Ilan Berman
Ilan Berman
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Pundicity: Informed Opinion and Review

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In Diplomatic Black Eye For Washington, China Reshuffles Middle East Deck

March 15, 2023  •  The Washington Times

Last week, the People's Republic of China (PRC) made global headlines when its chief diplomat, Wang Yi, successfully brokered a peace deal between two of the Middle East's most bitter rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Under the terms of the agreement, regional news sources say, Riyadh and Tehran will resume diplomatic relations and re-open long shuttered embassies over the next couple of months, thereby paving the way for an end to the Middle East's longest-running sectarian struggle for influence. Within the Capitol Beltway and beyond, experts are now parsing whether the deal will in fact hold, and what it might mean for the region if it does. It's already clear, however, that the new Saudi-Iranian pact represents a triumph for Beijing and a serious strategic setback for Washington, for at least three reasons.

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Israel Approaches A Red Line As Iran's Nuclear Dreams Near Fulfillment

March 10, 2023  •  Newsweek

For years, the Jewish State has anticipated the need for an independent military option to eliminate—or at least erode—Iran's burgeoning nuclear capability. For just as long, though, Israeli policymakers have preferred to take a backseat to U.S. policymakers in dealing with the threat posed by a nearly nuclear Islamic Republic. Recently, however, at least two factors have suggested that Jerusalem may not be willing to sit on the sidelines for much longer.

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The Kremlin Isn't Just Fighting Ukraine. It's Fighting The Future

March 1, 2023  •  AFPC INSIGHTS

A year into the brutal invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin is giving no signs of abandoning its war of choice. In his February 21st State of the Nation address, Vladimir Putin signaled what amounted to a redoubled commitment to his "special military operation" against Kyiv. "Step by step, carefully and consistently we will deal with the tasks we have at hand," Russia's president intoned. The message was hardly unexpected. By now, few observers still hold out hope that Putin will reverse course without being forced to do so. Even so, it was jarring, precisely because the past year has proved so costly for Russia by practically every metric. Militarily, Russia's once-feared army has been massively diminished. According to the United Nations, as many as 60,000 Russian soldiers have died since the start of the fighting a year ago. (Ukrainian estimates, meanwhile, place the tally at much higher: nearly 146,000). If even the smaller number is accurate, Russia has lost four times as many forces in one year of war in Ukraine than it did during a decade of occupation in Afghanistan. It has also helped shatter the image of Russia's army as a formidable fighting machine that had prevailed, and influenced the thinking of Western strategic planners, for the past three decades. Economically, as scholars at Yale University's School of Management are actively documenting, U.S. and European sanctions have prompted an exodus of Western business from the Russian Federation – one that (despite some data to the contrary) appears to be both significant and ongoing. Over time, and in spite of the defiant proclamations of its officials, this trend will have profoundly negative implications for Russia's fiscal health.   Russia's population is fleeing, too. Somewhere between 500,000 and one million Russians are estimated to have left the country over the past year in response to the conflict, Putin's subsequent "partial mobilization" order, and deepening domestic repression – an outflow unrivaled in size and scope since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. In the process, the war has significantly accelerated the country's already-steep and ongoing demographic decline. Against this backdrop, Putin's persistence seems downright foolhardy. But it is more understandable when you recognize that, for Russia, the conflict isn't just about Ukraine. Rather, Russia is fighting a future in which its international standing and global relevance is deeply diminished.

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Parsing Russian Support For Putin's War

February 20, 2023  •  The Hill

Just how solid is the domestic backing for Russia's ongoing aggression against Ukraine? For months, Western observers have pondered the question, amid signs that — despite an expanding array of onerous sanctions and restrictions imposed by the U.S. and Europe — internal backing for the "special military operation" initiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin last February remains high. Estimates of exactly how high, however, have been frustrated by the notoriously unreliable nature of Russian polling. That industry was already enormously problematic prior to the war because of the political pressure exerted by Russia's accelerating authoritarian drift in recent years, which dramatically skewed the nature of Russian responses — and consequently the West's understanding of what was really happening inside Russia. Since the start of the current conflict, amid a raft of repressive measures being implemented by the Kremlin to squelch internal dissent, Russia's pollsters have reverted to being reflections of elite, and officially approved, opinion. Even so, it is possible to discern some significant trendlines taking shape within Russian society. Writing recently for Mozhem Obyasnit, a Russian opposition media portal, former Putin speechwriter Abbas Gallyamov attempted to parse public opinion data for the past year from the Levada Center and ZIRCON, two of the country's least problematic surveyors. Gallyamov, who has been designated a "foreign agent" by the Kremlin, came up with some notable — and hopeful — conclusions.

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A New Page in the Russo–Iranian Partnership

February 2023  •  Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

In July 2022, against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin embarked on a notable foreign trip. Amid mounting international censure and growing hostility from the outside world, Putin traveled to Tehran to meet with Iranian officials and formally usher in a new phase in the long-running strategic partnership between the two countries. Putin's trip to Tehran may have been the most high-profile visit by his government, but it was hardly the only one. In preceding weeks, a range of Russian officials had all trekked to the Islamic Republic in service of a singular goal: tightening the strategic bonds between Moscow and Tehran. These diplomatic forays reflected a monumental geopolitical shift. Practically overnight, the traditional balance of power in the long-running strategic partnership had been inverted. For decades, Russia served as a key enabler for the Islamic Republic, using its global status to soften the Iranian regime's international isolation and reduce the effectiveness of any Western sanctions levied against Tehran. But Russia's military offensive in Ukraine and the resulting Western pressure changed everything, transforming Russia into an international pariah—and Iran into a lifeline for Putin's government.

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Books by Ilan Berman

Cover of Iran's Deadly Ambition Cover of Implosion Cover of Winning the Long War Cover of Tehran Rising

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