29 June 2023

The Indian Ocean Strategic Map

This map displays the economic, political, military, and geographic features of the Indian Ocean and how they interact as one continuous geopolitical theater.

The Indian Ocean Strategic Map combines data and expert analysis to foster greater understanding of twenty-first century developments, challenges, and trends across the Indian Ocean. For decades, the region has been erroneously studied through the continental divisions of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. But to understand the true strategic importance of the region, it must be viewed as one continuous theater. This interactive digital map is designed to show how the Indian Ocean’s economic, political, military, and geographic features interact to create a continuous theater.

Thailand’s Outgoing Government Disgraces Itself One Last Time on Myanmar

Mark S. Cogan

When Thailand announced that it intended to host a meeting with Myanmar’s generals in order to “fully re-engage” the junta, it set off alarm bells among both pundits and ASEAN member states. First, the meeting violated a long-standing plan that dates back to April 2021 among member states, that Myanmar’s generals would be excluded from meetings. It also meant that for the second straight year, that an ASEAN member state would conduct a form of rogue or “cowboy” diplomacy, where engagement with the junta increased its legitimacy—and worse, led to a public relations spectacle, as was the case with Cambodia’s then-Special Envoy.

The meeting, which was held in Thailand over June 18 and 19, was at the invitation of the soon-to-be outgoing Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, who prefaced his invitation with a reference to the recent ASEAN Summit held in Indonesia this past May, where ASEAN leaders allegedly pledged to re-engage at the highest levels. The meetings attracted major criticism from pro-democracy stakeholders in Myanmar, and regional partners such as Singapore, who almost undiplomatically through its Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, said it “would be premature to re-engage with the junta at a summit level or even at a foreign minister level.”

Reeling after the failed talks, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha noted that Thailand and Myanmar share more than 3,000 kilometers of land and sea borders, and that billions in oil and gas revenue between the two countries was at stake in the eventual outcome. The Thai Foreign Minister was even more bold, suggesting that “Thailand is the only country that wants to find a solution” and “none of the other ASEAN members care as much as us,” an obvious insult to the collective work of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, who head ASEAN’s bloc of countries that have rejected direct engagement with Myanmar’s junta.

New images show Chinese spy balloons over Asia

Gordon Corera

New evidence of China's spy balloon programme - including flights over Japan and Taiwan - has been uncovered by BBC Panorama.

Japan has confirmed balloons have flown over its territory and said it's prepared to shoot them down in future.

China has not directly addressed the evidence presented by the BBC.

US-China relations were thrown into turmoil earlier this year, when an alleged Chinese spy balloon was shot down off the US coast.

China claimed the balloon seen over north-western US in late January was a civilian airship, used for scientific research such as meteorology - and that it was an unintended and isolated event.

John Culver - a former East Asia analyst for the CIA - told Panorama that this "had been not just a one-off, but a continuing effort dating back at least five years." He said the Chinese balloons were "specially designed for these long-range missions" and some had "apparently circumnavigated the globe".

Don’t Count the Dictators Out

Lucan Ahmad Way

Two thousand twenty-two was not a good year for the world’s leading autocracies. In November, Chinese President Xi Jinping confronted the largest antigovernment demonstrations since the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989. Provoked by Beijing’s stringent “zero COVID” policies, protesters across the country made overtly political demands, calling for Xi’s resignation and an end to one-man rule. These protests erupted just when the Chinese economy was experiencing its lowest growth rate since 1976. The government responded by suddenly abandoning its zero-COVID program—a signature Xi policy—and letting the virus spread rapidly through the population. The reversal, and the estimated one million deaths that followed it, further eroded public trust in the regime.

Iran confronted even greater challenges. In September, the death of a young woman named Mahsa Amini while in police custody for “improperly” wearing her hijab sparked months of nationwide protests that targeted the heart of the regime’s revolutionary identity. Thousands of protesters in more than 100 cities called for the death of the country’s aging supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and an end to the Islamic Republic itself. At the end of the year, opposition activists organized a three-day general strike that nearly shut down the country—actions reminiscent of those that preceded the fall of the shah of Iran in 1979. Although the protests have since died down, large numbers of Iranian women continue to refuse to wear the hijab.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had perhaps the worst year of all. His invasion of Ukraine has been an utter disaster. The Russian army has been forced to abandon efforts to take Kyiv and has retreated from positions it gained earlier in eastern and southern Ukraine. The war has triggered unprecedented Western sanctions, resulted in roughly 200,000 Russian casualties—far larger than the number killed and wounded during Russia’s decadelong occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s—and caused hundreds of thousands of citizens to flee the country. Russia’s geopolitical influence is in dramatic decline. Almost overnight, Europe cut its dependence on Russian energy supplies, and Moscow has been forced to abandon efforts to influence neighbouring countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

China Is Ready for a World of Disorder

Mark Leonard

In March, at the end of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin stood at the door of the Kremlin to bid his friend farewell. Xi told his Russian counterpart, “Right now, there are changes—the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years—and we are the ones driving these changes together.” Putin, smiling, responded, “I agree.”

The tone was informal, but this was hardly an impromptu exchange: “Changes unseen in a century” has become one of Xi’s favorite slogans since he coined it in December 2017. Although it might seem generic, it neatly encapsulates the contemporary Chinese way of thinking about the emerging global order—or, rather, disorder. As China’s power has grown, Western policymakers and analysts have tried to determine what kind of world China wants and what kind of global order Beijing aims to build with its power. But it is becoming clear that rather than trying to comprehensively revise the existing order or replace it with something else, Chinese strategists have set about making the best of the world as it is—or as it soon will be.

While most Western leaders and policymakers try to preserve the existing rules-based international order, perhaps updating key features and incorporating additional actors, Chinese strategists increasingly define their goal as survival in a world without order. The Chinese leadership, from Xi on down, believes that the global architecture that was erected in the aftermath of World War II is becoming irrelevant and that attempts to preserve it are futile. Instead of seeking to save the system, Beijing is preparing for its failure.

Although China and the United States agree that the post–Cold War order is over, they are betting on very different successors. In Washington, the return of great-power competition is thought to require revamping the alliances and institutions at the heart of the post–World War II order that helped the United States win the Cold War against the Soviet Union. This updated global order is meant to incorporate much of the world, leaving China and several of its most important partners—including Iran, North Korea, and Russia—isolated on the outside.

But Beijing is confident that Washington’s efforts will prove futile. In the eyes of Chinese strategists, other countries’ search for sovereignty and identity is incompatible with the formation of Cold War–style blocs and will instead result in a more fragmented, multipolar world in which China can take its place as a great power.

Where Does Russia Stand Now?

George Friedman

There has been a great deal of talk that the Wagner Group’s attempted insurrection over the weekend may have weakened Russian President Vladimir Putin. If Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is to be believed, the uprising was months in the making, a result of the conventional military deliberately withholding supplies and, more recently, of a direct Russian missile attack on his troops. This may explain why his march seemed to be directed more at the Russian General Staff than at Putin himself. Whatever the case, the affair was over in a day; either it failed or it was meant to be little more than a gesture. Knowing what happened in this incident will take a long time to sort out.

What we must think through now, though, is to what extent the Prigozhin debacle will destabilize the Russian government, weaken Putin or affect the war in Ukraine. Putin’s status is at the center of it all. If this was indeed a coup attempt, it never seriously threatened the Kremlin. Prigozhin’s issues with elements of the central government were well known. Why, then, would Putin be weakened by a putsch from a known malcontent that went nowhere? And what does being weakened even mean? Does it mean that department heads, and particularly the General Staff, would disregard his orders? Does it mean he no longer has a job?

In a political sense, weakened might mean that Putin would no longer be able to make executive decisions or eliminate bureaucrats and generals. This would be a serious development. Russia is at war, and it needs an effective command structure. If Putin were weakened, then the command structure would break down, which would also mean there would be no supreme commander. In that scenario, it is unlikely Putin would be weakened; he would be replaced. The question is who would replace him? Prigozhin might have been angling for the job, but he ultimately capitulated to a different Putin puppet, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Someone unknown to me might emerge, of course, but short of an heir apparent I don’t know what it means for Putin to be weakened. And even if I did, I don’t know why a coup attempt broken in less than a day should weaken him.

Bad Company: Wagner Group and Prigozhin at Crossroads in Ukraine ANALYSIS

Colin P. Clarke 

As the Wagner Group prepares to withdraw its fighters from Bakhmut after months of brutal conflict, there is growing speculation that its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is angling to have his forces redeployed to fragile states in the Middle East and Africa.

Prigozhin has been openly feuding with senior members of the Russian military, regularly releasing videotaped diatribes directed at generals and defense officials, leading some to suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin is losing control and appears more vulnerable to escalating political fissures.

Western countries are finally mobilizing to confront Wagner head on, with discussions about labeling the private military company as a foreign terrorist organization, and the U.S. getting more aggressive in sharing intelligence with African countries where Wagner is operating or may soon seek to operate.

“The children of elites…allow themselves to lead a public, fat, carefree life while the children of others arrive back shredded to pieces in zinc coffins,” snarled Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in one of his most recent videos posted online. The words were delivered as Prigozhin stood in front of a pile of bloodied corpses of Wagner Group fighters. Prigozhin has made it a habit to regularly air his grievances with Russian oligarchs, political elites, and senior military figures, especially Sergei Shoigu, an army general and head of Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Russian army general and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov, is another frequent target of Prigozhin’s ire.

On the battlefield, the Wagner Group and Prigozhin are approaching a pivotal crossroads in Ukraine, especially in light of Kyiv’s imminent counteroffensive. “We are withdrawing the units from Bakhmut … most of the units will rebase to camps in the rear. We are handing our positions to the military,” said Prigozhin on Wagner’s Telegram channel. The announcement has brought even more attention to Wagner’s future role in Ukraine as well as forecasting what the next step is for the private military company (PMC), including a possible refocus on the Middle East and Africa, where Prigozhin oversees numerous lucrative security-for-resources partnerships. But first, Prigozhin will have to successfully navigate intra-Russian dynamics, which could be especially difficult after his scathing critiques of Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine.

Russia’s Rogue Commander Is Playing With Fire

Mikhail Fishman

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the paramilitary Wagner Group, has turned the war in Ukraine into his own show since early May. From the trenches of Bakhmut, on Telegram and other social-media channels, he’s decried the Russian military command as worthless and corrupt, particularly claiming that it has deprived his forces of ammunition. At a time of extraordinary top-down control in Russian media and politics, Prigozhin’s outbursts have left a lot of observers perplexed about just what kind of political or military tug-of-war is playing out in front of the international public.

In a video posted on May 4, Prigozhin showed himself surrounded by the bodies of dead Wagner fighters, hurling expletives at Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff. In another video days later, he threatened to withdraw his troops from Bakhmut if not provided with more ammunition. In still another, Prigozhin referred to a “grandfather” who prefers to store ammunition instead of supplying it to the front: “And what if this grandfather is a complete asshole?” he demanded.


Andreas Heinemann-Grüder

Hardly any war has ever been fought exclusively with regular soldiers. Notwithstanding this truism, the increasing prominence of state-sponsored armed and mercenary groups has notably expanded the repertoire of contemporary warfare: over the past decade such groups have been deployed both in support of regular armed forces and as shadow armies in conflict theatres from Ukraine to Mozambique. Apart from their flexibility and relative cost efficiency, the prime benefits of these groups derive from the fact that they provide plausible deniability for state actions, exercise an unconstrained licence to kill, and escape the restrictions of the jus ad bellum and jus in bello principles under international law. Even in the case of serious violations of humanitarian and human rights law, they can rarely be held accountable.

Violent conflicts always provide ample opportunities for enrichment, exploitation and the exercise of covert influence. In these contexts, mercenary and irregular armed groups are frequently deployed either on behalf of states or with their tacit permission. Thus, while states outsource the organisation and conduct of violence, they remain the main contractors of such groups (1), rendering the designation of ‘private military company’ (PMC) something of a misnomer. Moreover, while PMCs often pursue commercial interests, their missions, resources and protection from prosecution usually derive from

Commercial companies seldom have the personnel and equipment to provide security beyond property protection. To an important extent, the key component of the PMC business model is the capability to undertake offensive combat operations. PMCs with combat units commit assault and homicide and often use weapons of war. None of this can be directly attributed to the contractor. PMCs recruit former intelligence officers, special forces, former police officers, pilots or security guards; some are highly specialised, while others offer a broad portfolio of skills. While PMCs’ activities encompass a wide range of sectors, the most significant field of activity is undoubtedly the provision of combatants or security forces as well as armaments.

This Brief explores the sphere in which Russia’s state-controlled irregular armed groups (2) operate and the scope of their activities, focusing in particular on the notorious Wagner Group and their impact on violent conflicts.

A Moment of Truth for Russia's Wagner Group in Bakhmut

Christian Esch, Christina Hebel, Alexander Chernyshev, Fedir Petrov, Alexander Sarovic, Christoph Reuter, Fritz Schaap und Andrey Kaganskikh

The clip that Yevgeny Prigozhin recently posted to his Telegram channel could easily have been mistaken for a poorly made horror film. It shows a field at night, bloodied dead bodies lying in the light of Prigozhin’s flashlight. Also in the video is Prigozhin himself, a brawny, bald man wearing a pistol in a holster. "These are boys from Wagner who died today. Their blood is still fresh!" he growls. The camera pans further, and only now can viewers see that there are four grisly rows of bodies. Dozens of corpses in uniform, many of them with no boots.

Then Prigozhin steps directly in front of the camera and explodes. His face contorted in anger, he hurls insults at Russian military leaders who, he says, are failing to provide him with the munitions he needs. "You will eat their entrails in hell," he yells. "Shoigu, Gerasimov, where is the fucking ammunition?" It is an outburst of rage against Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, but staged for better effect and loaded with profanity and contempt. Prigozhin sounds like a bandit challenging his rivals on the outskirts of town at night. Like he would like to turn both Shoigu and Gerasimov into corpses that he could then lay next to his boys.

Russia last week celebrated its World War II victory over Nazi Germany with the usual military parade on Red Square, a speech by the president and marching music. But whatever uplifting images the Kremlin wanted to create in Moscow, they were overwhelmed by Prigozhin’s nighttime parade of corpses and his abuse, recorded in a field somewhere near Bakhmut in the Donbas, where he had sent the Wagner Group fighters to their deaths.

Prigozhin, a businessman from St. Petersburg, has good contacts within Putin’s closest circle and is the leader of a notorious mercenary unit that is active from Syria to Mali. Prior to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, he was very rarely in the public eye. Now, though, the war has given him a new role and a new stage.

Wagner Group's Revolt in Russia Ends After Deal Struck. Here's What to Know


Troops led by Wagner mercenary group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, withdrew from the southern Russian regions of Lipetsk and Voronezg “steadily and without incident” on Sunday after negotiations between Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russia led to a deal and Wagner forces agreed to stand down.

The group had taken over the city of Rostov-on-Don Saturday and threatened to march toward Moscow in an armed rebellion before a deal was struck. Prigozhin said he decided to turn back to avoid “shedding Russian blood” and will now go to Belarus as part of the deal. Under the negotiations, the criminal case against Prigozhin will be dropped after the Russian national security sector FSB opened a case against Prigozhin for “organizing an armed rebellion,” according to a Kremlin spokesperson.

Wagner troops will also not be charged, and will also have to sign contracts with Russia’s Ministry of Defense as part of the negotiations. Prigozhin also ordered the force to return to their field camps in Ukraine, the AP reports.

On Friday, Prigozhin originally demanded that several key military figures come speak with him, threatening to keep control of the city of Rostov-on-Don—where there was an alleged clash between Wagner and Russian forces—and take his troops to Moscow in what he called “a march for justice.”

However, in a turn of events later on Saturday, the convoy of Wagner vehicles traveling along a northbound highway halted just 124 miles from Moscow. Prigozhin has long criticized the country’s military leadership over the long battles in Ukraine that have been plagued with supply shortages, but things came to a boiling point Saturday after taking over Rostov.

America’s data illiteracy imperils its worldwide lead in artificial intelligence


As the U.S. continues to wrestle with myriad concerns over the benefits and risks of artificial intelligence (AI), China has already emerged as an AI superpower with a clear focus on the use of data and analytics to achieve global dominance.

This poses significant short and long-term economic and national security implications for all Americans, from every walk of life and across every corner of our nation.

AI has already begun to alter the global landscape, if not the balance of technological, economic, political, and military balance of power. Indeed, according to McKinsey and the Stanford University AI Index, China ranks second in the world in global AI vibrancy and has “accounted for nearly one-fifth of global private investment funding in 2021, attracting $17 billion for AI start-ups.”

This is not to say America is absent from the AI race. In fact, the Stanford University AI Index reveals that the U.S. leads the world in private investment funding for AI, which was 3.5 times larger than the amount invested in China. The U.S. leads the world in newly funded AI companies, which is more than the European Union, the United Kingdom, and China combined. The U.S. continues to lead the world in AI innovation, as evidenced by the total number of scientific publications about AI. But this lead is eroding due to increased competition from other countries such as China.

The United States’ ability to maintain its AI leadership position and compete in numerous other STEM-related fields is predicated on the country’s commitment to preparing the workforce of today and young people who will comprise the workforce of tomorrow with sufficient data literacy skills.

To be clear, America has a data literacy crisis that threatens our shared security and prosperity. This requires a new national commitment to data literacy education that demands the attention, action, and commitment of policymakers and leaders in Washington and beyond.

Interview – Andrei Tsygankov

Andrei P. Tsygankov is a Professor in the Department of International Relations at San Francisco State University. He teaches Russian/post-Soviet relations, comparative foreign policy, and IR theory. He is a graduate of Moscow State University (Candidate of Sciences, 1991) and the University of Southern California (Ph.D., 2000). Tsygankov is a contributor to both Western and Russian academia. In the West, his publications include Anti-Russian Lobby and American Foreign Policy (2009), Russia and the West from Alexander to Putin (2012), The Strong State in Russia (2014), The Routledge Handbook of Russian Foreign Policy (2018, editor), Russia and America (2019), Russian Realism (2022), and numerous journal articles. Tsygankov also published a well-received textbook, Russia’s Foreign Policy (2006, six editions). In Russia, his best-known books are Modern Political Regimes (1996), Russian Science of International Relations (2005, co-editor, also published in Germany and China), Sociology of International Relations (2006, co-authored, also published in China), and Russian International Theory (2013, two editions). Tsygankov has spoken at forums in Berkeley, Stanford, and the World Affairs Council, amongst others. He also served as program chair for the International Studies Association (ISA) conference, the largest scholarly association in the field.

Where do you see the most exciting research/debates happening in your field?

The most interesting research in IR/Russia is about the role of ideas, values, and power in shaping foreign policy, international orders, and political regimes. The ideas/power nexus has already produced concepts that have informed important studies of Russia and other cultures, such as those of national exceptionalism, ontological security, and securitization. The more the world departs from West-centeredness, the more likely we are to see the development of concepts that engage both ideas and power. Some examples include recent scholarship by Haro Karkour, Ayse Zarakol, Hedrick Spryut, and Eric Ringmar. Peace and order will increasingly depend on complex negotiations of the balance of power and cultural differences. In IR terms, this means a combination of constructivism, critical theory, and realism, suggesting the significance of research that cuts across paradigms and appeals to both Western and non-Western audiences.

The Wagner Group Is a Crisis of Putin’s Own Making

On Friday evening, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, accused the Russian military of ordering an aerial attack on his forces in Ukraine, and vowed a “march for justice” to stop the Russian military’s “evil” leadership. Prigozhin may have claimed that his main enemies were defense officials, not his longtime patron and protector, Vladimir Putin, but the effective battle lines were clear. The state security agency, the F.S.B., opened a criminal investigation against Prigozhin for “organizing an armed rebellion.” By the next morning, Wagner units controlled the center of Rostov-on-Don, a city in southern Russia that is home to more than a million people and the military headquarters overseeing the war in Ukraine. Prigozhin was inside the garrison, appearing to negotiate with top generals. From there, Wagner units claimed to take control of Voronezh, a city three hundred miles from Moscow, and a column of Wagner troops and armor sped off toward the capital, the main target and prize, where Prigozhin’s gambit would succeed or be put down.

Prigozhin had always been a man on the make. He turned his past as a small-time bandit into a successful restaurant and catering business—in the early two-thousands, he hosted Putin and high-profile guests at his St. Petersburg establishments—which grew into a business empire that earned millions on contracts to provide meals to the Russian military and public schools. He was clever, nasty, boorish, with a shade more personality and spunk than most operators who nurtured their fiefdoms in the shadows of the Putin system. In 2013, he launched the Internet Research Agency, otherwise known as the St. Petersburg troll farm, which came to employ hundreds of young people who spread propaganda, engaged in influence operations, and otherwise caused mischief on social networks, including in the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election in the U.S.

David Remnick on how Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion exposed the Russian President.

Microsoft Warns of Widescale Credential Stealing Attacks by Russian Hackers

Ravie Lakshmanan

Microsoft has disclosed that it's detected a spike in credential-stealing attacks conducted by the Russian state-affiliated hacker group known as Midnight Blizzard.

The intrusions, which made use of residential proxy services to obfuscate the source IP address of the attacks, target governments, IT service providers, NGOs, defense, and critical manufacturing sectors, the tech giant's threat intelligence team said.

Midnight Blizzard, formerly known as Nobelium, is also tracked under the monikers APT29, Cozy Bear, Iron Hemlock, and The Dukes.

The group, which drew worldwide attention for the SolarWinds supply chain compromise in December 2020, has continued to rely on unseen tooling in its targeted attacks aimed at foreign ministries and diplomatic entities.

It's a sign of how determined they are to keep their operations up and running despite being exposed, which makes them a particularly formidable actor in the espionage area.

"These credential attacks use a variety of password spray, brute-force, and token theft techniques," Microsoft said in a series of tweets, adding the actor "also conducted session replay attacks to gain initial access to cloud resources leveraging stolen sessions likely acquired via illicit sale."

The tech giant further called out APT29 for its use of residential proxy services to route malicious traffic in an attempt to obfuscate connections made using compromised credentials.

"The threat actor likely used these IP addresses for very short periods, which could make scoping and remediation challenging," the Windows maker said.

The development comes as Recorded Future detailed a new spear-phishing campaign orchestrated by APT28 (aka BlueDelta, Forest Blizzard, FROZENLAKE, Iron Twilight, and Fancy Bear) targeting government and military entities in Ukraine since November 2021.

Experts react: What Russia’s Wagner Group rebellion means for Putin, Ukraine, China, and more

Atlantic Council experts

What a difference a day makes. In the past twenty-four hours, Wagner Group leader Yevgeniy Prigozhin announced a rebellion against Russia, claimed his forces seized the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, and marched his forces toward Moscow. However, after a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, it appears the Kremlin has dropped its charges against the mutinying mercenary leader, with Prigozhin agreeing to withdraw his fighters and leave for Belarus.

How did Prigozhin’s rebellion get as far as it did? And how will its aftermath affect Putin’s hold on power and the war in Ukraine? Read analysis below from Atlantic Council experts on what these breakneck developments in Russia mean for the Putin regime, the Ukrainian counteroffensive, and the Moscow-Beijing partnership.

If Prigozhin doesn’t pay a heavy price, Putin’s regime is in serious danger

Prigozhin’s rebellion needs to be viewed in several contexts. First, the war against Ukraine has divided the Russian elite into two factions—hawks who want nothing short of the conquest of Kyiv and a military parade on the Khreshchatyk and kleptocrats who want to go back to the pre-February 24, 2022 world. Neither of these things are going to happen, so nobody is happy. Of these two factions, the hawks are by far the more powerful and the more serious threat to the regime. This has put Putin in a very precarious position regardless of how Prigozhin’s rebellion is resolved.

Second, Prigozhin’s rebellion also illustrates the perils of Putin’s “venture-capital foreign policy,” which outsources key tasks to nominally private-sector actors outside the normal chain of command. The Russian system is based not on institutions but on informal patronage networks with Putin as the ultimate arbiter. When Putin is strong, this approach works, to a point. But when Putin is weakened, it can spin out of control.

How Prigozhin’s Baby Coup Weakened Everyone in Russia


The short-lived rebellion of Russian mercenary fighters against the Russian government this weekend exposed the Kremlin’s dependence on private military contractors it can’t control. That’s a boon to Ukraine, but also a big problem for all the Russians involved, Russia watchers told Defense One.

Recap: On Friday, Russian oligarch Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin, who runs the Wagner mercenary group, claimed Russian military forces had fired on Wagner positions in Ukraine. Prigozhin vowed “justice” against Russian defense officials for their mishandling of the war. Prigozhin’s claim came after Wagner forces did most of the heavy fighting—and dying—to secure small, strategically insignificant gains in the Bakhmut area of Ukraine. Prigozhin, commonly referred to as “Putin’s Chef,” had been sparring publicly for months with the Russian defense ministry, claiming they weren’t offering enough support for his efforts, and often taking direct aim at Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Prigozhin enjoyed some popular support among rightwing Russian military bloggers for his hardnose tactics and visible social media presence on the battlefield.

On Saturday, Wagner mercenaries entered Russia with little resistance from border guards. Prigozhin marched into the Russian Southern Military District headquarters in the city of Rostov-on-Don.

The event was not bloodless. The casualty count was 13 Russian pilots, six Russian helicopters, and an Il-18 command and control aircraft on the Russian military side—plus an unknown number of Wagner mercenary combatants, according to Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at the Center for Naval Analyses.

President Vladimir Putin pledged to punish the mutineers. And by Saturday evening in Moscow, the Kremlin announced it had struck a deal with Prigozhin: He’d exile to Belarus and the Wagner forces that mutinied would face no punishment. “Some of them, if they wish to do so, can later ink contracts with the Defense Ministry” Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state-backed media outlet TASS.

Is Russia’s Hypersonic Missile Vulnerable?


The first reported use of a hypersonic weapon in combat was on 18 March 2022, when a Russian Kinzhal missile destroyed an alleged underground weapons depot of the Ukrainian armed forces in Deliatyn. Another such attack came the next day, then more in April and May, and still more eight months later. The largest salvo was fired on 9 March 2023 as part of a barrage that included other missiles and drones.

There is some dispute as to whether the Kinzhal qualifies as a true hypersonic weapon, namely, one that can fly faster than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) while maintaining the ability to maneuver—a combination of features that supposedly makes the missile immune to existing countermeasures. But just this month the world discovered that the Kinzhal was not immune. It seems, in fact, far from it.

On 6 May Ukrainians shot down a Kinzhal outside Kiev using a Patriot air-defense system, supplied by the United States just weeks before. It was reported that the Kinzhal was specifically targeting that system when it was shot down. Three days later, the Russian military reportedly launched a series of six Kinzhal missiles at Ukrainian sites; the Ukrainians shot down five of the six. The sixth Kinzhal damaged, but did not destroy, a Patriot battery.

The matter is being closely scrutinized not only in Ukraine but throughout the world, because hypersonic missiles now figure prominently in the military calculation of great powers. Over the past five years, China and Russia have introduced them into their arsenals, prompting the United States and other nations to develop their own hypersonic weapons and enhanced air-defense systems to counter this threat. Each move and countermove shaves away the time available for leaders to decide how to respond to a possible nuclear strike. This destabilizes nuclear deterrence, without doubt the cornerstone of military competition.

Kendall: More rapid acquisition is within reach, if Congress acts


Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Pentagon — larger than any one geopolitical foe — is its struggle to move quickly enough to keep up with technological development and the breakneck evolution of the modern battlespace. And while the Defense Department has rolled out several initiatives to make up ground, in his first op-ed since assuming the title of secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall argues below that there’s a way to go faster, with Congress’s help.

Over the last two years in my position as secretary of the Air Force, I have begun each of my eight Congressional budget posture hearings with a reference to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s warning that almost all military failures can be summed up in the words “too late.” My obsession is that the Air Force and Space Force not be “too late” in acquiring the capability needed to remain the most capable military in the world.

Ever since I returned to government service in 2010 after a 15-year absence, I have been sounding alarms about China’s military modernization program. There is no time to lose in responding to this challenge, and that is why the 2022 National Defense Strategy marked an historic shift by identifying China as the Defense Department’s “pacing challenge.” More than ever, we are hard at work deploying cutting-edge capabilities to our warfighters in the immediate term, and we are investing in the capabilities we’ll need in the future to make sure that deterrence across the Indo-Pacific region and beyond remains as real and strong as it is today.

As part of these efforts, the DoD has submitted a legislative proposal to the Congress that would cut at least one year, and often two years or more, from the lead time to fielding new capabilities.

During the first year of my tenure, the Department of the Air Force analyzed the operational problems that we had to solve to maintain our ability to project power in the Western Pacific. A year ago, that work produced well-supported recommendations for the initial set of capabilities needed to maintain our superiority. The recommendations were buttressed by analysis and included the funding streams needed to complete the necessary new product developments.

Europe Is Stuck in a Toxic China Relationship

Anchal Vohra

On a quiet visit to Europe last week, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu met several politicians on the continent to discuss China’s recent attempts to intimidate and coerce his government. In April, China had gone so far as to simulate encirclement of the self-governing island.

Can ChatGPT Explain Geopolitics?

Sasha Polakow-Suransky

To the reader: In this exercise, you will be presented with two unsigned articles on Russia’s annexation of Crimea. One was written by an undergraduate student, and the other was generated by OpenAI’s latest language model, GPT-4, using ChatGPT Plus, a paid, premium version of the popular chatbot. Both responded to an identical prompt: “Please write a 600-700-word essay arguing that allowing Russia to annex Crimea paved the way for a larger war in Ukraine, stating your core argument in the first few paragraphs. Please cite all sources using footnotes.”


You will be asked to guess which essay was written using artificial intelligence. Then we will reveal the true authors, share Foreign Policy’s editorial comments, and offer a short analysis of the strengths and limitations of AI in producing foreign-policy analysis.

The Russian annexation of Crimea, a formerly Ukrainian peninsula, comprised the largest seizure of foreign land since the end of World War II. It defied a universal, international understanding held throughout the latter half of the 20th century: Independent countries maintain their territorial integrity. The invasion of Ukraine marked a similar departure from international norms. The seizure of Crimea began a series of smaller invasions in eastern Ukraine, all indisputably linked to the Ukrainian war. The lack of international response to the annexation of Crimea implied a similar passivity in the event of a larger invasion in Ukraine, lowering the perceived risk of attempting a comparable occupation and encouraging Russian action.

The annexation of Crimea received little international response or outcry in March 2014. The European Union levied ineffective economic sanctions on the newly Russian-controlled territory in June 2014. The United Nations formally maintained Crimea’s independence, but it did not pursue further action beyond this statement. There was no NATO response to the Russian encroachment. The lack of troop deployments or physical military aid meant European and North American countries held little stake in the conflict. News coverage of the invasion, along with public attention and outcry, lessened quickly and significantly. Contemporary researchers denounced the lack of international assistance. These scholars feared the annexation signaled the start of a larger conflict in the region and believed the ineffectual Western response would encourage further Russian expansion and invasion. These fears were soon realized.

AI Is Winning the AI Race

Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar

One of the questions we get most frequently from officials in Washington is: “Who’s winning the U.S.-China AI race?” The answer is simple and unsettling: Artificial intelligence is winning, and we’re nowhere near ready for what it will bring.

In the past decade, cutting-edge AI systems moved from beating simple video games to solving decades-old scientific challenges such as protein folding, speeding up scientific discovery and accelerating the development of small-molecule drugs. The fastest-moving branch of AI is spawning large language models, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Much progress in these models stems from a relatively simple engineering insight—the scaling hypothesis—that has been carefully implemented using specialized software and vast arrays of networked computers. The hypothesis predicts that the bigger an AI model is—the more data, computations, and parameters it incorporates—the better it will perform and the more it will be able to mimic or achieve intelligence irrespective of whether it is generating a draft of a speech, writing computer software, designing new weapons, or teaching kids math.
A Foreign Policy magazine cover illustration shows a glowing AI projection figure emerging from a pile of technological machinery and semiconductors. The on-image text reads: The Scramble for AI. Paul Scharre, Stanley McChrystal, Alondra Nelson, and more thinkers on the dawn of a new age in geopolitics. Erik Carter illustration for Foreign Policy

This article appears in the Summer 2023 print issue of FP. Read more from the issue.

AI scientists are divided on where this is all headed. Some see the scaling hypothesis continuing to bear fruit as the relevant systems are refined by humans, and eventually by the machines themselves, until we build models that surpass human intelligence. Others are skeptical of large language models and doubt that scaling them up will yield anything comparable to human intelligence. If the scaling group is right, the risks from powerful models that behave unpredictably could be catastrophic—or even existential. These models are already capable of articulating plans to get around constraints imposed by their designers.

But even if scaling skeptics are right, the AI of today is still set to transform our economy and society. Algorithms are already affecting who gets parole in the United States and are poised to increase misinformation. Large language models will expand educational opportunities, but they will also likely reproduce biases and “hallucinate” falsehoods, generating text that sounds plausible but isn’t rooted in reality. Operating on the internet, these models will hire workers, deceive people, and reshape social relationships. Cumulatively, this will stress-test our economic, political, and social fabric.

How to Regulate AI

Ravi Agrawal

A strange thing is happening in the world of artificial intelligence. The very people who are leading its development are warning of the immense risks of their work. A recent statement released by the nonprofit Center for AI Safety, signed by hundreds of important AI executives and researchers, said: “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”

Pentagon mulling new critical infrastructure defense ops plan: VanHerck


WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense is mulling over a new plan for defending critical infrastructure, as well as working to update its Arctic strategy, both as part of a push toward what the head of Northern Command and NORAD said must be a “vastly different” and more forward-leaning vision of the future for homeland defense.

“Domain awareness will be important, but that domain awareness needs to feed a globally integrated air and missile defense capability, where you can do real time collaboration — think of JADC2 [Joint All Domain Command and Control] — and you can do that with allies and partners so they can generate effects forward for me,” Gen. Glen VanHerck told a Mitchell Institute seminar Thursday as the organization unveiled a new policy paper, “Bolstering Arctic Domain Awareness to Deter Air & Missile Threats to the Homeland.”

VanHerck said that in his mind, integrated air and missile defense doesn’t start within US borders using kinetic attacks, but instead must take place “forward” both geographically and in time.

First, NORTHCOM and the US military writ large need improved domain awareness to allow VanHerck’s fellow combatant commanders to “generate those effects further away from our homeland.” For example, he said, autonomous drones carrying sensors, kinetic weapons and non-kinetic “effectors” could be one future tool, not just in the Arctic, but also “off the eastern seaboard, the western seaboard, or around the globe wherever we need to be” to help defend beyond US boundaries.

Second, VanHerck explained, the ability to make rapid decisions using artificial intelligence and machine tools, allows options for action “left of launch,” that is in the run up to conflict. However, he noted that getting from here to a globalized homeland defense strategy will require some “homework” on DoD’s part.

Venture capitalists, tech firms beg defense secretary to speed up innovation


WASHINGTON — This morning a coalition of 13 tech execs and venture capitalists announced they’d written Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, asking in an open letter for major changes to how the military procures cutting-edge technology.

Topping their agenda: a beefed-up Defense Innovation Unit, the Pentagon’s embassy in Silicon Valley; a better user interface for the federal contracting website, SAM.gov; less rigid cost-accounting rules for contractors; more generous grants through the Small Business Innovation Research program; a $250 million “bridge fund” to scale up new tech from field tests to production; and most dramatically, an additional $20 billion in annual procurement. The execs cherry-picked these proposals from a much longer list of suggestions in a recent report by the Atlantic Council’s Commission on Defense Innovation Adoption, which is co-chaired by former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

“Unfortunately, antiquated methods for developing requirements and selecting technologies have drastically limited the Department of Defense’s… access to the best commercial innovation. This must change,” says the letter [PDF], delivered to Austin’s office Friday. “To this end, we strongly endorse the recommendations of the bipartisan Atlantic Council Commission…. Our window to act decisively is closing every day.”

The ringleader of the 13 companies is Applied Intuition, a Silicon Valley firm that started out making software for self-driving cars and then expanded to work on the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle program and Air Force sensors. Based in Mountain View, Calif., Applied has pushed to raise its profile in Washington, working with the Atlantic Council’s reform commission and co-sponsoring a DC policy conference with the Council just this past May.

But with a market valuation of $3.6 billion, Applied is dwarfed by some of its co-signers. Anduril is valued at $8.4 billion, Palantir at $29.7 billion. Both do significant defense work already. VC firm General Catalyst has reported it manages some $33 billion in assets. All told, the tech companies signing the letter have a total market value of at least $42 billion, and the venture capitalists have at least $50 billion in assets under management. Long story short, these are firms with the financial clout and high-tech chops to make the Pentagon and Congress pay attention.