Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Putin Panders to China

The Russian leader revealed that Xi has concerns over the war in Ukraine.

By , a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy., and , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
Xi and Putin stand side by side in suits in front of flags.
Xi and Putin stand side by side in suits in front of flags.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for photos during a meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation leaders’ summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Sept. 15. Alexandr Demyanchuk/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Jack and Robbie here, starting off our Thursday by wishing you all a belated happy National Coloring Day, which the Defense Intelligence Agency kindly reminded us was yesterday.

Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: Putin and Xi meet, Biden to pick a new ambassador to Russia, and a look ahead at the U.N. General Assembly.

If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Jack and Robbie here, starting off our Thursday by wishing you all a belated happy National Coloring Day, which the Defense Intelligence Agency kindly reminded us was yesterday.

Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: Putin and Xi meet, Biden to pick a new ambassador to Russia, and a look ahead at the U.N. General Assembly.

If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.


Xi Gets What Xi Wants

The long-anticipated meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s summit in Uzbekistan on Thursday started with a bang—but maybe not in the way that most people expected. In his opening statement, Putin told Xi that he understands his “questions and concerns” about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, not long after Ukrainian forces reclaimed more than 3,000 square kilometers of occupied territory in a little over a week. He did not elaborate on what those questions and concerns were.

Analysts pricked up their ears at the comments, suggesting that all is not so well between the two longtime rivals of the United States. “Questions and concerns about having somehow awkwardly and belatedly realising that it’s been on the wrong side of history, and now also looked upon as a strategic accomplice of a dastardly war that meaninglessly snuffs out lives?” Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, opined on Twitter.

Something is rotten. Xi’s response to Putin seemed to indicate more than a little bit of unease in Beijing about the way Russia’s war in Ukraine is playing out. At the opening of Thursday’s summit, Xi called on Putin to “assume the role of great powers and play a guiding role to inject stability and positive energy into a world rocked by social turmoil.”

But if anything, instability appeared to be on the rise this week. Leonid Pasechnik, the head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, conceded that Ukrainian forces were advancing on the separatist regions, recognized and backed by the Kremlin, but insisted there was “no need for panic.” And Russia’s foreign ministry on Thursday said that if the United States decided to supply Ukraine with long-range missiles, it would cross a “red line” and become a “party to the conflict,” threatening more nuclear saber-rattling.

Bargain bin. But even if Xi is unhappy with Russia’s handling of the nearly seven-month war, China is reaping some big rewards: Beijing is buying cheaper energy from Russia as European purchases have cratered since the invasion, with Chinese purchases of crude oil up 17 percent over the summer and gas, coal, and electricity sales also booming. That trend could continue if Russia uses energy cuts over the winter to try to sap Western enthusiasm for backing Ukraine.

Loyal soldier. And for whatever it’s worth, Putin tried to make a show of the fact that he’s fully in Xi’s corner. Putin told the Chinese leader that he opposed so-called U.S. “provocations” in the Taiwan Strait and backed the “One China” policy, after Beijing launched wide-ranging military exercises last month in response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in a move that Chinese officials worried was geared toward changing the half-century-old status quo in the region.

New world order. Both China and Russia are looking to expand their club of Western antagonists, despite some animosity between the two. Russia has already accepted drones from Iran and North Korea to push forward in Ukraine, and on Thursday, Tehran’s top diplomat announced that his country had signed a memorandum of obligation to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a move that could draw the three countries closer together. Iran has sought to try to draw on the help of Russia and China to avert pressure from Western sanctions since then-U.S. President Donald Trump exited the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

At the summit on Thursday, Putin seemed to indicate that Russia and China were still intent on creating an alternative to the U.S.-led rules-based international order that has stood since the end of World War II. “We jointly stand for the formation of a just, democratic, and multipolar world order based on international law and the central role of the United Nations and not on some rules someone has come up with and is trying to impose on others,” Putin said on Thursday. Good luck with that.


Let’s Get Personnel

Lynne Tracy, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, is expected to be President Joe Biden’s pick to be the next U.S. ambassador to Russia, pending standard diplomatic agreement from the Kremlin, SitRep has confirmed with two people familiar with the matter. (CNN first reported the news.) Tracy would replace John Sullivan, who left his post this month after the death of his wife.

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who led NATO and U.S. forces in Europe, has joined the board of trustees of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.


On the Button 

What should be high on your radar, if it isn’t already.

Offensive realism. Ukraine’s massive offensive in the country’s east has sent Russian forces scrambling back to regroup, marking one of the most significant battlefield victories for Kyiv since Russia first invaded back in February.

The takeaways from this offensive, according to Western officials we’ve spoken to this week, are (1) that Ukraine could possibly achieve a real strategic victory over Russia and recapture all of its occupied territory; (2) Russian forces are down but not necessarily out and could regroup in the Donetsk region; and (3) even by the low standards in which they have already been held, Russian forces performed much more dismally than most Western analysts expected. The war is far from over, but this latest offensive could prove to be a decisive turning point in Ukraine’s favor.

Auth the hook. Diplo-nerds rejoice. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a State Department authorization bill to provide authorities over management and oversight of U.S. foreign policy.

It sounds like something too obscure and wonky to be excited about, but the last time a standalone State Department authorization bill was signed into law was 2002. It looks as if the Senate is starting to work out some atrophied muscles on basic governance over the State Department and foreign aid agencies. The committee’s Democratic chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez, outlines what he sees as policy wins in the bill here.

UNimpressed. With world leaders convening at the U.N. General Assembly this week and next, Foreign Policy caught up with Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on top U.S. priorities for the frenzy of summitry and bilateral meetings.

Among the top agenda items, she said, are tackling food insecurity, global health issues, and reforming the U.N. Security Council. Then, of course, there’s the ongoing war in Ukraine. “I can tell you with total confidence that the Russians are feeling the pressure of the isolation that has been imposed on them since they started this war,” she said.


Snapshot 

An aerial view of a procession in London.
An aerial view of a procession in London.

King Charles III and members of Britain’s royal family follow behind Queen Elizabeth II’s flag-draped coffin as it is taken in procession on a gun carriage of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall in London on Sept. 14.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


Put on Your Radar

Thursday, Sept. 15: Queen Elizabeth II will lie in state in London’s Westminster Hall until her funeral on Monday. She died last week at 96.

Friday, Sept. 16: Mexico marks its 212th Independence Day. NATO defense chiefs are set to huddle in Estonia.

Tuesday, Sept. 20: The U.N. General Assembly holds its first day of high-level debate.


Quote of the Week

“We want to defeat the Ukrainian army? It seems like it’s practically impossible.”

Former Russian parliamentarian Boris Nadezhdin tells the BBC that Russia should push for peace talks with Ukraine after Kyiv’s lightning counteroffensive retook most of the Kharkiv region. Nadezhdin also called out the Kremlin on Russian TV.



Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

School’s out. Hey, kids, why don’t you cut class? That’s the message from U.S. Army brass to rank-and-file soldiers this week. Senior leaders, including Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston, are calling on commanders to stop emphasizing online military training that is taking time away from practice for actual combat and fitness exams—but that online training also happens to be mandatory.

“What we have to do for junior subordinates is give them our priorities and make sure they have the time,” McConville said. “Are you doing [physical training]? Are you making sure your squads can do a night live fire?”

Passing of the crown. Via My London, a Queen Elizabeth II impersonator is hanging up her crown after 34 years on the impersonator circuit, out of respect for the late monarch. Time for all those Charles lookalikes to have their day in the spotlight.

Jack Detsch is a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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