1 April 2020

How Afghanistan Failed to Contain COVID-19

By Ezzatullah Mehrdad

Long-suffering Afghanistan is increasingly facing an ever more severe threat: coronavirus amid political chaos. If serious action is not taken to prepare, the Afghan Public Health Ministry estimates that 25.6 million Afghans will be infected and 110,000 Afghans will die from COVID-19.

If that estimate is borne out, the casualties from the virus will be much higher than the total civilian causalities of the more than 18-year war.

Afghanistan recorded its first positive case of COVID-19 in late February. A combination of political rifts, lack of testing, extremely social lifestyles, and a war-torn health care system led to Afghanistan’s failure to contain the novel coronavirus in the early stages. The country has struggled to diagnose COVID-19 cases, prevent an outbreak, and treat patients. Meanwhile, thousands of Afghans have been returning from Iran, where the pandemic has already hit especially hard.

The political dispute over the 2019 presidential election continues to drain attention away from battling the coronavirus. The dispute has turned into an ugly mess, forcing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to fly from Washington D.C. to Kabul in hopes of brokering a deal between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, both of whom claim the mantle of president. Pompeo flew back empty-handed, and soon followed up with an angrily-worded statement threatening to cut $1 billion in U.S. aid.

Broken, but Not Defeated: An Examination of State-led Operations against Islamic State Khorasan in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2015-2018)


Since its official formation in January 2015, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan has risen to prominence as one of its most dangerous affiliates, making it one of the world’s top four deadliest militant organizations in 2018. Islamic State Khorasan’s (ISK) ascendency, however, has not come without heavy costs. Since 2015, a variety of state-led operations against ISK have inflicted substantial manpower and leadership losses upon the group across Afghanistan and Pakistan. This report is the first to conduct a systematic review of operations against ISK between 2015 and 2018 to answer the following questions: what is the nature and level of manpower losses incurred by ISK in various campaigns against the group? How have these operations altered the level of the ISK threat, and what do they reveal about ISK’s militant base? Finally, how have these operations affected ISK’s operational capacity?

This report draws on open-source materials to assess the above questions, and provides detailed information on the various state-led operations against ISK in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the group’s associated costs in terms of losses of both leadership and other ISK-linked individuals. As this report demonstrates, intense targeting of ISK in both countries has resulted in substantial losses for the group; between 2015 and 2018, ISK’s losses amounted to the killing, capture, or surrender of well over 10,000 ISK-linked individuals and over 500 militants in leadership roles, predominantly in Afghanistan. A parallel examination of the group’s losses and its operational activity indicates that while state-led operations have curtailed ISK’s overall number of attacks and its geographical expansion, the group has retained its ability to conduct highly lethal attacks, as evidenced by recently claimed attacks in Kabul in late February and early March 2020. The report’s findings also imply that one of ISK’s key strengths, which has allowed it to survive the onslaught of state-led operations, is its access to a steady supply of experienced militants on both sides of the border that allows it to replace its top leaders and replenish its human capital.

US Shames Afghan Leaders’ Obstinance as Pandemic Looms

By Kathy Gannon and Rahim Faiez
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Washington’s unprecedented threat to cut $1 billion in Afghanistan funding — a response to the refusal of rivals in Kabul to work together to advance peace — comes at a time when the impoverished nation risks being overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday both President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, blamed one another for failing to resolve the feuding, which prompted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to threaten the massive funding cut. 

Pompeo called out the two leaders as he ended a rushed visit to Afghanistan on Monday, defying a near-global travel ban because of the virus. He left Kabul without being able to secure a power-sharing deal.

Ghani told the nation in a televised address that Abdullah’s power-sharing demands were unconstitutional. For his part, Abdullah said Pompeo’s visit was a missed opportunity.

Winning the Peace in Afghanistan

By Shuja Nawaz

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s abortive mission to craft a stable coalition government in Kabul capable of holding peace talks with the Taliban raises fresh concerns about the absence of a clear U.S. strategy for exiting its endless war in Afghanistan. The United States lost the war and now risks losing the peace by adopting a transactional approach in dealing with the Afghans. Washington needs a comprehensive regional economic development plan to assure Afghans that it will remain engaged in their development and regional trade. That, rather than punitive actions, would incentivize good behavior on the part of Afghanistan and its neighbors, especially Pakistan. Iran also needs to be brought into the equation to help stabilize Western Afghanistan and allow the return all Afghan refugees over time.

While there may be some positive signs about the moves toward a peaceful U.S. exit from Afghanistan, there are many more reasons to be concerned about the continuation of conflict within the country and its region. U.S. Special Representative Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has done well to cobble together a deal with the Taliban, but the more important talks amongst the Afghans themselves remain elusive. The deal with the United States allowed the Taliban’s Sirajuddin Haqqani to camouflage himself as a peacenik in the pages of The New York Times while allowing U.S. President Donald J. Trump to check off another campaign promise: that he would end the United States “longest war,” even as he faces a tough re-election battle in a period of turmoil caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. But who will guarantee that we do not lose the peace that is meant to follow the February 29 Doha accord?

Southeast Asian Responses to COVID-19: Diversity in the Face of Adversity

For further coverage of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia, please visit the CSIS Southeast Asia COVID-19 Tracker, which will serve as a repository of information to chart the course of the virus in each country, summarize national policy responses, and report on economic and geopolitical impacts. The following commentary draws on the Tracker’s data.

Southeast Asian countries were hard hit by the SARS epidemic in 2003, and regional leaders vowed to build up national capabilities and regional coordination to respond rapidly and effectively to future pandemics. Subsequent outbreaks of H5N1 and H1N1 avian influenza reinforced this focus on pandemic preparedness, and the issue remained high on the agenda of national political leaders and on the regional agenda of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Yet Southeast Asia remains a highly diverse region, from levels of economic development to demographics to systems of government. In the face of COVID-19, these differences have driven markedly different national responses, with Singapore and Vietnam emerging as global models for early action and aggressive containment, the Philippines standing out for its belated and chaotic response, and the poorest countries in the region mounting virtually no response at all to the looming pandemic. As is so often the case in Southeast Asia, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis is being defined by the diversity of the region, with stark variation in the speed, tactics, and efficacy in each nation’s response.

Border Closures in Eurasia Complicate Migrant Worker Movement

By Catherine Putz

Kyrgyzstan’s people queue up to board a plane to Osh, Kyrgyzstan at the Zhukovsky international airport 36 km (22,5 mikes) southeast of Moscow, Russia, Monday, March 23, 2020. Hundreds of migrants from Central Asia were stuck in Moscow airports on Monday, struggling to return to their home countries, as countries closed borders and airlines canceled flights amid the coronavirus pandemic.Credit: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

As Central Asia began registering earlier this month its first cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus now spreading across the world, the region’s migrant workers were on the move. In spring each year, a significant number of Central Asians migrate for seasonal work — many to Russia. The coronavirus, wrecking havoc on even the most advanced healthcare systems the world over, is also causing devastating economic damage as borders close and trade grinds to a halt.

Central Asia’s migrant workers are caught in the middle: At risk of catching the virus in crowded transit centers, unable to simply stop working and self-quarantine, and without significant savings, they’ll be crushed by the coming economic depression, too.

How a Pandemic Drew China and Serbia Closer

By Eleanor Albert

The global spread of the coronavirus reveals the need for medical and economic responses, and yet, the pandemic has also created opportunities for diplomatic jockeying. While the downward spiral in U.S.-China relations has garnered significant coverage, less attention has been directed to China’s efforts to assist smaller countries around the world – those who currently are facing lower numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases, but have less crisis capacity. Recent Chinese aid to Serbia highlights not only how Beijing is capitalizing on the pandemic to rewrite its image as a responsible international actor, but also a steady deepening of ties between Beijing and Belgrade.

China-Serbia relations have gone through various permutations, influenced both by changes in the international environment and in their respective domestic political arenas. In the past decade or so, China-Serbia ties have grown stronger. In 2009, the two countries signed an agreement establishing a strategic partnership. This partnership was upgraded to a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2016. A year later, China and Serbia lifted visa restrictions for travelers to the two countries. Since then, the two countries have signed on to a series of major projects that extend China’s Belt and Road Initiative to the western Balkans, including a Belgrade-Budapest railway and a new metro system for the Serbian capital. Separately, the growth in Chinese influence in Serbia is also felt both through cultural and political channels, as well as via the installation of Huawei Safe City technology for surveillance.

In War Against Coronavirus: Is China Foe—or Friend?

by Graham Allison 
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For America to defeat the coronavirus and return to a version of life as it was before this nightmare, should we identify China as an adversary against whom to mobilize? Or alternatively, must we recognize it as a partner whose cooperation is essential for our own victory? While the consensus in Washington has moved sharply toward defining China as part of the problem, the fact is that we cannot succeed in this war against coronavirus without making China part of the solution.

The increasingly ruthless rivalry between the U.S. and China will be a defining feature of their relations as far as any eye can see. This is an inescapable consequence of structural realities: however anyone tries to disguise or deny it, a rapidly rising China really is threatening to displace the U.S. from our position at the top of every pecking order. The question is whether despite this reality, when confronting specific threats neither can defeat by itself, statesmen can be wise enough to find ways for rivals to simultaneously be partners. 

China Brief Spotlight on Analysis: COVID-19

By: John Dotson
Around the New Year, reports first began to emerge of a novel coronavirus (since designated as “COVID-19” by the World Health Organization) originating in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. This disease outbreak has since become a major international health crisis, with official figures indicating over 100,000 worldwide cases of infection and nearly 3,500 deaths. (Actual figures may be far higher, due to under-reporting of the infection rate and death toll within China itself.) The epidemic has produced a severe social and economic crisis within China, with vast areas of the country placed under lockdown. Large sectors of the economy have also been brought to a halt, due to restrictions on transportation networks and workers being placed under quarantine.

The Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief has long taken pride in its role as a venue for insightful analyses of Chinese politics unsurpassed in English-language publications. From the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, China Brief has offered the public a series of articles that have analyzed in detail the Chinese government’s response to the outbreak—as well as what the crisis reveals about the governance model of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

A stagnant China in 2040, briefly

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Key Points

There is a considerable chance China will stagnate by 2040, with gross domestic product growth at 1–1.5 percent. The process has started, seen most clearly in stark trends for debt and aging, but better-quality data on productivity would clarify how far along stagnation is and whether it at some point reverses.

China shows no sign of adopting pro-productivity reform. It will not spur growth by leveraging or bolster a shrinking labor force through current population and education policy. Innovation will help, but a large economy requires broad innovation, and the party dislikes competition.

A twist comes from China’s global position, which will not deteriorate much. Outbound investment has retrenched, and the yuan’s rise was exaggerated. Consumption exports and commodities imports will stall. But China will easily be a top-two market in most sectors, and other countries are not acting to displace it. Instead, localization will occur.
Commodities producers and some developing countries will lose, the latter as Chinese capital dries up. Countries that make difficult reforms will win. Consumer goods will see inflation, but innovation will be healthier with less Chinese influence. American firms will seek new pastures, and Chinese stagnation means production may relocate to the US.


CO20042 | China’s Artificial Islands in South China Sea: Extended Forward Presence

Olli Pekka Suorsa

RSIS Commentary is a platform to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy-relevant commentary and analysis of topical and contemporary issues. The authors’ views are their own and do not represent the official position of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU. These commentaries may be reproduced with prior permission from RSIS and due recognition to the author(s) and RSIS. Please email to Mr Yang Razali Kassim, Editor RSIS Commentary at RSISPublications@ntu.edu.sg.


China has expended significant resources in erecting seven artificial islands in the Spratlys, in the South China Sea. The real worth of these artificial islands may be in extending its coast guard and other paramilitary forces’ presence in the South China Sea.


MUCH HAS been written about China’s artificial islands in the Spratlys, South China Sea. A lot of the debate has focused on the outposts’ potential military value. The actual military potential in any near-peer military confrontation would prove more of a hindrance than an asset for Beijing. The United States military still holds more options to degrade or stop Chinese military operations from those outposts in a conflict.

U.S. Appeals to Aid Recipients for Help in Fighting Coronavirus

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The U.S. State Department is instructing its top diplomats to press governments and businesses in Eastern Europe and Eurasia to ramp up exports and production of life-saving medical equipment and protective gear for the United States, part of a desperate diplomatic campaign to fill major shortcomings in the U.S. medical system amid a rising death toll from the new coronavirus.

The appeal comes as European governments are themselves struggling to cope with one of the worst pandemics to spread around the globe since the 1918 Spanish flu. It represents a stark turnaround for the United States, which has traditionally taken the lead in trying to help other less-developed countries contend with major humanitarian disasters and epidemics. 

The request could also undercut claims by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly insisted that the United States can handle demands for tests and medical equipment on its own, declining to fully implement the Defense Production Act to mandate that U.S. companies produce these products. “We have so many companies making so many products—every product that you mentioned, plus ventilators and everything else. We have car companies—without having to use the act. If I don’t have to use—specifically, we have the act to use, in case we need it. But we have so many things being made right now by so many—they’ve just stepped up,” Trump said at a press conference on March 21.

Why It’s Wrong to Say We Are Fighting a “War” Against a Pandemic

By David C. Benson

“War.” That’s the word political leaders and pundits increasingly use to describe the effort to stop the coronavirus. It’s the wrong word, and it can lead us to the wrong policies.

A pandemic is not a war, and neither are many other phenomena we have declared “war” on. Unfortunately, there’s a cost to using the wrong word in all these fights. It confuses our understanding of what we need to do, it demands national unity that suppresses legitimate political debate, and it leads us to use the wrong strategies to combat serious problems. It is certainly correct to say containing and treating the coronavirus is an important national mission. But it misapplies the rhetoric and tools of “literal warfare.” Slipping into martial rhetoric inadvertently harms both national security and disaster response.

To begin with, America’s record of declared wars on major national problems, such as poverty, drugs and terrorism, is more embarrassing and costly than Australia’s Emu “war.” The emu’s won in Australia, and in America, drugs are still winning, and poverty marches on.

Even when war is an appropriate metaphor—such as fighting terrorism—it’s hard to preserve the necessary nuance when using the term. Too often, metaphorically declaring war leads to using wartime tools inappropriately, and recreating war’s worst pathologies.

A mortality perspective on COVID-19: Time, location, and age

Katharina Fenz and Homi Kharas

On March 22, 2020, at the time of writing, the total number of recorded deaths from the novel coronavirus stood at just below 14,000. This is a large number and is bound to increase, exponentially for a time, but it needs to be understood in context. It can be large or small depending on the time frame, the geographic scale, and the demographic composition of the population affected.

The number of COVID-19 fatalities is small compared to the 12 million total number of people who have already died this year from all causes, but the numbers could reach 3.6 million in just eight weeks at the current pace of deaths doubling each week. In the counterfactual, without COVID-19, we would expect 60 million global deaths in 2020, with 18 million people dying from heart disease, 10 million from cancer, 6.5 million from respiratory diseases, 1.6 million from diarrhea, 1.5 million in road incidents, and 1 million deaths from HIV/AIDS. Suicides could number 800,000.

It’s hard to estimate the impact on total deaths from the COVID-19 disease because, in addition to the direct effects that are measured, there are also large indirect effects from the policy responses. For a start, the direct impact itself is totally unknown and unknowable at this point. There are too many uncertainties to have any sensible range of estimates. At one end, it looks as if China may be able to contain deaths to about 3,500 (they are at 3,260 with about eight to 10 new deaths each day). This is less than 0.03 percent of the 10.5 million people who are expected to die in China this year.

Cologne Sanitizer, Boxed Wine and Bidets: How People in 68 Countries Are Coping With Coronavirus

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In Finland, they’re drinking boxed wine and playing Korona, a board game. In Greece, they’re stockpiling feta. The French refuse to stop kissing. ISIS is telling its members to avoid traveling to Europe to conduct attacks. And, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, hand-washing stations are everywhere; they know the drill.

As the novel coronavirus continues spreading, the whole world is preparing for the onslaught in similar ways—social distancing, working from home, panic buying at grocery stores. But people in different countries are also weathering this crisis in different ways, finding, for example, different products to hoard, different ways to pass the time, different people to blame and even different things to worry about.

Over the past week, I emailed, texted and contacted via Facebook friends around the world—including a network of acquaintances and colleagues I’ve built over 20 years working in foreign policy, living in Europe and traveling widely—and asked them to tell me about their lives under coronavirus watch: items in scarce supply, coping mechanisms, jokes and the effect of culture and history on national responses. In total, I heard from more than 90 people in 68 countries, all of whom sent me anecdotes, press clips and Twitter videos providing a snapshot of life in mid-March under COVID-19. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Not everyone uses toilet paper

The Multilateral System Still Cannot Get Its Act Together on COVID-19

by Stewart M. Patrick

In the three months since China first reported a novel coronavirus to the World Health Organization (WHO), international cooperation has been missing in action and global solidarity has been AWOL. Rather than cooperate to defeat a shared threat, nations have repeatedly taken unilateral steps to shield themselves and engaged in counterproductive sniping over who is to blame for the pandemic. This week was supposed to offer a reprieve, with the Group of Seven (G7), Group of Twenty (G20), and the United Nations announcing important international initiatives. Instead, it underscored just how divided and unprepared the world remains as it confronts the greatest threat to global public health since the Great Influenza of 1918. The biggest disappointment has been U.S. President Donald J. Trump, who has been more preoccupied with countering Chinese propaganda than exercising global leadership.

A Fractured G7

There were a few glimmers of hope, notably on international economic coordination among G7 nations. On Tuesday the finance ministers and central bank governors of the world’s most important advanced democracies issued a joint statement pledging to “do whatever is necessary to restore confidence and economic growth, and to protect jobs, businesses, and the resiliency of the financial system.” They promised to use all the fiscal and monetary tools at their disposal to ensure liquidity and maintain aggregate global demand, while implementing the public health measures to stop transmission of the coronavirus, and to support the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as they grappled with “the human cost and the economic challenges posed by COVID-19.” The unified statement reassured financial markets and suggested that the Trump administration, which had upended recent G7 summits and been slow to invoke the forum in the current crisis, might finally be warming to the group.

The Untold Story of How Iran Botched the Coronavirus Pandemic

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The official statistics issued by Iran’s health ministry about the coronavirus pandemic, which report 23,049 people infected people and 1,812 deaths across the country as of March 23, are brutal enough. But there’s every reason to believe the real figures are much higher. Last Thursday, Kianush Jahanpur, an Iranian health ministry spokesman, tweeted that 50 people on average contract the virus in Iran almost every hour, and the fatality rate is one person every 10 minutes or six people per hour.

That sobering comment reflected earlier warnings by other Iranian health officials that the real tally of coronavirus infections and deaths is “definitely” higher than the government admits. Rick Brennan, an emergency director for the World Health Organization who recently visited Iran, said on March 17 that the actual overall COVID-19 toll could be five times higher than official statistics.

It’s indisputable that Iran, a country of around 83 million people, is one of the pandemic’s epicenters. Why exactly the crisis acquired such massive proportions in Iran is more complicated to address, but responsibility mainly lies with Tehran’s botched response, details of which are only now starting to come to light. There are growing indications that the Iranian government knew about the outbreak even as it avoided doing anything to stop it—or even inform the public about it. Meanwhile, the government’s judgment continues to be marred by a combination of cynicism and religious ideology.

Indonesia’s Virus Response and What It Tells Us About Global Health Governance

By Sukmawani Bela Pertiwi

In 2006, amidst an outbreak of H5N1 virus (also known as the avian influenza virus), Indonesia provoked international tension as it refused to transfer virus specimens to the World Health Organization (WHO) for the purpose of vaccine production. The decision sparked heavy criticism from the international community as Jakarta was seen as being uncooperative in a time of crisis and putting self-interest above broader human health security.

More recently, in responding to the outbreak of COVID-19, Indonesia also demonstrated unique responses that sparked no less criticism domestically and internationally. Different from other countries in the region, which quickly closed their borders to foreigners, with some even imposing lockdowns in affected cities, Indonesia decided to keep its borders open and even spent billions of rupiahs to pay international influencers to promote domestic tourism. Even when Indonesia eventually restricted foreign entry to the country, the restrictions only applied to visitors from four major affected countries — China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea. This also only occurred in early March, when the government eventually confirmed there were two cases of COVID-19 in Indonesia. No doubt, Indonesia’s response has invited widespread criticism as being slow, opaque, and putting economic interests above public health.

Nuclear Proliferation Treaty Troubles Remain Unaddressed Amid a Global Pandemic

by Victor Gilinsky Henry Sokolski
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Just as we’ve had to discard business-as-usual thinking to deal with the current worldwide health emergency; it’s time to get serious about the spread of nuclear weapons. It doesn’t have the immediacy of the coronavirus, but it will last a lot longer and is no less threatening. In particular, we need to fortify the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which is fifty years old this year and badly needs fixing. The April 2020 Review Conference will likely be postponed, which provides time to develop something more than the usual charade of incremental proposals that nibble at the problem. 

What needs fixing? Five problems: The NPT allows withdrawal on three months notice; it does not bar the use of nuclear explosives as fuels; its inspection arm, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is too much involved in promoting nuclear energy; it lacks an established enforcement system, so each violation requires an improvised response; and it is undermined by the holdouts—India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan—thumbing their noses at the treaty. International lawyers may scream, but we need to make it essentially impossible to exercise the NPT’s withdrawal provision. This is vital because the member states’ safeguards agreements with the IAEA remain in force only so long as the states remain parties to the treaty.

Syria’s Kurds Brace For Coronavirus Amidst Tensions With Turkey

by Matthew Petti 
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Turkish-backed rebels reopened a pumping station in Northeast Syria on Thursday, restoring clean water to hundreds of thousands of Syrians in a region unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic.

Northeast Syria has been split between Turkish-backed and Kurdish-led forces since a Turkish invasion in October. A combination of Russian, Turkish, and U.S. forces is now keeping the peace. But the fractured region may be unprepared for the type of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak that has ravaged the rest of the world.

Turkish-backed forces had shut down the Allouk water pump on Sunday, cutting off four hundred thousand people in Kurdish-held areas from access to clean water. The four-day shutdown was a preview of the cascading crisis that a combination of coronavirus and civil war could bring to the region.

“The interruption of water supply during the current efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus disease puts children and families at unacceptable risk,” warned Fran Equiza, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative for Syria, on Monday. “Handwashing with soap is critical in the fight against COVID-19.”

Russian Defense Ministry Preparing for Worst Case COVID-19 Scenario

By: Pavel Felgenhauer

On March 24, President Vladimir Putin canceled a visit to St. Petersburg and went instead to the new Kommunarka medical facility on the outskirts of Moscow that was hastily organized as the main specialized COVID-19 treatment center in the Moscow region. On the excursion, Putin (67) was escorted by the Kommunarka chief surgeon, Denis Protsenko, and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin. Putin donned a bright yellow full-body hazmat suit and respirator and was later rubbed down with sanitizer. Putin’s press corps members as well as his official videographer were denied entrance. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, thus, handed a nurse a smartphone and asked her to film Putin’s inspection of the facility “as well as you can” and then to send the resulting video file, via Telegram Messenger (officially forbidden in Russia, but still widely used), to the only contact in the phone’s address book—“Dima.” The nurse was instructed not to return the phone, “but just dump it,” evidently out of concern that the device might, in the course of the visit, become contaminated by the coronavirus (RIA Novosti, March 24).

Putin was apparently impressed by the brand new Kommunarka facility and commended Protsenko (and Sobyanin) for a job well done during their short meeting after the excursion. In footage aired by Russian TV, Protsenko offered Putin policy advice “as a medic” on how to deal with the COVID-19 crisis: There is the “Italian way” of doing little until the situation turns really bad, and there is an “Asian way”—widespread, strictly imposed quarantine measures, like what the authorities undertook in China or South Korea. Russian medics “would be happy” if strict “Asian-style” measures are imposed, he suggested, but they are preparing for the worst-case “Italian” scenario of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Moscow region, ready to deploy medical capabilities to cope with a massive inflow of severely ill and dying patients. According to Protsenko, “If the Chinese or Korean ‘way’ of strict quarantine measures are applied, the spread of COVID-19 in Russia could be contained in April or May [2020]” (RIA Novosti, March 24).

How the Coronavirus Threatens Putin’s Global Image

By Thomas Graham

President Vladimir Putin planned to use this year to raise his stature as not only the face of Russian politics at home but also a dominant figure on the global stage. Then the new coronavirus intervened.

The official number of cases in Russia of the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, exceeds 650, with just one reported death. As in other countries, the actual number is certainly higher. While Putin assured Russians just last week that the situation was “generally under control,” he changed his tune this week, warning them to brace for a prolonged battle against a potentially devastating epidemic. In addition to the steps the authorities have already taken to contain the virus—closing borders, banning foreign visitors until May 1, and quarantining possible carriers, among other things—Putin declared that next week will be a paid nonwork week and urged everyone to stay home. He also announced a series of measures to guarantee income and preserve jobs to soften the economic consequences of containing the virus.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing Putin to reconsider plans for two major political events this spring, both of which are intended to enhance his image. The first is the constitutional referendum, originally set for April 22. The second is the celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany on May 9. The referendum will underscore his domination of Russian politics, while the anniversary celebrations will reinforce the legitimacy of the current regime. With COVID-19 surging around the globe, however, neither event will give him the political boost he had anticipated, and, if mishandled, each could badly tarnish his reputation.

A Leader for Life?

Jamestown Foundation

China’s Other Viral Crisis: African Swine Fever and the State Effort to Stabilize Pork Prices

Disposing of “Zombies”: Why the Reform of Non-Performing State-Owned Enterprises Has Gotten Even Harder

Limited Payoffs: What Have BRI Investments Delivered for China Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak?

The Illicit Wildlife Trade in China and the State Response Following the Coronavirus Outbreak

China-Iran Relations: The Not-So-Special “Special Relationship”Naval War College

Forging the Tools of 21st Century Great Power Competition

Thomas G. Mahnken
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The U.S. national security community has, in recent years, begun to focus its attention on the need to compete with China and Russia. The move to embrace the reality of great power competition, and with it the prospect of great power war, comes after a three-decade respite from serious thinking about what it means to face an economically powerful and technologically sophisticated adversary in peace and in war. How can our governmental organizations, our defense planning premises and priorities, and the linkages among diverse elements of national power be revamped to focus our collective energies on a more demanding set of security challenges than has been the case since the end of the Cold War? Are there lessons that can be applied from the past 30 years – the era of “unipolarity,” the first Gulf War, and the post-9/11 conflicts? Our should we cast our mental template further back to identify useful policy antecedents, such as the period in which the United States organized for and adapted to long-term competition with the Soviet Union?

Thomas G. Mahnken, CSBA President and CEO and a member of the independent National Defense Strategy Commission, explores these and other questions in Forging the Tools of 21st Century Great Power Competition. Dr. Mahnken reviews our current national tools to compete and, if necessary, wage war in the future, looking back on decades of U.S.-Soviet rivalry to determine whether that very different experience can still shed light on current conditions. Chapters include assessments of alliance management, defense policy, arms control and competition, economic relations, political warfare and internal security. Also included is an appendix surveying past “whole-of-government” efforts to compete with the Soviet Union and resulting insights on the effectiveness of various instruments of power during the Cold War.


The military is only just becoming aware of the scale of the social and environmental impacts that climate change will have in the coming decades. Increasing droughts, floods and severe weather events threaten large numbers of the world population.
They lead to mass migration flows, cause resource scarcity and disrupt societies. Climate change is a risk multiplier of an existential nature, affecting every society around the world, generating new conflicts and potentially affecting our global security. This makes climate change an issue for national and international security – and thus the military.

This report illustrates the fact that oftentimes climate change not only acts as a threat multiplier in theatres of military operations, but also has direct implications for military capabilities, as it leads to calls for assistance to civil society in home territories. In some cases, it can even directly affect military capabilities and strength, as extreme weather events place a substantial additional burden on military forces’ overall capacity to act and dilute the value of military assets, as exemplified by the regular flooding of the Norfolk navy bases and the recent wildfires in south-east Australia.

The extent to which the military capabilities of countries are affected by climate change is related to whether, and how, countries respond to and integrate climate change impacts into their defence strategies and policies, and more specifically into risk assessment, early warning, surveillance and operational preparations. It is also related to countries’ general efforts in climate adaptation, disaster preparedness and risk reduction, even though some impacts might be difficult or impossible to prepare for entirely.