202 Items

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Journal Article

When Does Putin’s Russia March Off to War?

| Jan. 17, 2022

This article examines how seven potential drivers of the Russian Federation’s military interventions played out in seven instances in which Vladimir Putin was likely to have deliberated on whether or not to use military force in foreign countries, including three instances in which the Russian leader ultimately decided to intervene and four instances in which he did not. The article contends that carefully reviewing these historical episodes could help predict Putin’s military actions in the future.

A Russian tank rolls during a military drills at Molkino training ground in the Krasnodar region, Russia, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021.

AP Photo

News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Russian Troops Near Ukraine’s Border: How Should the West Respond?

With Ukrainian forces on high alert as Russia continues to amass troops on the border, we asked Belfer Center experts to outline America’s national security interests in the region and to identify any steps they believe Western forces should take to thwart Vladimir Putin’s aims.

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The U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism Newsletter: November 2020 - November 2021

| Dec. 10, 2021


  • U.S.-Russia Elbe Group Maintains Focus on Threat of Nuclear Terrorism.
  • Former Chernobyl Plant Manager Bryukhanov Dies.
  • Matthew Bunn on Threat to Nuclear and Radiological Transports.
  • On 9/11 Anniversary Russian Officials Call for Resumption of U.S.-Russian CT Cooperation.
  • Experts Weigh in on 9/11 Anniversary.
  • U.S. and Norway Agree to Eliminate All of Norway’s HEU.
  • Two Soviet Nuclear Submarine Reactors Located.
  • Russian Security Council: Terrorists Remain Interested in NBC.
  • IAEA Adopts Resolutions on Nuclear Security, NS Center Planned.
  • Allison on Risk of Mega-terrorist Attack After U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan.
  • Arbatov Warns of Enduring Threat of Nuclear Terrorism to Russia in His New Volume.
  • Russia’s New Security Strategy Drops References to CT Partnership With U.S.
  • NNSA’s Non-Proliferation Budget to Decrease in ’22, Provides for US and Russian Visits.
  • Should U.S.-Russian Interaction in Cyberspace Involve CT? 
  • Russia’s NPP Operator Conducts Emergency Preparedness Exercise.
  • Putin and Biden Discuss Terrorist Threat Emanating from Afghanistan, but No Deal.
  • U.S. Experts on Ensuring Access to Neutrons While Reducing Nuclear Terrorism Risks.
  • Beebe Weighs in on U.S.-Russian CT Interaction.
  • Duo Detained for Alleged Attempt to Sell Americium-241.
  • 12th GUMO Guard’s Sentence Upheld.
  • NDAA-Mandated Group to Identify Nuclear Terrorism Risks.
  • Belfer’s MTA Hosts Conference on Lessons of Fukushima and Chernobyl.
  • Russia Withdraws from Uranium Hexafluoride Transportation Deal with U.S.
  • Bell: U.S. Needs to Convince Russia on Contending With Nuclear Terrorism Threat.
  • U.S. and Canada Complete Repatriation of HEU Material.
  • Siegfried Hecker Outlines his Vision of Future for Nuclear Security Cooperation.
  • Hackers Breach U.S. Nuclear Agency.
  • Tobey on Assassinations of Nuclear Scientists and Terrorists.
  • Rosatom Has Checked Nuclear Sites, Following a Tip on Terrorism from U.S.

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Blog Post

6 Months On: Does the Biden-Putin Summit Get a Passing Grade?

| Dec. 01, 2021

One of the few things America’s Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin had agreed upon prior to their first summit almost half a year ago was that they would not hold a joint press conference after their June 16 huddle at an 18th century villa in Geneva. The two presidents’ decision to talk to press separately came as no surprise, given how many major issues they publicly disagreed on at the time.

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Policy Brief

Why Russia Is Unlikely to Use Zapad-2021 to Intervene Militarily in European Countries

| Aug. 31, 2021

The last time Russia and Belarus teamed up to hold a large-scale strategic command-and-staff military exercise, a number of international media outlets pondered whether it might be a prelude to war. Less than two months before Zapad-2017 (“West-2017”), The New York Timesproclaimed that the drills near NATO’s borders had raised “fears of aggression,” and a CNN contributor wondered, “Could they turn into war?” Ukraine’s then-defense minister cautioned that Zapad could be a ruse to attack any European country that shares a border with Russia. None of these scenarios materialized. Since then, the Russian General Staff has held three comparable sets of drills annually in the geographical areas of Vostok (“East”) in 2018, Tsentr (“Center”) in 2019, and Kavkaz (“Caucasus”) in 2020.

It is now time for Russia to hold exercises in its western regions again, and we hear warnings that Moscow will use it as cover for the start of aggression against another country—although such warnings are not as numerous as in 2017. For instance, the Ukrainian leadership is considering as many as nine scenarios of  “aggravation of the situation around Ukraine” as a result of Zapad-2021, according to Alexey Arestovich, a member of Ukraine’s delegation at the Trilateral Contact Group on Donbas. One of the scenarios, Arestovich said, involves an “invasion by an attack grouping formed in the course of Zapad-2021 in the direction of Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv.” In addition, Russia watchers such as former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and the American Enterprise Institute’s Leon Aron have recently speculated that Russia could either annex Belarus or use the territory of that country to execute an intervention in one of the Baltic states. I would argue, however, that it is unlikely—though not impossible—that President Vladimir Putin would use Zapad-2021, the main phase of which is to take place September 10-16, to either absorb Belarus or intervene in a state that borders either Russia or Belarus (or both).

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Blog Post

Russia’s New Security Strategy: Deter US, Ignore EU, Partner with China and India

| July 15, 2021

Vladimir Putin has just signed off on Russia’s new National Security Strategy. As with any such strategic document, it is useful to compare it to its predecessor, if only to identify key changes in the Kremlin’s vision of what constitutes Russia’s national security and how to attain it. My comparison between the 2021 document and its 2015 predecessor reveals that the Kremlin has strengthened its determination to deter the West and engage the East (Asia), which it sees, respectively, as declining and rising, while starting to pay more attention to domestic components of national security, such as human capital.

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Analysis & Opinions

Plokhy’s New Cuban Missile Crisis Book Offers Glimpse Into the Minds of Rank-and-File Soviet Officers

| June 25, 2021

Reviewing Harvard University Professor Serhii Plokhy’s new book, entitled “Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis,”was perhaps unavoidable for us at Russia Matters. After all, our focus is on Russia-related issues that have an impact on U.S. vital interests, and that crisis brought America and the Soviet Union harrowingly close to a nuclear Armageddon; John F. Kennedy estimated the odds of a nuclear war in October 1962 were “between one out of three and even,” while Nikita Khrushchev stated, “we stood on the brink of war.”


US-Russian Contention in Cyberspace

| June 2021

The overarching question imparting urgency to this exploration is: Can U.S.-Russian contention in cyberspace cause the two nuclear superpowers to stumble into war? In considering this question we were constantly reminded of recent comments by a prominent U.S. arms control expert: At least as dangerous as the risk of an actual cyberattack, he observed, is cyber operations’ “blurring of the line between peace and war.” Or, as Nye wrote, “in the cyber realm, the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon may come down to a single line of code, or simply the intent of a computer program’s user.”