Russia in Review, Aug. 11-18, 2023

6 Things to Know

  1. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that Ukraine's current counteroffensive will fail to reach the key southeastern city of Melitopol, thus, remaining unable to disrupt the land bridge from Russia to Crimea, WP reported, citing “people familiar with the classified forecast.” The assessment is based on Russia's proficiency in defending occupied territory,  which has surpassed expectations, according to the report. The bleak outlook has already prompted a blame game in the U.S. Congress, with further finger pointing expected to erupt within Kyiv and Western European capitals, according to WP. In the month preceding August 15, Ukrainian forces gained 20 square miles, while Russian forces gained 30, according to the Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force.

  2. The total number of Ukrainian and Russian troops killed or wounded since the war in Ukraine started is nearing a staggering total of 500,000, NYT reported, citing estimates by U.S. officials. Russia’s military casualties, the officials estimated, are approaching 120,000 deaths and 170,000 to 180,000 injured troops. In contrast, the US officials put Ukrainian casualties at nearly 70,000 killed and 100,000 to 120,000 wounded, according to NYT. The war has also taken a toll among the civilian populations. The United Nations has confirmed the deaths of 9,444 civilians in Ukraine as a result of Russia’s invasion, according to RFE/RL. The RFE/RL report did not contain an estimate of casualties among civilians in Russia. In a report last month Novaya Gazeta Evropa estimated those figures to be at least 52 killed and 424 injured.

  3. Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko made yet another implicit claim that he is in control of at least of some of the non-strategic nuclear weapons that he and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin claim were transferred from Russia to Belarus earlier this year. “Indeed, nuclear weapons, which are located in Belarus, will not be employed if there is no aggression against us. If an acof aggression is committed against us, [if] Belarus is attacked, then we will neither stall nor wait … we will use the full arsenal of our weapons,” he said in an interview transcribed by Belarus’ Belta news agency. (RM, 08.18.23)

  4. There are now 23 nations lining up to join BRICS, which is to hold its annual summit in South Africa on August 22-24, 2023. In addition to expansion, delegations from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – which together account for more than 30% of the world’s GDP, if measured in terms of PPP, and more than 40% of its population – will also discuss reducing the dollar’s dominance in payments and Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to Bloomberg. The delegations of these five countries will be represented by their heads of state with the exception of Russia, whose president, Vladimir Putin, could not travel to South Africa because of an arrest warrant issued for him by the International Criminal Court over that war. That has not stopped Putin, however, from discussing Iran’s bid to joint BRICS with his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, on August 17.
  5. The UN Security Council held a special meeting on August 16 to discuss the humanitarian dire straits in the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (NKR), but adopted no measures to address the situation even as speakers took turns telling the UN body that the Lachin corridor between the NKR and the Republic of Armenia, which Azerbaijan has been blocking for months, must be reopened immediately, according to the UN’s account of the August 16 meeting. Meanwhile, harrowing accounts of the effects of the blockade, including malnutrition among babies and pregnant women, and ambulances stranded due to the absence of fuel, continued to stream out of Karabakh, which Azerbaijan has been blockading in violation of a statement that its leader signed along with the leaders of Russia and Armenia on November 10, 2020.
  6. The Russian ruble traded at 94 per dollar five days after having slid past 100 against the U.S. dollar on August 13, as the Kremlin pondered whether to tighten capital controls. Rather than introduce such formal controls, the Kremlin obtained informal promises from exports to raise foreign currency sales, MT reported. On August 15, the country’s central bank jacked up its key interest rate to 12% in an effort to reverse the ruble’s slide, but that measure appeared to be insufficient to attain such a reversal. The fundamental reasons for the fluctuating ruble rate are, to a significant extent, linked to reduced revenues from oil and gas exports as a result of the EU embargo on importing Russian oil and oil products, according to former Russian Central Bank official Alexandra Prokopenko. WSJ columnist Jon Sindreu wrote, explaining the “ruble trouble”: “Whenever economic growth recovers, imports rise more than exports and the currency suffers. Today’s situation suggests that this problem will plague President Vladimir Putin more than ever. The value of the ruble has long been used by Russians as a quick gauge of the country’s health. A slower depreciation might not be the bang Putin’s opponents were hoping for after his invasion of Ukraine. But a whimpering economic decline can be pretty bad too.”


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

Nuclear security and safety:

  • No significant developments.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • The U.S. Treasury Department on August 16 announced that it has imposed sanctions on three entities it accused of being tied to arms deals between North Korea and Russia. “This action is part of the continuing U.S. strategy to identify, expose, and disrupt third-country actors seeking to support Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine,” the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement. (RFE/RL, 08.16.23)
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to strengthen relations with Russia so the two countries could continue to "smash the imperialists' arbitrary practices and hegemony," according to a state media report. Kim made the promise in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 15, the anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule. (WP, 0816.23)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi discussed Iran's possible future membership in the BRICS group of emerging economies during a phone call on August 17, TASS reported, citing the Kremlin. Putin and Raisi also reaffirmed their support for the further development of bilateral ties in trade, transport and logistics, and energy, TASS reported. (Reuters/RFE/RL, 08.17.23)
  • The aim of Russia's billion-dollar weapons deal with Iran is to build 6,000 drones by summer 2025 at a plant in Tatarstan. That would be enough to reverse the Russian army's chronic shortages of UAVs on the front line. In the past three months, Russia has attacked Ukraine with more than 600 of the self-detonating Shahed-136 drones, according to an intelligence assessment produced by Kyiv in July and obtained by The Post. (WP, 08.18.23)
    • The US is pushing Iran to stop selling armed drones to Russia as part of discussions on a broader “unwritten understanding” between Washington and Tehran to de-escalate tensions and contain a long-simmering nuclear crisis. The Biden administration has raised the issue with the Islamic regime at indirect talks in Qatar and Oman this year, according to people briefed on the matter. (FT, 08.16.23)

Humanitarian impact of the Ukraine conflict:

  • The United Nations has confirmed the deaths of 9,444 civilians in Ukraine as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion. The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said on August 15 that 545 children were among the dead. The office also confirmed that 16,940 people have been injured, including 1,126 children, since the Kremlin launched its invasion in February 2022. (RFE/RL, 08.15.23)
  • Ukraine has become the most mined country in the world, with more than 67,000 square miles of the country estimated to be contaminated by dangerous mines, unexploded bombs, artillery shells and other remnants of war. Hundreds of civilians have been injured, and fertile farmland rendered dangerous or unusable, in a catastrophe experts say will take decades to clear. (WP, 08.16.23)
  • Russian drones reportedly hit a key Danube River grain port, in the latest attack aimed at Ukraine’s crop-export infrastructure. The weapons struck the Ukrainian port of Reni on the Danube overnight and damaged a silo. That sent wheat prices as high as $6.31 a bushel, before paring gains. (Bloomberg, 08.16.23)
  • The U.S. is in talks with Turkey, Ukraine and Kyiv's neighbors to increase the use of alternative export routes for Ukrainian grain, officials said. The U.S.-backed plan involves increasing capacity for Ukraine to export four million tons of grain a month via the Danube River by October. Much of the grain would be sent down the river and via the Black Sea to nearby ports in Romania and shipped onward to other destinations. (WSJ, 08.16.23)
  • The United States has condemned Russia's continued attacks on Ukraine's grain infrastructure, the State Department said on August 16, accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of not caring about global food security. State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel also called on Moscow to return immediately to a UN- and Turkey-brokered grain export deal. (RFE/RL, 08.16.23)
  • On August 15 Russian military and security forces prevented a Ukrainian sabotage group from infiltrating western Russia’s Bryansk region, the regional governor said on August 15. (MT/AFP, 08.15.23)
  • A container ship left Odesa port for Istanbul on August 16, the first vessel to leave Ukraine’s ports since Russia threatened to attack civilian shipping in the Black Sea last month. The signal of the Hong Kong-flagged vessel called the Joseph Schulte, which is carrying more than 30,000 tons of cargo including foodstuffs, was not being picked up a few hours after its departure, said maritime data analysts Spire Global. The ship entered Turkey's Bosporus Strait early on August 18. (FT, 08.16.23, dpa/RFE/RL, 08.18.23)


Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts:

  • The U.S. intelligence community assesses that Ukraine’s counteroffensive will fail to reach the key southeastern city of Melitopol, people familiar with the classified forecast told The Washington Post, a finding that, should it prove correct, would mean Kyiv won’t fulfill its principal objective of severing Russia’s land bridge to Crimea in this year’s push. Ukraine’s forces, which are pushing toward Melitopol from the town of Robotyne more than 50 miles away, will remain several miles outside of the city, U.S. officials said. The grim assessment is based on Russia’s brutal proficiency in defending occupied territory through a phalanx of minefields and trenches. Analysts say the challenges Ukraine has faced are multifaceted, but nearly all agree that Russia surpassed expectations when it comes to its proficiency in defending occupied territory. Kyiv has recently dedicated more reserves to the front, including Stryker and Challenger units, but has yet to break through Russia’s main defensive line. (WP, 08.17.23)
    • The bleak outlook, briefed to some Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, has already prompted a blame game inside closed-door meetings. It is also likely to prompt finger pointing inside Kyiv and Western capitals. Joint war games conducted by the U.S., British and Ukrainian militaries [ahead of the Ukrainian counteroffensive] anticipated such [heavy Ukrainian] losses but envisioned Kyiv accepting the casualties as the cost of piercing through Russia’s main defensive line, said U.S. and Western officials. But Ukraine chose to stem the losses on the battlefield and switch to a tactic of relying on smaller units to push forward across different areas of the front. (WP, 08.17.23)
  • The total number of Ukrainian and Russian troops killed or wounded since the war in Ukraine began 18 months ago is nearing 500,000, U.S. officials said, a staggering toll as Russia assaults its next-door neighbor and tries to seize more territory. Russia’s military casualties, the officials said, are approaching 300,000. The number includes as many as 120,000 deaths and 170,000 to 180,000 injured troops. The Russian numbers dwarf the Ukrainian figures, which the officials put at close to 70,000 killed and 100,000 to 120,000 wounded. (NYT, 08.18.23)
  •  In the past month of fighting Russian forces have gained 30 square miles of Ukrainian territory, while Ukraine gained 20, according to Russia-Ukraine War Report Card. (Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force, 08.15.23)
  • On August 14 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited troops in the Donetsk region on the front line of the war against Russia. (RFE/RL, 08.14.23)
  • On August 15 Russia launched a major air attack using cruise missiles on western Ukraine, with officials reporting at least three people dead and many others injured. Ukraine’s Air Force said it shot down 16 of the 28 cruise missiles launched from both air and sea, but it appeared as though some got through and hit areas in the Lviv and Volyn regions. (RFE/RL, 08.15.23)
  • On August 16 Ukraine claimed to have retaken the tiny village of Urozhaine. Retaking the village, which is in the Donetsk region, means that Ukraine now holds positions on both banks of the Mokri Yaly River, opening up more options as its forces try to advance on Russian strongholds farther south. But the fact that progress in Kyiv’s long-anticipated counteroffensive is now measured by the recapture of small villages reinforces how difficult the fighting has become. (NYT, 08.16.23, RFE/RL, 08.16.23)
    • The Ukrainians are advancing south along two principal lines of attack: through the eastern village of Staromaiorske toward the Russian-occupied city of Berdiansk, a port on the Sea of Azov; and farther west toward the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol, a vital transportation hub near the coast. Kyiv’s goal is to reach the Sea of Azov and drive a wedge into the so-called land bridge between Russia and Crimea. (NYT, 08.12.23)
    • If Ukraine holds Urozhayne, it would be the first settlement Kyiv has retaken since July 27, a sign of the challenge that Ukrainian troops faces in trying to break through Russian defensive lines.’ (RFE/RL, 08.17.23)
  • Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, and in the western Donetsk-eastern Zaporizhzhia Oblast border area on August 17 and advanced in certain areas. Ukrainian forces continued counteroffensive operations on at least three sectors of the front on August 17 and advanced near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast. (ISW, 08.17.23)
  • Pro-war Russian Telegram channel Rybar claimed on August 18 that Russian forces were pushing Ukrainian forces out of Syn'kivka, northeast of Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region. RM found no confirmation of this claim by DeepState or other Ukanian sources that monitor the hostilities. DeepState’s latest update on the hostilities said the fighting was continuing near Syn'kivka as of August 16. (RM, 08.18.23)
  • Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said on August 16 it had “eliminated” a group of four Ukrainian fighters who tried to cross into Russia’s western Bryansk region from northern Ukraine. (MT/AFP, 08.16.23)
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry on August 17 said Ukraine had lost four Stryker armored vehicles near Donetsk, as part of a Russian offensive push. It’s first time Russia has claimed to hit the U.S.-supplied vehicles. (RFE/RL, 08.17.23)
  • Moscow launched dozens of missiles this week far into western Ukraine, targeting air bases, air strips and a pilot training facility that are up to 1,000km from the front line. Ukrainian officials said 28 cruise missiles were fired on August 15 alone, 16 of which were intercepted. The strikes are seen by Kyiv and its allies as part of a weeks-long effort to shatter Ukraine’s runways and the fleet of bombers used to fire British Storm Shadow and French Scalp missiles, according to people familiar with the matter. To avoid being hit, Ukraine is now racing to move around crucial weaponry and its skilled personnel, officials said. Ukrainian pilots are constantly shuttling around dozens of domestic air bases and commercial airports. (FT, 08.17.23)
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry said on August 16 that it shot down three Ukrainian drones in the central Kaluga region. (MT/AFP, 08.16.23)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry said the thwarted attack by the sea drone occurred just before 11 p.m. local time on the Black Sea about 240 kilometers southwest of Sevastopol on August 17. (RFE/RL, 08.17.23)
  • On August 18 Russian forces have destroyed a Ukrainian drone targeting Moscow, officials said, the latest in a series of attacks on the capital. Russia’s Defense Ministry said its air force downed a Ukrainian drone over the Russian capital at around 04:00 am on August 18. “The unmanned drone, after being exposed to air defense weapons, changed its flight path and crashed into a non-residential building in the Krasnopresnenskaya embankment area of Moscow,” the ministry said on the Telegram messaging app. All four Moscow-area airports were briefly closed early Friday and planes diverted as air defense repelled the drone. (Bloomberg, 08.18.23, MT/AFP, 08.18.23)
  • Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said:
    • The United States has been clear about the difficult task facing Ukraine. "I had said a couple of months ago that this offensive was going to be long, it's going to be bloody it's going to be slow," he told The Post. "And that's exactly what it is: long, bloody and slow, and it's a very, very difficult fight." (WP, 08.17.23)
    • “The Russians are in pretty rough shape. So they’ve suffered huge amount of casualties. Their morale is not great. Their leadership is questionable and spotty, depends on what type of unit. The strategic level of leadership is clearly having a lot of friction. Logistics is not great.” (WP, 08.18.23)
    •  “I’ve not seen any slow walking [with regard to provision of U.S. military aid to Ukraine] whatsoever.” (WP, 08.18.23)
    • “If the end state is Ukraine is a free, independent sovereign country with its territory intact, that will take a considerable level of effort yet to come. And this is a long, very difficult, high casualty-producing war that’s ongoing. You can achieve those objectives through military means. That’s gonna take a long, long time, but you can also achieve those objectives maybe possibly, through some sort of diplomatic means.” (WP, 08.18.23)
  • The cryptic job listings began appearing online early this year and for a handful of refugees from eastern Ukraine, the promise of quick cash was too good to pass up. Within weeks, recruits were tasked with scouting Polish seaports, placing cameras along railways and hiding tracking devices in military cargo, according to Polish investigators. Then, in March, came startling new orders to derail trains carrying weapons to Ukraine. Polish authorities now believe that the mysterious employer was Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, and that the foiled operation posed the most serious Russian threat on NATO soil since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine last year. Russia's objective was to disrupt a weapons pipeline through Poland that accounts for more than 80 percent of the military hardware delivered to Ukraine. (WP, 08.18.23)
  • Around 45,000 residents of Moscow have been deployed on the frontline in Ukraine, the Russian capital's mayor said late on August 16. (MT/AFP, 08.17.23)
  • The finding of an exploded Russian rocket for a Tornado-S Multiple Launch Rocket System adds to other evidence that the Russians are under pressure to fire missiles as soon as they roll off manufacturing lines to defy international sanctions and Western predictions they would run out. Some parts of the rocket had been soldered manually, while components were manufactured by both Russian and U.S. companies, including Intel Corp-owned Altera Corp. and Analog Devices Inc, according to StateWatch, a Ukrainian non-governmental organization. (Bloomberg, 08.17.23)
  • The Biden administration announced on August 14 a $200 million shipment of air defense munitions, artillery and tank ammunition, anti-armor weapons and other equipment to help Ukraine in its grinding counteroffensive against Russia. The Pentagon said it was rushing from its stockpiles more 155-millimeter and 105-millimeter rounds — a mainstay of Ukraine’s artillery fight — as well as ammunition for long-range rockets known as HIMARS. (NYT, 08.15.23)
  • The United States has approved sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine from Denmark and the Netherlands to defend against Russian invaders as soon as pilot training is completed, a U.S. official said on August 17. (RFE/RL, 08.18.23)
  • A spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force said the advanced planes won’t arrive by winter, meaning they won’t play a role in the latest counteroffensive push. Ukraine will not receive F-16 fighter jets from its allies this year as hoped, a spokesman for the country’s Air Force said late Wednesday, confirming that, as expected, the advanced planes won’t play a role in the current counteroffensive. “It is already obvious that we will not be able to protect Ukraine with F-16 fighters this autumn and winter,” Yuriy Ihnat, the spokesman, told Ukrainian television. “We had high hopes for this aircraft,” he added. (NYT, 08.17.23)
    • Germany is hesitating about supplying its long-range cruise missile, the Taurus, to Ukraine. The Taurus is similar to the Anglo-French air-launched cruise missile called Storm Shadow or Scalp, but flies at a low altitude, to avoid detection, while the others fly at high altitude. It has a range of over 300 miles and can fly as low as about 115 feet from the ground. (NYT, 08.16.23.)

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

  • Billionaire Eugene Shvidler has lost a bid to challenge the UK’s sanction regime, the first to be scrutinized by a British judge since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Shvidler, a close ally of Roman Abramovich, had challenged the sanctions imposed on him in March 2022 at London’s High Court arguing that he’d faced serious hardships in his financial and personal life and pushed back at suggestions he was a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Bloomberg, 08.18.23)
  • Carlsberg chief executive Cees ’t Hart said the brewer was “shocked” at the seizure of its Russian subsidiary, Baltika Breweries, by the Kremlin last month, but was still hoping to achieve a disposal of the business. The Danish brewer said the net loss from Russian operations put up for sale amounted to DKr404mn ($59mn) and that Baltika Breweries would be deconsolidated from July. (FT, 08.16.23)
  • The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office on August 16 recognized the Warsaw-registered group For a Free Russia, which assists Russian citizens who face persecution at home and seek asylum abroad, as "an undesirable organization." (RFE/RL, 08.16.23)
  • The European office of the Politico news website says its reporter in Moscow, Eva Hartog, has left the country after being told her visa would not be extended. (RFE/RL, 08.16.23)

Ukraine-related negotiations:

  • Stian Jenssen the chief of staff to the NATO secretary general apologized and clarified his comments a day after he said publicly that Ukraine could give up territory to Russia in exchange for NATO membership and an end to the war. At a panel event in Norway on August 15, Jenssen had said that while any peace deal reached would have to be acceptable to Ukraine, alliance members were discussing how the 18-month war might be brought to an end. But Jenssen did not walk back the idea that a land-for-NATO-membership deal could ultimately be on the table. (Guardian, 08.16.23)
    • "We have always assumed that the alliance, like Ukraine, does not trade territories," Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko wrote, adding that such suggestions "play into the hands of Russia." Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, in an appearance on Ukrainian television, called the comments by Stian Jenssen, chief of staff to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, "a strange move." (RFE/RL, 08.16.23)
  • Gen. Mark A. Milley said: “I’m not going to comment on any future things or ongoing negotiations or any that kind of stuff. I would just say that there is various ways to accomplish those objectives. And I would say right now, it’s probably too early to tell this. This counteroffensive hasn't run its course yet. So we have to see where this thing ends up and then move from there.” (WP, 08.18.23)
  • Li Shangfu, member of the State Council and Chinese Defense Minister, said at the 11th Moscow Conference on International Security: "We are committed to promoting peace talks and building a broader international consensus to resolve differences, whether on the issue of Afghanistan, Syria, the Korean Peninsula, the Ukraine crisis or Iran's nuclear issue," he pointed out. (TASS, 08.17.23)
  • Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said he believes Russia has achieved its goals in what Moscow calls its “special military operation” and said the two sides should sit at the negotiating table and be ready to discuss all issues, including the future of Crimea. "Negotiations should begin without preconditions. This is a classic of any diplomacy… We need to sit down at the negotiating table and discuss everything. And Crimea, and Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk," he said. (RFE/RL, 08.17.23)

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

  • Russia said on August 14 that it had dispatched a MiG-29 fighter jet to "prevent a violation" of its border by a Norwegian military patrol aircraft over the Barents Sea. (MT/AFP, 08.14.23)
  • British police said on August 15 they had charged three Bulgarian nationals with identity document offences following a media report they were suspected of spying for Moscow. The trio were among five people arrested in February for a suspected breach of the Official Secrets Act, according to a Metropolitan Police statement. The BBC had earlier reported they were suspected of working for the Russian security services. The three were named as tech entrepreneur Orlin Roussev, 45, of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and Bizer Dzhambazov, 41, and Katrin Ivanova, 31, of Harrow in north-west London. (FT, 08.15.23, FT, 08.16.23)
    • Over the past year, police and security services across the globe have accused numerous people living apparently innocuous lives with being Russian intelligence agents or operatives Russia has turned to activating sleeper cells or passing on more active espionage work to unofficial agents and operatives. These may be third-country nationals, or they may be “illegals” – Russian operatives posing as third-country nationals, who spend years painstakingly building up their cover. (Guardian, 08.15.23)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • Moscow and Beijing are preparing a set of joint documents that are expected to be signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin's official visit to China in October, Deputy Director-General of the Department of the European and Central Asian Region of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Cheng Yikun said. (TASS, 08.18.23)
  • While in Moscow for an international conference and a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Chinese defense minister Li Shangfu called China’s military relationship with Russia a “model for cooperation” on August 15, saying their ties were characterized by “non-confrontation” and did “not target any third party.” Chinese-Russian relations of comprehensive partnership and strategic interaction have set a good example of a new type of relations between world powers" in recent years under the strategic guidance of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said. "Russia and China are strategic partners, good neighbors and true friends," Shoigu said during his meeting with Li. (Bloomberg, 08.15.23, Interfax. 08.15.23)
  • Belarus and China’s shared vision of the world order is in complete alignment, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stated during a meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu. Shangfu is paying a three-day visit to Belarus to discuss pressing issues concerning bilateral military cooperation. The next round of joint Chinese-Belarusian military maneuvers is planned for 2024, the Telegram channel Pool One, which is close to the Belarusian presidential press service, reported. (TASS, 08.17.23)
  • President Biden is hosting a landmark summit with the leaders of Japan and South Korea at Camp David on August 18, aiming to forge a trilateral mutual security arrangement in the face of an increasingly assertive, and increasingly Russia-aligned, China. Biden administration officials said the leaders at the Camp David summit would sign off on a formal “commitment to consult,” an understanding that the three nations would treat any security threat to one of them as a threat to all of them requiring mutual discussion about how to respond. (NYT, 08.18.23)

Missile defense:

  • No significant developments.

Nuclear arms:

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has inspected troops deployed in the Arctic as well as preparations "to defend specially important installations" in this strategic zone, his ministry said Saturday. Shoigu was accompanied by Alexey Likhachev, head of the state nuclear company Rosatom, and visited Novaya Zemlya, in Russia's extreme north, a statement said. They inspected a testing site for nuclear weapons used during the Soviet era, where "advanced tests for military weapons and equipment" were taking place, the defense ministry said, without giving details. (AFP, 08.12.23)
  • Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has made yet another implicit claim that he is in control of at least of some of the non-strategic nuclear weapons that he and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin claim  were transferred from Russia to Belarus earlier this year. “Indeed, nuclear weapons, which are located in Belarus, will not be employed if there is no aggression against us. If an act of aggression is committed against us, [if] Belarus is attacked, then we will neither stall nor wait … we will use the full arsenal of our weapons,” he said in an interview transcribed by Belarus’ Belta news agency. (RM, 08.18.23)
    • Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder said on August 17 when asked to comment on Lukashenko’s statement: “We have seen those press reports coming out of Russia saying that they were going to do this, but I – you know, again, I'm not going to comment on that specifically. I will tell you broadly speaking we have not seen anything that would cause us to change the posture of our own strategic forces, nor have we seen any indication that Russia has made a decision to employ nuclear weapons, as it relates to the conflict in Ukraine.” (DOD, 08.17.23)
    • NATO has not detected any changes to Russia's nuclear forces and the Western alliance has seen no reason to reconsider its own corresponding setup, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told a conference in Norway on August 17. "We haven't seen any changes in their nuclear forces that trigger us to change our forces and the way those are arranged. So far we haven't seen anything that demands that from our side," Stoltenberg said. (RFE/RL, 08.17.23)


  • No significant developments.

Conflict in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Cyber security/AI:

  • No significant developments.

Energy exports from CIS:

  • Russia will raise the export levy paid by its oil producers in September to the highest level this year, boosting state coffers as the price of the nation’s crude surges. The government plans to increase the oil export duty to $21.40 per ton next month, up by more than a quarter from August, the Finance Ministry said in a statement on August 15. That equates to around $2.92 a barrel. (Bloomberg, 08.15.23)
  • Brazil’s imports of Russian petroleum products is set to rise 25% from July to a record of about 235,000 barrels a day, data from energy analytics firm Kpler Ltd. show. That far outstrips the US, which used to be Brazil’s top foreign fuel supplier. (Bloomberg, 08.17.23)

Russia’s flagship crude oil was switched between tankers off the coast of a Spanish enclave in north Africa after a four-month hiatus in the activity. The Tiburon, Spanish for shark, collected about 100,000 metric tons of Urals crude originally loaded at the Baltic Sea port of Ust-Luga from a similar-sized vessel, the Lucia, over the past week. (Bloomberg, 08.15.23)

  • The fleet of oil tankers that help Russia to evade sanctions now includes hundreds of vessels around the world, many owned by companies in Greece, India and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Turkey. Many evade Western sanctions by operating outside the usual industry standards, often forgoing insurance with the P&I Clubs, the global networks that insure some 90% of the world’s commercial shipping. Some use a parallel Russian insurance system set up since the war began. (WSJ, 08.18.23)
  • Europe’s natural gas reserves are almost full, though that still may not be enough to see the region through winter. The continent’s storage levels hit 90.1% capacity on Aug. 16, according to the latest data from industry group Gas Infrastructure Europe. That’s the highest on record for the time of year, and well ahead of the European Union’s Nov. 1 goal of reaching that marker. However, inventories weren’t meant to provide all of the region’s winter gas supplies, and a storm of risks is brewing. (Bloomberg, 08.18.23)

Climate change:

  • Siberia’s boreal forests, long considered to be a carbon “sink,” may soon become a net source of carbon emissions, as wildfires causing forest loss and degradation have grown increasingly more intense over the past decade, researchers at the Russian Academy of Sciences said. The study estimates that Siberian wildfires alone are now responsible for around 5-20% of Russia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. (MT/AFP, 08.16.23)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • No significant developments.

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • A Moscow court has placed a dual U.S.-Russian citizen, who is serving a prison sentence for bribery, in pre-trial detention on charges of espionage, according to court data published on August 17. Russian-born American Gene Spector faces 20 years in prison if convicted. Few details outside the court ruling have been made public, as espionage cases are held behind closed doors since they deal with what authorities consider classified information. Spector was detained in 2020 on charges of “mediating” a bribe to the assistant of former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich in the form of vacations to Thailand and the Dominican Republic. The assistant, Anastasia Alexeyeva, was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Spector pleaded guilty to the charges and reached a deal with investigators. He was convicted in 2021, but the ruling was overturned and he was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison in September 2022. (MT/AFP, 08.17.23)
  • The U.S. ambassador to Russia was granted access to jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on August 14 in the third such visit since his detention in March. "Ambassador Tracy reported that Evan continues to appear in good health and remains strong, despite the circumstances," the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said in a statement. (WSJ, 08.15.23)
  • Setbacks securing the release of Gershkovich and other Americans held in Russia through a trade for high-profile Russians locked up in other countries have forced U.S. officials to refocus on a deal involving Russian prisoners in U.S. custody. One problem: it's unclear that Russia wants any of them. 25 Russian citizens are serving time in federal prisons, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons data reviewed by the Journal, and Russian officials have suggested that as many as 35 more may be held in state prisons, or as suspects and defendants in pretrial detention. (WSJ, 08.16.23)
  • A Moscow court has arrested a dual U.S.-Russian citizen on suspicion of espionage, Russian news agencies reported on August 17. The agencies identified the dual citizen as Eugene Spector but provided no details on the charges against him. Interfax reported that he was taken into custody after a hearing in Lefortovo district court in Moscow. Spector, who is of Russian origin, was previously convicted in the case of Anastasia Alekseeva, an assistant to former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. (RFE/RL, 08.17.23)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Paul Whelan, according to CNN on August 16, reportedly telling him to "keep the faith" and assuring him that the United States is doing everything it can to bring him home as soon as possible. (RFE/RL, 08.17.23)
  • The United States has imposed sanctions on four Russians who it says were involved in the 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. The U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement on August 17 that the four men are linked to Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB). (RFE/RL, 08.17.23)
  • Charles McGonigal, once the FBI’s chief of counterintelligence in New York, pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan on August 15 to a single reduced charge of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions and laundering payments from a prominent Russian oligarch Deripaska. Mr. McGonigal still faces a second indictment brought by federal prosecutors in Washington on charges that accuse him of concealing his acceptance of $225,000 from a businessman and of hiding dealings in Eastern Europe while working for the bureau. (NYT, 08.16.23.)
  • The former agriculture minister of Russia's northern Komi Republic, Denis Sharonov, has fled to the United States to avoid conscription to the war in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 08.16.23)
  • A Defense Department review of biological threats released on August 17 said the U.S. military is at a "pivotal moment" in biodefense and must act urgently to address the potential of bioweapons and other catastrophic events, including pandemics. In particular, the review highlighted a growing threat posed by China as well as acute dangers emanating from Russia and persistent threats from North Korea, Iran and violent extremist organizations. (WP, 08.18.23)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Russia will not tighten capital controls in response to a weakening ruble, the Vedomosti business daily reported on August 17, citing two anonymous sources close to the Russian government. The exporters had “informally” agreed to raise foreign currency sales, allowing the government to avoid the “last resort” option of imposing capital controls, according to Vedomosti. The reported agreement comes after the ruble slid past 100 against the U.S. dollar this week, forcing Russia’s Central Bank to hike interest rates to 12% in an emergency measure. The rate hike appeared to have a limited effect, forcing the Kremlin to consider bringing back the compulsory sale of foreign currency revenues by exporters. (MT, 08.17.23)
    • Following the meeting, federal authorities are now crafting informal measures of capital control, according to three people familiar with the discussions. Guidelines for large exporters are being prepared on an individual company basis and will go beyond mandating the sale of foreign proceeds to include hard-currency transfers such as dividend payments and loans, said the people, who requested anonymity to speak about deliberations that aren’t public. (Bloomberg, 08.17.23)
    • The Russian economist Sergei Guriev, who is provost of Sciences Po university in France, said the ruble's fall against major world currencies was "politically important" as this is what the Russian public feels and sees daily. "The difference between 50 rubles to the dollar in 2020, and 100 today is something every citizen can observe … even those who are convinced and brainwashed by TV propaganda," Guriev told The Washington Post. (WP, 08.15.23)
    • The fundamental reasons for the fluctuating ruble rate are linked to changes in the structure of market demand, above all reduced revenues from exporting oil and gas due to the EU embargo on importing Russian oil and oil products, the price cap imposed by the G7, and the subsequent rerouting of those commodities to different destinations, Former Russian Central Bank official Alexandra Prokopenko said. (Bloomberg, 08.17.23)
    • Jon Sindreu wrote in WSJ: “Whenever economic growth recovers, imports rise more than exports and the currency suffers. Today’s situation suggests that this problem will plague President Vladimir Putin more than ever. The value of the ruble has long been used by Russians as a quick gauge of the country’s health. A slower depreciation might not be the bang Putin’s opponents were hoping for after his invasion of Ukraine. But a whimpering economic decline can be pretty bad too.” (WSJ, 08.16.23)
    • The Russian central bank's jumbo interest-rate increase to halt a tumbling ruble this week points to a new reality for the Kremlin: Russia's economy has reached its speed limit. (WSJ, 08.17.23)
  • Russia’s economy grew 4.9 percent in the April-to-June period compared with a year earlier, the government said Friday, a better-than-expected result and the country’s first annual gain in economic growth since the start of the war in Ukraine. (NYT, 08.11.23)
  • Russia added $600 billion of total wealth, the Swiss bank found in its annual Global Wealth Report, published on August 15. The number of Russian millionaires also rose by about 56,000 to 408,000 in 2022, while the number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals — people worth over $50 million — jumped by nearly 4,500. (Business Insider, 08.16.23)
  • A survey for Russian Forbes at the start of August found more than 65 per cent of 1,250 companies polled did not see the benefit of a digital ruble, 15 per cent worried about state control of the currency and only 3 per cent thought it would simplify cross-border payments in the face of sanctions. (FT, 08.18.23)
  • More than two hundred Russians of retirement and pre-retirement age have been convicted of anti-war actions or statements since February 24, 2022, according to OVD-info. They are sent to colonies, despite serious illnesses, and are fined hundreds of thousands or even millions of rubles, which cannot be paid out of their pensions. (Vyorstka, 08.15.23)
  • The investigative news outlet The Insider has revealed alleged attempts to poison two Russian journalists and a civil activist who have fled the country. Yelena Kostyuchenko of Meduza and Novaya Gazeta reportedly fell victim to poisoning in Munich in October 2022, while Irina Babloyan of Ekho Moskvy was allegedly poisoned in Tbilisi a week later. In May, Natalya Arno, head of Free Russia Foundation, which supports civil society and democratic development, was hospitalized with suspected poisoning in Prague. The Insider shared the accounts with victims' consent to caution other Russians living abroad. Russian authorities have not commented. (RFE/RL, 08.15.23)
  • A Russian teenager arrested for publicly burning a Koran in the southwestern region of Volgograd and kept in pretrial detention in Chechnya says he was beaten in a jail cell by Adam Kadyrov, the 15-year-old son of Chechnya's authoritarian leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. (RFE/RL, 08.16.23)
    • Senior Chechen officials applauded Adam Kadyrov for allegedly beating up the teenager. (MT/AFP, 08.18.23)
  • Police in Russia's North Caucasus republic of Dagestan have searched the apartment of Svetlana Anokhina, a self-exiled rights defender who is under investigation over her posts on Instagram that are critical of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 08.15.23)
  • A Russian court has ordered the closure of the Sakharov Center, one of the country’s oldest human rights groups, Interfax reported Friday. According to Interfax, the Justice Ministry filed a court order to shutter the group for alleged “systematic gross and irremediable violations of the law” in connection with its staging of an exhibition dedicated to Sakharov in regions of the country where it did not have a branch. (MT/AFP, 08.18.23)
  • The Basmanny District court ordered the arrest of Grigory Melkonyants, co-chair of the independent election monitoring organization GOLOS, on August 18, charging him with having facilitated the work of an "undesirable" organization, Mediazona reported. Law enforcement carried out searches at the homes of GOLOS co-chairman Grigory Melkonyants and 14 of his colleagues in Moscow, St. Petersburg and six other Russian regions, according to the news agency RIA Novosti. (Mediazona, 08.18.23, MT/AFP, 08.17.23)
  • Russia’s elections chief said Friday that Russia has no use for Western-style democracy, just weeks before regional elections are set to take place across the country. Central Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova described democracy as a mere "method of forming power through elections." Earlier this month, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described elections in Russia as “costly bureaucracy,” saying it was “theoretically possible” to not hold presidential elections next year since Putin would “obviously” win. (MT/AFP, 08.18.23)
  • Since May 2021, Russian attitudes toward Josef Stalin have remained practically unchanged, according to Levada. Some 47% of respondents to a June 2023 poll by Levada view him with respect (compared to the May 2021 figure of 44%), 23% view him with indifference (May 2021: 27%), while another 16% view him with sympathy or admiration (May 2021: 15%), and 8% view him with negative emotions (May 2021: 11%). (RM, 08.15.23)


Defense and aerospace:

  • Moscow's Luna-25 lander is due to reach the Moon's orbit Wednesday, in the first such Russian mission in almost 50 years, according to Roskosmos space agency. With the lunar launch, Moscow's first since 1976, Russia hopes to provide renewed momentum to its space industry, which has been struggling for years and has become increasingly isolated amid the war in Ukraine. The lander is set to orbit 100 kilometers above the Moon's surface before a planned landing on August 14 north of the Boguslawsky crater on the lunar south pole. (MT/AFP, 08.16.23)
  • The first flight of a new spacecraft produced by the Russian state space agency Roskosmos has been postponed to 2028. The first launch of the transport spaceship Eagle had been planned for this year, but a few months before the launch, Dmitry Rogozin, who was then the head of Roskosmos, announced a postponement until 2024. (RFE/RL, 08.15.23)
  • Russian General Gennady Zhidko, who was ousted after briefly commanding the Kremlin’s troops in Ukraine, died in Moscow on Wednesday aged 57 after a “long illness,” a regional leader announced Wednesday. (Politico, 08.17.23)
  •  See section Military aspects of the Ukraine conflict and their impacts above.

Emergencies, security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 16 expressed condolences to the families of 35 people killed in a major fire and explosion that tore through an auto-repair shop beside a highway in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala. (Reuters, 08.17.23)
  • Police in Istanbul reportedly detained a woman on April 14 who was allegedly involved in the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Ankara, Andrei Karlov, in 2016. (RFE/RL, 08.15.23)
  • The Moscow Times' Russian service reports that, since 2022, Russian government agencies have spent 30.7 billion rubles ($330 million) on surveillance video storage alone — which accounts for one-third of the total amount spent in the past 12 years combined. (MT/AFP, 08.17.23)
  • A top former Kremlin bodyguard who was serving a 10-year sentence on bribery charges has died in prison after an unspecified illness, a prison monitoring official said. Viktor Boborykin, of the Public Monitoring Commission, said "there was no crime" in the death of Gennady Lopyrev, who was a lieutenant general in the Federal Guards Service prior to his 2017 sentencing. (RFE/RL, 08/17.23)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

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

  • South Africa hosts a summit of the BRICS group of nations and others in the Global South next week. At least 40 heads of state and government will join South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi and Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Johannesburg and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Expansion from the group’s current membership of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa is top of the agenda. There are now 23 other nations lining up to join including Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The bloc will also revive the idea of reducing the dollar’s dominance in payments. Russia’s 18-month long invasion of Ukraine will be on the agenda. (Bloomberg, 08.18.23)
    • Trade between BRICS members surged 56% to $422 billion over the past five years, and their collective nominal gross domestic product of $25.9 trillion equated to 25.7% of global output, data from the Higher School of Economics in Moscow show. (Bloomberg, 08.18.23)
  • Russia's Internal Affairs Ministry says it has limited the authority of Interpol, the world's leading international law enforcement organization. The decision was implemented in March but disclosed only on August 17. Under the move, Interpol will only be allowed to carry out operations in Russia that are approved by the ministry. Lawmakers in February called Interpol's actions "unfriendly" (RFE/RL, 08.18.23)
  • Hungary will delay interest payments to Russia that it owes in a Moscow-backed financing deal for the Paks II nuclear power plant, and it will make them in euros, the government in Budapest said in a decree published late on August 14. (Bloomberg, 08.15.23)
  • Despite continued uncertainty about the future of the Wagner Group and its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, recent satellite imagery indicates that the private military company (PMC) is not only staying in Mali but is actively expanding its base capacity in Bamako and may intend to transfer additional valuable military equipment there in the near future. (CSIS, 08.15.23)


  • Ukrainian intelligence uncovered a UAH 270 million (~USD 7.3 million) corruption scheme wherein three private companies allegedly embezzled funds they received from the Defense Ministry and in turn provided the military with defective weaponry, the Ukrainian Security Service reported via its official Telegram channel. The accused have been charged with large-scale fraud, and face up to eight years in prison, according to the statement. (Ukraine SBU/Telegram, 08.18.23)
  • A total of 13,600 men have been caught attempting to cross from Ukraine into neighboring countries outside the official checkpoints and another 6,100 have been arrested using fake documents at regular border crossings, said Ukrainian border guard spokesperson Andriy Demchenko. The daily numbers have dropped in recent months, to about a third of what they were at the start of the invasion, he said. (FT, 08.12.23)
    • Some 411 Ukrainian men have crossed into neighboring Romania illegally since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Agerpres news agency reported on August 17, citing data from the Territorial Inspectorate of the Border Police (ITPF). (RFE/RL, 08.17.23)
    • Now in Czech Republic with his wife, an Ukrainian draft-dodger is selling his escape route to other draft dodgers for $1,000. He said he receives about a dozen messages every day from men, but also women who write on behalf of male relatives and friends, saying they too want out. (FT, 08.12.23)
  • Conscientious objection to military service is an internationally recognized right, one enshrined in Ukraine’s Constitution. But when Russia invaded Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky instituted martial law. With that, the right to alternative service related to conscientious objection effectively evaporated. The conscientious objectors represent a tiny segment of a broader phenomenon creeping beneath the surface in Ukraine. Though rarely talked about, there is fatigue and wariness about the draft. (NYT, 08.18.23)
  • Ukraine opened criminal probe against Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman, indicating that it may seek his extradition from the UK. The Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office issued a “notice of suspicion” of fraud against an unidentified Russian tycoon who owned a Ukrainian bank, according to a Friday statement. (Bloomberg, 08.18.23)
  • Ukrainian authorities have increased pressure on one of the country’s richest oligarchs in exile, Dmytro Firtash, by expanding a corruption investigation into his energy businesses. Security services announced on August 15 that a further three managers of Firtash’s companies have been charged with embezzlement, bringing the total number of managers charged to 15. Investigators also seized £157mn worth of property belonging to Firtash and assets totaling £4.2mn owned by the charged managers. (FT, 08.15.23)
  • A top Ukrainian tax official was allegedly the target of an attempted violent attack outside his home in Kyiv this week, showcasing the government’s struggle to eradicate criminal links that predate the war. Yevhen Sokur, deputy head of Ukraine’s tax service, was leaving his apartment building on August 16 when two men, carrying baseball bats, approached him and were arrested on the spot, according to Ukrainian police. (FT, 08.18.23)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • The firsthand accounts out of Nagorno-Karabakh are harrowing . There's no food on shelves in stores. Children stand for hours in bread lines to help feed their families. Mothers walk for miles in search of cooking oil and other provisions. Electricity, gas and water are in short supply. Ambulances can't whir into motion for lack of fuel. Clinics report a surge in miscarriages in pregnant women who are malnourished, anemic and consumed by stress. Such is the apparent state of the isolated and increasingly desperate ethnic Armenian enclave in Nagorno-Karabakh, whose 120,000 people are enduring a blockade at the hands of Azerbaijan, (WP, 08.18.23)
  • The UN Security Council held a special meeting to examine the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been deteriorating sharply for several months as a result of a blockade of the Lachin corridor by Azeri forces. (, 08.16.23, European Conservative, 08.17.23)
    • U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, called on Azerbaijan to “restore free movement through the corridor,” adding: “Access to food, medicine, baby formula and energy should never be held hostage,” Thomas-Greenfield said on August 16. “We urge the government of Azerbaijan to restore free movement through the corridor.” Thomas-Greenfield said adding that access to food, medicine and baby formula should never be held hostage. (, 08.16.23, WP, 08.18.23)
    • Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union Silvio Gonzato said humanitarian access must not be politicized, and movement through the Lachin Corridor must be reopened immediately. (, 08.16.23
    • Dmitry Polyanskiy, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation stressed that Armenian-Azerbaijani reconciliation is unthinkable without reliable security guarantees and the observance of the rights of the inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh. (, 08.16.23)
    • Ararat Mirzoyan, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Armenia, urged the Council to condemn the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, prohibited by international humanitarian law, and called for the immediate restoration of freedom and security of movement of persons, vehicles and cargo, in line with the previously reached agreements, through the Lachin Corridor. (, 08.16.23)
    • Yashar Teymur Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan has rejected as the “groundless” allegations propagated by Armenia, stating:  “What Armenia tries to present as a humanitarian matter is indeed a provocative and irresponsible political campaign to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of my country.” (, 08.16.23)
    • Meanwhile, harrowing accounts of the effects of the blockade, including malnutrition among babies and pregnant women, and ambulances stranded because of absence of fuel, continued to stream out of Karabakh. (FT, 08.15.23, WP, 08/18/23)
  • “Azerbaijan’s systematic ethnic cleansing of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh through a large-scale and unprovoked invasion is unconscionable,” Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) said. “Particularly egregious is their weaponization of the blockade to starve the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and block humanitarian assistance.” (WP, 08.18.23)
  • On August 15 U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, urging her to introduce a UN resolution calling for an immediate end to Azerbaijan’s eight-month blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh. (, 08.15.23)
  • The blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh is a crisis that Russian peacekeepers have failed to prevent. Though almost 2,000 were deployed, as per the 2020 ceasefire, to protect “the connection between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia”, this link has been severed. Russia, traditionally Armenia’s backer, failed last year to deliver weapons ordered and paid for by Yerevan. (FT, 08.15.23)
  • There is a reasonable basis to believe that a genocide is being committedof Karabakh Armenians,” according Luis Moreno Ocampo who served as the first prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. (ABC, 08.09.23)
  • The European Union’s border monitoring mission in Armenia on August 15 confirmed that there had been gunfire in the area of one of its patrols along the border with Azerbaijan.. The statement came after Armenia said Azerbaijan’s military had opened fire on the observers monitoring the border between the two countries. Azerbaijan denied responsibility for the incident. (RFE/RL, 08.15.23)
  • Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) has said that an airport near the southeastern border with Azerbaijan was fired upon from Azerbaijani territory hours after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian visited the facility. The NSS said the incident took place in the early morning of August 18 at the Syunik airport in the town of Kapan. Pashinian had flown to the airport on August 17 from Yerevan. (RFE/RL, 08.18.23)
  • Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has been registered as “an educational organization” in the Asipovichy district in the eastern Belarusian region of Mahilyou. (RFE/RL, 08.16.23)
  • Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said:
    • He and Mr. Putin had not discussed Russia’s plans for Ukraine until a “few days” before the full-scale invasion. “So Vladimir Putin said: ‘If anything happens …’ I asked: ‘Listen, what can happen?’” Mr. Lukashenko recalled. He said Mr. Putin replied, “Well, if anything happens, watch my back, please.” (NYT, 08.18.23
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin is not trying to push Belarus into joining the war in Ukraine and vowed that Minsk's forces would never take part in the war unless Ukrainian troops crossed the border into Belarus. He vowed in the interview to “always help Russia,” adding that they “are our allies." (RFE/RL, 08.17.23)
    • There had been direct contacts between Ukraine and Belarus, including as recently as a few months ago, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky put a stop to them. The topics discussed included Belarus’s potential involvement in the war, the potential use of nuclear weapons, and Wagner Group mercenaries. (RFE/RL, 08.17.23)
  • The Latvian border guard service said on August 15 it had requested army and police assistance to guard the border with Belarus after registering 96 attempts to cross the border illegally in a 24-hour period. (RFE/RL, 08.15.23)
  • Lithuania has decided to temporarily close two of its six border checkpoints with Belarus amid growing tensions, officials said. (RFE/RL, 08.16.23)
  • Amid an intense crackdown on dissent, Belarus’s Supreme Court ordered the closure of the longstanding opposition United Civil Party, the Vyasna rights group said on August 15. (RFE/RL, 08.15.23)
  • Latvian Welfare Minister Evika Silina is in the leading position to become the Baltic nation’s next prime minister after Krisjanis Karins said he won’t lead the next government. (Bloomberg, 08.16.23)
  • Uzbek authorities detained a man on fraud charges for allegedly promising to arrange the emigration of another man to the United States. (RFE/RL, 08.17.23)
  • A second Kyrgyz citizen, who was part of the private Wagner mercenary group, has been detained on a charge of taking part in Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, relatives and several sources told RFE/RL. (RFE/RL, 08.15.23)
  • Eastern Europe and the Baltic states have been hit by economic turmoil in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading the list of bankruptcy filings in the second quarter. Hungary reported Europe’s largest increase in business bankruptcies, nearly 41%, according to Eurostat. (WSJ, 08.18.23)

Quotable and notable

  • “It’s totally evident that Russia has no authority in this territory anymore,” said a 23-year-old village schoolteacher in Nagorno-Karabakh. “People feel let down by Russia as a great power.” (FT, 08.15.23)

  • “For a spiritually and physically healthy person, it’s unpleasant and sometimes even scary to travel to Europe – so many perversions of various kinds have thrived there,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, said at a security conference in Moscow on August 15, responding to the European Union’s foreign policy chief comparing Europe to a “garden” last October. (The Daily Beast, 08.15.23)
    • It is noteworthy that members of the family of the director of the Foreign Intelligence Service prefer to relax in Europe. In April of this year, his wife Tatyana Naryshkina was spotted in Paris. In particular, the wife of the chief Russian intelligence officer was photographed in a $100,000 Mercedes S-class owned by the Russian embassy. Naryshkin's daughter Veronika loves the resorts of Greece and Italy, and last summer she went to Turkey, a NATO country. (MT’s Russian-language service, 08.15.23)
  • "The idea of genocide is not just about killing, but about removing people from the land," Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said of the plight of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians at the hands of Azerbaijan. (WP, 08.18.23)

The cutoff for reports summarized in this product was 2.00 pm East Coast time on the day it was distributed.

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

Photo shared by the Ukrainian presidential press service via a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.