russian Central Bank until 2002; Aleksandr Veshniakov, who headed Russia’s Central Election Commission until 2007; and Mikhail Kasianov, who served as prime minister during Putin’s first term as president. There are also two former government ministers: Mikhail Zurabov, who headed the pension fund from 1999 to 2004 and was thereafter health minister until 2007 and Viktor Khristenko, who was deputy prime minister in both Yeltsin’s last year as president and in Putin’s first term and thereafter the minister of industry until 2012.

The other four members of this group can be described as more eclectic. Aleksei II’s influence came from his position as the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. As we will see below, after his death in 2008, his successor retained a roughly similar level of influence. Yuri Luzhkov rapidly lost influence after his removal from his post as mayor of Moscow in 2010. The two businessmen in this group had very different trajectories. Mikhail Khodorkovsky was, for a time, the most influential private businessman in Russia and remained influential even after his arrest in 2003, but he disappears from the list after his trial and imprisonment in 2005. Finally, Mikhail Fridman is somewhat different from the rest of this group. He is a businessman whose influence has gradually faded over time. In this, he is most similar to Vladimir Potanin in the previous group (the “survivors”), with the main difference being that the degree of his fade has taken him out of not only the top twenty, but the top 100, in recent years. Other than Fridman, the members of this group are all notable for having derived their influence from their positions, rather than their personal power. Unlike several people in the survivor group, their influence did not outlast their dismissal from their government positions.

Putin’s Original Team

When Vladimir Putin became Russia’s president in 2000, he quickly installed his own team of loyalists. With only one exception, these twelve individuals who first appeared on the list in 2000 have remained highly influential players in Russian politics over the next twenty years. The majority of the team are connected to Putin, either through their work in the security services or from Putin’s time working in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office in the 1990s.

The security service contingent includes Sergei Ivanov, Igor Sechin, Nikolai Patrushev, and Vladimir Ustinov. The first three people on this list have been among the core members of Putin’s inner circle throughout his time in power. One key difference when compared with the group of individuals that did not last is that the security service contingent’s influence has remained high regardless of the various positions they have held. Thus, Igor Sechin has variously served as deputy head of the presidential administration, deputy prime minister (while Putin was prime minister), and head of the Rosneft state oil corporation. His influence did not decrease when he departed from his government position in 2012 and he remains one of the ten most politically influential people in Russia to the present day.

Similarly, Nikolai Patrushev has been highly influential, both as FSB director and as secretary of the Security Council, despite the latter organization’s relatively limited formal power. Sergei Ivanov was highly influential first as defense minister, then as deputy prime minister, and finally as head of the presidential administration. His influence has faded in the last three years after his departure from the presidential administration, but the fact that he remains on the list despite having virtually no significant official role in Russian politics speaks to his personal connection to the president. Vladimir Ustinov is a somewhat different case. Although he played a powerful role in Russian politics while serving as prosecutor general, his removal from that position in 2006 was interpreted as a political defeat and resulted in a sharp decline in his perceived influence, even while he was still serving as Minister of Justice. After his dismissal from that position in 2008 and his transfer to the role of presidential representative to the Southern Federal District, he disappeared from the rankings entirely.

The St. Petersburg team includes Dmitry Medvedev, Aleksei Kudrin, German Gref, Dmitry Kozak, and Boris Gryzlov. These are also figures who have exhibited political influence regardless of the position they held. Medvedev served variously as deputy head and then head of the presidential administration, first deputy prime minister, president, and prime minister, retaining a position among the ten most influential Russian political figures since his appointment as head of the presidential administration in late 2003. Gref and Kudrin survived their departures from positions as minister for economic development and trade and minister of finance, respectively. Gref has retained influence in his role as head of Sberbank, while Kudrin remained highly influential despite having no major government or business position from 2011 until his appointment as head of the Accounts Chamber in 2018. Boris Gryzlov was highly influential as minister of internal affairs and as speaker of the State Duma, but disappeared from the list after stepping down as speaker in 2011. He returned in 2017, however, despite having a fairly low-level position as the president’s representative to the contact group on the Ukraine conflict.

Dmitry Kozak has held a wide variety of positions over the last twenty years, both in Moscow and in the regions, while remaining highly influential. His peak of influence was in Putin’s first two terms in office, when he held senior positions in the presidential administration and as presidential representative to the Southern Federal District. Note that his high level of influence in the latter position contrasts with the case of Vladimir Ustinov, who dropped off the influence list after replacing Kozak in this position. This strongly suggests that Kozak’s influence during this period was related to his personal connections, rather than the office he held.

Three other members of the team are not connected to Putin through prior service. Vladislav Surkov and Aleksei Gromov were already working in the central government in the 1990s but first rose to positions of prominence under Putin. Surkov served in the presidential administration until 2011, then briefly as head of the government executive office before becoming a personal advisor to Putin. Although his influence declined in the latter position and he is likely to drop out of the rankings entirely in 2020 after his very public resignation in February, he remained on the list throughout the period of the study. Gromov was the president’s press secretary in his first two terms, followed by twelve years in the presidential administration as deputy and first deputy chief of staff. His influence has steadily increased over the years, especially once he moved into the presidential administration. Finally, Oleg Deripaska is an outlier among this group, as his role is in business rather than government. Although he is linked more closely to Putin than some of the businessmen who appeared in the other groups, his influence has declined in the last decade as power has shifted away from people in business and toward government officials. People Who Became Influential During Putin’s First Term

Individuals who joined the list of politically influential figures between 2001 and 2004 fall into very similar categories as Putin’s original team. Once again, the majority are figures whose background is in the security services or in the St. Petersburg government, while a few rose through other channels. Unlike Putin’s original team, few of these individuals have the political capital to have influence separate from their positions.

Siloviki, political figures who rose to power in the security services, such as Mikhail Fradkov, Rashid Nurgaliev, and Viktor Ivanov, are good examples of this tendency. Fradkov, for example, appeared in relatively low positions on the list as head of the tax police in 2001 and 2002, then disappeared from the list entirely while serving as Russia’s representative to the European Union in 2003. He then spent four years as one of the most politically influential people in Russia while serving as prime minister, before again disappearing from the list entirely after losing that position. He returned to the list in 2013 while serving as head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, but disappeared after being dismissed from that position in 2016. Similarly, Rashid Nurgaliev was highly influential while serving as minister of internal affairs from 2004 to 2011, but disappeared from the list immediately after stepping down from that position. Viktor Ivanov spent several years as an assistant to President Putin and then several more as director of the Federal Narcotics Service. He disappeared from the list after being dismissed from the latter position in early 2016.

The political figures who came out of St. Petersburg are a relatively diverse group. Among them are two who have remained on the list throughout the period since their initial appearance in 2001–2002. Sergei Mironov served for many years as the speaker of the Federation Council, although he retained a certain amount of influence after moving to the State Duma in 2012. Aleksei Miller has remained among the twenty-five most politically influential Russians continuously since 2003 while serving as the head of Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly. Vladimir Iakunin was on the list only during the period from 2005 to 2015, when he headed the Russian Railroad state corporation. His immediate disappearance after his departure from that position in 2015 suggests that his influence derived from his position, rather than his personal power. Viktor Zubkov first made the list while running the Financial Monitoring Committee and reached higher positions on it, having served as prime minister and first deputy prime minister. He dropped off the list after losing the latter position in 2012.

The remaining four people in this group have had highly varied careers. Igor Shuvalov has served in a variety of roles in the government, including as the government’s chief of staff, as an assistant to the president, and as first deputy prime minister. He was most highly ranked on Nezavisimaya Gazeta’s list in the latter period, although he retained some influence even after departing that position in 2018. Aleksandr Khloponin is one of the few people on the overall list who appeared on the list while holding a position outside of Moscow. He was, for many years, the governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai and then served as deputy prime minister. The peak of his influence was in the period 2010–2014, when he concurrently served as deputy prime minister and presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District. Even during this period, his highest position in the survey was twentieth in 2010, highlighting the extent to which Moscowbased political figures dominate the rankings.

Dmitry Rogozin first came to prominence as one of the few elected national-level politicians on this list. He was one of the leaders of the right-wing Rodina party until 2005 and was thus one of the few influential politicians with an independent power base. However, he dropped off the list after departing the party due to conflicts with other leaders. He returned to a position of influence in 2012 after being appointed deputy prime minister in charge of the defense and space industries. Finally, Sergei Pugachev is unique, in that he only appeared on the list for two years, but in very high positions. He was a businessman with close ties to Putin, but quickly fell out of favor after refusing to reinvest his capital in Russia. He has since renounced his Russian citizenship and now lives in France.

People Who Became Influential During Putin’s Second Term

A fairly large group—thirteen people—became politically influential during Putin’s second term. Although a few of these people appeared on the list early in the term, most joined or rose to high rankings in 2007 or 2008. Individuals who joined the political elite during this period fall into two major categories, with a few outliers.

Five people in this set had close ties with Putin, mostly dating to their schooling in the 1970s and 1980s or through working together in the security services in the 1980s and 1990s. All five of these individuals rose to highly influential positions at around the same time and have remained near the top of the list throughout Putin’s presidency. Aleksandr Bastrykin was a university classmate of Putin. He worked at the Ministry of Justice and in the Prosecutor-General’s office before being appointed in 2007 as head of the Investigative Committee (IC), an anti-corruption agency within the Prosecutor-General’s office. His influence increased further in 2011, when the IC became an independent agency directly subordinate to the president.

Sergei Naryshkin has served in a variety of roles over the years, including chief of staff to the prime minister, deputy prime minister, head of the presidential administration, chair of the State Duma and, most recently, director of the Foreign Intelligence Service. His influence has always come less from his position and more from his close ties to Vladimir Putin, whom he has known since the early 1980s, when they studied together in the Soviet security service (KGB) schools in Leningrad. He was perceived as having been appointed head of the presidential administration under Dmitry Medvedev in order to ensure Medvedev’s loyalty to Putin.6 Aleksandr Bortnikov spent his entire career in the KGB or its successor agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), primarily in the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) office. He was appointed deputy director of the FSB in 2004 and became its head in 2008. Although all three are influential because of their positions, they achieved these positions through a combination of their previous work and their connections to Vladimir Putin.

On the other hand, Sergei Chemezov and Yuri Kovalchuk have attained their positions almost entirely through their connections to Putin. Chemezov worked with Putin in the KGB in East Germany in the 1980s and again in the Presidential Property Office in Moscow in the late 1990s. Since Putin became president, Chemezov has held senior positions in a variety of state corporations, beginning with Rosoboronexport (the state defense export company) and since 2007 as general director of Rostec, which, under his leadership, has become the dominant player in Russia’s defense industry. Although Yuri Kovalchuk did not go to school or work with Putin, he has had close ties to the president dating back to the 1990s. Like Chemezov, he has never worked in the Russian government, having instead used his personal ties to Putin to amass a large fortune as the head of Bank Rossiia, a position that has led him to be labeled as “Putin’s personal banker.” 

A second set of five people rose to political influence by rising through the ranks of their agencies. Sergei Lavrov is perhaps the archetype of this figure. He has served as foreign minister since 2004, having previously served as a deputy foreign minister and as Russia’s representative to the United Nations. Although he was, for many years, described as someone who is a civil servant and chief implementer rather than a member of Putin’s inner circle, his longevity in his post has gradually translated into greater influence on decision-making. 

Tatiana Golikova rose through the ranks of the Ministry of Finance, becoming Deputy Finance Minister in the late 1990s. She was then appointed as Minister of Health and Social Development in 2007, going from that role to the position of Chair of the Accounts Chamber in 2013 and then becoming Deputy Prime Minister for Social Policy in 2018. Similarly, Elvira Nabiullina rose through the ranks at the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade, becoming the head of the ministry in 2007. She has retained influence since transitioning to her current position as head of Russia’s Central Bank in 2013.

Arkady Dvorkovich rose through the Finance Ministry and the Ministry for Economic Development, having developed close ties to German Gref in the latter ministry. He first rose to prominence as then-President Dmitry Medvedev’s chief economic advisor and then as deputy prime minister once Medvedev assumed the position of Prime Minister in 2012. He dropped off the list of politically influential Russians after losing that position in 2018, and now serves as president of the World Chess Federation. Finally, Patriarch Kirill rose through the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church and headed the Church’s Department for External Church Relations from 1989 until his election as Patriarch in 2009, following Patriarch Aleksei’s death.

He first appeared on the list of influential people in 2007, when it became increasingly clear that he was likely to become the next patriarch, even as Aleksei’s health was declining. All five of these individuals are influential because of their positions, rather than through personal ties.

Only two members of this group attained their positions through the political process, both initially in regions outside of Moscow. Sergei Sobianin has had a long career in electoral politics at the regional level, first winning election in 1991 as mayor of a small town in Siberia, gradually rising to higher positions in the region, including a five-year stint as governor of Tiumen. He moved to Moscow in 2005 to serve as head of the presidential administration, and has remained a fixture in the top twenty most influential Russians since 2007. He has been the mayor of Moscow since 2010.

Viacheslav Volodin won his first election even earlier, serving on the Saratov city council beginning in 1990. He represented Saratov in the State Duma beginning in 1999, serving as the Duma’s deputy speaker. He succeeded Sobianin as head of the government executive office in 2010 and has remained on the top twenty list since then, serving as deputy head of the presidential administration and, since 2016, as chair of the State Duma.

Finally, Anatoly Serdiukov is unique among this group in that he achieved his influence by virtue of his ties to someone in the top elite other than Putin. He appears on the list in 2007, when he moved from his previous position as head of the Federal Tax Service to Defense Minister. He dropped off the list in 2012, when he was dismissed from that position. His appointment was linked to his connection to Viktor Zubkov, as he was married to Zubkov’s daughter. Despite constant criticism from members of the military, he remained in the position until his wife filed for divorce in 2012, at which point he was quickly accused of corruption and removed from his position.

People Who Became Influential in the Last 12 Years

Although much has been written about efforts by Russia’s senior leadership to renew Russia’s political elite, very few people have joined the ranks of the most influential Russians since 2008. In fact, only one person who joined the list while Dmitry Medvedev was president has become highly influential, while another four rose to top positions between Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012 and the end of 2019. As we saw in the previous section, a few others appeared on the list earlier, but only became highly influential after 2012. The five people in this group come from a variety of backgrounds, though most share the characteristic of rising to positions of influence through the ranks of the organizations they now lead, rather than achieving that position through personal connections to Putin or members of Putin’s inner circle. Dmitry Peskov rose through the diplomatic service and then through the presidential press office before becoming Putin’s press secretary in 2008. Anton Siluanov rose through the finance ministry, replacing the previous minister in late 2011. Anton Vaino rose through the presidential administration and has headed it since 2016. Vladimir Kolokoltsev served in various positions in the interior ministry, followed by a term as the Moscow police commissioner, before being appointed to head the interior ministry in 2012. Viktor Zolotov is the one exception in this group because he has been personally close to Putin since serving as a bodyguard to St. Petersburg mayor Anatolii Sobchak in the 1990s. Although he only appeared on the list of influential Russians in 2016, he headed the presidential security service from the start of Putin’s tenure in 2000 until his appointment as head of the newly established National Guard in 2016. He thus serves as a good example of the type of individual who was missed by expert rankings because of his tendency to keep out of the limelight.

Inflection Points

Although Russia’s political elite has experienced relatively little change over the last twenty years, there have been a few key moments of substantial renewal, most immediately before or after presidential elections. After the initial introduction of Putin’s team in 2000–2001, an initial shift took place in 2003–2004. This was a period of consolidation, during which holdovers from the Yeltsin administration such as Kasyanov and Voloshin left their positions and the influence of independent businessmen was largely eliminated after the arrest of Khodorkovsky. These figures’ residual influence meant that they remained on the list, though in relatively low positions, for some time thereafter. However, starting at this point, all senior officials were either members of Putin’s circle or technocrats.

A much bigger elite transition took place in 2007, with the departure of Veshniakov, Fradkov, and Zurabov and the decline in influence of Chubais, Gref, Zhukov, and Viktor Ivanov. At the same time, a large number of new people appeared on the list, including Chemezov, Bortnikov, Bastrykin, Kovalchuk, Golikova, Nabiullina, Dvorkovich, and Serdiukov. In addition, Naryshkin, Zubkov, Iakunin, and Shuvalov, who had all been on the list previously, first attained high levels of influence in 2007 or 2008. These changes occurred as part of the transition to what became known as the “tandemocracy,” a period during which Medvedev served as president while Putin was prime minister.

There was a second major transition around the 2012 presidential election, with the departures of Zubkov, Gryzlov, Khristenko, Nurgaliev, and Serdiukov and the decline of Kudrin and Surkov. At the same time, Shoigu, Bastrykin, Volodin, and Peskov became highly influential for the first time while Siluanov, Rogozin, and Kolokoltsev either first appeared on the list or returned after a lengthy absence. This date marked the consolidation of the conservative turn in Russian politics, with security officials in the ascendance and economic modernizers relegated to secondary roles.

Putin’s third term was characterized largely by stability, with only a few significant shifts in influence. There were early signs of a generational shift, although few younger officials had yet reached positions of highest influence by the end of 2019, as highlighted by the dearth of people in the final group discussed above. Although a big government shakeup took place in January 2020, initial monthly polling suggests that this will result primarily in a reshuffling, with potentially limited impact on the composition of the top elite beyond the addition of the new prime minister. The shift to a new generation is coming, but the highest level still consists primarily of the people who have been with Putin since the early days of his rule. This will likely remain the case at least until the next presidential election in 2024.

Conclusion

The small number of people represented in the elite suggests a high level of elite continuity, which has allowed the regime to remain remarkably stable over a twenty-year period. Regime stability can be fleeting and authoritarian regimes, in particular, can shift from the appearance of eternal stability to collapse in a brief period. Nevertheless, the level of elite continuity in Putin’s Russia has allowed for relatively high level of policy consistency. While Putin’s team certainly has its share of tensions, everyone in his inner circle understands how the others operate.

The expert survey data clearly show that Russia’s Putin-era political elite includes two types of officials. Members of the first group have influence because of their roles or positions in government, while members of the second group have influence independently of their positions because of their ties to Vladimir Putin. Those in the second group tend to remain influential even when they are no longer in positions of power, while those in the first group drop out of the rankings as soon as they step down from their official role. This finding suggests that the number of people with real power may be even smaller than the sixty people represented in the data set, as only the second group has lasting influence at the highest levels. It also suggests that the members of the elite who were displaced in the government turnover of January 2020 will have different fates. People who have close ties to Putin, such as Dmitry Medvedev, will remain influential, while those who have had power because of their roles in government, such as Surkov, are likely to disappear.

Notes

1 The most recent annual rankings were published in Dmitri Orlov, “100 ведущих политиков России в 2019 году,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 1, 2020, http://www.ng.ru/ideas/2020-01-13/7_7766_people.html.

2 The question of how well an expert survey of this type reflects actual power dynamics in Russia is a valid one. Because the main goal of this study is to examine political influence, ratings by Russian experts on domestic politics are likely to be a fairly accurate representation, especially because the survey used a consistent methodology throughout the period under study.

3 “1999 год. 100 ведущих политиков России.” https://ru.telegram.one/CorruptionTV/1499.

4 Olga Kryshtanovskaya and Stephen White, “Putin’s Militocracy,” Post-Soviet Affairs, 19(4):289-306, 2003.

5 Tatiana Stanovaya, “Пять путинских элит на фоне транзита,” Carnegie Moscow Center, February 27, 2020. https://carnegie.ru/2020/02/27/ru-pub-81158.

6 Guy Faulconbridge, Michael Stott, “Medvedev’s Kremlin chiefs are Putin men,” Reuters, May 13, 2008. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-cabinet-kremlin/medvedevs-kremlin-chiefs-are-putin-men-idUSL1323497720080513.

New CNA reports on Russia’s strategy for escalation management

Russian Military Reform - Tue, 21/04/2020 - 04:19

My colleagues at CNA’s Russian Studies Program — Michael Kofman, Anya Fink and Jeff Edmonds — have written two excellent reports on Russian deterrence and escalation management. I contributed a bit to the research. The summary and links to the reports below is taken from Michael Kofman’s description of the research on his blog:

CNA’s Russia Studies Program recently produced two reports that discuss in depth the main concepts comprising Russia’s strategy for escalation management or intrawar deterrence, their origins in military thought, and the current state of concept development. The first is titled Evolution of Key Concepts, covering essential deterrence concepts, current stratagems for escalation management, the role of nuclear and nonnuclear weapons, types of damage, views on targeting, etc. The second key debates and the players within Russian military thought provides an intellectual road map to the conversation among Russian military analysts, strategists, and the players involved. To better socialize the findings from these research products I’ve decided to post their respective abstracts here, though I suggest those interested download the reports from the CNA Research site.

The first report on evolution of key concepts assesses the evolution in Russian military strategy on the question of escalation management, or intra-war deterrence, across the conflict spectrum from peacetime to nuclear war. Russia’s overarching approach to deterrence, called “strategic deterrence,” represents a holistic concept for shaping adversary decision making by integrating military and non-military measures. Key concepts in Russian military thinking on deterrence include deterrence by fear inducement, deterrence through the limited use of military force, and deterrence by defense. These approaches integrate a mix of strategic nonnuclear and nuclear capabilities, depending on the context and conflict scope. In a conflict, Russian escalation management concepts can be roughly divided into periods of demonstration, adequate damage infliction, and retaliation. Russian strategic culture emphasizes cost imposition over denial for deterrence purposes, believing in forms of calibrated damage as a vehicle by which to manage escalation. This so-called deterrent damage is meant to be dosed, applied in an iterative manner, with associated targeting and damage levels. Despite acquiring nonnuclear means of deterrence, Russia continues to rely on nuclear weapons to deter and prosecute regional and large-scale conflicts, seeing these as complementary means within a comprehensive strategic deterrence system. The paper summarizes debates across authoritative Russian military-analytical literature beginning in 1991 and incorporates translated graphics and tables. The concluding section discusses implications for US and allied forces.

The second report on key debates and players offers an overview of the main debates in Russian military thought on deterrence and escalation management in the post-Cold War period, based on authoritative publications. It explores discussions by Russian military analysts and strategists on “regional nuclear deterrence,” namely the structure of a two-level deterrence system (regional and global); debates on “nonnuclear deterrence” and the role of strategic conventional weapons in escalation management; as well as writings on the evolution of damage concepts toward ones that reflect damage that is tailored to the adversary. Russian military thinking on damage informs the broader discourse on ways and means to shift an opponent’s calculus in an escalating conflict. The report concludes with summaries of recent articles that reflect ongoing discourse on the evolution of Russia’s strategic deterrence system and key trends in Russian military thought on escalation management.

Why is OPEC+ deal a failure for Russia?

Pravda.ru / Russia - Tue, 14/04/2020 - 20:39
The OPEC+ deal to cut oil production is a failure that Russia has suffered, some analysts believe. As part of the deal, Russia's decrease in oil output would be larger than that of Saudi Arabia. To crown it all, the Americans did not take any written obligations at all. Why is the deal a failure for Russia? Under the terms of the agreement, Russia and Saudi Arabia are supposed to reduce oil production in May-June by 2.5 million barrels per day each from the current level of 11 million barrels per day. Russia's current obligations are four times as much as in early March of this year, when the previous OPEC + deal fell apart. Sources in the Kremlin called the agreement a "painful failure," while adding that the deal is a relief for Moscow. They are forced measures that Russia has to accept as a result of the pandemic of the coronavirus infection, as if this applies only to Russia ... Andrei Nechaev, former minister of economy of the Russian Federation is not happy either. Referring to experts' estimates, he noted that "Russia's oil export revenues would be halved, because it is export that would need to be cut in the first place." "This is the price of the affair to terminate relations with Russia in the previous OPEC+ deal. Russia had to apologize to the allies, whom Russia had been deceiving for three years without cutting production, but increasing it under the guise of solidarity statements. Now control will be tight, while severe violations will be punishable with sanctions. It is all Russian people who will have to pay for this affair,"Mr. Nechaev predicts. Leonid Fedun, co-owner of Lukoil, said in an interview with RBC that the current deal was similar to the Brest Peace of 1918 - it is humiliating and difficult, but necessary. According to Fedun, the deal will provide a price level for Russian oil at $30-40 per barrel instead of $15-20.
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