While the recently released U.S. National Defense Strategy names the People's Republic of China as the greatest pacing threat facing the United States, Russia poses the most immediate threat. These threats are multitudinous: nuclear weapons, energy resources, cyber attacks, and the destabilization of the global order. How the U.S. and allies respond to these threats will determine the next decade in national security. CNAS experts are sharpening the conversation around the future of relations with Russia. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their analysis, commentary, and recommendations.
Assessing Russian State Capacity to Develop and Deploy Advanced Military Technology
Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many analysts and policymakers viewed Russia as a declining power. The war in Ukraine has only accelerated some of these trends, further reinforcing such views. Moving forward, as a result of its invasion of Ukraine, Russia will face new and more significant constraints on its ability to modernize its military. But it is too soon to count Russia out. Policymakers need a more nuanced assessment of the nature of the future Russian threat. A new report from authors Samuel Bendett, Richard Connolly, Jeffrey Edmonds, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, and Michael Kofman argues that regardless of how the war in Ukraine develops, Russia’s largely modernized nuclear force will remain viable for the foreseeable future and could pose strategic dilemmas for the United States, especially if nuclear arms control collapses.
The Rise of Personalist Leaders in Democracies
The rise of strongman leaders has become a defining trend in contemporary politics. Long confined to the realm of autocracies, strongmen have now come to dominate democracies too. In a variety of domains—ranging from media reporting to political campaigns—politics has become more personal, with elected leaders taking on outsized influence relative to their political parties or the institutions that surround them. A new video explainer from CNAS explores why personalist leaders are becoming more prevalent and what it portends for democracy. Critically, it emphasizes that the rise of personalism helps explain the democratic setbacks we see today.
Russia in the Arctic: Gauging How Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Will Alter Regional Dynamics
Russia’s reinvasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is producing ripple effects that will reverberate far beyond Ukraine for years to come, affecting issue areas and regions where the United States and Europe must manage relations with Moscow. Such effects will certainly be felt in the Arctic. In a new report, CNAS researchers identified four drivers that are most likely to shape Russia’s approach to the Arctic: Russia’s perception of the Western threat, the impact of Western sanctions, China’s role in the Arctic, and whether Putin remains in power. Using different permutations of those drivers, the authors developed three scenarios for how the future Russian approach to the Arctic could evolve looking out to 2025.
Sanctions by the Numbers: Economic Measures against Russia Following Its 2022 Invasion of Ukraine
This edition of Sanctions by the Numbers provides a snapshot of U.S. and allied economic measures against Russia following its invasion and continued aggression toward Ukraine, an overview of the most sanctioned sectors of the Russian economy, potential obstacles to enforcing joint sanctioning actions against Russia, and an outlook on potential escalation or de-escalation with Moscow. This edition seeks to provide a holistic overview of the major sanctions actions and their impacts, with a focus on U.S. actions, but does not purport to list each of the hundreds of sanctions actions in detail.
War in Ukraine: Entering an Increasingly Dangerous Phase, with Amb. Bill Taylor and Amb. John Tefft
As the war in Ukraine continues into its tenth month, it appears to have entered its most dangerous phase yet. Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian civilians have intensified, while Vladimir Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons following the annexation of four Ukrainian regions in the east and south have raised alarms across the world. Finally, the Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to make significant progress in reclaiming occupied territory, though it remains unclear to what extent Russia’s partial military mobilization may be able to turn back the tide. Ambassadors Bill Taylor and John Tefft join Andrea Kendall-Taylor to discuss the most recent developments in this increasingly dangerous phase of the war, and how Putin might maneuver going forward.
Russia’s Dangerous Decline
"Russian power and influence may be diminished, but that does not mean Russia will become dramatically less threatening. Instead, some aspects of the threat are likely to worsen," write Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Michael Kofman in Foreign Affairs. "For the West, recognizing that reality means abandoning any near-term hopes of a chastened Russia and maintaining support for Russia’s targets. That effort should begin in Ukraine: the United States and its allies must provide sustained support to Kyiv to ensure that Russia suffers a defeat. But even if Putin loses, the problem that Russia poses will not be solved. In many ways, it will grow in intensity. So, too, should the response to it."
Strange Debacle: Misadventures in Assessing Russian Military Power
"Doctrine is critical to understanding military effectiveness and predicting military performance," observes Chris Dougherty in War on the Rocks. "This helps explain why estimates of Russian performance in Ukraine have been wrong — they assumed Russian operations would follow their doctrine, and yet they mostly haven’t. Russia’s battalion tactical groups exemplify this issue. O’Brien notes the failure of these units, which comprise infantry, armored vehicles, artillery, air defense, and supporting forces into a unit of about 800 troops. There’s a problem with this observation though: Russian forces don’t appear to have been operating in these groups during their worst engagements with Ukrainian forces."
Time to Unleash Congress on Putin
"From the beginning of the campaign, the United States and its allies moved carefully in one key area: energy," writes Eddie Fishman in POLITICO. "Russia is a petro-state, dependent on oil and gas sales for two-thirds of its export revenues and half of its budget. But with global oil prices high and inflation afflicting much of the West, Washington and Brussels have been reluctant to take actions that could nudge oil prices—and inflation—still higher. Early in the war, Washington banned domestic imports of Russian oil. Still, to ensure that sanctions didn’t inadvertently curb the flow of Russian oil to other countries, the Biden administration issued a license that exempts Russia’s energy sales from the thicket of U.S. restrictions. This exemption has allowed the Kremlin to continue to rake in billions from oil exports as its armies perpetrated untold atrocities in Ukraine. In December, that license will finally expire, and the United States and its allies will begin enforcing a price cap on Russia’s oil exports."
In the News
Featuring commentary from Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Becca Wasser, Jonathan Lord, Michael Kofman, Eddie Fishman, Jim Townsend, and Samuel Bendett.
About the Sharper Series
The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.
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