In Other News Special Issue: A View on China – 7/13/2023

U.S. and China with little room to maneuver. The cross-currents in the U.S. China relationship were highlighted this past week when, in advance of Treasury Secretary Yellen’s trip to Beijing, China’s Commerce Ministry announced restrictions on sales of gallium and germanium products starting 1 August in the most recent salvo of its ongoing battle with Washington over access to advanced semiconductors. On the one hand, Washington has sent two cabinet level officials to Beijing in the past month and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is expected to make his third visit to China next week, at a time when China’s Covid reopening boost is fading and it is loath to see further U.S. restrictions on cutting edge technology. Both sides appear committed to taking down the temperature of this great power relationship where the two economies remain inexorably interconnected and underpin the global economic order. There is the possibility for continued high-level diplomatic dialogue with potential meetings between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping on the margins of the September G20 Summit in New Delhi or the November APEC Leaders Meeting in San Francisco.

Yet major breakthroughs remain highly unlikely as U.S. and China core strategic interests run in opposite directions. The annexation of Taiwan is a paramount and pressing goal for Xi, backed by an assertive ascendant military, while the Biden Administration has increasingly signaled overt support of Taiwan self-determination and is strengthening its Indo-Pacific presence and alliances. The Administration’s October 2022 restrictions on China’s access to advanced semiconductors, and the tools and experts necessary to produce them, are backed by a rare domestic political consensus that rewards tough action and makes further measures likely. With trust at an all-time low, both sides would do well to lay the groundwork now for even small wins at its Fall meetings.

Latin America now matters to China in more ways than one. For years, China has been expanding its influence in Latin America and its sustained efforts have positioned Beijing as a solid economic alternative to Washington. Most recently, China signed a free trade agreement with Ecuador, adding to the active agreements it already has with Chile, Peru, and Costa Rica. In addition to these agreements, twenty-one countries in Latin America are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). According to statistics from China’s General Administration of Customs, last year China was the largest trading partner for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Traditionally, China looked to Latin America to support its own burgeoning growth – purchasing items like petroleum, oil, and soybeans. But now, Latin American governments are looking for Chinese investment in more than raw materials and agriculture. As evidenced by Brazilian President Lula’s recent agreement with China to support semiconductor production, cybersecurity, and 5G in Brazil, Latin American countries want China to help them develop multiple types of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). This, in addition to several anticipated mega-infrastructure projects in the region.

China isn’t constrained in its foreign investments by the same domestic pressures as the United States, and this has implications for foreign policy. Beijing plays a role in both where and how Chinese private funds are used and in return, China not only gets economic partners, but also potential political ones. Indeed, China’s increasing economic deals with Latin America are likely at least partially responsible for why many in the region have been aligning less frequently with the United States during UN votes or at other international forums – a side benefit that is only likely to reinforce Chinese investment in the region.

Critical development is needed in Africa. There is more volatility in the world subsequent to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the partial decoupling of the West from China’s powerhouse supply chain. The upheaval and economic disruptions subsequent to these events has made the Global South a critical political and economic partner for both prosperity and vying for dominance in the world’s economy. Africa for example is the fastest-growing region in the world today. Much of that growth has been facilitated by Chinese investments in transportation infrastructure through its Belt and Road Initiative, even though the resulting enormous debt to China could be a long-term strategic drag on these economies. This investment has boosted diplomatic relationships with China and created a great deal of positive sentiment with local constituents.

Still, much of the African economy has not reached a critical capacity to ensure a viable opportunity for private investors, which would be a real driver for sustainable growth. And sustainable growth is what is most critical for political stability and the potential for prosperity. What’s more, this current economic sclerosis creates significant political volatility, which has resulted in great upheaval in countries like Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Libya, Mali, and Sudan. In those countries as well as others like Chad, Ivory Coast and Madagascar, Russia or its proxies like the Wagner Group has moved in to ensure security for the victors and secure valuable mining and mineral contracts that rob the African people of the opportunity to benefit from its natural resources. The Wagner Group’s own uncertain future following Prigozhin’s mutiny may be yet another source of instability to the continent. Still, developing viable and robust opportunities in Africa and other economies in the Global South is important for global stability, maintaining a solid international rule of law, and ensuring prosperity with democratic underpinnings.

Growing rare earth competition. The war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic have focused attention on the fragility of international supply chains for vital goods. Another potential disruption is beginning to play out around rare earth elements (“REE”), vital components in the production of semiconductors, electric vehicles, medical devices, mobile phones, and advanced weapon systems. REE are top of mind as UN-hosted talks in Jamaica this week discuss whether to allow deep-sea mining in international waters pitting environmentalists against advocates who believe REE and other metals are critical to powering the green tech needed to fight climate change.

China’s export restrictions on gallium and germanium will start creating a bottleneck in supply as the country accounts for 80% and 60%, respectively, of the global supply of these resources. In recent years, the U.S. has looked to secure its own REE supply chain, but China still dominates the industry with the vast majority of REE being either produced or refined in the country. The Trump and Biden administrations both created initiatives to spur domestic production and to secure access to international REE supplies outside of China. In the U.S., those efforts have helped revitalize an REE mine in Mountain Pass, California, and creation of a refining facility in Fort Worth, Texas. While these projects can ensure access to REE including cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, and europium, experts have noted that they are insufficient to meet long term U.S. requirements and the country must secure other domestic and international REE sources outside of the Chinese-controlled supply chain. Going forward, we will see the U.S. and China competing for sources of raw REE in regions like Africa and Central Asia using their arsenals of diplomatic tools such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Whatever strategies the U.S. deploys, it must secure access to enough REE that future supply chain disruptions will not derail domestic technology and defense industries.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.

In Other News – A View from Abroad – 7/6/2023

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.

Ukraine has rightfully been at the forefront of the European Union’s foreign policy and security discussions over the past 18 months, but the larger battle also necessitates curbing threats like North Korea. For over a decade, under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, North Korea has repeatedly tested nuclear weapons, ballistic delivery systems, and satellite launches. And the continued development of these capabilities presents an unlikely, but direct, threat to South Korea, Japan and the ~30,000 U.S. military personnel on the peninsula. Until now, however, Europe has primarily viewed North Korea’s potential nuclear program of distant, secondary concern. But if the European Union (EU) wants to support the security of its global, democratic allies at a moment of geopolitical realignment, it should take North Korea’s nuclear capabilities more seriously.

The United Nations Security Council has already adopted multiple resolutions that led to a detailed set of sanctions that aimed to thwart North Korea’s nuclear program. But these resolutions were adopted at a time when China and Russia were concerned about a possible nuclear conflict at their border and were therefore more inclined to comply with the sanctions. At present, however, China and Russia instead view their nuclear neighbor as a useful instrument, particularly as North Korea is playing a role to re-arm Russia, and these two nations have become less reliable in this context.

North Korea’s continued development and testing of its nuclear capabilities presents a threat to global security, and this threat can be readily exploited by other Western adversaries like Russia. The Trump-Kim Jong-un summits demonstrated to the West that the North Korean “Supreme Leader” was not willing to give up his nuclear capabilities, and he continues to try to use the tests as blackmail and bargaining chips, outside of any formal diplomatic procedure. But while Kim Jong-un is often dismissed as a menace who can’t even provide food for his own countrymen, his isolation, erratic behavior, and delusional view of North Korea as politically on-par with the United States could make him desperate.

From a European perspective, North Korea has typically been viewed as a distant threat of most concern to Japan, South Korea, and the United States. But Russian’s invasion of Ukraine has demanded a shift in this calculus. Since the onset of the war, Japan and South Korea have been clear Ukraine allies, and both have intensified consultation and cooperation with the EU and NATO. The participation of South Korea and Japan at the upcoming NATO Summit in Vilnius is another important step to bolster the group of nations that will defend the UN Charter. At this inflection point, the EU should acknowledge the threat of North Korea’s nuclear efforts, particularly as Kim Jong-un has professed his support of Putin, and work to curb it.

The EU position should focus on providing political support to regional allies and enhancing diplomatic pressure on North Korea. This would include stricter implementation of the UN-approved sanction measures, including shared intelligence on sanctions-evasion, as well as joint outreach measures to pressure countries who are knowingly subverting the sanctions to comply. In the process, the EU would make it clear that a global partnership is starting to form, one of like-minded countries who help each other in their moment of need, while also upholding the most fundamental principles of the UN Charter.

While the direct military relevance of North Korea’s nuclear programs is rather limited, and any use of nuclear weapons would be equivalent to suicide, it makes sense to limit the strength of an increasingly desperate country that could serve as a political pawn for China and Russia. The EU already has many of the diplomatic tools it needs to limit the threat, and now – in close partnership with its allies and friends – it just needs to decide that the threat’s important enough to use them.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.

In Other News – Prigozhin’s Amuse-Bouche – 6/29/2023

June 29, 2023

Putin would never have been this vulnerable if he’d just stayed out of Ukraine. The whole world watched in astonishment as Yevgeny Prigozhin led his Russian-affiliated Wagner Group convoy up from the southwestern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don towards Moscow. In the process, Wagner fighters shot down at least six Russian helicopters and a command-and-control plane, leaving Putin to explain to his entire country – and his allies – how he could have possibly let such an attack happen. Remarkably, as quickly and seemingly easily as Prigozhin advanced towards the Russian capital, he turned around at just a mere 125 miles away.

While Prigozhin was the mastermind of this history-making 24-hour mutiny, Putin has no one to blame but himself. Putin’s the one who made the erroneous decision to invade Ukraine in the first place, and Putin’s the one who cultivated and empowered a character like Prigozhin to conduct his dirty work for him – both in Ukraine and on a global scale. And it’s Putin, who, for months, has allowed Prigozhin to openly disparage Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) generals and make other likeminded allies in the process. Putin granted Prigozhin a long leash and Prigozhin choked him with it.

It’s most likely, however, that Prigozhin was not actually trying to overthrow the Kremlin but was instead fighting to remain relevant. Putin had recently sided with the MoD to require that Wagner troops sign official state contracts, and this requirement would have reduced both Prigozhin’s influence and income. But Prigozhin’s desperate move isn’t likely to end well for him either. Right now, Putin has dropped the criminal probe into the mutiny, but we can expect more changes as Putin tries to navigate the future of Wagner’s global operations and what to do with its erstwhile leader.

Ukraine, however, is Putin’s greatest – and likewise self-created – obstacle, and the reason why he’s so politically exposed. And it’s what happens on the battlefield next that’s really going to determine how long Putin remains in command. While last week’s ambush damaged Putin’s ego and made him even more paranoid, it might not have too much of an immediate, technical impact on the battle in Ukraine itself. Many of Russia’s positions in Ukraine are being manned by MoD fighters at this point, and Wagner forces were already depleted after the battle for Bakhmut.

But Prigozhin’s actions disrupted an already-fraught military apparatus and exposed cracks in Russian propaganda and unity. Notably, Prigozhin’s emphatic public remarks have called into question the official state line that Russia is fighting to defend itself against Western aggression. Russian decision-makers who need to be focused on how to make gains in Ukraine are instead now distracted by internal affairs, and a shaken MoD must manage the plummeting morale of its troops – which was already low.

Putin will now try to rewrite the 24 hours of the mutiny – where a group of former convicts and paid fighters shot down his own air force within Russian territory – and try to reconstruct them in his favor. He’ll incredulously assert that he handled the situation masterfully even if during the events he was visibly shaken, in hiding, and purportedly taking advice from his Belarusian political pawn Lukashenko. And some members of Putin’s constituency are going to believe him and stick by his side – for now.

But it’s undeniable that this week Prigozhin, who is nicknamed “Putin’s Chef” from his past life as Kremlin caterer, served Putin a hefty Amuse-Bouche of humiliation, and an entree of political upheaval is on the burner. It’s unlikely that Putin will be able to fully recover from this, and if Ukraine and allies can remain strong and hold him back long enough, he’ll become an even bigger liability and won’t be around for dessert.

For more of Jack’s commentary on the Prigozhin mutiny, check out his recent interview with Bloomberg’s The Tape: Jack Devine on The Tape – Ukraine and Russia, IBM, PacWest, and VCs.mp3

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.

In Other News – Distilling Geopolitical Complexities in a Multipolar World – 6/23/2023

June 23, 2023

This week’s events offer an important distillation of the geopolitical complexities that Washington is trying to navigate in an increasingly multipolar world. U.S. Secretary of State Blinken was in China and managed to secure a last-minute meeting with President Xi Jinping. This was seemingly a meaningful demonstration from Beijing that they want to stabilize a relationship that has incurred significant self-inflicted degradation over the past several years.

The US-China relationship has been increasingly fraught because of security tensions in the South China Sea and Taiwan, economic sanctions against China to restrain its access to critical microchip technology, U.S. economic decoupling from China subsequent to the pandemic’s supply chain disruptions, and opposing views of the Ukrainian-Russian War. Flared domestic politics in both countries have only furthered the antagonism.

The United States would like to collaborate with China to get the world economy back on track and improve military communications with China and reduce the possibility of a military confrontation. At the same time, Washington is pursuing its key strategic goals that China sees as a threat. U.S. goals include securing critical diplomatic, military, trading and primarily democratic partnerships in Asia, diversifying its supply chain dependence on China, and limiting growing Chinese influence in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

Cognizant of these tensions, it’s Beijing’s own economic fragility that may spur future dialogue with Washington. Xi’s autocratic and grandiose aspirations that this be the Chinese Century are currently hampered by demographic realities, a flailing housing market, a stunted economic recovery, and shallow coffers after massive pandemic spending. Further evidence of this was prominent in China’s Premier Li Qiang’s visits to Germany and France this week. Xi and President Biden are anticipated to meet on the sidelines of the APEC Summit, not necessarily to reset the relationship, but to continue to stabilize it and find grounds for cooperation.

This diplomatic fence mending took place at the same time that Biden welcomed Chinese rival and President of India, Narendra Modi. There was little talk of Modi’s increasingly autocratic rule but rather a sharp focus on greater economic and technological cooperation between the two allies who both want India to become a key new supplier of goods to the United States and a buffer against China.

Washington also wants to draw India closer into its diplomatic, military, and economic sphere of interest, and to undercut Russia’s longtime influence as a key defense contractor and purveyor of critical food and fertilizer to India. Modi’s equivocations on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will be something that the U.S. is aiming to shift in the medium term by offering the carrot of key defense technology transfer and contracting.

Both Beijing’s and New Delhi’s position on Ukraine, aligned with nearly the entire Global South, seem to be top of mind for both Kyiv and Washington as the counteroffensive is underway. U.S. National Security advisor Jake Sullivan is slated to travel to Denmark to meet with many of the neutral world leaders from Brazil, India, South Africa, and possibly China and Turkey. The information war will be key to stemming continued tacit and deliberate support for Moscow and allowing Kyiv to continue its resistance.

In the meantime, Zelenskyy received a welcome boost from the Pentagon who provided $6.9 billion in additional available funding for the war this week, as well as additional commitments for short-term recovery aid and long-term pledges for loans and funding guarantees for the rebuild at the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London. In addition, Brussels recently announced that Ukraine met two of the seven EU benchmarks (on judicial reform and media freedom) that are required in order to start membership negotiations.

The international challenges of the United States are nothing short of daunting at present– pursuing national interest while tolerating allies’ conflicting equities, engaging with strategic rivals in critical areas of cooperation and consistently engaging traditionally tertiary parties, all while trying to spur the international economy.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.

In Other News – Putin Disregards Efficiency – 6/16/2023

June 16, 2023

Putin is prioritizing control over efficiency, and it’s not going to serve him well in the long run. It’s going to take weeks, or even months, before Ukraine and allies can confidently assess the status of Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive. But in the interim, Putin is responding to the increased military pressure by further tightening control over his population- both in terms of the military and civil society. He’s also doubling down on political alliances that might sound promising but are unlikely to offer Russia any long-term economic or political benefit.

This week, in a televised interview with pre-selected Russian media members, Putin asserted control over the war narrative, explaining to Russian citizens that their nation will emerge victorious by outlasting Western support for Ukraine. He assured his population not to worry about any further mobilization of Russian soldiers and that recent attacks on the Russian homeland were unimportant and under control. Putin also supported Russian Defense Minister Shoigu’s demand that all individuals fighting on behalf of Russia sign contracts with the Defense Ministry.

Shoigu’s demand, however, was quickly refuted by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, head of the Russian-aligned Wagner mercenary group that’s been supplying Putin with soldiers for months. Notably, while Putin claimed that the registration is necessary for troops to receive their requisite social guarantees, Prigozhin argued that the process would only damage his group’s efficiency. While Prigozhin later did concede that a “compromise solution” for his fighters might be possible, the debate is a microcosm of what we’ve been seeing with Putin’s strategy writ large.

Putin’s desire for absolute control has suppressed the inputs needed to make good strategic calls. The centralized command and control of the military has hampered independent action or decision-making of his various brigades on the battlefield, thankfully making Russia a less efficient attacker. It’s also likely silenced any thoughtful dissenters within the Kremlin who might have offered him valuable counternarratives. Likewise, Putin’s tightening grasp over civil society has resulted in notable brain drain of skilled Russians and a clampdown on important facets of Russian society ranging from independent journalists to artists.

As Putin relentlessly asserts complete state control both over civil society and on the battlefield, he also seems hyper-aware that he might be losing control in the global arena. Putin’s been spending a lot of time trying to maintain influence in places like West Africa and Central America- he recently spoke with the interim president of Mali to discuss security and hosted the Cuban Prime Minister to discuss how to reinvigorate the Russia-Cuba relationship. On Monday, which was Russia’s National Day marked by a notable lack of patriotism, another flailing Putin ally Kim Jong Un announced that the two nations should strengthen their ties.

But these aren’t the type of relationships that lead to durable economic or political success for Putin, and they likely offer little comfort to any Russian citizen thinking about future stability. Further, Putin knows that while China has thus far been a supporter, it’s also a major competitor in geographic regions where Putin wants to be first pick. As he scrambles to simultaneously assert control over the battlefield, civil society, and the international arena, it’s likely that the inefficiencies will begin to pile up for Putin in all areas — paradoxically weakening his position both at home and abroad.

In Other News – Ukraine Begins Its Counteroffensive – 6/8/2023

June 8, 2023

As Ukraine begins its counteroffensive, Russia faces mounting pressure on multiple fronts. This week, the impact of the battle in Ukraine was compounded by damage to the Kakhovka dam that left thousands of Ukrainians stranded and homeless. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz laid the blame for the dam’s destruction firmly on Russia, as did the Ukrainians, but Russia unsurprisingly asserted that the breach was “an act of self-sabotage” by Ukraine. While the impact of the damage on civilians cannot be understated, and further environmental repercussions are likely, most military analysts agree that the dam breach should not significantly alter Ukraine’s military operations.

This is key, because Ukraine has launched its much-anticipated counteroffensive and is expected to focus on reclaiming territory from the Russians in the southeast. To do this, Kyiv is making use of forces that are equipped with sophisticated Western weapons and trained in NATO tactics. Last fall, Russia illegally occupied parts of Ukraine like Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia, later holding fake annexation referendums in four regions and taking control over cities and critical infrastructure like the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. Now, in a counteroffensive, the Ukrainians will likely try to gain ground in cities like Melitopol that symbolize Russian-control over these same regions and facilities.

While the physical battle in Ukraine is intensifying, inside of Russia Putin continues to crackdown on any possible dissent, clearly desperate to contain even a whiff of a counter-narrative. The Kremlin is taking extreme measures, recently labeling groups like Greenpeace as “undesirable organizations” and spurring their exit from the country. This week, the Kremlin blocked the websites run by OVD-Info, a well-established Russian human rights advocacy group that tracks unjust arrests related to protest activity.

Putin is also dealing with incendiary remarks from Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group mercenary outfit that’s been doing a lot of Russia’s dirty work in Ukraine. While Prigozhin’s remarks are often categorized as mere theatrics, a constant and loud critique of the Russia’s defense ministry certainly cannot be good for troop morale. Multiple media reports also indicate that frustration among high-level Russian politicians and business leaders has been increasing.

Outside of Russia, Putin is pushing the limits of his economic and political alliances. Since 2016, Russia and Saudi Arabia have cooperated to control oil pricing during times of economic turmoil, but at the recent OPEC+ meeting, Saudi Arabia committed to reducing its exports to alleviate pricing dips, while Russia didn’t. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has necessitated that Russia prioritize immediate economic gains over the long-term advantages that incentivize OPEC members to collaborate. Further, with the loss of its European buyers, Russia has had to sell highly discounted oil to countries like India and China, interfering with the earnings of other OPEC members. Depending on the trajectory of the pricing, these other members could become frustrated and even incentivized to defect.

The ramifications of shifts in OPEC+ could impact political dealings as well. If Russia becomes a rogue OPEC member or continues to cause major disruptions in the group’s operations, it’s unclear how Saudi Arabia will shift its political stance towards Putin, but it surely won’t take it in stride. The United States is highly aware of this vulnerability, and this week US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Saudi Arabia to underscore Washington’s “enduring commitment” to the Gulf. Right now, it might be to Saudi’s advantage to maintain friendly relations with both Russia and Washington, not to mention China, but if Putin gets desperate and pushes the pricing game too far, Saudi knows that it has options.

In Other News – Putin Downplays Attacks on Russia – 6-2-2023

June 2, 2023

Putin is downplaying recent attacks on Russia, but if these attacks continue, they could alter the nature of the conflict. This week, Russia continued its unprovoked and relentless attack on Ukraine, again targeting Kyiv multiple times and killing several civilians, including children. Meanwhile, at several key meetings in Europe, Ukraine’s allies have been trying to figure out the best way to support Ukraine going forward, including potential NATO membership. Allies are also trying to navigate their response to an uptick of attacks within Russia, and how to contain regional instability in places like Kosovo.

Last week in the Russian region of Belgorod, in one of the most intense cross-border attacks since the onset of the war, Moscow declared a counter-terrorism operation and restricted local communications and movements while fending-off the raiders. Russia reported that it killed 70 attackers, laying the blame squarely on Ukraine. And on Thursday, there was another attack in Belgorod where at least eight people were injured. For its part, Ukraine has stated that the attacks were conducted by Russian patriots who are fighting for regime change in Russia.

Earlier this week, several drones targeted high-rise buildings in Moscow overnight, injuring at least two people and no doubt waking up the urban population to the threat of violence in their own neighborhood. In early May, footage of two drones allegedly trying to attack the Kremlin was released, with Russia again blaming Ukraine. So far, Putin’s response has generally been to downplay the attacks, touting his control over the situation, or dismissing them as petty acts of “terrorism”. The Kremlin has also tried to sell the attacks as further evidence of why Russia needs to be fighting Ukraine.

But if attacks within Russia continue and become more systematic, then Putin’s going to have to do more than dismiss the attacks as insignificant. The risks are high if he doesn’t respond, and internal dissent is likely to increase. While Ukraine has largely denied any role in the recent attacks on Russian soil, there are hints that they may have been involved in at least some. The degree of direct Ukrainian involvement is presently unclear, but given the uptick in attacks, Ukraine’s allies are trying to navigate and coordinate their response to what might be a part of Kyiv’s strategy.

The United Kingdom and United States have thus far adapted slightly different responses. The UK Foreign Secretary remarked that Ukraine has “the legitimate right to (defend itself) within its own borders, but it does also have the right to project force beyond its borders to undermine Russia’s ability to project force into Ukraine.” A spokesperson from the US National Security Council, however, stated that “as a general matter” Washington does not support attacks inside of Russia, and that no US equipment should be used inside of Russian borders.

Meanwhile, on Thursday leaders from nearly 50 European countries gathered in Moldova for the second summit of the European Political Committee. The group, which is notably being hosted by a non-EU member state and includes other key non-EU member states like Britain, was formed last year to deal with the challenge of Russia’s invasion and its many, ongoing ramifications. At the summit, leaders discussed improving inter-European relations and energy resilience, but the threat of regional instability could not be ignored.

While in Moldova for the gathering, French and German leaders held talks with the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia, urging them to help curb civil unrest that was sparked by Serbian resistance to the recent election of an ethnic-Albanian leader in Kosovo. Around 30 NATO peacekeepers were injured on Monday when the protests of Serbian nationalists turned violent, and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is deploying more troops to Kosovo, reporting on Thursday that the first 700 reinforcement troops were en route. While any renewed violence in Kosovo would be tragic and destabilizing in its own right, Serbia’s position as a Russian ally only makes it that much more important to contain.

In Other News – A View from Abroad – 5-25-2023

A View from Abroad

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 upcoming NATO Summit provides an opportunity for NATO members to support Ukraine’s security, even without membership. Ukraine’s security depends on countering both immediate and long-term threats and NATO’s strategy should reflect this.

European leaders have updated their outlook since Russia first invaded Ukraine last year: where before the predominant view was that Russia must not win and Ukraine must not lose, this view has since shifted to the Russia must lose, and Ukraine must win. This shift, combined with the demonstrated strength of Ukraine’s military and Putin’s intolerable disregard for respecting international law and territorial sovereignty, make a political solution to the conflict untenable at present. But to promote future regional security, NATO needs to determine not only how to sustain Ukraine’s strong military defense, but how to best ensure the nation’s security moving forward.

The upcoming NATO Summit in Lithuania this July will offer a forum for European nations to recalibrate given the myriad geopolitical factors at play. Although the ultimate security guarantee for Ukraine would be NATO membership, Ukraine isn’t likely to be admitted to the organization while actively involved in a military conflict with Russia. This is partially due to the way NATO has historically viewed enlargement, recommending that aspiring members settle any active territorial disputes by peaceful means, but it’s also heavily political. Indeed, NATO enlargement is based on a set of loosely defined criteria, without a formalized set of rules, and politics trump doctrine. At present, some NATO members like the Baltic states currently advocate for Ukraine’s immediate NATO entry, but many other members are unlikely to accept it.

As membership isn’t likely imminent, the upcoming NATO Summit presents an opportunity for NATO members to develop a new definition of the NATO-Ukraine relationship. NATO members can strategize about what kind of security package, underwritten by a coalition of countries, might be a realistic alternative in the short-term. These security imperatives can be broken down into physical and non-physical categories.

In the physical threat realm, NATO members can help strategize on the issue of land defense and land borders- including how to continue to provide equipment and training to deter a new ground attack and remove all unexploded munitions. It can also work on better securing the waterways, including how to limit Putin’s control over the Black Sea. NATO members can also focus on the air domain, assessing if it would it be possible to have Ukrainian air space fall under some kind of joint air command.

In the non-physical attack sphere, NATO members can further collaborate on cyber defense, addressing how to best assist Ukraine in deterring and countering massive cyber-attacks. They can also refine strategies in the information domain, including how to continue sharing current intelligence on Russian troop movements and how to monitor upcoming threats. In the realm of economic security, NATO members can also be instructive on how to rebuild the Ukrainian economy and further integrate it with its EU neighbors. Indeed, at the upcoming NATO Summit, there are opportunities to develop strategies that not only support Ukraine in the present moment but lay the groundwork for its growth and durability.

Given the current state of the battlefield, NATO countries will be under extra pressure to maintain cohesion and continue to support Ukraine even without a clear endpoint- and they need to stay the course. NATO’s unified resolve will not only serve to increase Ukraine’s physical security, but to impact Russia’s future geopolitical calculations. Indeed, future Ukrainian security will in-part depend on how strongly Moscow is deterred this time, and maintaining cohesion of Ukrainian allies even throughout a grueling stalemate will send a critical long-term message.

In Other News – Ukraine and Allies Demonstrate a Committed Defense – 5-18-2023

May 18, 2023

Ukraine and allies demonstrate the impact of a committed defense. This week, Russia intensified its assault on Ukraine, launching over 30 cruise missiles into Ukrainian territory on Thursday morning alone. Thankfully, effective Western air defense systems and a concerted military training effort have allowed the resilient Ukrainian troops to largely defend against these attacks in Kyiv. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy recognizes how essential these defensive weapons are to his nation’s security, and this week he made in-person visits to some of his most critical European suppliers like Germany and the United Kingdom.

While Zelenskyy is requesting to reequip his troops with weapons like drones and tanks, he’s also asking for F-16 fighter jets. But Washington is still reluctant to send them. Over the past year, however, Ukraine’s allies have slowly but surely increased the sophistication of the weaponry that they’re willing to share. With every advance in sophisticated equipment, Ukraine and allies have watched for direct repercussions from Russia. And so far, the Russian response has not increased in way that should deter Ukraine’s allies from holding back on providing Zelenskyy with what he needs.

Many of Ukraine’s allies gathered on Thursday at the G7 meeting in Japan, where the discussion largely addressed both Russia and China. The G7 will focus on ways to counter China’s “economic coercion”, and it’s notable that China is simultaneously holding its own gathering with leaders of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. These five strategic former Soviet republics won’t be easily swayed to view China as the dominant regional player, and there are historic and security reasons why they are so closely tied to Russia, but the gathering still can’t sit well with Putin.

Russia also probably has mixed feelings about China and its other traditional allies like South Africa increasingly raising the issue of a Russia-Ukraine peace deal. While any deal remains untenable given the current state of the battlefield, this week President Zelenskyy received a visit by Beijing’s newly appointed special envoy for Ukraine- the highest ranking Chinese official to travel to Ukraine since the Russian invasion. The two reportedly discussed China’s potential role as a peace broker, and the imperative for a “political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.”

Likewise, South Africa is also vying for a leading diplomatic role, and this week President Ramaphosa reportedly spoke separately to Putin and Zelenskyy regarding the idea of an “African leaders peace mission.” Both Putin and Zelenskyy agreed to participate, but the parameters of the talks have yet to be determined. Even though the discussions won’t likely lead to any viable peace deal, it’s notable that Russia’s allies from the Global South have been increasingly stating their interest in ending the battle, and over time the political pressure on Putin is likely to increase in kind.

It will also be interesting to watch how and if President Erdogan’s foreign policy will shift in the aftermath of such a close presidential election in Turkey. Erdogan, and other global leaders like India’s Modi, have been navigating a balance between maintaining ties with Russia and with many key Ukrainian allies. But as the battle continues, they are also likely to become exasperated by the economic ramifications of the conflict.

Thus far, India has benefited from cheap Russian oil prices and Modi knows that he can get away with it considering his nation’s critical role in countering China. But India has been circumventing EU sanctions by purchasing the Russian oil and selling refined products back to European nations, and this week EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for a crackdown on the Russian-originated products. India won’t be happy to have its European customer base threatened, and if the loopholes that have benefitted global players like Modi continue to be tightened, it’s likely that Putin will increasingly feel the squeeze.

In Other News – Ukraine’s Patience vs. Russia’s Bluster – 5-12-2023

May 12, 2023

As the war grinds on, Ukraine’s patience and preparation stands in stark contrast to the bluster of Russian leadership. In an interview with European broadcasters aired on Thursday, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy remarked that Ukraine’s highly anticipated counteroffensive won’t begin until his troops are properly equipped and prepared. A few hours later, the UK defense secretary announced that Britain is supplying Storm Shadow cruise missiles to Ukraine, a significant development given that no other Western country has supplied Ukraine with long-range missiles. Western countries have been hesitant to send weapons that could be perceived as crossing Putin’s red lines, but we shouldn’t be, because realistically Russia has limited options to escalate from its side.

We should also recognize that Putin could view the hesitation as a signal that the West is growing tired of supporting its Ukrainian ally and we need to dispel him of this view. Indeed, while an influx of Western weapons and training will be essential to Ukraine’s continued efforts to defend its territory, Kyiv’s allies should also be thinking about how to continue to support Ukraine beyond any one upcoming counteroffensive. Conflict between Ukraine and Russia has been going on for years on multiple levels, and it’s not going to be easily resolved by a single military counteroffensive. Ukraine’s allies should prepare for sustained battles- both physical and political, emulating the same patience that we’ve seen demonstrated by Zelenskyy and his troops.

Meanwhile, Russia’s growing overtly frustrated with its lack of progress on the battlefield and with internal dissenters. This week, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian-affiliated Wagner mercenary group, who has repeatedly expressed frustration with the Russian defense ministry, accused a Russian brigade of deserting its Bakhmut post. Prigozhin has been careful to never directly criticize Putin, but this is also the first time that he’s accused Russian troops of abandoning the battlefield. This early dissent among the military forces is a warning about Putin’s long-term durability and indicates that there’s likely internal conflict within the Russian hierarchy.

Prigozhin also falsely claimed that Ukraine had in fact launched its counteroffensive on Thursday, and that Zelenskyy was “being deceptive” in his statement regarding the delay. While the hard-fought battle for Bakhmut has been underway for months, controlling Bakhmut is usually seen as more symbolic than strategic. The battle is viewed as microcosmic of Russia’s efforts in Ukraine more broadly, and Putin likely wanted to claim Bakhmut before his Victory Day event on May 9 in part to motivate his troops and display strength. But Russia’s inability to claim Bakhmut doesn’t auger well for Putin’s image, and his impatience is influencing his actions on everything from deciding to prematurely replace army generals to arresting Russian artists.

While Putin is trying to maintain control over a disillusioned military and growing civil unrest within his own borders, global events could further increase his frustrations. This weekend, the Turkish people will hold elections, and Turkish President Erdogan’s main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is known for being friendlier to the West. Even if Kilicdaroglu fails to secure power, the seemingly close contest sends a signal to Putin and other global autocrats. Indeed, just as Erdogan and Putin have been growing impatient with the progress they’ve made on political and economic fronts, their citizenry has likewise been growing impatient with them.