CNA’s Russia Studies Program is pleased to announce a new biweekly newsletter that analyzes Russian perspectives on Western military activities. The newsletter examines how US and NATO actions are perceived and described by Russian officials and experts. I’ll be posting the abstracts from each issue here. Full text of all issues will always be available on the newsletter webpage and through the CNA Russia Studies Program website.
Here are the abstracts and a direct link to the full text of the most recent issue.
1. The crisis in US-Russia relations
Russian media devoted extensive coverage to the crisis in relations between Russia and the West. Discussion of the Russian set of proposals for a new security agreement for Europe, and the subsequent videoconference between presidents Putin and Biden, was a major aspect of the coverage. Russia’s publication of a draft agreement is seen as a show of strength by President Putin, though most authors believe that the United States will reject the proposal. The December 30 conversation is portrayed primarily as a way for the two principals to clearly define their positions prior to the start of bilateral talks in mid January.
2. Perceptions of US and NATO strategy
Several long articles published in late December 2021 describe Russian perceptions of the strategy being pursued by the United States and NATO to contain and weaken Russia. Several articles highlight Russian perceptions that the United States is focused on organizing regime change in Russia and its allies, including through hybrid warfare. Other articles discuss the US shift to Asia as part of a continuing effort to preserve US hegemony in the world.
3. In year-end speeches, Putin and Shoigu articulate concerns about US and NATO threats
In a December 21 speech and in his December 23 annual press conference, Putin expressed frustration at what he describes as the persistent disregard by the US and NATO of Russian concerns about NATO expansion, alleging that the US supported “terrorist organizations” in the North Caucasus against Russia, and argued that the US and NATO are aiming to weaken and collapse Russia. In a December 21 speech, Russian defense minister Sergey Shoigu summed up annual results of modernization and activities in the Russian armed forces, according to Krasnaya Zvezda. Shoigu also extensively discussed Western activities and the political-military and threat environment around Russia.
4. The situation in Ukraine
Coverage on Ukraine remains a key area of focus in Russian media. Several articles address the January 2 Biden-Zelensky call in which President Biden pledged to “respond decisively” should Russia invade, and to keep Ukraine fully involved in the ensuing effort to resolve the crisis. Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concerns about military developments in Ukraine. Several articles also address Defense Minister Shoigu’s recent allegations of nefarious US military actions in the region, including the transfer of chemical weapons and provocations from private military contractors.
5. European reaction to Russia’s position
Several articles highlight European reactions to the growing confrontation with Russia. The dominant perspective is that the EU and its member states want to make sure they are included in high-level discussions and that the US and Russia do not make any decisions without their input. Other articles highlight NATO efforts to heighten military readiness in response to Russia’s arms build-up near Ukraine and note that Russia is acting to counter NATO threats on its border.
6. Russian reactions to Finland’s military role
Several articles address developments in Finland’s force structure. One article calls for a realistic assessment of Finland’s military aspirations, referencing Helsinki’s recent purchase of 64 F-35a fifth- generation fighter-bombers from the US. The author characterizes this deal as an “unfriendly step towards Russia.” Several other articles discuss recent statements from senior Finnish officials that reiterate Finland’s right to apply for NATO membership should it choose to. One expert characterizes these statements as “typical rhetoric” that “should not be taken seriously” while another suggests that Russia should strengthen its Baltic Fleet forces if Finland enters the alliance.
7. Russian views of Australian dependence on the US and growing Chinese power
Many Russian writers focused on issues in the Asia-Pacific theater, especially in light of the AUKUS deal, the changing US-Chinese naval balance, and new developments in the Russian-Chinese relationship. Although the articles were disparate in their subject matter and approaches, most took a pessimistic and doubtful view regarding the United States and its efforts in the region, noting the increasing dependence of Australia on American military and economic support, as well as confirming that the rise of China is a key point of interest for Russian observers.
8. Japanese military developments
At least three articles addressed Japanese military developments during this reporting period. One article notes that Japan’s draft budget has increased next year’s military spending by 6.5 percent, to a total of US $51.5 billion. Another article reports that Japan is also interested in hosting a US military base on the Ryukyu Islands to prepare for a possible escalation of the Taiwan conflict. One author notes that while Japan sees China and North Korea as its primary threats, it is increasingly worried about defense cooperation between China and Russia.
9. Fallout from Afghanistan continues
The fallout from the US withdrawal from Afghanistan remains a source of interest for Russian foreign policy commentators. Vladimir Vinokurov asks “what the US defeat in Afghanistan” means nearly half a year on. In a wide-ranging argument, he concludes that the withdrawal represents a significant blow to the hegemon status of the United States and is likely to usher in fully the multipolar world that has been long suggested by commentators. Similarly, Aleksandr Khramchikhin underlines the alliance-disrupting impact of the Afghanistan withdrawal.
10. Democracy summit ridiculed as desperate attempt to bolster an “operetta democracy”
The recent Summit for Democracies was a subject of interest and ridicule by Russian political analysts. An essay by Grigori Nikonorov and Igor Rodionov expresses this framing of the Summit in full form. The authors describe the United States as an “operetta democracy,” due to a “series of failures in domestic and foreign policy.” The authors frame the event as a means for the United States to “consolidate the shaky position of the United States as the leader of the Western world,” but find it not up to the task given the diffuse troubles of the current world order, the rise of China and Russia to international prominence, and the legitimacy crisis besetting Western democracies in particular.
11. US and NATO weapons and threats to Russia
Numerous Russian articles provide overviews of current and emerging Western weapons technologies, including US and NATO missile defense infrastructure, unmanned aircraft that could potentially accompany the B-21 Raider bomber, and missiles and hypersonic systems.
12. Reaction to restrictions on export of US space technologies
Evgeniy Fedorov discusses a bill introduced in December 2021 by Senator Marco Rubio called the Space Protection of American Command and Enterprise (SPACE) Act. He notes that the bill seeks to reduce risks of industrial espionage to the US space industrial base and restrict the export of space technologies to Russia and China.