Russia Analytical Report, July 24-31, 2023

2 Ideas to Explore

  1. Is Putin betting on a bigger war in Ukraine? Yes, and he is not looking for off-ramps, according to Carnegie Endowment’s Alexander Gabuev’s commentary in FT. Gabuev backs his proposition with the following developments: the Russian parliament has passed a law that makes it easier to conscript many more Russians; the Russian economy is expected to grow, and its defense sector remains resilient; and the Kremlin has an enduring hope that Russia can strangle the Ukrainian economy. No one has a crystal ball. On one hand, it is reasonable to expect Putin to continue betting on outlasting Ukraine and its allies on and off the battlefield, given IMF-certified prospects of economic growth in 2023-2024, potential fatigue in countries that have backed Ukraine so far and other factors. However, it is unclear whether Putin will escalate hostilities, at least in the short-term future. For one, such an escalation would require mass mobilization on a scale that could create public backlash inside Russia as recently-passed laws make it hard for conscripts to protest with their feet. Then, it would take at least several months for the newly-mobilized to be trained for offensive operations, which are typically more difficult to execute than defensives ones. Moreover, for Putin to attempt a bigger war, the Russian armed forces first need to successfully complete their efforts to deflect Ukraine’s own multi-pronged prolonged offensive.1 In addition, come autumn, rains will make large offensive operations more difficult. Thus, even if Putin were to attempt a “bigger war,” it would probably come with a significant lag.*
  2. Why did multiple predictions that Russia would quickly defeat Ukraine fail to materialize? Phillips O’Brien of St. Andrews University offers his answer in a commentary for FA on the lessons of the Russian-Ukrainian war. The factors behind the Russian military’s failure to achieve a quick victory have included its failure to effectively operate its systems, poor logistics and low morale, in his view. But “high morale is not enough to win the war for Ukraine, and low morale will not lose it for Russia; weapons do matter,” including mines, UAVs and artillery used by Russians to resist the Ukrainian counteroffensive, according to this British scholar of strategy. That the Ukrainian counteroffensive has so far failed to live up to Western expectations of overcoming Russian defenses follows from a commentary by another prominent British scholar of strategy, Lawrence Freedman. “This has become a war of endurance. Just as Putin must hope that Ukraine and its Western supporters will tire before Russia does, Ukraine and its backers must show that they can cope with the war’s demands for as long as necessary,” Freedman writes in FA.


I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • No significant developments.

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • No significant developments.

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

“NATO Convoys Can Protect Ukraine’s Grain Harvest From Putin,” former supreme allied commander of NATO James Stavridis, Bloomberg, 07.25.23.

  • “In the latest escalation of his war crimes against Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pulled out of the painfully negotiated grain deal that for months has permitted exports of Ukrainian and Russian agricultural products from Black Sea ports. ... In addition to ending Russian participation in the grain deal Putin said he may begin attacking grain ships still plying the international waters of the Black Sea.”
  • “Under international law, such blockades are illegal. ... How can the West respond to Putin’s actions? And what might he do in return?”
    • “For starters, the U.S. can learn from its own history. More than 30 years ago, ... [the U.S. launched] Operation Earnest Will, which helped resolve an Iranian attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz and thus cut off 25% of the world’s hydrocarbon shipping. That successful mission provides a rough blueprint of how to break an illegal blockade today.”
      • “How would it work [today vis-à-vis Russia]? Probably by bundling the merchant craft into three-to-five ship convoys, each escorted by a couple of guided-missile warships.”
        • “Putin would fume, sputter and threaten—but is unlikely to take on NATO or a U.S.-led coalition of Black Sea warships in direct combat. He would be well served to see how things turned out for Iran in the 1980s: multiple warships sunk, and a broken blockade. Convoys, anyone?” Deployment of NATO warships to protect convoys of ships carrying commodities from Ukraine would increase the risk of a direct military confrontation between Russia and the Alliance in the Black Sea. The odds of such a confrontation are quite difficult to assess, but it is clear that it is not impossible even now.*

Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

“The War That Defied Expectations. What Ukraine Revealed About Military Power,” Phillips O’Brien of the University of St. Andrews, FA, 07.27.23.

  • “The Russian military was fast. So fast, analysts said, that the Ukrainian military stood little chance of resisting it in a conventional war. ... [But] Ukraine’s [subsequent] successes and Russia’s losses have prompted experts to intensely reevaluate both countries’ military prowess. Russia ... fell down not because it lacked sophisticated weapons but because it could not properly operate its systems. The country faltered because its military logistics—the process by which an armed force equips itself with the materiel needed to conduct attacks—were poor, and because its forces have low levels of motivation.”
  • “The invasion of Ukraine has made it clear that states need good logistics and strong economies if they want to defeat large adversaries. ... States also need their militaries to be staffed by highly motivated and well-trained soldiers.”
  • “High morale is not enough to win the war for Ukraine, and low morale will not lose it for Russia; weapons do matter. When determined Ukrainians attempted to break through Russian defenses in mid-June, their tanks and other vehicles proved vulnerable to a range of Russian systems—including mines, handheld air-defense systems, artillery, and unmanned aerial vehicles. As a result, after weeks of trying, the Ukrainians stopped these direct vehicle-led assaults.”
  • “Experts must ... think twice before predicting that a war will be fast, or that one state will have an overwhelming advantage. This lesson applies to almost any conflict. But it is especially important as analysts ponder a war between China and the United States over Taiwan—easily the most concerning potential global conflict.”

“Where's All That Military Aid for Ukraine Going? A lead inspector general could increase public support for Kyiv,” Editorial Board, WSJ, 07.27.23.

  • “Perhaps you've heard this narrative: The U.S. is pouring billions of dollars into Ukraine and no one knows where all the weapons and cash are ending up. This is more fiction than reality, but President Biden should welcome a Senate effort to shore up public confidence.”
  • “A sensible amendment to the Senate defense bill from GOP Sens. Roger Wicker and Jim Risch would have created a lead inspector general—a point person responsible for tracking U.S. aid. The proposal needed 60 votes to pass and failed 51-48 late Wednesday evening.”
  • “But House Republicans may insist on oversight measures as part of a conference negotiation, and the Wicker-Risch proposal would be a good one.”
  • “Taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going, which is why IG oversight is a worthy project. But aid to Ukraine is in America's national interest. Among other things, it is degrading Russian military power and forcing the Chinese Communist Party to think twice about provoking the U.S. or its allies in a military confrontation. Keeping the U.S. armed forces from having to fight is money well spent. Mr. Biden might even make that point to the American people one of these days.”

“Putin Is Running Out of Options in Ukraine. Russia Edges Closer to a Reckoning,” Lawrence Freedman of King’s College London, FA, 07.25.23.

  • “Putin set as his objectives the ‘denazification’ and ‘demilitarization’ of Ukraine. By the first, he presumably meant regime change, in which case the war has clearly been a failure. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s position is as strong as ever. As for demilitarization, Ukraine is on its way to becoming the most militarized country in Europe. Many of the Russian speakers in Ukraine on whose behalf Putin claimed to be acting now prefer to speak Ukrainian, while the Russian-speaking areas of the Donbas have been battered, deindustrialized, and depopulated because of this ruinous war.”
  • “Were Putin to accept a cease-fire based on current positions, it would ease the threat to Crimea and allow the Russian occupation of what is still a sizable chunk of Ukrainian territory. It would, however, confirm that none of Putin’s goals have been met. This would become even more obvious if discussions around a cease-fire led to pressure for Russian forces to abandon some of the land they have taken. Being stuck with bits and pieces of Ukrainian territory with hostile populations, massive reconstruction bills, and long frontlines with an undefeated Ukraine would not look like a big win—especially when set against the many casualties incurred by Russian forces, the degradation of the Russian army, the sputtering Russian economy, and the knock to Russia’s standing as a great and influential power. As soon as the fighting stopped and troops started to come home, there would be a national reckoning, and it would not reflect well on Putin.”
  • “Putin can simply try to hang on, but given the mounting pressures, he needs a strategy to show that Russia still has a path to victory. What Putin does should in turn shape Ukrainian actions. Kyiv can add to the anxieties in Moscow, demonstrating that no part of Russia is secure, punishing Russian forces at the front and opportunistically liberating territory even if it is not quite what military planners intended. This has become a war of endurance. Just as Putin must hope that Ukraine and its Western supporters will tire before Russia does, Ukraine and its backers must show that they can cope with the war’s demands for as long as necessary.” These comments by Freedman—who has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine’s course—indicates that his expectations for the outcome of Ukraine’s current counteroffensive have diminished.

Punitive measures related to Russia’s war against Ukraine and their impact globally:

  • No significant developments.

Ukraine-related negotiations:

“Ukraine's Counteroffensive Needs a Plan B,” George Beebe and James Webb of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Time, 07.27.23.

  • “Some six weeks into the Ukrainian counteroffensive, things are not going as planned. Although damage estimates vary, Ukraine has lost significant numbers of men and weapons, while making negligible progress against formidable Russian defenses. ... What are Kyiv’s choices?”
    • “One option would be to maintain its current course, betting that recent squabbling might cause the Russian military—and ultimately the Putin regime—to crumble from within. ... In fact, Ukraine has a better option. By shifting their focus from offense to defense while shortening and reinforcing their defensive lines, the Ukrainians could force the Russian military to leave the security of its defensive network.”
  • “Admittedly, a Ukrainian shift to defense would not, by itself, drive Russia to the bargaining table. But, if coupled with a diplomatic approach that incentivizes Russia to end the fighting rather than prolong it to keep Ukraine out of NATO, it could well prompt Russia to aim to secure its still quite limited gains through a negotiated end to the war. It is time to try.”

“Negotiating an End to the Ukraine War,” former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia Paul R. Pillar, NI, 07.27.23.

  • “In Ukraine, the bargaining gap that must be bridged is between Ukraine’s disinclination to formally cede any of its territory and Putin’s need to show some gain from his costly military misadventure. Some political issues probably will have to be in effect punted, with their eventual outcome uncertain, if any peace agreement is to be reached, despite the future risk of misunderstandings and festering grievances. Mechanisms such as referenda that leave some future outcomes to chance may be part of a formula for ending this war.”

“Following the Russia–Africa Summit Vladimir Putin answered journalists’ questions,”, 07.29.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “Just like any peace initiative, this [Ukraine peace] initiative [by African countries] is helpful because it is focused on finding a peaceful solution to the conflict. There are certain provisions of this peace initiative that are being implemented after our meeting in St. Petersburg six weeks ago. They are being implemented either way and yet, these initiatives, they contain ten provisions in total, including prisoner exchange, detained persons’ exchange, dealing with issues related to families and humanitarian affairs, children, and so on.”
  • “We never refused to begin talks. You know this, I constantly speak about this. We have never rejected peace talks. But the other side issued a decree prohibiting talks. I say: ‘What if we do not reject talks but they issued a prohibitive decree?’ When I said this yesterday at the meeting, the other participants looked at each other and realized they could not insist. Both parties must agree for the process to begin.”
  • “There are things that are very challenging or impossible to achieve. One of such provisions is ceasefire. The Ukrainian army is advancing; they are in the middle of a major strategic offensive. Why are we the party being asked to cease fire? We cannot cease fire when we are being attacked. When I point this out, people realize this.”
  • “Overall, my opinion is that the [African peace] initiative [with regard to the Russian-Ukrainian war] can be used as a foundation for certain processes aimed at finding peace just like others, such as China’s peace initiative. It is not their intention to make the initiative incompatible or competing with the others.”

"Ukraine is ready to discuss the end of the war with a group of military officers or [other] siloviki that would seize power in the Russian Federation; Mikhail Podolyak (adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine) spoke about the prospects for a counteroffensive and the scenario for ending the conflict in an interview with Republic,”, 07.31.23 .^ Clues from Ukrainian Views.

  • “There is no negotiation process and there will not be, and there is no point in going back to the events of a year ago.”
  • “As for whom we can negotiate with, first of all, there will be no negotiation process. There will be legal fixation of the results of the war. We understand that territorially Russia will not disappear. And, accordingly, it will be necessary to fix certain conditions for further existence, since we will still have a common border. This also applies to demilitarization zones, and the number of the same missiles of a certain range, and joint control of nuclear weapons, and payments, and war crimes, and so on. And who can do it? In my opinion, it will be some kind of military figures.” The proposition that one of the outcomes of the war, once it is over, will be “joint control of nuclear weapons” implies that the interviewee’s public position is that not only will there be a different regime in post-war Russia, but it would also lose exclusive control over Russian nuclear weapons. It is doubtful that such a loss could occur, given the conditions for use of nuclear weapons outlined in Russia’s strategic documents.
  • “Kyiv is ready to talk with those who, in principle, will withdraw troops from the territory of Ukraine—this is first. And secondly, with those who will really replace the political elite of Putin's ‘call.’”

Great Power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:

“Putin is looking for a bigger war, not an off-ramp, in Ukraine,” Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, FT, 07.30.23.

  • “The [new] legislation enabling the Kremlin to send hundreds of thousands more men into combat reveals a sad truth: that far from seeking an off-ramp from his disastrous war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is preparing for an even bigger war.”
  • “The Kremlin ... believes that it can afford a long war. The Russian economy is forecast to record modest growth this year … Critical components such as microchips … are arriving from China and other sources. Despite sanctions, the Kremlin’s war chest is still overflowing with cash … If budgetary pressures were to become more acute, Russia’s central bank could further devalue the ruble.”
  • “Putin is banking on the fact that the Russian manpower that can potentially be mobilized is three to four times bigger than Ukraine’s, and the only pressing task is to be able to tap into that resource at will … This is precisely the purpose of the new law, which should help the Kremlin to avoid another official mobilization. … The upper age limit for performing mandatory service will be increased from 27 to 30, and could be raised again in future. Once an electronic draft notice is issued, Russia’s borders will be immediately closed to its recipient in order to prevent a massive exodus of military-age men like the one Russia witnessed last autumn.”
  • “A parallel tactic is the strangulation of Ukraine’s economy. … Moscow has therefore not only pulled out of the grain deal that had enabled Ukrainian agricultural exports via the Black Sea, it has also launched massive air strikes against Ukrainian ports to destroy any possibility of reviving the agreement.”
  • “The Kremlin hopes that [this] … will result in growing Western frustration and a decline in material support for Kyiv. To speed up this process and break the West’s will, Moscow is using threats of escalation, including expansion of the conflict toward NATO territory via Belarus with the help of Wagner mercenaries based there.”
  • “Putin has made plenty of fatal mistakes. But as long as he is in charge, Moscow will dedicate its still vast resources to achieving his obsession with destroying and subordinating Ukraine. As Western leaders think about policies to support Ukraine into the third year of this ugly war, any long-term strategy must take this reality into account.”

“Historian Tim Snyder: ‘Our misreading of Russia is deep. Very deep,’” journalist Sam Jones, FT, 07.28.23.

  • “‘[What happened in] 1938 [was] actually really important because that was a terrible mistake. Had Britain and France stood behind Prague, they would have made the second world war impossible—or at least in the form that it took,’ Snyder says. ‘The war in Ukraine is horrible, but the fact that Russia wasn’t appeased is a sign that I’d like to think we have learnt something.’ In other ways, however, Snyder laments Western policymakers’ long and still tortured reading of Russia—a problem that beset Barack Obama, and still afflicts Germany and France. ‘Our misreading of Russia is deep. Very deep,’ Snyder says.”
  • “For him, Putin’s ideas have been gestating for a much longer period; we were just blind to them. ‘When Putin returned to the office of the presidency [in 2012] you could see in his Russian-language proclamations, radio interviews and in print, a clear worldview, which is essentially the world view that has become more familiar to us since February 2022, according to which it’s not about states, it’s about civilizations; it’s not about interests, it’s about missions.’”
  • “‘Putin is really not our problem,’ Snyder [said]. ‘I mean, the last 30 years have shown quite clearly that we don’t actually have much ability at all to influence Russia . . . time after time we have demonstrated we don’t change anything inside Russia.’”
  • “‘The thing is, Russia can’t have a domestic policy,’ Snyder muses. ‘The elite have stolen all the money, all the laws are corrupted, and there’s almost no social mobility or possibility of change in most Russians’ lives, so foreign policy has to compensate and provide the raw material—the scenography—for governance.’”

“Speech by Sir Richard Moore, head of SIS, 19 July 2023,”, 07.19.23.

  • There are many Russians today who are silently appalled by the sight of their armed forces pulverizing Ukrainian cities, expelling innocent families from their homes, and kidnapping thousands of children. ...One architect of that onslaught, Yevgeny Prigozhin, demolished the whole charade in a single sentence when he said, and I quote: “The war was needed for Shoigu to receive a hero star….The oligarchic clan that rules Russia needed the war.” He added – and I stress these were his words not mine – “The mentally ill scumbags decided: ‘it’s OK, we’ll throw in a few thousand more Russian men as cannon fodder. They’ll die under artillery fire, but we’ll get what we want.” This remark lacks context, such as that Prigozhin himself has accumulated immense wealth under Putin and could have easily been described as an oligarch prior to his mutiny.
  • As they [Russians] witness the venality, infighting and sheer callous incompetence of their leaders - the human factor at its worst -many Russians are wrestling with the same dilemmas and the same tugs of conscience as their predecessors did in 1968 [during the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia] . I invite them to do what others have already done this past 18 months and join hands with us. Our door is always open. This calls echoes William Burns’ recent call for Russians to cooperate with CIA.
  • Ukraine’s armed forces are now on the offensive, demonstrating their astonishing ability to innovate and mobilize new technology. … In the last month, Ukraine has liberated more territory than Russia captured in the last year. This claim is true if you measure net territorial change. Russia has lost net 6532 square miles in the past year, and Ukraine gained net 35 in the past month (measured from the date of Moore’s comment) in the estimate of Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force’s Kate Davidson.

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

“Beijing’s Wagner Wariness,” Yun Sun of the Stimson Center, War on the Rocks, 07.28.23.

  • “The Wagner mutiny has put China in a more cautious and defensive posture. Chinese foreign policy wonks see less appetite in Beijing for a war in the foreseeable future. This may not immediately translate into less provocative military behaviors in the Taiwan Strait or South China Sea, as Beijing still believes it has room to push the envelope without major escalation. But Beijing’s openness to risk-neutral or even risk-seeking adventurism may be tempered by a firmer conviction that China cannot afford a war at the moment.”

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

“Russia Outnumbers the US 10-to-1 in Tactical Nukes. Now What?” columnist Andreas Kluth, Bloomberg, 07.31.23.

  • “For purposes of deterring Russia, China and all other adversaries, the U.S. doesn’t actually need all the nukes it already has, Jon Wolfsthal, the nuclear specialist on the National Security Council during the administration of Barack Obama, told me. So ‘modernization’ is mainly about updating existing systems, from the warheads to the triad of delivery mechanisms on land, at sea and in the air. And that’s about right.”
  • “Beyond that, the U.S. must signal that it’ll always stay open to negotiations, with Russia, China or any combination of countries. In time, and under different leaders in Moscow and other capitals, these talks could progress to encompass a global nuclear freeze, and eventually even the worldwide prohibition of nuclear weapons. Until then, the U.S. is right to deter, with conventional military superiority and the nuclear arsenal it has. Admittedly, even that thought doesn’t provide much comfort. The dirty secret of deterrence is that it works until it fails, and when it fails, it fails spectacularly.”


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • No significant developments.

Climate change:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

“Why we need to give diplomacy a chance - even in today's world,” Jason Rezaian’s interview with outgoing Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, WP, 07.29.23.

  • “It’s very hard with some countries. It’s very hard with Russia right now. Though, as terrible as our relationship is currently, we still have channels where we can deal with discrete issues. We are working hard to free those wrongfully detained in Russia, including Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, both of whom we desperately want to bring home. So even in the most awful circumstances, the most distrustful of relationships, we try to move forward.”
  • “With Russia, we are truly at rock bottom in terms of our relationship. But we still have an embassy there. We represent the interests of American citizens. Of American companies. As I said, we're still trying to get our wrongfully detained citizens home. But it's tough. And given what Putin is doing now in Ukraine, and weaponizing food in just the most horrifying way—it's going to be a hard road going forward. But we have to focus on finding a way nonetheless.”
  • “And we must not forget about China. It's a very complex relationship. China has the wherewithal to not only compete with the United States but to replace the rules-based international order with one that benefits only itself. It's critical that we work hard on that relationship. We don't want it to veer into conflict.”


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

“Putin appeared paralyzed and unable to act in first hours of rebellion,” journalists Catherine Belton, Shane Harris and Greg Miller, WP, 07.25.23.

  • “When Yevgeniy Prigozhin … launched his attempted mutiny on the morning of June 24, Vladimir Putin was paralyzed and unable to act decisively, according to Ukrainian and other security officials in Europe. No orders were issued for most of the day, the officials said.”
  • “The Russian president had been warned by the Russian security services at least two or three days ahead of time that Prigozhin was preparing a possible rebellion, according to intelligence assessments … ‘Putin had time to take the decision to liquidate [the rebellion] and arrest the organizers’ said one of the European security officials … ‘Then when it began to happen, there was paralysis on all levels … There was absolute dismay and confusion. For a long time, they did not know how to react.’”
  • “This account of the standoff, corroborated by officials in Western governments, provides the most detailed look at the paralysis and disarray inside the Kremlin during the first hours of the severest challenge to Putin's 23-year presidency. It is consistent with public comments by CIA Director William J. Burns last week that for much of the 36 hours of the mutiny Russian security services, the military and decision-makers ‘appeared to be adrift.’”
    • “Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told The Post that the intelligence assessments were ‘nonsense’ and shared ‘by people who have zero information.’”
  • “One senior NATO official said some senior figures in Moscow appeared ready to rally behind Prigozhin had he succeeded in achieving his demands. ‘There seem to have been important people in the power structures … who seem to have even been sort of waiting for this, as if his attempt had been more successful, they would also’ have joined the plot, this official said. ... Many in the rank and file of the Russian army also wanted Prigozhin to succeed in forcing change at the top of the Russian military, believing that then ‘it would become easier for them to fight,’ this official said. But others in the security establishment were horrified at the mutiny attempt, and at the Kremlin's toothless reaction, convinced it was leading Russia toward a period of deep turmoil, officials said.”

“Beneath the Surface, Prigozhin’s Mutiny Has Changed Everything in Russia,” R.Politik’s Tatiana Stanovaya, Carnegie Endowment, 07.27.23.

  • “The person who suffered most of all from Yevgeny Prigozhin’s uprising was Vladimir Putin. However confident the Russian president may feel in the aftermath, he messed up. He created a monster that escaped from his control and spooked the elites.”
  • “Putin’s much-hyped ‘power vertical’ has disappeared. Instead of a strong hand, there are dozens of mini-Prigozhins, and while they may be more predictable than the Wagner leader, they are no less dangerous. All of them know full well that a post-Putin Russia is already here—even as Putin remains in charge—and that it’s time to take up arms and prepare for a battle for power.”

“Putin and Prigozhin: It’s Complicated,” senior fellow Beth Sanner, Belfer Center, 07.28.23.

  • “Wagner cannot be unwound or replaced wholesale. Instead we should expect it to be dismantled, rebranded and subsumed under government or loyal oligarch leadership, where possible. While Putin has declared that Wagner does not exist, both Prigozhin and senior Russian officials have made assurances that Wagner’s contracts will be upheld. The confusion over Wagner’s continuing role in Africa shows that Prigozhin has not yet given up this part of his empire and that Putin doesn’t have what it takes force his divestiture without risking the golden goose they represent. His appearance in St. Petersburg on Thursday [July 27] suggests that Prigozhin and Wagner will continue some role in Africa for the foreseeable future.”
  • “While Putin is unlikely to be deposed any time soon if ever, his unsteadiness as he faced the most consequential threat to his regime ever was evident to all. This will forever be baked into how Putin is considered by elites in Moscow, friends in China, fence-sitters in Africa and adversaries. Whether Putin’s emerging efforts prove to be successful in mitigating doubts about this leadership or mark the beginning of his end is impossible to say now, but that he is standing atop a watershed moment is clear.”

“Prigozhin as Petitioner: Making Sense of the ‘March for Justice,'" Anatoly Pinsky, War on the Rocks, 07.27.23.

  • “The Prigozhin affair was ... a momentous, puzzling event. Yet, in the proper historical perspective, the march and its outcome emerge as strikingly familiar, even logical. And the most fitting frame is the history of an age-old but stubbornly persistent Russian practice: the delivery of a petition to the autocrat.”
  • “Petitioners in Russia, as elsewhere, do not explicitly challenge the power of the autocrat. On the contrary, their appeals reaffirm the source of sovereign authority. To be sure, some Russian petitioners have destabilized their country’s political system, as Prigozhin appears to have done. Still, this was not their intention. In these instances, the autocrat moved to shore up his power, even by offering concessions. Such maneuvers could be shrewd, but sometimes proved to be only a short-term fix.”
  • “The myth of the autocrat in Russia is expansive. It permits the leader to be gentle, even forgiving. In the days after the rebellion, Putin, for reasons of personal and military expediency, appears to have granted Prigozhin clemency. Russia needs Wagner’s military capabilities in Ukraine as well as in Africa and the Middle East, and the Russian president has seemingly concluded that Prigozhin’s arrest or execution would threaten that relationship. Indeed, on June 29, Putin even met with his petitioner and thirty-four other Wagner fighters and, according to the Kremlin, ‘heard out the commanders.’”
  • “Even myths have their limits though. Just as Prigozhin may not prove convincing in his appeals to the autocrat, Putin may have moved so quickly toward forgiveness as to suggest weakness instead of compassion. Only time will tell whether both men’s hotheaded behavior can be accommodated by the durable narratives offered by Russian history. As we look to the future, we should remember that, according to the essence of the petition, the petitioner’s fate remains in the hands of the autocrat. Indeed, at some point, Putin might choose a wholly different script if it serves his interests, whether in Moscow or in Ukraine.”

“Prigozhin’s Mutiny by the Hour,” student associate Mikael Pir-Budagyan and RM Staff, RM, 07.26.23.

  • “Although Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutiny was short-lived, the conflict between PMC Wagner and the Russian Ministry of Defense had been brewing for years. It culminated on June 23 when Prigozhin’s fighters launched a “march for justice,” crossing into Russia from Ukraine and heading toward Moscow. On their way to the Russian capital, the Wagnerites captured key facilities in the city of Rostov-on-Don, including the headquarters of the Southern Military District. Some of Wagner’s personnel reached Kolomna (about 120 km south of Moscow) on June 24 before their boss reached a deal with the Kremlin to abandon the march and redeploy his fighters to Belarus. Russia Matters has put together a timeline of the real-time daily developments throughout June 2023, including reactions to the mutiny, which has posed the greatest security threat to Vladimir Putin’s Russia since the second Russian-Chechen war.”

Defense and aerospace:

  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • No significant developments.


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

“Vladimir Putin took part in the plenary session of the second Russia–Africa Summit,”, 07.28.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “Russia and African states call for building a new, fairer global architecture, are working together to protect international law, the U.N. Charter and the central role of that global organization and are trying to coordinate their positions on the main issues on the international agenda. It is notable that our positions on many issues are very close or fully coincide.”
  • “Russia and African countries are strengthening cooperation in preventing the proliferation of the terrorist threat and in responding to information security challenges. We stand together against the use of the climate change and human rights issues and the so-called gender agenda for unsavory political purposes. We also reject unlawful practices such as unilateral sanctions and restrictive but actually punitive measures, which harm the countries that pursue independent policies, create global economic problems and hinder development.”
  • “Naturally, we do not accept the replacement of international law with the so-called rules-based order.”
  • “Sovereignty cannot be viewed as something that can be achieved once and for all. It is something that you must fight for all the time.”
  • “I would like to note that the African continent is emerging as a new center of power … It has been demonstrating exponential growth in terms of its political and also economic roles. … Take, for example, the initiative by several African countries to resolve the Ukraine crisis. This is an urgent issue and we have never sought to avoid discussing it. ... We respect your initiatives and have been diligent and attentive when examining them.”
  • “The development of the continent is hampered by terrorism, the spread of extremist ideology, transnational crime and piracy. Russia also offers its assistance in countering these threats. We are interested in the closest cooperation between Russian and African law enforcement agencies and special services. We intend to continue training the military personnel and law enforce officers of African countries in Russian specialized educational institutions.”
  • “We will continue to support the countries and regions most in need. We will supply them with our grain and other food products, including free of charge and within the framework of the U.N. World Food Program. Yesterday, as you know, we announced plans to deliver to six African countries between 25,000 and 50,000 tons of grain each at no cost.”

“Second Russia-Africa Summit Lays Bare Russia’s Waning Influence,” journalist Vadim Zaytsev, Carnegie Endowment, 07.31.23. Clues from Russian Views.

  • “Even political experts loyal to the Kremlin have concluded that the positive boost to Russia-Africa relations in 2019 [when the first Russia-Africa summit took place] has not been realized. Trade volumes have not only not doubled, they have actually decreased. And Russia’s direct investment in Africa is currently about 1 percent of the total inflow.”
  • “What was lacking at this year’s summit was anything of real political or economic significance. Still, if Putin wanted to hear about how Russia was not alone in an unjust world, and how he still had a few allies in his struggle against Western hegemony, then the gathering served its purpose. To have expected anything more would have been naïve.”

“Most African countries do not want to openly take sides [in the Ukraine conflict],” Fyodor Lukyanov on the results of the [Second] Russia-Africa summit,” Rossiiskaya Gazeta, 07.29.23.^ Clues from Russian Views.

  • “For Russia, this is a good opportunity, because Africa's self-assertion is primarily focused on independence from the former [colonial masters].”
  • “The summit has showed that most African countries do not want to openly take sides in the global military-political crisis, their task is to maneuver to maximize their own interests. And this is a reasonable position for them. It naturally imposes restrictions on interaction with Moscow.”
  • “Regardless of their attitude toward the Russian-Ukrainian situation, many in Africa see Russia as a country that has challenged Western dominance. The main outcome of the summit is that Africa is now an undoubted priority [for Moscow], so the state apparatus [of Russia] has been tasked with promoting this direction in every possible way.”
  • “The second Russian-African summit was an extremely useful event, because it clearly showed that relations have huge potential, for the realization of which a lot of work will have to be done. And to prove that Russia is still special for Africa.”

“Will to Fight of Private Military Actors: Applying Cognitive Maneuver to Russian Private Forces,” political scientists Molly Dunigan and Anthony Atler, RAND, July 2023.

  • “The Russian private military industry is opaque, making it difficult to identify relevant actors. … Russian private military actors have been operating worldwide for decades, but little is known about them or the personnel they employ. … Despite close connections between private military actors and the Russian state, the private military industry is illegal in Russia and thus operates mostly under the radar.”
  • “Factors at several levels highlight opportunities to use cognitive maneuver to counter private military actors' will to fight … At the individual level, Russian private military personnel tend to be motivated by economic factors rather than a sense of patriotism or loyalty to the Russian state. … At the team level, military and private forces might have negative views of one another that could be exacerbated.”
  • “At the organizational level, Russian private military actors exert tight control over their personnel, including through coercion, and there are disparities in pay and treatment that could dissuade recruits. … At the state level in Russia, the industry's illegal status indicates a lack of state support, which could discourage recruitment and inhibit retention of private military personnel. … At the societal level, the Russian public has little awareness of how private military personnel are employed or how poorly they are treated.”
  • “Russian private military actors fulfill roles reminiscent of auxiliary forces … Russian private military actors serve to expand Russia's military footprint while their illegal status allows Russia to maintain plausible deniability of involvement in military operations.”

“Wagner Mutiny Ex Post Facto: What’s Next in Russia and Africa?” fellow Raphael Parens, FPRI, 07.26.23.

  • “Vladimir Putin has three options regarding Wagner Group’s African deployments: withdraw support completely, pursue a state-backed takeover, or allow the group to continue operating.”
  • “Should Wagner Group be disbanded, it will not be the end of state-sponsored mercenary operations in Africa. Mercenary-ism itself in Africa is nothing new, but Wagner Group’s economic exploitation example, particularly in CAR, will certainly be copied by other oligarchs from Russia, Turkey, China, the Middle East, or elsewhere. Thus, beyond countering the Wagner Group alone, the West will need to find durable strategies to combat the influence of a broad range of private military contractors in the Global South.”


  • No significant developments.

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

“The West’s Belarus Policy: Does it Make Sense?” Grigory Ioffe of the Jamestown Foundation, Russia.Post, 07.28.23.

  • “While badly damaging Belarus’s ability to act on its own and not achieving any positive results, the blockade of Belarus by its Western neighbors has been manifestly counterproductive, leading to excessive dependency on Russia. On top of that, conducting Belarus-related talks primarily with entities that have little to no clout in Belarus itself only makes matters worse. If this conclusion was worth substantiating despite being overly straightforward, it is primarily because Western foreign policymakers are not on friendly terms with common sense. Not always at the very least.”

“Uzbekistan’s Reformist President Makes a U-Turn,” editorial intern Brawley Benson, FP, 07.28.23.

  • “For Washington, which stubbornly keeps faith with [Uzbekistan’s president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev] despite the recent backsliding, Uzbekistan has for years been a critical square on the Central Asian chessboard. During the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan provided a key logistics lifeline.”
  • “But Russia and China like clear skies, not messy democracies. ‘For these two countries, the most important thing in Central Asian domestic developments would be that the authoritarian regimes that exist in the region are a) friendly, and b) stable and predictable,’ said Temur Umarov, a fellow in the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center.”
  • “The country could yet recoup the reformist momentum of years past, or revert to form entirely. ‘The government took their low-hanging fruit,’ Dilfuza Kurolova, a human rights lawyer based in Tashkent, said of Mirziyoyev’s previous reforms. Nevertheless, she’s hopeful that the pace of change will continue.”



  1. Ukraine’s net gains equaled 12 square miles in the week preceding July 25, 2023, according to the Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force’s latest estimate.

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 1:00 pm Eastern Time on July 31, 2023.

*Here and elsewhere, the italicized text indicates comments by RM staff and associates. These comments do not constitute an RM editorial policy.

^ Translated with the help of machine translation.

Slider photo shared by the Russian Defense Ministry ( under a CC BY 4.0 license.