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Defense & Security
Moldovan President Maia Sandu giving speech

Moldova's reaction on the Russian full-scale war against Ukraine and Its consequences

by Natalia Stercul

AbstractRussia’s war in Ukraine has been an exceptional threat to the European security architecture, and a peaceful and democratic development around the world. This war has led to the displacement of people, human sacrifices, damages of civilian property, material and financial loss. The imperial ambitions and the revisionist policy of the Russian Federation have created a new dramatic reality for the whole world. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has raised a significant alarm in the Republic of Moldova in terms of the aggravation of the country’s security problems, the wider regional political and strategic ramifications. This study examines Moldova’s response to the consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine with special focus on the multiple vulnerabilities, social-economic tensions, energy problems as well as refugee and humanitarian crises.The long struggle between the East and the West has reached its peak. The endpoint of the difficult way for interacting with sanctions mechanisms after the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 has become the war in Ukraine, radically changing the European security architecture. The end of the post-Cold War era of peace is accompanied by the threat of nuclear weapons. Autocrats have created a more favorable international environment for themselves over the past decade and a half, empowered by their own political and economic might, as well as by the waning pressure from democracies, which is grounded in autocrats’ shared interest in minimizing checks on their abuses and maintaining their grip on power. Rising Russian authoritarianism has contributed to a context that has made the unprovoked aggression in Ukraine possible. Increasing authoritarianism in Russia and some other countries, coupled with gradual democratic erosion around the world, poses an exceptional threat to a rules-based global order, and consequently to peace, prosperity and sustainable development. Global freedom faces an increasingly dire threat since non-democratic regimes have become more authoritarian in the last five years. According to the dates of the Global State of Democracy Report 2021, the percentage of non-democratic regimes with statistically significant declines on at least one sub-attribute over a five-year period increased from 21 percent in 2015 to 45 percent in 2020, the highest ever. Putinism is a form of autocracy that is conservative, populist, and personalistic. Putinism is due to an authoritarian regime, which has infiltrated the Russian political activists, the mass media, and the judicial system. Corruption at the highest level of government, disinformation of the population, closing the independent media (Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index), and violations of basic citizen’s rights – are the main features of Putin’s policies. During his reign, the image of Putin’s popularity bolsters his actual popularity and the consequence of this is the right-wing populism in Europe as a reflection of the Putinism influence. Features of Russian influence enable different effects on neighboring countries. Russia has long resisted Ukraine’s move toward European institutions, and NATO, in particular, disregarding Ukraine’s right on the choice of pursuing a civilizational way of development. For Ukraine, this is to make its own sovereign choice, but for Russia, it is a question of a different nature – loss of its “sphere of influence”. The same thing applies to the Republic of Moldova, which for a long time was the traditional sphere of Russian influence. The so-called “Russian world” continues to remain that community uniting the cultural, ideological and linguistic components. The Republic of Moldova is a multicultural country, located on the geopolitical fault line, which combines various cultural traditions and languages. The struggle for the influence of the East and West, including the fight between the Russian and Anglo-Saxon worlds had a direct impact on Moldova. At present, in the world, there is a clearer trend toward the replacement of the Russian world, which is due to the Russian foreign policy itself. At the same time, the features of Russian influence and Putinism in Moldovan society persist. These features are frequently constituted as additional triggers for political speculations and dividing lines in society. The pro-Russian forces are in opposition, in the context of the current political agenda of the Republic of Moldova, but at the same time, their influence remains substantial enough. The promotion of Russian influence and support of Putin’s policy is popular among the pro-Russian forces in Moldova. The war in Ukraine marks the end of the post-Cold War era of peace. It demonstrates that the US power is not absolute and the threat of nuclear escalation remains as close and implacable as ever. Diplomacy has been exhausted. The parties involved cannot seem to find common ground for negotiation or consensus. The result of the struggle between democracy and autocracy reflects the crisis of diplomacy and the role of diplomatic negotiations for a peaceful solution to the conflict. After four rounds of diplomatic negotiations between Russia and Ukraine without any significant progress, this process has been suspended. The dark cloud of war remains menacing. Moldova’s response to the consequences of the Russian war in UkraineThe Moldovan parliament declared a state of emergency for 60 days across the country after Russia invaded Ukraine. In accordance with the provisions of Order no.1 from February 24, 2022, of the Commission for Exceptional Situations of the Republic of Moldova: The Civil Aviation Authority, jointly with the Ministry of Defense, shall decide on the prohibition of the use of the airspace of the Republic of Moldova for civil and state aircraft (national and foreign), depending on requests and the provisions of international conventions. Moldova’s airspace has been reopened for civil aviation only on March 21. This decision was taken following a meeting of the Interdepartmental Airspace Management Commission, whose members, after assessing the current security situation, decided to open part of the airspace so that passenger air transportation could be resumed. Moldova as a neutral state does not join any sanctions either. According to the announcement of the Moldovan Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Nicu Popescu: “A decision to impose sanctions on Russia is not an easy decision, this is a very hard decision that could be made by stronger and more prosperous countries than Moldova. The decision was made for economic considerations, as the Moldovan economy is too dependent on relations with Russia, including those economic”. The key argument of the Moldovan political elite, since the beginning of the war, was that Moldova is neutral and advocates for peace in Ukraine and the region at large. The neutrality of the country has always been a highly politicized, contentious, and divisive issue. Refugee crisisMoldova, which borders Ukraine, has been directly affected by a huge inflow of Ukrainian refugees. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, over 460 thousand refugees from Ukraine entered Moldova and nearly 100 thousand of them decided to settle in Moldova until they will be able to return safely to their homes in Ukraine. Of those 460,000, about 65% arrive via the Palanca and Tudora crossing points in the south of the country, and about 25% via the Otaci and Creva crossing points in the north. Moldovan citizens opened their homes and hearts to Ukrainian refugees. Despite being one of the poorest and smallest nations in Europe with very limited resources, Moldova has caused admiration from many countries by being able to make the border crossing easier for the refugee flow, ensure protection and grant shelter to Ukrainian refugees. Among the Ukrainian refugees, most are women, children and older people (almost 90% of the total number of refugees – this being one of the most vulnerable groups of people) who have crossed into Moldova since the beginning of the war on February 24.  According to the Operational Data Portal Ukraine Refugees Situation dates on the period as of 28 June, in the Republic of Moldova were registered 82,700 – Individual refugees from Ukraine recorded across Europe; 515,432 – border crossing from Ukraine; 146,939 – Border crossing to Ukraine. Due to the assistance of external partners, the Government of the Republic of Moldova now has the infrastructure in place to support incoming refugees and is working with its international partners to create protection action plans. The EU humanitarian operation in the Republic of Moldova enhances assistance for refugees through the European Humanitarian Response Capacity. Such a humanitarian crisis occurred for the first time in the history of independent Moldova. For the Republic of Moldova, this is the first experience of finding a response to a refugee crisis – large wave of refugees that puts pressure on basic services in Moldova and the surrounding region.Tensions in Transnistria ring alarm bells in MoldovaThe Transnistrian region located between the Dniester River and the Moldovan–Ukrainian border, a region in a protracted conflict, remains to be one of the most sensitive issues for Moldova, and tensions around it have arisen amid the intensification of the Russo-Ukrainian war. Transnistria extends for about 400 kilometers between the eastern bank of the Dniester River in Moldova and the country’s border with Ukraine, being home to a population of about 470,000 predominantly Russian speakers. Moldovan authorities are following with caution and vigilance the events taking place on the territory controlled by the Tiraspol regime. There are tensions between different forces within the region interested in destabilizing the situation. This makes the Transnistrian region vulnerable and creates risks for the Republic of Moldova. The authorities condemn any provocations and attempts to draw the Republic of Moldova into actions that may endanger peace in the country. Chisinau continues to insist on a peaceful settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.The possible scenarios of a dangerous development of Russian plans are quite thoroughly analyzed in the analytical overview of the Stockholm Center for Eastern European Studies.   Particularly, there are mentions that the Russian military operation could be extended towards Moldova. In the Transnistrian region there are concentrated 500 Russian peacekeepers and around 1,000 Russian military personnel. The Transnistrian military is thought to have around 4,000 active troops. The Moldovan authorities argue that there had been no change in the military situation, but with the beginning of the second phase of Russia’s special operation in Ukraine, the situation in the Transnistrian region worsened.On April 26, tensions flared as Transnistrian authorities announced the “red level” of terrorist threat for 15 days across the territory. The announcement came after alleged attacks on two communication towers and a state building in the self-declared capital, Tiraspol, as well as an incident involving a military unit in the village of Parkany. Moldovan President Maia Sandu convened a Security Council meeting to prevent tensions and the escalation of the conflict.During the meeting of the Supreme Security Council on the subject of the incidents in the Transnistrian region and the security developments in the region, on April 26, the Supreme Security Council noted the facts of escalation and recommended to public institutions the following: – increase the intensity of movement checks in the vicinity of the security zone; – increase the intensity of patrolling and checks on the territory of the Republic of Moldova and at the border; – increase the level of alert in securing the critical infrastructure; – increase the level of alert of all institutions responsible for ensuring public order and security. In this complex and tense situation, the President assured that all necessary measures would be taken to prevent escalations, strengthen the security of the state, and protect Moldovan citizens, calling on the media, opinion formers, and social and political leaders to behave during this period with maximum responsibility, share only verified information and avoid using emotional manipulation for the sake of increasing public ratings. While the Moldovan government has repeatedly called for the removal of the Russian contingent, the Russian military troops remain on this territory. The Republic of Moldova does not intend and does not carry out a blockade of the Transnistrian region, remaining open to continuing the dialogue for the settlement of the conflict in the region in a peaceful, diplomatically negotiated manner that will give the people of Moldova, including those in the Transnistrian region, the chance to have a peaceful and prosperous life. It is important to mention that about an additional Ukrainian 8,000 refugees who have decided to stay are in the Transnistrian region. Providing support to refugees in the region has its own challenges and is still lagging. Economic and energetic consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war for the Republic of MoldovaThe Russian war in Ukraine is having serious economic and energetic consequences for the Republic of Moldova, the Black Sea region, and the global economy.  The war is triggering global ripple effects through multiple channels, including commodity markets, trade, financial flows, displaced people, and market confidence. The damage to Russia’s economy will weigh on remittance flows to many neighboring countries. Disruptions to regional supply chains and financial networks, as well as heightened investor risk perceptions, will weaken regional growth. Prices for commodities that Russia and Ukraine supply, including energy, wheat, fertilizers, and some metals, are sharply higher. In the Republic of Moldova as well as in many emerging markets and developing economies, rising food and energy prices are exacerbating poverty and, in some cases, food insecurity, heightening inflation pressures that were already building. The Russian Federation and Ukraine are prominent players in the global trade of food and agricultural products. Domestically, limited economic activity and increasing prices could undercut the purchasing power of local populations. Moldovan apple farmers are already feeling the consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Their main trade route through the Ukrainian port of Odesa has been cut off. Normally, Moldova exports just under a fifth of its agri-food products to Russia. Now, 120,000 tons of apples are laying in cold storage – and they have to be sold before the next harvest begins. The support of Moldova’s Government is essential to help small-scale farmers respond to the crisis and remain resilient. Although there are some opportunities to export to Romania, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry is estimating steep losses in the fruit sector alone. According to the National Statistics Bureau, Moldova imports about 300,000 tons of fertilizer annually, the vast majority from Russia and Belarus. The national Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry estimates that, without fertilizer, the production of staple foods – like wheat, corn, and barley – will drop by at least 30 % this year alone. Mitigating the effects of the war on lives, livelihoods and economic growth will require carefully calibrated policies. A concerted effort will be needed to house refugees, meet their basic needs, and foster smooth integration into host communities. When the war subsides, a large mobilization of resources will be needed for reconstruction in Ukraine. Because of their substantial direct trade, financial, and migration ties with Russia and Ukraine, neighboring countries in Eastern Europe, especially the Republic of Moldova, are expected to suffer considerable economic damage. Currently, Moldova has no alternative for Russian natural gas, and the price of supply from other channels, in any case, would be higher than that of Russia. Given the high energy poverty in the country, it is highly unlikely that the majority of Moldovan people would want lower gas prices to be traded off for geopolitical gains. The supply of natural gas is one of the most sensitive issues that the Moldovan government has to deal with. Moldova is one of the countries that were most severely hit by the rise in natural gas prices and the recent sharp increase in gas prices became perhaps one of the most acute economic problems for the people of Moldova. In October 2021, Moldova extended its gas contract with Russia’s Gazprom following a bitter stand-off over price hikes. Moldovagaz, the national energy company half-owned by Gazprom, made the outstanding payment of a 74 million USD gas debt to Gazprom at the same time. The energy crisis due to the dependence on Russian gas, the price of which has almost tripled, has continued since last autumn.  On March 16, 2022, however, after years of preparatory work and in the middle of the war, the electricity grid of Ukraine and Moldova was successfully linked to the continental European network on a trial base. This will allow both Moldova and Ukraine to import electricity from the EU. The energy dimension of security in Moldova largely depends on the strategy of diversification of sources.Moldova’s response to Russian disinformation and propaganda during the warAfter the beginning of the “special operation” in Ukraine the independent media were closed in the Russian Federation. Echo of Moscow and Rain TV channel have been blocked, recognized by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation as foreign agent media; many editorial offices, including, and the BBC Russian Service announced the suspension of their activities because they do not see any opportunity to work under the conditions that the authorities have announced; other media faced being blocked, such as Meduza, the same for the BBC and, for some reason, The Village. Putin’s regime has focused on spreading disinformation and propaganda rhetoric both in the country and abroad. The perception of popularity, which has been created using media resources and PR technologies gives additional points for trust among the Russian population around the world. The level of trust in Vladimir Putin in Russia is very high – 77%. According to the dates of Moldova’s Public Opinion Barometer of the Institute of Public Policies, a great deal of trust in Vladimir Putin in 2021 had been placed – 28.8% of Moldovans respondents.Despite the European integration trajectory and the significant assistance received in this process from neighboring Romania, the main strategic partner of Moldova 32.5% perceived by respondents in the middle of 2021was Russia, 28.1% – Romania. The position of Moldovan authorThe position of Moldovan authorities in terms of combatting Russian propaganda and disinformation became more pronounced. Russian media remain influential in the Moldovan media landscape with high-rating TV stations, print and online media. Russian information resources continue to exert an obvious manipulative influence by spreading disinformation, in particular about the war, the position and actions of Ukrainian officials and Western countries. The impact of the Russian propaganda and disinformation is very high, especially for such regions as Transnistria, Gagauzia and the Northern regions of Moldova. The war in Ukraine does not seem to have changed radically people’s attitude toward Russia in these core Russophile regions of Moldova. In order to spread awareness about the Russian manipulative campaign, Moldovan president Maia Sandu promulgated in June the Informational Security Law, which bans the broadcast in Moldova of Russian TV news and political analysis. The law, designed to counter Russian propaganda about the war in Ukraine, says that the ban will still apply after the expiration of the state of emergency established in Moldova after Russia invaded Ukraine. The normative act prohibits news and analytical broadcasts from countries that have not ratified the Convention on Transfrontier Television. It stipulates that 50 percent of TV content must come from EU countries, the United States and those states that have ratified the Convention. Fast forward to EuropeThe challenges the Republic of Moldova is currently facing in the security context are created by the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The war in Ukraine has brought instability and uncertainty to the region – but also a chance to rebuild the balance of power on the continent based on new, fairer rules. The new reality has shown us that authorities must act decisively if we want to anchor Moldova in a community that can offer stability and development. The European integration of the Republic of Moldova has enabled significant progress in terms of the country’s development over the past decade. According to the Public Opinion Barometer (2021), 65.1% of respondents were in favor of the future of Moldova in the EU.The positive perception of the European vector of development by the citizens of Moldova has significantly increased over the years of the existence of the Eastern Partnership, which is mainly the result of effective public diplomacy and the EU’s “soft power”.  For the Republic of Moldova, the European Union is, first of all, a peace project. Therefore, Moldova signed the EU membership application on March 3. EU accession is the only strategic option that offers the Republic of Moldova the chance to remain part of the free world. Moldova has an ambitious development agenda in cooperation with the European Union, but development requires peace. The Republic of Moldova has shown so far, a strong political will to promote the European agenda and pursue the necessary reforms. The Republic of Moldova is carrying out an intense lobbying campaign, having Romania, an EU member state, working side by side with Chisinau, to achieve this goal. In fact, all the states in the Eastern bloc support a favorable decision for the Republic of Moldova. The most difficult part was the process of completing the European Commission’s Questionnaire in an extremely short time (in the case of other states the process took up to several years), which required unprecedented synergy of actions. All this has demonstrated an amazing capacity of the authorities to mobilize, which despite the many crises facing our country, have allocated the necessary resources to achieve the national strategic objective. On June 23, 2022, the European Council decided to grant EU candidate status to the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. This is a victory for the citizens of Moldova and a victory for the strong political leadership of our country. ConclusionThe war requires a coordinated response at the national, regional and global levels. Political authorities of the Republic of Moldova need to avoid introducing distortive policies in response to surging commodity prices, opting instead to offer targeted support to vulnerable households and expand social safety nets. Pressures on fiscal space and increasing vulnerabilities also call for protecting essential basic services like health and education, and special approaches for the protection of vulnerable populations, especially low-income groups, refugees and the elderly. A still unfolding economic crisis requires carefully calibrated policies to ensure, in practice, the functionality and effectiveness of special crisis response measures. It is important to consider the direct and indirect economic consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war. A steep slowdown in Russia and Ukraine will affect neighboring countries, including Moldova, through disruptions to trade, financial, and remittance flows. The negative effects will lead to the severance of supply chains and transport links, and also impacts digital connectivity and associated services. The heightened risk perceptions by investors will result in a reduced level of foreign investments necessary for the sustainable development of the country. Higher energy prices will have important knock-on effects on the affordability and financial viability of electricity and heating services. Measures to increase energy efficiency will emerge as a key point. If the war, which is already affecting the Black Sea region and the global economy through large and unanticipated changes in the movement of people and commodities, is protracted, the conflict will affect major fiscal and financial implications. At the same time, tackling the conflict’s many spillovers, including the refugee flows, commodity market disruptions, food insecurity, and heightened financial market volatility will necessitate a comprehensive menu of national Moldovan policy priorities. Under these conditions, the Republic of Moldova will have to continue pursuing internal reforms and the modernization of the state, making efforts to promote the European integration. More attention should be paid to strengthening the control mechanisms for carrying out domestic reforms, as well as to the effectiveness of the political course and security policy, built on the principle of achieving practical results in ensuring and maintaining security on the European continent.

Defense & Security
puzzle reveals the flag of Kazakhstan and the inscription Russia, Concept, Mutual relations of both countries

After Ukraine, Is Kazakhstan Next in the Kremlin’s Sights?

by Temur Umarov

Kazakhstan is generally regarded as Russia’s closest ally after Belarus, so Moscow could have been forgiven for expecting some kind of support for its war with Ukraine from the Central Asian country. After all, Kazakhstan has always participated in all of Russia’s integration projects, including the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), where Kazakhstan cooperates with Russia on defense. Additionally, it was largely thanks to the Kremlin that Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev retained power in January when the country was rocked by political disturbances and violent clashes. Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, however, many in Russia have regarded Kazakhstan’s actions as being unworthy of an ally. It has adhered to Western sanctions against Russia, and in an appearance at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June, in the presence of President Vladimir Putin, Tokayev stated that Kazakhstan would not be recognizing the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics.” Kazakhstan’s defiant rhetoric has been backed up by action, with Kazakh authorities sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine and maintaining contact with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Russian military propaganda symbols have been banned in public places in Kazakhstan; the May 9 Victory Day parade was canceled; and official approval was even given for an anti-war rally in Almaty. When Kazakh oil being shipped through Russia ran into unexpected difficulties, therefore, many wondered if this was Russia exacting its revenge. Against this backdrop, it’s not surprising that a hastily deleted post by former president—and now deputy chair of the Security Council—Dmitry Medvedev suggesting that after Ukraine, Moscow might turn its attention to the fate of northern Kazakhstan, was taken at face value by many people. But could Russia really enter into conflict with another of its neighbors?Kazakhstan has made political gestures in the past that have displeased Moscow, but they never prevented close cooperation between the two countries. Now, however, economic differences appear to have emerged, with the Kazakh side in no rush to help Russian companies bypass Western sanctions, opposing legalizing parallel imports and preventing Russian and Belarusian truckers from bringing in goods from Europe. In a move that is unlikely to be warmly received in Moscow, Kazakhstan is also giving a warm welcome to companies that are leaving Russia. Russia certainly has a variety of ways in which it can remind Kazakhstan of the price it will pay for worsening relations. It could cut off Kazakhstan’s main source of income: its lucrative oil exports. The oil and gas sector accounts for over 40 percent of the Kazakh state’s revenues, and 80 percent of its oil exports pass through Russian territory via the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), of which Russia is the largest stakeholder (31 percent). There are other possible export routes—via the port in Baku, by pipeline to China, or by rail to Uzbekistan—but they can’t match the CPC in terms of volume, price, or speed of delivery. By cutting off this key source of income for Kazakhstan, Moscow could also put pressure on the Central Asian state’s main customer, the European Union, demonstrating that a rejection of Russian oil would come with an additional loss for the EU of upwards of a million barrels of Kazakh oil a day. It’s possible that this was the veiled threat being sent when Russia twice—in mid-June and early July—brought the CPC’s operation to a standstill, citing technical issues. Both incidents followed statements from Tokayev that would have done little to please Moscow: one on Kazakhstan’s intention to observe anti-Russian sanctions, and the other on the country’s readiness to help stabilize the situation on Europe’s energy markets. Both stoppages were short-lived, but could have led to emergencies at Kazakh enterprises with continuous production cycles. Oil exports are by no means the only Kazakh pressure point that the Russians could exploit. Kazakhstan is critically reliant on imports from Russia for a range of food items, notably cooking oil, sugar, and milk. Russia is also a key source of petrochemicals, iron, and fertilizer for Kazakhstan, as well as imported car parts. Overall, Russia accounts for a fifth of Kazakhstan’s total external trade, while over half of Kazakhstan’s cargo flows pass through Russia. Again, alternative routes—to Europe via the Southern Caucasus, to the south through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, or by rail to China—are far more expensive. How the situation will develop is a matter of some debate. Following the invasion of Ukraine, almost anything in Russian foreign policy seems possible, and rational criteria cannot be relied upon to predict Moscow’s actions. It is unlikely, however, that Russia was counting on a great deal of support from Kazakhstan as it prepared its invasion. It’s also unlikely that Moscow would put up with direct criticism, but Kazakhstan hasn’t yet crossed that line, so Russian-Kazakh relations have not undergone a fundamental change. In Central Asia in general, Russia’s main priority has always been to reinforce friendly political regimes. Putting pressure on Kazakhstan now—throttling it economically, forcing it to support the war, and demanding a break with the West—would weaken the current leadership, which hasn’t yet fully recovered from the upheaval of January. Meanwhile, Tokayev’s readiness to publicly stand up to Moscow has only reinforced his position in Kazakh society. People are beginning to see him as an independent politician who is no longer reliant on his predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev, or on Putin. If the Kremlin attempts to force Tokayev to retreat from his position, it risks provoking a new wave of public discontent in Kazakhstan which, in turn, will impact the economic issues that have yet to be resolved. For now, Moscow appears keen to give the impression that Ukraine only has itself to blame and that it’s business as usual for Russia’s other neighbors and allies. Now that Russia is isolated from the West, it needs to demonstrate it has good relations elsewhere, not least in Central Asia. No surprise, then, that Medvedev’s post caused so much concern. Although the text was later removed and its authenticity denied, it reflected the expectations of the hawks in Russian society and is entirely in keeping with the current political dialogue within Russia, where hardly anything is taboo. Similar criticisms of Kazakhstan are regularly heard from Russian officials, not to mention the extremes reached by non-officials. The key factor here, though, is that Medvedev’s post simply transferred the same logic that it is applying to Ukraine to its relations with Kazakhstan. If the Kremlin sees that logic as being sufficient to justify a military invasion, what is to stop it doing the same in other former Soviet republics? For now, Moscow sees Kazakhstan as a friendly regime, but Russia’s criteria for friendship are becoming ever more amorphous. The regimes of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are closely intertwined, but Kazakhstan is now seeking its own path forward with a renewed leadership, a freer market economy, and an absence of hostilities with the West. As time goes on, Russia and Kazakhstan’s trajectories will become increasingly divergent, creating new sources of tension between them. As a result, there are now serious doubts that Moscow, with its varied arsenal for putting pressure on Kazakhstan, will be willing to let this ally go its own way without retribution.By:Temur Umarov

Defense & Security
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrive for Zapad 2021 joint military drills held by Russia and Belarus at Mulino training ground in Nizhniy Novgorod

Putin was convinced that it was necessary. What is the greatest danger surrounding the Russian retreat of from Kherson

by Oleksiy Melnyk

I see two important aspects here. The first one is military. The second is political. The news of the Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu's order to withdraw from Kherson did not come as a surprise to me. On the other hand, it was really a pleasant surprise. It was clear that Russia's chances of keeping the right-bank part of Ukraine were decreasing day by day, and this is not an opinion of a cheering patriot or propagandist, because it is next to impossible to keep such a contingent, estimated at around 40,000, with all the equipment and logistics needs, while the two supply channels are under the enemy fire. Therefore, the question was only "when", or "how Kherson will be liberated": will it be retaken, or the occupiers will flee Kherson. Why did Russia delay this decision until now? This unfavourable situation was clear to them as soon as Ukraine started striking bridges with HIMARS. There are two important aspects here, in my opinion. The first one is military. The second is political. When Sergey Surovikin, as the newly appointed commander, spoke on October 18 about his readiness for "difficult decisions", he obviously had this in mind. But he, like any other Russian general, understood that he would not be allowed to do so without the go-ahead from the top. And it doesn't matter how he reasoned this retreat. Like any Russian general, he was afraid to tell Putin the truth. There is a Russian proverb about what happens to the one who brings bad news. Therefore, Surovikin tried to convey that a disaster awaited them on the right bank of the Dnieper in Kherson region, if they don’t decide to withdraw. The political value of Kherson is absolutely obvious. Russia (Kremlin, Putin) put themselves in a situation that could not be worse by declaring this territory Russian. Which could be an even more painful blow to the image of this great macho, who in fact showed his weakness? It involves both political and personal risks for Putin as the head of state, who presented himself as a macho man who had everything under control. In my opinion, either Evgeniy Prigozhin or Surovikin (by the way, there are rumours in Russian expert circles about agreements between Surovikin and Prigozhin), or both, might have convinced Putin that it was a necessary decision, and the political risks would be less catastrophic than if such a decision was not taken. Here, perhaps, lies the greatest danger, because such a decision might go with something that obviously should stop this information wave "everything is lost" in Russia. Our readers should at least mentally prepare for some unpleasant surprises awaiting us in the coming days. I think that our military leadership has calculated these risks and is preparing preventive measures. The next question, which is of interest not only to me, is how this retreat will take place? The thing is that compared with the "gesture of goodwill" at the end of March, then Ukrainian opportunities to pursue the retreating units were quite limited. So it was hardly a gentlemanly gesture on our part. Let's not take the Snake Island, because its case was special due to its location, but in September — October, we saw an uncontrolled process of Russians fleeing in the Kharkiv region. All — thanks to the fact that the Ukrainian forces could counterattack and pursue them. What is the Russian scenario of withdrawal from Kherson? What will be the tactics of our military? In open sources, I did not see any hint of the existence of, I would not say, political but some kind of gentlemen's agreements, that in exchange for such a "gesture of goodwill" Ukraine would allow these troops to leave the right bank unhampered. They are extremely vulnerable precisely for the reason I mentioned earlier — there are only two main ways to the left bank. They are under the Ukrainian artillery control. The fewer Russian forces are left on the right bank, the easier it will be for Ukrainians to cut this retreat altogether. So I don't know what the tactics of the Ukrainian side will be. Can they just be allowed to leave? Maybe so. But we understand that these 40,000 will not go to the Kerch Bridge — they will be immediately redeployed in another direction. So, if we allow them to leave quietly, in a week or two they should be expected near  Donetsk or Zaporizhia, and will try to storm them from the south. Obviously, there will be no lull in the coming days and weeks. It will not be like the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan, when there was an agreement between the command and the enemy side that they would not touch the convoys moving towards the USSR. I do not think that the withdrawal from Kherson region is a bluff or a deceptive manoeuvre, despite all the Russian treachery. It is really impossible to hold Kherson region on the right bank, the price is extremely high. They will explain this withdrawal on their TV: Apparently, the Ukrainians threatened to blow up the Kakhovka dam, so they decided to save the lives of both military and civilians. For me, this gives some understanding that the threat of its explosion is minimal, at least at the moment. The intact Kakhovka dam is better for the Russians than if it were blown up. However, the risk of its explosion is not eliminated, only postponed, and when Russia is forced to demonstrate another "gesture of good will" — leave Nova Kakhovka and lose control of the Kakhovka dam — this threat will be extremely high. The Kakhovka dam means not only flooding of the territories downstream of the Dnieper but also a real threat to the Zaporizhia NPP — a threat of a disaster comparable to Japanese Fukushima.

Defense & Security
Russian Duma

From Shadows to Spotlight - The Kremlin’s Not-So-Covert Gambit for Ukraine

by Annabel Peterson

Introduction: The Culmination Points The war in Ukraine has been raging for 19 months and is yet to exhibit a conclusive imbalance of forces and means. This is good news for Ukraine, who was expected to surrender within days, and an unprecedented embarrassment for Russia, who planned for a Crimea 2.0. What we are witnessing today is undoubtedly the result of a cluster of Russian intelligence failures, both in terms of reconnaissance and operational support. A lot has been written about the general errors in autocratic intelligence management, as well as Russia’s resistance to modern tactical realities such as crowdsourcing open-source intelligence (OSINT), but few have considered the overall weakness of the underlying strategic intelligence assets. For Russia, a loyal collaborator network, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), and certain advanced cyberwarfare were central to preparing the ground for a quick surrender. All of these, however, reached their culmination points after the initial intervention in Ukraine 8 years prior. The culmination point of attack is a well-known Clausewitzian military concept describing the inevitable equilibrium reached as a result of the defender’s counterbalancing activities and the attacker’s consequent loss of initial superiority. At this point, the attacker is still able to hold the defence, yet continuing the offensive in the same manner would mean defeat. In Russian doctrine, the same laws apply to a clandestine battlefield, where the culmination point is reached with the exposure of one’s true goals, means, and methods. Intelligence operations that fail to adapt to the operating environment and enemy responses naturally become counterproductive to the attacker’s strategic goals. The annexation of Crimea was an example of a successful deployment of clandestine means at the height of their strategic influence. The operation has been described as a clever adaptation of tactics after being cornered by the failure of Russia’s original active measure campaign in 2013. However, the aftermath of that operation brought the remaining Russian influence assets to their culmination point, thus calling for a clear change of strategy. The Kremlin’s political-strategic goal – ever since Ukraine’s declaration of independence – has been to subordinate it to Moscow’s will. In pursuit of that, Moscow has attempted to instal various puppet entities into Ukraine’s political system, starting with the illegitimate “Donbas people’s republics” in 2014. Eight years and two Minsk Agreements later, the Kremlin had not achieved the desired results and decided to extend the puppet network into Kyiv’s central government. Similarly to Crimea, a successful power transfer merited a quick (and preferably bloodless) surrender of the government. Setting the stage for a Crime-type power transfer was, therefore, the venerable goal of the Russian intelligence services in the leadup to the invasion. The Federal Security Service’s (FSB, Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti) 5th Directorate – tasked with combatting dissent in Russia’s “near abroad” – carried the heaviest weight in preparing Ukraine for invasion. Some western security officials would even hold the FSB accountable for the trickle-down failures of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces (GRU, Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie) and Russian military intelligence, who were forced to work with flawed base information regarding the potential for Ukrainian resistance. Adding to this the obsoleteness of Russia’s agent network, Orthodox authorities, and cyberwarfare upon which its success largely relied, the invasion was doomed to fail from the start. 1. A Network Without Collaboration The primary covert asset – required for a swift occupation of Ukraine – was a reliable Russian agent network on the ground to provide strategic intelligence and prepare the information conditions enabling a smooth power transfer. Such a cultivation of the soil for a Russian takeover started already in the 1990s, eventually unleashing a competition for the most impactful ground presence among the Russian intelligence services. According to Bellingcat’s lead investigator, Christo Grozev, Russia’s internal security service and military intelligence, in particular, have been competing to set up the most far-reaching fifth column in Ukraine. In pursuit of that, both the FSB and the GRU have targeted not only Ukrainian politicians, activists, and security officials but also the judiciary, journalists, and former Yanukovych associates. By 2014, Russia’s agents of influence had provided enough leverage to convert existing political divisions, weak institutions, and high- levelcorruptionintoaquicksurrenderof Crimea and Donbas. Researchers from the Estonian Academy of Military Sciences identified the saboteur network’s systematic spreading of panic and propaganda as a key factor enabling Russian success in Donbas. It entailed fake news that alleged heavy Ukrainian casualties and the untrustworthiness of the government in Kyiv. Separatist collaborators, together with professional Russian intelligence officers, stood at the centre of these information operations. Such officers would, for instance, arrive at conflict hotspots, alongside the “journalists” specialised in propaganda, and fabricate the developments to appear unfavourable to Ukrainian resistance. It meant that by the start of the physical confrontation in Donbas, the region had been thoroughly primed for Russian intervention and that incoming troops had no trouble convincing Ukrainians to surrender entire settlements without resistance. Weeks prior, a similar scenario had unfolded in Crimea, with the collaborator network enabling deep deception and fast evolution of events on the ground. At the height of that unprecedented operation, the appearance of Russian troops without insignia made it difficult for Ukrainian counterintelligence to diagnose and respond to the situation, not to mention the paralysing confusion in local civilian masses. The covert operation ran smoothly, owing its success to widespread collaboration from the local police, security service, political, and criminal elites, whom the Russians had managed to infiltrate and corrupt. The efficient informational cover and timely intelligence provided by the collaborator network allowed Russian forces to swiftly seize key strategic positions on the peninsula and thus deny grassroots resistance by deception. However, what the Kremlin may not have realised in 2022 was that underlying the success in Crimea were extremely favourable political conditions and the complete novelty of the chosen approach, which could not be replicated in other operations. Moscow’s human intelligence (HUMINT)-enabled and deceptive diversion operation in Ukraine, therefore, reached its culmination point in 2014. At that moment, Russia still retained enough plausible deniability to avoid direct proportional consequences, but the opposing security communities became hyper- focused on the “hybrid” elements in Russian offensive operations, thereby suggesting exposure of the Kremlin’s covert methods. The operation’s political technologist, Vladislav Surkov, was sanctioned by the US immediately after the annexation, despite the frantic efforts of his aides to deny his involvement to the Western public. Experts interpreted Surkov’s careless reaction as a mere bluff. Notwithstanding the evident exposure of the covert operation, Russia’s game plan for a successful military intervention in 2022 remained unchanged. As the most comprehensive post-mortem of the intelligence failure details, the Russian asset network was meant to paralyse the Ukrainian state and condition Ukrainian officials to accept a pro-Russian course; the next step would be provoking mass protests against the government’s sudden inability to serve Ukrainian national interests. The systematic spreading of false narratives regarding the protests would help fracture Ukrainian resistance and provide a moral justification for an invasion. Analogous to the 2014 operations, Moscow’s agents on the ground were supposed to maintain pro-Russian sentiments in the contested territories until Russian forces secured critical strategic positions. The main goal of the GRU’s ground network was to ensure the physical passage of Russian troops and members of the FSB’s planned puppet government. A principal role in this was to be played by one of the GRU’s most crucial assets and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Andriy Derkach, recruited in 2016. By the time of the invasion, Derkach and his assistant Igor Kolesnikov had been put at the centre of the entire network. However, at the final preparatory and initial active stages of the invasion, multiple malfunctions occurred, signalling a premature burnout. • The first setback was the sanctioning of Andriy Derkach in 2020 for his interference in the 2016 US presidential election. In addition to provoking mass protests and misleading Ukrainian counterintelligence, Derkach was to lead the dissemination of disinformation about the dangers associated with Ukrainian nuclear energy production – all of which failed to materialise after his landing on the blacklist. Complete exposure of Russia’s intended psychological operations became clear weeks prior to the invasion when the UK and US had strategically declassified comprehensive intelligence about Moscow’s plans to politically subvert Ukraine. Remarkably, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU, Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrainy) had apparently been aware of the Derkach network – and allegedly neutralised it at the beginning of the invasion by detaining Kolesnikov, identified as the key manager of funding. • The second setback partly followed from the first. Such public and attributed disclosure of Russian psychological operations gained superiority for the Ukrainian narrative and mobilised a resolute international alliance (even though Ukrainian officials had been initially denying the possibility of a Russian attack). Moreover, in the face of Russian aggression, domestic public opinion was uniformly in favour of EU and NATO integration. This should have been interpreted as a clear sign that the lack of societal cohesion and international support no longer formed a weakness to exploit. Unlike in 2014-15, there were indicators that the West would intervene. However, the FSB chose to conduct its own polls, overseen by a former Yanukovych aide in charge of sleeper agents, and then interpreted the numbers to support the armed intervention. As RUSI researchers have explained, the invasion was likely based on the premise that those institutions in which the population showed the most trust – i.e., the military and the civil society organisations – could also be easily neutralised by the Russian network on the ground in Ukraine. Battlefield success during the initial stages of the invasion, therefore, relied on similar influence and diversion tactics as in 2014. In grave contrast to the former, the invading troops instead found the local population in the contested territories assisting the Ukrainian intelligence services to sabotage Russian positions. Hence, sticking to the methods of 2014 was counterproductive for the agent network of 2022. • This led to the third setback: the questionable loyalty of Russian junior agents and informers in Ukraine. The FSB’s strengths in the Ukrainian theatre came with a considerable expansion of its operations and the establishment of a “curator system,” whereby over 120 FSB curators would manage around 5-10 asset relationships. It involved a shift from targeting exclusively the highest- ranking officials in 2014 to virtually everyone associated with influential people, down to their service personnel in 2022. A key characteristic of this approach was that assets were recruited on a flexible, temporary, and project basis, which sometimes did not align with their professions and, therefore, took a toll on the assets’ quality and loyalty. In the words of the SBU’s reserve Major General Viktor Yahun, the expanded spy network in Ukraine was corrupted by its own structure. As assets got tangled in a “circle of responsibility” to cover comrades and improve their own results, the intelligence reaching the decision- makers at the top was being tailored to support the illusion of an easy Russian victory. The status of Putin’s favoured service, earned by the successes of 2014, also deepened patrimonialism within the curators themselves, whose tool to advance one’s career was to validate the Kremlin’s pre-decided policies. The GRU was facing the same problem: most of the influence agents they had recruited would not cooperate directly with their curators after “D-Day,” suggesting that they may have never been supportive of an operation of this kind. In this regard, Christo Grozev brings a noteworthy example of an asset inside the SBU that the GRU had to execute to preserve its credibility among other collaborators. The structure and modus operandi of the Kremlin’s agent network in Ukraine, therefore, suggests that it was expected to behave similarly as did in 2014 – i.e., to condition both the authorities and the local communities to surrender without resistance. However, as one puts all the setbacks together a clear picture emerges: once a functioning asset network had been reduced to ashes by the start of the invasion. 2. A Church Without Faith The collaborator network was interconnected with the ROC – a de-facto state institution that, in the words of Russian religious scholar Sergey Chapnin, “less and less resembles a church in the traditional understanding of this word.” It is rather a multifaceted influence asset of the Russian state that has prematurely culminated first on the strategic and then on the operational level. The ROC attains its strategic significance from its special status as a formally depoliticised extension of the state’s hand – its main function ever since Peter the Great’s imperialistic reforms. Stalin’s revival of the church during WWII and the recruitment of its priests as the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD, Narodnyi komissariat vnutrennikh del) agents set up a patrimonial security structure that outlasted the collapse of the USSR. Up to date, Patriarch Kirill, the current leader of the ROC, continues to emphasise the close relationship between the church and the state. A deep dive into its history shows that in 1992, the church’s public discourse began to glorify Russian combat soldiers as saints. Indeed, in the context of war, there is no asset as useful as one that can justify and encourage dying en masse for the Motherland. However, events took a downturn for the ROC on the eve of the Crimean annexation. Leaked emails from the operation’s leading architect, Vladislav Surkov, revealed that the ROC had failed its grand strategic mission already in the leadup to the Ukrainian Euromaidan, making the annexation the last resort rather than a demonstration of power. This happened as the Kremlin sought to use the church as a tool to steer Ukrainian public sentiments towards “Eurasia” but, after various propaganda campaigns, found all the Orthodox churches in Ukraine still formally favouring integration with the EU. Having failed to influence the general direction of Ukraine, the ROC, nevertheless, maintained substantial social authority in the target country. The FSB’s polls found that ahead of the invasion, the church was still highly regarded by over half of the Ukrainian population. The deep intelligence infiltration of the Moscow Patriarchate’s domains allowed the church to remain the main cover organisation for Russian operations since the 1990s. The ROC’s impact was the most visible in Ukrainian domestic politics, where its presence secured Russia’s claims to Ukrainian territory by cultivating a “religious nationalist” political faction, promoting the narrative of inherent religious unity between the two nations. Drawing on this uncontested institutional authority, the real value of the ROC was in enabling the Kremlin to uphold an elected pro-Russian representation in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine throughout multiple election cycles. What was left of the ROC’s strategic influence on Ukraine’s political and religious divisions peaked just before the start of the conflict in 2014. The culmination point was reached with the annexation of Crimea when the church first came under fire. Yet, it was still able to escape blame and distance itself by portraying the Russian intervention as a religious dispute within the context of a “Ukrainian civil war.” Since no creative adaptations to the strategy followed, the increasing public questioning of the ROC’s loyalties after the annexation took a toll on its influence, eventually leading to a formal secession of the Ukrainian church from the Moscow Patriarchate in 2019. It delivered a fatal blow to the ROC as its main reason for existence had become the “one Orthodox nation” myth used to maintain control over Ukraine. Whereas the ROC’s central strategic narrative had simply failed to make an impact before the occupation of Crimea, after the annexation, it was outright swept out of existence. Beyond political strategies, the ROC also had an operational role in capturing Ukraine. In the 2014 battles, for instance, priests were found fighting among separatist ranks in Donbas and operating torture chambers on the premises of religious facilities. Paramilitaries with a distinct Orthodox identity made a significant contribution to the separatist war effort, especially wing to the participation of local “Kazak” units familiar with the landscape. In the ongoing war, Estonian Foreign Intelligence recognised the ROC’s provision of multifunctional safehouses to be a critical constituent of the Russian ground network. Even more importantly, it was the ROC’s associates who provided the most valuable HUMINT if compared to the otherwise underperforming network. Naturally, the church’s special status as a religious institution, with a mandate to oppose the Kremlin, grants it the most auspicious position to conduct social network analysis and gather overall situational awareness. Christo Grozev also admits that church associates constitute a pool of trustworthy pro-Russian “spies and gunners” who assist with the actual conduct of hostilities. In continuation of the 2014 efforts, ROC priests were again among the most important local agents promoting the invaders and reporting the non-conformists to the Russian occupant forces. The ROC’s operational community manage- ment duties maxed out during the initial phases of the occupation in 2022, with the loss of plausible deniability regarding its involvement. Following the secession of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church during Poroshenko’s presidency, the ROC’s positions began to deteriorate, while the reach of malicious Russian networks and influence tools embedded in it was reduced. It had, nevertheless, enjoyed relative immunity up until the invasion due to the Ukrainian government’s political fear of limiting religious freedom and offending the remaining Ukrainian patriots among the ROC’s followers. However, uncovering the extent of Russian war crimes during the Ukrainian counteroffensive left the ROC no more room for denial and resulted in a systematic targeting of the church and its associates. It was at this point that the maintenance of the ROC as an operational asset became counterproductive. Ukrainian counterintelligence soon confiscated its physical property and made sure to expose all suspicious findings to the media. Statistics show that most believers consequently began to see Russian Orthodox priests primarily as intelligence agents; a tectonic shift in formal allegiance to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has occurred, thereby dealing a final blow to the ROC’s legitimacy in Ukraine. 3. Attack Without Leverage The final asset – crucial to shaping sentiments on the ground and complementing Russian military strikes – was state-sponsored cyberattacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. One particular GRU cyber unit named “Sandworm” was the prime actor associated with this task since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. After hacking various news and government websites to spread disinformation and encourage the population to surrender to occupation authorities, the GRU’s cyber strategy culminated with a large-scale attack on Ukrainian critical infrastructure in December 2015, leaving thousands of civilians without power for a prolonged period. This was another classic attempt to undermine societal trust in Ukraine’s capabilities to withstand aggression and provide for its citizens. For external observers, Sandworm’s attack constituted both an escalation from previous disruptive incidents and the first successful sabotage of a state’s energy infrastructure by a covert cyber campaign. The West – while acknowledging the campaign’s highly sophisticated and systematic nature – was left dumbfounded by Russia’s technical capability and fearful of Moscow’s potential to politically subvert Ukraine. That ominous precedent exemplified to multiple stakeholders and observer states the necessity of securing their power grids from hostile foreign state actors. The 2015 attack became Sandworm’s culmination point: Ukraine was severely affected but recovered fast amidst the international attention. The GRU managed to hit the target’s weakness in a highly unexpected manner while initially retaining an umbrella of deniability, plausible enough to avoid legal repercussions. In theoretical terms, a retreat – or change of strategy – at that point was warranted to avoid burnout. However, the GRU approached the attack rather as reconnaissance by combat – i.e., a subtype of reflexive control aimed at gaining intelligence on the target’s capabilities and potential responses by way of attack. Having witnessed Ukraine’s inability to resist or respond to such incidents, Sandworm carried out occasional attacks in the following years. Continuing the cyber campaign without any modifications became counterproductive when private companies and other external entities entered the game on Ukraine’s side. By 2022, highly capable private actors such as Microsoft had already pre-emptively intervened and offered real-time assistance to Ukraine in countering Russian cyberattacks throughout the invasion. Likewise, the Starlink communications technology not only derailed Russian attempts to disturb Ukrainian command and control but became a lifeline for civil resistance. In a direct affront to Russia’s cyber campaign’s goals, the donated Western technology enabled sophisticated intelligence collection and fire support operations capability for the Ukrainian forces. The turn of tables became apparent with two main events. • First, in the beginning, stage of the invasion, Sandworm launched large- scale wiper attacks on Ukraine’s critical digital infrastructure, with Viasat, a military communications provider, among its targets. As in the old playbook, the goal was to undermine Ukraine’s political will and collect intelligence on all levels. While significant tactical complications for the target followed, the attack failed to affect Ukraine’s societal and military morale as planned. On the contrary, the Ukrainian Armed Forces managed to leverage the public for intelligence value, further strengthening societal resilience. • Second, reassured by the 2015 experience, Sandworm attempted another ambitious cyberattack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant a few months into the invasion, aiming to leave millions without energy. However, this time, the aid provided by Ukraine’s private supporters enabled a complete denial of the fatal attack or any force-multiplying effects to entail. Furthermore, the resemblance of the offensive software to the 2015 attack facilitated a faster neutralisation of the cyberweapon. Russia’s efforts again failed to account for the greatly enhanced resilience that Ukraine’s digital infrastructure would display after learning from the initial shock attack. The Ukrainian side, on the contrary, demonstrated an understanding of the GRU’s modus operandi and gained silent battleground superiority by capitalising on the initial exposure of Sandworm. Conclusion: The Common Denominator There was one common denominator between Andriy Derkach, the ROC leadership, and Sandworm: they were all products on the Kremlin’s covert action shelf whose expiry date had passed almost a decade ago (although they may still often come up to describe Russia’s hidden strategy to condition Ukraine into a quick surrender). What started as a markedly successful leveraging of covert assets in support of territorial gains and political concessions in 2014 culminated with a complete strategic blunder that was the 2022 invasion. A premature culmination of those three strategic assets is one way to explain the outcomes. After the successful annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of Donbas, the FSB expanded its Ukraine operations but failed to realise that the loyalty and public sentiments that triumphed in 2014 would not be the default in 2022. The GRU’s efforts against Ukraine were exposed both on the ground and in cyberspace, which helped Ukraine gain external support and build up resilience against the two types of subversion. In the meantime, the FSB and the GRU were heavily relying on the ROC, which had been gradually losing all leverage in Ukraine after the 2019 schism and the 2022 exposure of its direct involvement in the conflict. On the one hand, the turn of events suggests that Russia’s tools and theories of hybrid warfare may be neither as sophisticated nor effective as feared after the annexation of Crimea. The flip side of this implies that the current war will rely more on Russian biomass and hard power, especially now when assets of influence and non-military subversion have been exhausted. On the other hand, our understanding of Russia’s performance in this regard may be somewhat biased since we are, by definition, only able to analyse intelligence failures – not achievements. Another aspect to consider is the continuing revelations of Russia’s successful meddling in democratic political processes abroad, which suggests that some Russian covert assets outside of Ukraine may yet reach their culmination points. The central questions are if and what the Kremlin learns from the strategic failures in Ukraine, as well as whether it becomes more open to the structural improvements needed.

Defense & Security
Ukrainian soldier looking over destructions in Irpin, Ukraine

No peace without a military victory

by Jana Puglierin

Russia has been at war with Ukraine for more than 10 months, with no end in sight and with just as little prospect for direct negotiations between the warring parties. These were last broken off mutually on 17 May 2022. Since then, there have been repeated calls in Germany, whether in opinion articles or open letters, for more diplomatic efforts to end the hostilities. Such calls were often combined with demands for the federal government to cease arms deliveries to Ukraine: when all is said and done, peace is achieved not with arms, but with a truce, the argument goes. And continuing the war with the already unrealistic goal of a Ukrainian victory and the recapture of all the territory occupied by Russia would only mean useless bloodshed. These calls are all too understandable given the horrific images of suffering and destruction that reach us daily from Ukraine. Even so, it would be wrong right now to urge Ukraine to negotiate – or even give up parts of its territory and the people living there. Surely, no one wants the guns to go silent more than the Ukrainians themselves. They are the victims of this war. It is their hospitals, kindergartens and schools that have been destroyed by Russian missiles and drone attacks. Many have lost their homes. When the air raid sirens sound, it is they who sit in the shelters and who go without heating, electricity or running water, often for hours or days on end. The exact number of soldiers who have died at the front is unknown; US estimates put the count at up to 100,000. And yet, the Ukrainian government wants to continue the fight against the Russian aggressor – and only negotiate directly with Russia if and when the Kremlin first answers for its war crimes before an international tribunal and withdraws all troops from Ukraine, including from the illegally annexed areas. In this,  the government is supported by the vast majority of the Ukrainian population.Putin wants total control of UkraineIt is clear to the Ukrainians that the Russian President Vladimir Putin is not interested in finding a way for a secure coexistence with a sovereign and independent Ukraine that can determine its own future.  He wants it gone. In his view, today's Ukraine is nothing more than a ‘colony with a puppet regime’, an externally controlled and hostile ‘anti-Russia’, set up against the ‘real cultural, economic and social interests of the people and the true sovereignty of Ukraine’. For Putin, Ukraine and Russia are ‘one people’.  A Ukraine that is independent of Russia and wants to open up to Europe along the lines of its central European neighbours is unacceptable because it calls into question the very foundations of the Russian imperium, which Putin is determined to prevent from falling apart. The repeatedly expressed assumptions that Russia is ultimately only concerned with preventing Ukraine from joining NATO, or only has geographic interests in the Donbas, are wrong. In truth, Moscow wants Ukraine to relinquish much more: its freedom, its identity, its self-determination, its culture. The destruction of Ukrainian life, Ukrainian art and Ukrainian statehood, together with repressions – from murder to rape to abduction – in the occupied territories are clear demonstrations of this. So far, there is no reason to believe that Putin's thinking has changed in recent months. On the contrary, with every further step, Putin makes clear that he is not ready to make concessions. Although he and other members of the Russian government regularly mention the word ‘negotiations’, they have so far not presented a concrete option. As recently as the end of December 2022, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated the call for the ‘demilitarisation and denazification’ of Ukraine and described the illegally annexed areas of Ukraine as Russia’s ’new territories’. Clearly, Putin has not abandoned his goal of complete political control over the country but has merely adjusted his approach and timeline. Because Russia was not militarily successful, the devastating airstrikes on the Ukrainian civilian population and the energy infrastructure are now intended to break the population's will to resist and to wear down the country – until Russia is able to launch a new offensive in the spring. Putin is also counting on the fact that the western supporter states – also under pressure from their populations – will soon tire and run out of weapons, ammunition and money for Kyiv. If the West were now to press for a ceasefire or peace negotiations, perhaps with the threat that it would otherwise end support for Ukraine, that would signal to the Kremlin that its method is working and that all it has to do is wait until we lose patience. So far, none of the advocates of an imminent ceasefire have been able to convincingly explain how Putin can be persuaded to make concessions without exerting further military pressure on him.Preventing Russia from dictating peaceWe Germans, in particular, have for years been repeating the mantra that ‘there is no military solution’ to this or that conflict. Unlike Vladimir Putin: in Georgia, the Crimea and Syria, he has learned that he can very successfully use military force to achieve his political goals. In the current conflict, therefore, only Ukraine's military successes prevent such a dictated peace from happening. In other words, Russia must first be stopped and pushed back militarily before there can be any chance of real diplomacy. It's about enabling Ukraine to hold its own against the Russian invasion and showing Putin that even a new military offensive in the spring has no chance of succeeding – and that this won't change over time. The West itself has a paramount interest in Putin not making any gain from his war of aggression. His ambitions are a danger to all of Europe. If he gets away again with using force and nuclear blackmail to bring parts of another state under his control, this invites repetition elsewhere, be it by Russia or another state. The goal of an overall revision of the European security order, which is essential for peace and prosperity also here in Germany, was announced by Russia in the treaty texts of December 2021. The decision by Germany, the US and France to now also supply Ukraine with armoured personnel carriers and reconnaissance vehicles is therefore logical. It emphasises that the major military powers of the West will not force Ukraine into an unacceptable deal with Russia.  Of course, the danger of escalation must always be kept in mind when providing military support. However, the reactions after missiles fell on the Polish-Ukrainian border in particular has shown that the West is aware of this and is reacting prudently and is capable of risk management. Real negotiations will only begin again when both Russia and Ukraine come to the conclusion that there is more to be gained from a truce than from fighting on. Perhaps the cards will be reshuffled after spring — if the ’hot autumn’ and the ’winter of fury’ in Europe fail to materialise, if the western democracies continue to stand firmly on the side of Ukraine and if a new Russian offensive proves unsuccessful. What is certain is that any negotiations and compromises will reflect the resulting balance of power between the parties. Our goal must therefore be to get Ukraine ready as well as possible for this point in time and to prepare together with Kyiv for the moment when the window for diplomacy indeed opens.

Defense & Security
President of Russia Vladimir Putin

Russia Faces Three Pivotal Moments in 2023

by Tatiana Stanovaya

In 2023, Russia faces three crucial issues—President Vladimir Putin’s plans for his future, the battle between the hawks and pragmatists in the elite, and looming government personnel changes—that could reshape the country.  More than ten months on from the invasion of Ukraine, the contrast between the scale of the external shocks faced by Russia and the relative inertia inside the country is striking. Despite military failings and punishing sanctions, most Russians have gone on with their lives as though nothing is happening, while the elites have tried not to think about what tomorrow may bring, instead putting their full trust in Putin. However, 2023 could prove a dramatic year for Russia and be make-or-break for its leadership’s resistance to change, with three internal questions in particular promising to shape the country’s development for decades to come.  First, Putin will have to decide whether to run for re-election in 2024. Russia’s constitution was amended in 2020 to allow him to remain president until 2036. He may alternatively name a successor, though to leave enough time for campaigning, he would have to do so by the end of December 2023. For now, no one is sure what his plans are. This is by design, as Putin prefers to keep his elites in the dark. Indeed, in the summer of 2020, he justified the constitutional changes that made it possible to extend his rule as a guard against unrest among the elites, who he said “need to work, not look around for successors.” Following the revision of the constitution, both the presidential administration and elites operated on the assumption that Putin would hold on to power indefinitely. Today, the key question is how his calculations have been changed by the war and, in particular, the fact that it has not gone according to plan. Some believe that in unleashing grave problems and threats, the war has strengthened Putin’s resolve to stay in power beyond 2024. Given his contempt for “political deserters”—those who quit their posts in tough times—he is unlikely to become one of them. Others feel that not only is Putin open to giving up power, he may see doing so as part of a solution to the conflict with Ukraine. Even if that appears to be wishful thinking, part of the elite clearly hopes that such a reset will suffice to end Russia’s recent string of setbacks. However, both sides lack certainty about his designs. In any case, Putin is famously fond of making decisions at the eleventh hour, often based on situational factors and in defiance of popular expectations. The 2024 problem, then, has become a major source of anxiety for the elites. It will do more than any other issue to influence the events of 2023, as the political class tries to work out Putin’s intentions and plan around them with an eye to minimizing risk. A second, related issue is the growing schism between those in the elites who favor escalating the war, and those who warn against doing so. This divide emerged after Russia’s withdrawal from the Kharkiv region and relinquishing of the key city of Kherson, and was fueled by Ukraine’s strike on the bridge to Crimea, the referendums held on annexing occupied parts of Ukraine, and the authorities’ subsequent ambiguity on what Russia’s official borders are.  The pragmatists, who consist of technocrats as well as mid-ranking officials in the military and the security services, are united in their conviction that the war should be paused and rethought, and that the country should opt for a more realistic policy in keeping with its rather limited capacities. The hawks call for Russia to not only unleash its full military might against Ukraine, but also to radically restructure its own political and economic system. The latter plank makes theirs a revolutionary faction (albeit pro-Putin, for now at least) whose aim is to supplant a government they see as stalled. Their struggle for supremacy is set to be one of 2023’s key political fights, and one that hinges largely on events on the battlefield: the worse Russia performs militarily, the more vicious the pragmatists’ battle with the hawks. The Kremlin will find its preferred mechanism for suppressing dissent—repression—ill-fitting if used against the regime’s loyalists. The hawks will take the offensive, targeting the military brass and politicians, as Yevgeny Prigozhin, the notorious head of the Wagner private military company, already has. The pragmatists, meanwhile, will express doom and gloom about the direction of the conflict, seeking to scale back Moscow’s war goals and force recognition that victory is impossible. Their message will be well received by non-military elites, who were taken by surprise by the invasion and fear its medium-term consequences. All this leaves Russia stuck between military madness and careful consideration of a possible de-escalation, and Putin faced with a choice: between doubling down on his quixotic pursuit of Kyiv’s decisive defeat and returning to the negotiating table, with the West if not Ukraine. The third key issue Russia faces in 2023 revolves around government personnel changes, which are highly likely, even if it is hard to predict who will replace whom. One reason a reshuffle is near-certain is the increasing demand at the top for dynamism and effectiveness. Putin’s inclination to invite technocrats into the government may grow further, with senior figures in the cabinet, the presidential administration, and the power structures all aged and exhausted by the war and military failings forcing Putin to look for new ideas. Another is the coming presidential contest, given the historical record: reshuffles have preceded all but one of Russia’s presidential elections. A long buildup of tension within the government offers another reason to expect personnel changes. Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov are being blamed for corruption within the armed forces, while the FSB has been slammed for intelligence failures. Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev is seen as having lost the plot altogether, and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin as too apolitical, while central bank governor Elvira Nabiullina is suspected of secretly opposing the war. The government’s senior figures are all dissatisfied with each other: a mutual dislike that gives Putin cause to switch things up. Still, his conservatism and apprehensiveness when it comes to firing underlings will likely lead him to try to strike a balance between stability and renewal.  These fateful developments will be profoundly influenced by events on the battlefield. If, as Kyiv has predicted, Russia attempts a large-scale offensive in February or March, it will likely be met with significant Ukrainian resistance. Otherwise, Moscow will continue slowly strangling Ukraine with attacks on its infrastructure, to which Kyiv will respond with diversionary attacks on Russian soil. Russian political life will remain in the grip of the war’s grim and oppressive atmosphere, leaving elites even more anxious and fearful of the future. Putin’s hypersecrecy and refusal to explain himself to anyone will do nothing to help the situation. Repression will undoubtedly grow, with all dissent criminalized, elements of a state ideology introduced, and new pretexts found for even longer prison sentences. In 2023, Russia’s already historic war with Ukraine will show its full transformational potential, finally changing Russia from within and straining its leaders’ ability to keep the situation under control and plan the decisions they make.

Defense & Security
President Vladimir Putin with his military personnel

Armies and Autocrats: Why Putin’s Military Failed

by Zoltan Barany

AbstractThis essay analyzes the failure of Vladimir Putin’s military in Ukraine in terms of five key factors. The first of these is Putin’s monopolization of control over the armed forces, which has driven critical voices and honest debates out of military and defense matters. Second is the failure of reform: Efforts to overhaul the bloated, ill-equipped post-Soviet military have not produced a twenty-first century fighting force that can match the world’s best armies or counter their capabilities. Third, Russia’s military has been unable to attract talented young people. Fourth, Russia’s mammoth defense industry produces too few weapons, and those it does turn out cannot match sophisticated Western arms. Finally, the operations in Georgia, Crimea, and Syria were conducted against feeble adversaries and said zero about how Russian forces would perform in a conventional land war against a resolute, well-armed enemy. In short, the Russian military is a reflection of the state that created it: Autocratic, security-obsessed, and teeming with hypercentralized decisionmaking, dysfunctional relations between civilian and military authorities, inefficiency, corruption, and brutality. Before and even shortly after Russian president Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, most experts predicted that Russia’s military would make short work of its southwestern neighbor’s defenders. The conventional wisdom held that while Russia’s forces had fallen on hard times after the Cold War, Putin’s more than two decades of rule had transformed them into an effective military machine. In early 2014, Russian troops in unmarked green-camouflage uniforms had taken Crimea from Ukraine with little bloodshed or even exertion. Two years later, one analyst called the intervention of the Russian Air Force on the side of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria “the most spectacular military-political event of our time.” In 2021, another commentator pointed to successful campaigns not only in Ukraine and Syria but also in Georgia (2008) while crediting Putin with having “overseen a thorough transformation of the Russian Armed Forces.” Flawed appraisals such as these are based on a misunderstanding of Russia’s military landscape. The Russian military is a quintessential reflection of the state that created it: Autocratic, security-obsessed, and teeming with hypercentralized decisionmaking, dysfunctional relations between civilian and military authorities, inefficiency, corruption, and brutality. We should note five key points. The first is that Putin’s monopolization of control over the armed forces and refusal to allow an independent legislature have driven critical voices and searching, honest debates out of military and defense matters. Second is the failure of reform—as the world can now see, efforts to overhaul the bloated, ill-equipped post-Soviet military have not produced a twenty-first–century fighting force that can match the world’s best armies or counter their capabilities. Third, Russia’s military has been unable to attract talented young people. Senior officers stubbornly refuse to delegate authority, robbing juniors of chances to develop initiative and leadership qualities, while most noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and their troops are poorly prepared. Fourth, Russia’s mammoth defense industry—largely owned and run by the state—produces too few weapons, and those it does turn out cannot match sophisticated Western arms. Finally, the operations in Georgia, Crimea, and Syria proved nothing: They were conducted against feeble adversaries and said zero about how Russian forces would perform in a conventional land war against a resolute, well-armed enemy. In a constitutional democracy, the legislature and the executive are both involved in controlling the armed forces. The chain of command is codified, as are respective institutional responsibilities vis-`a-vis the military. Laws likewise prescribe the potential uses of the military in various domestic and external scenarios. The national legislature passes the defense budget and supervises its disbursement, the chief executive acts as commander-in-chief, the defense minister is not a serving officer, and civilians—including those in the media and defense-focused NGOs—offer advice and scrutiny. In authoritarian states, the executive directly controls the military while the national legislature (if one exists) and regional authorities have no say. There is no safe place for independent security-policy experts, scholars, or journalists to function. The Kremlin runs the Russian armed forces, and today the Kremlin means Putin. He has few confidants. Since 2012, his principal advisors in the security realm have been Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (who has no military background) and General Valery Gerasimov, the armed forces chief of staff. They serve entirely at the pleasure of the president—who summarily dismissed each man’s predecessor. Putin’s frustration with the Defense Ministry’s handling of the “special military operation” in Ukraine (to say “war” or “invasion” can bring a Russian citizen years in jail) has led to the marginalization of Shoigu, who nonetheless has kept his job despite strident criticism from prominent Russian nationalists. When Putin came to power in 2000, the military and its top brass held considerable sway over foreign and defense policy, military reform included. Since then, Putin has wrestled control of all military and security forces into his own hands. During Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov’s tenure (2007–12), bloodless purges removed from the general staff officers who disagreed with the Kremlin’s ideas about military reform, who were thought too independent-minded and unwilling to give Putin constant support. Serdyukov cut the Central Military Administration staff by more than 30 percent, mostly getting rid of generals and colonels. For the last dozen years, Russian generals have been Putin’s servants. Their careers depend not merely on their professional competence but on their personal loyalty to him. On paper the Defense Ministry answers to parliament and its committees on defense and security, but in practice the ministry answers to the Presidential Administration alone. The president decides whether, when, where, and how to deploy the military, at home or abroad. Putin is a centralizer; while Russia remains nominally federal, local councils have lost capacity to perform even traditional tasks such as calling up reservists, as recent events have shown. Journalists who have dared to write objectively on defense issues have been hit with heavy jail time even for open-source reporting. Membership in NATO—a defensive alliance espousing liberal-democratic principles—may constrain an authoritarian such as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán from seeking to “adjust” his country’s borders, but Putin faces no such obstacle. He dominates the Collective Security Treaty Organization (comprising ex-Soviet republics), while the “dictators’ club” that is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in no way constrains his grip on the Russian military. For more than a decade, Russia’s army has been indisputably Putin’s army; no trace of institutionally balanced civilian authority, transparency, or accountability impedes his control over it.Reform InterruptusAt the Cold War’s end, Russian political and military leaders were aware of their forces’ shortcomings. For most of the 1990s, however, little happened beyond a reduction in force size. Generals opposed structural changes, political elites lacked the will to push back, and resources were scarce. The Russian army won the First and Second Chechen Wars (1994–96; 1999–2009) against a tiny breakaway region, but with an operational performance that was embarrassing. The August 2008 defeat of Georgia, another small and underfunded neighbor, also underlined Russia’s military deficiencies. Systems for command, control, communications, and intelligence performed so poorly that at times officers had to borrow war correspondents’ cellphones to reach troops. The air force admitted that it had four aircraft downed during the twelve-day conflict (the Georgians claimed to have shot down 21), losses that would have easily been avoided had unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) been on hand to fly reconnaissance. Russian sources acknowledged that tanks and warplanes had seen no overhaul since the Afghan War (1979–89), “smart” weapons and modern communications systems had been unavailable, and the Defense Ministry had relied on “favorite suppliers” known for making obsolete armaments. In response to such weaknesses, the reform program begun in 2008 sought to turn a Soviet-legacy military still based on mass mobilization into a leaner, more professional force ready for combat. Even if Ukraine has laid bare their limits, the changes made since 2008 have been considerable. With carte blanche from Putin, Defense Minister Serdyukov pensioned off or cashiered enough stubborn senior officers to break institutional resistance. The military’s structure was rationalized and streamlined. The number of large units shrank from 1,890 to 172, while 65 military colleges became ten and sixteen Soviet-era military districts became four. A main purpose of the defense reforms was to bridge the deep qualitative gap between Russian and NATO military personnel that the brief Russo-Georgian War had highlighted, or at least to improve the training and combat readiness of the nonelite troops who have always filled most Russian units. Modernizers also wanted to stabilize the army’s troop strength at a million. Russian official data are best treated with skepticism, but it appears that the total personnel strength of the Russian armed forces (land, naval, and air) has been between 700,000 and 900,000 over the past decade. Serdyukov reduced the size of the officer corps, phased out praporshchiki (roughly equivalent to warrant officers), and drastically increased the number of “contract” (professional) soldiers. In a bid to make professional soldiering more attractive, money went to improve the working conditions, housing, welfare, and pensions of servicemen and their families. Shoigu carried on the reform process, raising the number of contract soldiers to 410,00 by 2020, when conscripts in uniform numbered only 260,000. The conscripts are a token of Russia’s limitations: The Kremlin would like to have a fully professional military but cannot afford it, so the draft is needed to fill the ranks. The reform plan called for a half-million contract soldiers by 2019, but only 405,000 were said to have been signed up and that figure is likely inflated. As of 2012, contract soldiers were paid 25 percent more than the average Russian civilian, and military benefits were comparatively generous as well. But inflation has been a key problem. Its erosion of contract soldiers’ pay and benefits has made military careers less enticing and driven down applicant quality: The military has been chasing not only fewer but less desirable recruits. Without able contract recruits, the dream of a high-quality, NCO-enabled Russian military can never come true. A traditional weakness of Soviet or Russian armies going back to czarist days has been the absence of career NCOs. A modern military relies on professional “noncoms”: They enjoy significant autonomy; keep commissioned officers and enlisted personnel working together; and give to the troops training, discipline, and (not least) hands-on leadership “at the sharp end.” Russia’s military reform recognized the need for a professional NCO force; within ten years after the Georgian campaign, contractors predominated in what were considered NCO billets. But questions remained about the depth of their training and the degree of initiative accorded them in an army where the idea of delegating authority downward has long been a foreign concept. In 2009, the Defense Ministry established an NCO academy, but the two-thousand graduates that it produces each year do not seem to have been enough to transform army culture. In 2010, seventy-thousand of the junior officers whom Serdyukov had discharged had to be recommissioned in order to keep doing what in the West would be classed as NCOs’ jobs. The available data suggest, and the war in Ukraine has confirmed, that Russia is a long way from fielding the kind of proficient NCO force that is essential to a modern military, and which Ukraine itself is increasingly displaying through its own performance under arms. Reform never even touched other areas. These include combat medicine, something that Western armies have worked hard on in recent decades. Quickly bringing together wounded soldiers and critical care is key, but the Russian military with its history of tolerating high casualties has focused little on this. Young Russian army doctors who resigned their commissions protested that they had been issued “practically nothing” to work with in terms of equipment and could “provide only first aid.”Generals and SoldiersLack of trust in subordinates and reluctance to delegate mark every command level of the Russian military. The Soviet-era practice of waiting for orders to filter down from headquarters—a custom meant to leave no room for independent thinking and creativity—often results in missed opportunities on the battlefield. Serdyukov dismissed or eased out about a third of senior officers, including the last group of critical thinkers who might have disagreed with Kremlin policy. He made senior generals’ promotion prospects depend on their ability to read the signs emanating from the Presidential Administration. Even at the top of the military hierarchy, generals are wary of taking initiative for fear of angering superiors who now include Putin himself. Nonetheless, it seems that some in the high command did question Putin’s plan going in, especially the idea of a lightning strike to seize Kyiv, warning that Russian troops and equipment were not up to the task. When the doubters turned out to be correct, the Kremlin apparently allowed these generals to draw up a new strategy. They then turned the conflict into a war of attrition based on the old Russian standby of overwhelming firepower. When massed artillery and aerial bombardment failed too, as fighting around the vital southern city of Kherson and Ukrainian breakthroughs in other sectors showed, Putin shook up his roster of senior commanders three times. In April, in June, and again in September, the Kremlin changed generals in search of better combat performance. In early October, Putin gave General Sergei Surovikin the task of turning the war around even as Ukrainian forces carried on with counterstrikes around the flanks and into the rear areas of surprised Russian formations. Surovikin’s qualifications include experience in complex combat environments as well as a reputation for “total ruthlessness,” “corruption and brutality,” and mistreating subordinates. In other words, he promises to be a perfect fit for Putin and his army. We can also see Putin’s distrust of his high command in his ever deeper personal involvement in military decisions. As the Ukrainians counterattacked in September 2022, he told his generals that he himself would now set strategy. His micromanagement of the war extends to making low-level tactical decisions and giving orders to frontline generals from the Kremlin. According to Western intelligence sources, the Russian president “is making operational decisions at the level of a colonel or brigadier,” helping to determine the movements of forces and ordering stands “at all costs” (an approach that leads to troop and equipment losses as units banned from making tactical retreats fall prey to encirclement). Putin’s heightened involvement likely stems from his realization that early in the war his commanders kept him in the dark about how badly Russian forces were faring against unexpectedly nimble and fierce Ukrainian resistance. But should Putin, who has no military background, ever have expected his forces to do well in Ukraine? Starting in 2008, military education and training of all ranks did improve. There were more drills, including large-scale joint exercises featuring tens of thousands of personnel from different Russian services. Beefed-up flight hours for military aviators and improved maintenance routines for their aircraft reduced mechanical failures and combat losses in Georgia and Syria. To put all this in context, however, it must be stressed that outside a few elite units, Russian training and maintenance standards across the board have never been more than modest, and hardly reach the levels that characterize the world’s top militaries. Despite pay raises, the Russian armed forces have been unable to attract the best and brightest of young Russians in the face of competition from the civilian labor market. Housing remains a problem for officers with families, and for years pay has not kept up with inflation. In many units, conditions are poor and junior officers are treated with contempt as superiors play favorites. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many officers with employment opportunities outside the military resign their commissions. The 2018 decision to revive the post of zampolit (political officer) in units as small as infantry companies harks back to the Soviet era and signals that the state doubts its soldiers’ loyalty. Mandatory military service has been unpopular. Many of those who can afford to avoid it (by bribing army doctors to declare them unfit) do so, while the most desperate flee the country or even deliberately injure themselves to evade the draft. The brutal hazing of raw recruits, sometimes with tragic results, remains a problem despite efforts to curtail it. In 2008, the period of mandatory active service was halved to a single year, which means that after training a soldier is available for just six months of duty. Most troops that the army considers combat-ready are not draftees, though (perhaps surprisingly) conscripts make up about a quarter of elite commando units. The army planned to reduce its intake of conscripts to 150,000 by 2021, but missed that goal. As the Ukraine war grinds on, unwilling draftees will become more common, and the army will increasingly have to rely on poorly trained and motivated soldiers. Putin’s 21 September 2022 call-up of 300,000 reservists put new focus on manpower issues just ten days before the beginning of the fall conscription period. Many experts believe that mobilizing hundreds of thousands of reservists will prove exceedingly difficult. So far, the call-up has fallen disproportionately on ethnic minorities. These include nomadic reindeer herders from northeastern Yakutia (5,600 kilometers from Kyiv) as well as the Crimean Tatars, long repressed by Soviet and Russian regimes and vocal opponents of the peninsula’s annexation. Even if those mobilized are actual reservists, it is likely that only a fraction of them have had regular training in the years since they left active duty. It will be months before these troops can add to Moscow’s war effort. In a September 29 video call with advisors, Putin publicly admitted “mistakes” such as call-ups of fathers with children, people with chronic illnesses, and some over military age. Mobilized soldiers, some of them middle-aged, have complained that they were kept in “cattle conditions,” had to buy their own food, and received ill-fitting boots and uniforms as well as old, poorly kept weapons. The president left it to regional governors and officials below them to fix the problems, not mentioning that his own policies have undermined local governments’ capacities. During the first week after the mobilization declaration, at least 200,000 young Russians and their families absconded to neighboring countries including Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, as well as farther afield. The absconders were joining millions of their fellow citizens, many of them young and highly educated, who have voted with their feet against Putin’s war. In recent years, elite troops and private military firms in Moscow’s employ have done much of Russia’s fighting. The best known among the latter is the Wagner Group, a mercenary outfit possibly named for the German composer and established in 2014 by Dmitri Utkin, a former special-forces lieutenant-colonel, and Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch from Putin’s inner circle with multiple Soviet-era criminal convictions. The unit is allegedly overseen by Russia’s military-intelligence agency, the GRU, in which Utkin served. How Wagner gets paid remains murky, but funds likely come from state sources as well as oligarchs. Wagner operatives in their insignia-free uniforms were the “little green men” who first appeared during Putin’s Crimea takeover, and since then have taken part in armed conflicts in Syria as well as several African states including Libya, Mali, Mozambique, and Sudan. Reportedly, more than a thousand Wagner mercenaries have deployed to Luhansk Oblast in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and have suffered heavy casualties. Wherever they go, human-rights violations and war crimes follow.Failings of a State-Run Defense IndustryThe Russian state is the main owner of the industries that yield most of its income (energy, banking, arms, and transport) and is directly involved in running them. As state-owned corporations, defense companies enjoy cheap credit, debt relief, and freedom from competitive market pressures. Although the state has invested heavily in the defense industry and has seen success in some areas, on balance Russia’s arms makers have failed to narrow the distance—and especially the quality gap—between their wares and those of the world’s leading weapons producers. Starting around 2005, Moscow’s defense reforms and ambitious armaments programs began to demand serious military-spending hikes. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London broadly agree that the Russian military budget swelled from about US$20 billion in the late 1990s to more than four times that amount in 2015, before subsiding to its current official figure of $65.9 billion (or 4.1 percent of Russia’s 2021 Gross Domestic Product). In nominal terms, this is less than a tenth of annual U.S. defense spending, but there is reason to think that these figures grossly understate the real volume of Russian military expenditures. Using Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) measures, Moscow’s effective military expenditures may be as high as $200 billion per year. In recent years, only the United States, China, and India have had defense budgets that exceed Russia’s. Russia’s State Armament Program of 2011–20 aimed to breathe new life into the defense industry by commissioning it to manufacture or refurbish 70 percent of the military’s weaponry. Official sources claim that the industry achieved this. It developed new artillery, introduced some highly accurate cruise missiles, delivered several hundred new tanks (including the highly touted T-90M), and updated hundreds more with improved armor and electronics. Almost five-hundred new fighter jets, mainly Su-27s and MiG-31s armed with radar-guided missiles, were to boost Russian airpower to a new level, with hundreds of new combat helicopters and modernized older warplanes securing Moscow’s domination of the skies. The latest State Armament Program, which began in 2020 and is to end in 2027, is more modest and focuses on advancing mobility, logistics, and the optimization and standardization of extant weapons systems. Over the past decade, Russia has become the world’s second-largest arms exporter behind the United States. Russia’s share of sales in this market from 2017 through 2021 was 19 percent while the U.S. share was 39 percent. Seeing the mediocre performance and vulnerability to Western weapons (such as the U.S.-made Javelin antitank missile) of Russian arms in Ukraine, countries that have been buying military hardware from Russia (the top three customers are China, India, and Egypt) may think twice about purchasing from Moscow again. The systemic and structural challenges that beset Russia’s defense industry are not going away. Supply-chain problems delay deliveries. Money to replace outdated machine tools and pay for research and development is lacking, while neglect of quality control is common. A recent analysis concluded: Centralized and inefficient bureaucracies, weak intellectual property rights and rule of law, poor investment climate, pervasive corruption, and insufficient funding are among the problems that hinder swift progress in fields that are particularly dependent on creating a breeding ground for creativity and the free exchange of ideas.Russian arms makers are a long way from producing weapons that can compete with Western weapons in technological sophistication and general quality. Large-scale building of precision-guided munitions, targeting systems, and heavy-strike long-range drones is beyond the reach of Russian industry. The onset of conflict with Ukraine in 2014 cost the Russian military-industrial establishment its longstanding and beneficial ties to Ukrainian weapons producers. Now sanctions have cut off Russia’s access to the Western optics and electronics that are key to advanced modern weapons. Expanding existing factories will be hard, as funds and other requisites are not there. Ambitious plans announced with much fanfare and bluster have often come to little or nothing. In 2008, the first year of military reform, there was a proposal to create autonomous mobile forces teaming airborne, naval-infantry, and special-forces components, but nothing has come of it. The widely publicized program to produce a fifth-generation fighter, the Sukhoi Su-57, is now more than twenty years old and has generated nothing but a few prototypes. The Su-57 is the first stealth aircraft Russia has ever attempted. Meant to be capable of both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, it is supposed to be Russia’s answer to the U.S.-built Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, thousands of which are being produced for the United States and multiple allies around the world, including nine or more NATO countries. Technical setbacks, India’s decision to pull its financing, and a December 2019 crash (the first publicly known) make it doubtful that the Su-57 will be ready for full-scale production anytime soon. Since Soviet times, the security sector has been among the most troubled parts of the economy when it comes to graft and corruption In the twenty-first century, Russia has become, in Karen Dawisha’s fitting formulation, “Putin’s kleptocracy.” Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2021 gave Russia a corruption score of 29, putting it far closer on the 100-point honesty scale to the world’s most corrupt country (South Sudan with an 11) than to its least corrupt (Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand with an 88 each). As defense minister, Serdyukov made it a major goal to root out or at least curb the bribery and fraud often tied to arms procurement, as well as the misuse of funds set aside to improve living conditions for the troops. Putin fired Serdyukov in 2012 because of the latter’s links to a Defense Ministry official charged with embezzlement. Large-scale corruption continues, with often hundreds of millions of dollars disappearing. A Russian military prosecutor recently admitted that about a fifth of the Defense Ministry’s budget was stolen; other officials said that it could be as high as two-fifths. Few experts would disagree with former Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev’s recent claim that the corruption—and the fear of telling Putin about it—had left Russia with a “Potemkin military.”Under Arms and UnderwhelmingHow are Russian forces doing in Ukraine? It is impossible to discern precisely because most Western sources are Ukraine-friendly, while both Ukrainian and Russian media have incentives to bend the truth. That said, Russia’s military performance has been far below what most experts expected. Experts have been surprised because their assumptions were faulty. The Russian military’s track record going back to 2008 may have looked impressive on the surface, but it was compiled against weak adversaries. Georgia is very small, and its miniscule army was poorly organized to boot. In Crimea, Moscow’s troops faced little resistance. In Syria, much was made of Russian airpower’s renewed capabilities, but it was up against insurgents whose air-defense capabilities were modest at best. Russia also sent into these lesser-scale operations mostly elite troops and special forces, not average soldiers. In short, the Russian military experienced nothing like the demanding combat environment that it has met with in Ukraine. As of this writing, the war in Ukraine is almost a year old. The course of the fighting has undercut the many experts who claimed that post-2008 Russia had clawed its way into the first class of the world’s military powers. So far, Russian forces from the top down have failed most of the tests facing them in Ukraine. Military planners seldom do well to underestimate an opponent. After seizing Crimea, Putin predicted that Kyiv could be taken in two weeks; in 2022, he shrank that figure to two days. The Russian high command underestimated how many soldiers it would need to attack Ukraine while overestimating the number of locals who would welcome them. Conquering a city such as Kyiv, with its three-million people spread over 839 square kilometers split by a large river and its tributaries, would have required a massive number of collaborators. Once the plan for a quick air-mobile strike at the Ukrainian capital’s downtown collapsed amid firefights with fast-reacting Ukrainian forces at Antonov Airport northwest of the city on February 24 and 25, Russia’s campaign fell apart. Misconceived operational plans, careless logistics, and the lack of combined-arms coordination all suggest deep deficiencies in Russia’s high command. The invaders handled their tanks poorly, trying to drive them forward without proper logistical support or infantry escorts to keep Ukrainian drones and ambush teams at bay. In the skies, overcautious Russian pilots “punched below their weight,” failing to translate their superior airpower into gains on the ground. Russian troops struggled to use their communications systems and failed to disrupt their enemies’ access to satellite signals. Stories of Ukrainian soldiers using smartphones in combat to call their trainers in the United Kingdom for advice, like the ability of those defending the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol to stay in electronic touch with Ukrainian intelligence throughout the five-week siege in April and May, hint at Russian ineptitude. Troops’ general sloppiness—their neglect of small but important tasks such as properly inflating truck tires, for instance—proved costly to Russia’s war effort. As the war drags on, it is unlikely that fresh Russian officers and soldiers dispatched to Ukraine will be better prepared and equipped, or will perform better, than those whom they replace. Nuclear threats could easily backfire: If Russia were to “go atomic,” it might lose its remaining allies, misgauge wind direction and have fallout drift back over Russian territory, or find itself directly at war with a NATO alliance capable (even without nuclear weapons) of inflicting massive destruction on Russian military assets. Further, Russia’s stocks of tactical and medium-range nuclear warheads are, like many Russian weapons, Soviet leftovers. They have been sitting in scattered storage sites for decades. The work of rendering these warheads operational would involve much effort and risk of human error. There is a good chance it would also be detected by Western intelligence given the known locations of stockpiles, the limited number of units even capable (on paper) of handling and firing these warheads, and the travel distances to the theater of conflict that would be involved. The underlying theme of the assault on Ukraine has been the yawning gap between what Putin and his forces want to do, on the one hand, and what they can do, on the other. Ambition is not ability. A Revitalized Ukrainian Army Just a few years ago, Ukraine’s military itself was facing daunting challenges. An ambitious reform program was launched in 2006, but it failed amid political instability, corruption, and inadequate resources eaten by inflation and the 2008 global financial crisis. This top-down overhaul was also poorly conceived: Ukraine was striving to create an all-professional force with cutting-edge technology and advanced command and control in defiance of institutional and funding constraints. Moscow’s 2014 aggression against Crimea and the Donbas shook authorities out of this reverie and into a push for swift change in the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). Under President Petro Poroshenko (2014–19), naval and defense-industry reform succumbed to infighting and embezzlement, but the creation of an autonomous special-forces command with four-thousand troops was a success. The 2014 events showed that large numbers of soldiers would be needed to defend Ukraine against Russia. The draft, abolished in 2013, was brought back in 2014. More innovatively, the AFU also became a community-based military. The financially strapped government appealed to civil society, the large Ukrainian diaspora around the world, and ordinary people to help fund the AFU and to join its ranks. New organizations cropped up “to equip, uniform, protect, and improve the Ukrainian Army as soon as possible” and to supply much-needed military equipment—their donations made up 4 percent of the Ukrainian defense budget in 2015. Another significant change that partly relieved the AFU’s manpower shortage was the creation of volunteer battalions that already by 2014 comprised more than ten-thousand fighters. While raising some disciplinary concerns, they proved effective in the conflict against separatists in eastern Ukraine and are likely to play a consequential defense role for years to come. Finally, Western countries led by the United States and Britain but also including (remarkably) Germany have sent lethal military aid that makes Kyiv’s forces measurably more effective on the battlefield. As of mid-October 2022, Washington had offered about $66 billion—a sum more than eleven times larger than Ukraine’s entire 2021 defense budget. The help has been high in both quantity and quality, including as it has sophisticated items such as U.S.-made M142 HIMARS mobile precision multiple-rocket launchers, British- and U.S.-made M777 155-millimeter howitzers, various types of UAVs, and more. Between 2015 and February 2022, active-duty British soldiers trained more than 22,000 Ukrainian recruits in western Ukraine through a program called Operation Orbital. As of September 2022, instructors from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden were joining U.K. soldiers to give accelerated training to thousands more Ukrainians at camps in Britain. The programs teach junior officers, NCOs, and soldiers to think critically and make independent frontline decisions without waiting for permission from commanders sitting at distant headquarters. Ukraine’s military has been everything that Putin’s army has not. The smaller country has managed to convert its own recent reforms and massive Western aid into combat advantages. Defending their own soil, Ukrainian volunteer and professional soldiers alike have excelled in drive, courage, and resourcefulness. President Volodymyr Zelensky has been a revelation: Ukrainians are fortunate to have been led by a clear-thinking and uncompromising figure who knows that this is a contest between democracy and tyranny. The war has made Ukrainian nationhood (long denied by Russian nationalists of Putin’s type) undeniable and has underscored the larger but too-easily-forgotten truth that freedom is not free. Opposition to the invasion has also brought Western democracies closer together as members of NATO, which is adding Finland and Sweden to its ranks. If NATO continues to stand united behind Ukraine, David will have very good chances against Goliath.

Defense & Security
Radiation sign over Ukrainian map, Nuclear powers station in Ukraine

Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant: The Looming Specter of Europe’s Most Serious Risk

by Najmedin Meshkati , Zhamilya Mussaibekova

Located in southeastern Ukraine, Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station (ZNPP) is Europe’s largest power plant that produced 23% of all Ukrainian electricity before Russia's invasion.  This critical energy source is amidst the chaos and destruction of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, a harrowing struggle that has wrought immeasurable suffering and upheaval upon the region. Following its capture by the Russian forces on March 4th 2022, there have been drastic disruptions to safe energy production and a heightened global concern for nuclear safety in the region. Introduction and backgroundZaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), located in the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar, was built by Soviet design in the 1980s, with its last reactor being connected to the grid in 1995.  Amongst the ten largest nuclear facilities in the world, the Zaporizhzhia power plant consists of six water-cooling and water-moderating pressurized reactors. A global nuclear scare started on February 24, 2022, when Ukraine informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that “unidentified armed forces” have taken control of all facilities of Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant located in the Exclusion zone. The IAEA appealed for maximum restraint to avoid any action that may put the country’s nuclear facilities at risk and stressed the IAEA’s 2009 General Conference decision that “any armed attack on and threat against nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful purposes constitutes a violation of the principles of the United Nations Charter, international law and the Statute of the Agency”. Later that week, on March 2nd, Russia stated that its military forces have taken control of the territory around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. The next day, a large number of Russian tanks and infantry broke through the block-post into the town of Enerhodar, just a few kilometers from the ZNPP. Director General Grossi, appealed for “an immediate halt to the use of force at Enerhodar and called on the military forces operating there to refrain from violence near the nuclear power plant.” By March 4th, Ukraine informed the IAEA that the ZNPP had been shelled overnight, and a fire broke out on site. Although no essential equipment was affected, the first military action      resulted in the activation of the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre in full response. At the end of the day, Ukraine announced that Russian forces had taken control of the ZNPP, but the power plant continued to be operated by its regular staff.  At the time, out of the plant’s six reactor units, two had undergone controlled shut down, two were being held in low power mode, one was shut down for maintenance and one was operating at 60 percent power. ZNPP’s dire situation since March 4, 2022Before the conflict, the ZNPP had access to the grid through four high-voltage power lines, but they have now all fallen victim to the fighting. The back-up power lines connecting the ZNPP to a nearby thermal power station are also down. The plant had also previously temporarily lost direct access to the electricity grid but could then still receive power through available back-up lines, or from one of its reactors that was still operating at the time. The Russian conquest was soon followed by disruptions in the electricity supply to the nuclear power plant, one of the seven indispensable pillars of nuclear safety. Less than two weeks after Russian forces seized the plant, Zaporizhzhia lost one of its three power lines. Since then, mainly as a result of shelling or other military action nearby, the nuclear plant has suffered numerous power cuts, mainly as a result of shelling. Although it has emergency diesel generators that are available to provide backup power, a secure off-site power supply from the grid is integral to ensuring nuclear safety.  Thus, following its first complete external power outage in August, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi set off from the Agency’s headquarters on an IAEA Support and Assistance Mission to Zaporizhzhia (ISAMZ) to undertake vital safeguards activities at the plant.  That October, Zaporizhzhia lost its last remaining external power source due to renewed shelling, and had to rely on diesel generators again to cool the reactor and support other nuclear safety and security functions. In the next week, Zaporizhzhia lost all external power two more times, receiving electricity from a backup system for the third time in a span of ten days. Similar incidents unfolded in November as well, as the IAEA Director General continued to urge for the critical need to demilitarize the zone.  Based on historical data and industry experience, the nuclear industry aims for an average unplanned outage rate of less than 0.1 per reactor per year which statistically would mean less than one unplanned outage every 10 years. Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant experienced six in the past year alone. Cold shutdown of the ZNPP reactors doesn’t remove the risk – Spent fuel pools need constant coolingThe fission reaction that generates heat in a nuclear power plant is produced by positioning a number of uranium fuel rods in close proximity. Shutting down a nuclear reactor involves inserting control rods between the fuel rods to stop the fission reaction.The reactor is then in cooldown mode as the temperature decreases. According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, once the temperature is below 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 Celsius) and the reactor coolant system is at atmospheric pressure, the reactor is in cold shutdown. When the reactor is operating, it requires cooling to absorb the heat and keep the fuel rods from melting together, which would set off a catastrophic chain reaction. When a reactor is in cold shutdown, it no longer needs the same level of circulation. It was announced on September 11, 2022 by Energoatom, operator of the ZNPP that it was shutting down the last operating reactor of the plant’s six reactors, reactor No. 6. The operators have put the reactor in cold shutdown and this shutdown has mitigated a risk. Spent fuel pools also need constant circulation of water to keep them cool. And they need cooling for several years before being put in dry casks. One of the problems in the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan was the emergency generators, which replaced lost off-site power, got inundated with water and failed. In situations like that you get “station blackout” – and that is one of the worst things that could happen. It means no electricity to run the cooling system. In that circumstance, the spent fuel overheats and its zirconium cladding can cause hydrogen bubbles. If you can’t vent these bubbles they will explode, spreading radiation. If there is a loss of outside power, operators will have to rely on emergency generators. But emergency generators are huge machines – finicky, unreliable gas guzzlers. And you still need cooling waters for the generators themselves. The biggest worry is that Ukraine suffers from a sustained power grid failure. The likelihood of this increases during a conflict, because pylons may come down under shelling or gas power plants might get damaged and cease to operate.  According to one of the IAEA’s latest updates (#154, April 21, 2023):  “As a result of the warmer weather, the operator has started to put reactor Unit 6 in cold shutdown which is expected to be reached by the weekend, leaving only Unit 5 in hot shutdown to produce hot water and steam for the site. The two reactors were in hot shutdown during the winter to provide steam and heating to the ZNPP as well as heating to the nearby city of Enerhodar, where many plant personnel live.” The cooling pumps for the spent fuel pools need much less electricity than the cooling pumps on the reactor’s primary and secondary loops, and the spent fuel cooling system could tolerate a brief electricity outage. Now, at least if the plant loses offsite power, the operators won’t have to worry about cooling an operating reactor with cranky diesel generators. However, the plant still needs a reliable source of electricity to cool the six huge spent fuel pools that are inside the containment structures and to remove residual heat from the shutdown reactors. The serious risk of military actions for spent fuel storage racksOne more important factor is that the spent fuel storage racks in the spent fuel pools at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant were compacted to increase capacity, according to a 2017 Ukrainian government report to the IAEA. The greater number and more compacted the stored spent fuel rods, the more heat they generate and so more power is needed to cool them. There is also a dry spent fuel storage facility at the plant. Dry spent fuel storage involves packing spent fuel rods into massive cylinders, or casks, which require no water or other coolants. The casks are designed to keep the fuel rods contained for at least 50 years. However, the casks are not under the containment structures at the plant, and, though they were designed to withstand being crashed into by an airliner, it’s not clear whether artillery shelling and aerial bombardment, particularly repeated attacks, could crack open the casks and release radiation into the grounds of the plant. The closest analogy to this scenario could be a terrorist attack that, according to a seminal study by the National Research Council, could breach a dry cask and potentially result in the release of radioactive material from the spent fuel. This could happen through the dispersion of fuel particles or fragments or the dispersion of radioactive aerosols.  This would be similar to the detonation of a “dirty bomb,” which, depending on wind direction and dispersion radius, could result in radioactive contamination. This in turn could cause serious problems for access to and work in the plant. According to the IAEA’s latest update at the time of writing this analysis (#155, April 28, 2023): “IAEA experts present at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) were again forced to shelter this week after missile attack warnings, with the sound of continued shelling in the distance as military activity continues in the region. In addition, one landmine exploded near the site, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said today…The increased military presence and activity in the region again underlines the importance and urgency of agreeing on the protection of the plant, Director General Grossi added.”What is going on and what can be doneWe need to begin to realize and emphasize that the need for compromise extends beyond Russia alone. There has been a certain reticence around the acknowledgement that Ukraine, despite being the “aggrieved” country, must also be willing to make concessions.  To designate Russia as the sole provoker of hostilities at the Zaporizhzhia plant is an objective falsity. It would be illogical for Russia to shell the plant once it has already seized control, unless there were provocations from the Ukrainian side. Interestingly, in spite of countless calls to pacify the region from Ukrainian and international diplomatic leaders, The Times of London on April 7, 2023 published a report detailing a failed Ukrainian attack on the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) that took place in October 2022. Ukrainian special forces launched an attack on the ZNPP, deploying US-provided HIMARS rockets at the site — an attempt that ultimately failed because of a stronger Russian counteroffensive. Any sort of projectiles nearing the site of a nuclear power plant is an inherently hazardous and potentially catastrophic assault, regardless of the origin of the launch.   Given the high stakes involved and the potential for irreparable harm, it is imperative for even Ukrainian forces to exercise restraint and refrain from any military action that could escalate the conflict, including airstrikes on Zaporizhzhia, even if it is under Russian control. Taking into account the tumultuous events that have transpired at Zaporizhzhia this past year, for the sake of preventing a global nuclear disaster, it is pertinent to prioritize nuclear safety. Counterintuitive as it may seem, it may be more prudent for Ukraine to strategically withdraw from the ZNPP site and attempt to repatriate it later in the war, when more comprehensive diplomatic negotiations can happen and Russia potentially depletes its resources.  War, in our opinion, is the worst enemy of nuclear safety. This is an unprecedented and volatile situation. Only through active, pragmatic engineering and nuclear diplomacy can an amenable and lasting solution to this vexing problem be found. In the foreword of President John F. Kennedy’s book, Profiles of Courage, his brother, Robert Kennedy said, President Kennedy was fond of quoting Dante that “the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in a time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality” (December 18, 1963).  The potential catastrophic consequences of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant conflict demand action and a willingness to take a stance.  For Ukraine, taking a stance can mean stepping back and protecting the world from a nuclear calamity. The failure to do so risks being condemned to the “hottest places in Hell,” not in a figurative sense, but in a literal one. As the memory of the Chornobyl Disaster of 1986 still lingers, the potential danger posed by Zaporizhzhia's six reactors far surpasses that of the single reactor that caused the Chornobyl disaster. In the unfortunate event of an explosion, the repercussions would be hexfold that of Chernobyl's catastrophic aftermath, marking a somber moment in the history of nuclear power. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the  Russia-Ukraine conflict, the end of this protracted war is imminent. Even if we are facing problems that, as Robert Kennedy put it, people “fifty, even ten years ago, would not have dreamed would have to be faced,” it is of utmost importance to prioritize humanity above political objectives.  Following Dr. Henry Kissinger’s advice, Ukraine may like to exercise diplomacy, which “is the art of restraining power”, rather than brute force to repatriate its own Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, considering the high risks associated with military action on site. Ukrainians should not shame their military officers if they retreat from Zaporizhzhia, but rather, commend them for their strategic investment into the future prosperity of their country, their continent and possibly, their planet. A true measure of a hero lies not in their victories, but in their willingness to fight for what is right, even in the face of overwhelming odds. Right now, possibly accepting status quo at Zaporizhzhia is, at least in our opinion, what is the most right, but most certainly what is imperative. With Russia’s adamant military politics, Ukraine would be bravely resisting aggression on behalf of the world, on behalf of a future.  We realize that the IAEA has called on Russia and Ukraine to set up a “safety and security protection zone” around the plant. However, the IAEA is a science and engineering inspectorate and technical assistance agency. Negotiating and establishing a protection zone at a nuclear power plant in a war zone is entirely unprecedented and totally different from all past IAEA efforts. Establishing a protection zone requires negotiations and approvals at the highest political and military levels in Kyiv and Moscow.  It could be accomplished through backchannel, Track II-type diplomacy, specifically nuclear safety-focused engineering diplomacy. In the meantime, the IAEA needs strong support from the United Nations Security Council in the form of a resolution, mandate or the creation of a special commission. Admittedly, this is only a stopgap measure. In parallel with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s effort under the leadership of its Director, General Rafael Mariano Grossi, we believe that the U.N. Security Council should immediately empower a special commission to mediate between the warring parties. It could be modeled after the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in 2000, and appoint a prominent, senior international statesman as its head. We believe the person should be of the caliber and in the mold of the legendary former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Hans Blix of Sweden. Blix led the agency at the time of the Chernobyl accident in 1986 and commands respect in today’s Russia and Ukraine. The great Prussian military theorist Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz once said: “War is a mere continuation of policy by other means.”  These words still resonate today, reminding us that the quest for peace is not just about putting an end to violence, but about forging a path towards progress and prosperity. It is incumbent upon us to recognize that bringing an end to this conflict is not merely a cessation of violence, but a catalyst for the advancement of policy. As we strive towards resolving conflicts and achieving a lasting peace, it is our duty to recognize that this effort is not merely a tactical move, but a transformative one. By embracing a policy-driven approach, we can internalize the true nature of conflict, and use it as a means to move forward and effect real change. So let us be bold, but at the same time be pragmatic, and let us remember the words of Clausewitz as we work towards a brighter future for all. Let us see war not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end – a means to build a world where conflict is a thing of the past, and policy is the key to progress. President John F. Kennedy’s bold vision for political courage and making compromises in his aforementioned book, Profiles of Courage, also beautifully applies to this very context of Ukraine preserving its principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity while tactfully compromising with Russia over safeguarding Zaporizhzhia: “We shall need compromises in the days ahead, to be sure. But these will be, or should be, compromises of issues, not of principles. We can compromise our political positions, but not ourselves. We can resolve the clash of interests without conceding our ideas... Compromise does not mean cowardice. Indeed it is frequently the compromisers and conciliators who are faced with the severest tests of political courage as they oppose the extremist views of their constituents.”

Defense & Security
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak greets Volodymyr Zelensky

Zelensky’s European tour has won critical support for Ukraine’s counter-offensive

by Stefan Wolff

Zelensky’s European tour has won critical support for Ukraine’s counter-offensiveAs the war in Ukraine intensifies, President Volodymyr Zelensky has concluded a series of successful visits to Rome, Berlin, Paris and London to shore up support from key allies. The timing of Zelensky’s visit is critical for Ukraine’s efforts on the battlefield and beyond. It has allowed the Ukrainian presidenta and his main European allies to coordinate their approach on the economic and diplomatic fronts of the war as well, which will be equally decisive in determining how this war will end, and when. Military support from his allies has been on top of Zelensky’s agenda during his whistle-stop tour of Europe. And finally, it seems that Ukraine’s European allies are following in Washington’s footsteps and moving beyond their earlier hesitation to provide Kyiv with more equipment for its upcoming counter-offensive in Bakhmut. On Saturday, May 13, ahead of Zelenskiy’s arrival in Berlin, Germany announced a further €2.7 billion (£2.35 billion) of support, including much-needed quantities of artillery ammunition. In addition, German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall confirmed a joint venture with Ukraine’s Ukroboronprom to build and repair tanks in Ukraine. On Sunday, May 14, Zelensky secured promises in Paris from the French president, Emmanuel Macron, for new armoured vehicles and air defence systems. On Monday, May 15, British prime minister Rishi Sunak agreed to provide Ukraine with hundred of attack drones, in addition to the Storm Shadow cruise missiles that have already been delivered to strengthen Ukraine’s air defences. These commitments are important for providing Ukraine with the ammunition, equipment, training and repairs the country needs against a Russian adversary that has significant manpower advantages. This does not guarantee a sweeping success of the anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive, but it will make serious gains on the battlefield more likely for Kyiv. And it signals a commitment by its western partners to back this offensive with more than encouraging noises.The sanctions gameThe war in Ukraine is not only fought, and can not only be won, on the battlefield. From the beginning, the western approach was twofold: strengthen Ukraine and weaken Russia. The latter was achieved through unprecedented sanctions, with the EU now on its tenth sanctions package since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. The EU is now discussing the eleventh sanctions package, this time with a focus on enforcing existing sanctions and closing loopholes by imposing secondary sanctions against countries, companies and individuals deliberately circumventing the existing sanctions against Russia. Sanctions will also be discussed at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, from May 19 to 21. Further measures are expected to target the Russian energy sector and place more limitations on exports to Russia. The four European countries Zelensky visited in the past few days – France, Germany, Italy and the UK – are all members of the G7, while the EU attends as an observer. Including other members the US, Japan and Canada, the G7 represents some of Ukraine’s most powerful partners who will send an unambiguous message to Russia concerning sanctions and their enforcement. This will not break the Russian war machine, but it will make it more costly, including for Russia’s few remaining allies, to sustain the war effort in Ukraine at the current level. Seen from this longer-term perspective, it also makes Ukrainian gains in any counter-offensive more sustainable by limiting Russia’s capabilities to mount any offensives in the future.The third front: diplomacyMeanwhile, Chinese envoy Li Hui is beginning his tour of European capitals, including Moscow and Kyiv, to explore a political settlement for the war in Ukraine. This made it important for Zelensky to be sure that his red lines are clearly understood, accepted and communicated by Rome, Berlin, Paris and London. The support from these European capitals is no longer in doubt. And neither is support from Brussels. Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg was clear in his message at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit on May 15: he expects the alliance to commit to a multi-year support programme to help Ukraine move towards Nato military standards. This will be discussed at the Nato summit in Vilnius in July. The EU is considering a new China strategy, including how it can engage with China on the war in Ukraine. The union is open to such an engagement and has cautiously welcomed China’s position paper in this respect. But it is a major win for Zelensky that the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, backed Zelensky’s peace plan which, among other things, rules out any territorial compromises. Zelensky’s visits to Rome, Berlin, Paris and London are part of an ongoing positioning of the major allies in this war. For the Ukrainian president, it was critical to make sure that he keeps the west united behind his efforts to defeat Russia. His apparent success in doing so indicates that he presented his European counterparts with a credible plan and realistic requirements for support. Yet it is also clear that Kyiv and its partners in Europe and beyond realise that there will eventually come a point at which they will have to negotiate an end to the war with Russia. The evident strength of western unity and commitment that has transpired over the past few days is as much a message of support to Ukraine as it is one of deterrence for Russia and caution to China. The way it will be received there will determine how soon a negotiated settlement will be possible that restores Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Defense & Security
Crimea crisis 2014, Minesweeper U311 Cherkasy of Ukrainian Naval Forces on Donuzlav Lake few hours before it was taken by Russian troops

What goals drove Russia in 2014 and 2015 during the escalation and ongoing conflict in Ukraine?

by Beqa Bochorishvili

In this article we will talk about Russia's goals in 2014 and 2015, it will be analyzed from the categories of diplomacy, economy, and military directions. Throughout various periods in history, the leaders of the Russian state have consistently exhibited a profound fascination with the Black Sea region, particularly the Crimean peninsula and its strategically vital port of Sevastopol. Following Russia's defeat in the Crimean War in 1856, when it was compelled to comply with conditions imposed by France and England, including the relinquishment of its military base in Sevastopol, Russia has persistently pursued routes to gain control over Crimea and exploit its potential for dominating the Black Sea region. This pursuit remains ongoing to this day. During the era of Catherine the Great, Russia seized this strategically significant territory. However, in a later period, Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Social Republic, transferred this region to the Socialist Republic of Ukraine, where it remained under Ukrainian control even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Notably, for official Moscow, the port of Sevastopol retained immense importance for its geopolitical interests, as it was controlled through an agreement signed with Ukraine in 1997. This port plays a crucial role in supporting Russia's Black Sea Fleet, enabling it to project power in the region. Its significance was underscored during the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, as well as earlier conflicts like the Abkhazia war, during which Russia deployed its armed forces from the port of Sevastopol. On the Crimean Peninsula before its annexation, there were two separate armies representing Ukraine and Russia respectively. Both sides were perceived as legitimate by the local population, and there was no doubt regarding their legitimacy. As mentioned earlier, in the 20th century, Khrushchev transferred the Crimean Peninsula to the Ukrainian Socialist Republic. However, since both territories were integral parts of the Soviet Socialist Republic, the transfer held more symbolic significance than strategic implications. At that time, nobody foresaw the collapse of the USSR and the subsequent struggle for a new balance of power in the region. Given the substantial Russian population residing in Crimea, fostering active cooperation with the Russian Federation held great importance. Exploiting this situation, Russia employed covert operations, including the infiltration of Kremlin operatives disguised as local militia personnel, to gather information and influence the local climate. Furthermore, the Kremlin carried out a propaganda campaign aimed at stoking skepticism towards both local and central authorities, thereby making the population more receptive to the Kremlin's policies. Undoubtedly, the Russian military played a substantial role in the annexation of Crimea. However, it is crucial to acknowledge the significant impact of Russian propaganda and agitation mentioned earlier. The events of 2014 served as a stark reminder that Russia's relations and attitudes towards the Western world and post-Soviet countries are not isolated or independent matters. Simultaneously, the expansion of the European Union and NATO towards the eastern borders, nearing Russia's vicinity, was perceived by the Kremlin as both a challenge and a threat, seen as encroaching upon Russian interests. Throughout history, Russia has consistently viewed Ukraine as an intrinsic part of the Slavic world, particularly the Russian sphere of influence. It has regarded Ukraine's role as that of a buffer state positioned between Europe and Russia. To impede Ukraine's inclination towards the West, Russia made considerable efforts to redirect its trajectory away from the European Union, utilizing figures like Viktor Yanukovych. Subsequently, following the notable events of the Maidan Revolution in 2014, Russia initiated an active military campaign. These actions underscored Ukraine's pivotal position within the Kremlin's interests, highlighting its significance to Russian geopolitical objectives. The events that unfolded in the heart of Kyiv in 2013, along with the preceding wave of protests, were sparked by the pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych's refusal to sign Ukraine's Association Agreement with the European Union. These incidents escalated into violent clashes between protesters and state security forces, serving as a stark reminder of Russia's unwavering determination to extend its influence over the country. Consequently, by "recruiting" Ukraine into its fold, Russia aimed to establish an axis of absolute power within its leadership, leveraging the collaboration between the two states. Indeed, events unfolded in a manner that resulted in Russia experiencing a significant geopolitical setback. However, this setback did not deter Russia from pursuing its goals. Instead, it deliberately executed a two-fold campaign. The first objective was the annexation of Crimea, while the second involved fomenting a series of protests in eastern Ukraine, which eventually escalated into a full-fledged rebellion. By adopting this approach, Russia aimed to assert its control over Crimea and fuel unrest in eastern Ukraine, furthering its strategic interests in the region. All this was very easy for Russia and it achieved its goals practically without resistance because, at the local level, the local population received the Russian military forces as friendly and considered them saviors. While Putin's actions may appear contradictory to the goal of restoring the Soviet Union, it is evident that his primary objective is to maintain the current political system under his leadership. The ongoing events in Ukraine serve as a demonstration of how crucial internal stability is, particularly for Russian-speaking communities. Preserving his power and leadership within the existing political framework is of utmost importance to Putin. It is worth noting that the Russian economy has faced degradation in recent years, particularly following the 2008 financial crisis. Previously, Putin enjoyed an 80 percent popularity rating with the country experiencing a seven percent annual economic growth. However, the current situation has seen a slight decline in his popularity, now standing at around 60 percent. This decline coincided with a slowdown in economic growth, with the economy shrinking to 1.4 percent per year in 2013. Consequently, Russia, and specifically Putin, feared that this economic stagnation would not be temporary but rather become a systemic and irreversible issue. Russia feels threatened by the West. It is particularly unacceptable for it to expand the European Union, and especially NATO, closer to its borders. The Ukraine crisis has turned into a zero-sum game where the winner gets everything and the loser gets nothing. In 2010, Ukrainian President Yanukovych and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the Kharkiv Agreement, which entailed a lease agreement for Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. This agreement extended from 2017 to 2042 and included provisions such as discounted gas imports worth around 40 billion dollars for Ukraine. The primary objective of this strategic move was to safeguard the sovereignty of the Russian fleet in the region, particularly if Ukraine aligned itself with the Western world. However, it is important to note that Russia's motivations in the Ukrainian and Crimean conflicts were not solely focused on stabilization and de-escalation. Rather, it aimed to secure its naval power in the Black Sea region and maintain dominance over the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. This was done to mitigate potential threats that could undermine Russia's influence in the region. The Black Sea region holds significant economic influence for Russia, serving as a crucial transit route for its energy exports to Europe. Before the 2022 war, Russia accounted for over 25 percent of Europe's total oil exports, with approximately one-third being transported via oil tankers through the Black Sea. Moreover, the region acts as a gateway to the Middle East, facilitating partnerships between Russia and numerous countries. Consequently, the Black Sea region represents a vital economic asset for Russia. By annexing Crimea, Russia was able to secure its naval power and dominance in the area. It had further plans to develop Novorossiysk, one of its largest and most important shipping ports. Additionally, Russia had ambitious aspirations for the renewal of its Navy, which would be considered one of the most significant developments in the future. The implementation of these plans would bolster Russia's provision of navigation and enhance its control of sea lines and communication in the Black Sea. Russia would also increase its military and political exercises to exert control and prevent potential internal conflicts that could pose a threat. By safeguarding its economic and security interests in the Mediterranean, Russia aimed to improve economic dynamics and protect its economy. Overall, these actions aimed to strengthen Russia's position and influence in the Black Sea region. Following the annexation of Crimea, Russia gained the ability to construct and upgrade its bases in the Black Sea region, thereby bolstering its military power without interference from the West or Ukraine. The reconstruction of the Black Sea Fleet enables Russia to maintain sovereignty over Sevastopol and the broader Black Sea region. This provides an opportunity for Russia to enhance and modernize its military equipment, including coastal missiles, ground forces, aircraft, and transit routes. While the annexation of Crimea has granted Russia certain advantages, it has also created new risks of tensions and confrontations in the Black Sea region. Regional and external actors have mobilized against Russia in response to these developments, posing challenges and potential conflicts in the area. It is important to recognize that the annexation of Crimea has not only altered the geopolitical landscape but has also sparked concerns and opposition from various stakeholders in the region. The annexation of Crimea indeed served to bolster Russia's sovereignty and strengthen its control over the Black Sea Fleet, particularly in Sevastopol, as outlined in the Kharkiv Agreement. By gaining control over Crimea, Russia was able to secure and enhance its transit routes for energy exports to both Europe and Asia. Moreover, the inclusion of Crimea within the Russian Federation has reduced the pressure and influence exerted by external actors, most notably the United States and NATO. This has allowed Russia to exert greater control and diminish the influence of these external forces in the region. It is indeed possible to argue that Russia's involvement and motivations in Ukraine and Crimea were not primarily driven by a desire to reduce unrest or protect the pro-Russian population within Ukraine. Instead, the situation with pro-Russians provided a convenient justification for Putin to intervene. By portraying itself as the protector of the pro-Russian population and defending them against perceived Western forces, Putin was able to boost his popularity among the Russian population. Simultaneously, Russia aimed to establish itself as a dominant state in the diplomatic arena, showcasing its ability to assert its interests and challenge Western influence. Therefore, Putin's Russia seemed to have pursued dual objectives, leveraging the situation to both consolidate domestic support and enhance its position on the global stage. It is accurate to recognize that great powers strive to secure wealth and resources, as a strong economy leads to enhanced military power and defense capabilities. In this context, Russia's approach to the Black Sea region can be attributed to its pursuit of rich natural resources and strategic dominance, as well as the potential for profitable transit routes to Europe and Central Asia. The annexation of Crimea has presented opportunities for Russia to strengthen its economy and expand its influence in the region. One of Russia's key economic goals in the Black Sea region is to control important transit routes and energy exports to Europe, given its significant contribution to Europe's oil consumption, accounting for over 25 percent. Additionally, Ukraine plays a notable role in the global grain market, ranking seventh in grain exports in 2014-2015, with 37.9 million tons of wheat. By gaining control over these resources, Russia could secure substantial profits from the wheat trade, exert influence over market prices, and leverage this resource as a mechanism for influencing other states. The economic considerations associated with the Black Sea region align with Russia's aim to strengthen its economy, expand its market reach, and exert greater geopolitical influence. These factors highlight the economic motivations behind Russia's approach and engagement in the Black Sea region. Considering that Crimea now belongs to Russia, it becomes clear that one of the reasons why the annexation of the peninsula was carried out; Economic benefits and a window of opportunity that involves adjusting the role of the main player in the Black Sea region and excluding Western influences. Great powers also seek to gain land power through military means, as this is the best possible way to gain maximum control over the region. This means that the most important military assets for states are land forces, reinforced by strong air and naval forces. In other words, states try to strengthen their military potential to compete with the rest of the world, which consists of territorial hegemons. Before and during the Cold War era, the Black Sea region practically belonged to Russia, but after the collapse of the USSR, it became a more or less vulnerable region. However, in recent years, the actions of the United States and the West have forced Russia to strengthen its power in the region in order not to lose control and influence. In addition, another advantage of the Black Sea region from the Russian perspective is that this area is the way to the Middle East, where Russia has partnerships with many countries. Therefore, the Black Sea is a very important economic asset for Russia. Crimea, especially Sevastopol, plays a very important role for Russia since the Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed there. After Ukraine's independence, it became Russia's goal to maintain its navy and bases in Crimea. However, the problem, arising in the context of the Ukraine crisis, was the fear that if Ukraine were to be admitted to the EU under the 2013 agreement, it would affect Russia's influence and dominance in the Black Sea in the long term. The Kharkiv agreement would have given Russia the opportunity until 2042 to modernize and expand the Black Sea fleet. The annexation of Crimea, as well as the agreement signed in Kharkiv, increased the presence of the Russian fleet in the region and allowed it to begin the development of the Black Sea Fleet, which is assessed as one of the most ambitious military naval reforms in the region. This would further increase Russia's naval power in the long run. In conclusion, Russia has managed to secure the region for its good and thereby created a wider and better coastline for itself, which will strengthen Russia's military power in the future and thus reduce the influence of external actors on the Black Sea. Russia can improve the provision of navigation and maritime communication lines in the Black Sea. This will further increase military, economic, and political influence and prevent domestic conflicts, as well as eliminate the possibility of external pressures that could undermine Russia's security. Therefore, it can be argued from a futuristic perspective that if Russia's actions like this continue successfully, it will be able to protect its economy as well as its security interests in the Mediterranean.