In Other News – Russia, China, and Opportunities for the US – 12/2/2022

December 2, 2022

Russia is trying to wear us down, but it’s wearing itself down in the process. Russian airstrikes have caused immense damage to the power grid in Ukraine, and this week President Zelenskyy has asserted that Putin is trying “to turn the cold of winter into a weapon of mass destruction.” Ukrainian officials have stated that rolling blackouts could continue until March and that citizens should prepare for long periods of shutdown. Russia is angling to wear Ukraine down, but he’s also hoping to wear down European resolve against him.

According to the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, European nations should prepare to receive hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians over the winter as the living conditions become untenable. But with their own housing shortages compounded by inflation, high energy prices, and social discontent, welcoming refugees will be a challenge for many governments. Putin knows this, and he also knows that Europe is nearing its challenging December 5 cut-off date for Russian oil imports.

But this week, NATO members met in Romania and reiterated that Ukraine is eligible for NATO membership and that the alliance will continue to send more financial, humanitarian, and military aid to Ukrainian forces. Ukraine’s membership process will be set aside for now to maintain firm unity of NATO members during this time of immediate crisis. Secretary of State Blinken also announced that the US government will provide over $53 million to support Ukraine’s acquisition of critical electricity grid equipment over the winter, and NATO ministers further vowed to help rebuild Ukraine once the war is over.

Russia is also increasingly facing its own internal challenges. Although the immediate impact of sanctions can be debated, sanctions are a marathon not a sprint, and we’re entering higher mileage territory. Sanctions have also demonstrated the resolve of NATO and allies to stand up to Putin and made his technological and military procurements more difficult. Putin must also continue to justify the food and energy crises and the general negative economic impact of the war to his allies, who are probably growing tired of his tropes. Further, internal dissent in Russia continues to rise, and as more bodies are sent home disapproval will only increase.

China, soccer and soft power and an opportunity for the United States. Over the last 50 or so years, China has constructed and renovated hundreds of sports stadiums worldwide as part of its soft power diplomacy. China started the effort in neighboring Mongolia but has since built numerous facilities throughout Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and South Pacific. The Chinese understood the power of sports and have used construction efforts to their political advantage. The stadiums were commonly “gifted” by the Chinese to countries as a reward for cutting diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Other times, nations would shift their stance on Taiwan after receiving the “gifts.”

Over the years, the stadium construction, along with other soft power initiatives, has allowed China to gain more political support from countries in places like Latin America and Africa. Stadiums are relatively affordable and offer big payoffs in terms of happiness. The symbolic camaraderie has also permitted China with an inroad to other lucrative infrastructure projects in these regions and allowed China to become a top trading partner for multiple continents.

But China is now slowing economically and facing a rare degree of internal turmoil due to its inhumane Covid policies, among other things. At the recent Chinese National Congress, President Xi scarcely mentioned the Belt and Road Initiative and it’s likely that instead of gifting stadiums, China will need to focus on supporting industries that directly impact its own citizens – things like copper, petroleum, and soybeans. At the same time, many Belt and Road countries will begin to see the underside of their Chinese infrastructure projects: public debt. Under these circumstances, there’s an opportunity for the United States to develop and reignite key relationships in strategic places like Latin America to counter China’s influence.

In Other News – Russia is Officially to Blame for the Malaysia Air Tragedy – 11/23/2022

November 23, 2022

Despite rampant disinformation, Russia is officially to blame for the Malaysia Air tragedy. This is another example of Moscow’s ongoing campaign to distort facts and shape global politics. Last week, a Dutch court handed life sentences to two Russian men and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian for their involvement in shooting down a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet as it was flying over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Notably, the jet was shot down over separatist-controlled Donetsk six months into Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. The commercial airliner was hit by a Russian surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 people aboard, and Moscow was quick to muddy the waters of attribution. Anyone following the story closely, however, knew that Russia was likely responsible, and the recent convictions are a step towards justice.

At the time of the tragedy, the Kremlin made claims that the airliner had shifted course, that the missile had the signature of an outdated missile that Russia no longer used, and that video of the surface to air missile showed the rocket launcher being in Ukrainian occupied territory. The Russian media carried contradictory alternative stories that a surface to air missile was not actually the cause of the crash. The maneuvering of the disinformation narrative by Russia, combined with a rapidly shifting political situation in the region, replaced international outrage with profound confusion and at the time allowed the Kremlin to avoid the rightful amount of condemnation.

But robust open source-based investigations by groups like Bellingcat and Paris Match and the Ukrainian military were able to quickly piece together the true story. These investigators had technology on their side, and they were able to track the movement of the Buk Missile launcher from Russia, through Donetsk and to the missile site. They identified the burned field where the missile was launched from, triangulated the place of impact from the flight course, the crash site and the missile launching location, and ultimately dispelled much of the Russian misinformation.

And still, it took eight years for Russia to be held publicly accountable for the downing of the flight and for the world to see Russian culpability writ large. In similar fashion, since the summer of 2016, the US has been providing compelling information of Russian election interference attempts and disinformation campaigns to meddle in internal affairs of elections in the United States, Ukraine, and many other EU nations. These Russian efforts include conducting cyber-attacks, spreading disinformation, funding pro-Russian parties and coup-plotting.

These attempts have been vehemently denied by Russia despite a growing preponderance of evidence, until earlier this month when the head of the Wagner Group and financier of the infamous IRA disinformation troll farm, Yevgeny Prigozhin decided to publicly remark that “We have interfered [in US elections], we are interfering, and we will continue to interfere. Carefully, accurately, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do.”

Indeed, in addition to the grinding battlefield in Ukraine, the information war is actively being fought, especially in the global South, where false Russian narratives abound. Cybersecurity firms have also identified Russian attempts to interfere in the US Midterm Elections, often propagating the message that the US is “wasting money” by supporting Ukraine. But like with the Malaysia airline findings, Ukraine’s efforts to take detailed account of Russian war crimes even while mid-battle will ultimately serve to demonstrate Moscow’s concerted attempts to distort reality.

In Other News – Global Leaders Raise Need for Ukraine-Russia Peace Talks – 11/17/2022

November 17, 2022

Global leaders increasingly raise the need for Ukraine-Russia peace talks, but the reality on the battlefield indicates that we’re months away from meaningful concessions that would form the basis of a realistic peace agreement. On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy outlined his nation’s ten-fold formula for peace to the participants of the G20 summit in Bali. The plan centers on the premise that Ukraine should not have to comprise on issues of sovereignty, territory, independence, and conscience. Zelenskyy also called for discussions on peace to be public and not in closed rooms. Understandably, Ukrainian distrust of Russia reigns large, and Zelenskyy also emphasized that there “will be no Minsk-3” because Moscow would immediately violate such an agreement.

Most members of the G20 strongly condemned the war and agreed that Russia violated territorial sovereignty, but assessments of the situation and the impact of sanctions on the global economy were reportedly disputed. At the end of the G20 summit, however, French President Macron stated that he wants to visit Beijing in the coming year and aims to encourage China to take on a mediating role in the conflict. Turkey is also hoping to capitalize on its negotiating position and wants to build on its diplomatic efforts negotiating the grain deal.

But on Tuesday, while peace talks were being floated, Russia reportedly conducted the largest number of strikes in a single day since the initial week of its invasion last February. The intensity of the attacks is highly significant even as Ukraine claims some victories in places like Kherson. Russia continues to target power generation and transmission facilities, and on Thursday gas production plants and civilian buildings near the southern city of Zaporizhzhia were hit, resulting in several deaths and significant power cuts. Zelenskyy accused Putin of decimating civilian access to heat and electricity, but Moscow blames Kyiv for its “unwillingness” to negotiate. Russian officials also incredulously insisted that the US and NATO should take the blame for this week’s missile incident in Poland that killed two, as Washington is the “prime cause” of everything that’s happened.

Global pressures are mounting to negotiate an end to the war that’s been threatening stability well beyond Ukrainian borders, but so far Ukraine’s resolve remains strong, and Russia’s actions leave little evidence of winding-down. As stated by Kremlin spokesman Peskov, who was asked this week about the millions of Ukrainians left without power as winter temperatures take hold, “The special military operation continues and its continuation does not depend on climatic, weather conditions.” Peskov’s statement demonstrates Russia’s willingness to promote its war effort at all costs, and it also indicates that any real peace discussion is unlikely until both sides reassess their standing after the cold, winter months.

In Other News – A View from Abroad – the Nuclear Issue – 11/10/2022

November 10, 2022

A View from Abroad – the Nuclear Issue
Once a month, In Other News features a short op-ed heavily informed by the European perspective. We hope that these special monthly pieces will offer our readers an enriched understanding of global events and allow for a more robust international risk calculus.

The nuclear dimension in European foreign policy is back. Over the past 30 years, after intense debates on nuclear proliferation in the eighties, the nuclear threat in Europe gratefully retreated into the background. Out of the spotlight, the polarization of the previous decades disappeared, and nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties were updated and often concluded. European cooperation with Russia and China on non-proliferation, like with DPRK and Iran, even seemed possible. The existence of nuclear weapons was glazed over with opaque phrases such as ‘NATO as a nuclear alliance’, without an active understanding of what the stakes for using those weapons might be. Instead, leaders paid frequent lip-service to the greater aim of the Non-Proliferation Treaty: full nuclear disarmament.

But with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Putin’s subsequent nuclear saber-rattling and continued rhetoric – including his unfounded allegations about a Ukrainian dirty bomb – the nuclear threat is now again at the forefront of NATO’s calculus. European leaders are suddenly reacquainting themselves with the language, logic, and inherent dilemmas of nuclear weapons: Mutually Assured Destruction, deterrence, nuclear posture, strategic balance, and strategic ambiguity. This includes an assessment of leaving the opponent unsure of if, when, and how the West would react to Russia using nuclear weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine, and the unspoken acknowledgement of the presence of US nuclear weapons on European soil.

Washington addresses some of these questions in its latest Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), released in its unclassified version in October. In line with previous versions, the latest NPR lists deterrence as the top priority and emphasizes that “The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its Allies and partners.” But the report also maintains that “nuclear weapons are required to deter not only nuclear attack, but also a narrow range of other high consequence, strategic-level attacks.” The stated policy aims to “complicate an adversary’s entire decision calculus” and seemingly acknowledges the multiple variables impacting a nation’s decision about if and how to conduct an attack.

European leaders are also trying to navigate how to respond to the heightened nuclear threat level. In October, Josep Borrell, Foreign Affairs head of the EU, stated that the West’s answer to a potential Russia nuclear attack on Ukraine will not be with nuclear weapons, and French President Macron made a similar comment. These statements could lower the bar for Putin’s use of nuclear weapons, since they diminish the threat of nuclear retaliation and blur the red line for Moscow not to use them. Finland and Sweden, however, recognized the shifting geopolitical reality sparked by Russia’s attack, and they moved to join NATO as a nuclear alliance. Signing the Nuclear Ban treaty has consequently become impossible for these two new NATO members.

The current reality incited by the Russia-Ukraine war is bleak. But when the conflict is finally over, and international relations are allowed some return to normalcy, the crucial international treaties and institutions in the nuclear domain, such as Start I and II, INF, Open Skies, Nuclear Suppliers Group, IAEA and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, will need to be revived. European politicians can be bolstered by a collective effort to be consistent, rational and engage in non-emotional decision making on nuclear issues. Their choice of messaging will also be critical, as political signaling can readily influence the other side’s mental calculus and inform the global response. But regardless of how exactly they reshape their policies, European leaders can no longer exclude or view the nuclear threat as immaterial– no matter what choices Putin ultimately makes.

In Other News – Global Leaders Confront a New Energy Reality – 11/4/2022

November 4, 2022

As the United Nations COP27 approaches, global leaders confront a new energy reality that’s been heavily influenced by the Russia-Ukraine war. Since the onset of the war last February, the issue of energy security has become a top priority for almost every nation. For some Russian allies like China and India, the sudden availability of Russian energy supplies at a discounted rate has been welcomed, while EU nations and allies have scrambled to secure alternate supplies due to sanctions. Other nations, like Lebanon and Israel, have forged unlikely deals to exploit fossil fuel resources and get in on the action. OPEC+ members are trying to capitalize on the high demand and uncertain future while simultaneously managing political expectations. And all of this has been happening in the backdrop of an increased global awareness to reduce fossil fuel usage and emissions.

The Russia-Ukraine war has temporarily pushed both the emissions and climate financing commitments that were made last November at COP26 to the backburner. Understandably, national leaders have prioritized keeping the heat on and the industry going, regardless of the desire to curb emissions, and we’ve seen a lot of stop-gap measures put into place. Coal has reemerged as an energy source in places where it was being phased out. Nuclear energy is also being reassessed as a viable option, as are a myriad of alternative energy options like solar and wind. Indeed, the war has made a real case for renewables and is accelerating their development. But greener options aren’t yet affordable, cost-effective, or robust enough, and at the upcoming COP27 in Egypt next week, leaders will be challenged to commit to lowering emissions given the geopolitical and economic constraints.

For more than two decades, the UN COPs have been the forum for international negotiations on climate change. In 2015, the gathering led to the Paris Agreement that is still viewed as a fundamental benchmark by most nations today. But more recently, discussion about which nations should be responsible for funding the energy transition has taken center stage.

Notably, the upcoming COP is being held in Africa – a region with low emissions contributions but highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Leaders of developed nations will come face-to-face with their failure to live up to the climate financing promises they made at COP26. Measures to curb inflation will further complicate the discussion. African leaders sitting on fossil fuel resources might also try to reconcile climate commitments with their right to, and need for, economic development, particularly as food supply chains and access remain threatened.

In addition to fossil fuels, the emerging resource battle is with the global south and developing economies that are rich in minerals and rare earth elements that will likely power the next phase of economic and technological development. Russia and China have already made significant investments and inroads in parts of Africa, and national policies are likely to be dictated by these economic relationships. Indeed, COP27 arrives at a time when energy, economics, and politics frequently have opposing needs, and it’s looking increasingly difficult to satisfy them all.

In Other News – All Evidence Suggests Putin Remains Undeterred in Ukraine – 10/27/2022

October 27, 2022

Despite Russian setbacks on the ground, all evidence suggests that Vladimir Putin remains undeterred in Ukraine. From the onslaught of Russian missiles targeting critical infrastructure to running nuclear drills in response to the completely unverified intelligence that Ukraine is trying to build a dirty bomb, Putin’s new war posture is geared to grind down both Ukrainian and Western resolve for his unjust war. As Autumn progresses, Putin hopes to shroud the Ukrainian people in darkness and cold and cause enormous strain to American and European political leaders with high gas prices and the threat of nuclear fallout and hoping that the U.S. midterm elections might turn a result more amenable to his worldview. He is hoping that the West might start to negotiate for themselves and not Ukraine to end their own pain.

The winter will be very hard, Ukraine has rolling blackouts and water supplies to key cities, like Mykolaiv, are now unsecured. Ukraine has directed its displaced refugees not to return to Ukraine until after the winter. European leaders are reaching on a consensus for a price cap on Russian energy as Russian energy flows are steadily being cut and still prices in Europe are soaring. Also, the coming months will reveal the results of the massive Russian mobilization, whether some of the purported 300,000 newly conscripted Russian troops can successfully be redeployed to overwhelm Ukrainian forces despite the apparent and serious logistical, tactical, political, and social challenges to do so.

Just as staving off Russia’s access to elements essential to microchip production has been key to the sanctions effort, ensured access to technology has become central to sustaining Ukraine’s war effort as evidenced by the hectic effort to ensure continuation of Elon Musk’s Starlink service following his parroting of Russian talking points on many social media and public forums. Precision guided missile systems require satellite links and communication with the field. There is general consensus that one of the major key success factors to staving off Russian cyber attacks has been the longtime investment of Microsoft in Ukraine. Furthermore, drones and the novel use of AI have been integral to Ukraine’s effective, asymmetrical battle strategy.

Russia understands this too as evidenced by Russian Foreign Ministry official Konstantin Vorontsov statements at the UN declaring that Russia will consider commercial satellites belonging to the U.S. and it’s Allies legitimate military targets if they are used to support the Ukrainian war effort. As the war drags on, technology and innovation more generally may be the crux upon which Ukraine resistance will need to be leveraged in response to continuing Russian devastation.

Unfazed by Putin’s nuclear blackmail, NATO continued to run its “Steadfast Noon” war games, which test airborne nuclear forces but with no live-fire elements, in Belgium, the UK and over the North Sea. Attention presently is focused on providing Ukraine with the anti-missile defenses its needs as well as the financial support required to sustain living conditions in Ukraine. For now, NATO and its partners are galvanized both by Ukraine’s military success on the ground but also by the clear understanding that European and Western security is inextricably linked to Ukrainian victory. In fact discussion this week in Germany on funding the Ukrainian rebuild focused more on the importance of funding the Ukrainian war effort.

In Other News – Iranian Weapons in Russia Reveal Putin’s Limitations – 10/21/2022

October 21, 2022

Iranian weapons in Russia reveal Putin’s needs and limitations, geopolitical realignments abound. This week, Tehran’s relationship with Moscow made headlines after Ukraine accused Russia of using Iranian-made drones to attack Kyiv and stated that Ukrainian air defenses have shot down over 200 Iranian-made drones in the past few weeks. US Intelligence officials also reported that Iranian military personnel were in Crimea in the capacity of drone trainers and tech support workers after the Russian military suffered “operator and system failures early on” in its attempts to effectively use the weapons.

Tehran has publicly denied the accusation of selling Iranian weapons to Russia, and the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman even had the audacity to offer “dialogue and negotiation with Ukraine to clear these allegations”. The Kremlin, unsurprisingly, has also denied use of the Iranian equipment. Meanwhile, US Intelligence officials are concerned that Russia isn’t going to limit its purchases to Iranian drones but could be trying to buy surface-to-surface missiles from Tehran. In early September, the US Treasury’s OFAC designated a Tehran-based air transportation service and several Iranian corporate entities for the involvement in supplying drones to Russia, and it’s likely that more sanctions are to come.

Iran and Russia, in addition to sharing the false narrative that the West is an instigator that’s responsible for their immense social and economic problems, have prior on-the-ground experience collaborating on the battlefield. Although the Moscow-Tehran relationship is long marked by competition and opportunism, the nations can work together well enough when there’s common interest. Of note, many of the same Iranian and Russian leaders involved in securing a 2015 bilateral agreement on military-technical cooperation between the two nations are still involved in government and military leadership positions today.

While that deal was designed to coordinate operations in Syria, which they did, over the years personal relationships have developed, and the nations have collaborated on sanctions evasion and other energy initiatives. Tehran also knows that Russia won’t criticize its leaders for violently curbing internal dissent, which has been steady ever since 22 year-old Iranian Mahsa Amini recently died in the hands of the government after being arrested for wearing her hijab improperly. And Tehran can also depend on Russia to threaten Israel with retaliation if Israel moves to supply Kyiv’s military with technology or weapons.

But as much as the Iranian drone revelation reveals about Moscow’s relations with Tehran, we can also learn a lot from what we’re not seeing. That the Russians needed to resort to Iranian-made weapons indicates that they’re not getting what they might have wanted from China, which has been a concern since the onset of the war. Thus far, Beijing has primarily supported Russia by parroting the Kremlin’s propaganda and refusing to condemn Putin in the international arena. Beijing has also maintained essential economic dealings with Moscow, often price gouging Putin in the process, yet China’s been careful to avoid violating certain sanctions and Russia’s tech needs have been hurt in response.

China’s also been creeping into traditional Russian turf while Putin’s been distracted looking west. Central Asian countries, who typically look to Russia as a regional negotiator have taken advantage of Russia’s weakness to express their grievances about Moscow and hold independent meetings with China. Beijing has also invested billions in regional infrastructure development and has paid special attention to deepening relations with Kazakhstan- a key regional actor that borders both China and Russia. While Russia has traditionally played policeman and ensured that even unpopular regional leaders were able to maintain their positions, it’s also true that over a year since Taliban control of Afghanistan other Central Asian nations haven’t seen an increased threat or needed Moscow’s protection.

With multiple variables clearly at play, we can anticipate traditional regional allies testing the waters, and enemies finding areas of opportunity. The same week that Iran was making headlines for the drones, an advisor to the Iranian Supreme Leader proclaimed that Saudi Arabia and Iran should reopen their embassies to solve their problems “in a better way.” Indeed, the geopolitical order that was initially rocked back in February continues to actively evolve and shape political strategy in the greater region.

In Other News – Chinese President Xi Jinping: New Mao Zedong or New Emperor? – 10/14/2022

October 14, 2022

On the cusp of the Chinese National Congress, analysis from a global contributor offers readers insight on how Xi might be weighing his next steps

President Xi’s next term is almost certain, but his legacy is on the line with Taiwan. At the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party on October 16, President Xi is likely to secure a third presidential term after abolishing the two-term limit back in 2018. Indeed, over the previous decade, Xi has steadily dissolved the collective leadership principles that were in place to protect the country against the whims of a single leader. Instead, he’s centralized the reins of power, holding the positions of President, General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Committee at the same time. But while centralizing power might serve to make the government more effective, it also makes the leader more vulnerable, and this paradox will impact Xi’s actions vis-à-vis Taiwan.

Like his predecessors, Xi holds the dual ambitions of Chinese territorial expansion and economic prosperity, and in the case of Taiwan they’re intimately related. Major technical questions abound on the likelihood of a successful Chinese military invasion, and it remains uncertain if Xi’s soldiers are battle-ready and up to the task. It is also unclear if it would even be possible for Beijing to conquer the island without destroying it, and how much external support Taiwan would receive. Further, invading Taiwan could send Xi down Putin’s path, forcing Beijing into economic isolation at a time when China’s success heavily depends on its economic interaction with the West.

Trade between China and the United States and China and the EU is enormous. In both relations, total trade with China is above $650 billion. Accumulated Foreign Direct Investment in and from China for the US and EU respectively is upwards of $100 billion. These numbers indicate how interwoven the three economies are and how the prosperity of China is linked with functioning political and economic relations with Washington and Brussels.

Xi is likely weighing expansion against internal stability, and he’s acutely aware of how these goals have played out in Chinese history. While Mao Zedong was able to unify the mainland of China, his tenure ended in disgrace replete with political upheaval and an attempt to cover up a horrific earthquake. Deng Xiaoping, who took the lead not long after Mao’s death, achieved agreements on the transfer of Hong Kong and Macao, but he will also be remembered by the violent suppression of Tiananmen Square in 1989. Further, from an economic perspective, Mao’s period was a disaster while Deng’s rule led to a period of positive and transformative change.

Traditionally in China, the emperor was seen as the connection between the earth and heaven, and nation-wide prosperity or disasters under his reign were attributed to whether the leader was in fact operating under a mandate from heaven. Under Xi, the Chinese economy has done well, but continued economic growth is being challenged by Beijing’s draconian Covid restrictions and an impending internal financial crisis. Xi knows that employing military means in Taiwan any time soon could endanger China’s stability and thereby threaten his legitimacy and legacy. Indeed, regardless of how much Xi wants to expand, he will act to maintain safeguard his own power and that of his Party first.

In Other News – Crimean Bridge Attack Comes at a Time of Escalated Pressures on Putin – 10/13/2022

October 13, 2022

Crimean bridge attack comes at a time of escalated pressures on Putin, global players actively navigate their response. The Kerch Bridge, that was attacked in an early morning explosion last Saturday, connects illegally annexed Crimea to Russia and holds symbolic and strategic value for Moscow. In 2018, Putin personally inaugurated the bridge, comprised of both rail and road structures, to increase Russia’s ability to supply the peninsula and demonstrate that Crimea is firmly in Russia’s grasp. After the Saturday bridge attack, which appears to have been designed to maximize infrastructure damage and limit civilian deaths, Putin seemingly unleashed his fury with a series of airstrikes on Ukrainian civilian and critical infrastructure targets. It’s also possible that these strikes had been planned even before the bridge attack to help satisfy the escalatory demands of the Russian far-right. The attacks targeted locations across the whole of Ukraine and were likely led by a man with noted disregard for human life, General Sergei Surovikin.

Surovikin, who was previously in charge of Russian operations in the Ukrainian South, was recently appointed by Putin to lead the pan-Ukraine war effort. This is the first time Putin has put one individual in charge of all of Ukraine, and with Surovikin, a longtime veteran of Russia’s brutal war efforts in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Syria, civilian targets now appear fair game. Surovikin’s appointment is also in line with the same unhinged rationale of Moscow’s increased nuclear threats: Putin still seems to think that if he’s vicious enough he can convince NATO and the United States to talk Ukraine out of defending itself. But just like he underestimated Ukraine’s ability to fight back, Putin continues to underestimate Western resolve against him.

Indeed, the recent Russian attacks further galvanized the Ukrainian resistance and prompted G7 countries to reiterate, increase, and accelerate support for Ukraine, including promising air defense systems. Further, Forbes Ukraine has estimated that the attacks cost Moscow $400-700 million on just the first day- an expenditure that’s unsustainable. Russia’s political and military options also seem to be floundering – Ukraine continues to make gains in disputed territories in the South and East and many men of fighting age have fled Russia since the partial and increasingly unpopular mobilization was announced.

It’s also uncertain if the mobilization can really take effect before winter and how much of an impact it will ultimately have. The Wagner Group and Chechen fighters have refrained from committing more of their elite fighters, opting to recruit in prisons, and Russia is drawing upon more of its minority populations and foreign prisoners for cannon fodder. Training conditions for the conscripts are also reportedly awful and demoralizing. There are further reports that Russia is trying to sign on Ukrainian refugees from Mariupol, in another signal of Moscow’s desperation and an indication that there’s going to be serious a morale problem among the troops.

Putin is still attempting to weaponize food and energy, but his initial attempt to punish Europe by withholding gas was impulsive and signaled early on that the Europeans should prepare for further disruption- which they did. This week, Berlin quickly rejected Putin’s offer to resume gas supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, demonstrating a firm resolve even with potentially difficult economic repercussions. It’s possible that Putin has a friendlier face with OPEC+ members like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who recently frustrated Washington by announcing production cuts, but these countries are promoting their own national economic interests and Moscow can’t reliably depend upon them in the long run.

Further, the energy reconfiguration sparked by the war continues to lead to a new political and economic reality. Just this week Israel and Lebanon accepted a US-led agreement on their contentious maritime border. The historic deal could allow natural gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, and both Israel and Lebanon could reap economic benefit from the resources. For its part, Israel has said that it will start extracting and exporting gas to Europe right away, and Lebanon is also expected to act quickly. Indeed, while the battle in Ukraine might be seemingly entrenched, geopolitical dealings are in full force and are likely to impact negotiating positions moving forward.

In Other News – A View from Europe – 10/7/2022

October 7, 2022

A View from Europe
The first week of every month, In Other News features a short op-ed heavily informed by the European perspective. We hope that these special monthly pieces will offer our readers an enriched understanding of global events and allow for a more robust international risk calculus.

What the European Union can learn from the global response to the Russia-Ukraine war
The response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has varied widely among global leaders, and this variation serves as a powerful wake-up call for European policy makers. Discussions within the European Union (EU) often assume common core values and principles, but these values are not inherently transferrable to third countries that are operating on a different calculus and are first and foremost informed by their national interests. While the latest United Nations voting patterns indicate that Russia is increasingly isolated, with only a few rogue allies remaining, the evolution of international votes helps to elucidate the factors that shape and inform the decisions of non-European global leaders.

When Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) decided not to recognize Moscow’s territorial conquests. Of 193 UNGA members, 100 voted against Russia, 11 voted with Russia, and there were 58 abstentions. 24 countries did not show up for the vote. After the February 2022 attack, however, a greater UNGA majority condemned Putin’s actions and requested full withdrawal of Russian troops. 141 countries voted against Russia, 5 sided with Russia, and there were 35 abstentions – including India, surprisingly, and unsurprisingly China. 12 countries did not show up for the vote.

A similar symbolical vote took place in September 2022 when UNGA approved Ukrainian President Zelenskyy’s request to hold a virtual address. Only six countries sided with Russia: Belarus, Cuba, Eritrea, Nicaragua, North Korea, and Syria. Notably, India supported Ukraine here for the first time, after abstaining from the two previous resolutions.

Russia’s violation of international law, including the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, the Budapest Memorandum, and the NATO-Russia act, was so extreme with the latest invasion that some European observers were surprised that not all countries condemned Russia’s unprovoked military attack. But Moscow’s overtly unethical behavior is not the decisive factor. The voting pattern at the UN shows that countries base their foreign policy considerations on national self-interest first, followed by issues of international law, values and principles.

For Western nations, national self-interest is aligned with the obvious international legal considerations of the Russian invasion. The horrific war crimes committed by the Russian troops further emphasize that fundamental values and principles are at stake.

The six states aligning with Russia, however, believe they have no choice but to support Putin in view of their perceived dependency on Moscow. They are making the calculation that voting now with Putin will bring them political advantages in future.

A group of approximately 40 countries, mainly from Africa and Asia have not taken a clear position on Russia, either abstaining from voting or not turning up for the vote. There’s an adage that helps explain their lack of interference: “when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled”. Indeed, this group of nations seems to believe that ‘playing invisible’ best serves their national interest. Food security also remains an important concern in their political calculus.

The position of two influential Asian countries, China and India, is being closely watched. China is balancing its partnership with Moscow with its concerns about international stability and economic consequences- Xi has increasingly made his concerns clear to Putin. India, which abstained during the first UN votes, is trying to strike a balance between its partnerships with the West and with Russia. The fact that during the September vote it sided with Ukraine and Prime Minister Modi remarked that “this is not an era of war” has further shifted the international balance against Putin.

Finally, in every country’s policy formulation on Russia’s attack, opportunism is also relevant: which country will prevail? Indeed, Ukraine’s current performance on the battlefield will further influence international support for its brave defense. And in addition to battlefield losses, Russia’s escalatory comments on use of nuclear weapons and actions on mobilization have not helped its international support and only serve to further isolate the nation.