In Other News – The Importance of Continuing Western Support for Ukraine – 7/28/2022

July 28, 2022

The effectiveness of high-precision weapons for Ukraine has shown the importance of continuing Western support to the war effort against Russian aggression. In the ongoing battle between Ukraine and Russia, American-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (“HIMARS”) are proving to be a game changer given the significance of precision weaponry on the urban battlefield. Honed during years of fighting in Iraq, HIMARS are designed for precision strikes in urban environments. Since their introduction in Ukraine, their range and accuracy have forced the Russian military to move ammunition and supply depots further from the fighting, resulting in logistical issues. HIMARS were reportedly used last week to strategically target a key bridge in southern Ukraine’s occupied Kherson to prevent the Russian military from using that bridge to resupply increasingly isolated troops and to move additional troops into the area to meet Ukraine’s counter-offensive. While Ukraine has relatively few HIMARS, these small, mobile, and accurate missile systems have proven to be effective and are changing the war on the ground as, so far, Russia does not appear to have an answer for them. Other Eastern European countries have taken notice, and Poland, Latvia and Estonia are actively looking to buy hundreds of HIMARS to bolster their own defenses; Lithuania is also expected to make a request.

In addition to launch systems, drones – particularly the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2, but also Phoenix Ghost tactical unmanned aircraft systems from the United States – are playing a significant role in Ukraine’s defense. Drones showed their myriad value early on, providing an outgunned Ukrainian military valuable intelligence on Russian positions, enabling them to target their more limited resources more effectively. In support of Ukraine’s war effort, global citizens have organized “dronations” to donate commercial weapons to Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, Putin wants more drones as well and is reported to have recently requested a supply from Iran. He also suggested to Turkish President Erdogan that they build a Baykar drone factory in Russia. The CEO of Baykar has stated that the company supports Ukrainian sovereignty and would never support Russia. When he heard of the dronations, the Turkish drone maker offered to supply Ukraine drones for free and asked that the money raised be spent on humanitarian assistance.

While technical weapons will be essential to Ukraine’s continued military efforts, this week President Zelenskyy re-emphasized the necessity of continued support from democratic nations. With a nod to the early days of the invasion and to current signs of public war-weariness, Zelenskyy reminded the West that the war is a fight for shared values and the joint security of the world. The regrouping of NATO and democratic allies and the continued efforts of the EU to limit purchases of Russian energy are part of the larger effort to stand-up against a nation that has denied another’s sovereignty, and with it, its democracy.

Finally, as to prove Zelensky’s point, Russia continues to attack any semblance of democratic activism within its own borders, and regularly penalizes and threatens those who question the war effort. Despite this, Russian citizens are increasingly using privacy tools like virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow anonymous access to foreign websites and restricted media. According to analysts, VPN services were downloaded to mobile devices in Russia more than 12 million times in the first weeks of July. This is a marked increase from January, when VPN apps were downloaded approximately 2 million times. While it’s unclear exactly what the Russians are reading or if this will impact political mobilization in Russia, technology has found another way through Putin’s defenses.

In Other News – Putin Takes Defense Measures to Tighten His Grip on Society – 7/21/2022

July 21, 2022

As Russia advances its Ukraine offensive, Putin is taking defensive measures back home to tighten his grip on society. Nearly 150 days into the war, the regional battle between Russia and Ukraine continues to significantly impact geopolitics and the global economy. This week, Putin continued to court other politically isolated nations like Iran, and the United States and United Kingdom made new weapons pledges in support of Ukraine. Gas began to flow again from Russia to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline after a recent closure, but there remain fears about future supply. Some progress is reportedly being made on the food export discussions, and Germany is also taking measures to move some of the trapped Ukrainian grain to German ports for distribution. But while the repercussions of the war continue to have wide-ranging impact, Ukraine and Russia are also dealing with domestic concerns.

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s parliament dismissed the domestic security chief and prosecutor general in a statement against any potential Russian collaborators or state traitors, and Ukraine has requested that its creditors grant the nation a two-year payment freeze on its international bonds. Ukraine is understandably facing some economic and security threats due to the conflict, but it’s Russia that appears the most worried about what’s happening within its borders. According to OVD-Info, an independent media project that has documented Russia’s crackdown on opposition for over a decade, thousands of anti-war demonstrators have been arrested across Russia since the war began in February.

Further, Putin is enacting a slew of new legislation to control the political narrative and the behavior of his citizenry. The new laws, which are broad in scope, target everything from internet and press freedom to financial and lifestyle choices. In Russia, it is now prohibited to transact in cryptocurrency, and Wikipedia is being penalized for failing to erase material deemed “fake news” by the Kremlin. Other tech companies are now being significantly fined for failing to comply with Russia’s “landing law” that requires they establish representative offices in Russia. The state is also taking novel measures to obscure the size of its gold and foreign currency reserves.

On Monday, Russia’s parliament moved to further expand restrictions of LGBTQ rights and relationships, and Russian authorities are now able to mark citizens as “foreign agents” even without proof of receiving foreign payments. Religious groups are also being targeted, and the Russian security council has blamed any Ukrainian sympathies on “excessive permissiveness” in the religious field and misinterpretations of what “freedom of conscience” means. This week, Russian authorities asked a Moscow court to dissolve a prominent global Jewish non-profit that handles emigration of Jews to Israel, likely due to Moscow’s distrust of Israel’s stance on the war and fears of foreign influence.

There are also new laws in Russia that speak directly to the war effort, including encouraging civilians to serve in Ukraine and ostensibly granting them veteran status after even one day on the battlefield. Special economic measures to ensure the government can control its labor force and production are now up and running, and punishments for any potentially war-related crimes have been increased. Putin is also seemingly trying to rally the youth behind the effort via the establishment of a new nationwide youth and children’s movement. While the concept might harken back to Soviet times, it also addresses one of Putin’s greatest potential adversaries– the youth, who will now be fed heavy state-level propaganda before any potential exposure to global media or ideas is even possible.

In Other News – War in Ukraine Means Domestic and International Policy Shifts – 7/13/2022

July 13, 2022

Adapting to a war of attrition in Ukraine necessitates domestic and international policy shifts. Earlier today, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, who is rightfully distrustful of Putin after Moscow’s repeated historic land grabs, stated that Kyiv isn’t planning on ceding territory to Russia as part of any peace deal. Ukraine’s chief negotiator also recently Tweeted that for talks to resume, there would first need to be “Ceasefire. Z-troops withdrawal. Returning of kidnapped citizens. Extradition of war criminals. Reparations mechanism. Ukraine’s sovereign rights recognition.” While Ukraine is standing firm in its defense, the war continues to take a heavy toll on Ukrainian society– the latest UN statistics reveal that over 9 million Ukrainians have crossed the border since the Russian invasion in late February, and that over 5,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed.

Meanwhile, Moscow also shows little indication of shifting course. In a recent speech to the Russian parliament, Putin expressed that Russia was just getting started in Ukraine and that prospects for negotiation were growing slimmer by the day. Moscow is also pushing a military recruitment drive and is promising high financial rewards to those who enlist. Further, Putin continues to demonstrate his long-held and delusional belief that Ukrainians want to be Russian, and this week Moscow simplified rules for all Ukrainians to become Russian citizens. Germany quickly dismissed the decree as propaganda, but it’s still revealing as to Putin’s true intentions to eliminate any concept of Ukrainian sovereignty.

To address the global ramifications of the war, however, the international community is also trying to bolster itself for the long haul. Attempting to lessen the food crisis, Turkish-moderated talks to resolve the blockage of grain exports from Odesa resumed on Wednesday, although the UN recently expressed that there’s still “a long way to go.” This week, President Biden is visiting Israel and Saudi Arabia for the first time since assuming office, and it’s anticipated that he’s going to ask Riyadh to increase its oil output. Putin is also slated to travel to the Middle East next week to meet with Iranian leadership, ostensibly to discuss Syria, but likely also to solidify a large transfer of Iranian drones to Russian forces.

Further east, the US has been coordinating with Japan to jointly address rising food and energy prices, and North Korea has reaffirmed its support of Moscow by recognizing the independence of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”. China also doubled down on its “neutral” war stance in a recent meeting with the US Secretary of State, and Beijing likely assumes a Russian victory will help its own political positioning. But with the many recent diplomatic meetings and conversations, the international environment remains dynamic even if the war between Ukraine and Russia has reached a state of attrition. As such, it’s likely that global leaders will continue to adjust their strategies accordingly with their national interests, resulting in new and unanticipated political and economic deals.

In Other News – Nations Scramble to Secure Opportunity in New Geopolitical Order – 7/7/2022

July 7, 2022

As the fighting grinds on in Ukraine, nations scramble to secure energy and opportunity in a new geopolitical order. This week, Russia’s parliament passed two bills that could allow the Kremlin to enact “special economic measures” to support its ongoing military offensive in Ukraine. While analysts have remarked that Russia might soon be initiating an “operational pause” to regroup and reset on the battlefield, Moscow is simultaneously trying to figure out how to sustain its troops and equipment in what has become a grueling war of attrition. The proposed bills would require Russian businesses to supply goods to the military and increase labor demands on employees providing goods and services to the war effort. But as Putin takes measures to ensure a functional military, with no end to the battle in sight, other nations are taking great strides to ensure their energy security and positioning.

Old and new energy sources and partnerships are now under consideration. On Wednesday, France announced it would be nationalizing nuclear energy, and worldwide, nuclear plants that were slated to close are being given another look. Despite ongoing efforts to reduce carbon emissions, Austria, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have announced plans to revitalize old coal plants. In preparation for the winter, nations like the UK are also working with power companies to keep the coal burning longer than planned, and in Ukraine itself, mining operations that were on their way out due to climate pressures are now seen as important sources of thermal and steel-making coal. Further, in a striking new dynamic, the International Energy Agency reported that in June, for the first time ever, the United States provided more natural gas to Europe than Russia sends by pipelines.

While green energy alternatives are rapidly under development and receiving significant government funding in places like the EU, they’re still insufficient to satisfy current demand. In the meantime, cross-national energy projects that were stalled or received little attention are also being revisited. Algeria, Niger, and Nigeria are considering reviving a dormant Trans-Saharan gas pipeline project that would ultimately hook up with existing pipelines from Algeria to Europe. Israel is working with Egypt to export its natural gas through pipelines in Egyptian ports, where it might then be transported to Europe. Kazakhstan’s president is reportedly looking for oil export routes bypassing Russia after two significant crude exports were likely interrupted by Moscow in retaliation for the nation’s neutral war stance.

Notably, since the onset of the war, Russia itself has made a reported $24bn selling energy to China and India. But it’s uncertain how this will turn out for Moscow and how long nations like China will find the alliance in their interest. As Putin cozies up to Iran and China to promote cooperation given sanctions constraints, recent reports show that Iran’s oil exports have decreased as Russia captures more of the market. Indeed, while nations might be willing to overlook carbon emissions or price fluctuations in the short term, the ongoing and wide-ranging consequences of the war demand constant reassessment of political strategy.