- “The Ideology of Putinism: Is It Sustainable?” (with Michael Kimmage, and Jade McGlynn), Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 27, 2023.
Does Vladimir Putin have an ideology? The authors of this report argue that he does. Borrowing heavily from czarist and Soviet themes, as well as other intellectual sources like the twentieth-century radical right, Putinism elevates an idea of imperial-nationalist statism amplified by Russian greatness, exceptionalism, and historical struggle against the West. Statism, a key pillar of Putin’s ideology, includes deference to a strong, stable state, allowing Russians to be Russians; such statism is based on exceptionalism and traditional values. Another pillar is anti-Westernism, which, when combined with Russian exceptionalism, promotes a messianic notion of Russia as a great power and civilization state, guarding a Russo-centric polyculturalism, traditional family and gender roles, and guarding against materialism and individualism. That this ideology is not spelled out in philosophical texts but most often absorbed through signs, symbols, and popular culture makes it both malleable and easily digestible for less-educated people.
- “Seller’s Remorse: The Challenges Facing Russia’s Arms Exports” (with Max Bergmann, Tina Dolbaia, and Nick Fenton), Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 18, 2023.
Russia’s role as a major global arms supplier is under threat. This report analyzes how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the concomitant Western sanctions have affected its status as one of the top suppliers in the global arms trade. The Russian arms export industry has been declining in its international competitiveness since the early 2010s due to previous packages of Western sanctions aimed at deterring third countries from purchasing Russian weapons, as well as the efforts by China and India to strengthen their domestic arms production. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the subsequent sanctions have aggravated these issues by straining Russia’s defense production capacity, negatively affecting the reputation of Russian arms, and complicating payment options for the Kremlin’s existing customers. Russia is struggling to meet its arms sales commitment to its partners, calling into question its reliability.
- “Out of Stock? Assessing the Impact of Sanctions on Russia’s Defense Industry” (with Max Bergmann, Tina Dolbaia, Nick Fenton, and Samuel Bendett), Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 14, 2023.
This report examines the overall impact of Western sanctions and allied export regulations on Russia’s defense sector to date, as well as the Kremlin’s ability to overcome them. It analyzes Russia’s supply and production of the core weapons and systems that make up its war machine, including tanks, missiles, uncrewed aerial vehicles, aircraft, and electronic warfare systems. It finds that sanctions create shortages of higher-end foreign components and force Moscow to substitute them with lower-quality alternatives. For now, Moscow’s efforts at state-backed import substitution remain largely unsuccessful. This ultimately impacts Russia’s ability to manufacture, sustain, and deliver advanced weapons and technology to the battlefield in Ukraine. Therefore, while the quality of the military equipment used by the Ukrainian army continues to improve thanks to the Western aid, the quality of Russia’s weapons continues to degrade. At the same time, the Kremlin still possesses a significant degree of adaptability to Western sanctions, taking advantage of its prewar stockpiles of older equipment, as well as countries willing to supply Moscow with restricted dual-use items and technology via a web of illicit supply chains. Considering Russia’s existing capabilities and limitations, it will likely opt for a slower-paced attritional campaign in Ukraine, putting pressure on Kyiv and its Western partners, but thereby further stressing its military and industrial base already stretched thin by sanctions and the last 12 months of the invasion.
- “Russia Sanctions at One Year. Learning from the Cases of South Africa and Iran” (with Tina Dolbaia, Nick Fenton, and Max Bergmann), Center for Strategic and International Studies, February 23, 2023.
Our report argues there is growing evidence that sanctions will have a significant impact on Russia’s economy and politics, and will raise the costs of Putin’s war. Looking at two other sanctioned economies – contemporary Iran and apartheid-era South Africa, we argue that in all cases sanctions never delivered an immobilizing blow, but they did exacerbate existing structural vulnerabilities in the countries’ economies. If Russia’s economic situation deteriorates, it could create a vicious cycle whereby a struggling economy creates social discontent, prompting a domestic crackdown that leads to further social resentment. This dynamic will constraint Putin’s ability to prosecute the war in Ukraine.
- “Supporting Russian Civil Society: A Report of the Transatlantic Forum on Russia”(with Andrea Kendall-Taylor), Center for New American Security, December 1, 2022.
The report identifies ways to support Russian civil society, especially those journalists, activists, and other actors that have left Russia amid the rise in repression after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The mass exodus of civil society actors from Russia provides a new opportunity to support Russians who share a vision of a freer, more democratic Russia. As the war in Ukraine pushes toward its one-year mark, sustaining support for Russian civil society is a critical investment in a less confrontational relationship with a post-Putin Russia.
- “The Kremlin’s Social Media Influence inside the United States: A Moving Target”(with Kohei Watanabe), Center for European Policy Analysis, February 11, 2021.
The study scopes out the Kremlin’s malign social media operations in the United States, their key purveyors, platforms and enablers. It analyzes how the Russian approach to conducting social media campaigns targeting domestic audiences in the US has evolved since 2016 and whether its efforts can be deemed successful or effective. We analyze what demographic characteristics make specific members and segments of the US audience more susceptible to the Russian disinformation campaigns and how that impacts their voting behavior. The report articulates a list of policy recommendations for improving the US society’s resilience to the Russian malign influence campaigns.
- “Modernizing Russia Project. Part III: Russian Youth and Civic Engagement”(with Denis Volkov and Stepan Goncharov), Center for European Policy Analysis, September 30, 2020.
As Russian society becomes more modernized, the generational divide between the regime’s policies and the expectations and attitudes of young people has widened. This report uses existing public opinion surveys to provide a comparative and empirical examination of factors that distinguish Russia’s youth from older cohorts in terms of their sociopolitical attitudes and propensity for civic and political activism. In recent years, younger Russians have become more critical of the Putin regime. This generation is also more pro-Western and more likely to support minority rights, and more actively engaged on the internet and social media. This report also presents the results of an empirical study of civic engagement among Russian youth run by CEPA in collaboration with Russia’s leading independent public opinion pollster, the Levada Center, in the fall of 2019. It deepens the U.S. policy community’s understanding of the issues that are driving civic and political mobilization in the post-Soviet space and in Russia.
- “Russia’s Crumbling Power Vertical: Decreasing Disposable Income Drives Discontentment,” PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo 500 (September 2020), 1-6.
In an analysis of factors that have contributed to victories by pro-Kremlin candidates in gubernatorial elections in 2012-18, working with Russian electoral statistician Vladimir Kozlov, we find a positive correlation between the dynamics of real disposable incomes and pro-Kremlin candidates’ vote. The crisis-induced decline in real disposable incomes in the second quarter of 2020 raises risks that the Kremlin’s appointees will fail to get reelected in several regions. Aware of these prospects, the authorities have recently passed new legislative amendments that further limit independent candidates’ ability to participate in elections (such as more obstacles for election monitoring). As a result, the September 2020 elections are taking place under what some observers have described as the worst legislative regulation of the electoral process in Russia in the last 25 years.
- “Modernizing Russia Project. Part II: Society’s View of Legal Protection in Russia” (with Denis Volkov and Stepan Goncharov), Center for European Policy Analysis, May 27, 2020.
Russia’s position in global rule-of-law rankings has continuously declined as the Kremlin used Russian law to crack down on its political opponents. Recent amendments to the Russian Constitution in 2020 further weakened the independence of the judicial system. Have the legal setbacks in Putin’s Russia undermined the prospects for a rules-based society? CEPA and the Levada Center sought to answer this question through a survey of Russians that was designed to explore how they view the legal situation in their country and what factors they consider to be key obstacles to the development of the rule of law. This report – the second in a series – focuses on Russians’ attitudes towards the rule of law situation in Russia.
- “Modernizing Russia Project. Part I: Society’s View of Doing Business in Russia” (with Denis Volkov and Stepan Goncharov), Center for European Policy Analysis, April 13, 2020.
Over the last decade, the Kremlin’s policies have consistently traded Russia’s economic development for Russia’s great power status. As a result, Russia has experienced a significant economic slowdown. Recent efforts to extend President Vladimir Putin’s presidency will enable Moscow to continue these policies. But are these policies feasible in the long term? Few in-depth empirical studies have attempted to answer this question. To do so, CEPA and the Levada Center ran a series of surveys in Russia designed to explore the modernizing trends within Russian society. This report – the first in a series – focuses on Russians’ attitudes towards business and entrepreneurship in Russia.
- “Tension at the Top: The Impact of Sanctions on Russia’s Poles of Power,” Center for European Policy Analysis, July 18, 2018.
To what extent are Western sanctions on Russia impacting the Putin regime? Evidence suggests that economic sanctions are fostering a divide between (1) the groups that profit from Western money (Russia’s “oligarchs”), and (2) those who wield state power and/or profit from the domestic budget (Russia’ssiloviki). Two previous rounds of financial sanctions – credit freezes and the latest addition of several large companies to the U.S. Treasury’s list of “Specially Designated Nationals” (SDN) – appear to be straining the relationship between the oligarchs and the siloviki because of the strong impact these measures have on the Russian economy. For now, what is unclear is whether this tension at the top of Russian society will translate into a substantive policy change from the Kremlin.
- “Will Russia’s “Digital Natives” Change Their Country’s Future?” Center for European Policy Analysis, April 5, 2018.
The outcome of Russia’s 2018 “election” did not come as a surprise. In typical Kremlin fashion, the performance was realistically staged, with a few interesting plot twists, and the appearance of “choice.” One element that the Kremlin could not fully control, however, was the rise in grassroots opposition to the Kremlin’s political machine, particularly among Russia’s youth. What does this growing trend spell for the future of those in power in the Kremlin and how should the West view Russia’s rising generation?
- “Reviving the Propaganda State: How the Kremlin Hijacked History to Survive,” Center for European Policy Analysis, January 17, 2018.
Are Western actions to blame for the steady deterioration in U.S.-Russia relations? While the Kremlin’s view of the West has long been hostile, the spread of “color revolutions” in the early 2000s acted as a catalyst. Fearing a similar revolution at home, Putin’s “political technologists” worried that they lacked powerful stories, symbols, and the means to mobilize youth in support of the government. The Kremlin subsequently undertook a systematic effort to transform the country’s own history into a tool of the state. The retelling of Russian history—and the revival of potent anti-Western narratives—became an important component of the regime’s survival strategy. Parts of the old propaganda state were being reborn—with significant consequences for Moscow’s relations with the West.
- “Russia Report. Putin’s Information Warfare in Ukraine. Soviet Origins of Russia’s Hybrid Warfare. Analytical Report,” the Institute for the Study of War, September 2015.
Russia has been using an advanced form of hybrid warfare in Ukraine since early 2014 that relies heavily on an element of information warfare that the Russians call “reflexive control.” Reflexive control causes a stronger adversary voluntarily to choose the actions most advantageous to Russian objectives by shaping the adversary’s perceptions of the situation decisively. Moscow has used this technique skillfully to persuade the U.S. and its European allies to remain largely passive in the face of Russia’s efforts to disrupt and dismantle Ukraine through military and non-military means.